Friday, May 22, 2009

Girding for the health care fight to come

In the House, Pelosi is setting up for the fight to pass health care. Where as recently as January the major health care supporters were not meeting with each other or with outsiders, this has changed. Now they are holding roundtables and hearings. Speaker Pelosi has gotten behind the effort to organize and pass health care this year, and it shows. According to Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic:
The three committees with jurisdiction--Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, Ways and Means--are working together at both the staff and membership levels. They say they will work together on passing one, unified bill--and doing so by July 31, assuming the Senate can pass its bill by then as well. (If not, I'm told, the House will slow things down, figuring it makes no sense to create a target for critics before the Senate has passed its version.)
But it's not without opposition, even this early.
Last week, the Blue Dogs protested that they weren't having enough influence over the process. Bigger fights will erupt, perhaps in the very near future, particularly given the huge issues still to be decided--how to pay for reform, how to build a public plan, how to assist people struggling to afford coverage, and so on.

But the House has already taken this common effort farther than it did in 1994. Credit the favorable political environment and a more chastened Democratic caucus. Credit, too, the committee chairmen and their staffs, who are working overtime to produce legislation this summer. (That's particularly true in Henry Waxman's office, where they're also cranking out a climate change bill.) But don't forget to credit the leadership, starting with Pelosi.
Cohn's article may look like a Paean to Nancy Pelosi, but if health care gets passed this year then it is going to be as much the responsibility Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as it is of Barack Obama. Obama is responsible for the public opinion; Reid and Pelosi are responsible for 99 and 434 members of their respective Houses. It's going to take all three.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheney's AEI speech today: "it's Torquemada or 1984 but only after getting rescripted by Mel Brooks. "

Josh Marshall comments on Dick Cheney's upcoming well-announced speech at the American Enterprise Institute today.
"This is someone who not only organized and seemingly directed a policy of state-sponsored torture. He did it in large part to get people to admit to crankish conspiracy theories he got taken in by by a crew of think-tank jockeys in DC whose theories most even half way sensible people treated as punch lines of jokes. So it's Torquemada or 1984 but only after getting rescripted by Mel Brooks.

This is an extremely gullible man who has just come off being the driving ideological force in an administration that most people can already see produced more fiascos and titanic, self-inflicted goofs than possibly any in our entire history. By any standard the guy is a monumental failure -- and not one whose mistakes stem in some Lyndon Johnson fashion from tragic overreach, but just a fool who damaged his country through his own gullibility, paranoia and bad judgment. Whatever else you can say about the Cheney story it ain't Shakespearean."
If you disagree with this analysis, then you haven't read Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman>

The great Republican defender of torture as American government policy is, in fact, scared to death that he will be blamed for using torture to get fake confessions to support is ridiculous belief that Sadam Hussein and al Qaeda were working together, when in fact they were deadly enemies. But in particular is is now quite clear that Ahmed Chalabi, probably working as an agent of Iranian Intelligence, ran an operation to get Cheney and other top Republicans to commit to attacking Iran's deadly enemy, Iraq. It worked.

Sinceso much of the media was extremely complicit in supporting Cheney's idiocy, it is no surprise that the media is now hyping the sick, cranky old man's idiotic statements with great publicity.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The disaster that is the current Republican party

It is common knowledge that as of the Republican Presidential Primary, the movement conservatives could not get the evangelical conservatives to get on board with either Mitt Romney or with John McCain. Both were conservatives, but neither was acceptable to the social conservatives. The excitement when Sarah Palin was invited to join the McCain ticket was purely among the social conservatives. The fact that she was and remains a wigged out fundamentalist who wants to set America up with a literal reading of the Bible as the fundamental law, overriding the Constitution when necessary, certainly turned off the rest of the conservatives. And that's all INSIDE the Republican party. The Independents are tending very much towards the Democrats.

So the Republican Congressional leaders are trying to mollify the radical conservative base just to keep their jobs. The result is that the Republican continue to lose the weaker seats. It's going to keep going. The head of the RNCC, John Cornyn, has said that the Senate Republicans will not keep the current 40 seats after the 2010 election.

Texas Senator Hutchinson is expected to resign her seat this fall to run for Texas Governor. Here seat will be competitive for the first time in nearly two decades. Arlene Specter has been forced out of the Republican Party by a strong movement conservative, Toomey, who was going to run against him in the Republican Primary in 2010, and although Specter could win the general election, he would have lost the Republican primary.

Now we get Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman who had been considering running for President in 2012 who has resigned as Governor to take the job as Ambassador to China for Democratic President Obama. He is a highly competent and experienced conservative who could have attracted Independents and even some conservative Democrats if he had run for President as a Republican. For him to abandon that shot at the Presidency means he has given up on the radical conservative Republican Party.

There's more, of course. But that should be enough to demonstrate that the National Republican Party is shrinking and still headed downward. It is not going to recover before the next election, and probably not the 2012 election. After that, if the Republican base will allow new more moderate leadership to take over, then the Republicans might begin to recover. But that change in the attitudes of the base is unlikely anytime soon.

America just may begin to recover from the crazies who have been running so much of the federal government since Reagan was elected. Maybe. But it's going to be a slow project even now.

Waldman asks the right questions about Cheney's torture efforts

David Waldman properly describes the torture effort directed by Dick Cheney. This is based on the recent revelations from McClatchy News and from Lawrence Wilkerson.

We now know that the so-called "ticking time-bomb" scenario did not occur. What did occur is that Dick Cheney used his position as Vice President to direct the invasion of Iraq, a nation which was no real threat to the U.S. and which had no capability to threaten the U.S. Cheney's real reasons for directing the invasion of Iraq are not known, unless perhaps it was a symptom of his paranoia.

Cheney could do this because he was the Vice President in a White House in which the person occupying the office of President permitted him to run anything he wanted in the federal government without oversight. He collected many of his acolytes onto the White House staff and ran the White House Iraq Group, pushing the propaganda effort that worked to justify the invasion of Iraq.

It is well known that Bush had no knowledge of national security matters and deferred to Cheney's widely acknowledged greater expertise. Bush himself concealed his lack of knowledge of government operations and his total lack of interest in them behind a wall of supposedly setting goals and then delegating their achievement to subordinates. Apparently no one ever got it through to him as he was handed his Harvard MBA (based on who is father was) that the manager who delegates in that manner has to set goals and hold the subordinates to their achievement with close oversight. Bush certainly never did that. He let Cheney run wild. For that failure, Bush is a failed President.

But for his successful efforts to invade an non-threatening country and then to try to direct the torture of prisoners to obtain confessions to justify that illegal invasion, Dick Cheney is a war criminal.

Addendum 10:45am
How do we know that the torture was used to justify the war crime after the fact? Dick Cheney knows or should know the truth about torture, which Bob Cesca states very clearly:
"According to multiple accounts and experts, the efficacy of torture is limited to ascertaining what the torturer wants to hear -- rather than information that's actually true. "
Given that fact, the only possible reason for torturing prisoners is to obtain false confessions to justify the idiocy of invading Iraq when the real enemy was al Qaeda, an enemy of Saddam Hussein.

Addendum II 12:45 pm
Batocchio has written an extremely good analysis of the torture situation and provides links to many good resources.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Re: Pelosi torture briefing - so what?

There's been a lot of talk, primarily by right-wingers who want to defend their support of the use of torture on captives, that then minority leader Nancy Pelosi was somehow briefed that the CIA was using maybe planned to use enhanced questioning techniques to get Intelligence about terrorists and proposed terrorism acts.

Vicki Divoll [*], in an OpEd published in the New York Times, points out that there is no legally constituted body called "The Gang of Four" to begin with. Even assuming that the CIA did actually honestly brief Rep. Pelosi about the proposed use of waterboarding (it's not at all certain that they did) she was restricted from telling any of her colleagues about it. What was she supposed to do with the information if it was actually given to her?

The Constitution gives "...aggregate, not individual, powers to the legislative branch." The minority leader is relatively powerless in the first place. With the restrictions placed on communicating any information actually provided to any other member of Congress, there was nothing she could have done.

I'd also point out that there is no way of showing that the CIA actually told her anything. The so-called memo does not have any credibility since the CIA does not present the person who wrote it and placed it in the files. That could easily have been done last week, and with the CIA very invested in deflecting blame from themselves and also with the CIA populated by people whose normal job description includes large measures lying to the various publics to manipulate political responses, they are innately under suspicion. The fact that Sen. Mel Martinez also says he was not briefed on the use of actual torture techniques adds credibility to Rep. Nancy Pelosi's denial that she was briefed.

But the while the fact that Nancy Pelosi was briefed in a timely manner on the use of torture techniques by the CIA is very much in doubt, that doesn't matter. With the restrictions on her communication to other in Congress even if she was briefed, there was nothing she had any power to do with the information. The whole issue is right-wing deflection of blame from anyone who actually is responsible to someone else who could not have been responsible.

The real question is whether there was a crime committed (almost certain) and if so, who might be prosecuted for such a crime (less certain.)

A second and perhaps even more important question, as become whether Dick Cheney and his evil twin, David Addington, were actually attempting to justify the then proposed invasion of Iraq by torturing false confessions that purported to prove a link between Sadaam Hussein and al Qaeda. It is now well-known that torture does not elicit useful Intelligence. It instead forces the victim of torture to say whatever the torturer wants to hear just to make the torture stop. So while torture is effectively useless as an Intelligence-gathering tool, it is excellent for creating false confessions that can be used to justify actions the torturer wants the public to support.

It now appears that Dick Cheney's defense of torture as a way of gathering Intelligence is actually a cover-up of his office's pressure to torture confessions that justified Cheney's belief that Sadaam was allied with al Qaeda and had nuclear weapons. That makes the torture of prisoners at his clear direction the equivalent of the discredited "Italian Letter" that purported to show that Iraq was getting Yellow cake unranium to build nukes. In fact, the next question that should be revived was whether Ahmed Chalibi was the point-man who the Iranians used to run a highly successful Intelligence scam on Dick Cheney and his right-wing allies like the columnists/propagandists Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer.

Compared to all these real questions, the idea that because Nancy Pelosi might have been briefed on the CIA's use of torture techniques is nothing more than an irrelevant distraction. It is pure right-wing propaganda designed and pushed to prevent the real criminals from being identified and punished.

[*] Vicki Divoli is former CIA CTC deputy general counsel. She knows what she is talking about.

Laura Rozen has a very good analysis of all the events that have led to the current attacks on Nancy Pelosi and to her spirited pushback. The entire briefing process and its misuse and the lies apparently told by the CIA go back to the office of the Vice President and Dick Cheney.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Here's a description of insanity

Ian Welsh writes about the current insanity. His article was first published in January 2008, and it is just as true today.

A major difference between the Democrats and the Republicans

Individual politicians desire power, and often take short-cuts to get it. That is a characteristic of politicians, not one that can be attributed to any single political party. What CAN be differentiated between parties is how the party deals with their politician members who are caught taking bribes or selling the services of their offices for personal gain.

Steve Benen points out that the Democrats have found that the Democratic governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was attempting to sell his appointment to the recently opened Illinois Senate seat, and the Democrats threw him under the bus.

The Republicans have taken a completely different tack with both Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (as guilty of taking bribes as O.J. was guilty of murder) and Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, currently under investigation for taking vast sums of money under the table to support his lifestyle. The Republican approach is to defend these crooks and keep them in government as long as possible.

I choose the Democratic approach, thank you, though I recognize with regret that particularly at the state level the Democrats unfortunately also protect some of their own crooks.

Local governments are a completely different story, of course.

Wilkerson shoots down Cheney's lies

Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson was listening as Dick Cheney shot off his mouth lying about how successful the Cheney-Bush administration was in protecting American lives during seven-and-on-half years after they stupidly allowed the 9-11 terrorists to kill over 3000 Americans. So Col. Wilkerson has written his response. Here it is, along with a short video of Cheney's on-TV statement which prompted it.

Addendum 5/15/2009 8:48pm
Joe Conason writes about how torture was used to justify the war in Iraq. It was not used to warn of upcoming terrorist activities. I was used to invent evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Republican Party of "No!"

The Republicans try to make noises like they are working for the American public and to advance their ideology, but they are now just the party of "No!" They demand that government, facing the greatest economic crisis in 70 years, do absolutely nothing.

Want proof? Here is how Brian Beutler describes the Republican Senate behavior after Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) let slip the Republican strategy:
In a 99-seat Senate, 40 votes isn't nearly enough to "get anything done." Not at all. It is rather the bare minimum necessary to make sure nothing gets done. And it explains why so many Republican senators will routinely vote against cloture on major Democratic agenda items. It's called a filibuster--and it isn't typically thought of as way to "get stuff done."

You'll seldom hear Republicans admit that this is their legislative strategy--even though it manifestly is their legislative strategy--but sometimes obvious and uncomfortable truths are hard to deny, and slip out accidentally. And it's an important truth.

This strategy is crucial to understanding the GOP's gambit in the Minnesota Senate race. When that issue is decided, the Senate will have 100 members, and if Franken is declared the winner (as is widely expected) the Republicans' 40 votes will no longer be enough on their own to mount a filibuster.
As destructive as the conservative Republicans have been in the last thirty years, they have been mostly removed from real power, but they still hang on to enough nationally to be very destructive. They are clearly trying to do as much destruction to America as they can before they are completely forced out.

Devastating criticism of Senate Minority Leader McConnell,

Who do you think said this about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from the state of Kentucky?
“Good God, he wants to run everybody,” ...

“Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader, we have gone from 55 and probably to 40 (Senate seats) in two election cycles, and if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle.

So if leadership means anything, it means you don’t lose … approximately 19 seats in three election cycles with good leadership.”
This came from Senate McConnell's fellow Kentucky Senator and fellow Republican Jim Bunning.

You know the Republican Party is in a crisis when Republicans are sniping at their fellow Republicans to the media this way. That's especially true when the comment is as accurate as this one was.

One other leader of the current Republican Party should also take responsibility. That is Rush Limbaugh, the one clear and unequivocal leader the Republicans generally now acknowledge and to whom all the Republican Congressional leaders defer.

The Leninist-style right-wing plot to destroy Social Security

Want to understand the reasons for the continual drumbeat of attacks pushing the fake crisis in Social Security? Digby shows how the right-wingers have been undermining the political support for the program. It is a well-organized and well-funded plan by conservatives and libertarians.

Obama is right to be reluctant to investigate Bush admin officials and the torture issue

I am a strong proponent of the Rule of Law as a basic element of the American nation, since without the Rule of Law the Constitution itself, the basis of all American law, is nothing by a fanciful piece of fiction. So I strongly support investigation of the high government officials and prosecution when necessary. No one is above the law. Ever. That is an absolute necessity in America if America is to continue to exist as a democratic form of nation.

That said, Harry Truman considered the need for national health care to be critical back in 1948. It was seriously discussed when Social Security was passed in the 30's. It's been two generations now, and the need has only gotten much worse in the intervening years of conservative obstruction and delay. I also see what appears to me to be a concerted effort by Obama and his administration to clear the decks of anything and everything that would interfere with passing universal national health care in some form this year.

Obama is gathering allies and neutralizing opponents at every step of his administration, and I'd guess that even includes the sacrifice of some things he otherwise considers very, very important. To me that appears a likely explanation for many of the decisions, actions and statements that Obama has been making which have infuriated Progressives. One of those items is, I think, Obama's reluctance to be seen supporting investigation and the potential prosecution of Bush/Cheney officials for their crimes in office. I think that every action, decision and statement out of the Obama administration has to be considered in the light of the question of how it will effect Obama's effort to pass universal health care by October of this year.

My guess is that the Obama effort to avoid a divisive battle over investigating and possible prosecution of Bush/Cheney administration officials is one of the otherwise extremely important things that is being sacrificed to get the health care bill passed. Any such prosecutions will unavoidably be highly divisive and will completely consume the media, sucking wind out of the health care issue. Prosecutions of ex-government officials is "sexy" and easy reporting to the media, just as dead blond girls or the J.R. murder trial are. Health care legislation is not similarly easy to cover. Obama has a unique opportunity to pass health care at long last, and the investigation/prosecution issue threatens that greatly.

That's the kind of balancing act that Presidents must perform. There are two absolutely critical issues that have to be dealt with, and to deal with either means sacrificing the other. If I'm right, then Obama's choice of putting all his effort into the health care fight is, I'd say, the correct decision. Not one I like and not a pretty choice, but certainly the one that I think needs to be made for the long term good of America.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Here's probably why McKiernan has been relieved in Afghanistan

The change in commanders in Afghanistan is probably very good. It should sharply increase our chances of succeeding in what America wants to have happen there. Success is possible, but it may not be easily recognized as "winning."

As one who well remembers the Vietnam war, having been commissioned into the Army then and having studied why we got into it in the first place, the real problem that led to the build-up to half a million troops was Gen Westmoreland. He was a conventional war General fighting an unconventional war, and his solution was - more troops - more troops. The book and movie "We were soldiers..." and the battle it depicted showed the genesis of his obsession. America won that one battle of attrition. But the strategy it led to caused us to lose the war.

Westie mousetrapped LBJ by demanding a massive increase in troop strength that allowed him to fight a war of attrition against the Victor Charlie. Westie's timing was perfect. It was when LBJ wanted to pass Medicare and the Civil Rights Bill. Had he not given Westie his troops, LBJ knew that the conservatives would have shut down the Congress and LBJ would have passed zilch. So Lyndon gave Westie his troops to pass his bills. Lyndon knew we couldn't win in Vietnam when he did it.

Shift forward to the Afghanistan conflict. Again, a conventional general fighting an asymmetric war, and his solution has been what? More troops. Conventional war generals don't like the strange apparent lack of discipline of Special Forces. They never have, as the Rangers will tell us from WW II.

Bringing in the Special Forces Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is critical to winning in Afghanistan. There is no alternative to winning there, as failure in Afghanistan puts the Pakistani nukes at risk. Leaving a conventional forces general in command is too great a risk to accept

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The uselessness of what passes for broadcast news

Jon Taplin wrote Signal To Noise Ratio. It starts:
Even though most of my time is spent writing a book, I've been wondering why I'm blogging less, reading blogs less, watching less cable news and listening to less talk radio and more music. I've come to the conclusion that the whole mediasphere signal-to-noise ratio has been out of whack since the election in November. 2008 was such an historic year for news with a groundbreaking election contest vying for attention with a once in a generation economic collapse. For the managers of media outlets to try to sustain that intensity and interest level past mid November was a fools errand. But that doesn't mean they didn't try.


Maybe we don't need four hundred channels of TV. Maybe we don't need 346 million blogs. Maybe the careful (and expensive) editing of the New York Times and The New Yorker actually count for something.
I get an interesting insight from Taplin's article.

I am online looking for information, insight and some degree of understanding of the communities I live in, but what I am getting is useless "news." What passes for broadcast "news" today is in fact faux news designed to fill an ever-expanding and inadequately indexed (useless?) news hole. That total news hole is already much larger than anything that will ever be useful to me. The concept of "signal-to-noise" ratio on the broadcast media is the perfect catalyst for understanding. My surprise is that there appears to be such a massive distinction between what passes for "news" and actual useful and informative "information."

My utter disgust at the crap provided by useless "reality" shows that do nothing but offer a cheap product for the business organizations that broadcast uninformative and useless data is high. They are time-wasters intended to deliver ignorant passive and frightened consumers who know nothing except how to buy - buy -buy to advertisers. It saddens me that so many people actually waste their valuable time searching for some form of entertainment in the crap that is broadcast on TV. That's not surprising, though, in a society in which most people are trained to function as ignorant and isolated economic consumers rather than as intelligent actors working in a community of similar people.

The result of the insight is that spending a lot of time attempting to "consume" what is in fact faux news and entertainment is a fool's errand. It is a trap designed for passive and ignorant consumers who provide markets for big businesses. People need community with a lot of organized, useful information, with education and perhaps even insight than they need to simply be consumers of goods and services someone else produces. Broadcast news had the opportunity to provide people with a lot of what they needed, and it abdicated that opportunity because entertainment and faux news presented greater financial profit and political power.

Maybe we really don't need all that broadcasting power. All we really need is some good editors and investigative reporters and scientists working diligently at explaining what is really happening. If so, we damned sure aren't getting it. The existing conceptual "free and unregulated market" as distorted by power-hungry individuals and religious leaders* certainly isn't providing what we need.

* An explanation of my views of how the concepts of an economic free market distorts reality by ignoring the effects of power because the economic effects can be roughly measured mathematically to some extent reliably while power effects cannot will be available upon request if time permits.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Right-wing extremism - is American politics full of it?

What is political extremism? Ed Kilgore describes it as including "...the approval of violence as a means to achieve political goals." This definition appears quite accurate to me, and it would apply to left-wing, right-wing or any other "wing" extremists. That includes religious extremists.

Ed goes on to point out that "Underlying all extremist political ideologies is one central idea – the vision of “politics as warfare”." Again, this seems quite accurate to me. But it does not in itself make the individuals using that metaphor into extremists. They may well be demagogues, but they are not necessarily extremist demagogues. He goes on to point out, however, that "...political extremists mean it in an entirely concrete and operational way. It is a view that is codified in the belief that political opponents are literally “enemies” who must be crushed...."

He then goes on to describe the growth of right-wing extremism in American political life. His major political insight, though, is to provide a definition of extremism that focuses on what right-wing extremism really is and what it is not. Rep. Michelle Bachman, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck should be pinned down regarding their advocacy of violence to achieve their clear demagogic political goals.

After describing the recent history of the political rhetoric espousing violence, Ed includes this very illuminating statement:
What distinguishes “political extremism” from other concepts like “the radical right” or “hard-right conservatism” is the following:
1. The two ideological pillars on which genuine political extremism rests are the notions of “politics as warfare” and of political opponents as “enemies”. Groups which reject these notions are not political extremists,

2. Political extremism becomes dangerous and violent whenever and wherever these two notions are taken literally.

These points make it very clear what the problem in American politics is today. It is the idea that one's political opponents are "enemies", not just respected individuals with whom we disagree, combined with the rhetorical espousal of violence as the "solution" to dealing with those "enemies." There are individuals out there who do not understand rhetoric and metaphors. Instead that take what is being said as instructions regarding how to act. Thus we get individuals like Chattanooga's Jim Adkisson who was encouraged by right-wing extremist rhetoric to solve his own personal problems by killing members of the Chattanooga Unitarian Universalist Church.

One more point - no one significant on the political left is seriously advocating violence as so many right-wing demagogues, some in political or religious leadership positions, currently are. At this time, all the talk of violence is coming from the right wing of American politics, and it is having some unfortunate effects as it encourages the crazies to take action.

Ford's interesting strategic success

What has Ford been doing right recently? While most of the automotive news has been about the poor prospects for the American auto industry with the current severe recession, the focus has been on Chrysler with some news of General Motor's plans for restructuring. Ford has been quietly chugging along, selling fewer vehicles than in previous years, but not taking reductions in sales as bad as most automotive companies worldwide. While Chrysler is on life support and is being taken over by Italian Fiat and the Federal Government and General Motors does not yet seem to have decided what kind of automotive company it will be beyond just "Much Smaller", Ford has pushed past Toyota this year to regain its position as the second largest car company in America.

Roland Jones of MSNBC has a good story that explains what has given Ford its strength in this current severe bear market. It comes down to the fact that they went into this recession in a very good cash position (must not have been suckered into borrowing big bucks by fee-happy Wall Street bankers who just want to line their own pockets) and have an extremely competitive attractive and fuel-efficient product line.

Both advantages are the direct result of far-sighted top strategic managers who observed the trends and prepared Ford to ride the right ones. They built on their strong points and protected their weak ones. They built on existing models, developing models like the Ford fusion and Mercury which are at the top of the automotive pack for fuel efficiency, stylish and comfortable to passengers without spending too much, and at the same time built up a strong cash position back before the irresponsible over sized banks went south and brought down the world financial markets. Now, when the market is headed down for automakers worldwide, Ford is in the process of gaining market share from its less-prepared rivals such as GM, Chrysler and Toyota.

All is not rosy, however. Jones sees a somewhat difficult possible future since Ford is "counting on a significant recovery in sales at the end of this year" while analysts anticipate the actual numbers will be significantly lower than Ford's apparent expectations. That may well be the case, but considering Ford's successes at preparing for the current economic downturn better than almost any other car maker, what do you want to bet that Ford's strategic managers are prepared to ride out lower-than-publicly-anticipated sales better than their rivals?

This article at MSNBC is quite interesting. I am not an automotive analyst so I am summarizing what Jones wrote, But I wonder how many other worldwide automakers are doing better than the others as Ford seems to be? Is Fiat, for example, really doing better than most, or are they expanding world-wide and biting off more than they can chew? And who else is doing well?Anyone? It seems very probably that the world wide automotive industry very soon will look quite different from what it has and the broad outlines of that new industry are just now coming into focus. Right now it looks like Ford will be one of the leaders in that new industry.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Specter's calculations for reelection working - maybe

Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party because the conservatives who dominate the Republican Party in PA would never nominate him to run for Senator again. He has made no bones about that. It appears that his calculation was quite accurate according to a new Quinnipiac poll. As a Democrat he would as of right now handily defeat the Republican Pat Toomey who he could not defeat in the Republican Primary.

But all is not rosy for Specter's political future. Moderate former GOP Gov. Tom Ridge might well defeat him, as he trails Specter by only 3 percentage points. The numbers are Specter 46% to Ridge 43%.

What that tells me is that the conservative Republican brand in Pennsylvania does not go over very well, but the Republican Party itself is not nearly so tarnished.

The Conservatives have for years wanted to get a more ideologically pure conservative party. I can remember when Bill Buckley used to rail that the problems for conservatives was that the political parties were not ideologically pure. Well, it looks like movement conservatism achieved Buckley's desire, and the current 25% identification of the voting public with conservative Republicans shows that the old saying "Be careful what you wish for." has really come back to haunt the Republican Party. The result has been a recognition that conservatism is a disaster in government.

Will Specter get reelected in 2010? That's a looong way off. But it will say a lot about the future of conservatism in America.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Specter switched parties to win reelection, not to support Democrats

When Arlene Specter switched from Republican to Democrat last week, it looked like the Democrats might get their 60 vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Apparently not. It looks like Specter switched parties merely to win reelection in 2010, not to be a Democrat.

Here's Steve Benen with the story. The Pennsylvania Democrats need to let a real Democrat run against Specter in the Democratic Primary. If Specter switched just to use Democratic voters to support his run for reelection but won't support Democratic issues, then there is no reason why Democrats should support him. There are better candidates available.

Retired Admiral Joe Sestak, currently the Representative in Pennsylvania district 7, has been sounding a lot like a potential candidate. We need to support his effort.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Why the new H1N1 flu is important

This new flu is beginning to look like it is not the new "killer flu" like the 1918 flu was, but it has a real problem anyway. It is genetically novel, and humans have no immunity to it based on previous experience. Here is an explanation of the danger from an expert:
What's important about this virus is its genetic novelty. As far as we know, the human population doesn't have any natural immunity to it. But what people perceive about the virus is its lack of novelty. Clinically it seems a lot like what they are used to with seasonal influenza. It's not (so far) the monster of 1918 and doesn't have the virulence of H5N1. What they are forgetting is what the genetic novelty might mean.

Because there is no natural immunity to this virus, even though clinically it appears to be like garden variety flu to the individual, with respect to the population it has the potential to spread faster and many more people sick than seasonal flu. And remember, seasonal flu is not a walk in the park. It kills an estimated 30,000 people a year.

A bad flu season can fill hospital emergency rooms and in patient beds to the bursting point. We currently have fewer staffed hospital beds per capita than we did in the last pandemic, 1968 (the "Hong Kong flu"). There is no reserve capacity. We can't just add physical beds. Beds don't take care of patients. Nurses and doctors do.

Now take a bad flu season and double it. To each individual it's the same disease but now everybody is getting it at once, in every community and all over the world. In terms of virulence, it's a mild pandemic. It's not a lethal virus like 1918. But in terms of social disruption it could be very bad. If twice as many people get sick, the number of deaths could be 80,000 in the US instead of 40,000. Gurneys would line the hallways of hospitals and clinics. And absenteeism amongst health care workers would compound the problem. Infrastructure would probably survive intact. No need to have your own water supply or electricity generator. But it would be a very rough ride.

All of this could plausibly happen from this virus without it causing anything more than the usual case of influenza. We are pouring tens of billions into infrastructure. I'm a big fan of high speed rail. But the public health and social services infrastructure -- good, job producing infrastructure -- needs attention and needs it right away because of this virus.
We are not in any position to back off of preparations for this flu. We don't want our current health care system to be overwhelmed. How many other medical problems would go untreated if we back off of protective actions and this becomes a mild pandemic?

A great many private health insurance plans don't protect your finances

A major reason for getting health insurance is so that you can have access to health care regardless of your employment status. That's important because is the case of severe illness, you may not be able to work so insurance is essential. The second reason is to protect your personal wealth from the unexpected and, in the case of many severe illnesses, extremely high costs of health care. So when you get laid off, one of the first things you need to do is get individual health care in the individual insurance market.

Consumer reports has recently investigate the health insurance offered in the private health insurance market for people who do not have employer-connected insurance. What they have found is that the private health insurance market offers policies which are either unaffordably expensive or which are so riddled with co-pays and limitations that they leave the insured on the hook for a great deal of the cost of health care which would have been covered by good employer or government insurance policies.

Here is the beginning of the report from Consumer Reports:

Hazardous health plans
Coverage gaps can leave you in big trouble

Many people who believe they have adequate health insurance actually have coverage so riddled with loopholes, limits, exclusions, and gotchas that it won’t come close to covering their expenses if they fall seriously ill, a Consumer Reports investigation has found.

At issue are so-called individual plans that consumers get on their own when, say, they’ve been laid off from a job but are too young for Medicare or too "affluent" for Medicaid. An estimated 14,000 Americans a day lose their job-based coverage, and many might be considering individual insurance for the first time in their lives.

But increasingly, individual insurance is a nightmare for consumers: more costly than the equivalent job-based coverage, and for those in less-than-perfect health, unaffordable at best and unavailable at worst. Moreover, the lack of effective consumer protections in most states allows insurers to sell plans with "affordable" premiums whose skimpy coverage can leave people who get very sick with the added burden of ruinous medical debt.
The rest is quite worth reading so click through.

You may remember that the private insurance market was John McCain's and the Republican party's solution to the rising costs of health care. As this CR study shows, that may get you into the door of a hospital in the case of a major emergency, but it won't cover the costs. If it does, you are broke from paying the premiums before you got sick and you'll very likely be bankrupt when you get out in either case.

The rational solution to this is mandated universal health care financed by the federal government. It needs to be federal because both people and illnesses easily move anywhere in the nation. The problem is national so the solution needs to be national. Also, as medicare and medicaid have proven, they can pay out benefits with an administrative cost less than 10%, while the very best private insurers have an administrative cost of 25% or more. Much of that cost is caused by the fact that the private insurer has to make sure that they do not insure unhealthy individuals and also do not pay for care for individuals who are not paying for their insurance to the insurance company who pays for he services.

Mandated universal health care will lower some of the costs for the federal government because a lot of the administrative expense is involved in just making sure that uninsured and ineligible individuals are covered for health care. That would also lower costs for private insurers, as they could always determine how the individual was covered before they accepted them. The federal government, by dint of its size, also can negotiate the lowest costs for medications and health services. In Germany the similar solution is federally financed and state administered.

This program at minimum would cover catastrophic medical costs, the costs of chronic health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and perhaps the wide-spread causes of illness like obesity. I'd like to see it pay for universal dental care, also, since untreated dental problems cause a lot of other health problems like heart trouble and such. Services above and beyond those items like chiropractic care as well as vitamin therapy and alternative medicines which are not well researched could then be covered by private health insurance or by fee for service.

If the government offered this alongside private insurance plans through employers and private insurance, then the difference in cost between the private insurance and the government would have the majority of people move to the government plan because they got equal health care at significantly lower costs and with a lot less hassle and surprise bills or denials of service.

Health care providers (operating as private contractors) would all understand the rules of the major health care financer and be able to focus on providing medical care instead of having to hire three or four medical insurance clerks to deal with differing insurance regulations and with fighting with insurance companies to get various services covered for their patients. Appeals for denials of services would be public record and available to the press, unlike similar "appeals" to private insurers, so the public could be made aware of unfair financing practices. Note the several private health insurers in California were sued for waiting until someone got expensively sick, then going back and determining ways to cancel their policies and merely refund their premiums instead of paying benefits. This unfair process (which is probably widespread) only comes out against a private insurer after expensive and lengthy law suits, and then only if the currently declining media covers it. A government appeals process can be made separate from the issue of making a profit, unlike for private insurers.

Most average workers simply want access to needed health care for themselves and their families. Middle class workers want medical care access and protection of their family wealth, such as their home and retirement funding. Only a universal health care mandate properly designed will provide that. It clearly is not here for a great many people right now, and what is happening to the auto workers demonstrates how uncertain even employer-provided health care is.

Addendum 10:39 CDT

Here is a link to a story of how the employer insurance is abused by employers. Fired Zales worker recovers. My thanks to the commenter "anonymous" who left this link as a comment to my April 10th post on Social Security and Medicare Notes.