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Posts Tagged ‘Policy

Health Insurance Anti-trust Exemption

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Matt Taibbi has one of the most lucid posts on the recent health-care scandal I’ve seen recently.

You may remember the California Anthem Blue uproar that occurred a week or so ago, wherein they arbitrarily and unilaterally jacked up their prices almost 40%. Taibbi asks the logical question – “Why can’t California customers just switch to another, cheaper provider?” – and then answers it: “Because they have no choice.”

You see, as it turns out, health insurance providers are exempt from anti-trust legislation, which means they can hold veritable monopolies over huge areas and no one can do a thing about it. This was certainly news to me.

Dating back to 1947, what was supposed to be a “temporary” exemption quickly became a permanent loophole in the Sherman Anti-Trust legislation.

As Taibbi says:

This is why insurers (especially insurers with large market shares in small states) are easily able to gouge customers and deny coverage. There’s really no legal mechanism for preventing the firms from getting together and arranging price-fixing and other outrages. In a normal market customers would be able to get better coverage and cheaper rates from a competitor, but insurance is really more like a series of competition-free fiefdoms where the customers can’t go elsewhere for a better deal.

The exemption is known as the McCarran-Ferguson amendment, and so long as it’s still on the books health-care providers will continue to have a monopoly over large swaths of land. This is yet another reason why the “individual mandate” in Obama’s health-care plan is so goddamn offensive. “Reform” is impossible without repealing McCarran-Ferguson. How many of you think that’s likely?

The (Literal) Rape of American Children

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The New York Review of Books gives a harrowing continuation of its series on widespread sexual abuse in our “juvenile detention centers”:

Adults who want to have sex with children sometimes look for jobs that will make it easy. They want authority over kids, but no very onerous supervision; they also want positions that will make them seem more trustworthy than their potential accusers. Such considerations have infamously led quite a few pedophiles to sully the priesthood over the years, but the priesthood isn’t for everyone. For some people, moral authority comes less naturally than blunter, more violent kinds.

Ray Brookins worked for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state’s juvenile detention agency. In October 2003, he was hired as head of security at the West Texas State School in Pyote. Like most TYC facilities, it’s a remote place. The land is flat to the horizon, scattered with slowly bobbing oil derricks, and always windy. It’s a long way from the families of most kids confined there, who tend to be urban and poor; a long way from any social services, or even the police. It must have seemed perfect to Brookins—and also to John Paul Hernandez, who was hired as the school’s principal around the same time. Almost immediately, Brookins started pulling students out of their dorms at night, long after curfew, and bringing them to the administration building. When asked why, he said it was for “cleaning.”

What can one say here? We talk of Bagram in Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay as “legal black holes”, and we feel content, safe in the knowledge that “real American prisoners” have rights. But who has actually seen the inside of a prison?

Surprisingly many, if the statistic bear witness. The Times reported a couple years ago that upwards of 1 in 100 adults was incarcerated – an astounding figure which no other country, not even China, can boast. In absolute numbers, the United States carries more prisoners than any other country, a fact which fails to awe until one considers that China and India each have triple our population. Much of this has to do with draconian drug laws, wherein a man or woman can be put in jail for years for the horrific crime of carrying around some dried-up plant or a bit of white powder – but much of it also has to do with this “lock ‘em and forget ‘em” mentality of dealing with crime, as though the primary focus of our “justice system” ought to be punishment, rather than rehabilitation.

More worrying is how this attitude has shifted toward juvenile prisoners. I don’t want to make too many apologies for our incarcerated juveniles, for the truth is that many of them have committed horrible acts, but to treat them simply as miniature adults represents, I think, a grave injustice.

Particularly when they’re raped by their so-called caretakers, as the above article meticulously and painfully details.

Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Re-Branding the Iraq War – A PR Offensive

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet turns us on to an upcoming change in Obama’s war policy:

In a one-page memo dated Feb. 17, 2010 and signed by Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense officially requested that U.S. Central Command “change the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.”

“The requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September, 2010, coinciding with the change in mission for U.S. forces in Iraq,” Gates wrote to CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, noting that this would send “a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission.”


“The DoD’s latest attempt to sell what we’re doing in Iraq to the people and international community simply highlights the tenuous position they’ve committed our forces to,” Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told AlterNet. “Their latest misnomer, Operation New Dawn, has all the qualities of a George Orwell novel. Perhaps ‘Operation Imperial Sunset’ is more appropriate. No one is fooled by their attempts to spin what is happening over there, namely permanent bases, lopsided oil deals and serious breaches of international law. Let’s bring the troops home and let Iraq enjoy its sovereignty.”

“Operation Imperial Sunset”! That’s a good one.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

Indian Cynicism

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A young man describes the budget appropriation procedures in India:

“This road was unpaved for a long time, so we began to agitate for it. The central government appropriated $10 million. It had to go through the Chief Minister, after which $5 million remained. Then it passed to the city commissioner, and it became $3 million. The rest of city government took their cut, and $1 Million remained. The contractor did $500,000 worth of work, and pocketed the rest for himself. The whole $10 million, that was all people money; it all went to rich individuals.”

With the history of 2008 in mind, can we honestly say to ourselves that things are different in America?

Written by pavanvan

December 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Auditing the Fed

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The policy blogs are abuzz with the recent news that the Federal Reserve System might finally undergo an audit. The bill, sponsored by Ron Paul and endorsed by nearly everyone else, passed with a lopsided 43-26 victory in the House and would be the first comprehensive inquiry into what the Fed does with the trillions of dollars it commands. Glenn Greenwald has the best dissection of what went down.

Some highlights:

Our leading media outlets are capable of understanding political debates only by stuffing them into melodramatic, trite and often distracting “right v. left” storylines.  While some debates fit comfortably into that framework, many do not.  Anger over the Wall Street bailouts, the control by the banking industry of Congress, and the impenetrable secrecy with which the Fed conducts itself resonates across the political spectrum, as the truly bipartisan and trans-ideological vote yesterday reflects.  Populist anger over elite-favoring economic policies has long been brewing on both the Right and Left (and in between), but neither political party can capitalize on it because they’re both dependent upon and subservient to the same elite interests which benefit from those policies.

Beyond the specifics, a genuine audit of the Fed would be a major blow to the way Washington typically works.  The Fed is one of those permanent power centers in this country that exert great power with very little accountability and almost no transparency (like much of the intelligence and defense community).  The power they exert has exploded within the last year as a result of the financial crisis, yet they continue to operate in a completely opaque manner and with virtually no limits.  Its officials have been trained to view their unfettered power as an innate entitlement, and they express contempt for any efforts to limit or even monitor what they do.

Written by pavanvan

November 20, 2009 at 4:04 pm

The China Problem

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charttradedeficitwithchina

Paul Krugman’s recent bellicosity in The New York Times has seen much discussion, though more for its economic implications than its political. The tone with which he writes reflects a growing indignation among our policy circles toward China’s monetary dealings. Krugman asserts, essentially, that China cheats, and most of our policy makers (most notably, Timothy Geither) seem to agree. Krugman’s offering is worth discussing in detail because it presents, in a form to be consumed by the public, a significant debate occurring on an international level.

Like most of the economic establishment, Krugman believes that a so-called “weak” dollar should actually benefit the US economy. A “weak” currency, he says, inherently supports exports (since the dollar would be valued favorably against foreign currencies), and would encourage employment in those industries. He rightly disparages those “conservative” demagogues who decry the falling dollar as an unmitigated evil which confers no incidental benefits.

Krugman argues, however, that China, by keeping its currency at a fixed value against the dollar, also benefits from the weakening, and in a manner much more pronounced. Their currency is set to be very cheap against the dollar, and by mandating that its value against the dollar doesn’t shift, they can ensure their currency remains the “weakest”, and their export industry thus the strongest. When the dollar tanked last summer China experienced an unprecedented boom in its exports. Our Treasury Secretary has openly called this practice “currency manipulation”, and the Chairman of our Federal Reserve can makes speeches about “international imbalances” with everyone getting the message.

Krugman even lays the blame for the global economic crisis at the feet of China’s monetary policy, saying:

Many economists, myself included, believe that China’s asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China’s insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.

In the end he paints a rather bleak picture, asserting that “Something must be done about China’s currency”, but leaving the specifics of it up to our capable policy handlers. Unfortunately, the options we have for dealing with this situation are severely restricted. As the world’s largest holder of US currency, China remains a problem which, if handled improperly, could cost $2.5 Trillion dollars.

It is telling that Krugman implicitly blames China for its trade imbalance, neglecting to acknowledge that disproportionate exports require a ready buyer. In particular, America gratefully shipped most of its manufacturing jobs across the Pacific during the years 1998-2008 while its corporate class enjoyed an accumulation of wealth unheard-of since the 1920s. By pursuing an import-centric monetary policy (the  “strong dollar” model), America did more than its part in inflating the severe trade imbalance we see today.

Finger-pointing aside, it is clear that returning to some semblance of balanced trade requires an active effort from both parties, something for which Krugman and our prevailing economic establishment only advocate a one-half response. They would like China to re-value its currency to a more “fair” proportion to the dollar while at the same time ensuring that all executive decisions and high-level positions remain in the US. The massive US trade deficit, which began under Bush II and largely financed our tax cuts and wars abroad, hardly factors into the equation.

The first step to solving a problem, after recognizing it, is to locate its sources. If we agree that the US-China trade imbalance is a problem, we cannot solve it by focusing on China’s culpability while ignoring our own.

Written by pavanvan

October 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm

CO2: Black, not Green

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The Center for Media and Democracy turns us on to a thoroughly scurrilous attempt on the part of Big Gas and Oil to downplay the negative effects of CO2 output.

“CO2 is Green”, a new Montana-based advocacy group, derives its dollars from the Coal and Oil Industry and has the sheer audacity to claim that “There is no scientific evidence that CO2 [carbon dioxide] is a pollutant. In fact higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth’s ecosystems.” without breaking into guilt-induced conniptions.  Here we have yet another example of “The Big Lie” technique. If you can make a such a statement as above on television with a straight face, many people will conclude that it must be true. No one could possibly be audacious enough to repeat such a patently absurd claim unless there was some truth to it of which the public is not aware. Thus, the idea that “CO2 is not a pollutant” will likely enter into mainstream discourse, despite the fact that almost every scientist declares the opposite.

Some of you may recall this is not the first time our oil companies have undertaken such an advertising campaign. Indeed, as Greenpeace revealed earlier this year, Exxon-Mobil secretly funded much of the Global Warming denial we saw earlier this decade. On podium after podium, cable news show after fabricated report, their hired “scientists” spread the claims that (a) Global warming doesn’t exist and (b) even assuming it does, Global Warming isn’t man-made. Now, of course, we see both of those statements for the patent falsehood  they present, but at the time they proved quite influential and likely set us back years in dealing with this problem.

Today, a new generation of pseudo-scientists, such as our friend H. Leighton Steward, a former executive of Enron, wish to spread the message that CO2 is a “net benefit” for the planet – and, presumably, that we are doing our earth a huge service by burning coal and oil.

Please watch their commercial. It gives an excellent overview of the false populism and junk science employed by the coal and oil industries to defend what remains, in the last analysis, a thoroughly indefensible business. And I would encourage everyone to do precisely what they suggest at the end by contacting your Senator, except instead of agitating for even more pollution, ask them to clear our airwaves of deleterious propaganda.

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