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Ignani and the Ignavi

Robert Waldmann

AHIP The health insurance lobby just declared war on the Baucus plan. This is new, since they previously supported health care reform. It is not, however, surprising. AHIP made its condition clear, they would support health care reform provided that all were insured. Basically the individual mandate was the price for their support.

Displaying his usual inverted political genius, Baucus decided to water down the individual mandate so that some people are allowed to go without insurance. He was trying to compromise with Republicans, well in this case, with a Republican — Olympia Snowe. Thus he violated the terms of a very clear very public agreement with AHIP. It’s not as if I didn’t warn on September 2 that this is a terrible idea.

Now Baucus has lost AHIP and Snowe remains officially undecided. He dumped AHIP Prsident Karen Ignani in a bid for the Ignavi (I make that plural to refer to the Divine Comedy but pretend it is to include Nelson or Lieberman or someone).

Update: Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Baucus is an even more brilliant 11 dimensional chess player than Obama (a 12 dimensional chess player) and he knew that provoking AHIP was a brilliant strategy. The line from an anonymous “finance committee aide” is that AHIP’s attack is good for Baucus. The idea seems to be that Senators are angry with AHIP and don’t want to appear to take instructions from AHIP (doesn’t mean they don’t want to take the instructions, it just means that they don’t want it to be obvious as in changing their position the day before the big vote after a very public command).

Of course I assume that “a finance committee aide” would not make a totally bogus claim in support of the view that Sen Baucus is a genius and certainly wouldn’t demand anonymity if the claim were totally bogus. Nahhh that’s just not the way Washington works.

I’d guess that the bought and paid for insurance industry senators (definitely including Sen Baucus) aren’t even capable of being good fiduciaries of insurance company shareholders — that there obsession with compromising, watering down and settling for half a loaf (and above all pissing of the left wing of the party) lead them to water down the individual mandate which is much more critical to insurance company profits than is the avoidance of a public option.

update 2: Kevin Drum has the same theory as I do, but he writes much more goodly.

update 3: Yves Smith ways in
More comments after the jump.

Interestingly the AHIP broadside is not a press release. It is an A1 article by Ceci Conolly in The Washington Post. I thought the Washington Post was a subsidiary of the test prep industry not the health insurance industry (live and learn).

Dougj notes that The Washington Post publisher invited health industry players to pay for access to Ceci Conolly and writes “There’s a pretty strong prima facie case for pay-to-play here.”

Also AHIP didn’t just say the Baucus bill is a bad bill which will cause insurance premia to increase. They commissioned a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an analysis (it must be an analysis there are lot’s of numbers in it) and a frightening possible price tag. PricewaterhouseCoopers clearly explains, in the text of their analysis, that they made extreme and implausible assumptions to make the calculated number as large as possible. AHIP and PwC assume that they know how journamalism works. Journalists don’t look at the assumptions or any non headline number so credibility can be bought (although I didn’t know that PwC had any left to sell). John Cohn read the fine print so you don’t have to.

I’m not sure if the old approach will work now that serious journalists have to worry about geeks who actually read the analysis that interest groups buy. OK I’m pretty sure it will still work.

update: looks the approach of anonymous sources praising their bosses still works.

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FTC/Blogger Silliness Defined

Mark Cuban gets the FTC’s artificial distinction between bloggers and journalism exactly correct.

Full disclosure: I had a Press Pass to the Clinton Global Initiative, and got things such as a disc copy of Financial Football* and a video ostensibly about the Rwandan National Forests (sadly, not so interesting) as a result.

*It’s not my fault Visa describes it as “Financial Soccer” on the U.S. edition of their website.

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Brad DeLong is Correct

All right, I give up. I’ve reviewed for the Washington Post Book World, I consider some of their work interesting, and can almost forgive them for publishing Ruth Marcus, Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, and Richard Cohen as if they were sane.

But when your Ombudsman claims that your readers “typically demand coverage that is unfailingly neutral,” and cites as an example of “crossing the line” one of your reporters making a statement of fact:

“We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not,” Raju Narisetti wrote on his Twitter feed. “But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”

There is no purpose for your organization to even claim it publishes news.

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Norman Borlaug, Michael Jackson, and the Invisible Hand

by cactus

Norman Borlaug, Michael Jackson, and the Invisible Hand

When Adam Smith described the concept of laissez-faire capitalism, he argued that it was not just efficient but moral. As long as everyone acted in their own self-interest and the government did not interfere, the Invisible Hand would guide market forces toward the best possible outcome for society. Its generally accepted that this doesn’t always work in the presence of externalities; someone (i.e., government) has to be there to ensure that people don’t exercise their right to swing their fist beyond the start of other people’s noses.

But there is another problem which seems to be less highly recognized, namely that the whole concept of the Invisible Hand itself is bull$#^&. As an example, I’m writing this a few minutes after reading about the death of Norman Borlaug. He was a Nobel Laureate who developed disease-resistant and fast growing crops. Depending on who you ask, his work saved the lives of somewhere between a quarter of a billion and a billion people. So far. If we don’t all die in some sort of cataclysm in the next fifteen minutes, that number will only grow.

Now consider another person recently deceased – Michael Jackson. I believe Jackson was finally buried some time last week. Aside from being known the world over, Jackson was very wealthy, despite his clear incompetence with money. He probably made at least one dollar for every life saved by Norman Borlaug, so far. Norman Borlaug, on the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, did not. Furthermore, this discrepancy in income is very, very, very hard to attribute to government interference.

Which means, there are two possible alternatives:

1. Michael Jackson did more positive things for the world than Norman Borlaug.
2. Michael Jackson did less positive things for the world than Norman Borlaug.

There is no third option. None. Now, I think very, very few people, even die-hard Michael Jackson fans, when presented with numbers like “a quarter of a billion lives saved so far” would agree with option 1. Which leaves option 2. And if option 2, then the Invisible Hand is bull$#^&. Which means capitalism doesn’t work or is immoral. That does not imply any other philosophical system would work better, mind you, but trusting the market to do its thing provides perverse results.
by cactus

UPDATE by Ken:

I mentioned this in comments, but I think it’s worth embedding here, too, as context for Norman Borlaug:

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Maybe There IS a Reason Ross Douthat Exists

I have generally decided that the NYT’s attempt at becoming the WSJ on its editorial page is not worth the trouble of discussing. An editorial staph that replaces the despicable but somewhat coherent Bill Kristol with the execrable incoherence of Ross Douthat is clearly suffering a fatal infection, and therefore not deserving of support.

But then the Lovely and Talented Susan of Texas gets loose. And, while there is still no reason to bother with the original, the interpretation is a standard against which all others should be judged:

Shorter Ross Douthat: I tried to have some sort of intercourse about Iraq but the Left was like a chunky Reese Witherspoon, masticating on Colin Powell’s UN presentation and spilling its breasts out of its protests. I wanted to surge into Iraq but the Left wanted a premature withdrawal. If we withdraw, Iraq will swell into violence and give birth to a Middle Eastern abomination, one that even the Left can’t abort.

If you can’t do that, folks—and most of us cannot—don’t bother with the backlinks. It will only delude the NYT that they have some reason to exist that is not named Bob Herbert or Paul Krugman.

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McMegan, Discrimination, and Inappropriate Loans

Susan of Texas has an immortal post on the housing crisis, McMegan’s ratiocination, and the persistence of ignorant memes. The money quote:

McArdle doesn’t refute facts, she hen-pecks at the methods used to gather information. That way she doesn’t actually have to prove anything, she just casts enough aspersions on the data to confuse the issue. When source after source after source after source brings up a problem, dismissing it out of hand begins to look like bigotry and callous indifference instead of honest disagreement. [links from original]

Go Read the Whole Thing.*

(Cross-posted and expanded from Marginal Utility)

*Yes, rdan, this is another blog we’ve been keeping from you.

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My Job Application Letter

Dear Philadelphia Inquirer,

I also am a native of the City of Brotherly Love. The last two firms at which I have worked have lost billions of dollars.

While I admit that—unlike your latest columnist—I am not responsible for that happening, I believe this qualifies me to write a monthly column for you. While I understand that you must keep the amount you pay for the column secret from the workers who took $25/week pay cuts in an effort to save the paper, I believe that we can quickly agree to an amount in the neighborhood of the $1,750 you pay Rick Santorum, whose Philadelphia ties are much more suspect than mine.

I will, of course, write columns for you specifying that the current financial system is in perfect order, functioning precisely as it should. This should give my column the same truthiness that Mr. Santorum and your latest columnist bring to your august institution, and “promote further discourse.”

You can reach me via this blog. I look forward to receiving a contract.


Ken Houghton

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I’ve Got the Under on S/h/e/a/ C/i/t/i/ Taxpayer Field

So the brilliant NFL has “solved” the Yom Kippur problem, moving the starting time for the Jets-Titans game to 1:00p.m.

Which means that, with luck, the game ends around 4:00—probably closer to 4:15.*

It appears that sundown on 27 September 2009—from which time one is expected to fast for 24 hours, so any eating better be done well before that—is going to be just about 6:45pm (assuming EDT).

I’ve driven around the Meadowlands around the time of football games before (mostly by accident; not something anyone wants to do). No one who has done so would agree with Representative Anthony Weiner:

“This commonsense solution is a win for everyone involved,” Weiner said, praising the league’s decision. “The NFL can maximize the greatest audience while Jewish New York Jets fans can support their team and respect their religion.”

In comments, please estimate where a car of fans with midlevel seats, who pack up at the final whistle of a non-Overtime game and are heading East, will be at 6:45p.m. My admittedly-optimistic assumption is the in the title of this post.**

*For analysis, I am going to assume that the game is close and interesting. Perhaps the NFL does not make that assumption?

**Feel free to assume driving up to the GWB and taking the Triborough Bridge: maximum tolls and possibly minimum traffic.

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