Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Bottomlands

I had a dream last night, a dream of childhood, a dream of the home where I grew up. I have this dream from time to time when things are looking risky in my life, when my job is precarious or I am uncertain what direction to go. It is not a dream that is pleasant, though. It is the Bottomlands trying to drag me back.

There is a foreign land just on the other side, on the other side of the tracks, the other side of the freeway, a land where dreams go to die and hope never rose, a land of trailer parks and rusty cars and dirty children playing in puddles of mud with broken toys. It is a land where the norms of behavior and dress that apply in America are unknown, a foreign land where nothing works the same, where the clan is the standard of life, "who's your people?" the first question you're asked. People can be kind there, or harsh, people are people, but life is harsh in general, with the only comforts of a life spent eking out a miserable living in a series of dead-end menial jobs (both legal and illegal) being mind-numbing drugs and television (pretty much the same in the end). These are the Bottomlands, where those from outside venture only reluctantly, and leave as swiftly as they can.

But as uncomfortable as it is for outsiders to venture into the forbidding realms of the Bottomlands, so it is for the denizen of the Bottomlands who quests outward, who finds a way past the barriers both social and physical put around the Bottomlands into the foreign land outside, who puts on some of the outer vestiges of the foreign land he finds himself and pretends to be just another person living the American dream. For this person, life is always precarious. What if he says the wrong thing, behaves the wrong way, somehow lets it be known that he does not, in fact, belong in this strange land he finds himself in? So he makes sure only a few trusted people can ever get close enough to notice the cracks in the facade, and hopes that the tightrope he walks never breaks and that he never wobbles and falls. Because there are no nets when you come from the Bottomlands. There is only the fall, and the Bottomlands pulling you in once again.

When times get rough, or uncertain, or something is disturbing me, I have that dream, that dream of childhood. And then it crashes in once again, that ugly realization that I try not to remember: the Bottomlands are jealous that I escaped. All it takes is one, only one mistake... and the Bottomlands are waiting there for me.

-- Badtux the Pensive Penguin

Monday, June 29, 2009

Faggot-knockin' is the new nigger-knockin'

I grew up in a "cop shop". Most of my friends were cops' kids. A good many of my dad's friends were cops. These were mostly big burly Irishmen whose balls, like, clanged when they walked. They didn't need all this fancy-ass taser crap to deal with the general public, and they didn't need to carry submachine guns to deal with common criminals. Hell, they didn't even wear flak jackets in case a criminal shot them, disdaining them as too hot and heavy and not effective enough to be useful. There was no less crime back then -- crime rates today are pretty much the same as they were when I was a kid, the hump created by the Baby Boomers has settled back down -- they just had balls, and didn't need all that wuss crap to do their jobs. Cops just ain't like that nowdays.

One thing that hasn't changed since then, though, was the fact that these big bastards were bigoted as hell. They boasted of going "nigger-knockin'" in the black neighborhoods to "keep the niggers in their place". When the police commissioner ordered them to invade a black church where a service was being held for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and beat the parishioners, they not only did it without hesitation, they laughed about it afterwards... Hey Julius, did you see that pickinini's eyes when I whapped his momma across the face with my nightstick? Little nigger looked like a fuckin' owl, didn't he!

So when I hear that the Fort Worth PD raided a gay bar and beat the crap out of its patrons, I'm not surprised at all. Because gays are the new nigger, to be hated and detested and kept from marrying the person they love in order to preserve the "purity" of the institution of marriage. The wonder is not that the Fort Worth cops did this. The wonder is that they don't do it more often.

-- Badtux the Cop-observin' Penguin

Thought for the day

Medicare single-payer "socialist" healthcare for old people has been around for 40 years now. Funny, I haven't noticed that Medicare has made me any less free.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hot (pant! pant!)

It was 95F outside this afternoon, no weather for a penguin that's for sure. But out in it I was, because my Jeep has developed a shimmy at 45mph and I was trying to track it down (more details on MotoTux later). Man, this big bowl of ice cream that I just snarfed down sure hit the spot!

Now on to health care...

I've looked at the House bill fairly carefully now. It has a lot of good stuff in it. Here are the highlights:

  1. Ends the various end-arounds that health insurers used to avoid having to actually pay for the health care that we pay them for -- no more rescission, no more pre-existing condition exclusions, no more arbitrary denials of care w/o recourse to a robust ombudsman.
  2. Has a robust public option that uses Medicare funding as a carrot to get providers to participate in it. That solves most of my problem w/the notion of the public option being useless because no providers would accept it. This should also drive the private insurers to either lower their rates or provide better service, since they will no longer be able to compete based on being monopolies to which people have no real alternative.
  3. It solves the problem of not all poor people being eligible for Medicaid by expanding Medicaid to cover all w/less than 133% poverty level.
  4. It solves the problem of the working poor above that income level not being able to afford health insurance by a) taxing employers who don't provide health care insurance meeting minimal Federal standards, and then b) using the tax to fund subsidies for the working poor.
  5. Solves the problem of private insurance being horribly expensive compared to group insurance by creating a new group for all those not currently covered by group insurance, and then requiring anybody who wishes to write insurance for individuals to participate in this group instead, much as multiple private insurers can participate in an employer's group plan.
  6. Ends health care discrimination against women, older people, sick people, and people with pre-existing conditions. Everybody the same age gets the same rates, and insurance is must-issue -- an insurer cannot turn you down for any reason. 64 year olds can be charged only 2x what 18 year olds are charged, thereby spreading the cost of insurance more evenly amongst the age groups.
  7. Ends "lifetime benefit limits" that are used to kick people with expensive conditions out of the health insurance system.
  8. Mandates to end the "deadbeat problem" where I am paying not only for my health care, but also for the health care of the uninsured too (due to write-offs of uncollectible bills they run up at the ER etc., which in turn raises rates for the rest of us). Combined with the subsidies for the working poor and lower middle class, the expanded private coverage pool, and expanded Medicaid, this should basically mean everybody has health coverage.

So that's the good stuff with the bill. So what's the bad stuff?

  1. Creates two new bureaucracies -- the bureaucracy for the new public option, and the bureaucracy to manage the private group coverage pool. This is going to cost money.
  2. The tax on employers who are not currently providing health insurance for their workers is going to be inadequate to cover the cost of the subsidies. This is going to require a general tax increase to handle the subsidy problem.
  3. The experience with MassCare shows that this is a massive give-away of public funds to the private insurers if the "public option" is eviscerated by either making its benefits too low or eliminating it altogether.
  4. Maintains the multiple "healthcare ghettos" (Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare, VA, S-CHIP, ...) that allow pitting one group of healthcare recipients against another in competition for scarce healthcare funds. This nation has had plenty of experience with Separate But Equal in the past, and it works no better for healthcare than it worked for education. The least politically powerful group -- blacks in the segregation era, or the poor in today's era -- always end up the losers despite all the protestations of great intentions. If we are not all part of same healthcare system, we cannot work together to solve its problems -- we end up divided against each other instead.
  5. Because it does not improve the overall efficiency of the healthcare system, overall healthcare costs will *not* go down. Those of us who are insured will see our insurance costs go down somewhat, but this will be offset by the "deadbeat tax" on employers that do not provide insurance, and by the increased taxes necessary for the subsidies for the working poor and lower middle classes. In short, I, personally, will be paying less out of pocket for my healthcare, but the nation as a whole will still be paying an unsustainable 16.5% of its GDP for healthcare. The inability to drive down costs is inherent in the fragmented nature of our healthcare funding system. For example, the C-section rate has risen to over 30% because doctors get paid more if the woman gets a C-section, thus they automatically do a C-section if there's even a hint of distress. Yet this actually harms women rather than helps them, because recover from C-section is much longer than recovery from natural childbirth and has much greater chance of complications. But without a central body that coalesces all this information and can use it to stop doctors from "gaming" the system for more money, there's no way to know which doctors are doing this, much less stop them from doing it.
To sum it all up: The House proposal solves the access problem, but not the costs problem. While insurance rates are likely to go down due to the competition from the public option, the fragmented funding system will still not have sufficient clout to force providers to quit providing frivolous and unnecessary care, and thus overall health care costs will not change, just some of it will shift from insurance premiums to taxes (the higher taxes needed for the insurance subsidies).

The fundamental problem of our health care system -- that it is currently sucking up 16.5% of our GDP and is thus economically unsustainable -- thus remains with ObamaCare. ObamaCare is a great half-step towards where we need to be -- universal and affordable health care for all -- but it is only a half step. Given the realities of the current U.S. healthcare system, it is unclear whether anything other than single-payer Medicare For All would ever have the clout to be able to drive health care spending down to where it needs to be in order to be fiscally sustainable for the United States. There is a reason why every single-payer system on the planet spends less and is more efficient than the US healthcare system: those economies of scale simply do not, and never can, apply to a fragmented multi-ghetto'ed health care system where providers can pit one ghetto against another in order to milk the system for profit. Only if we're all in the same system -- rich, poor, and middle-class alike -- will We The People have the clout to take on this $2.3 TRILLION dollar healthcare industry in America and put it in its place.

-- Badtux the Healthcare System

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It is fuggin' *hot* over here

This penguin took a nice little 4 hour hike today that turned into a 6 hour hike. The reason? It's *hot* here in Sodom By The Bay. As in, when I cranked my Jeep to come home, the thermometer said 102F (granted, that's because the Jeep was sittin' in the sun, but so was I!). And that was at 2800 feet elevation in the coast mountains!

So anyhow, heat slows me down quite a bit, since getting rid of heat is kinda hard for me. I end up taking my time, not blasting away, in order to keep from overheating. And of course drink water and Gatorade powder. 3 liters lasted the whole trip thankfully.

So anyhow, I'm tired. I'll leave you with this thought: Democracy is 10 wolves and 10,000 sheep voting on what's for dinner (since most of the American people are sheep, baaaa!). Learn to like eating grass.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Guest Cat Blogging

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Oh well, at least he saved someone from the horrors of eating that greasy fatty pizza...

-- Badtux the Pizza-chompin' Penguin

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Republican health care plan

Here is the Republican health care plan as proposed by noted Republican "intellectuals": Eliminate Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, eliminate S-CHIP, prohibit states from regulating health insurers, deregulate health insurers at the federal level, and eliminate employer-provided health insurance.

Wow. Medicare and S-CHIP in particular are astoundingly popular programs, with support from over 75% of the population. Employer-provided health insurance isn't far behind. If the Republican Party adopted this as its official health care solution and its Representatives and Senators pushed it, that would be HUGE! Like, attacking popular programs makes your party just, like, so popular, y'know. Permanent Democratic majority!

So your assignment, if you live in a Republican dominated state, is to call your Republican senator and/or Republican representative and ask them to vote against that socialist Medicare healthcare. And S-CHIP too. Or at least propose a real Republican health care plan that doesn't include those programs. Because those programs are socialism, and thus bad. We need to help Republican congressmen and Senators by letting them know what their batshit lunatic constituency really wants. All we want is the best for the Republican Party, right?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

PS - Yeah, I know some iconic child molester died today. So?

Thought for the day

It is hilarious that conservatives use a government-created technology (the Internet) to complain that... government can't create anything and never succeeds when it tries.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

PS: World Nut Daily just sent me an email: The Ark of the Covenant is about to be revealed! Swiftly followed, one assumes, by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of whom is *not* George W. Bush, because GW is scared of horses.

Update#2: Just got *another* World Nut Daily email update! Now they whine that... Obama is about to infringe upon the right of terrorists to buy guns. WTF?!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The new House health reform bill

Here it is, all friggin' 850 pages of the dadburned thing. Basically it does a number of things right, and a few things wrong, a couple of them really wrong. It's not a great bill, but far from the worst bill possible. It doesn't solve the cost problem, but does solve the access problem -- it plugs the Medicaid hole where single adults don't qualify for Medicaid, prohibits rescission, forces insurers to give the same rates to everyone in same age group/geographic area (no more discrimination against women or sick people), prohibits insurers from rejecting people for pre-existing conditions, fixes the Medicare drug program to get rid of the donut hole and negotiate down drug costs, and so forth.

Now, it's all there. Read it. Discuss it. We can talk about the problems this bill has, and it does have real problems. But goddamn it, talk about REAL problems with the bill, not imaginary ones. It pisses me off that I've spent all day dealing with absolute fucking morons who spew out nonsense like:

  1. "It's Soviet healthcare." Dude. In the Soviet Union, all doctors were government employees and all hospitals owned by the government. What line in that bill makes all doctors government employees and all hospitals government-owned? There isn't one. Jesus fucking Great Penguin, if you're gonna make some statement about stupidity in the bill, at least make it about something that's actually in the goddamned bill!
  2. "It's Canadian healthcare!" Uhm, no. In Canada, each province has its own mandatory single-payer insurance company and outlaws private ones. Ain't one place in that entire bill that outlaws private insurance company or mandates participating in a state-owned insurance company and if you argue otherwise point me to that line. Crap, why do you think the single-payer guys are so upset with the damned thing?
  3. "It's British healthcare!" Uhm, no. Fail again. The British Public Health Service is like the old Soviet system. And here ends the list of countries, apparently in the right-wing health care universe there are no countries outside the USA other than Britain, Canada, and the former USSR. I wonder what color the sky is, in their universe?
  4. "It's slavery!" What the fuck? Health care is slavery? Do these cretins realize just how fucking STUPID that makes them sound?
  5. "It'll cause rationing." Yeah, just like the Swiss and Dutch and German managed competition health care systems that ObamaCare is modeled after (hint: There ain't no goddamned rationing in those systems, do you *really* think anal-ass Germans would tolerate rationing? They'd fucking string up the bastards!). For some reason these fucking morons think that the Swiss and Dutch and Germans can do it, but Americans are too fucking stupid? Why do they hate America?
  6. "It turns all doctors into public employees!" No, you stupid-ass motherfuckers, it does not. There is not one single line in the bill that turns doctors into public employees.
  7. "The public option will drive private insurers out of business!" Shit, by that logic, Kia drove BMW and Mercedes and Audi out of business, and Kaiser-Permanente here in California ("We're K-P, we bring 3rd world healthcare to you so that you don't have to go to the 3rd world to get it!") drove all the for-profit insurers out of California (Kaiser is not-for-profit and *much* cheaper than the for-profit insurers). Uhm, no. It didn't happen. As long as the private insurers provide a quality option, plenty of people will choose them over a bottom-feeder el-cheapo option like Kaiser or the public option, just like there's plenty of people who choose to drive BMW's rather than Kias (and the freeways here in the goddamn Silicon Valley are proof of that, they're like a fucking plague here, shit!). And if the private insurers don't provide a quality product... well crap, why do we need'em anyhow?
  8. "The government will change the rules to benefit the public option and put the private insurers out of business!" Uhm, dudes. Health care is a $2.3 *TRILLION* dollar industry. Somehow I think they have enough money to buy themselves a seat at the table and keep that from happening. I'm more worried about them changing the rules to *gut* the public option, not the other way around -- indeed, the current gutless "public option" proposal will threaten exactly no one because it lacks the scale to do diddly.
  9. "It's government, and government can't do anything right!" So say the cretins using a government-developed network to send bits and bytes around the motherfucking GLOBE. Crap, the stupid-ass motherfuckers probably think the Internet is a buncha tin cans and strings, rather than being a government-developed technology that swept all that crappy private-developed shit like X.25 into the dustbin of history where it motherfucking BELONGS. Fact of the matter is that government is VERY efficient at taking money out of pocket A and putting it into pocket B. Medicare, motherfuckers. Less than 3% overhead, vs. 20% for private insurers.
  10. "It'll take all our guns away!" What the fuck? There ain't a single mention of gun, weapons, or firearms anywhere in the goddamned bill!
  11. "It'll invade our medical privacy!" Hint: Medical Information Bureau. "Medical privacy" ain't been around for a hundred fucking years. Frankly, having my medical records follow me around rather than them being held hostage by doctors whose names I don't even fucking remember sounds to me like a good idea, and I don't have any delusions about the FBI trolling my health records. I mean, fuck, they're already doing that, the MIB will hand'em any records they want any time with no questions asked and no recourse on our part 'cause the MIB is private and doesn't have to comply with any federal privacy laws.
  12. "Constitution!" Dudes. Section 8, Paragraph 1. The section giving the government the power to levy taxes for the general welfare. Oh wait, I forgot that the fucking cretins haven't ever read any part of the Constitution other than the 2nd Amendment, and even that is somewhat hazy to them...
I mean, c'mon. This is all that the tighty-righties have? Nonsense? Imaginary hobgoblins to scare people with? These stupid-ass motherfuckers have lost their fucking MINDS! There's real-ass problems with the ObamaCare bill, and all they got is THIS made-up shit? I mean, c'mon. Show the intelligence of a fucking PIGEON, dipshits!

Yeah, I get grumpy dealing with fucking morons all day long. One thing about working for a small startup company -- you don't have to deal with obstinate idiots, because obstinate idiots get shown the door quickly because we just can't afford their stupid asses. I guess I've gotten spoiled dealing with brilliant reality-based people all day long. I mean, Jesus fuckin' Great Penguin. Slavery?!

So I'll talk about the problems with the bill -- especially, why it will NOT bring down health care costs -- later. I just gotta go relax. Maybe take a warm shower. Some soothing music. Some aroma therapy. ANYTHING to get the bitter taste of utter stupidity out of my head. I mean, health care is slavery? GAH THE STUPID IT BURNS! IT BURNS!

-- Badtux the Irritated Penguin

A song for Governor Sanford and his Argentine lover

Oh my.

Sanford / Ensign for President '12! 'Cause Adultry is the new Republican family value! Oh well, at least it was a woman (right, Sen. Craig?).

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Top ten arguments against reforming health care

So, here we go...

10. I enjoy paying for the ER visits of the uninsured via higher insurance premiums.
9. Being bankrupted by medical bills if I get sick makes me happy.
8. I enjoy being tied to a big corporate job because I can't afford health insurance costs for starting my own innovative small business. Innovation is overrated.
7. It's a good thing that I get to see Jesus earlier if my employer collapses and I lose my job so have no COBRA coverage and no health insurance.
6. And about that COBRA coverage -- Paying $400/month for health insurance while I'm unemployed just makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
5. Having my policy cancelled arbitrarily for failing to report illnesses that I didn't even know about when I need expensive cancer treatment is great! Just another way to see Jesus earlier!
4. I don't need health insurance because it's just a way to keep me from seeing Jesus earlier. All I need is prayer!
3. I will never get old, so don't need to worry about being one of the 21% of people who insurers refuse to insure due to "pre-existing conditions" when my Fortune 500 employer lays me off for being old.
2. I have a RIGHT to have other people pay my health care bill if I'm uninsured by choice and break an arm and need to go to the emergency room! Deadbeats unite!
1. Working class people who can't afford health insurance or people with serious medical problems who can't get insurance due to "pre-existing conditions" should just die peacefully instead of nattering about some silly "right to life" nonsense. Let them eat cake!

Yessiree, it's clear. Health reform isn't needed at all, because we are, like, God's own Country with God's own health care system and all we need is faith, faith I say! And prayer. Lots of prayer. Well, and luck. Luck helps too. And ...

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My life is complete

I have now achieved the accomplishment of being called a socialist conservative capitalist communist, having pissed off both radical right-wingers and radical left-wingers. Now I can retire peacefully to my dacha by the Black Sea and count my money while outlawing capitalism while whipping workers to enrich myself at their expense. Or somethin' like that.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

An ode to health insurance company executives

This one is to the monopolist health care executives who arbitrarily cancel the policies of people suffering expensive illnesses just to keep from having to pay for their care -- and say they're not going to stop.

Fuck yeah.

-- Badtux the Social Penguin
H/T to the Mad Librarian

Like, mello, man!

Barney Frank introduces bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Not a chance in hell of it passing...

-- Badtux the not-mellow Penguin

Monday, June 22, 2009

And I haff POWER!

Over the weekend my old power supply in my Linux server failed, so I had to buy a new one today. I just finished putting it into the box -- it's a Corsair TX750W power supply. Not a big deal, just tedious to get it in there. Only real problem is that it doesn't have a fan control power output, so the fans on my Antec case *howl*. I gotta do something about that, all that racket is nerve-wracking...

I am in major hack mode right now, churning out entire subsystems per day, so don't have anything more interesting to blog at the moment. Will blog another health care post shortly -- there is just SO much misinformation out there, and there's a massive new proposed bill in the House that needs some careful study but it takes *time* to read 850(!) pages of legalese...

Oh yeah, right-wing fail for the day: I got a frantic email from one of my right-wing mailing lists about how ObamaCare was actually, uhm... A PLOT TO TAKE OUR GUNS AWAY!

For real. Seriously! Now, you can go look at the bill yourself and see that there is not a single reference in there to "gun", "firearm,", or "weapon" of any kind, but that's facts, and the right wing Depends squad is too busy shitting their pants over imagined threats to bother with measly little things like facts...

Sigh. Better idiots, please?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

This came up on my iPhone as I was driving around yesterday. Sobering reminder of what "Father's Day" means for all too many :(.

-- Badtux the Sombre Penguin

Some random thoughts

  • If insurance companies profit by denying care (the current situation), that is what they will do. It's called "capitalism". Duh.
  • My condolences for all of those who were raised by a child-abusing SOB dad. Listening to all these people gush over how great their dad was on this Father's Day must be like getting massaged by a belt sander.
  • One whine the tighty righties have about Obama's health records proposal is that it infringes upon "medical privacy". Thing is, medical privacy doesn't exist. Google "Medical Information Bureau". Hmm, do I want my medical records maintained by a for-profit entity where I have no say in how they're used, or by We The People where there are strict privacy rules and where I can call my Congressman if I have a concern? Like, duh?
  • Today's Worst Person: Missouri lawmaker Cynthia Davis (Republican, nachurally) says child hunger is GOOD because it "motivates". And the bitch has the audacity to wear a cross around her neck, which is the symbol of a man who said to sell all you have and give the money to the poor?
  • The only problem with having the KKK adopt-a-highway is that they will only pick up the white trash.
  • Glenn Reynolds is proof that the gene pool in Tennesssee is so inbred that total cretins can become law professors there. Just sayin'.
Off to ride my Weestrom, I added hard-wiring for the GPS today. Talk about a PITA, had to take off the fuel tank, which is a major production compared to my old KLR.

-- Badtux the Sunday Penguin

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Musical Social Commentary

I hiked a lot of miles today so I'm tired. I'm heading to bed.

This song reminds me of a song I need to record called "Hypnotize me." It starts, "hypnotize me mesmerize me dirty up my mind/tell me what I think today and tell me what I feel/ Tell me who to hate today and tell me who to kill / Welcome, to the United States of Delusion / Where every day's an illusion / Bathe me in your cool blue glow and tell me what to think and know / Welcome, to the United States of Illusion."

Or something along those lines. Same basic theme anyhow. Now you know why I don't own a TV. Voluntarily submitting myself to be mind fucked simply is not something this penguin has any desire to do.

-- Badtux the Orwellian Penguin

Friday, June 19, 2009

All your sweater are belong to us

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

-- Badtux the Been-there Penguin

Wingnut fail

So my iPhone dings to indicate that I got mail, and I open it up and find an email from... World Nut Daily ("We're batshit crazy and so are our readers!"). Which proudly proclaims a historic news item that I'm sure will be touted on all the news shows this evening, a news item so shocking in its implications that surely nobody could ignore it. And that news item is...

The Antichrist has been revealed.

Seriously. No, I'm not joking. That's exactly what the headline said!

I pine for the days of conservatives like Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and William Safire. They were smart, intelligent men who could argue their points with precision and logic and did not engage in flights of fancy just to engage in flights of fancy. Unfortunately, today's Republican Party is the Party of Reagan -- the party of shallow actors pretending to be conservatives as they rabble-rouse what H.L. Mencken called the boobery in exchange for fame and power. They are quite content to cynically throw out just any BS if they think it can rouse some furor amongst their followers that can in turn be channeled into yet further fame, power, and/or money. Unfortunately they lack even the barest semblance of the mental fortitude of a Goldwater or Buckley, and the results are often... laughable. Which is nice and all, except for the fact that these men still have some power, even if they've been temporarily shoved to the sidelines for a while...

-- Badtux the "You gotta be kiddin' me!" Penguin

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Medicare For All: The conservative choice

I am a fundamentally conservative person. I do not advocate change for the sake of change, and I am the bane of engineers who propose radical changes to our product or who have expansive plans for its functionality, demanding that they show me the benefit that will come from incurring those costs in terms of instability and lost opportunities for including more market-worthy features. While the fact that I prefer to work for small startups might make it seem like I undertake risk for the sake of risk, the reality is that I have decided notions of what good software looks like -- it is designed coherently, with provisions for future growth, it is simple but provides sufficient functionality to succeed in the marketplace, it is written in a manner that properly models the problem set with its components and objects, etc. -- and it is easier for me to achieve those objectives as a big fish in a small pond than as a smaller fish in a bigger pond. In short, my conservative desire for clean and functional solutions that don't take any big risks in terms of engineering outweigh the risks of working for less financially secure companies.

If you read the economics posts on my blog you will notice that none of them advocate a major change in the way that the U.S. economy fundamentally operates. Indeed, I strongly defend capitalism in a number of places as the best mechanism for creation of wealth and the best way (if properly regulated) to increase the overall welfare of the people as a whole. This should not be surprising, though. This is a fundamentally conservative way of looking at the economy. FDR instituted a mixed but fundamentally capitalist economy during the 1930's that functioned extremely well from 1945 to 1980 until it started being dismantled by Reagan and his successors. During those 35 years our nation became the greatest on the planet, going to the moon, building fleets of gigantic bombers, and otherwise doing grand and wonderful things. In 1945 most rural homes did not have running water and relied on outhouses for sanitation. By 1980, homes without running water or modern sanitation were almost unknown outside of small hidden pockets out of sight of public health officials. That wasn't done by socialism. That was done by capitalism -- by a properly regulated capitalist system raising the wealth of all Americans. A conservative does not dismantle something that actually works, he only fiddles around the margins. A radical dismantles something that actually works, but a radical is not a conservative, even if he calls himself one.

So anyhow, let's talk health care. I think it's no secret that the U.S. health care system is in a state of meltdown. 40 million people -- or over 13% of the US population -- now lack regular access to health care. Medicaid, a state-run program which serves another 17% of the population, is currently collapsing due to state budget collapses (only 50% of Medicaid costs are covered by the federal government). The reality is that 90 million people -- nearly THIRTY PERCENT of Americans -- will lack health insurance by the end of this year, meaning that if they get a serious illness like cancer or heart disease or are simply in a major automobile accident they will die or at the very least be utterly bankrupted, and if the swine flu really does take off, there will be bodies in the streets as has not been seen here since before World War II. This is unacceptable both from a standpoint of societal stability -- those people will *not* quietly go home to die -- and from a moral standpoint -- if every other industrialized nation can afford to provide health care to all their people, the same is certainly true of the US, killing people because of some ideological commitment to some ideal is immoral regardless of your religion, unless your religion is The Almighty Dollar in which case you're going to Hell anyhow so who cares (see: mammon, worship of). Yet costs of the U.S. health care system have gone completely out of control -- 16% of the U.S. GDP is now dedicated to health care, more than any other nation in the world. The cost of health care in the United States has become a drag on the economy that severely disadvantages us compared to international competitors who spend half as much on health care.

While the 30 percent of Americans lacking health insurance is unacceptable by any standard due to the problems of morality and social stability, the monetary cost problem might be acceptable if Americans really did get better health care. Yet they don't. The results of all this spending is no better than nations such as France that spend half as much on health care as the US -- people don't live longer, have less access to doctors, and hospitals and emergency rooms are closing all across the nation even as the population rises, meaning that if you have an emergency you may wait for twelve hours or more to see a doctor. In much of the United States a shortage of primary care physicians now means that you may wait as much as three weeks to see one of the few physicians who will accept whatever health insurance you do have. And even having health insurance is no guarantee that you will actually receive the care you need. Health insurance companies are canceling coverage for people ill with serious illnesses using the flimsiest of excuses even for prior illnesses that the patient didn't know he had because they had never been disclosed to him by the doctor, a process called "recission" that can kill or severely maim people yet that the insurance companies have no intention of limiting to only those who intentionally defraud them. So we are basically paying 16% of U.S. GDP for health care, but we are not getting the health care we are paying for by any measure. I know of nobody who has had a serious illness within the past ten years who believes that the current system for paying for our health care is efficient or effective. Well, except for those on Medicare, Tricare, or similar programs, where both my relatives on those programs and actual surveys all say that they're quite happy with their "government health care".

So what is the solution? President Obama proposes a system that has been tried in several states and failed in all of them -- a mixed public-private system with mandates to buy insurance and subsidies for lower-income people. It has not worked because it creates an expensive bureaucracy to administer the mandates and subsidies and public insurance pool, and the private insurers use the public insurance pool as a dumping ground for the more expensive people they don't want to insure. In addition, the subsidies for lower-income people have never been sufficient to insure all the uninsured, which does not solve the problem of the uninsured. In short, it causes higher costs and no real improvement in the overall healthcare system.

As a fundamentally conservative person, repeating an approach that has never worked anytime that it has been tried offends me. Meanwhile, Republicans and some conservative Democrats propose a risky and untried system that has never been tried anywhere in the world, and where there is no guarantee that it will actually work. The problem there is that they are proposing to experiment with the health of 300 million people with an approach to funding health care that has never been tried in real life as vs. their theoretical papers. I am fundamentally opposed to gambling with the lives of 300 million people. A real conservative doesn't gamble with the lives of 300 million people, he goes with what he knows works.

So if none of those work, what else is left? A fundamentally conservative person then goes out and sees what other people have tried. So let's head off to Britain. Britain has socialized medicine -- all hospitals are owned by the government, all doctors basically work for the government, and the British health care system, well, sucks. It is very cost-effective but that's the only thing you can say about it, outcomes and access to care both suck. So socialized medicine such as practiced in Britain isn't what we want.

So let's look north to Canada. Canada has what's known as a "provincial" system. Each province is required to have a public insurer that covers the care of its citizens. The structure of this insurer and how it is funded varies from province to province. The federal government provides matching funds. Hospitals may be public or private, doctors are generally private doctors who are paid via insurance. In short, it works a lot like the Medicaid system here in the US, except with a larger number of people in it -- and with the same problems as the current Medicaid system here in the US (i.e., uneven coverage, portability issues when moving to a different province, some provinces have poorer coverage than others due to a poorer economy or ideology which drives doctors out of those provinces to provinces that pay better and thus causes long waiting lists, and so forth). So anyhow, this is better than the British system -- at least the healthcare outcomes are acceptable, as is the cost, less than half that of the US as a percentage of GDP -- but a true conservative doesn't stop at two health care systems. There's lots more out there.

So now let's look at true national singlepayer systems -- Japan, Taiwan, and France. Japan and France have had their systems for decades and had excellent results with it. In both nations there are no waiting lists, patients have ready access to the latest technologies, and the health outcomes on all measures are superb. And they do this with much lower costs than the United States, while covering everybody. For example, France spends HALF as much as the US on health care in absolute dollar terms (or if looking at GDP, 11% vs. 16% on health care, still significantly less) -- yet still manages to provide health care that on virtually all measures is the best, or near the best, in the world. The French whine about how much it costs, but the fact remains that it still costs less than U.S. healthcare -- only 11% of their paychecks go to health care, as vs. 16% of our paychecks here in the US, and the fact that it's being taken out by government rather than private insurers doesn't really matter, I don't have it in my paycheck either way. Given that, less money out of my paycheck, better results... sounds good to me.

So the next question is: Can we really transition to this? I mean, we have 30% of the population either uninsured or on Medicaid. Surely it'll cost a lot of money to get them all insured and into the system, right? And surely it'll cause a lot of waiting lists as they all go get the health care they can't afford right now, right?

So now let's look at another single-payer system: Taiwan. First of all, Taiwan is hardly a socialist country. They are capitalist to a fault, taking it to extremes that the United States never did. Taiwan's thriving capitalist economy provides most of the motherboards in most computers sold world-wide, as well as significant numbers of microchips and other important pieces of the world economy. The modern computer industry basically does not exist without Taiwan's entrepreneurial spirit, their contribution to the industry is far out of proportion to the size of their population. But in 1995, Taiwan had FORTY PERCENT of the population with no health insurance -- i.e., even more, as a proportion of the population, than here. So Taiwan bit the bullet and instituted a single-payer system in 1995 and... There was no increase in overall health care spending! Instead, because health insurance overhead was reduced from over 35% to under 2% with the new national system, healthcare spending remained stable, and while it has increased since then it is still at well under U.S. spending. And none of the bad things predicted by conservatives -- waiting lists, government bureaucrats interfering with health care, etc. -- have come true.

Finally, there are the mixed systems for funding health care such as the Swiss and Dutch systems. These are similar to Obamacare on the surface but have one important different: For-profit health insurers are banned in both nations. All health insurers are heavily regulated non-profits that might as well be branches of the government, where any profit above reserve requirements is required to be turned over to the rate-payers as rate rebates and only a certain percentage is allowed to be retained as administrative expenses. Here in the United States we have no such health insurance companies and would have to build them from scratch -- the current for-profit insurers certainly would not consent to becoming heavily regulated non-profits. My conclusion is that while there are perhaps some advantages to those systems, trying to implement one of them here in the U.S. would be difficult. We have experience, with Taiwan, of what it takes to turn a US-style system into singlepayer. We have no experience with what it takes to turn a US-style system into a Swiss/Dutch style mixed system. Indeed, the Dutch system actually started out as singlepayer and transitioned to the mixed system, implying that the only way to get to the Dutch system is to start with single-payer and go from there with an entirely new insurance industry.

Conclusion: The conservative choice -- the choice that takes the fewest risks with the health of the U.S. population -- is a transition to a Taiwanese/French style single payer system. We have a model for how to do so with Taiwan, and we have a model for how to retain consumer choice on top of the core insurance program with France (via their Medigap-style policies available from private insurers). Furthermore, we have an already-existing singlepayer health care bureaucracy -- the Medicare bureaucracy -- that could be easily expanded to serve the entire population rather than just old people. Medicare already handles 22% of the health care spending in the US, scaling it up to cover the other 78% and bringing it to modern standards of coverage (as vs. 1968 standards) would be much easier than creating a new program entirely from scratch. All other approaches either do not work, we have no blueprint for how to transition to them, or are take unacceptable chances by applying unproven programs to the health of 300 million people and thus are "conservative" only in the minds of radicals who confuse "conservative" with "complies with a specific ideological filter". Single-payer Medicare For All: time-proven, cost effective, the choice of those who are really conservative as vs. radicals out to experiment with the health of 300 million people.

-- Badtux the Conservative Healthcare Penguin

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And Paul Krugman was on the grassy knoll, too

Yessiree, you heard it from wingnut central. Paul Krugman's massive fail from his August 2, 2002 column -- where he predicted that the Fed would attempt to inflate a housing bubble and grumpily predicted that it would not work (so much for Krugman's infallibility!) -- actually means... hold your breaths people... KRUGMAN CAUSED THE HOUSING BUBBLE!

Now you might wonder how that can be, since Krugman never had any power in the Bush administration and was pretty much on Alan Greenspan's shit list. But there's a story about that, a story that starts on a Monday evening in a brew pub in Phoenix, as a number of us comic book geeks and writers meet to, well, geek out on a day when there won't be too many jocks there to make fun of us. It is a sordid tale of mind control and supervillains, vast conspiracies and interest rates. So here, without ado, is the whole truth of what happened that Monday evening...


[Stan] Hey, Penguin! Guess what? I sold my latest comic book!
[Me] Oh get outta here. Which one was that?
[Stan] It was the alternate universe one, "Captain Bubble vs. the Legion of Central Bankers."
[Me] ... I don't think I'm familiar with that one. What's it about?
[Stan] Okay. First, there's Captain Bubble. He's the villain, and his secret identity is as a mild-mannered economist named Paul.
[Me] Paul? Your supervillain is named... Paul?!
[Stan] But I gave him a German last name, okay? Krugman! Heil! He has, like, a monocle and stuff! And anyhow, his evil plot is opposed by the Legion of Central Bankers, which is Alan and Ben. Uhm, Captain Oracle and Captain Helicopter. And there's also this secret society called the Austrians, they're not evil or anything, but they hope both Captain Bubble and the Legion of Central Bankers fail.
[Me] A lot of Captains there. Okay, so this is a superhero alternate universe comic. So what's Captain Oracle's secret power?
[Stan] He's an Oracle. He makes announcements and they come true!
[Me] That's it? He makes announcements?
[Stan] Well, he also sets interest rates, but that's kinda boring.
[Me] Okay. What about Captain Helicopter?
[Stan] He... (looks embarassed). He flies a helicopter.
[Me] That's it? He flies a helicopter? What kind of superpower is that?
[Stan] And he drops money out of the back of it! Money he creates out of thin air! That's a superpower, isn't it?
[Me] I'm not getting a good feeling about this story. So okay, what about Captain Bubble? What's his secret power?
[Stan] He... creates bubbles.
[Me] Excuse me?
[Stan] You heard me, he creates bubbles!
[Me] Uhm, okay, but so does my five year old girl.
[Stan] But not like this! See, Captain Bubble's super power is mind control! In my comic book, he controls the mind of Captain Oracle and forces Captain Oracle to... to... lower interest rates! And thus creates a housing bubble.
[Me] Mind control ... interest rates ... Dude. Nobody's going to want to read something so boring. Interest rates? How does this mind control thing work anyhow? Does he have, like, a mind control ray gun or something?
[Stan] Oh no. He has a column in the New York Times.
[Me] A... column in the New York Times. And ... uhm ... how does that work, exactly?
[Stan] Well, see, he encrypts secret mind control instructions that, get this, only the Legion of Central Bankers and the Austrians can see! Here, look at this example of one of his columns. Mere mortals like you and I and conservative economists just see a grumpy economist observing that Captain Oracle has no good options to improve the economy, but both the Legion of Central Bankers and the Austrians see the real message -- the secret mind control instructions that say decrease interest rates and cause a housing bubble! And only the intervention of Helicopter Ben several years later breaks Oracle Allen out of his fugue and returns things to normal.
[Me] What about the Austrians?
[Stan] They just sit on the sidelines and throw rotten fruit at both sides.
[Me] That's it? That's the plot? The whole thing?
[Stan] Pretty much, yeah.
[Me] Dude, that comic book sucks big time. Nobody would ever buy that. I mean, even bad science fiction has to have at least some plausibility. Like, how come nobody else can see these secret mind control instructions in Captain Bubble's editorials? Get outta here!
[Stan] But I already sold it!
[Me] Yeah? What kinda moron woulda bought somethin' like that?
[Stan] It was an outfit called The Mises Institute.
[Me] The Mises Institute?
[Stan] Yeah! And... hey. Get this. They think it is real!
[Me] Dude!

And now you know the TRUE story :-).

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

The Botswanan school lunch program

Found on the Internets:

A friend who was in the Peace Corps in Botswana way back related the tale of the school’s hot lunch program – they shot and cooked a cow every day (or at least several times per week). He learned this by hearing the gunshot on his first morning of teaching.

One day, the cow broke loose, and ran away. The guy with the rifle shot it as it ran, dropping it in the soccer field. Not having a front-end loader, they butchered it on the spot.

That Saturday, when the visiting team arrived for soccer, they saw the humongous bloodstain on the soccer field, and refused to play. Not for sanitary reasons, but because they figured that Something Bad had happened to the last visiting team.

-- Badtux the Amused Penguin

The Party of Malibu Barbie

For the GOP, apparently their party slogan should be changed to, "Math is hard!". First they released a budget without any numbers. Now, fresh off of that accomplishment, they release a four-page outline of their "health care reform plan" that, quote, "they didn’t know yet how much it would cost, how they would pay for it and how many of the nearly 50 million Americans without insurance would be covered by it."

Oh my. So they just slung something their preschooler scrawled before heading off to daycare out into the media? My only remaining question is, did it have crayon drawings in it?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thought for the day

For Republicans, apparently marriage is a solemn contract between a woman, a man, and all the mistresses he can keep on the side.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Yet more fiddling...

What, does Obama have a goddamned FIDDLE factory in the White House basement now? The State of California is bankrupt. Income tax collections have fallen FIFTY PERCENT since this time last year, and sales tax revenues are flat only because of a massive hike in the sales tax in April. Pretty soon the state declares bankruptcy and puts hundreds of thousands out of work. Yet the Obama administration refuses to give any assistance to California. This is how Obama is going to protect American jobs? By putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work, between the state employees and the contractors paid via state highway and health funds? Not to mention that California's crumbling infrastructure isn't going to fix itself, and Obama's stimulus program ain't gonna do jack shit if there's no state employees left to apply for it and issue contracts to road contractors and such. And not to mention the fact that there will be no -- zero -- Medicaid left and thus people dying on the streets due to lack of health care, schools will have to shut down for lack of money, the universities will be shuttered, it will be the right-wing paradise that is Somalia with no government anywhere.

I can hear some tighty righties stroking their rods just thinking about it, even though their pasty flabby basement-pallored asses would be the bitches of the thugs and goons of the gangsters released when the prison guards walk out for lack of pay, but as for anybody sensible, letting California collapse just isn't an option. But it appears that our so-called "leaders" in Washington D.C. don't agree.... more fiddles, they shout! Fiddle louder, they shout! As they fiddle us right to the death of the United States as a nation from their bubble universe in Washington D.C., fiddling every bit as loudly as the citizens of Rome did as their Empire collapsed around them. But Rome went from a city of 1.5 million to a few thousand miserable survivors huddled in its ruins in less than a century. Is that really the fate that our so-called "leaders" want for America? Complete societal collapse and the deaths of 95% of the population? Because they sure are fiddling loud for that fate...

-- Badtux the Disgusted Penguin

Right-wing "economics" isn't

Brad Delong brings up the sad case of a liquidationist on the right whose entire argument relies on five anecdotes (no statistical evidence) that in fact contradict his point. Krugman explicates... the right-wing's arguments today are identical to the ones that failed during the early stages of the Great Depression.

Sad to say, these beliefs are common amongst the right. They continue to insist that Austrian "economics" has "refuted" Keynesian and monetarist economics (note that nobody reputable is a pure Keynesian anymore, pretty much everybody is mix of the two). Of course, Austrian "economics" is nothing of the sort -- it's bizarre conspiracy theories and magical belief in the magic properties of yellow metals, more akin to a religion than anything scientific -- but the point, the point... the point is that these morons really do believe this. They have faith, faith I say, and facts simply don't apply at that point.

Pointing out the failure of Austrian economics in the real world, where every attempt at an Austrian system founders on the shoals of fractional reserve lending or lack thereof (as explained earlier, economies without fractional reserve lending have proven unable to compete with economies with fractional reserve lending) simply doesn't work. Then they do like the Communists who claim that Communism did *not* fail because "true Communism has never been tried", and insist that "pure Austrian economics has never been tried!". They insist on things clearly not true that are contradicted by fact (for example, Herbert Hoover in his very own autobiography admitted that his responses to the early stages of the Depression were liquidationist, but they continue to deny this fact) because they have faith, faith I say, that surely the true facts can't contradict their religious belief in Austrian "economics" thus invent their own "facts". It is Teh Fail to engage with them, and I rarely bother anymore because, in the end, they are ideologues living in a fictitious fantasy world in search of an audience, not serious people who live in the real world and are amenable to facts and reason.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

And Chris Hedges too...

So the American Empire is bankrupt?


Of course, once the US does that, nobody anywhere will loan the US jack shit. The US really WOULD be bankrupt then. And the US already squandered all the natural resources it once had. On the other hand, while life in the newly impoverished Mexico North will be somewhat hard compared to the days of Empire, the US still possesses enough talent and ingenuity to figure out how to survive, and to defend the nation from anybody else who would want to extend their empire into the Americas. The US has *wide* moats on either side... and nobody else on the planet has a navy capable of controlling a crossing of that moat. US air power would turn any invasion fleet into some new reefs on the floor unless someone spends a *lot* of billions of dollars building aircraft carriers... yeah right. Good luck with that. They'll all be bankrupt too, once their U.S. Treasuries are paid off in freshly printed greenbacks. Not to mention that with peak oil, they're going to have other problems indeed...

-- Badtux the Grumpy Penguin

Monday, June 15, 2009

WTF kinda drugs are our leaders smoking?

I mean, c'mon. Must be LSD, because these folks are, like, getting freakin' *delusional*.

First, there's been talk about inflation at the Fed. Inflation? INFLATION?! Why the fuck not talk about goddamned Martian invaders, for cryin' out loud, they're just as fucking real as INFLATION right now. Wages are still plummeting as the economy sheds jobs like a wet Lab sheds water on your living room rug, asset prices are still falling like a goddamned rock, and these psychotic sons of bitches are talking about fucking INFLATION? Jesus, what next, they start talking about the Borg threat to the Centauri sector?

I mean, look. Yes, the Fed has "printed" lots of money over the past few months. But that money NEVER LEFT THE FED. It just went from one ledger entry to another as the banks that the Fed "loaned" the money to just never loaned it out. Even Bernanke admitted as much in a recent speech to the NYC Fed. It never entered the economy. It might as well not exist. It's just mattress money deluxe right now, ain't doing shit for the economy.

Look. The dollar is backed by the sum total of the assets and economic output of the nation. If asset prices are plummeting, if economic output as measured by wages is plummeting, clearly there is no surplus of dollars and thus no inflation. I mean, let's get real here. If there was too many dollars in the economy, wages and asset prices would be going *up*. But they're not. They're going down like a rock tossed off the edge of a friggin' *cliff*. Bernanke might be making helicopter drops left and right of money, but it ain't doing shit except getting slid under mattresses. Like that does anybody any fucking good, shit, it ain't even good sleepin' at that point...

And now we got President O'Freakin'Bama who apparently has been into the *good* stuff. First he says it's okay to not have a strong non-profit nation-wide public option, thus giving the insurance industry yet another bailout despite the fact that Wellpoint (BC/BS) alone made enough profit to pay for healthcare for a MILLION PEOPLE, and they're just *one* of the many health insurance companies making multi-BILLION dollar profits. Wellpoint spent only 82% of their gross revenues on health care last year. That's all. The rest went to profit and administrative expenses. And Wellpoint is one of the more *efficient* private health insurers. Next, Obama proposes to pay for his subsidy of the insurance industry with... tort reform? Fucking TORT REFORM? Look, in 2006, last year I have numbers for, Medical malpractice insurance costs were $11.5B dollars. Total healthcare costs were over $2.4 TRILLION. In short, if every dollar spent on medical malpractice insurance went towards paying for health care instead, it would only pay for enough insurance for a million families of the roughly 20 million uninsured families. Big fucking deal.

What a freakin' farce. While Rome burns, our so-called leaders fiddle madly away in their bubble universe in Washington D.C. In the meantime, a number of my friends are now unemployed and the economy freakin' sucks, but hey, we got no shortage of goddamned fiddles fiddling out a merry insane jig, eh? So it goes in the United States of Fucking Insane...

-- Badtux the Rantomatic Penguin

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lynndie England: Not sorry for what she did

That's what she says, and I believe her.

Here is from a novel I started writing 18 years ago and never finished...

We walked back to the cars. Ms. Harwell still looked upset.

"Probably Josh beats Robby up," I said. Ms. Harwell glared at me.

"That's how they raise their kids out here," I said. "It ain't right, but it's the way they're raised, and there's not a single thing you or me can do about it. Not enough foster homes on the planet for all the kids who're not being raised right."

"Why?" Ms. Harwell said in a small voice that I almost didn't recognize.

I shook my head. "It's like a pit bull. You cuff him around and keep him a little hungry to make him mean. That's how they raise their kids."

"Why?" Ms. Harwell asked again.

I shook my head again. "I guess there's just a meanness in this world, ma'am. I guess that's all it is."

Not much has changed since my tired middle-aged rural sheriff's deputy said that to a green just-out-of-college social worker 19 years ago... white trash still raise their children like pit bulls to make them mean. And they ARE mean. And see no reason to be any different. It's not as if society as a whole has done anything other than shit on them, after all, do-gooders like Ms. Harwell included in the end since there are no resources behind their do-good platitudes (or as the saying goes, money talks louder than bullshit)... I mean, look. What has society offered Lynndie England, other than a shit sandwich on top of a shit platter? What has society offered the millions of other Lynndie Englands out there steaming in their run-down trailer parks? Nothing. Less than nothing. Our sick American society pisses on the poor, treats them like shit... and then wonders why so many of our poor are meaner than a snake and would sooner kill you than say hello? Uhm, hello, connect the dots, people... what we sow is what we reap. That's how it's always been.

-- Badtux the Socioeconomic Penguin

And the slide to hell continues

Juan Cole has the details of the fraud in Iran. Basically the numbers don't even make superficial sense given the details of Iranian electoral politics, people who should have gotten a "hometown bounce" in their own hometowns didn't, and the most unpopular candidate of all won with the kind of landslide victory that simply doesn't happen in truly democratic elections contested by credible candidates.

Meanwhile at work for the second week in a row I got yet another wave of bad news. Look at yesterday's post about the economy and about how everybody is shoving money under (virtual) mattresses rather than spending it on investments for the future and apply it to what investors might be doing to my personal economy and you're close. I still have a job, but right now I see only a 50% chance that I will have one six months from now and I'm being optimistic. Fiddling while everything burns down happens in places other than Rome-on-the-Potomac too...

So anyhow, my response: I went thru the In-n-Out drive-thru and had a double-double animal style with pink lemonade and a chocolate milkshake for supper last night, and then went off to Fry's Electronics and bought three 1-terabyte drives and 4 gigabytes of memory for my Linux server. I verified that there was no useful data on the three 160gb drives in that server and yanked them out and replaced them with the 1 terabyte drives. While I was doing this I was downloading Ubuntu 9.04 Linux, AMD64 Server release (I have a Intel Core2 Duo 2.4ghz but this is the right one for it). I also found out that the 2-year-old Mushkin memory that I had in there had failed, the Crucial I replaced it with works fine. I paid $5 extra for the memory with the red heat spreader and LED's, I am such a nerd! So anyhow I replaced the defective memory with more Crucial today, configured the three 1tb drives as a RAID5 array, and I'm now up and going with 2.5 terabytes of storage (with the existing 500gb RAID1). That'll store quite a collection of penguin porn, yay! Or at least a few backups of my Macbook :-).

So that's that. I had dol sot bi bim bap for lunch today. It was quite tasty and not much more expensive than the burger the previous day, but hopefully that's the end of pigging out, my penguin rotundity does not need additions :-). If six months from now you see a disheveled penguin pushing a shopping cart down El Camino Real with a couple of cats hanging out around his feet, say hi...

-- Badtux the Pessimistic Penguin

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging: Cat found!

An opossum in Philadelphia is apparently having a very strange time...

-- Badtux the Amused Penguin

TIme for economic doom and gloom post again

Flow of Funds data out yesterday.

Private borrowing still contracting at faster rate than government borrowing is expanding, and there is not yet any signs of overall upward pressure on interest rates, the much-ballyhooed rise in long-term Treasury rates was caused by China deciding to go with short-term Treasuries rather than long-term Treasuries for their borrowing (which is another sensitive subject). Treasury borrowing at the moment appears to be recycling mattress money -- i.e., money that if not lent to the Treasury, would be disappearing under (virtual) mattresses instead (i.e., into banks that are stashing the funds into the Fed's vaults rather than lending them out) and thus basically disappear as far as the economy is concerned, causing deflationary pressure beyond those currently coming from job losses and wage cuts.

There is a recipe for dealing with high debt loads upon an economy. It's called inflation. Inflation effectively decreases the value of debt as the value of currency declines. Unfortunately the wage declines over the past year are putting significant deflationary pressures upon the economy, which does exactly the opposite -- effectively increases the value of debt as the value of currency increases. The overall conclusion: The Federal Reserve is being much too cautious with its current open market operations. There is no inflationary overhang in the current economy -- the Treasury borrowing is effectively draining mattress money that could otherwise creep out of hiding during an upturn and cause unexpected inflation and the Fed could abruptly raise the reserve ratio if it wished to keep the mattress money in its vaults from leaving there -- and there is a surplus of excess / idle resources that could be put to work if there were sufficient demand in the economy to warrant it. The so-called 'stimulus' was one attempt to deal with demand but is taking much too long due to limitations of federal contracting -- I've bid on govt. contracts before and it can be six months from initial bid request to when work actually starts. Federal grants to the states, funded by selling long-term 0% interest treasuries directly to the Fed (i.e. printing money that does not necessarily ever have to be paid back since it can just be rolled over into new 0% interest t-bills at expiration), could start putting inflationary pressure into the economy while preventing deflationary pressure of all those state workers losing their jobs, and would be an effective way to do monetary inflation (i.e. start shrinking the debt in real terms) without the wait or risk of waiting for fiscal expansion via "stimulus".

One thing that is not working and will not work is the Fed giving more money to banks. Banks aren't lending because of the core solvency problems that occur with deflation, they're shoving the money under a virtual mattress (i.e. into the Fed virtual vaults) where it does nothing to create economic activity. All the Fed is accomplishing there is creating inflationary overhang when the economy does turn up and that money comes out from those virtual mattresses and re-enters the marketplace (via the wonders of fractional reserve lending and the multiplier effect as bank reserve ratios effectively plummet, yippee). Ben Bernanke must be tearing his hair out, he did exactly what all the textbooks said he was supposed to do -- print money -- and nothing happened because he forgot that banks won't lend when they have deflationary expectations (i.e. when they expect the money to be worth more to them in the future) and thus as he admitted in recent speeches, the money never actually left the Fed, it just moved from one ledger entry to another.

Yet as Rome burns, a thousand thousand Neros fiddle in a political system that has proven far too dysfunctional to deal with this crisis, and half of that thousand-thousand Neros even wish to pour gasoline upon the fire because of a religious belief in "creative destruction" that is eerily similar to Abbot Arnaud-Amaury's recipe for the redemption of the human soul, "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." Unfortunately Tuxology has no afterlife, thus I prefer to save the current life err economy rather than engage in wishful thinking about a wonderful hypothetical afterlife err economy that happens after the demise of the current one.

And so it goes. Six months from now I expect to be employed. A year from now... I do not think that far ahead anymore, it is too depressing.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Right wing and Obama write France out of existence

One of the things that is irritating me is that everybody seems to be ignoring the best healthcare system on the planet -- the French one. In terms of cost, the French system is half the cost of the U.S. system (see p7 of that paper) or, if you prefer figures as a percentage of GDP, only 2/3rds the cost of the U.S. system. Yet on *every* health care statistic, France comes out better than the United States. Access to doctors? France has 3.4 physicians per 1000 population. The U.S.? Only 2.4 physicians per 1000 population. Hospital beds? France: 7.7 per 1,000 people. US: 3.3 per 1,000 people. Waiting lists? Nope, no waiting lists. Infant mortality rate? France 3.33 per 1,000, USA 6.3 per 1,000. Life span? 81 years vs. 78 years. And note that France has a large minority population of 3rd worlders from Africa, so it's not because France has fewer ghettos or dark-skinned people than the USA. Thus while Japan has better numbers on pretty much everything than France, I excluded it from my list of systems to study because Japan is a very mono-ethnic country -- no significant numbers of 3rd world ghetto dwellers there. Thus it's clearer that France's medical system could work quite well for the United States.

The world has taken notice. When 3rd world tinpot tyrants need medical care, they go to France now, not the United States. The care is cheaper and at least equal in quality, if not better. So what's the price, you ask? Does France have less medical innovation? No. Per capita they have as much medical innovation as the US, not surprising since most US health innovation comes from the National Institutes of Health and universities, not from private industry. Indeed, the only real price appears that the French whine a lot about paying half as much for medical care as the US does -- they think it's too expensive. If that's the price for having the best healthcare in the world -- having to listen to a lot of people whine that it's too expensive even at half the price of the US system -- I'll take it!

But of course, at this point the tighty righties start grumbling, "the United States would not be able to implement single-payer as cheaply and efficiently and effectively as the French." For shame! I cannot believe these unpatriotic people, believing that by-god AMERICANS can't do things as well as the FRENCH can! Have they no patriotism? No pride? We are AMERICANS, we can do anything we darn well WANT to do! The nerve of these "can't-do" conservatives and their culture of failure... me, I'm a member of the OLD America, the REAL America, the CAN-DO America that can do ANYTHING as good as -- or better than -- any other nation in the world, and if we put our mind to it I bet we can even do it BETTER than the French! For SHAME that these unpatriotic can't-do "Americans" refuse to believe in America and Americans and believe French people are smarter and more capable than Americans! Well, you know what they say about unpatriotic people. If they don't believe in America and Americans, they should just move to some other country. I'm sure France will take them, since they're saying French people are smarter and better than Americans. Heh.

-- Badtux the Snarky Healthcare Penguin

And today on World Nut Daily...

  • WND proudly announces their support for disgraced / impeached "Judge" Roy Moore, who is running for governor of Alabama *again*. Dead Gus Hall is proud of Roy for upholding the nutty tradition of fringe candidates running every four years!
  • WND throws temper tantrum, whines "It's not fair, wah!" and stomps their widdle feets because Lamar Outdoor won't run their nutty Birther billboard. Lamar made decision that Birther stuff is crazy shit that would lose them more business than World Nut Daily and its tiny contingent of crazies would ever give them. WND blows fuse. Remember, folks, freedom is only when the other guy does what you want him to do!
  • WND ("we're even crazier than Glenn Beck!") admits: "We are losing America." Proposes more crazy as solution. Yeah, that'll work :-).
  • And finally, Shep Smith is a vewy bad man for calling the Birthers "nuts", so World Nut Daily ("We have a dozen Birther stories on our front page just to prove we're nuts too!") orders its readership to send Shep yet more nutty emails to make sure that Shep not only calls them nuts, but *knows* they're nuts. Yay World Nut Daily! Thanks for helping Shep figure these things out!
And now I need to go wash my eyeballs off...

-- Badtux the Nut-appreciatin' Penguin

Alternative realities

I just did a Google search and found that the right-wing has created an entirely different fictional alternate reality for what caused the housing crash in just eight months.

In our reality, an affordable housing group called ACORN was complaining to Congress about sub-prime lending into poor neighborhoods as early as 2000 and lobbying for it to be strictly regulated or banned. Note that this is a link into the 2000 Congressional Record, i.e., a matter of historical fact. I remember ACORN regularly holding protests outside the offices of sub-prime lenders during those years, which was covered in the mainstream press as well as the left-wing press (but for some reason never covered in the right-wing press, hmm? Yes, I was reading World Nut Daily even then).

In their fictional alternate reality, ACORN lobbied Congress to expand sub-prime lending into poor and/or minority neighborhoods. Note that none of the articles they use to "prove" this were written more than eight months ago, and none of them are supported by, like, the actual Congressional Record or any other document from outside their right-wing echo chamber. The actual reality, as vs. their fictional alternative reality, is that ACORN lobbied Congress to expand *prime* lending into poor and/or minority neighborhoods -- i.e., lending with strict income requirements that conformed with Fannie/Freddie requirements. They were concerned that poor or minority borrowers were getting suckered into loans they could not repay and losing their homes, and wanted fewer of those risky sub-prime loans and more "traditional" loans that conformed with traditional income requirements. ACORN testified to this before Congress multiple times between 1996 and 2006, easily confirmable by reading the Congressional Record.

In this reality, Fannie/Freddie were minor players in the sub-prime market -- Fannie Mae was only allowed to hold $5B of sub-prime loan out of the $727B of loans in its portfolio, and lobbied Congress to be allowed to expand its sub-prime lending. (Note: Above is a Fannie Mae document entered into Congressional Record). I.e., sub-prime accounted for less than 1% of Fannie Mae's portfolio in 2006, and of those, only 35% were allowed to be "liar loans". Freddie had the same limits. As Alan Greenspan admitted in his October 2008 testimony before Congress, it was private securitizers selling bundled "Mortgage Backed Securities" who drove sub-prime lending standards through the floor -- Fannie/Freddie simply were not allowed to buy enough sub-prime to matter.

In their fictional universe, Fannie/Freddie bought oodles, oodles I say, of "liar loans". They have no government documents to that effect, no evidence of any sort, but over eight months they created an entire right-wing alternative reality where ACORN pressured Fannie/Freddie to issue all sorts of bogus liar loans to people who could not repay them. In the real universe, of course, that simply was not true.

In this reality, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was passed in 1977 and applied only to banks, which were minor players in the sub-prime market (most sub-prime lending was done by unregulated finance companies such as Countrywide Mortgage and GMAC). In the right-wing alternative reality, it was passed in 1999 and applied to all financial companies and forced Countrywide and GMAC, forced them I say, to make these risky "liar loans".

So: Anyhow, that's this reality vs. the right-wing alternative reality that they furiously concocted within the past eight months (you will not find a single web page in their echo chamber that's more than eight months old about this issue). So what *really* caused the sub-prime crisis? And why did Fannie/Freddie collapse?

Well: to answer the first question: Countrywide Mortgage, and a private mortgage-backed-securities market which was deregulated by both Democrats *and* Republicans (no clean hands here) and eventually engaged in a race to the bottom in terms of loan quality, every time Countrywide reduced its lending standards, everybody else reduced their own lending standards for fear Countrywide would steal market share from them. To answer the second one: It was a failure of the fundamental business model that Fannie/Freddie operated under, which assumed that housing prices would never decline more than 10% nationwide, an assumption that was torpedoed when Countrywide collapsed and took housing prices with them into a steep decline (over 50% in some markets). I.e., in this reality as vs. fictional Republican reality, Fannie/Freddie were victims rather than perpetrators of the housing market collapse. More details on that, and why this torpedoed the economy, in another post...

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things are getting scary out there

By now you've heard of the attack upon the Holocaust Museum by a crazed right-wing Freeper.

The problem is one that David Neiwert has been sounding the alarm about for over eight years now -- right-wing extremists pumped up by demagogues on the right, who, when fed untruths by people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and etc., go even further unhinged until they crack and do bad things like attack the Holocaust Museum, kill an abortion doctor, make two different attempts upon President Obama's life (it has now been revealed), etc. Even Shepherd Smith at Fox (soon to be unemployed) is now sounding the alarm about the craziness out there, even though he doesn't point fingers at his own employer's contributions to it.

The level of rhetoric, of outright hatred, is reaching a level that even the Clinton Derangement Syndrome of the 1990's never reached. Like Neiwert, I've been following this for years, and the failure of all their nutty ideas during the Bush Administration has sent the extremists on the right completely off the ranch to the point where their connection with reality is absolutely non-existent. They really *do* believe that the guy in the phone company van below their tenement window is a FBI agent come to take their guns away on behalf of that Communist Nigerian Muslim secret Soviet mole, Obama Hussein. They've lost it, entirely. And you wonder why I blog as a penguin? Open your eyes, the friggin' crazies are out there and they're scary as hell and I like my fine feathered plumpness far too much to risk getting a beakfull of birdshot when I walk out of church one day!

-- Badtux the "The DHS was right" Penguin


Would Medicare For All be a nightmare for Americans? Well, let's look at the facts of a nationwide survey of Medicare and employer-provided insurance recipients: Medicare recipients are happier about their healthcare and access to doctors than recipients of employer-provided insurance are. 92% of the elderly are happy with the healthcare they receive via Medicare, and only 10% of them report problems finding a doctor that accepts Medicare, vs. 18% of those receiving employer-provided insurance who report problems finding a doctor who accepts their employer-provided insurance.

That last statistic startled me, given all the headlines in conservative journals about how doctors all over the nation were refusing to see Medicare patients. It appears that it's not just Medicare patients who are getting the shaft, doctors seem to be greatly reducing the number of insurance programs they accept new patients in across the board, and private insurance companies are getting hit even harder. But anyhow, if the notion is that Medicare For All would impose a "nightmare" upon the American people, the experience of actual Medicare For Prunes should dispel that notion... not that tighty righties care about those "fact" thingies (as Steven Colbert points out, if you're conservative it's okay to ignore inconvenient facts because facts have a liberal bias). But for the rest of us, this is an interesting fact to know.

-- Badtux the Facts-are-facts Penguin

Democracy and conservatives

Earlier today I had a Twiscussion with a "top conservative" about various topics. One of the things that came up was that he started talking about "starving the beast", i.e., making it impossible for government to do things in a timely and effective manner.

Puzzled, I said to him, "but in a Democracy governmen is We The People doing things for our common benefit. Why should We The People want to hamper what we can do with our government?" He then stated that he did not trust democracy because it panders to the least common denominator. I complimented him on at least being honest about his dislike for democracy, so many conservatives pretend to love democracy while doing their best to hamper its effective operation. But it does show the world view that many conservatives have -- We The People are not to be trusted, and government must be hobbled and hampered in order to keep We The People from effectively implementing democracy.

Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst of all systems of government, except all others that have been tried." He also said, "Americans will always do the right thing, but only after trying all else." I guess the difference between me and this "top conservative" is that I think Churchill was right, and he thinks Churchill was wrong. I chaffed when the American people voted the Busheviks into office, but I did not deny that it was the will of We The People and that We The People got what we deserved, good and hard (H.L. Mencken :-). That said, I stuck around rather than heading to Canada because I believe Winnie and trusted We The People to eventually get it right. That trust is what this "top conservative" lacks -- and is why he distrusts democracy and will do whatever he can do in order to undermine its effectiveness.

-- Badtux the Democracy Penguin

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A comment about Twitter

I was skeptical. But Twitter has been a quite interesting way to encounter other ideas, other people to have interesting discussions with, etc. Yeah, the short tweet length is limiting, but most of my recent articles started out as tweets to other people or was inspired by ideas I encountered there.

My suggestion: Once you sign up on their web interface (and click 'Follow' on me :-), download a Twitter client. Twitter clients add things like hash searches and easy threading of comments. I am using Nambu on the Mac, I have no idea what a good Windows or Linux client would be, but anything's better than Twitter's lame web page.

-- Badtux the Twit Penguin

A morbid thought

Cancer scares me. If I get sick I can't work, lose my job, lose my insurance (if unemployed obviously I can't pay the outrageous COBRA fees for continuation of my insurance, and as a single male federal law prohibits spending Medicaid funds on me) , and then I die.

Earlier I pointed out that to fund the 8% of US GDP of medical spending that is not already paid for via government, all we would need to do would be to pump up the Medicare tax to 4% apiece employer/employee to pay for a single-payer Medicare For All program. For the average worker my age in this area, who makes around $80K/year, he would *save* $1K per year over Kaiser-Permanente. Some youngster just starting out with a $20K/year job will end up paying $800/year for his health insurance. Now, one thing I did *not* mention is that I make a fair bit of money. I've done well in my career. Me, well, figure I'll be paying around $5,000 year and you'll be pretty close to target. But then, I already pay Kaiser-Permanente ("We import 3rd world doctors to you so you don't have to go to the 3rd world to get 3rd world medical care!") around $4200/year so that would not be a huge difference. But that's not the point.

My point, my point... I will gladly pay that $800/year difference just to be assured that if I get cancer (I worked in OIL REFINERIES when I was young, people! Connect the dots!) that I won't die for lack of access to cancer treatment. So yes, single-payer would personally cost me money *now* (though it will be cheaper for most families). But what is my life worth? Does it make sense for me to pay more now, to be assured that I will have access to proper medical care later? I think so. But then, I value my life greatly. If you don't value your own life... (shrug). Not much to say then.

-- Badtux the Morbid Penguin


In a democracy, government is *US*. You and me. Not some foreign imposition upon us from outside. Not some alien invasion sucking our life-blood out. Government is We The People, you and I gathered together to provide for ourselves whatever services the free market for some reason will not or cannot provide us, services such as roads, public safety, or whatever else We The People decide needs be done collectively as a people rather than individually.

This is not some new concept. To quote some dead commie leftist: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. And to quote another dead commie leftist: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. It is clear that these dead commie leftists believed that the purpose of government was to serve We The People -- all of us gathered together to tax ourselves and provide for ourselves what is necessary for defense of liberty and defense of life.

And of course, health care is one of those things. It wouldn't have occurred to the Founders to write health care into the Constitution because health care technology then was razors and leeches, neither of which is particularly expensive or requires a significant amount of society's resources to purchase. They did write post offices and highways into the Constitution, because they already had experience showing that private postal services and private highways did not serve the general welfare. But it is clear that if they had known that health care technology could advance to the point that 16% of the nation's GDP was going to health care, they would have had no problem with writing health care into the Constitution as one of the powers granted to government. Thomas Jefferson did not say that the Creator granted the right to life to only RICH people, after all. TJ said the Creator granted the right to life to ALL people. Not just those who can afford health insurance. Similarly, James Madison did not say that the purpose of government was to promote the general welfare -- the health and safety -- of only RICH people. He said that the purpose of our government was to promote the general welfare of We The People -- *all* of us.

So anyhow: That's democracy. And if we don't have democracy, we need to vote the bums out and vote new ones in -- ever single one of the bastards in Congress is there because somebody voted for them. That's the mechanism embedded in our Constitution for having revolutions, and it's happened twice in my very own lifetime, first when Ronnie Raygun came in with the Reagan Revolution that completely changed what the nation thought about the role and duties of government, and now, maybe, the Obama Revolution (but we'll have to see, neh?). We -- you and I -- have the ultimate power. We -- you and I -- have the power to show the bums to the door if they do not respect the wishes of We The People for universal healthcare for all Americans. The only question is, will we use this power? Or will we just continue being anesthetized sheeple bleating whatever our Party commissars tell is to bleat, regardless of whether it's in our best interests or not? Time will tell, hmm?

-- Badtux the Democracy Penguin