Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hear, Hear

I'm really on a roll here with this mulitmedia blitz. Here's Senator Dick Durbin pointing out that the only real idea that Republicans have for health care reform is at best useless, and at worst enormously unjust:

Malpractice reform has one thing going for it-you get to bash lawyers. And if there is one thing that uneducated, knee-jerk right wingers hate more than Congress, it's lawyers. They can't tell you why, really. It's just been drilled into their heads over and over again. So naturally they believe that all lawyers are out to destroy the economy by filing billion dollar lawsuits every time someone burns themselves on a McDonald's product.

What these people forget is that in a purely free-market environment (which I realize is a fictional concept, not unlike unicorns, leprechauns and free birthday ponies for all), lawsuits are how you get the compensation you deserve. It is a terribly inefficient and inequitable system in which a small percentage of the total number of injured people get most of the money, while most of the injured get none. But this is a by-product of free-market philosophy.

I would gladly trade the malpractice litigation system we now have for an out-of-court, no fault system like the one in France- if I could have a single payer health care system. But as long as I am forced to buy insurance on the open market, I want my right to sue when I don't get what I paid for.

Racist Proponent Of Genocide Calls For Ethnic Cleansing Of Gaza

This man is quite literally claiming that the way to end terror by radical Islam is by denying Muslims the ability to reproduce.

Who is this genocidal lunatic, this philosophical heir to Nazi eugenic ideology?

He's none other than Martin Kramer, a visiting scholar employed by Harvard University.

Marc Theissen Justifies 9-11

Marc Thiessen continues his dishonest and disgusting attempts to legitimize the use of torture. First, he simply decides to re-define torture

“There’s a standard of torture in civil law,” he said, “which is severe mental pain and suffering. I also have a common-sense definition, which is, ‘If you’re willing to try it, it’s not torture.’ ”
Thousands of American soldiers have been willing to undergo waterboarding as part of their resistance training, Mr. Thiessen notes; therefore, it stands to reason that it is not torture.
This is total bullshit. The fact that somewhere there is someone who is willing to undergo waterboarding has absolutely no bearing on whether on not waterboarding is torture. There are people who are willing to endure all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, and that does not give us the right to inflict anything on anyone. People have shown a willingness to douse themselves in gasoline and light themselves on fire as a means of protest; does this mean that that would be acceptable treatment as well? 
Second, he invokes Catholic teaching to defend what he calls “coercive interrogation.”
The catechism states, “the defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to do harm,” and Catholic tradition accepts that this might involve killing. And, Mr. Thiessen writes: “If this principle applies to taking human life, it must certainly apply to coercive interrogation as well. A captured terrorist is an unjust aggressor who retains the power to kill many thousands by withholding information about planned attacks.”
A captured terrorist most certainly is not an unjust aggressor. He is in custody, and can do no more harm. Theissen is not just claiming that you can kill someone who is trying to kill you. He is saying that you can do anything you want if you feel like your life is being threatened. You can kill the person who is threatening you. You can kill someone who might know something about someone who is threatening you. You can torture someone if you feel threatened. In other words, as long as you feel as though you are threatened, there is literally nothing you cannot do.
Worried that you might be struck and killed by a drunk driver? According to Thiessen, you can just pre-emptively kill all drunk drivers. Or all drunks, or even all drivers. 
Worried that some Muslim might know something about a terrorist attack? Just torture him to death. Maybe you'll find something out, maybe you won't. But it's your right!
Are you a Muslim that's worried that the United States is planning to invade another Muslim country? I guess you're justified in flying passenger jets into skyscrapers. See how that works?
Basically, Theissen is arguing that governments or individuals can justify ANY behavior, no matter how evil, by claiming that they felt as though they were in danger. And make no mistake about it, he is not arguing that we can only do this to people who are guilty of committing terrorist acts. He is arguing that the guilt of the person is irrelevant; all that is needed is some belief, however misguided, that one's life is in danger.
This is face of the Neo-Con movement. It is a movement that is doing everything it can to destroy a century's worth of advancement in human rights and international law. Its justification is self-defense, but its ultimate goal is absolute power, and the domination of the world. It uses fear to consolidate its power; in this sense, it is no different from, and in fact acts in concert with, Al Qaeda. 
Morally, its goals are repugnant. Strategically, they are stupendously foolish. But they are moving ahead anyway, and Marc Theissen is doing anything he can to further the cause.

Paul Ryan: Government Spends Too Much! Also, Stop Government From Killing Wasteful Spending! is still waiting for rebuttals to points made by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan at Thursday's health care summit. They have a list of points, some of which I would concede. I don't support this bill, and there are obviously problems with it. I would just like to point out that Ryan has no solutions other than to get rid of Medicare altogether. But one of his points just illustrates Ryan's basic dishonesty:
"Millions of seniors who have chosen Medicare Advantage (Medicare through a private insurer) will lose the coverage that they now enjoy."
I'll let Ezra Klein explain the Medicare Advantage ripoff.
Philip Rucker takes a good, hard look at the scam that is Medicare Advantage. Essentially, it works like this: Congress allowed private HMOs to compete for Medicare patients under the rationale that they could offer better service at lower cost than the government. They couldn't. So Republicans in Congress began boosting their payments, to the point that Medicare Advantage gets paid 114 percent what Medicare gets paid to care for a patient. That leads to some fun perks, like free gym memberships and complimentary aspirin and band-aids, which in turn leads seniors to defend the program because they like their perks. But it also means a lot of unnecessary expense for taxpayers.
And it's important to remember that those free perks do not account for the whole of Medicare Advantage's overpayments. Rather, economists have estimated that for every extra dollar we pay the program, 14 percent is passed on to seniors and 86 percent goes to profits or other costs. In other words, we're getting only 14 cents of obvious value for every dollar of overpayment.
So Ryan is complaining that the bill will kill off this scam, which is basically just welfare for his rich buddies in the corporate world. Ryan pretends to be in favor of free-market, private sector solutions, but what he's really in favor of is just giving taxpayer dollars to rich, private sector corporations. And then, of course, trying to scare the "millions of seniors who now get Medicare Advantage" into turing against health care reform, even though he knows they won't lose health care, but will simply be required to use regular Medicare instead of the tax-payer ripoff known as Medicare Advantage.

It was irresponsible and dishonest for him to not say that. But political dishonesty and irresponsibility works, because now a bunch of people are going to waste their correcting him, when they could be fighting for single payer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crazy Dick

Bloodthirsty warmonger and raving lunatic Richard Cohen tries to start another war:

A question relating to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program: Is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crazy like Adolf Hitler, or is he crazy like, of all people, Richard Nixon?

Is Richard Cohen suffering from dementia, or does he have a massive drug and alcohol problem? Does Richard Cohen beat his wife for fun, or just out of rage? These are legitimate questions. 

(And before anyone protests that these unfounded accusations are rude, consider that Cohen is doing the same thing in an attempt to start a fucking war. The last time he did that, a million people died.)
Nixon had a term for his own sort of craziness: "I call it the Madman Theory, Bob," he said to his aideH.R. "Bob" Haldeman during the 1968 presidential campaign. Nixon was talking about how he would deal with the Vietnam War. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, 'For God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry -- and he has his hand on the nuclear button.' " The strategy, while cunning, didn't work on the North Vietnamese. Maybe they were crazier than Nixon.
So, even though this strategy didn't work on the North Vietnamese, because they were crazy, we should use it Iran because...Ahmadinejad is crazy?

How did you get a job working for a newspaper, Dick?
Ahmadinejad is some version of crazy, too. His denial of the Holocaust is either proof of a drooling sort of insanity or a kind of Nixonian craziness designed to keep enemies and adversaries off balance: What will this guy do next?
Or maybe he's just trying to get the Iranian voters scared shitless of Jews, so that they won't notice how bad the Iranian economy is. You know that trick, right Dick? You and your neo-con friends do the same thing with Muslims. Does it make you crazy? No, it just means that you're power hungry, warmongering assholes. The difference between them and Ahmadinejad, of course, that the neo-cons actually start wars, while Ahmadinejad just talks a lot.

NATO: Dragging Innocent Children From Their Beds And Murdering Them "Probably" Not Justified

This is why war should avoided at all costs:
Dec 31, 2009: American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead.
Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed.
Western military sources said that the dead were all part of an Afghan terrorist cell responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have claimed the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.
“This was a joint operation that was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time,” said a senior Nato insider. But he admitted that “the facts about what actually went down are in dispute”.
At the time NATO sources insisted that it was a legitimate operation that may have gone badly. But if this is true-if American troops are dragging children from their beds in the middle of the night and murdering them, how much longer can we continue to claim that we are on some humanitarian mission in Afghanistan? Because we clearly aren't there to fight Al Qaeda.

Let's not kid ourselves. This kind of thing happens all the time in war, and it's usually covered up or excused. The massacre at Mai Lai in Vietnam, for example, is notable only because it was publicized. But it makes it no less evil, and is not a reason to wage a more humanitarian war, but a reason to avoid war altogether.

And if we are going to pull children from their beds in the middle of the night and shoot them, we might as well print up a few hundred leaflets begging people to join Al Qaeda in their epic struggle against the evil West. And who could blame them?

What would you do, if you were in their shoes?

Today, NATO admits what they did, sort of:
(NEWSER) – When a NATO raid killed 10 children and teenagers at a remote mountain compound in Afghanistan last December, troops claimed to be targeting a “known insurgent group responsible for a series of violent attacks.” But after a lengthy investigation by the Times of London, NATO now admits that the boys killed—all of them between 12 and 18, eight of them members of the same family—were innocent civilians without connections to insurgent activity.
Innocent civilians, who were summarily executed because...we didn't bother to find out who they were? And even if they were insurgents, when did we decide that it's ok to just execute enemy combatants? I realize we've always done it, but we've also always tried to hide it. Apparently, we don't even bother with that anymore.Here's the saddest quote:
“Knowing what we know now, it would probably not have been a justifiable attack,” a NATO official said. 
It "probably" would not have been justified to drag a bunch of innocent kids out of their family home and shoot them? Really? That's the best you can do?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's A Little Late Now, Alan

Just in:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said on Tuesday the U.S. economic recovery was "extremely unbalanced," driven largely by high-income people benefiting from recovering financial markets and large corporations.

Of course, he leaves out the fact the the "high-income people" are really just benefitting because the middle class just handed over a fifth of its wealth to the banks. Still, when even free-market cultists like Greenspan (a grown man whose ideology is ripped from trashy political romance fantasies like "Atlas Shrugged") is starting to think there's a problem, you things are bad.

Edit: "Handed over" is not the right phrase. "Got defrauded out of" is more appropriate, while still restrained.

The End Is Not Quite Near

The new Senator from Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown, was one of only 5 Republicans to vote for an urgently needed jobs bill. (The others were two retiring senators and the two moderates from Maine.)

So much for all the talk about how that election was going to mean the end of the Obama administration. And honestly, it's been kind of chilly in DC lately, so there's a good chance Martha Coakley wouldn't have made it out of the house to vote.

Sure, People Are Dying, But Reconciliation Is Just...Rude!

Megan McCardle on why the Democrats shouldn't use reconciliation to pass the bill:
If the Democrats use budget reconciliation to bypass the Republicans, they will be making a big mistake.
Reconciliation is not meant to handle these sorts of problems; it’s meant to help Congress get revenues in line with outlays without letting protracted negotiations push us into a budget crisis.
Well, guess what, Megan? The filibuster was never meant to be used every single time the majority party, which represents a huge majority of Americans, tries to pass legislation. But it is. So quit your whining about the grand reconciliation use traditions of the Senate. Democrats were elected to reform health care, and the 45,000 people a year who are dying because they don't have insurance don't really give a damn about tradition. 

Edit: This bill is still a turd sandwich.

Zwicki: Why Change The Financial System? We Had One Little "Mishap"

It's time to mock Todd Zwicki! He devotes a column in the WSJ to arguing against a consumer financial protection agency
Regulatory reform that can improve competition and consumer choice in financial services is long overdue. But no new federal bureaucracy such as the Obama administration's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) is needed to bring that about.
Of course not. The agencies that we already have in place, such as the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, which are owned by the financial services sector, are doing such a fantastic job that only 2.8 million Americans lost their homes in foreclosure last year.

Also, there's no evidence at all that Todd Zywicki's home was one of those, so I think everything is just fine.
More importantly, the administration is incorrect in claiming that such an agency would have prevented the present financial crisis and is necessary to prevent the next crisis. On the contrary, such an agency might be the first step toward more problems.
Who has made this claim? It would certainly have helped mitigate it somewhat, but the reason to have a consumer financial protection agency is because the financial services sector employs thousands of lawyers and "innovators" who dream up better and better ways to scam the public, most of whom are too busy doing productive things like inventing real products, or teaching children, or well, pretty anything other than writing up seven pages of legalese designed to obscure the fact that your credit card interest rate is going to triple if you forget to fill out a form opting out of the rate increases you were promised you wouldn't get.
During the housing boom bankers made a raft of extraordinarily foolish loans. Some were the result of lenders defrauding borrowers; probably at least as many were the product of borrowers defrauding lenders. But there is no evidence, as Elizabeth Warren (a champion of CFPA and chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel) recently asserted on these pages, that lender fraud was the overriding cause of the crisis.
And since lender fraud was not the overriding cause of the ongoing Great Recession, well, let's just not worry about it. Is that the plan, Todd?

And Todd - borrowers were not defrauding lenders; they were encouraged by lenders to submit applications that were less than truthful. Why? Because as soon as those loans were signed, they were packaged up by the big banks, disguised as good securities,  and sold to investors. (Pension funds for retirees, for example.)

Let's get this straight right now: lenders were not defrauded. Lenders, who knew better, actively sold these loans to homeowners who may or may not have known better. And Todd either knows this and is lying about it, or he doesn't and he's incompetent.
The bank loans were not foolish because borrowers didn't realize what they were doing. They were foolish because of the incentives they created for borrowers, especially when housing prices turned south.
Actually, the bank loans weren't foolish at all, at least not from the standpoint of the banks. They quickly sold them and make tons of money doing it.
There were three distinct stages of the housing crisis. In the first, the Federal Reserve's extremely low interest rates from 2001-2004 induced consumers to switch from fixed to adjustable rate mortgages and drew short-term speculators and house-flippers into the market in certain cities. The Fed's increase in short-term interest rates over the next two years increased homeowner payments and precipitated a round of defaults.
Also, there was a completely unregulated financial sector which was making a killing by turning mortgages into CDO's. And these guys needed more mortgages to feed into the money making machine, which led them to do everything possible to convince homeowners to refinance, or for unqualified borrowers to buy homes.
My own research confirms the analysis provided by University of Texas economist Stan Leibowitz on these pages last July: The initial onset of the foreclosure crisis was a problem of adjustable-rate mortgages, whether prime or subprime. It was not initially a subprime problem.
Oh. Well, maybe we should look into these adjustable rate mortgages. Maybe a consumer financial protection agency could do that?
In the second phase, falling home prices provided incentives for owners whose mortgages were under water to walk away from their houses. 
Because, in the absence of a consumer financial protection agency, people who couldn't afford it were allowed to buy homes with no money down and interest only loans, which meant that ANY drop in home prices would leave them underwater and give them an incentive to walk away.
And in the third phase, which we are now experiencing, traditional macroeconomic factors like unemployment led to more foreclosures—especially where homeowners' mortgages are already underwater. Reflecting this situation, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the fastest-rising segment of foreclosures in recent months has been traditional prime, fixed-rate mortgages.
So now the problem is worse, and an argument against a consumer financial protection agency?
None of this analysis has anything to do with fraud or consumer protection problems. Consumers rationally switched to adjustable-rate mortgages when their prices fell relative to fixed-rate mortgages—a pattern that has repeated itself numerous times since the 1980s.
Why was this rational? It's only rational if people wrongly believed that taking out adjustable rate mortgages which they didn't understand was a good idea. And a consumer financial protection agency might have helped, no?
And when housing prices fell, underwater homeowners rationally responded by walking away from their houses. The proliferation of mortgages with minimal downpayments, interest-only or even negative amoritzation terms, and cash-out refinances meant that many consumers fell into negative equity territory much more rapidly than they would have otherwise.
Again, these are exactly the kinds of loans that a consumer financial protection agency would discourage.
Regulators may want to limit mortgages that provide so many borrowers with such strong incentives to walk away when housing prices fall. They may want to prohibit lenders from making loans with minimal downpayments or interest-only loans that result in consumers having minimal equity in their homes. But that's an issue of safety and soundness, not protection against fraud. 
What regulator is going to do this? The Fed and the Treasury have shown no interest because they are owned by the banks.
With respect to ARMs, the obvious solution is a less-erratic Federal Reserve interest rate policy. 
Yes, in a perfect world, the Fed would never change interest rates, and I would have a pony. In the real world, it happens all the time.
ARMs have been in widespread use for 25 years (and are common in the rest of the world) without mishap like in the current cycle.
Other than this slight mishap (the greatest recession in 70 years, tens of millions out of work, massive government bailouts of rich people, and the greatest wealth transfer from the middle class to the rich in the history of the world), things have worked out just fine. And the funny thing is, no one is even talking about banning ARMs.
So the problem isn't consumer gullibility or ignorance. Borrowers have shown they understand, and act on, the incentives they face all too well.
No, Todd. Borrowers have shown that they are just smart enough to realize after the fact that they made a mistake. But that's a little late, isn't it? What if we could find a way to prevent them from making the mistake in the first place? Maybe a consumer financial protection agency could help.
It is worth remembering that, although the banking crisis was a national crisis, the foreclosure crisis is concentrated in four states—Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada—that comprise almost half of the mortgages in foreclosure. Even within those states, foreclosures are concentrated within a handful of hot-spots such as Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and the Inland Empire region of California. It is unlikely that borrowers in these cities are more gullible than borrowers elsewhere. Evidence does suggest, however, that there were a larger number of speculators and home-flippers in those cities than elsewhere.
Do you know how bubbles work, Todd? They feed on themselves. It is completely predictable that there would be hot spots. Are you saying that the fact that some places were hurt worse than others is somehow a reason to oppose consumer financial protection?
This is not to deny that we are overdue for a comprehensive reform of consumer credit regulation.
Todd isn't going to deny that we need it. He's just saying that he doesn't want it, because his banking buddies don't like it.
Over the years, federal laws governing disclosures have become encrusted with an ever-thickening coat of litigation- and regulation-imposed barnacles.
Right. Even though in the real world, the financial services sector has succeeded in dismantling much of the regulatory system over the past 20 years, has literally written many of the regulations that we have, and actively does everything in it's power to avoid the little that's left, in Todd's fantasy land there is too much regulation.
One example, according to Federal Reserve economists Thomas Durkin and Gregory Elliehausen in a book to be published this year, involves the Truth in Lending Act, which has grown from a simple effort to standardize disclosures on consumer credit to a morass.
This morass has been largely created by the industry itself, which craves complexity, because it can afford to understand complex things, and consumers cannot. Also, you'll have to excuse me if I don't just take the Fed's word that the Truth In Lending Act caused the crisis. That is just blatant blame-shifting.
Regulatory mandates and lawsuit fears are largely responsible for the mind-numbing length of a typical credit-card agreement and monthly statement. The most recent mandate-induced clutter requires the monthly statement to disclose how long it would take to repay the balance by making the minimum payment while making no new charges. According to a Federal Reserve Study by Mr. Durkin, only 4% of consumers would even consider this option.
No, no, and no. Credit card statements which are designed so that only a lawyer can understand them are designed that way because banks know that most people don't have lawyers, and therefore can't understand them. And just because most people aren't going to just make the minimum payment doesn't mean that they shouldn't be able to see what the effects of credit card debt are. But of course banks don't want you to know that; otherwise, you might not use your credit cards so much.
Similarly, a 2007 Federal Trade Commission staff report by economists James Lacko and Janis Pappalardo documented the convoluted nature of current mortgage disclosure rules (which fail to convey key costs) and presented prototype disclosures that significantly improved key mortgage cost disclosures. Yet such common-sense proposals remain buried in the bureaucracy.
Maybe a brand new agency, which is not owned by the banks, could actually do something with these worthwhile proposals. Maybe a consumer financial protection agency?
What's needed is simplified and streamlined regulation, not another agency.
And you think you're going to get this from the Treasury or the Fed? Please.
Policies based on a misdiagnosis of the true nature of the problem might actually lay the seeds for the next crisis. For example, Ms. Warren rails in her op-ed about "tricks and traps" such as "universal default" provisions in credit-card contracts, where a failure to pay one credit-card bill can trigger a default on another one. Yet it is obvious that a consumer's failure to pay some of his bills provides valuable information about the likelihood of default on his credit-card bill (universal default provisions are common in commercial loans for this reason).
Really? The banks are being given trillions of dollars to inflate the next bubble, and they pretty much own the government. But you think that banning banks from hiding universal default provisions in credit card statement which no one can read is going to sow the seeds for the next crisis?
Thus a lender's elimination of universal default will have to be offset by higher interest rates or fees. To the extent that a CFPA makes access to credit cards less available, excluded borrowers will inevitably shift to more expensive alternatives such as payday lending or pawn shops. If the CFPA were to impose bans on efficient risk-based pricing by lenders in the name of vague claims about "fairness," the likely result will be to increase overall risk and make the next financial crisis more likely.
Yes, a consumer financial protection agency is going to make credit cards less available. And it should! Consumers debt is at an all time high. People should use their credit cards less. And at least if you go to a pawn shop, you are aware of what it's going to cost you.
The financial crisis resulted primarily from the rational behavior of borrowers and lenders responding to misaligned incentives, not fraud or borrower stupidity. Policies that fail to appreciate the difference will not protect, and may hurt, the very consumers they are intended to protect.
This is so wrong, I don't know where to begin, and would need another post to fully explain how wrong this is. But suffice it to say that the crisis was a result of big banks being allowed to do whatever the hell they wanted, and part of what they wanted to do was take advantage of borrowers who were absolutely did not have any idea about how our complex financial system worked. And since they don't know, we need an agency to take their side against the banks. A consumer financial protection agency.

On top of all of this is the fact that the need for consumer financial protection is not just limited to mortgages, but to credit cards, insurance, and any number of financial interactions in which the consumer is operating at a huge disadvantage to corporate interests that do nothing but sit around and try to figure out ways to deceive consumers.

And Todd Zywiki apparently thinks this is the way the market should work.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dick Cheney's Bloodlust

Here's Dick Cheney, quoted recently in the WSJ:
Mr. Cheney said interrogators should have had the option to use the "enhanced interrogation techniques" his administration approved—including the use of simulated drowning, or "water-boarding." He called himself "a big supporter of water-boarding," which critics say amounts to torture.
"Now, President Obama has taken [those techniques] off the table," Mr. Cheney said. "He announced when he came in last year that they would never use anything other than the U.S. Army Manual which doesn't include those techniques. I think that's a mistake."
Cheney was roundly criticized by the left, and cheered on by the right, who apparently get very excited by the idea of torturing people, and whose masochistic and authoritarian streaks are obviously closely related. Today, the New York Times reported General Patraeus as saying this:

General Petraeus also reiterated his strong opposition to using torture to gain information from important captives like Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander, who was seized recently in Karachi, Pakistan.
“Whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside,” he said. In cases that lack the approval of organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, he said, “we end up paying a price for it ultimately. Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non-biodegradable. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.”
Interrogation methods approved by the Army Field Manual, he said, work well to gain significant information.

So who are you going to believe-the head of US Central Command, or an admitted war criminal who was a key figure in the most disastrous presidency of all time- a man who said this:
"In Iraq, a ruthless dictator cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. He gave support to terrorists, had an established relationship with al Qaeda, and his regime is no more." –Dick Cheney, Nov. 7, 2003 
What's really scary is that we know that torture doesn't work, and that you get bad intelligence from it, and that you only succeed at infuriating our enemies, justifying terrorism in the eyes of many and isolating the United States even further. 

It is simply not possible for Cheney to be unaware of this fact, and yet he wants it even more! 

It's obvious that his uncontrollable urge to torture other human beings-in the most excruciating ways possible-is so strong that Cheney is willing to sacrifice the security of the United States (and risk being prosecuted as a war criminal) in order to satisfy his bloodlust.

He truly is an evil, evil man.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Frightened Nation Is A Dead One

Here are a couple things to think about (courtesy of George Washington at Naked Capitalism
“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.”- Plato
“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”- U.S. President James Madison
“Why of course the people don’t want war … But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”                          - Hermann Goering, Nazi leader.
An easily frightened nation like ours will be impossible to keep free. It's almost as though the last administration used this quote from Goering as the basis of its terror policy. And the current administration seems loath to abandon the policy.

When did Americans stop caring about whether its government spied on it, or about basic constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights? When did the desire for false security become more important than liberty and justice?

Perhaps it has always been this way, and we've spent so much time talking about liberty and justice that we've never really stopped to think about whether we actually have it, or deserve it. America has a long and sordid history of abusing the rights of its own citizens after whipping them up into a froth of frenzied paranoia. The internment of over 120,000 American citizens during WWII, the blacklists and purges of the McCarthy era, Jim Crow, the War on Americans Who Use Drugs, racial profiling, and the current War on Islam are just some of the more recent examples.

So maybe asking "what happened to us?" is the wrong question. Maybe we should ask ourselves why we  ever thought we were any better than every other country on earth-that we were so courageous that we would not be bullied and terrorized by our own government into giving up the freedom and justice we supposedly value more than anything.

Because deep down, we really aren't any different from the people of Germany in the 1930's.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Links Feb 19

An Overdue Move (For All You Local Readers) 
Teton County commissioners haveraised the possibility of letting voters enact a 2 percent lodging tax come August, to help close a budget shortfall estimated at $3 million.

The idea is long overdue. Concerns about overpromoting Jackson Hole scuttled the tax in 1994, ‘96 and ‘98.

But this is not 1998, and what started as a noble effort to preserve Jackson Hole wound up being a tragic mistake that cost the community dearly these past 12 years...

After 1998, an invention called the Internet allowed people to find out about Jackson Hole without billboards or magazine ads, and hordes of tourists came, anyway. Megahotels invaded with their own built-in promotion. Real estate speculation fueled runaway growth and gentrification, and we wound up with the same problems lodging tax opponents had feared — congested roads, strained infrastructure — only worse, and without revenue to offset the impacts...

From The Last Drug War:
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people...

Matt Taibbi Explains How The Banks Have Ripped Us Off Better Than Anyone:
To appreciate how all of these (sometimes brilliant) schemes work is to understand the difference between earning money and taking scores, and to realize that the profits these banks are posting don't so much represent national growth and recovery, but something closer to the losses one would report after a theft or a car crash. Many Americans instinctively understand this to be true — but, much like when your wife does it with your 300-pound plumber in the kids' playroom, knowing it and actually watching the whole scene from start to finish are two very different things. In that spirit, a brief history of the best 18 months of grifting this country has ever seen...

WASHINGTON — More than eight years after anthrax-laced letters killed five people and terrorized the country, the F.B.I. finally closed its investigation of the matter on Friday. The bureau released a 92-page report adding eerie new details to its case that the attacks were carried out by Bruce E. Ivins, an Army biodefense expert who killed himself in 2008.

Economists Call For Tax On Financial Transactions...
Some 350 prominent economists from all over the world have written to the leaders of the G20 calling on them to implement the so-called "Robin Hood tax" on the banks "as a matter of urgency".

Two Nobel prizewinners, including the outspoken critic of the financial system Joseph Stiglitz, and scores of professors at universities from Harvard to Kyoto, are calling on G20 governments to back a financial transactions tax on speculative dealings in foreign currencies, shares and other securities of 0.05 per cent – say £500 on a £1m transaction.

THE great hope of transplant surgeons is that they will, one day, be able to order replacement body parts on demand. At the moment, a patient may wait months, sometimes years, for an organ from a suitable donor. During that time his condition may worsen. He may even die. The ability to make organs as they are needed would not only relieve suffering but also save lives. And that possibility may be closer with the arrival of the first commercial 3D bio-printer for manufacturing human tissue and organs...

Krauthammer's Turd Sandwich

Krauthammer on why Obama has so far failed to get health care reform:

He failed because the utter implausibility of its central promise -- expanded coverage at lower cost -- led voters to conclude that it would lead ultimately to more government, more taxes and more debt.

There are two huge and glaringly obvious lies in this single sentence.

The first is that expanded coverage at lower cost is impossible. This is simply not true, as virtually every single advanced nation in the world has achieved universal coverage at sometimes half of the cost of our system. This is well documented, and not even controversial. Unless Krauthammer thinks that Americans are inferior breed of people, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot do the same. 

The second lie is that voters have rejected health care reform. Voters have rejected the massive insurance company giveaway that people like Krauthammer insisted upon. But that doesn't mean that they don't want health care reform. Here's an October poll from Krauthammer's own newspaper, the Washington Post:
On the issue that has been perhaps the most pronounced flash point in the national debate, 57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent oppose it. Support has risen since mid-August, when a bare majority, 52 percent, said they favored it.
And that's not all. From HealthCare-Now:

A New York Times/CBS News poll released last week shows, yet again, that the majority of Americans support national health insurance.
The poll, which compares answers to the same questions from 30 years ago, finds that, “59% [of Americans] say the government should provide national health insurance, including 49% who say such insurance should cover all medical problems.”
Only 32% think that insurance should be left to private enterprise.

The Krauthammer strategy is to do everything possible to turn what could have been good health care reform legislation into a big steaming pile of shit, and use the predictable lack of support for it to claim that people don't want health care reform.

I have this little image of Krauthammer at home with the little Krauthammers:

Krauthammer Children:      Daddy, we want sandwiches!
Krauthammer:      No, you don't. Sandwiches are bad.
Krauthammer Children:      But we we're hungry! We want sandwiches!
Krauthammer:      Fine. (Hands them each a turd sandwich)
Krauthammer Children:      (Crying) We don't like it!
Krauthammer:      See? I told you sandwiches were bad!

Where Is The Outrage?

Ezra Klein had this to say about yesterday's terror attack on a federal building:

For what it's worth, if the pilot had somehow survived, he should've been read his Miranda rights and tried in a civilian court. He should not have been tortured. These people are small and we -- and our traditions and values -- are big. They lose when we remember that, and they win when we forget it. Yesterday, they lost. An act of terrorism was committed, but we were not terrorized.
He is absolutely correct as far as he goes. 

But the cold, hard truth is that if Joseph Stack had been named Jihad Saleem, every single Republican and half of the Democrats would be calling for a massive attack on the first Muslim country they saw when their globe stopped spinning.

Things Are Going To Start Happening Now

This happened last week (from the LA Times):
California insurance regulators asked Anthem Blue Cross to delay controversial rate increases of as much as 39% for individual policies, hikes that have triggered widespread criticism from subscribers and brokers -- and now from the federal government.
In a rare step, the Obama administration called on California's largest for-profit insurer to justify its rate hikes, saying the increases were alarming at a time when subscribers face skyrocketing healthcare costs.

Anthem defended themselves (via Truthout):
Brian Sassi, an Anthem Blue Cross’ President and Chief Executive Officer Consumer Business Unit, on Rate Adjustments in California, said the company filed first filed notice of the rate increase with state regulators last November.
"They are actuarially sound and in full compliance with all requirements in the law,” Sassi said in a prepared statement issued Saturday. "The rate adjustments have been reviewed by an independent expert. Our decision to agree to postpone the rate adjustment does not change the underlying issue.
But California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner disagreed.
...Poizner said "medical cost inflation in California is in the 10 to 15 percent range, so I have a healthy skepticism how they can [justify a 39 percent" rate hike.
So what gives? If costs in California are increasing by only (only!) 10-15%, why does Anthem need to raise rates by 39%?

Here's why. Health insurance doesn't work unless most (ideally, all) people have it.

What makes insurance affordable? Healthy people whose premiums go towards paying for sick people. This makes sense if you think about it for a moment. If the only people who had health insurance were people who had annual health care costs of $100,000, how much would their annual premiums be? Answer:$130,000. (The extra $30k represents the overhead and profits that health insurance companies require.)

This is obviously unsustainable. No one would pay $130k for $100k worth of health care, even if they could afford it. But some of those expensive sick people still have health insurance. How is that possible?

It's possible because there are a lot more healthy, cheap people than sick, expensive people, and while the sick, expensive people get more health care than they pay for, the healthy, cheap people get less.

So why would healthy people agree to pay for more care than they get so that sick people can get more care than they pay for?

Well, normally, they wouldn't. But in the United States, people have traditionally gotten their health insurance through their employer. And this health insurance, even though it's income, is not taxed like income. In fact, it's not taxed at all. This amounts to a gift from the government to every single person who has employer health care. In other words, the government is giving healthy people some extra money to make up for the fact that they are paying more for more health care than they are getting. This system worked for a while, because there were plenty of people in the system, and so the risk was spread across a large group of people.

So what went wrong? Well, employers are covering less and less people every year. (High unemployment, fewer high-paying jobs, and rising overall health care costs associated with fee-for-service are among the reasons.)

This means that more and more people are put in the individual market. And in the individual market, healthy, cheap people don't get that extra money from the government to compensate for the fact that they are paying for more health care than they need. So what do they do? They cancel their coverage. And every time a healthy, cheap person cancels a policy, premiums go up for everyone else, because that group just got a little less healthy on average. And every time premiums go up, more and more relatively healthy people will cancel their policies, and the vicious cycle continues.

Now, this doesn't come as a surprise to health care experts; it's a well known fact that what we think of as a health insurance free market doesn't work unless everyone is required to have coverage. The health insurance tax deduction is just one way to make sure people don't cancel their policies. But when costs rise, and unemployment rises, and employers stop offering coverage, people start dropping out anyway, and unless there is some law requiring them to stay covered, the whole system collapses. And so what is happening right now is not something that might cause the system to collapse; it's actually the system collapsing right before our eyes. And as the system enters its death spiral, the speed of collapse will increase exponentially, because the system has entered a positive feedback loop.

So what's actually happening in California is not that everyone's health care costs are increasing 39%. The overall increase, as Poizner says, is around 10-15%, (still unsustainable.)

What's happening is that Anthem's healthy customers are canceling their coverage. The expensive, sick people, of course, can't cancel their coverage, because they'll never get coverage again. The result is predictable: their premiums are going to go up far faster than average health care costs. Eventually, their premiums will be so high that there won't be any customers left at all.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that there won't be any sick people left. It just means that they won't be getting health care.

Naming Contest!

It's occurred to me recently that our definitions and terminology have gotten a little outdated. I'm referring to the fact that we all have a different name for the elite group of people who rule the United States. And I do mean rule, because our political system is no longer a democracy-it is an oligarchy with a democratic veneer.

A useful definition of oligarchy can be found at Wikipedia:

An oligarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, military might, or religious hegemony.
This is undoubtedly the form of rule we now live under. This is not news to most people-a recent Rasmussen poll finds that only 21% of voters believe that the US Government enjoys the consent of the governed.

This is not a left/right issue. It's a fairly universal sentiment. Most of us realize that we are being ruled by a small group of people who don't really care what we think, and are really only interested in maintaining their positions of power and wealth. This small group of people, the richest 1% of Americans, have more financial wealth the bottom 95% of Americans combined.

Where we differ though, is how we refer to them.

People on the left side of the political spectrum tend to emphasize rule by corporate power, while those on the right tend to criticize government power. Neither is really accurate in their terminology, and although some understand that railing against "government" or "corporations" is just a shortcut for the entire oligarchy, many less informed peopled do not.

The problem is not just corporations, and it's not just government.

Corporate power is a huge problem. But not all corporations are part of the problem. The problem lies with the ones who have extremely concentrated economic and political power. These corporations are often completely lacking in any kind of shareholder oversight, and they are run by very powerful executives for the sole benefit of those executives. They spend untold sums of money buying off politicians and waging war against the middle class, who don't even realize they are getting ripped off. Financial services corporations are some of the biggest offenders, but they have plenty of competition in the health care industry, the military/industrial complex, the oil industry, the food production industry, and so on.

But there are plenty of corporations who are relatively benign, and who do provide jobs for people, and who act relatively responsibly (or who are not actively trying to rip the public off.) So focussing solely on all corporations is not really the right way to go.

Similarly, the right is wrong to simply vilify all government. Congress, of course, is right at the top of the list of targets for the Tea Party crowd. But not all congressmen are bought and paid for, even if the majority are. And what is not helpful is the assumption that government bureaucrats are the most evil people on earth, when for the most part they do the best they can with what they have, and it's the politicians who are selling their souls. In other words, government-run health care isn't the problem-a government which is controlled by health insurance companies is.

Sure, some people dislike dealing with the social security office, or their local police, or the post office, or Medicare, and so on. But they have been conditioned to believe that the reason these interactions aren't fun is because they are government agencies, and government agencies are evil. But this is clearly not true. Do these people think that managing their IRA, or getting ticketed by Blackwater, or using UPS, or dealing with an Aetna would be any better? Of course not. These are just easy targets, because you can actually go and talk to these people, and there is a chance you might actually have some sort of interaction with them.

So I think we need a new term to use. I often refer to the people who the country as the "ruling elite." But I'd like to find something with some more punch. So if you have any ideas, please post them in the comments section.

News Flash: White House Promises To Follow The Way On Public Option!

From The Hill:

Eighteen Senators have signed a letter asking Harry Reid to push for the public option using reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass it with just 51 votes. (Republicans may be able to slow or halt the processing with procedural objections.)
Appearing on MSNBC tonight, Sebelius said the administration would back that decision.
"Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she told Rachel Maddow. 
Look, the public option isn't really enough to make this massive giveaway to health insurers and providers worth passing. But it's the bare minimum to make me even consider supporting it. Polls uniformly show that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of it. It is undoubtedly an improvement to the bill. And the best the White House can do is promise to support it if the Senate leads the way?
How about having the president get on national television and fight for it? It's the easiest argument to make. Does the insurance lobby really hold so much power over the administration that they can't lead the way on legislation that the public absolutely wants?
Sadly, yes.

You Want To Fix The Deficit? Start Here

More deficit fear-mongering from Peggy Noonan:

But this is an interesting time. It's easy to say that concern about federal spending is old, because it is. It's at least as old as Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. But the national anxiety about spending that we're experiencing now, and that is showing up in the polls, is new. The past eight years have concentrated the American mind. George W. Bush's spending, the crash and Barack Obama's spending have frightened people. It's not just "cranky right-wingers" who are concerned. If it were, the president would not have appointed his commission. Its creation acknowledges that independents are anxious, the center is alarmed—the whole country is. The people are ahead of their representatives in Washington, who are stuck in the ick of old ways.

You'd think the whole country was up in arms about the deficit. I guess she missed last week's NYT/CBS poll which found this:

4. What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?
  • Health Care 13%
  • Economy 25%
  • Jobs 27%
  • War 3%
  • Deficit 4%
There are, of course, three major reasons that our debt and deficit have exploded. The first is that Bush spent like a drunken sailor, needlessly involving the country in two major wars, for example, and lowering taxes on the rich who we would later bail out using middle-class tax dollars.

The second is that Republican policies directly led to the greatest economic collapse that most Americans have ever seen, and that collapse cost trillions in bail-outs and lower tax revenues due to unemployment and reduced economic activity.

The third is because we have out of control costs in two areas-our bloated, insane military budget and skyrocketing health care costs. The American people understand this, as the poll makes clear. And as Noonan should know, any column which purports to address the deficit problem and makes no concrete calls for reducing these two problems is simply dishonest.

It is painfully obvious that these are the reasons we are so deeply in the red. And the solutions are equally obvious-massive cuts to the military budget, and true systemic health care reform. The question isn't what to do-its whether our ruling elite will let us do it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Angry man, motivated by hatred of US government policy, launches suicide attack against federal building." But it's not terrorism.

I was glancing through the CNN story about the man who flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin when I noticed this:
Two F-16 fighter jets were sent from Houston as a precaution, but federal authorities said preliminary information did not indicate any terrorist connection.
"We do not yet know the cause of the plane crash," the Department of Homeland Security said in a release. "At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity. We continue to gather more information, and are aware there is additional information about the pilot's history."
Two things struck me about that quote from Homeland Security. First, if this man's name was Abdul Mohammed, instead of Joseph Stack, there would be no question that every single person in the government-if not the country- would have assumed that this was a terrorist attack. But of course they don't consider it one, even though the vast majority of terrorists attacks in this country have been perpetrated by white American males, and even though this meets virtually any definition of terrorism one could come up with.

I mean, just think about the headline: "Angry man, motivated by hatred of US government policy, launches suicide attack against federal building." Suddenly, that's not a terror attack? Because he's white? If it's not because of that, then what is it?

This leads directly to my next point, which is illustrated by a sentence contained in that quote:
"At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity."
This is illuminating, because it shows that the Department of Homeland Security believes that, although this was clearly a terrorist act, when they think "terrorism", they think "Islam," and also that, unless some evidence is uncovered that connects Joseph Stack with Al Qaeda, they don't need to get all worked up. And don't expect the fear-mongers at FoxNews to get to call this terrorism either-that doesn't fit their narrative.

They might want to reconsider that, since the US ruling elite** has now moved beyond stoking the hatred of Muslims and begun actively and overtly screwing over the vast majority of its own citizens. They may soon realize that Americans, just like Muslims, can only take so much.***

*Funny thing, though. The government, which doesn't want to glamorize this man's actions, refers to him as a criminal.
As the Department of Homeland Security opened an investigation andPresident Obama received a briefing from his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, federal officials emphasized the same message, describing the case as a criminal inquiry.
Maybe they should start referring to people like Abdulmutallab as criminals, too, instead of conferring "warrior" status on him as the Chenyites demand.

**I am intentionally not calling this ruling elite the government, because it is much more than that. It is that group of people who rule this country without regard to the wishes of the people-this includes the super-rich, some members of Congress (including the current president to a degree), military leaders, corporate leaders, and the most powerful members of the media who enable them all. The ruling elite is a fairly precise description, but I am currently looking for something more memorable. Please feel free to help out.

***I am in no way advocating violence, and I hope no one else out there is doing that. I'm simply pointing out the danger, human nature being what it is.

Our Next War?

Juan Cole has a great piece up at Informed Comment:
Meanwhile, the main strategy of the Israeli and Jewish-American Right to preserve Israeli capacity to continue the colonization and to act belligerently in the region had been the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That strategem has failed, as I argued in Salon. The Shiite fundamentalists who have taken over Baghdad are pro-Hizbullah and pro-Palestinian. (Hizbullah was in part set up by the Islamic Mission Party, Da'wa, of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Da'wa supported Hamas in the recent Gaza War).
Moreover, Baghdad has ceased helping contain Iran for the Sunni Arab world and the West, and is now a close ally of Tehran. The prospect of a well-armed, 250,000-man Iraqi army now being reconstituted, and riddled with agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, must be a matter of consternation for Israelis. Only Jordan separates them from Iraq, now an outpost of the Shiite religious parties allied with Khamenei. The Neoconservatives, such as Richard Perle, David Frum, Paul Wolfowitz, Irv Lewis Libby, Michael Rubin, Douglas Feith, John Bolton, Larry Franklin and others thus not only shot themselves in the foot, but they shot Israel in the chest.
These same people are now agitating for a war on Iran, which is not of any particular strategic importance to us, is not anywhere near acquiring the nuclear weapons it has a right to acquire, and hasn't launched a war of aggression in over 200 years.

If they are successful, we will find that we are the proxies in a war against Iran on behalf of Israel.

With friends like Israel, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inhofe's Igloo

When you see lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tweeting that “it is going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’ ” or news that the grandchildren of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma are building an igloo next to the Capitol with a big sign that says “Al Gore’s New Home,” you really wonder if we can have a serious discussion about the climate-energy issue anymore.
More specifically, you wonder if Republicans can have a serious discussion about any issue, because let's be honest-they are either the stupidest group of people to ever hold legislative office in this country, or they are the most dishonest, unpatriotic, and disgusting bunch of assholes in Congress. And that's saying quite a bit. 


You'd think that they would have done studies to determine if pot is harmful or helpful before declaring a war on it, wasting untold billions of dollars fighting it, and imprisoning millions of people for using it:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The first U.S. clinical trials in more than two decades on the medical benefits of marijuana confirm pot is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological injuries or illnesses, according to a report issued Wednesday. 
Igor Grant, a psychiatrist who directs the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, said five studies funded by the state involved volunteers who were randomly given real marijuana or placebos to determine if the herb provided relief not seen from traditional medicines.
Then there's this, from the Chicago Tribune last year:

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk will call for legislation Monday that would toughen drug-trafficking laws regarding a highly potent form of marijuana, with penalties of up to 25 years in prison for a first-time offense.
And this:

Twenty-five-year-old Weldon Angelos celebrated Christmas in federal prison this year ... just like he'll do every year until he's 80. Last month, Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana to undercover police officers. As U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell pointed out at sentencing, that's more time than he would have received if he had hijacked an airplane (25 years), beaten someone to death in a fight (13 years), or raped a 10-year-old child (11 years). In fact, the maximum sentence for all those crimes combined is less than the federal mandatory minimum sentence for a drug felony involving a gun. (Angelos was carrying a gun at the time of his arrest, although he never brandished it or threatened anyone.) 
The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case justified putting Angelos -- a first-time offender and father of two -- behind bars for 55 years by saying that he was a "purveyor of poison" who got what he deserved. (The "poison" was marijuana, which has never killed anyone.)
And this:

Over $19 billion was spent on the war on drugs by the federal government in 2003, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This equates to $600 per second. Of this money, 61% went to criminal justice, and 30% went for treatment and prevention programs ("What Does The Drug War Cost?" New Times, June 24, 1999). Another $30 billion was spent by state and local governments.
According to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, it costs approximately $450,000 to put a single drug dealer in jail. This cost includes the costs of arrest, conviction, room, and board.
And this:

Annual Causes of Death in the United States

And then of course, this:
Nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance, according to a new study published online today by the American Journal of Public Health. That figure is about two and a half times higher than an estimate from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2002.
Now, try to make sense of any of that.


Yves Smith Has A New Book...

...called Econned which I haven't had a chance to read yet. But I do have a great excerpt from it, which makes me really want to read it:

In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. In it, he argued that the uncoordinated actions of large numbers of individuals, each acting out of self-interest, sometimes produced, as if by “an invisible hand,” results that were beneficial to broader society. Smith also pointed out that self-interested actions frequently led to injustice or even ruin. He fiercely criticized both how employers colluded with each other to keep wages low, as well as the “savage injustice” that European mercantilist interests had “commit[ted] with impunity” in colonies in Asia and the Americas.
Smith’s ideas were cherry-picked and turned into a simplistic ideology* that now dominates university economics departments. This theory proclaims that the “invisible hand” ensures that economic self-interest will always lead to the best outcomes imaginable. It follows that any restrictions on the profit-seeking activities of individuals and corporations interfere with this invisible hand, and therefore are “inefficient” and nonsensical.
According to this line of thinking, individuals have perfect knowledge both of what they want and of everything happening in the world at large, and so they pass their lives making intelligent decisions. Prices may change in ways that appear random, but this randomness follows predictable, unchanging rules and is never violently chaotic. It is therefore possible for corporations to use clever techniques and systems to reduce or even eliminate the risks associated with their business. The result is a stable, productive economy that represents the apex of civilization.
This heartwarming picture airbrushes out nearly all of the real business world. Yet uncritical allegiance to these precepts over the last thirty years has produced a world in which corporations, especially in finance, are far less restricted in their pursuit of profit. We show in this book how this lawless environment has led the financial services industry to pursue its own unenlightened self-interest. The industry has become systematically predatory. Employees of industry firms have not confined their predation to outsiders; their efforts to loot their own firms nearly destroyed the industry and the entire global economy. Similarly destructive behavior by other players, often viewed through a distorted lens that saw all unconstrained commercial behavior as virtuous, added more fuel to the conflagration.

Yves runs a little blog called Naked Capitalism, which is one of the best sources out there for the skinny on what's really happening with our economy. And Yves is one of the most tireless and prolific bloggers out there; I don't know when she sleeps.

*Simplistic ideology is, of course, exactly what uninformed newcomers to the political arena need, especially ones who are outraged at the effects of a complex system (the financial system or health care systems, for example) which they don't understand. More on that here.