Friday, April 22, 2005


The Insurance Wars

Paul Krugman observes:
According to the health organization, the higher costs of private insurers are "mainly due to the extensive bureaucracy required to assess risk, rate premiums, design benefit packages and review, pay or refuse claims." Public insurance plans have far less bureaucracy because they don't try to screen out high-risk clients or charge them higher fees.

And the costs directly incurred by insurers are only half the story. Doctors "must hire office personnel just to deal with the insurance companies," Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, wrote in The New Yorker. "A well-run office can get the insurer's rejection rate down from 30 percent to, say, 15 percent. That's how a doctor makes money. ... It's a war with insurance, every step of the way."

Isn't competition supposed to make the private sector more efficient than the public sector? Well, as the World Health Organization put it in a discussion of Western Europe, private insurers generally don't compete by delivering care at lower cost. Instead, they "compete on the basis of risk selection" - that is, by turning away people who are likely to have high medical bills and by refusing or delaying any payment they can.
(Source: Paul Krugman Passing The Buck April 22, 2005)


Lame Duck Season May Be Opening Soon

I get the feeling The Bush League has hit lame duck status in record time. Teri Schiavo, Tom DeLay, John Bolton and Social Security reformation seem to have The Bush League's steamroller stopped cold. First, Alan Greenspan tells Republicans they have to raise taxes, then Colin Powell tells Republican Senators John Bolton was "challenging" to work with. ("Challenging to work with" is HR talk meaning "arrogant, pigheaded, egomaniacal back-stabber.")

It used to be Alan and Colin were faithful Bush League minions - now they're actually telling the truth in public. I wonder what happens if W decides to try ramming Bolton's nomination through. If Bolton loses, the Bush League looks powerless. If W succeeds in pushing Bolton through, there will be lots of press vultures waiting for Bolton to say something outrageous - which he soon will - and the Bush League comes across as incompetent.

I am reminded of foottball games where the referees have made a number of bad calls favoring one side. Toward the end of the game, when it doesn't matter any more, they'll sometimes pile a bunch of yellow flags on the winning team to even up the stats. My guess is that the press corps - aided by rats leaving W's sinking ship - will soon bury Bush in yellow flags to make up for the last 5 years of parroting Republican talking points.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Reality vs. The Bush League: Greenspan Attacks!

It appears Alan Greenspan has switched sides and is now calling The Bush League's economic policies unsustainable:
"Under existing tax rates and reasonable assumptions about other spending ... projections make clear that the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, in which large deficits result in rising interest rates and ever-growing interest payments that augment deficits in future years," Greenspan said in testimony prepared for a Senate Budget Committee hearing.
(Source: Reuters Greenspan Warns Deficits Endanger Economy April 21, 2005 [Emphasis added.])
Hopefully James Wolcott is right, and The Bush League's power is waning. (Spring Breaks.) It usually takes more than one or two good smacks to terminate a cockroach, though, otherwise it scuttles back into the dark, recovers, and returns.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Bad Bush - No Bases for You!

US military checkpoints apparently sometimes treat Iraqi legislators the way John Bolton treats subordinates:
A tearful member of the Iraqi parliament, Fattah al-Shaikh, stood up before other MPs and told the story of how he was attacked and detained by US troops when he attempted to enter the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area near downtown Baghdad where parliament is held and the US embassy is situated. Wire services report that he said, '“I don’t speak English and so I said to the Iraqi translator with them, ‘Tell them that I am a member of parliament’, and he replied, ‘To hell with you, we are Americans.'" '

Al-Hayat reported that al-Shaikh, a member of the Muqtada al-Sadr bloc, said the US troops put their boots on his neck and handcuffed him. The Iraqi parliament was thrown into an uproar by the account, and demanded a US apology from the highest levels of government. Others demanded that the site of parliament meetings be changed. (This is not the first complaint by a parliamentarian of being manhandled).'
Source: Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment US Troops Humiliate Member of Parliament
Interestingly, the Washington Post, New York Times, and BBC News services don't seem to be covering this story. The Gulf Daily News had this:
Meanwhile, legislators adjourned in protest and demanded an apology after a Shi'ite legislator linked to a radical anti-American cleric tearfully said he was handcuffed and humiliated at a US checkpoint.
Source: Gulf Daily News 12 killed in Iraq April 20, 2005
Knight-Ridder News reported it as well:
U.S. troop's treatment of assembly member sparks outrage in Iraq
By Dogen Hannah
Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An outraged Iraqi National Assembly demanded an apology from the U.S. government Tuesday for the rough treatment one assembly member said he received from an American soldier at a military checkpoint.

Al-Sheikh and witnesses said a soldier kicked his car, pulled him from the vehicle, grabbed him by the neck and handcuffed him. When he protested that he was a member of the assembly, a soldier scoffed at the group, al-Sheikh said.

The account ignited condemnations from a cross-section of the assembly.

"Let's ask ourselves," said Falah Shnaishel, of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the largest number of seats in the Jan. 30 election. "Is this the democracy we've been hoping for? Is this the sovereignty that we talk to the masses about?"
Source: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, April 19, 2005.

Somehow, I doubt the US military will be occupying all those expensive bases Haliburton built for very long. Another testament to Bush League Diplomacy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


The Gold Standard for Weird

Molly Ivins - Manners, by Tom DeLay:
Tom DeLay, of all people, recently issued a fatwa on the need for good manners, a concept so bizarre there is no appropriate comparison. Let's reserve it as a future simile: "... as weird as the time Tom DeLay gave us all a lecture on manners."


Fundamentalist Pope for Fundamentalist Times

Ultra-conservative Cardinal Ratzinger Chosen as New Pope. The new pope, who served as an anti-aircraft gunner for the Nazis while Joe mccarthy was overhead dropping bombs, is apparently the Vatacan's equivalent of John Bolton:
"I think if Cardinal Ratzinger was pope, a large distance could grow between the leadership of the Church and the faith," he predicted before the result was known.
(Cardinal Ratzinger has) taken some uncompromising political positions, calling for pro-abortion politicians to be denied communion during the US election campaign for instance, or arguing that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union.
Source: BBC


Republicans Paying Off Oil Industry Supporters

Offering tax breaks for oil exploration in an era of massive oil industry profits is like offering W.C Fields tax rebates on alcohol purchases - yet the House Delay Hammered is doing it:
House Energy Bill Increases Tax Breaks
Legislation at Odds With Bush Proposal

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A04

The House this week will consider $8 billion in tax breaks targeted to the energy industry at a time when some of those companies are enjoying soaring profits from high consumer prices.

The vast majority of the tax breaks would benefit companies that produce and supply traditional forms of energy, with a large portion going to the oil and natural gas sector.
As Billionaires for Bush say - Legislation: A Lucrative Investment

Monday, April 18, 2005


No Muslims in Bush League's Muslim Outreach Program

Condi Rice stops printing the report on world terrorism to cover up The Bush League's failures. Equating "covering up" with "doing something useful" - The Bush League decided there's no urgency about, say, improving our image among Muslims:
U.S. Outreach to Islamic World Gets Slow Start, Minus Leaders
Effort Involves No Muslims; Hughes Will Not Arrive Until Fall

By Robin Wright and Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page A02

The Bush administration's outreach to the Islamic world is in no hurry. And it includes no Muslims.
"...anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States' ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics' enthusiasm for U.S. business services and products," the report warned.

Despite the administration's repeated pledges of outreach, the State Department's main program directed at the Islamic world has no Muslim staff, U.S. officials say. "There's a dearth of Muslims in the State Department generally," a senior State Department official said. Like Powell, who is Egyptian American, most Arabs in the administration are Christians, sources said.
If W gets his way, we'll soon have the golden throated oratory of John Bolton to sooth tensions and calm down nations opposed to US policy. Isn't that reassuring?


Tom Delay Supports Terrorism

I don't know how else to characterize this quote:
"When a man is in trouble or in a good fight, you want to have your friends around, preferably armed. So I feel really good," the Texas Republican said.
Source: Washington Post DeLay Addresses Members Of NRA April 18, 2005
Sounds like something Osama bin Ladin would say, doesn't it...


Reality vs. The Bush League: Stagflation

Dismal news from the world of Economics, the dismal science. Rising energy prices make everything cost more - delivery trucks burn gas, too. meanwhile, employment is falling. Goodbye, bulls and bears - hello, the mythic beast STAGFLATION. Paul Krugman has the details:
A Whiff of Stagflation
Published: April 18, 2005

In the 1970's soaring prices of oil and other commodities led to stagflation - a combination of high inflation and high unemployment, which left no good policy options. If the Fed cut interest rates to create jobs, it risked causing an inflationary spiral; if it raised interest rates to bring inflation down, it would further increase unemployment.

Can it happen again?

Last week fears of a return to stagflation sent stock prices to a five-month low. What few seem to have noticed, however, is that a mild form of stagflation - rising inflation in an economy still well short of full employment - has already arrived.
We shouldn't overstate the case: we're not back to the economic misery of the 1970's. But the fact that we're already experiencing mild stagflation means that there will be no good options if something else goes wrong.

Suppose, for example, that the consumer pullback visible in recent data turns out to be bigger than we now think, and growth stalls. (Not that long ago many economists thought that an oil price in the 50's would cause a recession.) Can the Fed stop raising interest rates and go back to rate cuts without causing the dollar to plunge and inflation to soar?
Sounds like Reality is about to "shock and awe" W and the Bush League with a whipsaw rollercoaster ride combining a massively increasing deficit with the falling dollar, rising oil prices, and falling employment levels. (Remember - if your unemployment benefits run out, you're not unemployed any more. No matter how many résumés you send out after your benefits run out, you are "not actively seeking work.")

The shining light from the Cheney-Enron joint energy policy seems to be from the US economy going down in oil-enhanced flames. Not that W cares - he got re-elected and now hopes to bankrupt the US Government so as to "starve the beast." Too bad the rest of us get to starve, too.


Privatizing Civil War in Iraq

Somehow, this just doesn't sound very good:

Iraq militias 'could beat rebels'
By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad
Iraq's new president has said the insurgency could be ended immediately if the authorities made use of Kurdish, Shia Muslim and other militias.

Jalal Talabani said this would be more effective than waiting for Iraqi forces to take over from the US-led coalition.
"We cannot wait for years and years of terrorist activity because we haven't enough government forces," the president said.
Letting the various factions' militias loose would be easy - calling them back very difficult. If this wasn't just posturing, W's brave new "democratic Iraq" won't last long. Wait until the Kurds start fighting the Shiites, and the Turks come over to "stabilize" Kurdish terroritory.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Malpractice Insurance Practices Destroying Small Town Doctors

If it is all about those evil trial lawyers, why are obscure Medical Malpractice Insurance practices destroying small town doctors?
The Insurance Scandal Shakes Main Street
Published: April 17, 2005
Tremors from the Reciprocal investigation would soon reverberate in the boardrooms of much bigger insurers. But as the inquiries into esoteric insurance practices spread, making their way around Wall Street, the fallout from some of the industry's abuses was already becoming apparent on Main Street. People who relied on Reciprocal, and held malpractice policies that evaporated without warning, say they feel betrayed by convoluted financial dealings that they barely understand.
Reciprocal's former chief executive, Kenneth R. Patterson, and a former executive vice president, Carolyn B. Hudgins, have already pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. The Justice Department has been investigating other managers of the company and outside advisers since 2003. Insurance commissioners in Tennessee and Virginia, as well as former policyholders, have also sued the company and its advisers, accusing it of engaging in a protracted conspiracy to inflate the company's weakening accounts and to allow management to speculate with corporate funds.
IN a startling turn of events, the Reciprocal investigation produced information that led to the ouster of Maurice R. Greenberg, the iron-fisted chairman and chief executive of American International Group, the insurance giant.

Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of Warren E. Buffett, acquired General Re in 1998. This January, as Berkshire lawyers scoured General Re's accounts to respond to Justice Department queries about Reciprocal, they disclosed a questionable insurance transaction that A.I.G. used to improperly spruce up its books.

Securities and Exchange Commission officials and Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general, were already investigating A.I.G. But the Berkshire disclosures led them to issue a fresh round of subpoenas to the company. The subpoenas, and evidence of financial manipulation that surfaced later, prompted A.I.G.'s board to ask Mr. Greenberg to step down.
Source: New York Times (Emphasis added)
If it was just one insurance company doing this, that's what Senator Chaffee would call an "isolated incident."

However, these abusive practices seem widespread. Bottom line: if their investments do well, insurance company executives pay themselves large bonuses, jack up rates, and spend whatever's left issuing PR reports about evil trial lawyers. If the investments tank, they STILL pay themselves large bonuses, jack up rates, and spend whatever's left issuing PR reports about evil trial lawyers

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