Back in May, as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and municipal bond dealers were considering a federal insurance policy against muni bond defaults, I marveled at Frank's courageous, damn-the-tape desire to plunge taxpayers into the murky pond of complicated debt derivatives. I even suggested they might want to take the deal to the next level of post-modernity:
Maybe if Treasury goes along with this plan, we could get some Department with a lot of free time (Homeland Security maybe?) to start writing insurance policies against the risk of default by muni bond insurers. What could possibly go wrong?
From my mouth to God's ear. At the Federal Reserve's symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, following a rewarding day spent putting on coconut-bra drag performances and hunting human prey on a walled-in game preserve, attendees got to hear a presentation by M.I.T. economists Ricardo Caballero and Pablo Kurlat. The subject? Getting the government permanently into the credit-default swap business:
The two professors say the underlying idea - selling insurance against extreme financial risk - should be in the Fed's arsenal to manage financial crises.
"Insurance is an effective and cheap tool during a panic," they say in their Jackson Hole paper. The Fed did provide an ad-hoc form of insurance during the crisis -- guarantees to Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. on the value of more than $400 billion in assets they held. More broadly, the Fed provided insurance to the whole financial system when officials there vowed to do "whatever it takes" to stabilize markets last fall and extended their safety net beyond banks to AIG. The professors say the bank guarantee program should be formalized in instruments called tradable insurance credits which could be triggered by banks and even hedge funds if another crisis erupts.
Apparently, the schedule also included a rebuttal of this presentation, which I hope included the question: "What planet do you live on?" In any case it's exciting to see my ideas in action, even though the Fed isn't really the government, just an old-fashioned bank run by simple folks.
My uncharitable colleague Brian Doherty questions the absolutely inarguable fact of Federal Reserve Chairman's Ben Bernanke's awesomeness, but doesn't give Bernanke credit for his greatest talent: his Oz-like ability to maintain confidence in his genius in the face of absolutely no results.
The Mortgage Bankers Association says 13.2 percent of mortgages on one-to-four-unit properties are in default. The foreclosure fad continues to catch on from coast to coast and in between. How long can the craze last? Mish's Global Economic Analysis and School of Dance predicts no market bottom until 2102, substantially more pessimistic than the 2012 bottom predicted by other doomsayers.
Seventy-eight bank failures and counting have the cash-strapped FDIC ready to work for food.
Sample company performance: Caterpillar's year-to-year sales have been halved. Why is there so little demand for Caterpillar machinery? Among other things, because new housing starts are off nearly 40 percent [pdf] from 2008 levels.
There are also signs that the stimulus-engorged rally in leveraged loans is coming to an end, leaving debt-heavy companies without sources of even more debt. This is actually good news because it will help the brute-force deleveraging of the economy -- one of the few positive trends out there. But it's not going to create growth anytime during Bernanke's reappointment campaign.
Updates: It's official: The recession did not end in May or June. July, anyone? Also Mish has corrected the 2102/2012 typo I quibbled on.
In her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine, left-wing writer Naomi Klein denounced those "free-market economists who are convinced that only a large-scale disaster—a great unmaking—can prepare the ground for their 'reforms.'" This, she says, is the "shock doctrine" or "disaster capitalism," and its greatest proponent was, of course, the economist Milton Friedman.
Let's ignore the defamation of Friedman (but make sure to read Johan Norberg's brilliant evisceration of Klein here and here) and focus on the hideousness of the "shock doctrine"—i.e., using economic crises to impose upon a country policies they otherwise would reject. Caleb Brown flags this quote from Klein, in this month's issue of The Progressive, advocating disaster socialism:
Do we want to save the pre-crisis system, get it back to where it was last September? Or do we want to use this crisis, and the electoral mandate for change delivered by the last election, to radically transform that system? We need to get clear on our answer now because we haven’t had the potent combination of a serious crisis and a clear progressive democratic mandate for change since the 1930s. We use this opportunity or we lose it.
I spoke to Norberg about Klein's book and her misreading of Friedman last year for Reason.tv:
Radley Balko noted some good news about unprecedented life expectancy in America the other morning. Sheldon Richman draws our attention to an interesting fact about the intersection of government-paid-for health care and life expectancy:
In 1930 average life expectancy for Americans at age 60 was 74.5 years. (Infant mortality pulls down average life expectancy, hence the measure "at age 60.") In 1960 -- five years before Medicare began -- the average jumped 2.6 years, to 77.1. By 1990 -- 25 years after Medicare began -- it had jumped to 79.7 -- again 2.6 years.
Medicare did not make the upward-sloping life-expectancy curve any steeper!
For historical context, from 1900 to 1960, overall life-expectancy increased 22.4 years, from 47. 3 to 69.7.
I hasten to add that the medical system may be the least important factor in life expectancy, and one must never judge a country's health care by that measure. (Too many other factors -- lifestyle, genetics, culture -- play more important roles.) Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that Medicare did not improve the rate of progress in life expectancy that was occurring before the program started.
As Richman notes, this point is not dispositive about the value of health care systems, or even of health (and be careful not to conflate the two). But if anyone does believe that surely having the state pick up the tab for health care is going to lead to longer lives, in the aggregate doesn't seem to be much effect.
Because they've been cut short by bumbling implementation of what ought to be a dead-simple feature. According to the Washington Post, the D.C. Metro system has been sending out alerts via 140-character messaging system Twitter for months—and still hasn't figured out the whole "140-character limit" thing.
In March, Metro set up a Twitter account and configured software to tweet onto the popular social networking site all of the advisories about service disruptions already e-mailed to subscribers.
Because a majority of the alerts are longer than the 140-character limit, Twitter has been truncating them automatically. As a result, Metro's updates sometimes leave the agency's 1,507 followers scratching their heads.
What did Metro mean, for instance, when it posted: "No Line: There is no Blue line train service between Rosslyn & King Street. Shuttle bus service is established. Customers are encouraged to"?
"Encouraged to take cab," perhaps? Or maybe "encouraged to unsubscribe?" Or here's a thought: What if it's just a
Thankfully, D.C. Metro employees think it's a gas, too:
"We find humor in that as well," Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said.
I missed it when it came out on Tuesday, but Jack Shafer has published what is probably the best summation of Robert Novak's career. Here's an excerpt:
There was meanness and toughness in Novak's work and in his personal style, and depending on your sensibilities, this cruelty either drew you to the man or repulsed you. Novak didn't have a chip on his shoulder -- he was all chip, as willing to shred his friends as he was his enemies: He's the sort of guy who would have been perfect to teach anger-mismanagement classes....Journalism used to be filled with guys like Robert D. Novak, sociopathic obsessives who would happily break their mother's back to get a story and who would sooner throw themselves off a cliff than retire to the racetrack or work as a lecturer at a journalism school. As Washington Post reporter Marjorie Williams observed in a 1988 piece, Evans and Novak were practitioners of "a form of journalism unlike anyone else's -- fact-based and ax-grinding at once, simultaneously far-ranging and arcane. Deliberately melding their styles and even their ideologies, they have broken news and possibly careers."
What's great about that passage is that it makes the phrase "sociopathic obsessive" sound like a good thing.
Also worth reading: today's tribute to Novak by the radical columnist Alexander Cockburn, who shared Novak's antipathy to the Israeli government but otherwise would seem to stand on the opposite side of the spectrum. But in addition to noting some other areas where he agreed with the departed -- "once the war on Communism was won," Cockburn writes, Novak "became isolationist in instinct, opposing the Iraq war and supporting Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas" -- he praises him for a certain transparency:
Novak's obituarists have almost uniformly dwelled on the "stain" that the Plame affair supposedly left on Novak's reputation. Vice president Dick Cheney used Novak as a conduit to disclose that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, the inference being that her status was the reason why her husband Joe Wilson had been sent to Niger, whence he sent back a report on uranium smuggling discomfiting to Bush and Cheney's war plans.
But as Robert Lowe, the great nineteenth century editor of the London Times once wrote, "It is the duty of newspapers to obtain the intelligence of the news and instantly communicate this to the readers." What Novak's prissy colleagues and competitors never liked about him and Evans (who died in 2001) was that they made obvious what most journalists preferred to conceal, that their information came from self-interested sources, using the press -- in this case Novak -- to fight their bureaucratic wars. Particularly ludicrous was the spectacle of the liberal-left in periodicals like The Nation solemnly deploring Novak's leaking of Plame's name as somehow "compromising national security", as if The Nation magazine in the 1960s had not been a trailblazer in exposing the activities of the CIA. In short, the Plame disclosure was one of Novak's finest hours.
Cockburn is also the first obituarist, as far as I'm aware, to call Novak "the Hunter Thompson of the right."
Update: Charles Davis informs me that IOZ beat Cockburn to the draw: "Properly considered, he was the conservative answer to Hunter S. Thompson, who was himself a mad sort of conservative, or, at least, gun-happy."
D.C.'s ethically ostentatious are struggling to figure out how to make do in a world where Whole Foods is anathema:
Adrienne Pine, a professor of anthropology at American University, admits that she’s known about Mackey’s “right-wing libertarianism” for a while now, but that his Wall Street Journal op-ed was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and the reason she switched from Whole Foods to co-ops and farmers’ markets.
But options may soon expand for Whole Foods boycotters in the capital city. At yesterday's health care forum, President Obama indulged in a little entrepreneurial spit-balling:
So, you know, Michelle set up that garden in the White House?
One of the things that we’re trying to do now is to figure out, can we get a little farmers’ market—outside of the White House—I’m not going to have all of you all just tromping around inside—(laughter)—but right outside the White House—(laughter)—so that—so that we can—and—and—and that is a win-win situation.
Since a couple of the protesters in front of D.C.'s P Street Whole Foods were already sporting "UFCW for Obama" shirts, I'm sure they be thrilled to transfer their custom to the man himself.
Come to think of it, there is a convenient blocked off section of Pennsylvania Ave. right in front of the White House. And I'm sure the Secret Service won't mind at all if Sasha and Malia get out there and hawk some of those spare zucchini.
Mexico's law decriminalizing possession of illegal drugs for personal use, which I noted a couple of months ago, took effect today. The quantity limits are pretty stingy: five grams (about a fifth of an ounce) for marijuana, half a gram for cocaine, 50 milligrams for heroin, and 40 milligrams for methamphetamine. According to A.P., the cutoff for LSD is 0.015 milligram, or 15 micrograms, far less than a typical dose of 100 to 150 micrograms.
From now on, drug users who are caught with less than those amounts cannot be prosecuted. Instead, they will be offered treatment the first couple of times, after which treatment will be mandatory. A spokesman for the Mexican attorney general's office tells A.P. drug users carrying such tiny amounts were almost never prosecuted anyway, but they were subject to shakedowns by the police. "The bad thing was that it was left up to the discretion of the detective," he says, "and it could open the door to corruption or extortion."
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie recently sat down with Michela Wrong, author of It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower, a riveting and deeply disturbing account of John Githongo's tenure as Kenya's anti-corruption czar. Githongo made the mistake of taking his job title seriously-and quickly had to flee his homeland with evidence of wide-scale graft and tribal discrimination that has crippled Kenya since independence.
The author of I Didn't Do It For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation and In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on The Brink of Disaster in Mobotu's Congo, Wrong brings a journalist's eye for detail to an unparalleled body of work that explores and explains why post-colonial Africa has struggled so greatly with economic, social, and political development.
"What the Kenyan case showed-and it's true of many African countries," says Wrong, who refuses to romanticize a continent she passionately cares about, "is that you cannot pretend to help a country if you do not cast a very critical eye on the politics of the day. And if you have a government that's busy stealing, there is no point in continuing to spout the sermon about helping and aid."
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg; edited by Meredith Bragg.
Go here for embed code and downloadable iPod, HD, and audio versions.
Fallen Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne is back in the news, though if you read Reason, you'll already be familiar with the particulars.
Second, CNN brought some welcome national exposure to the story yesterday, with a report posted to the website for Anderson Cooper's show. I've heard mixed reports on whether the story will make it on to Cooper's actual show. Would be great if it did.
Welcome to the party, gang!
Early reviews of Quentin Tarantino's bloody new World War II movie Inglorious Basterds are looking pretty good, though The Wall Street Journal's Jordana Horn reports on some of the most interesting: the audience response from a private screening held at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage:
It's understandable that Mr. Weinstein, one of the heads of the Weinstein Company, which produced the film, was somewhat wary of the audience reaction to "Inglourious Basterds," out in theaters today. The film's central premise is revenge fantasy-one in which Jews, both American and European, wreak the vengeance upon Nazis. They are killed, scalped, burned and disfigured. And, to a certain extent, the participants revel in the violence of it all. Mr. Roth's character, not-so-affectionately nicknamed "The Bear Jew," beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat.
So how did it play? (Spoiler alert!)
Rita Lerner, whose mother was liberated from Dachau and whose father survived the war in Siberia, said that she was "unfortunately happy" to see the climactic theater burning scene during the screening. "With Hitler there, and all those high Nazi officials-how great would it have been?" she asked. "Maybe I would have had grandparents growing up, or other family. Not one minute did I feel sorry for them: It was well-deserved. When they locked the doors, I was hoping they wouldn't be able to get out." Her sister, Vivian Reisman, took it a step further: "I felt like Tarantino was a fellow Jew, just the way he made me feel so proud of the Basterds and the revenge against the Nazis. . . . He's a member of the tribe, as far as I'm concerned."...
"There's something in that gusto that's scary," Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, professor of Jewish Law at Fordham University, said to me about the premise of the film. "You like it too much."
In the New York Times this morning, Paul Krugman writes that "progressives are now in revolt," and that Obama has lost their trust.
[T]here’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.
Now, politics is the art of the possible. Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted.
But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke.
Where to start? First of all, it looks to me like Obama has started to call out Republicans for playing politics with health-care reform. I completely agree with the charge: Republicans are most certainly attempting to play this debate for maximum political gain. But so is Obama. That's the name of the game in Washington, and no president, no matter how popular or capable or influential, is going to change that.
And pinning health-care reform's troubles entirely on Republicans seems like a stretch, at best. Sure, GOP obstructionism is whipping up fervor amongst the base,and that's helped spark the media frenzy. But moderate Democrats have been a big obstacle too. Conservative Republicans were never going to go along with Obama's plan; the more telling problem, I think, is that the administration has failed to court some members of its own party.
Meanwhile, I wonder: What did progressives expect?
That Obama could simply roll into Washington and ignore the myriad forces arrayed against a liberal agenda? That conservatives, Republicans, moderate Democrats, and interested industry groups would simply go away or shut up? That Obama, through force of will and liberal coolness, could use his awesome rhetorical ju-jujitsu skills to flip the opposition and defeat nutty right-wingers and conservative politicians forever?
Unless you're a character in an Aaron Sorkin show, that's just not how national politics work. And it's particularly unrealistic given that Obama didn't run as a progressive cage-fighter, but as a calm, pragmatic leader—with progressive sympathies, yes, but nothing like the ferocity of the netroots.
Like Kevin Drum said: "Washington is a tough place to get anything done" no matter what side you're on. And if you go in expecting the world—or even incremental but sure-to-be-difficult change—you're bound to be disappointed.
I just had the world's most delicious Arizona Grille sandwich, complete with chicken, roasted red peppers, and chipotle mayo on a focaccia roll, washed down by some three-dollar carrot juice. It was at my neighborhood supermarket, a Whole Foods, where 10 or so protesters stood outside trying to make people sad and/or angry. On the way in, some shlub in a bright yellow "UFCW for Obama" shirt handed me a flyer with the following claims:
John Mackey is a right wing libertarian. [...]
He has just launched a campaign to defeat a single payer national health insurance system. [...]
This despite the bottom line reality that single payer is the only way to both control health care costs and cover everyone. [...]
And the problem with Mackey's campaign is that it results in the deaths of 60 Americans every day due to lack of health insurance.
Mackey is responsible for these deaths as much as anyone.
After making my purchase with more enthusiasm than usual, I was handed another flyer from some peppy UFCW gals, including the bold-italic question du jour: "Do you really want your shopping dollars going to executives who are undermining President Obama?" One of them asked me (quoting from memory), "Are you aware that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey recently wrote an op-ed attacking national health care?"
"Yes," I replied with a smile. "I read the whole thing." As I walked away one of the gals said, in genuine wonder and disappointment, "Wow...."
More on the pathetic boycott against the only supermarket CEO I'm aware of who advocates ending the Drug War, here and here. I'll just make one observation: The liberal commentariat keeps telling us that we need to have a "serious debate" about reforming our dysfunctional health care system. Well, love 'em or hate 'em, Mackey came up with eight tangible ideas to do just that, and this is the reaction he gets. From people who no doubt treasure their DVDs of Shut Up and Sing.
I wrote about the Dixie Chicks, and the "fair-weather friends" of free speech, in 2004.
There's a demonstration against Whole Foods going on now in Washington, D.C., mostly because CEO John Mackey recently penned an anti-government health care op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. (Full disclosure: Mackey has contributed to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.) And instead of simply standing athwart ObamaCare, he actually offered up a series of sensible, market-oriented reforms that should be given a shot.
As the protesters protest, take a moment to read the great 2005 roundtable debate Reason staged with Mackey, economist Milton Friedman, and Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers. Since its publication, it's been one of our most widely read and discussed stories. A snippet from Mackey's opening salvo:
The most successful businesses put the customer first, ahead of the investors. In the profit-centered business, customer happiness is merely a means to an end: maximizing profits. In the customer-centered business, customer happiness is an end in itself, and will be pursued with greater interest, passion, and empathy than the profit-centered business is capable of.
Not that we're only concerned with customers. At Whole Foods, we measure our success by how much value we can create for all six of our most important stakeholders: customers, team members (employees), investors, vendors, communities, and the environment. Our philosophy is graphically represented in the opposite column.
There is, of course, no magical formula to calculate how much value each stakeholder should receive from the company. It is a dynamic process that evolves with the competitive marketplace. No stakeholder remains satisfied for long. It is the function of company leadership to develop solutions that continually work for the common good.
This week, President Barack Obama claimed his version of health care reform is "a core ethical and moral obligation," beseeching religious leaders to promote his government-run scheme. "I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness," Obama said, invoking the frightening specter of the Ten Commandments. But as David Harsanyi writes, while we have no clue what Jesus would make of a public option, we do have plenty of evidence that government tends to act immorally, corruptly, and incompetently—especially a government with too much power.
A Canadian study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine this week found that "injectable diacetylmorphine was more effective than oral methadone" as "a treatment for chronic, relapsing opioid dependence." Specifically, "the rate of retention in addiction treatment in the diacetylmorphine group was 87.8%, as compared with 54.1% in the methadone group," while "the reduction in rates of illicit-drug use or other illegal activity was 67.0% in the diacetylmorphine group and 47.7% in the methadone group."
Stripped of the medicalese, what the researchers found is that if you give heroin addicts heroin, they will keep coming back for more. They will also be less likely to buy heroin on the street or commit crimes to support their habit. These findings, similar to the results of European studies, are not exactly surprising. The puzzling thing is that we're asked to pretend that heroin is a "treatment" for heroin addiction. "Study Backs Heroin to Treat Addiction," says the headline over a New York Times story that begins, "The safest and most effective treatment for hard-core heroin addicts who fail to control their habit using methadone or other treatments may be their drug of choice, in prescription form."
What the study actually shows is that the problems associated with heroin addiction are largely caused by prohibition, which creates a black market in which prices are artificially high, quality is unreliable, and obtaining the drug means risking arrest and associating with possibly violent criminals. The drug laws also encourage injection by making heroin much more expensive that it would otherwise be and foster unsanitary, disease-spreading injection practices by treating syringes and needles as illegal drug paraphernalia. When you take these dangers out of the equation, regular use of heroin is safe enough that it can qualify as a "treatment" dispensed by men in white coats. That rather startling fact should cause people to question not just current addiction treatment practices but the morality of trying to save people from themselves by making their lives miserable.
For more on "the surprising truth about heroin and addiction," see my June 2003 Reason article.
Remember the old line about how the left won the '60s culture war because "they had better songs"?
Well, if the music matters in public policy debates, then this song is the ultimate weapon for opponents of single-payer health care. And folk music. And quite possibly, humanity itself.
The case against Prop 8, which banned gay marriage in California, is being argued in federal court by the unlikely cross-party team of Ted Olson and David Boies, who were on opposite sides of the Bush vs. Gore election kerfuffle in 2000. Early filings and a status hearing in the case were made this week, with a trial expected in January.
A bunch of geeks are begging, borrowing, and stealing government documents in the pursuit of transparency chic. In today's Wall Street Journal, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward follows one merry band of information liberationists as they lift court docs from behind a paywall. If these geeks keep it up, she writes, the government may someday have even less privacy online than its citizens.
The magazine's world-weary political correspondent announces that Republican health care politics have pushed him off the ledge: He–nay, the Republic–just can't afford to be impartial anymore.
Given the heinous dust that's been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that's a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark? (See pictures of angry health-care protesters.)
I'm not going to try.
So I guess we can no longer expect those hard-hitting analyses of the president?
Other Klein claims, now that he's finally taken off the gloves:
Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party. [...]
the Republicans are curling themselves into a tight, white, extremist bubble [...]
There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn't run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn't have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party's leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now.
Funny, I thought the GOP was run not by a radio broadcaster–who, by the way, has had a long mutual hate society with the Republican who ran for president in 2008–nor by a "tight, white, extremist," but by this black guy? If the party–which, please don't get me wrong, I root against on a daily basis–is indeed in thrall to snarling, hysterical, neofascist analogs, why did the last squirt of electoral success by a white-resentment candidate come 13 years ago, with the four primary states won by Pitchfork Pat Buchanan?
I do not doubt that there is a kind of madness at the hardest core of the GOP (though, I guess unlike Klein, I think the same thing about all political parties), and the Republicans' history of stoking white/majoritarian fear and loathing soured me permanently on the party back during its alleged 1980s heyday. That such a high percentage of Republicans believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States does not, alas, probably indicate a newfound skepticism of executive claims. And yes, the best one could say about the official GOP right now is that it's massively hypocritical, crying about the modern big government era it created, declaiming end-of-life government intervention just a few years after putting all of Capitol Hill in Terry Schiavo's hospital room.
Still, if, as the growing media narrative contends, the Republicans have devolved into a rump party of half-sane white southerners wracked by racial anxiety, why does it keep rewarding anti-racist anti-populists at the top of its presidential ticket (including, notably, the ticket that ran against a liberal Democrat black candidate), while rejecting every dime-store Tancredo with prejudice? When does this allegedly mainstream Republican pathology begin showing up in the numbers, or in the personages of those who lead the party?
The recent open-carry demonstration in Arizona has prompted some fearmongering stories about the Viper Team (or "Viper Militia," as it is often mislabeled), an Arizona group that was accused of plotting a major terrorist attack during the militia scare of the '90s and whose members eventually pled guilty to (or, in one case, was found guilty of) lesser weapons and conspiracy charges. For a stroll down memory lane -- and an antidote to the breathless stories circulating now -- here's Reason's coverage of the Viper case, written by Alan Bock and published in our December 1996 issue.
As noted below, cash for clunkers is deader than my brother's mid-'70s Vega after about 18,000 miles.
Somehow in the bizarro world of government, the program was initially hailed as a huge success because it immediately become three times more expensive than it was expected to be and hence ran through a pile of dough that was supposed to last until November 1.
Hanging out signs that say "Hey Kids, Free Money!" does motivate some people to come running. But now the money's all gone and all were left is, well $3 billion more in debt and the ultimate statement on why the program was misconceived all along, courtesy of Reason.tv:
The automotive site Edmunds.com has noted that C4C helped push buyers most likely to buy in the first place. And it helped push down the need for dealers to offer the incentives they had been using to lure customers in, so dealers "are enjoying a 20 percent increase in gross profit per sale involving a clunker trade-in since the program launched." The site had also noted that interest in the program actually started to wane almost immediately, a product of the originally limited amount ($1 billion) and the fact that only the most-motivated buyers were willing to swap out a clunker (probably with no payment) for a new car with a monthly payment).
In any case, USA Today reports GM and Chrysler, having experienced short-lived sales boosts, are ready to go to their old ways, which is producing more cars than anyone wants to buy.
Gleeful automakers are reacting to the cash-for-clunkers-driven spike in car demand with increased production plans for the third and fourth quarters.
That comes even as one leading industry researcher says the rebate program's appeal is waning and there are few signs a broad recovery has begun.
Oh those gleeful automakers, so full glee and autos! Is there anything they can't do wrong? More here.
• Cash for Clunkers clunks to an end.
• Ted Kennedy wants to revise some rules to help his party pass its health care package.
• More information emerges about the CIA's work with Blackwater.
• Afghanistan's election sees a low turnout.
• America's largest Lutheran denomination may ordain sexually active gay priests.
• Everybody wants to rule the world.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok follows President Obama to a health care town hall.
The New York Times on how everyone who matters knows Ben Bernanke is the champ, and yet various doofuses still worry that even his genius won't be enough. Some excerpts with interpolated crumbled cup tosses from the gallery:
As central bankers and economists from around the world gather on Thursday for the Fed’s annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., most are likely to welcome Mr. Bernanke as a conquering hero....He has been frustrated that many in Congress do not give the Fed what he believes is enough credit for what it has accomplished. Indeed, Mr. Bernanke has met privately with hundreds of lawmakers in recent months to explain the Fed’s strategy.
Fellow economists, however, are heaping praise on Mr. Bernanke for his bold actions and steady hand in pulling the economy out of its worst crisis since the 1930s. Tossing out the Fed’s standard playbook, Mr. Bernanke orchestrated a long list of colossal rescue programs: Wall Street bailouts, shotgun weddings, emergency loan programs, vast amounts of newly printed money and the lowest interest rates in American history.
It's not that it hasn't occurred to many thoughtful people that the moral hazard of knowing the government indulged in bailouts and previous low interest rates were primary causes of the problem we're in right now, but hey, at least he's taken advantage of the fact that such policies can put a little bounce in an economy before it comes crashing down again.
Even one of his harshest critics now praises him.
“He realized that the great recession could turn into the Great Depression 2.0, and he was very aggressive about taking the actions that needed to be taken,” said Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics, who had long criticized Fed officials for ignoring the dangers of the housing bubble.
And how is it that we got a dangerous housing bubble, Mr. Roubini? Did the Fed's low interest rate policies of the first few years of the century have anything to do with it?
....Mr. Bernanke faces two major challenges. On the economic front, the Fed has to decide when and how it will reverse all its emergency measures and raise interest rates back to normal without either stalling the economy or igniting inflation.
That's quite a challenge, and really the nub of the matter. It is way too early to credit him with any genius, other than the political one of frantically kicking the crisis down the road a smidgen, until we see how he manages that.
Mr. Bernanke and other Fed officials now concede they failed to anticipate the full danger posed by the explosion of subprime mortgage lending. As recently as the spring of 2007, Mr. Bernanke still contended that the problems of the housing market were largely “contained” to subprime mortgages.....
Yes, the Fed wizard had a hard time seeing the fingerprints of his own agency and its loose credit policies on the crisis. And that bodes ill for the future. See via Wilson Burman in the American Conservative these examples of Bernanke's perspicacity:
A Fed chairman’s job has two broad parts: performance and predictive ability. The former depends in large measure on the latter. The existence of “green shoots” is still open to debate. Bernanke’s prescience is not. Consider his track record:
March 28, 2007: “The impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime markets seems likely to be contained.”
May 17, 2007: “We do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system.”
Feb. 28, 2008, on the potential for bank failures: “Among the largest banks, the capital ratios remain good and I don’t expect any serious problems of that sort among the large, internationally active banks that make up a very substantial part of our banking system.”
June 9, 2008: “The risk that the economy has entered a substantial downturn appears to have diminished over the past month or so.”
July 16, 2008: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are “adequately capitalized” and “in no danger of failing.
But back to the paper that really matters, the New York Times:
As the credit crisis deepened, Mr. Bernanke urged Fed officials to devise proposals that had never been tried before. They responded with a kaleidoscope of emergency loan programs to a wide array of industries.
“He has had tremendous courage throughout this episode,” said Frederic S. Mishkin, a professor at Columbia University’s business school and a former Fed governor
It does not actually take a great deal of courage for a government official to flail about with huge power grabs and giveaways to try to save his institutional ass.
But economists say Mr. Bernanke’s most important accomplishment was to create staggering amounts of money out of thin air.
All told, the Federal Reserve has expanded its balance sheet to $1.9 trillion today, from about $900 billion a year ago. Analysts now caution that Mr. Bernanke’s job is only half complete. He will eventually have to reel all that money back. He has already laid out elements of the Fed’s “exit strategy,” but Fed officials have been careful to say it is still too early to pull back any time soon.
I imagine it will keep seeming too early to these jokers until it's too late, because reining in inflation means imposing a little short term economic pain, usually, and that's one thing Bernanke seems to see as his Prime Directive: don't let that happen on his watch or that of the president who has to re-appoint him.
I wrote on Bernanke's frantic re-election campaign for Reason Online last month.
Here's a report that, if the story behind it is true, is both totally unsurprising and worthy of our notice and contempt:
In his new book, the first Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, accuses top aides to President George W. Bush of pressing him to raise the terror alert level to influence the 2004 presidential election.
Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, says that he refused the entreaty just before the election from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to a summary of the book from publisher Thomas Dunne Books.
"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge, who resigned soon after the election where Bush defeated Democrat John F. Kerry, writes in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."
You're a true patriot, Tom Ridge. When faced with senior administration officials deliberately trying to scare the crap out of the American people to win an election–a tar-and-featherable offense, at minimum–not only did you decide to eventually quit some day, you rushed out and told citizens about their duplicitous leaders in just five short years! For profit!
A banal point to remember, but foundational: Government is materially incentivized to frighten you, about everything. Power–surprise!–corrupts, no matter which set of angels happens to be exercising it this year. Which is why some of us don't gladly give the stuff over to Washington, D.C.
For more on the eternal politics of scaremongering, see Nick Gillespie's classic, "You know, this used to be a helluva good country." And for a fat archive criticizing the Department of Homeland Security back when the respectable consensus assured us of its necessity, start here.
During a recent visit to Seattle, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seemed to blame his blatantly inaccurate statement that marijuana "has no medicinal benefit" on a heat-addled brain:
We had been hiking in 107-degree weather in the Sierra Nevadas, and when we came down, the question was in reference to smoked marijuana, and as you know, smoked marijuana has not been shown by the FDA to have, to show, medicinal value. This is a medical question, and that's where we're going to leave it.
But even in the air-conditioned studios of KOMO, a Seattle TV station, Kerlikowske could not manage to get it right. It is not correct to say that smoked marijuana "has no medicinal benefit" either. You could argue that the plant should not be smoked, that it's better to avoid inhaling combustion products by using a vaporizer, by eating marijuana-laced baked goods, by spraying a cannabis extract under your tongue, or even by swallowing an FDA-approved capsule containing synthetic THC. But the fact that federal regulators so far have approved only that last method does not mean the other modes of administration are ineffective.
When I first discussed Kerlikowske's denial of marijuana's well-established medical utility, I wrote that if "you say something like 'marijuana has no medicinal benefit,' you are either a liar or an idiot." A couple of weeks ago, I elaborated on the former possibility, but now I am leaning toward the latter explanation.
Along with the indefatigable Dan Hayes of Reason.tv, I attended today's MoveOn.org-AFL-CIO protest on Capitol Hill (video forthcoming). "President Obama is holding a virtual health care forum live from the DNC building," says the MoveOn press release, "and right-wing groups are mobilizing to protest." We met a lone libertarian (who seemed to have happened on the event), but no right-wing, let-them-eat-cake, Obama-ist-der-Fuehrer protesters. Most of those we spoke with fretted about the future of the public option, which all admitted was necessary as a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.
Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, thinks that if Obama continues to falter on the health care issue, the GOP is in a perfect position to retake Congress:
A top Obama ally predicted Wednesday in an interview with ABC News that Democrats will lose their congressional majority in next year's midterm elections if they fail to put a health-care reform bill on President Obama's desk.
"I think we're talking losing control of Congress," said Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union. "[The failure of health-care reform] would totally empower Republicans to kill all change."
"It's hard to imagine the Democrats convincing the public that Republicans are to blame for health-care reform going down when the Democrats have such large majorities," he added. "After last year's promise of change, voters will start feeling buyer's remorse.
Stern is right, though his dark auguries are just a veiled threat to the administration. But it is true that the Democrats have gift-wrapped this issue for the feckless, leaderless, gormless Republican Party. As Obama's poll numbers plummet, just imagine the political hay the GOP could make of Obama's cack-handed "reform" efforts if it had someone sensible, someone coherent, to push back. Instead, Sarah Palin sucks up all the media oxygen with her rambling discursions on "death panels."
There has been much squabbling about the potential of a public option to morph into a de facto single-payer system, with the right taking the "Will too!" position and the left rebutting with a "Will not!"
Those worried about a presto chango argued that when government steps into the health care market and uses the power of the state to artificially lower their own costs, private plans might very well wither and die.
And it looks like that might have been the point all along. Not so much an evil, secret plan, though. More like an admittedly long-shot hope.
The American Prospect's Mark Schmitt fills in some historical facts about the Democrats' strategy, "a real high-wire act—to convince the single-payer advocates, who were the only engaged health care constituency on the left, that they could live with the public option as a kind of stealth single-payer, thus transferring their energy and enthusiasm to this alternative."
Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future...took UC Berkley health care expert Jacob Hacker's idea for "a new public insurance pool modeled after Medicare" and went around to the community of single-payer advocates, making the case that this limited "public option" was the best they could hope for. Ideally, it would someday magically turn into single-payer.
The Dems went gung ho for this strategy, but the general population—which turned out to be just barely astute enough to sense a bait-and-switch (who knew?)—didn't. As even squishier compromises ooze over the horizon, Schmitt mournfully concludes:
If there is a public plan, it certainly won't be the kind of deal that could "become the dominant player."
To which I—along with my cynical, naysaying friends—reply: Whew.
During Freedomfest, the annual mega-conference held in Las Vegas each July, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with online-gambling enthusiast, 2008 Libertarian Party vice-presidential nominee, and Conscience of a Libertarian author Wayne Allyn Root.
In a fast-paced and wide-ranging conversation Root examines the failure of the Barr-Root ticket to generate enthusiasm even among LP members, why online gambling (though admittedly a "minor" issue) is the gateway drug to increasing the number of small-government voters, and why California's political and economic meltdown is the model for a series of rolling "economic catastrophes" that will hit the rest of the country over the next few years.
Approximately seven minutes long. Shot and edited by Dan Hayes.
Go here for embed code and downloadable versions.
More fun with Wayne Allyn Root: While running for the LP nod in 2008, Root, along with Bob Barr and Sen. Mike Gravel, discuss the "Future of Libertarian Politics" in the Reason DC HQ. Watch it here or click below:
Instapundit Glenn Reynolds narrates a fun and exhaustive PJTV accounting of the various presidential czars appointed by Barack Obama.
More czars than there are in heaven!
Ryan Sager makes a significant point about public support for gay marriage:
We all know there's a gap between how old folks feel about same-sex marriage and how young folks feel. What you might not quite grasp is just how tremendous that gap is....If people over 65 in each state made the laws, 0 states would have gay marriage; if people under 30 made the laws, 38 states would have gay marriage.
"This is a generational battle," Sager says, "and that means the younger generation wins...eventually."
A surprising number of liberal pundits seem to think that the noisy health care protests reveal something uniquely sinister about the American right. But as Associate Editor Damon W. Root points out, the left has its own sordid history of racist violence.
As Jacob Sullum has previously discussed, the Supreme Court heard arguments last term in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. At issue was the 90-minute documentary Hillary: The Movie, which was produced by the conservative group Citizens United and intended for distribution before the 2008 elections. This would have been illegal under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold), however, which bars corporations and non-profit organizations (such as Citizens United) from sponsoring "any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication" that mentions a candidate in a federal campaign within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.
In an unusual move, the Court decided to rehear oral arguments, scheduling them for September 9, which is a few weeks before the next term officially kicks off. Earlier this month in The Washington Post, liberal columnist Ruth Marcus offered an astonishing case for why the Court should gut the First Amendment and restrict political speech:
In short, this is precisely the sort of cantankerous political speech that ought to be protected under the First Amendment. The problem is that for purposes of federal election law, Citizens United is treated the same as Wal-Mart because it is a nonprofit corporation and it takes corporate as well as individual donations.
We don't want Wal-Mart—at least I don't—using its purchasing power to buy elections, and we don't want Wal-Mart funneling money to a nonprofit proxy. But how to keep Wal-Mart out of the candidate-electing business while protecting the speech of ideological groups?...
The smart, not to mention judicially restrained, approach would be for the court to take one of several available escape hatches, much as it did in avoiding a final verdict on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. It could say that because Citizens United took such a small amount of corporate money, it should not be subjected to the same rules as a regular for-profit corporation. (This is already true for ideological nonprofit groups that don't take any corporate funds.) It could say an on-demand video is not the same as a commercial.
So much for taking rights seriously!
Here's a little something Marcus forgot to mention: During oral arguments last term, the government openly admitted that the same precedent allowing this suppression of political speech would logically apply to the publication and distribution of books. Perhaps she'll suggest a few more "escape hatches" when that time comes.
And what about her talk of judicial restraint? She may think that she's trapped the Court's conservatives (and conservatives in general) with their own famous attacks on judicial activism. But even the biggest foe of "judicial tyranny" still thinks that a specifically enumerated constitutional provision (the First Amendment, look it up) should trump a lousy federal law. By striking down this portion of McCain-Feingold the justices won't be "legislating from the bench," they'll be doing their constitutional duty.
Over at The Daily Beast, celebrity legal brain Alan Dershowitz tosses a provocative salvo in the direction of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Earlier this week, the Court ordered (PDF) a federal judge to hold an innocence hearing for Troy Davis, a Georgia man convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Since Davis' conviction, a number of eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony, casting new doubt on Davis' guilt.
Joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia dissented from the order (PDF) arguing that the U.S. Constitution guarantees only a fair trial. Once that requirement has been satisfied, actual innocence is irrelevant, even if you can prove it, even if you're scheduled for execution.
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is "actually" innocent.
Scalia made a similar argument in Herrera v. Collins in 1993 (again with Thomas joining him). Though Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a concurring opinion that a majority of the court held the view that the Constitution doesn't permit the execution of an innocent person, that wasn't the holding in the case, so the Court has never explicitly ruled one way or the other.
Dershowitz begins his challenge to Scalia with a hypothetical:
Let us be clear precisely what this means. If a defendant were convicted, after a constitutionally unflawed trial, of murdering his wife, and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side, and sought a new trial based on newly discovered evidence (namely that his wife was alive), these two justices would tell him, in effect: “Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she’s dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you’re dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you’re innocent.”
Putting the legal issues aside, Dershowitz then gets intriguingly personal. He points to a 2002 essay Scalia wrote for the journal First Things in which Scalia explains that if the Constitution ever contradicted his Catholic faith, he would have no choice but to resign from the Court. Despite the Church's general opposition to the death penalty, Scalia explained, he could justify upholding death sentences because the Church doesn't outright prohibit capital punishment, it merely discourages it.
That is not to say I favor the death penalty (I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point); it is only to say that I do not find the death penalty immoral. I am happy to have reached that conclusion, because I like my job, and would rather not resign. And I am happy because I do not think it would be a good thing if American Catholics running for legislative office had to oppose the death penalty (most of them would not be elected); if American Catholics running for governor had to promise commutation of all death sentences (most of them would never reach the governor’s mansion); if American Catholics were ineligible to go on the bench in all jurisdictions imposing the death penalty; or if American Catholics were subject to recusal when called for jury duty in capital cases.”
But as Dershowitz points out, to say there's nothing immoral about capital punishment in principle is quite a different proposition than to say there's nothing immoral about upholding the execution of a factually innocent person.
...whatever the view of the church is on executing the guilty, surely it is among the worst sins, under Catholic teaching, to kill an innocent human being intentionally. Yet that is precisely what Scalia would authorize under his skewed view of the United States Constitution. How could he possibly consider that not immoral under Catholic teachings? If it is immoral to kill an innocent fetus, how could it not be immoral to execute an innocent person?
I suspect Scalia's answer would be that his only moral obligation as a judge is to ensure that a defendant has been given a fair trial with adequate constitutional protections. Once legal guilt has been established, the moral decision of whether or not to carry out the execution of someone with a strong factual innocence claim falls on the governor or pardon board. Any governor, for example, would of course immediately pardon the man convicted of murdering his still-living wife.
But given the pace of exonerations we've seen over the last decade, subjecting a strong innocence claim to the whims of an elected official or appointed pardon board doesn't feel like a particularly satisfying answer. Derschowitz seems to have cornered Scalia here, though. I'm not sure what other response he could give.
Any Catholic scholars out there want to take a crack?
Last year on this day, oil was selling for about $115 per barrel, having fallen from a peak price of $147 a month earlier and on its way to around $35 per barrel in December, 2008. The price has been bouncing around $70 per barrel for the last few months. Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency's chief economist, Fatih Birol warned that global oil production will peak by 2020. As the Independent reports:
...the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago. On top of this, there is a problem of chronic under-investment by oil-producing countries, a feature that is set to result in an "oil crunch" within the next five years which will jeopardise any hope of a recovery from the present global economic recession, [Birol] said.
Let's focus on "chronic under-investment" which I have previously described as driving what I call "Political Peak Oil." My concern about political peak oil...
....arises because 77 percent of the world’s known oil reserves are in the hands of state-owned oil companies. Such “companies” do not respond with alacrity to market signals and so are under-investing in new production technologies and even in maintaining the production facilities that they currently have. I have earlier pointed out that an “oil crisis,” that is, a steep rapid run up in the price of oil may occur at any time due to government incompetence or maliciousness.
The column then goes on to detail the incompetence and under-investment that is occurring in Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, and Russia. But wait, the situation is possibly worse than I thought. In the current issue of The Futurist, oil analyst Roger Howard's article, "Peak Oil and Strategic Resource Wars," (sub required) points out another looming barrier to boosting oil production, resource nationalism. As Howard notes:
As oil becomes scarcer, producing countries will become increasingly dependent on foreign skills and technology. There are two key respects in which Western companies--oil majors like Total and ExxonMobil, as well as service companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger--are far more skilled than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. One is in making the most of existing sources of oil by using sophisticated methods of enhanced or tertiary recovery to squeeze as much as possible out of existing wells. The other is is offshore work, finding and then exploiting resources in deep waters. ...
In the coming years, many producers will be forced to make a clear choice. Either they must watch their output reach a plateau and then gradually decline, with disastrous economic and political consequences, or they must swallow their pride and accept that they are dependent on foreign assistance to secure their future. Since the late 1960s--even longer in the case of Iran--Middle East producers have tried to go it alone, expelling international oil companies from their soil and establishing their own rival national corporations instead. But to confront the challenge of diminishing output, these countries will need to revert to bygone days and accept the support of Western companies.
But even if such countries did "swallow their pride," why would Western companies risk investing in them? After all, Venezuela recently seized Western oil company assets, and is now producing 25 less oil than it did in 1997. And Russia has also begun taking over Western oil and gas company projects on specious environmental grounds, just as its production begins to decline.
The conclusion is inescapable: if an "oil crisis" occurs, it will be the result of massive government incompetence, not market failure. Sadly, there's nothing new about that.
On Tuesday a federal judge in Ohio ruled that the Treasury Department violated the Fourth Amendment when it froze the assets of the Toledo-based organization KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development in 2006. The government suspects the group, ostensibly devoted to philanthropic activity in the Middle East, of supporting terrorism by funneling money to Hamas. But U.S. District Judge James Carr ruled that freezing KindHearts' money amounted to a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment and was "unreasonable" because the government did not first obtain a warrant based on probable cause. He rejected the Justice Department's argument that national security concerns made the Fourth Amendment inapplicable. If Carr's ruling is upheld, the Treasury Department will no longer be able to unilaterally close down American charities or businesses based on alleged ties to terrorism. It will have to show a judge some evidence in support of its allegations and give the organization a chance to respond.
President Obama may be highly talented, writes John Stossel, but that doesn't mean he can repeal the laws of supply and demand. if government pays for more people's health care and wants to control costs, it must limit what we buy. That's called rationing.
What's worse than paying a public official to do nothing? Paying him to do nothing and simultaneously paying him to continue working:
[Assemblyman Harvey] Weisenberg, 75, a Long Island Democrat, "retired" last year but continued to work as a lawmaker and remained on the payroll. As a result, he earns $101,500 in salary and collects a pension of about $72,000, according to the comptroller's office.
Similarly, Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, a 72-year-old Brooklyn Democrat, retired last year after 31 years, but continued to serve her district. She earns $104,500 and draws an annual pension of more than $71,000. And Assemblyman John J. McEneny, a 65-year-old Albany-area Democrat who retired last year but kept his seat in the Assembly chamber, now earns $94,500 and a pension of about $73,000....
Mr. Weisenberg was actually a chief sponsor of legislation last year aimed at cracking down on double dipping by local governments. "Double dipping?" said Mr. Weisenberg, asked about the appearance created by his notional retirement. "I don't see this as that," he added. "This is something I earned."
The New York Times reports that "parents" (at least three!) are "irate" about ice cream trucks. Evidently they are not too fond of snow cone pushcarts either. Because her 3-year-old daughter once "had an inconsolable meltdown about not being able to have a treat," Brooklyn mother Vicki Sell has gone on a rampage against the guys selling fruit-flavored ices at the local playground, demanding that the city shut them down. "It's really predatory for them," she tells the Times, "to be right inside the playground like this." She'd go after nearby ice cream trucks as well, but "since they are licensed, there is not much she can do about them."
Sell insists, "I'm not a health freak by any means." (Does anyone who is not a health freak ever say that?) "I notice what happens to my daughter when she eats these sugar-filled things with all these additives," she explains. If only there were some way to prevent little Katherine from eating "these sugar-filled things" without banning them altogether. Sell wants us to know she is not a mean person. "I feel kind of bad about having developed this attitude," she says. Probably not as bad as the men whose livelihoods she's trying to ruin because she's afraid to say no to a 3-year-old.
In an August 18 editorial, the editors of the New York Times made it explicit how their preferred version of a government run health insurance scheme, a.k.a., the public option, would compete with private health insurance. As the Times editors clearly explained:
... as the House legislation has progressed, the proposed public plan has steadily lost its power to impose lower payments on hospitals and doctors — as the government currently does with Medicare — which is critical to maintaining low premiums.
That's right "impose lower payments." In other words, price controls. One would think that the editors of a newspaper based in a city in which price controls (rent control) destroyed scores of thousands of housing units would be adverse to recommending that this same economically ignorant policy be applied to something as important as health care.
As if to highlight the economic imbecility of the Times' editorial, the Washington Post is today running a sharp op/ed by orthopedic surgeon Marshall Ackerman. First, he asks some probing questions about the ignorant rhetoric that Congressional Democrats and the White House are slinging around in the health care reform debate. But as importantly, Ackerman makes it clear what will happen wiith regard to ever-tightening price controls:
Total joint replacement surgery for an arthritic hip and knee is a prime example of the difficulties physicians face and of the implications of health-care reform as envisaged by Congress and academic "experts." In 1971 I was paid $1,000 for a total hip replacement. Today, I would be paid approximately $1,600 for the same service. There is no multiplier -- a surgeon can only do one patient at a time. We continue in our practice for the immense satisfaction we receive from knowing that this surgery does more to restore a high quality of life to patients than any other surgery, and for the gratitude patients show. We implant devices because we believe, based on medical literature, that they are the best choices for patients. The overwhelming majority of surgeons have not received fees from implant manufacturers -- many times lowering the profitability of our hospitals.
Consider the implications when a global fee will be paid to the hospital: Then hospital and physician incentives will be aligned, and patients will bear the cost of the search for ever-cheaper implants and techniques, such as a return to cemented total hips. Forget metal-on-metal bearings, resurfacing, rotating platforms, high-flex knees, navigation systems or bilateral replacements. And if our hospitals are financially penalized for occurrences such as infection and deep-vein thrombosis after surgery, who will operate on the obese, the hypertensive or the diabetics among us? Experience with government funding reveals a never-ending spiral of decreased reimbursements in the name of restraining costs. In the end, this will come out of the care we all receive.
Let's make it more explicit. A total hip replacement cost $1,000 in 1970. If doing that procedure had kept up with the rate of inflation, the cost would be about $5,500 today. Instead, Medicare pays $1,600. Of course, procedures and technologies have improved which would cut down on the costs, but medicine is still labor intensive which means that costs can be cut only so much.
As I explained my column, "2005 Health Care Forever," government health care price controls will ultimately mean that we all get the same crappy health care for eternity:
Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff sees health care expenditures rising to perhaps 30 percent of a country's GDP over the next 50 years. If the US adopts a nationalized health care system, taxes will have to double for pay for it. Rogoff also observes, "[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt."
Which suggests the following thought experiment—what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago.
Everybody pays more to obtain improved pharmaceuticals, imaging technologies, cancer therapies, and surgical techniques. The happy result is that average life expectancy has increased by about eight years since 1960.
As Rogoff suggests, the nationalized health care systems extolled by progressives have been living off the innovations developed by the "only country without a universal health care system." I wonder how Americans would vote if they were asked if they would be happy freezing medical care at 2005 levels forever?
Read Ackerman's whole Post op/ed here.
Remember when National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre's Godwin's Law comment about "jackbooted government thugs" was the worst thing ever? Well, the mainstream commentariat continues to use the same incendiary, totalitarianism-invoking language to describe...individual citizens. The latest comes from Washington Post columnist and serial public broadcasting commentator E.J. Dionne:
This is not about the politics of populism. It's about the politics of the jackboot. It's not about an opposition that has every right to free expression. It's about an angry minority engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence.
Who, precisely, is being
intimidated with violence here? The dudes showing up to town hall
meetings with licensed firearms are not brandishing them (contrary
to the fantasia
of Scripps-Howard columnists), not (as far as I'm aware) making
verbal threats to anyone, and not getting anywhere near elected
officials, thanks in part to law enforcement who are hyper-aware of
their presence. The closest thing we have to town hall
"intimidation" by an armed man is Ron Paul supporter (and
onetime Hit & Run commenter?) William Kostric (pictured)
displaying a Thomas Jefferson quote that I was first made conscious
of by lefty opponents of George W. Bush.
But even less accurate than the intimidation charge is the notion that scattered individuals in a free country are the equivalent of uniformed murderers acting on behalf of a totalitarian government. I mean, this is not hard to grasp, right? And yet here we see our fellow not-in-power Americans described as "fascists," "political terrorists," and "brownshirts," often by the very same people who complain (and rightly so!) about spurious Nazi analogies.
The social construction of the brownshirt menace, chapter DXXIII:
On Tuesday, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer fretted over health care reform protesters legally carrying guns: "A man at a pro-health care reform rally...wore a semiautomatic assault rifle on his shoulder and a pistol on his hip....there are questions about whether this has racial overtones....white people showing up with guns." Brewer failed to mention the man she described was black.
The NY Times reports on a new study that shows government employment is, if not recession-proof, pretty well covered in Kevlar compared to the private sector:
While the private sector has shed 6.9 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, state and local governments have expanded their payrolls and added 110,000 jobs....
Government jobs are always more stable than private sector jobs during downturns, but their ability to weather the current deep recession startled Donald J. Boyd, the senior fellow at the [Nelson Rockefeller] institute who wrote the report.
"I am a little surprised at the fact that state and local government has remained as stable as it has in the nation as a whole, given the depth of the current recession," Mr. Boyd said in an interview....
The expansion, coming as many states and localities are raising taxes, troubled Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst for the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group in Washington. "That is disturbing," Mr. DeHaven said. "Basically what you have is your producers in society losing their jobs and looking for work, and their tax burden isn't necessarily going down - and as a matter of fact they are likely to face tax increases going forward - and government growing."
The story notes that government cuts in jobs are coming (sure). Remember this the next time your state and local budget officers tell you that they've "cut to the bone," meaning they've trimmed 1 percent or less of their workforce while your company's staffing is down by double digits. Whole thing here.
Here's a great chart that accompanied the story.
Last night, on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Frank Rich of The New York Times reminisces about
the walk up to the [JF] Kennedy assassination, [when] there was all this hate talk about Kennedy, and then there was the John Birch Society, they were worried that the government was going to fluoridate the water and poison the country...it always seems to happen when there's a new liberal group taking over...it's not coincidence that the militias started up again in the 1990s or when Kennedy came in...
As Matt Welch and Jesse Walker and others at this site have been pointing out, loose analogies between between angry, sputtering citizens at town hall meetings and Nazis street thugs and political assassins are pretty damn lame. As important, they are almost inevitably the result of a strange ideological lesion that precludes inclusion of inconvenient facts. A propos of the above: JFK was not assassinated by a right-wing crank, but by a demonstrably pro-Castro defector to the Soviet Union who tooks shots at a rising right-wing freakazoid not long before shooting the president (yes, Oswald done did it). And, you might remember, that revolutionary (coff, coff) violence that wracked the '60s and early '70s was the result primarily not of out-of-control Barry Goldwaterites but by groups on the left.
Precisely what relevance any of this has to the current moment is far from clear. Maddow seemed most freaked out by a recent Arizona incident in which people toted guns to a rally near where President Obama was speaking. The incident has been revealed (on CNN) as a stunt pulled by radio show host and longtime Libertarian Party activist Ernest Hancock, not the nefarious workings of a secret army of camo-wearing zombies mad over mandatory UNICEF collections.
But any accounting of sporadic political violence in the past 60 years or whenever should be even-handed as a starting point of analysis, not used as a way of delegitmating a totally different set of dissenters. That is, folks upset at Obama's health care and other domestic policies, and Congress, and politicians more generally.
• Scotland may soon release Abdel Baset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of bombing the 1988 Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. He has terminal prostate cancer, and may be released on compassionate grounds.
• Life expectancy in the U.S. hits a new all-time high.
• Afghans head to the polls under threats from the Taliban.
• Dealers pulling out of Cash for Clunkers, say feds are too slow to pay.
• Swiss government bends to allow Swiss bank UBS to provide IRS 4,450 cases of "client data" identifying possible tax cheats.
Alex Massie points us to a must-see:
Can't improve on Massie's description:
Perhaps you've already seen Kseniya Simonova's performance on Ukraine's Got Talent. But if you haven't, watch how she recounts the horrors of Ukraine's experiences during the Second World War. With sand.
As we hurtle toward the 20th anniversary of the world revolting against communism, it's worth taking a moment to reflect that in many of our adult lifetimes half of Eurasia, from Berlin to Kamchatka, was a darkened, mostly undifferentiated blob, where no country called "Ukraine" existed, Ukraine's Got Talent was more an observation in West Hollywood than a reality TV show in Odessa, and if there were any Ukranians with a gift for sand animation we almost certainly wouldn't know about it, let alone get to enjoy it on our computers.
Opponents of same-sex marriage reject it on religious and moral grounds but also on practical ones. If we let homosexuals marry, they believe, a parade of horribles will follow. So why, writes Steve Chapman, won't these opponents go on the record with their predictions for what will happen in same-sex marriage states versus other states.
First they came for the real estate appraisers.
When we last checked in, the National Association of Realtors, the Federal Reserve, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision were all in agreement that the steady deflation of housing costs could be arrested if not for "faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan." New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had tried and failed to promote appraiser independence by strongarming various parties (most importantly the government-owned mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) into accepting a new appraisal "code of conduct." Click here for a savage nightmare journey through the Chicago-based Appraisal Institute, the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, and other NSFW follies.
Now David Streitfeld in The New York Times devotes 1,800 words to explaining how the Cuomo Code has raised costs for home buyers, reduced pay for appraisers, and left mortgage lenders with a monopoly on appraiser hiring. I must warn you that the article contains the following paragraph:
Financial change is one of the most contentious issues in Washington, and efforts to fix even widely acknowledged problems seem stalled. The attempt to change the appraisal system is an example of how difficult it can be to adopt changes that are good in theory and also work in practice - while simultaneously winning support from warring interest groups.
But the article deftly explains the machinery of the disagreement, and Streitfeld does try to disentangle the two issues: that lenders now monopolize the process and that various rogues blame low appraisals for the continuing softness of the real estate market.
I'm not sure why we need an institute in Chicago setting appraisal standards for all 50 states, and I'm sure we don't need a New York political scion enforcing de facto national standards. But if we must have a national standard for determining whether you need new shingles, why shouldn't lenders drive the process? They are the ones putting their money on the line and thus have an incentive to get an accurate value of the property. Certainly a bank has less incentive to let a bad loan go through than does a real estate agent or a loan broker, the two groups locked out by the Codex Cuomonibus.
The article highlights a U.S. Bancorp memo urging appraisers to "try and get the value we need the first time," but it doesn't go into why lenders could want to do something so foolish as attempting to nudge appraisals up. Could there be a big federal institution, even two federal institutions, guaranteeing their loans? Could banks think that their bad loans will end up getting subsidized by taxpayers and that there won't be any consequences attached to throwing money at deadbeats? Nah, that's too far-fetched.
Weirdly though, the failure of the Cuomo code is getting mixed up with the claim that appraisers are giving lowball estimates. Supposedly the lender monopoly now allows appraisal management companies to hire "inexperienced appraisers, often traveling many miles to a market they do not know well." This in turn is "scuttling legitimate deals," according to agents. But if an appraisal scuttles a legitimate deal, it's not because it was generally off target but specifically because it was too low. How does lack of experience make you more likely to err on the low side than the high side?
So, Missouri School of Journalism Assistant Prof. Charles Davis, a self-described "near-absolutist First Amendment advocate," is making a splash with this column advocating that newspapers create a "hate" beat. The "best way to beat hatemongering," his subhed advises, "is to report it." I didn't realize that we were now teaching strategies for "beating" various societal phenomena in J-school, but I will admit to a certain unfamiliarity with academia.
Anyway, some of Davis' writing I think illustrates, in an unintended way, why people distrust both journalists and those who deliver lectures on the topic. For instance:
Hate, shuffled off stage in the post-racial haze of the election of the nation's first black president, is back with a vengeance. Hate, if it ever truly threatened to leave the political stage, is most definitely back, larger and nastier than ever.
To get all journalistically theoretical for a moment, what is the definition of journalism? Well, I don't know, but I do know that one thick chunk of the idea is to write or say (or aim to write and say) things that are unequivocally 100 percent true, and hopefully verified in some way. This is even more true, if such a thing is mathematically possible, for those who deliver lectures on all that should be true and good about journalism.
What, class, do we notice about Davis' statement above? IT IS DEMONSTRABLY FALSE. We used to have slavery in this country, and Jim Crow laws, and all kinds of officially sanctioned, legalized discrimination against disfavored minorities. And you want to tell me that hate is "larger and nastier than ever"? We had a CIVIL WAR in this country, where people not only brought their legally licensed firearms to townhalls, but they MURDERED THE SHIT OUT OF ONE ANOTHER. How many people died in racially fueled street riots 41 years ago, compared to how many died in racially fueled street riots in 2009? This little couplet, tossed off without evident concern, as if OF COURSE we all know this is true, is blatantly, sophomorically, and insultingly untrue. It's an advertisement for the author's fundamental lack of seriousness about the very subject he aims to address. More like this:
Somewhere, somehow, the news media have to make the same determination those brave civil rights-era reporters and editors made: This is wrong, deeply wrong, and we must cover it, day in, day out, like any other beat, albeit a more distasteful beat than most.
The same? Really? Let's see, every day in the Jim Crow South (and not only the Jim Crow South), black people were denied entrance to schools, businesses, and various public facilities, and when they attempted to be treated as equals, they were routinely met with official state violence. In 2009? Some loathesome individual citizen, with no official power over anyone, brings a "Death To Obama, Death To Michelle And Her Two Stupid Kids" sign to a political event at which no Obama attended (he is detained by the Secret Service). A man exercising his legal right to bear arms shows up on the periphery of an Obama event and menaces no one (the White House later says it has no problem with citizens legally bringing guns to public gatherings). Fox News alarmist Glenn Beck, ridiculously, claims that Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people," (and is rewarded for his omniscience with an advertiser boycott). Slappable broadcast shouter Sean Hannity "openly relishes violence" (this is Davis' claim), while Rush Limbaugh mentions "Obama" and "Hitler" in close proximity. That's the sum of his examples.
To draw any kind of equivalence between the official, police-backed bigotry of the United States–a bigotry that waged violence and worse against patriotic American citizens each and every day of each and every week–with the widely condemned hyperbole of talk show hosts and a scattered few non-violent acts of individual citizens, is not just kind of basically obscene, and an insult to the casualties on the often very lonely right side of the Civil Rights struggle, but it also serves to undermine faith in the very project under discussion. If this is the cavalier attitude with which ever-crusading journalists are going to treat the facts that concern them most, how can those of us who disagree with their basic premise begin to trust the forthcoming product from the Hate Beat?
Meanwhile, I can predict the kind of "hate" that will escape attention by the new desk. It's the kind that assumes, lack of evidence notwithstanding, that we are always–but especially now that liberal Democrats run the country–on the verge of a race war. It's the kind that takes a surface look at current events, luxuriates in historically ignorant alarmism, then proclaims that America itself is "delusional," "irrational," "hysterical." You can't get away with hating a (Democratic) president's policies, or even a single policy, but hating on the country as a whole for failing to get on board? Well, that's just journalism!
A follow up on this post about the Seasteading Institute's upcoming floating Burning Man, Empherisle. For land-lubbing liberty lovers, an on-shore conference in San Francisco September 28-30 will precede the floating anarchist fun:
- Patri Friedman: Opening Keynote (Executive Director, The Seasteading Institute)
- Peter Thiel: Back To The Future (Philanthropist and PayPal co-founder)
- Paul Romer: Charter Cities (Senior Fellow, Stanford Center for International Development and Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research)
- David Friedman: Legal Systems Very Different From Our Own (Professor, Santa Clara University)
- Joe Lonsdale: Ocean-Based Business Models (Chairman of the Board, The Seasteading Institute)
- Sean Hastings: Experiences with HavenCo and SeaLand (Co-founder, HavenCo)
- Erwin Strauss: How To Start Your Own Country (Author, How To Start Your Own Country)
Because what makes an awesome floating party better than warming up with some breakout sessions and two—two!—Friedmans for the price of one?
As far as I can tell, co-ops currently resemble Scooby-Doo villains at the beginning of an episode: There are a number of potential options, but also a lot of uncertainty about what's really going on—and no one actually knows which of the available possibilities we'll end up with. The main feature seems to be that they're not government run, although, as previously noted, there's some reason to believe that co-ops might, for all practical purposes, act as public plans under a different name.
In general, most everyone I've read seems uncertain about the details, and less than enthusiastic about the virtues of co-ops as policy: Mark Thoma, in the course of drawing up a quick list of what's known and possible about co-ops, points out that it's not clear they'll lower costs. The L.A. Times spotlights a small co-op that some think might serve as a model, while the New York Times reports that an attempt to foster co-ops in Iowa during the early 1990's didn't work out too well. And according to Robert Laszewski, the history of co-op insurers in the U.S. goes back even further, to when Blue Cross plans were first established six decades ago. Laszewski also thinks the idea is monumentally stupid, arguing that new co-ops would find it nearly impossible to compete with established insurers. Tyler Cowen, meanwhile, wonders why mutual plans have not been more successful.
The confusion and lack of clarity is one reason, I suspect, why support seems so tepid. Another reason is that, while some think co-ops a perfectly fine idea, they're not topping many peoples' wishlists. Co-ops, first and foremost, are about compromise, and the rosiest view, I think, is that they represent a second-best scenario for most reform supporters. Given the tentative and relatively passionless support they're receiving, I wonder: What will happen when the details do come out, and partisans on both sides start loudly airing their disagreements?
Yesterday, Ron Bailey wrote about how, under certain scenarios, co-ops might just be another form of public option.
Cynics, naysayers, and fearmongers haunt President Barack Obama's health care reform dreams, derailing his plan, and generally mucking thing up. He knew they would. Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward gets down with the cynics, and looks up at Obama.
Bill Kauffman has written a nice tribute to Warren Oates, the Kentucky-born actor and self-proclaimed "constitutional anarchist." Kauffman doesn't have anything to say about Oates' least anarchist performance -- a comic turn as the drill sergeant in Stripes -- but he nails the series of restless roles Oates played in the '60s and '70s. "Warren Oates had roots and he had the wanderlust," writes Kauffman, "and that tension is palpable in many of his characters, footloose men of the border states or the South who have lost home and can't quite seem to find it again."
From the marvelous Information is Beautiful, where readers are urged to "see what you think":
A couple of months ago, I noted the arrest of New Jersey blogger Hal Turner for threatening federal judges. His crime was writing that two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit who ruled that the Second Amendment does not apply to state governments "deserve to be killed"; the post included the judges' photos and the addresses of their chambers. Turner also faces charges in Connecticut for threatening state legislators. According to A.P., he "urged his readers to 'take up arms' against Connecticut lawmakers and suggested government officials should 'obey the Constitution or die,' because he was angry over legislation—later withdrawn—that would have given lay members of Roman Catholic churches more control over their parish's finances." In my view, neither of these statements constitutes a "true threat" or incitement, and they ought to be protected by the First Amendment. In an interesting twist, Turner's lawyer is reinforcing that argument by claiming that his client was trained by the FBI to cozy up with white supremacists and encourage them to break the law:
Hal Turner worked for the FBI from 2002 to 2007 as an "agent provocateur" and was taught by the agency "what he could say that wouldn't be crossing the line," defense attorney Michael Orozco said.
"His job was basically to publish information which would cause other parties to act in a manner which would lead to their arrest," Orozco said.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that Turner was an informant who spied on radical right-wing organizations, but the defense has said Turner was not working for the FBI when he allegedly made threats against Connecticut legislators and wrote that three federal judges in Illinois deserved to die.
"But if you compare anything that he did say when he was operating, there was no difference. No difference whatsoever," Orozco said.
This argument could backfire, since by Turner's account the FBI wanted him to say things that would provoke others to commit crimes. That sounds a lot like speech that was both intended and likely to result in "imminent lawless action," a category the Supreme Court has said is not covered by the First Amendment.
It's a bit odd how often narco field testing kits turn back false positives. In the past, we've seen chocolate chip cookies, deodorant, billiards chalk, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap come back positive, all causing undeserved, firsthand familiarity with the criminal justice system for the owners of the innocuous substances.
Looks like we can now add breath mints to the list.
A man is suing the Kissimmee Police Department for an arrest over mints. When officers pulled Donald May over for an expired tag, they thought the mints he was chewing were crack and arrested him.
May told Eyewitness News they wouldn't let him out of jail for three months until tests proved the so-called drugs were candy...
May was pulled over for an expired tag on his car. When the officer walked up to him, he noticed something white in May's mouth. May said it was breath mints, but the officer thought it was crack cocaine.
"He took them out of my mouth and put them in a baggy and locked me up [for] possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence," May explained.The officer claimed he field-tested the evidence and it tested positive for drugs.
The officer said he saw May buying drugs while he was stopped at an intersection. He also stated in his report May waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily admitted to buying drugs.
May said that never happened."My client never admitted he purchased crack cocaine. Why would he say that?" attorney Adam Sudbury said.
May was thrown in jail and was unable to bond out for three months. He didn't get out until he received a letter from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office that test results showed no drugs were found.
"While I was sitting in jail I lost my apartment. I lost everything," he said.
While May was in jail, the police department also auctioned off his car.
Last March, the Marijuana Policy Project announced the results of some lab testing they'd hired an expert to conduct on some of the more commonly used field tests, and found that patchouli, spearmint, and eucalyptus all tested positive for marijuana on one test kid, while an incredible 33 of 42 innocuous substances tested on another came back positive, including vanilla, anise, chicory, and peppermint.
As I note in my column today, leftish "watchdog groups" such as Public Citizen and Common Cause are worried that you can't tell the players in the health care debate without detailed quarterly reports to the government. Specifically, they are concerned about undisclosed corporate support for seemingly spontaneous criticism of President Obama's plans to rearrange a sixth of the economy. But those allegedly fake town hall attendees would have to be awfully expensive to make up for the huge advantage that advocates of "health insurance reform" enjoy in TV advertising:
Supporters of Mr. Obama's plan to overhaul the system have outspent opponents, with $24 million worth of advertising, compared with $9 million from opponents. An additional $24 million has been broadly spent in support of overhauling the system without backing a specific plan.
In other words, advocates of a bigger government role in health care are outspending opponents by more than 5 to 1. The advocates include not only the Democratic National Committee and left-liberal groups such as MoveOn.org but formerly evil special interests such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and "a coalition of drug companies, doctors, for-profit hospitals and union members" operating under the astroturfy name Americans for Stable Quality Care. In this context, R. Bruce Josten pretty plausibly portrays his employer, an obscure little outfit known as the U.S. Chamber of Congress, as an underdog:
I'm up against a dozen groups running ads that will spend between $50 million and $80 million to promote a public plan and promote an employer mandate, regardless of the cost. We're trying to create a dialogue rather than cede the ground.
As I've pointed out before, when liberals protested the Iraq War, the small number of anarchists and Communists who showed up to their rallies dominated the coverage. Liberals didn't get a pass on their associations. Conservatives have been pointing to the presence of LaRouche activists at these town halls to argue that the only people waving "Nazi" signs are LaRouchies. That's not true, but even if it were true, what would the difference be?
One reply is that it wasn't fair to treat the sane opponents of the Iraq War like they were interchangeable with ANSWER either. Why shouldn't liberals "get a pass on their associations" when the only association at issue is the fact that they marched in some of the same parades? A few folks like Ramsey Clark had more intimate associations with ANSWER than that, and they deserved the flak they got. The average antiwar protester did not.
Another reply is that the LaRouchies turned up at the antiwar marches too. There, as in the health care debate, they offered a critique that mixed ideas you might have heard from other protesters with ideas that only make sense if you've just spent a year undergoing the Ludovico technique. The LaRouchies show up everywhere: sometimes alongside the left, sometimes alongside the right, sometimes alongside a bunch of winos at the bus stop. But aside from a few folks like -- again! -- Ramsey Clark, most of the people who encounter the cult hold their nose and back away.
Mackey's article provoked a backlash from some of his more politically liberal customers, or at least people who claimed to be his customers. Daily Kos diarists fumed with outrage at Mackey's apparent betrayal. Sadly, No! declared it Simply Loathesome! My DD's Charles Lemos expressed his "infinite respect" for Mackey's business vision, but upon reading the op-ed was "struck how out of touch the Ayn Rand worshiping iconoclastic libertarian" is.
It's no secret that Mackey is a libertarian (and donor to the Reason Foundation, publisher of Reason magazine and Reason.com). I guess the outrage here is that he actually had the temerity to express his opinions in public, although he's done that before too, including in our magazine.
Still, the consensus lefty position seems to be that CEOs should just shut up, even if advocating, as Mackey did, some ideas they've tested at their own companies and found to work. Or at least shut up if they're advocating ideas that the left doesn't like. That seems to be where Think Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias comes down:
Corporate executives have a lot of social and political power in the United States, in a way that goes above and beyond the social and political power that stems directly from their wealth. The opinions of businessmen on political issues are taken very seriously by the press and by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Once upon a time perhaps union leaders exercised the same kind of sway, but these days all Republicans, most of the media, and some Democrats feel comfortable writing labor off as just an “interest group” while Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Jack Welch are treated as all-purpose sages. One could easily imagine a world in which CEOs were reluctant to play the role of freelance political pundit out of fear of alienating their customer base. And it seems to me that that might very well be a nice world to live in.
Just a hunch, but I'm guessing that in this "nice world" Yglesias speaks of, a company like Walmart would still be permitted give organizations like Think Progress $500,000-$1 million to help push an employer health insurance mandate, and Matthew Yglesias would still put up blog posts praising the company for its leadership.
(Odd how this health care stuff has the left touting Walmart and the right touting Whole Foods, isn't it?)
Over at my personal blog, I put up a much-discussed response to the boycott here, and followed up with a response to that post's fallout here. Summation of my argument: Whole Foods is unfailingly listed among the most employee-friendly, environmentally-conscious, animal-friendly, and generally socially conscientious companies in the country. Remember, this is the same company that nearly cracked the subtitle of Jonah Goldberg's book as an example of liberal fascism. The left's tantrum in reaction to Mackey's op-ed implies his health care ideas are so offensive, they make all that "good corporate citizen" stuff obsolete. That is: Mackey expressing his ideas about health care reform are way more insidious than the actual practices his company has undertaken since its inception. It's really an effort to zone fairly mainstream ideas like HSAs and tort reform out of the realm of serious debate.
That seems to be the gist of Alyce Lomax's smart response to all of this at the Motley Fool, too:
Shouldn't the very people contemplating a Whole Foods boycott on these grounds applaud many of the company's existing initiatives? Are they aware of its progressive, employee-friendly policies? And if so, does this mean they don’t care as much as they think they do?
I mean, really, how dare Whole Foods let employees vote on their benefits, when most retail workers get no benefits whatsoever? The nerve of Mackey, forgoing his base salary and capping management's pay at 19 times that of his lowest-paid employee? What is Whole Foods thinking, donating part of its profits to local and global organizations working to make a positive difference? And giving the majority of its stock options to rank-and-file employees, rather than upper management? That's just diabolical!
Mackey, meanwhile, tried some damage control by putting up a post on his Whole Foods blog distinguishing what he originally sent to the Journal from what was added by Journal editors. That only made the perennially angry lefty Mark Kleiman even angrier. It also triggered this pithy response from the pithily named blog, "Fuck Conservatives."
For what it's worth, the "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook group now stands at 14,000 people. And as of this posting, Whole Foods stock is trading at $28, which is actually a smidge above where it stood before Mackey's op-ed.
It seems impractical and rather silly for government to decide what games we can play. Yet since 2006, lawmakers have been pushing a clampdown on Internet gambling, sponsoring legislation to make it illegal for banks and credit card companies to process payments of gambling operations. But as David Harsanyi explains, it's un-American (to pinch a phrase from Nancy Pelosi) to prevent citizens from indulging in a harmless activity they enjoy in the privacy of their own homes.
As I've noted here before, I'm a big fan of Splice Today, the brainchild of alt-press legend Russ Smith (of Baltimore City Paper, Washington City Paper, and New York Press renown). Full disclosure: Splice Today has been kind to your humble narrator and Matt Welch as well.
Here's a coupla-three recent articles worth reading:
Why Are Movie Fans So Sensitive?: A recent blog post by Roger Ebert perpetuates the ridiculous idea that film critics' likes and dislikes matter more than their knowledge of movies
Bring the Terrorists to Maryland: Someone has to end the ridiculous charade surrounding the placement of Guantanamo detainees.
Don't Have Sex With Your Students: Why is this the first piece of advice that new T.A.'s get?
Russ Smith (not pictured below) appeared on a zippy episode of the Reason.tv Talk Show, hosted by me and Michael C. Moynihan. Watch below or go here:
Robert Kuttner, Washington Post, "Rage the Left Should Use":
When economically stressed and frightened people are anxious and sullen, you never know who will capture their fears and hopes. In the 1930s, economic anxiety produced leaders as different as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. History shows that if the reformist left doesn't offer a plausible story and strategy of reform, the lunatic right will gain ground even with an implausible one. So where are the liberal protesters? The initiative has passed to the know-nothing right [...]
The remedy is not left-wing mobs to contest right-wing ones. In Germany in the 1930s, fascists tilted in the street with communists, and both were recipes for disaster.
Nina Burleigh, Huffington Post, "Aiming at Obama":
Can anyone remember what happened the last time a left-winger brought a loaded assault rifle to display in public within sight of a George W. Bush presidential event? No, we can't, because college kids with backpacks sporting John Kerry stickers got thrown in jail for their menacing presence at Bush rallies. Anyone more threatening than that was already in lockdown days before the band struck up "Hail to Chief." That was back in the good old days when gun-owning American brown-shirts felt "secure" about their "rights." [...]
Now that the right wing feels its "values" threatened by a lawfully elected progressive administration that is attempting to bring America up to the global standard in terms of sane foreign policy and morally right social services, and their heroes on Wall Street have left them to fester with rage in the dying church of new cars and new television sets, the true face of American fascism is emerging. Not very pretty is it?
It remains to be seen how far the brownshirts will test their supposedly threatened Constitutional "freedoms," but I put my money on seeing more menace and more outright violence as they come to terms with losing political power and the economy in the same year.
DeWayne Wickham, USA Today, "White Racism's Convenient Target: Our President":
White racism — which was widely rumored to have been driven into remission by the election of Barack Obama is resurging precisely because of his victory. Evidence of this reaction to the nation's first black president can be found in the uptick of hateful public speech and in the growing number of threats by activists who are armed and motivated to do harm. [...]
These gathering clouds should not be ignored; the price would be too high.
Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, "Troubled History":
Let's be honest with ourselves: the American right has a deep-seated problem with political violence. It's deep-seated; it's recurrent and it's real. And it endangers the country. It just makes sense to say something the first time they hit the sauce and not wait for things to get really out of hand.
Roland Martin, Creators Syndicate, "Hate Should Not Drive Health Care Debate":
Americans deserve vigorous debate on health care. But this, folks, simply isn't it. It's just rhetorical thuggery, and the last thing we need is a lynch mob mentality dominating this critical issue.
Shaun Waterman, ISN Security Watch, "Costs of War: Paranoid Populism":
The last time the militia movement was in its ascendant was during the 1990s - and it ended with the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. [...]
The most important difference today, the report notes, is that "the federal government - the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy - is headed by a black man," adding racist rage of white supremacists to the heady mix of militia ideology [...]
And yet, when one considers the availability of firearms to protesters with an angry narrative of victimization, and the growing influence of a movement which glorifies violence against African-Americans, one can hardly avoid a sense of foreboding.
Annette Fuentes and Chip Berlet, New America Media, "Behind
the Town Halls' 'Angry White Men'":
Who are these people screaming and shouting at the town hall meetings?
It's an AstroTurf campaign to fill people with scare stories and misinformation. Even if these people say, 'No one told me to come,' they are getting direct mailings telling them to go to meetings and ask questions. They are angry because they feel displaced. They feel pushed out of the way by liberals, people of color and immigrants. It's the story they have told themselves to explain why they haven't made it in America. It's racial anxiety fueled by a bad economy, a black president and disparities at a time when white people’s supremacy is being challenged.
Now we have a black president, and for the most part whites didn't riot in the street. But it doesn't mean that most of us who are white men in America don't wonder what that means. They see the president as the head of a bureaucracy, and they are unsettled by the idea of having a black boss: How am I supposed to act? What am I supposed to do? Does that mean white people are losing power? The short answer is: Yeah, deal with it.
Your research links today to earlier populist movements in U.S. history. What fuels them?
For over 100 years--more like 150--you've had these movements, and they came out of the Civil War. It is a backlash against social liberalism and it's rooted in libertarian support for unregulated capitalism and white people holding onto power, and, if they see themselves losing it, trying to get it back.
For those even slightly skeptical about the narrative framing
above, you'll want to bookmark three recent Jesse Walker
Paranoids Are Out to Get Me!," "Medical Mosh Pits,"
and "Five Laws of
the Crazy Tree"–and stay on the lookout for a longer
examination of militia mythology, paranoid centrism, and government
violence in the upcoming
issue of Reason.
The editorial boards at the Boston Globe and the New York Times say it is. Cato's Michael Cannon says both papers get their facts wrong.
The leftwing of the Democratic Party has erupted in fury in reaction to President Barack Obama's apparent waffling over the proposal to create a government run health insurance scheme. White House denizens affect to be mystified by the backlash. As the Washington Post reports:
"I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."
"It's a mystifying thing," he added.
Well, in this one instance, let me help the White House out: the creation of a government run health insurance scheme has always been seen by the leftwing as the thin edge of the wedge that would eventually lead to a complete government takeover (can you say, "single payer"?) of health care. Taking away the "public option" means that the leftwing dream of establishing a nationalized health care system is delayed yet again. Got it now?
For all the MSM fears about astroturfed resistance to President Obama and the Dems, Michael Barone in the DC Examiner notes the watchdog that isn't barking so much any more:
The netroots, once almost totally preoccupied with the war in Iraq and suffused with hatred of George W. Bush, have now moved on.
They show little interest in Iraq, now that Obama is seeking (though carefully refraining from using the word) victory there, and little more interest in Afghanistan, where Obama has sent more troops and installed a new commander to pursue a new and, the president hopes, more successful strategy.
Instead, the netroots say their chief goal is "comprehensive health care reform." No. 2 is "working to elect progressive candidates" in 2010.
To me this looks less like conviction politics and more like team ball.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) had a spirited town hall meeting in his home state recently in which he (unlike so many of his colleagues) directly engaged and insulted his constituents. I don't agree with Frank on much beyond legalizing drugs and gambling, but I think he comes off pretty well here, and certainly gets points for showing up.
Here's a report that includes many Frank-a-riffic highlights (for instance, asking a resident, "On what planet do you spend most of your time") from Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show, which also includes an interview with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) about health care.
Two years ago, the Senate rejected an attempt to regulate "astroturf," professional political agitation aimed at stimulating (or simulating) grassroots activity. Recently that measure's supporters have been saying "I told you so," citing the debate over who is behind boisterous criticism of President Obama's health care agenda at congressional town hall meetings. But if the problem is that special interests with deep pockets tend to dominate public policy debates, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum argues, stricter limits on political speech will only make things worse.
A team of Canadian researchers has finally done the research on the odds of victory in a "hypothetical" zombie outbreak. The BBC, advising viewers to remain calm and stay in their homes, has the story:
In their study, the researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (also in Ottawa) posed a question: If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win?
Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: "We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies.
"We introduce a basic model for zombie infection and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions."
How's this for a result everybody already knew: The only way to fight the living dead is to "hit them hard and hit them often... It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."
Encouragingly, Carleton University Prof. Robert Smith?'s study [pdf], results of which appear in the book Infectious Diseases Modelling Research Progress, posits a classic, slow-moving zombie outbreak. (Mark my word: Someday the fast zombie fad will seem as regrettable as pet rocks and Members Only jackets.) The conclusion:
An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. While aggressive quarantine may eradicate the infection, this is unlikely to happen in practice. A cure would only result in some humans surviving the outbreak, although they will still coexist with zombies. Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time.
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think the experts are wrong. A zombie outbreak would result in a lopsided victory for the living, for purely tactical reasons. 1) Their initial recruiting pool -- the already dead -- is about as substandard as you can get, and thanks to cremation and other popular mortuary effects, it is not numerous enough for critical mass. 2) If you've ever been in a fight with a biter, you know a person will go to considerable lengths to avoid letting a set of human choppers attach to his or her flesh; so the number of able-bodied people who get "turned" would be small. (Evander Holyfield would no doubt differ, but for the reason described in Numer 1, the attacker would have neither the strength nor the dentitia of Mike Tyson.) 3. The argument that people would be squeamish about fighting zombified friends and family members is overstated: Who doesn't long for an excuse to shoot family members in the head? (Kidding!) No, the reason zombies are scary has nothing to do with their presenting a plausible threat. It's because they remind us of our own end, that stage when we won't even be able to shamble along miserably.
Update: The BBC has changed its alert and is now advising viewers to get to a rescue station immediately.
The New York Times is reporting a fascinating new study by researchers in Israel in which they have fooled crime scene tests with DNA they manufactured. According to the Times:
The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. The researchers also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.” ...
Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the findings were worrisome.
“DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” she said. “We’re creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.”
In the first case, the researchers amplified a small sample of DNA, the amount that might be obtained from a drinking cup or shed hair. In this case, the DNA-containing white blood cells were removed from a woman's blood and the amplified DNA from a man's hair was added to the sample which was then tested at a foresics lab.
The second technique is more worrisome. DNA forensics databases like CODIS store genetic profiles using 13 different DNA variants found in a person's genome. As the Times explains:
From a pooled sample of many people’s DNA, the scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. They said that a library of 425 different DNA snippets would be enough to cover every conceivable profile.
Of course, if someone was trying finger a specific person with fake DNA constructed using CODIS variants, they would have to know which specific variants the target carries. Obtaining that information is currently difficult because access to DNA profiles stored in CODIS is restricted to law enforcement agencies.
Lead author Frumkin is the founder of a company, Nucleix, that offers a test that can distinguish between fake and real DNA. Real DNA is methylated; the fake DNA used in this study is not. Want to bet how long it will be before fake methylated DNA is possible?
The Times also mentions one additional concern is that celebrities might have their DNA taken from cups or hairs by genetic paparazzi. As I explained in my December 2008 column "Exposing Obama's Genome," these gene stalkers could amplify the sample and test them to find out about the celebrity's ancestry and genetic disease probabilities. I suspect that this kind of breach of privacy will become no more or less annoying than photos taken of celebrities when they dine out.
In Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs So Much, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder lays out in plain language why, well, college costs so much.
Vedder, also a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, sat down at FreedomFest in mid-July with Reason magazine Editor in Chief to talk about college costs and more.
Approximately nine minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and edited by Meredith Bragg.
Scroll down Go
here for downloadable, hi-res, and iPod-friendly versions. And
embed code too.
A touching (and very long and detailed) tale of hope and change, Afghan war and rendition division, via the Huffington Post. Some brief excerpts with the jist:
Raymond Azar, a 45-year-old Lebanese construction manager with a grade school education, is employed by Sima International, a Lebanon-based contractor that does work for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has the unlikely distinction of being the first target of a rendition carried out on the Obama watch.
According to court papers, on April 7, 2009, Azar and a Lebanese-American colleague, Dinorah Cobos, were seized by "at least eight" heavily armed FBI agents in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they had traveled for a meeting to discuss the status of one of his company's U.S. government contracts. The trip ended with Azar alighting in manacles from a Gulfstream V executive jet in Manassas, Virginia, where he was formally arrested and charged in a federal antitrust probe....
According to papers filed by his lawyers, Azar was threatened, subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and induced to sign a confession. Azar claims he was hooded, stripped naked (while being photographed) and subjected to a "body cavity search."
On a ride to the infamous Bagram air base in Afghanistan...Azar contends that a federal agent pulled a photograph of Azar's wife and four children from his wallet. Confess that you were bribing the contract officer, the agent allegedly said, or you may "never see them again."...
Azar alleges that on arriving at Bagram he was shackled to a chair in an office for seven hours and not allowed to move. Then in the midst of a cold rainstorm he was taken to an unheated metal shipping container converted to use as a cell. The cell was brightly lit and although the outside temperature approached freezing, he was given only a thin blanket. He also claims that he was not permitted to sleep during his confinement at Bagram, which lasted over a day. Then he was told he was going to take a plane trip. His handlers would not tell him where he was going. He feared he was being dragged to Guantanamo, there to be "disappeared" and tortured. How else, he thought, could he explain the absence of Afghan authorities, the hooding and other techniques?
.....During the flight, according to papers filed by the Justice Department, Azar confessed to the charges against him--essentially that he was aware of corrupt payments made to a U.S. government contract agent to help Sima International secure or extend its contracts with U.S. government agents.
The decision to seize Azar in Afghanistan apparently was made in April 2009, six weeks into the Obama administration...."The United States views contract fraud as a very serious matter," Public Affairs Deputy Director Gina Talamona told me.
Guess so! Didn't Obama used to criticize Bush-era renditions?
Reeling from the adverse publicity associated with the Bush-era program, the Justice Department denies that the seizure in Kabul and forcible transportation of Azar and Cobos should be called a rendition. "This was a lawful law enforcement transfer consistent with international law," says Talamona. In papers filed in the court proceedings, the Justice Department prefers to call the process an "expulsion."
The Justice Department's papers insist that "defendants were expelled from Afghanistan, with the permission of the Government of Afghanistan, based upon outstanding arrest warrants issued by this Court."
In response to requests for clarification, Talamona states that the "consent of the Government of Afghanistan was secured through diplomatic channels, involving the State Department." Rob McInturff, a State Department public affairs officer, confirmed that U.S. diplomats were involved in the effort and claims that they secured the Afghan government's consent. But he refused to disclose who gave the consent, the specific parameters of the consent given, or even to identify the specific agency or ministry of the Afghan government from which the consent was given....
And even if you aren't troubled by the legalities of the seizure, was Azar's arrest really worth it, from a sheer fiscal discipline perspective?
The government's indictment claims that in response to a government sting operation, Cobos agreed to pay and then paid money to a person posing as a government contracts officer in order to retain or expand her company's business. It alleges that Azar knew of these actions and was Cobos's supervisor. But the case also raises strong questions simply about the allocation of resources. The sums of money involved in the government action as corrupt are relatively small, amounting to about $100,000. That's almost certainly a smaller sum than the Justice Department expended sending a Gulfstream V around the world and deploying a platoon of FBI agents to Afghanistan for the sting operation that apprehended the Lebanese business executives.
Many, many more details of the legal technicalities with links to supporting documents in the full story.
Jacob Sullum looked askance at Obama's rendition and detention policies in February. At least Azar is getting a real, reasonably quick trial.
As Brian Doherty notes below, Rose Friedman helped create one of the great statements about the benefits of a libertarian world, Free to Choose (the book version of Free to Choose that my parents received way back when from the Book of the Month Club was instrumental in my own thinking about public policy and just about everything else).
The original 1980 PBS series is available for free streaming at IdeaChannel.tv (so is an updated 1990 series, featuring introductions by folks such as Arnold Schwarzenegger).
A stupid remark from Sarah Palin about "death panels" run by Obama bureaucrats begets some really stupid responses from America's punditocracy. First up, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen compares the aw-shucks Alaskan to Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. There is much nonsense in the piece (so read the whole thing), but this is a pretty representative sample:
As with McCarthyism, Palinism is a product of its times. McCarthy exploited the public's fear of communism and communists. Not only were they abroad, but they were here in America--spies, fellow travelers, pinkos, apologists, intellectuals and short, bespectacled minorities. It was their very ubiquity and invisibility that made them so dangerous.
Health-care reform provides Palin the same opportunity. The klutziness of Obama's effort--people think they know what they can lose but have no idea of what they can gain--again raises the specter of invisible forces that will take but not give, dictate but not listen, tax but not provide. But as is almost always the case with right-wing populists, the shooter has aimed at her own foot. Palin's "death panel" remarks either killed or helped kill the proposal to offer end-of-life counseling. The victims will be the poor, the uninformed and the ideologically blind who will find themselves unable to make a graceful exit. The affluent have their living wills and such. The poor have only their grief.
Newark Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine says that Palin isn't a McCarthyite...because she's a Luxembourgian socialist!
Liberal critics focused on the fact the proposal in question did not include any such "death panels." But being liberals, they endorsed Palin's central thesis: that Medicare should indeed provide essentially unlimited coverage for Palin's child as well as her parents.
But senior citizens who receive Medicare benefits pay only a fraction of the cost of the coverage, with the bulk coming from the taxpayers. As for Palin's child, she seems to be assuming that his care comes under the Medicare law. That seems unlikely, but if he is indeed covered by it or some other government program, then the entire cost of his treatment is being paid by taxpayers.
Now let us assume that the panel Palin envisions is created and various of her relatives are paraded before it. The panelists would be deciding not whether the relative in question should receive treatment. They would be deciding whether the taxpayers should fund that treatment.Palin agrees with the liberals that it's evil to deny that payment.
So, dear readers, is Palin a pinko commie or pinko commie hunter? Discuss.
This is especially true when making substantial changes in the operations of a sixth of the economy—a sector that potentially affects not only people's daily lives, but their very survival.
It's not that people enjoy this; in fact, it seems to turn a lot of people off. As Robert Putnam wrote, “Most men are not political animals. The world of public affairs is not their world. It is alien to them—possibly benevolent, more probably threatening, but nearly always alien." But to a large extent, the spasms and outbursts and irritations that come with the political process are inevitable—no matter who's in charge, no matter what the polls and pundits and politicians say.
Taking Winston Churchill's notion that democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried as axiomatic, it seems to me that there are a number of potential responses: Engage earnestly with the system, sit things out, or, as H.L. Mencken suggests, lean back and chuckle grimly as the farce replays itself over and over again.
I'd also add a final thought: The way to avoid the maddening convulsions of politics isn't to change them, or rise above them, or move past them, or transform them, or whatever the trendy term of art is on any given day. It's to avoid them—and reduce their power to hold sway over how we live. And the more decisions about our lives and welfare we put in the hands of politicians, the harder that will be to do.
Animal lovers in New Zealand want to make it illegal for people to eat their pets, after a Tongan family killed and barbequed their pet dog.
The Taufa family killed their pet staffordshire bull terrier Ripper and then invited friends round for a barbeque. Lupi Taufa says it's common practice in her homeland Tonga. "Dog, horse, we eat it in Tonga. It's good food for us," she said.
Derek Haddy works for the SPCA, New Zealand's equivalent of the RSPCA. "I find it quite disturbing that somebody would kill a pet and then eat it. I'm not OK with that, but unfortunately the law allows you to do it," he said. The SPCA says people eating their pets happens more often than society realises.
Little blurbs like this one from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are an uncomfortable reminder of the swaths of modern political life still predicated on the yuck factor. While it's possible to take a rational position against dog eating (just as one might take such a position against cow or chicken eating)—dogs are ethically relevant beings in Peter Singer's expanding circle, the habit of killing living things makes men less virtuous, etc.—that's not what this story is about. An accurate summary of brief is: "Dog eating? Ew. Let's make it illegal."
In my view, the same dynamic can be observed in gay marriage debate. Reasoned arguments exist, but they are give force by a body politic that is mildly grossed out by gay sex. A fair assessment? Discuss.
Or just talk about what dog BBQ would taste like. Whichever.
Via Reason contributor Jacob Grier, who adds: "Libertarian purity test time!"
Over the weekend, President Barack Obama stepped back from his insistence that Congress establish a government health insurance scheme to compete with private insurers as part of health care reform. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has proposed setting up nonprofit health insurance cooperatives as an alternative. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey parses the co-op idea and finds that you'd need an electron microscope to discern any real differences between it and the Democrats' government health insurance plan.
A California state advisory board may be deciding today to funnel $33 million in federal money to that desperately needed expedient for a struggling and broke state of...funding narcotics officers to hunt down more nonviolent drug criminals to put behind bars, at an added expense of $43,000 a year for each year they are imprisoned.
The L.A. Times story. I blogged this with quotes, context, and more links about the madness of such an idea in a state that desperately needs to cut its prison population at my California politics blog "City of Angles" at KCET.org.
Rose Friedman, who was partner and collaborator with her late husband Milton on many of his most important works of political thought and advocacy, has died of heart failure. Though her birth records in her native Russia are lost, she was believed to have been 99. The Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation has a notice of her death, which also sums up the achievements of her life:
She will be remembered both as a talented economist and an influential advocate of freedom. Her economic work helped to discredit the idea of government management of the economy, rolling back policies that were hindering wealth creation and thus helping extend the blessings of prosperity to millions around the world. And as a standard-bearer for human liberty, she contributed to the galvanizing of public opinion – especially in the 1980s – against the growing encroachments of intrusive government.....
Her most important contribution was the 1980 book Free to Choose, which she co-wrote with her husband, and the accompanying ten-part PBS series. Both were highly successful – the book topped the bestseller list for five weeks – and had a profound impact on the public understanding of freedom. At a time when the nation's confidence in its founding ideas was at an all-time low, Free to Choose played a decisive role in restoring America's faith in liberty.
Because she was collaborator on his major works of popular political and economic philosophy and advocacy, most importantly Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, she deserves her fair share of the glory and regard her husband Milton got. Consult my March 2007 article in Reason magazine for the ideas and accomplishments of the Friedmans in helping make America a place that is in some respects actually freer, and in most respects an intellectual environment where the idea of human liberty has wider play than it did before they did their long, arduous work of explaining the benefits of liberty, often against great opposition.
Here's how she and Milton summed up what they thought they were doing, toward the end of their memoir, Two Lucky People:
Our central theme in public advocacy has been the promotion of human freedom....it underlies our opposition to rent control and general wage and price controls, our support for educational choice, privatizing radio and television channels, an all-volunteer army, limitation of government spending, legalization of drugs, privatizing Social Security, free trade, and the deregulation of industry and private life to the fullest extent possible.
The specific chosen legacy for her and her husband was the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, dedicated to the issue they decided was most vital moving forward to ensure a freer society: helping separate education from the bureaucratic and controlling hand of the state.
That Novak would hire a leg-man to go around Washington sniffing out news reflected the virtue at the heart of his work: His columns, while they resided on the op-ed pages, were built upon previously unreported facts that revealed and explained the machinations of government, the men and women in power, and the politics behind it all. His job demanded he get a constant flow of new information, but curiosity and a thirst for knowledge were natural traits for him.
Bob Novak was, above all, a reporter. Watching him work was a delightful education in reporting.
Economist Bruce Bartlett, who has written for Reason and still (I think) defines himself as a conservative, lays into "Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results" of 2008. These critters, he writes at The Daily Beast, are "not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies" but simply bitter partisans opportunistically attacking the opposition.
To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn't made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush's incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily....
In 2003, the Bush administration repeatedly lied about the cost of the drug benefit to get it passed, and Bush himself heavily pressured reluctant conservatives to vote for the program.
Because reforming Medicare is an important part of getting health costs under control generally, Bush could have used the opportunity to develop a comprehensive health-reform plan. By not doing so, he left his party with nothing to offer as an alternative to the Obama plan. Instead, Republicans have opposed Obama's initiative while proposing nothing themselves.
In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama's policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies. If that were the case they would have been out demonstrating against the Medicare drug benefit, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, and all the pork-barrel spending that Bush refused to veto.
Bartlett, one of the popularizers of supply-side economics back in the day, manages to squeeze in his latest passion: The need for tax hikes (as opposed to spending cuts, which he thinks are basically impossible) and the related revision (true enough, sadly!) of Ronald Reagan as a tax hiker:
Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn't end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton's 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.
Whole thing, worth reading for its various comparisons of Bush vs. Clinton, here.
I like Bartlett on a personal level and, far more important in this context, I've always found him to be interesting, even when I disagree with him. I think Bartlett is right that most GOPpers sat on their hands when it came to denouncing all sorts of really idiotic Bush or Bush-allowed policies, ranging from the Medicare prescription drug bill to the Iraq War to Sarbanes-Oxley. There were some real dissenters, but more often than not, they went along to get along, or whatever. Certainly that was the case with TARP, where too many Republican congressman voted in favor of it almost certainly because it was pushed by a GOP president.
I even agree that Bush's tax cuts, which were always pitched in stimulative terms, should have been deeper and permanent. And accompanied by actual spending cuts, rather than Godzilla-sized increases in everything possible. There's no question that Bush, with a fully compliant GOP Congress, broke the bank, not just for us, but for our kids' kids.
It's easy to see why Bartlett's analysis will find favor with liberal Democrats, even though his thesis disproves their constant contentions during the Bush years that Dubya was starving orphans and widows and schoolkids. Bartlett's surprise that party hacks are party hacks feels forced to me. And it ignores the basic flip-flop that has happened since, oh, the election of 2008. Dem operatives seem much more prone to support war (in Afghanistan, which is like totally different than Iraq!), indefinite detention of non-prisoners of war, profligate spending (Obama's stimulus is righteous, whereas Bush's was simply for fat cats), you name it. Meet the new boss and all that.
Where I definitely don't follow Bartlett is in his implication that because Republican Party hacks are whores, I've got to put up with a massive and seemingly perpetual increase in the size and scope of government. Bruce, baby, what about all of us who were protesting everything you're complaining about (go read the Reason archives)? Reason ain't no partisan rag and I'm not a Republican, of course. But as a small l libertarian who has never voted for a winning politician at any level (including student body president), I refuse to accept the idea that I need to pay the bill for the grandiose delusions of Reps and Dems.
More to the point: According to his own ludicrous 10-year plan, Obama isn't just mopping up the Bush doo-doo, he's doubling down when it comes to deficits and more. If Obama is interested in, I don't know, fixing Medicare, maybe he could have started with a plan to do something like that, rather than trotting out a trillion-dollar waste of resources? His own goddamn Council of Economic Advisers just recently pointed out that about one-third of Medicare's costs could be cut "without adverse health consequences."
You watch the nightly pundit shows and you hear about a newly degraded discourse, where politics was never as partisan or bullshitty or whatever. If you never affiliated with one party or another, the more things change, the more they stay the same. What does seem to be in the air is not the whiff of gunpowder that Rachel Madow is fretting over but some actual outrage from the great boob public over what's shaping up now as a decade of irresponsibility emanating from Washington, D.C. like so much stink from a swamp. People got fed up with Bush's baked beans and they're getting pissed off that "green jobs" really means weatherizing vacant buildings in Flint, Michigan.
If polls are any indication, Obama's policies are genuinely unpopular because, well, they stink on ice. Town hall outrages and tea parties aren't the work of GOP hacks (though these guys would surely love to co-opt what they can), they are the barbaric yawps of Americans ready for 21st century government now that we've only 90 or so years left to get it while we still can.
The New York Times' Adam Liptak has a very favorable report on the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case challenging "excessive" executive pay:
The case, Jones v. Harris Associates, may turn out to be the court's first significant statement on the corporate culture that helped lead to the Great Recession.
The case arose from the enormous fees mutual funds pay to their investment advisers. A three-judge panel of Judge [Richard] Posner's court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, threw out a lawsuit brought by the investors in three Oakmark mutual funds who said the funds had overpaid their investment adviser, Harris Associates.
The panel decision, written by Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, another leader of the law and economics movement, said the marketplace could be trusted to regulate fees. Judge Posner, dissenting from the full court's decision not to rehear the case, said competition had not been effective in keeping the compensation under control....But when public sentiment, economic research and even Judge Posner argue for more vigorous judicial examination of whether compensation is fair, the Supreme Court may just agree.
University of Illinois law professor Larry Ribstein offers a different view, noting that while the Court may well take Posner's side, that doesn't make it right: "Such a decision would be a symptom and signal of our sharp turn toward paternalism in everything from complex finance to corporate governance to the simplest products."
Originally writing in The New York Post, Reason's Nick Gillespie reviews Jeff Johnson's Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink. A snippet:
Tattoo Machine helps explain why ink is on the rise. We live in an age in which we increasingly personalize our clothes, our coffee drinks, our Web browsers, our hair color. Why not our bodies?
The inks are brighter and longer-lasting, the designs more ambitious, and the shops today are clean and safe, says Johnson. At a few hundred dollars, "the quality of art is often better than what a middle-income person could afford to spend on a painting for their home."
I missed this poll when
it came out last
One in five American adults - 22% - believe that any state or region has the right to "peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic," a new Middlebury Institute/Zogby International telephone poll shows....
[B]acking was strongest among younger adults, as 40% among those age 18 to 24 and 24% among those age 25 to 34 agreed states and regions have secession rights.
Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.
Politically, liberal thinkers were much more likely to favor the right to secession for states and regions, as 32% of mainline liberals agreed with the concept. Among the very liberal the support was only slightly less enthusiastic - 28% said they favored such a right. Meanwhile, just 17% of mainline conservatives thought it should exist as an option for states or regions of the nation.
Asked whether they would support a secessionist movement in their own state, 18% said they would, with those in the South most likely to say they would back such an effort.
It's Zogby, so caveat lector, but still...those numbers are rather higher than I would have guessed. Also notable: A full 44 percent of the respondents agreed that "the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections."
Update: Stupid me, I misread the date—the poll is from July 2008, not July 2009. I suspect the liberal secessionists are less eager to exit the union today. That's not to say the appeal of secession has declined for everyone, though: For a more recent Zogby survey on the subject, go here.
City police are investigating why on-duty marine and helicopter officers helped a Baltimore County state delegate propose to his girlfriend by pretending to raid a boat the couple were aboard, a department spokesman said Monday.
Officers boarded the boat, owned by a friend of Del. Jon S. Cardin, on Aug. 7 in the Inner Harbor. As the helicopter Foxtrot hovered overhead, adding to the sense of tension, one report says officers pretended to search the vessel and even had the woman thinking she was about to be handcuffed before the delegate got on one knee and proposed...
...officers pretended to search the boat and found a box that they suspected contained contraband.
They ordered the soon-to-be fiancee to turn around as if they were about to handcuff her, according the report, and then she saw Cardin "on bended knee" and holding the ring that had been in the box.
The Gazette reported that Cardin was the "toast" of a convention of government leaders in Ocean City this past weekend for his "imaginative marriage proposal."
Looks like Cardin (nephew of the U.S. senator) found his match. She actually agreed to marry him after all of that. The Baltimore Police Department is currently seeking private donations to keep some of its units in operation. The marine unit in particular was grounded for part of the year last year due to budget cuts.
The AP, keeping it real when reporting on email-gate or whatever it is we're supposed to call reports of unsolicited mass emails (a.k.a. spam, which used to be so evil) emanatin' from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue like so many Newt Gingrich bulletins:
After insisting no one was receiving unsolicited e-mails from the White House, officials reversed their story Monday night and blamed outside political groups for the unwanted messages from the tech-savvy operation.
White House online director Macon Phillips said in a blog posting that independent groups—he didn't name them—had signed-up their members to receive regular updates about Obama's projects, priorities and speeches.
The White House had consistently denied that anyone who hadn't sought the e-mails had received them.
"It has come to our attention that some people may have been subscribed to our e-mail lists without their knowledge-likely as a result of efforts by outside groups of all political stripes-and we regret any inconvenience caused by receiving an unexpected message," Phillips wrote.
"We're certainly not interested in anyone receiving e-mails from the White House who don't want them. That's one reason why we have never-and will never-add names from a commercial or political list to the White House list," he wrote.
Why does the press, especially the supposedly impartial media, insist that the Obama administration is "tech-savvy"? Because he's got an iPod with a suspiciously wide-ranging playlist? Sure, compared to John McCain, who probably isn't even using plastic adult diapers, Obama may be tech-savvy, but what kind of yardstick is that? And so, in a story that's about how either the White House is full of beans or getting used, you have the admin described as tech-savvy. Go figure.
Bonus video: More signs of Obama admin's tech-savitude, an unintentional dada film about the Great Easter Egg Roll/Hunt '09.
• Large, unexpected drop in wholesale prices.
• Miami man indicted for stealing record 130 million credit card numbers.
• Senate Democrats vow allegiance to public option.
• ACLU records request reveals previously unaccounted-for deaths at immigration detention centers.
• Hammer to perform on "Dancing With the Stars." That is, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay.
The L.A. Times tracked down the guy who first put Joker paint on Obama's face (though not the word "Socialism"), and discovered ... a 20-year-old college student from Chicago.
Bored during his winter school break, Firas Alkhateeb, a senior history major at the University of Illinois, crafted the picture of Obama with the recognizable clown makeup using Adobe's Photoshop software. [...]
On Jan. 18, Alkhateeb uploaded the image to photo-sharing site Flickr (shown at right). Over the next two months, he amassed just a couple thousand hits, he said.
Then the counter exploded after a still-anonymous rogue famously found his image, digitally removed the references to Time Magazine, captioned the picture with the word "socialism" and hung printed copies around L.A., making headlines. [...]
"After Obama was elected, you had all of these people who basically saw him as the second coming of Christ," Alkhateeb said. "From my perspective, there wasn't much substance to him."
"I abstained from voting in November," he wrote in an e-mail. "Living in Illinois, my vote means close to nothing as there was no chance Obama would not win the state." If he had to choose a politician to support, Alkhateeb said, it would be Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Patrick Courrielche wrote about "The Artist Formerly Known as Dissident" 10 days ago.
Occasional stories of gun-strapping freaks aside, the recent spate of stories about town halls across this sweet land of liberty being well-attended by engaged (and enraged) citizens would be enough to make Norman Rockwell swell with pride.
Here's a Rockwellian scene from a recent forum in Ohio ("The Heart of It All") that ought to make every bloviating pundit who has sounded off in the past 200 years about disengagement by boobus americanus feel like voters still give a damn:
More than 200 people packed a health care forum hosted by Sen. Sherrod Brown in Columbus last week, evidence of how much Ohioans want to talk to their elected officials about the hot-button topic.
One middle-aged man even ran halfway down the aisle trying to get Brown's attention. He said his wife has four incurable illnesses and he has been unable to get health insurance.
"Where do we go?" the man asked as other forum attendees yelled.
Sherrod Brown, the faceless successor to even-more-faceless Sen. Mike DeWine, pulling 200 people when just about everyone has cable TV? Jeebus H. Christ, that's rock-star numbers for a pol in the middle of the summer! Indeed, if you're Sir Paul McCartney, you'd be dying for a packed house.
And that sort of scene, of course, explains the larger point of the story, which is headlined "Most local lawmakers skip town halls":
Despite the intense interest, Brown is among the minority of Ohio lawmakers holding town hall forums this summer. Congress is on a month long recess, but according to an Enquirer survey of local lawmakers, only Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat from West Price Hill, is planning any local events.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, needless to say, gets it wrong. It's not "despite the intense interest," lawmakers are passing on town halls. It's because of the intense interest. Whole account of what lawmakers are doing on their summer vacations here.
In April, President Barack Obama claimed "my high speed rail proposal will lead to innovations in the way we travel" and new rail lines "will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve." But as Reason Foundation Director of Urban Growth and Land Use Policy Sam Staley writes, high-speed rail's contribution to the economic recovery and the nation's economic productivity is being oversold.
The Boston Globe certifies the death of something that may never have been alive: President George W. Bush's "ownership society."
Reporting on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan's decision to spend $4.25 billion in ARRA funds on construction of low-rise rental apartment buildings and purchases of foreclosed homes, Globe reporter Joseph Williams wheels in analysts to support the thesis that President Obama is taking "a wrecking ball to Bush's heavy emphasis on encouraging homeownership as a way to create national wealth and provide upward mobility for low- and working-class families, especially minorities."
Meanwhile, HUD's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), part of the department's $75 billion Making Home Affordable initiative, has now succeeded [pdf] in keeping 235,247 homes from coming onto the market.
So with one hand, HUD is trying to build affordable housing. With the other, it is trying to prevent housing from becoming affordable.
Does this sound like Felix Unger's sleeping habit?
Can HUD succeed in meeting both goals? No, says Mish's Global Economic Analysis and Hot Fries: Housing prices are going down down down as the flames get higher.
Can HUD fail to meet either goal? No, says Calculated Risk: The transition to rentership is already happening.
And if you put affordable housing in my back yard, could you please make sure it's "low-rise?" It sounds sexier.
There are some new details in the Bob Dylan incident in New Jersey reported over the weekend.
According to Long Branch Police Department Sgt. Michael Ahart, Dylan had been peering into a window of a house that was for sale, which prompted a neighbor to call the police on July 23.
This ABC News report also doesn't mention Dylan peering in a window, but does say he wandered onto the property of a house for sale.
Either case would make the police apprehension of him less troubling, and he was technically trespassing, though once it was clear he didn't pose a threat to anyone, I'm still not sure he should have to produce identification.
More interesting is this bit from the ABC report about why Dylan may have been wandering around New Jersey in the rain:
Was Bob Dylan looking for the home where Bruce Springsteen wrote "Born to Run" in 1974 when he was detained by police near the Jersey shore last month?
The 68-year-old music legend was picked up one Thursday last month by a 24-year-old cop who failed to recognize him as he walked the streets of Long Branch, N.J. in the pouring rain.
It may have been as simple as it appears: Dylan told police he was talking a walk and looking at a home for sale.
But the area where Dylan was picked up was just a couple blocks from the beachside bungalow where Bruce Springsteen wrote the material for his landmark 1975 album "Born to Run."
In the past nine months, Dylan has visited the childhood homes of Neil Young and John Lennon, in both cases appearing without fanfare and barely identifying himself after he was recognized.
Last November, Winnipeg homeowner John Kiernan told Sun Media's Simon Fuller that Dylan and a friend arrived unannounced in a taxi to his Grosvenor Ave. home, where songwriter Neil Young grew up.
Dylan, Kiernan said, was unshaved and had the brim of his hat pulled down over his head. He asked for a look inside and inquired about Young's bedroom and where he would have played his guitar.
(Edit: Contrary to initial reports, the police now say it was the occupants of the home Dylan wandered up to who contacted them.)
Columnist Ron Hart on former President Bill Clinton's work on springing jailed U.S. journalists in North Korea:
I like what Clinton did, as it shows how quickly the private sector can respond to a crisis. He got a movie producer friend's jet, spent only $200,000 of non-taxpayer money, and acted swiftly and with resolve.
Imagine the cost, time, and all the U.N. resolutions it would take for our government to help two people held captive. So, for the U.S. the score stands: two saved from Communism.
It's shaping up to be a grim 50th birthday for America's youngest (and undoubtedly fakest) state, as the local tourism industry gets a nice Hawaiian punch courtesy of the global recession. According to the Wall Street Journal:
As much as a third of Hawaii's economy is driven by tourism, say state finance experts, and a recent state report showed that from January to June, spending from visitors who arrived by air dropped 15% to $4.97 billion from a year earlier.
Even sunbathers this year easily claimed spots on the normally overcrowded Waikiki Beach, a distressing sign for an economy more dependent on tourism than any other state in the U.S.
To put things into perspective, the state's unemployment rate, even at a 31-year high, is only 7.4 percent -- lower than the national average and better than the structural unemployment rate for many tourism-dependent economies around the world. (Oh wait: Damn you, Monaco, for screwing up the average.) The story also conflates government budget concerns with actual economic performance. (Gov. Linda Lingle is aiming to cut 1,000 state jobs to close an $800 million deficit.) Finally, there's this attempt by to pathologize the healthy dynamics of the bazaar:
Two years ago, there seemed no end to Hawaii tourism, said Marcus Oshiro, finance chairman of the Hawaii House of Representatives. "And now we're begging and offering free meals and free lessons trying to get them to come here."
Eager to do my part, I urge seekers of truth in all its forms to take a Hawaiian vacation and run down today's birth-certificate wrinkle, which holds that President Obama is actually 52 and thus was born before Hawaiian statehood. Leis, drinks with umbrellas, and a 1957 birth certificate: Make this year's vacation matter!
More broadly, doesn't tourism complicate the issue of Hawaiian independence? I mean, maybe the archipelago could get adopted by some other nearby country with 300 million of the richest people on Earth. But I'm not seeing many candidates on this side of the International Date Line. (Then again, at the rate we're going, you may soon need a passport to enter Hawaii anyway.)
Troubling questions, but the only question that matters is: What would McGarrett do? He'd tell us to hang loose:
As the public plan's prospect dwindle, opposition switches tactics. Here's Phil Klein on why, even without a public option, he still doesn't support health-care reform:
The remaining parts of the proposals in Congress would leave us with a system in which government mandates that individuals buy insurance or pay a tax and that employers offer insurance or pay a tax. Then government would have to define what constitutes insurance. Medicaid would be expanded dramatically. The government would be providing subsidies to individuals to purchase insurance, but even if individuals don't qualify for subsidies, at least under the House bill, they would be forced to purchase their insurance from a government-run exchange.
And though the policies offered at this exchange would be nominally "private" they would be designed by government bureaucrats. In the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions bill, a new Medical Advisory Council would be tasked with defining “qualifying” coverage; in the House bill, all Americans are required to have coverage that is deemed “acceptable” by a Health Choices Commissioner. No doubt, the creation of a new government-run plan is the easiest way for the country to evolve into a pure single-payer system, but even without one, the proposals being considered would give us a system in which individuals would be forced to purchase government-designed insurance polices from a government store.
As Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out several months ago, the managed competition that would be created by mandates and an exchange would essentially turn insurance companies into regulated, subsidized semi-public utilities.
Cross-posted at The Daily Dish.
Add Woodrow Wilson International Center scholar Jamie Stiehm to the growing list of people worried that the health care debate will trigger a race war. Here's Stiehm scaring Philadelphia about the town hall mobs:
When a man brings a gun to a New Hampshire meeting, when a Missouri woman tears up a poster of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and when long-serving Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) and Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.) are shouted down by hostile home crowds, then we've got trouble. History tells us these un-American incidents undermine civil society.
Philadelphia has seen a rising tide of mob violence before, in Jacksonian America during the 1830s. The culmination came when a grand new temple of free speech was burned down by a mob while the police, firefighters, and the mayor did nothing to stop them. [...]
The economic Panic of 1837 probably accounted for some of the Philadelphia crowd's violence. Racism was certainly there in droves. The lack of municipal authority and failure of leadership fanned the flames.
What the burning of Pennsylvania Hall tells us, though, is that an ugly hatred lived and festered in the country itself. For if something so drastic could happen in dear old Philadelphia, the state of the union was in danger in 1838. The writing was on the hall.
And so it is today, with violence in the air. If it could happen there and then, it could happen here and now.
Let's see, what's different between America in 2009 and America in the 1830s? Hmmmmm.... Nope, can't think of anything.
And yes, the Wilson Center is funded partly through your tax dollars.
What happens to prosecutors who withhold exculpatory evidence in cases that result in wrongful convictions? Not much. Senior editor Radley Balko reports on the case of Bernard Baran, a man who served 22 years in prison after he was convicted of molesting several children at a daycare center in Massachusetts. Evidence pointing to Baran's innocence was never introduced at trial, and the prosecutor who may have committed serious misconduct in winning Baran's conviction not only was never investigated or disciplined, he was soon promoted to judge, a job he has held for the last 20 years.
In the latest issue of City Journal, John McWhorter offers a very interesting profile of the great Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, who he calls "a fervent Republican who would be at home today on Fox News." I'm not so sure about the Fox News part, but there's no question that Hurston's views leaned in a conservative/libertarian direction. As she wrote in a 1951 article in the Saturday Evening Post (which McWhorter doesn't mention):
Throughout the New Deal era the relief program was the biggest weapon ever placed in the hands of those who sought power and votes. If the average American had been asked flatly to abandon his rights as a citizen and to submit to a personal rule, he would have chewed tobacco and spit white lime. But under relief, dependent upon the Government for their daily bread, men gradually relaxed their watchfulness and submitted to the will of the "Little White Father," more or less. Once they had weakened that far, it was easy to go on an on voting for more relief, and leaving Government affairs in the hands of a few. The change from a republic to a dictatorship was imperceptibly pushed ahead.
As McWhorter gently puts it, "Hurston's modern fan base doesn't know quite what to do with all this." For example, the novelist Alice Walker, whose 1975 Ms. magazine article, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," essentially resurrected Hurston's work, once declared, "I think we are better off if we think of Zora Neale Hurston as an artist, period—rather than as the artist/politician most black writers have been required to be." Yet as McWhorter wisely suggests in response, had Hurston's politics leaned to the left rather than the right, "one suspects that Walker would have had no trouble celebrating her as an 'artist/politician.'"
Read the rest here.
In the course of imagining a state in which individuals might have a lot of freedom without democracy, Arnold Kling wonders:
Suppose that a new non-territorial state is created. Call it Liberista! To become a citizen of Liberista!, you just pay an annual fee. You pay no taxes to the state. As a citizen of Liberista!, you can live anywhere that Liberista!has an embassy compound. Liberista! leases compounds in countries all over the world. Liberista! embassy compounds are as ubiquitous as Hiltons, but many of them have space for large sections of single-family homes, office parks, and so on.
Living in an embassy compound as a citizen of Liberista!, your status with respect to the host country is comparable to that of a diplomat. You can travel freely within the host country, but you are exempt from income and property taxes. However, the government of Liberista will expect you to pay your traffic tickets and to otherwise not abuse your diplomatic status. Services like utilities, water, and trash collection must be purchased from providers in the host country. Perhaps you contract for these as an individual citizen, or perhaps you allow Liberista! to contract on your behalf and collect a fee from you.
Liberista! is managed like a hotel chain. As a citizen, you have no more right to vote than does somebody who patronizes a Holiday Inn. You can, of course, make suggestions and register complaints.
Of course, there may be competing transnational enterprises, each with franchises--er, embassies--all over. Such a world is described in Snow Crash, and I make no claim to originality.
Kling says that, if such a place existed, and was close by, he'd move there. If the obvious problems of diplomacy and security could be resolved, I think I might too. Like Kling, however, I'm fairly rooted in my current home, so I don't think I'd move very far. Still, no matter where it sprang up, I'd applaud efforts to build such a society, and would encourage those who aren't as tied down to make the move.