Friday, July 31, 2009

Bill Maher takes on the Flat-Earther's err... birthers...

'Birthers' must be stopped

No matter how dumb, the people who are questioning whether Obama was born in the U.S. could eventually cause real problems.
Never underestimate the ability of a tiny fringe group of losers to ruin everything.

For the last couple of weeks, we've all been laughing heartily at the wacky antics of the "birthers" -- the far-right goofballs who claim Barack Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii and therefore the job of president goes to the runner-up, former Miss California Carrie Prejean.

Also, when Obama was sworn in as president, he forgot to give his answer in the form of a question.

And yet, every week, the chorus of conservatives demanding to see his birth certificate grows. It's like they're the Cambridge police, Obama's in his house -- the White House -- and they need to see some ID.

And there's nothing anyone can do to convince these folks. You could hand them, in person, the original birth certificate and have a video of Obama emerging from the womb with Don Ho singing in the background ... and they still wouldn't believe it.

Which raises the question: Why, in this country, is it always the religious right that won't take anything on faith?

So far, the reaction from Democrats is to laugh this off, and I understand why. If you seriously believe that President Obama is an African sleeper spy, get out of your chat room and have your house tested for lead.

But we live in America, and in America, if you don't immediately kill arrant nonsense, no matter how ridiculous, it can grow and thrive and eventually take over, like crab grass or reality shows about fat people.

This flap might be a deluded right-wing obsession that is a total waste of time, but so was Whitewater, and look where that ended up. A handful of Republican operatives, enraged at Bill Clinton's unprecedented economic growth and budget surpluses, found a woman named Paula Jones, which led to a woman named Monica Lewinsky, which gave me enough material to eventually be able to buy a big house in Bel-Air. Which I'm still conflicted about.

More recently we had the Swift Boat allegations against John Kerry, in which Kerry was accused of volunteering to serve in Vietnam so he could jump in front of a bullet so he could get a medal and then throw it away to satisfy his urge to insult real Americans. This was so stupid that Kerry refused to even discuss it.

And we all know how well that worked out.

And once these stories get out there, they're hard to stamp out because our media do such a lousy job of speaking truth to stupid. Vietnam, Iraq and the Spanish-American War were all sold on lies that were unchallenged or even abetted by the media. Clinton got impeached and Kerry got destroyed in large part because the media didn't have the guts to say, "This is nonsense."

Lou Dobbs has been saying recently that people are asking a lot of questions about the birth certificate. Yes, the same people who want to know where the sun goes at night.

And Lou, you're their new king.

That's why it's so important that we the few, the proud, the reality-based attack this stuff before it has a chance to fester and spread. This isn't a case of Democrats versus Republicans. It's sentient beings versus the lizard people, and it is to them I offer this deal: I'll show you Obama's birth certificate when you show me Sarah Palin's high school diploma.

Bill Maher is host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Please pass this on to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans you know

The new GI Bill of Rights goes into effect tomorrow.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is launching a massive outreach campaign anchored by an online one-stop shop, to help vet's wade through the overly complex application process. 

The site will have a section of frequently asked questions, a blog tracking real time updates on the GI bill and three of the most accurate calculators, determining benefits, eligibility, and transferability options for new veterans.

Make sure all of your friends and family know to pass it on to vets they may know.

Also, if you are looking for a good cause to give to this month please consider contributing to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA for short. 

Here is a little about them...

Our Mission: IAVA’s mission is to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

The Need: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are in their sixth and seventh years respectively. More than 1.7 million American troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and thousands have been deployed multiple times.

IAVA addresses critical issues facing new veterans and their families, including mental health, Traumatic Brain Injury, a stretched VA system, inadequate health coverage for national guardsmen and reservists, and outdated GI Bill educational benefits.

IAVA is dedicated to educating the public about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, advocating on behalf of those who have served, and fostering a community for troops, veterans, and their families.

History: IAVA was founded in 2004 by current Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff and his fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. After returning home from their tours, these veterans came together after quickly becoming concerned with the way the war in Iraq was being portrayed in the media and the overall plight of newly returned veterans. There were many policy experts and talking heads on TV, but very few people who had actually served on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. There was no one talking about what our wounded friends needed and the issues they faced. The creation of IAVA allowed thousands of veterans to join the national dialogue, and to explain what was really happening on the ground overseas and back home in the US.

Please help me spread this info by utilizing your social networking platforms like facebook and twitter; as well as your email list.  We want to make sure this information gets to vets, their friends, and family--lets make sure no one goes without this tool.

Thanks for your help!


Posted via email from Jim Nichols

the trucks won't load themselves...

I'm headed to work.  Here are your morning quotes...
(In the spirit of this ungodly back pain I have this morning....)
      “Pain and death are part of life. To reject them is to reject life itself.”  Havelock Ellis
      “The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body”  Publilius Syrus
have a good day!

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Headed to table for Health Care...

I'm headed over to table at LA Fitness-- to get signatures for health care reform with OFA folks.
I think its OFA... Henry County has a lot of activity going on this year compared to when I first showed up... 
DFA, OFA, MoveON, Henry Dems, even a... ahem... State House campaign...

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Bill Kristol admits the obvious on health care...

Jon Stewart Gets Kristol To Concede Government Can Provide ‘First-Class Health Care’

Last night on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart peppered right-wing pundit Bill Kristol with questions about why he is opposed to health care reform that includes a public health insurance option. Why is government-run health care “good enough for the military,” but “not good enough for the people of America?” Stewart asked.

Kristol — who has urged conservative activists and Republicans to “resist the temptation” to work with Democrats in crafting health reform and instead “go for the kill” — responded that the military “deserves it,” but the American people do not:

STEWART: Are you saying the American public shouldn’t have access to the same quality health care that we give to our better citizens?

KRISTOL: To our soldiers? Absolutely. [Crowd boos]

Kristol explained that soldiers get paid less, but “one way we make it up to” them is by giving them “first-class health care.” “I feel like you’ve trapped me somehow,” Kristol observed. Indeed, Stewart explained the flaw in Kristol’s logic:

STEWART: I just want to get this on record — Bill Kristol just said that the government can run a first-class health care system.

KRISTOL: Sure it can. [Crowd applauds]

STEWART: And a government-run system is better than a private health care system.

Kristol tried to backtrack, saying he wasn’t sure the military system is “better,” and later argued that other government-run systems aren’t providing the best health care.

Stewart wrapped up Kristol’s argument by stating, “So what you are suggesting is that the government could run the best health care system for Americans, but it’s a little too costly, so we should have the shitty insurance company health care.”

Ezra Klein points out Kristol was wrong on private insurance:

"One reason the price of health care is going up so fast is because of government programs," says Kristol. "The price of Medicare and Medicaid have gone up faster than private insurance. That's well-documented."

It is true that the growth rates of Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance are well-documented. But the documentation shows the opposite of what Bill Kristol says it shows. The price of Medicare and Medicaid have gone up much more slowly than private insurance. Take Medicare:


That doesn't require much explanation. Suffice to say, the growth in per-person spending for Medicare has been significantly slower than private health insurance over the past 20 years, and its advantage has widened in recent years. But wait, you say. Kristol mentioned both Medicare and Medicaid. Maybe he just meant Medicaid? Nope!


Bill Kristol, who writes frequently about health care and advises the Republican Party about how to vote on bills, is misinformed on the basic facts of the situation. And even his misinformation isn't terribly coherent: Later in the interview, he says that the Army health-care system -- which is fully socialized -- is the best health-care system we've got, and the reason we can't give it to all Americans is that it's too expensive. Socialized medicine, in other words, works. The rest of us just don't deserve it.

To be fair, I don't believe that Kristol believes that. When he says that the danger with Obama's plan is that it "would put us well on the road to government-run health care," I take him at his word. But it is interesting to watch what happens when his adoration for all things military collides with the distrust of all things federal. Turns out that the conservative in Kristol is no match for the militarist.

Michele Bachmann has admitted Gov. Health Care would be effective and popular cause like ya know... It would work...

Ezra has also pointed to Health economists Alan Garber and Jonathan Skinner who have written on the American health care system is uniquely inefficient.

Remember, we rank 37th in the world for health care and spend 2 to 3 times as much as other industrizlied nations--and they get better results! 

But that sounds strange, you say... don't we have the worlds best health care system?

And they'll prove it by pointing to a strawman--that the Democrats want government run health care like canada or the Uk.  Which is not true at all. has dealt with this strawman before:

We’ve written before about conservatives claiming that Congress, or Obama, or Washington, or Democrats in general want the U.S. to have a Canadian-style, government-run health care system. The truth of the matter is that the president has repeatedly said he doesn’t. In fact, since being sworn in as president, Obama has riled advocates of such single-payer systems by largely excluding them from the health care debate. He has answered several questions from members of the public who asked at town hall events: "why not" have such a system. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the leaders in drafting legislation, has said bluntly: "single-payer is not going to get even to first base in Congress." Yet, the Canada claims continue.

In an ad airing (for the third time this year) on national cable channels, a group called Patients United Now says that "Washington wants to bring Canadian-style health care to the U.S." The group’s back-up for the claim? An opinion piece that we previously found to be riddled with errors; an article from that says the National Institutes of Health will fund comparative effectiveness research studies that examine cost – which, the article notes, the NIH already does; and another news article in the San Francisco Chronicle that reported conservatives have criticized such research, saying it leads to "rationing," while proponents have said it will improve health care and reduce costs. 

Plus, anyone who claims to care about the long-term deficits will want to reform the health care system. IOUSA Budget Deficit Calculator allows you to see what the projected U.S. budget deficit would be, as a percentage of GDP, if the United States had the same per person health care costs as various other countries which enjoy longer life expectancies than the United States.

Robert Reich digs in on health care and helps further clarify as I posted a while back:

Critics say the public option is really a Trojan horse for a government takeover of all of health insurance. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's an option. No one has to choose it. Individuals and families will merely be invited to compare costs and outcomes. Presumably they will choose the public plan only if it offers them and their families the best deal -- more and better health care for less.

Private insurers say a public option would have an unfair advantage in achieving this goal. Being the one public plan, it will have large economies of scale that will enable it to negotiate more favorable terms with pharmaceutical companies and other providers. But why, exactly, is this unfair? Isn't the whole point of cost containment to provide the public with health care on more favorable terms? If the public plan negotiates better terms -- thereby demonstrating that drug companies and other providers can meet them -- private plans could seek similar deals.

But, say the critics, the public plan starts off with an unfair advantage because it's likely to have lower administrative costs. That may be true -- Medicare's administrative costs per enrollee are a small fraction of typical private insurance costs -- but here again, why exactly is this unfair? Isn't one of the goals of health-care cost containment to lower administrative costs? If the public option pushes private plans to trim their bureaucracies and become more efficient, that's fine.

Critics complain that a public plan has an inherent advantage over private plans because the public won't have to show profits. But plenty of private plans are already not-for-profit. And if nonprofit plans can offer high-quality health care more cheaply than for-profit plans, why should for-profit plans be coddled? The public plan would merely force profit-making private plans to take whatever steps were necessary to become more competitive. Once again, that's a plus.

Critics charge that the public plan will be subsidized by the government. Here they have their facts wrong. Under every plan that's being discussed on Capitol Hill, subsidies go to individuals and families who need them in order to afford health care, not to a public plan. Individuals and families use the subsidies to shop for the best care they can find. They're free to choose the public plan, but that's only one option. They could take their subsidy and buy a private plan just as easily. Legislation should also make crystal clear that the public plan, for its part, may not dip into general revenues to cover its costs. It must pay for itself. And any government entity that oversees the health-insurance pool or acts as referee in setting ground rules for all plans must not favor the public plan.

Finally, critics say that because of its breadth and national reach, the public plan will be able to collect and analyze patient information on a large scale to discover the best ways to improve care. The public plan might even allow clinicians who form accountable-care organizations to keep a portion of the savings they generate. Those opposed to a public option ask how private plans can ever compete with all this. The answer is they can and should. It's the only way we have a prayer of taming health-care costs. But here's some good news for the private plans. The information gleaned by the public plan about best practices will be made available to the private plans as they try to achieve the same or better outputs.

As a practical matter, the choice people make between private plans and a public one is likely to function as a check on both. Such competition will encourage private plans to do better -- offering more value at less cost. At the same time, it will encourage the public plan to be as flexible as possible. In this way, private and public plans will offer one another benchmarks of what's possible and desirable.

Mr. Obama says he wants a public plan. But the strength of the opposition to it, along with his own commitment to making the emerging bill "bipartisan," is leading toward some oddball compromises. One would substitute nonprofit health insurance cooperatives for a public plan. But such cooperatives would lack the scale and authority to negotiate lower rates with drug companies and other providers, collect wide data on outcomes, or effect major change in the system.

Another emerging compromise is to hold off on a public option altogether unless or until private insurers fail to meet some targets for expanding coverage and lowering health-care costs years from now. But without a public option from the start, private insurers won't have the incentives or system-wide model they need to reach these targets. And in politics, years from now usually means never.

To get health care moving again in Congress, the president will have to be clear about how to deal with its costs and whether and how a public plan is to be included as an option. The two are intimately related. Enough talk. He should come out swinging for the public option.


Anyone who claims that "ObamaCare" would put the insurance companies out of business are acknowledging that the public system would be more effective,efficient, cheaper... meaning it would be far more popular than private insurance companies---to the point that it would put the private insurance industry out of business. 

I don't agree with this claim even in theory as private insurance exists in lots of countries with universal care, but anyone who makes such a claim about ObamaCare is doing just that.  Even if they don't get fairly simple logic on that one. (and no there is nothing in legislative that would make private insurance illegal.)

But lets skip that for a second and remember that the bills being discussed are not talking about a public option writ large a la medicare-for-all as Ezra Klein noted recently:

The public option, as it exists in any bill moving through Congress, is not the core of reform, nor anything near it. It is, for one thing, limited to the Americans who buy into the Health Insurance Exchanges, and the exchanges are in turn limited to the unemployed, the self-employed and small businesses. In the House bill -- which is the strongest of the bills -- the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 27 million Americans would be in the exchanges by 2019. That's not nothing, but it's not much. Imagine half choose the public option (CBO estimates many fewer than that). You now have 13.5 million Americans in a public insurer with no substantive advantages over private insurance. That's not a gamechanger, it's a tweak.

Hey, at least Bachmann and Kristol understand the most important point about health care reform.... it'd work. 

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Bush kept global warming images classified

Obama administration reveals evidence of global warming kept secret under Bush.

The Obama administration has “released more than a thousand intelligence images of Arctic ice,” following a declassification request by the National Academy of Sciences. These high-resolution spy photos of rapid sea ice loss off the northern coast of Alaska, kept classified by the Bush administration, show “the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic”:


Beaufort Sea


The newly-declassified images also reveal the retreat of glaciers in Washington and Alaska. USGS scientist John Crowe tells ThinkProgress that “security issues” prevented the U.S. Geological Survey from launching the Global Fiducials Library website until now, saying he had been “working for some time to get this data to the public.” The same day the images were made public, NOAA anounced that the world’s ocean surface temperature in June 2009 was the warmest on record.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

"the president respects police officers and the often difficult and dangerous situations we face on a daily basis.’’

Obama moves to quell Gates furor

Obama’s calls also seemed to ease some of the ire in the law enforcement community. Representatives from area police unions had denounced the president earlier in the day during a shoulder-to-shoulder noontime press conference in Cambridge, with Crowley, dressed in a suit and tie, standing silently nearby. By later in the afternoon, union officials were applauding the president.

“Sergeant Crowley was profoundly grateful that the president took time out of his busy schedule to attempt to resolve this situation,’’ said a statement by the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association, and the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition. “It is clear to us from this conversation that the president respects police officers and the often difficult and dangerous situations we face on a daily basis.’’

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Fed sees signs of economic improvement

From the financial times:

The pace of economic decline has moderated or stabilised in most parts of the US, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, with manufacturing, residential property and even employment showing some signs of improvement.

According to the Beige Book, which offers a picture of the economy based on anecdotal evidence provided to the US central bank, overall economic activity has stabilised at a low level since its last report in early June when most regions reported that conditions were weak or worsening. The report adds to mounting evidence that the worst recession in the past 50 years is easing.

The more optimistic tone was a welcome shift from reports earlier in the year signalling that the economy was in freefall. Many obstacles remain, however, and the Beige Book warned that commercial property, consumer spending and the labour market were still severely weakened.

Retail sales remained sluggish in most of the Fed’s 12 districts, with consumers focused on cheaper necessities while luxury goods “languish”. Car sales were mixed early this summer, with purchases of new cars stalling while five regions reported growing strength in sales of less expensive used cars.

Manufacturing activity remained “subdued” but improved from earlier in the year, as some districts reported that companies were replenishing inventories after months of clearing stocks to cope with the collapse of consumer demand.

The Beige Book painted a divergent picture of the property market, with residential property showing signs of bottoming out while commercial property continues to be a threat to recovery hopes. This comes after the Case-Shiller index showed on Tuesday that US home prices unexpectedly climbed by 0.5 per cent from April to May, but were off by 17.1 per cent year-on-year. The monthly rise was the first since prices peaked in July 2006.

The first-time home buyer tax credit is succeeding at stimulating sales in the low end of the housing market. Many districts, including Minneapolis and San Francisco, reported an improvement in the stricken sector.

Commercial property, however, has become a glaring trouble spot as tight credit and weak demand have crushed sales volume, sending vacancies soaring and rents falling.

Unemployment, which has reached a 26-year high of 9.5 per cent, is an ongoing worry, but there were some glimmers of hope in the Fed’s report. Seven districts said that businesses had begun to take advantage of the job cuts by partaking in “selective hiring” of top talent that other companies have shed. But the labour market is still “slack” and many businesses continue to cut workers, freeze pay or institute furloughs.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Credit Unions

Are Credit Unions Superheroes?

When the big American banks started sucking up to funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, credit unions, with many fewer subprime mortgages on their balance sheets, started looking really good.  

In many countries, the worst bullets of the crisis seemed to bounce off credit unions’ chests. Now, they are on a roll, bolstered not only by their subversively conservative lending practices but also by a loss of public trust in larger financial institutions.

Credit unions are nonprofit enterprises that aim to serve individuals brought together by some “common bond” of association, whether institutional (e.g. a common employer) or geographic (a local community). Most are relatively small-scale, though many have expanded their scope in recent years. In electing management, each member wields one vote.

This structure fundamentally differs from that of banks, whose goal is to maximize profit. Most banks are much larger institutions (especially after a wave of mergers in recent years) and they dominate the industry. Today, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America alone control more than 30 percent of the nation’s deposits. In electing management, owners wield votes proportionate to their number of shares.

These differences in incentives and governance structure should make credit unions less likely than banks to pursue excessively risky investments.

Because American credit unions don’t need to generate profits, and also because they are not required pay federal and state income taxes, they typically offer higher interest rates to savers and charge lower rates to borrowers than banks do.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

talk about race? six months from now says Pollack

Skip the Gates Thing (For Now)

Count me among those appalled by the unjustified arrest of Professor Gates at his own home after a foolish but non-violent confrontation with Cambridge police officer James Crowley. At the Reality Based Community, Mark Kleiman and Steven Teles have written beautifully about this incidence. Arrests for “Contempt of Cop” is an all-too-common practice. And the rough handling of a Harvard professor calls to mind, albeit with many differences, the much rougher treatment of so many black and brown men who endure the tender mercies of our criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, this summer is precisely not the teachable moment we need to engage racial profiling and the mass incarceration of minority men. Without diminishing the importance of these critical issues, I fear that this weird incident distracts attention from the knife-fight we are now waging to provide health coverage to almost 50 million uninsured Americans, and to help an even greater number of fellow citizens who are underinsured or who need economic help. (As Michael Crowley notes, this case brings other political dangers as a platform to discuss race in the criminal justice system for other reasons, too.)

Health reform is a prominent issue of racial justice. Medical care remains an arena of glaring inequalities. More than one-fifth of African-Americans (and more than one-third of Hispanic Americans) are uninsured. Millions of African-Americans become disabled or die sooner than they should from because of common conditions that could be addressed through better clinical interventions and policies. This summer’s health reform debate is therefore one of the most important legislative moments affecting minority communities in years.

This is, indeed a teachable moment. Yet the real lesson concerns message discipline. I recently called a friend in government to discuss a policy initiative I favor. He said “That’s great--but not now. We can’t do anything that will cost a single day or a single vote in the fight for health reform.” That’s precisely right. Hours of unfocused TV stories and media commentary on “race in America” centered on this weird incident sucks oxygen from a historic effort to reduce structural inequality.

President Obama hopes to diffuse the situation over beer with Gates and Crowley. That gracious gesture exemplifies the President’s tact and diplomacy. Then the President should have a beer with two guys in south Chicago trying to finance cancer surgery for a parent or sibling. White guys, black guys, Hispanic guys, some women too, are all too available to tell their stories.

By all means, let’s have a national conversation about race in our criminal justice system. That’s great--six months from now.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Bach cello suite no. 1 -- prelude

Philippine price caps...

Philippines imposes price caps on drugs

The Philippines will impose price caps on more than two dozen drug products after an offer by manufacturers to cut prices voluntarily fell short of government expectations.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the country’s president, has imposed maximum retail prices on medicines made from five compounds starting in mid-August, according to Robert So, the department of health’s manager for the drugs programme.

The move, which affects products developed mostly by Pfizer of the US, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, comes as Mrs Arroyo travels to Washington for a meeting with Barack Obama, US president, this week.

The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said price controls might satisfy popular demand for cheaper drugs in the short run but could hurt the country’s long-term competitive standing and foreign investments.

“The Philippines is already near the bottom of the global competitive rankings. The government should do something to get the country out of the ­bottom,” said Robert Sears, the chamber’s executive director.

This will be the first time since the 1970s, when the Philippines was under martial law, that the government has fixed medicine prices. The move underscores how the popular and political mood in the country has shifted against the free-market policies that many blame for the high price of medicines.

Health officials say the Philippines has the second-highest drug prices in Asia.

The Philippine health authorities’ initial proposal was to put price caps on more than 80 products. Fearing a backlash from the international business community, the president tried to avoid imposing price controls by asking pharmaceutical companies to cut retail prices voluntarily.

The government accepted the bulk of the voluntary price cuts but rejected them for 27 preparations made from five compounds, which would be subject instead to price caps, said Dr So.

Planned mandatory price cuts will cover the anti­hypertensive amlodipine, the antibiotic azithromycin, cholesterol-lowering ator­vastatin and two cancer treatments – doxorubicin and cytarabine.

In a statement, Pfizer said it had made “the largest offering of voluntary reductions by any one company” and was “disappointed to learn that the government did not accept its offer and chose instead to impose the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) on Pfizer’s products”. However, the company promised to co-operate with the government.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Health Care in America

Cash Cows and Health Care Quality

With so much of the fight over health care reform now coming down to issues of health care cost containment, it's a pretty good time to take a look at the available evidence about where our system seems to "over-price" care as opposed to other countries.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston did a fascinating piece for The New Republic last week detailing the results of a McKinsey & Company study comparing health care spending patterns in the U.S. to those of other OECD (i.e., advanced) countries. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. has higher costs (about $2,000 per capita higher each year) and poorer health outcomes, and not because we are unhealthier to begin with.

One of the differential costs factors is pretty well known: Rx drug prices in the U.S. are on average 50 percent higher than in other OECD countries, and it's attributable to marketing expenditures, not just R&D.

But two other factors are less well known:

* Much of the spending gap is attributable to the soaring use of out-patient services, which generate much higher profit margins than do hospital-based services. The ability of physicians to control the number of procedures patients receive drives up costs, and physicians’ ownership of testing facilities and ambulatory surgical clinics give them an incentive to drive up utilization.... * Generous physician compensation also contributes to higher costs. On average, U.S. general physicians earn 4.1 times per capita GDP, compared with the OECD average of 2.8 times. For specialists, the gap was even greater: 6.5 times per capita GDP, compared with 3.9 times elsewhere. McKinsey finds that higher than average physician incomes added $64 billion to total U.S. health care expenditures in 2006.

This has two big policy implications: the first is that there is indeed a tension between cost containment and the well-known desire of Americans to let physicians call most of the shots in terms of tests and treatments. The second is that the President is right in claiming that there are often less expensive ways of delivering quality health care, and that insisting on them is not, as conservatives so often argue, a form of "rationing."

Still another important McKinsey finding is that cost-shifting from public to private insurance programs is in fact a significant problem in the growth of private health care costs. This is important in terms of proposed changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement policies, and in the design of any "public option."

Here's Galston's bottom line:

[W]e must look for ways of cutting the link between physicians’ earnings and the multiplication of high-cost procedures. Eliminating the loopholes in laws preventing physicians from owning test facilities would be a good start, as would reducing the compensation for high-tech tests to more reasonable levels. In the long run, fee-for-service is an unsustainable model of physician compensation, and health insurance reform should create incentives to move away from it.

We also need ways of exposing consumers more fully to the cost of the services they want without discouraging them from using the services they need. One strategy is to focus insurance coverage more on truly insurable events--the big-ticket medical events that can disrupt lives and bankrupt families--and less on routine medical expenditures and elective procedures. It should be possible to protect average families from spending an unaffordable share of their income on health care without entirely eliminating their awareness of trade-offs and costs.

Unfortunately, identifying unnecessary costs and then overcoming the institutional resistance to steps to reign them in, tough as that is, may not be enough in the current political climate. There's also the problem of getting official recognition of costs savings--particularly by the Congressional Budget Office, which refuses to "score" some of the most fundamental structural changes as big cost-savers because, well, they haven't been tried before.

And that's why despite the understandable obsession with cost containment and the associated issue of covering the uninsured, we must continue paying attention to the third item on the health care reform agenda aside from cost and acces--health care quality. What we are buying for our dollars is as important as the price, and may well determine whether universal health coverage can achieve a more effective health care system both for individuals and for the country. And if we don't pay attention to quality, then health care reform could be caught up in a destructive triage between cost and access factors that pit the insured against the uninsured with no common higher ground.

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The rise of the efficient markets hypothesis

over at the crooked timber

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

James Wimberley asks a question about health care reform...

A naïve question

If the Democrats' health reform plan really doesn't do anything to cut costs, why is the private health care and insurance industry fighting so hard in the White House and Congress against it?

Perhaps it's out of a selfless concern to protect the best health system in the world.

The reason is, as Republican Michele Backmann noted recently:  It would work...

Ezra Klein makes some good points of context:

The public option, as it exists in any bill moving through Congress, is not the core of reform, nor anything near it. It is, for one thing, limited to the Americans who buy into the Health Insurance Exchanges, and the exchanges are in turn limited to the unemployed, the self-employed and small businesses. In the House bill -- which is the strongest of the bills -- the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 27 million Americans would be in the exchanges by 2019. That's not nothing, but it's not much. Imagine half choose the public option (CBO estimates many fewer than that). You now have 13.5 million Americans in a public insurer with no substantive advantages over private insurance. That's not a gamechanger, it's a tweak.

But it's also worth offering a more general reality check here: The public option is not now, and has not ever, been the core of the argument for heath-care reform. It is the core of the fight in Washington, D.C. It is an important policy experiment. But it was not in Howard Dean or John Kerry or Dick Gephardt's plans, and reformers supported those. It was not in Bill Clinton's proposal, and most lament the death of that. It is not what politicians were using in their speeches five years ago. It is a recent addition to the debate, and a good one. But it is not the reason were are having this debate.

Rather, what has kept health-care reform at the forefront of liberal politics for decades is moral outrage that 47 million of our friends and neighbors are uninsured. That medical costs are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States. That an unemployed machinist gets screwed by fly-by-night insurance schemes while a comfortably employed banker need never worry. That the working class ends up in emergency rooms with crushing chest pains because they didn't have health insurance and didn't get prescribed cheap blood pressure medications five years before.

There are many themes in the sad and frustrating history of health-care reform. But one of the central ones is that there were many points when Democrats could have accepted a compromise and did not. Richard Nixon, for instance, proposed a plan that could have passed Congress but that liberals thought comically inadequate. It was more comprehensive than anything we will get this year. George H.W. Bush also offered a pretty good proposal but got no support among Democrats.

Opportunities at health-care reform do not happen frequently. The average between major attempts is 19.5 years. That's 19.5 years in which the uninsured stay uninsured and their ranks grow. Where a situation that is already bad gets a lot worse. This year, Barack Obama is popular, and there are 60 Democrats in the Senate and huge majorities in the House. There is no reason to believe that Democrats will be in a stronger position anytime soon. It is not like when a weakened Nixon, or a fading Bush, offered a compromise.

If reformers cannot pass a strong health-care reform bill now, there is no reason to believe they will be able to do it later. The question is whether the knowledge that the system will not let you solve this problem should prevent you from doing what you can to improve it. Put more sharply, the question should be whether this bill is better or worse than another 19.5 years of the deteriorating status quo.

Also the impacts of health reform on small businesses

Small businesses play an important role in the U.S. economy and are a strong driver of job growth and innovation. But small businesses are severely disadvantaged by the current U.S. health care system relative to their larger counterparts. A new report by the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) examines the challenges faced by smaller firms under the current health care system, and the likely impacts of health care reform on small businesses and the workers they employ. Key findings of the report include the following:

Small businesses are crucial to the economy.

  • Small businesses are an important source of job growth in the United States. Firms with fewer than 20 employees accounted for approximately 18 percent of private sector jobs in 2006, but nearly 25 percent of net employment growth from 1992 to 2005.
  • Small businesses account for a large majority of jobs in start-ups, a key source of innovation and economic growth.

The current health care system is not working well for small businesses and their workers.

  • The U.S. health care system imposes a heavy "tax" on small businesses and their employees. Due to high broker fees, fixed administrative costs, and adverse selection, small businesses pay up to 18 percent more per worker than large firms for the same health insurance policy. Some of these higher costs are passed on to small firm employees in the form of lower wages, and some eat into the profits of small businesses that could otherwise be used for research and development and for much-needed investments. This implicit tax disadvantages small firms in both the market for the best workers and the market for their products.
  • Because of their higher health care costs, small businesses are far less likely to provide health insurance for their workers than larger businesses. Only 49 percent of firms with 3 to 9 workers and 78 percent of firms with 10 to 24 workers offered any type of health insurance to their employees in 2008. In contrast, 99 percent of firms with more than 200 workers offered health insurance. Consistent with this pattern, 29 percent of non-elderly adult workers at firms with fewer than 25 employees were uninsured in 2007. In that same year, just 10 percent of workers in firms with 500 or more employees were uninsured. Workers at small firms that do offer health insurance also tend to have less generous plans than workers at large firms.
  • The fraction of small firms offering health insurance has been declining in recent years. From 2002 to 2008, the fraction of firms with 3 to 9 employees offering health insurance to their workers declined from 58 to 49 percent.

Health care reform as envisioned in current draft legislation would reduce the current burdens on small firms and their workers.

  • Small businesses that meet certain criteria would be able to purchase health insurance through an "insurance exchange" – allowing them to choose among a multitude of plans that would provide better coverage at lower costs than they could find in the current small group market.
  • Many small businesses that provide health insurance for their employees would receive a small business tax credit to alleviate their disproportionately higher costs and encourage coverage. The tax credit would be targeted to those firms with employees whose average wages fall below a certain threshold.
  • The current reform options include financial incentives for medium- and large-sized firms to provide health insurance coverage through so-called "pay-or-play" provisions. Firms with payrolls or employment levels below a certain threshold, which would include the vast majority of small businesses, would be exempt from the pay-or-play provisions.
  • The creation of an insurance exchange would also provide better and lower-cost options for workers in small businesses that do not offer health insurance. Low-income individuals and families would receive sliding scale subsidies to help them purchase insurance. Additionally, health insurers would not be allowed to screen potential enrollees for pre-existing conditions.
  • The proposed reforms could help spur entrepreneurial activity by increasing the incentives for talented Americans to launch their own companies, and could increase the pool of workers willing to work at small firms. Further, successful reform would reduce the phenomenon of "job lock," in which workers are reluctant to leave a job with employer-sponsored health insurance out of fear that they will not be able to find affordable coverage. Small firms that are unable to provide health insurance for their employees bear the greatest cost of this phenomenon.
  • Reductions in absenteeism and improvements in worker productivity resulting from better health outcomes because of expanded coverage would particularly benefit small businesses.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Monday, July 27, 2009

The trucks won't load themselves...

I'm headed to work.  Here are your morning quotes...

"Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work."   --Horace

"Nothing is so dangerous as an ignorant friend; A wise enemy is worth more."  -- Jean De la Fontaine

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Michele Bachmann on Health Care Reform: It would work...

Bachmann Sees Health Care Debate In Political Terms: ‘We Can Take Heart’ Obama’s ‘Dropping Like A Rock’

In an attempt to attack the public health insurance option, Bachmann complained that it would be subsidized, making it more affordable for many Americans. She added, “it would offer equal or better benefits than any plan — but cheaper.”

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Test thursday...

I'm done for my sunday reads and am now moving back to ethics...

First on the to-do list for the test on Thursday is Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals...

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Econospeak on Fred Barnes

Economic Illiterate: Fred Barnes v. Barack Obama

Fred Barnes tries to attack the intelligence of the President in his Know-Nothing-in-Chief. This single line should tell the reader that the rest of this Weekly Standard op-ed was a waste of time:

Demonstrating a passing acquaintance with free market ideas and how they might be used to fight the recession--that's not too much to ask.

Recessions are often seen as a gigantic market failure – letting the market decide is not a recipe for restoring full employment anytime soon. Barnes next goes onto confuse long-term issues with Keynesian remedies for the current shortfall of aggregate demand:

Obama endorsed a surtax on families earning more than $1 million a year to pay for his health care initiative. This is no way to get the country out of a recession. Like them or not, millionaires are the folks whose investments create growth and jobs--which are, after all, exactly what the president is hoping for. Another tax hike--especially on top of the increased taxes on individual income, capital gains, dividends, and inheritances that Obama intends to go into effect in 2011--is sure to impede investment.

Yes – another one of these pseudo-supply-side rants that we cannot tax high income folks lest investment will just dry up. I guess Mr. Barnes is not aware of the role of real interest rates on investment in those full employment models that free market types think rule the world. And maybe he is not aware that the current Federal Reserve is currently keeping interest rates low in the hope that investment demand will eventually regain its footing.

Steve Benen has more criticism.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Colin Powell's Chief of Staff....

Proposes Impeachment:

On Thursday, May 10, 2007, Lawrence Wilkerson, speaking on National Public Radio, proposed impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Here's the audio.

Wilkerson is a Retired Army Colonel, the former Chief of Staff at the State Department from 2002 to 2005 under then Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Vietnam War veteran, the former Acting Director of the Marine Corps War College at Quantico, and currently a teacher of national security at William and Mary College.

The program, On Point, was hosted by Tom Ashbrook, who focused the discussion on a need for greater public accountability for the Iraq War, but who maintained that the public was not outraged or interested. (Ashbrook should read some polls and invite on organizers of the impeachment movement.)

Also on the program was Ken Adelman, who promoted the war and said it would be "a cakewalk". Adelman argued a case for not holding public officials accountable.

Wilkerson said in early comments on the show: "This administration doesn't know how to effect accountability in my opinion." But he did not raise the possibility of impeachment until after a member of the audience had phoned in.

The first caller who was put on the air demanded an investigation of the lies that launched the war, and asked for accountability "all the way up." In response to Adelman's claims that history would hold people accountable, the caller said "I would love to have a job where, worst case scenario, my historical record is flawed."

Ashbrook framed the question in terms of alleged limitations of the U.S. political system, and Wilkerson replied: "Well I do think that that's a reality of our system. However, let me back up just a minute and say that I really do think that our founding fathers, Hamilton, Washington, Monroe, Madison, would all be astounded that over the course of our short history as a country, 200 plus years, we haven't used that little two to three lines in Article II of the Constitution more frequently, the impeachment clause. I do believe that they would have thought had they been asked by you or whomever at the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 'Do you think this will be exercised?' they would have said 'Of course it will, every generation they'll have to throw some bastard out'. That's a form of accountability too. It's ultimate accountability."

After an interruption, Wilkerson continued: "The language in that article, the language in those two or three lines about impeachment is nice and precise – it's high crimes and misdemeanors. You compare Bill Clinton's peccadilloes for which he was impeached to George Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors or Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors, and I think they pale in significance."

Ashbrook asked for some examples of such high crimes and misdemeanors, and Wilkerson replied: "I think that the caller was right. I think we went into this war for specious reasons. I think we went into this war not too much unlike the way we went into the Spanish American War with the Hearst press essentially goading the American people and the leadership into war. That was a different time in a different culture, in a different America. We're in a very different place today and I think we essentially got goaded into the war through some of the same means."

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

My Grandfather, Outliers, and the Story of Success

I've been reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Actually consuming it might be a better description.
It is a clear straightforward case for why the classic claim that success or failure is determined solely on your individual gumption is wrong; that hard dedicated work is the path to becoming rich and successful.  The Horatio Alger myth that all it takes to be a Bill Gates or Warren Buffett is hard work and your own individual merit.
I admit on the face of it this myth feels correct to most everyone.  And obviously no one could claim that personal responsibility and accountability play a part.  But an economy is a collective effort and humans are social actors--we evolved that way.  Outliers does a great job of breaking this down and showing us that the story told about extremely successful people misses the boat.  That its not just intelligence and ambition--that it has just as much to do with family, the place and time of birth, and many other things that seem happenstance.
A basic understanding of how and why individuals thrive allows us to empower people so that humans flourish in productive rather than destructive manners.  The "every man for themselves" mentality, and the economic policy the comes from it, which conservatives promote to the hilt is a fiction.  But most books on success that i've seen miss this point.  In fact there are tons of books on being successful and for the most part they get it all wrong as Gladwell has noted:
If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we've been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that's the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We've been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.
Gladwell's book is a great place to start for those who buy into the "every man for themselves narrative." 
In my own life I came to this conclusion a long time ago.  When I looked at my grandfather and his life.  He got up before the sun, had breakfast, and then went to work on his farm.  From there he would head to the mill, where he worked for almost his entire life.  After work he would head home, eat dinner with his family, and head back to the farm until after dark.
He was a good man he did his best to raise his family, do right by his friends and neighbors, and be a positive influence in his church and community.  He never complained, he "never met a stranger," as the phrase goes, and he lived to the best of his abilities.  He died with next to nothing in his bank account, but he had a family of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who loved and respected him. 
The man was smart, but lacked an education, as he had to drop out of school to help feed the family.  He wasn't rich, but was it really because he wasn't intelligent or work hard enough?  Or is there something else that goes into this equation.  I realized very young that there had to be other things outside of our control that impact our "lot in life."
Read Outliers, it will help clarify for you the why's of success, failure, and everything in between. 
For more on outliers you can go here.
Outliers doesn't "explain it all" and he never claims that individual work and merit have nothing to do with it.  But Outliers helps us see that things are a little more complex than framing success as an "it can happen to anyone" narrative that would leave us to believe that punishing successful people through equitable taxation structures is actually punishing(sic) those who "made it."
I think a statement I read from Warrent Buffett's a long time ago in a Peter Singer essay sums it up best...
“If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.”

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

I just finished my paper!

The Hume paper is done!  Its now on to revisions and rewrites...

I'll post it up at some point once i'm done.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Health Care Costs Part Deux...

I want to add to Krugman's point...

I haven't seen a single person argue for a bill that would remove patent protections on medication.  Nor a bill to remove restrictions on Doctors coming into this country--opening the immigration flow of Doctors coming into this country would lower the cost of you going to the Doctor because it would flood the market with Doctors willing to work for much less than the current market rate.

Those are "free market" health care proposals.

Also lets point out that our health care costs both public and private are on an unsustainable course--so doing nothing, is not a solution.


Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Why Markets can't cure health care costs...

Paul Krugman

Judging both from comments on this blog and from some of my mail, a significant number of Americans believe that the answer to our health care problems — indeed, the only answer — is to rely on the free market. Quite a few seem to believe that this view reflects the lessons of economic theory.

Not so. One of the most influential economic papers of the postwar era was Kenneth Arrow’s Uncertainty and the welfare economics of health care, which demonstrated — decisively, I and many others believe — that health care can’t be marketed like bread or TVs. Let me offer my own version of Arrow’s argument.

There are two strongly distinctive aspects of health care. One is that you don’t know when or whether you’ll need care — but if you do, the care can be extremely expensive. The big bucks are in triple coronary bypass surgery, not routine visits to the doctor’s office; and very, very few people can afford to pay major medical costs out of pocket.

This tells you right away that health care can’t be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care. And you can’t just trust insurance companies either — they’re not in business for their health, or yours.

This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view — they actually refer to it as “medical costs.” This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.

The second thing about health care is that it’s complicated, and you can’t rely on experience or comparison shopping. (”I hear they’ve got a real deal on stents over at St. Mary’s!”) That’s why doctors are supposed to follow an ethical code, why we expect more from them than from bakers or grocery store owners.

You could rely on a health maintenance organization to make the hard choices and do the cost management, and to some extent we do. But HMOs have been highly limited in their ability to achieve cost-effectiveness because people don’t trust them — they’re profit-making institutions, and your treatment is their cost.

Between those two factors, health care just doesn’t work as a standard market story.

All of this doesn’t necessarily mean that socialized medicine, or even single-payer, is the only way to go. There are a number of successful health-care systems, at least as measured by pretty good care much cheaper than here, and they are quite different from each other. There are, however, no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn’t work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hume draft...

I've been writing most of the morning on Hume (though I was a good husband and broke away for lunch with the wife)
Here's the biggest coherent chunk...

In book three, part one, section one, of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume argues that reason alone cannot distinguish, "betwixt moral good and evil."1 In this paper I will walk through Hume’s argument discussing what it means. I will then interject some problems or questions that could be asked–as points of challenge and clarification that one might ask of Hume’s claim. Following this I will try to defend Hume’s argument to these challenges. My hope is to help clarify and expand on one way of reading and responding to Hume.

Hume begins his argument talking about perceptions. To Hume, the only thing the mind does is perceive. This includes judgements of good and evil–"to approve of one character, to condemn another, are only so many different perceptions." Perceptions take the form of either impressions or ideas. This leads Hume to ask how we can make moral judgements–how do actions take the form of good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust? Are these qualities that are unconditional, eternal, and unchanging; which all rational beings can find? Hume notes that some have made such a claim, that morality is like truth and can be determined by ideas through reason–such that it would be true even to a deity. This would leave us to base judgments of good and evil on ideas rather than perceptions which is contrary to Hume claims.

To resolve this question Hume begins by commenting that common experience finds humans compelled and moved to action merely from duty, obligation, and standards of justice and injustice; that this is why morals are seen as a project of practical rather than speculative philosophy. Hume argues that this leaves us no choice but to see that morals rather than reason have influence on actions and affections. If reason alone cannot derive moral rules it is an "inactive principle," and "[a]n active principle can never be founded on an inactive [one]."

Hume notes that earlier in the Treatise on Human Nature, he has backed up this claim that reason is "perfectly inert," with a number of arguments and state that he is therefore only reviewing in this section one arguments why this claim is true. Here, Hume points out that reason is a process to find truth and falsehood. Dealing with relations of ideas, real existence, and facts; reason applies solely to questions of truth and falsehood with, "no reference to other passions, volition's, and actions." If reason only applies to questions of true and false one cannot find moral distinctions of good or bad, nor can one praise or blame the actions of someone based on reason alone. If reason is inactive, one cannot found morals or principles on it, as these principles and claims are dynamics of active passions. Why is this so? To find out, Hume considers a "what if."

What would it mean for reason to have an influence on our conduct? It can only happen in two ways says Hume: (1)when it excites a passion by informing us of the existence of something which is a proper object of it; (2) when it discovers cause and effect and makes such connections. But as Hume points out, these judgments can sometimes be false. Such an error, if reason could influence the passions, would therefore, often lead one to passions and actions that would be unreasonable due to their falsehood. But looking at the real world these kinds of errors of fact are seen as quite innocent and leaves no sense of shame or feelings of immorality on the guilty party. Errors of fact do not speak to the moral character of people–can these truly be the source of all immorality?


Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Friday, July 24, 2009

German corpse 'may be Luxemburg'

via Continental Philosophy blog...

A pathologist at Berlin's Charite hospital told Der Spiegel magazine the headless corpse bore "striking similarities" to the left-wing icon.

Ms Luxemburg was murdered by right-wing paramilitaries in 1919 at the age of 47 and thrown in an icy canal.

Months later, a body thought to have been hers was retrieved and buried.

The grave, in Berlin's Freidrichsfelde cemetery, has since become a place of pilgrimage for communists, feminists and left-wing activists.

But Michael Tsokos, head of the hospital's Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensics Science department, told Der Spiegel that he doubted the identity of the corpse that was buried there.

He pointed to several inconsistencies in the post mortem examination his predecessors at the hospital had carried out on the interred body, which made him question its conclusions.


We hope that the identity of the body is clarified as soon as possible so that whoever it may be will finally be laid to rest
Murat Cakir
Rosa Luxemburg Foundation

These included the fact that the pathologists made no mention of the hip defect and differing leg lengths which made Luxemburg limp all her life.

The body also showed no sign of the rifle butt blows Ms Luxemburg is known to have received to her skull nor of the bullet in the head which is believed to have killed her.

In contrast, the body which Mr Tsokos found two years ago showed clear signs of having been waterlogged, said Der Spiegel.

Further tests showed the corpse was a woman aged between 40 and 50, who had suffered from osteoarthritis and had legs of different lengths.

The missing extremities could be explained by anecdotal evidence that weights were tied to Ms Luxemburg's hands and feet before she was thrown into the canal, said Mr Tsokos. When the water froze, it could have separated them from the body.

The corpse, said Mr Tsokos, bore "striking similarities to the real Rosa Luxemburg".

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

I'm reading this book right now...

New Book: Honneth, Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical Theory

Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Axel Honneth’s Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical Theory, a major reassessment of the Frankfurt School and its continuing legacy.

Axel Honneth has been instrumental in advancing the work of the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, theorists, rebuilding their effort to combine radical social and political analysis with rigorous philosophical inquiry. These eleven essays published over the past five years reclaim the relevant themes of the Frankfurt School. They also engage with Kant, Freud, Alexander Mitscherlich, and Michael Walzer, whose work on morality, history, democracy, and individuality intersects with the Frankfurt School’s core concerns.

Collected here for the first time in English, Honneth’s essays pursue the unifying themes and theses that support the methodologies and thematics of critical social theory, and they address the possibilities of continuing this tradition through radically changed theoretical and social conditions.

Is social progress still possible after the horrors of the twentieth century? Does capitalism deform reason and, if so, in what respects? Can we justify the relationship between law and violence in secular terms, or is it inextricably bound to divine justice? How can we be free when we’re subject to socialization in a highly complex and in many respects unfree society? For Honneth, suffering and moral struggle are departure points for a new “reconstructive” form of social criticism, one that is based solidly in the empirically grounded, interdisciplinary approach of the Frankfurt School.

Praise for the book:

“This volume makes a very significant contribution to the continuing relevance of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School for contemporary forms of social criticism.” — Kenneth Baynes, Syracuse University

“This volume is a significant contribution to the debates over the history of the Frankfurt School and the contemporary relevance of critical social theory. Axel Honneth’s work provides a subtle reading of history that is less concerned with putting its products in their place—though he does do that in an exemplary fashion—than in highlighting what is living and vibrant in those products for contemporary thought.” — Christopher F. Zurn, University of Kentucky

Okay, truth be told its on the pile of I'm getting to next books on my bedside table...

But the first two chapters were good...

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Is a state needed to enforce cooperative rules?

Dani Rodrik:  Tony Soprano and Robert Nozick 

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

"There were 18,000 unnecessary adult deaths because of a lack of insurance"

Rep. Virginia Foxx: ‘There Are No Americans Who Don’t Have Health Care’

Earlier today, several female Republican House members held a press conference today to attack President Obama’s push for health insurance reform. “The Democrat way is not reforming healthcare, it’s destroying it,” announced Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing moment occurred when Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) announced that “there are no Americans who don’t have healthcare“:

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) disputes President Obama’s claim that 47 million Americans lack healthcare. “There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare,” she says. “We do have about 7.5 million Americans who want to purchase health insurance who can not afford it,” she says, urging Congress to adopt a new plan for healthcare reform that wouldn’t “destroy what is good about healthcare in this country” and “give the government control of our lives.”

Unfortunately, Foxx is not the first conservative to push this argument. In July 2007, then-President Bush claimed that “people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” Despite what these conservatives say, the fact is that many Americans are forced to go without care:

The chances of working-age adults experiencing at least one access problem due to costs (delaying care, forgoing medical care, forgoing dental care, or forgoing prescription drugs) grew from 18.2% in 1997 to 21.3% by 2006. While the size of the problem and the growth rate may seem small, combined with growth in the population, they translate into substantial numbers of people. The number of working-age adults who experienced at least one access problem due to costs grew from a total of 29.8 million in 1997 to 39.3 million by 2006.

In November 2008, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that “nearly half of Americans report that someone in their household skipped necessary health care in the past year because of the cost.” As ThinkProgress has previously noted, uninsured Americans are less likely to seek health care and more likely to die because of a lack of insurance. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that there were 18,000 unnecessary adult deaths because of a lack of insurance while the Urban Institute estimated in 2006 that 22,000 died for the same reason.

Finally, studies have found that the uninsured “are 30 to 50 percent more likely to be hospitalized for an avoidable condition” and if they do seek care in an emergency room, “they are usually sicker than patients who have health insurance.”

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

Bill Maher:

And finally, there's health care. It wasn't that long ago that when a kid broke his leg playing stickball, his parents took him to the local Catholic hospital, the nun put a thermometer in his mouth, the doctor slapped some plaster on his ankle and you were done. The bill was $1.50, plus you got to keep the thermometer.

But like everything else that's good and noble in life, some Wall Street wizard decided that hospitals could be big business, so now they're run by some bean counters in a corporate plaza in Charlotte. In the U.S. today, three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other health care facilities. They're not hospitals anymore; they're Jiffy Lubes with bedpans. America's largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude toward health care: it's not a right, it's a racket. The more people who get sick and need medicine, the higher their profit margins. Which is why they're always pushing the Jell-O.

Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like "recision," where insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when you get sick, even though you've been paying into your plan for years.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.

And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!

Posted via web from Jim Nichols

Hume--Moral distinctions not derived from Reason.

It has been observed, that nothing is ever present to the mind but its perceptions; and that all the actions of seeing, hearing, judging, loving, hating, and thinking, fall under this denomination.  The mind can never exert itself in any action, which we may not comprehend under the term of perception; and consequently that term is no less applicable to those judgments, by which we distinguish moral good and evil, than to every other operation of the mind.  To approve of one character, to condemn another, are only so many different perceptions.
So how do we get words? How do we go from the impression of airplane to the word "airplane"?  If all we have are perceptions how do we make any sense of anything?  How do we go from the perception of hate to a recognition that this perception I am feeling, this passion, is "hate".
I guess this is where reason comes in.
But how is reason inert? What does it mean for Reason to be inert.  What is Reason by the by...

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Today the minimum wage rose to $7.25 from $6.55.

My first job, when I was 14, was at McDonalds.  I think I made $4.25 an hour if memory serves me...

This increase couldn't have come at a better time as CEPR noted:

When the federal minimum wage rises by 70 cents to $7.25 an hour on July 24th, it will raise the pay of the lowest-paid workers and boost the economy. The economic boost comes because workers who benefit from the increase will spend it in their local communities. According to an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute, the modest 70-cent increase will generate $5.5 billion in consumer spending over the next year – providing a boost to the economy without any increase in government spending.

Moreover, because they’re more likely to be struggling to make ends meet, low-wage workers are even more likely to spend an increase in their pay than better-paid workers, making the minimum wage increase a fairly efficient form of economic stimulus.

When President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the first federal minimum wage law in 1937, he noted that “one-third of the population” were “ill-nourished, ill-clad, and ill-housed” and argued that America should be able insure to “all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

More than 70 years later, the federal minimum wage and regular increases in it, serve the same basic values of economic fairness and decency. Nearly all of the benefits of the current minimum wage increase will go to working-class families, typically headed by workers with high school degrees and some post-secondary education or training, but no college degree. Most of these families live above the stingy federal poverty line—but they don’t live very far above it, and they struggle on a daily basis to meet mortgage or rent payments, put food on the table, gas in their cars, and pay for child care and doctor’s visits.

The minimum wage increase has these broad benefits because it helps both the more than 2.2 million workers currently earning it and a significant portion of the roughly 7.8 million workers with wages just above it. This happens in part because business often are concerned to insure that more senior workers earn at least a $1 or more above just-hired workers who are paid the minimum.

Then on his blog Dean Baker noted:

There is no doubt that employers of low-wage earners are unhappy about paying higher wages, just as they are unhappy about the rise of health insurance premiums every year. (For employers who provide coverage, the latter will be a much greater expense.) However, there is little reason to believe that it will result in substantial job loss.

The impact of a rise in the minimum wage on employment is one of the most heavily researched topics in economics. Virtually all of this research shows that it will have little or no impact on employment.

Who Is Affected by a Higher Minimum Wage?

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that about 4.5 million employees, less than 4 percent of the labor force, will see a bump in their hourly wages. But not all of those affected will actually be minimum wage earners. Let me explain.

The bulk of these workers — about 2.8 million people — currently earn less than $7.25, and will receive an immediate raise. But the institute estimates that an additional 1.6 million workers earning slightly above the minimum will be “indirectly” affected because of “spillover effect” — businesses trying to preserve their wage structures.

There are finely gradated pay scales in many markets. Let’s say a business, like a restaurant, employs both a minimum-wage worker — like a drive-through operator — and a slightly higher-skilled worker — let’s say a cook — who earns 25 cents above the minimum wage. When pay increases for the drive-through operator, the restaurant may decide to slightly raise the pay of the cook to keep the same hierarchy and wage structure.

That pay raise may then have ripple effects. For example, raising the pay of the cooks at one restaurant with a drive-through may force other restaurants (even those without drive-throughs) to raise the pay of their cooks, in order to stay competitive.

Even further down the line, raising the minimum wage may lead employers to pass on their additional labor costs in the form of higher prices, which can in turn (at least theoretically) lead to higher prices and wages across the board.

So now that we understand the quantity of people who are being affected, what about the individual people themselves? Who earns the minimum wage?

From a Bureau of Labor Statistics study based on 2008 data:

  • Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 11 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 2 percent of workers age 25 and over.
  • About 4 percent of women paid hourly rates had wages at or below the prevailing federal minimum, compared with about 2 percent of men. (Of minimum wage earners overall, 67 percent are women, and 33 percent are men.)
  • The percentage of workers earning the minimum wage did not vary much across the major race and ethnicity groups. About 3 percent of white, black, and Hispanic hourly-paid workers earned the federal minimum wage or less. Among Asian hourly paid workers, about 2 percent earned the minimum wage or less.
  • Among hourly paid workers age 16 and over, about 5 percent of those who had less than a high school diploma earned the federal minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of those who had a high school diploma (with no college) and about 2 percent of college graduates.
  • Part-time workers (persons who usually work less than 35 hours per week) were more likely than their full-time counterparts to be paid the federal minimum wage or less (about 7 percent versus about 2 percent).
  • About 7 in 10 workers earning the minimum wage or less in 2008 were employed in service occupations, mostly in food preparation and serving related jobs.
  • Among the states, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma had the highest proportions of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage (about 6 percent). The percentage of workers earning at or below the Federal minimum wage was lowest (1 percent or less) in Alaska, California and Oregon.
  •  I think its important to note that the minimum wage was at its highest level in 1968.


    Posted via web from Jim Nichols