"0ne of those pathetic bloggers who tries to make a living out of attacking other bloggers and media folk in an effort to illicit a reaction and draw traffic to his site." -- Owen Robinson of Boots and Sabers
Wow, that's a big shiny gift on the front page of the Journal Sentinel: "Families here get health deals. But single workers in Milwaukee area pay top dollar."
And a partridge in a pear tree! What a bold counterintuitive story for all those stories about the high cost of health care in southeastern Wisconsin! You suddenly realize you (provided you have family coverage of course) are better off than you thought. And you should be grateful for what you have rather than griping so much everytime you get a doctor bill.
But then you see the tag: By Guy Boulton. That'd be the same Guy Boulton who famously said there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Jim Doyle and Mark Green during the gubernatorial race.
And sure enough, you read this paragraph and you start to notice the metaphorical rips in the wrapping paper and stray pieces of tape sticking to your fingers:
Families in the Milwaukee area may be getting a bargain on the cost of health benefits, at least compared with their co-workers, despite the overall higher cost of health care here.
Information released last week by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that the average employer's premium for family coverage here is lower than the national average, and lower than the average in more than 30 other metro areas.
The survey's findings conflict with study after study showing that health insurance premiums and health care costs are higher in southeast Wisconsin.
The survey found that the average total premium for family coverage in 2004 - the most recent year for which data is available - for the area that includes Milwaukee, Waukesha and West Allis was $9,853.
That figure - accurate to within an estimated 4.6% - is lower than the national average of $10,006. It is even below the state average of $10,146. And it is lower than the average in such cities as Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City.
No statistic lies more than an average, so the relevance of this finding is dubious at best. Moreover, without knowing the composition of the sample group it's even more difficult to say what that number means.
But still, it's a big box and what's rumbling around inside sounds promising. So you tear it open and after sifting through a ridiculous amount of tissue paper you find this lump of coal:
The cost of family coverage - or at least the way private employers calculate it - may be lower here than in other cities. But that's just one part of overall costs.
In contrast, the cost of providing health benefits for one employee here tops nearly every city in the country. The survey put that annual cost at $4,274. That's 15% higher than the national average of $3,705.
Health insurance premiums for one employee were higher only in Manchester/Nashua, N.H., and Providence, R.I., according to the federal survey.
And this one:
Also, the bargain for family coverage isn't the same deal when taking into account what an employee pays for his or her share of the cost of family coverage.
The survey found that employees pay an average of $2,637 for family coverage in the Milwaukee area, about 8% above the national average of $2,438.
The Brawler agrees: when an employee pays $189 more for coverage than the national average -- Boulton's yardstick -- "the bargain for family coverage isn't the same deal." Indeed, the Brawler wonders why Boulton didn't lead with the fact that Milwaukeeans pay 8% more than the national average for family coverage.
In his latest hard-copy opus, Patrick McIlheran endorses escalating in the conflict in Iraq, arguing if we just throw more troops into the Baghdad meatgrinder we'll come out on top.
It's a stupid argument. It ignores the strain our soldiers are under; it ignores the reality that taking on Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr could cause our troops to find themselves surrounded by hostiles; it ignores the fact this tack has been taken before with no success.
But the Brawler has a bigger question: where does McIlheran gets the stones to comment on Iraq -- or why his editors publish his "thoughts" -- given his observations have been relentlessly wrong when they're not simply misinformed.
Let's dig up the ur-text of McIlheran's musings on Iraq. From Sept. 5, 2004, the Brawler brings you "Let's make no mistake: Bush wasn't wrong on Iraq."
(Feel free to read after you've suppressed your laughter or gagging.)
Here's the stirring lead:
As of midweek, 976 American warriors had died in Iraq. Soon, the grim odometer will roll over.
The 1,000th death will be no less terrible than, say, the 749th, but news people can't resist a round number, so there will be furrowed-brow retrospectives and long, tolling readings of names.
There also will be a brigade of partisans, masked as analysts, saying President Bush ought to just admit the whole thing was a mistake, if not a lie. They'll say that no plutonium nor anthrax has been found, so it never existed nor ever would have, and that al- Qaida never heard of Baghdad. They'll say those 1,000 Americans died pointlessly.
They will be wrong.
Each death of an American in combat is a wound to our country, and so many seem, on their own, so pointless: a roadside bomb, random gunfire. But this is true of any war. What matters is the cause, and this cause is just: to turn aside the long assault on our nation that climaxed with 3,000 Americans dead on that Sept. 11 and to do it by liberating 25 million people from a warmongering fascist regime.
Yes, "grim odometer" is the worst metaphor yet for the war dead.
He goes on for a couple paragraphs, quoting noted Iraq expert Mark Green as saying "There was a storm gathering in the terrorist world, and it was a storm we ignored for too long," before getting to this:
Bin Laden ordered 9-11, but before that came the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers, the Nairobi embassy, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Marines in Beirut, the hostages in Tehran -- two decades of attack on us, mainly because we wouldn't help annihilate Israel. Many people in the Mideast had it in for us. Governments helped them.
One was Iraq. Saddam Hussein paid money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He may or may not have helped al-Qaida - - unanswerable before his overthrow -- but didn't disavow the group and said, three days after 9-11, that we had it coming.
The ignorance and clumsy manipulation of facts here is staggering.
He manages to compress al-Qaeada attacks, the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and the Iranian revolution against the U.S.-backed shah into a single menace from the Mideast. The Brawler will concede that those folks in the Mideast are a shade darker than Paddy Mack and speak a different language. But they ain't all the same.
His analysis of the reason for two decades of attack on us -- "mainly because we wouldn't help annihilate Israel" -- also beggars belief. The attacks on the Cole, the Nairobi embassy and the Khobar Towers were caused by our occupation of Saudi Arabia. The hostage crisis in Iran was fueled by rage that we supported and sheltered the brutal Shah. Hezbollah -- which organized in 1982 after Israel, you know, invaded their country -- launched its attack on the Marines after the U.S. took sides in the Lebanese civil war, with naval artillery shelling Muslim enclaves. Hamas, borned out of 40 years of Israeli occupation and clearing of Palestinian territory, certainly wants to annihilate Israel but it doesn't seek to annihilate the United States (though Americans have been killed in Hamas attacks). (Please note: It should go without saying that the Brawler is not justifying the actions of any of these groups. But he is trying to put their actions into a context beyond McIlheran's willful misreading of the Middle East.)
And of course it was knowable before we invaded that Iraq was not aiding AQ -- that is if we paid attention to credible sources and ignored those who had their axes to grind (and who our allies sensed were full of it).
He goes on and on before we get to this:
His removal changed our Mideast policy from one of failing containment to a presumption that Iraqis can be free and that the world is better if they are. It demanded that we, as Bush put it Thursday, "believe in the transformational power of liberty."
In all these ways, the war wasn't a mistake; it was a victory. Every day that dawns without a dictator, every contentious assembly of Iraqis in place of Hussein's old rubber-stamp parliament is part of that victory.
That's right. When the grim odometer hits 3,000 in the not-too-distant future, don't think of it as a loss. It's all part of George Bush's greater victory.
This is the worldview informing Mack's columns. Why are they published?
The Business Journal (sub. required) this week reports that Centerre Healthcaren and Prohealth Care want to build a 40-bed rehab facility between Oconomowoc and Waukesha.
And they're upfront about why they want to do it:
Three factors make ProHealth's service territory particularly attractive to Centerre, said Andrew Rosen, the company's vice president of development. Wisconsin is one of 16 states with no regulations of health care and Waukesha has a high percentage of patients with private insurance.
Apparently Waukesha's supply of rehab beds is less than half the national average -- but then again, Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls says it hasn't seen a need to add to its 16 beds. So saying there's a crying need for 40 new beds seems a stretch at best.
Smells to the Brawler like an old-fashioned case of budding overcapacity as different players (and Centerre is backed by venture capital) rush to areas with high coverage rates.
What we're seeing here makes for an interesting counterpoint to St. Luke's, where Aurora is referring Medicaid recipients to facilities four miles away -- or to the competition. Of course, back in the day, the folks in St. Luke's community were blue collar but with good coverage. Not so much anymore.
Too many rehab beds in Waukesha. Medicaid patients getting the revolving door treatment at St. Luke's. The market truly is a beautiful thing.
Patrick McIlheran takes the Brawler to task for failing to thoroughly evisceratie his claim that recently deceased murderer, torturer, thief and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's "reign could not be seen as unrelieved darkness: At least he left peacefully and he did liberalize the economy. "
The Brawler apologizes. Here's my penance.
In pointing out that Pinochet maintained the nationalized status of Chile's copper mines -- the biggest single engine of that country's economy to this day -- the Brawler was trying to demonstrate that reports of Chile's liberalized economy were a little overdone.
But Paddy didn't see it that way:
Copper isn’t all that’s going on in Chile. As of 1975, copper was about 60% of Chile’s exports. Now, it’s between 30-45%, depending on copper prices (they’re high at the moment, so they constitute 42% of the value of what Chile exports).
That means, however, that there’s still more than half the Chilean economy to account for. Wood, salmon and grapes, the next three biggest exports, outweigh copper, and they’re not run by a state-owned company. So, no, Chile’s wealth isn’t based on its huge copper reserves. It has a real economy outside copper, and the non-copper part of the economy is growing faster. Once again, the lefties err in thinking that wealth is fixed goods and the argument is about how to divvy them up. Wealth is, largely, a thing humans create.
Paddy, if you want to believe that Chile would be the same country it is today without the resource that represents 42% of the value of its exports, fine (and yes, Chile has privatized some of the mines). Yes, humans create wealth. But said humans likely will find it's easier to do that if they're sitting on the world's largest reserves of a valuable commodity. (And, Paddy, given that you've previously suggested the Brawler is an informed observer of business, it doesn't do you much good to set up the Brawler as a strawman who errs in thinking wealth is fixed goods.)
But by focusing on the copper issue, the Brawler did not go far enough in is critique. So here it is: Kleptocrat Pinochet's liberalization efforts were not only overhyped (see copper), the ones he implemented were a disaster for the country. And Chile's good fortune today is due, in large part, to activist government.
Pinochet slashed duties on imports, from an average tariff rate of 94 percent in 1973 to 10 percent by 1979. He privatized all but two dozen of Chile's 300 state-owned banks, as well as utilities and entitlements such as social security. By 1979, he had cut public spending almost in half and public investment by nearly 14 percent. He lowered taxes, restricted union activities and returned more than a third of the land seized under Allende's land reform program.
Monetary policy was liberalized on two important fronts. First, Pinochet allowed "hot money" -- speculation on the currency market -- to flow in and out of the country without obstacle. And in 1979 he fixed the exchange rate for Chile's peso, requiring the central bank to keep $1 in reserve for every 39 pesos printed. This kept the bank from merely printing money to pay bills and curbed an inflation rate that had soared to nearly 400 percent annually under Allende.
With a recession in 1975, Chile's economy contracted by 13 percent -- its greatest decline since the Great Depression. The recovery that followed was fueled largely by foreign cash, which poured into the country as investors gobbled up utilities and stashed money in Chile's currency markets. The prices of imports fell sharply; between 1975 and 1982, the number of foreign cars sold in Chile tripled. Domestic manufacturing shriveled by 30 percent. Domestic savings plummeted. Wages fell, and the income gap between rich and poor widened by a factor of 50.
By 1982, Chile had accumulated $16 billion in foreign debt -- the highest in Latin America -- and foreign investment represented a quarter of the country's gross domestic product. The money flowing into the country flowed out just as easily, to pay debts and bills for imported goods and through capital flight as investors soured on Chile's currency market. The economy had overheated and was now in a meltdown.
"I don't think there is any question that Chile did not have the right policy mix in those days," said Hernan Somerville, president of the Chilean Banking Association and one of Pinochet's advisers at the time. "The government wasn't as diligent as it needed to effectively manage the markets and the economy. We needed a system with more balance."
With a third of the workforce unemployed and unrest growing, by 1984 Pinochet began to "reform the reforms," said Ricardo French-Davis, an economics professor at the University of Chile.
He allowed the peso to float and reinstated restrictions on the movement of capital in and out of the country. He introduced banking legislation, and ratcheted up spending on research and development efforts through the Chile Foundation and other collaborations between the public and private sectors.
Finding a Balance
In the 1990s, after Pinochet allowed a plebiscite that returned democracy to Chile, the new government accelerated the reforms, said French-Davis and others. Between 1990 and 1992, Chile doubled government spending on health and education, and introduced tax incentives to businesses that provide job training, helping to increase the percentage of Chileans with higher education from 9 percent in 1992 to 16.4 percent last year. The number of professionals in the country expanded 124 percent over that period.
Successive governments led first by Chile's conservatives then by its socialist party worked to restore worker rights eroded by Pinochet's regime. Government strengthened trade unions' ability to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, introduced the broadest unemployment insurance plan on the continent and reduced from six months to one month the period of time employees can work without a contract. Between 1990 and 1998, Chilean lawmakers increased the minimum wage by 87 percent, making it the highest in Latin America, said Yerko Ljubetic, Chile's undersecretary of labor.
Lefty journalist Greg Palast, who actually studied under Milton Friedman, also weighs in.
I don't know, Paddy. Maybe time to say no mas in defending the Pinochet miracle.
For all the criticism the Brawler aims at Jessica McBride, he sometimes hopes against hope her better angels will make their appearance. For instance, when he read her recent incomprehensible rant about Iraq he thought, "You know, writing for the web can be tough. You're writing on the fly. You can't always mull over things. Maybe if she wrote something that would appear on the printed page she'd make more sense."
I feel guilty admitting it because Americans are dying there. Meanwhile, most of us are too busy Googling Britney Spears (the No. 1 online search term this year) or waiting a week outside Best Buy for our new PS3.
How invested are we really in this war beyond spouting off about it?
So, even though I’m sick of talking about it too, I must.
To Jessica's students: This is called "backing into a story." Try to avoid. Indeed, when you're wondering how to approach the noble work of journalism think to yourself "What would Jessica do?" -- and do the opposite! She's like the Bizarro of journalism teachers.
Anyway, she must talk about it so we must read it (Actually, again, students: People don't have to read anything you write. That's why you don't back into stories.)
It’s too easy to get impatient about Iraq since this war is a videogame. We are seeing the flashpoints play out solely on a television screen. We aren’t really affected by it, for the most part. Unless we have a loved one fighting overseas, we haven’t really lost anything. Yet. We don’t understand the stakes because we’re not feeling them directly right now. Far from rationing sugar, we’re angry because they’re taking away our trans fats.
I've read the first sentence many times and am still not completely sure what she means by it (I do know she uses the word "since" when she actually means "because," but then again I'm not a journalism teacher). Do you really need to have a loved one overseas to be affected by the loss of life and the lifelong damage to our young men and women? Doesn't basic human empathy -- potentially in short supply at WTMJ -- enable us to be "affected" by the waste of life. And how does Jessica know the stakes any better than us PS3 buyin', Britney googlin', transfat lovin' slobs (Another note: try not to insult the intelligence of your readers -- and I mean literally insult the intelligence of your readers -- the way Jessica does here.)
Skip down a bit:
The ISG’s big recommendations? Start talking a lot to Iran and Syria. Because it’s really important that we reward the terrorist countries who are stirring up the instability in Iraq (and Lebanon) by catering to them and legitimizing them. Let’s reward their behavior. And this will make them want to stop destabilizing Iraq and Lebanon , how? Talking a lot to our enemies isn’t the best wartime strategy. Giving them the Golan Heights is even worse.
Hmm. If we were to talk about a country that stirred up instability in Iraq, I think it would be, you know, the one that invaded it on false pretenses, trashed its infrastructure and didn't have a clue -- literally not a clue -- about how to pick up that pieces. Who did that again? Oh yeah. Jessica: The Shiites of Iraq may view the Iranians as cousins but the real power in Iraq -- Al-Sadr -- doesn't need "stirring up." Separately, enemies talk to each other all the time. And the "terrorist country" of Iran actually has been helping us -- for its own motives -- in Afghanistan. And I'm not sure how Israel returning the Golan Heights to Syria -- a sticking point in the region for going on 40 years -- is a bad thing.
Skip down a bit more:
We have to stay the course - or whatever you want to call it. How do we know we’ve won? When Iraq is stabilized, and we can leave without our enemies cheering in the streets.
Does Jessica want to teach the world to sing? Because that's about as likely. Jessica: Most Iraqis do not want us there. The Army is at a breaking point (according to the Wall Street Journal it's in a cash crunch). And in an occupation, time is always on the side of the occupied. Add those factors together, and yes, it seems likely our enemies will be cheering in the streets when we leave.
Then there's this:
I understand why some people have a problem with supporting a war that’s been defended with shifting rationale. I don’t believe we went to Iraq because Saddam was tied to al-Qaida or because he was a tyrant or even because we wanted to plant democracy in the Middle East. There are plenty of tyrannical regimes where we could try to plant democracy but haven’t.
Rather, we went to Iraq to pre-empt Saddam from getting weapons of mass destruction. He’d defied weapons inspectors. The lesson of 9-11? We can’t wait until a threat is truly imminent.
Jessica, the reason most people -- not some as you say (to Jessica's students: please use precise and accurate language rather than the fudging "some" as your teacher does here -- it really does matter)-- oppose the war is because our men and women are getting killed for no apparent reason and war boosters cannot, even at this late date, stop making shit up. As you do here.
We did not go to Iraq to "pre-empt Saddam from getting weapons of mass destruction." We "went" because the White House and its minions told us he already had chemical and biological weapons and was thisclose to getting a nuke. Remember, we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud? We "went" to Iraq because we wanted to pre-empt Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction -- or slip them to his friends in al Qaeda. Who really weren't, but, who's counting lies these days?
And Saddam let weapons inspectors into the country. And they didn't find anything -- there wasn't anything to find! And why did they leave? Because Bush ordered them out.
Jessica, Americans don't oppose the war because they're too busy googling Britney Spears. They oppose the war because they're tired of having our men and women killed while a civil war rages around them. They understand what's going on.
They understand that the war is nothing like a video game.
One of the dullest arrows in Patrick McIlheran's rhetorical quiver is outrageous contrarianism. The rich? Pity them -- they pay taxes! Raising the minimum wage? Demagoguery! Augusto Pinochet? Not as bad as Castro!
The Castro - Pinochet comparison,with a Sting reference thrown in for good measure, appears in Paddy Putzmeister Mack's Monday blog.Pundit Nation already points out this is a new low.
But Putzmeister's rhetoric isn't only morally reprehensible,it also assails that thing called "logic."
Check this out:
And compare the causes: Pinochet took power to overthrow an elected president that, he and others suspected, would drag Chile into Marxism. Castro has spent the last four and a half decades keeping Cuba in Marxism. Pinochet, for all his evil repression, liberated Chile’s economy, and now that he’s been out of power, Chile’s got a free, prosperous economy, generating about $11,900 of wealth per person in 2005. Cuba has a low illiteracy rate, but it also has a per capita GDP about $3,500, its people are economically repressed, it’s pretty much illegal to complain, and people risk death to flee.
Why is this an offense to reason? Because Chile's wealth is based on its huge copper reserves -- it produces about 30% of the copper consumed globally. The biggest producer is Codelco -- which also happens to be state-owned. It was nationalized under Allende -- a status formally established under Pinochet.
So if Paddy Mack wants to say Chile has a "free" economy when the bedrock of that economy is largely state-owned (copper was 25% of GDP in 2000) that's fine. But he should at least give Allende credit.
In the latest example of why we need substantive health care reform, Journal Communications plans to stop offering medical coverage to employees aged 50 or younger when they retire, according to a report in the December 8 Business Journal (not yet posted).(UPDATE: Here's a link.)
Meanwhile, it also has told employees who are 55 and older that they can remain eligible for coverage if they retire by April 1, 2007. Get this -- Journal Communications denies this is an attempt to encourage early retirements. From the story:
"These changes are financial decisions made by the company and are not staffing related," said spokeswoman Sara Wilkins. "It is possible that some employers who are eligible for retiree medical coverage may choose to retire."
The letter also said the move was necessary "due to a rapid rise in retiree medical benefit costs," the story said.
According to the story, Journal Communications has paid up to 40 percent of premiums for Medicare-eligible retirees.
From the story:
Journal Communications cited a survey by Mercer Consulting, Washington, D.C., that found only 17 percent of large employers provide medical benefits to Medicare-eligible retirees.
So we're not going to do it either! That, my market fundamentalist friends, is how "free market solutions" work in a world of spiraling health care costs. Companies offload costs onto their employees and retirees or to the public sector.
Two side questions.
Why didn't the Journal Sentinel break this story? Can't believe the newsroom is ignorant of this one (At least I haven't seen coverage.)
Also, what does Newspaper Guild stewardPatrick McIlheran think of this move? Not to mention Charlie Sykes. They've decried the generous benefits GM provided its retirees -- indeed, Paddy "Putzmeister" Mack said he was glad he didn't own a GM vehicle and thus subsidize such silliness.
What will he say now that the wolf is at his door? (How are HSAs looking as a solution?) I'm sure his union brothers and sisters might be interested.
...That is if you came of age in the 1980s, liked loud fast music and have a high tolerance for the f-bomb. Otherwise, this 90 minute documentary about the hardcore punk from 1978 to 1984 might not be your thing.
It's mostly talking heads -- Mike Watt, Dez Cadena, Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins, IanMackaye among others -- talking about the good old days, what it meant and getting in fights mixed in with grainy footage. Kira, who played bass for Black Flag, does touch on the sexism in a very male and very white scene. There aren't any academics or critics talking about what it all meant. Which probably makes sense because they weren't there.
For the Brawler, a big highlight was about 10 seconds of footage of Milwaukee's own Die Kreuzen playing in what looks like someone's basement and a brief, nonrevelatory interview with Dan Kubinski, mostly about how they went to LA and didn't like it.
It's showing at the Downer, not sure for how much longer. Coming out of the theater, I was almost surprised not to see the lunkhead racist skinheads who used to hang out at the old fountain.
UPDATE: Actually, go rent American Hardcore when it comes out on DVD or VHS or what have you. Apocalypto booted it out on Friday. A movie by a raging antisemite booting out a movie about hardcore punk. Seems somehow appropriate.
In the Dec. 4 Roll Call (sub req.), Stuart Rothenberg listed John Gard on his list of unsuccessful candidates who have "Earned another run for something."
All of these unsuccessful candidates either exceeded my expectations or demonstrated potential. They shouldn't give up on politics just yet.
John Gard exceeded expectations or demonstrated potential?
Initially the Brawler thought Rothenberg was thinking about a different John Gard. Finding that no, no one named John Gard ran for office in a different state, the Brawler was perplexed.
But then came a Eureka like moment.
John Gard should run for the governor's office in 2010! Sure, the voters of the traditionally Republican 8th rejected him in favor of a political neophyte. But the Brawler is sure Gard would prevail in a statewide contest. The Brawler, for one, would love to see him campaign in Milwaukee.