Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Political Digest October 27, 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.
Prognosis improves for public insurance
Okay, government programs have always cost far more than predicted and been subject to the inefficiency of political interference, but this time will be different, we promise. Beside, when the crises hits in ten or twenty years, we’ll mostly be gone and it will be someone else’s problem. The folks who passed Medicare don’t have to fix it, now that it costs ten times what they claimed.

Public option revival not a sign of strength
Excerpt: But while it may be cause to raise a glass of carbon-neutral pinot noir in Berkeley and on the Upper West Side, the renewed talk of a government-run insurance program is a sign of weakness, not strength, for President Obama's health plan. The president and his team have put the insurance industry at the top of their ever-lengthening list of enemies and are now threatening to cut them out of the great health care takeover. But the plan until recently was to turn the health insurance industry into a public utility: Americans would have no choice but to buy their products, but the feds would set rates and coverage rules. This was appealing to moderate Democrats in Congress who have rejected the idea of a government-run insurance program on the grounds that it would compete unfairly and wipe out private, employer-based insurance. Rather than risking the poor quality of care and debilitating expense of a single-payer system, the public option would be scrapped in favor of a deal with the devil of big insurance.

From the people who brought us the swine flu vaccine shortage - Government-run health care!
Excerpt: President Obama's late-night declaration of a nationwide public health emergency last night shouldn't be allowed to obscure the most important lesson of the developing swine flu crisis - The same government that only weeks ago promised abundant supplies of swine flu vaccine by mid-October will be running your health care system under Obamacare. On Sept. 13, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, told ABC's This Week program that the government was on schedule to deliver an "ample supply" of swine flu vaccine by mid-October: "We're on track to have an ample supply rolling by the middle of October. But we may have some early vaccine as early as the first full week in October. We'll get the vaccine out the door as fast as it rolls off the production line." But here we are five weeks later and news reports are coming in from across the nation of long waiting lines of people wanting the shot, but being turned away because of grossly inadequate supplies. The typical explanation from public health offiials is that the swine flu vaccine requires more time to be cultivated than seasonal flu vaccine. That's no doubt true, but did federal public health officials just discover that fact? These are the same government officials who will be in charge of your health care under the government-run health care system being sought by Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress. (Let’s be fair here. Blaming the BO administration for the swine flu response is like blaming the Bush administration for the Katrina response. Wait….that’s what they did! BO promised government competence on his watch.)

Next phase in health-care debate: The art of the deal
Excerpt: In Washington, there are two ways to wage legislative war: fight to kill and fight to tweak. With a growing sense that Democrats may have the votes to pass health-care reform, many participants are now attempting to shape the components of landmark legislation rather than to defeat it. "We're very close to getting the 60 votes we need to move forward," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to request a cost estimate on the bill he has worked out behind closed doors, moving one step closer to debate in the full Senate, his spokesman said. Lawmakers, industry executives and lobbyists said over the weekend that this is the moment to exert maximum influence on legislation aimed at refashioning the $2.4 trillion health-care sector. From company-specific minutiae to far-reaching changes in the tax code, it is bargaining season.

Private Sector Socialism, Part II
Excerpt: The congressional leadership has been very vocal lately about the need for competition in health insurance. These are people who have previously never had a good word to say about “competition” in their entire political careers. They are the very same people who have previously resisted (and even ridiculed) proposals to allow health insurers to compete across state lines.

And for every other state as well, to varying degrees. Excerpt: Under Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' still-developing plan, the "America's Healthy Future Act of 2009," the Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates that: The program's costs will rise by more than $20 billion over the next decade. The number of people enrolled in the program will grow by more than 2.5 million. Dumping these state and federal resources into the Medicaid program is not the right answer. Already the system consumes an enormous amount of public resources. Adding to it would only worsen the burden on states, enlarge the pool of health care recipients dependent on government aid, and worsen a growing problem of fraud, says the Foundation. (Create a program, buy votes, let someone else figure out how to pay for it.)

If you build a coverage mandate, will they come?
Excerpt: As the proposed $900 billion health-care legislation inches toward the finish line, a critical unknown is whether people would comply with a mandate on individuals to carry insurance, one of the Democrats' primary tools to significantly increase the number of Americans who have coverage. The Senate Finance Committee, whose bill has dominated much of the recent debate, set its maximum penalty for noncompliance at $750 per year, at the same time creating subsidies to help low-income Americans buy coverage. In the House, the penalty is based on income, but works out to about the same for a middle-class family.

Electronic medical records not seen as a cure-all
Excerpt: When President Obama designated $19.5 billion to expand the use of electronic medical records, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said it was one of only "two good things" in February's stimulus package. But such bipartisan enthusiasm has obscured questions about the effectiveness of health information technology products, critics say. Interviews with more than two dozen doctors, academics, patients and computer programmers suggest that computer systems can increase errors, add hours to doctors' workloads and compromise patient care. "Health IT can be beneficial, but many current systems are clunky, counterintuitive and in some cases dangerous," said Ross Koppel, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who published a key study on electronic medical records in 2005.

A congressman, a lobbying firm and a swift path to earmarks
Excerpt: It takes a while for most start-up companies to gain the confidence of a U.S. congressman and the promise of federal funds. But last year, a small Illinois company accomplished its goal in 16 days with the help of Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, a little-known Indiana Democrat who sits on the House committee that funds the Pentagon. In rapid succession, the three-employee technology firm, NanoSonix, filed its incorporation papers in Skokie, Ill., and hired a Washington lobbying firm, K&L Gates, which boasted to clients of its close relationship with Visclosky. A week later, Visclosky wrote a letter of support for a $2.4 million earmark for NanoSonix from the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. (Buying re-election with our tax dollars.)

Let the Markets Regulate
Excerpt: Washington's role in financial markets should be to create a level playing field through proper regulation, not to create unfair advantages through targeted control and support. The Obama Administration's announcement that it will slash and regulate pay at seven bailed-out financial and economic giants, including Citigroup and A.I.G., does the latter, not the former, harming economic recovery, says Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute. In a healthy economy: Failed private-sector firms go out of business. Bankruptcy allows good assets and workers to escape bad companies. It also enforces market discipline, as it shows shareholders and lenders that reward comes with commensurate risk.

The Limits of Transit: Costly Dead-End
Excerpt: The proposed Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) fare increase and service cuts for next year are indicative of transit’s recurring budgetary problems, and not only in Chicago but nationwide. But in the Windy City, these moves have elicited an understandably negative public reaction since the city of Chicago depends on transit about as much as any city besides New York. CTA, like other transit agencies around the nation routinely, claim that fare increases and service cuts are necessary due to under-funding. Transit budget crises seem to come as often as Presidents day in many places and more often than February 29 (every four years) virtually everywhere. If under-funding were the primary problem, then an examination of historic trends would indicate that the money available to transit had declined (after adjusting for inflation) relative to ridership. But in nearly all cases, including both the CTA and the national data, this is far from the truth. (But government-run systems have to reward the politically faithful. Coming soon to healthcare.)

White House attacks worry moderate Democrats
Excerpt: A White House effort to undermine conservative critics is generating a backlash on Capitol Hill — and not just from Republicans. “It’s a mistake,” said Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from western Pennsylvania. “I think it’s beneath the White House to get into a tit for tat with news organizations.” Altmire was talking about the Obama administration’s efforts to undercut Fox News. But he said his remarks applied just the same to White House efforts to marginalize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobby targeted for its opposition to climate change legislation. “There’s no reason to gratuitously piss off all those companies,” added another Democrat, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia. “The Chamber isn’t an opponent.”

Abuse of Police Powers
Excerpt: Unfortunately, with House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman’s recent decision to subpoena 52 of the top insurance companies in the country — which demanded a sweeping array of documents and information (some of which are highly confidential and proprietary) — our government appears to be trying to punish these companies for speaking out on an issue of public interest and importance. Incredibly, Waxman (D-Calif.) wants more information from these companies — which are not accused of any wrongdoing and have never taken a penny in government bailout money — than he recently demanded from the banking and auto industries that received billions in taxpayer dollars from Uncle Sam. Considering that we are in the middle of a hotly contested debate about health care reform, it is no secret why Waxman wants these insurance companies to do opposition research on themselves., And nobody should be surprised when Democrats cherry-pick the most damaging subpoenaed information to leak to the media in order to help the party turn the insurance industry into a boogeyman.

U.S. tested 2 Afghan scenarios in war game
Thank God none of the millions of jihadist extremists read the US press, or they’d know everything we planned. Excerpt: One of the exercise's key assumptions is that an increase of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would not in the near future give U.S. commanders the forces they need to take back havens from the Taliban commanders in southern and western Afghanistan, where shadow insurgent governors collect taxes and run court systems based on Islamic sharia law. "We were running out the options and trying to understand the implications from many different perspectives, including the enemy and the Afghan people," said a senior military official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the classified game. The Obama administration initiated a major review of its war strategy in late September after questions emerged about the legitimacy of the Aug. 20 Afghan elections, which were marred by allegations of widespread fraud, and a troubling update on the progress of the war by McChrystal. He warned that unless the United States moved quickly to wrest momentum from the Taliban, defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan might no longer be possible. What was intended to be two or three weeks of intensive White House meetings has stretched on for almost a month. Obama and his national security advisers have sorted through the military and civilian aspects of the war, building toward a decision that many on the outside have urged be made sooner rather than later. Last week, the president concluded the five planned review sessions, roughly 15 hours in all, with top advisers in the Situation Room. McChrystal's analysis suggests that 44,000 troops would be needed to drive Taliban forces from populated areas and to hold them until Afghan troops and government officials can take the place of U.S. and NATO forces. The extra troops would allow U.S. commanders to essentially triple the size of the American forces in the southern part of the country, where the Taliban movement originated and where the insurgents have their strongest base of support.

Afghanistan could turn into Vietnam. Let's hope so.
Excerpt: "If that day in the jungle, if that war long ago, teaches us anything," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden, "then surely it is this: If we send our men and women in uniform into harm's way, then it must be only when it is absolutely necessary. And when we do, we must back them up with the strategy and the resources and the support they need to get the job done." (If only he meant it.)….. Why the dramatic reversal? Time helped, certainly: Just as Americans will forget Mohammad Omar, eventually the images of tortured American POWs and massive bombing of the Vietnamese countryside began to fade on both sides. But more important, American war veterans publicly made peace with their old adversaries. In the Senate, vets John Kerry and John McCain pushed for the normalization of ties between the nations in the 1990s. And on the ground in Vietnam, groups of veterans met with civilians from the areas where they had served. These meetings had a profound impact on Vietnamese public opinion. (Not me. I still hate those murdering commie bastards and grieve for the Vietnamese for fought by our side, whom we abandoned to murder, torture and slavery.)

Obama’s 6-Month Performance Review
Pushed credibility in some areas, but the Alinsky stuff is interesting.

"At the heart of the American idea is the deep distrust and suspicion the founders of our nation had for government, distrust and suspicion not shared as much by today's Americans. Some of the founders' distrust is seen in our Constitution's language such as Congress shall not: abridge, infringe, deny, disparage, violate and deny. If the founders did not believe Congress would abuse our God-given rights, they would not have provided those protections. After all, one would not expect to find a Bill of Rights in Heaven; it would be an affront to God. Other founder distrust for government is found in the Constitution's separation of powers, checks and balances and the several anti-majoritarian provisions such as the Electoral College and the requirement that three-quarters of state legislatures ratify changes in the Constitution. The three branches of our federal government are no longer bound by the Constitution as the framers envisioned and what is worse is American ignorance and acceptance of such rogue behavior. Look at the current debate over government involvement in health, business bailouts and stimulus packages. The debate centers around questions as whether such involvement is a good idea or a bad idea and whether one program is more costly than another. Those questions are entirely irrelevant to what should be debated, namely: Is such government involvement in our lives permissible under the U.S. Constitution? That question is not part of the debate. The American people, along with our elected representatives, whether they're Republicans or Democrats, care less about what is and what is not permissible under our Constitution. They think Congress has the right to do anything upon which they can secure a majority vote, whether they have the constitutional or moral authority to do so or not." --George Mason economics professor Walter E. Williams. "The Patriot Post (www.patriotpost.us/subscribe/ )"

Laugh of the day
I exchanged e-mails with Milton “Mac” McNeely, the Marine whose letter to President Wobbly I posted yesterday. Mac went through the siege of Khe Sanh. I told him it was a nice quiet place when I rotated home in September of ’67—what happened? His reply: “Your replacement was a troublemaker!”

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