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Monday, December 21, 2009

Matthew Yglesias is much to kind to Senator Conrad

Conrad argues the house better do what he wants in the confererence committee because it is hard to get to 60 votes in the senate. Yglesias says this is because of Senators like Conrad. If fact it is because of Senator Conrad himself -- one senator who can decide if the Senate operates by majority rule who decided that it shall not do so this time.

Very true about Senator Conrad. In fact you understate the case. He and he alone is the one most to blame for the failure of the senate to function democratically this time.

It is possible for 50 senators (plus Biden) to pass bill given current rules using the budget reconciliation process. Bloggers to your left argue that some progressive senator should vote against cloture to force Obama or Reid or someone to use reconciliation.

It's not Obama's call. It's not Reid's call. It's Conrad's call. Under Senate budget reconciliation rules must be reported out by the budget committee. The budget committee chairman can, if he chooses, block the process by not scheduling the vote on reporting out. Senator Conrad is that chairman.

Now, maybe Harkin (chairman of HELP) could try to run around Conrad by saying that Finance has sole responsibility (I'm not sure this is even allowed). But to report a bill out of Finance takes 13 votes and one of the 14 Democrats is Senator Conrad.

Recall that Reid said he would pass health care reform by any means necessary. Then he choose to pass it by negotiating with Nelson and Lieberman. I guess he was bluffing. I also guess that Conrad called his bluff.

In this case the bill needs 60 votes in the Senate exactly because Senator Conrad has decided that it be so. Note that he was the one in the Baucus caucus who kept arguing against the public option on the grounds that it couldn't get 60 votes.
Nate Silver vs Jon Walker

Jon Walker argues that the kill the bill left believes, with reason, that if the current Senate Health Care bill is killed, then there is a good chance that a better bill is passed via the budget reconciliation process.

Nate Silver has a long excellent counter argument.

I want to add two things.

First Walker must assume that there are at least 50 senators who would support the better bill. Each of them could kill the current bill by voting against cloture. It looks as if none will. So Walker says that he understands the way the Senate works well enough to ignore the unanimous opinion of at least 50 senators.

What is the chance of that ?

By the way the Senate works I mean not just the rules but the way the minds of senators work. However, I don't think that Walker understands the rules of the Senate. I sure don't. I may be demonstrating this with my second thought below.

Second: If I am not much mistaken, only the Senate budget committee can start the budget reconciliation process and the chairman of that committee is Kent Conrad. Conrad absolutely opposes a robust public option. He is very unenthusiastic about a level playing field public option. He is the one who kept arguing that the gang of 6 should abandone the public option because it couldn't get 60 votes.

I believe he is also the one who can make sure a bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate.

I don't think it is just Harry Reid's call. I don't think that it is possible to get anything into law if it is opposed by 41 senators plus the chairman of the budget committee. Conrad couldn't have made it more clear that he is against using reconciliation. Unless I'm mistaken, that's final.

OK now I will wikipedia

A reconciliation bill is one containing changes in law recommended pursuant to reconciliation instructions in a budget resolution. If the instructions pertain to only one committee in a chamber, that committee reports the reconciliation bill. If the instructions pertain to more than one committee, the House Budget Committee reports an omnibus reconciliation bill, but it may not make substantive changes in the recommendations of the other committees.[2]

I'm still confused. I guess it is possible for the majority of the Senate to decide the bill is to be exclusively a Finance committee bill (or a HELP bill if one is willing to sacrifice Medicaid expansion in the hope of getting a public option). That means that it wouldn't go to the budget committee at all and all it needs would be 13 votes in Finance -- including Kent Conrad since all Republicans would vote no.

I think it is clear that the best a progressive senator who votes no now can hope for is a second chance to vote on the same bill.

And they obviously believe that. All of them.

Now the bill killers might be just acting. The logic (and it is very logical) is that the only way to get Lieberman to vote for the bill is for them to ask senators to vote no. That makes sense. I think that's what Dean did and I'm fairly sure that's what Atrios is doing (he's just not telling people to vote yes).
I have a very high opinion of Glenn Greenwald.

There is a debate in the left blogosphere over the current version of the Senate Health Care Bill with some people arguing that Senators should vote no. Someone described this as wonks for yes vs activists for no. This is not an exact split. Jon Walker, Gleen Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler are ultra wonks. However, 2 of the three of them are lawyers and their extraordinary expertise and outstanding investigative journalism are in fields other than health care.

Gleen Greenwald just made it very clear that he considers health care reform a narrow issue and the Senate bill "miniscule"
There are many reasons for the progressive division on the health care bill. There are differences over the narrow question of health care policy, with some believing the bill does more harm than good just on that ground alone. Some of it has to do with broader questions of political power: if progressives always announce that they are willing to accept whatever miniscule benefits are tossed at them

I recall "a billion here a billion there and soon you're talking real money" but I never thought I'd live long enough to read $871 billion plus regulatory reform described as "miniscule"

Perhaps Greenwald is not referring to the miniscule benefits for progressives included in the health care bill in his post about the health care bill. That would, of course, mean that his post is completely totally illogical. You can't prove that you are willing to accept miniscule benefits by accepting huge benefits.

I think I am going to think out loud some more about the part of Greenwald's post which I read (I didn't finish it).

he wrote

In addition to health care and Iraq, roughly the same progressive fault lines are seen over the bank bailout, escalation in Afghanistan, Obama's economic team, tolerance for Obama's embrace of Bush/Cheney civil liberties polices, and even the reaction to Matt Taibbi's recent Rolling Stone article on Obama's subservience to Wall Street.

OK so he said roughly, but I think he's still wrong. He has mentioned the claim that most prominent progressives who support the bill also supported the invasion of Iraq. This is true of shockingly many people who have since written reasonably. However, it is absolutely not the same group. Paul Krugman opposed the invasion and supports the bill. Atrios has been silent on the bill *and* warned people not to praise Medicare buy in where Lieberman might read it. Kevin Drum switched to opposing the invasion at the last minute. Brad DeLong opposed the invasion for longer (both supported at least for a while at least under some conditions).

Now down the list. I think the lines on the bank bailout were similar. On escalation in Afghanistan again Krugman plus now Yglesias I have no idea about DeLong or Klein or Kleiman or well I don't know of any progressive supporter of escalation.

On Obama's economic team DeLong is supportive and Krugman is polite (he's polite compared to the average blogger). Aside from that I don't notice any praise from the left of center blogosphere.

"Tolerance" is a weasel word. I don't think that Greenwald can find any progressive blogger who defends the Obama administration on that one -- maybe Mark Kleiman maybe not.

and finally Matt Taibbi. Wrong again. Drum defends Taibbi and supports the bill. I haven't read any defence of, you know, the actual article. I haven't looked (I haven't even read the article) but all I recall is people saying that they generally agree with Taibbi that the banking lobby is too powerful. I haven't read anyone who engages the criticisms of Taibbi except for Felix Salmon who wrote that Taibbi shouldn't be taken literally. That is not what I consider a defence of an article.

OK so obviously Greenwald reads more and different blogs than I do, but based on my hotlist he is totally wrong. The people who argue for voting against the health care bill are a subset of people who opposed the invasion of Iraq etc.

OK I assume no one has read this far so I'm just going to get it off my chest. I think the bill killers are like Joe Lieberman. That is, I think they have reached a stated opinion on a critical matter of public policy using his sort of logic. If DFHs are for it he's against it. If Lieberman is for it, the bill killers are against it. I know that many of them make substantive policy arguments, but I think it is clear (and not just from Greenwald's post) that they consider the bill a battle in a long war for control of the Democratic party.

The bill supporters discuss the actual content of the bill and the way the Senate works and say that the battle for the Democratic party should be fought on less important and more favorable ground. They don't disagree about the need to change the way the senate works and get Lieberman. The blogger closest to Greenwald's stereotype is Mark Kleiman. He just advocated using the nuclear option.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Matthew Yglesias's Memory Problems II

Yglesias writes
"I don’t think anyone seriously disputes that one thing the Bush administration was hoping to achieve was to intimidate Iran into complying with American demands. "

Red flag. Bull. I seriously dispute that claim. For one thing, the invasion of Iraq did intimidate Iran into trying to comply with American demands. I don't think that anyone who was paying attention seriously disputes that Iran sent a clear message that they were willing to discuss all open issues with the USA and that not only President Khatami but supreme leader Khameini supported this initiative.

Glenn Kessler reported

a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

The Bush administration rejected the overture and so now not only President Ahmedinijad but also supreme leader Khameini has not time to negotiate anything with the USA.

The did not want to intimidate Iran any more than they sincerely tried to intimidate Iraq. Real men go to Teheran. They wanted to conquer Iran too.

Any sign of flexibility by foreigners was interpreted by the Bush administation as weakness and therefore a reason to be inflexible. Any sign of inflexibility was interepreted as a refusal to bargain and a reason to be inflexible.

They didn't do negotiation so, while I'm sure they enjoyed intimidating people, they refused to accept yes for an answer. Always.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Matthew Yglesias has a Memory Lapse

He writes
Something I feel I should point out even though it probably won’t convince anyone, is that a lot of the criticisms being made of a health care bill with no public option and no Medicare buy-in are equally true of a bill with a Medicare buy-in.

I think the idea of letting people 55-64 buy in to Medicare is a great idea. I think it’s better if you drop it to 50 or 45 or 35 or 15. But 55 would be a good start. But obviously a buy-in for the 55-64 demographic doesn’t do anything for people aged 54 and lower. So if it’s really a monumental injustice to enact an individual mandate to purchase subsidized private health insurance on a regulated exchange, then including a Medicare buy-in for people 55-64 doesn’t actually resolve the injustice. Like, at all. On any level. So while I think it makes a ton of sense to be pissed off at Joe Lieberman for getting this very good idea killed, if you think the basic mandate/regulate/subsidize structure is a bad idea then it would have been a bad idea either way and you really don’t have much right to be pissed at Lieberman.

He assumes that the bill currently under debate is the very last change which will ever be made in the US health care system and notes that it is totally unfair to give an option to 55 year olds but not 54 year olds. This is unfair to the un-named people he is criticizing and is even unfair to Lieberman (now that's a challenge).

Yes a 55 year limit is absurd unjust and arbitrary. That's why I liked the idea so much and Lieberman hated it when someone finally explained the issue to him.

Just because a 55 year limit is totally arbitrary, the line couldn't possible be held at 55 years. If it was demonstrated that buying in to Medicare is a great deal both for those who buy in and for the CMS, then the age limit would be lowered and the option to buy in would be extended from individuals on the exchanges to employers.

Lieberman's flip flop is generally considered to be proof that he is against anything that DFHs support. However, he might have changed his mind over night because foolish DFHs explained why we like medicare buy in. We like it exactly because, as proposed, it is such a totally unfair and absurd policy that it won't last.

I blame myself (well I blame Atrios for leaving me off his mailing list) as I made this argument on the web.

I remember long long ago reading that the way to get to single payer was first to allow people over 55 to buy into Medicare, then lower it to 50 then ...

Now who came up with that idea (and left it on the web where Lieberman could see it). He had a funny hispanic name. Oh yeah Yglesias.

The Kaus-Yglesias-Shrum-Kucinich view of health care:

Another resonant point isn't yet CW, though--[Bob Shrum] argued that all the Democratic health care plans are too complicated, that whoever is the Dem candidate should just say he or she plans to let everyone join Medicare and leave it at that. [skip]

I think that's right. And if you don't have the votes for "Medicare for All" then you can take "Medicare for Everyone Over 50." If you don't have the votes for that, you can take "Medicare for Everyone Over 55." Then after the next election you come back and ask for more. And then more. And more. But you give the public a marker -- "Medicare for All." Sure, it's more slogan than program, but it's a good slogan.

Seems to me that in 2007, Yglesias supported Medicare buy in for people over 55 (he chose the number) as all of health care reform. He sure didn't think it was inconsistent with aiming for "Medicare for all." He argued back then that it would eventually lead to Medicare for all.

By the way, it is relatively hard to find old Yglesias posts, since he has had dozens of blogs by now. Never give hostages to fortune or google.
Here I go Again Criticizing Paul Krugman

Again I agree with Krugman and am quibbling. In this case I quibbling about theory due to Krugman not terminology as in the post below. Krugman argues that Bernanke's answer to Brad DeLong's question is insane. I agree with Krugman, but he makes appealing but invalid arguments.

I can't summarize Krugman's argument as well as he does but the part to which I object is

Future economic historians will, I believe, see this as fundamentally absurd — as absurd as the inflation fears that paralyzed the Bank of England in the early 1930s even as the world went into a deflationary spiral. Yes, there may someday be a 1970s-type episode in which the Fed needs to fight inflation, not encourage it — but it’s a long way off. Furthermore, why on earth would we imagine that the Bernanke Fed, by showing itself willing to inflict gratuitous pain in 2010, would make it easier for whoever is running the Fed in, say, 2020 to control inflation then, let alone that the tradeoff of real pain now versus hypothetical pain much later, if it even exists, is worth making?

I agree with the policy proposal, but I note a logical inconsistency in you (Krugman's) argument. A natural reaction to Brad's question is to ask : how can the Fed cause higher inflation right now when we are in a liquidity trap? The answer, due to uhm Krugman, is that the Fed can't cause higher inflation now, but will be able to cause higher inflation in the future when the economy is out of the liquidity trap.

Krugman's proposal was for the Bank of Japan to commit to a higher inflation target for the fairly distant future when Japan was out of the liquidity trap -- that would be imply, as noted by Krugman, that the unemployment rate is what the monetary authority wants it to be plus or minus epsilon.

So to get a lower long term real interest rate now, the Fed would have to commit to higher inflation at some time when it can target inflation which means at some time when the normal rules hold and long expected inflation does not affect real variables.

The logic of the argument requires that the high inflation target be costly. More to the point, it requires that the Fed can now commit to a future policy different from that which they would choose in the future if they weren't precommitted.

If the Bernanke Fed can't influence beliefs about the someone else Fed, and those are the beliefs that will matter at all times when we would like lower inflation, then the Krugman/DeLong proposal won't work. All the arguments in this post about now vs in the future don't work, because the proposal is to do something different in the future, since the Fed can't cause inflation now except via expectations about monetary policy when the US is no longer in a liquidity trap.

I'd say the valid argument is simpler. The costs of moderate inflation (say up to 10%) are miniscule compared to the costs of 1% more unemployment. Worrying about whether actual inflation will by higher than 3% if target inflation is 3% is like shouting fire fire when you see a gas stove.

One final comment. I think I understand what Bernanke is doing. My hypothsis follows. His aim is to be reconfirmed. He knows reconfirmation won't be blocked by liberal Democrats, but might be delayed by Republicans who are blocking everything. So he wants to convince Republicans that they want to reconfirm them. Therefore he is saying crazy things so that he sounds like crazy Republicans. Also the sane Republicans other than Snowe and maybe collins in the Senate (if any) are evil. They have decided that the worst things are the better things are. Any Republican Senators who understand economics have decided to pretend that they don't aimiing for high unemployment in November 2010.

The terrible thing is that I think Bernanke's calculations are correct. His testimoney is insane nonsense and it is the testimony best designed to get him reconfirmed quickly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In Which I Disagree with Paul Krugman about the Minimum Wage

I winced typing that title, since it is not wise to disagree with Paul Krugman and since I am going to argue that cutting the minimum wage can cause increased employment. Before going on, I stress that I oppose cutting the minimum wage as the logic of my argument suggests making the tax code more progressive. I think what we need right now is a more progressive tax code. That's what I always think.

OK so first Krugman argues that, when in a liquidity trap cutting all wages equally will not cause increased employment. Only here does he respond to the obvious criticism.

1. Why did I go from minimum wages to overall wages? Clearly, a cut in minimum wages –which only apply to some workers — can raise the employment of those workers at the expense of other workers. But the advocates of a cut are claiming that they can raise overall employment. The only way that can happen is if a reduction in average wages raises employment.

I assert it depends on how you measure employment. Krugman is appealing to standard macro models in which employment is measured in "efficiency units" and the wage level ("wage unit" to Keynes) is the wage per efficiency unit.

The standard assumption is that labor is uniform and can be measured by a number. The plain fact that some people are paid more than others is handled by assuming that they are more able in every way so their wage per efficiency unit of labor is the same. Thus consider able Andy who has twice the wage of luckless Larry and of bad Brad so he is paid as much as the two of them. It is assumed that he can do everything just as quickly as the two of them working together.
This is clearly absurd and is not to be taken literally.

As Krugman does.

Worse than that, once you define labor in efficiency units, you define employment as the number of efficiency units of labor employed.

The public policy concern is about how many people are employed. These can't be the same. Measuring labor in efficiency units might be an OK approximation if we cared about GNP, but if we care about employment and unemployment (as Krugman regularly insists we should) we have to think about people not units of efficient labor.

For the sake of argument let's stick with the efficient labor assumption. Oh and assume wages are sticky (we need some nominal stickiness to avoid the price level falling a few hundred fold in a second making the real balances effect a real factor). Now assume 2 types of workers able and not so able (90% are able 10% not so able) . An able worker produces just as much as two not so able workers.

Back in 2007 all workers were employed, not so able workers were paid the minimum wag and able workers twice as much. Now the market clearing real wage is lower, able workers are paid 1.99 times the minimum wage. Not so able workers are all unemployed so the unemployment rate is 10%

What happens if the minimum wage is cut 1% ? Suddenly all the not so able workers are hired. For each two that are hired one able worker is fired. Now the unemployment rate is 5%.

See simple. The reduction of the minimum can "raise the employment of those workers at the expense of other workers." Under standard assumptions such a shift in relative demand for different types of workers "can raise overall employment." so long as employment is counted you know by counting how many people are employed.

The absurd "efficiency units of labor" assumption implies that this effect is huge. Able and not so able workers are perfect substitutes so the elasticity of substitution of not so able for able workers is infinite.

In the real world the effect would be much smaller. It might be smaller than the damage to employment caused by the reduced expected inflation and therefore increased real interest rates noted by Krugman.

I oppose cutting the minimum wage, because I support cutting payroll taxes on low wage workers and making up the money by raising the FICA ceiling. I think payroll income above a floor should be taxed, not payroll income up to a ceiling.

According to Krugman's argument this wouldn't cause increased employment.

To put it another way, he is arguing that the increase in taxes on the rich and of the EITC enacted in 1993 had nothing to do with the huge puzzling increase in employment (without accelerating inflation) of the 90s.

OK now that I have argued with Krugman what about Card and Krueger. Empirical estimates of the effect of the minimum wage on employment suggest that the effect is very small. One famous study by Card and Krueger showed a positive effect of an increase in the minimum wage. The logic used by Card and Krueger to understand how this could happen suggests that things are different now.

Their logic is basically that firms can choose to pay a low wage and have a high quit rate and take a long time to fill vacancies or pay a high wage and have fewer quits and fill vacancies more quickly. If they are forced to pay the higher wage, their desired level of employment will be lower, but that level is the sum of employment plus vacant jobs. A binding minimum wage can reduce the number of vacant jobs by more than it reduces the sum of employment plus vacant jobs. Thus more employment.

I think this is not relevant to the current situation. There are very few vacant jobs. Quit rates are low. According to their logic, the effect of the minimum wage on employment depends on the unemployment rate. The evidence of a small effect is almost all from periods of unemployment far below 10%. I don't think it is relevant to the current situation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What to do with Health Care Reform in the Senate ?

The post below was not at all constructive. I have a coulda woulda shoulda proposal which is probably too late and a still can proposal.

The still can proposal is to go for Nelson and Snowe. It is clear that Lieberman is not bargaining in good faith. There is every sign that Snowe is bargaining in good faith (she has worked hard on the issue and everyone agrees she cares about the policy). Her current stated position is to the left of Lieberman -- she supports a public option with a trigger -- he opposes even that. Nelson and Snowe oppose Medicare buy in, so it's probably dead. Nelson is making trouble about abortion but has hinted repeatedly that if he gets his way on the public option he will insist less on the rights of the innocent unborn.

OK that reminds me, Nelson isn't quite as clearly in bad faith and motivated by vanity as Lieberman and maybe 3 other people on the planet, but he is pretty bad.

Then the proposed 2011 budget can include Medicare buy in and the public option. There is no rule of the Senate which prevents this. There will be no rest of the bill to hold hostage. Both reduce the deficit and can be enacted with 50 senators plus Biden. Both are popular. Having a debate on those two issues next year would help the Democrats politically.

The only problem I see is the Senate finance committee. There is definitely possible trouble there. I wonder if Baucus would cede the bill to HELP ? Would Conrad accept the bills with opt out of both parts ? Can the caucus reshuffle the committee while it is throwing Lieberman out ? Say make Conrad chairman of Government oversight and get him off finance (problem with that was I was planning to suggest Snowe for government oversight).

The coulda woulda shoulda is, of course, splitting the bill in more equal parts and making the insurance regulatory reform and the exchanges a 60 vote non budget bill and the rest a 50 (plus Biden) vote budgetary bill. Note the individual mandate is part of the 50 vote bill. It is enforced by taxing people who don't get insurance. You can't get more budgetary than that. Schedule the 60 vote bill first. That bill is very super popular. Republicans will vote no and pay for it (if they later claim they are voting against the other bill they can be called on that lie).

Then AHIP is back where they were after Obama was elected. They don't want (maybe can't afford) regulatory reform without an individual mandate. The trick is to tell Democratic "centrists" that the two bills are really linked so they vote for cloture on the first bill. I don't think it is really to late for this approach. The 2010 budget has been passed, but most of the budgetary aspects of the bill phase in so they can be in the 2011 budget just as well. Some features start in 2010 so they have to be in the 60 vote bill (which with 60 votes can add to the deficit).
Digby Suggests that Obama might be Digby

She wrote "If Obama and Reid actually formed their strategy around the idea that "Lieberman will come around," if the bill fails it's their fault." speculating that Obama may have agreed with Reid's idea of counting on Lieberman.

Obama did not agree with Reid's idea and Digby denounced the Obama administration at the time for uhm well under the circumstances it could only be for not trusting Lieberman. Now that Lieberman has proven that he can't be trusted, Digby has forgotten her earlier criticism and suggests that Obama and not Digby was the one who agreed with Reid.

I think that various people owe Rham Emanuel an apology.

update: I am one of them. I was very enthusiastic when Reid brought a bill with the opt out public option to the floor. I knew he wasn't using reconciliation. I assumed that 4 of Lieberman, Landrieux, Lincoln, Snowe and Nelson would accept some reasonable compromise short of the trigger. I was wrong in just the way that Digby was wrong.

Reid trusted Lieberman. Digby supported using reconciliation. However, knowing that Ried was going for 60 including Lieberman, she sided with Reid and against Emanuel arguing that "The White House denies the specifics, but there's reason, based on past behavior, that they are so enamored of having Olympia Snowe on board so they have accepted triggers and expect Reid to back their "deal." "

OK so Snowe is irrelevant, because ... well not because Reid was going to use reconciliation. The only rational reason for Digby to denounce the willingness to make a major sacrifice to get Snowe's vote was opposed by Digby was that she trusted Lieberman.

The corrected sentence is "If Digby and Reid actually formed their strategy around the idea that "Lieberman will come around," [and] if the bill fails it's [Reid's] fault.

For Digby to pretend that Obama was more blinded by optimism about Reid (and Nelson) than Digby when her blog archive proves the opposite, shows a near Senator [dirty word deleted] like recklessness.

She still refuses to admit that she was wrong wrong wrong about dealing with Snowe writing "President Snowe is pretty much with him, so there's not much help there."

This is a sentence written by someone who just can't face the fact that she was wrong. Snowe's stated position is to the left of Lieberman (she supports a triggered public option and he opposes even that). She has shown every sign of bargaining in good faith while he obviously isn't bargaining in good faith. When discussing Lieberman, Digby stresses his petty motivations and dishonesty. When she discusses Snowe, they are irrelevant.

Look Digby Rham was right and you were wrong. Admit it. You'll feel better afterwards.

Actually in the old post Digby said a trigger was "unnacceptable." If that means anything, it means that she would support a filibuster of a bill with a trigger joining Joe Lieberman and the Republicans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Doesn't The Washington Post Replace Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery with Ezra Klein ?

They would save money. He already gets a salary and they each are paid more than he is. He has incredible access regularly interviewing Senators. Most importantly it would improve coverage because he is not completely clueless about policy (or determined to pretend he is clueless which amounts to the same articles).

Murray and Montgomery write

But even Democrats who were not thrilled with the buy-in program applauded the deal's central component: replacing the public option with two national private insurance policies under the oversight of the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that administers health benefits for federal employees.

The Medicare buy in program is the deal's central component. It is more important than the feeble level playing field opt out public option. It is much more important than the change from a feeble public option to a feeble non-profit exchange = public option with actual services provided by non-profits.

The fact that an important step towards single payer is defined as a compromise compared to an unimportant step towards single payer shows how much the Senate debate is about who gets bragging rights (answer Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson so why ask).

Note also the improper grant of anonymity. Who are those Democrats and why aren't they named ? Somehow I guess they are not named Brown, Wyden, Rockafeller, or Feingold. Why do they get to speak for "Democrats" ?

Later in the article un-named "aids" suggest that what's there's is there's and what's our is optional saying "But Democratic aides said the Medicare provision could still be dropped or altered before the measure advances to the floor." Who are they ? Why are they important people ? Maybe because they are quoted on the front page of The Washington Post ?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Talk All Night
Two Out of Three Ain't Bad ?

Handicapping the Senate (as if it weren't handicapped enough already).

It seems to be down to Nelson Lieberman and Snowe.

I am reminded by the imortal lyrics to the appropriately titled "Baby We Can Talk All Night"

"I want you
I need you
but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you
Don't be sad
Two out of three ain't bad"

Odd this was a Rod Stewart song but I only get Meat Loaf Video. Youtube has never failed me before.

Lincoln hasn't said yes, but she's talking about how they are going to get to yes, so if the bill fails she's failed (and won't be re-elected). She's not even bluffing. Landrieux seems to have shut up entirely after claiming that the public option is no big dieal and blaming PR hype for her often stated opposition.

The problem is that Nelson has definitely said he will filibuster if his Stupak amendment amendment isn't approved and it was just tabled. Lieberman is determined to humiliate Democrats. He actually noted that he was elected as an independent, that is, he made it clear that he is determined to punish the voters in the 2006 primary. He has actually driven the Washington Post unballanced -- almost shrill.

Snowe just vetoed allowing people under 55 to buy into medicare as an alternative to the public option (that it is even mentioned shows that Joe has the Democrats by the gonads).

All I can say is that I really really don't want Reid to get all three votes. Oh and

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Washington Post Headline Flip Flop has a new headline and abstract for their article on the latest from the CBO. The current headline

Senate health bill gets a boost
As chamber begins debate, CBO says measure would not increase insurance costs for most.

Lori Montgomery

I don't have a screen shot but I remember that the headline for the story about the CBO report once was something like: bill would increase some insurance premiums.

I think that was too absurdly slanted.

according to JMM CNN cable cast something along the lines of the old headline.

I think it is clearly the Republican talking point and that it got to journalists before the Democratic talking point. That is Washington is hard wired for Republicans.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I am puzzled by this Poll in the Washington Post.

I guess this is a bleg. Can anyone explain it to me ?

I care because there is were very interested results of question 14

14. Overall, would you say most of your friends and family think of themselves as (Republicans), most as (Democrats) or most as independents?
Other No
Republicans Democrats Independents (vol.) opinion
11/23/09 All adults 36 33 19 8 5

36% is much higher than the fraction of adults in the USA who self identify as Republicans. It seems from this question that self reported patisan affiliation and perceived affiliation of "most friends and family" are systematically different. I would find this result very interesting if I could understand the sampling design of the poll, but I can't.

This Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone November 19-23, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,306 adults, including additional interviews with randomly-selected Republicans and Republican-leaning nonpartisans for a total GOP sub-sample of 804. Interview were conducted on both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points; four points for the sample of 485 Republicans and five points for the sample of 319 GOP-leaning nonpartisans.

Basically the phrases "additional interviews" and "sub-sample" seem to contradict each other.

One possible interpretation is that they polled 1,306 adults and then asked additional questions of those who leaned Republican and called those additional questions an "additional interview". I think this is not what happened, as there are too many Republicans for a random sample 485 is more than 36% of 1,306 and a much smaller fraction self identify as Republican in all recent polls.

Another possibility is that "sub-sample" is simply incorrect. That the "additional interviews" were additional phone calls and in the additional sample only people who leaned Republican were asked further questions. This means there would be two overlapping samples one of the general public and the other of Republican and Republican leaning independents. This is my current guess as to what was done. If so, the answers on question 14 show a gap between self identification and the perceived self identification of "most ... friends and family"

Finally a totally crazy conceivable possibility is that the pollster, TNS of Horsham, Pa., deliberately oversampled Republicans and then reported results for the skewed sample as results for all adults. They didn't do that. Approval of Obama administration policies is 49%. The wording isn't exactly standard but the number is similar to Obama's job approval in other polls. The sample labled "all" isn't grossly unrepresentative. I'm confident that the poll didn't use the totally crazy approach.

Under the second interpretation of the sampling, the result that the median American perceives himself as being to the left of the median American holds (because the all sample is a random sample). That would be interesting. I wish some poll with a clearly described sampling strategy included question 14.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In which I disagree with Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias in one post

Drum wrote

I’m entirely in favor of a Social Security commission, similar to the 1983 commission, tasked with producing a conventional basket of small revenue increases and small benefit cuts that would balance Social Security’s book in the long term. This is, admittedly, a relatively small thing, since Social Security’s fiscal condition has improved over the past few years and is now projected to eventually go out of balance by only about 1.5% of GDP. But aside from the virtue of even small acts of fiscal rectitude, it would also have the huge virtue of taking Social Security off the table as a political issue.

Huh ? Obviously it will never be off the table as a political issue. Too many prominent opinion leaders hate it and the general public loves it too much for it ever to be off the table.

Yglesias has a probably less plausible story about what would happen.

Kevin’s plan is going to play out along the lines of a familiar script. First, Barack Obama proposes something sensible and centrist like a balanced package of benefit cuts and tax hikes. Then this becomes defined as the extreme left pole of the debate. Then because Max Baucus and Kent Conrad are moderates, it needs to be balanced further in the direction of spending cuts. Then the administration embraces that proposal and it becomes defined as the extreme left pole of the debate. Then because Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln are moderates, it needs to be balanced even further in the direction of spending cuts.

Why would that happen ? Remember social security is the third rail. Cutting social security pensions is not like cutting medicaid or subsidies for the currently uninsured. It is like cutting medicare*. I haven't noticed an irresistable drift towards doing more and more of that. If some legislator demands benefit cuts in addition to tax increases, that legislator should probably start looking for another line of work.

Consider the health care debate. Republicans are not focusing on the house's surtax or thge Senate's surtax. They are denouncing Medicare cuts. They are in it to win it and they know that the way to win is to tell senior citizens that their social welfare programs will be cut.

Now consider the partial personalization debate of 2005. Cuts to social security benefits weren't inevitable then. They didn't happen when Republicans had the President and 55 senators. Why would they happen when there are 40 Republican senators. Bush pushed hard and it went nowhere.

To be blunt, I think what is going on here is that the left blogosphere is very proud of their great victory in 2005. It was a great victory and they had an important role. However, it was not a great victory against tough odds. More like the Colts beat the Lions.

I think it would be useful if that commission proposed 0 benefit cuts and the FICA doughnut plan so that the payroll tax kicks in again individual labor income over $250,000/yr.

This would have some advantages. The proposal to *eliminate* the FICA ceiling had majority support back in 2005. The doughnut plan would, I would guess, have even more support.

Obama said he would do this during the campaign.

It would be a tax increase on rich* people and help balance the budget. It would show that there is no need to cut benefits to save social security. you (M.Y. have argued again and again that such a tax increase would have good incentive effects).

The Republicans would go apesh*t and show how totally out of touch they are.
I'd say one of the events that guaranteed Obama's election was the time when McCain said that to be rich you had to have family income over $5 million per year. Republicans talking about middle class people with individual labor income over 250,000/year are not going to appeal to real live middle class people.

On the other hand ...

Well, what exactly is on the other hand ?

*typos corrected thatnks to comments.

update: I read a post somewhere in which it was asserted that the doughnut plan consists of applying the full payroll tax to individual payroll income over 250,000. This is definitely not a proposal ever made by the Obama campaign. The above the hole tax rate would definitely be lower. I'm not 100% sure that they ever described one, but IIRC the maximum discussed was 2% each on employer and employee. This is a much less radical proposal than one might guess and would creates smaller incentives to disguise payroll income as capital income, capital gains or corporate income.
I am surprised to have appreciated an essay on artnet by Ben Davis. It is a defence of conceptual art, but one of the best bits seems to me to be "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe edited as Maxwell Perkins edited Thomas Wolfe

What’s notable about the present attack on "conceptual" art by Dutton and many, many others is that it is a symmetrical, distorted reflection of the very critique of "traditional" art that led artists to adopt diverse "conceptual" strategies in the first place. A great many of these (e.g. process art, abject art, performance art) attracted the zeal of their purveyors in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s because they seemed to promise some kind of critique of the art market. Traditional art forms like painting and sculpture were -- and still are, in some circles -- considered to be corrupt, because the objects they produce lend themselves to being sold, owned and traded. Barbara Rose expressed this silly conception in a particularly hyperbolic passage from the Partisan Review: "For some time now I have felt that the radicalism of Minimal and Conceptual art is fundamentally political, that its implicit aim is to discredit thoroughly the forms and institutions of dominant bourgeois culture."

The fact that such strategies devolved inexorably into their own sort of market-friendly style just proves a point. On both sides, "traditional" and "conceptual," the perceived ill of the other is actually just the displaced face of the market itself, with its tendency to transmogrify and vulgarize everything. Which should provide a lesson for critics about the kind of promises they make for art: There are no formal or esthetic solutions to the political and economic dilemmas that art faces -- only political and economic solutions.

I do mildly disagree with something Davis wrote

"In fact, appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; ancient Greek and Chinese art require a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

I would edit to

"In fact, [fully] appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; [appreciation of] ancient Greek and Chinese art require [is enhanced by] a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to [fully] "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a [maximally] rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

So, I think, mildly overstated. I get more than nothing out of ancient chinese art and I have almost no relevant cultural knowledge.

Also the essay risks self reference when Davis writes "He completely collapses the notion of "virtuoso display" with handicraft, as if a well-crafted philosophical essay weren’t a "virtuoso display" of its own sort" but, as someone said, a virtuoso display which might be suspected of self regard is a joy forever.

I guess I now know how the original Philistines felt after a few rounds with Samson.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chris Hayes is not reality based.

He claims that Clinton did not attempt health care reform. He is writing about Obama's trip to China. Given his contempt for plain facts, I'm surprised he didn't say that Obama showed great courage as he risked falling off the edge of the earth.

It seems that The Nation does not support comments so I will note here that Hayes is not reality based.

He wrote "In the 1990s Bill Clinton was persuaded by Robert Rubin and others that the deficits he inherited required him to abandon any extension of the welfare state," that is the Clinton administration did not propose health care reform.

This is totally insane utter nonsense. Clinton attempted by far the largest expansion of the welfare state since the 60s. It was blocked by the Senate and not by concerns about bond markets.

Also, I guess Hayes doesn't consider the Earned income tax credit to be part of the welfare state. The Clinton recovery plan included a huge expansion of the EITC. Clinton promised that any family with a full time worker in it would be over the poverty line. Counting food stamps he managed to get congress to keep that promise.

Hayes' claim is totally insane utterly non reality based nonsense. I think it is obvious that he has written this plain blatant actionable libel about Robert Rubin, because Rubin is a banker and therefore must be evil according to Hayes. But even if he must say that Rubin was a bad influence on Clinton, he could have avoided demonstrating utter contempt for the historical record.

I have a lot of respect for Atrios, but linking to an article which makes a totally false claim makes me wonder.

I have to ask you, what does Palin have which Hayes doesn't ? What is the difference between his utterly, totally, completely, false, insane, nonsensical claim and say the death panels claim ?

update: This is alarming. Like Black, Krugman linked to the article by Hayes without mentioning the totally false historical claim. Whatever happened to the reality based community ? It seems that they no longer insist that people respect plain well known facts.

I commented at Krugman's blog. I copy the comment below as I'm not sure that the comment will survive moderation (although there is no way I could honestly have been more polite to Krugman or more generous to Hayes).

I am surprised that you link to Hayes’ article without mentioning that he is totally delusional or lying. In the article to which you link (without making any criticism at all) he wrote He wrote “In the 1990s Bill Clinton was persuaded by Robert Rubin and others that the deficits he inherited required him to abandon any extension of the welfare state,” That is, Clinton did not attempt health care reform and did not expand the earned income tax credit.

I think it is important to respect facts even if they are over a decade old. The fact that you approvingly link to Hayes in spite of the plainly grossly false historical claim in this article is, I think, a serious mistake. You endanger your own credibility and reputation as a reality based economist and columnist when you link to such a palinly* false absurd claim.

It just will not do to consider a totally false claim on a matter of fact to be not worthy of even a mention. Once one decides to let falsehoods pass, because they don’t matter much, where is one to draw the line ?

* this was an honest typo. It might have been Freudian as I had just asked (on my blog) if there is any difference between Hayes’ claim and Palin’s claim about death panels. I see none. Both are utter falsehoods which demonstrate ideologically induced delusions, or contempt for the truth, or both.

update II Now I'm wondering about *my* sanity. Brad DeLong has a tweet linking to Hayes with no criticism. Now I can see how it is hard to fit discussion of one tossed of totally false absurd claim into 140 characters but What the Hell is Going On !

OMFG Brad quoted Hayes at length without any criticism. He didn't quote the absurd historical falsehood, but he didn't mention it either.

Brad is very proud of his role in the one successful Clinton administration effort to expand the welfare state. He agonized over the failure of the colossal effort to obtain universal health insurance *and* he once named Robert Rubin as the one person in the whole world who he considered most qualified to be President of the USA !

But whether I'm sane or not, I just cut and pasted from the much linked Hayes article.

WTF !?!?!
Matt Taibbi questions the patriotism of the press corps. No that's not the half of it. He says they are doubleplus ungood unpersons who must be vaporized

"press had to change its mind again and embrace an “Obama is now the presumptive frontrunner/We are now at war with Oceania” posture."

At war with Oceania ?!? he actually said the press was at war with Oceania ? What else does he think they did ? Spat on Big Brother's mustache ?!?

His post is absolutely brilliant but even Sarah Palin knows that sometimes Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and sometimes Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia but it is doubleplus unpossible to be at war with Oceania.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I love They are awesome wonderful and totally to blame for the fact that I won't get any work done today either. The positive proof of their tireless passionate quest for the strangest most hidden facts is revealed by their discovery of a statement by Dick Cheney that is actually true !

I have no idea how many thousands of person hourse were needed to achieve this almost impossible goal.
The Turkey Blues

total tail feather kicking awesomosity via Suzanne at FDL.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The following blog post which I quote in full has been banned by the US government.

The Muzzle Is Off
By Candace Gorman

In June of this year I received a call from a foreign reporter who asked if I could give her a profile of my client Al-Ghizzawi as he was on a list of men whom the US was looking for a new home and her country was considering accepting him. This was the first I had learned that Al-Ghizzawi had been “cleared” by the Obama review team for release. I gave her information about my client and for all I know a story was published about the plight of Al-Ghizzawi at Guantánamo, his status as “cleared” and why he needed a country in Europe to take him.

A few days later an attorney from the justice department called to tell me that Al-Ghizzawi was cleared for release and we laughed about the fact that I already knew the information. However the laughing stopped when the attorney told me that the justice department had designated the information as “protected” and I could not tell anyone except my client and those people who had signed on to the protective order (a court document that outlines the procedures for the Guantánamo cases) about his status as “cleared for release.” I told the attorney that he could not declare something “protected” that was already in the public domain. To make a long story short we were not in agreement and the attorney filed an emergency motion with the judge to muzzle me. Despite the fact that the information was in the public domain I was muzzled by the good judge who apparently doesn’t believe that the Constitution applies to me. I couldn’t even tell Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s brother what I thought was good news (I didn’t know then that this was just another stall tactic by the justice department).

Not only was I muzzled but Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s case was put on hold. The habeas hearing that we had been fighting to obtain literally for years was stayed by the judge despite the fact that the US Supreme Court held in June of 2008 that the men were entitled to swift hearings … So much for the Supreme Court! The president asked the judges to stop the hearings for those men who were “cleared” for release and the judges have fallen into lockstep, shamefully abandoning their duties as judges.

A few months later when I visited Al-Ghizzawi (at the end of August) he had just received word from his wife that she could no longer wait for his release and she asked him if she would sign papers for a divorce. Bad news is an everyday occurrence for Al-Ghizzawi and he was holding up well despite this latest blow.

When I returned from the base I asked the justice department to allow me to contact Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and tell her that he had been cleared for release. I hoped that if she knew he was to be released she would hang in there and not go through with the divorce. I was told they would get back to me. When they didn’t I asked again but they still would not give me the OK. In Court papers I pleaded with the judge to let me tell Al-Ghizzawi’s brother and wife, telling the judge about the wife’s request for a divorce, but the judge, the same judge who has apparently decided to ignore the Supreme Court’s directive for quick habeas hearings, ignored this plea as well.

I seriously thought about disobeying the order and trying to get word to Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and then taking whatever lumps were thrown my way … however, despite the fact that the judicial system has failed Al-Ghizzawi and most of the men at Guantánamo I could not bring myself to blatantly disobey a court order. For five months I have kept this information confidential despite the injustice to both my client, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, and to what was our rule of law … until yesterday, when the muzzle was lifted.

As far as I know this subsequent blog post quoted in full again, has not been banned by the US government.

On Tuesday I reported that the Government finally allowed me to discuss matters that had previously been “protected” in regards to my client Al-Ghizzawi. In fact the Government unclassified and allowed for public release a Petition for Original Habeas Corpus that I filed in the US Supreme Court. I released that Petition to the public in accordance with the Government’s designation of “unclassified.” On Friday the Department of Justice (DOJ) told me that it had made a mistake and that it had apparently violated the Protective Order (an Order that sets out the rules for the DOJ and Habeas counsel in regards to the Guantánamo cases) entered in the case when it “unclassified” and allowed for public release information in the Petition that it wanted to “protect” and that therefore I must remove my post of November 17 because of the DOJ’s mistake. I explained to the DOJ attorneys that the Petition and my Post of November 17 were widely distributed and are available at various sites on the web … they do not seem to care about that … they only care that I not report about what they are now trying to declare “protected information” … 5 days after they unclassified the material and made it available for public release.

This is of course outrageous conduct by the DOJ … in trying to declare something as “protected” after being clearly designated and distributed to the public, but what else is new? For those of you who either remember my November 17 post or have it available on your website, I originally learned of the so-called “protected” information from a public source and the judge in Al-Ghizzawi’s case still ruled that I could not discuss it. […]

This is not the end of this story. Under the Protective Order the Government must actually get the judge’s permission to retroactively keep me (and only me) from publishing and discussing the information that the Government now seeks to “protect.” The DOJ will have to file a document with the Court explaining why this now very public information should be “protected.” Ultimately it will be the judge’s decision. If you do not see my post back up that will mean that the judge agreed with the Government, that I alone cannot talk about those things that you are privy to discuss.

The banned post was retrieved from the google cache. Banning a blog post is not only an offense against the first amendment (with very serious consequences in this case) but also an act of technological idiocy as the post had already made it into the google cache (ahd the DOJ could check that and knew it couldn't make google remove it).

All via Andy Worthington who found and reposted the cached post.
Ezra Klein criticizes David Broder's astonishingly idiotic and dishonest op-ed.

Kudos to Ezra for criticizing the dean of the Washington Post Employees. That takes intellectual integrity and courage as it sure won't help his career.

My reading of part of the op-ed which I read before losing my temper is that Broder has made it clear that, to him, "deficit reduction" means "cutting social welfare spending." It has long been fairly obvious that this is what Broder (and Hiatt) mean. Broder has eliminated all doubt.

I quote Broder. I absolutely have not distorted anything by removing necessary context (click the link and check).

will add to the federal budget deficit?"

The answer: Less than one-fifth of the voters -- 19 percent of the sample -- think he will keep his word.


the public has it right. These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters. ... "... . As of now, it's basically a big entitlement expansion, plus tax increases."

So tax increases have no effect on whether a bill is or isn't a budget buster. Broder is not talking about the deficit at all. When he says "fiscally responsible" he means "cuts social welfare spending." When he says "deficit" he doesn't mean spending minus tax revenues he means either spending or spending minus military spending.

Furthermore Broder dismisses as trivial the differences between the House and Senate bills "These bills." A hundred billion here a hundred billion there and no way will it amount to anything worthy of David Broder's attention.

No one who can read English can dispute this anymore. One can only ask if Broder doesn't know what "deficit" means or is he trying to trick his readers into thinking that tax increases can't reduce the deficit ?

I mean is he an idiot or a liar or both ?

Broder certainly has no place in responsible journalism and should be fired. Of course so should Krauthammer, Kristol, and Hiatt. Personally I'd fire Will too, but I can see how some people think that Will is not completely intellectually bankrupt.

Obviously Broder should be replaced by Klein. More than that, picking up Broders intellectual garbage is a waste of Klein's valuable time.

How did a once great paper come to this ?
Get 'em well Harry !
Senator Joeseph Lieberman will lie.

I am not talking about "the possibility of it" I am making an absolutely confident prediction with no wiggle room. I have been reluctant to make predictions since November 2004 (I predicted Kerry would win) but I think I'm safe on this one.

Here he lies to Brian Buetler

I asked in response, "How do you reconcile your contention that the public option wasn't part of the presidential campaign given that all three of the [leading Democratic] candidates had something along the lines of the public option in their white papers?'

"Not really, not from what I've seen. There was a little--there was a line about the possibility of it in an Obama health care policy paper," Lieberman said.

(That line read, "Specifically, the Obama plan will: (1) establish a new public insurance program, available to Americans who neither qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP nor have access to insurance through their employers, as well as to small businesses that
want to offer insurance to their employees," and went on from there.)

Lieberman must know about the reference to the public option in the Obama plan. His false claim that Obama did not propose a public option during the campaign (which might have been an honest mistake) has been refuted.

Now he claims that the statement that something will be is a discussion of "the possibility of it." This is a false statement. It is conceivable that Lieberman doesn't understand the meaning of the word "will" but I dismiss "the possibility of it."

He lied. He lies regularly. He will lie again.

This man should not be the chairman of a senate committee.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ultimate Ballance*

Bruce Bartlett writes

I don't mean to suggest that Democrats are any better when it comes to the deficit, although they have a better case for saying so based on the contrasting fiscal records of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Shorter Bruce Bartlett "I don't mean to suggest that Democrats are any better ..., although they" are, so don't you dare accuse me of being reality based.

Bartlett is one of the most nearly honest conservatives in the USA. What does that tell us about the rest of them ?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why do employers want to continue providing health-care benefits?

Ezra Klein has a theory that this is basically upper class solidarity at work. They don't want spending decisions to be public, because the public wants to soak the rich and they are rich. I strongly suspect that this arguments only works if managers do not as faithful stewards of the interests of shareholders and pigs don't fly, so I give young Ezra high marx.

I have two other thoughts. They start with the fact that employers have tended to reduce the generosity of the health insurance they provide. Why is this not just like cutting wages ?

First, I think there is the power of nominal rigity. The amount they pay in premiums per worker has increased. People react very differently to an effort to restrain the increase in an expence than to an effort to cut an expense. This enabled US employers to get away with very low real wage growth during periods of inflation (in Europe the workers caught on to what was happening quicker and used the law to mandate cost of living adjustments).

Second there is the advantage of having a scapegoat. The employer can blame the insurance company for demanding higher premiums for the same coverage (note same coverage as in deductables and copays not the same health care which improves as technology improves).

This means that employers have reduced the share of health care spending which they cover and yet haven't angered their employees as much as they would have if they had cut wages.

he odd role of employers as intermediaries between the workers and the intermediaries between the workers and health care providers is useful to the employers.

OK look I have a third thought, which is that CEOs are asking human resources managers for advice and those human resources managers want to keep their jobs. Are CEOs that dumb ? Is there any evidence to the contrary ?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Washington Post -- More Catholic than the Pope

The Washington Post had a front page article yesterday which began

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

Journalist Lori Montgomery didn't write the headline "Report: Bill would reduce senior care." The alleged basis for the inflamatory claims was the report by the chief actuary for the Medicare/Medicaid administration (CMS). This report noted scheduled future cuts in Medicare reimbursment rates and questioned whether they will actually be imposed. This is a reasonable suspicion, since restictions enacted in 1997 are waived once a year every year. It is obvious that the actual basis for the article is Republican congressional aids (probably the minority staff of Ways and Means, since I found the report itself (warning pdf) on their site).

The remarkable thing is that Montgomery and The Washington Post are more extreme than the hospitals' lobby -- The American Hospital Association. The AHA supports health care reform and has agreed to $155 billion less over ten years. HR3692 includes prospective cuts for hospitals, nursing homes and urgent care facilities of $ 282 billion. It is possible that the current dispute is over the difference (127 minus the part for nursing homes and urgent care facilities) but Montgomery doesn't mention any possibility that hospitals will accept cuts without denying care to medicare patients.

Thus she reminds me of Megan McArdle who argues that health care reform should be rejected, because it will excessively reduce pharmaceutical company profits and therefore pharmaceutical innovation. McArdle doesn't explain why PhRMA supports refrom if it is so terrible for pharmaceutical companies.

When you find your position more extreme than that of a lobby, maybe you should reconsider.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Health Care Reform and Caregivers Refusing Medicare Patients

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Lori Montgomery fell for (or is pushing) Republican spin in this article in the Washington Post
Report: Bill would reduce senior care
Medicare cuts approved by House may affect access to providers

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Congress could intervene to avoid such an outcome, but "so doing would likely result in significantly smaller actual savings" than is currently projected, according to the analysis by the chief actuary for the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid.

Under the proposed law, Medicare compensation rates will be so low that caregivers will refuse to accept them. So what else is new ? Under current law Medicare compensation rates will be so low that caregivers will refuse to accept them. Current law and the proposed new law are both frauds in exactly the same way similar ways. Since 1997 there has been a restriction on Medicare spending such that drastic cuts are a year away, always one year away.

[some lines deleted. My guess about what the report said was wrong].

update: I have now read the report (warning pdf) ... well actually up to the passage stressed by Republicans and Montgomery. Montgomery's article focuses on one paragraph deep in the report which begins "It is important to note that the estimated savings for one category of Medicare proposals may be unrealistic." That's some serious digging.

The paragraph goes on to discuss what seems to be new additional budgetary flim flam which is assuming that productivity in hospitals and nursing homes grows at the national average (measured productivity grows much more slowly and it doesn't matter if this is due to unmeasured improved quality of care). That would be part of a large savings of $ 282 billion. The report doesn't describe what the savings would be if Medicare rates were adjusted to a reasonable forecast of productivity growth.

Now I had assumed that Medicare cuts other than eliminating the Medicare advantage boondoggle were reductions in money effectively given to hospitals (and nursing homes etc) so they could afford to take care of the uninsured. Hospitals' budgets will be affected by increased health insurance coverage both the total fraction of people insured and the fraction of people with pre-existing conditions insured. This means that the total effect on Hospitals' budgets can't be calculated assuming only Medicare payment rates change.

Importantly, the Foster (the author) assumes that reduced Medicare payments will cause hospitals to choose to refuse Medicare patients and not drive Hospitals bankrupt. It is true that relatively lower Medicare rates will cause more hospitals to refuse Medicare patients. How many currently do ? I googled
"hospitals which refuse medicare" I got links to articles about physicians who refuse Medicare patients and this link to someone who works at a hospital where they talked about refusing Medicare patients.

Medicare rates are already low. There sure don't seem to be many hospitals which refuse to treat Medicare patients.

OK so I tried the past tense and googled "hospital did not accept medicare"
This link to someone who says an anonymous hospital told her in 1998 that they didn't accept Medicare patients.

Quite frankly this doesn't seem to be a huge problem. The idea that it will get even bigger if Medicare rates fall further below other rates doesn't seem to me to merit page 1 treatment.

My current interpretation is that Foster is saying that he believes that the new restrictions on Medicare compensation will be waived just as the existing restrictions are waived. He can't say that Congress is flimflamming so he has to explain how this might be a natural response to unforseen events in the future.

My current guess is that the event will be the perfectly forseable complaints from hospitals and nursing homes and that the forecast that Congress will waive the rule is the only forecast a responsible actuary can make.

The Republican/Montgomery/ headline guy spin that elderly people will be denied care if the bill passes is absurd. If that's the way things worked, the 1997 rule wouldn't be waived year after year.

update 2: No google hits for "hospital refuses medicaid" one for "hospital refused medicaid" to a publication of the National Center for Policy Analysis hhmmm where have I heard of that ? It's the so called think tank which fired Bruce Bartlett for heresy.

The document to which I link asserts that Veterans care is queue rationed and that the veterans administration does provide as high quality care as that available to people with private insurance. Non ideological sources rate the veterans administration as the best care provider -- number one.

I think that "Hospitals will refuse Medicare and/or Medicaid" is a serious policy concern on a level similar to the "tax cuts cause increased revenues." And here it is on the front page of

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lieberman Makes it Clear

Steve Benen explains it better than I can (plus he has the full quote)

I think Senator Lieberman has made it very clear that he is motivated by vanity and spite. His observation "I feal relevant" as as close to a confession that he is motivated by TV camera lust and power for its own sake as one might hope to get.

Now he explains his opposition to the public option by discussing the wishes and dreams of its most enthusiastic supporters "A public option plan is unnecessary. It has been put forward, I'm convinced, by people who really want the government to take over all of health insurance."

Note what he did not argue. He did not argue that any public option, even a level playing field public option, will lead to a government take over. He only discussed the wishes of people who proposed the public option. His argument doesn't even have the form of a policy argument -- he doesn't describe the effects of voting this or that way on cloture.

It is all about pissing off liberals and he doesn't even pretend otherwise.

He is willing to vote against cloture -- to use the extreme method of obstruction by filibuster (which he opposed unonditionally as a matter of principle in 1994) in order to block a bill which contains a provision which he considers "unnecessary," because of his opinion of the people who proposed it.

Lieberman has reached the level of statesmanship demonstrated by John Shadegg who voted present on the Stupack amendment because Nancy Pelosi is pro-choice. He felt he couldn't vote yes on an amendment where she voted no, because allowing the vote was part of her effort to pass health care reform.

Note, Shadegg did not vote present, because he hoped that if the amendment failed, the bill would be rejected. That would be just plain crazy (crazy like the belief that a level playing field public option will lead to single payer). Votes can be changed until the scheduled time runs out. Shadegg could have switched to yes when it was clear that the amendment had been accepted.

He didn't because he has achieved a whole new level of crazy -- a level where voting yes on an amendment restricting abortion financing is playing into the hands of Nancy Pelosi.

Similarly, Lieberman is willing to obstruct health care reform, because people who support single payer in their hearts haven't been humiliated enough. He does not discussion the provision in the bill and its effects. He discusses the motives of the people who proposed it. It's all about us. Lieberman doesn't care about the poor and the sick. He is willing to sacrifice them to spite us.

This is implied by the plain language of his argument. I'm paranoid enough to think he went on Fox and changed his demand for unspecified changes in the bill to a demand for no public option to ruin our enjoyment of the vote in the House.

I wish I could convince Lieberman of two things. First it's not about him. As a Senator he has special responsibilities not special importance. Second its not about me. If my mother makes her decisions based on what will or won't make me happy, that is sane. If the junior Senator from Connecticut bases his decisions on what will or won't make me happy, he belongs in a mental hospital not the US Senate.
Well now I am watching history being made.

The House is voting on the Stupak amendment banning any subsidies for purchase of a health care plan wich covers abortion.

Currently 73 Y 91 N. No Republicans have voted "present" as some declared they would. 11 dems have voted yes so far.

Now 43 D yea so passed unless Shadegg et all meant it.

Passed 240 to 194 with one R actually voting present.
Not even close. Will have to try to fix it in the conference committee.

Boehner amendment (to replace health care reform with the Republican do almost nothing bill) fails on a party line vote (so far) with some dyslexic dems hitting the wrong button and corrected their error just in time to keep my brain from exploding.

One brave Republican seems to have actually voted no. I guess that would be Cau R-LA.

Cantor makes a motion to recommit. Some more debate.

Just rejected (unless representatives change votes).

Mostly party line vote but 4 D's voted yes so far. Some people like primaries.

Oh the clerk just put up the roll calls.

On the Boehner amemdment Cao R-LA voted Yes. I apologize to the honorable gentleman from Lousiana for misspelling his name (at least I didn't type Cow).

The daring Republican was Johnson of Illinois.

On the Stupak amendment Shadegg actually did it !

He voted present on an antiabortion amendment becauase allowing the vote was part of Pelosi's effor to pass healthtcare reform and Pelosi is pro-choice. That was his argument. I kid you not.

“(Nancy) Pelosi is speaker and she’s pro abortion every minute of every hour of every day as speaker,” Shadegg said in an interview with POLITICO Saturday evening. “This is a vote to help her move the bill forward.”

OK back to the floor. 2 brave Republicans voted no. I won't guess that they are Cao and Johnson R-IL

13 or 14 D's voted Y (one hadn't voted when I started typing then the video went to rep. Obey). Shocking but at least one less than voted against the motion to consider the bill.

Voting on the bill. So far 30 Dem N's with 31 not yet voted.

212 Y 10 D's yet to vote. Clearly waiting to see if their votes are needed the cowards. They are torturing me.m 216 yes.

218 !!!! It happened. The bill passed !

39 Democrats voted No. One did not vote (I assume Pelosi -- by tradition the speaker rarely votes). 2 Republicans haven't voted. I will again not guess who they are. I will guess they are waiting to see if they have to vote yes. If so, the bill passed with 3 votes to spare. I'd also guess that at least some the Democrats who voted no right as the yesses past 218 would have voted yes if necessary.

Final vote 220 Yes including one very daring Republican. 39 Democrats voted no.

Pelosi just declared that the bill is passed.

Cao R-LA is the one Republican who voted yes.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

History Made on Capital Hill

No I'm not talking about the House of Representatives. IIRC the senate made history by voting unanimously to extend unemployment benefits and the first house tax credit (98-0) after 3 cloture votes.

Help me out history buffs.

Has there ever been a cloture vote on a bill which went on to pass unanimously ?

How many senators ever voted against cloture then voted for the bill with no new amendments ?

Is the current Republican caucus the most obstructionist minority in Senate history ?

OK that last one it too easy.

This is a new fronteir in obstructionism. The Republicans obstucted a desperately needed bill which they support (they voted yes) in order to generally slow down the Senate. They went all out (3 cloture votes) on this bill exactly because it is urgently needed so Reid wouldn't put it off until after the Senate considers health care reform.

I know the Senate has done terrible things in the past, but somehow this seems to be a new combination of evil, pettiness and hypocrisy.
Kaplan Kratovil Confused

I understand the difficulty of achieving Ballance under deadline preassure, but I think that Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray need some copy editing. They wrote

Kratovil said the bill is better than it was in July, but it still costs too much and would impose too heavy a burden on small businesses, many of which would be required for the first time to offer health insurance to their workers or face a stiff fine.

Note the last clause asserts, with the authority of the Washington Post, that the employer mandate would apply to many small firms. Thus they assert that many firms with payrolls over $500,000 are small firms. They do not make it clear that they are using this unusual definition of small firms. In fact, they give no real information on the employer mandate at all in their article in which they definitely assert that it applies to many small firms. A bit of googling lead me to this

", many of which " should be edited to ". He said many of which" or ", many of which, he said," if they have a shortage of periods. As is they switched from Kravotil's claim to one of their own without considering the fact of the matter.

Employer Mandate Excise Tax (Page 275): If an employer does not pay 72.5 percent of a single employee’s health premium (65 percent of a family employee), the employer must pay an excise tax equal to 8 percent of average wages. Small employers (measured by payroll size) have smaller payroll tax rates of 0 percent (<$500,000), 2 percent ($500,000-$585,000), 4 percent ($585,000-$670,000), and 6 percent ($670,000-$750,000).

Why is leftcoastrebel so much more informative than the Washingon Post ?

I get a moderate amount of unsolicited e-mails from conservative organizations. For example, I just received an e-mail from Richard Viguerie. This is odd, as I am not, uhm in his target demographic (to put it mildly).

I'm pretty sure I know what happened. I once put a poll on my dailykos diary asking if people believed in efficiency wage models. There was almost unanimous agreement.

I wondered if this was a characteristic of lefties or generally agreed (among non economists -- the models are controversial to disreputable within the economics profession). So I set up an account at freerepublic username honestliberal. It's not that I think most liberals are dishonest. I was just stressing that I wasn't pretending to be one of them. I found that freerepublic diaries are moderated (given how moderate the stuff that get's through is this is shocking). I gave up.

I'm pretty sure that sells e-mail lists. I can't think of another explanation. Well maybe they give them away.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Depending on Independents

Some people, including David Brooks, note that independents are more conservative than they used to be and that most of them voted Republican in New Jersey and Virginia. They conclude that the Democrats are in trouble.

This is definitely invalid reasoning. It is based on the assumption that the same people call themselves independents.

It is also a notable fact that the number of self described Republicans is at a record low. Some people who used to call themselves Republican might have switched to calling themselves Democrats but most switched to calling themselves independents.

I won't crunch the numbers (and I don't apologise because Brooks didn't either and I am crticizing him). So consider a hypothetical USA in which the only change is that people who used to call themselves Republicans are so disgusted with the Republican party that they call themselves independents.

If this is the only change, then the opinions on policy of the average independent would move right. Also, unless the disgust is unusually passionate, more independents will vote Republican.

Now I don't claim that this hypothesis is plausible. However, I do claim that people who interpert changes in the distribution of views of independents have not presented any evidence that it is false. More seriously, they haven't considered the effect of people shifting declared orientation from Republican to independent on the data they claim to analyse.

Confession: I read the Brooks op-ed *after* writing my critique. That is I took a blind folded pot shot at him. First, I note I hit him. He did not consider any possible change in the set of people who call themselves independents.

On the other hand, I missed the bull's eye. He wrote something so stupid that I didn't imagine it.

Liberals and conservatives each have their own intellectual food chains. They have their own think tanks to provide arguments, politicians and pundits to amplify them, and news media outlets to deliver streams of prejudice-affirming stories.

Independents, who are the largest group in the electorate, don’t have any of this.

He asserts that liberals and conservatives have something and independents don't. This logically implies that independents are neither liberal nor conservative. This claim is absolutely 100% refuted by the data. There are people who declare themselves to be conservative and independent and there are people who declare themselves to be liberal and independent. Therefore Brooks's claim is demonstrably false. His discussion of polling is as valid as the discussion of geography of someone who claims that the world is flat.

He contrasted independents with conservatives and liberals. This is pure total idiocy. It is possible for people to declare themselves both independent and conservative or independent and liberal.

The categories in the polls abused by Brooks are (Democrat, Republican or independent) and (liberal, conservative or moderate). It is just not at all true that all independents describe themselves as moderates. Brooks's discussion of polling is absolutely inconsistent with the polls.

His implied claim that people are either liberal or conservative or independent is plainly false. There is nothing subtle about this. He has ignored the reported results of the polls he claims to interpret.

update: This, like much of Brooks's work, shows what horrors arise when one writes about numbers using English. It is possible for totally false arguments to sound OK if they include numbers and discuss them in English. This, and not a problem with statistics, justifies the statement that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics"

I think the problem is with English (and all other naturally evolved languages). It is very easy to base an argument in English (or Italian) on the assumption that all correlations are zero, one or minus 1. Brooks made a career discussing red states and blue states. He managed to argue, in effect, that rich people vote Democratic and not so rich people vote Republican, by noting that more people in richer states vote Democratic. Thus the typical blue state voter is a Democrat and richer than the typical Red state voter. A simple association -- probability of voting Republican increases monotonically in income was reversed by substituting "all" for "most" or "more".

Here again he confutes most and all. Most conservatives call themselves Republican. Therefor no independents are conservative. Most liberals call themselves Democratic. Therefore no independents are liberal. More people call themselves independent the Democratic. Therefore most people reject liberal solutions which most people in polls say they support (e.g. raising taxes on the rich and cutting them on the poor).

When I translate Brooks's arguments into quantitative claims about probabilities, correlations and expected values, it is blindingly obvious that they are total nonsense. Yet it is clear that they are not perceived to be total nonsense.

I think the problem is the mixture. Brooks switches from numbers to English and back in his writings. Sensible things can be written without any reference to numbers (I checked the collected essays letters and journalism of George Orwell).
The quantitative analysis of data can be useful.

Only suckers allow people to go back and forth.
Shorter Paul Krugman

I told you so.

p.s. His attitude is irritating, but the real aggravating thing is that, on each of the many many times he makes this claim, it is true.
Some semi good news from the latest Washington tea party

Christina Bellantoni reports.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested 10 people this afternoon after the Capitol Hill Tea Party crowd stormed Congressional office buildings.


They were charged with unlawful entry (entering a Congressional office and refusing to leave when told to do so) and/or disorderly conduct (yelling in the hallway outside an office) at Room 235 in the Cannon House Office Building.


Without those official details, protesters in the crowd watching the arrests were furious. They shouted "Let them go!" and one man yelled at the police that "Martin Luther King" was being dishonored and shouted "Letter from Birmingham Jail!"

I'm very glad that right wing loonies honor King.

I'm actually glad that they are willing to spend their time, get involved, and demonstrate.