Thursday, August 27, 2009

what the public option would mean for Michiana

According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, passing the America's Affordable Health Choices Act would mean in the 2nd district of Indiana:
up to 13,500 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 10,200 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,770 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $104 million in uncompensated care each year; and 95,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.

That would be the one with the public option. These numbers are pretty staggering.

Here's the one for TX-19 (Randy Neugebauer, R - Lubbock), and here for TX-32 (North Dallas, Pete Sessions). The rest of you can look your districts up here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The New York Times today has an excellent obituary for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Moving in a somewhat different direction from the obit, even more than Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy was a link to the world of the mid-20th century, and at the same time was one of the major forces breaking down the old order. It's amazing to see some of the names he defeated or retired. He beat the grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge for his Senate seat in 1962, and the son of Huey Long for Majority Whip in 1968.

In 1990, Jesse Helms released perhaps the most disgusting and overtly racist ad in the history of American television. That ad, "Hands," specifically accuses his opponent of supporting "Ted Kennedy's racial quota law."

As powerful and influential as Ted Kennedy became (I think it's undeniable that he is actually the Kennedy who ended up leaving the biggest mark), he was also a constant reminder of what the United States and the Democratic party was twice robbed of. His power, effectiveness, and willingness to be an unabashed liberal even during the backlash years make me sad to think of what we missed out on in Robert and Jack.

If there's anything from Kennedy's life and work that I hope we'll hear more about and that Democrats will take to heart, it's that Kennedy became the party's single most effective senator not by watering down his beliefs, as the Blue Dogs often do, but by finding points of common ground with individual Republicans and maintaining personal friendships with many of them. There are very few, if any, Democrats of whom Senate Republicans speak so fondly, and that includes all of the centrist Democrats. Kennedy's ability to work with conservatives like Orrin Hatch while remaining implacably liberal should be a model for Democrats, not an outmoded skill set.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the case against welfare: health insurance companies

This is a conversation I would love to see. Atrios:
John Cole:

Hell, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what value the insurance companies add at all. Seems like all they do is skim money off the top, add layers of paperwork, and then screw people when they get a serious illness.

This is correct. More than that, most of "health insurance" isn't really insurance at all, except for a bit of catastrophic insurance which they try to avoid paying out.

There really is no reason for them to exist.

It appeared on CNBC recently, as well, in this interview with Anthony Weiner. At about the 2:00 mark, he has to correct the newsmodel's conflation of the public option with "single payer" (an issue in itself: that's a pretty basic distinction to be f**king up this late in the game) and notes as a sort of throwaway line that he's not sure what private insurance companies are bringing to the table right now. It's a great interview, worth watching in its entirety.

Single payer plans give the government broad power to negotiate lower prices and power to consumers, who have some say over the system via their elected representatives, while dramatically streamlining the system. A public option can do these on a smaller scale, providing coverage to those who need it without discrimination and at minimal expense, while forcing insurance companies to compete with an entity that isn't interested in profits. Co-ops, so the argument goes, gives consumers a say in how their insurance organization is run and they share in the prosperity when/if it does well.

What is the advantage of private insurance? What do they offer? They are more expensive than public plans, less efficient, more capricious with their coverage, and less accountable. The only thing private companies offer, so far as I can tell, is that they will cover as much as you're willing to pay for. If you want a hospital room decked out like the Ritz, they will pay for it (for a price, of course). That's all I see, and that would still be available in most all public plans.

the bar is too high

Another point I'm glad to hear someone else making:
Big domestic programs (other than tax increases cuts) are nearly impossible. The Bush people went 0-for-2 on big domestic proposals. It’s difficult to turn immigration reform or Social Security privatization into a war against the worst enemy ever.

For all the talk about how Congress did whatever Bush wanted—and they did—he didn’t pass much of import domestically, aside from the big tax cuts (something else that’s always easy to pass) and (EDIT) Medicare Part D, a big corporate give-away (these are also relatively easy to pass). The last president to have success with ambitious domestic policy initiatives was probably LBJ.

Castigating Obama for not being another LBJ seems a little unfair to me.

Health care for all, comprehensive climate change legislation, cutting the military budget, and ending a war with anything other than total victory are probably the four most difficult things a president can attempt to do. As it is, Obama has had to put 3 of them at the top of his agenda. No matter what happens with the others, he will likely have to add the 4th as well.

It already looks like he will end a war, which is impressive enough. If he gets one of the others, he will be a model of successful legislating. Three would put him in the pantheon of great presidential lawmakers with the Roosevelts and Johnson. Four is impossible.

Barney Frank has had it with your bulls**t

From Yahoo! News:
DARTMOUTH, Mass. – Rep. Barney Frank lashed out at protester who held a poster depicting President Barack Obama with a Hitler-style mustache during a heated town hall meeting on federal health care reform.

"On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank asked the woman, who had stepped up to the podium at a southeastern Massachusetts senior center to ask why Frank supports what she called a Nazi policy.

"Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it," Frank replied.

He continued by saying her ability to deface an image of the president and express her views "is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated."

I don't always like him, but he's a hoot to watch.

UPDATE: Oh joyous day! there's a video!

the Onion on health reform


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

guns at Obama rallies

Josh Marshall is asking a lot of questions about this scary new phenomenon. The gun carriers will tell you it's about exercising their 2nd amendment rights, but of course, that's also what they said when they were standing by the doors of southern polling places in the Jim Crow era.

Of course it's a threat!

What's most worrisome is that, once you get a dozen armed men standing in range of political opponents (or worse, let's face it, a dozen armed white men in range of the supporters of a black president), you're just waiting for that one provocateur -- that white supremacist, that Glenn Beck-listening paranoiac, that delusional psychotic off his meds -- to light the kindling.

What do you think would happen if you had a bunch of armed, angry men staring down a group of political opponents, a picketing and shouting match ensued, and then someone discharged a firearm?

a sign that I'm wound a little too tight

A buddy of mine and reader of this little soapbox decides to josh me by sending me an anti-health care petition. He gets back a several-pages-long defense of the public option because I take it seriously.

Perhaps the best thing that could happen to this country right now is marijuana legalization. Sorry Chuy!

Monday, August 17, 2009

pitying the Joneses

It happens a lot these days, it seems: millions of people lose their jobs, thousands pack the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. event in Los Angeles because they can't afford basic health care, seniors choose between their drugs and their heat, others find themselves needing food stamps for the first time in their lives just as the government cuts funding for the program, but the Washington Post wants me to feel sorry for a woman in a $2.5 million house, a woman who pays her nanny more than my annual salary and receives more than twice my salary in child support.

What the writer calls "standard of living," the rest of us call "conspicuous consumption."

some good work on the current health care debate

Nate Silver is significantly more optimistic than I am on the benefits of a public option-less health reform bill, and has some good points to make. I like his point about how the bill still contains rules preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or current illness, but my worry is the possibility of loopholes that render these provisions meaningless (e.g., does it also bar them from raising that person's premiums/deductibles/co-pay to the point where they can't afford it?), and also the possibility of Republicans, lobbyists, and teabaggers to turn on those provisions after they prevail against the public option.

Also, Rick Perlstein on the nutball protesters as just the latest iteration of a long-standing national phenomenon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

if I were Obama's strategist

I'd think about sending the president off to do a speech in Los Angeles right about now, say at the Forum in Inglewood, rather than a town hall in Montana.

Just a thought.

is "reform" without a public option worth passing?

In the absence of any discussion of single payer, a robust public option is the only significant reform that is on the table. It is also, coincidentally, the one part of the discussion that health insurance companies violently oppose (which is why they're still ostensibly playing ball with Obama). I've been doing the same Debbie Downer routine since Obama first settled on a date for dealing with health care: there is no way in Hell that he will pass a robust public option. It's not a criticism of the president's will or abilities; rather, it's an appraisal of the forces allied against him.

Let's face it, kids: not even Johnson got health care for all.

Nevertheless, I imagine the Democrats will insist on passing something, so what we'll almost certainly see is a health bill sans the public option, or perhaps with a public option so weak and disfigured that it could never compete with private insurance. What I think we're also very likely to see is a mandate for purchasing health insurance, with an accompanying tax break if there is no public option.

In other words, taxpayer subsidized profits for Cigna and Blue Cross, and a new captive market, to boot. I hope you like your insurance company, because most of you will be paying them twice.

On the other hand, there may be some around-the-edges improvements buried in the bill, money for better record-keeping and such. It won't be much, though.

The question I hope some people are preparing to deal with is what to do when the only two options left are 1) passing a bill that tells people health care is "fixed" when it isn't even improved in any substantial way (and further empowers the enemies of health care reform, at that), and 2) passing nothing.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

On the future of journalism

I don't know who Clay Shirky is.

I do know that he has articulated much of what I've been thinking about the future of journalism in an excellent blog post that I stumbled upon today.

For a few months I've been casually batting around the problem of separating journalists from newspapers - an event that appears to me to be inevitable. Our country was founded after the invention of the press, and wrote it into the constitution.

Now that the press has suffered its final mortal wound courtesy of Craig Newmark, we have a pressing need to separate and sustain the credible journalists as we move into the future. As Clay's post points out, most of the solutions proposed and employed to date are less about preserving the journalist and more about preserving the paper, and as such are destined to fail because news isn't being delivered in paper anymore.

So, what key elements are likely to be in place in the post paper world of journalism?

Here are my guesses:
  • A distinct meritocracy
The information hubs will do their best to promote the "brand" by signing good journalists to exclusive contracts, but generally the cream will rise to the top no matter which hub that particular author signs on to. The rise or fall of any given journalist will be more closely tied to his personal ability than ever before.
  • An expansion of the fringe
I think that social networking tools like StumbleUpon, Digg, etc will allow people to self-sort the type of news that they are exposed to. As such the hard-core elements of either political extreme will be able to find unending mountains of information affirming their pre-concieved beliefs. The idea of a meritocracy will manifest itself here as well, since the most eloquent preacher will be constantly linked to by the choir, regardless of denomination.
  • A loss of operational expenses
Journalism has been a highly subsidized commodity for a long time. The removal of a subsidiary form of income will handcuff individual journalists who require certain travel and salary resources in order to do their work. Text is unique on the internet and in journalism in that the degree to which you hold it back and demand payment it is the degree to which you lose effective distribution of the facts contained within. This means that journalists are going to have to seek a new subsidy instead of direct payment for their work.

Its a brave new world out there, and we're all pushing it along. Here's hoping we figure something workable out.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Donnelly in Mishawaka

Several of us did our best, but the crowd was so packed 30 minutes before start time that we couldn't even hear Congressman Donnelly speak, just intermittent clapping and cheering from the various sides. Speaking of, though, both sides were pretty solidly represented (complete with pro- and anti- protesters), so I imagine everything went ok.

One thing I did learn: anytime anyone does something you don't like, it's just like living in East Germany.

Not a bad idea to take a moment to write the good congressman a polite, if firm letter/email. Everything hinges upon the presence of a robust, viable public option. Without it, there can be no meaningful reform.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

as a corollary to the last post

Despite my deep pessimism of Obama's chances, we still have to stand up and be heard if we want to stand a chance in this fight. Write your representatives, especially if they're Democrats. Those of you in Michiana have a blue dog congressman who needs to hear that we don't want him following his spineless, unprincipled colleagues. The astroturfers will be descending on him on Saturday at 11:30 in Plymouth. It's not far from South Bend, so perhaps a carpool can be arranged?

thousands of journalists covering the B.S.

and only one that bothered to look for the real story:

This right here is how Clinton was defeated in 1993. Incidentally, it was also key in Al Gore's defeat in 2000. Are people that much smarter now than they were in '93, or our media that much better, or our Democrats that much more courageous?

This is why I still believe we'll see expensive, quality health care become the privilege of the rich before we ever see it made public. Everyone making less than $100k/year will eventually have access only to what the free/cheap clinics offer, which is not far from what people in Guyana, Malawi, and Virginia get from Remote Area Medical and Doctors Without Borders. People will convince themselves that they decided to go with these instead of real hospitals, too, that they found a great way to cut costs. That's how it always works.

Thanks, Blue Dogs!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the death of an MMORPG

The end of an MMO is a strange thing to contemplate. On the one hand, it's like closing a bar or a coffee shop, a place where lots of people spend a lot of their free time. It must feel very strange to suddenly be unable to go somewhere you're used to spending several hours a day visiting. There's also the narrative side of the event, though: all MMO's tell a story, one that is intended to be continuing, but the staff is now tasked with bringing that story to an end. As you can imagine, sometimes the plug is simply pulled at midnight with no resolution or climax, but occasionally you'll have a staff and clientele sufficiently invested in the story that the cataclysm seems to convey everyone's emotions in the game's final moments.

So it goes with the Matrix Online.