Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why Are American Health Care Costs So High?

Upworthy has the video and links in the article Why Are American Health Care Costs So High?

In which John discusses the complicated reasons why the United States spends so much more on health care than any other country in the world, and along the way reveals some surprising information, including that Americans spend more of their tax dollars on public health care than people in Canada, the UK, or Australia. Who’s at fault? Insurance companies? Drug companies? Malpractice lawyers? Hospitals? Or is it more complicated than a simple blame game? (Hint: It’s that one.)

Of course you are still free to have your own opinion despite what may be evidence to the contrary.

To save you the effort of tracking down the links mentioned in the video, here is the links section of the explanation of the video from YouTube.

For a much more thorough examination of health care expenses in America, I recommend this series at The Incidental Economist:…
The Commonwealth Fund’s Study of Health Care Prices in the US:…
Some of the stats in this video also come from this New York Times story:…

This is the first part in what will be a periodic series on health care costs and reforms leading up to the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, in 2014.

Shutdown closer as GOP House clings together

In the NBC story Shutdown closer as GOP House clings together, President Obama put the whole matter to rest very succinctly.

In an afternoon interview with NPR News, Obama reiterated that any funding measure that involves major changes to Obamacare is a non-starter.

Asked what he can ‘offer’ towards a compromise – especially once the debate shifts to the debt ceiling — Obama insisted he should not have to negotiate over the issue.

“I shouldn’t have to offer anything,” he told radio host Steve Inskeep. “They’re not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That’s part of their basic function of government, that’s not doing me a favor.”

When I was working in Oregon, I once joked to a customer in Massachusetts that I would be happy to help him if he flew me and my wife back to Massachusetts so I could help him in person.  Boy, did I catch hell from my boss, and rightly so.  All I could say when asked about it by my boss was the answer I learned to give while I was in the Army. “Gee, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”  Except, nobody was laughing.

Suffice it to say, I worked my ass off to solve the customer’s problem.

How The Government Shutdown Ends 1

I want to be the first to present this scenario so that I can get the credit for predicting it if it occurs.  If it doesn’t occur, nobody will remember this post. (As if they would remember it even if it does occur.)

Let’s say that the shutdown drags on for more than a week (or maybe a month).  The major political donors from Wall Street to the Republican Party would be up in arms threatebning a cutoff of donations if the issue does not get resolved.

Speaker Boner faced with the Hastert rule that he refuses to break cannot bring a bill to the floor of the House unless a majority of Republicans approve.

Nancy Pelosi will organize the Democratic Caucus to join forces with enough reasonable Republicans (stop laughing) to overthrow Speaker Boner, and force a clean budget bill to be brought before the House.

There will be enough votes in this coalition to get the bill passed.  The country will be so happy with what Pelosi accomplished that she will be elected President in 2016.  (I told  you, stop laughing.)

Oh, I forgot.  If you think of this as political humor, feel free to laugh after all.


Do you think the following scenario is more likely to happen?

If the Speaker brings a clean budget resolution to the floor of the House, Nancy Pelosi promises that enough Democrats will vote for the bill to get it to pass.  In addition, Pelosi promises that enough Democrats will vote to keep the current Speaker when he faces a rebellion from within his own party.

Will the mere threat of such a scenario get the House unstuck?

How Fake 2nd Amendment History Kills

The Consortium News has the article, How Fake 2nd Amendment History Kills.

The whole idea of the Constitution – with its mix of voting, elected representatives and checks and balances – was to create a political structure that made violence unnecessary. As the Preamble states, two key goals were to “promote the general Welfare” and to “insure domestic Tranquility.”

So, the Framers weren’t encouraging violent uprisings against the republic that they were founding. To the contrary, they characterized violence against the constitutional system as “treason” in Article III, Section 3. They also committed the federal government to protect each state from “domestic Violence,” in Article IV, Section 4.

And one of the first uses of the new state militias formed under the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts was for President Washington to lead a federalized force of militiamen against the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax revolt, in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

Though it’s true that many Americans owned a musket or rifle in those early years especially on the frontier, regulations on munitions were still common in cities where storing of gunpowder, for instance, represented a threat to the public safety. As the nation spread westward, so did common-sense restrictions on gun violence. Sheriffs in some of the wildest of Wild West towns enforced gun bans that today would prompt a recall election financed by the National Rifle Association.

This history was well understood both by citizens and courts. For generations, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment as a collective right, allowing Americans to participate in a “well-regulated Militia,” not as an individual right to buy the latest weaponry at a gun show or stockpile a military-style arsenal in the basement.

The article addresses the issue that many gun rights activists claim is the reason why the Second Amendment is important.  They feel the need to be armed in case they must rise up against a tyranical government that takes over this country.

They claim that if we want to change what the Second Amendment says, we ought to pass a Constitutional Amendment.

The above article says

In the late Eighteenth Century, the meaning of “bearing” arms also referred to a citizen being part of a militia or army

That is the reason we must argue over history.  If the Second Amendment only recognizes the bearing of arms in a “well regulated militia”, then it is up to the gun rights advocates to pass a Constitutional Amendment to change what the Constitution says about this issue.

Of course there is always the problem of our side finding rights implied by the Constitution that were never intended.  Although there is a difference between a  right that was never explicitly considered, right to privacy and therefore abortion, versus a right that was considered and rejected under the meaning that existed of words when the words were written..

What Obamacare Means for You

The White House web site has this easy to understand video about What Obamacare Means for You.

The Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – means better coverage for those who already have health insurance, and more options for those who don’t, including a new way to shop for affordable, high-quality coverage.

For all of us who want to see Obamacare have a chance to prove itself, one way or another, we ought to get behind the effort to publicize it. So pass this video on to your contacts.

If the Republicans turn out to be right that these additions to our traditional medical care system in this country cannot work, then at least we will be able to say we gave it a fair chance. If we stop it before we even give it a try, then we will have missed a golden opportunity to find out if there is another way to make health care available to all of our citizens.

I know what the Republicans seem to be afraid of, but here is our chance to see if they are right or not. Have they so little faith in our system of government that they are afraid to even try something different? What about the rest of us and our faith in our ability to govern ourselves through a democratic form of government?

If you believe our democratic system of self government might work, are you willing to give Obamacare a fair test to see if this new idea is better than the old ones?

If you believe that we are unable to have workable solutions selected in a democratic way, then this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider this a test of the American way.

Efficiency Versus Fragility

In reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, I have come to realize how the subject of economic efficiency should be discussed.

The Republicans’ sell their idea on how to run an economy on the idea of economic efficiency.  Who could possibly be against economic efficiency and in favor of “waste and fat” in an enterprise or in the government?

Well there is a reason to be hesitant about anything that is ultra-efficient.  Something that is ultra-efficient produces the most output from the least amount of resources as long as everything is running according to its design.  The problem is that such a system is extremely fragile.  The more efficient the system, the less it takes to knock it off kilter.  When the fragile system does get knocked off kilter, the disaster is much larger than anything that would have happened in a robust system.

Vulture capitalists, like Mitt Romney, come along and see an enterprise that they consider to be “inefficient and full of waste”.  They buy the enterprise so that they can siphon off all the “waste and fat” into their own pockets.  As soon as the event comes along that pulverizes the now fragile system, they abandon it to the public and walk away with all the wealth they siphoned off.

The next time a demagogue comes along to sell you on increased efficiency that will occur if we privatize a robust government function, remember to ask, “But will it make the function so fragile that it is bound to fail?”

Remember, economics (real life) is not binary – it’s not “all this or all that”.  We must deal in a spectrum of real numbers rather than 1’s and 0’s.  We don’t want to over engineer a system to make it so robust, that the added safety margins are truly unnecessary.  However, we  don’t want to cut away the safety margin so much that the system is too fragile.

If you rigidly apply a single dogmatic position (called Conservative or Liberal), you will either get ultra-efficient but fragile systems or you will get systems that are so robust that they are throwing away the chance to use some resources for other useful purposes.  We need to work more wisely, not more dogmatically.

The Dilemma of the Cooperative Gene

New Economic Perspectives has the article The Dilemma of the Cooperative Gene by J. D. Alt.

The first reality, then, which the cooperative gene must acknowledge is that it is never going to persuade the competitive gene to cooperate towards the equitable creation of collective goods. The only strategy available, it seems, is for the cooperative gene to persuade itself that money is neither a commodity, nor is it scarce—that the narrative hammered out by the competitive gene is, at its very roots, a false and self-serving belief system that puts collective society itself at risk.

If you don’t think the word “gene” is the most appropriate phrase to use, just substitute “a more appropriate phrase” every time you see the word “gene”.

The article may be completely logical and the best way to sell the idea, but I am coming to think that for the sake of reducing fragility, the problem is really that the government has given too much of the fiat currency to the wealthy who are squirreling it away rather than putting it to work in the economy.  It might be easier to kiss this money good-bye and just create more money to be put to better use.  However, the idle money cannot be ignored.  As long as it exists, there is the chance that it will be taken out from under the mattress and put to use just at the most inopportune time in the economic cycle.  This will cause inflation.

Better to cut the downside risk of inflation, something the Republicans claim to be worried about, by taxing back the idle “money” and putting it to the use it should have been put to in the first place.


Video: The Anti-TPP Take Over Of The US Trade Representative Building

The web site Popular Resistance has the article and video Video: The Anti-TPP Take Over Of The US Trade Representative Building.

Below is a video of activists working in the coalition dropping multiple banners from the US Trade Representatives Building in Washington, DC to protest the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The groups sought to expose the secret negotiations that have been ongoing throughout the five years of the Obama administration and mobilize people concerned about workers, the environment, banking, food, water, Internet freedom and other issues to take action to oppose the TPP. The TPP will give large transnational corporations absolute power over our lives and make them more powerful than governments.

The web site itself is trying to let people know that the Occupy movement is not as dead as the media would like you to believe.

Opposing Intervention in Syria Without Apologizing for a Dictatorship

The Real News Network has a multi-part series with Rania Masri.

The first part is Rania Masri on Reality Asserts Itself Pt.1.

I think the following excerpts capture her political philosophy.

MASRI: A Muslim or Jewish or Druze or whatever or atheist. It was irrelevant. I was raised that religion is the way that you treat people, and everything else is a personal decision between oneself and one’s God and however way ones choose to worship. So that was very, very intrinsic to our upbringing. That’s one caveat of, one basic tenet of the political party. The other tenet is that they believe in something called natural Syria or greater Syria, which is that Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq are actually one natural entity and they are one nation. And it goes on beyond there.
And then the third tenet of the ideology is that economically they believe in something called profit-sharing. So the worker does not own the company, the factory, per se, but the worker gets a salary at a percentage of the profits.

I should caution your, though. If you believe that anyone who calls Israel the enemy is not worth listening to, then don’t waste your time here.

For those of you who are still with me, we come to the second part, Opposing Intervention in Syria Without Apologizing for a Dictatorship Pt.2.

I stand very much against acts of economic violence and acts of military violence, completely. So in this case, economic sanctions against Iraq were themselves truly a weapon of mass destruction, were themselves horrendous in their impact on people’s lives. And bombing campaigns are not an option. They’re not a peace mechanism. So in those aspects, yes, my loudest actions were in opposition of those.

Her views on non-violence are what is especially worth considering. It is not as if she claims her words are from a saintly human being. She recognizes inconsistencies in her views and other people’s views. She understands that life is complex. She understands that not everything is black and white. Nevertheless, I think her ideas about non-violence make a lot of sense.


The third part of the interview is The Survival of the Palestinian People is Itself a Form of Resistance Pt.3.

And I believe over time that the Israelis will recognize what the white South Africans have recognized, that the only path to true peace is one of a full democracy and not a racist-based kind of state. Very much so I believe in that. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we should expel all Israelis into the sea or expel the Zionists into the sea. No, I don’t believe that ethically. I don’t believe that strategically. And there are Israelis that I consider to be comrades, namely, Ilan Pappé, for example, who is a marvelous historian and a marvelous individual. And I would consider him a comrade, yes. You know, even though he is an Israeli, I would consider him a comrade, as well as there are numerous Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis–I could go on and on and on–that I consider them to be strict opposition, both in terms of their political and their economic platforms.

I think the above quote is the best one that I could find to convey the essence of what Masri’s position is. It takes a while in the interview for Paul Jay to get over his sticking point and to let this idea come out.

The whites in South Africa kept pushing themselves into a corner by raising the level of mal-treatment of the native population to the point where they could not conceive of the possibility of avoiding massive retribution if they ever relented. Then, all of a sudden it seems, the whole system fell apart, and the worst-case scenario did not occur.

That gives me hope that such an outcome could happen in Israel.