Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Price of OBL Raid

In capturing and executing Osama Bin Laden the CIA exploited a vaccination campaign.  I believe this would be a war crime because it is a war crime to camoflauge yourself as a health worker in war.  Naturally this puts future doctors working in battlefields at risk.  They might be suspected of doing more than helping the wounded.  This in turn is a threat to all soldiers in battle, who now are more difficult to aid.

In the case of polio in Pakistan this clearly harmed efforts to eradicate this disease.  This is not at all unexpected.  Chomsky discussed the likelihood of this immediately following the raid, quoting health experts that said this could produce 100,000 additional cases of polio.  How would you feel if your child contracted polio subsequent to this action in Pakistan?  Who would you blame?

Today we have the news of vaccination workers being gunned down in Pakistan.  We still don't have word from the CIA if their use of the polio vaccination program was helpful in finding Bin Laden.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Public Sector vs Private Sector

I remember years ago watching a program by Stossel talking about how basically the government sucks at everything.  It's always better to have things done in the private sector.  Why?  Because they care about efficiency, because it affects their profits.  A public sector employee doesn't care if he wastes money.  That's just more money that the taxpayer covers.  It's no skin off his nose.  So you lose all that efficiency when you go with public sector workers.  I guess I bought that argument.  So we need to privatize our schools, are garbage disposal, postal service, whatever else we can, and reap the rewards.

But here's something Stossel didn't mention.  For profit companies have to pay owners, usually stock holders.  In the case of stock holders, these are not people contributing to the production process.  It's kind of like an added weight around your neck.  Also unlike the government you usually have a lot of effort towards marketing.  Then CEO and upper management salaries tend to be pretty high in the private sector.  These are offsetting factors.  Maybe these losses exceed the efficiency gains.  If so then privatization is a bad idea.

You'd have to look at actual data to evaluate the effects, and as I frequently note at this blog this is not something conservatives often do.

I was reminded of this issue as I watched this YouTube video that addressed the costs associated with Obama Care and how those costs are covered.  The poor get subsidized insurance on Obama Care and that's a cost.  In the video it is claimed that some of this cost is paid for by modifications to a program called Medicare Advantage.  What's Medicare Advantage, you ask?

Back in 2003 the Bush administration was selling the Stossel line that things done by the private sector are just more efficient.  So why not have the private sector administer Medicare for those that choose to go that route.  If these private companies can meet the needs of their elderly and can do it for less, Bush's Medicare bill says they get to keep the difference.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

In the video it's stated as if it's an uncontroversial fact that it just didn't work out that way.  It was costing as much as 14 cents on every dollar more to cover seniors under Medicare Advantage than it did under publicly administered Medicare.  Why?  Those reasons mentioned above.  Stockholders want their cut, CEO's are costly, and so is marketing.  Congress through the years has simply passed measures to cover these costs.  It's basically corporate welfare.  They can't compete with Medicare, so we give them an extra 14% and now the stock holders and CEO's get the share that they expect.

Obama Care ends this arrangement.  Medicare Advantage will have to meet the low overhead rates Medicare manages to hit, and if they can't then that's tough.  The result, according to the video, is a savings of $136 billion over 10 years.  Not bad.

I have to admit I'd never heard of Medicare Advantage, so I did some Googling in an attempt to verify this claim.  Dean Baker links to this report from the CBO which generally aligns with what is claimed in the YouTube video.

With this information one might think that these results would generalize.  What about defense contractors?  They also have to pay stock holders and CEO bonuses.  What if we replaced them with civil servants and did the same for other government contractors?  Could we save some money that way?  Yeah, a little.  Only $300 billion per year.  That's the cost associated with the real parasites taking your tax dollars and keeping it for themselves.  Stock holders, CEO's, and marketing staff.  If you want to talk about welfare, why not first talk about the largest share of welfare that exists.  The part that's going to the rich.

Job Growth Under Recent Presidents

When you tell people the deficit is falling fast they just don't believe it.  Obama is growing government like never before they say.  Take a look at public and private sector job growth under recent administrations.  Contrast with perceptions.  Via Calculated Risk.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Home Schooled Son Learns About Global Warming

My kids are home schooled, and for us that means we participate in organized instruction as well as in home instruction.  Some of it is affiliated with the state of Michigan, some of it is associated with church groups.  So yeah, I know they're getting some of what I consider to be nonsense, but I'm not too worried about it.  I kind of like that they get to see adults in what is presented as on objective setting offer them stuff which they know from me is dubious.  If nothing else it instills in them a recognition that authorities should be questioned.  Question the teachers and your father as well.

So recently my son asks me to help him review for his science test.  Part of that is I'm going to read questions he got on a prior test because this test is a mid term, so prior subjects are covered.  Check question 9.

I'm just going through the motions reading these off, and I get to question 9 and my head is buried in this piece of paper.  And I suppose the expression on my face changed a bit as I read the question.  My eyes shift above the paper and what do I see?  My son with a very excited look on his face.  Eyes wide and a big smile as he anticipates my reaction to his answer.  "No, the earth has not warmed significantly over the last 80 years!!"  He's looking forward to watching my head explode, which it did.

What the flip is this?  How can they say this?  I quickly Google "Global Temperature Record" and here's what you get at Wikipedia.

So I say, "Ben, does that look like an insignificant temperature increase?"  And for him this is funny, but I say "Where's your book?"  So this is his book.  Below that is the temperature reconstruction found within the book.

No real significant warming over the last 80 years.  How grand.  So I asked Ben to have his teacher give us a source on this.

So that's what he did.  He kind of likes this sort of thing.  He gets a kick out of telling his friends in class in hushed tones "If my Dad were here he would argue with this and probably our teacher would go nuts."  He thinks that's funny also, and so he was going to ask her.  Not because he cared but because I think he finds it all amusing.

So he did that and his teacher reacted pretty reasonably.  She asked him to verify that his source was NASA and agreed that it was important to verify the source in the book, which she would try to do.  She would later forward to him a link to the book's website, here, and give him a password that allows him to login and consider some of the background information provided.  She offered two articles for consideration.  Both by a guy named James Taylor from the Heartland Institute, a well known corporate front group that has as it's mission to discredit the science on global warming.  This article says the Himalayan glaciers are growing and scientists are "confounded".  In fact a few glaciers in the Himalayas have expanded though the majority have shrunk.  Taylor focuses on the fewer growing ones and conflates them to give his readers the wrong idea.  The other article suggested by the teacher is kind of a vague "Science is proving the global warming crowd wrong" type of article.  Additionally Apologia has an article by Michelle Malkin.

I was just recently made aware of James Taylor.  Apparently one of his signature moves is to publicize email addresses of scientists and encourage his readers to go on the attack.  So scientists find themselves inundated with profanity laced threats, which they find difficult to cope with.

Just today I looked a little more closely at the book, and it does have the source for the plot created.  Up to 1979 you have a reconstruction made in 1983 that is recreated at the Institute for Creation Studies.  That reconstruction was apparently published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies by somebody named WH Bergman, who appears to have been a professor of Atmospheric Studies at Washington State.  Subsequent to 1979 apparently the chart in the book is based on data presented here.  Not quite sure how this is all supposed to fit together.

I guess generally you'd expect that in 1983 the data was not as complete as it is today, so possibly Bergman did the best with what he had.  Or possibly there are qualifications that are not clear.  It appears that this is temperature for the lower troposphere, not surface temperatures.  I think ordinarily surface temperatures are what we want to consider.  I may look into this more.  Obviously the authors are putting up a lot of effort to reach conclusions they prefer given that the NASA data and other data is so readily available.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The ACA and Health Care Costs

We've heard a lot about the fact that the federal website for purchasing health care wasn't working well.  We know that Obama had said that if you are happy with your policy you can keep it, but it turns out the ACA requires insurance companies to meet certain standards.  So if you previously had some sort of rip off policy that may have been cancelled.  So this means Obama lied.  My sense is that these stories have been covered a lot.

What's been covered less is some of the stuff that Paul Krugman discusses related to costs.  So far, as I've discussed previously, the ACA looks to be doing what it was designed to do.  Reign in our out of control and unsustainable cost problem.  This is leading to other positive results not often discussed.  A lot of people don't know that our deficit is falling faster than it has fallen in 60 years.  I told a conservative friend that after he complained about government spending recently.  He just didn't believe me.

Fox News has dished up several stories from people that have been harmed by Obama Care.  Turns out those stories are simply bogus.  Here's one example.  But my sense is that there are a lot of stories on the flip side.  People that previously had no real options.  Living with bumps under their skin, rashes, and just unable to do anything about it in this, the richest country in the world.  Take a look at this interesting story about poor people in Kentucky finally getting some access to health services.

So costs coming down, touching stories of people with no options finally getting some options, a deficit that's falling fast.  This is what the Republicans shut the government down to prevent.  This is what prompted them to finally go nuclear.

They're not wrong to go nuclear.  They know where this leads.  Healthier people, smaller deficits, lower costs.  Their credibility will take a pounding, and that's what matters most, not the lives of real people.