Sunday, September 23, 2007

HillaryCare 2.0

Hillary Clinton has announced her latest plan for expanding health insurance in America. Below is a lengthy point-by-point answer to what is being called HillaryCare 2.0.

Clinton has stated her confidence that she can out-debate the Republican candidate on the subject of healthcare, claiming Republicans have a “just say no” healthcare policy. After looking at what she has to offer, I gladly put myself in that “just say no” camp. Some of what Clinton promises is logically impossible, some of it is meaningless gibberish, some of it is very base class warfare, and some of it utterly fails to solve the problems she seeks to address. In summation, it is an ill-conceived fantasy.

The first thing that must accompany any discussion of healthcare, or any other scarce good or service, is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Healthcare can not be high-quality, prompt, and cheap all a the same time. At least one of these criteria must suffer.

What does Clinton promise?

The first sentence on her healthcare web page states: “Hillary's American Health Choices Plan covers all Americans and improves health care by lowering costs and improving quality.”

So, it looks like we’re going to be waiting in line. As I explore the plan further I suspect that she will somehow make America suffer on all three points.

Linking to the more in-depth explanation of the plan, one discovers a bullet-point rundown of the plan.

In Point 1 Clinton’s plan allows individuals to keep their existing health insurance if they choose to, but “offers” “the same menu of quality private insurance options that their Members of Congress receive”, “without any new bureaucracy as part of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program”.

It is unclear to me why private insurers could not offer any of a nearly infinite number of plans regardless of how much they resemble Congressional benefit plans.

Perhaps Clinton plans to put the Federal government (further) into the insurance business. I can’t imagine her “offering” will be cheap, as it necessarily will cost either in premiums or taxes.

In Point 2 Clinton promises to streamline the existing bureaucracy to remove waste and promote preventative care, thus reducing costs. Her proposal “ensures that job loss or family illnesses will never lead to a loss of coverage or exorbitant costs,” and “ensures that no American is denied coverage, refused renewal, unfairly priced out of the market, or forced to pay excessive insurance company premiums.”

It is unclear why private insurance is obstructed from introducing preventative care plans, as it is also unclear how she will ensure against any loss of coverage or impose a (purposely vague) “fair” coverage within market constraints.

In Point 3 Clinton wishes to “Promote Shared Responsibility”. She fears that relying on market mechanisms will result in “scaled-back coverage or limited choices”.

[I]nsurance companies will end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions,” and “drug companies will offer fair prices and accurate information.

Clinton does not explain how outlawing price discrimination will not result in higher premiums for most Americans, nor is it obvious what is unfairly priced or inaccurate about prescription drugs. Undoubtedly she will create disincentive for the robust continuation of America’s first class pharmaceutical research and development.

Individuals “will be required to get and keep insurance”.

What level of insurance? Unspecified.

Providers “will work collaboratively with patients and businesses to deliver high-quality, affordable care.” How this differs from the current arrangement is not obvious.

Who pays?

[L]arge employers will be expected to provide health insurance or contribute to the cost of coverage: small businesses will receive a tax credit to continue or begin to offer coverage.

Here Clinton is explicitly picking winners and losers, giving government the ability to divine the dividing line between large and small business. Here she codifies the horrible mistake of linking health insurance to employers that is the genesis of the current problem. Isn’t the whole problem of losing one’s insurance when one loses a job a major gripe against the current regime? She also appears to be hiding the costs of her plan in a demagogic attack on the bogeymen of “big corporations”.

Point 4 addresses affordability and universality.

Working families will receive a refundable tax credit to help them afford high-quality health coverage.

Didn’t Bush propose individual tax relief for health insurance purposes?

Limit Premium Payments to a Percentage of Income: The refundable tax credit will be designed to prevent premiums from exceeding a percentage of family income, while maintaining consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans.

Huh? So, poor families will still be “choosing” a level of coverage related to how much they can afford. Isn’t this exactly how things work now, other than the fact that they’ll be required to purchase coverage?

She will “strengthen” (i.e., spend more money on) Medicare and S-CHIP to “fix the holes in the safety net”.

Generally, conservatives favor a safety net, but one that doesn’t float permanent benefits into the middle class, and one that socialist Democrats haven’t explicitly called a “down payment” on single-payer healthcare.

Launch a Retiree Health Legacy Initiative: A new tax credit for qualifying private and public retiree health plans will offset a significant portion of catastrophic expenditures, so long as savings are dedicated to workers and competitiveness.

One man’s tax credit is, by definition, another man’s tax increase. Clearly she intends to lower premiums for current employees, but again she wants to codify the relationship between employment and heath insurance.

Point 5 attempts to sell the plan as fiscally responsible.

“Most savings” come through modernization and cost savings - savings that can be completely divorced from the rest of her plan.

Most Americans will get a net tax cut to pay for insurance premiums that will come from tax increases from expiration of the Bush tax plan and limiting the employer tax exclusion.

The government giveth and the government taketh away.

Making the Employer Tax Exclusion for Health Care Fairer: The plan protects the current exclusion from taxes of employer-provided health premiums, but limits the exclusion for the high-end portion of very generous plans for those making over $250,000.

So again, Clinton codifies the link between health insurance and employment, but does as a class warrior. The Bush plan to eliminate the exclusion while providing a standard deduction for health insurance is much simpler and less arbitrary, while maintaining Clinton’s preferred outcome of greater taxation on “generous” plans for the rich.

In conclusion, Hillary Clinton’s healthcare "plan" is a mishmash of logically independent proposals and meaningless campaign buzzwords. Her proposed regulations of private insurance will have the effect of increasing premiums for everybody. Her tax manipulations are both misguided and arbitrary, smacking of class warfare. She promises to expand government into healthcare by spending more on classic welfare programs like Medicare and S-CHIP. She will require every individual to purchase some as-of-yet unspecified level of insurance. And she has the gall to call it the “America’s Health Choices Plan”.

To add insult to injury, a side bar on the website explains how her plan is supposed to benefit Women, Af-Ams, Hispanics, and Seniors, as well as those living in California, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. As a young white male from the late-primary state of Pennsylvania I feel distinctly ignored.

Friday, September 21, 2007

GoogleDocs "Presentation" - Review

I've used Google's "Documents" service for a few minor projects. The word processing and spreadsheet functions work pretty well for jotting a few things down quickly that I can retrieve later on another computer. The collaboration function looks nice, though I haven't convinced anybody to get a Google ID in order to collaborate on anything yet.

In the case of the Documents and Spreadsheets, these can be saved in standard formats such as OpenDocument or MS Office for later editing in a full-fledged office suite where the finishing touches can be added.

Not for "Presentations" - at least not yet.

Until I can faithfully export to a recognized format I can't see the point in creating much content in "Presentations". Like the other Google utilities, "Presentations" is pretty bare-bones. You simply can't make a presentation look as slick as in PowerPoint, or even OpenOffice (which lags PowerPoint significantly). This could be forgivable if I could export my work when I need to, but we just can't do that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The End is Near - for Microsoft?

Billionaire Mark Cuban recently joined the chorus of Macintosh cheerleaders and Microsoft Vista haters. His chief complaint is freezing/crashing in Vista despite his use of primarily three software products, all mainstream - Firefox, Outlook, and MS Office. In addition to crashing less, Cuban (and others) cite Mac superiority in startup time and laptop battery life.

As an XP user who will eventually buy a new system, the conclusion I come to is that Vista pretty much stinks. Dell still offers WindowsXP on select systems, and not just stodgy business systems but home user systems too.

Microsoft has made other mistakes with Vista. DirectX 10 ships with Vista only and is not being backported to XP. On top of this, the Dx10.1 upgrade (expected with Vista Service Pack 1), will render some Dx10.0 hardware obsolete, leaving game and graphics oriented users to wait for SP1. With tepid uptake on Vista, game manufacturers are making games Dx-9 compatible, further reducing the incentive to upgrade to Vista.

I'm not a serious gamer, but I'm anticipating Blizzard's eventual release of StarCraft-2. My understanding is that StarCraft-2 will be released for Mac simultaneously with Windows, and may be Dx9/WinXP compatible. I'm in no hurry to upgrade just yet.

Microsoft's business is built on the twin pillars of Windows and Office, and Microsoft is also being challenged on the office productivity front. The OpenOffice.org suite is free and provides a medium-duty alternative to the heavy-duty MS Office. In my experience, OOo also imports/exports MS Word documents better than commercial competitor WordPerfect. To the extent that a person can survive on OpenOffice, Firefox and a generic email program, one can probably get rid of Windows entirely and switch to Linux. If you still need it, MS Office products exist for both Windows and Mac, though Outlook is Windows only. (MS offers Mac users Entourage to connect with MS Exchange servers, but Outlook it ain't.)

OpenOffice is somewhat clunky but usable as it stands, but IBM has recently indicated it will support OOo (which is primarily a Sun product) and IBM will be releasing a free office suite, probably derived from OOo, as is Sun's StarOffice.

Improvements in Office alternatives are contrasted with a controversial user interface overhaul in the latest MS Office. The contextual "ribbon" has replaced drop down menus. So many users hate the ribbon that third party software exists to undo the change. Further, it is widely believed that, for most users, the marginal utility of new features in MS Office peaked 8 to 10 years ago, leaving many users with little incentive to upgrade to the latest MS Office.

Summing up, Microsoft has alienated core users of its two cash-cow products just as commercial and open-source alternatives are stepping up their game. If this trend does not reverse, Microsoft will suffer throughout this upgrade cycle, and MSFT may not survive future upgrade cycles.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why bother? Linc quits GOP

"Chafee quietly quits the GOP"

Why now? I mean, you made the NRSC blow a ton of cash on you, thumbed your nose at the values of the party, and NOW you decide to quit?

Chafee said he disaffiliated with the party he had helped lead, and his father had led before him, because the national Republican Party has gone too far away from his stance on too many critical issues, from war to economics to the environment.

“It’s not my party any more,” he said.

Linc, it never was your party. You disagreed with us about everything. You being a Republican was a bad joke. You made Arlen Specter look like Jerry Falwell. I can't think of a single issue where Senator Chafee resembled a Republican.

Good riddance.

Memo to Dems: Hide Kerry in a closet

Senators McCain and Kerry appeared head-to-head today on Meet the Press to discuss the Iraq war and the Petraeus-Crocker testimony.

What planet is John Kerry living on? He wants fewer troops there, but not a total pullout, and also not the number we had before the surge. He would like enough troops to train Iraqi security forces and to fight AQ, but he gave no indication how many troops that might be.

Aside from being completely ambivalent and/or contradictory about what it is that Kerry wants, he had the misfortune of debating the single most credible and knowledgeable Republican Senator on this issue, John McCain. McCain was, of course, for the war from the start, critical of the Bush/Rummy management from the start, and as a constructive critic he eagerly welcomed the Petraeus "surge" campaign which shows some tentative signs of progress. From a pro-war stance, it doesn't get any better than that.

Kerry on the other hand has been all over the place, which is representative of the Democratic coalition. Some want out yesterday, some want out within a year (or some other arbitrary time frame), and some want Kerry's indeterminate number of troops necessary to do things that we've only recently had any success doing under the Petraeus plan.

McCain bested Kerry hands down. And when Kerry felt threatened he went back to the old chestnuts of Bush "misleading" us with "false pretenses", and the fairy tale of how AQ was not in Iraq beforehand - which has the twin virtues of being both factually wrong (-1-, -2-, -3-) and strategically irrelevant.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Et tu, CQ?

I've been mildly irritated with Congressional Quarterly's slight leftward bias for some time, so I'm calling it out.

In their "midday update" e-newsletter article "Skeptical Senators Confront Crocker, Petraeus on Iraq", the first sentence was "A bipartisan chorus on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed skepticism Tuesday that Iraqis will mend their sectarian differences sufficiently to allow recent security gains to produce stability."

Bipartisan? In the loosest sense of the word. The piece cites exactly two Republican Senators, Hagel and Lugar. Hagel has been against the war for a very long time, and Lugar has been a thorn in his fellow partisans' sides since at least June.

Two senators.

The Petraeus hearings allowed both sides to engage in idiotic political theater by grandstanding about their position and asking extremely loaded questions of Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. But they didn't reflect "bipartisan" skepticism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

No amount of evidence

It says something about one's capacity for judgment when "... no amount of charts or statistics (t-7:24)" will change Congressman Lantos' mind about Iraq.

Statistics, aren't they representations of, you know.... facts?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fox means Business (?)

News Corp's acquisition of Dow Jones (and consequently the Wall Street Journal) was made in anticipation of the launch of the Fox Business News channel. FBN seems designed to compete head-on with CNBC.

I have mixed feelings about FBN. None of them stem from the leftist paranoia about dominance of the Rupert Murdoch media empire.

On the positive side, it may provide a kick in the pants to CNBC. The content on CNBC is repetitive, and often irrelevant or wrong. I've even heard guests on CNBC criticize the channel for concentrating on market price action rather than analyzing potentially tradeable news and data.

On the negative side, Fox is stealing away talent from CNBC, such as popular Fast Money trader Eric Bolling, and some-time contributor Doug Kass. CNBC has recently realized it is competing on the broader entertainment segment and has enlisted star Jim Cramer and promoted the so-far unique and very popular Fast Money show. But Cramer is getting long in the tooth, and Fast Money has suffered greatly from the loss of Bolling, and is still smarting from the prior loss of Tim Strazzini. Fox's dilution of the space may mean that more hackish personalities fill the void of those relatively more entertaining and informative.

Also negative is the probability that FBN will provide programming that is more similar to CNBC than to Bloomberg. More price-action reporting, more "bulls and bears" talk. If Fox News's Saturday morning business block is any indication, FBN will be worse than CNBC. A recent segment on CNBC's Fast Money recently spent most of the segment making fun of the name of an options trade strategy (the "Iron Butterfly"), and a just a sliver of time actually explaining what it was and why anybody would want to put on that trade. I fear Fox won't even discuss such things at all.

Additionally, the weekends at CNBC are largely filled with infomercials, leading me to question whether there is enough content for another business channel.

There's room for improvement in the business news space, but Fox had better provide a useful information service and would be wise to steer clear of superficial reporting.

Dear Fred - please find second gear

In the astronomically unlikely event that somebody who once shook hands with Fred Thompson's babysitter will read this, here it goes.

Fred - Your online announcement video was too long by half. It should have ended after your autobiographical story with an invitation to watch other (also shorter) videos, and to otherwise poke around your website. All I wanted was for it be over.

There's not much wrong with the content of your message, just the presentation. There is indeed a demand in the Republican party for a first-principles candidate, as you appear to be projecting, but unfortunately our principles are often either out of favor with the voters or the voters don't believe that we eat our own dog food, as evidenced by the prescription drug entitlement, the "bridge to nowhere", and Larry Craig.

Our principles need to be easily digestible in bites no longer than 90 seconds, and voters need to think we mean it this time - even if it seems we didn't mean it in the past.

As you jostle around your campaign staff in a transition from a kitchen table campaign to a war-room campaign, remember that you can't just jettison the idea of a new-media communications strategy. Winning the nomination will take both a top-rate traditional campaign as well as an outstanding new media strategy.

A fantastic looking website is only the beginning. A serious new-media strategy will give potential supporters more than a web-widget for fundraising. A top notch web campaign is more than a half-hearted blog. Your supporters need a way to connect with each other to spontaneously organize, and they also need a link back to home-base.

In short, you probably should have kept all your old staffers and merely added to the payroll, creating two parallel campaigns. In "real life" as well as online, you need to distill the conservative message down to meaningful, common sense concepts so we can have a fighting chance against socialized medicine and trade restrictions. In short, go read a few of Reagan's speeches. You're supposed to be the Reaganesque candidate, no?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Clinton promises to raise taxes

... in order to save Social Security.

(As seen on NRO)

Well, she doesn't say so explicitly, but she's logically ruled out everything else.

No benefit cuts, no increased retirement age, and absolutely no privatization (because "it's not the answer to anything").

Just "fiscal responsibility", the only free variable remaining in the equation.

How many mainstream media organizations are going to ask Clinton about this?

[crickets chirp]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Assimilation Probably Overrated Anyway

"State Faults Teachers of English Learners"

"Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don't know the language, state officials say. "

(As seen on Hot Air , NRO, and elsewhere.)

"Some teachers' English was so poor that even state officials strained to understand them. The state also found that students learning English at all ages were being taught by teachers who did not have appropriate training or materials. At a dozen districts, evaluators found teachers who ignored state law and taught in Spanish."

"At nine districts, some teachers did not know correct English grammar or pronunciation. In one classroom, the teacher's English was "labored and arduous." Other teachers were just difficult to understand. Some teachers pronounced "levels" as "lebels" and "much" as "mush.""

Wow. Go read the above link. There's more where that came from.

I thought a teacher had to, you know, actually graduate from college and pass a state examination to teach. How do you pass any examinations if you don't speak the language well?

It looks to me like assimilation of the current immigrant population is going to occur at about half the generational rate as previous immigrants such as Italians. Once upon a time, if an Italian moved to the US, he would learn some English -maybe enough to run a business, maybe not-, the kids would be fairly bilingual with a bias toward English, and the grandkids would be 99.9% assimilated. This is structurally impossible if the current generation of immigrant children is not being taught English outside the home.

Video over debate

Fred sez: Let them eat cake watch me on Leno and on the Intertubes.

Really, Mary Matalin has it right - Leno has the audience, and no normal person watches Presidential primary debates, particularly debates between the seventeen dwarves.

Are "expectations" high? Yes. Would expectations be any lower if Fred hadn't been a colossal tease until September 6th? Not really. We expect a lot from a President, and the ability to pull of a stunt like this has the ability to demonstrate that prowess. And in the process he's saved a couple of million bucks.

If he flakes out, it's no harm - no foul. I'm betting that he'll do well, but even if he doesn't I think John McCain's "Titanic" campaign ought to be seen as significantly more embarrassing.