Let’s Send Paul Wolfowitz to Iraq!

XXXThe fact that things are going badly in Iraq would not normally be news in the United States. In a fundamental sense, it is not news regardless. The Shiite and the Sunnis are fighting? That’s not surprising. And this is a reality that knowledgeable observers warned about when we decided to invade the country 11 years ago. But the civil war that seems to be starting in Iraq is news because it is an opportunity for the neocons who got us into the war to say, “See! We were right!”

How this does not cause the entire nation to howl with laughter, I do not know. The argument is something like, “This wouldn’t be happening if Bush were still president!” That might even be true. But a far stronger argument is, “This would be happening if Bush had never been president!” It sickens me to even think about. Yesterday, Paul Wolfowitz of all people was on Meet the Press. Paul Wolfowitz!

Jamelle Bouie sums up my feeling exactly, Fool Me Once:

Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done. But this assumes a world where elites, like yourself, are accountable for their ideas. Not only are we not in that world, we’re in its opposite, where failed elites are invited to pontificate on their failures, as if they haven’t been already discredited by their performances.

Of course, Wolfowitz isn’t the only one. They are crawling out of the woodwork. Apparently, being disastrously wrong about something makes you an expert on it. Asking people like Wolfowitz, writes Bouie, “is like asking Michael Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for advice on disaster preparation.”

Matt Yglesias, the nerdy economics and finance writer at Vox, laid out the situation in Iraq in the most clear way that I’ve read, The Mess in Iraq Proves Obama Was Right to Leave. Basically, he says that as soon as we invaded, this was all to be expected. But he made a really good analogy to (What else?!) the world of finance:

In the finance world, banks sometimes make bad investments and end up insolvent. Regulators then need to step in and take prompt corrective action to rescue as many of the remaining assets as possible. The reason is that, from a management point of view, once your firm is already insolvent then there’s no reason to worry about additional losses. You’re going bankrupt and getting fired anyway. The self-interested strategy is to start gambling recklessly with the depositors’ remaining money, in desperate hope that you’ll strike it lucky and end up back in the black before anyone notices.

That is essentially what we were doing in Iraq for the past ten years.

That’s right. The Bush administration had planned to defeat Iraq, set up a government, and leave. But instead, it found itself in a world of trouble with a country that was in chaos. And we stayed, year after year, hoping that something good would happen. We were hoping that we would “strike it lucky and end up back in the black.” But whether that happened or not was not going to be because we had 200,000 troops on the ground.

But now we have all the fools that got us into that war in the first place back on television telling us that Obama was wrong to end the war. He wasn’t. But I would be in favor of a limited engagement. Let’s put Paul Wolfowitz through boot camp, give him a gun and drop him into Tal Afar. Maybe he’d have better luck this time.

US Healthcare Number 1—in Cost

HealthcareSarah Kliff over at Vox wrote an excellent article, Five Ways the American Health Care System Is Literally the Worst. It is based upon a new Commonwealth Fund report that is based upon three different report looking at the healthcare system from the perspectives of sick people, healthy people, and doctors. It compares only the rich countries, and the United States comes out at the bottom of the pack. So what? The United States always comes out at the bottom of the pack. I agree: this is not news.

What is news is that this is a rather new and more thorough way of looking at the question. And the rankings of the other countries are quite different from what other studies have found. So it is of some note that it doesn’t really matter how you look at healthcare systems, the United States always does the worst and it is never close. It is also interesting that the conservatives who want to defend the United States will always point to some kind of anecdotal evidence that even if true only shows that if you can afford it, you can get the best healthcare in the United States. This, by the way, gives the wrong idea. It is also true that if you can afford it, you can get the best healthcare in just about any advanced country.

What I want to focus on is cost. Here is a table of the eleven countries studied, their overall ranks, and the per capita healthcare costs:

Country Rank Cost % US
United States 11 $8,508 NA
Norway 7 $5,669 67%
Switzerland 2 $5,643 66%
The Netherlands 5 $5,099 60%
Canada 10 $4,522 53%
Germany 5 $4,495 53%
France 9 $4,118 48%
Sweden 3 $3,925 46%
Australia 4 $3,800 45%
United Kingdom 1 $3,405 40%
New Zealand 7 $3,182 37%

Impressive how the great “free market” system we have works! But it’s not just that. Of the top four most expensive systems, three are multi-payer systems. The only multi-payer system on the list that has a low cost is France, and it is rated pretty poorly.

Of course, it isn’t just the fact that we have a multi-payer system that causes our healthcare to cost so much. As Dean Baker likes to point out, there are enormous protectionist tendencies in the US system. For example, we limit the number of doctors who can practice here and as a result, doctors make a whole lot more money in the United States for doing the same work doctors do elsewhere. And the drug patent system makes medications far more expensive than they need to be.

Marketplace Magic: And Then a Miracle OccursThe point is that conservatives may claim that they are out there trying to protect capitalism and the free market. But what they are really protecting is just the status quo. They are protecting a healthcare system that is just a legacy of wage controls during World War II. But most of all, they are protecting the unreasonably high wages of doctors and the ridiculous profits of drug companies. And a little appreciated thing they are protecting is the health insurance industry, even though it isn’t that profitable. It adds a lot to the cost of healthcare, but it doesn’t make much money.

The great irony of this list is that the top rated country, the United Kingdom, has actual socialized medicine. The doctors work for the government; the hospitals are owned by the government. And as a result, they seem to provide great care at 40% of the cost of our system. And here’s an even greater irony: people in the United Kingdom report the lowest amount of dealing with paperwork. And the countries with the most “free market” approaches are the ones where people complain the most about paperwork. This is something that conservatives (Libertarians especially!) can’t seem to understand: bureaucracy is bureaucracy. Whether you are fighting with your insurance company or you are fighting with the government health services. Except it seems that there is much less fighting with the government health services.

The three reports that the data were taken from were from 2011, 2012, and 2013. With the full implementation of Obamacare, things will improve modestly. But I suspect we will still rate at the bottom of the pack. And we will continue to pay a lot more for our inferior care than people do in other countries. The only thing special we get in this country is a bunch of fools who go around saying, “America has the best healthcare system in the world!”

Teacher Tenure Case a Farce

Judge Rolf TreuYou probably have heard about Judge Rolf Treu finding that California teacher tenure was unconstitutional because it violated the students’ equal rights to a good education. What is hilarious about this is that students in Calfornia do not have equal rights to a good education regardless. School funding is based upon local property taxes, so students who live in poor areas get far fewer resources. But conservatives like Treu are not at all interested in the children. They are interested in breaking teachers’ unions, just like they want to break all unions.

I seriously doubt that his finding will hold up as it is appealed. Diane Ravitch looked into the case last week and determined, The Vergara Trial Teachers Were Not “Grossly Ineffective.” But even before getting to the heart of the matter, here’s a really interesting thing in the case. Of the nine plaintiffs, four were at schools that didn’t even have tenure. So even if you assume that these teachers were terrible, tenure doesn’t seem to be the thing that was keeping them in the classroom.

But the truth is that the teachers were not “grossly ineffective.” The defense noted that four of the plaintiffs presented no evidence at all that the teachers were bad. Of the other five, nothing was established other than the single student doing poorly. That hardly qualifies as “grossly ineffective.” That’s more along the lines of, “I don’t like my teacher.” The plaintiffs didn’t have administrators testify nor did they look at the teachers’ work history.

Ravitch noted:

One of the plaintiffs (Monterroza) said that her teacher, Christine McLaughlin was a very bad teacher, but McLaughlin was Pasadena teacher of the year and has received many awards for excellent teaching (google her).

I have no doubt that Rolf Treu had his mind made up long before this case ever existed. What’s more, I have little doubt if a case came before him claiming that unequal school conditions violated the the students’ equal rights, he would find that they didn’t. Because again, this is not about the students. This is about taking down the teachers’ unions.

Note also that the whole idea of teacher tenure has been blown out of proportion. Tenure does not mean that teachers can’t be fired. What it does mean is that teachers get to defend themselves. They can’t just be arbitrarily fired. But that’s the world that conservatives want us to live in. It is a world in which all working people live in constant fear for their jobs. People like that are easy to control. They know that their very lives depend upon keeping a low profile and always yielding to the powerful.

I’m all for education reform. But I’m entirely against the “education reform” movement. In this country, “reform” is almost always a euphemism. In this case, it is a euphemism for destroying the teachers’ unions. And the net result of all of this is going to be that our children get an even worse education than they now get.

Afterword

At The Robing Room, a prosecutor said this of Judge Rolf Treu, “Shoddy work. Biased rulings. Will almost always favor those with money, connections and conservative politics.”

Geronimo and the European Invasion

GeronimoLast year’s birthday post was really good. With interesting things to say about the painter John Linnell, novelist Erich Segal (but mostly the whole Al Gore thing), and economist Adam Smith. Humility has never been a great gift of mine, so I highly recommend clicking over. As you may remember, last year, I did a lot of different people for the birthday posts. And if I was into it, I could go into quite a bit of depth. Or I could do little more than a list of people. Well, on this day, I did the former. So rather than repeat myself, I’m going to do someone who probably wasn’t even born today.

During this month in 1829, Bedonkohe Apache leader Geronimo was born. He is best known for fighting against Texas and Mexico because of their expansion into Apache lands. Before getting more into Geronimo, I want to take a moment to talk about Ayn Rand. Almost two years ago, I wrote an article, Ayn Rand and Indians. It was about her claim that the European settlers were right to take the native people’s lands. She had a number of arguments, but the main one was that the natives did not have the concept of property rights. (Objectivists still make this same apologia.) If that is the case, what were the Apache’s fighting for? It’s just a ridiculous argument. Even other species have ideas of property rights. It’s just that people like Ayn Rand are racists with very little understanding of the various native cultures. If there had been CNN in the 19th century, it would have been reported as the genocidal land grab that it was. And now back to Geronimo.

The Apache people are actually made up of a number of groups, most notably the Navajo. They lived in what is now New Mexico. Geronimo was part of the Bedonkohe group. At 17, he married a woman from another Apache band. Four years later, while he and the rest of the men were away trading, a group of 400 Mexican soldiers attacked their village, even though the Mexican government was supposedly at peace with the Apache. Geronimo later described his experience:

Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children. Quickly we separated, concealing ourselves as best we could until nightfall, when we assembled at our appointed place of rendezvous—a thicket by the river. Silently we stole in one by one, sentinels were placed, and when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain.

Not surprisingly, Geronimo hated the Mexicans for this. For the next 35 years, he was pretty much at war with the Mexicans and then later Texas and the United States. The story of this time is very much a model for the treatment of native peoples throughout America. It is the story of lies and aggression. This isn’t to make the natives out to be some perfect people, but they were greatly wronged for hundreds of years. Geronimo did finally surrender and spent the rest of his life at least nominally a prisoner of war.

Late in his life, Geronimo became a celebrity, even appearing at the 1904 World’s Fair and participating in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade. He died at the age of 79. He was riding home when he was thrown from his horse. I guess he broke some bones, because he was unable to continue on and spent the cold night out in the open. This led to his death from pneumonia a few days later. A fighter to the end, his last words are said to have been, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Happy birthday Geronimo!