Posts tagged ‘new york times’

These Are the Same Folks Who Denounced the Koch Brothers' Political Participation the Other Day

An excellent editorial from Tim Carney

Democrats occupied the Senate floor all night Monday, talking aboutclimate change. They didn't try to advance any legislation, and they didn't even try very hard to get media attention.

“The members know that serious climate change legislation stands no chance of passage in this divided Congress,” wrote the New York Times' climate-change reporter, Coral Davenport. Beyond that, Democrats know that action on climate legislation would help Republicans take the Senate in 2014.

So why occupy the Senate floor talking about the issue? In short: Faith, identity and cash.

The liberal climate cause is easier to understand if you think of it as a religion. Monday’s talkathon sounded at times like a religious revival. Senators spoke about the faithful who “believe in wind” and “believe in renewable” energy. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said climate for him is “a faith issue.”

One doctrine in the Church of Climate is sola fide. In the words of Reformation theology: Justification comes through faith alone. “Good works” are irrelevant....

Beyond exercises in faith and identity politics, the Democratic all-nighter should be understood as a very odd fundraiser. Most fundraisers feature one or two politicians speaking to dozens of donors. Monday night featured a dozen politicians speaking to one donor: Energy billionaire Tom Steyer.

Steyer, having made his riches partly in green energy and fossil fuels, has decided to spend his billions electing Democrats who will pass climate legislation. He says he’s divested from his energy holdings, signifying his intentions are sincere.

Steyer spent $8 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia last fall. “Steyer will inject millions into assorted races” in 2014, reports Joe Hagan in Men's Journal. Steyer has made it very clear what a politician needs to do to get his money: Make a big deal about climate change.

By the way, kudos to Carney for getting this correct.  It seems like an easy nuance to get accurately, but no one in the media ever does

Democrats called Republicans “deniers” 28 times during the talkathon. Majority Leader Harry Reidframed his speech this way: “Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist.”

There’s an ounce of truth to this attack: Some Republicans wrongly deny that carbon dioxide and similar gasses exert a net upward pressure on atmospheric temperature, and that this has affected the climate.

But liberals hurl the term “climate denier” at anyone who doubts the hyperbolic catastrophic predictions of Al Gore, posits that non-manmade factors (like the sun) may also drive climate change, or opposes Democrats policies — the same policies Democrats aren’t actually trying to pass.

I have actually learned to embrace the "denier" label.  When it is applied to me, I agree that I am, but that one has to be careful what exact proposition I am denying.  I don't deny that the world has warmed over the last 100 years or that man-made CO2 has contributed incrementally to that warming, both now and in the future.  What I deny is the catastrophe.

Krugman the Hack vs. Krugman the Economist

I am simply exhausted with Paul Krugman calling people anti-science neanderthals for staking out fairly mainstream economic positions that he himself has held in the past.  It would be one thing to say, "well, I used to believe the same thing but I changed my mind because x, y, z".  That would be a statement to respect.  Instead Krugman 1) pretends he never said any such thing and 2) acts like his opponent's position is so out of the mainstream that they are some sort of terrorist for even suggesting it.

I had an example just the other day.

Here is another, from Ben Domenech:

Yesterday, New York Times columnist and CUNY economics professor Paul Krugman had some very strong words about the position in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s new poverty report that American welfare programs discourage work and “actually reduce opportunity, creating a poverty trap.”  In fact, after contrasting the Ryan report’s view on poverty traps with some data on inequality and welfare states, Krugman resoundingly concluded that Ryan’s ideas were a total sham:

So the whole poverty trap line is a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy; the alleged facts about incentive effects are mostly wrong, and in any case the entire premise that work effort = social mobility is wrong.

Despite Krugman’s strong conclusions, however, Ryan’s views about US welfare policies and poverty traps are actually pretty mainstream – cited by people across the political spectrum as a big reason to reform state federal poverty programs.  In fact, a New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor expressed these widely-held views on the Old Grey Lady’s pages a mere two months ago:

But our patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position: the more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates. A large fraction, in some cases 80 cents or more, of each additional dollar they earn is clawed back by the government.”

Even more, the Ryan report’s “poverty trap” analysis is based on the work of the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle’s (see p. 7 of the Ryan report), on whom the very same Princeton professor once wrote:

[I]t’s actually a well-documented fact that effective marginal rates are highest, not on the superrich, but on workers toward the lower end of the scale. Why? Partly because of the payroll tax, but largely because of means-tested benefits that fade out as your income rises. Here’s a recent discussion by Eugene Steuerle

That professor, if you haven’t already guessed, was none other than Paul Krugman. 

By the way, can I say how happy the first sentance of this quote makes me, to no longer see my alma mater mentioned in the same breath as Krguman at every turn?

Chevron Ecuador Judgement Obtained Through Fraud and Bribery

Update:  If you want to understand how deep the fraud runs, make sure to watch the 60 second video below with the US environmentalists caught on tape plotting their fraud.

Via Bloomberg:

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said today that the second-largest U.S. oil company provided enough evidence that a 2011 judgment on behalf of rain forest dwellers in the country’s Lago Agrio area was secured by bribing a judge and ghostwriting court documents. Kaplan oversaw a seven-week nonjury trial over Chevron’s allegations.

“The decision in the Lago Agrio case was obtained by corrupt means,” Kaplan said in an opinion that gave Chevron a sweeping victory. “The defendants here may not be allowed to benefit from that in any way.”

Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, was ordered to pay $19 billion to a group of farmers and fishermen by the Ecuadorean court. The award was reduced to $9.5 billion on Nov. 12 by the Ecuadorean National Court of Justice, the nation’s highest tribunal. That's almost half of its 2013 profit.

The Ecuadorean villagers, and activists working on their behalf, argued the oil producer should be held financially responsible for pollution of the Amazon rainforest by Texaco Inc. from the 1960s through the early 1990s. Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001, claims the company already paid $40 million to clean up its share of the drilling contamination....

In its racketeering case before Kaplan, Chevron alleged that a U.S. lawyer leading the Ecuadoreans, Steven Donziger, and members of his team engaged in “repeated acts of fraud, bribery, money laundering” and obstruction of justice in pursuit of a multibillion-dollar payout.

I don't think there is any doubt that Chevron owed the Ecuadorans some clean up, since even they have agreed to doing work there.  And it is not unreasonable to be skeptical that Chevron's actions were perhaps incomplete.  But the $19 billion judgement always has smelled, particularly when the judge in the Ecuadoran case publicly admitted he had been bribed.

There was deep corruption in this case from the start, corruption that never will be adequately covered in the media because it "was for a good cause."  Similar levels of corruption by Chevron would have led the front page of the New York Times for weeks.

As a reminder, let me quote from an earlier story.  Please watch the short video, it is amazing:

The clip below is an outtake from the environmentalist movie "Crude", which purported to document the environmentalist's case against Chevron in Ecuador.  Apparently, between takes of earnest and un-selfinterested environmentalists saving the world from greedy corporations, these self-same environmentalists discussed lying about the science and duping the courts in order to score a big payday for themselves.

The video is doubly interesting because, as Anthony Watts explains, the woman in the video taking money to make up untrue findings was recently confirmed to the NAS, where there is a good bet that we will see her as the source for "evidence" that fracking is contaminating groundwater.  These three folks are all the subject of a civil suit from Chevron but all three should be subject to criminal charges for fraud and conspiracy.

Several of the environmentalists involved, including Dr. Ann Maest, have since recanted their corruption, sort of.  They claim they were "misled" in this New York Times story, but the clip above certainly belies that.  Donziger did not mislead her, he is seen convincing her that in Ecuador they can get away with lying.  All for a good cause, of course.

Dispatches from the echo chamber:  Mother Jones was on this story full force for years.  Then suddenly stopped reporting at all when it became clear that allegations of fraud were credible.  Check out the articles.

Update:  More here

Unreported Obamacare Data -- Exchange Sales Conversion Is Much Worse When The Taxpayer is Not Subsidizing the Policy

I like digging through the raw data in the Obamacare report rather than just accepting the bits the New York Times wants to report.  As a business guy, I was looking at the data from a sales-conversion perspective -- ie, who is buying and who is not?  And of course, why?

When I was in the marketing world, we used to call the process of sales conversion the sales funnel.  For the exchanges this means some percentage of the available market actually show up at the exchange, and then some percentage of those actually complete the arduous sign-up process, and some percentage of those actually select a policy, and presumably some percentage of those actually pay, though we don't know what that latter percentage is.  At each step, we ask ourselves what people are we converting from one step to the next, and why.

Here is the Obamacare exchange sales funnel through December (as has become tradition, it is a scavenger hunt to fill this in and the data locations move around from month to month).

click to enlarge

 

As you can see, of the nearly 3.7 million people who have selected a private plan or been put in Medicaid or CHIP, fully 88% are on the government dole (subsidized or full Medicare).

The interesting new data is on the plan selection breakdown between subsidized and un-subsidized.   This leads to an interesting finding that is a bit non-obvious from the report itself because the data is spread all over the report.  But lets look at conversion of applicants to plan selection based on whether folks are subsidized or subsidized.

For the 2,383,131 applicants who find they are no going to be subsidized, only 436,603 have selected a plan, for a 18% conversion rate

For the 2,756,667 applicants who find they will get supported by the taxpayer, 1,646,237 selected a plan, far a 60% conversion rate.

In essence, applicants are more than 3 times more likely to sign up if they are getting taxpayer money.  The exchanges are not selling health care, they are selling subsidies.  People sign up, check to see if they have money coming, and go away if they don't and stay if they do.

The next really interesting piece of data would be the demographics and health status of the 18% who did sign up for an unsubsidized plan.  I would not be at all surprised if the demographics there were far, far worse than the average.  Emerging hypothesis:  People come to the exchange, and sign up if they get a subsidy, or if they have health problems or high risk.

Harvard Business School and Women

The New York Times has a long article on  Harvard Business School's effort to change its culture around women.  Given that both my wife and I attended, albeit 25 years ago, I have a few thoughts.

  • I thought the article was remarkably fair given that it came from the NYT.  Men who are skeptical of the program actually are allowed to voice intelligent objections, rather than just be painted as Neanderthals
  • I would have abhorred the forced gender indoctrination program, as much for being boring as for being tangential.  I am fortunate I grew up when I did, before such college group-think sessions were made a part of the process everywhere.  I would presume most of these young folks are now used to such sessions from their undergrad days.   I would not have a problem having an honest and nuanced discussion about these issues with smart people of different backgrounds, but I thought the young man they quoted in the article said it really well -- there is just no payoff to voicing a dissenting opinion in such sessions where it is clear there is a single right answer and huge social and even administrative penalties for saying the wrong thing.
  • I went to HBS specifically because I loved the confrontational free-for-all of the classes.   It was tailor-made to my personality and frankly I have never been as successful at anything before or since as I was at HBS.   I say this only to make it clear that I have a bias in favor of the HBS teaching process.   I do think there is an issue that this process does not fit well with certain groups.  These folks who do not thrive in the process are not all women (foreign students can really struggle as well) but they are probably disproportionately women.  So I was happy to see that rather than dumb down the process, they are working to help women be more successful and confident in it.
  • It is interesting to see that the school still struggles to get good women professors.  When I was there, the gap between the quality of men and women professors was staggering.  The men were often older guys who had been successful in the business and finance world and now were teaching.  The women were often young and just out of grad school.  The couple of women professors I had my first year were weak, probably the two weakest professors I had.  In one extreme case our female professor got so jumbled up in the numbers that the class demanded I go down and sort it out, which I finally did.  I thought it was fun at the time, but now I realize how humiliating it was.
  • To some extent, the school described in the article seems a different place than when I was there.  They describe a school awash in alcohol and dominated by social concerns.  This may be a false impression -- newspapers have a history of exaggerating college bacchanalia.   At the time I was there, Harvard did not admit many students who did not have at least 2 years of work experience, such that the youngest students were 24 and many were in their 30's and 40's.  A number were married and some even had children.   To be there, they not only were paying a lot of money but they were quitting paying jobs.  The school was full of professionals who were there for a purpose.  I had heard that HBS had started to admit more students right out of college -- perhaps that is a mistake.
  • The fear by the women running the school that women would show up on Halloween wearing "sexy pirate" costumes represents, in my mind, one of the more insidious aspects of this new feminist paternalism (maternalism?) aimed at fellow women.  Feminism used to be about empowering women to make whatever choices they want for their lives.   Now it is increasingly about requiring women to make only the feminist-approved choices.
  • I actually wrote a novel where the protagonist was a confident successful female at HBS.   So I guess I was years ahead of the curve.

Postscript:  Below the fold is an excerpt from my novel.  In it, the protagonist Susan describes how an HBS class works and shares my advice for being successful at HBS.

Continue reading ‘Harvard Business School and Women’ »

Further Proving the Point of Modern Journalism is To Generate Clicks, And Not Necessarily to Be Accurate

I don't like tribal red-blue politics, but I read a couple of blogs both from team elephant and team donkey to at least make sure I am not living in a libertarian echo chamber.  From that I know that bloggers on the Right were complaining for years about Maureen Dowd's dishonest editing of quotations to make Republicans look bad.  Apparently, bloggers on the Left, in this case Kevin Drum, have had it with Dowd's dishonest quote manipulation as well.

Which all means that Dowd likely has a job for life at the New York Times, as journalism today seems more about generating controversy and clicks rather than delivering facts -- and controversies like this that send everyone running in circles on Twitter certainly generate attention.  From the New York Times : We have met TMZ and they are us.

This is My Take As Well

From Foreign Policy

Every turn in the investigation that led to Petraeus's resignation perfectly illustrates the incredible and dangerous reach of the massive United States surveillance apparatus, which, through hundreds of billions of dollars in post-9/11 programs -- coupled with weakened privacy laws and lack of oversight -- has affected the civil liberties of every American for years. The only difference here is the victim of the surveillance state's reach was not a faceless American, but the head one of the agencies tasked to carry it out.....

It seems the deciding factor in opening the investigation was not the emails' content, but the fact that the FBI agent was friendly with Kelley. (Even more disturbing, the same FBI agent has now been accused of becoming "obsessed" with the Tampa socialite, sent shirtless pictures to her, and has been removed from the case.)...

One would assume, and hope, police have to get probable cause for all emails, just like they would for a physical letter or a phone call. But the law governing email -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) -- doesn't have such requirements for emails more than 180 days old. Because ECPA was written in 1986, before the World Wide Web even existed, archived emails were an afterthought given the incredibly small storage space on email servers....

While these details may shock the average reader, these privacy-invasive tactics are used regularly by both federal and local law enforcement around the United States. In fact, as the New York Times reported, referring to Petraeus, "Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case." The only difference here is the target was the director of the CIA and one of the most decorated soldiers in modern military history.

Electronic communication needs better Fourth Amendment protection.

By the way, another scandal here that interests me more than the sex thing is that the head of the CIA has such a terrible grasp on basic fieldcraft

Petraeus and Kelley were communicating not by sending each other emails, but using an old (and apparently ineffective) trick -- "used by terrorists and teenagers alike" -- of saving drafts in the draft folder of Gmail, thinking this was more private than if they sent them to each other. But as the ACLU's Chris Soghoian explained, this was not so

Maybe Another Reason To Vote Romney

OK, there are lots of reasons to get Obama out of office.  The problem is, that for most of them, I have no reasonable hope that Romney will be any better.  Corporatism?  CEO as Venture-Capitalist-in-Chief?  Indefinite detentions?  Lack of Transparency?  The Drug War?   Obamacare, which was modeled on Romneycare?  What are the odds that any of these improve under Romney, and at least under Obama they are not being done by someone who wraps himself in the mantle of small government and free markets, helping to corrupt the public understanding of those terms.

So I am pretty sure I cannot vote for Romey.  I really like Gary Johnson and I am pretty sure he will get my vote.  Republican friends get all over me for wasting my vote, saying it will just help Obama win.  So be it -- I see both candidates undertaking roughly the same actions and I would rather that bad statist actions be taken in the name of Progressives rather than in the name of someone who purports to be free market.

To test my own position, I have been scrounging for reasons to vote for Romney.  I have two so far:

1.  Less likely to bail out Illinois when its pension system goes broke in the next few years

2.  I might marginally prefer his Supreme Court nominees to Obama's

That is about all I have.  Stretching today, I have come up with a third:

3.  If we have a Republican in the White House, the press will start doing its job and dig into the facts about drone strikes and warrant-less wiretapping.

You know the press are in full defense mode protecting their guy in office when the only press that reports on the ACLU's accusation about sky-rocketing wire tapping under Obama are the libertarians at Reason and the Marxists at the World Socialist Web site.  Four years ago the New York Times would have milked this for about a dozen articles.  It may take a Republican President to get the media to kick back into accountability mode over expansions of executive power.

For Some, There Can Never Be Enough Government Spending

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman blames the coming British recession on the government's "austerity."  In the Left's parlance, "austerity" means the government is not spending and in particular deficit spending enough.

But it turns out that

a. Of 44 major economies in the world, the British have been running the highest budget deficits of any country except two - Greece and Egypt are higher.

b. British real government spending has risen every year through the financial crisis

Presuming Krugman has access to these basic facts, is his argument that Britain should be deficit spending even more (and if so, wtf is enough?) or is this just political hackery to help Obama dispel concerns about his deficits?

Gun Permit Holders Substantially More Law Abiding

The other day, the New York Times published a story with data that demonstrates that gun permit holders in North Carolina are 20x less likely to commit a felony than the average American [not entirely sure the math is right here, but the crime rate among permit holders is certainly lower than the average].  Of course, the Times readership does not want to hear that, since it does not fit their world view.   So the Times, ever sensitive to its readership's needs, writes the article as a scare story about why we need tighter gun control.

OMG! Why Didn't We Fully Fund the Government Tiger-Catching Agency?

This via Q&O:

Earlier today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff opined on Twitter about cuts in government services. It’s not every day that you see such stupidity displayed so confidently…except from the Left:

Imagine John Boehner home in OH, seeing an escaped tiger–and getting a msg that help is unavailable due to govt cutbacks.

Well, I don’t know about John Boehner. But I do know that if I received such a message, it’d be because I was trying to call up a government flunky to haul a tiger carcass away. And if I did get such a message, my very next call would be to a good taxidermist.

It’s an interesting glimpse into the worldview though. The unspoken assumption is that, without government tiger hunters, we’re all doomed to be mauled by wild beasts. Presumably, this is because we are all tiny, little children, utterly incapable of solving our problems without the intervention of our benevolent government overlords. It’s a worldview that operates on the assumption that the government is the only adult in the room.

A great example of this sort of mentality was the Bruce Willis action filmLive Free or Die Hard.  The movie was a decent thriller, falling into the unlikely-buddy-movie genre (including also 48 Hours and most of the Lethal Weapon movies).

Like most modern techno-thrillers, it required a lot of technical suspension of belief, but what really struck me was the premise -- that somehow, if terrorists were able to really shut down the government, people would go into a panic and be totally lost and forlorn.  Even the strong male hero buys into the premise.  Can you even imagine a Clint Eastwood movie where Clint laments how scared Americans will be if they were to call the FDA to inquire if a certain product is truly organic and no one answered the phone?   It makes for a sort of irony in the movie because in fact the government is completely useless in the face of the terrorists, who are brought down essentially by a few private individuals.

The Statist's Wet Dream

I find it absolutely unsurprising that Paul Krugman was enthralled by the vision of a science that can be used by a few people to control the actions and futures of all humanity.  He said “I want to be one of those guys!”  I was captivated by the vision in the book as well, but my thought was always "how do we avoid these guys?"  The second two books were about how government planners used mind control to deal with humanity whenever individuals had the gall to circumvent their plans.  Lovely.

If I remember right, Asimov wrote the Foundation after reading the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  The notion of how much of history is inevitable due to large forces (e.g. economics) vs. how much is due to the actions of individuals and what historians now call contingency (e.g. luck) is an endlessly fascinating thing to debate, and I found the Foundation books to be interesting thought exercises along these lines.  But it certainly didn't inspire my life's goals, any more than Dune made me wish for a religious jihad.

I can see the secret Second Foundation scratching their heads now in their secret lair (which turns out to be in the New York Times building in the middle of New York City but that's a spoiler from the third book).  The equations show right here that a trillion dollar stimulus should have kept unemployment below 8%....

Inevitable Result of Price Controls, Health Care Edition

Well, it turns out that the laws of supply and demand do indeed apply in the health care field.  Obamacare and before it Romneycare combine government subsidies of demand with cost controls mainly consisting of price caps on suppliers.  The results are exactly what any college student could predict after even one week of microeconomics 101:  shortages.

First, from the WSJ

A new survey released yesterday by the Massachusetts Medical Society reveals that fewer than half of the state's primary care practices are accepting new patients, down from 70% in 2007, before former Governor Mitt Romney's health-care plan came online. The average wait time for a routine checkup with an internist is 48 days. It takes 43 days to secure an appointment with a gastroenterologist for chronic heartburn, up from 36 last year, and 41 days to see an OB/GYN, up from 34 last year....

Massachusetts health regulators also estimate that emergency room visits jumped 9% between 2004 and 2008, in part due to the lack of routine access to providers. The Romney-Obama theory was that if everyone is insured by the government, costs would fall by squeezing out uncompensated care. Yet emergency medicine accounts for only 2% of all national health spending.

The emergency room data is fascinating, as crowded emergency rooms supposedly overwhelmed by the uninsured was such an important image in the campaign to pass Obamacare.  More on this from Q&O:

Hospital emergency rooms, the theory goes, get overcrowded because people without health insurance have no place else to go.

But that’s not the view of the doctors who staff those emergency departments.
The real problem, according to a new survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians,isn’t caused by people who don’t have insurance — it’s caused by people who do, but still can’t find a doctor to treat them.

A full 97 percent of ER doctors who responded to the ACEP survey said they treated patients "daily" who have Medicaid (the federal-state health plan for the low-income), but who can’t find a doctors who will accept their insurance…."The results are significant," said ACEP President Sandra Schneider in prepared comments. "They confirm what we are witnessing in Massachusetts — that visits to emergency rooms are going to increase across the country, despite the advent of health care reform, and that health insurance coverage does not guarantee access to medical care."

As I have been saying for a long time, the Obama health care nuts do not have any secret, magical idea or plan for cutting health care costs.  In fact, as I have written here and here, we should expect Federalization to exacerbate the bad information and incentives that make health care more expensive.  The only idea they have, in fact, is the only one that anyone ever has in government for this kind of thing -- price controls

Over the weekend, The Washington Postpublished a Q&A-style explainer on the Independent Payment Advisory Board—the panel of federal health care technocrats charged with keeping down spending growth on Medicare.

The details are complicated, but the gist is simple: If spending on Medicare is projected to grow beyond certain yearly targets, then it’s IPAB to the rescue: The 15-member panel appointed by the president has to come up with a package of cuts that will hold Medicare’s growth in check. If Congress want to override that package, it only has two options: Vote to pass a different but equally large package of cuts or kill the package entirely with a three-fifths supermajority in the Senate.

The Post lays out the basic framework above. But what it doesn’t explain in any detail is exactly how those cuts will be achieved. And that, of course, is where the difficulty begins: Here’s how The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board explained it last month: “Since the board is not allowed by law to restrict treatments, ask seniors to pay more, or raise taxes or the retirement age, it can mean only one thing: arbitrarily paying less for the services seniors receive, via fiat pricing.” Medicare already centrally sets the prices it pays for the services of doctors and hospitals. Given the board's limitations, the most likely cuts we’ll see from IPAB, then, will be arbitrary, quality-blind reductions in these payments (though hospitals will be exempt from cuts for the first couple years).

We know what happens next: Providers stop taking on new Medicare patients, or drop out of the system entirely. In Medicaid, which pays far lower rates than Medicare (which pays somewhat lower rates than private insurance), this is already common: As one emergency physician recently told The New York Times, “Having a Medicaid card in no way assures access to care.” If IPAB cuts Medicare provider payments down to the bone, it could end up transforming Medicare into a seniors’-version of Medicaid.

Health Care Decisions by Politics, Not Science

In my Forbes columns over the past few weeks, I have been writing about information and incentive problems with any sort of Obamacare type system.  One of the points I made last week was this:

One of the key selling points of Obamacare was that it would reduce cost, in large part through smart public-spirited people making optimized decisions from the top in Washington.  Ignoring the fact that no other agency that has promised such angels of public service has ever delivered them, we discussed in the last few weeks how this task is impossible.  But we should have known that already through our past experience with the political process.  Political decisions are made politically, not by optimizing some public good equation.    Does anyone believe that come election time, Congress won’t vote to add mandates to procedures to placate powerful groups in their base, irrespective of the future costs this would incur?

Need an example?

In 2007 breast cancer was the third leading source of cancer mortality in the US, but it was by far the largest recipient of government cancer research dollars, nearly double that spent on any other type of cancer.    In 2009, out of hundreds of medical procedures, only two procedureswere on the mandated must-carry list of all fifty states – mammography and breast reconstruction.  It is no accident that both of these are related to breast cancer.  With its links to women’s groups and potent advocacy organizations, breast cancer is a disease that has a particularly powerful political lobby.    Similarly, we should expect that, at the end of the day, pricing and coverage decisions under Obamacare will be made politically.  Not because anyone in this Administration is particularly bad or good, but because that is what always happens.

This post from Q&O is a tad old but gets at just this point with a real-life Obamacare example

The opening line in a New York Times piece caught my attention.  It is typical of how government, once it gets control of something, then begins to expand it (and make it more costly for everyone) as it sees fit.  Note the key falsehood in the sentence:

The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.

Yup, you caught it – nothing involved in such a change would be “free of charge”.   Instead others would be taxed or charged in order for women to not have to pay at the point of service.  That’s it.  Those who don’t have any need of contraception will subsidize those who do.  And the argument, of course, will be the “common good”.   The other argument will be that many women can’t afford “family planning services” or “contraception”.

But the assumption is the rest of you can afford to part with a little more of your hard earned cash in order to subsidize this effort (it is similar to other mandated care coverage you pay for but don’t need).  Oh, and while reading that sentence, make sure you understand that the administration claims it has not taken over health care in this country.

The next sentence is just as offensive:

Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health.

So now “women’s rights” include access to subsidies from others who have no necessity or desire to pay for those services?  What right does anyone have to the earnings of another simply because government declares that necessary?

It is another example of a profound misunderstanding of what constitutes a “right” and how it has been perverted over the years to become a claim on “free” stuff paid for by others.

Administration officials said they expected the list to include contraception and family planning because a large body of scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of those services. But the officials said they preferred to have the panel of independent experts make the initial recommendations so the public would see them as based on science, not politics.

Really?  This is all about politics.  The fact that the services may be “effective” is irrelevant to the political questions and objections raised above.  This is science being used to justify taking from some to give to others – nothing more.

Backwards

Well, as usual, the progressives have the rights and roles of private individuals vs. government exactly backwards, from Kevin Drum:

As I said earlier, I'm on the fence a bit about whether an indiscriminate release of thousands of U.S. embassy cables is useful. After all, governments have a legitimate need for confidential diplomacy. But when I read about WikiLeaks' planned financial expose [release of private emails from a private corporation], I felt no such qualms. A huge release of internal documents from a big bank? Bring it on!

The government and public officials acting in a public capacity have no rights to privacy of their work and work products from the public that employs them (except to the extent that privacy pays some sort of large benefit, which I would define pretty narrowly).  While things like the recent Wikileak are certainly damaging to things like sources and foreign relations, I have sympathy for such a mass dump when the government so systematically defaults to too much secrecy and confidentiality for what should be public business, mainly to avoid accountability.  The public has the right to know just about whatever the government is doing, in detail.

In the private sector, ordinary citizens have no similar "right to know" the private business of private entities, the only exception being in criminal investigations where there are clear procedures for how confidential private information may be obtained, used, and protected.  Had the proposed email dump related to alleged misconduct, I would have been pretty relaxed about it.  But the proposed document dump is just voyeurism.  One may wish for more accountability processes vis a vis banks, but in a country supposedly still founded on the rule of law, we don't get to invent new ex post facto rules, such as "if your industry pisses off enough Americans, all the material that was previously legally private is retroactively made part of the public domain."

Drum may be gleeful now, but someday he just might be regretful of establishing a precedent for consequence-free theft and publication of private information.   Had, for example, the words "big bank" in the paragraph been replaced by, say, "Major newspaper," we would likely see Drum in a major-league freak out, though the New York Times corporation has exactly the same legal status as Citicorp.

Everyone thinks his own information is "different" and somehow on a higher plane than other people's information.  Drum likely thinks his communication by email with sources is special, while I would argue release of my confidential internal communication about new service offerings and pricing strategies would be particularly damaging.  The way we typically settle this is to say that private is private, and not legally more or less private based on subjective opinions by third parties about the value of the data.

Obama Presidency at Year 2

I must say I am feeling pretty good about my comments from Inauguration Day two years ago.  Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

Folks are excited about Obama because, in essence, they don't know what he stands for, and thus can read into him anything they want.  Not since the breathless coverage of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault has there been so much attention to something where we had no idea of what was inside.  My bet is that the result with Obama will be the same as with the vault.There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in "¦. Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Well, the spell will probably take a while to break in the press, if it ever does "” Time Magazine is currently considering whether it would be possible to put Obama on the cover of all 52 issues this year "” but thoughtful people already on day 1 should have evidence that things are the same as they ever were, just with better PR.   For God sakes, as his first expenditure of political capital, Obama is pushing for a trillion dollar government spending bill that is basically one big pork-fest that might make even Ted Stevens blush, a hodge-podge of every wish-list of leftish lobbyists that has been building up for eight years.  I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

To this last point, the recent recommendations by the Center for American Progress to Obama are pretty chilling.

[The] Center for American Progress today is releasing a report, "Power of the President," proposing 30 executive actions the president can take to advance progressive change in the areas of energy, the economy, health care, education, foreign policy, and national security. "The following authorities can be used to ensure progress on key issues facing the country today: Executive orders, Rulemaking, Agency management, Convening and creating public-private partnerships , Commanding the armed forces, Diplomacy.

The New York Times fleshes out these proposals with some suggestions about policy changes across the board. The ideology of George Soros shines through the Center's report as it justifies this forceful approach to circumvent Congress when it states that:

[The] legislative battles that Mr. Obama waged during his first two years "“ notably on health care and financial regulatory reform "“ have created a weariness among the general public with the process of making laws. And it hints it has not helped Mr. Obama politically in the process.

In other words, when Congress passed a variety of laws Americans became dismayed by the horse-trading and bribes that were resorted to by Democrats to impose these policies on us. Instead of compromise and listening to the American people, Soros counsels that more forceful measures should be used to override the will of the American people.

More on Coyote's Media Theorem

Back in January, I wrote about both ethanol and the stimulus bill, observing:

I have decided there is something that is very predictable about the media:  they usually are very sympathetic to legislation expanding government powers or spending when the legislation is being discussed in Congress.  Then, after the legislation is passed, and there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it, the media gets really insightful all of a sudden, running thoughtful pieces about the hidden problems and unintended consequences of the legislation

My emerging theorem about the media is that they want to be on the record as having predicted problems with legislation, but that for leftish legislation they personally support, they defer their most insightful analysis until after the law has passed.  That way, their favored legislation gets on the books, but they are also on the record as having spotted potential problems and can make the argument later that they were not rubes or useful idiots.

We are seeing this yet again, as the New York Times questions some obvious flaws with the Dartmouth health savings data (ht Insty)

Of course, the article misses the most obvious point -- while the Dartmouth data was certainly used to try to sell Obamacare, nothing in the actual legislation does anything to capture these supposed potential savings.  The $700 billion in waste number is more of a sort of happy thought that lets politicians sign the ridiculously expensive bill while pretending that some mythical savings are somehow available in the future through unidentified mechanisms to pay for the program.

I Can't Let This Pass Without Some Scorn

Via the Telegraph:

The American blogosphere is going increasingly "viral" about a proposal advanced at the recent meeting of the Davos Economic Forum by Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, that an equivalent of a "driver's licence" should be introduced for access to the web. This totalitarian call has been backed by articles and blogs in Time magazine and the New York Times.

As bloggers have not been slow to point out, the system being proposed is very similar to one that the government of Red China reluctantly abandoned as too repressive. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the usual unholy alliance of government totalitarians and big business would attempt to end the democratic free-for-all that is the blogosphere. The United Nations is showing similar interest in moving to eliminate free speech.

I called this one back in 2005.  This isn't the first attempt by the UN in particular to throttle free speech via licensing way back in 1985.

Freaking Hilarious Take on Krugman

Steven Landsburg via Mark Perry

It's always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who's also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he's been awarded a column at the New York Times).

It's a dazzling performance. Time after time, Krugman leaves me wide-eyed with wonder at how much economics he has to forget to write those columns.

More Steps Towards a European Style Corporate State

In Europe, economies are run by a troika of politicians, leaders of large corporations, and major unions.  These groups run the economy to their benefit and against entrepeneurs, nwe competitors, foreign competition, low-skilled workers, upstart competitors, and (most of all) consumers.   Q&O discovered someone on the HuffPo of all places starting to see what is going on:

When I heard the word "corporatist" a couple of years ago, I laughed. I thought what a funny, made up, liberal word. I fancy myself a die-hard capitalist, so it seemed vaguely anti-business, so I was put off by it.

Well, as it turns out, it's a great word. It perfectly describes a great majority of our politicians and the infrastructure set up to support the current corporations in the country. It is not just inaccurate to call these people and these corporations capitalists; it is in fact the exact opposite of what they are.

Capitalists believe in choice, free markets and competition. Corporatists believe in the opposite. They don't want any competition at all. They want to eliminate the competition using their power, their entrenched position and usually the politicians they've purchased. They want to capture the system and use it only for their benefit.

This applies to workers as well as employers -- just replace capitalists with "free workers" and corporatists with "unions" in the above paragraph.  This helps to explain why Obama is not actually pro-labor, but pro-union.  Via TJIC:

Workers in Barack Obama's new economic order fall into two categories "” those who are worthy of the president's energies, and those who aren't. You may be surprised to learn where you rank.

Obama doesn't weigh the value of workers based on their paychecks, what they do or whether they slip their feet into wingtips or steel-toed boots in the morning. His sole interest is in whether they have a union card in their wallet.

If they do, the president is in their corner, working hard to make sure they don't get the short end of any stick. But if they are among the 88 percent of American workers who don't belong to a union? Ask Delphi's salaried employees what Obama thinks of them.

As part of Delphi's restructuring in bankruptcy court, the Troy-based auto parts maker dumped its pension plan onto the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.

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That usually means a continued pension check, but one that is much smaller. And for Delphi's salaried workers, that's what they can expect.

Delphi's union-represented workers, however, will dodge that bullet. The Obama administration swooped in and, in an extraordinary deal, is forcing General Motors to make the 46,000 union workers and retirees whole. GM used to own Delphi, and relies on the supplier for much of its parts.

"The U.S. government is taking care of a select group of people and tossing the rest of us under the bus," Peter Beiter, a retired financial manager for a Delphi plant in Rochester, N.Y., told the New York Times.

And it's doing so with the tax dollars of those like Beiter who aren't in the favored class of workers. GM is operating with more than $50 billion in government bailout money.

That gives Obama the freedom to force GM to subsidize the pensions of union workers it has no legal obligation to, and who are employed by an entirely different company.

If you want to see where we are going, read this (and this) about the National Industrial Recovery Act, which FDR modelled after Mussolin-style fascism, whose economic system he greatly admired.

A Total Crock

Since the New York Times has pretty much become the official media outlet of this administration, I presume that this article represents a new trial balloon in selling government health care.  The pitch this time -- its good for small businesses!  (via Maggies Farm)

President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, said the Democrats' health insurance overhaul would help small businesses and stimulate the economy by providing relief from "the crushing costs of health care "” costs that have forced too many small businesses to cut benefits, shed jobs, or shut their doors for good."....

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, said the sharp rise in premiums for small businesses offered the latest evidence that Congress must act swiftly on health care legislation.

"This underlines the urgent need for health insurance reform, including a public option," she said in an interview. "We need to have competition for the insurance companies to keep premiums down."

I am only now getting through the 1500 pages of this bill (putting me ahead of Ms. Pelosi in reading it, I am sure), but the last House bill would have been a disaster for my company, increasing taxes on wages by up to 8% and imposing a record-keeping burden that was just horrific.

The NYT and the Democrats are apparently trying to set up a mini-class war within bussinesses, snidely saying these companies have more negotiating leverage.  Sure.  But what they have even more of is the leverage to shape federal legislation to their benefit.  However worse a deal my company may get in free insurance markets due to being small is nothing compared to how much worse of a deal we will get from Congress by being small.

If they really wanted to cut costs for small businesses, they would strip out all the national and state coverage mandates for things like aromatherapy that raise costs so much and let me shop for insurance across state lines.  That would be real competition.  Unfortunately, all Pelosi means by competition is throwing Amtrak into the mix to compete with the airlines.  Yeah, that will do the trick.

Weird -- Someone Should Develop A Theory on This

Strangely enough, it turns out that increased prices seem to induce market participants to seek out and invest in new sources of supply.   Someone should develop a theory around this.

From a good article in today's New York Times: 2009 is turning out to be a bumper year for new oil discoveries; new oil discoveries always occur, but this year has been unusually fruitful. This quote from the article illustrates the important dynamic intertemporal incentives that price signals provide:

These discoveries, spanning five continents, are the result of hefty investments that began earlier in the decade when oil prices rose, and of new technologies that allow explorers to drill at greater depths and break tougher rocks.

"That's the wonderful thing about price signals in a free market "” it puts people in a better position to take more exploration risk," said James T. Hackett, chairman and chief executive of Anadarko Petroleum.

More than 200 discoveries have been reported so far this year in dozens of countries, including northern Iraq's Kurdish region, Australia, Israel, Iran, Brazil, Norway, Ghana and Russia. They have been made by international giants, like Exxon Mobil, but also by industry minnows, like Tullow Oil.

Demagoguing Against Doctors Using Techniques Developed Demagoguing Oil Companies

We all know the problem with oil companies:  They restrict supply to drive up prices to earn profit margins that are nearly a third of those earned by Microsoft while simultaneously keeping prices too low and promoting addiction to oil which produces a lot of CO2 and they never want to reinvest their profits in exploring for new oil so the government needs to restrict drilling in every major prospective US region so the oil companies will be stopped from greedily drilling everywhere and destroying the environment.

Barack Obama seems to be bringing this damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't criticism to the medical industry, and particularly doctors.

On the one hand, he told doctors at the AMA convention yesterday that he was not a fan of tort reform and felt that limits on malpractice cases was a disservice to those who were truly injured.

On the other hand he made this case:

Not long ago, doctors' decisions were rarely questioned. Now they are being blamed for a big part of the wasteful spending in the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system. Studies have shown that as much as 30 cents of the U.S. health care dollar may be going for tests and procedures that are of little or no value to patients.

The Obama administration has cited such findings as evidence that the system is broken. Since doctors are the ones responsible for ordering tests and procedures, health care costs cannot be brought under control unless they change their decision-making habits.

On the third hand, doctors aren't spending enough to address preventable errors:

President Obama himself in his speech cited the "100,000 deaths a year" figure as if it's reliable and well established, as did yesterday's New York Times. And of course it's a figure eagerly spread by the Litigation Lobby. But as Zachary F. Meisel and Jesse M. Pines note in Slate, it's a really, really, really soft number:

...one of the biggest headlines of all was the 1999 Institute of Medicine report To Err Is Human, which announced that up to 98,000 preventable deaths occur each year in U.S. hospitals. Since then, health care improvement organizations such as Leapfrog Group have invested copious resources in reducing preventable errors. But a key issue has been overlooked in this movement: The original estimate -- the 98,000 deaths -- may have been way off. In fact, some of the researchers who conducted the original studies used in the IOM report re-evaluated their data in 2002 and reported that had they used a different calculation method, the number of estimated deaths would have been less than 10 percent of the original. Oops.

The Ultimate Lottery Ticket

A government job can be a great deal.  Likely it pays more than a comparable private job, it's generally impossible to get fired from, and it has outrageously good medical and pension plans.  And, if you don't shy away from a bit of perjury, can be made to pay off spectacularly:

During the workweek, it is not uncommon to find retired L.I.R.R. [Long Island Railroad]
employees, sometimes dozens of them, golfing there. A few even walk the
course. Yet this is not your typical retiree outing.

These
golfers are considered disabled. At an age when most people still work,
they get a pension and tens of thousands of dollars in annual
disability payments "” a sum roughly equal to the base salary of their
old jobs. Even the golf is free, courtesy of New York State taxpayers.

With  incentives like these, occupational disabilities at the L.I.R.R. have become a full-blown epidemic.

Virtually
every career employee "” as many as 97 percent in one recent year "”
applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a
computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found.
Since 2000, those records show, about a quarter of a billion dollars in
federal disability money has gone to former L.I.R.R. employees,
including about 2,000 who retired during that time.

97 percent?  Wow!  And just to demonstrate that year was not some kind of outlier:

In each year since 2000, between 93 percent and 97 percent of employees
over 50 who retired with 20 years of service also received disability
payments.

The article goes on to demonstrate that this is occurring at what appears, from the injury statistics, to be one of the safest railroads in the area.  Say what you will about the NY Times, but when they get their teeth into local corruption they can still do a masterful job, as evidenced by this long article discussing many apparently ridiculous payroll situations at the LIRR.

I can say from experience that there is a group of people in this country for whom getting a lifetime disability payment (e.g. from the Social Security Administration) is as good as hitting the lottery.  I remember one time I got a survey form from the SSA asking about a former employee.  I didn't pay much attention to the form's purpose as I filled it out -- I get all kinds of such government wastepaper with breathless admonishments about the urgency of my reply.  Anyway, about 2 weeks later I got a very threatening letter from the attorney for this former employee, threatening me with all kinds of dire consequences if I did not immediately retract my (honest) answers to the SSA inquiry.  Apparently, I was endangering a lifetime disability determination that this person had been working on obtaining for years. 

Every day, in fact, I get job applicants who try to cut deals with me of one sort or another (e.g. can you pay me under the table in cash?) because they say they are fully able to do outdoor maintenance work but they can't show any income because it might endanger their lifetime disability payments.  In a similar vein, I have three cases I know of in my company today where workers filed workman's compensation claims of injury several days after they were terminated.

I've said it before, but the reckoning is coming on state and local government pensions, which in most cases are unfunded, undisclosed liabilities of startling magnitude.  The disaster that is fast approaching in these state and local government finances will make Social Security's problems look pitiful by comparison.

Postscript:
  Railroad labor law is just weird and a total mess.  Being the first major industry, and the first major industry that was regulated, a whole regulatory structure was put in place for railroads that (fortunately) has been applied to few other industries.  Whatever the problems we have with state workman's comp programs, they are models of governance compared to how things work in the railroad industry.

For example, I remember when I worked for a railroad in the 1990's, carpel tunnel claims were common.  By the nature of the comp system, workers got cash payments for injuries in addition to medical treatment (I recall a figure at the time of $7500 per wrist for carpel tunnel, but that may be off).  It was a common piece of advice among railroad workers that if one wanted to get the money together for a down-payment on a new pickup truck, one only had to go to Dr. X or Y and get a carpel tunnel diagnosis.

Wherein Coyote is Thrilled to be Out of Step with Europe

After digging a First Amendment hole for itself in the Plame affair, the New York Times seems to still be hell-bent on narrowing the very First Amendment protections that probably kept its employees out of jail in the early 70's.  Specifically, the Times frets that the US is out of step with Europe in having a much broader view of freedom of speech:

Six years later, a state court judge in New York dismissed
a libel case brought by several Puerto Rican groups against a business
executive who had called food stamps "basically a Puerto Rican
program." The First Amendment, Justice Eve M. Preminger wrote, does not
allow even false statements about racial or ethnic groups to be
suppressed or punished just because they may increase "the general
level of prejudice."

Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.

"It
is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken," Jeremy Waldron, a
legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month,
"when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative
responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against
certain forms of vicious attack."

In the 1970's, members of my family worked in the oil industry, and we received numerous death threats of varying believability, and several of our friends received letter bombs or had family members kidnapped.  Many of these attacks and threats were directly traceable to certain media shows that featured editorial attacks on the oil industry.  So is the Times suggesting that the media should hold off on its criticism of the oil industry because this criticism created an atmosphere of hate in which these attacks were conducted?

No freaking way, because these calls to limit criticism and "hate speech" always have an ideological filter.  There is never a suggestion that the speech bans be even-handed.  Criticism of African Americans is outlawed, but exactly parallel language about white folks is A-OK.  Criticising Islam is out, but Christianity is a fine target.  Death threats against Haitian activists must be avoided at all costs, but death threats against corporate executives are no reflection on free speech or the media.  The article is quite explicit that by their definition, hate speech only applies to "minorities," which you can translate to mean "groups the political class has decided to protect."  You may be assured that members of the political class will find a way to get themselves included in this definition, so they can be free of criticism,

Kudos to Harvey Silvergate, who even makes the exact same point I have made about Hitler a number of times:

"Free speech matters because it works," Mr. Silverglate continued.
Scrutiny and debate are more effective ways of combating hate speech
than censorship, he said, and all the more so in the post-Sept. 11 era.

"The world didn't suffer because too many people read "˜Mein Kampf,' " Mr. Silverglate said. "Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea."

I will add that I am also happy to be out of step with Europe in terms of any number of other policies, including American libel law, or laws that make it ever so much easier to start a business, and European tolerance for a cozy business-political elite that, whatever their party, focuses on keeping their elite wealthy and powerful.