Monthly Archives: July 2010

What The Appointee Says, And What It Means

While most of us were in the middle of a slow week following a holiday, Obama decided to issue a recess appointment for the job heading Medicare & Medicaid.

Could it be that he issued it as a recess appointment because he didn’t want us digging too deeply into what the good Dr said? Below is his quote, and Stephen Green’s (the Vodkapundit) opinion:

I just now got around to reading the actual article Nick quoted, and get this bit:

“In America, the best predictor of cost is supply; the more we make, the more we use—hospi tal beds, consultancy services, procedures, diagnostic tests,” Dr. Berwick wrote. “… Here, you choose a harder path. You plan the supply; you aim a bit low; you prefer slightly too lit tle of a technology or a service to too much; then you search for care bottlenecks and try to relieve them.”

That’s right — the way to reduce prices is to — wait for it, one more time– decrease supply!

It must take a major IQ and a Harvard degree to wrap your brain around that one.

With all respect to Stephen, I don’t think the Dr is making the point that he can repeal the laws of supply and demand. However, what he’s actually claiming is not, as Stephen is suggesting, stupid. Rather, it’s evil.

Allow me to demonstrate:

In America, the best predictor of cost is supply

He’s not making a point about cost of individual services. He’s making a point about consumption, and therefore spending.

the more we make, the more we use — hospital beds, consultancy services, procedures, diagnostic tests,

Okay, so he says that demand is larger than supply, because as supply increases, there is enough demand to fully utilize it. Essentially he’s saying that as medical care & technology becomes available, we want to utilize it, to do silly things like saving our own lives.

Here, you choose a harder path. You plan the supply; you aim a bit low; you prefer slightly too little of a technology or a service to too much;

You ration. You deliberately restrict supply, so that people cannot obtain the life-saving care and technology that they need. The British are well aware of this, although they use the term “queue” over there, while we prefer the less elegant “waiting in line”. Do some of them die? Sure, but hey, you spend a lot less money this way!

then you search for care bottlenecks and try to relieve them.

Translation: You make sure that the politically visible ailments — you know, the ones that have their own special colored bracelets — are well-cared for, so you seem like you’re actually helping people. At the same time, less common, less well-funded, or less dramatic diseases are starved for funding and new technology, because there’s just not a large political incentive to fix it.

Welcome to Obamacare!

We’re One Species

With economic times the way they are and a demographically changing society, I feel the ethnic tension flowing and the faucet turning, with boiling water threatening to pour on us all. This seems to be an eternal curse of perpetually tribal humanity, and secular humanists seem to be the only ones to not fall on some side of it’s disastrous nature.

As he battles cancer, Christopher Hitchens seems able to battle past the disabling effects of disease and address once humanity once again with reason:

And all this contains the true ingredients of tragedy—and of irony. One of the great advantages possessed by Homo sapiens is the amazing lack of variation between its different “branches.” Since we left Africa, we have diverged as a species hardly at all. If we were dogs, we would all be the same breed. We do not suffer from the enormous differences that separate other primates, let alone other mammals. As if to spite this huge natural gift, and to disfigure what could be our overwhelming solidarity, we manage to find excuses for chauvinism and racism on the most minor of occasions and then to make the most of them. This is why condemnation of bigotry and superstition is not just a moral question but a matter of survival.

This is the tragic flaw. With knowledge of our genetic roots, the reality of our lack of difference becomes undeniable. It is organized religion, with its emphasis on “chosen people,” fate and personality assigned by birthdate that keeps us locked in this death spiral.

For those who seem intent on turning this faucet of hate, I beg you to please stop. What do you expect to gain?

Majority Math

Ok, so I’m hearing a lot of noise from people on the right and libertarian side of the aisles that “the dems are going to lose everything this election and we can undo everything Obama has destroyed yaaaay!!!!”

Yeah… No. Not Gonna Happen.

Oh, I agree the dems will lose huge, but I doubt they’ll lose enough to lose control completely.

In fact, realistically it’s a mathematical impossibility in the senate for them to lose too badly; as there aren’t enough seats up for reelection that have a serious challenge mounted against them.

note: I’mna highlight the magic numbers for this post so you don’t need to wade through the text if you just feel like skimming. 

Right now the senate is 59-41 dem counting the two “independents”.

There are 36 seats up this year. Twelve are widely considered dead locks for the incumbents, leaving 24 “competitive” seats.

Six republicans and five democrats are retiring and one each were defeated in primary challenges, putting eleven seats in play without an incumbent.

The Republicans are going to lose at least one of those six seats because popular republicans are retiring from otherwise democratic states and their potential replacements are not doing particularly well, maybe two or three because of split voting in Florida, problems in Missouri and Kentucky with the Republican candidates, primary problems in Ohio and Kansas etc…

At this point, Ohio looks like it’s going Democrat, and Missouri is an absolute tossup, and they really shouldn’t be.

Florida has the Republican support split two ways, with the popular republican governor (who would almost certainly win the election in a walkaway if he were the Republican candidate but wasn’t sure he could win the Republican primary against a hard right opponent) running as an independent. These are real problems for the Republicans electorally.

Basically in every one of the states where the Republican senator is retiring, the Republican candidates are killing each other in the primaries, or in the media (or are killing themselves in the media).

It seems likely, at least one and maybe as many of three of those are going to end up a loss.

On the retiring dem seats, they’ll likely hold Connecticut because the Republicans (including Linda McMahon of WWE wrestling fame) are killing each other in the primaries. The dems are likely to hold Illinois with Giannoulas, though just barely and probably only by playing Chicago ball. At this point Delaware looks like a win for the Republicans. Indiana is almost certainly going Republican, as is North Dakota.

So let’s call that a net pickup of 2 for the Republicans.

There was one primary defeat on the dem side, Arlen Specter. Pat Toomey is almost certainly going to win that one for the Republicans, but not by much.

There was one primary defeat on the Republican side, but it’s in Utah. That seat is going to a Republican. Even though there are some major issues with the candidates at this point, the dem candidate barely registers on the polls.


Net pickup of 3.

That leaves eleven incumbent races as “competitive”, five dem and six republican:

Boozman is going to CRUSH Lincoln in Arkansas for a Republican switch.

Right now, Colorado is hard to call, but it’s looking like a switch to republican.

Reid is in deep trouble in Nevada, but he has a TON more money, and he’s only behind by 2-3 points… I think he keeps his seat.

Washington state is a total tossup between Rossi and Murray… It could stay or it could switch, but for now favor the incumbent.

Wisconsin also a dead heat, but Feingold is likely to keep his seat as he’s one of the DNCs most important defensive moves.

On the Republican side, I don’t see any of the so called “competitive seats” losing right now.


Call that a net pickup of 2.

 So that’s a likely net pickup of 5 total for a 54-46 Senate. I think that’s the most likely scenario, and that it’s highly unlikely it will be any worse for the Republicans.

In order to get a majority, they need a net pickup of 10.

Even if the Republicans don’t lose a single seat that’s a net of  6.

If they don’t lose a single seat and pick up all the tossups, that would be a net pickup of 11 (for a 52 to 48 senate), but that’s NOT going to happen. I think a best case scenario is a net pickup of 9.

Of course, a net of 9 gives us a deadlocked senate.

On the house side, it’s a different story. Right now, it’s 256 to 179 dem, needing a swing of 39 seats to swap hands.

That’s definitely going to happen. There is no sane person, currently paying attention, who reasonably believes the dems are going to lose less than 39 net seats. Nancy Pelosi is almost literally screaming from the rooftops that no, they are going to keep control, but it’s just noise.

The dems are going down hard in the house. They’re going to pick up maybe 2 or 3 races from Republicans, and lose as many as 106.

They’re definitely losing at least 50; even the DNC thinks that’s the minimum (and are already allocating money based on that conception). They are internally estimating a more realistic number at around 70-80 net lost seats. The white house press secretary just said they thought it could be as many as 100 net lost.

There are currently about 150 “safe” dem seats, and 165 “safe” republican seats; and it looks like the dems will lose most if not all their 106 seats in serious contention.

If the dems are LUCKY, under the most optimistic projections right now, they’ll hold on to 200 seats, giving the Republicans a 35 seat majority.

Oh and of course, as usual, there isn’t a single realistic chance that anyone other than a Democrat, Republican or “Independent” who is really one or the other but for some reason couldn’t win under their proper label (unless you count Rand Paul… I don’t. Bernie Sanders isn’t up for election this year. He’s really a socialist, but runs as independent).

What that means however, is that  under no realistic scenario, will the Republicans get a 2/3 majority in either house, which is what it would take to undo at least some of the Obama damage.

You’ve got to get veto proof, and filibuster proof, in both houses; to start repealing and fixing the damage, and that’s just not going to happen.

Believe me, while there are dissenter Democrats tolerated right now, the Democratic party leadership will expel people from the party before it lets them side with the Republicans against Obama when they end up in the minority.

Oh and of course, the whole premise rests on the idea that if they get in with a big enough majority, the Republicans will actually FIX anything; rather than just finding new and different ways to break everything EVEN MORE.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Democracy Doesn’t Work

Yet another in a long line of evidence showing that while democracy might be a way to gauge the public’s general mood or satisfaction, it’s certainly too clumsy of a tool to really have anything to do with setting policy:

Led by Loyola Marymount University’s Andrew Healy, a team of researchers compared 44 years of US presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate election data to the results of Division I college football games. After controlling for demographic effects, they found that at the county level, a local athletic victory one week before an election gave incumbents an average 1.70% gain. (In contrast, post-election victories or games more than two weeks before polling day had no effect on voting.)

The effect didn’t arise from athletic triumph alone—the emotional intensity of a win seemed to determine its electoral impact. For example, Dr Healy and his colleagues calculated the unexpectedness of each victory based on point spreads from the betting market. They found that a surprise win garnered a bigger electoral bump (2.59%) than an expected one. And in “powerhouse” districts with an especially fervent fan base, a victory could yield up to 3.35% for the incumbent.

So what’s the over/under on the first attempt by a politician to pay refs to influence the outcome of a game when they’re in a tight race?

Contest: Threats To Freedom

I was recently contacted by Templeton Press, the publishers of a new book called “New Threats To Freedom”. While I have not read the book at this time, judging by the theme and by some of the authors who submitted, it’s definitely intriguing.

In the run up to their paperback edition, they’re holding a contest for writers to submit their own new threats to freedom*:

In the spirit of these essays, write or post a response to the question:

What is an emerging threat to freedom and why is it critical to address it in today’s society?

Prize
First Place $500
The winning entry may also be considered for inclusion in the paperback edition of New Threats to Freedom.

Entries must be posted on a personal or professional blog no later than August 15, 2010, by 11:59 p.m. EST.
Blog posts must be 500 words or less.
Entrants must eighteen years or older.

Seems interesting. I’m not sure if I’ll submit something or not, but I’ll make the following offer to our readers:

If you think you have something worthy of submission [and I agree], but don’t have your own blog to present it, I am willing to offer space here at The Liberty Papers to submit your entry as a guest post. Since this is our own space on offer, some caveats apply**.

If you’re interested, contact me at the email address on the left sidebar.
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There Is Something Wrong With Mel Gibson

Celebrity gaffes can seem fairly meaningless. Celebrity behavior is normal human behavior: from pistol whipping (Eminem) to drug addiction (Robert Downey Jr.) to weird familial marriage (Woody Allen), the sort of human transgressions that would be at most private gossip among civilians becomes the world’s top news.

Given that, I think there is an underlying political importance to Mel Gibson’s continued episodes of hate. I don’t think Mel Gibson is just an eccentric, angry actor in the way Russell Crowe is. I think he and his father follow a continuous line of political thought that starts as far back as the Middle Age persecutions, moves toward Adolf Hitler and his stateside apologists and ends up at the like of David Duke, Pat Buchanan (coincidentally, or perhaps not, a Traditionalist Catholic fellow traveler of Hutton Gibson and his son who continues to appear on MSNBC despite having published a pro-Hitler revisionist screed), the Muslim Brotherhood and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Lines of political thought are a really good way of assessing your own political beliefs and making sense of the chaotic political spectrum. Generally speaking mine follow the line of Leon Trotsky, George Orwell and on toward Christopher Hitchens.)

It would be one thing if Gibson’s rough rhetoric were a personal problem. Unfortunately his father shares it:

In his interview on WSNR radio’s Speak Your Piece, to be broadcast on Monday, Hutton Gibson, argued that many European Jews counted as death camp victims of the Nazi regime had in fact fled to countries like Australia and the United States.

“It’s all — maybe not all fiction — but most of it is,” he said, adding that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people.

“Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?” he said. “It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That’s why they lost the war.”

Gibson’s homoerotic sadomasochistic torture flick The Passion of the Christ can be found in evangelical households across America, watched as frequently as geeks re-watch Star Wars. Watching Gibson’s film is a constant reinforcement of anti-Semitism; the film portrays the Romans as a helpless bureaucratic body that is forced in to crucifying Jesus Christ in order to appease bloodthirsty Jews. Gibson’s portrayal of the Jews is a narrative as old as Christianity itself and played no small role in their historical persecution.

In that film, Gibson wasn’t just channelling his own madness. Despite the pretty overwhelming support of the worst elements of Israeli messianism, American evangelicals, devout Catholics and other stringent followers of Jesus of Nazareth are not without strong shades of anti-Semitism. (After all, they don’t believe in the savior!) Jerry Falwell was known for making crass jokes about the fiscal habits of Jews while plopping out gems like “The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior.” In a public spat with his friend and the very intelligent religious/political commentator Dennis Prager (who is also Jewish, as it happens), Little Green Footballs blogger Charles Johnson was able to get Prager (who has done no small act in addressing anti-Semitism) to admit that Pat Buchanan and other elements of the Right are anti-Jewish.

When you hear about Gibson accosting a Jewish police officer or hear a tape of him ranting about how his wife will get “raped by a bunch of niggers” or rallying against “wetbacks,” you’re not just hearing a crazy person. You’re hearing the sick, intolerant, tribal and morally vacant core of Christianity.

Did the Jury for the BART Shooting Get the ‘Right’ Verdict?

It was arguably the first nationally broadcast officer involved shooting of 2009. Early January 1, 2009 BART Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant on a crowded platform at the Oakland station. Several videos (see them here) captured by cell phone cameras show what appears to me to be an execution style shooting of Oscar Grant.

Even as shocking and outrageous as this footage was, I cautioned readers at the time that the videos only tell part of the story (the videos aren’t exactly of the best quality either). Officer Mehserle’s defenders at the time said that he was likely reaching for his tazer rather than his gun. If this could be argued to the satisfaction of a jury pursuant to California law, then Officer Mehserle’s actions do not satisfy the conditions necessary to convict him of second-degree murder but involuntary manslaughter*.

And that is exactly the conclusion the jury ultimately reached. I can imagine a very contentious deliberation where several believed Mehserle acted with intent to kill while several others believed the shooting to be accidental. Those who believed the former must have been outnumbered by those who believed the latter and decided to agree to the lesser charge to prevent the jury from being hung and take the risk that another jury would find him not guilty.

This is pure speculation on my part, of course, but involuntary manslaughter is the verdict. The more important question: is it possible that the jury arrived at a ‘right’ and/or ‘just’ verdict?

For regular readers of The Agitator, you may be a little surprised that none other than Radley Balko believes the jury reached the right conclusion, however unpopular. While I’m not in total agreement with Balko’s reasoning in his recent article in Reason, he does make a persuasive case.**

At the very end of the article, Balko speaks directly to those of us who are a little less than satisfied with the outcome of this case:

The anger at Mehserle’s conviction on a charge short of murder stems from the perception that cops who allegedly commit crimes are held to a lower standard than regular citizens accused of the same crimes […]

[…]

There’s also the appearance of a double standard. Mehserle’s defense is that he made a mistake. In the heat of the moment, Mehserle inadvertently reached for the wrong weapon. But Mehserle had training. He had other cops there backing him up. If we’re going to be sympathetic to him, we should also show some sympathy and understanding for people like Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick, both of whom were tried for murder for killing police officers who broke into their homes at night. Both Maye and Frederick say they mistook the raiding cops for criminal intruders. Maye was convicted of capital murder. Frederick’s jury opted for voluntary manslaughter.

That said, Mehserle shouldn’t be required to suffer the accumulated anger stemming from other problems in the criminal justice system. He should be convicted of—and punished for—the crime the evidence presented at his trial proves he committed, nothing more. His jury did the right thing.

I can’t fault the jury for doing the ‘right thing’ as I am sure this was a very difficult case for each individual. And technically, Balko has a very good point that it was the jury’s job to make a decision on the facts of this case rather than consider the injustices that have befell many individuals such as Cory Maye and Ryan Fredrick. And because each of these cases took place in different states each with different legal standards, we probably aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples.

The jury may have reached the ‘right’ or ‘just’ decision but damn it, it sure doesn’t feel*** like the right decision. It seems to me that if a police officer can be convicted with a lesser penalty for an accidental killing**** that those who don’t have the benefits of wearing a badge should be judged similarly.

I really wish jury instructions for defendants who happen to be police officers or other government agents would include something I like to call the ‘average person’ test. Put simply, the jury would be asked to consider if the actions of the defendant would fit the definition of the charge if the individual was neither a cop nor government agent. If it’s a crime for an average person to act a certain way than surely the same action is a crime regardless of his or her chosen profession (no matter how difficult).

This case was about whether Johannes Mehserle’s actions met these definitions not whether BART Officer Mehserle’s actions met these definitions.

See the difference? It wasn’t a uniform that was on trial but a man. Nothing more, nothing less.

If the jury decided that Johannes Mehserle, the individual, committed involuntary manslaughter, then I would be much more inclined to agree with Balko.

But as long as the perception (which is reality, I believe) remains that the double standard exists for the badges and the badge-nots, there will be jurors who will deliberate accordingly whether or not their decisions are ‘right’ or ‘just.’

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This Is Your Government

As our readers can no doubt see, things have moved to a snail’s pace here. I’m not sure I expect that to change soon [at least for me].

However, I came across this post at TJIC, referencing a post at Coyote Blog, that is an absolute must read.

This is a government that is arbitrary, capricious, and exists not to protect the rights of the governed, but to aggregate power unto itself.

When you ask me why I don’t trust government to do anything, that post is a pretty good example of my answer.

It’s Still Charlie Wilson’s War

In the fantastic Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson’s War, Hanks’ character is seen frequently bringing up the deteriorating post-Soviet situation in Afghanistan to his fellow congressmen. Having been active in funding the American involvement in combatting the Soviets during their invasion of the Southwest Asian country, Wilson found it very irresponsible to quickly abandon the country once the Soviet Union had fallen apart. Other lawmakers derided him as being the “congressman from Kabul” in the film. Given the events of 9/11, his maintained concern over Afghanistan seems quite prophetic.

The hard part in life is that there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Seemingly endless wars understandably are quite unaffordable, with record unemployment and enormous deficits. On Twitter, I caught Joe Scarborough saying “What is the end game in Afghanistan? What is our goal?” Not a bad question. I also caught O’TooleFan saying
“Does anyone seriously believe we’re ever going to be able to turn things over to the Afghan army?” Another good question, but one that needs to be coupled with consideration for long term responsibility and rational self-interest.

I am only a twenty something writer. I hardly know the answers. I do, however, have enough knowledge of history to know that troublespots in the world do not stop calling us just because we stop calling them. With Kurdistan showing considerable promise as a home for modernity in the Middle East and a strong amount of blood and treasure spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is foolish and irresponsible to think we can just abandon it wholesale. It would not be shocking to witness those whose familes or loved ones fall victim to the tyrannical dictators or roaming ethno-nationalists that will inevitably fill that sort of power vacuum blame it on America.

The strongest alternative, in my view, is to try to recruit the budding powers of the world stage who also share an interest in a stable and non-volatile Middle East to become involved. This requires a level of diplomacy that will require considerable improvement in ties with growing superpowers like Brazil and strengthening of ties with India. It may also, as Stephen Kinzer has suggested in his prescient book Iran, Turkey, America’s Future, require the courting of natural but untraditional allies.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Supports Missionaries?

I’m on the mailing list of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the humanist and author of Infidel. In the latest newsletter from her AHA Foundation I got this message:

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim human-rights activist who lives under armed guard for fear of her life, is author of the powerful new book “Nomad.” As secular as they come, she advocates that Christians become more active in countering the growing reach of Islamic radicalism in the Western world with their own outreach program.

“Next to every mosque, build a Christian center, an enlightenment center, a feminist center,” Hirsi Ali explained. “There are tons of websites, financed with Saudi money, promoting Wahabism. We need to set up our own websites – Christian, feminist, humanist – trying to target the same people, saying, we have an alternative moral framework to Islam. We have better ideas.”

Uh…yeah. This is a really bad idea. Many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, already have quite a few Western Christians preying on their weaknesses in order to foment fundamentalism. I recommend Ali read about the anti-gay laws in Uganda which were strongly supported by US evangelicals.

Ali really needs to be careful. Her personal past with Islam could easily lead her into the hands of fundamentalist Christians, many of which are as intolerant and nefarious as the worst Muslim fundamentalists of her Somalia. Islam and Christianity both originated from elsewhere and became widespread in Africa through aggressive proselytizing.

As for humanist and feminist centers, I’m all for the former and possibly for the latter, depending on what kind of feminism it is that we’re talking about.

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