Malpractice Reform

I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day about malpractice reform, and it made me finally put together all my thoughts on the subject into a cogent argument. So I thought I’d share.

A while back, I was visited out in Seattle by a good buddy from college who works as an analyst in New York, studying the insurance industry. He told me the big challenge for insurers was the fundamental unpredictability of jury awards. If there was a “cap” on damages, a maximum amount that one could sue for (which is what President Bush proposes), then insurers could take that into account and adjust accordingly.

What happens, though, as we saw with the TWA Flight 800 center-fuel-tank issue, is that a company can then compare the cost of a potential lawsuit with the cost of repairing a defect, and essentially decide whether making people safe is cost-effective.

Unlimited jury awards inject some unpredictability into the system. This, in turn gives companies an incentive to err on the side of consumer safety, which is a good thing.

One solution, of course, is greater government oversight of various industries, substituting the threat of lawsuits with the threat of fines or jailtime. But seeing how President Bush chose to gut the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the wake of Enron and related scandals (choosing to put that money in the pockets of many of the offenders), I don’t have much faith in that being a viable option.

More on this to come, including some links and facts. I just thought we could all use a bit of a diversion from the horse race.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled election.

The GOP Case for Abolishing the DOE, #461

From today’s L.A. Times:

Four years ago, Bush ran even among voters with a college education. But recent polls show him trailing with that group, largely because he has lost support among college-educated men, traditionally a Republican constituency.

Bush may offset those gains by expanding his support among married women without a college education, the so-called “waitress moms” responsive to both his socially conservative and peace-through-strength messages.

Problem: smart people are abandoning the President! Solution: make fewer smart people! Eliminate the Department of Education!

On a sidenote, this article was written by Ron Brownstein. For some reason, maybe it started with Mickey Kaus’ well-documented pro-Brownstein, anti-Nagourney position, Brownstein has become the bloggers favorite reporter. So I guess I should hop on the Ron train:

Brownstein is obviously the most brilliant reporter in the business today. No one else could have come up with this genius “waitress mom” formulation. The man clearly deserves a Pulitzer.

How was that?

War Dead

1,000 American soldiers is certainly something to make you stop and think. Up to 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians is quite sobering, too.

“To Be Provided” my ass.

Look, I’m not going to make like Moore and pretend that Baghdad was all children playing and flying kites before the US Invasion. I can’t even imagine how awful life must have been under Saddam. But I hope all those armchair analysts and bloggers, the ones who use phrases like “hawkish” and “tough on terror,” are ready to deal with the idea of 100,000 innocent Iraqi lives lost in this conflict.

War is hell, and when we lose sight of that in a morass of metaphors about “projecting American power,” we lose part of our soul. There’s a reason why those who have seen war (Kerry, Powell, Kerrey) are the most skeptical about deploying troops.

Fun with LA Times interactive map

Forgive me, I’m a little slow to this thing, but the L.A. Times electoral map is a hoot. It also shows you how many nightmare permutations there are. I started with the Bush/Gore breakdown, and then shifted Wisconsin and New Mexico into Bush’s column and New Hampshire and Ohio into Kerry’s. What happened? Dead tied: 269-269. Yuck. In this situation, according to the Times, the President is decided by one vote from each of the state’s congressional delegations. That would give Bush a 30-15 victory, with 5 states tied. However, the VP nomination would go to a majority vote in the Senate. It’s unclear if Dick Cheney would act as the tiebreaker in this scenario (anyone?), but if the Senate goes Democratic (which it could), we could end up with Bush as the president and JOHN EDWARDS as the VP! How screwy is that? Or maybe the senate would chose Kerry as VP just for shits and giggles.

Either way, things don’t look good in case of a tie.

Add to that the fact that the Bush administration is considering a recess appointment to fill Rehnquist’s seat, and we’re looking at hijinks galore.

My money still says that a clear Kerry victory is in sight.

Criminal Neglegence

Andrew Sullivan reminds me that he’s the one who used the phrase last week:

And, yes, “criminal negligence” is not hyperbole. In terrorist-ridden Iraq, the possibility of serious weaponry falling into the hands of the enemy and being deployed against American troops and conceivably American citizens is unforgivable. The whole point of the invasion was to prevent this kind of transfer from taking place. Yet, thanks to this administration, it may have precipitated it.

And that was before we discovered all those missing weapons.

Department of Postwar Planning

Oh, wait… we don’t have one of those.

Lots of folks have quoted at length from this Knight Ridder article on Iraq, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t join the chorus, now is it?

The first three grafs say it all:

WASHINGTON – In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration’s plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon’s plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners’ parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material – and for good reason.

The slide said: “To Be Provided.”

Who was it that just wrote that Rumsfeld, Bush, et. al. are guilty of “criminal negligence” in failing to prepare for postwar Iraq? Hitchens? Sullivan? Someone like that. If this incomptetent turd is rewarded with re-election, it will be a setback for behavioral scientists everywhere.

But hey, as they say, why change horsemen mid-apocalypse?

Missed Perceptions

David Brooks continues today with his overarching thesis on America, which says, more or less, that America is not divided by issues, but rather by the fact that one half of the country sees a completely different reality from the other.

Now we have what seems to be independent confirmation of this belief, courtesy of the University of Maryland. And the results aren’t favorable for Bush supporters. According to the study, most Bush supporters believe things that blatantly aren’t true. I don’t know how to put too fine a point on this: the election is tied because Bush’s supporters are mostly ignorant. That may sound harsh, but it’s now a fact. From foreign policy to environmental policy, Bush’s supporters believe things that aren’t true.

How is it possible that with 5 major TV news networks, 5 24-hour news channels, umpteen newspapers and radio stations, the American public is still so grossly misinformed?

(hat tip: Volokh.)

UPDATE: I realized, after thinking about it, that my boldface above was a little bit extreme. All this study actually proves is that Bush’s supporters are ignorant. It doesn’t prove that if they were educated on these issues, they would necessarily vote for Kerry. But it’s certainly a strong possibility.


I’ve been digging on OxBlog lately, and not just because Chafetz is supporting Kerry finally. I’ve been trying to read people with whom I disagree. Makes for a better debate, right?

Still, how could you not find this post from April of 2003 funny and sad in its hubris?

“I TOLD YOU SO” WATCH: The time has come for those who had faith in American war plans to mock those who didn’t. All I add is a note of caution, lest those who now mock become overconfident and leave themselves open to having the tables turned.

Right now, the NYT website is running a headline which says “Jubilant Iraqis Swarm the Streets of Capital; U.S. Says Hussein Has Lost Grip on Baghdad” That would seem to resolve the ‘liberation’ question. (And if the NYT isn’t good enough for you, check out the Guardian for similar reports.)

Moderation aside, I have almost no sympathy for those who predicted an indifferent or even hostile response to Coalition forces by the people of Iraq. Believing that an entire population would prefer Saddam’s brutality to a foreign occupation is unjustifiable. What’s especially nice is that even some of the Arab media are broadcasting images of the liberation to audiences in the Middle East.

On the military front, Andrew Sullivan has been outing all those who spoke without hesitation about the coming quagmire. The list of the outed includes Johnny Apple, Robert Wright, Josh Marshall and, of course, Robert Fisk.

All in all, being wrong is a forgivable thing. In the best of cases, such errors reflect the imperfection of human judgment. In others, partisan preferences are responisble for false expectations. Of course, many of those who were right about the war were only right because of their own partisan prejudices.

Glad he added the “note of caution”…

A Presidential Outing

Last night, John Kerry outed Dick Cheney’s daughter. Now, it’s no secret that she’s gay. But it’s also no secret that Cheney, like Newt Gingrinch and the Reagans, have tried to shield their homosexual offspring from the slings and arrows of outrageous Republicans, aka, their political base. Clearly, homosexuality is a challenging thing for a lot of Republican voters … not every Republican likes to wear panties and pay a dom to whip him, but at least since J. Edgar Hoover we’ve known that people are complex, and often our most virulent leaders are the ones with the most to hide. But then of course it’s this complexity of human nature that the Bush/Cheney world view rejects outright, so it’s no wonder the RNC has its knickers in a wad over this one.

So what’s wrong with Kerry stating this fact during the debate last night? If we truly accept people for their differences, then it should make no difference what someone’s sexual orientation is. So if you believe that Kerry somehow did a disservice to the Veep’s daughter by stating her sexual preferences, then you must also believe on some deep level that the state of being gay is something harmful, shameful or otherwise necessary to hide from public scrutiny.

And what’s more: this campaign, the issue of extending domestic partnership rights to all partnerships is one of the few domestic issues getting any mileage. So it’s fair that potential Republican voters should know the full extent of Cheney’s involvement in the issue. If they choose to see Cheney as a man who is so devoid of compassion that he would legislate against his own daughter, then so be it. That’s the position Cheney has placed himself in — Cheney, and Cheney alone — must live with the consequences.

Last night Kerry (and, admittedly, this seems more like something he stumbled on rather than planned) offered yet another compelling vision for a future America – an America where we can talk about things like homosexuality and faith in respectful terms; an America where being called “gay” is not slander, just a simple statement of fact. JFK is still the right choice for America.

P.S. A note to Scott on sanctions. You state in a recent Desk Jockeys post that Iraqi sanctions weren’t working. This is simply not the case. We did have reason to believe that the sanction regime that was in place prior to the invasion in March ’03 might not continue to work, and we also knew that Saddam was manuevering to work around the sanctions. However, the lack of WMDs in Iraq is ample evidence that the sanctions regime did, in fact, accomplish its purpose of keeping WMDs out of Saddam’s hands. The correct answer to the POSSIBLE future failure of sanctions is not necessarily to go to war now — what’s wrong with trying to fix the system first? Bush was impetuous, and a lot of people are dead now because it was easier for him to pull the trigger than to talk things out.