Radio commentary, September 17, 2009

Mixed news on the economic front, as has been the case for weeks going on months. Which is better than what went before, meaning unmixed negatives, but is still a sign of how weak and tentative the economic stabilization has been so far.

Thursday morning we learned that first-time claims for unemployment insurance declined last week by 12,000, exending the previous week’s decline of 19,000. But over the last couple of months, the decline that began in March and ran through July, seems to have stalled. And so-called continuing claims, that is the total number of people drawing unemployment benefits, rose by 129,000. It had been improving for a while, but it too looks to have stalled. So while things in the job market aren’t getting worse, and may be getting slightly better, they’re not yet turning around.

Here’s an interesting longer-term development. Since late 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been reporting on the number of monthly hires and separations (separations being the sum of voluntary quits and involuntary terminations). What’s really distinguished this recession, in contrast to the 2001 downturn, is a near-total hiring strike by employers. The number of separations is actually at the lower end of its historical range. The problem is that if people lose their jobs, or enter or re-enter the job market, there’s no one hiring. The picture improved very slightly in July, the latest month for which data is available, but like everything else, by not very much. As I’ve pointed out here before, as brutal as the U.S. economy is, it used to have a certain dynamism. It’s now lost that, and is down to pure brutality.

Speaking of brutality, Barack Obama came to Wall Street last week and told the assembled bankers that they had to change their ways. But his speech amounted to toothless finger-wagging. He’s the president. He could have busted their chops. His administration could have come into office and immediately began a program of re-regulating finance. He didn’t. He’s dithered and postured and done approximately nothing except write the banks big checks. I’ll bet the Wall Streeters went back to their offices and had a good laugh. Maybe his talk impresses the liberals. But the bankers so far have absolutely no reason to be afraid of a crackdown.

And more brutality, health care reform. I got an email blast from this morning inviting me and several million other people in their address book to a set of nationwide rallies to fight the insurance giants. Sure, I’d like to do that—but they’re organizing these rallies in support of the reform proposed by the administration and Congressional Democrats. As I’ve been saying over and over, there’s nothing in these proposals that seriously, or even semi-seriously, cramps the style of the big inscos. Quite the contrary. We’re all going to be forced to carry insurance, should this legislation pass, meaning buy it from the insurance companies. If you’re sort of poor, the gov will subsidize your purchase. They won’t be able to drop people for pre-existing conditions, but they will be able to force them to pay through the nose for crummy policies. Doesn’t MoveOn know this? Don’t they know that over the last three months Aetna’s stock has gone up 30%, about twice as much as the broad market? Is MoveOn so in thrall to the Democrats that they haven’t bothered to scrutinize the proposals? Or have they, and they don’t care? In other words, are they naïve or devious?

For a lot of liberals, it all seems to have come down to the so-called public option: will the reform create a public entity to compete with the private insurers? Never mind that in the unlikely event the public option were to happen, it would be so crippled as to be meaningless. But what about the rest of the scheme? What about the noxious habits of the insurance companies, like denying a quarter or a third of the claims that patients file? That’s likely to continue unabated.

I think we may be better off if these reform schemes fail and we have time to organize to press for something better.

3 Comments on “Radio commentary, September 17, 2009

  1. ATTENTION!! Congress Has The Votes Needed To Pass A Public Option – TODAY

    Why A Strong Public Option Is Essential – By jacksmith – Working Class

    Robert Reich explains the pubic option:

    John Garamendi on the Public Option and the Grassroots:

    It’s not just because more than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 77% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (86% of democrats, 75% of independents, and 72% republicans). Basically everyone.

    It’s not just because according to a new AARP POLL: 86 percent of seniors want universal healthcare security for All, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. With 79% of seniors supporting creating a new strong Government-run public option plan, available immediately. Including 89% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, STUNNING!!

    It’s not just because it will lower cost. Because a strong public option will dramatically lower cost for everyone. And dramatically improved the quality of care everyone receives in America and around the World. Rich, middle class, and poor a like.

    It’s not just because it will save trillions of dollars and prevent the needless deaths of millions more of YOU, caused by a rush to profit by the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!

    It’s not just because every expert in every field, including economist, and Nobel laureates all agree that free market based healthcare systems don’t work. Never have and never will. The US has the only truly free market based healthcare system in the World. And as you all know now, IT IS A DISASTER!

    It’s not just because providing or denying medically necessary care for profit motivations is wrong. Because it is WRONG! It’s professionally, ethically, and morally REPUGNANT!, Animalistic, VILE and EVIL.


    The public option is ESSENTIAL because over 200 million of you are trapped in the forest of the wolves. Which is the forest of the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! With no way out except through needless inhumane suffering, and DEATH. While the wolves tear at your flesh, and rip you limb from lib. Then feast on your lifeless bodies like a dead carcase for transplant parts.

    At the most vulnerable times of your lives (when you were sick and hurting), millions of you have had to fight and loose cruel, but heroic battles. Fighting against the big guns of the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! in the forest of the wolves. All because you have no place else to go. You have no other CHOICE!

    But the PUBLIC OPTION will give you someplace safe to go. And it will give us someplace safe to take you. The public option will be your refugium (your refuge). Where the wolves cannot get at you when your down, hurting, and vulnerable. Where everyone who needs it can find rest, security, comfort and the care they need. Protected by the BIG GUNS of We The People Of The United States. THE MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE AND COUNTRY ON EARTH.

    This is why it is so critical that we do not lead another 50 million vulnerable, uninsured Americans into the forest of the wolves, without the protections of a Strong Government-run public option. We The People Of The United States MUST NOT LET THAT HAPPEN to any more of our fellow Americans. If healthcare reform does not contain a strong public option on day one. YOU MUST! KILL IT. Or you will do far more harm than good. And millions more will die needlessly. Rich, middle class, and poor a like.

    To those who would continue to obstruct good and true healthcare reform for the American people, and who seek to trap millions more vulnerable Americans in the forest of the wolves. We will continue to fight you. We are prepared to wage all out war against you, and will eagerly DESTROY! you. Time…is…UP! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! No Co-op’s! No Triggers! NO INDIVIDUAL MANDATES! without a Strong public option on day one.

    Healthcare reform can be the GREATEST! Accomplishment of our time and century. A time when future generations may say of us, that we were all, AMERICAS GREATEST GENERATIONS.


    I therefore call on all my fellow Americans and the peoples of the World. To join us in this fight so that we may finish becoming the better America that we aspire to be for everyone.


    I have been privileged to be witness as many of you fought, and struggled to take your first breath, and your last breath on this earth. Rich, middle class, and poor a like. Life is precious.

    Whatever the cost. WE! MUST SUCCEED.

    God Bless You My Fellow Human Beings

    jacksmith – Working Class

    Things You Can Do To Help NOW!

    No Triggers!


    Krugman on heathcare (

    Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (

  2. Pingback: Jobless Data Shows Need for Jobs Program | The Activist

  3. I agree with all of Doug’s assessment of the Obama health care reform effort, the shortcomings of the plan, the unsurprising sell-out by the Congressional Democrats, and the questions about’s decisions.

    But I am genuinely torn about the conclusion:

    “I think we may be better off if these reform schemes fail and we have time to organize to press for something better.”

    History has not been kind to holding out for a better deal: e.g., the progressive wing of the Democratic party withholding support for the Family Assistance Plan, Nixon’s guaranteed income program, because the income guarantee was too low. What about a foot-in-the-door strategy with the possibility of improving the system later?

    At this point, maybe we should settle for universality (for example on the crummy Massachusetts model) and leave serious reform of finance and delivery for a later date. Here’s the reasoning: the lack of universality is a moral outrage and a global disgrace. The other stuff just makes us look stupid. I don’t believe that “the elites” will let us go bankrupt as health care eats up next 20 percent, then 25 percent, etc. of GDP. But I do believe that “the elites” can live indefinitely with 15 percent of the population permanently uninsured. So I’d rather fix the latter and then let the “crisis” spur the elites to reform action confronting doctors and insurance companies at some later date.

    I write this with no confidence either way.

    Your thoughts?

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