Veterans Always Get the Best of Socialism, Health Care Edition

That the US military is prone to conservatism has always tickled my sense of irony. The US military is the largest bureaucracy in the country, and probably the largest single bureaucratic agency on the planet. The government pays its workers in meals,  education, housing, and salaries. When they retire, servicemen become veterans, receive affirmative action benefits for cushy government jobs and get the best health care in the country. It’s a socialist system that performs higher than private market insurance.

Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense. And because V.H.A. patients are in it for the long term, the agency has a stronger incentive to invest in prevention than private insurers, many of whose customers move on after a few years.

And yes, this is “socialized medicine” — although some private systems, like Kaiser Permanente, share many of the V.H.A.’s virtues. But it works — and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of U.S. health care more broadly. Krugman

The entire nation could have the same program. It wouldn’t be hard to administer, that is its strength, only to start up.

Medicare Advantage, the attempt to privatize parts of Medicare, has been a disaster. Our entire health care system has been a disaster for many years. The only lower cost successes are Medicare and VHA, and they share the commonality of being government programs best suited to respond to the giant market failure that is private health insurance.

If we extend the same cheaper but better benefits we give veterans to everyone,  we would all benefit from a 2011 baseline, excluding the health insurance firms and possibly Big Pharma.

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Rick Perry – the Only Honest No-Nothing of the Bunch

Oops indeed. But at least he admits he doesn’t have any idea what he’s saying.

Now, let’s roll a list of Rick Perry endorsements:

Such careful men.
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Things That You Might Find Interesting

  1. A banker can’t get it done, you say?
  2. China needs oil, Iran has it. US sanctions don’t matter
  3. Ooh, more pro-Romney fluff from the Republican establishment
  4. If you use/like the archetypal monomyth in stories, you are a progressive
  5. Computer management and engineering majors deserve their unemployment because they should have chosen more practical, in-demand careers…

The fourth article, Tyler Cowen’s piece, makes little sense. Surprising, because he’s usually very sensible. I think it stems from the conservative agape for individual responsibility above all things, even objectivity.

If a Danish man has a poor father, he is twice as likely to improve on his father’s poverty than an American man. Are individual responsibility ideologues saying Europe is more the land of rugged individualism? After all, individuals are more likely to do better at a generational baseline.

Or maybe populations matter more than individuals? And maybe, populations are made up of individuals? So, if you enact policies that provide opportunities to the largest percentage of a population, the policy makers would be maximizing the opportunity for the most individuals to improve themselves?


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My Penis Is Too Big To Fail

Goddamn, it works. It all works so well.

I’m sure psycopath traders has used this line to great success in early morning Manhattan.


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7 of the 10 Largest Bankruptcies in US History Have Occurred in the Last 3 Years

Once you add MS Global into the mix.

It’s a shame nothing could have been done about all this. The mysterious vagaries of the business cycle are unbounded…

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Retooling the Occupy Movement Into An Effective Mobilizer for Change

What the Occupy movement has done so far is admirable. It has taken media coverage skewed towards the deficit-reduction obsession of the global elite and forced it to cover the tangible economic problems of the United States:canyon-sized inequality through financial practices causing widespread, sticky unemployment and stagnating opportunities.

But to quote the Starks, winter is coming, the Occupy crowds will likely shrink. Covering tent cities gets tired even for those sympathetic with the movement. The Occupy movement has helped bring our society to a point where it is discussing the real problem: a new Gilded Era guided by an American elite that has siphoned the wealth and momentum of the middle and lower classes  to enrich the 1% at their expense.

It has become so bad, the elite 1% so vampiric, that even the well-educated 81-99% Americans have seen their incomes stagnate since 1979. Good educations are not panaceas for greater shares of wealth.

The mechanisms by which the 1% has accomplished what is effectively a multifaceted political economic coup spans our judicial system; laws at the local, state, and federal levels; an entrenched lobbying apparatus without parallel in American history; a media run by sympathetic corporate interests; and perhaps the most resistant barrier for restoration of equitable wealth generation – a significant portion of the classes most negatively affected are the most supportive of the policies making them more disadvantaged over generations.

We need more targeted action and better leadership than the Occupy movement has been providing. Frankly, we now need a greater dynamism than symbolic protests. From the Occupy Wall Street Movement website:

“Dr. Cordero-Guzmán’s findings strongly reinforce what we’ve known all along: Occupy Wall Street is a post-political movement representing something far greater than failed party politics. We are a movement of people empowerment, a collective realization that we ourselves have the power to create change from the bottom-up, because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians.”

All well and good. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was also nonpartisan, but the Civil Rights movement was also effective because it targeted specific Jim Crow laws in specific places and dismantled them.

We are living in an economic class structure with many parallels to Jim Crow and they are too many to name here. But they have to be confronted publicly and head-on to get the change the Occupy Movement wants. It will require more than collective awareness, it will require collective action against specific laws, policies, and people that stand in the way of reeling in inequality and restoring wealth generation for all economic classes. It’s going to take money above all else, time, people, and an accessible movement with nationwide coordination.

If we don’t do this, and do it soon while the wind is at our backs, the 1% will slow everything the Occupy movement has done to a standstill, just like they have for the last 30 years. People have protested inequality before. “What do we target?” is the next substantial question.

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Most Everybody’s a Keynesian

Faced with this prospect (triggered defense cuts), Republicans — who normally insist that the government can’t create jobs, and who have argued that lower, not higher, federal spending is the key to recovery — have rushed to oppose any cuts in military spending. Why? Because, they say, such cuts would destroy jobs.

Thus Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California, once attacked the Obama stimulus plan because “more spending is not what California or this country needs.” But two weeks ago, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McKeon — now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — warned that the defense cuts that are scheduled to take place if the supercommittee fails to agree would eliminate jobs and raise the unemployment rate….

…John Maynard Keynes himself offered a partial answer 75 years ago, when he noted a curious “preference for wholly ‘wasteful’ forms of loan expenditure rather than for partly wasteful forms, which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict ‘business’ principles.” Indeed. Spend money on some useful goal, like the promotion of new energy sources, and people start screaming, “Solyndra! Waste!” Spend money on a weapons system we don’t need, and those voices are silent, because nobody expects F-22s to be a good business proposition. K-thug

Keynesian economics isn’t partisan. Government spending on a liberal agenda or a conservative one doesn’t matter as Krugman later points out, if the money is private or public, spending it still makes jobs.

One of the biggest myths in the political economy of the US is that Republicans are against government spending. More accurately, they are against spending on certain things for certain people; things rich white people don’t need. Historically, they have wanted to de-fund certain programs targeted to help poor people and the middle class like Medicare and Social Security. Modern Republicans have expanded this charming platform, to now include opposition to all services that would benefit the poor and the middle class, like public education and infrastructure.

No serious person can think the failure of a $500 million loan to Solyndra makes less sense than an $11 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (Islamic terrorists don’t have fighter jets), or giving ever increasing tax dollars to DOD is defensible by comparison when their shitty internal financial controls are one-third of cited reasons that make the GAO’s efforts to audit federal financial statements impossible. I’ll take the failure of some loans in energy over defense procurement any day. I guess this makes me a liberal, but counting defense spending as a job creator makes most everybody a Keynesian.

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One Thing I Didn’t Know, and One Thing I Didn’t Think Was Likely

What I didn’t think was likely may be so:

The conditions are coalescing for another US resurgence (in manufacturing). Rising wages, shipping costs, and land prices-combined with a strengthening renminbi-are rapidly eroding China’s cost advantages. The US, meanwhile, is becoming a lower-cost country. Wages have declined or are rising only moderately. The dollar is weakening. The workforce is becoming increasingly flexible. Productivity growth continues. our analysis concludes that, within five years, the total cost of production for many products will be only about 10 to 15 percent less in Chinese coastal cities than in some parts of the US where factories are likely to be built. Made in America, Again

What I didn’t know:

US certification for organic products is more rigorous than European organic standards in required agriculture conversion periods, milk production, organic feedstuffs (especially), health care, and labeling. Source: Organic Trade Association 2003.


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Tunisia Moderate Islam Party Ennahda: Probably Not That Different from the Republican Party

Just how Islamist will the likely dominant Tunisian party be? This question’s going to be asked a thousand hundred times (Tunisia probably won’t get that much coverage – we’ve got like 9 Republican candidates to lazily gossip about) in the media and in DC in the coming months. And there will likely be strongly negative answers.  Inevitably, neoconservatives are going to shriek and offer this up as justification for coddling dictatorships in the Middle East and as an example of Obama’s naivete – ignoring changing power dynamics. Liberal media organizations like The New Republic will run some articles defending Israel against another perceived threat against the chosen land from Islam. But we should probably be asking just how different is Ennahda’s platform from the Republican platform?

The modern Republican Party is a moderate political Christian party. Their pro-life message, and defense for overriding the free will of women, is that it is against the Christian ethic.

Rick Perry, the governor of the Texas, prays for rain from a Christian God as a policy. George W. Bush has repeatedly said God told him to end the tyranny in Iraq; there’s so much crazy in that statement that it was collectively ignored by the nation. Republicans have  metamorphosed their small government, anti-poor and anti-minority economic and political platform into a religious defense, citing their political platform as the one closest to God. There’s a Dominion movement trying to spread political Christianity, and it’s based in the Republican partisanship.

So, you’ve got prominent crazy people at the top of the Republican food chain, and there has been since at least 2000. But they don’t act as crazy as they talk or profess to be, just like Ennahda will likely not act as crazy as an Islamist party would in a vacuum, because of other moderating groups in its governing coalition.

It’s not clear if the Ennahda party members believe crazy things specifically. We’ll have to wait and see. But they believe in moral guidance from Islam in their polity, just like Republicans believe Christianity should be a part of their polity, but in the face of political resistance, they will also focus on their economic and political platform, just like Republicans.

Ennahda officials say their interim government will focus on economic development and internal security, not moral issues. Their candidates and leaders focused on the same practical themes on the campaign trail. Acknowledging a strong tradition of women’s rights in Tunisia that is unusual for the region, the party’s officials have repeatedly pledged to promote equal opportunities in employment and education as well as the freedom to choose or reject Islamic dress like the head scarf.

From reporting, they also seem to use Allah as a central political prop for popularity, just like Republicans have made the Christian god their central prop for votes.

But Ennahda has not hesitated to capitalize on Islam’s popularity or prestige in the eyes of voters. Its supporters sing religious songs at rallies, its speakers quote freely from the Koran and its leaders often talk about protecting the right to practice Islam after decades of pressure from Tunisia’s secular dictators. NYT

At the start, they don’t sound or act very different campaigning at all.

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I Don’t Often Read ‘The Hill’, But When I Do

I find most of the comments to be insane:

I am mad at myself for clicking this link. Of note, widely circulated previously but again: Americans think foreign aid is 20% of the budget, and believe it should be 10%. It’s less than 1%.

Happy Friday.

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