Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Political Digest October 21, 2009

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

A must read: Future Prospects for Economic Liberty
Excerpt: On the other side of the coin from limited government is individual liberty. The Founders understood private property as the bulwark of freedom for all Americans, rich and poor alike. But following a series of successful attacks on private property and free enterprise—beginning in the early 20th century and picking up steam during the New Deal, the Great Society, and then again recently—the government designed by our Founders and outlined in the Constitution has all but disappeared. Thomas Jefferson anticipated this when he said, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." To see the extent to which liberty is yielding and government is gaining ground, one need simply look at what has happened to taxes and spending. A tax, of course, represents a government claim on private property. Every tax confiscates private property that could otherwise be freely spent or freely invested. At the same time, every additional dollar of government spending demands another tax dollar, whether now or in the future. With this in mind, consider that the average American now works from January 1 until May 5 to pay the federal, state, and local taxes required for current government spending levels. Thus the fruits of more than one third of our labor are used in ways decided upon by others. The Founders favored the free market because it maximizes the freedom of all citizens and teaches respect for the rights of others. Expansive government, by contrast, contracts individual freedom and teaches disrespect for the rights of others. Thus clearly we are on what Friedrich Hayek called the road to serfdom, or what I prefer to call the road to tyranny. As I said, the Constitution restricts the federal government to certain functions. What are they? The most fundamental one is the protection of citizens' lives. Therefore, the first legitimate function of the government is to provide for national defense against foreign enemies and for protection against criminals here at home. These and other legitimate public goods (as we economists call them) obviously require that each citizen pay his share in taxes. But along with people's lives, it is a vital function of the government to protect people's liberty as well—including economic liberty or property rights. So while I am not saying that we should pay no taxes, I am saying that they should be much lower—as they would be, if the government abided by the Constitution and allowed the free market system to flourish…. WALTER WILLIAMS is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. He holds a B.A. from California State University at Los Angeles and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. He has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Hoover Institution National Fellowship and the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation George Washington Medal of Honor. A nationally syndicated columnist, his articles and essays have appeared in publications such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review, National Review, Reader's Digest, Policy Review and Newsweek. Dr. Williams has authored six books, including The State Against Blacks (later made into a PBS documentary entitled Good Intentions) and Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism.

A must-watch: Access Denied: The Approaching Shortage of Specialist Doctors
This coming government-created shortage means that you or someone in your family is going to live in pain. (Full Disclosure—I work for orthopaedic surgeons, so have seen a lot of this info before. This was produced by an implant company, Biomet. I believe the facts to be accurate.)

Hoax on Chamber’s Climate Change Position
Things just get weirder.

A premature celebration for the GOP
Excerpt: Less than one in five voters (19 percent) expressed confidence in Republicans' ability to make the right decisions for America's future while a whopping 79 percent lacked that confidence. Among independent voters, who went heavily for Obama in 2008 and congressional Democrats in 2006, the numbers for Republicans on the confidence questions were even more worse. Just 17 percent of independents expressed confidence in Republicans' ability to make the right decision while 83 percent said they did not have that confidence.

What Singapore Can Teach the White House
Excerpt: When it comes to health care, however, Uncle Sam has better claim to the nanny title. From our federal price "negotiations" and state regulations to discrimination in the tax code, government distortions prop up a system that puts key health-care decisions in the hands of everyone but the patient. Each new government intrusion, moreover, begets only higher costs—and a call for more intervention to fix the problem. In Singapore, by contrast, they already have universal coverage. They also have world-class quality care at world-competitive prices. And in a week when White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is meeting behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Singapore's example might have something to teach them about the kind of reform Americans really need.

Socialized Medicine Blog
Excerpt: Humana gets a slap on the wrist for disseminating TRUE information. There's nothing like a Friday evening news release to hide a Washington embarrassment. In last week's episode, President Obama's health appointees lifted their outrageous gag order against health insurers for the sin of informing their customers about how ObamaCare would affect their insurance. In September, Humana Inc. sent a mailer to some 900,000 enrollees in its Medicare Advantage plans, the program that gives seniors a choice of private insurance options, warning that spending cuts would result in reduced benefits and some people losing their coverage. The Congressional Budget Office has said the same thing, but the Obama apparat went nuclear. At the behest of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, Medicare's administrators menaced Humana with fines and regulatory punishments, and even told all insurers participating in Advantage to shut up too—or else. In its Friday ruling, Medicare slapped Humana on the wrist for disseminating information that it claimed was "misleading to beneficiaries"—even though it was perfectly true—but also lifted the gag order. Insurers will be allowed to communicate with enrollees, provided they get permission. This is basically a concession that the critics are right, especially considering that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the policy as recently as two weeks ago while refusing to answer questions about this raw political coercion from a supposedly impartial federal bureaucracy.

Time for Inaction on Global Warming
Excerpt: And now comes the new Boxer-Kerry Senate bill, which would require a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. As a practical matter, what would such a reduction mean to us and our economy? Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that a 20% reduction would mean cutting America's greenhouse gas emissions to our 1977 levels, and that would radically change both the U.S. economy and our personal lives. As Mr. Hayward notes, we had 220 million people in America then; today we have 305 million. In 1977 our economy was produced $7.2 trillion (in 2008 dollars); today it is twice as large, at $14.2 trillion. Back then we had 145 million vehicles on the road; today we have 251 million. America has substantially grown, and our energy needs have grown as well. So what would we have to do get back to 1977 emission levels and meet the Boxer-Kerry requirement? First, car and truck miles travelled would have to be reduced by one-third (or fuel efficiency improved by one-third, hard to do in 10 years), which would seriously reduce travel and transportation, and likely force changes in automobile design that consumers would not like. Next, the amount of coal burned to generate electricity would have to be cut in half. So we would close more than 200 of our coal-fired power plants, and as Mr. Hayward says that would reduce our electricity supply by some 800 million megawatts. To replace those millions of megawatts with non-hydro renewable power sources like wind, solar and geothermal power would be virtually impossible. We have about 130,000 megawatts generated by them now, and the growth rate of these power sources over the last five years suggests it would take 97 years to make up for the shutdown of 200 coal-fired plants.

Why Health Care Is So Expensive in New York
Excerpt: Back in the early 1990s, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo pushed reforms aimed at fixing the state's health-care system. Those reforms were supposed to reduce the ranks of the uninsured as well as prevent insurance companies from unfairly charging people with health problems more than others or dropping sick people from the insurance rolls. They were also supposed to spark greater insurance competition. If that sounds like reforms being proposed in Washington today, it's not a coincidence. One of the biggest things Mr. Cuomo did was to impose government mandates called community rating (CR) and guaranteed issue (GI). The former prevents insurers from charging people more based on their health or age, and the latter forbids denying coverage to anyone who wants to buy it. These two mandates are now a central part of reforms advancing in Congress. In New York, enacting them has been a mistake. One of the biggest proponents of community rating and guaranteed issue in the early 1990s was Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield. With more than eight million customers, Empire was the state's largest insurer. It was also the state's "insurer of last resort" because, as a nonprofit organization, it already had to comply with both mandates. It lobbied to extend CR and GI to every insurer in the name of fair competition. But New Yorkers didn't get a more competitive insurance market. Within months of the law going into effect in April 1993, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau opened a criminal investigation into Empire. It had admitted to misleading regulators about losses it had suffered in 1989, 1990 and 1991. The company also went through two shake-ups of its top leadership—the executives who had led the company when accounting mistakes were made were ousted, and then executives brought in to clean up the mess stepped down under pressure from State Insurance Commissioner Salvatore R. Curiale. Within a few years, Empire and others stopped selling insurance in the individual market in the state.

Health Costs and History
Excerpt: Washington has just run a $1.4 trillion budget deficit for fiscal 2009, even as we are told a new health-care entitlement will reduce red ink by $81 billion over 10 years. To believe that fantastic claim, you have to ignore everything we know about Washington and the history of government health-care programs. For the record, we decided to take a look at how previous federal forecasts matched what later happened. It isn't pretty. Let's start with the claim that a more pervasive federal role will restrain costs and thus make health care more affordable. We know that over the past four decades precisely the opposite has occurred. Prior to the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, health-care inflation ran slightly faster than overall inflation. In the years since, medical inflation has climbed 2.3 times faster than cost increases elsewhere in the economy. Much of this reflects advances in technology and expensive treatments, but the contrast does contradict the claim of government as a benign cost saver. Next let's examine the record of Congressional forecasters in predicting costs. Start with Medicaid, the joint state-federal program for the poor. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that its first-year costs would be $238 million. Instead it hit more than $1 billion, and costs have kept climbing.

To Sue or Not by Dr. Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: Years ago, CBS reporter Lem Tucker said in a broadcast on October 13, 1981 that my views "seem to place him in the school that believes that maybe most blacks are genetically inferior to white people." Anyone interested in the facts could have discovered that I had argued directly against this idea in a number of writings, including a feature article in the New York Times Magazine on March 27, 1977. An attorney I did not know, but who had read my writings and knew that what was insinuated in that broadcast was totally false, offered to represent me in a lawsuit against CBS. That was when I faced the kind of dilemma that Rush Limbaugh faces now.

Why Things Will Feel Worse as They Get Better: The Downside of Growing Consumption Equality
Excerpt: When salt and spices were expensive, access to these were part of the measures by which people differentiated themselves materially. Today, salt is so trivially cheap that it's not worth considering in a comparative budget. As more items and services -- whether TV sets or MP3 players or computers or even triple bypasses -- become widely available, then by definition, the goods and services that remain objects of envy and inequality will be those that are most insensitive to improved efficiencies. Hence our sense of perceived inequality might actually increase as material inequality decreases, says Nye. The upshot of all this is that the better off we are, the more we spend and focus attention on consuming items which are less amenable to economic and technological fixes, says Nye.

Department of Justice impersonates reporters at Sheriff Arpiao's news conference.
Big Bro is watching you!

We’re afraid you’re going to leave this place
What? America abandon allies we made solemn pledges to? Never. We stood by the South Vietnamese, the Kurds after the Gulf war, the Poles who fought by our side in WWII, and are committed long term to the Iraqis who supported us. You can count on America. Excerpt: If McChrystal is denied then the helicopters might as well start arriving at the US compound in Kabul right away and those Afghans who risk life and limb by helping the Coalition should start digging their own deathpits and wait patiently at the edges for the Taliban to come and kill them. Then some time many years in the future their skulls and bones can be dug up, put in a museum where western tourists can regard them, shed some tears, mutter “how terrible” then move quickly on to a nice meal and a display of Afghan folk dancing.....

The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan
Excerpt: Obama does not want this to be his war. He does not want to be remembered for Afghanistan the way George W. Bush is remembered for Iraq or Lyndon Johnson is for Vietnam. Right now, we suspect Obama plans to demonstrate commitment, and to disengage at a more politically opportune time. Johnson and Bush showed that disengagement after commitment is nice in theory. For our part, we do not think there is an effective strategy for winning in Afghanistan, but that McChrystal has proposed a good one for “hold until relieved.” We suspect that Obama will hold to show that he gave the strategy a chance, but that the decision to leave won’t be too far off.

Stanley McChrystal's Long War
Long, but worth reading.

Your independent voice in Washington
A look at the Blue Dogs.

British Peer on Global Warming

And for fun
Excerpt: A German man mooning at railway staff in a departing train got his trousers caught in a carriage door and ended up being dragged half naked along the platform, out of the station and onto the tracks. The 22-year-old journalism student shoved his backside against the window of a low-slung double-decker train when staff forced him off in Lauenbrueck for traveling without a ticket, a spokesman for police in the northern city of Bremen said. (Ah, those sophisticated Europeans. Why can’t we be more like them?)

"As an American I am not so shocked that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize without any significant accomplishments to his name. We Americans gave him the White House based on the same credentials!” (Sent to me without attribution.)

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