Category Archives: The Welfare State

Peter Schiff to OWS: “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk”

Here’s a very fascinating video taken at New York’s Zuccotti Park where Peter Schiff has a dialogue with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Schiff brought a sign that read “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk,” and talk they did.

One of the things that occurred to me watching this was how little true discussion is going on between the OWS movement and their critics. Notice how some of the protesters say things like “you rich people” or “you Republicans” etc. Just as its unfair for these protesters to lump everyone into these groups is a mistake, I think it’s also a mistake to assume that all of these protesters are clueless and don’t have some legitimate grievances.

Kudos to Peter Schiff for going out among the protesters and having this much needed conversation. There seems to be some common ground concerning these grievances; the real differences are what the solutions should be.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 1 of 3)

If there is one positive thing Herman Cain has contributed to the national debate it would be this renewed discussion about tax reform. While I am skeptical of some of the specifics of his 9-9-9 plan, if nothing else, Cain has forced the other candidates to come out with proposals of their own. Gov. Rick Perry in a seemingly desperate move to remain relevant proposed an alternative 20% flat tax – a single rate that’s less than the sum of all of Cain’s 9’s.

Before I was aware of and became a supporter of the Fair Tax (a 23% consumption tax that would replace the income tax, payroll tax and all other federal taxes; Gary Johnson and Herman Cain* both support the Fair Tax) I was a supporter of the Flat Tax as proposed by Steve Forbes in his 2000 presidential bid. If we must be subject to an income tax, it seems only fair that everyone pay the same tax rate. None of these proposed plans are perfect but at least everyone is subject to the same rates.

But apparently my definition of “fair” differs quite a bit from those who think a “progressive” tax (i.e. the more you make, the more the government will take) is fair. Take this article from Politico for example:

Taxing the poor has become a badge of honor among conservatives. When Occupy Wall Street protesters launched their cry of “We are the 99 percent,” the right-wing blogosphere responded, “We are the 53 percent,” meaning the 53 percent of American households that they say pay federal income taxes.

Conservatives have become fixated on the notion that largely because of the Earned Income Tax Credit — passed under Ronald Reagan and expanded under Bill Clinton — almost half of all Americans pay no income taxes.

Perry launched his presidential campaign expressing dismay at the “injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” And he was not alone. Every major candidate — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mitt Romney and Cain — has suggested that too many of the working poor aren’t paying income taxes, a position The Wall Street Journal describes as “GOP doctrine.”

[…]

The argument is disingenuous. Working poor people do pay taxes. They pay a larger portion of their incomes in payroll taxes and sales taxes than the wealthy. And they pay property taxes indirectly in their rental costs. Poor workers pay about one-eighth of their incomes in taxes, on average.

For the sake of argument, I will assume that the author’s assertion is correct that the working poor pay a greater share of their incomes than the wealthy counting both direct and indirect taxes. Indeed there are all sorts of hidden taxes that are embedded in every good or service we all buy.

Regulations on business (which the author of this article undoubtedly supports) that contributes to the overall cost of employing a worker** are potential earnings the worker might otherwise be paid. » Read more

Gary Johnson and Ron Paul CPAC Speeches

The 2012 G.O.P. candidates each gave speeches at CPAC following the debates. Below are the speeches from Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. The first video is Johnson’s presentation before perhaps the largest audience he has had in awhile. Johnson spends a good part of his presentation introducing himself before giving an overview of his proposals. In the second video, Dr. Paul who is no stranger to CPAC, gets right into his prescriptions for fixing the economy and restoring lost liberty.

Don’t Bother with the Fine Print, Just Pass the Bill

The title of this post ought to be a red flag no matter who the president is or what your political persuasion. President Obama is demanding that congress pass his “American Jobs Act” in front of supportive crowds of people who I am sure have taken the time to read the whole bill and understand its contents. This bill should be passed “immediately” and with “No games, no politics, no delays,” so sayeth our dear leader.

I can’t help but think of another piece of legislation that had to be passed “immediately” and “without delay” nearly ten years ago in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The piece of legislation I am referring to of course was the USA PATRIOT Act. I mean what’s not to like? The bill has the words “USA” and “PATRIOT” in them and would make our country safer because the law would give law enforcement the tools needed to fight terrorism.

One of the tools the PATRIOT Act (Sec 213), a.k.a. “sneak and peek” provided law enforcement the ability to delay notification of search warrants of someone suspected of a “criminal offense.” Between 2006 and 2009, this provision must have been used many hundreds or thousands of times against suspected terrorists, right? Try 15 times. This same provision was used 122 in fraud cases and 1,618 times in drug related cases.

Is this what supporters of the PATRIOT Act had in mind when most of them didn’t even read the bill?

So we’ve been down this road before – pass a bill with a name that no one would be comfortable voting against. To vote against the PATRIOT Act might suggest to voters that you are somehow unpatriotic as voting against Obama’s jobs bill will undoubtedly be used in campaign ads to say opponents are “obstructionists” or are not willing to “put politics aside” in order to “put Americans back to work.” And don’t even get me started on all the bad laws that have been passed using names of dead children.

But who is really playing political games here? I think the answer quite clearly is President Obama in this case. He knows damn well that if the economy is still in the shape it is come Election Day he has very little chance of winning a second term unless he can find some way to successfully pin the blame his political opponents. He knows that raising taxes is a nonstarter for Republicans – particularly Tea Party Republicans. There may be some good things in his bill that should be passed (the Devil is in the details of course) that Republicans can support but if it’s all or nothing, the answer will be nothing.

President Obama is counting on the nothing so he can say it’s the House Republicans’ fault that the economy hasn’t recovered. This class warfare rhetoric plays very well on college campuses and union rallies. The worst thing that could happen from Obama’s perspective is if the Republicans call his bluff, pass the bill, and the bill fails to provide the results he claims his bill will achieve (though as a political calculation, it may be a wash as Tea Party voters in-particular would not be pleased either).

The worst thing the congress could do for this economy would be to pass this bill as hastily as the PATRIOT Act was a decade ago. The best thing congress could do is for its members to actually read the bill and have a rational discussion* and debate it line by line. Whether Obama’s intentions are for good or ill, there will be seen and unforeseen consequences if the bill does pass. A top down approach (as I think this bill is) is rarely if ever a good recipe for an economy. No one is smart enough to plan the economy, not even the brain trust of the Obama administration (this should be obvious by now).

Just because the president says his bill will create jobs doesn’t make it so.
» Read more

Social Security Trust Fund: Accounting Kabuki

The looming government debt ceiling crisis has cause Obama to threaten inability to pay Social Security checks. It’s renewed the debate, which I’ve hashed out many times (here, here, here and here, for posterity’s sake), whether the Social Security “Trust Fund” is a veritable asset or merely a convenient accounting fiction used to hide deficits.

I, of course, believe it to be the latter. But M.S., writing for The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, tries to make some analogies about the trust fund’s “accounting kabuki”:

I mean, look, our bank accounts are an accounting fiction. Everyone knows exactly how much money is in anyone else’s bank account: none. There is no money “in” our bank accounts; our banks have already spent it. Our so-called bank account is just an IOU, a promise from our bank to pay us up to the amount specified in our balance.

There are two things here. The first is that the bank account is merely a promise, which is true. This is clearly analogous to the Social Security Trust Fund. The second part, though, is the problem. Making good on the promise is the bank’s responsibility, NOT MINE.

If I want to withdraw money from the bank, they have a legal and moral responsibility to give it to me. It doesn’t matter to me where they get it, but it creates no obligation on me to get that money back.

If they told me that they’d give me my money, but they’d have to garnish my wages for the next year in return, however, I’d be a little pissed off. That’s what the Social Security Trust Fund is.

The key is that American taxpayers are the ones who are being “paid back” out of the Social Security Trust Fund, while American taxpayers are also the ones doing the paying. It’s not an accounting fiction because we have two different line items on the bill, it’s an accounting fiction because the revenues ultimately come from the same place!

From the point of view of the Social Security Administration, of course, the IOU’s are an asset. They are a claim on future government revenue that is essentially on par with the debt that China or institutional investors buy from the US. I.e. from an accounting standpoint, it is a “promise” that carries some heft. However, from the point of view of the American taxpayer, it is additional debt that must be repaid through higher taxation. They’re going to get it from our paychecks, it’ll just come from the line that says “FED INC TAX” rather than the lines that says “SOC SEC TAX” or “MEDICARE TAX”. It still comes out of the same paycheck, which means whether it’s an accounting kabuki or not, it still costs us more money.

Quote of the Day: Wet Blanket Edition

President Obama and his sycophant Keynesian friends in the MSM can’t quite figure out why his policies haven’t improved the economy. Maybe President Obama should listen to an actual job creator, Steve Wynn to get some clue about why businesses aren’t expanding.

Here is an excerpt from Wynn from a recent conference call where he describes Obama’s policies as “the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime.”

[Partial transcript, Wynn responding to a question during the Q&A portion of the conference call]

“Well, here’s our problem. There are a host of opportunities for expansion in Las Vegas, a host of opportunities to create tens of thousands of jobs in Las Vegas. I know that I could do 10,000 more myself and according to the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Convention Bureau, if we hired 10,000 employees, it would create another 20,000 additional jobs for a grand total of 30,000 […] And I’m saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it and I could spend the next 3 hours giving you examples of all of us in this market place that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our healthcare costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right. A President that seems — that keeps using that word redistribution. Well, my customers and the companies that provide the vitality for the hospitality and restaurant industry, in the United States of America, they are frightened of this administration. And it makes you slow down and not invest your money. Everybody complains about how much money is on the side in America. You bet. And until we change the tempo and the conversation from Washington, it’s not going to change. And those of us who have business opportunities and the capital to do it are going to sit in fear of the President. And a lot of people don’t want to say that. They’ll say, “Oh God, don’t be attacking Obama.” Well, this is Obama’s deal, and it’s Obama that’s responsible for this fear in America. The guy keeps making speeches about redistribution, and maybe we ought to do something to businesses that don’t invest or holding too much money. We haven’t heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists. Everybody’s afraid of the government, and there’s no need to soft peddling it, it’s the truth. It is the truth. And that’s true of Democratic businessman and Republican businessman, and I am a Democratic businessman and I support Harry Reid. I support Democrats and Republicans. And I’m telling you that the business community in this company is frightened to death of the weird political philosophy of the President of the United States. And until he’s gone, everybody’s going to be sitting on their thumbs.

Will Individualized Medicine Increase Health Inequality?

Ezra Klein has a rather thought-provoking post today about human genome sequencing and its ability to allow doctors to better-tailor treatment to the specific needs of an individual patient. It presents a phenomenal opportunity to both make medicine more effective, and IMHO to make it cheaper by spending less time and energy on substandard treatments. Ezra raised a different point, though, and I think makes a logical error that warrants further discussion:

If that’s the path that medical advances ultimately take, one byproduct will be an immense explosion in health inequality. Right now, health inequality, though significant, is moderated by the fact that the marginal treatments that someone with unlimited resources can access simply don’t work that much better than the treatments someone with more modest means can access. In some cases, they’re significantly worse. In most cases, they’re pretty similar, and often literally the same.

But as those treatments begin to work better, and as we develop the ability to tailor treatments to individuals, we should expect that someone who can pay for the best treatments for their particular DNA sequences to achieve far better health-care outcomes than someone who can’t afford the best treatments and has to settle for general therapies rather than individualized medicine.

I believe Ezra makes assumes the premise that the “best” treatments are also the most expensive treatments. I believe this to be unsupported by evidence.

Suppose 10 different people all happen to have the same malady. To use a common one, let’s say that the malady is hypertension. Multiple drugs today exist for the treatment of hypertension. Some of them may be specific variants (branded or generic) of medications all within a specific class, but often multiple classes of drugs may be used to treat hypertension. Those multiple classes will affect different people in different ways, but my guess is that a typical doctor will offer a “standard” treatment regimen for hypertension and only deviate from that standard if something doesn’t appear to be effective. What’s further important to note is that different doctors may have different “standard” regimen, based on their own experience rather than exact current medical literature.

What the idea of genome sequencing may bring to the table is that medical research can form stronger predictions of a particular person’s response to certain medicines based upon their specific genes, and it is easier to tailor the treatment to the patient. This doesn’t mean that the rich person’s treatment will be more expensive than a poor person’s, but it does mean that someone who has genome sequencing will likely have more effective treatment than someone who does not. What it also means is that someone who has genome sequencing may actually have less expensive medical treatment than someone without, as less effort and dollars can be used adding treatments that are statistically likely to be ineffective.

And herein lies the rub. Will a rich person have better access to genome sequencing than a poor person? Not if we have Ezra’s wet dream: government socialized health care. Once effectiveness at reducing costs is shown, government in its awesome authoritarian-ness will undoubtedly use the desire for cost-cutting in medical treatment to demand genome sequencing of anyone participating in Obamacare. Sure, we civil libertarians will soundly object to government getting access to everyone’s DNA, but I’m sure they’ll tell us, much like they do with the TSA pornoscanners and told us with our social security numbers, that there’s NO CHANCE the genome information will ever be used for anything other than our medical care, and will be completely confidential. And since nobody listens to us civil libertarians today, they’ll get it done.

If Ezra looks at the potential from this angle, I think he’d change his tune. If he sees genome sequencing as a potential cost-cutting measure, rather than an inequality-increasing measure, I’m sure he’d actually push for wider adoption of it. And like any government authoritarian impulse, if something is good [and if we’re paying for it with tax dollars], we might as well make it mandatory, right?

Repost: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Last Friday, June 17, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” As Jacob Sullum points out here, the drug war didn’t actually begin with Nixon and it’s not likely to end on Obama’s watch (even though the Obama administration admits that current drug policy over this period has been a failure). In marking this dubious anniversary, I thought it would be apropos to repost one of my very first blog posts: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing here and elsewhere might notice the style is a little different than my normal, more conversational second person style (i.e. I refer to “you” the reader frequently). This is because this essay was originally a writing assignment (note the APA format) for a college writing class I was taking at the time even before I got into blogging (I’ll leave it to you to guess what my grade was). This also means that some of the sources I used are older than what is available now. I have since learned a great deal more about how and why the war on (some) drugs is a failure. The following essay is by no means comprehensive but I still stand by these arguments as well as others we have offered here at The Liberty Papers.

Even in the face of reasonable arguments, proponents of prohibition say legalization would cause “moral destruction of the human soul” (Hannity around the 18 minute mark on this video) or say that those of us who would support anything from decriminalization to harm reduction strategies to outright legalization should spend some time with individuals or families whose lives have been destroyed because of drugs. I would counter that emotional argument with another and suggest that drug war proponents spend some time with Kathryn Johnston’s family or the many other “isolated incidents” whose victims have been (in some cases, innocently) traumatized, maimed, or killed as a result of a no knock raid gone wrong. I wonder if these actions resulting from the current drug policy cause any moral destruction of the human soul?

********************************************************************************************************************

    Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Could legalizing drugs be the answer to reducing drug use in America? Most people would probably call that idea crazy. Why would the government want to encourage drug use? This is a misconception most people have when the taboo topic of legalizing drugs is brought up. Many people believe that because something is legal, the government is somehow saying it is right. Tobacco is a legal product yet it is constantly under attack. When was the last time the surgeon general told the public that tobacco is safe and healthy? Could this reasoning apply to other drugs that are currently illegal, yet kill far fewer people than tobacco? In fact, tobacco kills more people every year than all illicit drugs combined (McWilliams, 1996). What would happen if tobacco was suddenly illegal? Would people who want to smoke try to find and buy cigarettes despite it being a banned substance? What would the consequences be of this prohibition? The result of course would be a complete failure, just as the prohibition of drugs has been a failure. There are three main reasons why the prohibition of illegal drugs should end: it is ineffective, it causes unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and above all, it is dangerous.

Prohibition is Ineffective
America spends roughly $30 million (Federal and State) a day to fight the war on drugs (Stossel, 2004). The White House is requesting for congress to appropriate an additional $556.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year above the 2004 figure of $12.1 billion (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). If money was the solution to the drug problem, it would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, money and the programs the money supports has done very little to solve the problem.

While politicians fight this war from the comfort of their air conditioned offices, law enforcement officers see things from another perspective. An organization of police officers who oppose the drug war known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), conducted a national survey among police officers. The survey found that 95% believe America is losing the drug war. Over 90% believe that treatment and prevention is more effective than incarceration. When asked what would happen if drugs were discriminations or legalized, 30% of the police officers believed there would be no effect or that usage would go down (McNamara, 1995). Based on these statistics, one could imagine the frustration these police officers are dealing with and the morale for fighting on cannot be very high. Retired narcotics officer and LEAP board member, Jack Cole put it this way:

After three decades of fueling the [drug] war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get,cheaper,and more potent than they were 30 years ago. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nationÂ’s fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated-more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before (2002).

One might conclude that with this number of people serving time for drug offences, this would be an effective deterrent. While some people may decide not to take drugs because of the sentences associated with them, most rightly conclude that the odds of getting caught are very slim. The people who are most likely to get caught are the poorest Americans. Police concentrate their efforts to fight drugs on the poor neighborhoods. The rich are less likely to get caught because police do not typically patrol rich neighborhoods unless there is a reason to suspect the illegal activity (McWilliams, 1996). Even innocent people who happen to be poor are not exempt from punishment. Strict drug laws for public housing tenants go beyond the offenders themselves. The law states that tenants are responsible for anyone who enters the property, who participates in illegal drugs in any way, on or off the premises. This means that parents who are doing the best they can to be productive citizens could be evicted from their home if their teenager brings drugs into the home. The Supreme Court ruled that the law does, in fact apply to the tenant regardless of whether the tenant has knowledge of the criminal activity or not (Pilon, 2002). Is it right for the government to remove innocent people from their homes in the name of fighting the war on drugs?

Prohibition Puts Unnecessary Strain on the Criminal Justice System
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders is a major cause for prison over crowding. Violent offenders, who have no mandatory minimum sentence requirements for their crimes, are released early to make room for non-violent “criminals” who do (Cole, 2002). Federal sentencing guidelines require a five year prison sentence for possessing a single gram of cocaine. One gram is equivalent to a single packet of sugar (FAMM, 2002). Approximately 4,000 people are arrested daily for selling or using drugs. Roughly a half million non-violent drug offenders are in prison right now, who committed no other crimes (Stossel, 2004). A drug felon is more likely to spend more time in prison than someone who steals, rapes, molests children or even kills (McWilliams, 1996). Is society better off locking up someone for drugs than any of these other more serious offences?

Making room for a half million non-violent drug offenders means allowing a half million violent felons to roam free. Peter McWilliams, author and expert on consensual crimes, made this observation and stated:

Here’s how over worked law enforcement is in the United States: Only 21% of the people who commit murder and negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson are ever arrested; 79% of them – almost four out of five get off scot-free (1996, p200)

In an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding prisons, some jurisdictions have turned to “drug courts” as a solution. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of incarceration, Florida policy makers created drug courts as an alternative for first time non-violent drug offenders. Through the drug courts, drug offenders are given a chance to seek treatment instead of serving prison time. Florida’s drug courts have served as a model for the rest of the country (Facts.com, 2002). In fact, the White House is recommending an increase of an additional $32 million for fiscal year 2005; nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2004 for these drug court programs (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). While forced treatment is a better alternative than prison, treatment is only effective for those who truly want to get help. Even if drug users kick the habit, the criminal record that goes with it still has its consequences.

Drug Prohibition is Dangerous and Breeds Crime
Drug prohibition, as well intentioned as it may be, has at least one more consequence: it breeds crime and is dangerous. Why is it that people who, after being released from prison, return to a life of crime? Do they like being criminals? To answer these questions one must consider this: convicted felons cannot apply for federal student loans, have a difficult time finding jobs, have a difficult time buying or renting homes and are prohibited from voting (unless their civil rights are restored). There are no distinctions made between violent and non-violent offenders; a felon is a felon (McWilliams, 1996). The criminal record leaves ex-convicts with very few choices. The only market these most of these people qualify for is the black market. The experience of being locked up with violent criminals teaches inmates how to commit more crimes better.

Only 15% of people who try illicit drugs become addicts (Cole, 2002). For this unfortunate 15%, they find themselves desperate for more. Because prohibition artificially inflates the price of drugs, addicts resort to crime that does harm other people. Unless the addict happens to be very wealthy, stealing, selling drugs and prostitution are a few options for those whose daily drug habit can cost between $200 and $400 (McWilliams, 1996). Participating in the drug trade is very profitable but dangerous. When one dealer encroaches on another dealerÂ’s territory, very bad things happen. Things like drive-by-shootings, which oftentimes endangers the lives of innocent people (Cole). If drugs were legalized, the price would drop dramatically and the drugs could be obtained safely. Even chronically addicted people would spend no more than $5 a day. Supporting a $5 habit would be a great deal easier than supporting a $400 habit. All that would be required would be a part-time job (McWilliams, 1996). In fact 80% of all crime is related to drugs one way or another. It is then reasonable to believe that legalizing drugs would reduce crime by 80% (Cole). Law enforcement could then use its limited resources on the other 20%.

Prohibition is also responsible for much of the health risks commonly associated with banned drugs. Risks include: selling drugs to minors, dirty needles and paraphernalia, uncertain dosages, and contamination (McWilliams, 1996). If drugs were legalized, the government could regulate and set quality control standards for all drugs; much like alcohol and tobacco. To keep children from purchasing drugs, the seller would have to be licensed and could only sell to adults. Currently, drug dealers sell to anyone who will buy them, including children. Quality control standards would result in a lower occurrence of overdoses. The users would know how potent the product is by its labeling. Dirty needles and paraphernalia would no longer be an issue (Cole, 2002). The drugs could also be taxed to fund treatment programs to help those who want to get off drugs as well as drug education programs for schools.

Conclusion
The very idea of legalizing drugs is a scary prospect to most people. Upon further examination however, one thing is very clear: the current strategy is not working. Though the risks would be dramatically reduced, a number of people would still overdose. Regrettably, though drugs would be less accessible to children, some would still get their hands on them. Minors drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite both products being illegal, legalizing drugs would have similar effects. As terrible as that may sound, the drug problem could at least be contained through legalization. Granting amnesty to those who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences along with legalization, regulation, treatment and education would go a long way to reducing drug use and crime in general. It is unrealistic to believe that America will ever be 100% drug free. A certain number of people will use drugs no matter what the laws are. Prohibition continues to do more harm to society than drugs ever will. Ending prohibition, though not a perfect solution, would do much less damage. This effective solution would relieve much of the burden on the criminal justice system and would make America a safer place to live. Until America as a whole believes this and plans to do something about it, our society will remain “high” on its arrogance.

References
Cole, J. A. (2002). End prohibition now!. Retrieved April 22, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/endprohnow.htm

FAMM (2002). Crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://famm.org/si_crack_powder_sentencing.htm

Facts.com (2002, February 15). Drug courts. Retrieved April 8, 2004, from http://80-www.2facts.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ICOF/Search/i0700280_1

McNamara, J. D. (1995, April 9). Cops view of the ‘drug war’. San Francisco Examiner,. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/copsview.htm

McWilliams, P. (1996). Ain’t nobody’s business if you do: The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country. Los Angeles, CA: Prelude Press.

Pilon, R. (2002, September 9). Tenants, students, and drugs: A comment on the war on the rule of law. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr2002/pilon.pdf

Stossel, J. (2004). Give me a break: How I exposed hucksters, cheats, scam artists and became the scourge of the liberal media…. New York: HarperCollins.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004, March 1). National drug control strategy FY 2005 budget summary. Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/budgetsum04/index.html

Overheated Rhetoric or Terroristic Threats?

Just about this time a month ago, Tea Partiers and those of us who support things like cutting spending were accused of using “overheated rhetoric” in the immediate aftermath of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords among others. Sarah Palin was blamed by Leftwing pundits for inspiring the gunman because she had “crosshairs” on a campaign map which included Giffords’ district in Tucson, AZ. Remember that?

Now fast forward to the public sector union protests in Wisconsin which overwhelmingly supports Democrats. I think Andrew Klavan of Pajamasmedia captures the violence and overheated rhetoric by these union members quite nicely in this video.

Remember, these are some of the very people who lectured Sarah Palin and the Tea Party just a month ago.

It gets better.

Republican Senators in Wisconsin have also started receiving death threats for daring to stand up against the union thugs. The following is one such e-mail:

Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell. Read below for
more information on possible scenarios in which you will die.

WE want to make this perfectly clear. Because of your actions today and in the past couple of weeks I and the group of people that are working with me have decided that we’ve had enough. We feel that you and the people that support the dictator have to die. We have tried many other ways of dealing with your corruption but you have taken things too far and we will not stand for it any longer. So, this is how it’s going to happen: I as well as many
others know where you and your family live, it’s a matter of public records. We have all planned to assult you by arriving at your house and putting a nice little bullet in your head. However, we decided that we wouldn’t leave it there. We also have decided that this may not be enough to send the message to you since you are so “high” on Koch and have decided that you are now going to single handedly make this a dictatorship instead of a demorcratic process. So we have also built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent. This includes, your house, your car, the state capitol, and well I won’t tell you all of them because that’s just no fun. Since we know that you are not smart enough to figure out why this is happening to you we have decided to make it perfectly clear to you. If you and your goonies feel that it’s necessary to strip the rights of 300,000 people and ruin their lives, making them unable to feed, clothe, and provide the necessities to their families and themselves then We Will “get rid of” (in which I mean kill) you. Please understand that this does not include the heroic Rep. Senator that risked everything to go aganist what you and your goonies wanted him to do. We feel
that it’s worth our lives to do this, because we would be saving the lives of 300,000 people. Please make your peace with God as soon as possible and say goodbye to your loved ones we will not wait any longer. YOU WILL DIE!!!!
Reply Reply to all Forward

What do glass houses and catapults sell for these days?

Hat tip: Boortz

Lessons from Atlas Shrugged

Turned on the news recently? It seems the looters (i.e. collectivists) are everywhere and more active than ever. The big story over recent weeks of course has been the special interest government employee union looters in Wisconsin who call themselves “ the working people” who say they have a “human right” to collective bargaining. Meanwhile in Georgia, college and high school students are protesting reforms to the HOPE scholarship that would require higher GPAs to qualify. As in most states, Georgia is in a financial bind and is looking for budget cuts. Due to the high number of students qualifying for these scholarships, some Georgia lawmakers say that there isn’t enough money* to continue to fund it because of rising education costs. Never mind that though, according to some of these protesters, the State of Georgia has “no right” to “take away” these scholarships for those who can’t quite meet the stricter GPA requirements. In both of the above cases, lawmakers bestowed benefits via wealth redistribution to certain people; these people then started referring to these benefits as “entitlements,” “rights,” and even “human rights.”

Then there is Michael Moore, the real life Ellsworth Toohey of our time, with his usual Socialistic tripe explaining that money is a “national resource” and jobs are “collectively owned” by the workers. Click here if you care to hear it.

As if none of this was enough, NFL officials have decided to rename the proposed “Industry Stadium” in Los Angeles to “Grand Crossing” because the word “industry” has a “negative connotation” to it. Apparently the word “industry” can be added to the word “profit” as dirty words in the lexicon of our increasingly collectivist culture.

After all of this, I needed to find something to remind me that there still are sane people in this country who haven’t bought into the collectivist mentality. The video below is the winning entry from a “Atlas Shrugged” video contest.

I’m seriously thinking about looking for a “Galt/Roark 2012” bumper sticker for my vehicle. It’s time for those who value the concept of the individual to be heard.

*The HOPE scholarship’s only source of funds is the Georgia Lottery and my original point that HOPE was an example of wealth redistribution was in error. I continue to stand by my overall point I was making about the entitlement mentality on the part of some of the protesters, however.

Cuba banned Michael Moore’s “Sicko” for fear of public backlash

The latest revelation from Wikileaks shows that Michael Moore may have been a bit too good at making agitprop even for Cuban authorities to handle:

US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show that the government of Cuba banned Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, “because it painted such a ‘mythically’ favourable picture of Cuba’s healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a ‘popular backlash’, according to US diplomats in Havana.”

It continues:

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so “disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room.” Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it “knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.”

Reason.tv Presents: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences

One point that I often try to make when debating policy with friends and family is that virtually all policies have unintended consequences. How could anyone be opposed to such idealistic acts of legislation such as the War on Poverty, Social Security, Medicare, hate crimes legislation, affirmative action, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Civil Rights Act (CRA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ? Those who supported these acts of government (and many continue to do so) had the best of intentions. I think it’s also fair to say, however; that each have resulted in negative consequences unforeseen by the proponents of these measures. Those who opposed (and continue to do so) these acts, for the most part did not oppose these acts because they like poverty, hate old people, are racist, against people with disabilities, want to see species go extinct or want to “leave children behind” but understand that government action more often than not makes these problems worse.

The video below features three examples of the unintended consequences of Osborne Reef, Corn Ethanol Subsidies, and one section of ObamaCare that requires health insurers to cover children with preexisting conditions. These are all fine examples but the producers of this video could have picked just about any three acts of government complete with similar absurd, destructive results.

“More Expensive” Offers Alternatives to Incarceration to Break the Recidivism Cycle

Title: It’s More Expensive to do Nothing

Producer: Humane Exposures Films

Directed by: Alan Swyer

Non-violent offender is arrested, convicted, does his time, re-enters society and the cycle repeats. This is the typical cycle of recidivism in the American criminal justice system thanks largely to the “tough on crime” approach of state and federal policy. If the goal of policy makers is to put more individuals in prison, they are surely succeeding as the U.S. has 2.38 million prisoners; the highest number of reported prisoners in the world. If the goal of policy makers is to aid individuals in rehabilitation the policy makers have surely failed.

If incarceration is not the answer, does anyone have a better alternative?

Humane Exposures, the producers of the up and coming documentary It’s More Expensive to do Nothing believe they do. Their answer to this growing problem is a less costly alternative to incarceration; they say remediation is a better way. More Expensive, focusing primarily on California’s criminal justice system, interviews some 25 experts in the fields of psychiatry, law, law enforcement, corrections, policy, and healthcare as well as several individuals who themselves broke their personal cycles of recidivism and successfully turned their lives around with the aid of the very policies and programs the film advocates.

The most obvious question to answering the problem of recidivism is simply “why do 75% of California’s offenders re-offend?” Several very good answers are offered in the film but perhaps the best answer comes from Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy of Houston, Texas:

I would challenge anybody who is watching this [documentary] to be able to take 200 bucks, with no place to live really…except for a flophouse and not have a job or even job skills…

I mean, you may be a lawyer with no job. How long are you going to last?

[…]

Why do we expect somebody who has fewer skills than a professional to be able to somehow get out into the community and be successful?

We libertarians talk a lot about how individuals should be held responsible for their own actions as a consequence of living in a free society. Generally speaking, libertarians dislike government programs that are intended to help people avoid the consequences of their poor decisions. Be that as it may, I believe that Dr. Perry makes a very good point here. It’s very difficult to expect individuals to make better decisions in the future when there are few options available. With little or no social skills, little or no job skills, little or no support from family, friends, or the community, its very difficult for most individuals to resist re-offending. For those who are addicted to illicit drugs, trying to stay out of trouble is all that much more difficult.

As difficult as it may be for most of us to imagine, several of the ex-cons featured in the film did not find the prospect of returning to prison as much of a deterrent to making bad choices. Karen Miller, Drug and Alcohol Counselor for Community Resources And Self Help (CRASH) who herself is 11 years sober and broke the recidivism cycle said that if nothing else, she saw going back to jail as “Three hots and a cot.” Another said he felt safer behind bars than on the street. The truth of the matter is that the prison system is a government program as well complete with housing, healthcare, and 3 square meals for each inmate each day.

The government program championed by the experts in the film which was a result of California Senate Bill 618 provides non-violent offenders a multi-agency approach with the goal of helping them acquire job training, treatment, and most importantly, hope for their futures. Proponents argue that this isn’t a hand out but a hand up. Each person who goes through these programs are held accountable by their councilors, their peers, and themselves. Each has to take initiative and earn their completion certificates before they reenter society.

The premise of the film is in its title: “It’s More Expensive to do Nothing.” Obviously, doing “something” also has a cost associated with it, so what does their alternative program cost and has the program shown measurable results? According to the film, the program costs California taxpayers about $5,000 per inmate per year with a 20% failure rate. Considering the size of California’s prison population, this seems like a great deal of money. But compared with the costs associated with the more traditional incarceration approach costing $75,000 per inmate, per year with a 75% failure rate, the alternative program seems like quite a bargain.

Despite the program’s success, these programs are in danger of losing funding. My question is why? While I know that California is financially a hot mess, it seems to me that if these programs are as successful as those in the film claims, even the law and order types in positions of power would do everything possible to keep this program going.

This leads me to my first of two criticisms of the film. Where are the people who represent the counterpoint? Though I am very sympathetic to the case More Expensive makes, hearing the other side’s arguments could further illuminate the debate. Even Michael Moore interviews individuals who disagree with him in his crockumentaries!

My second criticism is the failure to deal directly with the elephant in the room: the war on (some) drugs. While those interviewed in the film acknowledge that drug policy has lead to increased incarceration, has proven futile, and has contributed mightily to the recidivism problem they are trying to address, I don’t recall any mention from anyone raising the prospect of decriminalization or legalization of drugs. Portugal is a real life case study in how decriminalization there has led to less crime and fewer people suffering from drug addiction. Those who opposed decriminalization in Portugal warned of all the same dooms day consequences that drug warriors say would happen here but so far has not materialized. Bringing Portugal into the discussion may have given the film another interesting dimension.

My guess is that, provided that the producers of the film agree with the idea of decriminalization or legalization, perhaps raising this argument would turn off people who might otherwise on board with their approach. Or maybe ending the war on (some) drugs in America anytime soon is so unlikely in their minds that they want to work within the political reality we currently find ourselves. Convincing policy makers to consider remediation over punishment is quite a challenge in itself in a culture that affectionately refers to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio “the toughest sheriff in America” despite a long history of misconduct and civil rights abuses.

All criticisms aside, It’s More Expensive is a very important and very informative film that brings attention to an issue that doesn’t usually receive very much play in the media. The voices of a more common sense corrections policy deserve to be heard and It’s More Expensive to do Nothing amplifies these voices. It’s now up to us to listen and avoid the costly mistake of doing nothing to stop this vicious cycle.

A Tempest In A Teapot

Resolved, that The Powers That Be™ believe the following:

  1. Foreclosures are bad.
  2. Falling house prices are bad.
  3. Banks losing lots of money is bad.

It’s not hard to understand why. Politicians sell a version of The American Dream where it’s all lollipops and homeownership, and people getting tossed from their property or deeply underwater on their mortgage have a very personal understand that they’ve been lied to. Likewise, they’ve been selling access to Tim Geithner’s glory hole for years, and they know that if banks have no money, there’s nobody left to buy that access.

So they blow the mortgage robosign scandal WAY out of proportion, keeping supply off the market and thus prices inflated. There have been a few isolated instances of improper foreclosure, but the VAST majority have been people who are in default on their property losing them to the banks. The banks aren’t exactly the good guys here, but neither usually are many of the people who spent their housing ATM all the way up the bubble and now wonder why the party ended.

Not only that, they keep non-paying residents in homes upon which they’ve defaulted while prudent renters that are waiting for a chance to buy calmly pay their bills every month. It’s gotten so bad that one publicity-seeking lawyer is now advising clients to break back into the foreclosed properties they once lived in and drag the legal battles out even longer. It’s a sad day when the vast majority of us realize that the country has become a place where following the rules makes you a sucker.

We have political month-from-an-election grandstanding about a full-scale moratorium on foreclosures (yay, gift to the squatters!) and banks who will gladly halt their foreclosures in order to avoid actually realizing the mortgage losses on their balance sheets.

And, of course, in what seems like a continuing effort by the political system to screw me personally, this all happens RIGHT at the time that my wife and I are looking at property, finally ready to make the jump back into home ownership. And the two places we’ve identified as desirable? Both short sales. As if short sales weren’t maddening enough, now we have to worry whether we’ll have some trepidation on the part of the bank or some nutjob lawyer advocating questionable legal tactics to muck it up.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

Thoughts On The Libertarian/Conservative “Alliance”

Over at Liberty Pundits, Melissa Clouthier argues that libertarians and conservatives are natural allies:

Libertarians want the government to bug out. Conservatives want the individual to empower himself. Libertarians believe in rational self-interest. Conservatives believe help and charity come from a giving heart–not from the government’s pointed gun.

Their motivations might be different, but their desired outcomes are the same. When Big Government Republicans talked about compassionate conservatism, they implied that conservatism is mean and harsh. They believed that they cared because they wanted to give people something for nothing.

They cared with other people’s money. I can be very generous when I’m writing checks off of someone else’s checking account. And boy do they all feel generous. But we are all paying the bill. And maybe some of us would pay for some of these things anyway. Americans are a very generous people. But many things are useless or worse, actively harmful and the government has no business being in that arena.

Conservatives and libertarians have much in common. Libertarians need to get over their God issue and actually see their friends in the conservative movement. They need to see the Restoring Honor rally for what it is: a call for personal responsibility and living free as an individual (which means being free to live with consequences and not expect someone else to bail them out).

And conservatives need to ignore the libertarian drug and sex obsession and see the small government, fiscally responsible desires in the libertarian movement.

(…)

The small government strains coming from these two groups naturally work together. Both true conservatives and libertarians distrust big government in all its forms whether the party is Republican or Democrat.

While I don’t doubt Melissa’s sincerity, I think what she misses here are the facts which seem to establish that that the conservative/libertarian “alliance” is really just a marriage of temporary convenience.

For better or worse, victory for conservatives means victory for Republicans. You can make distinctions between small-government fiscal conservatives and “Big Government Republicans” all you want, but the truth of the matter is that conservatives cannot succeed unless the Republican Party as a whole succeeds, and that means allying with and often voting with “Big Government Republicans.” Now, personally, that doesn’t bother me on some level. I”m willing to take an Olympia Snowe or a Mike Castle if it means Rand Paul is part of a Senate Majority. However, if you look at the history of the GOP as a whole, it’s hard to find any example from recent where the party was truly responsible for a reduction in the size, scope, and power of the Federal Government. It happened during the Reagan Administration, but even those modest gains have been reversed over the past decade, thanks mostly to a Republican President and Congress. So, on some level, libertarians and conservatives who hitch their star to the GOP are selling their souls and accepting the reality of short-term, temporary gains rather than long-term change.

More importantly, though, there are fundamental differences between libertarians and conservatives that make any kind of an alliance one of mere convenience rather than anything permanent. The great Frederich von Hayek outlined some of those differences in his 1960 essay Why I Am Not A Conservative (note that when Hayek uses the word “liberal” he is referring to it in it’s classical, principally British, sense of a belief in free markets and individual liberty, not the modern sense):

Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments. But, though there is a need for a “brake on the vehicle of progress,”[3] I personally cannot be content with simply helping to apply the brake. What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists.

(…)

The position which can be rightly described as conservative at any time depends, therefore, on the direction of existing tendencies. Since the development during the last decades has been generally in a socialist direction, it may seem that both conservatives and liberals have been mainly intent on retarding that movement. But the main point about liberalism is that it wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still. Though today the contrary impression may sometimes be caused by the fact that there was a time when liberalism was more widely accepted and some of its objectives closer to being achieved, it has never been a backward-looking doctrine. There has never been a time when liberal ideals were fully realized and when liberalism did not look forward to further improvement of institutions. Liberalism is not averse to evolution and change; and where spontaneous change has been smothered by government control, it wants a great deal of change of policy. So far as much of current governmental action is concerned, there is in the present world very little reason for the liberal to wish to preserve things as they are. It would seem to the liberal, indeed, that what is most urgently needed in most parts of the world is a thorough sweeping away of the obstacles to free growth.

This difference between liberalism and conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.

The truth of Hayek’s observation can, I think, be found in the history that has passed since he wrote those passages fifty years ago. Except on the margin’s the march of the state has continued unabated regardless of which party was in power and regardless of whether the President was a (modern) liberal or a conservative. Ronald Reagan, as I noted, did little to reverse either the New Deal or the Great Society and Republicans, who campaigned on eliminating the Department of Education in 1980, turned around made it even more powerful when they finally achieved long-sought-after goal of a Republican President and Republican Congress.

Moreover, when it comes to certain aspects of government, conservatives have proved themselves as willing to increase the power of the state as their liberal opponents. The National Security State is largely a creature created by Republicans, and the PATRIOT Act, passed without even being read in the panic that ensued after the September 11th attacks, is now being used by law enforcement to go after people who have no connection to terrorism at all. Privacy from government surveillance and intelligence gathering is fast becoming a myth, and neither conservatives nor liberals seem willing to do anything about it.

And then there’s the issue of the social conservatism aspect of modern American conservatism. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, sexual privacy, or individual automony there are fundamental philosophical differences between libertarians and conservatives that become more apparent once you look past the agreements on fiscal policy.

So, yes, on a temporary basis, libertarians and conservatives have common ground at the moment. But it’s very small common ground and I don’t expect any “alliance” to last very long given past history.

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!

Welcome, but insufficient to the needs of the day

David Cameron today apologized for the  British Armies conduct on Bloody Sunday.

Great… now do something of substance. Either treat the north as a real part of the rest of the damn country, or get the hell out.

The UK is firmly wedded to a lot of government involvement in industry, in finance, in development… fine. Ok. If that’s what the people of the UK want, then so be it. But it stifles entrepreneurship. The barriers to entry get so high, that it becomes nearly impossible to do anything without government support.

This is coming from someone who has founded and run businesses in the republic, in the north, and in England. I am an American, but also a dual citizen with Ireland. My father is an Irish immigrant. His father was a member of the IRA from the age of 15; when the IRA was still a legitimate organization. Most of my family still lives in Ireland; and I lived in Ireland, and in the UK, for years.

This is not just an American pontificating from afar, I have lived and worked there… and my position on the troubles is that none of it is justified, ever. Terrorism is terrorism, and is never to be tolerated. Government repression is similarly, not to be tolerated.

This isn’t about the troubles anymore. This is about the future of the North… or the lack of future represented in todays situation; because mark me, the north has no future, if the present state of affairs is allowed to continue.

Without government support, it’s near impossible to get anything done in the north. It’s somewhat easier in England itself, in that there is no less interference, but that the government cares more about business development; so it makes things smoother, and gives approvals, and planning etc… more attention.

What this means is, effectively, there is no economic development in the north without government intervention… but they don’t particularly want to intervene, and spend the taxpayers money on PRODUCTIVE projects in the north, when so much is already being funneled into nonproductive drains.

So long as there is no real industrial or technical development support by the government, except in a token way; the north will always be an economic disaster. It is that economic disaster, and the sense of neglect, of second class citizenship, of disrespect, disregard, and disdain… which allows the thugs their safety, and their income.

Either REALLY support economic development, or get the hell out of the way and allow some real entrepreneurship. Get people working, productively. Get the tax base up. Get people motivated to seek higher education, by having something useful for them to do when they get it.

So long as the north is dependent on the government teat, the real government on the street will be the organized crime gangs that masquerade as unionists, or republicans. So long as the thugs are safe, the police are not, and will respond with repression. It’s automatic. A + B will always equal C.

Oh and I should be clear, I don’t blame this situation on the great mass of the population of the United Kingdom.

I blame it on an incoherent, and uncommitted government position on Northern Ireland since 1921.

There is no real policy, nor any real rationale behind what is promulgated as policy. The only conclusion one can come to is that the government of the United Kingdom does not want to govern northern Ireland, but also does not feel they can stop doing so…

So instead, they neglect, and waffle, and make bad and inconsistent decisions. They fight, they withdraw. They take a hardline, then they fold…

It’s insane.

Oh and yes I know, they’re a giant welfare suck… But if the people (and the politicians) of England would treat the people of northern Ireland like actual human beings, not just as a national joke, or a drain on social spending, or a potential terrorist, or an electoral distraction… That might help a bit too.

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

Passage Of ObamaCare Leads People To Line Up For Their “Free” Health Care

This is utterly depressing:

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after President Barack Obama signed the big health care overhaul into law, Americans are struggling to understand how — and when — the sweeping measure will affect them.

Questions reflecting confusion have flooded insurance companies, doctors’ offices, human resources departments and business groups.

They’re saying, ‘Where do we get the free Obama care, and how do I sign up for that?’ ” said Carrie McLean, a licensed agent for eHealthInsurance.com. The California-based company sells coverage from 185 health insurance carriers in 50 states.

Is this what Americans have been reduced to ?

Oh yeah, it is.

ObamaCare’s Immediate Impact

As we all know, most of ObamaCare is pushed out to 2014 or so. But Ezra Klein, ever helpful, points out this nice PDF which explains what will occur nearly immediately. Ezra is always celebrating the cost-control measures of ObamaCare, so let’s see how these provisions stack up:

1. SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDITS—Offers tax credits to small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable. Tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums will be immediately available to firms that choose to offer coverage. Effective beginning for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2014, the small business tax credits will cover 50 percent of premiums.)

Okay, an immediate hit to Uncle Sugar here, but probably not big unless it really changes behavior immediately. So we start hurting the deficit right away. This is a net hit on government spending, but one might think that it probably won’t do much to private healthcare costs in the short run. I expect this will result in marginally increased coverage and thus will show no real change to health insurance premiums.

2. BEGINS TO CLOSE THE MEDICARE PART D DONUT HOLE—Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010. Effective for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2011, institutes a 50% discount on brand?name drugs in the donut hole; also completely closes the donut hole by 2020.)

Another government spending hit on drug coverage. In 2011, a 0% subsidy in this range jumps to 50%. According to Wikipedia, this may affect somewhere in the range of 25% of Medicare Part D enrollees. I’ll leave it to others to quantify this, but this is another spending measure.

3. FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER MEDICARE—Eliminates co?payments for preventive services and exempts preventive services from deductibles under the Medicare program. Effective beginning January 1, 2011.

Oh, look! Another government spending increase subsidy! And as one of Ezra’s colleagues at WaPo points out, preventative care doesn’t really lower total medical spending costs. So overall this is not a cost-control measure for government budgets or spending in general.

4. HELP FOR EARLY RETIREES—Creates a temporary re?insurance program (until the Exchanges are available) to help offset the costs of expensive health claims for employers that provide health benefits for retirees age 55?64. Effective 90 days after enactment

Another subsidy. This’ll mainly hit government, I don’t see a major change to insurance premiums here. There may be additional companies who provide early-retiree benefits, but only union jobs and government tend to do so. Most who are wealthy enough to retire early on their own will cover their own medical insurance costs — not their employer.

5. ENDS RESCISSIONS—Bans health plans from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Effective 6 months after enactment.

And here we go. The first of [many] provisions that will raise private insurance premiums. Of course, this depends on how common rescissions are. The left says they happen OMG like ALL THE TIME, so if they’re right, it’s a big hit. I don’t think it’s a huge change, but it’s definitely going to raise premiums.

6. NO DISCRIMINATON AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PRE?EXISTING CONDITIONS—Prohibits health plans from denying coverage to children with pre?existing conditions. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)

Again, an increase to private health insurance premiums. But hey, who’ll complain? After all, it’s for the children.

7. BANS LIFETIME LIMITS ON COVERAGE—Prohibits health plans from placing lifetime caps on coverage. Effective 6 months after enactment.

Again, if you think anything other than that this will increase premiums up front, you’re smoking something. And you shouldn’t be smoking, because it’s bad for you. But on the bright side, in 6 months you can be assured your lung cancer will be treated with no limits. And don’t worry about lying about that smoking habit on your insurance application, because rescissions are banned too.

(UPDATE 7:55 AM PDT: Commenter Fabio Escobar notes that rescissions are still allowed in cases of fraud, so it would be best not to lie on those applications, folks.)

8. BANS RESTRICTIVE ANNUAL LIMITS ON COVERAGE—Tightly restricts new plans’ use of annual limits to ensure access to needed care. These tight restrictions will be defined by HHS. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, the use of any annual limits would be prohibited for all plans.)

Again, we have a regulation that’ll up private premiums. [Do you see a pattern here?] Costs must be amortized, so this added risk is going to show up in premium hikes rather than limits on annual coverage. Insurance is built to hedge risk, and its increasingly looking like the risks to the insurer don’t expire [until you do].

9. FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER NEW PRIVATE PLANS—Requires new private plans to cover preventive services with no co?payments and with preventive services being exempt from deductibles. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2018, this requirement applies to all plans.)

Ahh, two fun ones here. Immediate premium increase (costs must be amortized, you know), and a probable increase in total healthcare costs, for the aforementioned reason that preventative care doesn’t lower total spending.

10. NEW, INDEPENDENT APPEALS PROCESS—Ensures consumers in new plans have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal decisions by their health insurance plan. Effective 6 months after enactment.

Again, here come higher premiums. Unless you think the external appeals boards are going to rule less in favor of the patient than the insurance companies would have, of course. Since the left believes insurers deny care left and right, this has to be a big impact, right?

11. ENSURING VALUE FOR PREMIUM PAYMENTS—Requires plans in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on medical services, and plans in the large group market to spend 85 percent. Insurers that do not meet these thresholds must provide rebates to policyholders. Effective on January 1, 2011.

“Ensuring value for premium payments” sounds a lot nicer than “capping profit margins”, doesn’t it? If the left’s belief that insurers are fat and happy and spend all their money on lavish bonuses instead of medical services, this would in fact be a cost control measure. One story from late last year suggests insurers already spend above 80% (Wall Street analysts say low 80’s, industry says 87%). Overall, my read is that this probably isn’t a major component either way.

12. IMMEDIATE HELP FOR THE UNINSURED UNTIL EXCHANGE IS AVAILABLE (INTERIM HIGH?RISK POOL)—Provides immediate access to insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre?existing condition ? through a temporary high?risk pool. Effective 90 days after enactment.

Initially there’ll be $5B in subsidy for this risk pool. It’s unclear whether some of this funding will replace existing state gov’t funding (35 states already have high-risk pools), so I’m not sure how much of that $5B is a net adder to the total cost. But the simple fact is this — while it might be better for some of those people currently denied due to pre-existing conditions (i.e. 100% risks), much of the cost will come out of *OUR* pockets.

13. EXTENDS COVERAGE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE UP TO 26TH BIRTHDAY THROUGH PARENTS’ INSURANCE – Requires health plans to allow young people up to their 26th birthday to remain on their parents’ insurance policy, at the parents’ choice. Effective 6 months after enactment.

This one just baffles me. Should we really be disincentivizing kids adults to get good jobs where they might be covered? I can understand an exemption for people on the 7+ year college program (hopefully grad school, not this guy), but if your offspring is 24 and not in school, it seems to me that it’s not your employer’s problem to provide them with health insurance (since it’s usually the cheapest method). Perhaps this *IS* actually a cost-control measure, since most 23-25 year olds are healthy and will add to the risk pool. But even so, I can imagine “Employee + Family” or “Employee + Children” plans increasing in premium, because they’re not usually charged based on how many kids are specifically enrolled.

14. COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS—Increases funding for Community Health Centers to allow for nearly a doubling of the number of patients seen by the centers over the next 5 years. Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

There’s short-run deficit cost here, but the goal is understandable. Clinics are likely a better way of treating immediate non-emergency medical needs than emergency rooms, so there may be some cost-reduction in the delivery method of care. Presumably not all of the supposed “doubling” of patients will be people whose only alternative was a regular doctor visit or ER visit, so there may be some gross increase in the total number of patients served. This one could go either way, and I’ll leave it to the statisticians to score it. But I’ll grant that there’s at least a possibility of cost-control here.

15. INCREASING NUMBER OF PRIMARY CARE DOCTORS—Provides new investment in training programs to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals. Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

Again, another big subsidy. Gives 10% bonuses to PCP and General Surgeons starting in 2011, and it’s unclear here what “new investment in training programs” really amounts to, but the early notes I’ve seen suggest it’s largely student loan repayment changes. I don’t see that much here that will blunt the existing trend for doctors to head into specialization rather than primary care. 10% is nice but it’s nowhere near the difference between a specialist’s salary and a primary care doctor.

16. PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SALARY—Prohibits new group health plans from establishing any eligibility rules for health care coverage that have the effect of discriminating in favor of higher wage employees. Effective 6 months after enactment.

This one is also somewhat vague. But usually when I hear about plans to avoid “eligibility rules” that “discriminate”, I think they’re trying to find ways to make it impossible to discriminate against bad health risks. Richer people tend to be healthier people, so it seems that if they accomplish their goal, it necessarily raises premiums.

17. HEALTH INSURANCE CONSUMER INFORMATION—Provides aid to states in establishing offices of health insurance consumer assistance in order to help individuals with the filing of complaints and appeals. Effective beginning in FY 2010.

Ahh, a two-fer! First is the direct government subsidy to states to hire new “consultants”. The second is the premium increase by pushing harder against health providers regarding complaints and appeals, which will likely often be adjudicated by the external appeals boards mentioned in point 10.

18. CREATES NEW, VOLUNTARY, PUBLIC LONG?TERM CARE INSURANCE PROGRAM—Creates a long?term care insurance program to be financed by voluntary payroll deductions to provide benefits to adults who become functionally disabled. Effective on January 1, 2011.

Voluntary? I wonder how long it will remain so. And how exactly does this different from the disability portion of Social Security? All I see here is a big new shiny bureaucracy, that will work as quickly as possible to entrench themselves by making this as involuntary as possible.

Conclusion:

So there you have it, folks. Of 18 highlighted points, most or all of them will increase payments made by government or increase health insurance premiums. This is “bending the cost curve”.

UPDATE 7:09 AM PDT: Welcome Instapundit, Powerline, and Tigerhawk readers! Feel free to take a look around to find out more about us, and we hope a few of you may come back from time to time.

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