Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Speaker Huebsch's Truthiness Problem

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch’s response to the Wisconsin Senate’s universal healthcare proposal suffers from what TV comic Steven Colbert calls truthiness- substituting what you want the facts to be for what the facts are!

In a very terse press release Huebsch states:

Assembly Republicans are committed to helping Wisconsin families’ access affordable health care. The health care plan being proposed by Senate Democrats imposes a massive job-killing tax increase to give state government $15.2 billion dollars to fund a politician-run health care program. Creating another government health care entity and paying for it with the largest tax increase in state history is the wrong approach to health care reform.

Assembly Republicans will continue to pursue their Patients First health care agenda which trusts families and doctors, not politicians and government bureaucrats, to make important health care decisions.

Here are just a few of the inaccuracies in Huebsch’s statement:

1) Assembly Republicans have not been “committed to helping Wisconsin’s families access affordable healthcare.” In the early 1980’s Wisconsin’s healthcare costs were below the national average. One of Republican Governor Thompson’s first initiatives was to eliminate Wisconsin’s Hospital Rate-Setting Commission. The result: soaring healthcare costs well above the national average. Throughout the mid and late 1990’s when Republicans controlled the legislature and the executive branch, they did nothing to increase access to healthcare or to control costs which increased at three times the rate of inflation.

2) Healthcare costs in Wisconsin are among the highest in the nation. They are a major obstacle to economic growth, unlike Wisconsin’s business taxes which are amongst the lowest in the nation. Toyota recently announced it was building a new automobile plant in Ontario! Why? Because Canada has single payer health care system which makes it significantly cheaper ($1500 per vehicle) to produce cars in Canada than in the United States. Soaring private healthcare costs are the real job killer. By next year, the average Fortune 500 company will spend more on health care than it earns in net income, according to Steve Burd, the head of Safeway. Mr. Burd and other executives have formed the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform, a corporate constituency for national health reforms. Even the Business Rountable has endorsed universal healthcare! The "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan is projected to reduce costs by $1.3 billion a year, stimulating economic growth!

3) No healthcare system costs as much as our and delivers so little. We are paying Cadillac prices (16% of the total GDP) for a Yugo system (37th ranked). The U.S. now spends more than $7,000 per person on medical care, far more than other nations, yet our infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and longevity are among the worst in the industrialized world. An American woman is 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth in the U.S. than in Europe. An American mother has almost three times the risk of losing a child as a mother in the Czech Republic. Children born in Costa Rica today are expected to live longer than their American counterparts. If we had a child mortality rate was as good as France, Germany and Italy, we would save 12,000 children a year. The financial burden of paying for these second rate results is undermining Wisconsin business’ competitiveness.

4) Neither families nor doctors run the current healthcare system. Private insurance companies whose goal is maximizing profits not the health of patients and large healthcare systems dominate the healthcare marketplace in Wisconsin. The highly concentrated (oligopolized) market allows healthcare companies to drive up prices and secure monopoly profits while insurers profit from denying patients medical services.

5) Our private healthcare system is the most bureaucratic in the world. We spend more than 31% of all healthcare dollars on administrative costs, more than twice the rate of Canada. The "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan is projected to save more than a billion dollars per year by cutting excessive insurance company profits and administrative costs, reducing administrative overhead at hospitals and doctor’s offices, encouraging prevention, and discouraging inappropriate use of emergency rooms.

Speaker Huebsch’s response to the "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan reads like a Republican National Committee manifesto. The citizens of this state deserve more than tired sound bites. Huebsch and his colleagues in the assembly need to decide whether they will support the people and businesses of Wisconsin who want access to affordable healthcare or the special interest groups who profit from our bureaucratic and inefficient healthcare system

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sicko (and Michael Moore) Save a Family's Home. Info. on the Midcoast Premiere

The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals


the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO

Invite You to attend the Milwaukee Premiere of

Michael Moore's new movie "Sicko"

Friday, June 29th at 6:30 p.m.

Oriental Theater, 2330 N. Farwell Avenue

Call 414-475-6065 to get a free ticket for you and a guest

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mafia wife says people should focus on DC mob!

In his column last Sunday Frank Rich wrote:

"...the widow of the ...Mafia don John Gotti visited his tomb in Queens to observe the fifth anniversary of his death. Victoria Gotti was not pleased to find reporters lying in wait.

"It's disgusting that people are still obsessed with Gotti and the mob," she told The Daily News. "They should be obsessed with that mob in Washington. They have 3,000 deaths on their hands." She demanded to know if the president and vice president have relatives on the front lines. "Every time I watch the news and I hear of another death," she said, "it sickens me."

Far be it from me to cross any member of the Gotti family, but there's nothing wrong with being obsessed with both mobs. Now that the approval rating for the entire Washington franchise, the president and Congress alike, has plummeted into the 20s, we need any distraction we can get; the Mafia is a welcome nostalgic escape from a gridlocked government at home and epic violence abroad.

But unlikely moral arbiter that Mrs. Gotti may be, she does have a point. As the Iraq war careens toward a denouement as black, unresolved and terrifying as David Chase's inspired "Sopranos" finale, the mob in the capital deserves at least equal attention. John Gotti, the last don, is dead. Mr. Chase's series is over. But the deaths on the nightly news are coming as fast as ever.

Here's the entire column.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Michael Moore's "Sicko" Opens Soon, Frames Upcoming Elections!

Michael Moore's latest film, "Sicko," is a scathing indictment of the costly and ineffective American healthcare system. It is also, by most accounts, his best, most sophisticated film.

Just as Fahrenheit 9/11 used humor and pathos to raise critical questions about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, "Sicko" promises to do the same for the U.S. system of private medical insurance.

In the film Moore asks how can the richest country in the world allow 45 million of its citizens to go without healthcare? And why does our healthcare system perform so poorly (it is ranked 37th just ahead of Slovenia) when we spend more money (16% of our total GDP) on healthcare than any nation on earth?

The film critic, A O Scott, writes in a very favorable review in the New York Times (May 22, 2007) that "Sicko:”

"...contends that the American system of private medical insurance is a disaster, and that a state-run system, such as exists nearly everywhere else in the industrialized world, would be better. This argument is illustrated with anecdotes and statistics — terrible stories about Americans denied medical care or forced into bankruptcy to pay for it; grim actuarial data about life expectancy and infant mortality; damning tallies of dollars donated to political campaigns — but it is grounded in a basic philosophical assumption about the proper relationship between a government and its citizens.

Mr. Moore has ...never before made a film that stated his bedrock ideological principles so clearly and accessibly. His earlier films have been morality tales, populated by victims and villains, with himself as the dogged go-between, nodding in sympathy with the downtrodden and then marching off to beard the bad guys in their dens of power and privilege. This method can pay off in prankish comedy or emotional intensity — like any showman, Mr. Moore wants you to laugh and cry — but it can also feel manipulative and simplistic.

In “Sicko,” however, he refrains from hunting down the C.E.O.’s of insurance companies, or from hinting at dark conspiracies against the sick. Concentrating on Americans who have insurance (after a witty, troubling acknowledgment of the millions who don’t), Mr. Moore talks to people who have been ensnared, sometimes fatally, in a for-profit bureaucracy and also to people who have made their livings within the system. The testimony is poignant and also infuriating, and none of it is likely to be surprising to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who has tried to see an out-of-plan specialist or dispute a payment.

If you listen to what the leaders of both political parties are saying, it seems unlikely that the diagnosis offered by “Sicko” will be contested. I haven’t heard many speeches lately boasting about how well our health care system works. In this sense “Sicko” is the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Moore’s movies. (It is also, perhaps improbably, the funniest and the most tightly edited.) The argument it inspires will mainly be about the nature of the cure, and it is here that Mr. Moore’s contribution will be most provocative and also, therefore, most useful.

“Sicko” is not a fine-grained analysis of policy alternatives... This film presents, instead, a simple compare-and-contrast exercise. Here is our way, and here is another way, variously applied in Canada, France, Britain and yes, Cuba. The salient difference is that, in those countries, where much of the second half of “Sicko” takes place, the state provides free medical care.

With evident glee (and a bit of theatrical faux-naïveté) Mr. Moore sets out to challenge some widely held American notions about socialized medicine. He finds that British doctors are happy and well paid, that Canadians don’t have to wait very long in emergency rooms, and that the French are not taxed into penury...

Yes, the utopian picture of France in “Sicko” may be overstated, but show me the filmmaker — especially a two-time Cannes prizewinner — who isn’t a Francophile of one kind or another. Mr. Moore’s funny valentine to a country where the government will send someone to a new mother’s house to do laundry and make carrot soup turns out to be as central to his purpose as his chat with Tony Benn, an old lion of Old Labor in Britain. Mr. Benn reads from a pamphlet announcing the creation of the British National Health Service in 1948, and explains it not as an instance of state paternalism but as a triumph of democracy.

More precisely, of social democracy, a phrase that has long seemed foreign to the American political lexicon... Mr. Moore is less interested in tracing the history of American exceptionalism than in opposing it. He wants us to be more like everybody else. When he plaintively asks, “Who are we?,” he is not really wondering why our traditions of neighborliness and generosity have not found political expression in an expansive system of social welfare. He is insisting that such a system should exist, and also, rather ingeniously, daring his critics to explain why it shouldn’t.

Helathcare reform has emerged as a key political issue in Wisconsin. Robert Kraig, communications and program director for Wisconsin Citizen Action noted: "In the 2006 elections the people of Wisconsin sent the Legislature an overwhelming mandate for genuine health care reform. Local advisory referendums throughout the state asking the Legislature to guarantee health care coverage and reduce costs passed by an astounding average of 83 to 17 percent. Last year's controversial defeat of a bill that would have given the Legislature a deadline to enact real health care reform became the top issue in pivotal state Senate and state Assembly races. It led to progressives gaining control of the Senate, and helped to elect to the State Assembly the largest progressive freshman class in over three decades elections."

It is widely anticipate that in the next few weeks the Senate Democrats led by Senate Majority leader, Judy Robson, a nurse, will add universal healthcare to this year's state budget, expanding on Governor Doyle's initiative, Badgercare Plus, that would provide healthcare coverage to all of the state's children.

"Sicko" is more than an entertaining film. It is a major political event that will help shape the 2008 elections.

The film opens in New York City tomorrow and nationally on June 29. It opens in Milwaukee on the 29th at the Oriental Theatre.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Patrick McIlheran Strikes Out on Wisconsin's Teachers

Patrick McIlheran would fail an elementary statistics class if he submitted his latest hit, rather “quick hit,” on Wisconsin’s teachers.

The piece is a classic illustration of the statistical fallacy of data manipulation- presentation of data in a misleading way to support a hypothesis which is without merit.

McIlheran notes that Wisconsin’s public schools spend 26% of their budgets on benefits and suggests that it is teachers with their ”mutant sized health care package” who are responsible for cuts in art and music classes. That’s like blaming Wisconsin’s drivers for the increase in gas prices!

What McIlheran fails to note is that health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin are between 31% (2004) and 26.5% (2006) higher than the rest of the country.

A 2004 study by the non-partisan, United States General Accountability Office found that hospital inpatient charges are 63% higher in the Milwaukee area than the national average. The same report also documented that physicians' prices were 33% higher than the average of 331 metro areas.

Overall, Milwaukee-area hospitals ranked fifth in price and area physician fees rank 16th.

So, of course, health care costs will be higher for Wisconsin’s teachers and the school districts that employ them than their counterparts in other states where health care costs are significantly lower!

Health care costs as a percentage of employee compensation, the statistic McIlheran conveniently cherry picks, is higher in Wisconsin because our teachers’ compensation is capped by the Qualified Economic Offer (QEOs) law. As health care costs increase, salary increases are held down. In some districts they have actually been frozen. As a result, health care costs as a percentage of compensation increase!

Here's are some additional salient facts that McIlheran ignores: while health care costs increased at more than three times the rate of inflation from 1994-95 to 2004-2005, Wisconsin's teachers' salaries fell 9.6% when adjusted for inflation. In 2004-05 Wisconsin's average teacher salary was 7.1% below the national average teacher salary.

But we hear nary a word from McIlheran about the Wisconsin’s soaring health care costs, the market dominance of Wisconsin’s health care providers that allows them to charge monopoly prices and secure monopoly profits or declining teachers' pay.

Satirist Mark Twain must have had writers like McIlheran in mind when he sarcastically urged: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mandel Group's Orwellian Vision of Milwaukee River

The Mandel Group, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent development corporations, has taken Orwellian doublespeak to new level.

Mandel spokesman, Bob Monnat, characterized the Milwaukee Common Council’s decision to protect 800 acres of pristine riverbanks north of the Milwaukee River as elitist.

The resolution creating a special zoning district that restricts development on both sides of the River for two years while more detailed protection plans are hashed out is the antithesis of elitism.

Preserving the riverway is an attempt to humanize the man-made environment. Promoting public access democratizes its use by providing recreational opportunities for all of Milwaukee’s citizens. This is why it was justified to use public dollars to clean the river that manufacturers and others had polluted! Now that the river is healthy, financial elites, i.e. real estate developers like Mandel, want to privatize the return on the publics' investment.

They would return us to the early Nineteenth Century when the city was seen primarily as an agency of capitalist expansion, a place where men could make money by doing as they pleased with their property. This perspective was challenged in the middle of the Nineteenth Century by, among others, the poet and newspaper editor, William Cullen Bryant, who argued in 1844 that “commerce is devouring inch by inch” the space of the city and “if we would rescue any part of it for health or recreation it must be done now.” In response New York City commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to develop one of the world’s great parks, Manhattan’s Central Park.

Olmsted’s vision, which Milwaukee’s river preservationists are applying to create a linear riverway version of Central Park, was to develop the city in harmony with its natural environment. It consciously rejected Europe’s stylized and aristocratic park model by preserving the area’s natural features and topography. “By making nature urbane,” commented Lewis Mumford,” he naturalized the city.”

Olmsted's vision was democratic. He believed parks promoted a sense of community in urban areas. Where else could so many people be found together,”...with an evident glee in the prospect of coming together, all classes represented…each individual adding by his mere presence to the pleasure of others….” asked Olmsted?

The Common Council’s decision to place a two year moratorium on riverway development while preservationist plans are developed is based on this democratic vision. It protects the interest of the public that owns 70% of the land and ensures a fully transparent and public debate on how this pristine riverway should be utilized.

It is the Mandel Group’s vision that is elitist.

What, after all, could be more elitist than auctioning Milwaukee’s riverway to the highest bidder? But that is exactly what will happen if we allow the price mechanism to determine the riverway’s use. This wonderful natural resource will be purchased by powerful and connected developers who will pocket millions constructing high end condos and commercial space on the river’s edge while undermining public access and use.

Nothing could be more elitist than that!