Cover of the Rolling Stone

Let’s everybody go buy at least one copy of the October 15 issue of Rolling Stone, and see if we can stealth-seed them into the waiting rooms at the dentist, Jiffy-Lube, Gymboree, the break room at the office, and wherever “low information” voters might be in need of an easily palatable update on How The World Works. It has a nice tasteful Newsweek–worthy cover, three-quarters profile of Our President, nothing that might hint of naughty thoughts or profane words to even the most tender sensibility. And there are two great long-form articles that deserve to be widely read.

First, Jann Wenner’s interview with “Obama in Command“, which includes a lot of the details people need to be reminded about, starting right on the first page:

How do you feel about the fact that day after day, there’s this really destructive attack on whatever you propose? Does that bother you? Has it shocked you?
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I don’t think it’s a shock. I had served in the United States Senate; I had seen how the filibuster had become a routine tool to slow things down, as opposed to what it used to be, which was a selective tool — although often a very destructive one, because it was typically targeted at civil rights and the aspirations of African-Americans who were trying to be freed up from Jim Crow. But I’d been in the Senate long enough to know that the machinery there was breaking down…
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But the delays, the cloture votes, the unprecedented obstruction that has taken place in the Senate took its toll. Even if you eventually got something done, it would take so long and it would be so contentious, that it sent a message to the public that “Gosh, Obama said he was going to come in and change Washington, and it’s exactly the same, it’s more contentious than ever.” Everything just seems to drag on — even what should be routine activities, like appointments, aren’t happening. So it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, “We’re just seeing more of the same.”
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How do you personally feel about hedge-fund managers who are making $200 million a year and paying a 15 percent tax rate? Or the guy who made $700 million one year and compared you to Hitler for trying to raise his taxes above 15 percent — does that gall you?
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I’ve gotta say that I have been surprised by some of the rhetoric in the business press… I know a lot of these guys who started hedge funds. They are making large profits, taking home large incomes, but because of a rule called “carried interest,” they are paying lower tax rates than their secretaries, or the janitor that cleans up the building. Or folks who are out there as police officers and teachers and small-business people. So all we’ve said is that it makes sense for them to pay taxes on it like on ordinary income….
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The average American out there who is my primary concern and is making 60 grand a year and paying taxes on all that income and trying to send their kids through school, and partly as a consequence of bad decisions on Wall Street, feels that their job is insecure and has seen their 401(k) decline by 30 percent, and has seen the value of their home decline — I don’t think they’re that sympathetic to these guys, and neither am I.
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Read more








It’s Money – Nothing More, Nothing Less

Henry Waxman, of all people, serves up another reminder that corporations run DC by adopting the Google/Verizon net neutrality plan as his own:

How did we get from FCC Chair Julius Genachowski’s proposals for clear net neutrality enforcement and ISP transparency rules based on limited common carrier provisions to this?

First, factor in massive pushback, lawsuit threatening, and Capitol Hill lobbying from the telco and cable ISPs. That seems to have sparked the agency’s open secret “back door” negotiations, in which the Commission invited the big ISPs and content providers to bargain at the agency’s HQ over some kind of legislative solution to the log jam.

The process appears to have helped percolate the Google/Verizon proposal—both of these companies being major participants in those discussions.

Next, plug in a bitterly partisan midterm election year, which seems to have scared the daylights out of the Obama administration. Various DC folk have told us their theory—that the FCC’s reluctance to carry out its own agenda is a by-product of pressure from the White House. We don’t know if that’s true, but it has certainly been alluded to often enough by various Capitol Hill reporters.

Congress is a place where good policy goes to die, smothered by a pillow full of corporate money wielded by shit-scared Democrats.








Next Step in HCR (Just Maybe)

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts “… Officials draft plans for new system to compensate doctors, hospitals“:

Governor Deval Patrick’s administration is reviving the state’s ambitious plan to change how doctors and hospitals are paid, aiming to hand the Legislature a specific proposal by Jan. 1 and end months of disagreement over how to control health care spending.
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Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, secretary of health and human services, convened a small group of state officials and health care executives earlier this month to draft a first-in-the-nation blueprint for scrapping the current payment system, in which doctors and hospitals are typically paid a negotiated fee for every procedure and visit. This system, called fee for service, is widely viewed as lacking coordination and encouraging unnecessary tests and procedures…
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The [new] system, called global payments, would require doctors, hospitals, and other providers to band together into groups called accountable care organizations that would split the payments and better coordinate patient care, thereby improving quality. These provider groups generally would get a flat per-patient fee, along with incentives for high-quality care, hopefully eliminating the incentive for unnecessary tests and procedures, and encouraging greater focus on preventing serious health problems from developing in the first place.
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But the group, the Committee on the Status of Payment Reform Legislation, will have to agree on a number of contentious issues, such as how much power state regulators will have over the prices paid to providers, the rules for forming accountable care organizations, and whether providers — many of whom profit from the fee-for-service system — will have seats on the board that eventually oversees the potential dismantling of that system…
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Since the summer, the federal government has made it clear that changing how providers are paid is a priority. Medicare next year will give out $10 billion to 100 to 300 sites in the US to test new payment models, and many Massachusetts providers plan to vie for this seed money.
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“What I’ve been hearing from the administration is a bit of a pride issue,’’ said Brian Rossman, research director for Health Care for All, a Boston-based patient advocacy group. “They’re saying, ‘We ought to be the first state to do this.’ They know other states are moving forward as well. But we have always been the pioneer on these issues and we should be first.’’

There are many arguments to be made, millions of words yet to be written, for and against the idea of accountable care organizations. But the giant stinking maggot in the ointment, right now, is that Democratic governor Deval Patrick (aka ‘Obama Lite’) is running against Charlie Baker, aka ‘Mitt Romney Heavy’ — a smiling legacy-GOP glibertarian sociopath with just enough pseudo-charm that most normal people wouldn’t automatically hesitate to get into an elevator alone with him. Since the crown jewel in Baker’s slash-and-burn career came when he was given the chance to turn an excellent, therefore perennially financially struggling, HMO into yet another profit mill where both patients and health care professionals are regarded as unpleasant impediments to the proper financial flow, nothing good will happen if he manages to wrest the chair away from the Dems. And given the recent Scotty “Cosmo Boy” Brown unpleasantness, the chance of this happening cannot be dismissed.








“Structural Unemployment”: K-Thug Throws Down

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman uses his latest NYTimes column to take on the “Structure of Excuses“:

… [A]ll the facts suggest that high unemployment in America is the result of inadequate demand — full stop. Saying that there are no easy answers sounds wise, but it’s actually foolish: our unemployment crisis could be cured very quickly if we had the intellectual clarity and political will to act.
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In other words, structural unemployment is a fake problem, which mainly serves as an excuse for not pursuing real solutions.
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Job openings have plunged in every major sector, while the number of workers forced into part-time employment in almost all industries has soared. Unemployment has surged in every major occupational category. Only three states, with a combined population not much larger than that of Brooklyn, have unemployment rates below 5 percent.
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Oh, and where are these firms that “can’t find appropriate workers”? The National Federation of Independent Business has been surveying small businesses for many years, asking them to name their most important problem; the percentage citing problems with labor quality is now at an all-time low, reflecting the reality that these days even highly skilled workers are desperate for employment.
[…]
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I’ve been looking at what self-proclaimed experts were saying about unemployment during the Great Depression; it was almost identical to what Very Serious People are saying now. Unemployment cannot be brought down rapidly, declared one 1935 analysis, because the work force is “unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer.” A few years later, a large defense buildup finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs — and suddenly industry was eager to employ those “unadaptable and untrained” workers.
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But now, as then, powerful forces are ideologically opposed to the whole idea of government action on a sufficient scale to jump-start the economy. And that, fundamentally, is why claims that we face huge structural problems have been proliferating: they offer a reason to do nothing about the mass unemployment that is crippling our economy and our society.

There is no shortage of jobs that need doing in America, from repairing our crumbling infrastructure to digitizing millions of pages of public records to adding desperately needed hands in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Many unemployed and underemployed Americans already have the necessary skills, and many more are capable of acquiring those skills — if the people at the tip of the economic pyramid were as interested in preserving our shared community as they are in preserving every last scrap of their hoarded power and resources.








It’s Not What We Don’t Know…

… it’s what we do ‘know’ that isn’t true. Thanks to commentor Stuck in the Funhouse for the Raw Story link, “Most Americans want wealth distribution similar to Sweden“:

… For decades, polls have shown that a plurality of Americans — around 40 percent — consider themselves conservative, while only around 20 percent self-identify as liberals. But a new study from two noted economists casts doubt on what values lie beneath those political labels.
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According to research (PDF) carried out by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, and flagged by Paul Kedrosky at the Infectious Greed blog, 92 percent of Americans would choose to live in a society with far less income disparity than the US, choosing Sweden’s model over that of the US.
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What’s more, the study’s authors say that this applies to people of all income levels and all political leanings: The poor and the rich, Democrats and Republicans are all equally likely to choose the Swedish model.
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“What is most striking” about the results, argue the authors, is that they show “more consensus than disagreement among … different demographic groups. All groups – even the wealthiest respondents – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality – even the poorest respondents.”

By all means, check out the whole study at the link. It’s pretty clear that keeping Heartland Americans(tm) ignorant of the increase in income disparity over the past 30 years has worked very nicely for the people at the top of the economic pyramid, so how do we combat this… short of pitchforks and torches?