Saturday, June 27, 2009

How ObamasCare Threatens Your Health Plan

By Rich Lowry

Pres. Barack Obama knows health-care policy. Give him an hour and a half to hold forth, as ABC News obligingly did at a town-hall meeting, and he will invariably impress with his fluidity.
This makes it all the more remarkable that he often appears unable to understand how his health-scare program threatens private insurance. At a recent press conference, Obama argued that the very notion of it doesn't compute: "If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best-quality health care, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government - which they say can't run anything - suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."
Obama explains his health-care plan ... its easy and direct.  If you can't understand this then you and your family are really f@#*!
Are we clear ... I said, are we clear!
This is exceptionally brazen sophistry. Private insurers are at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the federal government because they don't have the power of the government to dictate prices to doctors and hospitals. That's what Medicare does, and why it pays less for health services than private insurers.
Surely Obama understands the competitive advantage that this confers on the government. If the public option in ObamasCare underpays providers in a similar fashion, it will charge cheaper premiums than private insurance. Employers will dump their employees into the public plan, and a massive "crowding out" will occur. The respected health-care research firm The Lewin Group estimates as many as 119 million people could migrate from private insurance to the government plan, whether Obama considers it logical or not.
Since Medicare doesn't pay hospitals enough to cover costs, they have to make up the expense by charging more to private insurers. According to Lewin, as Medicare hospital payments declined from 95 percent of costs in 2003 to 91 percent of costs in 2007, private-payer rates steadily increased. A massive new government plan that doesn't pay its own way will augment this cost shift, making private insurance more expensive still and sending ever more people into the arms of the government plan.
ObamasCare, then, could unravel the entire private system very quickly. And in Obama's telling, it all would have been a strange accident of fate. All he wanted to do was reduce health-care costs, and lo and behold, he ended up with the Canada-style system no one thought politically possible. What dumb luck.
Since some 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health care, Obama must minimize the risk to them. This is why one of Obama's signature lines - almost up there with hope and change - is the promise that anyone who wants to keep his health insurance can do so. "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period," Obama said in his speech to the American Medical Association. "No one will take it away, no matter what."
This stark language is becoming less sustainable, though. According to the research group HSI Network, the version of ObamasCare currently before the House Ways and Means Committee would cover most of the country's 47 million uninsured, but at a cost of $3.5 trillion over ten years and while crowding 64 million people out of private insurance. Obama wants to pretend that getting to universal coverage is an essentially costless, win-win proposition, when it will come at enormous expense and disrupt the insurance of millions of Americans happy with their health care.
Asked at his press conference about his frequent reassurances that people will get to keep their current insurance, Obama reached for wiggle room. He explained that the government won't "make you change plans." Well, one is thankful for little things. But Obama implicitly left open the possibility that his reform will tilt the system so that employers, on their own, unload their coverage. Which is exactly the problem, and why Obama's reform threatens private insurance.
Only if Obama successfully obfuscates this point will he get his public option. Otherwise, the chances of his big-bang change to the American health system radically diminish.
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. [some commentary have been added to the original copy]
© 2009 by King Features Syndicate


Friday, June 26, 2009


China argues to replace US dollar

Detail from a dollar bill
The dollar has been the world's reserve currency for decades
China's central bank has reiterated its call for a new reserve currency to replace the US dollar.
The report from the People's Bank of China (PBOC) said a "super-sovereign" currency should take its place.
Central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan has loudly led calls for the dollar to be replaced during the financial crisis.
The bank report called for more regulation of the countries that issue currencies that underpin the global financial system.
"An international monetary system dominated by a single sovereign currency has intensified the concentration of risk and the spread of the crisis," the Chinese central bank said.

The dollar fell after the report was released. The US currency dropped 1% against the euro to $1.4088, and declined 0.8% versus the British pound to $1.6848.
Mr Zhou caused a stir earlier this year when he said the dollar could eventually be replaced as the world's main reserve currency by the Special Drawing Right (SDR), which was created as a unit of account by the IMF in 1969.
Foreign currency held by a government or a central bank
Used to pay foreign debt obligations or influence exchange rates
The dollar is viewed as the world's reserve currency as the vast majority of reserves are held in the US currency
Smaller amounts are held in euros, pounds and yen
The PBOC said in the report that not only should the world adopt the SDR, but that the IMF should be entrusted with managing a portion of its member countries' foreign currency reserves.
"To avoid intrinsic shortcomings in using a sovereign currency as a reserve currency, we need to create an international reserve currency that is divorced from sovereign states and can maintain a stable value over the long term, "the PBOC report said.
It also issued some veiled criticism of the US policies, saying that one of the major issues was that it was difficult to balance the needs of domestic politics with the requirements of being the world's reserve currency.
"The economic development model of debt-based consumption is most difficult to sustain," the PBOC said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently joined Mr Zhou in saying it was time to consider an alternative benchmark currency for international debt.
But Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin then said "it's too early to speak of an alternative".

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Getting hosed by your Representatives ... Car Czar, Salary Czar, Health Czar ... [whatever Czar] ...

Sunday, June 21, 2009



Resolution Specifies That It Cannot Be Used in Reparations Cases
By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday apologizing for slavery, making way for a joint congressional resolution and the latest attempt by the federal government to take responsibility for 2 1/2 centuries of slavery.

"You wonder why we didn't do it 100 years ago," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), lead sponsor of the resolution, said after the unanimous-consent vote. "It is important to have a collective response to a collective injustice."

The Senate's apology follows a similar apology passed last year by the House. One key difference is that the Senate version explicitly deals with the long-simmering issue of whether slavery descendants are entitled to reparations, saying that the resolution cannot be used in support of claims for restitution. The House is expected to revisit the issue next week to conform its resolution to the Senate version.

Harkin, who called the Senate's vote an "important and significant milestone," said he wanted the resolution passed yesterday to closely coincide with Juneteenth, a holiday first celebrated by former slaves to mark their emancipation.

This recent willingness to deal with the nation's difficult racial history has come about in part because of President Obama's election, said Rep. Stephen I. Cohen (D-Tenn.), who began pushing for an apology more than a decade ago when he was a state senator and pronounced himself "pleased" with the Senate vote.

Still, Cohen said, "there are going to be African Americans who think that [the apology] is not reparations, and it's not action, and there are going to be Caucasians who say, 'Get over it.' . . . I look at it as something that makes people think."

Even among proponents of a congressional apology, reaction to yesterday's vote was mixed. Carol M. Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University who had pushed for the Bush administration to issue an apology, called the Democratic-controlled Senate's resolution "meaningless" since the party and federal government are led by a black president and black voters are closely aligned with the Democratic party.

"The Republican Party needed to do it," Swain said. "It would have shed that racist scab on the party."

Republicans, however, were supportive of the resolution. "It doesn't fix everything, but it does go a long way toward acknowledgment and moving us on to the next steps to building a more perfect union, doing the things that Martin Luther King would talk about, like building a colorblind society," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).
As with all congressional apologies -- but especially this one -- concerns about liability for restitution were part of the political calculations, in this case because of the long-running debate about whether the descendants of slaves should be compensated.

Charles Ogletree, the Harvard law professor who has championed restitution, was consulted on the Senate's resolution and supports it, but he said it is not a substitute for reparations. "That battle will be prolonged," he said.

Randall Robinson, author of "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks," said he sees the Senate's apology as a "confession" that should lead to a next step of reparations. "Much is owed, and it is very quantifiable," he said. "It is owed as one would owe for any labor that one has not paid for, and until steps are taken in that direction we haven't accomplished anything."

Cohen said he and Harkin worked closely with the NAACP and other civil rights groups on language that would not endorse or preclude any future claims to reparations. "It will not harm reparations but won't give any standing to it," Cohen said.


U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, today on the Senate floor issued the first car czar award to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for interfering in the operation of General Motors. Alexander also announced a new email address -- -- by which Americans can send him their nominee for the next award.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


The Washington Times
Better get sick now, not later
Line up for that surgery before Obamacare becomes law
By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. | Friday, June 19, 2009
·         If you have any sense that you may be getting sick in the years ahead, I suggest you get sick immediately. If you will need of surgery or any medical procedure, do it now! If not immediately, be certain that you hand yourself over to the health care professionals before Oct. 15. That is the date on which President Obama hopes to sign his health care bill once it has gone through the congressional baloney grinder.
·         At the heart of Mr. Obama's plan is his stated goal to cut medical costs. That might sound good to you, but it means cutting services, nurses, technicians, medical tests and, most prominently, the use of expensive technology. The president's top medical advisers are quite frank about this.
Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and a health-policy adviser in the Office of Management and Budget, has chided Americans for the expense of their "being enamored with technology." Dr. David Blumenthal, another key Obama adviser, charges medical innovations as being responsible for fully two-thirds of the annual increase in health care spending. Their solution is to limit expensive innovations. A 2008 Congressional Budget Office report agrees with their cost analysis but concludes happily that such innovations "permit the treatment of previously untreatable conditions." As I shall show, there are more humane ways to cut health care costs.

Also at the heart of Mr. Obama's plan is the restriction of services for older people, people 65 and older who, by virtue of modern medicine, may actually be 10 and 15 years younger in terms of good health than they would have been a generation ago. Alas, they still have higher health risks and costs than younger people. Thus, they are going to bear the brunt of the Obama administration's cost cuts, for 27 percent to 30 percent of Medicaid spending is spent for caring for people at the end of their lives.

With the government taking over more of the nation's health care costs under the Obama regime, it has already been decided that government monies are more economically spent on younger people than on older people. If a 65-year-old needs a hip replacement, the government will better spend that money on a younger person whose hip will last longer. Or perhaps the government will decide the money is better spent on preventive medicine for younger people.

In the federal stimulus legislation that the president signed Feb. 17, we find funding for a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. "Comparative effectiveness research" is a term used by economists in health care for making health comparisons based often on age and for limiting care based on a patient's age. In Great Britain, comparative-effectiveness research is actually used to deny patients treatment for age-related diseases such as heart disease and macular degeneration.

When the federal stimulus bill was going through Congress, there were warnings regarding the consequences of comparative effectiveness research. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican and a heart surgeon, warned it would lead to "denying seniors and the disabled lifesaving care."

Yet the policy remained in the bill along with requirements for doctors' offices and hospitals to maintain data banks on patients while creating a national network to monitor patients' care.

The good side of that is that a central database can send out the latest information on treatments, although doctors who keep up with their medical journals already know about these treatments. The dark side is that it will allow the federal government to control how our doctors treat us. The bill speaks of "appropriate" and "cost-effective" care and provides penalties against doctors beginning in 2014. Now there is an Orwellian twist to the Obama promise of "hope" and "change."

As Betsy McCaughey has written in a groundbreaking analysis of the Obama health care proposals, draconian cost-control measures are not the answer to health care reform, and they are based on erroneous data. Health care's spending increases over the past five years have been about half what they were in the recent period before that. Average family spending on food, energy and health care have remained the same for decades. Moreover, contrary to myth, there are not 47 million uninsured Americans but actually about 22 million. Rather than pass a health care reform that will mercilessly limit health care to older citizens - and to chronically ill citizens - while still increasing federal expenditures by at least a trillion dollars, she suggests a modest reform, to wit, debit cards for the uninsured and the needy.

In a recent installment of, Ms. McCaughey wrote, "Providing sliding scale assistance, based on household income, to families to purchase coverage would cost $20 billion to $25 billion a year." That is one reform that will deal with our present problems. There are others, which I shall take up in later columns. What we do not need is George Orwell's Big Brother overseeing the rationing of health care to senior citizens, particularly senior citizens with years of life ahead of them.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor of the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.

Copyright 2009 The Washington Times, LLC

Friday, June 19, 2009


$100 BILLION ...



Madoff meets with SEC - sources

Inspector general says 'substantial progress' has been made in the government's investigation in to the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Admitted fraudster Bernard Madoff, the mastermind of history's biggest Ponzi scheme, had a three-hour meeting with the Securities and Exchange Commission's top watchdog this week, several sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.

The session took place Wednesday at New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Madoff is awaiting sentencing on federal fraud charges, the sources said. He met with SEC Inspector-General David Kotz, who is investigating what federal securities regulators knew about Madoff's $50 billion enterprise before it collapsed in December.

Asked about the reported meeting, Kotz said only, "We've been making substantial progress in the investigation and plan to issue a comprehensive report very shortly." He told a congressional committee earlier this week that his main report should be complete by the end of August.

Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty in March to 11 criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering and perjury. The onetime chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange faces a potential 150-year prison term at his June 29 sentencing.

His attorney, Ira Sorkin, had no comment on the report Thursday.

Madoff's operation reached far and wide, touching major financial institutions overseas, including Spain's Banco Santander and Britain's HSBC (HBC), tony communities such as Palm Beach, Florida, and members of Hollywood's elite, such as film director Steven Spielberg and actor Kevin Bacon.

Kotz is looking into whether the SEC missed or ignored warning signs before Madoff's enterprise collapsed. His office so far has interviewed more than 100 witnesses and has reviewed millions of e-mails and other documents, he told Rep. Paul Kanjorski, the chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the securities industry, in a June 15 letter.

Chris Cox, the SEC chairman at the time the scandal broke, resigned under fire in January after disclosing the agency had ignored warnings about Madoff dating back to 1999. And Harry Markopolos, a Boston accountant, told Kanjorski's subcommittee in February that he repeatedly tried to raise questions about Madoff with the SEC.

"I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them and somehow they couldn't be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation," Markopolos said. 
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Suitcase With $134 Billion Puts Dollar on Edge: William Pesek

Commentary by William Pesek

June 17 (Bloomberg) -- It’s a plot better suited for a John Le Carre novel.
Two Japanese men are detained in Italy after allegedly attempting to take $134 billion worth of U.S. bonds over the border into Switzerland. Details are maddeningly sketchy, so naturally the global rumor mill is kicking into high gear.
Are these would-be smugglers agents of Kim Jong Il stashing North Korea’s cash in a Swiss vault? Bagmen for Nigerian Internet scammers? Was the money meant for terrorists looking to buy nuclear warheads? Is Japan dumping its dollars secretly? Are the bonds real or counterfeit?
The implications of the securities being legitimate would be bigger than investors may realize. At a minimum, it would suggest that the U.S. risks losing control over its monetary supply on a massive scale.
The trillions of dollars of debt the U.S. will issue in the next couple of years needs buyers. Attracting them will require making sure that existing ones aren’t losing faith in the U.S.’s ability to control the dollar.
The dollar is, for better or worse, the core of our world economy and it’s best to keep it stable. News that’s more fitting for international spy novels than the financial pages won’t help that effort. It is incumbent upon the U.S. Treasury to get to the bottom of this tale and keep markets informed.
GDP Carriers
Think about it: These two guys were carrying the gross domestic product of New Zealand or enough for three Beijing Olympics. If economies were for sale, the men could buy Slovakia and Croatia and have plenty left over for Mongolia or Cambodia. Yes, they could have built vacation homes amidst Genghis Khan’s Gobi Desert or the famed Temples of Angkor. Bernard Madoff who?
These men carrying bonds concealed in the bottom of their luggage also would be the fourth-largest U.S. creditors. It makes you wonder if some of the time Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spends keeping the Chinese and Japanese invested in dollars should be devoted to well-financed men crossing the Italian-Swiss border.
This tale has gotten little attention in markets, perhaps because of the absurdity of our times. The last year has been a decidedly disorienting one for capitalists who once knew up from down, red from black and risk from reward. It almost fits with the surreal nature of today that a couple of travelers have more U.S. debt than Brazil in a suitcase and, well, that’s life.
Clancy Bestseller
You can almost picture Tom Clancy sitting in his study thinking: “Damn! Why didn’t I think of this yarn and novelize it years ago?” He could have sprinkled in a Chinese angle, a pinch of Russian intrigue, a dose of Pyongyang and a bit of Taiwan-Strait tension into the mix. Presto, a sure bestseller.
Daniel Craig may be thinking this is a great story on which to base the next James Bond flick. Perhaps Don Johnson could buy the rights to this tale. In 2002, the “Miami Vice” star was stopped by German customs officers as he was traveling in a car carrying credit notes and other securities worth as much as $8 billion. Now he could claim it was all, uh, research.
When I first heard of the $134 billion story, I was tempted to glance at my calendar to make sure it didn’t read April 1.
Let’s assume for a moment that these U.S. bonds are real. That would make a mockery of Japanese Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano’s “absolutely unshakable” confidence in the credibility of the U.S. dollar. Yosano would have some explaining to do about Japan’s $686 billion of U.S. debt if more of these suitcase capers come to light.
‘Kennedy Bonds’
Counterfeit $100 bills are one thing; two guys with undeclared bonds including 249 certificates worth $500 million and 10 “Kennedy bonds” of $1 billion each is quite another.
The bust could be a boon for Italy. If the securities are found to be genuine, the smugglers could be fined 40 percent of the total value for attempting to take them out of the country. Not a bad payday for a government grappling with a widening budget deficit and rebuilding the town of L’Aquila, which was destroyed by an earthquake in April.
It would be terrible news for the White House. Other than the U.S., China or Japan, no other nation could theoretically move those amounts. In the absence of clear explanations coming from the Treasury, conspiracy theories are filling the void.
On his blog, the Market Ticker, Karl Denninger wonders if the Treasury “has been surreptitiously issuing bonds to, say, Japan, as a means of financing deficits that someone didn’t want reported over the last, oh, say 10 or 20 years.” Adds Denninger: “Let’s hope we get those answers, and this isn’t one of those ‘funny things’ that just disappears into the night.”
This is still a story with far more questions than answers. It’s odd, though, that it’s not garnering more media attention. Interest is likely to grow. The last thing Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke need right now is tens of billions more of U.S. bonds -- or even high-quality fake ones -- suddenly popping up around the globe.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: William Pesek in Tokyo
Last Updated: June 16, 2009 15:00 EDT 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Walt Handelsman ... Review ...


You Be Obama

Published: June 15, 2009
Let’s say that you are President Obama. You’ve inherited a health care system that is the insane spawn of a team of evil geniuses from an alien power. Pay is divorced from performance. Users are separated from costs. Rising costs threaten to destroy your nation and everything you hold dear.
David Brooks
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Because you have a lofty perspective on things, you know there are basically two ways to fix this mess. There is the liberal way, in which the government takes over the health care system and decides who gets what. And then there is the conservative way, in which cost-conscious consumers make choices in the context of a competitive marketplace.
You also know that these two approaches have one thing in common. They are both currently politically unsellable. Others have tried and perished. There are vast (opposing) armies arrayed against them. The whole issue is a nightmare.
You are daunted by the challenges in front of you until you remember that by some great act of fortune, you happen to be Barack Obama. This calms you down. You conceive a strategy.
The first step in this strategy is table-setting. You will spend the first several months of your administration talking grandly about the need for reform. You will invite all interested parties to the table, and you will serve a great heaping plate of pabulum. You will talk about things that no sentient person could possibly disagree with — about the need for better information technology and for more preventive care.
There will be less health care nitty-gritty here than in your average pre-K circle time, but you are getting everybody talking. You are building relationships.
In stage two, you pass everything over to Congress. You’ll need these windbags at the end, so you might as well get them busy at the beginning. This will produce a whirl of White Papers, a flurry of committee activity, a set of legislative rivalries as every chairman in the stable seeks to be the lead horse in the romp to legislative glory. All you have to do is raise a portentous eyebrow from time to time, signaling grand approval of the various proposals as they blow by.
This brings us to the current stage: The Long Tease. Every player in this game has a favorite idea, and you are open to all of them. The liberals want a public plan, and you’re for it. The budget guys are for slashing Medicare reimbursements, and you’re for that. The doctors want relief from lawsuits, and you’re open to it. The Republicans want you to cap the tax exemption on employee health benefits. You campaigned against that, but you’re still privately for it.
You ran on a platform of hope and, boy, are you delivering. Every special interest in Washington lives in hope that they will get their pet idea incorporated into the final bill.
None will come out and oppose you because they live in hope. Even the different factions in your own administration live in hope. One of your health advisers pretended to smile at one of your economists!
This brings you to the final stage, the scrum. This is the set of all-night meetings at the end of the Congressional summer session when all the different pieces actually get put together.
You want the scrum to be quick so that the bill is passed before some of the interests groups realize that they’ve been decapitated. You want the scrum to be frantic so you can tell your allies that their reservations might destroy the whole effort (this is how you are going to get the liberals to water down the public plan and the moderates to loosen their fiscal rectitude).
The scrum will be an ugly, all-out scramble for dough. You can probably get expanded coverage out of it. You can hammer the hospitals and get much of the $1.2 trillion to pay for the expansion. But you won’t be able to honestly address the toughest issues and still hold your coalition. You won’t get the kind of structural change that will bring down costs long-term. In the scrum, Congress will embrace the easy stuff and bury the hard stuff.
Which is why you have MedPAC. That’s the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that you want to turn into a health care Federal Reserve Board — an aloof technocratic body of experts that will make tough decisions beyond the reach of politics. You can take every thorny issue, throw it to MedPac and consider it solved.
Conservatives will claim you’re giving enormous power to an unelected bunch of wonks. They’ll say that health care is too complicated to be run by experts from Washington. But you’ll say that you are rising above politics. You’ll have your (partial) health care victory. Not bad for a skinny guy with big ears.

A rose in full bloom is lovely and attractive to the eye, its fragrance in a gentle breeze [legislative wind bags] captivates the olfactory,  however its embrace [through legislative laws] is a reminder its fleeting beauty can draw blood.    The devil is always in the details.  Not bad for Mr. Potato Head [ears optional].