Thursday, March 25, 2010

Political Digest March 25, 2010

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.

How VIPs lobbied schools: Duncan's office tracked politicians and others,0,5656688.story
Democrats against school choice for poor black kids in DC, but in favor of choice for politically-clouted kids in Obamaland. The Chicago way and Obama’s education czar. Some kids are more equal than others. Figures. Excerpt: While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan. Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city's premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan's office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama. The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

The shocking truth about a fundamental right being denied to 55% of citizens
Write your legislators about this injustice! Excerpt: There is a fundamental right being denied 55% of all Americans. This denial costs over 16,000 lives per year, meaning more than 44 of our fellow Americans will die every day that we delay. What should be done in light of these shocking figures? Using the example set by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, there is only one answer: Universal Gun Care for every American. Surely a right outlined in the Bill of Rights (2d Amendment) is just as important as a right NOT found the Constitution (Health Care). Bonus, it should be easier to implement. After all, gun dealers and manufacturers are ready and willing to help solve the problem. Unlike the evil insurance companies, gun dealers don't want to take your weapon away from you when you most need it. Nor will they deny selling you a weapon simply because you haven't purchased one in the past (i.e. a pre-existing condition). • Conventional estimates state that 45% of all US households own a firearm. This leaves at least 55% of all Americans "uncovered." • In 2008 there were 16,272 murders in the USA. How many of those could have been prevented if the victims had been able to protect themselves? My proposal is a modest one: • Mandate for every American to purchase a gun or be provided one by their employer (children under the age of 26 can share a weapon with their parents) • Tax credits to offset the cost of purchase (for those making less than $250,000 per year and everyone in Nebraska) • For those that can't afford it, a grant or subsidy to purchase a weapon (union members can get two weapons subsidized before 2018)

The immigrant tradition
In visuals even a Congressman could understand.

Must read: An Off-Budget Office? By Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: Under the headline "Costly Bill Seen as Saving Money," the San Francisco Chronicle last week began a front-page story with these words: "Many people find it hard to understand how the health care legislation heading for a decisive vote Sunday can cost $940 billion and cut the horrendous federal deficit at the same time." It's not hard to understand at all. It is a lie. What makes this particular lie pass muster with many people, who might otherwise use their common sense, is that the Congressional Budget Office vouched for the consistency of the budget numbers that say you can add millions of people to a government-run system and yet save money. The Congressional Budget Office does honest work. But it can only use the numbers that Congress supplies-- and Congress does dishonest work. It is not the CBO's job to give their opinion as to whether any of the marvelous things that Congress says it will do in the future are either likely or possible.

Accept that healthcare costs will not decline
Excerpt: Look at the driving forces inexorably leading to increased health costs.
First, the demographics of the aging baby boom generation will result in more senior citizens requiring expensive healthcare. Second, healthcare technology is expensive. Moore’s Law does not seem to apply to medical technology. Third, Americans are not generally willing to engage in a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to treating sick loved ones. Fourth, medical care is a luxury good, and affluent countries and people tend to spend more than poorer ones. These driving forces do not mean that measures should not be taken to reduce waste and inefficiency, but even in an optimally efficient healthcare system, the driving forces will tend to increase costs. (Tort reform would bring down costs. Competition across state lines would too. So would reducing the number of state mandates on behalf of interest groups. But Democrats are in power and they oppose these real cost saving measures.)

Medical Underwriting
Excerpt: Paul Krugman says the opposition to ObamaCare is conducting a campaign based on "blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency." The proponents' case, by contrast, has been principled. Hmmm.....Krugman and I must be listening to completely different sound bites. Over the past few weeks I can't recall a single TV appearance by a proponent that did not involve an anecdotal horror story in which a hapless victim is abused by a mean insurance company. Is the purpose of these anecdotes to make us feel sympathy?... To get our checkbooks and make a contribution?... Or is the purpose to make us fear that we too could be abused?... In other words, to scare us?? Interestingly, Krugman himself wrote a column only a few days earlier in which he based the entire argument for guessed it....a fear-mongering horror story! I'll let readers decide whether the delivery was "unconstrained by facts or any sense of decency." (David Henderson gives the rest of the story here.) Meanwhile, I predict that abuse of the sick by insurance companies will become more likely, not less likely under ObamaCare -- a subject I'll reserve for another day. Just how scared should we be? It's been illegal to rescind a person's insurance because of a change in health status since the passage of HIPAA in 1996. It's also been illegal for any employer to discriminate against employees because of their health condition over the same period of time. So it's only in the "individual market" (less than 10% of the total) that people get charged premiums which tend to reflect their expected health care costs. Okay. So how well does the individual market work? Better than you might think. In his new book, Health Reform Without Side Effects (previously reviewed by me at the Health Affairs blog), Mark Pauly shows that the market works better than the health insurance exchanges ObamaCare would replace it with and better than the small group market that Obama would leave largely untouched. Moreover, with a few reasonable reforms, the individual market would work better still.

Health Care Reform: Who Wins and Who Loses
Excerpt: But make no mistake: Even in its scaled-back version, the new legislation will dramatically change the nation’s health care system — extending coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans while raising costs and reining in services for millions of others. Couples earning more than $250,000 will see higher taxes, which is one reason the Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years. In addition, the bill shifts the cost of the uninsured from taxpayer-subsidized emergency rooms to insurance companies and their policyholders. “The people who will gain the most are low-income people who do not get health insurance from an employer,” says Dr. John Goodman, president and CEO of the self-described right-leaning National Center for Policy Analysis. “Just about everybody else loses.”

Here come the Republican amendments
Excerpt: Senate Republican amendments to the health-care "fixes" bill are stacking up, and some could prove tough for Democrats to oppose when the around-the-clock "vote-a-rama" begins later today. And yet if the legislation changes in any way, it must return to the House for a final vote. So look for Democrats to hang tough -- at least on most of these measures. Here are highlights from the growing list: Among the 12 amendments offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a physician, one would would stop fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid payments for prescription drugs prescribed by dead providers, or to dead patients. According to Coburn, this actually happens. The amendment also would prohibit coverage of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications to convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders. "There's no prohibition in the bill for this, at this time," Coburn said on the Senate floor. Other Coburn amendments seek to offset the hiring of new government health-care workers with comparable layoffs; add new fraud-busting measures to cut Medicaid and Medicare abuses; and exempt band-aids, surgical gowns and latex gloves from a new tax on medical devices. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, is pushing an amendment that could potentially gut the underlying bill, by ensuring that its hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts be spent on the Medicare program -- instead of to expand coverage for the uninsured. "It is a hard-and-fast commitment that Medicare savings will go to benefit Medicare, and that should be our purpose," Gregg said.

Fourteen States Seek to Block Health Care Reform Law in Court
Excerpt: Fourteen states, from Florida to Washington, have gone to court in an effort to block the new health care law, arguing that the federal government has no right to force their citizens to buy something that they may not want: medical insurance. Thirteen of the states, led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (pictured), filed a joint federal lawsuit Monday in Pensacola, where they called the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act an "unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of states," CNN reports. McCollum and 12 other attorneys general involved are Republicans; Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana is the lone Democrat. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, the state legal officers assert, is there a mandate requiring citizens to have health coverage. The new law, which offers subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance, imposes financial penalties on those who do not comply by 2014. Lawsuits challenging federal authority often rely on the "commerce clause" of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "powers not delegated" to the federal government by the Constitution are "reserved to the states respectively." But efforts by states to circumvent federal laws are often trumped by the Constitution's "supremacy clause": laws passed by the Congress "shall be the supreme law of the land." In Virginia, conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II went to the federal courthouse in Richmond with his own arguments. The Virginia case claims that a state law enacted earlier this month prohibits the federal government from forcing coverage on citizens and creates an "immediate, actual controversy" between the state and federal government, giving Virginia unique standing to sue. (Idiot reporters. If a law is unconstitutional, the “supremacy clause” doesn’t make it constitutional.)

Responding to Obamacare: Restore, Defeat, Defund, Repeal
Excerpt: Now is the time for defiance! Here's what we must do: 1) Restore the Medicare cuts mandated in this bill. Block the reduction of physicians' fees by 21 percent scheduled to take effect this fall. Override the cuts in Medicare that require annual approval by Congress. Challenge the Democrats over each and every cut. Try to peel away enough votes to stop the cuts from driving doctors and hospitals to adopt the course already taken by the Mayo Clinic in refusing to take Medicare patients. 2. Defeat the Democrats in the 2010 election! Start with the traitors who voted no in November and then switched to a shameful yes when it counted in March. Then go on to win the open seats in the House and Senate. And then fight to replace as many Democrats as possible. Remember: Any Democrat who voted no would have voted yes if they had needed his or her vote. The only way to repeal Obamacare is to vote Republican. 3. Defund. Once we get the majority in both chambers, defund appropriations for the Obamacare program. The bill passed by the Congress and signed by the president is simply an authorization measure. Funds must be appropriated for it each year by Congress. Through zero funding these changes, we can cripple them before they take full effect.

Must read: At 26, it's time to be real adult
Excerpt: An Open Letter to My Four Children: I don't care what President Obama says, you may not remain on our health care policy until you are 26. For the record, you also may not move into the basement and install black lights or hang Che Guevara posters (or posters of Barack Obama in the style of Che), nor may you consider our laundry room an intergenerational gathering place. At 26, you will have been a legal adult for five years and will have obtained an education or professional training. You will have been taught to drive, cook, operate a power drill, call the cable company when the service goes down and, most important, prepare your own income-tax return. You will be old enough to get married, enter into a binding legal contract, start a business, buy a home and even rent a car. Twenty-six isn't terribly old, but it's old enough to know better. It is not adolescence, no matter what the American Psychological Association says. Not to worry. We have confidence in you. Adulthood is not as hard as it looks. Love and kisses, Mom. Perhaps because the president's own children are still so young, he doesn't realize that success in parenting is defined by our children's independence.

That was then, this is now: Obama’s 20 promises for $2,500
All Americans now await lower premiums promised by Obama

Obama gives sugar plums to the special interests
Excerpt: "Tonight," President Obama intoned near midnight Sunday, after the House had passed two health care bills, "we pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. ... We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people." But even before the president spoke, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America -- whose $26.1 million lobbying effort in 2009 was the most expensive by any industry lobby in history -- hailed the health package as "important and historic."

You Ain’t My Folks’t-my-folks/
Excerpt: By Command Sgt Major J D Pendry, US Army (ret). You left field politicians need to stop calling me the folks. I ain’t your doggoned folks. The next thing you know, you’ll have Government Motors producing Folkswagons. The mind is not quite the steel trap it once was, but I think that happened somewhere else before didn’t it? I could be wrong, but there is a vague memory of it. It will be the automobile that we folks can finally afford. Man, we’ll be living the dream. Then you’ll declare that owning one is a right. An unalienable right granted to us by you in all of your benevolence. It cannot be just any old Folkswagon. It has to be the one produced by party loyal union workers at the Government Motors factory operated by government bureaucrats that know nothing about cars, unless it’s the Goremobile that runs on captured cow flatulence. You will pass a law that requires me to fulfill my right by making me buy one. If I do not exercise my right, you will either fine me for it or make the cost of any another brand so blasted expensive so that I am forced… Well, you know how it all works out. You’ve done this before under the guise of looking out for the folks. When you pull off your suit coat, take off your tie, roll up sleeves and put that phony possum grin on your weaslely face while looking in no particular direction don’t ask how we folks are doing. You don’t care. We know it. It is insulting when you pretend. Besides, we know that when you say folks you are really thinking gun toting, Bible clinging rednecks. My folks worked hard all of their lives. By their actions they taught me the values of self reliance, hard work and here’s a shocker for you – honesty. You are the antithesis of that. They also taught me to pick phony paid for skunks out of the crowd and to keep one hand on my wallet whenever they start looking out for the folks. My folks are dead and buried side by side. Let them rest. God is looking out for them now so you can take a break. Do you know what else I don’t need from you? I don’t need any more lectures about moral issues. Nationalizing healthcare is not a moral issue. Like Ol’ Joe said, it may be a big F’ng deal for you, but it’s not a moral issue.

Record numbers now licensed to pack heat
Firearms deaths fall as millions obtain permits to carry concealed guns
Not all the news is bad. And on MSNBC! Excerpt: Attorney Jim Corley displays some of his handguns in his Columbia, S.C., office, including the .32-caliber semiautomatic that he used to stop a holdup and kill a would-be robber. Waving a chromed semiautomatic pistol, the robber pushed into the building in the bustling Five Points neighborhood of Columbia, S.C., just before 11 p.m. on April 11, 2009. “Gimme what you got!” he yelled, his gun hand trembling. Attorney Jim Corley was one of four people in the room, the lounge area of a 12-step recovery group’s meeting hall. “He said, ‘Give me your wallet,’” Corley recalled. “So I reached around to my back pocket and gave him what was there.” Unfortunately for the gunman, later identified as Kayson Helms, 18, of Edison, N.J., that was Corley’s tiny Kel-Tec .32, hidden in a wallet holster and loaded with a half-dozen hollow points. Corley fired once into the robber’s abdomen. The young man turned. Corley fired twice more, hitting him in the neck and again in the torso. Helms ran into the night and collapsed to die on a railroad embankment 100 feet away. Reports filed by officers who arrived at the scene a short time later called it an “exceptionally clear” case of justifiable homicide. Following South Carolina’s “Castle Doctrine,” which allows the use of deadly force in self-defense, police did not arrest Corley. They did not interrogate him. Corley was offered the opportunity to make a voluntary statement, which he did.

Is a Republican-controlled House better for President Obama in 2012?
Excerpt: In the run-up to Sunday night's House passage of President Barack Obama's health care bill, the chief executive repeatedly urged Members of Congress to focus on the long term legacy of the vote not the short term politics. "I don't know about the politics," Obama said in a speech March 10 in St. Charles, Missouri. "But I know it is the right thing to do, and that's why I'm fighting so hard to get it." Obama offered a series of variations on that basic theme over the final weeks of the health care push: the politics of passage are uncertain/unknowable but, in essence, good policy will, in the long run, be good politics. That sort of approach by Obama -- and his senior advisers -- to an issue that Republicans are promising to put front and center in their campaign to take back the House in November has caused some anxiety among vulnerable Members of Congress and raises a central question about the coming midterms: Would President Obama be better off heading into his 2012 re-election race with Republicans in control of one of the two chambers of Congress? Much like the name "Lord Voldemort", the idea that Obama wouldn't be devastated by a Republican takeover of the House or Senate -- although the former is far more likely -- is something that senior White House aides dare not utter aloud. But, that doesn't mean we can't!

Why Joe Bastardi sees red: A look at Sea Ice and GISTEMP and starting choices
Excerpt: Anomalies are all about the starting choices made by people. Nature doesn’t give a hoot about anomalies. Generally, people don’t either. Imagine if your local TV weather forecaster gave tomorrow’s forecast in anomalies rather than absolute temperatures....While anomalies are fine for illustrating many things, including temperature, bear in mind it’s all about the starting conditions chosen by the individuals doing the analysis. It’s all about choosing a baseline “normal”, which is subjective.

French government backs down on carbon tax plan
Excerpt: The French government has signalled that it is dropping a plan for a tax on domestic carbon dioxide emissions. Jean-Francois Cope, parliamentary leader of the governing UMP party, was quoted as saying the tax "would be Europe-wide or not (exist) at all". Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament that the government should focus on policies that increased France's economic competitiveness. France had been rethinking the tax after a court rejected it last year. The Constitutional Council said there were too many exemptions for polluters in the tax plan, and that a minority of consumers would bear the burden. But President Nicolas Sarkozy's government had still been planning to push through a revised version of the measure later this year.

Muslim leaders in Yemen say those who support ban on child marriage are apostates
Excerpt: Now wait a minute. The exemplary Moderate Muslim Tarek Fatah just grew monumentally indignant when Wafa Sultan dared to point out that (as is recorded in the earliest, most reliable Islamic sources) Muhammad was 54 when he consummated his marriage with the nine-year-old Aisha. Fatah assured us greasy Islamophobes that Aisha was actually fourteen or fifteen at the time she married Muhammad. But then why do the Islamic leaders in Yemen not seem to understand this? In Islam, Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur'an 33:21). Thus he is exemplary even in his marriage to a child: Muslims take this seriously and imitate Muhammad in this. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine: "Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed." The Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl "a divine blessing," and advised the faithful: "Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house." Time magazine reported in 2001: "In Iran the legal age for marriage is nine for girls, fourteen for boys. The law has occasionally been exploited by pedophiles, who marry poor young girls from the provinces, use and then abandon them. In 2000 the Iranian Parliament voted to raise the minimum age for girls to fourteen, but this year, a legislative oversight body dominated by traditional clerics vetoed the move. An attempt by conservatives to abolish Yemen's legal minimum age of fifteen for girls failed, but local experts say it is rarely enforced anyway. (The onset of puberty is considered an appropriate time for a marriage to be consummated.)"

Nuclear terror risk to Britain from al-Qaeda
Excerpt: Bomb makers who have been active in Afghanistan may already have the ability to produce a "dirty bomb" using knowledge acquired over the internet.
It is feared that terrorists could transport an improvised nuclear device up the Thames and detonate it in the heart of London. Bristol, Liverpool Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast are also thought to be vulnerable. Lord West, the Security Minister, also raised the possibility of terrorists using small craft to enter ports and launch an attack similar to that in Mumbai in 2008, when more than 150 people were killed. The Government is so concerned about the threat that it is setting up a command centre to track suspicious boats. The terrorism threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe" in January after the failed attempt to blow up an aircraft over Detroit on Christmas Day. Three separate reviews of the country's ability to prevent a major terrorist attack were published simultaneously yesterday, before an international meeting on nuclear security in Washington next month. Downing Street released an update to the National Security Strategy in which it stated that "the UK does face nuclear threats now" and added that there was "the possibility that nuclear weapons or nuclear material [could] fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups".

From Talafar to Marja: Applying Counterinsurgency to Local Conditions
Excerpt: The seizure of Marja in Helmand Province was the largest operation in the Afghanistan war, conducted by approximately 2,500 American and 1,500 Afghan troops versus 400-800 insurgents. Chris Chivers of the New York Times moved with Battalion 3-6, Mike Phillips of the Wall St. Journal with 1-6, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post with 1-6 and with the brigade headquarters. I went up to Now Zad, began the operation with 1-6 and spent most of the month in southern Marja with Task Force Commando, comprised of 40 Marines and Special Forces and 400 askars and police. Marja marked my third embed with MEB units. The basic question is whether the seizure of Marja was sui generis, with few techniques of general applicability, or was an example, like Talafar in the Iraqi war, with wider implications.

Breakfast with Barry, Episode Two
Funny stuff.

The Government Can
Hit song now.

Do you know who will be in charge of health care? The IRS. You thought getting audited was bad? Wait until your next prostate exam. --Jay Leno

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