Bits & Piece (TGIF Edition)

You know what’s cool? Not MySpace, which, frankly, I thought sucked way before Facebook opened up a can of whoopass on ’em. I’m glad to see that my earlier judgement of them has proved to be correct. And ugly, impenetrable, non-functional interface and poor design will not succeed indefinitely, just because people can use the site to be “social”.

You know what actually is cool? The Amazon Kindle Fire.

If you’ve never seen Lonely Island’s Like a Boss, you should. Rated R for “Adult Situations”.

Speaking of Lonely Island (I’m sure someone said something about them), I love the SNL skit with Rhianna: Ronnie and Clyde. Don’t ask my why.

Abba interlude: The Dancing Queen Bridal March from Muriel’s Wedding.

For our Muppet fans, Miss Piggy meets Big Bird on the Muppet Show.

I’m outta here! Happy weekend, everybody — KW

Killing Democracy In Greece

Nigel Farage (UKIP Leader) doesn’t like the Eurozone. And he doesn’t want a United States of Europe. And he blames the Euro and the whole Eurozone concept for the coming Greek default.

I picked one. I suggest you go to the website and check out on multiple Nigel Farage videos available on YouTube. The Worm as Turned, for example. He’s a bare-knuckles critic of the whole Euro project.

MedPAC Tease

I’ve been promising lmsinca a post on MedPAC for quite some time. They’re meeting again next week and will have a session (benefit redesign) that I think will be of more interest. So I’m going to combine the two meetings into one post.

Until then, a little nugget:

Just like the rest of the program, a small percentage of Part D (the drug benefit) beneficiaries account for the majority of program spending. For Part D, 8 percent account for 40 percent of total spending and 20 percent of the total prescriptions. In 2009, on average the “high-cost” beneficiary filled 111 prescriptions over the year. Each prescription cost an average cost of $110. The lower-cost beneficiaries, by comparison, filled 41 prescriptions at a cost of $42 each during the same time period. “High cost” tended to use more brand-name drugs (as opposed to generics).

It’s the same story over and over. There’s a small percentage of beneficiaries who are the cost drivers. Until we figure out how to control costs in this area the rest is rearranging the deck chairs.

Also, Medicare is estimated to reach six percent of GDP by 2040, and the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will be unable to pay full benefits after 2024. That’s 13 years from now. The growth in expenses means that a beneficiary’s average out-of-pocket costs will increase faster than Social Security benefits.

Update: Slight edit to answer lms’ clarifying question.

Update II: A lot of criticism regarding Part D is directed at the non-interference clause, which prohibits the government from direct negotiation. Repealing this would have a negligible effect, according to CBO. Part of the reason is that it would not be a true negotiation, because the biggest tool the government could use, a restrictive formulary, is left off the table because it’s a political nonstarter. Also, before the MMA was enacted various prescription drug bills were kicking around congress for many years. The vast majority of them — republican and democratic — included this provision. As it stands, drug manufacturer negotiate with the prescription drug plans, who have every incentive to get a good deal. But again, they’re hamstrung by the requirement to have very inclusive formularies. In some class of drugs they’re required by law to include the vast majority of the available prescriptions — in every therapeutic category its at least 2 drugs.

Regarding re-importation, the law gives HHS the authority to do it, provided that the department can certify it can be done safely. FDA is worried about counterfeit drugs, tampered drugs, etc. There’s also the R&D argument. Haven’t spent too much time on this issue, but the NIH looked at it a few years back. Personally, I think it’s a band-aid approach to more systemic problems in the overall health care system.

Real Conservatives Discuss 2012

On episode 86 of The Richocet Podcast, James Lileks, Peter Robinson, and my favorite conservative, Rob Long, discuss the 2012 election with Michael Barone and Haley Barbour.

If you’re interested in election politics, the full discussions with Michael Barone and Haley Barbour are worth listening to (starts around 5:30). If you just want to hear Rob Long (my favorite conservative) rail against the bankers, making the case that the folks who helped get us into this crisis should be broke and selling apples on the street, fast forward to the last 20 minutes (starts about 58:00), and listen to him go. The real populism (and punish the bankers rhetoric) starts at 1:02.
As a RINO, conservative-ish moderate, I tend to resent that the forums for conservative thought are dominated by (and, sometimes, I think, being squashed by some who may be rabble-rousing poseurs) Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and others. I like Rush Limbaugh, and though I rarely listen to his show these days, I listened regularly for 10 years, and I like the show. But I don’t think that style, which is about 80% bloviation (entertaining) and 20% substantial content, should not be the only thing that represents conservative thought in the public forum. I find talking heads shouting at each other on Fox even less appealing (and not reflective of the depth of any side of any argument).
That’s why I like Ricochet. I bet most folks on the left (not you fine people here, but elsewhere) would be a little surprised by Haley Barbour, or the kind of dialog that goes on between conservatives when they have a broader canvas than 5 minutes on Fox.
Or Jonah Goldberg. Common lampooned as an idiot or demon, even very liberal folks would have a hard time getting that vibe if all they had to go on was his appearance on episode 87 of Ricochet: Looking for a Hero.
I don’t have any specific call-outs for that episode, but there’s a lot of discussion of the 2012 race, with a lot of hard-headed, no-nonsense analysis from the conservative side.
The title makes me think of Frou-Frou’s cover of Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero. Love that cover. But I love covers, generally.

Friday Light (An Open Thread)

I don’t know how many of you have been following the “Occupy Wall Street” protests but I thought this was a decent historical perspective of the movement. There’s a great tradition of populist anger against the economic elite. The protesters don’t seem to have any real leadership or defined goals, they appear to want it that way, but they are reflecting similar complaints going all the way back to the Shay and Whiskey Rebellions.

It is my possibly vain hope that reading up on such historical matters might inspire efforts like Occupy Wall Street to greater cogency and a deeper, more solid foundation in longstanding (if embattled and problematic) American values than they now seem to possess. You don’t have to look as late as the 19th-century Populists and the 1930′s labor movement, for example, to find an American left deeply immersed in both economic issues and an ambitious vision of a better country. Those things were present at the creation.

Occupy Wall Street probably doesn’t, when you shake it down, want to secede from the union like the whiskey rebels — happily enough. But those rebels didn’t start out by wanting to secede, either; they’d fought in the awful front lines of the Revolution in hopes that those sacrifices might lead to something for them and their families; it didn’t. Occupy Wall Street does seem to want to secede, somehow, from the hopeless-feeling regurgitation, through the two political parties, of elite finance theories and policies that never seem sincerely dedicated to any fundamental improvement of opportunity for what they call, not wrongly, “the 99%.”
But a lot of efforts to state a goal for the protest itself devolve in sloganeering about the economic situation and self-admiring paeans to the virtues of protesting. Wouldn’t galvanizing this stuff require… leadership? Our founding democratic-finance activists weren’t such communitarians that they refused to have leaders and set achievable goals. They were used to being rank-and-file — even though as miltiamen, they elected their leaders.

And they knew where they’d succeeded and failed. This thing in Zuccotti Park is open-ended. It has no declared closing date. How can it ever declare victory, get the hell out, build its organization, and come back to fight another day? (lms)

Here’s a story that people have been waiting for:

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamic militant cleric who became a prominent figure in al-Qaida’s most active branch, using his fluent English and Internet savvy to draw recruits to carry out attacks in the United States, was killed Friday in the mountains of Yemen, American and Yemeni officials said. (lms)

From the department of who didn’t see this coming:

Most Bank of America customers will soon see a new charge on their statements — $5 for any month in which they use a BofA debit card to make a purchase.

Consumers should prepare for more such charges, analysts say, as big banks strive to recover revenue they have lost to financial reforms adopted in the aftermatch of the economic meltdown.

The new Bank of America fee will be phased in early next year, said Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for BofA, the nation’s largest retail bank.

Customers will still be able to use their cards at the bank’s automated teller machines without being charged, the bank said Thursday.

They also can make debit purchases free if they have a mortgage from Bank of America or if they have a total of $20,000 on deposit at Bank of America and in certain Merrill Lynch accounts (you may recall that Bank of America’s corporate parent bought Merrill Lynch as the financial crisis set in).

The bank, like others, has been testing ways to recover debit-card revenue that is going away because of new regulations.

Banks previously had charged merchants 44 cents on average every time they accepted a debit card for a purchase. Under new regulations that take effect Saturday, banks with more than $10 billion in assets will be able to charge merchants only 21 cents to 24 cents per transaction.

Bank of America and other big banks have said they will compensate by charging customers. “The economics of offering debit cards have changed,” Pace said in interview. (lms)
Texas was a “weak Governor” state until the decade of Perry. Perry has assiduously turned perhaps thousands of appointments into crony opportunities, shaping the bureaucracy in a way no other governor ever tried to do on a grand scale. This is not insidious in itself, but there are so many instances of barely qualified “friends” replacing experienced technocrats that it hurts Texas, while it benefits Perry. Today’s big story in Austin involves the biggest money bureaucracy in state government – the Texas Department of Transportation, or “TXDOT”. Big $$ for crony

From the story:enempany lobbyist and former top aide to Gov. Rick Perry was chosen Thursday 

An energy company lobbyist and former top aide to Gov. Rick Perry was chosen Thursday to lead the 12,000-employee Texas Department of Transportation and will be paid at least $100,000 more annually than the career engineer he succeeds. lpartment of Transportation and will be paid at least -…$1more annually than the career engineer he succeeds.
The former

Amadeo Saenz, 55
Salary: $192,000
Experience: Engineer. Worked for 33 years for TxDOT.
The current
Phil Wilson, 43
Experience: Lobbyist, executive for Luminant Energy. Texas secretary of state for one year. Aide for 15 years: U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, Gov. Rick Perry.

Note from me: This new salary is the max allowed for a state employee, but they are going to try to gain an exemption to pay Wilson even more.

— MarkInAustin

Bits & Pieces (Thursday Evening Open Mic)

If you’ve never seen the Star Wars Gangsta Rap, you should.

Because it’s fun, and fun is good. Speaking of fun, you should also watch Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody, if you haven’t. Of course, it helps if you’re familiar with Queen’s original. It’s really well done.

Some other stuff might go here. Like this! Chastity Bono appearing on the Sonny & Cher show around age 3.

You’ve got to love that set. Okay. That’s it unless something else occurs to me. — KW

Speaking of Health Insurance . . . .

Health insurance premiums burst upwards.

Ack! The ACA! It does nothing! Nothing!

The average employer-sponsored, single-person health plan premium rose by 8 percent to $5,429 from 2010 to 2011. Meanwhile, the average cost of family coverage rose by 9 percent to $15,073. By contrast, inflation rose by just 3.2 percent, while wages increased just 2.1 percent, the foundation said.

“This year’s 9 percent increase in premiums is especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak recovery,” said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman.

Everywhere you look, it’s good news!


Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) Gets It

“Because if you are not going to get it done, what’s wrong with going down swinging?”
– Rep. James Clyburn on President Obama’s recent address to the Congressional Black Caucus.

See more at FDL

Mullen on ISI and Haqqani: why now?

NOTE:  I pay for this service and get many posts each day.  I  have not linked to it because so much of it is behind a pay-wall.  I am permitted to re-post as long as I acknowledge Stratfor as the source.  Y’all have followed the Mullen-Panetta review of Pakistan to Congress, I am sure; what is new to me here is that Stratfor says we no longer require Pakistan for our effort in Afghanistan so it became a good time to finally say what we know.

In an interview published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his view that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate provided support for the  Haqqani network. And he continued to juxtapose Haqqani attacks on American troops and American targets with the ISI’s “strategic support” for the group.
The interview was released as Mullen’s final testimony before Congress last week continued to elicit reactions. It was during this testimony — not a setting in which casual comments usually slip out — that he explicitly connected the ISI to Haqqani. During Mullen’s tenure as America’s top military officer, he traveled to Pakistan more than two dozen times and maintained close relations with Islamabad’s senior military leadership. Despite attempts in Washington to moderate his testimony, and anger and denials from Pakistan, we can be sure that Mullen chose his words carefully — a point that Wednesday’s interview further underscores.
“The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way.”
The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way. The United States and its allies are leaving Afghanistan. The peak of military operations there — itself intended as an attempt to shape the circumstances for a withdrawal — has already passed. A new officer, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, has been put in charge of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan not to perpetuate the counterinsurgency-focused strategy of David Petraeus.
The move to an exit from Afghanistan is not immediate, but it is inexorable. Washington’s only long-term strategic interest in Central Asia is to deny it as sanctuary to transnational terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan and Washington is moving from a position of needing Pakistani territory to logistically facilitate a surge and ongoing military operations, to one where it requires Pakistan to ensure that Afghanistan will never again serve as a staging ground for attacks against American interests.
Mullen did not recently discover Pakistani connections with Haqqani, or the Taliban in general. They have always existed — Pakistan was instrumental in creating the Taliban and ensuring their ascendancy — and it was never in Islamabad’s interest to sever them. Those ties served as a fundamental means of ensuring Pakistani leverage in Afghanistan. What changed is what the United States needs from Pakistan. The United States’ willingness to overlook Pakistani actions against its interests, in exchange for the cooperation necessary for operational expediency, has ended.
Already, the United States has quietly moved its logistical burden onto the Northern Distribution Route — an astonishingly long and tedious alternative traversing Russia and Central Asia to Pakistan — so much so that only about a third of supplies and fuel continue to reach Afghanistan via the port of Karachi and Pakistani refineries. But as the total number of foreign troops continues to decline, excess stockpiles are burned through, austerity measures take effect and the tempo of combat operations declines, the point at which the war in Afghanistan can be sustained independent of Pakistan is fast approaching.
This is a remarkable inflection point. Washington’s logistical vulnerability and reliance on Islamabad has left combat operations in Afghanistan hostage to Pakistan, which has been a defining dynamic of the war. To sustain the large-scale combat operations, the United States had been forced to tolerate Pakistani support for hostile forces in Afghanistan. Mullen’s testimony last Thursday and the interview this Wednesday reflect a change in the rules.
Whether Pakistan is capable of adjusting course and satisfying new American demands — even if it wants to — is unclear. But with the American exit on the horizon and the twilight of logistical reliance on Pakistan at hand, the rules of the game have undergone perhaps their most fundamental change since the beginning of the war.

Operation Fast and Furious

This House investigation gets a lot of play on the right because of an innate rightwing view that all Democrats would ban and/or confiscate ALL firearms If possible. There is a belief by some righties that Holder set this up purposefully to demonstrate that U.S. Sold guns are killing people as a way then to introduce (more) gun control. I disagree with that. To me, this just smacks of typical government incompetence. Napoleon said, “Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.”

If you don’t know the backstory, check it out. It’s awful and stupifying.

This is Really Nasty Stuff


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