Links 2/28/11

Amur tigers in population crisis BBC ;-(

After a Record Haul in Maine, Try the Lobster Mac and Cheese New York Times

Two planets found sharing one orbit New Scientist

‘Anonymous’ targets the brothers Koch, claiming attempts ‘to usurp American Democracy’ Raw Story. OK, if they are really smart, they will wipe the records of their derivatives positions and cause them to implode financially. MIght even be a systemic event, so embarrassing the officialdom about their “Mission Accomplished” posturing and getting another go at the banks would be an added bennie.

Web’s Hot New Commodity: Privacy Wall Street Journal

People power brings stability to Benghazi Financial Times. Hhm, Bengazi seems to be managing its affairs pretty well in the wake of the ouster of an autocrat. Seems to disprove US stance that a designated leader (aka our strongman) needs to be in place to prevent chaos.

Portugal faces more pressure on bail-out Financial Times

A three-part plan to tackle the Eurozone debt crisis VoxEU

Will ‘Chindia’ rule the world in 2050, or America after all? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph. I usually find these “when will China take over from the US” articles to be a waste of time, but this contains a very good discussion of China’s demographics.

Workers’ Uprising: Madison Capitol Protesters Ignore Gov. Walker’s Order to Leave, Key Wisconsin Republicans Defect AlterNet

The Spirit of Egypt in Madison Andy Kroll, Tomgram

That Iraq Feeling Paul Krugman. We aren’t the only ones to notice the lack of MSM coverage on Wisconsin.

Governors Scramble to Rein In Medicaid Wall Street Journal. So we are gonna kill people to avoid raising taxes on the rich? That is ultimately what this amounts to. And in case you forget why it’s called “public health”, unhealthy people and a stripped down medical system make for great disease vectors.

Commodity Shock Tim Duy

Behind a Rise in Auto Sales, Easier Credit New York Times

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-02-28 at 5.03.31 AM

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  1. dearieme

    “And in case you forget why it’s called “public health”…”: it would be natural to forget, because the term has been abused for years.

  2. M.InTheCity

    Re Benghazi: I have often found it insulting in the least that somehow everything becomes Mad Max/ Lord of the Flies once a hated autocrat is ousted. People have been forming on their own committees, councils, et al for only like thousands of years. Somalia was a mess because it seems to me you have many competing groups, several of whom have been financed by the outside for some time. The best thing we can do is leave Libya alone – freeze assets, etc., but let the Libyans make their country their own. I bet that scares a lot in the Beltway-types and their despot hangers-ons…

    1. DownSouth

      I don’t find Hobbesian authoritarianism nearly as offensive as Fitchean authoritarianism. In Fitchean authoritarianism, such as that practiced by libertarian absolutists like Milton Friedman and Frederick von Hayek, the iron fist is still there, but is concealed behind a cloak of freedom.

      With the Fitcheans, the police state gets gooed over with a thick layer of pious, self-righteous hypocrisy.

    2. attempter

      They blame the collapse of their own criminal systems (and the destruction those systems inflict during their death throes) on the people themselves, especially where the people are having to deal with the hideous mess the criminals left behind (and usually having to deal with the counter-revolution as well).

      Somalia’s a perfect example of the aftermath of capitalism. But it’s a favorite example of idiots who think they’re criticizing anarchism.

      The most extreme example will be the famines which will ensue with the collapse of corporate agriculture. We already know how to maximize food production going forward post-fossil fuels: Diversified, decentralized organic production by autonomous smallholders and cooperatives.

      This would provide sufficient food, as well as fulfilling work and true democracy, for all.

      But the system will do all it can, and kill as many billions as it has to, to prevent this transformation. Yet, absurdly, it’s common for system hacks to accuse those who offer the solution of being the ones who somehow want the famine. I still don’t understand the intellectual basis of the allegation. It sounds like pure superstition – “If you say anything bad, you’ll put a hex on it!”

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        I am not sure about dictators being better, but King Abdullah issued a whole bunch of royal decrees in one single day last week.

        That’s pretty fast.

        Of course, Oliver Wendel Holms was quoted to say that it’s not how fast (or was it, it’s not where you are?) but what direction you are going.

  3. a

    “So we are gonna kill people to avoid raising taxes on the rich?”

    No. The US is gonna borrow to avoid raising taxes on the rich. Killing people will happen in any case.

  4. Jessica

    “Two planets found sharing one orbit”
    Thanks for including these interesting scientific tidbits. For me, they are like another kind of antidote du jour.

  5. financial matters

    It’s interesting how many people oppose health care reform. The insurance companies oppose it and others see it as a boon to insurance companies. Right before it passed insurance companies such as Blue Cross put through huge rate increases. The reform bill seeks to temper and regulate these rate increases as well as mandate how much they can spend on administrative costs. Many states wanted to sue to stop the bill as it would increase their Medicaid spending. Many had eligibility requirements that were much below the proposed new standard of 133% of the poverty level and included other requirements such as having to have children. The bill tackles the huge problems of the many uninsured people who still receive health care. There is no free lunch and this has to be paid one way or another. Getting more people onto defined programs helps to focus the discussion. Costs can be more directly related to services provided. Health insurance safety nets also help provide for better overall employment demographics. People don’t have to worry as much about having their health insurance tied to their jobs and can be more flexible in starting their own business or switching jobs…

    Americans who need help from the government in paying for health care coverage — if they experience unemployment or can’t afford private insurance — should know that while Medicaid is a national program that provides this assistance, every state has different service offerings, eligibility requirements and funding levels.

    The website listing identifies Medicaid’s uneven funding levels. “How well a state funds its own programs and how much matching funding it receives from the federal government determine the number of physicians willing to treat Medicaid patients, the ability of hospital emergency rooms to stay open and the waiting periods Americans must endure when signing up. There’s a direct link between how a state is funded and the quality of its overall health care delivery system,” said Lebherz.

    1. dave

      Right before it passed insurance companies such as Blue Cross put through huge rate increases.
      Yes, because most of the reform requirements increase costs.

      The reform bill seeks to temper and regulate these rate increases
      How? Insurance profit margins are bare bones. The vast vast majority of rate increases relate to increased provider costs. But nobody wants to go after their doctor that they like and ask them why they are demanding increased reimbursement rates and charging more services. Its easier to hate a faceless insurance company.

      as well as mandate how much they can spend on administrative costs.
      Which is dumb as shit. I could buy it if you were targeting advertising. But as it stands what you are basically telling an insurance company to do is raise the denominator (claims) and reduce the numerator (attempts to lower claims). That doesn’t lead to lower plan costs. I’m an actuary at an insurance company. I’m in the numerator. Last year when I was paid to spend a bunch of time rooting out a huge fraud scheme in our college drug reimbursement program I was both increasing the numerator (costs) and decreasing the denominator (claims, in this case fraudulent). That led to way lower costs to policy holders, but in the bizzaro world of minimum loss ratios trying to prevent fraud is a great evil. That’s why people love medicare with its rampant fraud.

      1. financial matters

        I find it hard to describe this as bare bones…

        “CEOs From 10 Health Insurers Took Nearly $1 Billion in Compensation, Stock Options in Last Decade”

        “Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the 1,000-member coalition that led the successful fight for health reform, released a report today showing that in 2009, while America’s families struggled with skyrocketing health insurance costs and the worst economy since the Great Depression,”
        ” chief executives of the 10 largest for-profit health insurance companies collected total pay of $228.1 million, up from $85.5 million the year before. The CEOs of UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Aetna, CIGNA, Humana, Coventry Health Care, Health Net, Amerigroup, Centene and Universal American took $944.1 million in compensation from 2000 through 2009, according to the report, entitled “Breaking the Bank.”

        The jaw-dropping compensation for 2009 set new standards for the industry and for what CEOs will pay themselves in the future. Last year’s compensation for health-insurance CEOs was enormous, enough to fund stress tests to check the heart health of up to 776,000 patients, or to pay for every resident of Philadelphia, Dallas and Minneapolis combined (3.2 million people) to go to their regular doctor for an office visit. Over the full decade covered in the report, average CEO pay has reached nearly $10 million a year per company.

        “The insurance companies are driven by perverse incentives that reward CEOs for imposing devastating rate hikes on families and businesses while denying care to people when they need it most,” said HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome. “It’s indefensible that CEOs in America are profiting by gouging customers in such a shameless way.” [snip]

        ..”Among the HCAN report’s findings:
        * CIGNA CEO Edward Hanway, who retired in December 2009, got the usual excessive pay and stock options that year
        but also gave himself a $111 million pension package as a going-away gift. Combined with pay received by his successor, David Cordani, the company parted with $136 million in CEO compensation in 2009.
        That is enough money to pay for 204,000 infants to receive the recommended series of seven well-baby visits in their first year.
        * CEO Stephen Hemsley of UnitedHealth Group banked $107.5 million in 2009, including $98.6 million from exercising stock options.
        Hemsley’s total take would pay for up to 1.1 million women to receive mammograms.
        * CEO Ron Williams of Aetna Inc. collected $18.1 million in total compensation last year,
        enough to enough to pay for 4,853 people to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery.
        * CEO Angela Braly of Wellpoint Inc. got a 51 percent raise to $13.1 million in 2009.
        That amount would cover the cost of 2,500 hernia operations”[snip]


        Also others seem to have better luck in finding fraud…

        Thursday, February 17, 2011
        Contact: HHS Press Office
        (202) 690-6343

        Medicare Fraud Strike Force Charges 111 Individuals for more than $225 Million in False Billing and Expands Operations to Two Additional Cities
        Doctors, Nurses, Health Care Company Owners and Executives Among the Defendants Charged; Law Enforcement Agents Execute 16 Search Warrants

        1. dave

          Failure to understand the law of large numbers.

          Health care is a massive industry. Profit margins are % ratios. Profit margins are very low in insurance. That means that eliminating profit margins completely would do very little to lower the cost of health care. Spitting out big absolute #s without any context is worthless. I don’t mean to defend the outrageous compensation of many insurance CEOs, but if you eliminate a multi-million dollar salary from a company with billions in top line revenue it isn’t going to change the story one iota. Go ahead an eliminate every single executives salary in the entire insurance industry and you’ll be luck to get back a single year of premium increases.

          If you want to solve the health care problem is this country your going to find gutting insurance companies isn’t going to get you what you want.

          Same criticism about big #s on the medicare statement. $225 million is a rounding error to medicare. These #s need context. I’m glad to see they are finally increasing the fraud budget for medicare administration, but it will do exactly what I said: make their cost ratio look worse.

          1. financial matters

            Fair claims, the larger issue is to define what procedures/level of care are worth covering at what costs. This can only be intelligently discussed when there is more transparency as to what these costs are. Not many people could explain just what is covered by their health care insurance… And there are health care administrative costs as well as health care insurance administrative costs. Right now the breakdown as to where health care insurance money goes is too opaque for society to have informed discussions.

          2. dave

            Agreed, that is what makes the health care reform law so frustrating. It tries to score cheap political points (we eliminated this bad stuff you don’t like) without actually putting in place a reasonable platform for it to work. With so many good examples to pull on from the rest of the world we instead got a steaming pile of legislative shit. Having to actually be close to it and fill out a ton of really misguided regulatory forms just drives it home.

          3. financial matters

            I’d be interested in what regulatory forms you feel are misguided. I tend to agree with Krugman on this one…


            The Defining Moment

            By PAUL KRUGMAN
            Published: October 29, 2009

            O.K., folks, this is it. It’s the defining moment for health care reform.

            Past efforts to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have — guaranteed access to essential care — have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, usually dying in committee without ever making it to a vote. It’s not a perfect bill, by a long shot, but it’s a much stronger bill than almost anyone expected to emerge even a few weeks ago. And it would lead to near-universal coverage.

            For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it’s likely to get. The legislation on the table isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made — and everyone has to decide which side they’re on.

  6. Danb

    RE: “Governors Scramble to Rein in Medicaid”. See: “An Open Letter to Medicine, Nursing and Public Health…” “A central problem of the health sciences is that they too are captured, by the federal government’s version of reality. Some in public health will recall that two years ago The APHA sent multiple emails to its members urging them to contact their congressional representatives in support of the TARP, when 70% to 80% of the public opposed the program.”

  7. charles 2

    RE: “Governors Scramble to Rein in Medicaid”

    If I read the article, one state is going to cut on organ transplants and another on vision and dental services : I don’t see why people are going to become disease vectors because of that.

    Public health is mostly about vaccination, hygiene, food quality and workplace conditions. High cost procedures is mostly a private matter.

    I am not saying that we should ban or encourage wealth redistribution through the health system. It is just that invoking “public health” reasons is a straw-man argument in that debate.

    1. Francois T

      “If I read the article, one state is going to cut on organ transplants and another on vision and dental services : I don’t see why people are going to become disease vectors because of that.”

      The article is very limited in scope and does not cover the myriad ways States will cut into different services.

      Becoming disease vectors is much easier than most people realize. All you need is a good dose of destitution or fall into poverty with all its cohorts of stress, mental diseases and development of badly controlled (less access to services and prevention) chronic diseases. In trun this leads to decreased productivity, loss of income and jobs, hence, more poverty.

      Once you’re there in the US, expect unsanitary conditions, malnourishment, higher rates of infections like CA-MRSA pneumonia, (cough! cough! and ooops! some nasty bacteria flying in zee air) tuberculosis, (a nice one right there) some probable parasitosis and God knows what else.

  8. Max424

    re: Chindia, demographics, and too dumb and greedy to plan

    Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

    At the nation-state level, dealing with peak oil must be the all encompassing strategy. Any tactical decision making by leaders of nation-states that doesn’t relate to peak oil, at least in some small way, should not be regarded as a simple reflection of the stupid and wasteful thinking of the arrogant and the simple-minded, but as the highest form of crime that can be committed against the people of that nation, and against human civilization itself.

    The A. E-P piece doesn’t even mention oil; that makes it completely irrelevant — unless you like bold analysis and deep-into-the-future predictions regarding some made up planet.

    Demographics? Peak oil is to demographics as a tsunami is to a sand castle. Peak oil, if it’s not dealt with, will nonchalantly eliminate complex demographic problem in less time than it takes to say, “Descent, chaos, collapse.” And, not to worry, it will to follow the preferential sequence of the demographically obsessed, it will cull the elderly first.*

    * Unless it culls everybody first.

    1. Cedric Regula

      Seems it has to work that way, but we got more evidence over the weekend that the Fed Board has become nothing more than sell side stock analysts. Bullard announced the economy is doing great and oil prices don’t matter.

      Big rally in stocks today on that news, so Wall Street research budgets do work.

      In a unrelated article, someone exclaimed not charging people taxes and FICA does help consumer spending and savings rate. This is such a simple fix I’m surprised no one thought of it before.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        One way to increase consumer spending –

        Is it just me or are there more shows about antiques on TV?

        My worst fear would be that the popularity of these TV shows is due to the turning-off of the EZ credit spigot and people are starting to eye their family heirlooms.

        That’s one way to jump start the economy…for both individuals and federal, state and local governments.

        So, how much do you want for Louisiana, the foreign buyer asks.

        1. Cedric Regula

          I’m sure we’re headed back to the Thirteen Colonies. But then again long ago I thought Japan was going to buy Hawaii. So maybe I just worry too much.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            The best trades right now may be to go into more deficit (public debt) to make offers they can’t refuse and buy China and India.

            Luckily, we can issue as much debt, in our crrency, as we want, I think…

  9. Richard Kline

    I’m very happy to see Anonymous home in on the Kochweb. Seeing who they pay off, and what off-the-radar disinformation and smear programs they currently fund would be _highly_ illuminating to the citizenry. Meetings and payoffs to stifle environmental regulations on them—they are ENORMOUS polluters—would be much appreciated. Love to see minutes of private meetings they’ve had with sitting Supreme Court Justices on pending cases, particularly with regard to Thomas and Scalia (you don’t think they’re being given those six-figure ‘honoria [sic]’ just to part their hair on the right, do you?). Malefactors of great wealth indeed.

    1. Anonymous Jones

      I am very happy about it as well. That said, we should be very, very careful (Yves especially, with her growing presence) about even ‘appearing’ to incite and/or aid ‘criminal’ acts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy about it, or try to help in a covert way, but giving the authorities a reason to shut us down, even if it’s still a somewhat spurious conspiracy argument? Let’s try to avoid that. Don’t forget, until they no longer have the power, they still have the power…

  10. wunsacon

    >> So we are gonna kill people to avoid raising taxes on the rich?

    Early in the decade, Republicans decided to cut taxes for the rich and yet fight Iraq “on the cheap”, which was a critical factor in losing control in Iraq and thereby killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

  11. Septeus7

    Quote: “So we are gonna kill people to avoid raising taxes on the rich? That is ultimately what this amounts to. And in case you forget why it’s called “public health”, unhealthy people and a stripped down medical system make for great disease vectors. ”

    Yes, we must kill people to avoid raising taxes on the rich. It’s their country and the rest of us just live here, there is no general welfare because that would be socialist.

    If you can’t pay up then you are a “life unworthy of life” and “useless eater” and we have zero tolerance for those with zero marginal productivity.

    Hail Leader Koch! The Free Market will reign for 1000 years!

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      One can kill in many ways.

      One can kill with a bomb, a gun or a knife.

      One can kill by denying food or destroying a food source (for example, environmental degradation) – in this sense, Dalai Lama kills every day when he eats rice or bread that was grown on fields cleared from forest lands that are vital for some animals.

      One can kill by winning an economic competition against another country without adequate unemployment insurance/health insurance. But, hey, it’s free market.

      One can kill by just being competitive, thereby causing stress to one’s competitors. Stress is a silent killer.

      One can kill by denying medical care, as in this case and it’s sad.

      And yet, the killings continue everyday.

    2. curlydan

      I wouldn’t say the poor are viewed as a “life unworthy of life”, but more so as a life that needs to be on a payment plan. These poor folks need to be “loaned” health care, then allowed to re-pay it over the rest of their lives. Start early with the young ones. Let’s make health care debt harder to discharge than a student loan ;)

      My health care plan basically has two competing options: A $2,300 deductible for my family then paying 90% post-deductible with decent twice a month premiums, or virtually the same plan with very small deductible with huge twice a month premiums that cost well over the other plan’s premiums + deductible by year end. Hey, that’s just financing dressed up like a health care plan. It’s time to get those poor people on the program!

  12. Cedric Regula

    I like Krugman’s post here:

    Krugman has a near epiphany, and nearly blurts out the truth about public sector defined benefit, COLA adjusted, pensions. He slows a horrible looking chart indicating pension funds got nailed.

    Seems these places have to invest money somewhere and blowing bubbles, financial crisis, ZIRP, QE, and rigged, manipulated markets doesn’t seem to be the way to get positive returns over the longer haul.

    Wish he’d show the chart going back to 1999.

    But I realize it’s difficult to get economic policies to work everywhere and anywhere.

    The other interesting thing is the chart indicates they do still have a nice chunk of change in pension funds. A little more than our SS Trust Fund of $2.5 trillion.

    I hate looking stuff up all the time too, but if memory serves, I think the ratio of private to public sector workers is ballparkish 5 to 1. So if the private sector put in 12% to amass our SSTF, seems that 5 X 12% = 60% of pay has somehow been deducted from public sector payrolls. No wonder they are striking!(I’m being confused on purpose)

    Meanwhile of course us private sector people have been stashing away millions in our 401K and that’s why our pay plus bennies is comparable, I bet.

  13. chad

    Anonymous needs to be more anonymous. If they keep popping up in the news and especially if it appears they have an agenda then they become much more interesting to law enforcement.

    1. craazyman

      LOL Paul.

      Who’d a thawt in 1911 that’a piece a rock the size uv a golf ball could’ve blown a whole city to ruin. And yet it did, in 1945.

      Strange daze in the magic kingdom when the I-beams search the n-dimensional skies. Who knows what 2045 will bring.

      but sure enough. their are quacks like a flock of geese around the whole “free energy” circus.

      I don’t know the math, so I just follow it like any layman would. It seems to make more sense to me that contemporary finance — at least it can be tested before being applied. LOL.

  14. Random Blowhard

    “…getting another go at the banks…” Every 5-7 years assuming Jamie Dimon’s (CEO JPMorgan) prediction about cyclical financial collapses holds out. How many the United States could withstand before Total Economic Collapse occurs was not discussed… maybe 2 more… 1?

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