Saturday, February 6, 2016

Who Hates Obamacare?

You've got to stop handing us straight lines, Professor Krugman.

Most of the people who buy insurance from the exchanges. At the low end, people are required to spend scarce cash on insurance; at the high end people are required to buy insurance and then pay for most of their care anyway. It's a miserly system and a much better deal for the insurance companies than for the people in the system.

The way I explain it is that a tent and and a place to pitch it is infinitely better than sleeping on the street, but most of us would really rather have a house with walls, heat, and insulation.  And then you get the supercilious people who tell us that giving us a tent is wonderful and we should be grateful for it!

If Clinton would campaign for, say, more regulation on health insurance companies and real price controls, she would probably have a case for preserving the privatized system. It would be a sensible market reform to outlaw the mergers that are making health insurance  a national oligopoly. But her funders would abandon her in a shot. I remember the process of the writing of the PPACA, and how any cost-control measures that might have cut into the profits of the health insurance industry were removed from the final bill.

There is a central contradiction in relying on private insurers to in the US system: insurers get a percentage of health care spending, so they have no incentive to reduce those expenses, and every incentive to encourage price rises.  There are reforms that could improve matters, but will they go anywhere in a political system so heavily influenced by the financial services industry?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

False Hope in Democratic Politics

I do not believe that Clinton will suddenly turn into a liberal when elected any more than Obama did. There is false hope in that. She has a record of supporting conservative measures in both economics and foreign policy and solid Wall Street support in her Presidential candidacy. Her feminism, at least, somewhat leavens her conservatism. She seems to be Wall Street's Democratic candidate; their hedge if someone like Rubio does not become President.

Sanders, on the other hand, cannot possibly deliver on his policy proposals unless somehow the whole Congress is overturned. I think he knows it, too, and will compromise when push comes to shove. But how will the public react to that? Senators are expected to compromise; Presidents are expected to lead. Still, Sanders, with his 25 years in Congress pushing for incremental reform has a damn good record as a liberal reformer, while Clinton, with much more history as an appointed than elected official, has a poor one.

It may not matter. Foreign policy and domestic immigration policy may dominate both the election and the next Presidency, making all these issues moot. But there is much false hope for liberals. Clinton supporters hope she will turn into an economic liberal, which seems unlikely, and Sanders supporters hope he will somehow be able to get sweeping reforms through a Congress that has charged off a cliff to the right, which also seems unlikely.

Maybe the best possible outcome is for Hillary Clinton to become President, the Republicans to self-destruct, and the Sanders campaign to go on to found a new liberal party.

Monday, February 1, 2016

We created the Jobs

[Notes to defenders of the Obama administration's record on job creation]

Basic Stance

Let's give ourselves credit for creating the jobs and finding our way in a new, tougher economy. This administration hasn't done nothing.

If the economy had fallen over, if the banks had been let to fail, things would have been much worse; it would have been 1930 over again. At least the Administration acted on that. But the banks which made the problem got bailed out. One banker, I think, was prosecuted. And all the while the rest of us were left to scramble for a living. A lot of us lost our homes, especially a lot of blacks, who were targeted by the mortgage fraudsters.

Unh-unh. There's been good things about this administration. But not going to give them cred for the employment recovery; they did the minimum, not anything that deserves accolades.

Followups

On claims that employment is good

Oh, you mean like the claim that employment is good, when 5% of the public still wishes it could find work? (Just mouse over the chart, subtract U-3 from U-6.) And that the Obama administration somehow created jobs when it did almost everything possible to avoid doing that? And that doesn't even count the people who are working the s..t jobs that are most of what have been created since the depression started.

(Then there's minority and youth unemployment, which is awful. The numbers for black youth are heartbreaking.)

The definition of U-6

Where you get that s..t from? Here's the definition of U-6, straight from the horse's mouth: "Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force."

The standard definition of unemployment, also known as U-3, is a measure for good times, not during a deep depression.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thoughts on race, class, and wealth

What else is white supremacism if not the ideology and practices of a class system? 

What else was US white supremacism founded on if not the desire to gain wealth by enslaving Africans? Because people didn’t just say, “Oh, yes, let’s go capture some slaves.” Oh, hell, no. They made money at it. Nor did this end with the formal abolition of slavery.

Social insurance undermines class systems. Social insurance programs are so effective that they have to be dismantled, and huge efforts have been made to persuade the public that they would gain from shutting such systems down. (“Put on those chains. You will be much safer wearing them.”)

Do I believe that an end to poverty would be an end to supremacism? I doubt it. The impulse to supremacism seems to be pre-human, and perhaps will turn out to be post-human. But we do not need to governed by it, and it is certain that impoverishing is one of the great strategies and tactics of supremacism.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Everyone Is Watching

About a month back, people were rightly outraged by the Cruz campaign hiring a sleazy data miner to scrape Facebook for information about millions of users. But … but … back in 2011 the Obama campaign put together a database containing information about every registered voter. The Romney campaign couldn't match it, and the database probably won the Democrats the Presidency. Then we had the recent squabble over the Sanders campaign accessing Hillary Clinton's version of the Democratic Party's voter database. And it turns out that one of these databases has been published online, and who knows how may people and groups have read and copied it. And there are the credit reporting agencies, the NSA's PRISM, and who knows what else.

Building a database of personal information about, literally, everyone is within the reach of any moderately wealthy person or group, and it is entirely legal in the USA. The paranoid nightmare of someone watching has been realized. Not only is someone watching, everyone is watching.

Shoulda listened to the cipherpunks when they warned us.

I Hate Explaining the ACA

Richard Mayhew is, or at least claims to be, the pseudonym of an insurance-industry middle manager at Balloon Juice. He has provided much useful advice and commentary for people in the lower tranches of the US health care system. However, he also has a habit of defending the systems and saying it is the best possible. A few weeks ago, this led me to write the following comments on one of his posts (remarks slightly edited):
Man, do you have any idea how awful the ACA system is? Better than what we had before, but that’s like saying having a tent and a place to pitch it is better than sleeping on the streets. It is, but that is no comfort to families that have to care for sick children. Most people would rather have a home with walls. And it’s only going to get worse, as the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the hospitals learn how to work the system. Until the power of the right-wing coalition is broken and Citizens United is overturned there will be no improvement, so we’re talking years.

I do not believe that this was the best compromise possible. As with the banks, the Obama administration just rolled over. I do not know what hold the financial services industry [which includes the insurance industry] has on this administration, but it is profound.
Hey folks, couldn't you have given us a good system? One which places the expenses of the system on the people who can afford to pay, rather than creating a system which puts the biggest expenses on the working poor and moderately well off people in their 50s and early 60s? Couldn't you have regulated the big price-gougers in the system: the insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturers?

I have gotten to hate explaining to people on the right that this is the system they asked for, and debunking right-wing lies. I have gotten to hate explaining to people on the left that, yes, this is a rotten system and it is nonetheless an improvement. And I have gotten to hate explaining to my friends and family the reasons to sign up, even though it’s a crappy system and an extra expense.

The statistics of officer-involved shootings in the USA

No-one actually knows the statistics:
  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/08/how-many-police-shootings-a-year-no-one-knows/

The only official source is voluntary reporting by police departments:
   http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-americans-the-police-kill-each-year/

But US police kill more in days than other high-income countries police kill in years:
   http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries

There is active opposition to compiling the data:
   http://gawker.com/what-ive-learned-from-two-years-collecting-data-on-poli-1625472836

Lacking reliable data from official sources, there are various independent attempts to compile statistics:
   http://www.fatalencounters.org/
   http://regressing.deadspin.com/were-compiling-every-police-involved-shooting-in-americ-1624180387
   http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database#

The Guardian, Why We Must Keep Counting