This is President Obama’s ISIS Strategy, Like it Or Not!

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What about President Obama’s Strategy on ISIS?   Is there one?  Yes, but no one seems to know what it is. And among those who do, not many like it.  But, there are even fewer who have a (practical and comprehensible) substitute for it.  In short, , the President’s strategy for ISIS is to manage it (for now), rather than “resolve it”  (whatever that may mean).  And that isn’t satisfying for many.

Potential Republican presidential candidates are, for the most part, treading lightly on ISIS. They don’t know how to “resolve it”  either. The closest any serious “R” presidential hopefuls have come to offering a substitute are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. (And Graham isn’t really running, just toying with the idea).

To deal comprehensively with ISIS,  it appears Walker, Graham (and possibly Ted Cruz as well) want to put large numbers of U.S. boots on the ground again in Iraq, and also invade Syria.  They are deliberately vague, but here and here are accounts of the Walker, Graham and Cruz view from different perspectives. Walker has even less foreign/defense policy experience than Senator Obama had in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2000, and it shows.

The U.S. has of course been roped into large scale military solutions before. There is nothing that ISIS would like better to boost its recruitment than to see more Americans killing Muslims.

Otherwise, the closest thing to an alternate strategy are roads not taken — the chorus of Shouldas, Wouldas, and Couldas, from a variety of mavens, most of them trying to secure their own legacy or engage in a simple CYA exercise.  Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton,  John McCain, and many others, are certain that if the President had only listened to them, there would be no ISIS.  It’s a cheap and easy argument.  Here is a good account of the Shoulda-Coulda critics.

dome HOLLY BLVD3a copy

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OK, so what is the President’s ISIS strategy? Too bad the Explainer in Chief, Bill Clinton,  isn’t available to help out. He can’t, because he’s siding with his wife who (like Panetta) says she gave the President the right answers (earlier). But the President of course didn’t listen or understand, or maybe was busy playing too much golf.

Here is what I think are the planks of the President’s strategy on ISIS. Take a deep breath. Its long, complicated, with a lot of ambiguities. But it is a strategy; not something they just drifted into because Obama is disengaged and isolated.


Planks of the Obama ISIS Strategy, Like it Or Not

  • Right now, slow down and contain ISIS with U.S. aerial strikes. [Yes, a band aid].
  • Provide intelligence and some lethal equipment for the few available indigenous fighters presently on the ground who are trustworthy and competent: mainly the peshmerga (the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elements of Iraqi’s (mostly failed) army. 
  • Meanwhile, await the formation of a unified and viable Iraqi army [don’t hold your breath, but it’s possible] and an effective coalition of predominantly Sunni states willing to confront the ISIS threat militarily.  [The rudiments are there now; the Jordanians and Egyptians are already engaged in an anti ISIS air campaign. The White House Summit on Terrorism this past Wednesday sought to further collaboration along several lines].
  • Get a lot more creative about cutting off ISIS’ financial support and countering it’s  successful recruitment of both Arab and Western fighters. [We can assume those efforts are going full tilt behind the scenes].
  • So long as it’s contained, tolerate (suffer) the kidnappings, be-headings and sporadic attacks on civilians in the West as just another (terrible) risk of daily life in today’s world – a new normal (for awhile).
  • If (G-d forbid) a catastrophic event occurs on US soil (or against US troops or citizens abroad), then massive retaliation (many U.S. boots on the ground plus Shock and Awe 2.0) possibly kicks in.  [War on that level would not likely have public (or even Congressional) support anyway without a devastating blow to the U.S.  See Nazis, FDR, and Pearl Harbor].
  • Otherwise, be ready to commit some special U.S. forces to maintain the new normal,  and wait for Arab nations to own and address the problem (mostly) themselves. [As we speak, the President is seeking authorization from Congress to use additional force with limitations].

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This Outline was composed early in the week, before Wednesday’s Summit on Terrorism.  The Presidents words at the Summit and the Outline here of the strategy are consistent.   We may not be happy with it,  but it is a strategy.  It wasn’t just stumbled into or improvised.

Here is the bottom line: Whether you agree or not, the President doesn’t believe that massive and more aggressive, unilateral U.S. force at this time (or at the time Panetta,  Hillary,  and Gates were  competing for the President’s ear) can be effective against Islamic Jihad.  Period.

That is a strategy every bit as much as the Monroe Doctrine or the Communist Containment world view that resulted in the View Nam War.  It  just isn’t as aggressive, pro-active, or dependent on U.S. power alone, so a lot of people think it’s no strategy at all. The roots of the crisis in the middle east today are in two devastating 20th century world wars, and doctrines that seemed bold and coherent back in their day.  The Right is right.  Obama is a different kind of President.   Sooner or later, we’ll know whether that’s good or not,


 

Is the “Exploding” Federal Debt Still a Crisis?

chart_gross-federal-debtHas “the debt crisis” gone the way of the domestic ebola scare?  Here today gone tomorrow? Or is it a ticking time bomb, as some hyper vigilant purveyors of the dismal science still warn?  With stronger economic growth, low interest rates, and six consecutive years of diminishing deficits, the (accumulated) federal debt problem seems less acute or urgent. But, it would be foolish to say it’s gone away, or that “it doesn’t matter,” as Dick Cheney proclaimed in 2002, before the debt approached World War II proportions as a percent of the economy (or GDP).

Economists use the Gross Domestic Product [GDP] as the denominator in computing the key “ratio of debt to the size of the economy.”  That ratio is a lot more informative than the absolute size of the debt.

The debt ratio has stabilized at about 100% of GDP, after soaring from 54% to 95% between 2001 and 2011, or more than $6 trillion.  The long history can be seen here.   Most of this explosion was due to financing two wars and a buildup of homeland security, while allowing generous tax cuts to upper income Americans.  On top of that was the TARP bail out of financial institutions and plummeting revenue resulting from the Great Recession. The later actually dwarfs the other factors. Public debt didn’t cause the Great Recession; it was the other way around.

All of this was set in motion, and well underway, before President Obama took office in 2008. The President’s contribution to the deficit was an $800 billion “stimulus” package, a second TARP,  and refusing to brake hard on federal spending, which would have sunk the economy into even deeper recession.

The most important fact in this essay is that the debt ratio has stabilized at around 100% of GDP.  Except for WWII, that is the highest ratio since the inception of the Republic (1787).

Debt at 100% of GDP means the total amount owed by the U.S. to holders of U.S. Treasury securities, is roughly equal to the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. economy in a year, like 2014. That’s not good, but it’s not as horrible as it sounds either. Analogies to family budgets here can be misleading, but it is useful to point out that if you own a $300K home and still owe $100K on it, and your annual household income is $100K, not an atypical scenario, you are not in deep trouble.   (Though you may be one bad life event away from real tsouris).

The critical GDP to debt ratio reached 120% of GDP at the end of WWII, but phenomenal post-war economic growth brought it down in just 15 years to 50% of the total economy, about where it had been before WWII. It has since remained in the 30% to 60% range until the 2008 Great Recession.

This time, however, conditions after the latest Hurricane Katrina Category III economic stress are different. The economic recovery from two costly wars and a great recession has been slow, till recently, when it surged into the 4 to 5 percent range in the last half of 2014.
But nobody thinks U.S. GDP will grow at that rate for the next decade or two, which is what it would take to duplicate the post WWII feat (dropping the debt ratio from 120% to 50%).

In fact, most purveyors of the dismal science think the ratio will rise above the current 100% plateau after about 2018, even without another economic downturn.  Why? The non partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says its because of four factors:

• The retirement of the baby-boom generation,
• The expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance,
• Increasing health care costs per beneficiary, and
• Rising interest rates on federal debt.

We may not need to worry about bullet point #2 when the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down federal subsidies for health insurance later this year, but that’s a digression.  CBO bullet point #4 is the most pertinent to the question at hand.

If debt at 100% of GDP is the new normal, there is little room for anything to go wrong without really upsetting the applecart. That’s the main reason I’m not quite as sanguine about the debt as astute economists like Jared Bernstein (see a great article by him here) and Paul Krugman, who sound very close to saying “fogettaboutit” (the debt) for awhile. OK, but how long is “awhile?”

Just like CBO bullet point #4 says, as the Federal Reserve recedes from its easy money policy, interest rates will rise on the debt. What this means is that interest payments on the debt will crowd out other spending.  The U.S. isn’t Greece, Italy or even Japan, but those basket-cases show what happens when debt service is so large that it materially affects core government services.  It makes any ambitious reforms, like the President’s proposals in his state of the union speech to revive the middle class, all but impossible.

debt_interest2Interest payments on the debt have also stabilized at “only” about 6% of federal outlays, but that’s mainly because interest rates have been so (artificially) low – at rock bottom — for so long.  As recently as the year 2000, interest payments on the debt were 15% of total federal outlays. The U.S. is unfortunately more than capable of getting there again, quick.

How big is 15% of the federal budget?  Fifteen percent is more than what’s spent on all safety net programs other than medicare, medicaid, and social security.  Unbelievably, it’s not much less than the 19% devoted to national defense.

If you can still remain blasé about the 100% debt to GDP ratio after hearing that,  please tell me what you’re smoking. (Cannabis is still illegal in California).

That said, it is utter folly to try fixing the problem overnight, the way radicals in the House Republican caucus and far right demagogues in the blogosphere would still prefer. Getting a handle on the problem without the severe pains of a German imposed Greco-Roman austerity (now, there’s a trifecta) is still well within our reach. But that’s possible only with a Grand Bargain that includes both a slow down in spending and new revenue, and which takes at least a few baby steps, sooner than later.

Alas, even toddler steps will require serious regime changes (across all branches in D.C.) and major attitude adjustments. The longer that takes, the harder it gets to find even a long term solution that doesn’t inflict great pain.

Netanyahu-Boehner Gambit is a Threat to U.S. Jews

Once a Public School, Now a Yeshiva

Once a Public School, Now a Yeshiva

Jewish people in America are generally grateful (and sometimes amazed) that “Conservatives,” including Evangelicals and much of the far Right are strong supporters of Israel and have close, warm ties (now) with the Jewish-American community.

There are still plenty of neo Nazis and white supremacist out there baiting and hating Jews, and vandalizing synagogues.  And now there are many folks on the Left who regard Israel in the same category as Apartheid South Africa in its treatment of Palestinians.  Jimmy Carter said that in a book.  Yes, a lot of Jewish Americans are grateful for heartland and bible belt support in the U.S.

But that can fall apart real fast if the U.S. has to send several hundred thousand troops to the middle east to support an Israeli war with Iran (and its proxies), after the nuclear arms talks with Iran fail. It will be easy to assign the blame to the Israeli Prime Minister who wants the negotiations to fall apart; and who will have said that in an unprecedented speech before the U.S. Congress.

When American casualties start to mount  (and that’s not even a worst case), will mothers and fathers in the U.S. heartland and bible belt remain on the side of Israelis and Jews? (It would be no shame to waiver). Or will they join the Left in blaming it on Israeli interference in American elections and politics, “controlling U.S. foreign policy” (as in tail wagging the dog)?

Things like this can turn on a dime these days, when movements or coalitions years in the making can be destroyed in weeks and months, over social networks. The Iran nuclear talks are apt to fail anyway. Why are Netanyahu and Boehner making it amazingly simple to blame it on Israel?

How Burdened Are We By Taxes?

One answer to the question of how burdened we are by taxes is: “Ask people how they feel, and if they feel burdened, they are.”   Period!  To heck with the facts. That would be the Dick Clark, American Bandstand,  approach, which is what we use a lot these days to make big decisions. Another answer is to look at some facts….if they can be found. You may be surprised that finding good data on tax trends is difficult.  (Perhaps deliberately so).

Laborious data gathering and imputations by Picketty and Saez notwithstanding, we don’t really have the full picture. But what we do have is helpful, if not conclusive.  Much to its credit, a little over two years ago, the New York Times (NYT), using data from several non partisan sources, came close to answering the question on the table.   But because it was the NYT, and thus deeply mistrusted by half the population, perhaps everyone West of the Hudson, the work got lots of attention in the NYT, but not much elsewhere. And it wasn’t pithy or edgy.

Here is a paraphrase of what the NYT researchers found:  The total effective tax rate for ALL income groups is about the same today as in 1980; actually a bit lower for eight of nine income groups across the spectrum; materially lower for the highest income category. (Effective tax rates” are all taxes paid, after deductions and exemptions, as a percent of income.

Yet tax rage is still widespread.

Alas, we really don’t have enough clear, complete, and trustworthy data on the subject. You really need to start a couple of decades earlier to understand a tax revolt in the U.S. that was already mature by the 1970s.  But a 30+ year view isn’t bad.  Here is the main table from the NYT report.

TAX BURDEN2

Source: New York Times Report based on Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget, and Congressional Budget Office Data

For low and middle income groups, the overall drop is small, probably less noticeable to the families than to the statisticians. It is more noticeable and consequential for the two or three highest income categories. The NYT lumps all households earning $350K or higher into one group, so we can’t tell how the effective tax rate has changed for the top 1% of earners.

There is not much help in these data for politicians who claim there’s a lot of room to raise taxes, unless, perhaps, if we could break down the rates for the highest income bracket into a lot finer detail.

The really interesting story here is the stark contrast between the widespread belief that taxes have been soaring for decades, and the ho hum truth that the effective tax rate for all income groups is about the same or less than in 1980.

It would be nice to have, good “effective tax rate” data going back to 1960. I suspect you would see a rise in rates across the board if that year was the starting point. Back then, federal payroll taxes were low; and state and local governments weren’t medicating, incarcerating, and educating nearly as much as today.

We have a clue from one source of good data going back to the Eisenhower and JFK years.   In 1960, payroll taxes accounted for about 15% of total federal revenue. That was pre Medicare, and before we realized Social Security wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations forever without some tinkering (or more).  By 2013, payroll taxes accounted for about 35% of federal revenue; rivaling the federal income tax (which is 45% of the pie).  I’ll bet few Americans know that payroll tax revenues are not much lower than the take from the federal income tax.  You can read more about it here,

Even if the best explanation for tax rage rests on a look back to 1960 (if not 1860), it’s still puzzling that Americans are (by and large) furious about taxes, even though “effective tax rates” have hardly budged in more than 30 years.

What accounts for the wide gap between fact and belief?

First, stories, like the NYT report, are buried, while daily blasts, blaring with phony charts showing taxes going through the roof, with inflammatory captions, like this one, from the fiercely partisan, pseudo think tank, Heritage Foundation (HF), ultimately reach millions on propagandist media. People who don’t know about the HF “study” or listen to radio, hear about it second and and third hand from Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry hasn’t heard about the NYT report; and if did, he wouldn’t believe it.

Meanwhile, political leaders, some beholden to the same monied interests that captured the radio “public” airways, or bullied by Howard Jarvis and Grover Norquist, have for decades been cowed into silence. Not malicious censorship; but “benign silence” about declining tax burdens (especially for higher income groups) and the related vanishing of the middle class.

In Washington State, where I had the privilege to mange a well respected research shop, all but one of six Governor’s we helped staff (five of them Democrats) discouraged the circulation of good data showing tax burdens were at historic lows (by 2010), and, that oh yes, the middle class is disappearing.    “Uh, well, let’s keep it in-house, maybe post it (inconspicuously) on the website, but let’s not go out of our way to talk about it, OK?”  (That’s pretty close to a quote from one of my bosses). Not censorship, but “benign” silence and neglect.  They were afraid talking about the real tax situation would signal an intent to raise taxes; and that mentioning the woes of the middle class would elicit cries of class warfare.  They were cowed,

It may be unfair to blame the gap between fact and belief about taxes entirely on propagandist media and pusillanimous politicians. We all know the U.S. and state tax codes are maddeningly complex; and way too hard for average people (or small businesses) to “game,” the way General Electric does with its army of 900 accountants.

So even if Uncle Harry is paying the same or less to Uncle Sam today as 30+ years ago, we are burdened by a horribly opaque and unfair tax code. For households that haven’t seen their real income (or wages) increase for a few decades, paying 30% today to Uncle Sam feels a lot more taxing than 33% in 1980.   If they feel burdened, they are.

OK, So We All Agree Inequality Has Gotten Out of Hand: What Next?

No one said anything last night about black smith wages

No one said anything last night about black smith wages

Almost everybody now agrees we have an acute problem (in the U.S. and in most advanced economies) around income inequality, wage stagnation, and the disappearance of the middle class.  President Obama made these issues the centerpiece of yesterday’s State of the Union message. The other day, the President’s 2008 opponent, Mitt Romney, said he may run for President again because he wants to help the poor, the disadvantaged, workers, and the beleaguered middle class.  Mitt was a “severe conservative” before he became a severe liberal.  Go Mitt!

Here is the best single chart — heretofore called, “The Chart” —  I’ve seen depicting the inequality and wage stagnation problem.  (Thank you to my friend and colleague Kurt Lightfoot for sharing  this).

Workers’ Hourly Compensation Versus Productivity

The upper line tracks “productivity” in the U.S. economy since 1948.  Productivity represents the combined effects of technology and harder/better work to (potentially) raise prosperity and the standard of living.  The lower line shows the trend in the compensation of workers. The two lines tracked perfectly from the end of World War II to the mid 1970s. Since then, workers haven’t shared in the prosperity.  You can see full analysis and discussion here.

So, what might Mitt do if he becomes President?  Am afraid the things which need to be done are anathema to Mr. Romney’s party and even to many (a majority?) of Americans, at this point in time.  Mitt and his party will support their usual remedies for greater prosperity (and for any other ailment):  lower taxes on the rich and corporations, less regulation, and more “freedom” for all. Of course, not all of that is bad. But is there any evidence it works?  Maybe giving lip service to wage stagnation is a step forward; but it can just as easily be a bait and switch.

Obama’s State of the Union address proposed other remedies, which could help move the lower line on The Chart a little higher, like a raise in the minimum wage and better access to education, but those won’t (and really can’t) by themselves get us back to the trend of shared prosperity.

If we want compensation to track closely again with productivity, It will take reviving organized labor (with reforms), tempering the effects of “free trade,” genuinely repairing an unfair tax system, and seriously containing health care costs (so that some of employers’ premium costs can move to the wage column).

Regarding “free trade,” the President last night championed the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement (some call it NAFTA on steroids). Those agreements, which Democrats supported as heartily as Republicans, have contributed greatly to the dismal trend in wages.

As this blog has voiced many times, we need a new paradigm and intellectual basis for “free trade” agreements,  which doesn’t make them bobsled vehicles for race to the bottom.  That said, this blog doesn’t champion “protectionism,” nor yearn for Smoot-Hawley II.

Is Russell Wilson an Elite Quarterback?

seattle03

A Seattle Landmark

Most of this blog post was written a day before Seattle’s amazing victory over the Green Bay Packers, featuring a truly schizophrenic performance by Russell Wilson (RW). Except for a few style edits, not a (substantive) word of this essay was changed by that game, though I refer to it in a couple of places.   Both before and after that game, I believe Russell Wilson deserves to be on any reasonable list of Elite Quarterbacks (E-List), even if it contains no more (as it shouldn’t) than three or four names.

Russell Wilson doesn’t make too many of the E-Lists.  On the other hand, except maybe for three quarters of yesterday’s game, he’s never had a Rodney Dangerfield problem either.  He often gets honorable mention on some of the E-Lists. Because Wilson was both awful and brilliant in yesterday’s improbable playoff game, his position in the rankings probably hasn’t changed much in a day.

While Wilson gets considerable respect, he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl roster (which is really a blessing for him and the Hawks).  And, famed election forecaster Nate Silver’s “538” blog, now affiliated with ESPN and doing sports metrics,  rates Wilson in the middle of QBs, in the 4th Tier of a 10 Tier scheme. Wilson is in the same group with QB Nick Foles, and below a tier containing Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Schaub. Do you think Pete Carroll would trade RW for any of those guys?

Except for Brady and Manning, the names on the E-lists change so often, calling them Elite lists seems almost silly. By my count, there are twelve current starting QB’s in the NFL who have been on and off the E-lists over the past few years. That’s more than a third of the starting QB’s in the NFL. You’re Elite one year, and a bum the next.  Check out QB Phillip Rivers in San Diego. The gents who have graced E- Lists, off and on, for the last several years are: Romo, Rogers, Roethlisberger, P. Manning, Brady, Brees, Luck, Palmer, Rivers, E. Manning, Flacco, and Kapernik.  Of course Brady and Manning have been mainstays; and Rogers and Brees close to that.

This list reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. In the NFL, almost 40% of the QB’s are Elite, at least for awhile.

So, why doesn’t Russell Wilson get on more E-Lists or on the Pro Bowl roster, or reside in a higher tier in the Nate Silver 538 rankings?  A stab at some reasons:

The standard QB stats used by the E-listmakers — passing attempts, completions, yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns and interceptions — are all greatly influenced (tainted?) by the quality of the QB’s offensive line and receiving corp,  and whether the team has a running back that can overcome an ordinary offensive line. All of that is elementary, and often mentioned; but is never translated into a metric that affects the QB rating. At least I haven’t been able to find an E-List that does that.

Team defense is also a major influence on QB performance, again, sometimes mentioned, but not embedded in any QB measure.  If a QB’s team has a great defense, he’s not playing catch up all the time, trying to score as fast as possible. Playing on a team with ordinary or poor defense can make for gaudy and garish QB stats, which the E-listmakers then use for the E-Lists.

There are no accessible metrics in football, comparable to baseball’s Sabermertics, which get to the bottom of things. (See Bill James and Money Ball).  A main purpose of Bill James’ Stats was to create measures that isolate a baseball player’s production, apart from the influence of the teammates surrounding him. Babe Ruth hitting in the middle of the 1962 Mets line-up would not have had a 170 RBIs. The commonly used QB stats don’t even bother to control for a player’s environment.

The Seahawks offensive line has been at best ordinary for RW’s entire three year career. The same goes for the Hawks receiving corp, which was only a notch above ordinary before Golden Tate left and tight end Zach Miller missed the entire 2014 season with a serious ankle injury. Percy Harvin was going to be the new,  big impact, home run ball receiver RW has never had, but that venture crashed and burned after a few games.

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks are obviously built around defense. Even if the Hawks had a consistently great offensive line and an elite set of receivers, Carroll wouldn’t want, and doesn’t need, RW to be throwing the ball 30 or 40+ times a game.  An equally important reason for that is the presence of Marshawn Lynch, one of the two or three top running backs in the game, if not the best. With a lead, or even a one or two possession deficit early in a game, why throw on every down when Lynch might bust one for 40 yards at any time, or regularly carry five defenders down the field for ten yards?

All of this means, RW can’t possibly post the garish yardage and touch down numbers that guys on the current E lists have compiled. Hey, in today’s NFL game, with the rules favoring passers and receivers, even Jake Cutler puts up almost 4,000 yards and 30 TDs.  (Poor Jake probably does have a Rodney Dangerfield problem).

Not even the Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), which is an arbitrary composite of the ordinary passing stats, controls for a QB’s environment.  QBR is a “per passing attempt” stat, which helps RW’s cause, but it curiously ignores a QB’s rushing stats. RW ran for 849 yards this year, amazingly 16th best among ALL runners.  Many of those yards came from intentional runs, option plays, and RW extending a play, then deciding to run rather than throw into coverage.  The 849 yards are not mostly from helter-skelter plays. Many of them resulted in critical first downs.

BTW, all of this might help explain why in the world Tim Tebow could have received two Heisman trophies before anyone figured out he couldn’t throw a football, which may also turn out to be Johnny Manziel’s story. They are part of a long line of Heisman winning quarterbacks who flopped in the NFL. Aren’t the guardians of the Heisman embarrassed about that?  Why has this happened?  Not because, “the college game is different from the pro game” excuse, but because the Heisman intelligentsia have no idea how good a QB really is apart from his team.

If it’s not being done already, stats like hurries, sacks, and hits, which can help measure the quality of a QB’s offensive line; or, for receivers, stats on dropped balls, broken routes, and spacing between them and defenders, would shed much light on the performance of QBs. You can make these into composite measures and adjust QBRs, just like Bill James did for baseball forty years ago.  Or why not  track “quality catches” (or lack thereof), just like the NBA tabulates quality rebounds, and use the information to evaluate a receiving corp, and then adjust the QB rating?

The core data isn’t available to starving bloggers, but I bet “538” and other big players in Sports Analytics can do all of these things. They may have already, but, if so, it’s not in the mainstream.

I am sure RW cares about all this much less than I or his adoring fans do. But over this football weekend and with a third day to remember Martin Luther King, writing about bread and circuses beats watching cable news. Here are some popular, sortable QB passing stats from ESPN to pass the time as the long weekend draws to a close.

“Why Turn Health Care System Topsy Turvy and Raise Costs for All, Just to Help 15% of the People?”

critterThe question in the blog post title is now being asked even by Obamacare/ACA supporters, including some Democrats, like the erstwhile Senator Charles Schumer, from New York, who thinks health care reform distracted his party from taking care of the middle class.

But, the premises of the question are all wrong.

In the same vein, Republican Mike Huckabee was even more to the point than Schumer about the “irrelevance of health care reform” to average Americans. Here is what Huckabee, soon to be a presidential candidate, had to say in an interview:

Q: What about ObamaCare? Is reaching those 30 million uninsured people a priority?

HUCKABEE: It ought to be a priority. But the priority should have been to deal with the 15% of people who didn’t have insurance rather than disrupt the system for the 85% who did and who were largely satisfied with insurance…..

It still matters what the facts are, even if that’s become a quaint concept.  Let’s start with the “15% uninsured” fact-let that’s implanted in Huckabee’s and everyone else’s brain. It’s very misleading. It persists because the true picture is harder to explain.

The “15% percent uninsured”  figure is a snapshot, taken at a point in time.  Over a materially longer period – more than six months, to one, two, or ten years – anywhere from 25% to 50% of Americans experience a significant spell without individual or family coverage.  That’s very large.  It’s a lot more than just “the poor.”

An even higher number of people are in perpetual fear of losing health care coverage, which keeps them in dead end jobs and contributes to  the “dead wood” we complain about in the next cubicle.    None of that may be disturbing to Huckabee or Schumer, who probably have never had to think about going without health insurance for their families, even for a few months; and haven’t worked in a cubicle for decades.

The much better count of how many people have lacked health insurance in the U.S. is documented here and here, by the non partisan Congressional Budget Office and by career analysts at the U.S. Treasury Department.

What about Mr. Huckabee’s point that Obamacare turns the health care system upside down?   Many would say, “If only it were so.”  The ACA went way out of its way to preserve the main pillars of the old health care system – private insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other private providers in a $3 trillion dollar system,  which leads the world in cost per client, but with worse health outcomes.  Whether you like it or not, ACA falls well short of turning the health care system upside down.

As for recent U.S. health care costs, the ACA munificently provides an alibi for anyone who raises insurance premium or shifts higher costs onto workers. Insurance companies, hospitals, and employers have been doing that for decades at rates that far outstrip general inflation and growth in worker wages or middle class income.

So, yes, health care costs have been rising, but since the ACA passed, health care inflation has actually slowed down. That is more likely due to the great recession than to ACA; but it’s a lie that health care costs have soared since the passage of ACA.

Let’s close the loop regarding Schumer’s Monday morning quarter-backing about the ACA and the middle class,  Soaring premium costs over decades have been a big factor in wage stagnation and middle class economic woes.  It’s elementary that the more a business pays for worker health insurance, especially when premium costs outpace profits, the less it can pay in wages. At the time Democrats were in control of Congress in 2010, “health insurance for all,” at affordable prices, was the single most effective and practical way of helping American workers and the middle class.

Perhaps Senator Schumer thinks Congress could have more easily attacked the other causes of middle class doldrums?  It would have been a snap to: (1) reverse NAFTA (and maybe block TPTA negotiations, while they were at it); (2) overturn “right to work” laws in about 25 states, (3) restore marginal tax rates to 90% for high income earners; and (4) put the brakes on technological advances which replace workers and lower their value. Maybe they could have done that in six days and rested on the seventh?

I will give Schumer this: The President and supporters of ACA did a horrible job explaining what they were trying to do; while conservatives have been spectacularly effective persuading a lot of middle Americans and small business folks that ACA is the bane of their existence.