Monday, September 22, 2008

Truth, RIP (updated 09/22)

This blogger is eagerly waiting for the presidential elections to be over! It's not so much the ads and the sloganeering, the candidates and their (sometimes inane) utterances, etc. It is that so many of the partisans of one side or the other indulge in excessive posturing and dishonesty, hyping the great attributes of "their candidate" while decrying the unforgiveable faults of "their opponent." Partisanship abounds, and often anyone that does not fit a predefined Procrustean bed is evil and to be reviled and shunned!

The commentariat and many blogs have been 'infected.' A number of blogs that this blogger has visited on a regular basis in the past have become quasi-unreadable... Examples include 'The Daily Dish' (see 'No longer'), 'Talking Points Memo,' and 'No Quarter.' This last used to be an occasional stop to get a view on intelligence and world affairs, but it has devolved into an echo chamber for one single point of view. And in the comment threads any deviation from the appropriate 'group-think' results in a cesspool of invective...

The nature of the 'web' is built on links, but not all sites are created equal. Some are heavily followed and linked to. The good here is that it is easy to find out a lot on practically any subject with minimal effort. The bad is that all too often poor or substandard posts by one of the more watched sites get picked up and linked to by numerous other sites, amplifying the reach of the original post... Sometimes, it is necessary for one to avoid the aforementioned 'minimal effort ' and to continue back to the source material.

An example of when a reader should go beyond 'minimal effort' would be the "John McCain: Let's do to health care all the great things we have done to banking." post by Steve Clemons of 'The Washington Note.' This 'bashes' Senator McCain, saying: "Uh-oh. John McCain thought that the deregulation of the banking sector was awesome before he thought it wasn't awesome. His enthusiasm for the success of financial market deregulation was captured by Paul Krugman in a note about McCain's intentions to apply the same approach to the health care market." The response expected is clearly of the "Wow, McCain must be freaking nuts!" type, given the recent implosion of the financial markets.... The remainder of the post builds on the Krugman reference. OK, if you go to the Krugman article linked, you don't get much more in the way of detail, it is written to elicit the same reaction. It does however link to the McCain article from which his quote was lifted.

Lo and behold, if you read the four-page McCain article, things are not quite as ridiculous as they seem. The McCain quote highlighted (i.e. "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.") makes the argument that just as the restrictions on interstate banking were abolished with positive results for the banking public, a similar change for health care insurance companies would also be positive for the public.

(Ed note: the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994 removed the interstate restrictions of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956. Note, it is also true that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 further amended the BHC of 1956 to allow bank holding companies to own non-financial institutions, something that has been criticized by some economists as contributing to the current crisis and used against Senator McCain since Phil Gramm, the 'Gramm' in "Gramm-Leach-Bliley' is an advisor to McCain. An expanded version of what Krugman extracted is reprinted below that clearly shows that what McCain was alluding to in his article was Riegle-Neal)

So Krugman is a very smart guy, and touted as a possible future Nobel laureate in economics. If he disagrees with McCain's premise here, he should argue against it e.g. making this change will not improve choice for consumers, will not save consumers any money, etc., etc. However, even though he surely understands the point McCain is making, rather than responding in this way he takes this one quote from a four-page article and makes it appear that McCain wants to 'fix' health care the way banks were 'fixed', which surely led to the current meltdown in the financial industry. In addition he conflates "heath care insurance" with "health care" and "banking" with "the financial industry" to further exaggerate the effect!

Now, as far as this blogger knows, no one (not the Democrats, not Senator Obama, not even Paul Krugman) is arguing for a repeal of Riegle-Neal! Given all the above it is hard to understand the Krugman post as anything but a hatchet job by Krugman. This was then picked up and passed on by Clemons... At best Clemons is responsible for some shoddy posting; at worst he is also guilty of a hatchet job. This blogger is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the former, although it must be said that his choice of headline would seems to argue in favor of the latter!

Expanded McCain quote: "... I would also allow individuals to choose to purchase health insurance across state lines, when they can find more affordable and attractive products elsewhere that they prefer. Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation. Consumer-friendly insurance policies will be more available and affordable when there is greater competition among insurers on a level playing field. You should be able to buy your insurance from any willing provider—the state bureaucracies are no better than national ones. Nationwide insurance markets that ensure broad and vigorous competition will wring out excess costs, overhead, and bloated executive compensation..."

Updated Sept 22nd: Some examples of 'propagation' as mentioned above:

Josh Marshall slams McCain, repeating and linking to Krugman's post. Then Juan Cole repeats, linking to Josh Marshall... Thus anyone reading Informed Comment would have to jump to Talking Points Memo, and from there to Krugman, and from there to the actual piece by McCain to have any idea that this is a hatchet job!

Obama ad: McCain a "prescription for disaster" talks about a new Obama campaign ad "... eviscerating John McCain for an article he recently wrote calling for the health care industry to have as much regulatory freedom as its banking counterpart..." The HuffPo article about this links to, you guessed it, the Krugman piece.

And today, the big time - in Charlotte Senator Obama made the following remarks to now fertile ground "He (Ed note: McCain) calls himself “fundamentally a deregulator,” when reckless deregulation and lack of oversight is a big part of the problem.And here’s the really scary part. Now this “Great Deregulator” wants to turn his attention to health care. He wrote in the current issue of a magazine – the current issue – that we need to open up health care to – quote – “more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking.” That’s right, John McCain says he wants to do for health care what Washington has done for banking. Think about what that means."

OK, overall the blogosphere and the "tubes" are fantastic, they put enormous amounts of information just a few clicks away. However, one needs to be careful that the very ease that is it main strength does not lead one astray!

Note: For reviews of both of the health plans of Senators Obama and McCain go to the links here...

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