Thursday, December 31

If Obama were really a force for change...

If Obama were really the force for change and new thinking that he purported to be, he would undertake a study of whether the terrorist threat is such as to justify the massive bureaucracy of DHS.
and:
If the increase in post-12/25 security measures roughly reflects the popular will, and is not simply a bureaucratic reflex unmoored to popular sentiment, the chance of driving down health care spending through more rational use of precautionary testing becomes more unrealistic, it seems to me. Perhaps it’s not just a ravenous tort bar or doctors’ pecuniary self-interest that drives the aggressive ordering of medical tests, as we have been led to believe, but patient attitudes towards risk. The revised mammogram guidelines debacle would suggest that to be the case. Making patients pay for every diagnostic test may increase their tolerance of risk, but such a cost arrangement is never going to happen.

Wednesday, December 30

Terrorism is rare and largely ineffectual

The only real worry is that we'll scare ourselves into making air travel so onerous that we won't fly anymore. We won't be any safer -- more people will die in car crashes resulting from the increase in automobile travel, and terrorists will simply switch to one of the millions of other targets -- and we won't even feel any safer. It's frustrating; terrorism is rare and largely ineffectual, yet we regularly magnify the effects of both their successes and failures by terrorizing ourselves.

...

[There is] something fundamentally wrong with how our society deals with risk. Of course 100% security is impossible; it has always been impossible and always will be. We'll never get the murder, burglary, or terrorism rate down to zero; 42,000 people will die each year in car crashes in the U.S. for the foreseeable future; life itself will always include risk. But that's okay. Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

$8 billion up in smoke

Talk about unintended consequences.

Obama's education secretary

Arne Duncan ran the Chicago schools for seven years, and in that time he didn’t manage to produce a single school that the Obamas chose to send their own children to.

Monday, December 28

TSA not worth it.

FiveThirtyEight writes,
...the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.
Offsetting behaviour then adds,
Since the value of a statistical life, backed out of these kinds of calculations, is $7 million, our best guess is that folks would be unwilling to spend more than a dollar to insure against this risk. I get the feeling that the TSA's budget is considerably more than that.

A dashed clever "oranges" lyric

I take it you know that Orange number at the Palace? It goes--
Oh, won't you something something oranges,
My something oranges,
My something oranges;
Oh, won't you something something something I forget,
Something something something tumty tumty yet:
Oh--
or words to that effect. It's a dashed clever lyric....

Saturday, December 26

I don’t want any goddamn carbon-footprint lectures

Glenn Reynolds writes,
...I don’t want any goddamn carbon-footprint lectures from people who fly thousands of miles week after week.
In my case, I might add, who drive SUV's instead of smaller cars or instead of bicycling or walking in a small college town.

Most businessmen deserve to have gotten rich

[Bernie] Sanders complained that for-profit insurance companies are too bureaucratic and, in a flight of fancy that would have seemed like a fringe conceit just a year ago, asserted that they require government to provide efficiency-inducing competition. The hilarious idea that government is less bureaucratic and more efficient than private sector companies will endure even if the seemingly nine-lived public option finally stays dead.

The anti-business mindset often takes a more specific form: it is “corporations” that are the enemy, not, by implication, the corner grocer... I have always wondered whether, when unwashed NoGlobal protesters and their more presentable soul-mates in government and Hollywood rail against corporations, they are carefully singling out limited liability for criticism and would shut up if all business were organized as partnerships, or if they are simply using “corporation” as a shorthand for all for-profit activity. I tend towards the latter view.

In any case, this knee-jerk contempt for business is worthy of a pampered adolescent who is searching for a cause with which to display his unique moral sensibility. It is not worthy of an adult who should be able to use his imagination, if not actual experience, to appreciate the extraordinary human effort that has gone into creating the delightful tools that we daily take for granted....

Bernie Sanders presumably thinks that he is worth every penny of his $174,000 salary and not one cent less, for he would never do anything as contemptible as make a profit on his Herculean labors in the Senate. The same goes for the tenured faculty in the nation’s most prestigious universities who look down upon corporate profit-takers: each is a bargain at $250,000 a year. Greed is a vice that only affects other people; the beneficiary of a rent-controlled apartment is not being greedy in expecting to pay a below market rent, but merely collecting her due. It’s her landlord who’s avaricious in thinking he might make a market return on his investment...

Government regulation of business is inevitable; externalities like pollution and noise cannot easily be reduced to optimal levels through market exchange. But let regulation be done with trepidation and humility, in recognition of our ignorance of the myriad factors that go into vibrant economic life. Is it too much to hope that even if most elected bodies are immaculately free of anyone who has owned a business, that some small portion of the political class try hard to imagine the difficulty of charting future growth and hiring with no idea what tax levels or regulatory mandates will be in coming years, much less the difficulty of operating under a burdensome regime of existing taxes and regulations?

It is the ingratitude that kills me the most among anti-business types. The materials that furnish a single room in an American home required daring, perseverance, and organizational skill from millions of individuals over generations. I hope they all got filthy rich.

Was the auto bailout necessary? Did it work?

In hindsight it is readily apparent that the answers are: No, and No.

President Bush argued that the bailout was needed to keep GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy, because nobody would want to buy cars from the companies if they went bankrupt. There would be questions about whether warranties would be honored, whether dealers would be available for service, and other issues that would come up with a durable good purchase.

We can see that the bailout didn’t work, because after receiving bailout money from the Bush administration, and then another dose from the Obama administration, both companies declared bankruptcy in June anyway. And, because the bailout didn’t work, it’s easy to see that it wasn’t necessary.

Friday, December 25

A call for democracy = subversion

刘晓波 Liú Xiǎobō,
the founder of the Charter 08 campaign for constitutional reform, was given the unusually harsh jail term on Christmas Day in an apparent attempt to minimise international attention.

The case has raised fears that other drafters of Charter 08 could also face retribution from the authorities.

Following a year in detention and a two-hour trial, it took the No 1 intermediate people's court in Beijing just 10 minutes to read out the 11-page sentence.

Liu was found guilty on Wednesday of subversion, the vaguely defined charge that Communist party leaders often use to imprison political opponents.
...
He told friends that he knew the risk of imprisonment when he drafted Charter 08, which demands the open election of public officials, freedom of religion and expression, and the abolition of subversion laws.

Sunday, December 20

Prices of physician services have risen no faster than prices of non-medical services

It turns out that health care spending has not been driven up by runaway inflation but by runaway federal spending. Government is paying for a larger quantity of medical bills, not merely a rising price per procedure or product.

The Consumer Price Index for medical care slowed its growth dramatically in the 1990s, when federal health care spending was relatively contained. Medical care inflation slowed from nearly 10% at the end of 1990 to less than 3% in 1997, and it was only 2.8% over the past three months. Prices of medical services tend to rise faster than the CPI for the entire economy, but that is typical among all labor-intensive service industries. From 1996 to 2008 the CPI for physicians' services rose by 3.1% a year, for example, but prices of nonmedical services also rose by 3.1% a year.

You can see the bloating influence of government by looking at medical goods and services that are almost never financed by "free" government money: dental care, over-the-counter drugs, hearing aids and eyeglasses. In such cases nobody frets about inadequate competition, poor service or "runaway inflation."

Nat Hentoff: Obama worse than George W. Bush

I think Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had. An example is ObamaCare, which is now embattled in the Senate. If that goes through the way Obama wants, we will have something very much like the British system. If the American people have their health care paid for by the government, depending on their age and their condition, they will be subject to a health commission just like in England which will decide if their lives are worth living much longer.

In terms of the Patriot Act, and all the other things he has pledged he would do, such as transparency in government, Obama has reneged on his promises. He pledged to end torture, but he has continued the CIA renditions where you kidnap people and send them to another country to be interrogated. Why is Obama doing that if he doesn't want torture anymore? Throughout Obama's career, he promised to limit the state secrets doctrine which the Bush-Cheney administration had abused enormously. The Bush administration would go into court on any kind of a case that they thought might embarrass them and would argue that it was a state secret and the case should not be continued. Obama is doing the same thing, even though he promised not to.

...

Obama has little, if any, principles except to aggrandize and make himself more and more important. You see that in his foreign policy. Obama lacks a backbone—both a constitutional backbone and a personal backbone. This is a man who is causing us and will cause us a great deal of harm constitutionally and personally.

Saturday, December 19

CCP insecurity

nothing makes the CCP look more like a bunch of insecure moonbats than their fixation on “guiding public opinion” (read: censorship and propaganda)

Friday, December 18

Obama's trifecta

...combining three of his favorite rhetorical tropes. There was the vague reference to “those who” question his agenda, the “false choice” they use to deceive the public, and the determination to “be clear” and forthright, in contrast with those dishonest naysayers. These devices are useful as signals that the president is about to mislead us.

Wednesday, December 2

A little like Pinter, no?

Pinter's American Football is an example of the
"infinite monkey theory", which states that if a monkey hits keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time, it will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
This theory was recently tested, and they learned,
The theory is flawed. After one month - admittedly not an "infinite" amount of time - the monkeys had partially destroyed the machine, used it as a lavatory, and mostly typed the letter "s".

Friday, November 20

Pandering to union fears

President Obama hasn’t really understood the case for free trade because I don’t think he’s been too interested in trade. His background is as an activist working with the poor people, so he hasn’t thought about these issues. So he ends up listening to other people, and a lot of people who are protectionist are around him, particularly the unions, who are afraid of international competition. But they dress up the fair trade argument in altruism, that they’re doing it to raise the labor standards and wages of workers in India and Brazil and so on and so forth, when in fact, they’re doing it to protect their own workers from competition. The president doesn’t seem to realize that this is something which other people, whom you pretend you’re trying to help, actually see as a naked, cynical ploy.

Instead of pandering to union fear, Obama has got to engage them. You have got to help these doubting Thomases confront their fears. He’s got to say that trade with the poor countries is actually helping, not hurting, you. The unions’ main fear is that unskilled jobs are disappearing. They see these jobs being taken up elsewhere where the labor is cheap. But they can’t hold onto these jobs anyway. What they get in return from trade are cheap products that they need as consumers. So free trade moderates the downward pressure on their real wages.

Big portions of the wages of poor workers go toward low quality textiles, for instance. That is well-established. But if you look at the structure of protectionism, if you go and buy something from Anne Klein that’s going to be expensive, but it carries no tariff at all because these high-end designers compete on variety. Tariffs matter where the competition is on prices. So the low-quality items which poor people buy end up carrying higher tariffs than high-end items that rich people buy.
Jagdish Bhagwati is too optimistic; Obama will continue to pander to union fear.

Monday, October 19

A pale harbinger

ACORN has been in the forefront of those browbeating banks, under the Community Reinvestment Act, to provide housing loans to people who couldn’t afford them. Banks were reluctant to make those loans, of course — until the government stepped in to “guarantee” them. Well, we’ve seen where that ended: we’re all paying the price, especially those who couldn’t afford the homes in the first place, and will be for years to come. ...

But the same something-for-nothing mindset is at work in the health care debate. Here again, many people want more health care than they can afford, which means that someone else will have to pay for it — the government having nothing except what it takes from us. The pretense that it is otherwise — or that they can redistribute more equitably than the market does — is what drives the Dems to their pie-in-the-sky schemes — until some among them realize that it is they and their constituents who are being taken for a ride. At that point, either the recalcitrant are silenced, with some temporary sop, or the bottom falls out of the scheme, which is what many of us are hoping for here. If not, the housing debacle will prove in time to be a pale harbinger of the health care debacle, at least for those who live to see it.

Saturday, October 17

What Mao Zedong actually said

先打弱的,后打强的,你打你的,我打我的。

(First attack the weak areas, then attack strong areas. You fight your [battle], I'll fight mine.)

But you could also interpret it as what Anita Dunn said: "You fight your war, and I'll fight mine."

A plum ambassadorship goes to a supporter, not a diplomat

Joe Andrew, you’re headed to Costa Rica!

More than a year ago, Andrew -- a Hoosier, superdelegate and former leader of the Democratic Parties in both Indiana and DC -- switched from backing then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to then-Sen. Barack Obama just days before the May 6, 2008 Indiana primary.

And this week President Obama nominated his wife, Anne Slaughter Andrew, to be the ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica.

Friday, October 16

It's OK for males to do perform poorly

NPR interviewed Gail Collins last Tuesday about her book celebrating the increase of working women. Part of the transcript reads:

Ms. COLLINS: The very second that you suddenly got girls going through school and doing better than boys on every level, you instantly started getting all these magazine stories about what's wrong with our boys? We've only got two sexes.

INSKEEP: Somebody has to be in second…

Ms. COLLINS: Society really can't win on this one. You know, somebody is not going to have the majority of college students. But…
So it's OK for males to do perform poorly. Imagine saying something like that about males.

Friday, October 9

James A. McDevitt is an idiot

Last month a federal judge sentenced Rosa Martinez, a physician in Yakima, Washington, to a year's probation and a $1,000 fine for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The fraud occurred when a physician's assistant in Martinez's practice mistakenly charged the government for her services at the physician's rate, which is allowed only when the supervising physician is present, which Martinez wasn't. She said she was unaware of the rule but accepted responsibility for the errors because they occurred on her watch. The overcharges totaled $22...

The case, launched three years ago by U.S. Attorney James A. McDevitt, stemmed from Martinez's willingness to treat people with histories of illegal drug use for pain, a practice that is not only legal but ethically required. In 2007 a jury acquitted her of prescribing narcotics outside the scope of medicine, failed to reach verdicts on related charges of unlawfully distributing narcotics, and convicted her on eight felony counts of health care fraud. After the trial, Judge Van Sickle dismissed the distribution charges and ordered a new trial on the fraud charges. The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that a medical billing expert hired by Martinez's lawyer "concluded that the convictions were based on misrepresentations by government auditors." According to the lawyer, "it gutted the prosecution's case," which is why McDevitt agreed to a plea bargain instead of retrying Martinez. As for Martinez, she wanted to keep fighting, but she "had run out of money" and assets, having "lost her home in the process of defending herself against the charges."

Obama caves in to the sugar lobby

If Obama wants to stand up to special interests, put money in the pockets of working families and defend American manufacturing jobs, he should order the Department of Agriculture to reconsider its recent decision to uphold the unjust status quo of the sugar program.

Tuesday, October 6

OMG! China doesn't like dorkings!!

If you were going to start a trade war against the United States, it is unlikely that your first salvo would be on chicken parts, or as the Chinese rather charmingly first announced, on dorkings. A dorking is a five toed chicken that flourishes in Surrey, England. The normal chicken has four toes. If you have not heard of dorkings before, you are not the only one.

Monday, October 5

Chinese migrant workers willing to accept lower wages

A short section of an article in the latest issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review which contains the most interesting new information from a study by Stanford University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS):


‘The survey data show that the initial impact of the crisis was much worse than was previously imagined. Of the 265 million rural-dwellers with off-farm employment, 45 million, or 17%, either lost their jobs or delayed their move out of agriculture between September 2008 and April 2009. The impact was felt more deeply in southern provinces than northern, which was to be expected given the concentration of exporters in the south. Younger workers were hit harder than older workers, perhaps because the experience of older workers made them more valuable and factory owners were more reluctant to let them go. Less educated workers were more likely to lose their jobs than more educated; those educated to primary school or lower were most likely to face unemployment. The impact of the crisis was neutral between men and women, which suggested that the trend toward a higher share of female workers in the off-farm labor force will not be interrupted.

But the results also show that the ability of China’s migrant workers to adapt to the crisis was much better than was previously imagined. By April 2009, the results suggested, 25 million of those rural workers who lost their off-farm jobs had found new employment. By August, that number had increased to 32 million, leaving just 13 million unemployed, or 4.9% of the total off-farm rural labor force.

The results also indicated that the reason for the success of migrant workers in finding new employment was a willingness to accept lower wages. In response to the massive increase in surplus labor, off-farm wages adjusted downwards by about 10%. For China as a whole, that meant a fall from about 850 yuan ($125) per month average off-farm wages in 2008 to about 765 yuan per month in 2009, with a steeper fall from a lower base in the south than in the north. It was not clear whether falling wages resulted from falling hours, falling hourly rates or some combination of the two. But what is clear is that the market for China’s off-farm rural labor is flexible, and wages have adjusted to accommodate the shock from the sharp decline in demand.’

Why no minimum wage? (Ha-ha).

Monday, September 28

Politics as usual

What we have here is a president who views trade policy as nothing more than a tool to advance his own political standing with groups that are hostile to commerce. Since groups on the left have grown disenchanted that some of the most socialist elements of the health care debate might be left on the cutting room floor, why not try to placate them with anti-business, anti-consumer, anti-globalization protectionism? Will makes the link between tire tariffs and the health care debate in his concluding sentence.

Labor's clout and a mindless adherence to liberal gospel

The New York Post is reporting that unemployment among young workers (aged 16-24, excluding students) has reached a postwar high of 52.2 percent. It had never topped 50 percent before.

A recession is always going to hit the unskilled the hardest, and most of this age group are unskilled. But the increase in the minimum wage on July 24, 2009, adversely impacted this group as well, for it raised the price of unskilled labor by no less than 10.7 percent in the teeth of an already growing unemployment rate. Since 2006, as the seeds of recession were beginning to germinate, the minimum wage has increased by a whopping 40.8 percent. This could only have reduced the demand for unskilled labor. A small-business owner with 10 minimum-wage employees in 2006 could have hired another four with the wage increase he has been forced to pay to the ones he already had. So, of course, many of them didn’t hire anybody.

The evidence that minimum-wage laws work against, not for, the interests of the unskilled is pretty clear. There are, for instance, 13 states, ranging from California to New England, with minimum wages above the federal level. Their unemployment rates among the unskilled average higher than the national unemployment rate. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence.

The biggest backer of a higher minimum wage has long been Big Labor, few of whose workers are paid the minimum wage. But many of their workers are paid wages that are multiples of the minimum wage, so any increase in the minimum boosts their wages as well.

The stimulus bill did nothing for those earning the minimum wage. Had a substantial portion been designated to fund tax relief for employers who added minimum-wage jobs to their payrolls, the unemployment rate would have been immediately impacted for the better by lowering the cost of unskilled labor. Instead, the Obama administration made it harder for employers to hire the unskilled, not easier. Why? First, because Big Labor has enormous clout in this administration; second, because of this administration’s intellectual rigidity and mindless adherence to the gospel of liberalism.


Serves you right!

Vermillion County Prosecutor Nina Alexander victimizes a woman for buying two boxes of cold medication in less than a week, saying "I’m simply enforcing the law", or "I was only following orders". Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel agrees:

“Sometimes mistakes happen,” Marvel said. “It’s unfortunate. But for the good of everyone, the law was put into effect.

“I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother …”

Sunday, September 27

We are here to guarantee peace

Claudia Rosett reminds us of Nicolas Sarkozy's remarks at the Security Council meeting. Here's the original French version:
Nous sommes ici pour garantir la paix. Nous avons raison de parler de l’avenir. Mais avant l’avenir, il y a le présent. Et le présent, c’est deux crises nucléaire majeures. Les peuples du monde entier écoutent ce que nous sommes en train de dire. Nos promesses, nos engagements, nos discours. Mais nous vivons dans un monde réel, pas dans un monde virtuel.

Nous disons, il faut réduire. Et le Président Obama a même dit : « Je rêve d’un monde où il n’y en aurait plus. » Et sous nos yeux, deux pays font exactement le contraire, en ce moment. L’Iran a violé depuis 2005 cinq résolutions du Conseil de sécurité. Cinq. Depuis 2005, la communauté internationale a appelé l’Iran pour le dialogue. Une proposition de dialogue en 2005, une proposition de dialogue en 2006, une proposition de dialogue en 2007, une proposition de dialogue en 2008, et une nouvelle en avril 2009. Monsieur le Président Obama, je soutiens la main tendue des Américains. Qu’a amené à la communauté internationale ces propositions de dialogue? Rien. Plus d’uranium enrichi, plus de centrifugeuses, et de surcroît, last but not least, une déclaration des dirigeants iraniens proposant de rayer de la carte un Membre de l’Organisation des Nations Unies. Que faisons-nous? Quelle conclusion tirons-nous? Il y a un moment où les faits sont têtus, et il faudra prendre des décisions. Si nous voulons un monde sans armes nucléaires à l’arrivée, n’acceptons pas la violation des règles internationales. Je comprends parfaitement les positions différentes des uns et des autres. Mais tous nous pouvons être menacés un jour – tous – par un voisin qui se doterait de l’arme nucléaire.
Apparently the French news sites didn't carry this.

Friday, September 25

Obama's plan makes the problems of the current system worse.

With 30 million to 40 million newly insured persons under the administration's plan, aggregate health-care demand will increase significantly. But when demand expands prices increase. We estimate that the higher demand will increase health insurance premiums for the typical family plan by about 10%. Because an employer-sponsored family insurance plan cost $12,680 in 2008, this translates into an increase of about $1,200 in the typical annual premium.

The mandates will also have adverse additional longer-run consequences. According to provisions in both House and Senate bills, mandated plans must have low copayments and provide coverage of health-care services that is at least equal in scope to a typical, current employer-sponsored plan. But these are the very flaws that are responsible for high and rising health-care costs, flaws that stem directly from the misguided tax exclusion for and the extensive state regulation of health insurance. By locking in these flaws, the mandates will inhibit precisely the innovation needed to reform U.S. health care.

Thursday, September 24

American gov't mocked for treating its people as children

Remember when George W. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, claimed that the president saw the American people "as we think about a 10-year-old child"? His comment, understandably, caused much mockery and disdain.

The problem, apparently, wasn't the paternalist sentiment; it was the parent offering it. What we needed was a brainy, grown-up administration to harangue and regulate us into submission.

Saturday, September 19

Protectionist Obama

Obama has largely decided to become a domestic-policy president. His supporters, his base and the politicking of his underlings indicate things will only get worse. With the global economy in deep crisis, protectionism is a terrible way to build a recovery.

Thursday, September 17

I hope this is wrong

...domestic political considerations and the good opinion of his base are more important to Obama than just about any other concern. That seems to be the motivating factor in a lot of what he does. The international apology tour is catnip for his Left-leaning academic friends, who are delighted that we finally have a president who “understands” there isn’t anything special about America. He unleashes another investigation on CIA operatives, cheering the “get the Bushies” netroot crowd. He selects an entirely mediocre Supreme Court judge because the Hispanic vote could use a boost. And despite what must be the advice of free-traders within his administration, he has no qualms about risking economic retaliation from China to mollify his Big Labor patrons.

During the campaign, Obama’s supporters assured us that Obama was intensely “practical” and therefore would make fact-based decisions devoid of ideology. The reality is that he persistently tends to the whims and demands of his Left-leaning base (whose views he, in any case, sympathizes with), the result being a series of policy choices that send a thrill up the legs of union bosses and Harvard professors. If we trigger a trade war or throw the intelligence community into a tailspin, well, that’s a small price for keeping the base quiet.
But it's a convincing argument.

Sunday, September 13

Norman Borlaug

In a just world, people like Borlaug would be the subject of hours of media commentary and coverage and special commemorative issues of Time or Newsweek while politicians got a cursory obit notice on the back page of the local rag.
Not to mention princesses and pop stars.

Saturday, September 12

Thief to head the Senate Agriculture Committee

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) forces us--under threat of imprisonment or violence--to pay her part of our paycheck, then gave most of that money to her friends, keeping a cut for herself and her family.

Obama's Senseless Protectionism

I was afraid he'd be protectionist, which is why I didn't want to vote for him.

John Holdren: zero-sum scientist

I think ultimately that the rate of growth of material consumption is going to have to come down, and there’s going to have to be a degree of redistribution of how much we consume, in terms of energy and material resources, in order to leave room for people who are poor to become more prosperous.

Homeland Security Marked By Waste, Lack of Oversight

Friday, September 11

Obama must know

Obama must know...that health insurance premiums are paid in lieu of employee wages. Because of a stupid tax loophole, employers use pre-tax dollars to purchase health insurance as a benefit rather than pay their workers wages. So instead of paying an employee $1,000 more in wages, of which $400 will be taxed away, companies purchase $1,000 in additional health insurance tax-free. In this way companies funnel more than $140 billion a year in federal tax breaks to their workers.

Faith-Based Double Standards

In 2001, President Bush issued his first executive order as president. He created a program to encourage religious organizations to receive taxpayer funds to perform social services. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, as it was called, infuriated many. Civil libertarians said it violated the separation of church and state, liberals suggested that the office was paying off political supporters, and even Christian conservatives worried about the tentacles of government regulation.

The Village Voice fretted over Mr. Bush's "plan to let churches run the government's welfare system" and his "march toward turning the U.S. into a religious state." Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote an article on Salon.com about the faith-based efforts with the subtitle: "By pandering to Christian zealots, Bush has come close to establishing a national religious party."

Now that Mr. Bush is gone, however, no one seems particularly worried about the entanglement of the federal government with religious organizations.

Fool!

In "Who Is a Moron?" (The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 24, No. 1 [Jan., 1927], pp. 41-46), Henry H. Goddard argued,
There have been for many years at least three different terms commonly used to apply to persons of defective mentality. These were idiot, imbecile and feebleminded. Each in its turn had originally been applied as a very kindly designation of mentally deficient people. Idiot, which sounds so harsh to-day, was originally taken over from the Greek language "idiotes," meaning having an individuality of his own, or in a sense peculiar, not an obnoxious term to be applied to a serious mental defective. But of course in time it came to take its meaning from that to which it was applied. Likewise, imbecile, which means literally leaning upon a staff or needing support, was also a friendly term. Still more recently, the expression feebleminded has come to be applied to these people with the result that it is coming to be a little unpleasant in its implication.
Goddard appears to have popularized if not invented "moron", which came to have the same negative connotations as the others (and indeed the OED cites many such for "idiot". Oh, and "idiot" was also defined as "natural fool", which in fact it had replaced in legal terminology.

According to Robert B. Edgerton, in Mental Retardation, "In the past an idiot was someone with an IQ of less than 30, an imbecile had an IQ of 30 to 50, and a moron an IQ of 50 to 70." These terms were replaced by various levels of "retardation", and "retard" is showing signs of becoming taboo. Apparently the preferred label is "intellectually disabled", but perhaps that will be replaced by "exceptional". It may be necessary to change terms
periodically once they have taken on destructive connotations
.

Monday, September 7

Continue to suffer!

If you live in constant pain, should the government have the right to tell you, "You must continue to suffer in pain"?

Anti-choice?

Is sacrificing the interests of consumers who follow instructions for the sake of consumers who don't, or policing voluntarily assumed risk, the right thing to do?

Sunday, September 6

What Barack Obama should tell public school children

"If you want to grow up to be like me, you should beg your parents to put you in private school, right now."

Although Obama attended public school in Indonesia early in life, he soon switched to a private Catholic school, and from fifth grade through graduation went to a private college-prep school in Hawaii. His own daughters now attend a private school in Washington D.C.

Community organizers lament the sincerest form of flattery

When Wade Rathke, founder of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, came to West Baltimore to promote his book, "Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families,"

The group collectively lamented that the Right discovered Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." "It's kind of scary! They have learned all of the tricks," said Sue Esty, the assistant director of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Maryland.

Indeed,

The disruption of the town hall meetings has many Alinsky trademarks: using spectacle to make up for lack of numbers; targeting an individual to make a large point; and trying to use ridicule to persuade the undecided. Here are excerpts from “Rules for Radicals.”

Big surprise: liberal commentators seem to feel this behavior is unethical now. How did they feel when the left practiced it?

Vicious cycle

Members of Congress ensure they have gerrymandered seats where they pick the voters rather than the voters picking them and then they pass out money to special interests who then make sure they have so much money that no one can easily challenge them.

Saturday, September 5

Obama's Speech to Schools

He wrote, "Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals." Oh, wait, that was Bush.

What is most troubling about Van Jones

his belief
expressed in his book The Green Collar Economy, that dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions not only won't cost anything but will actually benefit the economy by creating jobs. I debated this subject with Jones on a radio show last year, and my impression was that he is a true believer in the broken [window] planet fallacy. The problem is that Jones was hired not despite but because of this nutty idea, which his boss also espouses.

An instrument of control over the individual

While China has long since replaced its communist economy with a kind of raw capitalism and is fast ascending to the rank of superpower, its relationship with its own citizens remains partly stuck in its totalitarian past. The state continues to keep a secret dossier on every working citizen, which helps it retain its absolute power over the individual...

For each of China’s 700m employees – except farmers, historically excluded – there is a file, started while they are high school students. The file is transferred to their employers, where it is open to superiors but closed to the employees themselves – which means, in effect, the state’s invisible hand can make or break anyone’s fate.

“The file system holds some functions that are covered by the social security number in the United States, but its real meaning is that it gives the state an instrument of control over the individual,” says Chen Tan, a professor of public policy at Central South university in Changsha...

Employee files are frequently filled with false information, and often used by superiors to punish staff they do not like or by state institutions to stop individuals taking politically sensitive ac­tion, says Prof Chen, who has had access to thousands of such files for his research on the system...

But files are not only abused as instruments in power struggles or vendettas. They can also become a commercial good, highlighting the problems of a society where everything can be for sale. Several graduates in the central town of Wubu in 2006 have discovered in the past three years that their files have disappeared, erasing bright prospects and condemning them to a future as day labourers or freelance salespeople.

The vanished files all belonged to students with exceptional grades, raising suspicions of identity theft. Officials in other provinces have been found to have sold files to wealthy families whose offspring wanted to improve their career chances.

Friday, September 4

Recruiting to the Party

“[The promise of future graft is] now a recruiting tool.... Corruption is the glue that keeps the party stuck together. Getting rid of it is not possible as long as they keep this system.”

22 Chinas

McKinsey researchers studied 815 Chinese cities along lines including industry composition, government policy, demographic characteristics and consumer preferences. The 22 city clusters – population areas anchored by a city – it identified in the 2009 Annual Chinese Consumer Study are meant to underscore how the nation has many markets.
Mostly urban consumers, then. And I'm guessing not any in Taiwan.

Another reason to get rid of the printed word

Errors are common in all forms of media, but it is mistakes in the printed word that are perhaps the most pernicious. Once a “fact” has been pressed onto paper, it becomes a trusted source, and misinformation will multiply. The combination of human fallibility with Gutenberg’s invention of efficient printing in 1439 has, for all the revolutionary advantages of the latter, proved (in some respects) to be a toxic mixture.

Monday, August 31

Department of Homeland Security

Customs is now part of the "Department of Homeland Security" but I avoid using this name. Whenever I see it, I hear "Reichsicherheitshauptamt".

not neither=not either

At least for Shakespeare.

How Obama Can Save Money

The grim deficit news counsels even more strongly that funding come from within the health-care system; other revenue is going to be needed to deal with the spiraling debt. The most sensible such source is the tax-free treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance. Capping the exclusion of health benefits from taxable income would both generate revenue and help slow cost growth. As vital is dealing with Medicare costs. The best approach is giving the Medicare advisory council power to implement, not merely advocate, cost-saving measures, subject to presidential or congressional override.
I don't think Americans will swallow it, though.

Would Tort Reform Lower Costs?

I guess not. I don't now if the blog says anything about taxing employer-provided insurance, or loosening up the licensing system for health care providers, i.e. letting more people become doctors and also letting physician's assistants or even nurses provide a lot of basic care.

Taxpayers shouldn't pay for UAW's rich health care benefits

I'll say. Now of course, my health care benefits are sacrosanct.

What unites Democrats and Republicans?

What unites Democrats and Republicans is an unwillingness to have a serious debate about how big government should be. Spending is the crucial issue, because it determines taxes and deficits. If they become too large, the resulting depressed economy may make paying for government even harder. Ideally, liberals would see that spending needs to be cut substantially; if it isn't, tomorrow's tax increases or deficits will be horrendous. Ideally, conservatives would accept that taxes must ultimately rise; no plausible spending cuts can bridge the gap between government's promises and its tax base.

There is no sign of this. Liberals and conservatives agree to evade. Spending for the elderly dominates the federal budget, but no one discusses who among retirees deserves government subsidies and at what age. Liberals would increase spending (a.k.a., President Obama's health proposal) even before addressing existing deficits. President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans could have curbed spending. But they increased it even while cutting taxes, and Obama would keep most tax cuts except for people making over $250,000.

Good Novels?

The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance. They're forging connections between literary spheres that have been hermetically sealed off from one another for a century. Look at Cormac ­McCarthy, who for years appeared to be the oldest living Modernist in captivity, but who has inaugurated his late period with a serial-killer novel followed by a work of apocalyptic science fiction. Look at Thomas Pynchon—in "Inherent Vice" he has swapped his usual cumbersome verbal calisthenics for the more maneuverable chassis of a hard-boiled detective novel.

Sunday, August 30

The therapeutic ritual

...one way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future. We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us—such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis—to generate more-accurate estimations of our fate. One of the most powerful placebogenic triggers is watching someone else experience the benefits of an alleged drug. Researchers call these social aspects of medicine the therapeutic ritual.

Saturday, August 29

Is Obama as bad as Bush?

So far:
"There's no question in my view that Bush was the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic," said David M. Walker, the comptroller general under Bush who now advocates for deficit reduction. Obama "was handed a bad deck," he said. "But the question is, are you making it better or not? And so far the answer is no."

Friday, August 28

The American Medical Association—a doctors' cartel

According to a 2007 study by McKinsey&Company, physician compensation bumps up health care spending in America by $58 billion annually,on average, because U.S. doctors make twice as much as their OECD peers. And even the poorest in specializations like radiology and surgery routinely rake in around $400,000 annually.

Doctors—and many Republicans—constantly carp about the costs of "defensive medicine" because it forces providers to perform unnecessary procedures and tests to insulate them from potential lawsuits. But excessive physician salaries contribute nearly three times more to wasteful health care spending than the $20 billion or so that defensive medicine does. "While the U.S. malpractice system is extraordinary," the study notes, "it is only a small contributor to the higher cost of health care in the United States." Meanwhile, other studies have found that doctors' salaries contribute more to soaring medical costs than the $40 billion or so that the uninsured cost in uncompensated care--the president's bete noir.

Thursday, August 27

Republican "principles"

... now the party is advocating a genuinely bad idea.

Not much DIY in China

Nobody in any office under the age of 25 has ever had a job before the job they’ve got now. Chances are, Chinese people under 35 have only ever worked in one industry in one city since college. They have never had part time or after school jobs or had to put themselves through college. They never rebuilt their first car (or any car) when they were 15. The can’t change a tire, the oil, wiper blades or a taillight. At home, they don’t know how to change the lights, build Ikea-type furniture or wire a stereo/TV or fix anything when it breaks. Why?

The One Child Policy and Low Cost Labor.

First, if you have one child and 4-6 adults in every house, the kid isn’t going to do anything but go to school, eat, play and complain. School is more important than anything else because he (usually a he) has a lot of people to take care of and school is the ticket for all 7 people to retire happily.

Second, it only costs 10RMB to have someone from the apartment management office come up and fix anything/everything for them. So why do anything yourself? (For a $1.25 I don’t do anything here either.)

Third, there is face in NOT doing manual labor type jobs and paying other people to do it for you.

Finally, because there is so much cheap labor everyone is incredibly specialized (limited) in their variety of job skills. Basically, everyone does their own (one) job very very well but no one has a clue about anyone else’s job here because they’ve never had another job and chances are their parents were farmers (meaning they didn’t learn business from their parents/environment growing up).

Thursday, August 20

Old news but still true

With recent complaints of putative sugar shortages and a so-called milk cartel, this piece about Dairy Programs & Sugar Programs should be required reading.

What kind of rationing do we want?

...universal, unlimited insurance completely fixes things! Everyone will get all the medical care they want. No one will ever be denied or disappointed again!

But that's nuts. It's the same as claiming that rent control guarantees everyone affordable shelter or that the minimum wage guarantees everyone a decently paying job. To which from long, long history we discover that that might be correct, if you can find a vacant apartment or an available job. (Which is followed by liberals shrugging: hey, it's not our fault if you can't find an apartment or a job. It's the fault of greedy landlords and stupid employers. Besides, we meant well, so we're proud of ourselves, and that's all that really matters.)

Wednesday, August 19

Krugman-itis

One of the unfortunate symptoms of Krugman-itis is that it may blind you to the dishonesty of your political allies. As long as folks on the other side (especially Rush Limbaugh) are saying things that are completely off the wall, you have license to ignore the disingenuity on your own side of the aisle. In fact, you may even believe that the policies you favor are right simply because such awful people oppose them.

Saturday, August 15

Change?

a new study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Obama's faith-based initiative has so far generated little of the contentious press coverage associated with Bush's effort. And the program is not as closely associated with the current president as it was with the man he succeeded.

The new study examines newspaper coverage of the faith-based initiative during the first six months of the Obama and Bush administrations and finds that the topic received nearly seven
When Bush did it, it was bad; when Obama does it; it's good.

Profit Margin: Health Insurance Industry Ranks #86

Despite what Obama et al. suggest.

Tuesday, August 11

Obama doesn't really care about costs

Obama's program would do little to reduce costs and would increase spending by expanding subsidized insurance. The House legislation would cut the number of uninsured by 37 million by 2018, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. The uninsured get care now; with insurance they'd get more.

"You'd be adding a third medical entitlement on top of Medicare and Medicaid," says James Capretta, a top official at the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004.

Just imagine what the health-care debate would be like if it truly focused on controlling spending.

For starters, we wouldn't be arguing about how to "pay for" the $1 trillion or so of costs over a decade of Obama's "reform." Congress wouldn't create new benefits until it had disciplined the old. We'd be debating how to trim the $10 trillion, as estimated by the CBO, that Medicare and Medicaid will spend over the next decade, without impairing Americans' health. We'd use Medicare as a vehicle of change. Accounting for more than one-fifth of all health spending, its costs per beneficiary, now about $12,000, rose at an average annual rate of 8.5 percent a year from 1970 to 2007. (True, that's lower than the private insurers' rate of 9.7 percent. But the gap may partly reflect cost-shifting to private payers. When Medicare restrains reimbursement rates, hospitals and doctors raise charges to private insurers.)

Medicare is so big that shifts in its practices spread to the rest of the delivery system. But changing Medicare, and through it one-sixth of the U.S. economy, requires more than a few demonstration projects of "comparative outcomes" research or economic incentives. What's needed is a fundamental restructuring. Fee-for-service medicine -- Medicare's dominant form of payment -- is outmoded. The more doctors and hospitals do, the more they get paid. This promotes fragmentation and the overuse of services.

We should move toward coordinated care networks that take responsibility for their members' medical needs in return for fixed annual payments (called "capitation"). One approach is through vouchers; Medicare recipients would receive a fixed amount and shop for networks with the lowest cost and highest quality. Alternatively, government could shift its reimbursement of hospitals and doctors to "capitation" payments. Limited dollars would, in theory, force improvements in efficiency and effective care.

Of course, the Republicans' record isn't any better.

Sunday, August 9

Community organizing no longer good

Mark Steyn wrote:
DISSENT IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTI- . . . No, wait, that bumper sticker expired January 20. Under the stimulus bill, there’s a new $1.3 trillion bills-for-bumpers program whereby, if you peel off old slogans now recognized as environmentally harmful (“QUESTION AUTHORITY”), you can trade them in for a new “CELEBRATE CONFORMITY” sticker, complete with a holographic image of President Obama that never takes his eyes off you.

“The right-wing extremist Republican base is back!” warns the Democratic National Committee. These right-wing extremists have been given their marching orders by their masters: They’ve been directed to show up at “thousands of events,” told to “organize,” “knock on doors” . . .

No, wait. My mistake. That’s the e-mail I got from Mitch Stewart, Director of “Organizing for America” at BarackObama.com. But that’s the good kind of “organizing.” Obama’s a community organizer. We’re the community. He organizes us. What part of that don’t you get?

When the community starts organizing against the organizer, the whole rigmarole goes to hell.
and Glenn Reynolds wrote:

"Protest is patriotic!" "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!"

These battle-cries were heard often, in a simpler America of long ago -- that is, before last November. Back then, protests -- even if they were organized by the usual leftist apparatchik-groups like ANSWER or ACORN -- were seen - at least in the media - as proof of popular discontent.
When handfuls of Code Pink ladies disrupted congressional hearings or speeches by Bush
administration officials, it was taken as evidence that the administration's policies were unpopular, and that the thinking parts of the populace were rising up in true democratic fashion.

Even disruptive tactics aimed at blocking President Bush's Social Security reform program were merely seen as evidence of boisterous high spirits and robust, wide-open debate. On May 23, 2005, the Savannah Morning News reported:

“By now, Jack Kingston is used to shouted questions, interruptions and boos. Republican congressmen expect such responses these days when they meet with constituents about President Bush's proposal to overhaul Social Security.
“Tinkering with the system is always controversial. To make Bush's plan even more so -- political foes are sending people to Social Security forums armed with hostile questions.

By now, Kingston, a Savannah lawmaker and part of the GOP House leadership, has held 10 such sessions and plans at least seven more.”

On March 16, USA Today reported that Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum "was among dozens of members of Congress who ran gantlets of demonstrators and shouted over hecklers at Social Security events last month. Many who showed up to protest were alerted by e-mails and bused in by anti-Bush organizations such as MoveOn.org and USAction, a liberal advocacy group. They came with prepared questions and instructions on how to confront lawmakers."

This was just good, boisterous politics: "Robust, wide-open debate." But when it happens to Democrats, it's something different: A threat to democracy, a sign of incipient fascism, and an opportunity to set up a (possibly illegal) White House "snitch line" where people are encouraged to report "fishy" statements to the authorities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the "Tea Party" protesters Nazis, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman --forgetting the events above -- claims that left-leaning groups never engaged in disruptive tactics against Social Security reform, and various other administration-supporting pundits are trying to spin the whole thing as a deadly move toward "mob rule" and – somewhat contradictorily -- as a phony "astroturf" movement.

Remember: When lefties do it, it's called "community organizing." When conservatives and libertarians do it, it's "astroturf."
But some people are noticing the truth. As Mickey Kaus notes, "If an 'astroturfing' campaign gets real people to show up at events stating their real views, isn't it ... community organizing?" Why yes, yes it is.

Preventive care won't save money

In yet more disappointing news for Democrats pushing for health care reform, Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, offered a skeptical view Friday of the cost savings that could result from preventive care -- an area that President Obama and congressional Democrats repeatedly had emphasized as a way health care reform would be less expensive in the long term.

"Although different types of preventive care have different effects on spending, the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall," Elmendorf wrote. "That result may seem counterintuitive.

"For example, many observers point to cases in which a simple medical test, if given early enough, can reveal a condition that is treatable at a fraction of the cost of treating that same illness after it has progressed. In such cases, an ounce of prevention improves health and reduces spending — for that individual," Elmendorf wrote. "But when analyzing the effects of preventive care on total spending for health care, it is important to recognize that doctors do not know beforehand which patients are going to develop costly illnesses. To avert one case of acute illness, it is usually necessary to provide preventive care to many patients, most of whom would not have suffered that illness anyway. ... Researchers who have examined the effects of preventive care generally find that the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness."...

Elmendorf cited an article published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine which he said provides a good summary of the available evidence on how preventive care affects costs..

The article by Joshua T. Cohen, Peter J. Neumann and Milton C. Weinstein, “Does Preventive Care Save Money? Health Economics and the Presidential Candidates,” was recently updated and can be read HERE.


Saturday, August 8

France Fights Universal Care's High Cost

France claims it long ago achieved much of what today's U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis...

France spends 11% of national output on health services, compared with 17% in the U.S., and routinely outranks the U.S. in infant mortality and some other health measures.

The problem is that Assurance Maladie has been in the red since 1989. This year the annual shortfall is expected to reach €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion), and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.

Friday, August 7

Obama Doesn't Like Community Organizing

With public anger toward ObamaCare rising, the president and his allies have decided to pour kerosene on the embers and flames (and fearful Democrats have taken to canceling town-hall meetings). It is an old and sad story we are seeing play out: rather than facing the rancor at town-hall meetings as a sign of growing frustration and unrest, the president and his team are outright denying it. They are reacting defensively, bitterly, and aggressively. And Barack Obama — the man of unsurpassed equanimity and a calm temperament, who praises Lincoln because he always understood the views of those with whom he disagreed, the man who would usher in a “new era” of politics and civility, of enlightened public discourse and comity among previously warring factions — is allowing his representatives to mock and demonize his critics.

Thursday, August 6

Too much


The underreported news is the new spending [on government-run health care] that will continue to increase well beyond the 10-year period that CBO examines, and that this blowout will overwhelm even the House Democrats’ huge tax increases, Medicare spending cuts and other “pay fors.”
...
That’s what White House budget director Peter Orszag told the House Budget Committee in June.

Wednesday, August 5

Cash-for-clunkers didn't help me, either

What about the estimated 12 percent of Americans aged 15 years and above who don't drive, period? What about all the adults who live in the 8 percent of households that don't have a vehicle? What about half the residents of Manhattan, who took transit planners' decades-old dream to heart and "got out of their cars"? What about those who are too poor to drive? The answer: All of these people are subsidizing whoever turns in an SUV or crappy old $800 K-Car like the one I used to drive. Not only that, but what do you think happens to the $800 car market when the guvmint is handing out $4,500 checks to have the things destroyed? I'll go ahead and state the obvious: It shrinks, making it more expensive for the truly poor people, the ones who want to make that daring leap from the bus system to an awful old bucket of rust.

So no, not "everyone" was helped by cash-for-clunkers. Ah, but what about how it's better for the environment, and therefore "everyone"? Tell it to those smokestack apologists at, uh, The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Guardian.

... Cash-for-clunkers is indeed very "popular." So is the home mortgage interest deduction, the prescription drug benefit, and any number of federal programs that siphon from the diffuse pool of tax revenue+debt and blast out concentrated benefits to the broad middle class. The standard for judging these things shouldn't be popularity–Richard Nixon's wage-and-price control spasm of 1971, to name one of many historical measures now widely and rightly considered asinine, was hugely popular at the time–but whether they make sense in both the short and long term.

Big surprise?

On Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its advance estimate of real G.D.P. for the second quarter of 2009. Although some say it provides some of the first evidence of the stimulus law’s efficacy, a close inspection of the results shows that the government sector’s contribution to real G.D.P. growth so far has been trivial at best.

Tuesday, August 4

Sustainability

Sustainability is a compelling concept these days, although it always seems to be applied to people’s private choices. Meanwhile, everybody knows the federal government has committed to an unsustainable flow of future expenditures. The promises the federal government already has made for Social Security and health care cannot possibly be met. If our legislators took the concept of sustainability seriously, Congress would be looking for ways to cut back on government programs, not add more.

Sustainability

Sustainability is a compelling concept these days, although it always seems to be applied to people’s private choices. Meanwhile, everybody knows the federal government has committed to an unsustainable flow of future expenditures. The promises the federal government already has made for Social Security and health care cannot possibly be met. If our legislators took the concept of sustainability seriously, Congress would be looking for ways to cut back on government programs, not add more.

Monday, August 3

For California, Read Illinois

California has reached a tipping point. Its government made more promises than its economy can easily support. For years, state leaders papered over the contradiction with loans and modest changes. By overwhelming these expedients, the recession triggered an inevitable reckoning.

Here's the national lesson. There's a collision between high and rising demands for government services and the capacity of the economy to produce the income and tax revenue to pay for those demands. That's true of California, where poor immigrants and their children have increased pressures for more government services. It's also true of the nation, where an aging population raises Social Security and Medicare spending. California is leading the transformation of politics into a form of collective torture: pay more (higher taxes), get less (lower services).

Make no mistake: The spending cuts and tax increases the state enacted to bridge its budget deficits are not cosmetic. In February, the Legislature agreed to a penny increase in the state sales tax, bringing the total -- including local sales taxes -- to about nine cents or more. Top income tax rates, already among the highest in the country, were raised. So were motor vehicle registration fees. Spending cuts approved in February and July are deep. Together, the cuts equal almost 30 percent of the general revenue fund and will affect schools, prisons, colleges and welfare.

...

National parallels again seem apparent. Federal budget deficits -- reflecting the urge to spend and not tax -- predate the recession and, as baby boomers retire, will survive any recovery. Amazingly, the Obama administration would worsen the long-term outlook by expanding federal health insurance coverage. There's much mushy thinking about how we'll muddle through.

...

On paper, the state could solve its budget problems by raising taxes further. But in practice, that might backfire by weakening the economy and tax base. California scores poorly in state ratings of business climate. In a CNBC survey, it ranked 32nd overall but last in "cost of business" and 49th in "business friendliness."

In 2009, Illinois ranked 38th in "cost of doing business" and 47th in "business friendliness".

...

So California is stretched between a precarious economy and a strong popular desire for government. The state's wrenching experience suggests that, as a nation, we should begin to pare back government's future commitments to avoid a similar fate. But California's experience also suggests we'll remain in denial, prisoners of wishful thinking, until the fateful reckoning arrives in the unimagined future.

Thursday, July 30

Illinois deficit

Illinois is another problem child. The state's general fund appropriation is some two-thirds higher today than it would be if the state had just kept those outlays in line with inflation over the last two decades. That increase, as in California, is the difference between a gaping deficit and a comfortable surplus.

Nazi "humanity"

In reaction to the experience of watching 100 human beings murdered [by Einsatzgruppen--paramilitary units established for the purpose of murdering Jews], Himmler ordered that a more "humane" method of execution be found. (Reitlinger SS 183) Otto Ohlendorf explained in his testimony at Nuremberg "That was a special order from Himmler to the effect that women and children were not to be exposed to the mental strain of the executions; and thus the men of the kommandos, mostly married men, should not be compelled to aim at women and children."

This order was first implemented with gas vans designed by Dr. Becker. Later the terrible extermination camps, where millions of people were gassed and starved, were established.

Saturday, July 25

It's OK when Democrats do it

It’s fascinating for me to watch all these children of the sixties in the Democratic Party, most of whom screamed (rightly) at George Bush continuing to implement new plans where we give up individual liberties for security. But here come those exact same people, with the exact same message - because this is what health care reform is about, at its core - giving up individual liberties in exchange for a (perceived) increase in security.

Prevention doesn't reduce costs

Preventative medicine is great as a spur to individual well-being, but does little to reduce total system costs.... [I]t is actually cheaper not to find a cancer until its almost too late. An expensive operation may be called for, but a quick death is actually cheap for the system. Finding a cancer early means expensive treatments now, and probably expensive treatements later in a longer life.

Freedom of Choice

Independence really worth celebrating would be the ability of each of us, individually, to make the following sorts of choices, and to make these choices independently of any order or restrictions imposed by government:

  • To choose to work at whatever wages we can negotiate, even if these are below some stipulated "minimum wage"
  • To choose to install in our homes and places of business toilet-tanks of whatever size we're willing to pay for
  • To choose to install showerheads that permit as much or as little water flow as we're willing to pay for
  • To choose not to have as much as one cent of our money funneled to corporations, such as General Motors, that we do not support as consumers
  • To choose to buy foreign-made goods or services without ever having to pay a special tax
  • To choose to ingest whatever substances we, as adults, deem worthwhile
  • To choose how much, if any, money to save for our retirement years
  • To choose how much, if any, funds to give to help the poor -- and to choose which charities will and will not get our money
  • To choose not to support government schools
  • To choose to buy only those works of art that we like, rather than have the National Endowment for the Arts make many such choices for us
  • To choose the level of safety that we want in our automobiles, and not be compelled to buy that level of safety deemed appropriate by Washington.

Such choices, along with countless others, are regrettably today denied to each individual American.

Wednesday, July 22

Crap documentary

Here's a short review of Beijing: Changed by the Olympics, which was broadcast on the local PBS station last night. It was just a presentation of the official point of view, with little mention of any controversy. I'd steer clear of any D3 Media Group productions, unless you're interested in PRC propaganda.

Monday, July 20

Let's tax everything!

Earlier, Greg Mankiw wrote
[E]conomists have increasingly viewed "sin taxes" as a good way to raise revenue... [S]in taxes aim to protect people from themselves. To the extent that people have problems with self-control, sin taxes can be welfare-enhancing. Economists Jonathan Gruber and Sendhil Mullainathan report evidence that smokers are happier when cigarette taxes are higher. Of course, non-smokers won't object to shifting the tax burden to others. Maybe we should consider higher taxes on smoking, drinking, gambling and other activities about which people lack self-control.
Many people also lack self-control in the consumption of other recreational drugs, so as many have suggested, maybe they should be legalized...and taxed. And if religion is the opiate of the people (and certainly many people seem to lack the self control to belief responsibly), that should be taxed, too. And the same goes for people who can't stop from accessing the internet, or playing electronic games, or having sex. Let's tax everything!

Sunday, July 19

Obama's “transparency” is pretty opaque

President Obama has often talked of the importance of transparency and accountability in government and he has chalked up some landmark achievements in this area... Unfortunately, transparency and accountability go out the window when they conflict with the demands of organized labor and environmentalists, two special-interest groups that are key supporters and contributors to Obama's political campaigns.

At the U.S. Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, Obama's Secretary of Labor, is moving rapidly to rescind Bush administration reforms that greatly strengthened reporting requirements that enable union members to see, via annual LM-2 reports, how their leaders are spending membership dues. In a recent Federal Register notice, Solis agreed with the preposterous assertion of Big Labor leaders that there was no proof members would benefit by knowing this financial information, and that compiling the report was too costly and time-consuming.

Former Bush labor officials have also expressed concern over the Obama-Solis approach toward another union disclosure form, the LM-30, which requires shop stewards to report information needed to expose "no-show jobs" that funnel paychecks into union coffers instead of into an actual employee's bank account. Solis is reassuring the Big Labor bosses that she won't enforce the LM-30 reporting requirements.

Then there is the case of Alan Carlin, the EPA economist whose critical statistical analysis of a proposal for that agency to assume a leading role in regulating greenhouse gases was blatantly suppressed. Obama's EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and other senior EPA officials made it clear to Carlin that his study was not supportive of the Obama administration's policy agenda and so would be buried in the bowels of the bureaucracy. He was also instructed not to talk to the news media. Carlin is a 38-year EPA veteran and a respected economist. His study pointed out the many flaws in the data used to support the UN's case for human causes of global warming, notably with regard to the use of carbon-based fuels like oil and natural gas. Carlin was muzzled by representatives of the same president who repeatedly bashed Bush for allegedly "politicizing science."

Obama: the keeper of the Bush flame

The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year.

Saturday, July 18

Apple = Communist thugs?

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner told the Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans that Microsoft's latest ads are so effective that Apple, Inc. wanted them pulled. The ads show a PC hunter selecting a PC over a too-expensive Mac.
Compare:
The Xinjiang riots has not only affected the political climate, now it looks like it´s also leaking over to the artistic area as well. Last week China made an attempt to stop a film from being screened at Australia´s biggest film festival, Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Reason: The movie, "The 10 conditions of love", is a highly sympathetic portrayal of the life of Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer and her attempts to bring increased autonomy to the ten million Uyghurs living in China. Rebiya Kadeer is currently in exile, and most recently, China has accused her of inciting the ethnic riots in the Xinjiang province last week (a charge she denies).

Friday, July 17

Community colleges? Really?

Neal McCluskey discussed Obama's proposals for community colleges earlier, saying
we’re not wanting economically for college graduates. As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 percent of all jobs in 2006 required a bachelor’s degree or higher. As of March 2007, nearly 29 percent of Americans ages 25 and older had at least that level of education.
He adds,they
make little sense in light of Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing that positions requiring on-the-job training will grow in much greater numbers than jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree. What I didn’t mention was the dismal performance of community college students, who take remedial courses in droves and complete their programs at very low rates.

Health-care proposals could worsen escalating medical spending

Congress's chief budget scorekeeper cast a new cloud over Democratic efforts to overhaul the nation's health-care system, telling lawmakers Thursday that the main proposals being considered would fail to contain costs -- one of the primary goals -- and could actually worsen the problem of rapidly escalating medical spending.
...

[I]t was clear that Mr. Elmendorf's remarks struck a nerve with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who jointly appointed the economist to his post after the previous CBO director, Peter Orszag, was made White House budget director.

Ms. Pelosi, a California Democrat, complained that the CBO, in calculating the impact of health legislation, doesn't give "any credit" to certain proposals designed to reduce spending, such as preventive-care measures that backers of the bill say will reduce costs throughout the system.

In his appearance, Mr. Elmendorf suggested lawmakers could take steps to control costs. Among other things, he said Congress could reduce the tax subsidy that critics say encourages employers to offer large health-insurance policies. That idea was being considered by members of the Senate Finance Committee, but dropped after Senate Democratic leaders -- including Mr. Reid -- voiced concern. The proposal has been sharply opposed by labor unions, among other groups, that have big tax-advantaged plans.
By the way, according to The New England Journal of Medicine:
Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not.

We all like money!

Bruno wasn’t as lucrative as Sacha Baron Cohen and his cohorts would have liked. So they’ve now chopped out enough of its rudest material for it to be granted a 15 certificate...

[I]interesting to learn that Baron Cohen and co, who get their laughs from pulverising taboos, shouldn’t want to pulverise quite so many when there’s money at stake.
...

How we hurt poor third world farmers

You have groups in the U.S. who have a very big interest in seeing the farm subsidy system continue the way it is, and it's their first interest. You don't have a political constituency organized around fighting hunger for hunger's sake. It's hard to find someone in the House or Senate who thinks of the hungry overseas as a constituency.

Tuesday, July 14

Good luck to Obama & McCain

Christopher Preble at CATO notes there is substantial resistance from politicians to cutting funding for the F-22, even though

The Washington Post reports that the F-22 requires

more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces.

So it's good news that President Obama Joins With McCain to Eliminate Raptor Fighter Jets. Good luck!

No wonder they're spending like drunken sailors

In a city where work can border on obsession, the Obama staffers stand out. They are not quite the walking dead, but their eyes are frequently ringed with the bags that accompany exhaustion.

"This is a place, because of the stress, the schedule and the sheer hours, that just chews people up and spits them out," said press secretary Robert Gibbs, whose alarm clock is set to 4:30 a.m., though he ignores the early ring more often these days.

All West Wings face fatigue at some point, but the Obama team has had a particularly frenetic start, the result of inheriting the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression and the team's own seemingly chaotic drive to push an agenda that includes the creation of a new health insurance system, auto bailouts, Middle East peace, nuclear nonproliferation, two wars and education reform.

Political Washington has long fostered a workaholic culture, the expectation that the rewards of service on the big stage of national government come with 18-hour, on-call days. But even the most hardy of Obama's staff members are beginning to recognize the toll that the pace is taking.

"I felt like a heavyweight boxer lying on the mat," Gibbs said last week, describing his mood before leaving with the president for an eight-day trip across 10 time zones.

Air Force One landed early yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base, carrying a presidential team that caught just a few hours of sleep each night in Russia, Italy and Ghana. All plan to return to work before sunrise today.

The grueling schedule has forced most of the presidential aides to abandon physical exercise, and the few who persist -- often because of incessant goading from their fitness-fixated commander in chief -- have planned their workouts at times that stretch their schedules even further.

...

Obama is now testing the limits of his staffers' endurance. So far, there is a palpable sense of pride in the West Wing that treaties are negotiated, complex legislation is crafted and banks are bailed out -- all on very little sleep.

...

Martin Moore-Ede, a former Harvard University professor, calls it the "iron man" syndrome and says the American political workplace is one of the few that still resists a mechanism for ensuring people get rest.

One study conducted for the British Parliament found that "mental fatigue affects cognitive performance, leading to errors of judgement, microsleeps (lasting for seconds or minutes), mood swings and poor motivation." The effect, it found, is equal to a blood alcohol level of .10 percent -- above the legal limit to drive in the United States.

Obama administration officials, and their predecessors, shrug off such warnings, citing the adrenaline rush. They insist that their bodies have grown strangely accustomed to the rhythms of the job. But they acknowledge that the routine in the White House is more grueling than most had anticipated.

We're spending more on health care because we want to

Veterinary spending is subject to few of the perversities that either left or right suppose to be the main problems afflicting health care spending. Consumers pay full frieght most of the time. They are price sensitive, and will let the patient die if keeping him alive costs too much. There is no adverse selection. There is no free riding on mandatory care. Government regulation is minimal. Malpractice suits are minimal, and have low payouts. So why is vet spending rising along with human spending?

Two reasons, presumably: technological change and rising income. As we get wealthier, we spend more of our income on former luxuries, like keeping our pets healthy--nineteenth century veterinary care for sick cats consisted of a sack and some stones to weight it down with.

Monday, July 13

Maybe he should read the constitution

President Obama has declared that [the Honduran] "coup" was illegal. But if he had read the Honduran constitution--or even been provided with a brief analysis of the document's details--it seems unlikely he could maintain such a firm conclusion.

Stimulus not working yet? It's not Obama's fault.

[Every anti-recession program in the postwar era] invariably impacted on the economy too late to really help. There were many reasons for this. First, economists were slow to see a recession coming and often didn't see one at all until we were already well into it.

Then it took time to convince policymakers to do something and get legislation enacted. By the time a countercyclical program was signed into law, the recession was always over. Consequently, the stimulus stimulated when the economy was already on the upswing. The result was that these programs stimulated inflation more than they stimulated jobs and growth.

Sunday, July 12

GM--How will taxpayers ever break even?

The Obama administration's pre-packaged bankruptcy plan for General Motors is a recipe for disaster. Even if President Obama were sincere in his claim that he doesn't want to run a car company, it will be impossible for him to eschew policies that distinctly benefit GM. With taxpayers on the hook for $50 billion (just for starters), the administration will do whatever it takes to demonstrate the wisdom of its intervention.

That will require, at a minimum, a positive return on the coerced investment. But to merely break even on taxpayers' 60% stake, GM will have to be worth $83 billion (60% of $83 billion is $50 billion). How and when will that ever happen? At its peak in 2000, GM's value (based on its market capitalization) stood at $60 billion. Thus, the minimum benchmark for "success" will require a 38% increase in GM's value from where it was in the heady days of 2000, when Americans were purchasing 16 million vehicles per year. U.S. demand projections for the next few years come in at around 10 million vehicles. Taxpayer ownership of GM is something we should all get used to, and the "investment" is only going to grow larger. Think Amtrak.

Saturday, July 11

Drinking water can kill

But instead we hear about the dangers from bisphenol A, even though
You would have to drink 1000 liters of bottled water a day to approach Canada’s provisional tolerable daily intake for the chemical bisphenol A, according to the latest research by Health Canada. (Not only is this practically impossible, rapid consumption of even six or seven liters of water in the space of a few hours could kill you, a rather dramatic illustration of the principle that anything can be poisonous if consumed in large enough quantities).

Friday, July 10

Counterproductive regulation

Treating all consumers as hapless victims rather than recognizing that many consumers rationally respond to incentives is a recipe for unintended consequences. It can lead to counterproductive regulation that makes loans more expensive and harder to get.

The Case for Doing Nothing

The first thing to note about the financial crisis is that the federal government never had any business intervening in the personal decision of whether you want to own a home. There is no rational economic argument, or any argument I know of, that says the market of buying and selling homes is imperfect in some way, requiring government action.
and
Bailouts took money from the taxpayers and gave it to banks that willingly, knowingly, and repeatedly took huge amounts of risk, hoping they’d get bailed out by everyone else. It clearly was an unfair transfer of funds.
and
The problem isn’t only that the bailout wasn’t necessary in the first place. The bailout may have made the credit situation worse. When banks hear that the Treasury Department is dangling hundreds of billions of dollars out there to purchase their toxic assets, what are they going to do? Sell their assets for 20 cents on the dollar, or hold onto them in the hope that the government will eventually buy them for 80 cents on the dollar?
and
President Obama’s mortgage plan uses $275 billion in tax funds to help homeowners refinance and lower rates, to subsidize payments from borrowers to lenders, to get lenders to modify loans, and so on. It gives another $200 billion to the government-created home mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is exactly the wrong approach.

The aim is to reduce foreclosures, so the delinquent or nearly delinquent borrowers can stay in their homes. That sounds like a laudable goal, but it ignores a fundamental reality: This money is coming from somebody else. So what the plan is doing is penalizing relatively responsible homeowners or renters—everybody who pays taxes—and rewarding those people who should have known, or at least should have had some inkling, that the loans they were being offered were too good to be true. This program creates exactly the wrong incentives for people deciding whether to borrow and whether to be homeowners.

More generally, it continues the policy of promoting homeownership. We got in this situation because the government wanted to promote homeownership. Until we create a situation where people make decisions based on their own resources and have to think about bearing the consequences of the decisions they make, the root cause of the financial crisis will only get worse.

...

Add in Obama’s $787 billion stimulus and his $3.6 trillion budget, and a picture emerges of an administration totally unapologetic about its designs to expand the size and scope of government. There is no question that the people advocating this spending want much more government intervention with respect to unions, energy, health care, infrastructure, and other areas. The crisis has given them the opportunity to ram through a bunch of things they’ve been pursuing for a long time.
Finally,
The stunning thing about Obama’s spending proposals is that there’s almost nothing you could defend from the perspective of efficiency. It’s all about redistribution--not redistribution to the poor but redistribution to Democratic interest groups: to unions, to the green lobby, to the health care industry, and so on. At some point these everescalating government interventions will affect the size of the economic pie.
And yet so many are still in love with him.

Boycott GM

Boycott GM until the government relinquishes its grip on the company’s decision making process.

Thursday, July 9

If you believe the U.S. House of Representatives

That is, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
The housing bubble that burst in 2007 and led to a financial crisis can be traced back to federal government intervention in the U.S. housing market intended to help provide homeownership opportunities for more Americans. This intervention began with two government-backed corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which privatized their profits but socialized their risks, creating powerful incentives for them to act recklessly and exposing taxpayers to tremendous losses. Government intervention also created “affordable” but dangerous lending policies which encouraged lower down payments, looser underwriting standards and higher leverage.

Finally, government intervention created a nexus of vested interests – politicians, lenders and lobbyists – who profited from the “affordable” housing market and acted to kill reforms. In the short run, this government intervention was successful in its stated goal – raising the national homeownership rate. However, the ultimate effect was to create a mortgage tsunami that wrought devastation on the American people and economy. While government intervention was not the sole cause of the financial crisis, its role was significant and has received too little attention.
via CARPE DIEM

Monday, July 6

I wondered why that house was empty for so long

Kerry L. Smith, 37, of Carbondale has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison on federal marijuana conspiracy and other charges.

Smith was sentenced in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis to 92 months in prison and four years supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $41,802 in restitution to the Social Security Administration and the Illinois Department of Human Services, according to a news release from A. Courtney Cox, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, Smith was ordered to forfeit seven Carbondale residences, two vehicles, $10,576 cash and other property. To wit:
  • 111 South Dixon Avenue
  • 309 South Crestview
  • 313 Crestview Lane
  • 501 East Snider Street
  • 1005 E Cindy Street
  • 1808 West Freeman St
  • 403 North University Avenue

Friday, June 26

Please verify your password?

I posted this question to Yahoo answers, and after no one was able to help me, they deleted it.

Please verify your password?
When I try to access my account, I get prompted to "Please verify your password" every time I enter my password using Firefox, IExplorer, and Chrome...again & again & again. I've tried changing the password, deleting cookies, restarting my computer. I may never use my yahoo mail account again.

Saturday, June 20

Rarely does anyone weigh facts before deciding what to believe

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.