Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend of the World - Egg and Chicken

1. The egg came first - The euphemistic question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg" doesn't really need asking anymore . Thanks to evolution we know that the egg came first.

Once there were no chickens, but there were two birds that were nearly chickens, but not quite. And those birds got it on (cluck clucky cluck cluck cluck...oh yeah. Aside: I'm sure you can find not-quite-chicken pornography on the internet if you're interested). The female not-quite-chicken was knocked up and laid an egg that contained a slightly mutated offspring that was genetically a chicken - the first chicken - the Eve of chickens if you will. But Chicken Eve definitely came from an egg, because that's where chickens come from, so the answer to "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" is definitively egg. And when someone says "We have a chicken and egg situation here." You can reply "No we don't, we have a situation where we don't know the chronology of events."

2. Obama's flexibility comment - Back in March, Obama was caught on a hot mike telling Russian President Medvedev "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." when talking about missile defense negotiations with Putin. The right pounced on this as a sign of Obama's duplicity and just this week I saw Lynn Cheney comment on it (Why is she relevant again?) The assertion seems to be that Obama is telling us one thing and Putin another and thus he's lying to us. Now I'm not sure exactly what he's telling Putin that he's not telling us. He basically tells Putin he can't negotiate on any of this stuff right now. Is he telling the American people something different? But even if we're hearing a different story, what makes people so sure that he's lying to US. Certainly there are times when, strategically speaking, it is useful to stall, and telling him that he can't deal until after the election - even though he doesn't plan to deal at all - has got to be a tried and true technique. Of course, Obama can't pull us aside and tell us - "Shhh....I'm just telling him that to delay. I don't plan on being any more flexible if I win re-election."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dollar Store Dentistry

Recently I watched a Frontline episode on children's dentistry and Medicaid. In a nutshell, it is difficult - but not impossible - to turn a profit on providing dentistry to children on Medicaid. But it's important that the system be well-managed to avoid perverse incentives like choosing more profitable/expensive procedures when cheaper ones are available.

Then, I read about how J.C. Penney will start offering kids free haircuts. This is a classic loss leader strategy, the idea being that once people have invested the time in going to J.C. Penney, they'll end up buying enough merchandise to cover the cost of the haircut.

But why stop at haircuts? What if JC Penney stores (or Dollar stores or any store that might serve the same clientele that relies on Medicaid) set aside a small space for a dentist's office and then they offered dentistry to Medicaid patients. All they would really have to do is break even and then they'd reap the benefits of the same spillover shopping that they're hoping to get from the haircuts. They could even team up with Kool Smiles (or a similar, not under investigation business) to provide them low rent space inside their stores to get that spillover. They could also make themselves look like the kind of place that, y'know, actually cares about kids health.

Not that this is the best solution to dealing with health care for those who can't afford it, but it might be a good one under the current system.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekend of the World - Promises, Promises

1. The whole Ryan-GM plan thing is starting to bother me. Paul Ryan said about Obama at the RNC
"When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day."
Now the thing is that none of that is a lie. Every single statement is true. Some of the fact-checkers have labelled it some level of misleading or incomplete, and I agree with Matthew Dowd who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign who said that Ryan "was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of the GM plant, and that isn't true."  Mostly I do so because without the implication, this part of the speech is meaningless. Obama's statements are completely unrelated to what happened at the plant (because the government didn't support them), so why mention them together, other than then to create an unflattering implication?

But still, the facts are correct.

But that isn't what bothers me. It's these two things:

One is that some Ryan supporters are overplaying their hand. George Will, in the same conversation with Dowd, insisted that the plant did close under Obama because the last jobs didn't leave until April. Now, one could reasonably argue that the plant closed in December when the closure was announced and most jobs went away; or that it closed in April when it actually shut down. But what one can't argue is that Ryan was accurately talking about the April date. Obama's speech was in February 2008. Ryan said the plant "didn't last another year." So either he was talking about the December date or he was wrong/lying about how long it took to close.

The other thing that bothers me, is that when Ryan finds himself in a situation where he can take the high ground and say that he wasn't lying - that his statements were mischaracterized, he instead acts as though he regrets having missed an opportunity to lie. So then he starts lying. He says "What I was saying is the president ought to be held to account for his broken promises." Sigh.... Here's what Obama said:
And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. 
What Obama never says is the word "promise". [He does say it 8 times in the speech, but he's talking about "America's promise" or promises by others]. This is a classic, if-then statement. The "if" was never done, so we can't complain about the "then" not happening. Obama is stating a belief - that's not the same as a promise. Not at all. [And since when has Paul Ryan been pro-big government bailouts and interventions in the market? Isn't he for letting businesses stand or fall on their own?]

So while Ryan didn't technically lie at the RNC, he has pretty much every time he's talked about it since (and he did so before as well).

2. While Romney seems to be behind Obama right now, Obama supporters have reason to be concerned.

Until now, Obama has been spending more money, but that will change. Romney has more money on hand, will likely raise more money between now and the election and he's now free to start spending it.

Romney will likely gain from the debates. Studies show that it makes the challenger look more presidential. And he's not a bad debater, so he's unlikely to pull a Rick Perry.

It's hard to imagine the economy getting much better, but it's easy to imagine it getting much worse. A collapse in Europe or China, or concerns about the fiscal cliff or something unforeseen could all cause a sudden negative change in the economy. Romney would likely gain from that.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekend of the world - Invisible Obama's Invisible Birth Certificate

  • Better Medical records - I recently had surgery, and every time I go to the doctor, they ask me if I have any allergies. Every time. The same doctor. Don't they write anything down? It's like having a goldfish for a doctor. I can't believe that we haven't got a better system yet. I should have an electronic medical file that any doctor can access (and every one has to) and will know the results of every test I've taken, every drug I've been prescribed, every diagnosis I've ever had, everything.  Dental records, the dermatologist, everything. I got a dip/tet vaccine booster recently because I couldn't remember when I'd last had one, so I was given another just in case. I can't be the only one. These kinds of things must account for a lot of waste. How many people don't remember the answers to important questions? How many people don't understand their own medical history? How much waste and how many errors does all of this account for?
  • Random history factoid - I realized that no matter who wins the election in November, we could end up going 16 years with Presidents who served in office in a state other than their birth state (Bush - Connecticut and Texas, Obama - Hawaii and Illinois and possibly Romney - Michigan and Massachusetts). In fact, the last three losing nominees were all the same (Gore - DC and Tennessee, Kerry - Colorado and Massachusetts and McCain - Panama and Arizona). This would be the longest stretch ever, eclipsing the 15 years and 6 months put together by Arthur (Vermont and New York), Cleveland (New Jersey and New York) and Harrison (Ohio and Indiana). I guess it's testament to how much more transient we've become. A Romney win followed by a tragedy could break that because Paul Ryan is a native of Wisconson (Biden was born in Pennsylvania but served in Delaware).