June 2009, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Dave Ross Says the Darndest Things, Example 2: This morning I learned from one of our local leftwing talk show hosts that we have a "rampant free market health care system". Ross believes that our "rampant free market" explains why our health care costs are higher than those in other industrialized nations, and that a greater dose of government would help cut back those costs. (Ross must not have heard the joke that ends with this punchline: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you cut costs.")
I'm not sure how to explain this to someone who would make such a claim, but I'll try anyway. Most people in the United States over 65 are covered by a government program called Medicare. Most poor people in the United States are covered by a government program called Medicaid. People with low or moderate incomes in Washington state can get subsidized insurance through a state program. And there are literally thousands of other government programs, and tens of thousands of regulations at the state and federal levels.
So we don't have a "rampant free market" in health care; we don't even have a couchant free market in health care. (I am not sure what term from heraldry would describe the market in health care. What we need is a word or phrase that describes a well-fed, but shackled animal, in a cage with another much larger animal.)
One can go a little farther without much effort. There are parts of the health care system that are freer than others, for example dentistry and optometry. And in those parts, costs have risen less. Or one can look at it historically. The big expansion of federal involvement in health insurance came in 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid were set up. And when did our big increase in health costs begin? Just a few years later.
I am no fan of our current health insurance systems, but I am well aware that it is possible to make them worse, perhaps even likely if diagnoses as wildly wrong as Ross's are common in our Congress.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(This morning, I suggested relying on a different organization, Wal-Mart, if we really want to cut health care costs.
A note on terminology: Medicare is an example of a "single payer" system, like that in Canada; the Veteran's Administration provides "socialized medicine", like that in Britain. If either a single payer system or socialized medicine can lower our costs, then it should be possible to do so by reforming one of these systems. So far, proponents of these systems, such as Ross, have been oddly reluctant to provide us with what mathematicians would call an "existence proof". For example, if a single payer system can really lower our costs, without hurting the quality of care, why not show us how that is done by reforming Medicare?
Example 1 is here, and still hilarious.A few younger people may need to know that I am borrowing that title from an old TV program.)
- 2:11 PM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Victory In Iraq: A tentative victory, but a victory nonetheless. Ralph Peters summarizes.
But our achievement remains profound: We gave one key Arab state a chance at freedom and democracy. We deposed a monstrous dictator who butchered his own people and invaded two foreign countries. And we didn't quit, despite the scorn of the global intelligentsia.Peters ends with this warning:
Now we have a president who expresses himself beautifully, but seems blind to international reality. And it's up to him to determine whether Iraq was a new beginning or a dead end.So far, President Obama does not seem inclined to throw away the victory that Bush won. But it is also true that nothing that Obama has done in his brief career suggests that he has any real understanding of military strategy.
(For the record, I have always believed that we could win in Iraq — if we wanted to badly enough. This conclusion seemed obvious, once you counted the resources on each side. But there were many famous and well-informed people who disagreed with that common sense conclusion.
This is not to say that the liberation of Iraq was a good idea; that's a separate question. But most of those who argued that victory was impossible did so, I believe, in order to avoid examining our choices, and their costs and benefits.)
- 12:57 PM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Obama's Smile, Obama's Evil Eye: Last night, I was browsing through a post at Just One Minute, where I found pictures of Obama's big smile for Hugo Chávez — who is not the best friend the United States has in the world, or even in this hemisphere. So today I was amused by the contrast between those pictures and Drudge's pictures of Obama giving leaders — three of them friends of ours — the "evil eye".
It would be easy to pick a few pictures from the thousands that are taken of world leaders to make a point, so I won't claim this contrast proves anything. But it is amusing, and a little disturbing.
(I'm not showing any of the pictures, because I suspect some of them are protected by copyrights.)
- 10:51 AM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Suppose You Wanted To Cut Costs For Some Good Or Service: Which provider would you choose to do that, the federal government or Wal-Mart? Most of us would choose Wal-Mart, after roughly a second's thought. The federal bureaucracies have their virtues — really, they do — but almost no one would choose them if cutting costs were the main goal.
Now, let's narrow the question. Suppose you wanted to cut costs for health care, which provider would you choose, the federal government or Wal-Mart? That question might take more thought, but I think most of us (though perhaps fewer than chose Wal-Mart in answering the first question) would again choose Wal-Mart.
We would choose Wal-Mart because we know that they are good at cutting costs and because they have already have cut costs for generic drugs. And inspired their competitors to do the same. And because most of us know enough about government bureaucracies not to expect them to be good at cutting costs. (They are often quite good at shifting costs from one set of taxpayers to another.)
Now, if you and I, and most Americans, know that Wal-Mart would be better than the federal government at cutting costs for health care, why does no one in the Obama administration seem to know that?
(Wal-Mart is also trying to cut costs for simple office visits, by establishing inexpensive clinics. Their first efforts have had so-so results, but Wal-Mart expects to succeed, in time.
Insiders aren't overly concerned with Wal-Mart's false start. "Remember, we're still very much a young industry," says [Tine] Hansen-Turton. "The beauty of a young industry is that you can try different models." With patient visits rising and satisfaction surveys showing high marks, retail clinics are confident they'll succeed. According to a 2008 Wall Street Journal/Harris study, 90% of adults were satisfied with the quality of care they received at clinics, 88% were satisfied with staff qualifications, and 86% were satisfied with the cost.Though they face tough competition from some of the larger drugstore chains, notably CVS. (Which is a very good thing for consumers.)
These clinics will often attract patients who would otherwise have gone to emergency rooms, which are very expensive places to get routine services. And generally heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, in one way or another. So Wal-Mart's clinics, and those of its competitors, will cut costs for taxpayers, as well as those using their services.)
- 8:31 AM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Would The Waxman-Markey Bill Have Passed Without Republican Support? Maybe. That conclusion may seem strange, since the bill passed 219-212. Switch those 8 Republican supporters and the bill would appear to fail, 211-220.
But that isn't the whole story. On crucial bills like this one, it is common for the House leadership to collect conditional promises of support, promises to support the bill if their vote is necessary for passage. Congressmen who have made those promises will wait till near the end to vote. (Insiders could probably look at the roll call and guess, with good accuracy, just who those congressmen were.) If Pelosi and Waxman had 6 such promises, then all 8 of the Republicans who voted for the bill could have switched, without affecting the result.
(Two Republicans were not there to vote. I have been wondering whether the Republican leadership, which must have had its own count, knew that they were going to lose, and didn't bother to call them in.)
- 5:28 AM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Reporters Laughing At Gibbs: While Obama's press secretary tries to avoid admitting that Obama has broken, and will continue to break, his campaign promise not to increase taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year.
When even "mainstream" reporters begin to laugh at their broken promises, elected officials are in trouble. Or at least their administrations are. I don't expect to see any "mainstream" interviewers ask Obama these same questions, and I don't think he will grant interviews to any reporter who might ask them.
(Incidentally, Gibbs is an unimpressive press secretary, whether or not you agree with Obama. It is odd that this hyper-political administration did not pick a better mouthpiece. For instance, Gibbs should have known that he would be asked about the tax promise, and had an answer prepared. Instead, he stumbled around, finally provoking laughter.)
- 5:10 AM, 30 June 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Victor Davis Hanson on Barack Obama's noble lies.
The first category is the historically inaccurate statement designed to bolster the spirits of the Islamic world. This type of lie offers proof of Obama's noble intentions and conduces to the greater good. Obama, of course, seems to know little history. And to the degree he is interested in the past, history becomes largely a melodramatic, rather than tragic, story, in which we are to distinguish victims and oppressors based on modern moral standards, and allot sympathy and blame accordingly.That's one of the more plausible explanations that I have seen for Obama's consistent fact fudging. He thinks he is doing it for our own good. (The other explanations I have seen are all far worse — and may be compatible with this one.)
- 3:31 PM, 29 June 2009 [link]
Trends In Personal Saving: Americans, most economists believe, have been saving too little. We are now starting to fix that.
Obvious political point: Democratic operatives would really, really like to see that saving rate go down before the 2010 and 2012 elections.
(Possibly important technical point: Some economists think that the standard measure of saving is too low, because it doesn't include some of the things it should. I don't know enough about the issue to have an opinion.
Graph by way of Tigerhawk.)
- 2:08 PM, 29 June 2009 [link]
Are You Committing Treason? You may be, if you have doubts about the Waxman-Markey cap-and-tax bill.
So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.(Actually, not all studies suggest that the cost will be "relatively low", whatever that means. But Professor Krugman has long believed that he is entitled to his own facts.)
It is good to see Princeton professor (and Nobel prize winner) Krugman setting such a civil tone in this post-partisan era. (And showing such a good understanding of a difficult issue.)
Another Princeton professor, of physics as it happens, has a different opinion. And one of the best brief critiques of the climate models that I have seen. In it, Professor Happer makes this key assertion:
Since most of the greenhouse effect for the earth is due to water vapor and clouds, added CO2 must substantially increase water's contribution to lead to the frightening scenarios that are bandied about. The buzz word here is that there is "positive feedback." With each passing year, experimental observations further undermine the claim of a large positive feedback from water. In fact, observations suggest that the feedback is close to zero and may even be negative. That is, water vapor and clouds may actually diminish the already small global warming expected from CO2, not amplify it. The evidence here comes from satellite measurements of infraredradiation escaping from the earth into outer space, from measurements of sunlight reflected from clouds and from measurements of the temperature the earth's surface or of the troposphere, the roughly 10 km thick layer of the atmosphere above the earth's surface that is filled with churning air and clouds, heated from below at the earth's surface, and cooled at the top by radiation into space.I am no expert on climate models (Is anyone?), but I know enough to understand that we have much less to worry about if the feedback is negative.
Is Happer committing treason by making these arguments? You'll have to ask Paul Krugman to get an authoritative answer to that question.
- 1:42 PM, 29 June 2009 [link]
Poll On The Coverage Of Michael Jackson's Death: At Sound Politics.
- 11:31 AM, 29 June 2009 [link]
Good News From Argentina: The Kirchners have suffered a severe defeat.
Néstor Kirchner, the former president and head of the governing Peronist Party, conceded defeat early Monday in critical congressional elections that became a referendum on his leadership and that of his wife, the current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.(Just to confuse matters, his main opponent, Francisco de Narváez, is also a Peronist, but a very different kind of Peronist.)
The Kirchners are allies of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. (And may have received very substantial campaign contributions from him.)
(By way of Fausta, I found this Spanish language site with more data, even two neat diagrams. If you assume, as I sometimes do, that other languages are written in English, with a few misspellings, it is possible to guess the meaning of this passage, without knowing Spanish.
La presidenta Cristina Kirchner y su marido, el diputado electo y ex presidente Néstor Kirchner, sufrieron el domingo una debacle en los comicios legislativos ante un alud de votos opositores en los cinco mayores distritos, que les arrebató la mayoría en Diputados y el Senado.I suspect "debacle" means much the same thing in Spanish as it does in English.
Here's a Wikipedia article on Néstor Kirchner for some background.)
- 9:28 AM, 29 June 2009
The Spanish language site is Nuestra Tele Noticias 24 Horas, an "international 24-hour news channel owned by Colombia's RCN TV". One can understand why they might take some pleasure in Kirchner's defeat.
- 4:59 PM, 29 June 2009 [link]
Is It Fair To Make Fun of Kids With Downs Syndrome? Some on the left think so, if the kid is Trig Palin, the Alaska governor's youngest son.
There are nasty creeps all across the ideological spectrum, but there do seem to be far more of them on the left than in the center or on the right.
- 7:14 AM, 29 June 2009 [link]
President Ignores Constitutional Limits On His Power: President gets thrown out of office.
Hugo Chávez's coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation's constitution.Mary Anastasia O'Grady has much more, but that's the essence.
You'll probably hear about the military action, but not much about the fact that the military was acting under the orders of the Honduran Supreme Court.
(Fausta has a blow-by-blow account of the events in Honduras, with many links.)
- 6:03 AM, 29 June 2009 [link]
We Pay Doctors More: That's one reason for higher health costs in the United States. In this post, economist Greg Mankiw links to a paper by Uwe E. Reinhardt, Peter S. Hussey, and Gerard F. Anderson, comparing medical costs in the thirty nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Mankiw is struck by how much better paid American doctors are.
Although the United States now has relatively fewer physicians per 1,000 population than the OECD median, its total national spending on physicians as a percentage of GDP is double the OECD median (2.9 percent in 1999, compared with an OECD median of 1.3 percent). U.S. physician spending peaked in 1991—1992 at 3.0 percent after steadily rising from 1.7 percent in 1980. Since 1992 spending has more or less hovered around 3 percent. OECD median spending has been mostly flat over the entire period, hovering between 1.1 and 1.4 percent of total spending.Are American doctors much better, as well as much better paid? I'll leave that question for the the American Medical Association and the medical schools to answer.
But we can come to this tentative conclusion. Any reform that actually lowers health costs in the United States will mean lower incomes for doctors (and other health professionals).
(Uwe Reinhardt generally favors single-payer systems, though he is sometimes less direct about saying so than one would like. I don't know the views of the other two authors.)
- 3:27 PM, 28 June 2009 [link]
Worse Than Expected: I had not really expected that my Congressman, Jay Inslee, would read the Waxman-Markey cap-and-tax bill before he voted on it, but I thought that a few congressmen would have.
I was wrong. No one, not even a staff aide, had read the entire bill, at the time of the vote; in fact the entire bill didn't even exist, as a single document, when the House voted.
Through a series of parliamentary inquiries, the Republicans learned that the 300-plus page managers' amendment, added to the bill last night in the House Rules Committee, has not even been been integrated with the official copy of the 1,090-page bill at the House Clerk's desk, let alone in any other location. The two documents are side-by-side at the desk as the clerk reads through the instructions in the 300 page document for altering the 1,090 page document.Even Jazz Shaw of the (often im-) Moderate Voice thinks this is bizarre.
It would have been simple for Speaker Pelosi, once she learned about the amendment, to have postponed the vote for a week to let the committee get its document together, and to give congressmen a chance to read the bill before they voted.
There are two possible explanations for the rush: Pelosi and company did not think they could keep their majority together once details of the bill got out. Or, Pelosi and company are so incompetent and arrogant that they don't realize how this looks to Republicans, independents, and open-minded Democrats.
(I lean toward the second explanation on general grounds, but have no specific information to support that explanation.)
- 2:51 PM, 28 June 2009 [link]
Sarychev Eruption: Just in case you hadn't seen this picture.
A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev Volcano (Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009. Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain, and it is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island. Prior to June 12, the last explosive eruption occurred in 1989, with eruptions in 1986, 1976, 1954, and 1946 also producing lava flows. Ash from the multi-day eruption has been detected 2,407 kilometers east-southeast and 926 kilometers west-northwest of the volcano, and commercial airline flights are being diverted away from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake.(The end of the piece gives some alternate explanations for parts of the picture.)
More pictures here, in three sizes.
- 3:00 PM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Conyers Won't Investigate: Specifically, Congressman John Conyers. (The Conyers family is busy these days.)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate purported wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying "powers that be" put the kibosh on the idea.As the article goes on to say, he did not elaborate, but the "powers that be" in the House almost always include the speaker.
So, Nancy Pelosi doesn't want Conyers to investigate ACORN, possibly, just possibly, because she thinks that Conyers will uncover, or at least publicize, scandals.
- 1:21 PM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Jail Sentence For Conyers: Specifically, Monica Conyers.
Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers pleaded guilty this morning to conspiring to commit bribery and is free on personal bond.Among Detroit's many, many problems is widespread corruption. We can hope this conviction, with others likely to follow, will reduce that corruption, at least for a while.
- 1:03 PM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Canadians Are Beginning To Figure It Out: The Obama administration will be "bad for Canada".
The new President's ambitions could have a devastating effect on our economyAmericans should care for two reasons: First, and this should be enough by itself, we should should treat our friendly neighbors well. (And not cater to our enemies, but that's another story.)
Second, when our largest trading partner prospers, so do we. What's good for Canada is, almost always, good for the United States.
(By way of Kate McMillan.)
- 7:54 AM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Obama's Economic Policies? Gabor Steingart, writing in Der Spiegel, is not impressed.
The occupant of the White House may have changed recently. But the amount of ill-advised ideology coming from Washington has remained constant. Obama's list of economic errors is long -- and continues to grow.From what I can tell, Steingart's opinion is common in Germany, especially among those who pay the most attention to US affairs.
The Obama administration will not pay much attention to Steingart's economic criticisms — though they should — but they will be hurt by his comparison of Obama to Bush.
- 7:35 AM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Kindergarten Teachers Will Find This Exchange Familiar: Unfortunately, the "kids" are David Obey and Maxine Waters.
Two Democrats got into a verbal altercation — and according to one a physical one — on the floor of the House on Thursday night over an appropriations earmark one was seeking.(I especially like that last bit, which will make kindergarten teachers, and mothers of young children, sigh.)
Unfortunately, Congressman Obey and Congresswoman Waters have more power than most kindergartners. And neither seems much interested in whether the earmark in question would be a good use of our money. (Probably not, judging from the brief description.)
("Allahpundit" thinks that, if Obey were a Republican, he would be accused of being a "violent racist misogynist". That's a little strong, but he has a point.)
- 7:18 AM, 26 June 2009 [link]
Today's Top Story: The local television stations in this area agree; it's the death of Michael Jackson. Those more interested than I am in this story may want to read John McWhorter's piece, "The Man Who Wasn't There".
McWhorter does not entirely evade the most difficult issue.
Here we will recall certain unsavory allegations as to how concretely and in what fashion Jackson was interested in connecting with children, especially non-female ones. It is unnecessary to dwell on the issue at this juncture, but what we did know is that he went through decades of adulthood without any outwardly apparent normal romantic relationship with anyone.But McWhorter does not come to a conclusion, does not directly say whether he thinks those "unsavory allegations" were true.
- 6:49 AM, 26 June 2009 [link]
The Berega Orphanage: If you are like me, you'll find this story of a Tanzanian orphanage touching and encouraging.
The Berega Orphanage, a cluster of neat stucco cottages in this village of red dirt roads and maize plots, is a far cry from what the name suggests. The 20 infants and toddlers here are not put up for adoption, nor kept on indefinitely without hope of ever living with a family.The teenage girls, many of them illiterate when they come to the orphanage, get a basic education while they care for the babies.
It's a Christian mission, which will probably not surprise you.
(You can learn a little more about the church organization here and see some pictures here.)
- 3:58 PM, 25 June 2009 [link]
Today's Cartoon: Michael Ramirez sends Barack Obama to school. (As a student, Obama is rather single-minded.)
- 3:01 PM, 25 June 2009 [link]
Those Dubious Cost Estimates On Waxman-Markey: When I saw the reports of CBO cost estimates on the big cap-and-tax bill, I knew they were wrong, way too low, but I didn't take the trouble to figure out why.
Other have, and the Wall Street Journal explains some of the fine print in those CBO estimates.
Their gambit got a boost this week, when the Congressional Budget Office did an analysis of what has come to be known as the Waxman-Markey bill. According to the CBO, the climate legislation would cost the average household only $175 a year by 2020. Edward Markey, Mr. Waxman's co-author, instantly set to crowing that the cost of upending the entire energy economy would be no more than a postage stamp a day for the average household. Amazing. A closer look at the CBO analysis finds that it contains so many caveats as to render it useless.(Emphasis added.)
Some might consider leaving out such trivial things as the effect of the bill on the economy not entirely honest.
(It would be interesting to know how these CBO cost estimates were concocted. Did Waxman and company phrase the question fraudulently, did the analysts answer fraudulently, or both? I would guess that it was mostly the first, and that the analysts tried to salve their consciences with those fine-print caveats.)
- 2:17 PM, 25 June 2009 [link]
Don't Vote For Waxman-Markey Unless You Have Read The Bill: The whole bill. Carefully. That's the message I just sent to my congressman, Jay Inslee.
You should consider sending a similar message to your own congressman. Today.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:45 PM, 25 June 2009
Update: According to Hot Air, Chairman Waxman added a 300 page amendment to this bill — this morning. Those rushing a vote on this monster should explain why the amendment will not have the usual committee hearings, and why this bill does not deserve a full debate on the House floor.
- 8:45 AM, 26 June 2009 [link]