Archive for September 2009
I find my attention wandering from politics: The Democrats have become Republicans, the Republicans have gone batshit crazy, and the entire edifice seems to be passing into the hands of business and industry. I’m keeping an eye on it, but my interest and heart are not in it right now.
Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee voted down both the Rockefeller and Schumer amendments, which would have added a public insurance plan to the committee’s bill. As the Wall Street Journal reports, shares in health insurers Humana and UnitedHealth shot up following the votes:
Shares of companies that operate private health plans turned higher or trimmed losses in afternoon trading Tuesday after a Senate committee rejected an amendment that would have created a government-run insurance option. Humana Inc. (HUM) shares, which had been down earlier, were recently up 1% at $38.41. UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) shares gained 3 cents to $25.83.
Private health insurers have bitterly fought the creation of a public insurance option, fearing that such an option would cut into their profits. Yesterday, Life And Health Insurance News reported that the insurance industry has responded positively to the defeat of the public option amendments. “We are pleased by the rejection of both the Rockefeller and Schumer amendments,” said Tom Currey, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Janet Trautwein, president of the National Association of Health Underwriters, also told the press that her organization is pleased by the failure of the Schumer and Rockefeller amendments.
Meanwhile, disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Rick Scott, who heads the anti-reform front group Conservatives for Patients Rights, released a video where he called yesterday’s vote “a great day.”
If anyone knows how the insurance industry feels about protecting its profits from the introduction of a new public plan, it’s whistleblower Wendell Potter, who left Cigna last year over its opposition to health care reform. Potter appeared on Democracy Now! this morning and told host Amy Goodman that the Finance Committee advancing legislation without a public option marks the “first time” that a health reform bill has been put together that the industry supports:
POTTER: Yeah, this is the first time that the insurance industry has really seen great opportunity in healthcare reform, with an individual mandate, which would require all of us to buy insurance if we are not eligible for a public, government-run program, which, fortunately, many people are. We would have to buy it in the private market from insurance companies, many of whom—many of which are for-profit companies. … So billions and billions of taxpayers’ dollars will flow right into the treasuries of these big for-profit insurance companies. So we will be essentially paying a tax that will help support these insurance companies. It will be an enormous bailout of the health insurance industry.
Potter also told Goodman that while numerous members of Congress sought out his advice as they crafted health care legislation, “not once” did he ever hear from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s (D-MT) office. He ended the interview by saying that there should be a debate about single-payer health care in the United States, and that he thinks “it will eventually take a social movement to get the kind of healthcare that we need in this country.”
I for one welcome our new industry overlords.
The Sister turned me on to The Engine 2 Diet, and I must say that what I’ve read so far has impressed me—and the recipes look good, too. The author is a triathlete and firefighter—meh—but he also comes from a family of doctors and knows quite a bit about science, medicine, and nutrition. And the way he tested the diet makes sense and gives good credibility. Check it out.
The sake I really like these days junmai ginjō nigori:
junmai: made from only rice, water and kōji, with no brewer’s alcohol or other additive
ginjō: made from rice polished to 60% or less of its original weight
nigori: cloudy sake: it’s passed through a loose mesh to separate it from the mash and isn’t filtered thereafter, so the bottle contains much rice sediment
I used to joke about wines whose labels bore the legend “WARNING: Serve chilled!”. I never conceived of wines whose labels would advise “Shake well before serving,” but that’s the case with nigori sake: the sake is shaken to disperse the sediment and turn the drink a pearly white.
Tokai “Snow Maiden,” a sake mentioned by a commenter earlier, is a junmai nigori sake. It’s named after Japan’s most famous koi, “Hanako”, which lived 226 years in the icy waters at the foot of Mt. Ontake.
Jack of Amsterdam points out this interesting article by John Hulsman in Foreign Policy:
It’s easy to assume that the Counterinsurgency Field Manual — the U.S. military’s new, post-Iraq-surge bible on unconventional warfare — is something of a revolution in military thought. Afghanistan itself is rewriting the rules of war every day, it seems. But history has a funny way of repeating itself. The U.S. generals dictating strategy to their troops would have done better to pass around a 1917 publication by Lawrence of Arabia, "27 Articles." [quite fascinating – LG]
Like the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which was written at a time when the U.S. military was losing Iraq, "27 Articles" was composed during difficult days. It was the height of the Great War in August 1917, following the astonishing capture of Aqaba in the desert campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The British were using Arab insurgents to harass the Turks, and the high command in London, fearing that Aqaba’s conqueror, Lawrence of Arabia, could be killed at any moment, tasked him with codifying what he had learned in dealing with his Arab allies. It was meant to be a manual for British officers serving in the field with Faisal, the Hashemite prince and insurgent leader, and his troops. So, in the midst of leading his guerrilla campaign, Lawrence wearily began typing "27 Articles" in the heat of the desert sun.
The work he produced is nothing less than a new way for Western nation-builders to look at the world. A century ahead of his time, Lawrence realized that without the political backing of the Arab population, he could not win — but with their support, he could not lose. Lawrence describes not only how to run a successful insurgency but how to create a nation. Sounds awfully similar to U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s mantra that protecting the Afghan people — and thus winning their hearts and minds — is the key to success for the NATO mission in Afghanistan. McChrystal acknowledges another dictum of Lawrence: that he is still trying to do way too much with Western troops when Afghans themselves should be doing the brunt of the work. No wonder he wants to double the Afghan Army to 400,000 in the coming years…
Continue reading. There’s lots more of interest.
Americans have always assumed that financial crises happen in basket-case countries, not here. So how then did the U.S. follow the lead of Argentina, Mexico and Thailand by plunging into this one?
Economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff answer that question in a provocative new book, This Time Is Different.
The authors, both former top economists at the International Monetary Fund who’re now teaching, respectively, at the University of Maryland and Harvard University, offer examples of mistakes made repeatedly over "eight centuries of financial folly."
In the preface, they offer a crystal-clear analysis of why we are where we are.
"If there is one common theme to the vast range of crises we consider in this book, it is that excessive debt accumulation, whether it be by the government, banks, corporations, or consumers, often poses greater systemic risks than it seems during a boom," they wrote.
"Infusions of cash can make a government look like it is providing greater growth to its economy than it really is. Private-sector borrowing binges can inflate housing and stock prices far beyond their long-run sustainable levels, and make banks seem more stable and profitable than they really are."
Reinhart and Rogoff discussed their new book Tuesday with McClatchy. Here are some of their thoughts, edited into a question-and-answer format.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson from today’s U.S. financial crisis? …
The terrific food writer and cookbook author, Martha Rose Shulman, gets lots of requests for nutrition information on her recipes. What do I think about this? Here’s her interview with me borrowed from Zester Daily (the site has the photos and links to her work): …