Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sharing Victory

We went to see Invictus yesterday; really great movie. The rugby was enjoyable, but what really moved me was the moments when Mandela (Morgan Freeman) was making statements and speeches in pursuit of national reconciliation, which he did with a beautiful blend of gentleness and passion. Very powerful stuff. It was a message that true greatness lies not in achieving victory, but in sharing that victory with those over whom one has achieved it.

I would not suggest that comparing Obama to Mandela is in any way appropriate, but I believe that Obama is in some ways trying to share last year's victory with the losers of the election of 2008. Too many on both sides are not listening to him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Internet Security

The hosting company for my website (I'm going to be "nice" and not tell you who it is) has had the webmail on a regular server for years. About two weeks ago they decided to move it to a "secure" server, one of those that has a "https:" prefix, which makes it more difficult to access. I complained and they sent a rather snotty reply that it was necessary for security.

Yesterday the webmail got hacked. On the "secure" server.

Update: Tuesday, 3pm
The hosting company, BlueFur Hosting, has "solved" the problem by discontinuing webmail altogether. Not the solution I would prefer, nor a particularly competent one, but...

They have also ceased responding to help requests.

Friday, December 25, 2009

"Go West Young Man"

Except I'm not young, and I'm going East not West.

Seeing family for the holidays so posting will be light, I expect, until after the first of the year. Hope that everyone who has been reading me this past year does have an enjoyable Holiday Season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nasty Weather

nasty weatherLook at that nasty forecast; not one seventy-degree temperature on it.

The Dam Broke

Okay, what was behind the dam was not pure, sparkling water. There is dead fish, and mud and debris and all kinds of shit. But there's water, too.

The point is, they finally dynamited the dam.

Imprisoning Parents

There was a brief item in the news the other day about the sentencing of
the parents in the "Balloon Boy" incident. When I saw that they would both be spending time in jail my first thought was, "Oh my God, what happens to the kids?" When I read this piece at The Political Carnival I was humbly grateful for that thought, otherwise I would have been feeling really guilty as
I read it.

I'm not going to quote from it, do yourself a favor and go read it yourself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Protocol Economy

I remember my father, who had in common with Barry Goldwater a major disinclination to suffer fools gladly and a proclivity to be somewhat direct in his phrasing, saying of the new "service economy" as it was developing, "Hell, we can't all make a living selling each other hamburgers."

We then went from the "service economy" to the "information age" where, apparently, we know everything and are not able to do anything and we are all going to make a living, um, blogging.

Now, according to David Brooks we are in a "protocol economy" where we are selling each other protocols. If anybody can figure out what the hell he is talking about, please drop a note in the comments. I seldom know what he is talking about, and doubt seriously that he does, but even for him this one is obscure.

Respecting Congress

Much is being made of Obama’s, “I didn’t campaign on the public option” of a day ago. Listen, people, if you can’t find something more substantive than that just go yell at the kids to get off of your lawn or something.

The “public option” was in his “health care reform” plan, but so was strong opposition to an individual mandate. Part of my support for him was that he opposed the individual mandate and Clinton supported it. I was wrong, well partly wrong; single payer would not require an individual mandate. We aren’t going that direction, though, and insurance coverage cannot work in a significantly better fashion without the individual mandate. Obama recognized that and changed his position. I can’t say I’m thrilled about that, but I’d probably be even less thrilled if he had not.

In any case, it’s not up to him. Congress writes and passes legislation and, ugly as it may be, that's it the way it is supposed to work. In the Bush Imperial Presidency we had an era where Congress abdicated its responsibility. I recall being astounded and angry at the beginning of the financial crisis when Congress, Nancy Pelosi in fact, said that it was waiting for the Administration to draft a bill and present it to Congress. It was standing by like some puppy waiting to know its master’s bidding.

I do believe that Obama has showed a lack of leadership to a degree, in that that he could have been more forthcoming about what he believed to be important in the legislation. But to me it is a more important factor that he has showed respect for the separation of powers and respect for Congress as a legislating body, and that his leadership has moved the Congress to act. I’m not altogether certain that Congress deserves the respect he has given it, of course, but it may merely be out of practice after eight years of a president which usurped its legislative function.

But this one is not doing so, and that’s not all bad.

This is “Obama’s health care bill” only to the extent that he provided the impetus for Congress to take action; no small thing, to be sure. A major thing, in fact. But it should carry one of those product liability labels when he signs it to the effect that “I am not responsible for the contents of this package.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stock Price Dramatics

Glenn Greenwald, who usually makes very valid arguments and whom I take very seriously, is posting today about the rise in stock prices of health insurance companies and linking that to the lack of a “public option” in the ”health care reform” bill that is making its way through the Senate.

While I don’t really have any disagreement with any point that he is making, in fact agree with quite a lot what he is saying, I can’t really get as excited as he seems to be about the rise in stock values or their significance. He seems to think that it signals that insurance companies believe that they have won something and that some sort of halcyon period is in their future, but as I look at present and past stock prices for all of the major health insurance companies I really can’t draw that conclusion.

Stock prices in that industry went in the tank just about the time this debate started and, while this increase is starting to bring them upward, they are still quite a long way below where they were at the beginning of 2008. I see this as more a case that the industry has been getting beaten up for the past year and investors are now beginning to think that it might survive the best efforts of the more liberal reformers to put it out of business.

Certainly the health insurance companies receive a mandate for new customers, but they also get saddled with new regulations for payments of benefits. I don’t know how those two factors are going to balance out, and I don’t think anybody else can do more than make guesses at it, but I see this stock price thing as more of a sigh of relief than I do a cheer of victory.

Revenge is a dish...

…best served not served at all. Forget serving it hot or cold, revenge serves no useful purpose and, in the case of federal legislation, costs time and money that could be far more usefully spent.

We have a health care reform bill under consideration, and if it isn’t really about health care and isn’t sufficiently reforming, it does provide insurance for a lot of people who don’t have it. Virtually every single objection I have seen voiced to it boils down to, “it doesn’t sufficiently punish the insurance industry.” I have heard one Senator say that it leaves too many people uninsured and, given that he is the only person I’ve heard claiming that, I have no idea as to the veracity of it. The rest have been, “it doesn’t provide competition, it doesn’t give people choices in choosing insurance,” or a more outright “it’s a sellout to the insurance industry.”

Those objections are from people less interested in reform than in revenge against what they see as a form of evil. They have, for the most part, been sold on that thirst for revenge by the misfiring of the political sales pitch for reform, but it has taken hold and will not be slaked by the original purpose which was to extend insurance; they want blood and will not rest until insurance companies pay some sort of price.

What does that revenge accomplish? It doesn’t make anyone more healthy. It doesn’t save anyone any real money; insurance company profits are a mere 3% or so. Those who want revenge think that it will make them feel better, but it won’t; their lives will still be the same, they will still be angry and will simply have to seek another target for that anger.

We have a bill making its way to the House regarding financial reform, but all that the blogs are frothing about is taking away the bonus money that the bank executives have been raking in; no concern is shown for restoring Glass-Steagall or regulating the trading of derivatives.

That bonus money is a very small fraction of one percent of the money traded on Wall Street, and getting it back will have no more effect on the economy than removing one raindrop from Hurricane Katrina. That method of payment is not why trading ran amok; traders trade for ego and power and making money for their clients, money is just a lovely byproduct. Take away their wealth in the form of bonus and they will manage to create wealth in another form.

Taking that money back will satisfy a thirst for revenge; but like the other thirst, this one too will remain unslaked. Nothing will have been changed and the anger will remain, seeking a new target.

Revenge is a dish best discarded.

Monday, December 21, 2009


On Friday ABC News featured an item saying the President Obama had ordered two military strikes using cruise missiles in Yemen against two al Qaeda sites, saying that “attacks against U.S. interests were imminent.” Other references to the strikes said that such attacks “were being planned.” To the best that I have been able to determine, no evidence or explanation has been offered; apparently the mere accusation is sufficient.

American military and intelligence sources, to the extent that they are speaking at all, are saying that exclusively “militants” were killed in the attacks. Locals are saying that the dead included women and children. We all know how such conflicting claims usually turn out. I find it hard to believe that a cruise missile, launched from many hundreds of miles away and with a blast radius of hundreds of feet, can distinguish between a building which contains exclusively armed “militants” and one which might contain women and children before turning it into rubble.

Obama made a pretty speech in Cairo about the United States wanting to befriend the Muslim world, and he followed that with a bogus ultimatum to Israel about freezing expansion of its illegal settlements in Palestinian territory, major expansion of Hellfire missile attacks of Muslim villages in Pakistan, demands that Pakistan wage war on its own Northern population, more than doubling the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and now with cruise missile attacks in yet another Muslim nation.

George Bush was regarded as a cowboy, strutting around with his “wartime president” rhetoric, but Obama is spreading American destruction more widely than Bush ever even considered doing, and we have more troops deployed in war zones in Obama’s first year in office than we had at any time under George Bush.

Be aware world, if you piss off Barack Obama he will rain down death and destruction upon you, no matter where you try to hide. He will kill you, he will kill your wife, he will kill your children, and he will kill your neighbors.

I voted for Obama; I did not vote for this.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is News?

Fox NewsHello, Fox News? This is merely what Senators do. Why should Nelson be any different? Many people, and I am not one of them, think this is what Senators are supposed to do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on Incremental Change

There are many arguing that an insufficient “health care reform” bill is adequate for now because it will serve as a basis for incremental change to a better and more beneficial health care plan as time goes on. That certainly has worked in the past, as is evidenced by Social Security and Medicare, but I’m uneasy with it for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, incrementalism can produce some pretty untidy results. Even with the two examples being used here, while they are valuable and highly popular programs, there are some problems that could well have been avoided. The Social Security Trust Fund income can, for example, be diverted for use in general revenue spending and used to conceal the true amount of the federal deficit. That’s by no means a fatal flaw, but it is causing problems in maintaining the program, and it makes it easier for opponents of the program to attack it.

Labor laws have been incrementally changed to the point of emasculation.

And, why are we so sure that the vested interests which prevented features from being included in the reform to begin with will allow them to be passed as incremental change in the future? If you think that corporate influence over our legislature is going to magically diminish with time, you might need to examine your grip on reality.

Incremental changes to Social Security and Medicare were passed in the days of Liberalism, and those days are in the past. The kind of incremental changes that have been occurring lately have been the kinds of changes that have been happening in labor laws and financial regulation; changes which favor corporate interests. To think that such an environment of change will be magically reversed because Keith Olbermann and Ed Shultz are screaming on cable news channels is not very realistic.

Debt Load Freakout

I read a blog named The Market Ticker, which needs to be read with an open mind. He believes, for instance, that the climate change issue is a hoax and is predicting the imminent financial collapse not only of the US but of the entire world. Nonetheless, he presents many interesting facts and arguments, and is good reading.

In a post yesterday he sounds alarm bells about this nation’s debt load and presents some conclusions which I think have quite a lot of merit. He has a really lovely chart which shows the progression of debt from 1980 to the present and, well, “Yikes.”

Over the past 29 years we have added to our debt at a rate 2.75 times faster than we have added to our GDP; in that 29 years we increased our GDP by 488% and increased our debt by a stunning 1341%. When you are adding debt in a multiplicative manner, it doesn’t just get worse every period, it gets tremendously worse.

The last nine years are breathtaking. We increased our GDP by 40.8% but increased our debt load by 110%, more than doubling it; a $26 trillion increase in debt, for a stunning total of $50.6 trillion in debt carried. There is a reasonable case to be made that consumer debt should be omitted for the comparison, since consumer income is not included in the GDP, but that makes it worse; without consumer debt the increase was 111%.

What makes the chart a real shocker is over on the right, those tiny columns labeled “Rest Of World.” Pardon my language, but, “Holy Shit!” Assuming that column is correct; The United States is carrying 25 times as much debt as the rest of the entire world combined?! Have we lost our freaking minds?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't Just Stand There

There is an old naval saying; goes back to the days of sailing ships,

"When the cannonballs are flying and spars are falling all about you,
do something, even if it's wrong."

Okay, I made that up, but "health care reform" bill. Need I say more?

Spinning Mediocrity

Look, I’m not against either the stimulus bill or the “health care reform” bill which we assume will be passed by Congress. I don’t think either one of them is a bad bill, or that either one of them makes for bad law. I just see both of them as mediocre, lackluster half-assed bills that have done or will do a small portion of what needed to be done, and which reflect discredit on the legislature which lacked the courage to pass better bills.

I am tired of the crowing and chest thumping being done to spin these sorry half measures into glorified triumphs by an administration which contributed nothing to them other than a stunning lack of leadership that allowed them to be watered down into semi-irrelevance.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, but we cannot honestly call ourselves a great nation when half measures toward the solution of serious needs and causes is the best we can manage; and spinning mediocrity into a delusion of success is not leadership, it is demagoguery.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spinning Health Care

I can't recall the show now, but someone was asking about the Obama Administration, "Why are they so willing to accept such a bad bill?" He added, "Do they think they can finesse anything?"

The answer is, yes, they think they can finesse anything; they did during the campaign. Nothing stuck to them. The "clinging to guns and religion" remark, Jeremiah Wright, the race issue, all of it. Everything that popped up, Obama finessed it to a non-issue or to his advantage.

They did it with the stimulus bill. It was clear from the start that the actual contents of the bill was a matter of supreme indifference to the White House; they just wanted a bill out of Congress that was as large as possible and which could be called a “stimulus bill.” It wound up being far too small and contained more tax cuts and social policy than actual simulative spending, but the White house was happy; they spun it, and spun it, and spun it. They claimed it would "create or save" 3.5 million jobs, and are now bragging about 640,000 rather dubious jobs to date, and telling the public how their stimulus bill saved us from a deep depression.

They figure that no matter how bad the “health care reform” bill is, that as long as they get a major bill that can even halfway plausibly carry the label they can finesse it to their advantage. They can spin it into such a great reform of health care that it dwarfs the creation of Medicare.

Kill The Bill?

Every time I think that the “health care reform” debate cannot possibly get any sillier… I know I’ve said that before, but this thing is reaching truly colossal proportions of insanity; now the left wing wants to kill the bill and start over after almost a year of…

“Left wing” is not accurate, though; the ones who want the bill killed are the people who are more interested in punishing insurance companies than they are in accomplishing any actual reform. They want this bill killed because it doesn’t sufficiently thrash the insurance companies rather than because of anything that it does or doesn’t do for the people of the nation. Like a bunch of little kids who don't get to set the rules so they are going to take their toys and go home.

For-profit health insurance is the method we have for processing payments of health care. We have made the decision that we are not going to change that, so trying to make for-profit companies operate on a non-profit basis is just stupid. Supporters of reform went off track when they decided to make the insurance industry the target of their efforts rather than focusing on what they could do to help their fellow citizens, and they have been stewing in their own bile for so long that they have become utterly deranged.

Keith Olbermann started off last night with, “And now, as promised, a special comment on HR-3590, the Senate bill on health care reform.” The subject has so unbalanced him that he no longer knows the difference between a House resolution, prefaced with the letters “HR,” and a Senate bill which is prefaced with the letter “S.” Given that he didn’t know which bill, or which legislative body, he was talking about, I didn’t bother to listen to the special comment.

Killing the bill and, in its place, passing a series of smaller bills might not be a bad idea. Many of them could be passed with a simple majority, others could survive the filibuster, and the sum of them might very well be a better and faster result than the grand gesture of this massive bill. Obama and the Democratic leadership are frantically trying to prevent that because reform is not their primary purpose either; they want to be able to take credit for the grand gesture itself, and without the passage of the massive bill that purpose is defeated.

Killing the bill because it “is not good enough” or because it “does not do enough” is just ridiculous. I’m not sure I like the “incrementalism” approach of pass the beginning of reform now and build on it after it is in place. What we get with the incremental implementation is too often a patched-up messy product, but it does work. Congressman Weiner, on Countdown last night, was dead wrong when he decried that approach and said that we have not improved on Medicare since it was first passed; it has been expanded dramatically. It was originally only for the indigent and was expanded to cover everyone above age 65, people who are disabled and children under SCHIP; and the Part D drug coverage was added.

Meanwhile, this whole reform thing has been so badly botched, with almost a full year of airing a nasty pile of dirty laundry, that while the public still likes small parts of this steaming pile of manure, they have turned against the concept as a whole in droves.

Update: Okay, Keith Olbermann's not knowing what the letters in front of the number of the bill stand for may not be due to stress induced by the subject matter. He may just not know.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Replacing Guantanamo

The White House announcement of a venue for the replacement of Guantanamo is great news, of course, in that it brings closer the closing date of that iniquitous prison.

I would be celebrating this with more enjoyment if it were not accompanied by the announcement that none of the terrorists initially moved to this new facility will be there as the result of trial, or for the purpose of standing trial. At best the procedure they will be subjected to will be a military tribunal, a process which prior to Bush was reserved for the battlefield and used only when a proper trial was impossible. Many of them will be held without even a pretense of trial of any sort, making this new prison merely Guantanamo by another name.

As Glenn Greenwald points out at Unclaimed Territory, it is usually the case that when the prosecution has insufficient evidence to convict a suspect, or when the evidence he has is tainted and he cannot use it, he is required to release the suspect from custody. President Obama has decided to follow the Bush protocol of not bringing those suspects to trial and not releasing them, but merely holding them in prison indefinitely without trial instead.

“I taught the constitution,” Obama said in his campaign, “I understand the constitution. I will restore the constitution.”

Well, I didn’t teach the constitution, but I sat in a classroom with a man who did, and I served in the Navy to defend the constitution. The constitution that I know guarantees a trial by a jury of one’s peers and a right to face one’s accusers. It does not restrict those rights to citizens, it says that those are the processes of justice that will be used in this nation, and it does not say that they will be used only when convenient.

When George Bush used the AUMF of 2001 as authorization to imprison without trial I said that he was wrong; that the act did not justify his action, and this nation does not imprison without trial. I am not going to say that Barack Obama is right when he uses the AUMF of 2001 as authorization to imprison without trial, as he is doing in the justification of moving “detainees” to this new prison without trial.

He promised to close Guantanamo; he’s merely replacing it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gay Marriage in DC

The City Council of DC just approved gay marriage in the District. Now it goes to Congress, who has final say on laws in DC. This should be fun.

If they do nothing the law stands, but do you really think they will do nothing? But suppose they do nothing or, perhaps, approve it; then it goes to Obama for his signature. That might be fun too. Oh boy, stay tuned for what might become a tempest in a teapot.

Insurance Demagoguery

When I first started this blog, back in 2006, one of the favored targets of politicians and media was the oil industry. Gas prices were high and the oil companies were to blame; they were profiteering and becoming wealthy by ripping off the public, their executives were reaping outrageously fat salaries… Something had to be done, laws urgently needed to be passed
to “keep them honest” and “hold them accountable.

Just like the health insurance industry today.

What was ever done to reign in oil companies? Nothing. It turned out, when all of the bloviation evaporated, that oil companies were not the problem. Oil companies were making less than 10% profit, and actually had been losing money for many years. High prices were being caused by speculative traders, and the ones who were becoming wealthy were the traders and nations who had the oil, such as Saudi Arabia.

The “windfall profit tax” that was going to “punish the oil companies’ egregious behavior” would not have reaped much money, because there was little if any egregious behavior to punish.

I blogged repeatedly about that at the time so, “I told you so.”

When all of the bloviation evaporates in this round of demagoguery, it will turn out that the health insurance industry is no more of a villain now than the oil companies were then. They are currently operating at about 6% profit and, while they do contribute to health care costs, they are no more the proximate cause of this nation’s high spending on health care than is, say, the advertising industry. Actually, advertising might be by a substantial margin the larger culprit of the two.

We spend three times more than any other nation on health care for a fairly complex mix of reasons, including profit taking by doctors, hospitals, clinics, labs, drug companies, pharmacies, and advertisers in addition to insurance companies, and due to choices made by the people who use the health care system. We are not going to solve that by a simplistic bashing of the health insurance industry.

Just as bashing oil companies solved nothing in 2006.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Payment Limits for Health Care

The latest “health care reform” outrage is that the most recent Senate proposal does not prevent insurance companies from setting maximum payment limits in their policies. Auto insurance has always done that, and no one seems to consider that outrageous, but, for health insurance it is considered to be inhumane.

It rather bemuses me to listen to the advocates of “health care reform” who rant that because the insurance industry “does not care about its customers” that laws must be passed in two parts; part one is to require vastly increased payouts by insurance companies in behalf of those customers, and part two is reduced premiums charged to those customers.

Is there any other for-profit business for which we would demand unlimited payments for services and that their income be reduced?

In reality, the insurance companies have no reason to “care about their customers.” Their purpose for existence is to return a profit for their owners; in the case of corporations, their stockholders. If they are not doing that, then it does not matter what else they are doing, they have failed to meet the purpose of their very existence. Many people, and I am one, believe that businesses have a moral responsibility to treat their physical and social environment well and to be fair with their customers in the process of creating profit, and that if they cannot do that they should shut down because their business model itself is flawed. But insurance companies are not in the business of "caring about their customers."

It may be the case that for-profit health insurance has outlived its purpose, but its demise is not what we are pursuing, nor can we do so. Profit is almost a religion in this nation; virtually nothing is worth doing unless it is done for profit. Even government functions are increasingly “outsourced” to for-profit companies. Yet we are demanding that health insurance be managed on a for-profit basis with unlimited outgo and limited income.

If you want to do away with insurance companies, and I do, say so.

Eight Straight

Any team that can beat the Cowboys in Texas Stadium is a winner, by definition. Now, at 10-3 the Chargers are two games up on Denver with three games to play. Yes, I know there a couple of teams with thirteen straight, but one thing at a time.

Navy beat Army again, the Heismann goes to Alabama, and the Iggles beat Eli Manning the Giants.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama in Norway

"The idea that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it."

Those words have quite a lot of power, in part because they do not strive for power. In eschewing eloquence, they achieve eloquence.

To me, that was the nature of Obama’s speech in Norway yesterday, and I was happy to have him, and that speech, representing my nation. I don’t think it was quite the “speech for history” that some claimed for it, and I don’t really think it was his best one, but it suited the moment and it served him, and America well.

He spoke of how he aspires to lead his nation in the community of nations, and that is precisely what the “lecture” at the Nobel award is supposed to be. If his current leadership does not perfectly meet those aspirations they are not diminished, let alone made void. There is a time and a place to speak of how he falls short of his goals; this is not it. This is the place to be pleased that we have a President who has the goals and values which he enumerated in his lecture.

Some of his goals are not mine. So be it. Weigh the totality of the man; evaluate all of who the man is and all of what he stands for and place that totality upon the scale of judgement. A man’s weight is not the weight of one finger, it is the sum of all of his parts.

"Deal With It"

It always amazes me when people (Olbermann and Maddow come to mind) suggest that Democrats should, now that they are in power, do precisely what Republicans did when they were in power; namely, shove the minority aside into a position of irrelevance. Given how bitterly these people were complaining about being in that position at the time, why would they then want to put someone else into it?

I think it is to the great credit of the Democratic party that they have not pulled a bunch of parlimentary parlor tricks to render the opposition irrelevant. The fact that under democracy the majority rules does not mean that the minority should be rendered impotent; that’s not politics, it’s common human decency.

If it makes legislating more difficult; well, so be it. Democracy is hard. Don’t sit around and cry about it, do the hard work and solve the problems that come with perhaps the best system of government, for all of its flaws and shortcomings, that the world has yet come up with.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sex in stock cars

Danica Patrick is coming to stock car racing. Be still my palpitating heart.

I have watched this “dynamite package” in open wheel a dozen or so times and the only thing I have ever seen her do is, in the words of a famous general, “advance to the rear.” She starts in fourth place and seeks tenth place as if it were something avidly to be achieved. She won one race because the eight cars that were faster than her ran out of gas.

It’s always the car’s fault, of course, as is every accident that she gets into.

Dale Earnhardt Junior will be her boss. They will be quite a pair; the two most exciting drivers in the sport, neither of whom can drive worth a damn and neither of whom has ever made a mistake. That will be an ego contest worth watching, but the car race will probably suck.

Incoherence Abounds

The latest “public option” proposal now has two parts; opening Medicare to those 55 and older, and a national “exchange” of insurance plans offered by private companies but overseen in some manner by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management.

As to the Medicare part I have a slight reservation. I’m not sure they are going to be able to price it fairly, since present eligibility is based on having paid Medicare tax for 45 years, so how do they calculate the cost needed to buy in? I assume all of that can be worked out, so overall I suspect the idea has merit.

The “national exchange” strikes me as quite a bit more problematic. For one thing it seems like a pretty huge government bureaucracy, OPM or not. Another drawback is that currently the regulation of all forms of insurance is a matter reserved to the states, and this plan tramples all over that. I haven’t heard anyone mention that little issue, but it seems like a problem to me.

To Ed Shultz, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, not to mention the Daily Kos guy, this plan is a rank abandonment of principle, and it has them screaming for Congress to be eviscerated. Their problem is that they are far more interested in trashing the insurance companies than they are in actually reforming anything. Unless it bloodies the insurance companies they want nothing to do with it, and this plan abandons the attack on their favorite target.

Which is one reason I think it might be the best option offered yet.

Ezra Klein was on Olbermann’s show last night, introduced by Olbermann as having great insight into matters of insurance reform and accompanied by the usual fawning that Keith always does over Countdown guests, and then was ignored when he said of insurance companies,

“…they’re about the 85th most evil industry, their profit is about 3%, so if you remove all of their profit you haven’t done much about cost.”

That went over Keith's head like a hot air balloon over Albuquerque.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey then provided Olbermann with a lengthy diatribe about needing a “public option to prevent insurance rates from soaring into the sky,” a colorful, if somewhat inapt metaphor. She even provided the statement that the Congressional plan included some non-profits and still went up 8% this year, which would actually seem to refute the efficacy of the public option. She nonetheless steamed bravely ahead, albeit in a somewhat halting manner after that, seemingly distracted by the contrary effect of her own words on her argument. Olbermann was undeterred, thanking her effusively after her diatribe sort of trickled to a stop.

Instead of, "You silly ass, you shot down my argument!" Olbermann went on to more important things; like Chinese tv animations on the Tiger Woods saga. "Cartoons, we have cartoons."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Left Wing Radicalism

I think the Democratic left needs to sort of get over itself and become a bit more realistic about how the world works. This nonsense about Barack Obama being some kind of “failed president” because he hasn’t done everything that the left wants him to do is getting kind of ridiculous, and threatening to stay home from the polls in 2010 is beyond childish. Even little kids act more reasonably than these people are behaving.

When I was a kid I made a Christmas list every year, listing all of the things I wanted Santa to bring me for Christmas. It never occurred to me I would get every single thing on the list. Hell, if I got one or two things that were on the list I was thrilled.

These people on the Democratic left are like kids who didn’t get everything on their list so they are throwing away all of the toys that they did get and declaring that they want nothing to do with Christmas.

Barack Obama has not done everything that I want him to do. I’m actually quite pleased that he has done anything that I wanted him to do, because his predecessor certainly didn’t. As to the things he hasn’t done; some have been thwarted by Congress or other issues, for some he hasn’t yet had time, and some he doesn’t intend to do at all. He doesn’t agree with all of my priorities. Fancy that.

I will be critical of Obama when I disagree with his actions, but I’m certainly not going to dissolve into some massive snit and become the Democratic version of a teabagger. You will see me at the polls in 2010, regardless of who is running or what the issues are; I’ll be there.

Laws and Suggestions

Despite the track record of not finding any, I keep looking for signs that there are actually any reductions of health care costs in the current discussion of “health care reform” legislation. I keep getting my hopes lifted by a headline such as “Finding the Nerve to Cut Health Costs” in the New York Times today.

It starts out disappointingly with such things as “commission to reduce Medicare waste” and a “tax on plastic surgery.” The first is Medicare, so it affects government cost not general health care cost, and the second is not actually cost reduction at all.

Then it goes all vague about “waste” and says that the bill will “increase the typical family’s income $2,500 a year” but doesn’t says how it will do that. Since other articles boast of reducing insurance premiums, that could very well be what’s at play in this “income enhancement,” so I’m still not seeing any “health care cost” reduction.

Then it launches into a discussion of the “Medicare Payment Advisory Commission” and how it has suggested reducing payments for home health care. Except that the reduction discussed is only for Medicare, so we are again only talking about government cost, not costs borne by the general public for their health care, and the Senate has even rejected this reduction in government cost.

Then we get the entirety of the non-Medicare portion of cost cutting,

The day before the Senate defeated the home health care amendment, Senators Collins, Lieberman and Specter introduced an amendment with some measures to push medicine away from the insidious fee-for-service payment system. The cost-cutting momentum continued on Tuesday, when 11 of the 13 freshman Democratic senators announced their own package of measures. Neither proposal is earth-shattering, but both would make a difference.

Among other things, the freshmen’s proposal would do more than the current Senate bill to push insurers to use a standardized payment process. Right now, doctors and hospitals often have to fill out different forms for different insurers. “There’s a lot of money there,” Len Nichols, head of health policy at the New America Foundation, says.

Notice this is an amendment offered by freshmen Senators, which has not been accepted by the Senate.

It’s not clear whether the “some measures” that are “not earth-shattering” to “move away from” fee for service payment are limited to Medicare, as I have seen elsewhere, or if they are for medical service at large, which is implied here. In addition to those tentative measures we have a measure to “push” for common forms. So if this proposal is accepted, then legislation will contain measures that "push" for "movement toward" cost reduction.

For health insurance we are passing actual, you know, laws. For cost reduction we are making suggestions, maybe, and tentative ones at that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dishonest Discourse

Keith Olbermann spent the first 15 minutes of his show last night discussing “health care reform” with various guests but, oddly, health care itself or the reforming thereof was never mentioned once. Health insurance and health insurance reform was discussed the entire time, but the term “health insurance reform” was never once used.

Suppose that we embarked on a program of “auto insurance reform” and proposed to accomplish it by lowering the price of cars. What does the price of cars have to do with car insurance, you ask? Well, about as much as the price of health insurance does with the cost of health care. And yet we propose changing health insurance and call it “health care reform.”

Suppose that our reform of auto insurance by means of lowering the price
of cars consisted only of demonizing auto manufacturers, calling them “criminals,” referring to them as the “auto making cartel,” and simply demanding that they sell their cars at a lower price by "keeping them honest" and "holding them accountable" in some fashion? We would have no plan that steel cost less, or glass, plastic, aluminum… All of the ingredients that go into making a car could cost as much as the seller can get for them. The labor cost is not a concern, workers need to make a living, after all, so let workers make as much as possible.

So, how can the car makers sell cars at lower price if none of their costs have gone down? Well because shut up, that’s how. We want lower priced auto insurance, and lower priced cars is the method we have chosen to get that, so do not inject a bunch of silly logic and facts into the “auto insurance reform by making cars cheaper” discussion.

That’s how stupid the current discussion is; talking about changing health insurance and calling it “health care reform.” But stupidity is not what's at work here; the discussion is deeply dishonest and very purposefully so.

Obama wants to extend insurance to people who do not have access to it, but if the politicians and corporate controlled media called it “insurance reform” it would be deeply unpopular because 85% of Americans already have insurance that they like and don’t want it changed. A storm of protest against it would erupt, so they call it “health care reform” instead, and add insurance prices to the equation to make it popular, calling them "health care costs" for broad appeal, even though the only "costs" under discussion are the prices of health insurance.

They muddy the waters, of course, by throwing into the discussion the "cost" to the government of subsiding insurance for those who cannot pay for it themselves, and the effect on the federal deficit, but those numbers have nothing whatever to do with "health care costs" per se.

Real “health care cost reform” cannot be on the table because the high costs of health care comes from generous political contributors; hospital corporations, drug companies, doctors and medical associations, lawyers and legal associations, advertising corporations, and the media that carry those ads. Rocking that boat means disrupting the stream of political contributions.

So “insurance reform” which politicians want and the public does not, is pursued under the name of “health care reform” which the public wants and politicians do not. The public thinks it is getting one thing while politicians work very hard to be sure the public is getting something different but is still supportive of the legislation. And it works because the adage is true that if you tell a lie often enough long enough it becomes accepted as truth.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where's My Ark?

rainfallAfter 163 days without measurable rainfall, we get this. Forecast yesterday said 1" from this storm, but when I took this radar image pretty darn close to that amount had already fallen.

This sort of thing may be "run of the mill" in your neighborhood, but it's quite exciting here. And,
more rainfallForecast says Mother Nature is not done with us. Notice that they use sky images for everything but rain? That's because of the chaos that erupts on our freeways on the rare occasions that it rains here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

What is Cost Containment?

What, precisely, is meant by “cost containment” when legislators are discussing “health care reform” legislation? It might not be and probably isn’t what you might think it would be, namely reducing the amount you pay when you go to the hospital or doctor.

Ron Beasley at Newshoggers had what he called a “health adventure” and shows us a bill for $606 submitted by a doctor as a result of that adventure.

Today I received the above bill from the emergency room physician who spent about five minutes with me. I will add another 10 minutes for looking at the X-rays and the EKG but that still comes to over $2,400 an hour. I will call them on Monday and agree to pay 50% ( still outrageous) - about what Medicare or an insurance company would pay.

Which means a) that the doctor is billing cash customers twice what is billed to contract customers and b) that the doctor is charging Ron $606 for something that costs less than $200 to produce.

But, and this is a really big "but," the insurance companies are the problem, the sole cause of high health care costs, and the source of all things evil. We don't need to change anything about the way this doctor is charging patients because passing legislation with a "public option" will solve all of the problems of cost and will result in health care instantly becoming almost free.

I may have indulged in a little bit of sarcasm there.

Ron’s post includes a clip of a panel discussion on the Rachel Maddow Show, on “health care reform” legislation or, actually, the politics thereof. One of the panelists is Anthony Weiner, a New York Congressman, who talks at length about the importance of “cost containment.” The transcript is not yet available, so I may not have his words exactly right, but he says, among other things,

If we don’t contain costs this will be considered a failure. … The cost containment part is the important thing and that’s where the public option has emerged as an important (unintelligible due to crosstalk).

What does the “public option” have to do with prices charged by doctors and hospitals? Well, nothing, which is why “cost containment” doesn’t mean what one might think that it does. Weiner seems to think it means reducing the price of health insurance, but his platitudes on the "public option" have not sold me that we can do that really effectively without reducing what health insurance companies pay out for health care services.

So when your representative claims that the legislation he/she is voting for contains health care “cost containment” measures, ask them what “cost containment” means.

And make them actually answer the question.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bama Rulz

Alabama has finally taken its proper place in the BCS rankings. Florida usurped the #1 spot for too long, and the Crimson Tide finally put them in their place. Now, on to the National Championship.

Update: Sunday morning
I'm trying to recover from the uncontrollable laughter that I dissolved into
as a result of suggestions from various sources that Texas would beat Alabama in the National Championship game. Oh Lord, here I go again...

Fun At Town Hall

You probably want to watch this one. We don't get any political commentary, just Obama doing his thing with some modestly whacky questioners at a town hall. Our Prez does this sort of thing really well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Nimbyism Runs Rampant

There was a woman outside the grocery store today, collecting signatures to "Kill Library Cuts," whom I ignored on my way into the store.

San Diego has a pending $179 million shortfall in its $736 million budget for the coming fiscal year, so the mayor has proposed a series of cuts across the board; including fire and police departments, parks and recreation, city services... No one is spared, so that no one has to be cut more deeply that is utterly necessary. Included is reducing hours that libraries will be open by about 10% or so.

On my way out of the store this woman tried to buttonhole me to sign her petition so I said that maybe she'd prefer to make cuts in fire and police. Her reply was a snide, "No, I'd like them to eliminate that $158 million City Hall they want," and I just lost it.

I told her in as even a tone as I could manage that she was a typical NIMBY idiot and that she didn't know what she was talking about; that the new city hall was a capital expense and had nothing whatever to do with the city's operating budget, and that she apparently thought that everyone should tighten their belts except her. "People like you," I finished, "are just sick."

Okay, maybe I overdid it a little bit, but...

Health Care Cost Confusion

There are a couple of recent columns on the cost of health care. Paul Krugman, in a NYT op-ed yesterday, says the current proposals for legislation are going to reduce the cost of legislation wonderfully. Bloomberg, in an article today citing mostly the Congressional Budget Office, says the currently proposed legislation largely fails to offer hope for reduction in overall health care spending.

Supporters of reform are, of course, linking furiously to Paul Krugman and are treating Bloomberg like it had some sort of dread disease. They are quoting the CBO with great frequency, of course, but only the part where the CBO says low income people will pay less for health insurance, not the part where the CBO says that the reason for that is that the government will be picking up part of the tab and not because premiums decreased.

Let me say that I want us to provide for people who don’t have health insurance to have it, so I want legislation to pass, but this "bending the cost curve" nonsense continues to drive me up a wall.

Paul Krugman is not exactly noted for being critical of the Obama Administration, though he has been at times, so I take his cheerleading on progressive matters with a grain of salt, but I do respect his opinions. In this op-ed, though, he seems to have a little trouble differentiating between “health care costs” and “federal deficit,” and seems to believe that lowering the latter is, all by itself and automatically, going to lower the former.

Krugman does mention in his column that the legislation includes “efforts to improve incentives for cost-effective care, the use of medical research to guide doctors toward treatments that actually work, and more,” which he regards as “the first really serious attempt to control health care costs” that we’ve seen.

Except that the things he mentions are “suggestions” in the legislation, and when you “suggest” that a business conduct itself in a manner that reduces its profits you are not really being “serious” about controlling that business. The items in the legislation which require the insurance companies to pay for more medical services are mandates, so more medical services will be performed and no controls are placed on prices charged for those services.

Bloomberg, of course, quotes Republicans and is to that extent nonsensical, but it also relies on quotes from a former US Comptroller General and the CBO. It mentions that the legislation does nothing to move us away from the "fee for service" delivery model, which is a significant part of the reason for high costs.

It gives a turn to the Peter Orzag, White House Budget Director, but he falls prey to such ideas as the “raising taxes on insurance policies is going to lower health care costs” concept. The idea is that the tax will result in people no longer buying high-priced health insurance and, with cheaper plans, they will no longer get as sick. I know that if I’d had a lesser insurance policy I certainly would have called off that most recent damned stroke that I had.

Unlike the New York Times, which sort of obfuscated the CBO report with abstruse language, Bloomberg states it quite plainly,

Days later, a CBO study concluded that while Americans in the nongroup-insurance market -- the one most affected by the overhaul -- would see premiums rise, those increases would be largely offset by government subsidies.

And Bloomberg adds,

The CBO study doesn’t allay concern over rising medical spending, said Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University, who backs the legislation. While the Senate bill lays the groundwork to slow spending growth, Congress would need to make many more tough decisions that could take years to have an impact, Reinhardt said.

“They are a bunch of gutless wonders,” he said. “They can’t cut any spending.”

The bottom line is all that Congress, and probably Obama, really want to do is get insurance extended to people who presently cannot afford insurance, but legislation which purported to do nothing other than that would be immensely unpopular with the public. It would be too expensive and affect too few people. It was, in fact, the original plan, but it met with a very cool response; too many people already “have insurance that they like” and simply weren’t willing to get involved with a health insurance movement.

Health care cost reform was added to lend momentum to the legislation, but it cannot actually be done without offending the corporate sponsors of the legislators themselves, and that is the source of all of the playacting and controversy. Congress needs to get something passed that looks like cost reform but is not actually cost reform.

Trust me, they will do precisely that.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Are You Kidding?

I happen to think that it is utterly and totally ridiculous for Congress to be "investigating" a pair of publicity-seeking party crashers at a White House gala. That being said, is the presidential staff really serious that it is a "principle of the separation of powers" for Congress to talk to the White House Social Secretary? Really, the Social Secretary?

They're claiming executive privilege for the freaking Social Secretary?

Spurious Arguments

Some of the reaching that has been done to praise Obama’s Afghanistan speech have been amusing; or would have been amusing if the stakes didn’t involve so many people losing life and limb.

Repeatedly I have heard him applauded for beginning by taking the subject back to 9/11, “back to the origins of the conflict.” The idea, it is claimed, is to remind the public of why we are at war there.

Except we’re not there because of 9/11; that is the one thing we can be pretty sure is not why we are there. The al Queda cadre was chased out of Afghanistan years ago and we are not even possibly going to capture or kill them there now. The pursuit of the apprehension of the 9/11 perpetrators was valid for the original invasion of Afghanistan, and it would be a valid purpose now if that’s what we were doing. But we are not, because we know very well that they are not there, and that “safe haven” thing is jingoistic nonsense. Obama “taking it back to 9/11” was nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric.

Keith Olbermann last night, defending the proposed withdrawal date from Afghanistan, reminded us regarding Iraq that “to this date, virtually none of the scenarios the Republicans warned would come to pass there with a timeline in place had happened.”

Keith, the scenarios had to do with what would happen after we withdrew and we haven’t withdrawn yet. So they might still happen, or they might not.

I support the setting of a withdrawal date, of course, and disagree with the President only in that I think it should be set earlier. In defending that policy, however, I really want to see honest and legitimate arguments being used; otherwise we descend to the level of the demagogues who use lies and slander.

Good policy doesn’t need to be defended with bad arguments.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

President Obama on Afghanistan

President Obama was expected to go for a “middle ground” solution to Afghanistan last night, but it looked to me like he tried to run for both end zones at the same time. He flipped a coin and tried to get it to come up both heads and tails.

"We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people." Etc.

Those nineteen men are dead and the men who approved the plan are in Pakistan, or maybe also dead, so what does the events of 9/11 have to do with Americans fighting and dying in Afghanistan today?

"Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention – and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world."

Okay, you inherited this. We’ve heard that on the Afghanistan war and on the economy about 12,000 times now. We get that. On the illegality of the Iraq invasion and on things like torture, we “want to look forward not back,” but on the things that you haven’t been able to solve we’ll look back and point out that you didn’t cause them. It’s a fair enough argument that you are dealing with things that you inherited, but the selectiveness of the “looking forward” thing is beginning to wear a bit.

"Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people."

Numerous sources which I consider credible suggest that al Qaeda has never sought the overthrow of the Afghan government, and you notice that al Qaeda disappears from the rest of the statement, while the name of Pakistan suddenly appears without explanation. The four players, Taliban, al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Pakistan have suddenly become very muddled. In the next several paragraphs those four players are bandied about in a manner that suggests use of the old adage, “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

"I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home."

In what way is it in our “vital national interest” to send more troops? What are those troops going to do? Why will it not be in our “vital national interest” to have them there 18 months from now?

He does go on to say that those troops will do about eleven different things, and apparently the complete success of all of those things is absolutely assured in precisely 18 months. Either that or we’ll leave even if those things are not accomplished, which leads me to wonder if doing them is really necessary. He does add that the withdrawal after 18 months will depend on “conditions on the ground,” which sounds very familiar and leads me to believe that the withdrawal thing might be a bit less than ironclad.

"They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."

The implication is, then, the Afghan forces will be at a point after 18 months that they no longer need us and we can leave. It takes about three or four years to train an adequately competent military leader at the squad level, so that goal seems highly unlikely to me. The fact that Afghan forces are experiencing 25% desertion rates at the moment makes that goal even more unlikely.

Although, as Obama is prone to do, the statement is worded so vaguely that it might mean that he knows the Afghan forces will still be completely hopeless 18 months from now and that we will leave regardless. He talks about "our ability to train," their forces but not about their resulting skill levels, and says they will "get into the fight" but he doesn't say anything about their ability to win it.

"The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They have been confronted with occupation – by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes."

And, for eight years, by the United States. And suggesting that they were "occupied" by al Qaeda is a bit of a stretch, I think. I've always heard it said that the Taliban "harbored" al Qaeda.

"Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan."

Some partnership. We are bombing them with pilotless drones, and we have covert CIA military forces operating within their borders.

"First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. … Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action."

Oh, boy, he pulled that one right out of George Bush’s ass. A “Coalition of the Willing” no less. I wonder if includes Iceland with its one troop.

"Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency."

There are a lot of Middle East experts who would argue that point; who point out that Afghanistan is a magnet for “freedom fighters” from all over the Arab world who have come there specifically to help overthrow the American invaders.

"And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border."

Well, no, we were attacked from Boston’s Logan Airport and those “same extremists” died in the attack. More broadly, though, the attacks were planned in Hamburg, Germany, and in Miami and San Diego in this country and were merely approved by al Qaeda who happened to be in Afghanistan because we sent them there to fight the Soviets. The al Qaeda hatred of the United States has nothing to do with Afghanistan, and everything to do with our support of the Suadi royalty; a support which we continue to this day.

"So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict. We will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power."

I like that approach a lot. So, when are you going to start doing that? What’s wrong with starting now; starting with Afghanistan? The use of 200,000 troops occupying two nations, neither of which has ever harmed or posed a threat to us is hardly “nimble” or “precise.”

"For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations."

No, we just want to build massive military bases on their territory.

"This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue – nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."

Bush used to say this too, but he was a little more blunt about it, “If you disagree with me you are committing treason.” Obama merely says that you are sort of interfering with his goals by “being partisan” if you disagree with him.

Obama seems to hold that if al Qaeda can’t plan attacks on us in the the “safe havens” of Afghanistan or Pakistan then it can’t plan attacks anywhere and we will be completely safe. I sincerely hope that he is not that delusional, and that he has some other reason for all of this death and destruction in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine what that reason might be, and it’s a sad case that I'm presuming that either my president is delusional or he is lying through his teeth, but obviously I’d rather have him be lying.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Oh Look, Something Shiny

The American people have got to be the most gullible people in the universe. Package horse dung and label it “candy” and they will buy it, eat it, and tell you how good it is.

“Health care reform” has been the topic du jour for months now, and with a side issue of providing insurance to those who don’t have it, it has mostly been about “bending the cost curve,” which supposedly means cost reduction, “holding the insurance companies accountable,” also supposedly about reducing cost, “making health care affordable” and “stopping the runaway increase in health care costs.”

I have been trying to find something, anything, in the discussion of proposed legislation which will actually affect the cost of health care, and so far I have found nothing. The discussion revolves entirely around insurance, and all of it involves making insurance companies pay for more, not less. An article by Ron Brownstein supposedly was the seminal work on current proposals, so much so that Obama made it required reading for White House staff, but all it said about health care delivery was that changes were being made in the way that Medicare payment would be made and that it was “hoped” that private health care would adopt similar measures.

I hope I will win the lottery, too, but the bank is not going to lend me any money with that hope as my only collateral.

Yesterday the New York Times provided a somewhat less than informative headline that there would be “No Big Rise” in insurance premiums under the proposed legislation. While I’m delighted to hear that, I thought the plan was to reduce costs. The CBO’s cost analysis is nothing to get excited about, but the results are a little hard to decipher in the Times piece, which makes them look better than they actually are (emphasis mine),

Before taking account of federal subsidies to help people buy insurance on their own, the budget office said the bill would tend to drive up premiums. But as a result of the subsidies, it said, most people in the individual insurance market would see their costs decline, compared with the costs expected under current law.

Read that again. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says yes, the legislation is going to drive up premiums. Part of those premiums will be paid by the government, so people with lower incomes will be paying less. That does not fulfill Obama’s promise to lower the cost of health care. The fact that somebody else is paying part of the cost for you does not mean the cost has gone down.

Paul Krugman has a brilliant post with a really neat graph purporting to show premiums from the CBO report and a rather snide remark that, “Several have already claimed that the report shows that premiums will rise.”

The graph does not show what premiums will be, it shows what portion of premiums people will pay. And the CBO report does say very specifically that the proposed legislation will “tend to drive premiums upward.” It also says that after the government pays part of those higher premiums for them, individuals will pay less. Here’s Paul’s graph.
Here’s what the graph should look like, with green representing the amount paid by the government.
Americans have the idea that government payments aren’t really money, or it’s money that comes from some amorphous place that doesn’t involve actual people. “If the government pays for it, it doesn’t cost anything.”

Meanwhile the people of this nation are perfectly happy with a president prating away about “bending the cost curve” because it sounds intelligent, and they don’t want to notice that under this “bent cost curve” the health care providers and the insurance companies continue to loot the pockets of the common people. A cost structure that was already two to three times higher than the rest of the world continues to rise unabated.