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« Liberal Outrage: April 2009 | Main | Liberal Outrage: June 2009 »

Liberal Outrage

One step closer to the Veggie Gestapo

Veggiedag.

Last year, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that the most useful step ordinary citizens could take to help combat climate change would be to stop eating meat. In Belgium, an entire town is taking his advice to heart. The Flemish city of Ghent has designated every Thursday as "Veggiedag" - Veggie Day - calling for meat-free meals to be served in schools and public buildings, and encouraging vegetarianism among citizens by promoting vegetarian eateries and offering advice on how to follow a herbivorous diet.

By fnord12 | May 27, 2009, 5:56 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



That's my people.

Report on the Irish Reform Schools is out:

"Often the act of kindness, recalled in such a positive light, arose from the simple fact that the staff member had not given a beating when one was expected."

By fnord12 | May 20, 2009, 10:39 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Universal Health Care

This started as a private email, but i figured why not blog it...

Broadly, there are four different categories of "universal health care".

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#1 The first is a government mandate that every American must somehow buy insurance, maybe with a subsidy or tax break for Americans who can't afford insurance. This would be similar to how car insurance works. Everyone would have to buy health insurance in the same way that everyone (who drives) has to buy car insurance.

So the benefit of this system is that everyone will have insurance.

One downside is that we will have to pay more in taxes to support those that can't afford it. This might pay for itself though, because right now if people don't have insurance they don't go to the hospital until they are very sick and at that point taxpayers still have to pay for it. By making sure everyone has insurance, people who are sick are likely to see a doctor sooner before they get so sick that it becomes very expensive to care for.

Another downside is that this doesn't do anything to address the cost of insurance. If you are paying a lot for insurance, you will still have to. And if you lose your job, you will have to find a private insurance company, which is likely even more expensive than what you get through your job (and/or you will have to prove that you are now poor enough to merit the subsidy). Health care costs are also a big burden on businesses; one of the major reasons the auto industry is in trouble is because it is having trouble keeping up with rising health care costs. The reason it doesn't improve costs is because it doesn't add any new competition to the mix. It's the same insurance companies. If anything they are now getting an indirect subsidy because the government will be giving money to poor people that has to be used for insurance.

This solution is what conservatives are in favor of.

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#2 The second is a mandate with a public plan. This is the same as the above, but instead of subsidizing poorer people, it extends Medicare to anyone who chooses it instead of making them pay for private insurance. So basically, your choices are either to be on private insurance or be on Medicare. This doesn't eliminate competition, but it actually increases it by putting another player into the mix: the government. So conservatives who say that government run programs are inefficient compared to private industry will get to see that proved out in practice. If the public option is better than what's available through private insurance, then more people will go to that. If the public option is bad, most people will stay on their private insurance and only people who can't afford anything better will be on Medicare. So it shouldn't worry conservatives who believe in the free market (but it does, and it's worth considering what that means).

So this option will make sure everyone has insurance, meaning it has the same benefit as the mandated system. Additionally, it can potentially lower costs because private insurance companies may have to lower costs in order to compete with Medicare.

The downside again is higher taxes, but that may again be mitigated by savings in early health care treatment, and furthermore due to the increased competition.

But it's important to realize that the only control the government has over the health care system in this option is through the insurance. They may dictate whether they'll cover a procedure or treatment. And they'll determine how much they'll pay a health care provider for that treatment. But that's no different than private insurance. And in this option you can always find a different insurer if you want a treatment that the government won't cover (if you can afford it).

This is the solution that the Obama administration is in favor of (in theory, although they seem to be wavering under conservative criticism).

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#3 is a single payer system. This the system used in most industrialized nations. Canada is the model for this system. In this system you don't pay for insurance directly. The government pays insurance companies with tax money. So everyone has insurance and no one has to worry about dealing with insurance companies. You don't have to fill out forms or pay a co-pay when you go to the doctor. You just go. And insurance companies don't go away. They just deal directly with the government, in the same way that weapons manufacturers deal directly with the government. In a single payer system, you can't buy private insurance. The goal is to ensure that everyone has the same coverage and rich people can't buy premium coverage while everyone else gets mediocre coverage. If you have a problem with part of the government policy - i.e., you want coverage to start including a new treatment, or you think there aren't enough doctors or MRI machines in the country, it is handled through the electoral process. You petition your representatives to make the system better, or you vote for the candidate who has the policies you support. So everyone is in the same boat and decisions are made via a democratic process.

In addition to the benefits listed for the other universal health care options, this option also gains efficiencies through consolidation. In a private system, insurance companies are businesses, and they spend a lot of their profits on advertising and marketing. That isn't necessary when the government pays for insurance, so those costs go away, reducing the overall health care cost. Also, each insurance company has its own executives (with executive pay), administrators, and other functions not directly related to insurance. A lot (but not all, since there still are private insurance companies) of that redundancy can be cut away, further reducing costs. And finally, because the government is such a large "client" of the insurance companies, it is in a much stronger position to negotiate costs. If i run a small business of 25 people, and i look at the current insurance companies available, i'm not in a good position to tell them "I only want to pay $1000 per person". But if i'm a government representing millions of people, insurance companies are more likely to negotiate with me. Like with military contracts, there is the potential of corruption.

A downside is increased taxes. The argument here is that while your taxes may increase, if you look at your taxes + health care costs before single payer system and compare them to your taxes with no health care costs after a single payer system, you are going to come out ahead. But critics argue that this isn't really the case and that taxes may increase. Another downside is that consumers effectively have no choice. If the government doesn't pay for a procedure, you can't go to a private insurance company to get it done.

This is the solution that i am in favor of (as are organizations like the Green party).

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#4 The fourth option is socialized medicine. This is the system used in Cuba and in the former USSR. In this system, the government literally runs the health care system. The concept of insurance doesn't really exist, and doctors and other health care providers are employees of the state.

The benefit of this system is that it even further reduces those executive and administration type costs. The government can also directly control how many doctors and what types of equipment are available.

The downside is that there is literally no competition and the chance of corruption is quite high, although that could be mitigated if it were implemented under a democratic government (which has not been the case in real world examples).

This is the solution that socialists and communists are in favor of.

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Everything i've said is a generalization and there's a lot of nuance within each system. But broadly speaking, those are the four categories. And when you look at it that way you realize that what Obama is trying to do isn't all that radical. We are past due for real health care reform. It is a drain on individuals and businesses. Certainly we need universal coverage, but we also need to do something about costs. A solution that only addresses one of those issues (i.e., the mandated plan) is insufficient.

Many people think solution #2 is a backdoor method of getting to #3. Interestingly, the people who think that include both people who have faith in a government run option, and people who profess to be believers in the free market. They both think that people will prefer the public option so much that the private insurance companies will eventually die out. That's true competition at work, so one wonders why free market conservatives would have a problem with it. But i think it is likely that enough people with means will prefer to stay on private plans in order to get advanced coverage. And i think that due to our slow and semi-corrupt democratic process there will be plenty of problems with the public option that will keep some people away. So i think the private insurance companies will stick around, although most likely they will have to restructure themselves according to the new reality. This is why i am in favor of a single payer option. If rich people can't get the treatment they want, they can't just bail out and use their money to go to a private plan. They will have to use their influence to get the public system improved. This helps everybody.

Single payer options actually poll very well in America. But for some reason, our politicians won't come out in favor of it. We do not have bold leaders. This is why Obama is only in favor of option #2, even though as he goes around the country to do townhall meetings he is constantly asked for option #3. He is compromising right out of the gate. The way to negotiate is to go in with something bigger than you want, and then compromise down to what you really want. Obama could have started with single payer. In my opinion he should stick to his guns and live or die by single payer. But he says he can't do that and he has to find something that's politically tenable. So he is starting with the public option. And now he can only go down from there in negotiations. You go in with a good public option plan, and you negotiate with Republicans and conservative Democrats and you come out with a weak public option plan, or no public option plan. Some people think he's not even committed to the the public option plan and he's just using that as his bargaining stick, and he'll eventually negotiate down to a mandate plan with some minor additional concessions from the insurance companies. Which would be really sad. But it's a logical alternative to the idea that he simply doesn't know how to negotiate.

This is why it's important to keep the pressure on our politicians to do what they were elected to do. They are feeling pressure on the other side by insurance lobbyists. We can't rely on our weak leaders to not buckle under that pressure. People who want a good universal health care system need to apply an equal or greater pressure in the opposite direction. As usual, they have the money but we have the numbers. So it's really a question of overcoming our apathy.


By fnord12 | May 19, 2009, 10:56 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Projecting

The Washington Post has storyboards for the ads the insurance companies plan to run to attack the public option in Obama's health care plan. The third one is especially ironic/oblivious. I've experienced that myself many times with the efficient private system. I'm sure a lot of people have. I wonder if this will actually have any effect. I think people are more than ready for a publicly run health care system. But if you're not so sure, you can always drop some money on MoveOn's campaign to counter the insurance companies' message.


By fnord12 | May 19, 2009, 3:59 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Like manipulating a child

Take a look at the covers of the reports Rumsfeld used to send to Bush. Has to be seen to believed. I guess the only question is were they all religious wackos or were they just manipulating Bush? I vote for the latter.


By fnord12 | May 17, 2009, 10:09 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link



Incoherence

Obama's spokesman Gibbs trying to explain why they won't release the torture photos that the ACLU successfully convinced a judge should be released. Gibbs is usually pretty straightforward so you can tell that something's wrong here.


By fnord12 | May 13, 2009, 9:57 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Hey, remember the Green party?

They may have gone to sleep in New Jersey, but apparently they're fairly active in Arkansas (!) and the unions are considering supporting one in a challenge to supposedly Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in return for her not supporting EFCA due to her patronage from Walmart.


By fnord12 | May 12, 2009, 11:28 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (4)| Link



Smithfield Foods Business Model: We Won't Rest Until Everyone Gets Swine Flu

Not content with spreading disease in North America, Smithfield has actually been running its disease-nurturing factory farms in Eastern Europe. And let me just say, the locals were thrilled not to be left out.

Almost unnoticed by the rest of the Continent, the agribusiness giant has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them for every bit of meat and muscle that can be squeezed into a sausage.
...
In less than five years, Smithfield enlisted politicians in Poland and Romania, tapped into hefty European Union farm subsidies and fended off local opposition groups to create a conglomerate of feed mills, slaughterhouses and climate-controlled barns housing thousands of hogs.

It moved with such speed that sometimes it failed to secure environmental permits or inform the authorities about pig deaths -- lapses that emerged after swine fever swept through three Romanian hog compounds in 2007, two of which were operating without permits. Some 67,000 hogs died or were destroyed, with infected and healthy pigs shot to stanch the spread.

In the United States, Smithfield says it has been a boon to consumers. Pork prices dropped by about one-fifth between 1970 and 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggesting annual savings of about $29 per consumer.

...

But Robert Wallace, a visiting professor of geography at the University of Minnesota says Smithfield's global rise is part of a broader "livestock revolution that has created cities of pigs and chickens" in poorer nations with weaker regulations. "The price tag goes up for small farmers."

In Romania, the number of hog farmers has declined 90 percent -- to 52,100 in 2007 from 477,030 in 2003 -- according to European Union statistics, with ex-farmers, overwhelmed by Smithfield's lower prices, often emigrating or shifting to construction. In their place, the company employs or contracts with about 900 people and buys grain from about 100 farmers.

In Poland, there were 1.1 million hog farmers in 1996. That number fell 56 percent by 2008, as the advent of modern farming methods transformed agriculture, according to the Polish National Agricultural Chamber.

Two years ago, Daniel Neag housed 300 pigs in the empty stalls of his windswept farm near Lugoj, in Romania. Since 2005, membership in his breeder association plunged to 42 from 300.

The impact on the environment is even more marked. With almost 40 farms in western Romania, Smithfield has built enormous metal manure containers to inject waste into the soil.

Oh, yeah. That's a good idea. When you have a farm and you buy fertilizer for it, you're spreading a small amount of treated manure ONCE. You aren't injecting tons of pig shit into the ground daily. I'm sure even those of you with little imagination can see how this would turn out. Just ask North Carolina how their manure disposal program's working for them.

Smithfield farms in Romania's Timis County are among the top sources of air and soil pollution, according to a local government report, which ranked the company's individual farms No. 13 through No. 40. The report also indicates that methane gases in the air rose 65 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Taxpayers footed part of the bill; Smithfield tapped into millions of euros in subsidies -- from a total of $50 billion [Euro] available in the E.U. last year -- that are meant to encourage modern farming balanced with care for the environment.

Typical. Can you imagine a small farmer being able to collect any subsidies from the government? Yet, those with money can always get more free money.

Oh, and i love this bit:


Smithfield representatives strongly defend their methods. They say they did everything they could to quash the Romanian swine fever outbreak, and they contend the lack of licenses was an oversight. "We have learned not to assume that a government's awareness of our plans and operations is the same as permission to keep moving forward until we have obtained all necessary permits," Charles Griffith, a company lawyer, said in answer to written questions.

[emphasis mine]


By min | May 8, 2009, 9:43 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Crazy Making

I'm too angry to say anything much about this.

Earnest Hammond, a retired truck driver, did not get any of the money that went to aid property owners after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

He failed to qualify for one federal program and was told he missed the deadline on another. But he did get a trailer to live in while he carries out his own recovery plan: collecting cans in a pushcart to pay for the renovations to his storm-damaged apartment, storing them by the roomful in the gutted building he owns.

It is a slow yet steady process. Before the price of aluminum fell to 30 cents a pound, from 85 cents, he had accumulated more than $10,000, he said, almost enough to pay the electrician. But despite such progress, last Friday a worker from the Federal Emergency Management Agency delivered a letter informing him that it would soon repossess the trailer that is, for now, his only home.

This man is 70 years old and he's reduced to scrounging for soda cans to get money.

Thousands of rental units have yet to be restored, and not a single one of 500 planned "Katrina cottages" has been completed and occupied. The Road Home program for single-family homeowners, which has cost federal taxpayers $7.9 billion, has a new contractor who is struggling to review a host of appeals, and workers who assist the homeless are finding more elderly people squatting in abandoned buildings.

Nonetheless, FEMA wants its trailers back, even though it plans to scrap or sell them for a fraction of what it paid for them.

FEMA's claim is that it has done everything it could to help these people. If this is the quality of work they produce, they all need to be fired and fined. Also, i think their homes should be given over to all the Katrina victims. This is the sympathetic punishment. My initial feeling was that they should be beaten with hot irons.

It's been nearly 4 years since the hurricane and they haven't built a single, goddamned Katrina cottage? Those things are designed to be put up in less than a month. WTF?

As of last week, there were two groups still in the agency's temporary housing program: more than 3,000 in trailers and nearly 80 who have been in hotels paid for by FEMA since last May, when it shut down group trailer sites. Most are elderly, disabled or both, including double amputees, diabetes patients, the mentally ill, people prone to seizures and others dependent on oxygen tanks.
"A lot of people are involved in the process of making sure that no one falls through the cracks," said Manuel Broussard, an agency spokesman in Louisiana. "Everyone's been offered housing up to this point several times. And for various reasons, they have not accepted it."

But the dozen temporary housing occupants interviewed for this story said they had received little if any attention from FEMA workers and were lucky to get a list of landlords, much less an offer of permanent housing.

Last year, the Louisiana Recovery Authority was supposed to unveil a more intensive caseworker system for people in temporary housing, but it never materialized. The authority has now asked homeless service organizations like Unity of Greater New Orleans and the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless in Baton Rouge to help find stable housing for the hotel occupants.

FEMA officials also say that residents can buy their trailers, sometimes for as little as $300. But virtually all of the residents interviewed said they had offered to do so and been told they could not.


By min | May 8, 2009, 9:28 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Asia considering forming its own IMF?

Link:

You will recall that the Asians were forced to go cap in hand to the IMF for bailout funds after the Asian Crisis in the late 1990s. This experience was very humiliating for some and caused extreme hardship as the IMF programs were rather severe and deflationary. Resentment toward the IMF remains as a result.
...
Back in the 1997-1998 Japan proposed an Asian-based IMF, the US objected and the issue seemed to be closed. However, during this crisis, a modified version appears to be in the works and without the international objections.

ASEAN+3 (Japan, China and South Korea) confirmed over the weekend that a $120 bln fx reserve pool will be established by year-end as the Chiang Mai Initiative is expanded. Participating countries can borrow up to 20% of their quote (agreed upon swap ). The other 80% can be accessed only after an IMF-like agreement. At first multilateral agencies, like the IMF and ADB, will be tapped for their expertise, but the intent to be independent is clear. Over time, their own surveillance unit will identify risks and provide oversight.


By fnord12 | May 5, 2009, 12:24 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



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