Archive for October, 2009

Dishonesty

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

As you can see from “The wolfe Plan“, I’m no big fan of the role that insurance companies and their teeming bureaucracies play in our health system.

But I do believe, perhaps very naively, in being at least basically honest about the world that confronts us.

For example, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was completely wrong about the probity and propensity to engage in rational enlightened self-interest of major Wall Street players. I’ve not remotely changed my views about the merits of the free market (Capitalism, baby!), but I have changed my views about a dysfunctional managerial class that seems intent on plundering the wealth of both shareholders and taxpayers in order to feather their own nests.

So much for enlightened long-term self-interest.

But my point is that I admit this. I recognize the lacunae in my thinking, and I adjust. I examine what elements of my world-view need to be changed. (For example, George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security would have been an unmitigated short-term disaster had he succeeded along the lines he planned).

Smart people do this. Honest people do this.

No one ever accused most politicians of being smart. Or honest.

Case in point, one Senator Harry Reid.

Here’s Harry Reid talking about the evil insurance companies:

As for insurance companies, “There isn’t anything we could do to satisfy them in this health care bill. Nothing,” Reid said. “They are so anti-competitive. Why? Because they make more money than any other business in America today. . . .What a sweet deal they have.”

Now the nice thing is, this is a statement that is either true or false. It’s easy enough to fact check Senator Reid. And this is a claim he’s repeated again and again.

Clearly he can’t possibly mean what he literally says: that they make more money than any other business in America today. They don’t. Not remotely. You can look it up, but oil, gas, telecoms… they all make hundreds of billions more a year than the health insurance companies which are way, way, way down on the list. (Probably in the top 50, definitely in the top 100, but that’s not exactly anywhere near number 1. You can extract it from the link below, but you need to strip off the trailing “B” in market cap in order to be able to divide market cap by P/E to get nominal industry earnings. I’m too lazy).

I did try a few; FWIW, soft drinks ring in at 7.1 bn, health care plans at 9.2 bn, breweries at 26.2 bn, and foreign telecom services at 209 bn. So, a little more profit than sugared water.

OK, Senator Reid can’t be a total idiot or liar, he must have meant something different. Like maybe their profit margin is the highest. In other words, they make a lot more money on every dollar than any other industry in the US!

That makes sense!

Where are they? Here, thanks to Yahoo Finance (hat tip Professor Mark Perry), we see that they are … number 86.

Behind … well behind just about everyone. A third the profit margin of breweries.  Less than half the margin of soft-drinks, encumbered by insane marketing costs. (The gross margin on soft drinks is very high, but once you’ve factored in marketing, sales, and distribution overheads, it’s no longer as excitingly rapacious a business).

I’ve looked closely at the numbers, and there is no possible way that Senator Reid can be telling the truth.

Worse, he’s been saying this for months. He has to know he is not telling the truth.

Why does he do it?

Why does he tell such an obvious lie?

I wish I knew. But in this instance it seems clear that Harry Reid does not seem to be attempting to deal honestly with the world as it exists. A zealot, of any stripe, that refuses to deal with the truth, is a very dangerous man.

-wolfe

The wolfe Health Care Plan: An Outline

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Here’s the wolfe plan. I make no pretence that it’s the best plan in the universe, and I’m sure it has flaws and holes. But that said, here goes:

  • universal coverage for all citizens.
  • tax-free medical savings accounts (MSA’s) available for all citizens, including non-resident ones. (funds put into MSA’s deducted directly from taxable income. Must be invested in certain pre-approved ways, may not withdraw for non-medical reasons except in the event of death. In the event of death, a positive balance may be inherited by whomever you wish, tax free).
  • all citizens are required to deposit a certain amount, varying with age, into their MSA’s and those of their dependents each year. Failure to do so results in very substantial tax liability. Citizens who cannot afford to do so, see below.
  • all citizens are required to purchase special catastrophic insurance coverage. Failure to do so results in substantial tax liability. As the name implies, this covers catastrophes which would wipe out a normally funded MSA, and, seemingly bizarrely, one free check-up every two years.
  • Medicaid will transition to a government-funded MSA’s program. While qualifying for medicaid, the government will deposit funds into your MSA and cover catastrophic insurance. This encourages those on medicaid to be prudent with what is suddenly a resource that has apparent costs to them.
  • Citizens may form whatever combines they wish to purchase medical services (via MSA’s or cash), including across state lines. Non-profit co-op combines will get an anti-trust exemption. (I’m not sure about for profit combines).
  • Insurance companies may sell across state lines provided they meet the requirements of the states they are selling in.
  • Citizens who wish to may use the entire amount of their MSA’s annual deposit to purchase conventional medical insurance if they so wish, but it’s my bet that this will fade over time as a desired option.
  • Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
  • Massive tort reform, including effective immunity for physicians employing “best current practices”.
  • All the magical savings we will supposedly get out of reform that both parties are touting, sure, but I’m not counting on much there.

That’s a whole bunch of detail. I’m sure I’ve lost all but the wonkiest. The basic concept is to bring the consumer of medical services much closer to the provider, to make the decision-maker the patient (to the greatest degree possible), and to reduce incentive for needless use of medical services, including in the case of medicaid recipients.

Why do I make it effectively mandatory? It’s the pre-existing condition removal. If people can get insurance regardless of their health, then anyone healthy won’t buy insurance.

Why universality? Because I think it’s the right thing to do. Period. Yep, Glenn Beck would hate me, and denounce me as a communist, ditto for the taxes I’d impose on those who don’t comply. A pre-New Deal Supreme Court might well vote down my plan as unconstitutional. I’m sure Clarence Thomas would.

Why mandate the inclusion of a “free” checkup periodically? Because logic suggests that if this is left to people to fund solely from their MSA’s many might just avoid it. There is a genuine public good in having people get regular checkups.

Why do I outline this? Basically, I want to show what effect my proposal will have on one segment, the insurance companies.

Insurance companies gain:

  • About 10% more customers
  • Ability to sell across state lines.

Insurance companies lose:

  • At a guess, at least 50% of their revenue. Perhaps more like 75%.
  • pre-existing condition exemption.
  • Possibly their anti-trust exemption. I don’t know for sure.

So you can see I’m no great fan of the insurance companies, nor does my plan involve masses of wealth for them. Indeed it involves a big drop in their revenues and significant downsizing of their bureaucracies. Ironically, though, a well-run insurance company might become somewhat more profitable under my plan. If nothing else, catastrophic coverage tends to be higher margin events.

I readily admit my plan is technocratic, free-market-oriented and that first is definitely not a great thing. Contribution amounts would have to be set by a board at arm’s length from any government (and any insurance company!).

Would my plan work? I think so. But it’d be easy enough to test. Try it out in 1-5 states. See how it flies. We should, of course, do the same with whatever mess the Democrats eventually cobble together: try it out in a few states. See what happens. Don’t plunge the entire country into the disaster that is currently taking shape on the Hill.

-wolfe

Snowed Under

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Work, fatigue, spam. Trying to make some time to give a more substantive response, and get this blog cleaned up a bit. You may have noticed the spam volume is crazy. Some comments I have for both Female and Sam on why we build roads in countries like Afghanistan, my views on corporatism vs capitalism, Conservative vs. Liberal on a left right spectrum.

Moving forward, if you want your posts to appear reliably, you’ll need to register and have one previous post approved. Sorry that sucks. I’m working on a better system. Otherwise your comments get held in moderation until I get to them. (24hours to 1week).

-wolfe

Kanye West at the Nobel Peace Prize Awards

Friday, October 9th, 2009

December 10, 2009
[Wolfe Press]
OSLO — Leave it to Kanye West to produce one of the most infamous moments in Nobel Peace Prize history before the 2009 awards ceremony was even an hour old. It happened after President Barack Obama’s stunning victory in the Peace Prize category for all of his forthcoming accomplishments, which beat out many other contenders with actual achievements. Just moments after Obama accepted the Prize and began his acceptance speech, West stormed the stage, taking the microphone from Obama to announce that George W. Bush deserved the award.

“Thank you so much!” President Obama began. “I always dreamed about what it would be like to maybe win one of these some day, but I never actually thought it would have happened. I haven’t actually done much yet, so thank you so much for giving me a chance to win a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Before he could continue, West broke in. “Yo Barack, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but W has had one of the best presidencies of all time. One of the best presidencies of all time!” Kanye shouted to a mortified Obama and the speechless audience. And as quickly as he ran onstage — CNN cut away to show the crowd applauding Obama, and when they flashed back to Obama, West already had the mic in his hand — he was off, leaving a shocked Obama in his wake.

“W, Bro, I’m sorry what I said bout Katrina. Dog, you got the dead presidents, all the Benjamins for Africa. Saving from AIDS, HIV – no homo – just homies. They tell me you saved more’n a million, maybe 10 million.”

“There could have been thousands turbans capped on the street after nine-one-one; you made it clear about a religion of peace”

“Muslim street said troops in Holy Places were an affront; you got ‘em to a new front. Street gave you no cred, so you broke bread for an Iftar. Sanctions were capping shorties, millions, so you liberated sixty millions more, unlike Al Gore.”

Everyone at the Oslo Palace Hall looked stunned, as the cameras captured an astonished and horrified George W. Bush still in his seat. Soon after, the audience gave a standing ovation in support of Obama. To add insult to injury, after Kanye handed the microphone back to Obama, his time was up, and CNN cut to a video featuring Bono. Minutes after the incident went down, aides to Norway’s King Harald V were feverishly typing into their phones phone when Bill Clinton came up for a chat. Topic of conversation? What else but West. “Like Bill just said, ‘It’s rock & roll,’ ” Harald V commented to us. “And the applause for [Obama] will be louder.”

According to sources at the Peace Prize ceremony, Obama was seen hysterically crying backstage after Kanye’s outburst, making it convenient that his lecture which immediately followed the acceptance speech, was prerecorded. (Obama gave a reprise performance of his stunning “Hope and Change” mantra.) …

* * *

Note: This is a parody which mimics the wording and structure of portions of a Rolling Stone article concerning Kanye West’s interruption of the MVA speech of Taylor Swift. Far from a violation of copyright, it is protected under fair use.

Yes, I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that George W. Bush’s HIV/AIDS initiative alone would have merited a Nobel Peace Prize had he been a Democratic President. No, I’m not bothered he didn’t get one; too many of these have been given out to dubious political figures of late, and there are strong arguments against a man who, to put it very kindly, aggressively pushed the bounds of anticipatory self-defence.

-wolfe

President Obama wins…

Friday, October 9th, 2009

… the Nobel Peace Prize?

I’m speechless. Practically. Assuming of course, that this is true. I just heard from a friend, and sure enough, four minutes ago Reuters moved it over the wires at 5:49 am eastern.

Off the top of my head, TR won it for helping Russia and Japan settle the “short victorious war”. Wilson won it for his work trying to end and settle WW I. His work was a disaster, but that wasn’t known at the time, nor was it obvious. Jimmy Carter won it for working hard to extract a cold peace between Israel and Egypt. Going non-presidential, many more. Perhaps Kissinger for the Vietnam Peace Accords springs to mind as the closest parallel. Accords that were to be profoundly betrayed, yet Kissinger was back then a sort of rock star type figure, an improbably proto-Obama.

Well, congratulations to the President.

And I wouldn’t trust the Nobel Peace Prize committee to manage a barber shop.

-wolfe

You Need to do That, Do You?

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Here’s the trailer to 2012, a big budget Hollywood film premiering soon. Presumably before 2013. The hook is that the Mayan calendar doesn’t go beyond 2012, hence the assumption that the world ends then.

I don’t know what you noticed in the first 52 seconds of that trailer, but I’ll tell you what I did. The film needlessly destroyed (I wanted to say raped or butchered, but felt that was too hostile) major Christian artistic symbols.

In the trailer, they chose to destroy the statue of Christ the Redeemer, over Rio de Janeiro.

Why?

They chose to showcase the destruction of Michelangelo’s classic painting on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

Why?

Do you think for a nanosecond they would have chosen to destroy, on film, Islamic Holy places?

No.

I guess we Christians are too wimpy. Well I’m standing up. This is wrong. I don’t want to see crap like this, edited like this.

Any reader of my blog would, I think, agree that I’ve never played the race card or the religion card. I’ve never done a “oh your argument hurts my faith” post. And I never will. I don’t think I’m playing the religion card now — since most of my readers are atheists — in outlining my sorrow, and, yes, anger, at this.

You’re welcome to see this film. I applaud the right of the producers to make this film. It’s constitutionally protected speech that congress — and state governments — can’t [and shouldn’t!] interfere with. Well as one tiny blogger, I interfere. What they are doing verges on malicious. Don’t like it; don’t intend to pay to see it.

You aren’t persuaded? Now imagine everything translated to Islam. People professing Islamic faith have killed hundreds of thousands, some horrifically. I am enraged at the insult to my faith.

Are you a little more persuaded?

So be it.

For us all. Pluralistic, genuinely tolerant societies matter. Liberals used to believe in this kind of thing.
-wolfe

A Different Time, I suppose

Sunday, October 4th, 2009
Copyright AP. Paul Vathis

Copyright AP. Paul Vathis

And it’s not simply the fault of evil liberals. I intensely disliked Bill Clinton in the late 90’s. I thought he besmirched the office of the Presidency. I thought he was a dishonorable liar. [Like there’s an honorable liar? -ed]. I was a little non-linear on Bill Clinton. but then the levels of hate that rose up around George W. Bush seemed… insane. Yet, in part, they were simply a reaction.

Mea culpa extends only so far. If Dan Quayle had stood up and shouted, Mussolini-style, “He betrayed this country”, I’d have changed the channel. The Democrats have become even crazier than the Republicans. And that’s some degree of crazy.

Just leave it at this. Barack Obama should think seriously about consulting Bill Clinton, and maybe even George H.W. Bush.

Oh and I like fedoras.

-wolfe

A weekend in Ottawa

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

I feel that this town is like my second home. I spent time as a child here, and I have some acreage (maybe they say hectarage in Metric countries) south of the city. The fiancee and I came here for a nice weekend.

Got some stuff in my Canadian place closed down for the coming winter, took a beautiful (no cane!) bike ride in great weather.

Tidied up all the gardening rubbish, noted a tree that had to come down, beat the bounds with her. (Basically walked around the acreage, looking at things.)

Saw some old friends.

We then went to a gala at the National Arts Centre, conducted by Pinchas Zukerman. I rather like Zukerman’s work; he’s a decent violinist, and as a conductor he does a lovely job with some quite complex works. I particularly like his interpretations of Mahler, though I’m not usually a huge Mahler fan. More baroque, medieval, jazz, a little folk, hiphop and rock. And an unwilling embrace of some country as being not entirely horrible.

Anyway, Mr. Zukerman did a good job; Yo-Yo Ma was visiting and playing very nicely on the cello. Huge respect for Mr. Ma, he does some lovely work. To our absolute astonishment, the Prime Minister of Canada came on after Yo-Yo Ma performed a very nice Chopin Polonaise.

On comes Prime Minister Stephen Harper; he played the piano, singing (!!?) with Mr. Ma accompanying.

To say that this was unexpected was an understatement. Mr Harper is… everyone’s idea of a hockey dad. A decent, honest man, but fairly dull, and seemingly a little pedestrian in his tastes. Indeed, his wife was attending the gala, conspicuously alone. She told reporters her husband was at home with the children, watching Hockey Night in Canada. Perhaps she had a slight smile on her face, for his performance was her idea.

Mr. Harper performed very credibly, certainly better than Ringo Starr, on both the piano and vocals, and received a well-deserved standing ovation:

Possibly the only example I can think of of a G8 leader playing and singing in public, at least with an artist of Yo-Yo Ma’s calibre. Kudos to Mr. Harper for doing it, he could have fallen very flat.

Today we started with church in the little local parish. Weak sermon, magnificent liturgy and very good choir. Oh well, you do what you can do. I’d love to do evensong, but they aren’t doing that this week.

(The final link is the most traditional evensong if you really don’t know what evensong is. The others are tributes… riffs.)

Then on to a magnificent brunch with friends… oh my, She outdid herself. (I am an inconsistent cook; lazy, experimental, at times inspired, but generally lazy). Goat cheese and avocado crepes with lemon. Who knew? Lovely. Bits of garlic, chives from the dying garden, etc. Very nice.

The wine was an astonishingly good ’07 Gamay Noir from Ontario. Apparently the summer of ’07 was very dry and hot in Ontario, which made — for that geographic region — unusually good wine production. Going to see if I can cellar a half case, and it’s rare that I say that. Other than icewine, Canadian wines generally don’t distinguish themselves.

The nieces and nephews are about to arrive (much of the family is together here at this time). Masses of pizza, some beer, more wine, and the kids will all watch the “Ewoks movie” [Return of the Jedi] while the grownups talk.

I’ll be back in the US tomorrow. Wishing you all a very pleasant evening with family and friends, I’ll hoist a glass to my readers.

Best,
-wolfe

Moore on Capitalism

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

You can read whatever take you want; I’m going to avoid commenting on the film itself since I haven’t yet seen it. (I have read a number of reviews and I have spoken at length with a friend who saw the film).

According to many reviews, Moore has quite a spin, and lies outright at times. I’m not going to comment on that, I’m simply going to note this:

Michael Moore has finally decided to take up a special program to loose wight.
The Fahrenheit 9/11 director is said to have enrolled on a crash course at a $3,800-a-week celebrity center, as he intends to lose 5.4 kilograms (12 pounds) during the first three weeks.

The 51-year-old activist and film-maker went to Pritikin Longevity Center And Spa in Aventura, Florida, where he is learning to cook healthy meals and will undergo “life re-education”, according to PageSix.com.

Let’s see… $3800/week, 3 weeks, 12 pounds. That’s $11,400 to shed 12 pounds. A hair under $1000 a pound.

Riddle me this. Can anyone describe any economic system ever conceived by the mind of man, other than free market capitalism that would allow anyone — anyone at all — who values his weight loss at $1000/pound to get the kind of treatment Mr. Moore and other celebrities receive at this spa?

Yes, I’m sure Communism allowed party leaders to get similar treatment, and for “free”, no less. But could the average worker get such treatment? At any price? No chance, unless, of course, you’re referring to the black market which was conducted along evil capitalist lines.

I wouldn’t pay $1000 to drop a pound. Neither, probably, would you. Neither would nearly anyone I can think of. But some people, somewhere, will. To them it’s worth it.

And that’s the beauty of free market capitalism; a willing buyer and a willing seller meet at a price point. Even if the transaction makes no sense to us, it makes sense to them.

It’s called freedom. I like it.

-wolfe

Huh?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Poland backs chemical castration, and criminalizes any attempt to justify paedophilia.

Poland lobbies for the release of Roman Polanski, and Poles and other Europeans condemn a “frightening” America for the arrest of the man who drugged, raped, and sodomized (despite her repeated declaration of “No!”) a girl he knew to be 13.

Does this mean that those lobbying for his release are breaking Polish law?

-wolfe