Category Archives: Politics

Ron Devious Redux

One of my favourite Monty Python skits was the Motor Insurance Sketch where the insurance salesman Ron Devious explained to the customer that he had bought the Never Pay Policy.

Vicar: It’s about this letter you sent me regarding my insurance claim.
Devious: Oh, yeah, yeah – well, you see, it’s just that we’re not… as yet … totally satisfied with the
grounds of your claim.
Vicar: But it says something about filling my mouth in with cement.
Devious: Oh well, that’s just insurance jargon, you know.
Vicar: But my car was hit by a lorry while standing in the garage and you refuse to pay my claim.
Devious: (rising and crossing to a filing cabinet) Oh well, Reverend Morrison … in your policy … in
your policy … (he opens the drawer of the filing cabinet and takes out a shabby old sports jacket; he
feels in the pocket and pulls out a crumpled dog-eared piece of paper then puts the coat back and
shuts the filing cabinet)
… here we are. It states quite clearly that no claim you make will be paid.
Vicar: Oh dear.
Devious: You see, you unfortunately plumped for our ‘Neverpay’ policy, which, you know, if you
never claim is very worthwhile… but you had to claim, and, well, there it is.
Vicar: Oh dear, oh dear.
Devious: Still, never mind – could be worse. How’s the nude lady?
Vicar: Oh, she’s fine. (begins to sob)
Devious: Look … Rev … I hate to see a man cry, so shove off out the office, there’s a good chap.

And it’s worse if you don’t even get the nude lady. Very good about the shove off out of the office. That has the ring of truth.

This has been a chief device for US Health Insurance companies and in the last 15 years or so become their primary business: turning paid customers into never pay policyholders retroactively. At least Devious had the balls to write it in the contract upfront. Even if that contract was crumpled up inside his pocket.

Increasingly insurers are looking to only insure healthy people, which admittedly does seem to be a more profitable model, if it kinda misses the point of insurance to begin with.

How insurers secretly blacklist millions with common ailments

Two things:
1. The whole point of insurance is spreading the cost of risk.
2. These companies sell confidential information that destroy lives

I expect that the mere act of applying for health insurance requires you to waive confidentiality and give the company permission to access and share any health data with any other insurer/HMO/hospital etc. There is no getting around the fact that far too many people have access to health records but at least if they are government employees and subject to large fines and prison terms for violating confidentiality, there is a substantial disincentive. In the US model there are positive incentives for breaking patient confidentiality.

What these insurance companies are doing is perfectly reasonable in an individual business sense. They are trying to collect large premiums and pay out as little as possible. One way to do this is overcharge and insure only the healthiest people, and at the same time to deny payments as much as possible. In pursuit of this strategy it becomes more profitable to hire Private Investigators to get pictures of someone smoking and cancel their non-smoker coverage than it does to pay a doctor to treat their hypertension.

The system as it exists is a criminal oligopoly because of this data sharing. If Humana refuses to insure anyone with any pre-condition they ought to be precluded from sharing that knowledge with their competitors. This is collusion, an obvious antitrust violation and the sort of practice that distorts markets. In a legitimately free market it would be possible for an honest insurer to emerge. They might charge more in premiums since they would take on riskier patients, but they would gain a competitive advantage from actually fulfilling their end of the contract. If they were smart, they could also slash about 30% of their costs devoted to bureaucracy and fighting/denying claims, and therefore actually be price competitive with their scumbag competitors. If you were an employer and you went with an actual insurance company then you would have a huge competitive advantage in the labour market. If I were GE I would stop advertising “We bring good things to life” and start advertising “GE. Work for us, we provide the health care that actually provides health care.” The fact that this has not occurred is evidence that -as with the financial markets – there is not a free market, but a protected criminal oligopoly wherein the profits are privatized (insurance companies) and losses are socialized (medicare/medicaid/public hospitals).

It actually makes things less efficient, more costly. Less health care for more money.

The stakeholders in the US health care system:
Taxpayers (which is close to 100% overlap with Patients)
Health care providers (doctors, nurses etc)
Health care vendors (Pharmaceuticals, Hospitals etc)
Insurance Companies and HMOs

Of these, Insurance Companies and Employers are fundamentally extraneous to health care. There is no actual need for their involvement. The fact that US employers have to provide health care for employees is a nearly unique competitive disadvantage vs any other first world nation, and further skews the outsourcing problem. It costs way more to locate a job in the US because of employer provided health care. Employers in the US would love to get rid of this, and it is frankly necessary to remain competitive. Ironically, this may be the winning argument leveraging the power of entrenched interests. eg if GM didn’t have to pay a shitload for insurance coverage of retirees they would not be a month away from bankruptcy. They would still be making shitty cars but…

Insurance companies are a different story. They are completely extraneous to the health care issue. The only role they could possibly legitimately play is creating efficiency or in distributing risk. They have done neither, and instead chosen to go another route which in a true free market would eventually lead to their bankruptcy for failing to provide value.

Just take the market away from them and let them go bust as they deserve.

In an economy where something like 15% of people will be out of work for at least part of the year (and lose their health care) and many people will be taking jobs with less coverage – or perhaps be ruled ineligible at their new job due to pre-existing conditions , or even over pretend preconditions we will see a lot more of this

It is shameful. No society that calls itself decent can let this go on, when there is a cheaper better, more economically competitive way to do it right. But it is the price paid for letting the lobbying money of the Insurance Industry plus the false consciousness of the conservative working class riled up to fear rational health care plans as Communist plots to define what is politically permissible to discuss.

It took the Great Depression to implement previously heretical ideas: Social Security, Banking regulations, limits on leverage in financial transactions, infrastructure spending (rural electrification, TVA etc). I am not a cheerleader of the whole agenda. I think Social Security ought to be means tested. Everybody pays, only those who need it get paid. While bringing electricity to the nation was huge in terms of quality of life and economic competitiveness of rural areas, the persistence of subsidies was insane. But the Pros far outweighed the Cons.

Maybe it takes this meltdown to trigger some overdue common sense, less costly but more effective approaches.


1 Comment

Filed under Economy, Politics

The Money Quote


“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

Leave a comment

Filed under Election 2008, Justice, Law, Politics, Uncategorized

Bush-Loyal U.S. Attorney Refuses To Vacate Post

For US Attorneys from the Bush era wanting to stay one, it is not about the paycheck. Any people in these positions would make 3 times as much in the private sector. I would hope that it might be indicative of an actual desire to perform public service.

The issue that was outrageous about the Bush firings was that they fired loyal REPUBLICAN US Attorney appointees because they would not bow to pressure from Republican pols to pursue frivolous investigations or corrupt and unfounded indictments against perceived political enemies.

It would be better for all if these were Justice Dept career positions and not just political appointees, but who is the one to start? Maybe Obama will set a precedent and keep a bunch on. He seems willing to take more chances with keeping adversaries in the tent. What if he sent a letter to all of the US Attorneys he retained saying “There will be no under the table political pressure. You are welcome to stay as long as you follow the law and Justice Dept policy as established by my AG. If you can’t pledge to that, thanks for coming out.”
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Leave a comment

Filed under Justice, Politics, Uncategorized

Minority Report

First off, I pay much less attention to domestic Canadian politics than to US politics. The outcome of an American presidential election or US economic and foreign policy have much more effect on the lives of Canadians than most elements of Canadian politics. And while the obscene amounts of money spent in US campaigns are , well,  obscene, the low key Canadian (redundant?) campaigns tend to be snore fests. I mean you see more passion and slicker professionalism in US ads for County Commissioner than in Canadian Federal elections.

But there is a lot of ignorance regarding the Parliamentary system in Canada and the actual background of the parties. It is not some convenient neat analogy to the US.

What is true is that Parliament is not a binary game. You can have a government with one party controlling a majority of seats, one party controlling a minority (but with compromise or acquiescence or abstention from some other members or parties) or a coalition of parties to from a majority or a functioning minority.

The latter is not without precedent in Canada, but it is rare. And it tends to be regarded as a consciously chosen solution following a divided election, rather than a vote of non-confidence in the house. What does threaten – and has in the past posed  – a constitutional crisis is when the government loses confidence and the Governor General – a figurehead representing the role of the Monarch – offers a coalition of losers the chance to form a government without an election.

We had an election  in Mid October. The results of this effectively 5 party contest were

CONSERVATIVE      143  seats    38% of vote   they are what passes for a centre-right party in Canada. Overall they would be more like centre right western Democrats or the moderate wing of the Republican Party if it still existed (the moderate Republican wing died 25 years ago, the party died last month). This actually represented a net gain of seats to control over 48% of the House against a fractured opposition split among 3 diverse parties. This probably empowered Harper to downplay the
social conservative “pig farmer from Alberta” crowd within the party. At least it gave him a few free “shut the fuck up!” passes to hand out so he can concentrate on his real agenda of economic issues.

LIBERAL                         77     seats    26% of vote  The traditional establishment centrist party. These are not progressives, they are about power. They are still being punished by voters for the corrupt period of power between 1993 and 2006. Led by a very weak leader who has already announced his departure, he was a compromise choice between  two potentially strong leaders who are now running to replace him. Even if you are a partisan supporter of the Liberal party you ought to recognize that they would be in a stronger position running a real election in 18 months or so with a real leader and a record of frustrated Conservative minority to run against.

Bloc Quebecois              49 seats    10% of vote     A Quebec only secessionist party. You Americans remember how well that worked out. Their sole national objective is breaking up the country. They have allowed minority  governments to exercise authority but abstaining from matters they consider outside their core interest. If you subtract them from the equation, then the conservatives 143 seats represent a clear majority of the the remaining 246 seats that are not primarily concerned with breaking up the country.

New Democratic           37 seats    18% of vote  The actual progressive party in Canada. Like a completely unmoderated version of the left wing of the Democratic Party in the US. Unions, interest groups and well intentioned but naiive people dominate. Has shown an ability to govern at a Provincial level but only after being moderated by the chastening effect of  “actual responsibilities”

Independent                     2 seats       1% of vote

Green                                0     seats    7% of vote  Treated unnecessarily seriously in this last election by media and some other parties. Have moved from a one issue party to take a measure of the protest vote away from the NDP. No elected members, but a further illustration of how 38% of the vote and 48% of the seats in the house of Commons starts looking close to a mandate against 4 opposing  parties.

So the issue is not whether the conservatives are good or bad (neither) or Harper is Bush Lite (Harper is nothing like Bush and no one is Lite compared to Bush).

The issue is will the Governor General hand the government over to a hodge podge of 3 parties with little in common, one of which is pledged to tear the country apart. In the past, a much less controversial option imposed by a much more powerful (or less narrowly scoped) governor general became our biggest constitutional crisis.

Or we can have another election. In January. In Canada. This is a miserable combination. Frankly it already is without the election. The opposition parties risk incurring the wrath of the voters for putting everyone through this 3 months after the last election. And making us feel like Italy or Israel and their dysfunctional Parliaments.

Honestly I don’t see a huge difference in the outcome. The NDP probably pick up a few seats. I can’t see the Liberals doing worse. But again if you were those folks would you want to preserver your lame duck leader and be part of  the weakest government in history during an economic meltdown and then run against a more competent and more powerful opposition in an election a year or two down the road.

Unless she is out of her mind, the Governor General will not intervene any way. She will not grant Harper a suspension of Parliament. She will not offer the other parties a chance to form a government. She will throw it back on the parties in Parliament where it belongs. It the opposition wants to bring down the government and  votes to do so, then another election. But either protecting Harper’s minority or encouraging non-confidence with the carrot of a coalition dangled out would be a reach. And contrary to the last 80 years of constitutional thought.

Get ready to vote in the snow, Canadians.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics

The intellectual father of Neo-cons picks Obama

This pretty much says it all.

Francis Fukuyama endorses Obama in American Conservative magazine

Why? Oh I believe the really really freaking obvious reasons.

I’m voting for Barack Obama this November for a very simple reason. It is hard to imagine a more disastrous presidency than that of George W. Bush. It was bad enough that he launched an unnecessary war and undermined the standing of the United States throughout the world in his first term. But in the waning days of his administration, he is presiding over a collapse of the American financial system and broader economy that will have consequences for years to come. As a general rule, democracies don’t work well if voters do not hold political parties accountable for failure. While John McCain is trying desperately to pretend that he never had anything to do with the Republican Party, I think it would a travesty to reward the Republicans for failure on such a grand scale.

The American Conservative has been an admirable oasis of intellectual honesty in this campaign. The shameless whore/shills at National Review should be taking notes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Election 2008, Politics

Woodward: Bush Said His Iran Strategy Was “They’re A**holes”

Perhaps John McCain can condescend to Bush and suggest that “They are Assholes” is a tactic, not a strategy.
More on War Wire
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Coverage, Politics

Debate Night in Canada

Well, everywhere I guess.

Apparently there is a Canadian political debate happening tonight. I have no idea who will be watching. I will b transfixed by the potential for car-crash-in-slow-motion antics from Sarah Palin as she takes on Joe Biden in the Great Debate.

I will be hosting a gathering to watch the debate and cringe. If anyone else in Canada is interested please drop by. We are just next door to Alaska. I can see it from the front window of my imagination.

Le plus Grand Debate

Du Monde

Le Deuxieme d’Octobre, Deux Mille Huit

Mme. Sarah Palin


M. Joseph Biden

Avec le participation de Mlle. Gwen Ifill

Carte a Menu

Bridge to Nowhere Pork

Succulent tenderloin of pork, lovingly dry rubbed in a back room and grilled over a 20% of America’s domestic production gas flame. You’ll be lobbying for seconds!

North Idaho College Potatoes

Two Semesters of mashed Idaho potatoes, transferred to Hawaii for tropical seasoning.

Chocolate Moose

Shot with whiskey and field dressed with berries

Wines of Washington

Selection of coastal vintages that despite their years spent aging in dark rooms in Washington still claim Maverick status

Cheese Board


What do you think we are some kinda fancy pants Brie eating liberals?


Flute solo. Television Themes of the 1970s.


We are really going to need drinks. Lots of drinks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Election 2008, Politics