Friday, December 25, 2009

God Jul!

Which is Swedish for Merry Christmas, more-or-less, though it goes into English as "Good Yule." On the Northwest coast of America, the Haida tell stories, no two the same, about how Grandfather Raven stole the sun and placed it in the sky. On the other hand, in the home of Judaism, ravens are thought unclean and inclined to betrayal. In the bad old days of Greece, when Apollo was a war god, wolves and ravens were among his creatures.

So, I have a Yule thought for you-folk. Or perhaps it's a Christmas thought. As the new depression wears on, and people begin to accept that it's going to be years before things get better, we are going to have to decide if our wealthy are going to share some of their wealth for the common good. This coming year, I think, will be the beginning of this decision.


[minor copy error corrected after a few days.]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Do You Want to Defend It?

Because the "health" "care" "bill" is going to harm quite a lot of people, even if it only harms 1% of the population of the USA. Do you want to be the one who defends it to them?

The Raven's first rule of health care policy: Do no harm.

Think of the Thirty Million

This is a comment I made over at Balloon Juice that seems worthy of reprinting here.


Helping 30 million Americans doesn’t [matter?]
Except that the bill will also harm some number. Say it’s…well, let’s be conservative and say it’s one million. Does that matter?

This is a horrible choice, a hard and ancient ethical problem. No matter what position we take harm will be done, unless the Senate abruptly has an attack of compassion. Nor is there a clear path. For this reason I criticize no-one’s choice in this matter, save only choices made through willful ignorance or active deception.

Let’s look more closely at who will be healed and who harmed. In general, it will be well-off people who will be treated best, and the less well-off treated worse. If some anti-abortion language makes into the final compromise, men will be treated better and women worse; induced abortions are important to protect women’s health.

This is, politically and socially, the stuff of nightmare: the fuel of class and gender warfare. I am reminded of the housing policies that were enacted after the Second World War: which, a generation later, contributed to inter-racial violence, and in the following generation, abandoned city centers.

It seems likely to me that these problems will be made worse in the coming decade, rather than better. The unindexed excise tax on high-quality health insurance will probably reduce the overall quality of care. Anti-abortion activists, having had one success and, probably, a sympathetic Supreme Court, will attempt to expand their control of women’s bodies. The insurance companies will be looking for any way they can to avoid their contractual obligations.

Emma, again:

Is beating the insurance companies the only thing that matters?

Beating the insurance companies matters to me only because they will continue to work to find ways to circumvent the very loose restrictions of the proposed law. They are already acting in bad faith. The victory they have had in the Senate is likely to embolden them; they will not reform. It is not, generally, wise policy to give someone who abuses power more power, and, given the mandate, it will take extra-ordinary circumstances to repeal it.

So these are my concerns. It seems to me that we are already on the road to hell. The question is how to get off it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Croak of the Day

From Digby, on health care reform politics:
[Obama] and the Dems could have mitigated the rest of it by not planning a strategy based around disappointing the base and cutting deals with industry. It still would have been ugly, but I suspect that if the president and the Democrats had crafted a solid message and he had personally worked harder at keeping public opinion on board they would have had an easier time of it.--***

Obama and the Deal, part II

And now, live from Washington DC, it's Barry Obama's Let's Make a Deal!
I'm sorry, it just slipped out...

Health Care: Bad Politics

Having looked at the policy implications of the Senate plan, let us now look at the political implications. Assuming the plan passes, it is going to create a huge amount of public resentment. Financial companies are already widely hated for their manipulations. The proposed plans will force those manipulations into everyone's lives. I don't see that the outcome of either choice is predictable. Let's break it down. First, suppose the bill passes:
  1. The insurance industry will enjoy a windfall at the expense of the public.
  2. Under the right circumstances, passing the bill could ultimately lead to improvement, largely if the Senate become more liberal, or if economic stresses or corruption lead to the collapse of major insurers.
  3. Under the wrong circumstances (if corporate dominance of the Senate and federal regulatory apparatus continues) it could lead to the destruction of the US middle class. [2009.12.21: Addition, at the suggestion of a correspondent. The health insurance companies have every incentive to raise their rates to soak up the cash that their policyholders would otherwise save. With a mandate, an oligopoly, and poor regulation, there is nothing to stop them from doing so.  In this scenario, a family has to have a very high income in order to save, and money to save is what makes a family middle-class.]
Now, suppose the bill fails:
  1. Under the right circumstances, a better plan could be passed, or introduced in reconciliation.
  2. Under the wrong circumstances, matters could continue as they are, with the US health care system deteriorating to the level of that of an impoverished country.
There is no certain choice. Personally, I would prefer not to participate in this disaster, and my intuition is that not passing this bill is the wisest course of action. Still, while my intuition is good, it is not perfect. I only hold against my political opponents the will to be persuaded by false hope, as with Ezra Klein, who is now seeing things in the Senate bill which are not there. (Cites: 1 2)

The Democrats are going to get the blame for the huge charges the bill imposes. Even though the bill probably will lead to an improvement in the quality of life of many Americans in the short term, the negatives will expand in the public mind, and the public will resent the cost. It will be seen as direct proof of government corruption. People who personally know people ruined by the mandates will speak their minds, and we may be sure that their voices will be heard. What will the public finally do, I wonder?

Well, they're going to be ornery, that's for sure. The US public hates and ignores politics, mostly. But this is politics that will push directly into their lives and cost them money: the public will both resent the demand on their attention and the thing itself. I think the loser here will be the Democratic Party, since this bill is their bad work. But I don't think the Republicans will be winners—the public has by now figured out that Republican politics are even more corporate than those of the Democrats. Since the largest group most directly affected by the mandates is young, there will be plenty of energy among the opposition. I don't think they'll just stay home, so I suppose this means the emergence of a reform movement. This could lead to greater social justice, or the movement could be hijacked by the radical right, or even stranger political factions that have yet to emerge. An even more powerful coalition would emerge if strong anti-abortion language is in the final bill; a large number of older women would join. Young people and older women are the coalition that elected Obama. I think there would be little such a coalition could not do.


[minor changes made on day of publication and one clarification added the day after]

Health Care: Bad Plan

So, we have what a conference committee will give us, reconciling the not-too-good House plan with the toxic Senate plan. So the liberal blogosphere is feuding: support the toxic plan, or try to kill it. Both choices are bad: they both lead to unecessary illness, death, and financial ruin. But the bills currently in Congress are unequivocally good for the insurance companies.

There are some differences:

  1. If some version of the Senate plan passes, it will tend to increase the disparity of wealth in the United States. It will do this by placing a large and regressive tax on the public, which will, especially, affect people making under $50,000/year without employer health insurance. The insurance companies will be granted, essentially, taxing authority. A huge amount of money will be funneled from the public, especially the currently uninsured, to the insurance companies.
  2. The proposals do not seem likely to reduce the extraordinary costs of the US system. Under both House and Senate proposals, systemic savings will probably be collected by the insurance industry.
  3. The Senate legislation guts state insurance regulation. Unless this is removed before the final bill, it will lead to a race to the bottom.
  4. The Senate plan creates a financial incentive for employers to reduce their insurance levels.
I don't see it. In the short term, this may improve the quality of life of some people. It may even save some lives. But these improvements will be made at the expense of the lives and quality of lives of other people. In the long term, it is just kicking the can down the road. As with the bank bailout, it will be all to do again, and there will be less money to do it with.

I think it's poison.

[weasel word removed on day of publication]

Obama and the Deal

After the toxic Senate deal on health care, and the equally toxic Copenhagen non-accord, I've decided that Obama sees politics primarily as deal-making among the powerful. This is the antithesis of democratic leadership.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Typo of the day

It would reinstate the provision of Glass-Steagall requiring the desperation of investment banking from commercial banking. ***
Er, shouldn't that be "separation?"

Then again, maybe not.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On loyalty to the Democratic Party

Personally, I haven't had the heart to fight for the Democrats since it became clear to me, long before Obama became president, how strong and destructive their conservative faction is. It's not that I'm wanting to "knee-cap" them or any such thing. It's just not there.

And it isn't there, now, for many more progressives. I've been croaking and croaking about this for years. They just couldn't hear it. But now some are beginning to see it for themselves. Any US political party has to have both a leadership and a base--the people willing to go out and canvass, to stuff envelopes, to work registration campaigns, and so on. The conservatives, now the wingnuts, are the Republican base. And the liberals, now the progressives, are the Democratic base. Without the base the party cannot win. This turns out to be so even in these media-saturated days. And with the Senate "health" "care" bill, the Democratic leadership has abandoned its progressive base. Where will they turn?

[Edits on day of publication for clarity & fewer weasel words.]

Citizen Numbers

I'm struck, in reading the support for the disastrous Senate "health" "care" bill, how much it depends on the idea than an improvement on the average level of US health care is acceptable, even though it means that huge numbers of people will be ruined, and some will die. And I think I'm starting to see a pattern: among liberals the academics and the people with secure jobs support it (even Krugman, sigh), and the people like Ian Welsh who've actually been poor, or who know people who've been poor, oppose it. It's easy, when dealing with numbers, to forget that each click on the counter signifies a whole life: hopes and fears and dreams. I want us to remember.

Another Heel of a Loaf: the Senate "Health" "Care" "Plan"

[Added: also, see Ian Welsh's excellent answer to Nate Silver, which was posted at about the time I posted this.]

I am struck that my analysis of three months ago applies with greater force than ever to the likely Senate offering:

  • Big winners:
    • The insurance industry will clean up at taxpayer expense.
    • Big corporations maintain their big hiring advantage over small businesses.
  • Moderate winners:
    • My corporate-employee friends will have an easier time changing jobs.
    • The truly poor will get a bit of help with the insurance they’ll be required to purchase.
  • Half loaves:
    • People who want to quit their corporate jobs & start their own businesses not only lose their corporate insurance, but have to pay the unregulated independent insurance rates.
    • My writer and artist friends will be required to spend scarce money on insurance at unregulated rates. Same thing for the baristas. There may actually be a health advantage to a lower income.
  • Big loser:
    • Social justice.  Taxing the lower middle class and the independent businessperson to the advantage of the insurance industry and big business is unjust.
On the average, I believe, what is in the Senate will be at least a temporary improvement.  But what people like Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, and even Paul Krugman miss is that, in the extreme, some people are going to be required to spend money they don't have, and those people are going to be working poor and middle-class up to household incomes of perhaps $50,000/year. This is going to be a huge political liability for the Democrats: once the mandates hit the shouts are going to be audible from Mars.  It's going to be much harder for that group to save once the mandates come into force; the insurance companies are going to try to set their rates to sop up any extra money these people have.  Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of bankruptcies seem not unlikely.  They're also probably going to blast any employment recovery that gets going in the next few years.

Personally, I suspect we'd be better off waiting until the conservatives suffer more losses. This is so toxic that I don't even want to reluctantly support it. On the other hand, since the conservatives are going to suffer losses anyway, it may be that it will be easier to improve the plan down the road.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"The Bill is Demonstrably Better"

The Senate health care bill, that is.

Unless, of course, you are one of the bottom half of the middle-class who aren't currently buying insurance, in which case it's a huge expense. As far as anyone can tell, this will buy insurance with huge co-pays and no out-of-pocket expense caps, so you'll only use it when you're desperate and it may leave you high-and-dry--and on Medicaid--after a really bad illness. Meantime, it's harder to meet the rent and put food on the table.

The bill is  better if you're already well-off, seems to be bottom line. Classic US appeal to the people who already have. I am yet again reminded of the disaster of low-income housing in the USA, where people's houses, businesses, and neighborhoods were destroyed, and people were made to pay for the apartments that replaced them. Housing policy-makers have worked out better alternatives, but a generation was uprooted to satisfy--what, exactly?--greed, vanity, and bigotry, I suppose. And I suppose it will be the same with "health" "care." 5-10 million families, maybe, will be bankrupted, and in another generation the law will be fixed.


[minor editorial changes made on day of posting for clarification]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What change?

(Sent to

—no public option
—giveaway to the banks
—inadequate stimulus
—war in Afghanistan
—claims of executive privilege

Fuck, man.  *What* change?