Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm traveling

Will be away on business until Sunday, not checking or sending e-mail and not posting. Enjoy the quiet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'The war that has to be won': but will our soldiers be given the chance to win it?

Bing West served in Vietnam as a Marine. His son is a Marine vet of Iraq. He has a lot of great stuff in books and columns about the War on Terror, as it used to be called in the old days. His book The Village, is a classic about the CAP program in Vietnam.;col1

Saving the Environment

The cases where we tried to "save the environment" only to find we did the wrong thing are legion. This is from the National Center on Policy Analysis.


California regulators are ready to conclude that corn ethanol cannot help the state fight global warming. It seems they've discovered putting food in our cars would destroy the earth in order to save it, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

With 20-20 hindsight, the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by dropping ethanol for now as a cure-all for climate change, is doing the right thing for the wrong reason, says IBD:

The California EPA's main reason for dropping ethanol is in part because of the environmental damage it says growing corn produces.

Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon of gasoline, so miles per gallon in internal combustion engines drop significantly.

It generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it, and it takes about 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Each acre of corn requires about 130 pounds of nitrogen and 55 pounds of phosphorous.
Increased acreage means increased agricultural runoff, which is creating aquatic "dead zones" in rivers, bays and coastal areas.

Furthermore, converting land that is now a "carbon sink" to farmland producing ethanol also defeats the purpose of the regulations, because land now absorbing carbon dioxide would be cleared to produce corn, says IBD.

Source: Editorial, "Will California Shuck Corn Ethanol?"'s Business Daily, April 23, 2009.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

GOP Right Strengthen Democrats

Specter to Switch Parties; Democrats Get Filibuster-Proof Majority

The PA Conservatives were targeting him, so to survive, Specter will switch parties. This means that the Democrats can now pass anything they like, with no check, for the next two years.

This has happened before. Every time the very conservative wing of the party helps defeat or drive out a RINO, they don't strengthen the GOP, they strengthen the Democrats.

It happened when the GOP right ganged up on liberal Senator Ed Brooke in Massachusetts. The result was Paul Tsongas, followed by John Kerry. This was an improvement over Brooke?

The Republicans lost control of the senate when the conservatives drove out Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

We will eventually make the party so pure that we win no elections. For those Republicans saying "good riddance," it's going to be an interesting two years.

Health Care Costs

Unfortunately, health care, like the environment, global warming, guns, abortion and the First dog have become not issues to be discussed, but for both parties, articles of faith to rally the base, generate contributions and club the opposition to gain power.

This is another interesting piece from

Recently, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his conviction that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. This is an important goal. But as lawmakers move forward, they must be aware of the facts. And they must be clear on the precise causes of America's health care woes, says Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Take the president's claim that the number of uninsured "now totals 45.7 million Americans." Although the Census Bureau puts the number of uninsured U.S. residents at approximately 46 million, its report clearly states that 10 million of them are noncitizens, and almost 18 million make $50,000 a year or more, yet have chosen not to purchase health insurance.

What's most concerning is that these inflated statistics are distracting us from addressing the root causes of our nation's ballooning health care costs, says Pitts:

Of the $2.2 trillion America spends each year on health care, 75 percent of that money goes to fighting chronic diseases, many of which are preventable but require regular treatment; it's for this reason that treating chronic conditions carries such a hefty price tag.

And the problem is getting worse; between 1980 and 2006, the incidence of diabetes tripled, triggering a massive increase in health care spending; heart disease and related illnesses will cost Americans over $304 billion this year alone.

In 2005, nearly half of all Americans were suffering from at least one chronic disease.
Luckily, huge strides can be made toward this goal by empowering Americans through better health education. Informing citizens about good diet and exercise habits would go a long way toward curbing the incidence of obesity, a condition that often deteriorates into more costly chronic illnesses, says Pitts.

Source: Peter Pitts, "Opinion: The root cause of rising health care costs: chronic disease," Mercury News, April 20, 2009.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Revisiting Torture

With the CIA memos in the news, and our interrogation limits now broadcast to those who want to kill us, I thought I should dig this out. I wrote the column below a couple of years ago. A shorter version was published in the Wisconsin State Journal in February of 2007, producing much comment. Apparently, even posing the situations and asking what people would do is evil. ~Bob

When is violence justified?
Robert A. Hall

The question of when violence is justified has intrigued and stumped philosophers for millennia. With our country involved in a “war on terror,” it is unfortunately a practical question that confronts those whom we elect to represent us. And our own values will be challenged as we personally take action, even by voting, or make the choice not to take action.

Let us put aside the red state-blue state polemics which for political advantage picture the opposition as either brown-shirted neo-Nazis intent on establishing a Fourth Reich in Amerika, or as Al Qaeda sympathizers who will allow any number of Americans to be slaughtered, as long as they can score points against Bush. Let’s stipulate that decent and patriotic people can reasonably differ over these questions, depending on their values and worldview.

Let’s also stipulate that in any of the scenarios below, two unintended outcomes are within the realm of possibility. First, your action may be ineffective. You could shoot at the terrorist and miss. Second, you may be wrong. That presumed-terrorist coming at you with a blood-dripping knife, may be shouting, “God is Great” because he had an epiphany and is planning to hand you the knife and beg forgiveness.

With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at some possibilities, which 9/11 taught us are, alas, all too possible.

1. A terrorist who has just shot five people turns toward you with his gun. You also have a gun. Are you justified in killing him? Here we lose the pure pacifists, who believe violence is never justified, and may God grant their certitude is never put to this test. But most people believe that killing in self-defense is morally justified.

2. The terrorist is turning not toward you, but towards a five-year-old girl. Are you justified in killing him to save her, even though you might be wrong? Pacifists will still be of the opinion that you must let the child die, but most of us recognize that the right of self-defense extends to protecting the life of an innocent third party.

3. The terrorist has a knife rather than a gun, and is advancing on the child. You can save her by shooting him in the knee. Should you do so? Certainly anyone who said you were justified in killing him would find wounding him less objectionable than killing him. Even some of the less squeamish pacifists might be willing to make the trade off of hurting a guilty person to save an innocent person.

4. The terrorist is your prisoner. You know that he has planted a bomb in a school, which will go off in two hours, killing dozens of children, but you don’t know what school, and he refuses to talk. He may well talk, however, if you shoot him in the knee, to avoid the agony of being shot in the other knee. Should you shoot? It’s the same action as above, but now you can save a dozen children. Let’s be clear here, though—if you shoot now, you are guilty of torture in anyone’s book.

5. Suppose there is no bomb, but you know if your prisoner talks, he will lead you to other terrorists you know are plotting to murder innocent people. Do you save their lives by shooting him in the knee? How do you weigh their lives against your scruples about torture? For those who say torture doesn’t work, reportedly the information that foiled the Al Qaeda plot to blow up a dozen airliners from the Philippines was obtained from a terrorist under brutal torture by Philippine security forces. Do you wish they had not done so, at the cost of perhaps 3,000 more innocent lives?

6. Let’s say you have a terrorist prisoner, and some time. Instead of inflicting agony by shooting him in the knee, you can use what’s called “coercive interrogation,” actions short of permanent physical harm. Things like sleep deprivation, humiliation, isolation, standing for long periods, serving him food prohibited by his religion, perhaps even “water boarding,” where the sensation of drowning is created to make him talk. Some good people consider this torture, other good people do not. Would you order this, or will you accept responsibility for perhaps allowing many innocent people to die?

The administration said “yes” to this question. The opposition, free from the specter of living with the results, has said no. Remember our stipulations: you might be wrong and this prisoner actually has no useful knowledge, or your efforts to get it might fail.

Remember also that the 3,000 people who died on 9/11, including small children on those planes, all had loved ones who are devastated. And the thousands who lived because at least two plots to blow up multiple airliners were foiled also have people who cherish them.

Be very glad you are not a government official, an intelligence officer or a 22-year-old sergeant in Iraq, faced with these decisions in real life. They must make real decisions, with real consequences, in real time; it’s not a newspaper exercise where the choice doesn’t lead to agony and death for someone.

Suppose the innocent life to be saved is your son or daughter, your wife or husband, your mother or father. I have the prisoner here, who has the information that will save the life of the person you love the most. He won’t talk. What are your orders, sir?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Kind of Guy I Am

I’m a strong, black coffee kind of guy, not a latte guy. I am picky about freshness, though. If the pot is more than a week old, I’ll dump it and make a new pot. Usually.

I’m a single malt Scotch whisky and dark ale kind of guy, not a wine guy. But I do enjoy a fine, dry red from a freshly opened box.

I’m a flea market kind of guy, not a mall guy.

I’m a drive-in-the-country, road trip kind of guy.

I’m a Goodwill, yard sale kind of guy. I had several nice $12 suits before the current economic downturn drove the mall shoppers there.

I’m a locally-owned, four-calendar café kind of guy, not a chain restaurant guy.

I’m a folk music kind of guy, not a hard rock guy. I didn’t like loud music even when I was young.

I’m a mega e-mail kind of guy, not a Twitter guy. But if you want to send a tweet to a twit about your last toot, be my guest.

I’m a beauty-is-on-the-inside kind of guy. Probably because I’m hoping there is some beauty inside me, as there sure isn’t much on the outside.

I’m a jeans and flannel shirt kind of guy, not a tux guy. But I do own three tuxes, of different sizes, as I occasional need one for business, which I’ve invested about $60 in. (See the “Goodwill” entry.) I am a kilt kind of guy. The kilt was magic when I was single.

I’m a girl-next-door kind of guy, not a super-model, movie star guy. Cute trumps beautiful, freckles are sexier than make-up. I’m not a tattoo, piercings or implants guy at all. Ugg.

I’m a bargain hunter kind of guy. Bragging about how much you paid for something is bragging about how you got took, in my book.

I’m a football kind of guy, definitely not a basketball guy. I’m not much of a pro-sports guy.

I’m a Jeep kind of guy, not a luxury sedan guy.

I’m a keep-the-place-neat, make-the-bed-everyday kind of guy. Someday, I know, my Marine DI will knock on the door, and if my bed isn’t made, I’ll be doing bends and thrusts until the Bush twins have both been president twice.

I’m a fiscally-conservative kind of guy. As I write, I don’t owe a penny to anyone in the world, unless you count what the government says I owe to help pay for other folks’ mortgages that they couldn’t afford. When I was a state senator, I regularly voted against amendments increasing the state budget more often than any other senator. Which made me few friends and did a fat lot of good.

I’m a pay-the-bills kind of guy. I’ve bounced a check once in my life—when the bank credited my deposit to the wrong account.

I’m the kind of guy who pays close attention if I borrow money or a book or a tool, but not much attention if someone borrows from me. That’s their job. And if I lend money to a friend in trouble, I forget about it. Then if it comes back, I’m pleasantly surprised, but not annoyed if it doesn’t.

I’m a five card stud, Jacks or better draw poker kind of guy, not a Texas Hold ‘em guy. Just another deterioration of the culture.

I’m a “regular folks” kind of guy, not a celebrity kind of guy.

I’m a change-the-toilet-paper-roll, take-out-the-trash kind of guy.

I’m a faithful husband kind of guy. But that may because no one has asked. I’ll probably never know.

I’m the kind of guy who thinks there are too many lawyers in the world and not enough bartenders. Maybe a government-funded, cross-training program would save us all money, and help the economy and general happiness level of the country.

I’m a soup kind of guy, not a steak guy.

I’m a romantic, sentimental kind of guy. Most Marines are. And I’m definitely a Marine kind of guy, more a field Marine than a spit & polish barracks Marine guy.

I’m the kind of guy who would likely vote to acquit a cop who shot a heroin dealer dead, or a Navy captain who accidently dropped a pirate over the side, or a father who killed a guy who molested his little girl. I’m a two-chairs-no waiting kind of guy. I know that makes me a Neanderthal. I don’t care.

I’m not a litigious kind of guy. In 63 years, I’ve never sued anyone and never been sued. Knock wood that some marauding band of lawyers doesn’t see this and take it as an invitation. Knock hard.

I’m a dandelions and wildflowers kind of guy, not a highbred, hothouse rose or lily guy.

I’m not a big city kind of guy. I love small towns.

I’m a canoe kind of guy, not a powerboat guy. I’d like to be a sailing kind of guy, but haven’t been that good at it, due I guess to lack of time to develop decent skills.

I’m a book and newspaper kind of guy, not a TV or movie guy.

I’m a meat-eater kind of guy, not a grass-eater, though I prefer chicken and seafood. And haggis of course.

I’m a skeptical kind of guy, not an everyone-says-so-thus-it-must-be-right kind of guy. I hadn’t yet bought into all the scientists predicting global cooling back in the 1970s before the switched to predicting global warming.

I’m not a proselytizing kind of guy. The idea that the All Powerful Creator of the Universe needs me to convince other folks how to worship Her strikes me as ludicrous, if not blasphemous. I’m a traditional church kind of guy.

I’m a chess kind of guy (in which I lettered in college--really), not a video game guy. But I’m also a highly competitive kind of guy, so I don’t play games much anymore, as they are not relaxing when you are trying hard to crush the opposition.

I’m an optimist by temperament, pessimist by policy kind of guy.

I’m a get involved, do my part kind of guy. I’m a political kind of guy.

I’m a can’t-keep-my-mouth-shut-for-my-own-good kind of guy.

I’m a sonnet, rhymed-and-metered-poetry kind of guy, not a free verse guy. No current poets compare to Kipling, Frost, Burns, Dickenson, Amy Lowell, Liz Browning and Alan Seegar in my book.

I’m a Normal Rockwell and Charles Waterhouse kind of guy, not a Picasso and Dali guy.

I’m a balance-the-budget, pay-as-you-go kind of guy. Yeah, I know that doesn’t get anyone elected to public office if they really mean it.

I’m a hill country kind of guy, not a flatland guy.

I’m the kind of guy who thinks Edinburgh is the best vacation city in the world, and Las Vegas the worst. I’m not a casino kind of guy.

I’m the kind of guy who worries more about justice for the victim than ever-more justice in the form of endless legal proceedings for the criminal kind of guy.

I’m a pretty, natural countryside kind of guy, not a fancy resort, Disneyworld guy.

I’m a short hair kind of guy. (That DI thing again.). I’m definitely not an earring guy.

I’m a bulldog kind of guy, not a poodle, frou-frou dog guy. But I am a cat guy.

I’m a proud kind of guy. I admire the Amish for the strength of their beliefs, but I wouldn’t be a good one.

I’m an impatient kind of guy. I wouldn’t be a good sniper, either. I’d wait maybe ten minutes, then I’d get some Marines together and go kick the door in.

I’m a make-a-list, get-it-done, cross-it-off kind of guy.

I’m a learn-something-from-everyone kind of guy, not a haughty guy.

I’m a flamboyant, center of attention kind of guy, not a shy guy. (It’s that politician thing.)

I’m a tie-it-yourself bowtie kind of guy, not a clip-on guy.

I have a couple of pairs I bought at consignment shops for fun, but I’m not really a cowboy boots kind of guy. And I’m more of an old utility cover or ball cap kind of guy, that a cowboy hat guy.

I’m a B&B kind of guy, not a fancy hotel guy.

I’m a hard to offend kind of guy.

I’m a better-to-laugh-than-to-cry kind of guy. I’m an always-ready-with-a-joke kind of guy.

I’m a strong opinions kind of guy, but not a fanatic kind of guy.

I’m a teamwork kind of guy, not a loaner guy.

I’m the kind of guy who thinks if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t doing enough.

I’m the kind of guy who believes that you can’t be happy unless you are servicing something larger than yourself. I’ve been happy as a Marine serving my country, as a senator serving my commonwealth, as a non-profit executive serving the causes of the organizations I’ve managed and as a husband and grandfather serving my family. (Massachusetts is a commonwealth, not a state—there are three others, PA, VA & KY.) The me-first, self-centered folks are almost always unhappy.

I’m a history-is-important kind of guy.

I’m a Celtic kind of guy, slightly by ancestry, a lot of temperament and inclination.

I’m a hate-to-go-to-bed-at-night, hate-to-get-up-in-the-morning kind of guy.

I’m the kind of guy who’s a sucker for little girls and kittens. I used to be a sucker for big girls as well, but I got old and married.

I’m the kind of guy who can get teary over soldiers who died for freedom hundreds of years ago.

And I’m the kind of guy who thinks most people don’t really care what kind of guy I am. But I could be wrong—you read this far.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Professors say put guns on campus

From the National Center for Policy Analysis

This will put the cat among the pidgeons, as my Scots friends say. ~Bob


Mass public shootings are a horrific feature of modern life. Many of the bloodiest examples of this scourge have occurred on college campuses. Professors are particularly sensitive to this danger, say Theodore Day, a professor of finance, and Stan Liebowitz, the Ashbel Smith Professor of Economics, both at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Craig Pirrong, a professor of finance at the University of Houston. All support a bill currently pending in the Texas Legislature that would permit the concealed carrying of firearms on college and university campuses in the state by holders of concealed-handgun permits.

According to the professors, any public policy involving matters of life and death should be decided only after weighing carefully the competing risks. For example, examining the relevant facts and data indicates that permitting Texas permit holders to carry weapons on college campuses would improve safety because:

The best available empirical evidence shows that concealed-carry laws reduce the incidence of mass public shootings.

Mass public shootings occur almost exclusively in places -- like universities -- where concealed carry is proscribed.

There are numerous examples of firearms owners acting to disarm would-be mass murderers, thereby saving lives.

Concealed-handgun-permit holders are overwhelmingly law-abiding individuals.

If gun bans truly reduced the risk of mass public shootings, then gun-free zones would be refuges from such havoc. Sadly, the exact opposite is true. All multiple-victim public shootings in the United States with more than three fatalities have occurred where concealed handguns are prohibited. Moreover, the worst primary and secondary school shootings have occurred in Europe, despite its draconian gun laws, say the professors.

Source: Theodore Day, Stan Liebowitz and Craig Pirrong, "Put guns on campus," Dallas Morning News, April 23, 2009

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Here's what I think--an essay

I think reading quotations from great thinkers is part of an ongoing education. And I think the quotes of Thomas Jefferson are among the best. When I read these quotes attributed to him:

--Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be the that of everry free state.

--That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves.

--The principle of spending money to be paid by future generations, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

--Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.

--I predict future hapiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

--To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

--I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.

--The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

I wonder what he thinks when the Democrats honor him as their party’s founder at annual dinners.

I think freedom has as much to fear from our government as from foreign oppressors like Nazi, Communists and Islamists. And I think both Republicans and Democrats are threats to freedom, though in different areas, as they seek to appease supporters who want to tell others not to do something they want to do. I think regardless of which party is in power, the struggle to preserve freedom from both the encroachments of our government and from foreign enemies is never-ending.

I think if Global Warming was really a crisis, then Al Gore would lower his carbon footprint to, say, only five times mine—and still use his wealth from his books and videos to buy carbon offsets.

I think Navy ship’s captains should have the authority and duty to try and execute pirates at sea. I think promotion boards and medal awards review board should have quotas of executed pirates to consider.

I think you could cut the deficit by offering old vets like me the opportunity to serve on the firing squads, if we paid $2,000 per pirate and our own expenses. But that wouldn’t be fair to the eager young warriors serving today.

I think if profiling terrorists was really wrong, the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t be profiling veterans who served the country as potential terrorists, instead of members of groups who have attacked America repeatedly over the past 30 years.

I think there are tens of millions of peaceful Muslims, who are good, decent people. I also think they are intimidated and irrelevant as long as there are millions of their fellow Muslims who are willing to support murder to impose Islam and Shari’a Law on the world, just as the millions of peaceful Germans, Italians and Japanese were intimidated and irrelevant to the world in 1939.

I think it was a bow. President Obama so wants to be loved by those world leaders who hate America, that he will abase himself for their approval.

I think while the President was apologizing to the French for America, he should have apologized to them for the mess we made landing in Normandy in June of 1944, and for driving out their new friends the Germans. And perhaps for not paying rent on the land we buried our arrogant dead in.

I think there are a lot of working-class Americans who love their country, who voted for President Obama because of the economy, and who think America has nothing to apologize to Europe for, on the whole. But they may be starting to think they have something to apologize for to the rest of us.

I think people were a lot politer when gentlemen wore swords.

I think the media was desperate to make out the Tax Protest Tea Parties as small, irrelevant and composed only of right-wing extremists. I think there’s a reason those hundreds of demonstrations got far less coverage than the “million man march” of a few years ago. And I think the contrast between those overwhelmingly peaceful protests and the nihilism, destruction and violence of the “anti-globalization” protests tells you all you need to know about who the good guys are.

I think people may be getting tired of being told not only what happened, but what to think about it. I think we may see an emerging market for unbiased media outlets. I faithfully read a news magazine called The Week. It tells you what happened, and what both sides said about it. Neither I, nor some liberal friends I know who read it, have been able to detect an agenda, right or left. It’s a smart business plan, and they are growing in circulation. The loony left & rabid right will still want to be fed opinions that don’t create any cognitive dissonance, but I’m hopeful publications like The Week will succeed and grow.

I think there’s a philosophical reason the Congressional Black Caucus sees no tyranny in Cuba, and the President sees Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez as fellow leaders he can work amiability with.

I think it’s cool the Obama’s have a cute dog and that a black girl does her homework at the desk Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation on. I thought it was cool that George Bush rode horses and cleared brush with his own hands. And I think all this is irrelevant to real issues and the fact that the news media gives it such play is the rampant ADD and lack of ability to understand complex issues in both the media and the public.

I don’t think President Obama is a Muslim. I think like many of the elite, and on both sides, religion is a political convenience for him. I think he joined that black liberation theology church in Chicago when he needed their support, and discarded them when they became a liability. Thus I think we shouldn’t focus on his Islamic middle name, drop the “H” and stop referring to him as BHO, like JFK, For short, I think just BO is better.

I think the people trying to prove the President was not born in the US are wasting their time. You could prove beyond doubt he was born on Mars and it wouldn’t matter. The courts would find a way to rule he qualified as a citizen, and aren’t going to overturn an election, especially when doing so would mean millions in damages and thousands of deaths from riots in the inner cities. That issue was dead on Election Day, probably when he got the nomination.

I think modern poetry isn’t poetic, modern music isn’t musical and modern art isn’t artistic. And I don’t think taxpayers should have to pay for it because some elites like it.

Call me a romantic, but I think the kilt is the greatest garment ever invented for ventilation, urination or fornication.

I think eating at an old fashioned diner or family-owned café usually beats a meal in a chain eatery or high-priced fancy restaurant favored by the elites.

I think it’s funny that it’s become politically incorrect to question the patriotism or honor of people who you know never use the words “patriot” or honor” to describe themselves, unless they are running for office.

I think the Dixie Chicks are great at what I pay them to do—sing and look cute. I can’t understand why people were upset with them. If you want cute singers, they qualify. If you want solid political or economic opinions, of course, you ignore entertainers and journalists and go to someone with a PhD in the subject like Condi Rice or Thomas Sowell.

I think everyone in the world is smarter than me about something, usually many things.

I think race or ethnic heritage doesn’t matter, but culture matters a great deal. And I think liberals saying all cultures are equally valid is like saying all political parties are equally valid—no difference between Democrats and Republicans and Communists and Nazis and Islamists in values.

I think that not requiring Hispanic citizens to learn English discriminates against them, because the evidence is that Hispanics who speak English have higher incomes and a better life style. You’d almost think the multicultural agenda of the left was to ensure they stayed in poverty and dependent on government.

I think hill country often produces freedom loving, independent people.

I think feminists who said that women don’t lie about rape were awfully quiet when a woman accused Bill Clinton of raping her. And they are still pretty quiet about genital mutilation, honor killings, forced marriage of girl children, the burning of girls’ schools and the second class status of women under Shari’a law in the Islamic world (and among Islamic populations in the civilized world). I think that silence proves that political correctness and multiculturalism is more important to them than gender equality.

I think many gender differences are cultural, but that the physical ones are pretty important. And I like them. A lot.

I think haggis is the food of the gods. Too bad about the cholesterol. Maybe that’s why the old gods aren’t around anymore?

I think it’s not surprising that research shows conservatives give more to charity than liberals. I think most liberals are liberal only with other people’s money.

I think having a beer with a Marine who served on Iwo, Tarawa, Peleliu, the Canal or at the Chosin Reservoir beats an invitation to dine at the White House, regardless of who is president.

I think it was a privilege to wear the uniform of the United States Marine Corps. I don’t think the country owes me anything, I think we all owe a debt to the country.

I think the people who falsely claim to be veterans, or POWs or to hold medals they were not awarded are sick scum, beneath contempt. And my highest personal decoration is a richly-undeserved Good Conduct Medal.

In 2000, I supported John McCain and thought George Bush would be a disaster for the Republican Party. Now I think Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid may rehabilitate Bush’s image.

I think anyone who couldn’t see 9/11 coming wasn’t paying attention. In August of 1998, I published a column, “America’s War on Terror will be long, slow and cruel” which said “terrorists now have the ability to destroy large buildings.” Duh, Washington.

I think it’s better to be armed against the wolves of the world, than to try to reason with them. Sweet reason didn’t do much to restrain Hitler and Tojo. But the starry-eyed never tire of trying. Then folks in uniform and their families have to pay the price.

I think our political system is broken, with the leaders of both parties judging everything by how it will affect their chances in the next election. I think it can’t be fixed by people who calculate their own political futures first in the bargain.

I think if marriage was really a two-way street, my wife would leave the toilet seat up for me sometimes. (Yes, I stole that line from the comics this week, because I thought it was funny. Don’t bother to write.)

I think those who denigrate veterans do so because inside, they know they weren’t good enough to serve.

I think my liberal brother Tom and I should start a Washington Consulting Firm. Politicians of either party could come to us and tell us what they planned to do. We’d talk it over. If we said, “Go for it,” they would owe nothing. If we said, “Don’t do it, it’s dumb,” they’d dump a wheelbarrow of money on us, and depart. We’d be rich, and worth every penny.

I think if George Bush had made a snide remark about the Special Olympics on Leno, the media would never have done another story about him without mentioning it.

I think the mess in Washington is the fault of the voters who are ignorant of history, ignorant of basic economics and ignorant of civics, and I think today’s schools are neglecting voter education. The vast majority of voters aren’t paying much attention, as proven by polls showing that Congress had a 12% approval rating, but that 67% of voters last November couldn’t say which party controlled Congress.

I think if a decent person had been armed with a gun at Columbine and other mass shootings, lives would have been saved. I think if confronted by thugs on the street, I’d rather have a 45 auto than a cell phone to call 911.

I think the best teacher I had was Ben Mark, my economics teacher in high school, because he challenged me, though a lot of kids hated him. It was my only A course when I was getting Ds in others. My, the arguments we had.

I think both parties and all countries are trying to make political hay blaming the economic crisis on others. As a Republican, I tend to point to the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac—and the documented efforts of Bush, McCain and others to regulate them better. Democrats point to feckless bankers who piled on in risky leveraged investments of subprime mortgage interments. It was going on in every modern country—are Republicans or Democrats in the US responsible for Iceland and Ireland’s bankers crawling even further out on that limb? And I think the economic ignorance of voters means politicians can win points by doing things that will make things worse, as Hoover did in 1930 when he signed Smoot-Hawley.

I think Hemingway had it right when he said, “I would rather have a good Marine, even a ruined one, than anything in the world when there are chips down.” (Or so he has been quoted—I’m not a Hemingway scholar.)

I think there is a zero recidivism rate among people who have been executed.

I think folks who worry that gays getting married will hurt the institution of marriage must have pretty weak marriages themselves. I think the trend of many straight folks having children outside of marriage is a much larger threat to our future.

I think that nothing discriminates against black people like black men fathering and abandoning children, as it guarantees poverty for future generations of black people. And not toughly enforcing laws against black and Hispanic gangbangers, out of fears of charges of discrimination, guarantees lots of dead black and Hispanic kids. They are being murdered almost every day in Chicago—and not by white racists.

I think if Dan Quayle misspelling “potato” when reading from a card the school gave him proves he’s dumb, then Barack Obama saying he’d campaigned in 57 states, with one to go, proves the same thing about him, and should be mentioned as often in stories about BO as the “potato” thing is about Quayle.

I think Mark Twain was right, that golf is “a good walk spoiled.”

I think teachers unions are more interested in protecting teachers’ jobs than educating kids. (And my dad was a teacher all his life. I was certified to teach and hold a masters of education degree.). In fact I think unions in general were a necessity to move us into the modern world, but now they are willing to destroy companies and our economy to protect the jobs of the least productive and least valuable employees—including, of course, the union bosses.

I would think the decline of children’s education in history and civics, and the decline of a lot of other things as well, was a sinister plot, if I didn’t believe in Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence."

I think if it happens, bringing the 2016 Olympics to Mayor Daley’s Chicago will produce the biggest corruption scandal in Olympic history. They won’t be able to restrain themselves over that pot of gold. This may, in an odd way, be a good thing for Illinois, creating the final straw. I think they will ensure there is at least one Republican hand in the cookie jar, to spread the blame around.

I think that no group, party, religion, ethnicity or gender has a corner on vice or virtue. Those that suggest so are trying to build up their own group at the expense of the other group. The best thing I learned in the senate was that there were good, intelligent, honest, caring people who were Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, young and old, male and female, rural and urban, and of all religions and colors. And there were corrupt or stupid people in all those categories as well. Some liberals assume that because I have a different world view, and don’t see things their way, I am either evil or stupid or both. Some conservatives think the same way about liberals.

I think that no one is right all the time, and no one is consistent in his/her views or actions all the time. Welcome to the human race, with our endless capacity for self-justification. Say, isn’t that a mote in your eye?

T.S. Eliot isn’t my favorite poet, but I think he had it exactly right when he said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

I think if they meant it when they say you should keep a balance between work and personal life, weekends would be three and a half days long.

I think that perfection is impossible, and can’t even be defined, but that constant improvement is possible for any individual or organization. I think that everyone should strive for it.

I think if you can learn something valuable from everyone, and something important every day.

I think a lot of people are getting rich and famous tearing down the country and society they are living in, which allows them to have such comfortable lives. George Soros, Michael Moore and some Democrat politicians come to mind.

On the other hand, I think Republicans like Mitt Romney who say they wished they had served in the military are phonies, unless they can show they were rejected when they tried to enlist..

I think people who talk on cell phones or send text messages while driving are the moral equivalent of drunk drivers.

I think those who protested the draft during the Vietnam War by going to prison were brave. I think those who went to Canada were cowards.

I think Canada did us a favor by taking in the Vietnam War fugitives, and sending thousands of her best men to serve, many to die, in our military, including one who earned the Medal of Honor.

I think that everyone in public office, Republicans and Democrats, knows things that are true, which they dare not say for fear of offending the yahoos among their supporters. I think you can’t get elected to public office from either party without saying things you know are hogwash (yeah, that was also true back when I was elected to the Massachusetts state senate five times), and that the better public servants are those who try to limit the amount of hogwash they spew, as opposed to those who let it flow. And I think the need for hogwash to get elected is a direct result of needing the votes of so many ignorant and self-centered voters.

I think autumn in the nicest time of year, except that it’s so short and winter is so long.

I think that the great economist and writer Dr. Thomas Sowell is one of the brightest ten people in the country, and that one should be required to read and pass a test on his book Basis Economics to earn a college degree or hold public office. Maybe even to vote.

I think that it would be a pretty weak and sorry God who needed my help in convincing others how to worship. And the idea that God or Allah needs you to force people to worship the right way is the greatest insult you could give to the Almighty.

I thought nothing could top Karaoke for annoying inventions. Then they came up with text messaging and Twitter.

I think—or maybe I hope—the Kindle will never replace books. Who knows. My father-in-law collects 8-track tapes. If they come back, we’re golden.

I think I may have become the curmudgeon I always wanted to be.

I think Tony Rezko must be bitter languishing in prison while Barack Obama revels in the White House. Maybe bitter enough to talk? That would be fun. But I bet he still hopes to be taken care of down the road.

I think The Notebooks of Lazarus Long are all the philosophy you need, and that Heinlein had it right when he said, “Little girls and butterflies need no excuse.”

I think women with tattoos, breast implants and face piercings have made themselves uglier, in direct proportion to the size and number of the tattoos, implants and piercings. (Yeah, I know that two is the usual number for implants. Let’s not go there—God knows what the next fad might be.)

I think that paparazzi chasing celebrities are providing brain food for idiots. If you care about the private lives of Hollywood stars, sports entertainers and famous-for-being-famous folks like Ms. Hilton, you have a really shallow intellectual life.

I think that, at 63, I’m past the danger of taking up flying, sky-diving, mountain climbing, motorcycles, skiing and other things I’m sure are fun. But I still think a sports car would be neat, if I could figure out where to stash the granddaughter.

I think that, though I’m a history buff, I’m not likely to get into re-enacting history. I looked around my basement and didn’t notice a spare life.

I think if someone came up with a surefire way to lift minorities out of poverty to middle class status, the Democrats would stop at nothing to kill it. Wait, someone did: quality education. And, sure enough, the Democrats just killed vouchers in DC. Can’t let something like better educated black kids get a foothold.

I think smoking cigarettes is dumb, but I hope lots of people do it, so their taxes, not mine, pay for universal health care. And if they die off, it reduces their carbon footprint and the unfunded liability we living taxpayers have for their Social Security and Medicare.

Now I think I’ll have a whisky.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Prescription for American Health Care

This is from Imprimis, a free monthly publication from Hillsdale College:

I urge you to subscribe.

John C. Goodman, PhD.
National Center for Policy Analysis
I also urge you to subscribe to NCPA's free e-newsletter

A Prescription for American Health Care

JOHN C. GOODMAN is the president, CEO, and Kellye Wright Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University, and has taught and done research at Columbia University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Southern Methodist University and the University of Dallas. He writes regularly for such newspapers as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Investor's Business Daily and the Los Angeles Times, and is the author of nine books, including Patient Power: Solving America's Health Care Crisis andLives at Risk: Single-Payer National Health Insurance Around the World.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered in Naples, Florida, on February 18, 2009, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar.

I'll start with the bad news: When we get through the economic time that we're in right now, we're going to be confronted with an even bigger problem. The first of the Baby Boomers started signing up for early retirement under Social Security last year. Two years from now they will start signing up for Medicare. All told, 78 million people are going to stop working, stop paying taxes, stop paying into retirement programs, and start drawing benefits. The problem is, neither Social Security nor Medicare is ready for them. The federal government has made explicit and implicit promises to millions of people, but has put no money aside in order to keep those promises. Some of you may wonder where Bernie Madoff got the idea for his Ponzi scheme. Clearly he was studying federal entitlement policy.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, many employer-sponsored pension plans are not fully funded. Nor is the federal government insurance scheme behind those plans. We have a potential taxpayer liability of between 500 billion and one trillion dollars for those private pension plans, depending on the markets. And on top of that, roughly one-third of all Baby Boomers work for an employer who has promised post-retirement health care. As with the auto companies, almost none of that is funded either. Nor are most state and local post-retirement health benefit plans. Some California localities have already declared bankruptcy because of their employee retirement plans and the first of the Baby Boomers is still only 63 years old.

What all this means is that we're looking at a huge gap between what an entire generation thinks is going to happen during its retirement years and the funds that are there—or, more accurately, are not there—to make good on all those promises. Somebody is going to be really disappointed. Either the Baby Boomers are not going to have the retirement life that they expect or taxpayers are going to be hit with a tremendously huge bill. Or both.

The Mess We're In

How did this crisis come about? After all, the need to deal with risk is not a new human problem. From the beginning of time, people have faced the risks of growing old and outliving their assets, dying young without having provided for their dependents, becoming disabled and not being able to support themselves and their families, becoming ill and needing health care and not being able to afford it, or discovering that their skills are no longer needed in the job market. These risks are not new. What is new is how we deal with them.

Prior to the 20th century, we handled risks with the help of family and extended family. In the 19th century, by the time a child was nine years old, he was usually paying his own way in the household. In effect, children were their parents' retirement plan. But during the 20th century, families became smaller and more dispersed—thus less useful as insurance against risk. So people turned to government for help. In fact, the main reason why governments throughout the developed world have undergone such tremendous growth has been to insure middle class families against risks that they could not easily insure against on their own. This is why our government today is a major player in retirement, health care, disability and unemployment.

Government, however, has performed abysmally. It has spent money it doesn't have and made promises it can't keep, all on the backs of future taxpayers. The Trustees of Social Security estimate a current unfunded liability in excess of $100 trillion in 2009 dollars. This means that the federal government has promised more than $100 trillion over and above any taxes or premiums it expects to receive. In other words, for Social Security to be financially sound, the federal government should have $100 trillion—a sum of money six-and-a-half times the size of our entire economy—in the bank and earning interest right now. But it doesn't. And while many believe that Social Security represents our greatest entitlement problem, Medicare is six times larger in terms of unfunded obligations. These numbers are admittedly based on future projections. But consider the situation in this light: What if we asked the federal government to account for its obligations the same way the private sector is forced to account for its pensions? In other words, if the federal government suddenly closed down Social Security and Medicare, how much would be owed in terms of benefits already earned? The answer is $52 trillion, an amount several times the size of the U.S. economy.

What does this mean for the future? We know that Social Security and Medicare have been spending more than they are taking in for quite some time. As the Baby Boomers start retiring, this deficit is going to grow dramatically. In 2012, only three years from now, Social Security and Medicare will need one out of every ten general income tax dollars to make up for their combined deficits. By 2020—just eleven years down the road—the federal government will need one out of every four income tax dollars to pay for these programs. By 2030, the midpoint of the Baby Boomer retirement years, it will require one of every two income tax dollars. So it is clear that the federal government will be forced either to scale back everything else it's doing in a drastic way or raise taxes dramatically.

I have not even mentioned Medicaid, but it is almost as large a problem in this regard as Medicare. A recent forecast by the Congressional Budget Office—an economic forecasting agency that is controlled by the Democrats in Congress, not by some conservative private sector outfit—shows that Medicare and Medicaid alone are going to crowd out everything else the federal government is doing by mid-century. And that means everything—national defense, energy, education, the whole works. We'll only have health care. If, on the other hand, the government continues with everything else it is doing today and raises taxes to pay for Medicare and Medicaid, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, by mid-century, a middle-income family will have to pay two-thirds of its income in taxes!

Cleaning Up the Mess

The only sensible alternative to relying on a welfare state to solve our health care needs is a renewed reliance on private sector institutions that utilize individual choice and free markets to insure against unforeseen contingencies. In the case of Medicare, our single largest health care problem, such a solution would need to do three things: liberate the patients, liberate the doctors, and pre-fund the system as we move through time.

By liberating the patients I mean giving them more control over their money—at a minimum, one-third of their Medicare dollars. Designate what the patient is able to pay for with this money, and then give him control over it. Based on our experience with health savings accounts, people who are managing their own money make radically different choices. They find ways to be far more prudent and economical in their consumption.

As for doctors, most people don't realize that they are trapped in a system where they have virtually no ability to re-price or re-package their services the way every other professional does. Medicare dictates what it will pay for, what it won't pay for, and the final price. One example of the many harmful effects of this system is the absence of telephone consultations. Almost no one talks to his or her doctor on the phone. Why? Because Medicare doesn't pay a doctor to talk to you on the phone. And private insurers, who tend to follow Medicare's lead, don't pay for phone consultations either. The same goes for e-mail: Only about two percent of patients and doctors e-mail each other—something that is normal in every other profession.

What about digitizing medical records? Doctors typically do not do this, which means that they can't make use of software that allows electronic prescriptions and makes it easier to detect dangerous drug interactions or mistaken dosages. Again, this is something that Medicare doesn't pay for. Likewise patient education: A great deal of medical care can be handled in the home without ever seeing a doctor or a nurse—e.g., the treatment of diabetes. But someone has to give patients the initial instruction, and Medicare doesn't pay for that.

If we want to move medicine into the 21st century, we have to give doctors and hospitals the freedom to re-price and re-package their services in ways that neither increase the cost to government nor decrease the quality of service to the patient.

In terms of quality, another obvious free market idea is to have warranties for surgery such as we have on cars, houses and appliances. Many are surprised to learn that about 17 percent of Medicare patients who enter a hospital re-enter within 30 days—usually because of a problem connected with the initial surgery—with the result that the typical hospital makes money on its mistakes. In order for a hospital to make money in a system based on warranties, it must lower its mistake rate. Again, the goal of our policy should be to generate a market in which doctors and hospitals compete with each other to improve quality and cut costs.

We won't be able to make any of this work in the long run, however, unless we pre-fund the system. Today's teenagers are unlikely to receive medical care during retirement if they must rely on future taxpayers, because taxpayers of the future are unlikely to be agreeable to living in poverty in order to pay their elders' medical bills. This means that everyone must start saving now for post-retirement health care. I would propose that everyone in the workforce put a minimum of four percent of his or her income—perhaps two percent from the employer and two percent from the employee—into a private account, invested in the marketplace, that would grow through time. These private accumulations would eventually replace taxpayer burdens.

In summary, if health care consumers are allowed to save and spend their own money, and if doctors are allowed to act like entrepreneurs—in other words, if we allow the market to work—there is every reason to believe that health care costs can be prevented from rising faster than our incomes.

The Market in Action

Let me offer a few examples of how the free market is already working on the fringes of health care. Cosmetic surgery is a market that acts like a real market—by which I mean that it is not covered by insurance, consumers can compare prices and services, and doctors can act as entrepreneurs. As a result, over the last 15 years, the real price of cosmetic surgery has gone down while that of almost every other kind of surgery has been rising faster than the Consumer Price Index—and even though the number of people getting cosmetic surgery has increased by five- or six-fold.

In Dallas there is an entrepreneurial health care provider with two million customers who pay a small fee each month for the ability to talk to a doctor on the telephone. Patients must have an electronic medical record, so that whichever doctor answers the phone can view the patient's electronic medical record and talk to the patient. This company is growing in large part because it provides a service that the traditional health care system can't provide. Likewise, walk-in clinics are becoming more numerous around the country. At most of these clinics a registered nurse sits in front of a computer terminal, the patient describes his symptoms, and the nurse types in the information and follows a computerized protocol. The patient's record is electronic, the nurse can prescribe electronically, and the patient sees the price in advance.

We're also seeing the rise of concierge doctors—doctors who don't want to deal with third-party insurers. When this idea started out in California, doctors were charging 10-15 thousand dollars per year. But the free market has worked and the price has come down radically. In Dallas, concierge doctors charge only $40 per employee per month. In return, the patient receives access to the doctor by phone and e-mail, and the doctor keeps electronic medical records, competes for business based on lowering time costs as well as money costs, and is willing to help with patient education.

Finally, consider the international market for what has become known as medical tourism. Hospitals in India, Singapore and Thailand are competing worldwide for patients. Of course, no one is going to get on a plane without some assurances of low cost and high quality—which means that, in order to attract patients, these hospitals have to publicize their error rates, their mortality rates for certain kinds of surgery, their infection rates, and so on. Their doctors are all board-certified in the United States, and they compete for patients in the same way producers and suppliers compete for clients in any other market. Most of their patients come from Europe, but the long-term threat to the American hospital system can't be denied. Leaving the country means leaving bureaucratic red tape behind and dealing instead with entrepreneurs who provide high-quality, low-cost medicine.

As these examples suggest, liberating the medical market by freeing doctors and patients is the only way to bring health care costs under control without sacrificing quality. Continuing on our current path—allowing health care costs to rise at twice the rate of income under the aegis of an unworkable government Ponzi scheme—is by comparison unreasonable.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It gets worse every day

NATO forces rescued 20 fishermen from pirates who launched the latest attack in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, but let the Somali hijackers go because they had no authority to arrest them.

Iran convicted an American journalist of spying for the United States and sentenced her to eight years in prison, her lawyer said Saturday, complicating the Obama administration's efforts to break a 30-year-old diplomatic deadlock with Tehran.

Iraq: "They kill the gays, they beat them up… I have a lot of friends that have been killed - 15 or 16"

New Afghan law does not allow marital rape... but lets men refuse to feed wives who deny them sex, says cleric

Brainwashing. Can't happen here, right? Right?

Update: Thanks BG for catching my typo in the heading. Had one in the tag as well--staying up too late!

More Chicago Corruption Brought to Light

And so it goes here in Blagobamaville, the Capital of, in the Democrats memorable phrase, “A Culture of Corruption.” Stroger is a Daley man. In fact, so is our new Mayor our here in Des Plaines, a union organizer who got 43% of the votes in a 5-way race, with an army of machine campaign workers provided by Daley, who wants to control the suburbs and the unions to increase his power.

The Illinois pols can hardly wait until the 2016 Olympics, when they will hopefully have billions of dollars in Olympic money to dip into and spread around to their supporters and relatives. I hope the IOC is stupid enough to put the games in the hands of the Chicago machine. It will be the biggest and most entertaining scandal in Olympic history. ~Bob

Stroger fires cousin over hiring scandal

Cook County chief hired ex-busboy with criminal past

By Hal Dardick, Azam Ahmed and Jeremy Gorner Tribune reporters
April 18, 2009

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's decision last fall to hire a steakhouse busboy with a criminal record mushroomed into a political scandal Friday, with Stroger facing calls for his resignation and ousting his cousin from her top county finance job over her role in the controversy.,0,1322712.story

Stroger knocked to ropes

Scandals are taking a toll as campaign season looms

By Rick Pearson and Robert Becker Tribune reporters

April 19, 2009

His political career already rocked by an unpopular sales-tax increase, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger provided more self-inflicted damage as a saga plays out over his hiring and firing of a patronage worker with a sordid criminal history.

Stroger tried to get in front of the fallout for employing busboy-turned-basketball-chum Tony Cole by dumping his own cousin from a top county post Friday. But the latest scandal could become a major problem ahead of next year's election, because it fits into the narrative that a sizable stable of critics like to tell the public: Stroger is an inept heir of a wasteful county government overloaded with lazy political hacks.,0,2876851.story

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weasel Words: an essay

Reading the recent column on “Magic Words” by the brilliant economist Dr. Thomas Sowell put me to thinking about the subject.

Words have power. The power to inspire. Men have fought and died for words, from soldiers and heroes to gang members ready to kill over being “dissed.” Words have the power to hurt, as any teen outcast or rejected suitor can tell you.

And a facility with words can bring you fame, fortune and power, as President Obama has most recently made manifest.

But words often do not have precise meanings. And, in fact, it is often the successful political candidate who finds words which inspire voters’ support, by meaning whatever the hearer wants them to mean.

Precise words get politicians in trouble. It’s widely assumed that President George H. W. Bush’s famous, “read my lips—no new taxes” pledge cost him re-election, when he was forced to agree to a tax increase proposed as part of the budget by the Democratic-controlled Congress. It remains to be seen if President Obama’s campaign pledge that voters earning under $250,000 wouldn’t pay a penny more in taxes if he was elected will be hurt by his more than doubling the cigarette tax, which hits poor folks the hardest, and thus is a “regressive” tax supposedly hated by liberals (until they need money for pet projects).

So a great part of the political art is to find words that inspire voters, but which mean whatever the hearer wants them to mean. This helps you hold disparate coalitions together, at least until after Election Day. Barack Obama successful tied his campaign to two of these words, “hope” and “change.”

We all want “hope,” so it’s a great word. But we all hope for different things, of course. According to the results, 55 million of us were hoping that John McCain would be elected President. Obama didn’t do much for that hope.

And “Change” is a constant. The only way to lose on that one is to promise no change, because the world changes willy-nilly around us, with increasing celerity, wanted or not. It’s pretty powerful if folks are unhappy with what has happened recently, though the voters are rarely paying enough attention to understand who or what caused the things they are unhappy with. One might say that if it wasn’t for the nescience of voters, few politicians would get elected.

No electorate in the world wanted “change” more than the Germans in 1932. And they got it—good and hard!

What are some other weasel words without precise meanings, which sound wonderful to voters?

Fair: We all want to be fair, but what does fair mean? Suppose four guys go out to lunch, and split the check four ways. Is that fair? Suppose one had a tuna sandwich, and another had lobster? Then maybe it would be fair to say that each pays for what he eats? But suppose one of the guys makes $100,000 a year and the others make only $50,000. Would it be fair to say the one who makes the big bucks should pay twice what the others do, regardless of what he eats, because he makes more? You probably wouldn’t think it was “fair” to ask your friend to pay for your meal, though an increasing voting bloc feels it is very fair to ask other people to pay for things they want.

Let’s take another example. Suppose 100 adults with jobs live on your street. And you get together and decide that it would be wonderful if you had a new playground that would cost about $10,000. So you vote and the new playground wins.

Then you have to vote how much each person should chip in to buy the playground, and the vote goes like this:

Five of the adults are charged a total of $6,000 for the playground everyone will use.

Another 45 of the adults have to get together and chip in an additional $3,700.

And the last 50 adults have to pool their resources and come up with $300 between them. Is that fair? (That was the US tax code in 2006.)

Well, President Obama and his Social Democrat Party said no way is that fair. Those five people have to come up with a lot more money than just $6,000, so the 45 pay less, and the 50 who were paying $300 now pay nothing.

Under that help-the-rich guy George Bush and the Republicans in 2006, 5% of Americans—those with incomes over $153,000, paid 60% of the taxes, while the bottom 50% of Americans paid 3%. (IRS figures.)

Once more than 50% of the public pay nothing, what is to stop them from voting to take everything from those who pay more? And all in the name of being fair.

Rich: While we are on the subject of money, what is “rich”? The old joke is that an alcoholic is some one you don’t like, who drinks more than you do. For the most part, “rich” is, “compared to whom?” Compared to Barack Obama and John McCain, I’m poor. Compared to Bill Gates and George Soros, I’m dirt poor. Compared to a college student living with four other students in a one-bedroom apartment, I’m very rich.

College students, in fact, are among the poorest adults, but will often end up in the top 25% of incomes later in life. Only a small percentage of Americans who are in the bottom 25% at any time will stay there their entire lives, and many move to the top 25%.

And compared to hundreds of millions of people living in third world countries, most of the “poor” in America are rich beyond their dreams.

According to Candidate Obama, the “rich” are the top 5%, who he thinks, contrary to IRS numbers, are making over $250,000 a year. It was quite brilliant. Promise 95% of the people that if they vote for you, you’ll make the other 5% pay for everything they want. That he didn’t get 95% of the vote one attributes to older voters who learned math and had a feeling of déjà moo (I’ve smelled this BS before).

Still, as Oscar Ameringer said, “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.” So I suppose politicians will continue to get elected by attacking the “Rich”—whoever they are.

Justice: Do you believe in justice? Of course, we all do. The problem is that none of us really know what “justice” is.

Young thugs out for a joy time of breaking windows, torching cars and looting stores like to chant, “No Justice, No Peace.” Not that they are eager to see justice done for those whose property is destroyed. But it cloaks their vandalism in the guise of a noble cause, so they can enjoy destruction while feeling good about themselves.

And “Social Justice” is politician speak for “I’ll take his property or money and give it to you, because he doesn’t deserve to have all that while you have less.”

Is justice giving an accused criminal every possible chance to defend himself? Sure. How about every possible legal maneuver to drag out the proceeding for years? Ah, maybe. How about if dragging out the proceedings for 10% of the criminals means the courts are so clogged that the other 90% get to go free or plea bargain their sentences down? How about if the technicalities of giving the accused 100% justice, to the Nth degree, puts a murderer back on the street—and you are the next victim? Has justice been done? Does not more “justice” for criminals mean less justice for victims? If the courts act in a way that gets you, an innocent person, killed, has justice been done?

I think there is so little of what I call “justice” for the decent, law-abiding folks in today’s world, that the only thing stopping the rise of vigilantism is that those decent folks have been raised to be law abiding. But the popularity of movies like Gran Torino and songs like Beer for my Horses means a lot of the folks who are the foundations of this country feel there is too much “justice” for the thugs, gang-bangers and parasites, and too little for them. So vigilantism may be coming. We’ll see if it brings “justice.”

Reform: I’m certainly for reform. In fact, when I upset an incumbent state senator named Joe Ward by nine votes out of 60,000 back in 1972, “Government Reform” was one of the three planks I ran on. I bet you are for “reform” as well. In fact, almost any change a politician promotes is said to be a “reform.”

Here in Illinois, due to bi-partisan corruption, they’ve reformed government so many times, that we taxpayers can hardly afford anymore reform.

Were the issues I supported reforms? Alas, reform, like pornography, is in the eye of the beholder. One of the “reforms” I supported was reducing the size of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 240 members to 160. The idea was to reduce cost, make legislators more visible, increase the prestige of the individual Representative, and make the legislative process more efficient and streamlined. That it was hated by the professional politicians, 80 of whom (mostly Democrats), were going to lose jobs, was no small part of its appeal. That the public strongly supported it, and my opponent had voted against it (thus defeating it by one vote in a confused legislative situation) made it an especially handy club for me to bludgeon him with.

But, if I were in the Commonwealth today, I could offer a new “reform.” Let’s increase the size of the Massachusetts House from 160 to 240 Representatives. It will make the individual legislator closer to his constituents. It will give more opportunity for minorities to have a voice in the house. It will provide a broader range of experts in the legislature to speak to increasingly-complex subjects. Give me a minute, and I’ll think of a few more reasons why going the other way would also be a “reform.”

So, think carefully when you hear some candidate like me propose a “reform.” Every change a politician suggests is pictured as a reform. After all, Rod Blagojevich ran as a “reformer.”

Affordable: We all believe that people should have “affordable” housing, “affordable” healthcare, “affordable” heating and “affordable” food.

And they do. If you are living in some shelter, even a tent, or are one of five students in a two-room apartment, and are paying for it, you have “affordable” housing. And you have “affordable” healthcare—that is, as much as you can afford, and are willing to pay for. If you are eating, you have “affordable” food—you afforded it, didn’t you.

What “affordable” means when a politician says it, is that he is going to give you more of something you want more of, and make someone else pay for it!

There are exceptions, but most folks would like to have a home that was a bit bigger, nicer and in a better location than the one they have. And once that larger, nicer home is “affordable” for you, it’s not too long until you start wishing that something a bit larger was “affordable.”

I read that between 1970 and 2005, the average size of a new American home increased by 50%. Garages used to be one car, then two, now a lot of middle class housing is built with three car spaces. Most people didn’t have air conditioning in 1970—I was 36 when I lived in my first air conditioned home, because I moved to Florida.

If you have a family of five, living in a non-air-conditioned, three bedroom, 1,200 square foot home without a garage, which you can afford, doubtless you’d like the taxpayers to make a 2,500 foot, 4 bedroom home with AC and a garage “affordable” for you at the same cost. And so it goes.

As Dr. Sowell has often pointed out, cities where the politicians have promised to make housing more “affordable” through rent control, like New York and San Francisco, have the most expensive housing in the country. Builders want to make more money to “afford” more things for their families. So they shift building investment dollars to luxury apartments and condos, not covered by the controls, from standard apartments.

And it was the demand to make housing “affordable” by forcing banks to give loans to people who couldn’t pay, through the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that was the first domino in the current economic downturn. All that really helped poor folks, right? Maybe by making everyone poor through a housing bubble and 401k collapse.

Healthcare: Okay, you say, you've got me here. Everyone knows what healthcare means, right? Sure. But what are the parameters? Any honest economist will tell you that the cheaper a desired good or service is, the more the demand for it is. And if it’s free, the demand goes way up. (Why don’t teenagers turn off the TV and lights, or shut the door when they come in? Because electricity and heat are a “free good” for them—they aren’t paying the bills.”)

As healthcare gets cheaper, people use more of it. Which is why insurance companies want deductibles and co-payments.

I want my employer to have a doctor in our office, who will be available at a moment’s notice if I feel ill, give me a physical once a month, run a CT & MRI every three months and dispenses no-cost prescriptions to me as needed—or as desired. Ridiculous, you say? Why would you say that? It certainly qualifies as good “healthcare” and did not candidate Obama say that “Healthcare is a Right”? So, I only want my rights here. And I want it to be affordable—I want someone else to pay for it.

With a nod to Maggie Thatcher, the problem with “affordable” is you eventually run out of other people’s money to pay for everything you want to be able to afford.

Freedom: Let’s end with this, because conservatives like me tend to throw “freedom” around more than liberals. Everyone is in favor of Freedom in principle—just not in practice. The problem is, again, defining freedom. Sowell says it boils down to the right to do something other people don’t want you to do, and that’s probably as close as we can come.

So liberals don’t want you to have the freedom to own guns, and while they claim to be big supporters of the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech is banned on liberal run campuses, and left leaning countries in Europe (plus Canada) because speech that offends some group is banned as “hate speech.” The UN wants to ban “defamation of religion” at the behest of Muslims—who you can be sure will go on saying the vilest things about Jews and Christians in their own countries. It has gone so far that in some places, a non-Muslim can be charged with hate speech for accurately quoting the Qur’an and the Hadith. Dare you say that Muhammad had sex with his youngest wife when she was nine? Nope, hate speech, though it’s reported in the Muslim holy works (the Hadith) and is the basis for allowing 45-year-old men to marry nine-year-old girls in many Muslim countries.

Conservatives don’t want Gays to have the freedom to marry each other, or people to have the freedom to read anything they consider pornographic. (And liberal feminists as well, on the last point.)

Of course, every society puts restrictions on freedom to protect the rights of others. One can’t murder someone with impunity. Or so we hope. In the old days, blacks could be murdered with impunity by white racists in many areas, but thankfully, those days are over. Now, in our enlightened times, black children can only be murdered with impunity by black gangbangers in areas where intensive policing is prohibited by charges of racism. That no doubt makes a huge difference to the victims.

That some restrictions on freedom are clearly necessary to protect others gives those who would restrict freedom the cover to decide what is best for others. Conservatives fighting the freedom of Gays to marry, or the freedom of people to see X-rated movies are doing it “to protect society” as are liberals trying to ban guns. And let’s not get into the struggle between the freedom of a woman to control her own body and the freedom of a child to be born.

I generally come down on what I believe is the side of the greatest freedom. But when any of us says “Freedom,” as with other words that sound wonderful, the devil is in the details.

Or, as Lincoln might have said, “With the right weasel words, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time—and those are pretty good odds on Election Day!”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sowell on Numbers

Magic Numbers in Politics
by Thomas Sowell

Words are not the only things that enable political rhetoric to magically transform reality. Numbers can be used just as creatively-- and many voters are even more gullible about statistics than they are about words, apparently because statistics seem more objective.
The latest Congressional crusade is to clamp down on small finance companies that provide "payday loans" and check-cashing services in many low-income neighborhoods where there are few banks.

A common practice in making small loans of a few hundred dollars for a few weeks is to charge about $15 per hundred dollars lent. Politicians, the media, community activists and miscellaneous other busybodies are able to transform these numbers into annual percentage charges of several hundred percent, thereby creating moral melodramas and demands that the government "do something" about such "abuses."

Of course, these loans are seldom borrowed for a year. They are often loans for a couple of weeks or less, to meet some difficulty of the moment by people who live from payday to payday, whether they are being paid by a job or are receiving checks from Social Security, unemployment compensation or welfare.

The alternative to getting a payday loan may be having the electricity cut off or not having money to buy some medication. It is worse to borrow from illegal loan sharks, who have their own methods of collecting.

While $15 per hundred dollars may sound like a high rate of interest, it is not all interest. The finance company incurs costs just to process a loan, and these costs are a higher proportion of the total cost for a small loan than for a large loan.

When Oregon imposed a limit of 36 percent annual interest on what a finance company could charge, that meant charging less than $1.50 for a hundred dollar loan for a couple of weeks. A dollar and a half would probably not even cover the cost of processing the loan, much less the risks of default.

Not surprisingly, most of the small finance companies making payday loans in Oregon went out of business. But there are no statistics on how many low-income people turned to loan sharks or had their electricity cut off or had to do without their medicine.

This is just one of the many ways in which self-righteous busybodies leave havoc in their wake, while going away feeling noble.

Statistics played a key role in creating the housing boom and bust that led to the current economic crisis......
Read it all here:
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularised in the United States by Mark Twain.

When Doctors Opt Out

We already know what government-run health care looks like.

Commentary: What's driving the U.S. over a cliff?

Asking the tough questions

Tea Party Videos



And here a CNN "Journalist" (it is to laugh) argues with the protesters (in Chicago, I think, home of such centrist Democrats as Blagojevich, Daley, Rezko, etc.), and calls them right wing extreamists.

If you'd like to complain to the FCC about this illegal coprorate contribution by CNN to the Democrat Party, here's the form:

RI Tea Party Pictures:

The Chicago Trib's John Kass on Tea Parties,0,7670103.column

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How mini cars stop global warming

This is from the National Center for Policy Analysis. They send a daily synopsis of articles about the economy, healthcare and other issues, which can keep you informed with a small time commitment.

You can subscribe for free at

The article below is good news for the environment. After all, dead people have a relatively small carbon footprint, once they finish decomposing. And dead kids don’t grow up to have kids of their own, an extra bonus, carbon-wise. No wonder the government wants to force the industry to produce smaller cars, and Al Gore wants a steep gas tax hike. After all, he and the Obamas, Kennedys, Kerrys, Clintons, George Soros and their Hollywood friends won’t be driving them.

And, of course, the more people driving motorized skateboards, the lower the chances that I’ll get killed as I wheel my Hummer from my 15-room home to the country club!

Guns Don't Kill People, Smart Cars Kill People

Three front-to-front crash tests, each involving a microcar or minicar into a midsize model from the same manufacturer, show how extra vehicle size and weight enhance occupant protection in collisions. These Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests are about the physics of car crashes, which dictate that very small cars generally can't protect people in crashes as well as bigger, heavier models.

The Institute didn't choose SUVs or pickup trucks, or even large cars, to pair with the micro and minis in the new crash tests. The choice of midsize cars reveals how much influence some extra size and weight can have on crash outcomes.

The laws of physics prevail:

The Honda Fit, Smart Fortwo and Toyota Yaris are good performers in the Institute's frontal offset barrier test, but all three are poor performers in the frontal collisions with midsize cars.
These results reflect the laws of the physical universe, specifically principles related to force and distance.

Greater force means greater risk, so the likelihood of injury goes up in the smaller, lighter vehicle. Crash statistics confirm this:

--The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars.

--The death rate per million 1-3-year-old minis in single-vehicle crashes during 2007 was 35 compared with 11 per million for very large cars.

--Even in midsize cars, the death rate in single-vehicle crashes was 17 percent lower than in minicars.

The lower death rate is because many objects that vehicles hit aren't solid, and vehicles that are big and heavy have a better chance of moving or deforming the objects they strike; this dissipates some of the energy of the impact.

"There are good reasons people buy minicars," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "They're more affordable, and they use less gas. But the safety trade-offs are clear from our new tests. Equally clear are the implications when it comes to fuel economy. If automakers downsize cars so their fleets use less fuel, occupant safety will be compromised. However, there are ways to serve fuel economy and safety at the same time."

Source: Press Release, "New crash tests demonstrate the influence of vehicle size and weight on safety in crashes; results are relevant to fuel economy policies," Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, April 14, 2009.

For text:

For more on Regulatory Issues:

A Response on Government Health Care

This was a comment on the health care article I published earlier, but I thought it deserved it's own spot on the blog. ~Bob

Anyone that thinks government healthcare is a good idea needs to be a VA patient for a year or two. I suffered disc damage in my back while in the service. Predictably, over the years it has gotten worse to the point where I really can't work a full day anymore. IN addition, the pain prevents me from sleeping effectively. I average only 5-25 minutes of REM sleep a day.

My condition is surgically reversible. The VA? The VA neurosurgeon said that at my age (53) I would likely be stricken by arthritis soon and blah blah yada yada. Basically, because I was so old that the surgery would be a waste of the government's money.

Their solution is to keep me on ever increasing doses of painkillers and let the drugs and insomnia solve the problem of surgical costs for them.

Am I bitter? YOU BET. I thought I had a deal with my country when I volunteered and served. Am I the only one? Heck no. I live in a town of 3,500 people in the middle of nowhere Wyoming and there are two other older veterans here that have been treated the same way.

SO, the next time you think you need Nanny Sam providing for your every need just remember that the minute the government thinks you have outlived your usefulness they WILL make these kinds of "value" judgments and you will be left to die "comfortably."
--Mike Stebbins

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bright Guy Disease

Recent exchanges reminded me of this essay I wrote a few years ago. It's in my book, Chaos for Breakfast, was published in several newsletters, including the Mensa Bulletin, and translated into Dutch for the Mensa organization in Holland. It's my take on what psychologists call Narcissistic Personality Disorder. ~Bob

Avoiding Bright Guy Disease

Is it just me, or is “Bright-Guy Disease” (BGD) on the rise? Oh, you may call it by a different name, but we’ve all had co-workers, board members or bosses with it.

“Bright-Guy Disease” is my name for the condition that too-often afflicts very smart people, who have usually been very successful. Because of their intellect, they’ve frequently had to deal with folks who aren’t as sharp as they are. Since they are so successful, at some point they subconsciously conclude that everybody else (with few exceptions) is dumber then they are.

If they have an idea, it has to be a great idea, because they are so much smarter then you. If you disagree with their idea, you must be not just refuted, but crushed, because disagreeing not only proves how stupid you are, but means you fail to recognize their brilliance.

If you have an idea, it must be dumb, because if it was a good idea, they would have thought of it first. After all, they are so much smarter then you.

In my experience, “Bright-Guy Disease” most often affects men, perhaps because the glass ceiling has kept women from equal levels of success, perhaps because girls are socialized to be cooperative, while boys are socialized to be competitive. As though to make up for this, the few cases I’ve observed in women seem to be particularly virulent.

What are the symptoms?

Fellows with BGD talk more then they listen—a LOT more. Larry King says he never learned anything while he was talking. But the BGD-victims don’t need to learn anything—they already know it all.

BGD sufferers will frequently be angry and will often shout to make a point. This is perfectly justified to correct your error, just as you would feel justified in shouting to keep a small, not-to-intelligent child from putting his hand in the fire.

People with BGD conclude they are experts in many fields, since they’ve been successful in one. They know more about the law then any attorney, more about medicine then any doctor, and certainly more about association management then you do.

They will also not hesitate to bend the facts to fit their worldview—since they are always right, facts are things that simply must be made to agree with them. Should the facts ever indisputably prove they are wrong, they will simply move on and stop discussing the issue—but they will remember who proved them wrong.

Unfortunately, victims of BGD are always the last to recognize the symptoms. If you think you might be suffering from BGD, ask yourself three questions:

Do I respect the people around me for their knowledge, experience and intellect? Everyone knows more than you do about something. Anyone can have an idea that is better then yours. One of the best advisors I’ve had in association management was a part-time janitor, Bob Murray, well past retirement age, who simply had great insights into the way the office was working and staff interactions.

When was the last time I changed my point of view because of someone else’s opinion? If you can’t recall, it may be because you have BGD.

Do I find myself angry a lot of the time with people who disagree with me? Sure, we all get angry over integrity or performance issues, but divergent points of view are valuable.

Coping with BGD

Just recognizing the problem will help keep you out of the line of fire. Confrontation with BGD victims is to be avoided, hard as that may be. They will simply increase the level of their rhetoric until you are beaten down. And they can be vindictive if you cross them.

They enjoy confrontation and arguments because they need to prove, daily, how much smarter they are then you. (Update--today they spend a lot of time commenting on blogs, trying to put you down to reassure themselves of how smart and valuable they are.)

Keep in mind that, while some folks are awed by their intellect and success, many others will recognize them for what they are, so you will have allies. But don’t lose your cool and get into a battle with them—it seldom helps. (Been there, did that, still bleeding.)

Instead, give them enough rope to hang themselves. If their idea is really wrong, the longer they expound on it, the more people will realize it, without help from you.

Approach them obliquely. Phrases like, “You’re absolutely right, I’m just worried about X.” Or, “I agree, and hope that X doesn’t derail the plan.” X, of course, is some inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit their idea. People with BGD will often slowly change points of view, or modify ideas to fit the facts, maintaining that was their position all along. The strategy is to guide them to the correct path while letting them claim credit for being there all along.

Of course, if all else fails, you can take the approach once taken by an attorney speaking to a fellow lawyer with BGD.

First Attorney: “You know, Darrell, between us we know everything there is to know.”

BGD Attorney: “How’s that, George?”

First Attorney: “Well, Darrell, you know everything there is to know in the whole world except that you’re a jerk—and I know that you’re a jerk!”

But this might not be the best approach with your boss!