Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Funnies and Arts

Cartoonists appear to have taken the holiday week off! As always click to enlarge...

In this valuable blog entry, political theorist Benjamin Barber not only explains why President Obama is not a socialist, he shows how loose use of words like "socialism" and "communism" can cripple politics. Don't miss it...

School beckons, so no links today. They'll be back next week. In the meantime, here's the pride of Quincy, MA singing "The Fields of Athenry:"

The Fields of Athenry
By a lonely prison wall,
I heard a young girl calling
Michael, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyan's corn,
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry.

By a lonely prison wall,
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free
Against the famine and the Crown,
I rebelled, they cut me down.
Now you must raise our child with dignity.

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry.

By a lonely harbor wall,
she watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she'll wait and hope and pray,
for her love in Botany Bay
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry.

It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry.

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tearin' o' the Green

I've been reading comment boards following stories about the Irish austerity plan. The ignorance displayed by conservative commenters is uniformly appalling. To a person, they assume that the most free market economy in Europe is a socialist dystopia bankrupted by union greed and an idle citizenry dependent on massive entitlement programs.

Possibly in a parallel universe, but here on earth the actual facts speak an inconvenient truth. The crisis in Ireland is the same as the crisis here: A failure of free market capitalism specifically brought on by a real estate bubble.

Not only is Ireland not socialist, neither is any country in western Europe. England, Italy, Spain, and the Scandinavian countries have socialized medicine, but that's because they each concluded long ago that the free market could not efficiently and equitably deliver health care access to an entire population, something that each country decided was a moral right. So, they removed the free market from the equation. That's a long way from a socialized economy.

All other nations in Europe provide health care via insurance. This system is heavily regulated because these countries very sensibly don't trust the free market to accomplish much for population health, but it's not socialized medicine.

Norway has nationalized its petroleum reserves, which, contrary to what the teabaggers might think, is not remotely socialistic. It simply means that the state (a.k.a., the people of Norway) retains ownership of the country's most valuable natural resource. Private companies extract and commoditize the oil, then split the profits with Norway. Norway gets a platinum-plated health care plan and financial security for its aging population out of the deal. If that's socialism, smite me with it.

One commenter confidently wrote that Irish crisis was a result of -- I kid you not -- Keynesian economics, a phrase he no doubt picked up from Glen Beck's whiteboard. As Ireland often ran surpluses before unregulated bank speculation defecated on people's lives and as the government is now desperately trying to balance the budget on the backs of the innocent, it's literally impossible to see where Keynes fits in.

Well, as he often does, the great Christy Moore knows the right of it. This one goes out to Pat, Ann, Ian, Mina, Declan, Mary, and all of my Irish friends:

Monday, November 22, 2010

How I Left The Left

With the 2000 election shaping up as a contest between Al Gore and George Bush, The Nation magazine urged Ralph Nader to run for president on the Green Party ticket and eventually co-endorsed him. His presence at the head of the ticket, The Nation argued, gave the Green Party a fighting chance at attracting 5% of the vote and a seat at the 2004 presidential debates.

In a moment of rare political prescience, I wrote to the magazine, objecting. What was to be gained by a Nader candidacy?, I asked. To get the votes of over 3,000,000 people, you had to be more than a consumerist celebrity: You had to present yourself as a credible president, which Nader could not do. A Nader candidacy, I argued, risked great harm for a remote chance of good. If he made a show of getting 5% of the vote and came up significantly short, his candidacy would marginalize progressives. Worse, he could swing the election to the Republicans. The only justification for a Nader vote was if you really believed that there was not a dime's worth of difference between Bush and Gore, and that was a ridiculous proposition.

We all know what happened: The Nader candidacy played a key role in swinging Florida and New Hampshire to Bush. In vain, I waited for a modicum of self-examination from the left, but it never came. Instead, I read that Nader played no role in Bush's victory because Bush cheated and Gore ran a poor campaign. True enough, but all that means is that the Nader candidacy put the outcome in play. (Conveniently glossed over was Nader's paltry overall vote total and its marginalizing effect.)

As the catastrophe of the Bush presidency mounted, though, the left provided a reliable, articulate voice of opposition. Combining fact, compassion, and investigative intrepidness, the left exposed the Bush presidency for what it was: A shabby cabal of grasping autocrats driven by stunted psyches and motivated by greed. It was perhaps the left's finest hour since the Vietnam war.

Then came the last two years, in which the left parlayed a naive disdain for politics and process, a greatly inflated sense of itself, an unexpected ignorance of history, and an obstintately blindered view of the teabaggers into a morally precarious stance from which it could inflict harm but do little good.

To begin with, the teabaggers are not misguided economic populists, as many on the left desperately want to believe. The 'baggers are anti-intellectual racists. Period. They actively agitate in favor of states' rights. Their favorite politician questions the legitimacy of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Their favorite media darling calls the Affordable Care Act the first step toward reparations. They blame the economic collapse and the mortgage crisis on the minorities who took out loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Never mind that the latter is impossible: Government mortgages are secure and the poor hardly have the financial muscle to crater the global economy. But since it's psychologically impossible for the 'baggers to even think that fellow white conservatives could have led us to this pass, they do what they always do: Take out their anger on minorities. Nonetheless, leftist writers, unwilling to awaken from the wet dream that the 'baggers are economically sympatico, continue to insist that common cause can be made with thugs who would just as soon lynch the average contributor to The Nation or Huffington Post as have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

It's an article of faith among the left that its harsh -- and often brainless and naive -- criticism of President Obama puts it squarely in line with the left wing "insurgencies" (as Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote) that pushed Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to the great reforms of the New Deal and the Great Society. This might be a fair point if it bore any actual relationship to reality.

One might be forgiven, for example, for wondering exactly what modern-day insurgency Vanden Heuvel refers to. The soldiers of labor and civil rights put thousands of boots on the ground and had commitment in their souls: Men, women, and children were willing to accept injury and death as the price of justice. But today? A few people milling aimlessly around a MoveOn "rally" isn't exactly the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Moreover, where's the leadership? I see no John L. Lewis, no Martin Luther King. The most prominent figure of today's left is Michael Moore, who presents himself as a clown. The "insurgency" is nothing more than a hodgepodge of policy statements and snarky op-ed pieces. Big deal.



Moreover, the Labor and Civil Rights movements helped Roosevelt and Johnson go where they wanted to go anyway. As vice-president, Johnson urged John Kennedy to be more aggressive on civil rights, and he and King liked and respected each other: They were hardly in opposition. Plus, these movements represented votes, the political coin of the realm. Both presidents knew that Lewis and King could turn out numbers that would support them at the polls. Today's left would have trouble convincing a lush to drink a martini.

With the eagerness of a child at Christmas, the left has compared Obama to Bush practically since the day after Obama's election. It constantly berates him for compromising on what they call "Roosevelt moments," as if FDR would have shipped his mother to Auschwitz rather than cut a deal. This ignores the troubling reality that FDR dealt with the devil regularly: Most New Deal programs were either segregated or white-only; Roosevelt had to agree to this in order to retain the necessary support of the segregationists in his own party. One reason for his not pursuing health care reform was an unwillingness to battle the segregationists, who feared integrated hospitals. Following the left's logic, this makes FDR the moral equivalent of Strom Thurmond or Bull Connor.

But real-life politicians don't deal in moral equivalents: They do what they have to do to get as much as they can get under the circumstances. It has always been that way, it will always be that way, and it's childish to pretend otherwise. You cannot expect a president to push for systemic change in the absence of an impetus external to the system. Lewis knew that, King knew that, and so did the leaders of the anti-war movement. On the left, that impetus doesn't exist, unless you call cheap talk an impetus. The pressure comes from the right; the left has failed -- dismally -- to respond.

As for the naivete, I've ranted about that before, so I'll keep it brief here. On health care, of course I'd like a public option. My experience, though, is that any time major legislation passes by the skin of its teeth, any movement to the right or left would sink it. Not one single member of the left has proposed exactly how the hacks and poltroons named Baucus, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Nelson could have been persuaded or forced to support a public option. On finance reform, no one on the left explains how major reform would have been possible when a mediocrity like Scott Brown can hold up modest reform over an insignificant matter.

If the left ever quits wallowing in certitude, it should ask itself some questions:
  1. If we're so right about so many things, why does no one listen?
  2. Aside from helping George Bush get elected president, why have we been politically irrelevant since the Vietnam War?
  3. We once organized mass movements, but -- except for immigration reform -- we're all talk. Why can't we can't we get organized?
Recognizing that the system is rotten and then attacking the president for not getting more out of it while sitting on the sidelines carping...well, I don't care to be identified with that. However I see myself, I've shed ideology, said goodbye to all that, and lit out for the territory ahead of the rest. I'm looking for what works, and I don't much care where it comes from.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

Understanding the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Health Care System. For more than 20 years, the Dartmouth Atlas Project has documented glaring variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States. The project uses Medicare data to provide information and analysis about national, regional, and local markets, as well as hospitals and their affiliated physicians. This research has helped policymakers, the media, health care analysts and others improve their understanding of our health care system and forms the foundation for many of the ongoing efforts to improve health and health systems across America. And it's fun: You can spend hours playing with it...

Medical factoid: Regions of the country with the highest overall medical expenses have poorer outcomes than regions with the lowest expenses...

Strange days indeed with Mrs Ingeborg Koeber, Regnar Dahl, Christian Apnes, and Mrs Stolt-Nielson...


Art of the Poster: Dead of Night...

Softened at the edges. Sometimes, death arrives on folded feathers...

Vista with buzzards...

End of an era: The Radiators call it quits...

OK, The Allman Brothers Band. Don't miss this 1970 set...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Darkness, Darkness

The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story is, in a word, magnificent. In 1976, embroiled in a lawsuit and disillusioned by the hoopla that had accompanied his masterworkBorn to Run, Bruce Springsteen began to write and record an expansive group of songs that would eventually become distilled into his finest album, released in 1978. The Promise tells that story via three CDs and three DVDs -- a remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town, 21 additional songs recorded during the session, a documentary about the making ofDarkness, a recent performance of the entire album, a compilation of recording sessions and concert clips, and a complete concert from the triumphant 1978 tour.

I saw Springsteen twice in 1978 (once the day before the performance included in The Promise). They were great shows delivered by an artist and band that seemed to treat every note as a make or break moment. The San Antonio show on July 14 remains not only the best show I've ever seen, it's easily the best show I've ever seen.

The Promise is not only the release of the year, it's the release of most years: An epic account of a great artist at the pinnacle of his game...

A conservative friend from Texas writes:

I just drafted a letter to Senators Cornyn and Hutchison and representitive Gohmert asking them to reconsider the TSAs new policy giving us a choice of the x-ray that reveals all or the pat down that touches all. I might feel differently if the policies in place had caught a single terrorist or seemed to make much sense...
I agree with him, but have no inclination to join him in writing my senators. If the TSA lifted the policy and something happened for whatever reason, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Fox News, the teabaggers, and every right-wing politician on the face of the earth would fall all over themselves in the rush to be the first to blame President Obama...

Be sure to check out the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care:
For more than 20 years, the Dartmouth Atlas Project has documented glaring variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States. The project uses Medicare data to provide information and analysis about national, regional, and local markets, as well as hospitals and their affiliated physicians. This research has helped policymakers, the media, health care analysts and others improve their understanding of our health care system and forms the foundation for many of the ongoing efforts to improve health and health systems across America...
How about those Seahawks, anyway?

Constitution "tragic," say right wing. When a court found a Guantanamo prisoner not guilty on all but one count, Republicans were quick to denounce President Obama's decision to try suspected terrorists in civilian court. Apparently, they do not trust the system of justice prescribed by the Constitution they pretend to revere. I'm waiting for the left to defend the president. Judgement Day will come first...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Funnies & Arts

The inspiring story of our friend Catherine Reynolds, the sommelier extraordinaire whose life was nearly ended by an aneurysm but who is now back in business after a dogged rehab...

Could the Civil War have been prevented? One thing is for sure: The conservative concept of compromise hasn't changed much in a 150 years...

With the help of the The Three Stooges, Still Ironic employs a carcharhine analogy to explain modern finance...


Top end of Pine Street, New Orleans...

Gable to Mamie: Can't a guy have a drink in peace? And when I'm done, Bill Faulkner and I are going hunting...

Pick your ten best Topps baseball cards...

Ebbetts Field Flannels now offers vintage grounds crew jackets. Citizen K. can't decide between the Termite Palace and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum...


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stuck In The Muddle

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention debated the form of government under design by James Madison, those from small states declared an unwillingness to support a Constitution that codified political domination by the large states. Accordingly, the United States Senate came into being, an upper house composed of two representatives from each state regardless of size. In 1789, the largest state was about twelve times the size of the smallest state. Moreover, senate rules evolved to give great power to individual senators, a development that further favored small states.

Today, the biggest state (California) is 62 times the size of the smallest state (Wyoming). Nonetheless, both are equally represented in the senate. Thus, there is one senator for every 18.5 million Californians and one for every 272,000 Wyomingites.

Were that the extent of the problem with the senate, things might be manageable. But the centrifugal forces of history have dispersed the majority of Americans into ten states. Consider the implications for a legislative body that requires 60 of 100 votes to pass legislation:
  • Over 50% of the population is represented by 20% of the senate
  • 41 senators representing 10% of the population can block any piece of legislation they wish
  • 60 senators representing 25% of the population can pass any piece of legislation they wish
Although the latter two have never happened in practice, they nonetheless illustrate the extreme structural bias of the senate toward small, rural states in a nation of large urban populations.

The Nation points out that California senator Barbara Boxer received more votes than ten teabagger senate candidates, and yet they were in position to give control of the senate to the Republican party. Boxer received 4.3 million votes, easily outpolling the combined totals of media darlings and teabagger losers Sharon Angle (321,000), Ken Buck (783,000), Joe Miller (68,000), and Christine O'Donnell (123,000). In other words, 100,000 or so more votes judiciously applied would have given 1.3 million voters more political power than 4.3 million and handed control of the senate to the Republican party.

This in no way resembles any concept of democracy, even faintly. Combine it with an arcane apparatus of rules, procedures, and multiple committees and subcommittees, mix in stark polarization, and you have an utterly dysfunctional legislative body incapable of accomplishing anything progressive but very capable of extreme obstructionism. The left has harshly criticized Barack Obama over the makeup of his economic team, an irrelevant waste of effort if there ever was one: Had Obama enlisted the modern day equivalents of Karl Marx and Michael Harrington, we would be nowhere appreciably different. The Senate and the political system it epitomizes are that bad.

But suppose that by some miracle the Senate got fixed. We'd still have a political tradition that denies the necessity of domestic policy and that extols that rights of property over the rights of man. Lobbyists would still infest the halls of Congress. Corporate personhood -- a legal reality that goes back to the 19th Century -- would still exist, enabling the unobstructed flow of money into the electoral process.

Moreover, a divided country would still lack a sense of national purpose. Thirty years of bare-knuckled right-wing assaults on liberal values have accomplished what the Confederate states could not: It's split us in two. And a house divided cannot stand.

Enormous problems face our nation. The political momentum belongs to a faction that touts an easy fix: Turn back the clock to the glories of Reaganism and the Traditional Values of...of...well, sometime...and everything will be The Way It Is Supposed To Be, with white people on top and minorities properly invested in the success and comfort of whites. No wonder the corporatists poured money into the teabagger campaigns: They saw those suckers coming from a mile away.

Whatever easy answers the teabaggers have convinced themselves exist, it's not at all clear that the American political system can move with the alacrity, boldness, and imagination needed to pull our fat out of the fire. If yesterday's Bowles-Simpson report is an example, it can't.

Oops, They Did It Again

"We'll both be in a witness protection program when this is all over, so look us up," says former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson. He refers, of course, to the preliminary report to the bipartisan deficit commission.

But witness protection is far too good for Simpson and co-chair Erskine Bowles: A group of sixth-grade kids working on a class project would use more imagination than this dynamic duo. When all is said and done, their plan is about forcing the middle class to pay to retain the system that got us into this mess. As always, the wealthy win out, giving up a few pennies here and there in exchange for lowering the top marginal rate to 23% and the corporate tax rate to 25%.

What do the rest of us get? For starters, whether you're a man or woman in uniform, a civil servant, a homeowner, or a retiree, you get your pay cut. Most galling are the attacks on Social Security, a solvent and successful program now asked to bear the brunt of the deficit reduction through a combination of reduced benefits and an increased retirement age (which amounts to second benefit cut).

There's no talk about what got us into this mess: Unfunded wars, a massive unfunded entitlement, tax cuts, and a deregulated financial sector. There's no talk of fixing Medicare once and for all by folding it into a better and cheaper national health care plan. There's no talk of revisiting defense policy so that it reflects the 21st Century and not 1962. There's no talk of a creating a financial regulatory structure to prevent future TARPs.

And there's no talk of the Bush tax cuts. It seems to me that if you really and truly believe that the deficit is The Number One Problem Facing The Nation, then you start by rescinding all of the tax cuts. Now, that might be enough to land you in witness protection.

Just a complete, total failure of imagination.

I'll eviscerate the United States Senate tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fire Sweeping

Ross Douthat writes in The New York Times that Republicans are unprepared to confront the nation's three biggest problems, which he identifies as
the short-term challenge of a jobless recovery, the long-term crisis of entitlement spending and, in the medium term, an economy that wasn't delivering for the middle class even before the financial crisis struck.
Douthat is right about Republican unreadiness but misses the larger point: A fractured American political system will not allow us to meet the demands of a 21st Century global economy. Moreover, the underlying values of the American political tradition might well impede even an intact system from responding with the alacrity demanded by the modern world.

As China and India maneuver to take their place in the global economy, American politics looks inward to the banalities of partisan politics. Two billion people demand their slice of the pie -- and it's unimaginable that they won't get it -- and instead of turning its attention to expanding the pie, American politics has become engulfed by a wave of nativist know-nothings who vehemently oppose relatively modest legislation that at best will buy time while we deal with the issues Douthat outlines.

Douthat, though, is dead wrong about the nature of these problems. They don't divide neatly into short term, medium term, and long term. Each reflects a major challenge that if not addressed with urgency could undermine the economy for decades.

It is not at all clear that unemployment is a short-term crisis. In fact, the economy may well be impaled on a two-edged structural sword. Businesses have money but are not using it to hire, having discovered that they can get by requiring employees to work more while getting paid less. Meanwhile, the mortgage crisis has driven consumers into a fetal position.

Most homeowners regard their house as their long-term savings account. When the brokers of unsecured mortgages ravaged the economy, they did so in part by looting the life savings of longtime owners with secured mortgages. As home values plunged, billions of dollars transferred from the middle class to the Wall Street marauders.

Consumers are unlikely to consume when their life savings have been decimated. Since mortgage foreclosures continue unabated, home values won't be returning to their pre-recession levels any time soon. Between the lack of spending by business and the lack of consumption by everyday people, it's hard to see unemployment as a short-term crisis.

Regarding entitlements, the problems posed by Medicare are immediate, not long-term. As the country ages, the spending on Medicare has rapidly outstripped what little increase in income there has been. Unless something is done now, conditions will worsen until the point that Medicare threatens the entire economy. (Social Security, however, is on relatively sound footing and requires only minor adjustments.)

As for Douthat's last point, the economy hasn't delivered for the middle class in thirty years: Real wages have barely budged since 1980 after years of rapid increases. Today, the United States suffers from one of the broadest income disparities in the developed world.

This is not news to politicians or economists. And yet our political system lumbers futilely, like Cyclops blinded. Why? In large part, the blame falls on the legislative body called the United States Senate.

-Next: Stuck In The Muddle-

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Great Endings: Moby Dick

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Final lines of the epilogue to Moby Dick:
Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Olbermann Affair

From Keith Olbermann:

Statement To The Viewers Of Countdown

I want to sincerely thank you for the honor of your extraordinary and ground-rattling support.

Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events, and the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small.

...I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about -- that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC.

Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations.

Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.

You should also know that I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary, and I did not blame them on some kind of convenient 'mistake' by their recipients.

When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired.

I genuinely look forward to rejoining you on Countdown on Tuesday, to begin the repayment of your latest display of support and loyalty - support and loyalty that is truly mutual.

This has been the subject of great debate in the blogosphere. Now that I think of it, no one thought to ask about Keith's side of the story.

Wanna Sail Away To A Distant Shore

I know the exact day that the United States will adopt a single payer health care system: It will be at high noon the day after the Catholic Church canonizes Karl Marx.

For those who don't know, the advantages of a single-payer system are myriad:
  • Since the taxpayer dollars that fund single payer comprise a finite budget, it forces efficiency.
  • A politically elegant approach to single payer can encourage improved outcomes and responsible fiscal management. For example, Finland raises, budgets, and spends most of its health care dollars at the municipal level. This is the largest part of a municipality's budget, meaning that the electorate can hold local officials accountable for health care system performance. Consider the advantages of mayoral and city council positions being dependent on voter satisfaction with medical care.
  • Public health is one of the two biggest bangs for the health care buck. Since the central government is ultimately responsible for the health of the population and since the health budget is finite, single payer creates a powerful incentive to invest in public health. And, indeed, strong public health programs are a signature of single-payer systems.
  • The second big buck bang is preventive care (such as physical examinations at recommended intervals). Preventive care tends to get short shrift in the United States because insurance companies have determined that policy holders are unlikely to hold a policy long enough for the expense of preventive care to justify offering it. That's why preventive care is typically not a part of standard policies, and why businesses usually have to pay extra to offer it as a benefit. But when considered from the perspective of general population health, preventive care is a no-brainer: It's cheap and effective. Thus, single-payer systems stress preventive care as part of the primary care around which single payer is built.
  • Because the central government ultimately administers a single payer system, it can develop a health policy for the nation that sets goals, directs funding, and monitors expenses. The U.S. has no health care policy.
Has single payer driven into bankruptcy the countries that have adopted it? Contrary to popular belief, single payer systems do not force countries into bankruptcy: Instead they save the taxpayer money hand over fist. Don't believe me? Read on.

We can all agree that 2009 was tough year economically for any country not named China. Nonetheless, Norway, with its double-platinum health care plan rated 11th in the world, ran a budget surplus. (Source: CIA World Fact Book.)

But, you say, that's not fair: Norway had the foresight to nationalize its immense petroleum reserves. These not only fund Norway's social services, they keep the country in the black. What about countries that don't have oil to do their blocking?

Fair enough. So let's take a look at the rest of Scandinavia. Single payer health in those countries must wreak havoc on their budgets. Sure enough, Sweden's ran a deficit in 2009 of around 2% of its revenue; Denmark and Finland check in at around 5%. In 2009, the U.S. deficit was a shade over 28% of revenues.

That's not a typo: 28%, not 2.8%.

And we spend a higher percentage of Gross Domestic Product on health care than any other country in the world. If any country's health care system is driving it to bankruptcy, it's ours.

Is adopting single payer health care the solution to America's health and fiscal problems? The grass in my lawn could solve many of my problems if only it sprouted blades of gold. I'm not counting on it, though. And the truth is that if our politicians miraculously agreed that America needed single-payer health care, we'd screw it up anyway: By the time the special interests finished with the legislation, every single cost-effective element would be stripped from it.

Take Finland's typically clever approach to the national pharmaceutical formulary. The Finns manage costs by controlling price: Drugs are sold on a cost-plus basis in which a profit margin is added to the wholesale price. They adjust the margin up for cheaper drugs, and down for more expensive prescriptions, which encourages use of less expensive medication. Moreover,nothing gets into the formulary without demonstrating both therapeutic value and economic sense. Combined with an ongoing physician education program, this approach gives the Finnish public a powerful voice in determining the use of prescription medications in their country and serves as an effective brake on the rising costs of drugs.

We should do the same here, right?

BUT...Finland is country of 5.25 million people with a GDP of less than $200 billion. The United States has a population of 300 million and a GDP in excess of $14 trillion. In short, the money is huge. In short, try to enact a program like the one described above -- exactly the opposite of what the pharmaceutical companies want -- and Big Pharma will go absolutely ape and strike back with everything they've got. Given the unrestricted access lobbyists have to our political system, any final legislation would likely increase Big Pharma profits at taxpayer expense.

Look no further than Medicare, Part D for evidence: Republicans put the federal government in a straitjacket by preventing it from negotiating Medicare drug prices. The single biggest piece of leverage that taxpayers have -- their sheer number -- was neutered to maximize Big Pharma profits. What do you think would happen if the government attempted to actually dictate profit margins?

The same would happen over and over to every single useful element of an imagined American single payer program. Which would eventually prove the nay-sayers right: Single payer does bankrupt a country.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Funnies and Arts

As always, click to enlarge.

We celebrated Premium T.'s birthday last night at Cafe Campagne, in the Public Market. It's one of our favorite Seattle restaurants; moreover, the cafe is much better than the more expensive sister Campagne, on the floor above. Citizen K. had:

One martini
Escargots de Bourgne
(Wild burgundy snails roasted with parsley, garlic, and shallot butter)

Salade verte
(Mixed greens in sherry vinaigrette with Roquefort cheese)

2007 Willamette Valley OR Pinot Noir Thea's Lemelson Vinyards
Tartare de Boeuf
(Raw beef with shallots, capers, raw egg yolk, and Dijon mustard served with toasted baguette slices and butter lettuce salad)

Terrine au chocolat
(Chocolate hazelnut terrine with orange syrup and toasted hazelnuts)

1991 vintage port Graham's

I even shook hands with Bill Gates, Sr., someone I particularly admire. All in all, just another night out for Citizen K. and Premium T...

Marguerite makes jalapeno cornbread dressing, then heads out to a Lafayette block party. All in all just another typical day for our girl in south Louisiana...

PWALLY takes a special friend to the Men's Social Club Ball in Dallas.

St Mary's Catholic Church, 1116 Chartres Street...

Jewelry by Salvador...Dali, that is...

They paved paradise and put up this particular parking lot...

He who sings scares away his woes. Joni usually scares away mine...

Emmylou skips rope with Kate and Anna...

Your Sister's (Record) Rack: Johnny Rivers...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Monstrosity

Calling the Affordable Care Act a "monstrosity," new House Speaker John Boehner claimed a Republican mandate to repeal it and replace it with "commonsense reforms." He did not explain what those were, although past Republican proposals called for removing restrictions on insurance companies from selling across state lines. As other Republican proposals, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would add 3,000,000 -- not 32,000,000 -- people to the health care "system," the "commonsense proposals" effectively amount to the federal government doing nothing other than acting as a bagman for the five companies (Aetna, Cigna, Humana, United Healthcare, and Wellpoint) that sell most of the health insurance in the United States. (Wellpoint is an amalgamation of the Blues.)

If John Boehner thinks that the electorate put Republicans in power to focus on reducing insurance rolls, restoring rescission, replacing caps on coverage, unplugging the Medicare doughnut hole, and restoring bans on preexisting conditions in the face of the worst recession since the 30s, he's got a rude awakening in store. If the Republicans move to shut down the government over this and/or EPA regulations while conducting witch hunts against the administration, independent voters will turn on them just as they did in the 90s.