Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Does One Chair Lifted Over One’s Head Make a Riot???

This certainly isn’t the 1968 Dem Convention in Chicago; but, there were a lot of angry people in Nevada.

“What I see is that the only thing holding those assh-les back, were the security people and the fence in front of them. That one man did indeed pick up a chair and raise it in the air and unless he was doing so so that his imaginary elf friend could sit down then I expect he was doing it to menace the people on the stage.” So Bagerite says in the comments section of May 22nd The Daily Banter New Video of Nevada Dem Convention Shows Someone May Have Been Hit By Chair. So where does this place Bernie Sander’s comment that “no one was touched?”

In the clips, you can see a chair over someone’s head and it is moving forward towards the stage. The levitating chair was stopped by two people before it could get past the fence. During the appearance of a little bit of upper butt-check, you can see Mr. Upper-Butt-Cheek bending over and helping someone up. Apparently a woman was knocked down during the take down of the person with the chair over his head (not to be confused with The Hora) in preparation for what? Since there was no one in the chair, one can assume it was ready to be flung somewhere.

I could not find it; but somewhere, someone is holding a piece of wood in the air also.

Anyhoo, judge for yourself.

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Remembering the Carter-Reagan Race

Barkley Rosser made an interesting comment on one of the threads which is worthy of a separate posting. He is pointing out similarities between Trump and Reagan in saying whatever they want to say, backing away from them (it was just a suggestion), and never being held accountable for making statements devoid of facts. People leap to the unrealistic or untrue commentary and when the statement is challenged, the candidate disavows them while the voters remember what was initially said.

“Trump is pulling something that I think he is going to get away with, which is that he can just say all kinds of things that appeal to certain people, but when people who dislike those things complain, well, he just disavows them or “walks them back,” maybe, for a little while, whatever. So he gains with those who like this stuff, but he manages to avoid being really held accountable seriously for any of it (“that is just a suggestion”). So none of us really know what his positions are on anything, and he in fact may not really have any. It is all about him and his ego and his claim to power, and those who are impressed will vote for him.

What I worry about on this is remembering the Carter-Reagan race. About this time in 1980 Dems were hoping Reagan would be the nominee. He had just said that “trees cause pollution” (which is technically correct if one counts pollen as pollution), which had led to him having very low poll ratings. Oh boy, the Dems were drooling at the prospect of running against this numbskull who would say all kinds of goofy stuff in contrast to more serious candidates like BWH Bush.

Now of course there were other reasons Reagan won, including a bad economy and the embarrassment of the Iran hostage crisis, but I remember all too well the first debate between them, which was universally viewed as a victory by Reagan, with Carter never recovering after that in the polls. I remember that if one was paying close attention, Carter “won on points,” doing well at pointing out the silliness of much of what Reagan was saying. But then there was that magic moment when after Carter criticized him for his warmongering foreign policy statements, Reagan just leaned back and said, “There you go again,” and that was it. He won the debate on a single well-delivered phrase that was in fact devoid of content. But, it sold.

So I fear that whether it is Hillary or Bernie (still has a small chance, much better if HRC gets indicted before the convention), they can win on points showing how nonsensical statement after statement Trump has said is, but then he wins the darned debate with some wisecrack along the lines of what Reagan pulled with Carter.

As it is, both Hillary and Bernie are seriously wonkish, with pretty well developed platforms. We have seen extended discussions and debates about their positions on various issues here, and it is known that Hillary especially has a very long and detailed set of positions, with some charging that she has overdone it going too wonkish. Unlike others I do not think she will just drop all that the minute she gets in, if she gets in, but I do think that both she and Bernie will end up modifying what they advocate when face a GOP-controlled House, which I think is highly likely, even if hopefully the Dems do manage to take the Senate.

But there is a real possibility of a replay of 1980, whichever of them is the Dem candidate.”

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The PPACA and the Uninsured, Sanders, and HRC

I have been listening to the Sanders healthcare Uninsured narrative and his own Undetailed healthcare plan. To me, much of this sounds like Republicans tossing around the usual nonsense about the PPACA. It would be better if Sanders just said we can do better than the PPACA and here is how we can get there (and then explain it). There is something to remember though and pre-PPACA involving the last all out effort to install healthcare in 1992 as led by HRC. It failed because Congress did not lead it and nothing else “major” has been brought to the table by Republicans except a lot of excuses. The Democrats do not escape critiquing either as they have been equally negligent in producing something, anything of plan to get people healthcare. The prelude to the passage of the PPACA was the Senator from Aetna, Joe Liberman, holding the PPACA captive until some fast maneuvering by Reid and Pelosi. Now Sanders may believe he can command a better healthcare plan into being; but, I doubt it will happen until people begin to demand it and change Congress. Not enough of people are doing so today.

“‘You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in,‘ Mr. Lieberman said. ‘You’ve got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act (Long Term Care), which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit.’”

A Blue Dog Senator, Ben Nelson wanted to know the impact of the Medicare buy-in. “I am concerned that it’s the forerunner of single payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option.”

What happened then and why we have ended up with the PPACA in its present format was an agreement made by Congress Person Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid. With the winning of the Massachusetts Senate race by Scott Brown, the dynamics had changed once again in January of 2010.

The Christmas Eve passage of the PPACA bill by the Senate was on the table to be tweaked considerably to get what they wanted to pass into law with the 60-vote majority with Paul Kirk (replaced Edward Kennedy) and later with the election of Martha Coakley. The election of Republican Scott Brown as the new Senator from Massachusetts, stopped any thought of tweaking the Senate bill by the House especially with the conversations going on between Senators Lieberman and Nelson. Instead, Congress Person Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reed decided to take up the already passed bill from the Senate on the Floor of the House. It passed and the PPACA as we know it has been brought up some sixty-something times after the House Republicans passed it 219-212.

Since its passage, there has been a dispute over how many people are actually covered by the PPACA and why those who are not, are not. There have been mega-fabricated-stories on why it has failed people and there has been reasons or facts about why the PPACA does not cover people. Charles Gaba at ACASignups has tracked the signups to the PPACA since it was passed into law in 2010. He has one of the more accurate measurements of signups, why people lose coverage, and why they are not covered detailed on his site.

2016_total_coverage_pie_chart

If you click on the Pice Chart, you will get a readable version of this pie chart. If you doubt its accuracy, Larry Levitt of Kaiser Family Foundation had this to say to Charles Gaba:

“Obviously some of the estimates are approximations, but I do not see any glaring problems. — Larry Levitt (@larry_levitt) March 29, 2016

Let’s get into this a bit and what I want to look into are the “Uninsured.”

• Adults Medicaid Eligible: 5.0 million; And not covered due to the state not expanding Medicaid
• Children Medicaid/CHIP Eligible: 3.0 million And not covered due to the state not expanding Medicaid
• Medicaid Gap: 2.8 million; States not implementing the Medicaid Expansion have penalized citizens from Medicaid (except as already
established under state law) and from the PPACA Market Exchange.
• Undocumented Immigrants: 4.7 million; Federal Law says no coverage available.
• Eligible for Subsidized Exchange policies: 6.5 million; And chose not to sign up.
• Ineligible for Subsidized Exchange policies: 7.0 million; And have the chance for ESI policies or has an income above the 400%.

Except for the 4.7 million undocumented immigrants, all people have a chance to have healthcare insurance of some type unless their state governments disenfranchise them. Now is this going to change with the election of a new president? Probably not until gerrymandering goes away and Congress changes which will not happen under HRC or Sanders. Stomp your foot all you want to, it will remain the same until people wise – up and figure out the Republicans and the big-money people are not on their side. Our biggest issue right now is to get a Justice on SCOTUS who will favor the people and not moneyed or religious interests like the Koch Brothers and Hobby Lobby. To bow out of an election if HRC wins or Sanders wins is self-defeating and not a good choice.

The links are there if you wish to read Kaiser or Charles Gaba. This is briefly what both had to say on the topic of the insured and uninsured. The election comments are my own and I hope you think carefully about the 2016 election.

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Leave your Economic Modeling at Home when flying the “Doing What We Do Best” Airlines

Which appears to be taking ethnic looking civilians off their flights.

Perhaps economists should not do their modeling on American Airline flights or for that matter other airlines. It seems one 40-year-old man with curly dark hair and olive skin coloring was quietly sitting in his seat scribbling calculations on a notepad. His seatmate on this puddle-jumper from Philadelphia to Syracuse was a young 30ish blonde haired woman carrying a red tote bag.

As the story goes, the young woman was curious about his unrecognizable note taking. After being rebuffed by a simple “no” from the man about whether his home was Syracuse, she took to her book and jotted down a note and gave it to the flight attendant. The plane door shut and after a delay on the tarmac, the plane began to move to the runway to take off only to be diverted back to the gate.

At the gate, the woman who had said she was sick earlier (in her note to the flight attendant) was taken off the plane. A short time later, the pilot came back to the unsuspecting man and he was escorted off the plane and asked what he knew about the 30-something blonde haired woman who sat next to him on the plane. He admitted to not knowing anything other than her acting strangely.

The woman had seen his note taking and did not understand the equations he was writing. In her note to the flight attendant, she stated she was ill. Not understanding the equations he was writing on his notepad, she suspected it to be secret code for some plot to be hatched on Flight 3950 of American Airlines. Upon deboarding the plane, she explained to the officials what she suspected; “she believed him to be a terrorist and his note taking a secret code.”

Wearing “navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater, a look he described as ‘simple elegance;’” the Carlo Alberto Medal winner, University of Pennsylvania Economist, Italian by birth, and tenured Professor Guido Menzio was working on “some properties of a model of price-setting he was to present” at Queens University. Apparently, like many Americans, the young woman with blond hair did not understand differential equations and mistook the equations to be secret codes.

After some embarrassing moments for the officials and the pilot listening to the Professor’s explanation on mathematical modeling, Guido Menzio was allowed to reboard the plane. He and the other passengers took off to Syracuse more than 2 hours late. The woman responsible for his being removed from the plane and questioned had taken another flight.

Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight,” Washington Post, Catherine Rampell, May 7, 2016

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SCOTUS Approves New Rules for FBI Hacking and Legislates New Law

In 2014, Joseph Hall explained why this could be an issue. “The US Department of Justice is seeking to drastically expand its abilities to search computers remotely through an obscure change in the rules of criminal procedure. This would have the effect of making it easier for law enforcement to remotely break into and search computers worldwide when the computer’s location is concealed. This change is highly dangerous in that it will essentially allow law enforcement to hack into hundreds of millions of computers all over the world. This kind of expansion of power should not be happening in an obscure forum – The Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure – but in open debate and consideration in Congress. Yesterday, I testified before the Advisory Committee, having worked with CDT’s Senior Counsel Harley Geiger on our written testimony.”

This was approved the other day by the Roberts Court changing Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. In the past, a Federal judge in each district would have to approve a warrant to search a computer, telephone, etc. With this change, a warrant just has to be issued by a Federal judge or magistrate and the FBI then has carte blanc to search globally any number of computers technologically concealed, hijacked, or damaged for the same issue. Other courts can not longer reject the one court’s warrant (unless appealed to a higher court).

“Chief Justice John Roberts submitted the rule to Congress on behalf of the Court as part of the justices’ annual package of changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The rules form the basis of every federal prosecution in the United States.” It was the court’s decision to decide within the district it resided in and other districts could reject or decide for another district’s decision. The change in Rule 41 by SCOTUS gives a district court the ability to allow the FBI to investigate globally without revealing the location. Why Roberts believes in this expanded power and another attack on the 4th Amendment is . . . ?

Hat Tip to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, CDT “US DOJ Seeks to Search and Seize Data on Computers Worldwide”. Congress still has the power to change the rule with Legislation and advocate for less or no intrusion into 4th Amendment protected privacy. Doubtful it will the same as it failed to stop Usury or Loan Sharking in 1978.

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7 Million at Risk from Man-made Quakes

Interesting Vox article on natural and manmade earthquakes my fellow Vet and cohort in writing Mark Jamison sent me. This year for the first time ever the USGS is including a map of areas in the US which may be prone to human-induced earthquakes” in addition to areas which are prone to natural earthquakes.

“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. “This research also shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”

Natural and Induced Earthquates

From the highest to the lowest potential hazard the USGS has ranked these states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas. Oklahoma and Texas have the largest populations exposed to induced earthquakes. Small areas of Ohio and Alabama have experienced induced earthquakes; but, this has dropped off with lesser activity. “Wastewater disposal is thought to be the primary reason for the recent increase in earthquakes in the CEUS. While most injection wells are not associated with earthquakes, some other wells have been implicated in published scientific studies, and many states are now regulating wastewater injection in order to limit earthquake hazards.”

Earthquates since 1980 and Recent Areas

Central US has experienced the greatest change in earthquake frequency going from 24 earthquakes per year (1973 to 2008) with an average magnitude of 3.0 to increased frequency year over year 318 per year with a high of 1010 in 2015. From 2009 to 2015, the rate steadily increased, averaging 318 per year and peaking in 2015 with 1,010 earthquakes. The latest data through mid-March shows 226 earthquakes. As fracking and the resulting waste water injection activities picks up in a region, the frequency of earthquakes increases. It is not believed Hydraulic fracking is to be the cause of the increased earthquakes. Testing the maps after one year will verify predictability of location and frequency of earthquakes.

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“The Battle for VA Healthcare and Its Funding”

VA healthcare has its faults; but, it still is one of the more successful examples of publicly funded healthcare even while hampered by a lack of funding to provide more capacity in strategic places for new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans like myself. Libertarian Pete Hegseth, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq and the CVA, both sponsored by the Koch Brothers, are hawking a dismantling of the VA hospitals in favor of higher cost and less result-oriented commercial healthcare and their own ideological interests. invisible hand

The history of the VA has always included struggles with ideological, political, and commercial (healthcare providers, pharma and hospital supply) interests. In the seventies, activists went as far as to stage scenes (Life Magazine picture depicting care for Vietnam veterans) to make the care look worst than what it was. For commercial interests, it is all about selling more services, healthcare procedures, and pharma as compared to the evidence based treatments received at the VA. For the Kochs, Libertarians, and Pete; it is all about a Randian ideology, an ideology which Ayn Rand could not live up to and forsook to accept Social Security and Medicare.

As you may remember the Koch Brothers are also buying their way on to college campuses such as Western Carolina University by funding Centers for Free Enterprise A Slippery Slope Indeed. The selling of Public Choice and Libertarian ideology under the guise of Economics courses is paramount and they staff these centers accordingly by selecting those who view it favorably. The centers are not a free range of salt water and fresh water economics or intellect as one might find at typical universities. The American Legion and other VSOs have shown similar support for the dismantling of VA Healthcare the same as the Western Carolina University administration showing support for the Free Enterprise Centers. The VSOs have bought into the Koch funded CVA push to do so in favor of commercial healthcare and giving veterans healthcare vouchers.

Together they have orchestrated an attack on the VA by claiming 40 veterans in Phoenix , AZ had died while waiting for their appointments. I did not pick the claim of 40; but, I believe it is time to debunk it and challenge subsequent claims based upon the lack of integrity and truth in the original claim. What was reported to the public by CNN and other news media sources as a failure of the VA to take care of the 40 veterans in critical need by keeping them waiting for care is not true. Yes, there is a longer wait for new patients and first time visits; but, it is not to the extent stated. The Koch Brothers, Pete, and their “web of affiliates have succeeded in manufacturing a ‘scandal’ at the VA as part of a larger campaign to delegitimize publicly provided health care” in favor of the commercial healthcare industry. The exaggeration fed scandal forced the dismissal of Shinseki besides creating another taxpayer-funded commission to investigate the alleged abuses by the VA. “The Best Care Anywhere; Why VA Health Care Would Work Better For Everyone” author Phillip Longman was appointed to this commission. He will need all of the support he can get from veterans who oppose this move by ideological and healthcare industry interests to dismantle VA healthcare.

Former Wall Street Journalist Alicia Mundy (author of Dispensing with the Truth: The Victims, the Drug Companies, and the Dramatic Story Behind the Battle Over Fen-phen) gives a different story of what took place at the VA “The VA isn’t Broken Yet,” The Washington Monthly. Her article and two other articles report on the latest findings and paint a dismal picture of Koch Brothers and the healthcare industry attempts to dismantle the VA using innuendo and exaggerations.

While the allegations of deaths were not proven, the declared accusation of increased deaths resulting from wait times did raise concerns about how effectively the VA was with their care of Veterans. Of course, we all know how effective the overly funded commercial healthcare system is with the care of its patients. If you can afford it you will get every pill, procedure, and practice known to mankind regardless of effectiveness. This is not to say there are not good institutions or professionals; but to say commercial healthcare and wait times are both far better than the VA is simply not true. Indeed, it is the opposite. The overriding interest of those advocating the dismantling of the VA in favor of commercial healthcare is in securing it’s funding for commercial healthcare rather than improving the care for veterans.

One month into his presidency, President Obama appointed former General Eric Shinseki with no opposition in Congress to his appointment as the head the VA. Shinseki immediately set to work transforming a VA burdened by returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, a lack of needed capacity in places where needed (Phoenix and Tampa), and funding which did not keep up with the influx of new patients. The Bush administration had failed to close costly unneeded facilities (5 million square feet @ $53 million annually) and add capacity in other places (Phoenix and Tampa) as recommended by the CARES report besides increase the funding necessary to meet the onslaught of new vets. The CARES report listed what facilities needed to be improved and modernized, projected the future demands on VA services through 2022 in each geographic area the VA serves, compared them again to existing infrastructure, and made recommendations on how to meet the future needs of veterans. It was largely ignored as it too needed funding.

Instead of helping to care for all veterans, President Bush had also reversed the decision of former President Clinton to allow all veterans to use the VA and again installed the “proof of need” format for VA care. In other words if you were exposed to Agent Orange, drank bad water at LeJeune, were exposed to radiation from depleted Uranium artillery shells, or indigent; you again had to prove your ailment was military related or provide proof of being indigent. This can be difficult to do and it takes time. Again, presidential enforced bureaucracy ruled at the VA. It could again raise its ugly head with the wrong administration in place.

What about those news broadcasted wait times and other things Shinecki was accused of by Pete, the Koch Brothers, and the CVA? The VA under Shinseki reduced the number of homeless vets by ~25%, reduced the backlog of unprocessed veteran disability claims resulting from increased numbers of new and wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets by 84 percent, and helped convince Congress to take in Vietnam veterans with chronic illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange making them automatically eligible for VA care.” As accused by the Koch Brothers, Pete, the CVA, and the silly news media, this was the man and the General who allowed veterans to wait for appointments and care only to die in the chow line of the VA while side stepping? But wait, there is more:

Under Shinseki, the VA built teams of healthcare providers whose responsibility was the care of its patients. Specific teams of PCPs, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and health technicians were assigned to manage and coordinate the needs of each patient. This methodology overcomes the fragmentation of care, which can be seen in commercial healthcare today, and was described in Phillip Longman’s “The Best Care Anywhere.” I am taken care of by the VA Blue Team of healthcare providers.

Mental health professionals and substance abuse specialists were integrated into each team and this care excelled beyond that provided by commercial healthcare as it applied proven, evidence based therapy and methodology for mental illness. Insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid will not pay for this type of “body and mind” care by commercial healthcare. It is crucial to have it available for veterans as 25% of veterans suffer from chronic mental illness and 16% are addicted.

One study, “The Quality of Medication Treatment for Mental Disorders in the Department of Veterans Affairs and in Private-Sector Plans” touched upon the differences in the success rate of VA care as compared to commercial healthcare.

” In every case, VA performance was superior to that of the private sector by more than 30%. Compared with individuals in private plans, veterans with schizophrenia or major depression were more than twice as likely to receive appropriate initial medication treatment, and veterans with depression were more than twice as likely to receive appropriate long-term treatment.”

Furthermore the study concludes the ‘findings demonstrate the significant advantages accruing from an organized, nationwide system of care. The much higher performance of the VA has important clinical and policy implications.’”

Hey, but what about those overly long wait times broadcasted by the news media and pitched by Pete and the CVA which caused the deaths of so many veterans as stated by them? After all, the team methodology and evidence-based physical and mental care put in place by Shinseki does strain the VA capability to set prompt appointments for new veterans coming into the system for the first time. Then too the need for primary care doctors outstrips the supply of them by ~7500 in 2010 and the shortage is estimated to more than double by 2020. This shortage as well as the amount of team care given does place a strain on the VA capability to supply care to new vets. Unlike commercial healthcare, the VA put in place performance measurements which are available to the public. Commercial healthcare does not make its performance measures available beyond the advertisements seen on TV. “Across facilities, veterans waited an average of six and half days from their preferred date of care to their actually seeing a primary care doctor. In comparison, a private survey taken by the consulting firm Merritt Hawkins showed that in fifteen major medical markets across the country, non-VA patients seeking a first-time appointment with a family practice doctor had to wait an average of 19.5 days.”

For the first half of fiscal year 2015 starting October 2014 through March 2015 using the most recent data available from the Assessment B (Health Care Capabilities) Page 190 wait time study, the average number of days “Veterans waited for new patient appointments was approximately six and a half days from the preferred date for primary care, six and a half days from the preferred date for specialty care, and three and a half days from the preferred date for mental health” care as taken from page 190 of the same report.

Indeed, Figure 4-14 shows >93% of all veterans completed their appointments within 30 days. Again to compare, the average wait time for new veteran patient appointments is six and 1/2 days from the preferred date while the average wait time for non-veterans using commercial healthcare as experienced in 15 markets for first time visits is 19.5 days from the preferred date or three times longer.

invisible hand

And those 40 deaths caused by too long of a wait time? As taken another report, Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, revealed, six and not forty veterans had died experiencing ‘clinically significant delays’ while on waiting lists to see a VA doctor. In each of these six cases, the IG concluded “we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.” But for some reason those wishing to dismantle the VA can conclude such. Maybe they have a different source of information? They do not and this gets to the root of the issue. Why would someone make up such stories and the media report on them without adequate research when the end result would potentially cause so many veterans to lose their coverage and surrender to a must worse situation with commercial healthcare? News and especially catastrophic news sells and news today is lazy and lacks integrity. For everyone else concerned, it is the money involved or the VA funding.

My own experience with the VA has been good and that with major US hospitals and commercial doctors has shown similar if not greater wait times. God knows, I have been in enough hospitals since 2012 advocating on my own treatment. If you do not know, ask questions and do not be so ready to accept what is told to you because the person is a doctor. They do make mistakes like being given blood thinners when you have a blood disorder. As Alicia Mundy put it succinctly “while the VA has an assortment of serious problems, it continues to outperform the rest of the U.S. health sector on nearly every metric of quality—a fact that ought to raise fundamental questions about the wisdom of outsourcing VA care to private providers.”

I am not on board with this take over of VA Healthcare by commercial interests as supported by moneyed ideological and political influences. I would urge veterans to speak up as what you are going to get will not match what you have. Once your voucher is spent, game over.

References:

“THe VA Isn’t Broken Yet Alicia Mundy, Washington Monthly

Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System

” Assessment B (Health Care Capabilities)” Rand Study on Wait Times 2014/2015

” Comparison of Quality of Care in VA and Non-VA Settings: A Systematic Review”

“Changes in Suicide Mortality for Veterans and Nonveterans by Gender and History of VHA Service Use, 2000–2010″

“Department of Veterans Affairs to Realign Its Capital Assets”

“Documents Show the VA Debacle Began Under George W. Bush”

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MI Pushing the 85th Percentile “Again”

Michigan has had an issue fixing its roads and for the last two years the Republican controlled Legislature and the Republican Governor have not been able to decide or agree on what the solution might be. I believe what has been decided was an increase in gas taxes, some money from the imaginary general fund which also contains the Medicaid expansion money, and an inflation factor (my idea) in the gas tax law going into the future. It solves 50% of what is needed to fix the deteriorating Michigan infrastructure.

It is pretty well known and proven, vehicles are more efficient at lower speeds. If you get out on highways 96, 696, 75, 275, etc.; you would wonder if such were true or not, especially when gasoline was $3+/gallon and TBTOTF (too big, too often, too fast) dinosaurs were out there cruising at 80-85MPH in 70MPH zones. Mind you, I am not a left lane hog and usually run the right lane and move to the center to pass at my 70-75mph speed. Even then, you will find someone who wishes to get up-close and personal at 2 car lengths behind you to where you can not see their headlights anymore. Its like, what gives? Oh, I could go faster; but, what is the point? I may arrive a second sooner if lucky.

I had an interesting discussion with some of the proponents of the 85th percentile in setting speed limits on highways. Their points vary; but much of this goes back to a sixties study by Dave Solomon who suggested the 85th percentile as the right speed limit to set. If 85% of the drivers are going 70MPH, then this is the speed limit even if it is 65MPH (never seen this applied backwards yet). They go on to cite various supporting anecdotal factors such as people going too slow cause most of the accidents, the police become the enforcers and we begin to resent them so we should not make it such, my friends should not be made criminals for speeding, etc. It is unique how many excuses are made to increase speed and go faster. Except the proponents of going fast conflate the issue and only present one issue as a cause of accidents. The proponents cite accident reports of people claiming they were doing the speed limit when they were involved in an accident with someone going slower. Is this good data? Well maybe, if it was recorded on a radar; but more than likely, this was a report by the driver of the car supposedly doing the speed limit. What driver would report doing 80MPH to the police? Going too slow is an issue as well as going too fast or what one might call “speed variation” which encompasses both factors.

Advocates of the 85th Percentile approach argue the 85th usually brings about a reduction in the need for enforcement and reduces crash risk by narrowing variation among vehicle speeds. Studies have shown the speeds do not remain within that narrow range for long and speeds have continued increasing beyond the newly set limit. The 85th Percentile is not a stationary point and is akin to a moving target and requiring a new 85th percentile target when people begin to exceed the now old 85th. There have been changes upwards before in Michigan and still the need for more speed increases. They will burn more gasoline in the end and fill the state coffers with revenues from it. There is a hint of libertarianism here or “I want to do what I want to do, its my right!”

Lets call it what it is; “Don’t impede my right to do as I want to do and do not force me to pay more in gasoline taxes.”

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Why the Refuge Protestors May Have Been Right

Protests have always been a part of America and this one at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge appears to be no different. Violence and the taking of life when it does not have to occur has also played a part in the protests. It was no different at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

In the past unions, facing company and governmental opposition to their demands have resorted to violence when they found peaceful protests did not work to gain recognition. Frustration on the part of union picketers with the appearance of strikebreakers, the delivery of materials, and the shipment of product eventually led to violent reaction. My own personal experience while attending a seminar in San Francisco found me in the midst of a hotel workers strike at the Sheraton on The Wharf. They were not a happy bunch and spent much time verbally abusing the help or scabs, as they called them, guiding us into the hotel. The hotel business continued and after the strike ended, the workers who stayed during the strike were let go. Either way, Labor paid.

Illegal and at times legal conduct by any protesting group almost always led to forceful retaliatory action by business, police and the military. The clashes sometimes led to injury and death with the employers, police, and government better equipped than the protestors and strikers. Under cover of the law, the actions of the police and government were just another vindication of employer rights and societal laws. Even in this environment, Labor prevailed. It has changed since those times when Labor was growing in influence. Labor and protesting success is on a downward slope losing ground in each confrontation whether legal or not. Legislatures continually nibble away at unions, worker, and protestor rights.

A Little History and Numbers

I did get in a discussion about the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The history of the refuge and grazing, the diversion of water, the low grazing prices charged ranchers, and the over grazing of land in the early years is mostly correct. To take over a refuge and federal land, it is hard to understand why someone would risk life and limb to challenge the local authorities, the government, and the military. In any case, it is a sure recipe to lose, go to prison, or die when you challenge the authorities, are armed, and considered dangerous. One man did pay with his life and the rest are under restraint by the authorities. This short commentary is not so much an argument of whether their stance was right or wrong as much as whether it was worth it or the right one to make. By taking over the Refuge, I believe the protesting ranchers left the public with the wrong impression.

The domination of the beef production by the meat packers and retailers plus the failure of Government to react to it has increased the costs faced by smaller ranchers and contributed to the controversy of grazing rights. With the consolidation of meat packers and the rise of giant retailers such as WalMart, prices for bringing cattle to feed lots decreased forcing cattlemen to reduce cost. Two ways to reduce cost are increase the size of your herds which requires more land or increase the numbers of meat packers so no one meat packer can influence the market. Smaller ranches have higher costs in production over larger ranches result from the numbers of cattle brought to market. Fewer cattle to feed lots or markets result in higher costs per head. In my opinion, the argument should be made with the government about the consolidation of meat packer market. Grazing rights and the ownership of land by the Federal Government is not necessarily the right argument to make. Whether the Government can own or control land was decided by SCOTUS (Light vs. U. S. and U.S vs. Grimaud) years previous and after the Sagebrush wars when the Federal Government started to charge fees for access after land was designated as national parks.

“In 1990 and after a decade of mergers, 4 companies ‘slaughtered and packed 69 percent of US-grown cows’ as reported by University of Missouri rural sociologist Mary Hendrickson. The progress gained by independent ranchers from the passage of such bills as the Sherman Anti-Trust, Wilson’s Clayton, and Harding’s Packers and Stockyards Acts has deteriorated. Today, the top “four meatpacking companies control 82 percent of the beef market — an unprecedented share of the pie.”

The Issue for Small Ranchers

The issue of grazing comes up when smaller ranchers try to increase the size and volume of their operations to gain the economies of scale achieved by the already much larger manufacturing ranches and there is nowhere to do so except expand on to public lands. A small ranch of 20 to 49 head may have a cost of ~$1600/head as compared to ranch of 500 or more with a cost of ~$400/head. The larger the ranch and herd is, the more the spread of Labor and infrastructure cost. To grow your herd to lower the cost/head as determined by meat packers and retail giants, a rancher needs land. What was previously free, was leased to ranchers and the costs of leasing came into question as added burden as well as whether it was constitutional.

invisible hand

Pressure to reduce costs came into play. As meat packers scaled up their industry through buyouts and the addition of capital, retailers such as WalMart did the same through larger operations. Larger ranching operations meant lower cost per head and also per pound of meat. Cost pressure increased all the way down the processing line. Ranchers which could expand did so, and the rest either turned to boutique businesses, sold out, or went out of the meat business altogether. The alternatives were dire.

Even with the expansion of the ranches, the percentage of retail dollar going to ranchers continued to shrink. It was either scale up and continually lower costs or go out of the beef business. Thousands of ranches did either and still those left struggled to get by. To increase competition amongst ranchers, meat packers offered exclusive contacts to buy meat and added contests (increased prices) which promoted heavier chickens or cattle sold, etc . The problem was, no one monitored what the livestock was fed. The smaller ranches who could not compete in this environment disappeared from the market place.

invisible hand

By policy, federal anti-trust regulators whose funding was cut by Congress, blocked by past administrations, or were pro-business mostly ignored the actions of companies using their market power to drive prices (oligopsonistic?) down. Similar tactics are employed by automotive OEMs who squeezed the supply base on pricing, inventory, payment terms (90 days and then late in payment), etc. If you do not like it, then you do not get the business to sustain yourself. Some Tier Ones such as Delphi, Yazaki, Lear have been able to fight back and then too some of the same (Delphi) have been forced to curtail their businesses through reorganization. The strategy also changed for antitrust regulators as New America Foundation’s Barry C. Lynn; points out; “since the era of Reagan, US antitrust regulators have focused almost exclusively on whether large companies use their market power to harm consumers by unfairly raising retail prices” and leaving small companies to fend for themselves.

What the Rancher’s Argument Should Have Been

What this strategy does is change the focus to “low pricing to consumers” (think China manufacturing of product) from competitive and fair business practices of meat packers and retailers in the market place. In other words, if it is low pricing to the customers, it has to be good. Well, past practices of such environments have shown it was not good in the end. Yes the consumer gets a low price; but it is fatal to small businesses and Labor by leaving a concentrated market controlled by a few corporations. Today, the meatpacking industry is controlled by 4 majors having >80% of the business. This type of concentration was largely put to rest in the past by the passage of Sherman Anti-Trust, Wilson’s Clayton, and Harding’s Packers and Stockyards Acts and the enforcement of these laws in the past until reinterpreted narrowly by Reagan’s DOJ. This practice hurt small farms and ranchers decades ago and in the end the consumer as competition is lessened.

This should have been the rancher’s argument. The take over of the Refuge was a distraction from the real issue faced by small ranchers and small businesses. It may have been a reaction of last resort; but, it was fatal to their cause.

What President Obama Tried To Do to Help Small Ranchers

After his election in 2008, President Obama took up the cause of independent farmers and ranchers against the excesses of meat packers. Starting with a series of 5 meetings with various farm groups representing cattle, hog and chicken farmers, the USDA who was charged with rewriting regulations and President Obama found themselves blocked by a Republican controlled House. While the Senate supported appropriations for the overall meat industry, the House went full out blocking food stamp and food safety programs. No one wanted to place the poor at risk. In December 2011, the USDA published 4 watered down regulations of which the only full strength regulation eliminated arbitration. In May 2012, the DOJ followed through with a report on the five 2010 meetings detailing a lack of competition. The DOJ went to state:

“It could not act to address these wrongs because, no matter how outrageous the conduct of the processing companies, their actions did not amount to “harm to competition” as defined by the current antitrust framework” which was skewed to protect consumers. Obstructionist Republicans in the House not only blocked any reform efforts but also any change to the law or USDA regulations and threatened budget cuts to the Department of Agriculture. It would be interesting to discover which Republicans blocked the reform efforts of Obama and the DOJ and came out in support of grazing rights for ranchers.

How the Administration’s Actions Harmed the Ranchers

The efforts of the administration to reform the industry may have caused more harm than good; “documenting the big processing companies’ exploitation of independent farmers” through the five meetings held by the administration” and “then failing to stop that exploitation and retreating in almost complete silence before entirely predictable resistance from the industry, the administration, for all intents, ended up implicitly condoning these injustices.”

The failure to succeed and subsequent silence gave further support to the “processing companies and they were now free to do whatever they wished to in the meat industry” knowing whatever they did would not be countered.

Furthermore, the raising of hopes and the backing of independent ranchers against big farming business interests frustrated the hopes of the independents who hoped for a fair shake in the open market. They were left again with few if any alternatives. Some gave up and others chose a more militant reaction forcing the administration to take action against the very ones they were seeking to help. And the Republicans, laughed at the moral failures of the administration.

The rest of the story . . .

References:

Obama’s Game of Chicken Washinton Monthly, November/December 2012

Are Monopolies Destroying America

The Oregon Militia Is Picking the Wrong Beef With the Feds Mother Jones, January, 2016

Cattle group alleges corruption in meatpacking industry

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