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

“House Democrats’ Drug Price Strategy versus a Cost Strategy”

The House Democrats just released their drug pricing plan (summary) on the 19th. I read through it rather quickly and I found it to be interesting and having targets which could work. Rather than jump right into this, let’s talk about purchasing a bit and then what I believe would be better.

In a purchasing negotiation there are two typical ways used to negotiate a price to your company. The first strategy is to tell a supplier you have done a market study, another supplier can offer a better price, and  all things are equal between him and the other supplier. The supplier has a choice of beating the new price or offering something else of value to the customer which will negate the difference and can not be acquired from the other supplier (whip-sawing a supplier is unethical and many do it).

The second strategy requires more work and requires you to understand the cost of materials, the process and its cost, and the overhead involved. It does establish a base in which a buyer can use to negotiate with “all” suppliers. With the former strategy, you are guessing whether you have a good price because you do not know the cost of manufacture. Purchasing has to be a bit more than just a clerk.

The House plan intends to negotiate on pricing using other countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom) pricing to measure against for the same drug. The legislation establishes an upper limit for the price as no more than 1.2 times of the volume-weighted average of the price of the six countries reached in their negotiation. Australia, Japan, and United Kingdom use a cost-based method of pricing a drug.

Here is a brief explanation of the House plan:

Year 1 and each successive year, the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary would identify up to 250 brand name drugs appearing to lack pricing competition and having the greatest cost to Medicare and the US healthcare system. The data would be collected from Medicare, Medicaid, and healthcare insurance to determine aggregate cost based upon price and volume of sales.

The total of 250 items picked with:

  • the top 125 drugs in Medicare Part B responsible for a full 96% of Part B spending,
  • and 125 drugs responsible for 45 percent of the spending in Part D.

As show in the chart. “More” to be read after the leap.

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UkraineGate: What Will Volker Say?

UkraineGate: What Will Volker Say?

I am referring to Kurt Volker:

The president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has revealed text messages of conversations between himself and senior officials at the State Department that he says show they endorsed his controversial dealings with Ukraine…During an appearance on Fox News show The Ingraham Angle last night, Giuliani revealed 15 text messages between himself, U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

When I first heard the lying and very corrupt RUDY say this, I could only imagine the consternation of the people in the State Department over the fact that RUDY wants to drag them down with him. But here is the interesting news:

Kurt Volker, US special envoy to Ukraine, has resigned one day after the release of a whistleblower report alleging a coverup by the White House of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s President, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN. Volker was named in the report…here is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. The news of Volker’s resignation comes just hours after the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced they would hold a deposition for him next week. “We still expect to hear everything he knows about this scandal,” said a congressional aide familiar with the deposition plans. But it’s unclear if he will still speak with the committee on the planned date. Giuliani denied to CNN on Thursday the characterizations of his interactions with Volker detailed in a complaint from an American intelligence community whistleblower, saying he had a “nice little trail” of text messages with Volker to prove his story. “I spoke to the State Department during the course of this situation, I told you, at least 10 times, and I met with them,” Giuliani told CNN.

Yes RUDY – we know you love to talk. Of course no sane person believes a word you say. Why should we expect Mr. Volker to come forward and do the right thing?

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What Kurt Eichenwald says – Saving the Republic

What Kurt Eichenwald says – Saving the Republic

When I’m not reading and writing about the economy, I do occasionally comment elsewhere on political topics.

So it was on Thursday when, in response to this post asserting that Democrats were powerless to do anything – (including enforcing THEIR OWN GODDAM SUBPOENAS!) – and that it was “green lantern-ism” to believe otherwise, I decided I had had enough (see comment #25), for which I was called a “kook” and a disloyal Democrat. It would “hand the President a public relations victory,” it would have “undesirable optics,” and wouldn’t show “comity.”

Worse, most of these people – presumably people paying attention to the news – didn’t know that each House of Congress, like courtroom judges, have the the power of “inherent contempt,” meaning that they don’t have to ask a prosecutor to bring a case for contempt, they can imprison a non-compliant witness, obtain a conviction from the full House, and continue that imprisonment until the witness agrees to obey their subpoena.
Well, if I am a “kook” for wanting Congress to enforce its powers, so is Kurt Eichenwald of the New York Times, who has been absoluletely ON FIRE this week. Unfortunately, since twitter unrolls don’t play nice with blogger, I can’t reproduce it here, but go read the whole threads, herehere, and here.
And, while you are at it, read this 2015 article by Matt Yglesias about how, even then, “the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship,” and its scheme of Constitutional democracy is likely to fall in the near future.
It is simply ghastly that people like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden think all we need to do is elect Democrats in 2020 and all will be well. HELL, no!

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Birds . . .

Not a Human, but a Dance, Atlantic Daily, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

I do not know about you when you receive a magazine you subscribe to; but when I get mine, I read it from cover to cover. I also send a copy to one who is incarcerated to read and it makes the rounds amongst the inmates. Since I chased prisoners in the service, it is not unusual for me to look after some of them.

Me: This bird has more rhythm than I do. Not a Human, but a Dancer

Among the video’s 6.2 million viewers was Aniruddh Patel and he was was blown away by what he saw. A neuroscientist, Patel had recently published a paper asking why the near – universal trait among human of dancing was seemingly absent in other animals. Some species will jump excitedly to music; but, they are not in time with the music and lack rhythm.

Me: Recently on the show (my wife was watching) “Dancing With the Stars,” Nancy Wilson was asked if she had rhythm and could dance by her partner Her reply was; “I am Black” or of course I do fool. Some people are more equal than others. This definitely plays against my natural skill set as I must admit I lack rhythm and am also envious.

Some animals can be trained to perform dancelike actions such as in canine freestyle, but they do not do so naturally. Some birds will make fancy courtship “dances;” but “they’re not listening to another bird laying down a complex beat,” says Patel, at Tufts University. True dancing is a spontaneous rhythmic movement to external music. Our closest companions, dogs and cats, can not do such. Neither do our closest relatives, monkeys and other primates.

Patel reasoned dancing requires strong connections between brain regions involved in hearing and movement and such mental hardware would only exist in vocal learners or in animals capable of imitating the sounds they hear. That elite club excludes dogs, cats, and other primates, but includes elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots.

Patel: “When someone sent me a video of Snowball, I was primed to jump on it.”

In 2008, he tested Snowball’s ability to keep time with versions of “Everybody” that had been slowed down or sped up. In almost every case, the parrot successfully banged his head and lifted his feet in time. Much like human children, he often went offbeat, but his performance was consistent enough to satisfy Patel.

Snowball was going through his own dance- dance revolution when another team led by Adena Schulz kept exposing him to new music, and learned that he likes Pink, Lady Gaga, Queen, and Bruno Mars.

Patel: “Dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections which Snowball the parrot exhibits also.

The Quiet Disappearance of Birds in North America, The Atlantic, Science, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

If the pigeons disappeared from your local park, would you notice? What if the neighborhood finch stopped coming to the feeder? The starling no longer perched on the power line?

According to a new report, birds are disappearing and in large numbers. The total North American avian population has decreased by an approximate 29 percent over the past half century. There are 3 billion fewer birds today than when there were in 1970.

It is not a case of rare birds getting rarer either as the hardest hit species include every day birds such as swallows, sparrows, and starlings. 90 percent of the losses have come from 12 bird families. With the decreased numbers birds, we lose the function they bring to nature such as insect eaters controlling their numbers, plant pollination, those early morning songs, and more.

Researchers plan to investigate what is causing the drop; but, the condition of their habitat such as pollution and the reductions of it due to encroachment of the grasslands and wetlands by humans will probably play a big role. There are also the more mundane (and often preventable) threats, like running into windows and being killed by cats.

I can see the pollution part of it in my own neighborhood where grass clippings and leaves besides fertilizer residue are blown into the subdivision streets and washed down the drains leading to the wetlands surrounding us. And when I explain why they should not do such, they get indignant about it with the old “this is my land.” Except when your actions cause harm to the environment, the water supply, and the people around you; your ownership of the land and your actions are not exempt when you cause harm to others. It is called community.

“It is as if all birds are canaries and the entire world their coal mine.”

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Op ed on Country Music

Country Music

I have been watching Ken Burns’s “Country Music”  series on PBS.  May not watch too much more of it as I am not that interested in more recent country music, although I like some of it.

So the big story of this series is how much of supposedly “white music” is of African-American origin.  I had long been aware of how the banjo was of African origin, the core country instrument beside the “fiddle,” aka “violin,” which is of European origin.  But it shows that most of the important early Country music people had serious interactions with black musicians, relying on them for finding music as well as helping them developing their own styles.  These figures include A.P. Carter, the founder of the Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnnie Cash, and others.

All of this clearly rebukes the Country Music Association’s rejection of this year’s massive hit, “Old Country Road,” as being officially “country music.”  Despite the fantasies of ignorant current racists, country music and rhythm and blues and, jazz, not to mention rock and  roll, have always been curiously hybrid forms of music.

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Three Mile Island to Close

Eighty year old retired salesman John Garver the morning of March 28, 1979 remembers the acrid odor permeating Harrisburg as he walked out of a restaurant in Pennsylvania’s capital city.

“We had this smell in the air, wondering what it was. Well it didn’t take us long to find out … that the accident started.”

Fourteen miles away, the “accident” was unfolding in Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, triggering panic, confusion, and within days an evacuation order.

The partial meltdown sparked national protests, prompted increased safety standards for the nuclear power industry, and largely stymied the industry’s momentum for decades until recent alarm over climate change has made some begin to embrace expanding carbon-free nuclear power.

Today, the remaining reactor (Unit 1) will generate its last kilowatt of energy and close. Three Mile Island was not a victim of the anti-nuclear movement; but rather, it lost out to simple economics. Even though the plant is licensed to operate until 2034, Exelon Generation is ceasing operations after the state of Pennsylvania earlier this year refused to throw the company a financial lifeline to keep it open.

The plant’s four cooling towers will remain a part of the landscape for now as foreboding concrete tombstones seemingly out of place in the bucolic Susquehanna Valley of central Pennsylvania and a reminder of what happened March 28, 1979.

Taking a Second Look

Senator Cory Booker; “Right now, nuclear is more than 50% of our non-carbon causing energy. People who think we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts.”

Economic factors such as cheap natural gas and increasingly affordable renewable sources are slowly driving nuclear power out of business. Additionally, diminished demand has also hurt profitability in addition to rising operational costs. The closure of the Three Mile Island facility will leave 97 commercial reactors at 59 plants, scattered across 30 states, remaining in operation.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee was the last nuclear power plant to come on line in 2010. Two more reactors are under construction in Georgia (Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC]). No more are planned as of yet.

Pro-industry group, World Nuclear Association: “Public confidence in nuclear energy in the US declined following the Three Mile Island accident. It was a major cause of the decline in nuclear construction through the 1980s and 1990s.”

Harrisburg resident and Chair of the Three Mile Island Alert organization Eric Epstein: “If there is a good thing that happened because of TMI, it had ignited a fierce debate on the viability of nuclear power being safe, reliable, economical, etc.”

It still remains to be seen if more reactors will be built to supplement US energy needs.

Three Mile Island closes: meltdown changed nuclear energy in America,” USA Today, Ledyard King, September 20, 2019

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The Strike On Saudi Oil Facilities

The Strike On Saudi Oil Facilities

This is going to be a tentative post because there is much that remains unclear. What I am going to do is to make it clear that stories that are being told by US authorities and largely repeated by the MSM with little critical commentary is highly questionable.

As it is, it looks like the economic impact of the knocking out of about 60 percent of Saudi oil processing capacity by an attack by 20 drones will not amount to too much. The Saudis have now announced that they should have 70 percent of their damaged production capacity back in operation within a week or two. While crude oil prices initially surged 20 percent up, they have largely fallen back toward where they were before the attack. This is a massive contrast with how all this used to be back in the 1970s when, for example, crude prices would triple or even quadruple with a supply disruption from the Persian Gulf, with dramatic stagflationary effects on all the oil importing national economies. This does not look remotely likely to happen.

The matter that remains very much in the air, with a threat of war breaking out worse than it is already happening, involves the source of the attack on the facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq. SecState Pompeo outright said the attack came from Iran. Supposedly US intelligence agencies are supporting this, although there seem to be doubts. Buried deep in the press reports are caveats suggesting that maybe not quite all the attacks came from there. Of course, it is essentially impossible to evaluate these claims as we know these agencies have their secret methods and sources they are not leaking. But then we see both the Saudis and President Trump holding back from fully going along with this report.

So why might this be wrong? Well, at least one alternative version appears to have been decisively repudiated. That is that the attack came from Shia militias in Iraq. This theory was put forth by Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, perhaps as a desperate part of his reelection campaign, with it looking like he has not done well in that election, although the full outcome is still not known. But this apparently blatantly ridiculous report may be the beginning of the end of people taking publicly announced Israeli intelligence reports as things to be taken seriously.

However, the more serious alternative to Iran as a source is the Yemeni Houthis. Almost certainly the drones were from Iran, although even that is not definitely certain. In any case several statements have come supposedly from US intel agencies that the Yemeni Houthis could not have done this, even though they themselves have been loudly claiming that they did it, while the Iranians are loudly denying that they did it. Supposedly this all distraction from the role of the Iranians. But Juan Cole has pointed out things that the media are simply not reporting things that suggest that indeed the Yemeni Houthis appear to have the capability. In particular in May the Houthis launched a drone attack on an oil pumping station at al-Duadimi, well over 800 miles from Sana’a. The sites struck in this attack are only another 100 miles further, and the Shehad 129 Iranian drone supposedly can travel a full 1100 miles. Why are we seeing no reports of this in the media?

As it is, it may be that both the Saudis and even Trump may be aware of this matter that has not been well publicized. If so, no wonder they are not fully signing on to saying it was Iran, quite aside from a reluctance to get into a new war there. Whatever has really gone down, let us hope at least there will be no new war.

Barkley Rosser

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Affordable Housing

The other night, ten Democratic presidential, hopeful, nominees took stage and debated their plans for America’s future. There never was a mention beyond a few garbled words hastily thrown together about an issue which is plaguing many young voters ing to raise families and one which has surfaced in my community, the shortage of affordable homes. Senator Elizabeth Warren knows of the issue as she has discussed it in one of her talks, “The Two Income Family.”

Moderators have bypassed the issue and not asked the question of a candidate’s plan for Affordable Housing which is a growing problem for many people in the US especially young people. In lieu of their not asking, here is a site 2020 Because Housing is Built with Ballots from which you can read each of the candidate’s plans.

The housing crisis has hit urban, suburban, and rural areas with some states being worst(see chart above) than others with regard to supply. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. Rents have risen faster than renters’ incomes over the last two decades, more people are renting than ever, and the supply of apartments they can afford has lagged. Fewer than four affordable and available rental homes exist for every 10 of the lowest-income renter households nationwide. People of color are disproportionately impacted. Racial segregation persists and concentrated poverty is growing.

Meanwhile, policy makers have disinvested in the nation’s public housing infrastructure, leaving families living in unsafe, unhealthy, and unacceptable conditions. After almost a decade of decline, homelessness is back on the rise, and is in the news in an adversarial manner. The same as with immigrants, people do not want to provide solutions and they want the homeless to disappear. Where they should go has not been determined.

Jumping on this bandwagon pre – election, the one man who has a history of discrimination as learned from a father who was depicted by in song by Woodie Guthrie, President Donald Trump has signaled his intentions to address California’s homeless crisis in a harmful, unjust, and unlawful manner. Involving criminalization, sweeps of unsheltered people living on the streets, they will (potentially?) be moved to federal homeless camps.

Affordable housing and homelessness has been in the news across the country and debate moderators have yet to ask the question of what can be done or what are your solutions to the crisis.

While providing good and affordable healthcare is important; housing, besides a cardboard box, is one of the prerequisites to having good health. One way or another, we will be paying for it.

The Question the Presidential Candidates Don’t Get Asked, City Lab, Diane Yentel

The GAP, A Shortage of Affordable Homes March 2018

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Has 21st century conservatism contributed anything useful at all ?

(Dan here…lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

by Robert Waldmann

Has 21st century conservatism contributed anything useful at all ?

This is a question I haven’t asked myself. I have long looked for reasonable and reasonably honest conservatives. It is frustrating, because I have found many, but few are still conservative. I don’t want to get distracted from my distraction; but there is a pattern of me finding a conservative whom I consider reasonable, then that guy breaks with the conservative movement within a year.The new topic is conservative ideas. The question is, is there any conservative thought which is worth consideration, which they hadn’t already written and which not been said by 1900. I suppose this might be considered an unfair question, since I demand something new from a school centered on suspicion of the new. However, they have embraced many new and worthless ideas and proposals (see below) so I don’t think I am being unfair.

This is a long very self indulgent post. It is twitter overload. I am going to:

1) bring a twitter discussion over here,

2) try to think of worthwhile 21st century conservative ideas, and

3) try to think of worthwhile 21st century non-conservative ideas (to be fair — it might just be that my effort under 2 fails because of my ignorance or my interpretation of “worthwhile” and “2st century”).

OK the twitter thread (which will make it painfully clear why I surfed over to blogger I mean “4.1/3” really ???).

It starts with this very interesting post on challenges to liberalism and liberals’ responses.

Ross Douthat asked a constructive and interesting (implied) question

Ross Douthat @DouthatNYT

18h

The question I’m left with at the end of this interesting @zackbeauchamp crisis-of-liberalism survey is whether he thinks there’s anything that liberalism can learn or drawn on from the *right* in order to survive and flourish anew?

I replied @robertwaldmann

Obviously the reason you are left with that question is that neither he nor you can think of anything useful that anyone can learn from conservatives. The reason is that all alleged conservative insights have been disproven by massive evidence.

In fact I challenge you. I suspect the answer will be to claim for conservatism universal values and widespread beliefs or to pretend that the only alternative to conservatism is something like Marxism. I say conservatism has the same epistemic standing as astrology.

Dilan Esper contributed reasonable thoughts aiming for constructive discussion. I want to thank Dilan Esper for being helpful and constructive. I fear my tone on twitter and here does not communicate my sincere appreciation of a good faith effort. Also MuchTL:DR , his effort confirms my prediction.

 

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F**king Old Enough to Vote

It’s That Day again. I mostly stayed off Facebook (except for birthday greetings) and Twitter, but even LinkedIn has posts of now-yellowed newspaper articles of survivors–and probably some of those who didn’t.

In another ten years, it will be as far from 11 Sep 2001 as that date was from 11 Sep 1973.

At least now, most people know what a sh*t Rudy Giuliani was, both in setting up the firefighters for disaster and moving the NYC Office of Emergency Management Command Center from the safest location in the city–the basement of 1 Police Plaza–to the 23rd floor of a building in a complex that had already been bombed once before he did it. While he and Bernard Kerik got to Be Adulterers on taxpayer money, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the 343 firefighters they murdered outright certainly could have been saved. Though that would have been more people who, but for the grace (and anger) of Jon Stewart, would still be trying to get health care. Rudy’s tombstone should read: ““This group’s finding is that the security of the proposed O.E.M. Command Center cannot be reasonably guaranteed” — July 1998″

Yes, I’m still bitter. No, I’m not going to post anything nearly as subtle as this, which is probably my ultimate contribution to the genre of In The Shadow of The Towers. I’m going to talk about Milton Friedman. Because it’s the 18th anniversary, so it’s now old enough to vote–or, especially in the pre-26th Amendment world–be drafted.

Let’s be clear: Milton Friedman had one good idea in his life, and that was that his alma mater should not sponsor a football team. Even a broken clock, and the program whose highlights are Ray Rice and Greg Schiano (whose skills included guiding the team to a money-losing Bowl appearance) isn’t exactly something that could justify Superstar Economics Theory.

Milton Friedman, like Gary Becker, was wrong about almost every social policy recommendation he made. While it might be difficult to identify what he was most wrong about, a leading contender is The Elimination of the Draft, which he championed for years and finally shepherded through the Nixon Administration.

After all, people should be Free to Starve Choose, and conscription is certainly not a “choice.” Choice can discriminate; conscription means mandatory attendance or a demonstrable reason to be excused. Friedman’s ghost, twirling at Mach 3 in the Eighth Circle, probably rues that males still must register for Selective Service.

So we have a story published just over two years ago on America’s only remaining news source becoming evermore real. While before people who didn’t want to be subject to two years of training and possibly warfare had to at least come up with a somewhat reasonable excuse (*cough* bone spurs *cough*) or face jail time, the scions of the elite have no “skin in the game.” So the Longest War in U.S. History continues: planned as well as it was executed, executed as well as its objectives were planned. While the planners well know that their sons (and daughters) will not even have to come up with the lies they did to avoid any chance of being killed.

Because Milton Friedman said that would not be Freedom. And people believed him, because “freedom” means you don’t have to “have skin in the game” (literally, in this case) if you don’t want to, even if your actions caused the problem.

I suspect Rudy Giuliani approves.

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