Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The local paper of note, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, has been doing a good job as of late. Yet every now and then an important piece of information in a story slips to the bottom. Under the general journalistic method, the more important a section, the higher up in the story it should appear. Yet in a story today about the Gubernatorial candidates (Democrat State Auditor Claire McCaskill and Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt) position on tort reform, a vital point regarding the validity of the entire argument was left for the end of the article.
State Insurance Department statistics undermine the claims that litigation is driving up the cost of medical malpractice insurance. The department has reported that claims against doctors fell 14 percent to 625 in 2003 compared with 726 the year before.

The agency also said medical malpractice benefits to injured victims dropped dramatically while insurance companies collected more money. The department also reported that the payment of the maximum for pain and suffering damages fell to six in 2003 from 13 in 2002.

Both McCaskill and Blunt favor some form of cap on plaintiff awards, but they differ in how far to extend protection for insurance agencies. Yet the state's own review shows that the argument behind the insurance companies pleas for protection may not hold water.

In general, trial lawyers have been a favorite whipping boy for the Republican party. Especially when they are suing insurance companies for damages. Even Democrats are beginning to go for the political lay-up, settlement caps, instead of examining the industry and the issues. The cry has been that the exponential growth in malpractice insurance is directly tied to large settlements awarded by pushover juries. Yet at the same time, the insurance companies don't seem to be going through a financial crisis. One would assume they must be; any company raising their prices by 100+% must be nearing borderline insolvency, but none seem to be. The fact that most of these companies also live and die by their stock prices should give people pause to consider other reasons why they may need to give their earnings a boost.

Many others have commented on the characterizations surrounding malpractice settlements, so I won't go into them here. Often these settlements come after evidence of repeated negligence in a particular area, and the settlements are usually whittled down enormously after the initial finding. Yet the argument persists that lawsuits alleging negligence or wrongdoing on the part of doctors and insurance companies are more often then not vehicles for personal enrichment, hurting those folks who simply want to see justice done.

These arguments often spread into other areas of civil lawsuits. Blunt's version of tort reform would affect not only health related lawsuits, but all civil lawsuits. Again the argument is that wily trial lawyers are out there to make a quick profit off honest companies, driving prices up for all of us.

If we spent more time looking at the numbers, and less time listening to rhetoric, perhaps the real reasons behind rising health-care costs will be brought to light and real change can occur.

Friday, September 10, 2004

A couple of thoughts came to me today as I was reading through the New York Times, mostly to do with the Kerry campaign. The two dominant issues in this election will be national security and the economy. I haven't read anything to lead me to conclude that, although it is of great importance to most Americans, a great health care plan will win the day for either candidate.

What got me thinking at first was an article about Bush's attack on Kerry over taxes. Bush's theme was to paint Kerry as someone who would radically raise taxes. He contrasted that with the growth he believes his tax cuts have created. Yet, as the article points out, the tax cuts seem to have little direct correlation with the minimal growth the economy has experienced in the past few years. There has still been a net loss of jobs and economic growth continues to fall below expectations.

Rather than fall into the tax cut vs. tax hike argument (An argument that, unfortunately Kerry can not win. As Clinton pointed out, you can't run against a tax cut, no matter how ineffective or short-sited it may be), Kerry should point out the Bush administrations long-standing involvement with the companies and executives whose fraud pulled billions out of the economy, crashed several enormous companies, and left hundreds of thousands of people without jobs, pensions or savings. They should also point to his own failed history as a businessperson and the investigations into companies he was involved with; investigations that center around the same questions surrounding Enron and the like.

If they can use this to show that he not only has done little to lead this economy to higher ground, but that his entire financial history pointed to the fact that he could provide little guidance himself, or chose individuals who may be able to do so. Bush had little success at guiding his companies to profits, as well as a history choosing to work with individuals who have been involved in shady business dealing that enriched them and left others, including tax payers, to pick up the tab.

In addition, any questions regarding Kerry's ability to handle national security should be referred to the war in Iraq. The same qualities that led Bush to chose form over substance in his economic policy decisions, has led this administration to pick message over success in the war on terror as well as the war in Iraq. Bush's decision to give up the fight in Afghanistan and cut international assistance to attack Iraq has dealt an enormous blow to the war on terrorism. Even his choice of Iraq over a country like Iran is typical of their choice to put image ahead of effectiveness. Instead of the gossamer threads linking Iraq to terrorism, there is demonstrable proof that Iran has provided support and refuge for groups such as Hamas. That is not to say I am advocating an invasion of Iran, but it points to the Bush administration's policy of looking strong despite any lack of coherent policy or evidence to back up its actions.

The short-term is the key for the Bush campaign. They are more concerned with achieving quick short-term victories in order to wave the flag at home, than they are at achieving long-term global victory. That victory requires strong alliances, international cooperation, a strong military in order to attack the groups when the congregate and providing economic and intelligence support for countries that are possible sources of terrorists. The U.S. needs not only military strength, but the ability to turn the people in these tenuous situations against those elements in their societies that foment the type of terrorism we face today.

The Bush administration has not done this. In fact their actions have probably worsened the situation.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Reports that President Bush may drop out of the debate at Washington University has not slowed down preparations reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The campaign cited concerns that the debate, which is supposed to be a town-hall format, will have partisans posing as independents. There have also been comments from the campaign that there only needs to be two debates, one on foreign policy and one on domestic policy.

While the move may seem surprising, it fits into the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign style very nicely. The campaign has tightly controlled the audiences at appearances by the President and Vice-President, often limiting them to invitation only events and on occasion removing people who they believe may cause problems. The secondary reasons, that they want two focused debates may be valid, but avoiding tough questions seems to fit into the Bush campaign M.O. much better.

Potential voters in Missouri, an important battleground state in the upcoming election, should take note of the fact that not only is the President skipping Missouri, but it fits into a pattern for this campaign and this Presidency. They have avoided press conferences when possible and often on the campaign trail they have skipped the one-on-one meetings with random voters for speeches and carefully choreographed Q and A sessions.

All of these point to a President who is incapable or unwilling to answer questions which he may not be able to answer in advance. Certainly there have been people who have great understanding of issues who are simply bad on the fly. Yet as several people have pointed out recently, Bush's response to moderately difficult policy questions seems to indicate a lack of understanding, not simply an inability to articulate tough answers on the fly. A recent example would be his assertion that the war on terrorism can't be won (a reasonable and factual statement) followed by a retraction and a couple clarifications.

It's not that a person shouldn't be allowed to misspeak or make mistakes, its that this is part of a continuous trend in which the message is more important than the policy. Politicians have always been criticized for just this type of activity, but the Bush administration has raised it to a new art form. Either a rotating policy is used to back a message (as in the tax cuts), or a rotating message is used to back a policy (as in Iraq).

The President should stick with the second debate at Washington University and handle the questions like every other President has done. If the public is not allowed to question their elected representatives, especially the President, than aren't we losing some basic aspect of democracy? And if the President is unwilling to handle the public's questions, what does that say about the President?

Friday, September 03, 2004

In this corner, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America. In this corner sits the challenger George W. Bush....?

Bush's speech was, as many other people far more astute than I have pointed out, all sizzle and no steak. The domestic policy section of his speech sounded like a reading from the glossary in a 2001 political science textbook.

The tone of Bush's speech made it sound like he was running against someone. The incumbent is run against, he doesn't run; or at least he is not supposed to. But Bush sounded like he was attempting to persuade voters to vote for him so he could set this country on the proper path. Isn't that what he promised in 2000? Hasn't he been the sitting President for three and a half years?

Brad DeLong has a several excerpts from today's papers fleshing out the details here.

Also, DeLong has an excerpt from William Saletan vie the blog Unfogged.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

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