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December 31, 2006

Happy New Year (I Hope)

Not totally sure what to say about 2006. Much of it's been pretty great, and some, particularly in the final few weeks, has been rather painful. In any case, you guys, and this blog, and the opportunities and occupation that have sprung from it, have certainly been appreciated, so three cheers for that.

Personal triumphalism/melancholy aside, 2006 was a very good year for the country, and will be remembered as the year the voters dropped an anchor before the ship of state ran permanently aground. Righting the place, however, will take a lot of work, and a lot of organizing, and a lot of attention, and a lot of energy. There's an intimidating amount to do, but come the start of the 110th Congress, progressives will finally have a foothold from which to do it.

Paul Wellstone used to end his speeches with the refrain, "Keep fighting, keep marching, keep fighting, keep marching, keep fighting, keep marching!" To that I'll add typing, and donating, and persuading, and convincing, and e-mailing, and calling, and arguing, and thinking, and creating, and opposing, and supporting, and demanding. The last few years have seen an unprecedented explosion in ways to become civically involved and effect change. In 2006, some of them paid off. Whatever 2007 will be for us individually -- and I hope it will be great -- let's make sure it's even better for us collectively. And of course, keep fighting, keep marching. Onward to 2007.

December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (19)

What do you mean, "become"?

(Posted by John.)

Happy New Year all.  Der Spiegel has a piece on the drafting of Iraq's new oil law, which is apparently going to lead to privatization.  As much as I'm sure that will be wildly popular with the Iraqis - and I'm sure it won't at all be re-nationalized once the dust settles - I have to say the most surreal thing about the article is the headline:

"Will Iraq's Oil Blessing Become a Curse?"

Yes, it's been such a blessing to be an oil-rich Persian Gulf state.  Just look at the wondrous societies of Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Kuwait.  Bastions of free expression and social justice, each and every one.

December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Reds Everywhere

Ankush points me towards an article in the Business section of The New York Times arguing for single-payer health care.  That's not exactly a common pairing, so seeing such an unexpected marriage of section and socialism does my heart good.  The piece is a perfectly adequate recapitulation of the arguments you already know, though it calls a lot of systems "single-payer" when they aren't.  But then, the importance of such an article isn't its innovativeness, but its audience.  The data comparing our spending and outcomes to those of other developed nations is an irrefutable, irresistible, condemnation of our system.  Indeed, this graphic alone is a more than suitable argument for reform:


The more who know the statistics, the easier the next fight will be.  And so I'm glad to see them being explained to audiences generally insulated against such revelations.  In the end, the case for moving towards public provision of health care is a simple one: It makes damn good business sense.  As the above graph shows, you may pay more through the government, but you pay far less overall.  And any businessman knows that that's the important metric.

December 31, 2006 in Health Care, Insurance | Permalink | Comments (62)

Healthy? Just Ask Your Insurer.

The LA Times roars out of the gate this morning with a searing article on insurance industry underwriting and the many insignificant ailments that will lead insurers to simply refuse you any and all coverage.

Jerry Flanagan, an advocate with the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights, said it wouldn't take much to be left out of the private-insurance market. "A minor asthma condition or a surgery 10 years ago that requires no further medical care is enough to get you blacklisted forever," he said.

As a result, some people forgo treatment so as not to tarnish their health records. Others withhold information from doctors or ask them to leave details out of their records. For those who are uninsurable, healthcare often is the chief reason they stay in or take a certain job.

Claudine Swartz enjoyed running her own consulting business but had been rejected for individual insurance. After a scare over a benign cyst in her breast, the San Francisco resident closed her business and got a job with the University of California's health system, where she enjoys guaranteed coverage.

The episode made her realize that without insurance, she would have been on the hook for catastrophic expenses if her diagnosis had been more serious.

"I wasn't willing to take that risk," said Swartz, 35. "It's a real problem for people trying to be entrepreneurial and work on their own."[...]

Insurers declined to disclose the underwriting guidelines that lead to rejection or higher premiums. But a review of public records, as well as rejection letters sent to individuals, shows that California carriers turn people away or charge them higher premiums for conditions that range from the catastrophic to the common. Cancer, epilepsy and AIDS make the list, along with breast implants, ear infections, varicose veins and sleep apnea.

Jeffrey Miles, a vice president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, a trade group for independent insurance agents, said one of his clients — a 27-year-old woman "in perfect health with absolutely nothing wrong" — was rejected because she had seen a psychologist for three months after breaking up with a boyfriend.

"I call it hangnail underwriting," Miles said. "If a person has taken virtually any medication, they are going to be turned down. If people have had any psychological counseling at any time in recent history, they are going to get turned down."

Swartz, the consultant, said the reason she couldn't get individual coverage was a condition in her records that she may never have actually had. Her physician had diagnosed ulcerative colitis. But after years without additional symptoms, Swartz said, her doctor decided the initial diagnosis was probably wrong.

Consumer advocates say out-of-date, ambiguous and even erroneous medical information can render people uninsurable. Sometimes the reasons can seem absurd. In a letter to an otherwise healthy recent college graduate, for instance, Blue Cross listed among the reasons it denied coverage a past bout of jock itch, "successfully treated with cream."

Community rating -- forcing insurers to insure everyone at the same price, and barring them from rejecting any applicant -- ends this practice. Which is why it's a non-negotiable element of any serious reform plan. But anyway: Happy New Years. My resolution? To keep working towards a better, fairer, more just system.

December 31, 2006 in Insurance | Permalink | Comments (10)

Obligatory Personal Post

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been at a philosophy convention for the last few days, but I owe you guys an answer to last week's puzzly meme thing.  As Ezra, Minipundit, and others surmised, Cate Edwards didn't go to Enloe High School with me -- she actually went to crosstown rival Broughton.  1, 3, 4, and 5 are true. 

In other news, the good folk at Unfogged know how to throw one heck of a party. 

December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (14)

December 30, 2006

On Saddam


I think it's amazing the way a modern tyrant, if he lives past the fall of his evil works, can be so diminished by the absurdities and petty turns of events involved in figuring out what to do with him, attempting to treat him fairly, tend to his health and accomodate his infirmities, while still trying to act as though he is a person who murdered hundreds of thousands, etc. Pinochet underwent such a diminishment. While Saddam won't be laid to rest with the mixed feelings that accompanied Pinochet's death, the Mel-Brooks-esque comedy and two-bit pathos of his trial reduced the figure he cut from a powerful terror to a hollow, powerless, nutty, fuming, pitiable creature mincing around on the unglorified stage of the law.

And Josh:

Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us. [...]

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.

In the end, Saddam's execution only underscores our plight. By the time his neck snapped and his feet swung, Saddam was but a diminished eccentric. His death, once supposed to be the final, glorious denouement of the war, is just a discomfiting reminder that we know only how to destroy, not rebuild. Saddam is dead. Zarqawi is dead. There is no one left to kill or capture who will end this nightmare. In the end, they were just more bodies, tossed atop the pyre in Iraq, where so many others have burned, and where the flames show no sign of extinguishing.

December 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Stop. Digging.

Being this wrong, this often, must be genuinely difficult. Cato is touting a coming event on inequality featuring the esteemed Alan Reynolds, even though he apparently remains incapable of understanding how his core data set measures inequality. I guess the event -- "Has U.S Income Inequality Increased?" -- is for his own edification.

December 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12)

But Can He Raise Taxes?

Mark Schmitt reminds, correctly, that the country will need more than an acceptance of moderate deficits over the next few years: It'll need revenue increases. Whatever enthusiasm John Edwards generates for rejecting fiscal conservatism should be tempered by the knowledge that, without tax increases, he'll have very little room for social spending. Relevant here is a question asked at the press conference following his announcement speech. The reporter asked whether tax increases would be necessary to fund Edwards' social spending. Edwards replied:

Well, I'll give you a few examples: We ought to be patriotic as americans, not just as a government, though the government plays a critical role in helping to rebuild New Orleans. We ought to be patriotic in doing something about global warming. And I don't mean in an abstract way -- we walked away from Kyoto unilaterally which was a very serious mistake...[long digression on global warming, which I don't have the energy to transcribe]
Q: Taxes, Senator?

Oh, I'm sorry, the answer to that question is, we do need, in my judgment, to get rid of some of the taxes cuts thats have been put in place, particularly for people at the top. I think it may be necessary to put in place a tax on some of the windfall profits the oil companies are making in order to put in place some of the changes I've just talked about [on global warming], I think it's also really important to be honest with people: we've gotten into a deep hole in terms of our deficit, we have investments that need to be made, I've talked about some of them: investments to strengthen the middle class, investments in poverty, universal health care, which I'm completely committed to do, some of the energy proposals I've talked about today -- these things cost money. So we're going to have to invest if we're going to transport America the way it needs to be transported to be successful in the 21st century, which is going to require rolling back some of these tax cuts.

So Edwards sort of dodged initially, then answered that he'd roll back the tax cuts and possibly impose a windfall tax on oil companies. Even assuming the latter is a good idea (and I'm not really sure about that), it'll generate a paltry amount of revenue, so we're really looking at a rollback of the tax cuts. Add in redeployment in Iraq and he'll have some extra money to work with, but not an extraordinary amount, particularly not early in his hypothetical term. But a real term might be different than a hypothetical one.

Were I advising Edwards, I'd sooner quit than sign off on him pulling an early Mondale. The American electorate remains enamored of low taxes and high spending, and since your political competitors won't join in a spontaneous explosion of fiscal truth-telling, he can't, either. Nevertheless, Edwards, in his deficit reduction answer, said that his top priority -- well, below that of getting elected -- is investment, and he appears serious about that. So not proposing tax increases doesn't necessarily mean he won't seek them, it means he thinks he can't sell them.

That said, I'm a little less certain than others that taxes are intrinsically unsellable. Dedicated taxes -- a VAT for health care, say, or a gas tax for renewable energy research -- seem somewhat more politically defensible than mere increases in marginal rates. If the American people know precisely what they're getting, it's a bit more concrete a conversation -- more like a purchase than a donation, and there's a fair amount the government can sell that the public may want. Too often, taxes are but a vague plea to fund government, which seems far more wasteful in the abstract than it does in the specific, and so they're easy to trump with the concrete promise of money in your pocket; you know, after all, where that money will go. Conversely, payroll taxes, which directly fund Social Security and Medicare, have been far safer than general revenue in recent years. When politicians try and cut them, they're cutting something voters can see and feel and touch. That's harder. And so I'd think it'd be proportionally easier to sell taxes in the same way.

On the other hand, I don't actually have to win any elections, so I've the freedom to muse optimistically about tax increases. Three cheers for the fourth estate!

Also at Tapped

December 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Let Him Get His Glasses

Turns out William Safire can't see the future. I guess this means he doesn't shoot laser beams from his eyes either?

December 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 29, 2006

Saddam Update

Shakes again.  Al Hurra is reporting that Saddam has been executed.

UPDATE: Posting at The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen points to Josh Marshall's analysis, which Steve calls "the most accurate and poignant I've seen," and I totally agree:

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

...This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.

And I'm not even sure that this is "getting it right." Leaving aside any debate about the ethics of capital punishment for a moment, I'm not remotely convinced that turning Hussein into a martyr to satiate our need for vengeance is the wisest strategic decision in the long run. In my estimation, there was every reason to lock him up and throw away the key, and, beyond that, little about which to be certain. And death is well fucking certain.

December 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (44)