Sunday, July 15, 2007

Health insurance is NOT health care, I

Single-payer, government-administered health insurance plans have one thing going for them: they're simple to explain. That is, what could be simpler than dealing with one organization, the government, when it comes to health insurance claims? The government isn't out to turn a profit nor is it motivated by looking for ways to avoid taxes or to satisfy stock holders. None of that rubbish.

But perhaps things aren't quite so clear. In a paper posted on the Free Market Cure web site, author David Gratzer examines the issues that make "simple" government-run health insurance a tad more complicated. Here's his summary:
[P]rominent politicians recognize the angst of middle America and flirt with single payer. "I think we've reached a point where the entire health care system is in impending crisis. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we should begin drafting a single-payer national health plan," former Vice President Al Gore stated in the fall of 2002. His comments weren't greeted with a sea of enthusiasm but the fact that a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination would flirt with the idea suggests that single-payer health care is at least a possibility.

And it is. True, there is limited enthusiasm on the part of federal politicians to take on a sweeping new initiative after the grand failure of Clinton-care. True, too, that American journalists increasingly report the problems of single-payer systems like Canada's medicare. But Americans wouldn't completely dismiss the idea.

It lives on because of its simplicity. Those who promote single payer present the idea as a magic bullet. Why fuss with the sticky economics of health care when all you need is a simple government initiative? Indeed, the word simple (and its derivatives) seems to appear as often in Himmelstein and Woolhandler's book as motivation speakers shower their talks with the word empowerment.

In this paper, we explore the government temptation. Far from being an elegant solution, we find that government-run health care systems are universally plagued with deep problems. Whether we look to Canada or Britain or Germany, we find that single payer is a fanciful temptation, like hoping that a new house will save a troubled marriage.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Instead of that fruitcake, Kennedy... about this from Dr. D. Bruce Merrifield, former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs and Professor Emeritus of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania:

The earth has been subjected to many warming and cooling periods over millions of years, none of which were of human origin. Data from many independent sources have mutually corroborated these effects. They include data from coring both the Antarctic ice cap and sediments from the Sargasso Sea, from stalagmites, from tree rings, from up-wellings in the oceans, and from crustaceans trapped in pre-historic rock formations.

The onset of each 100,000-year abrupt warming period has been coincident with emissions into the atmosphere of large amounts of both carbon dioxide and methane greenhouse gases, which absorb additional heat from the sun, a secondary warming effect. Solar radiation would appear to be the initial forcing event in which warming oceans waters release dissolved carbon dioxide, and melt methane hydrates, both of which are present in the oceans in vast quantities. Subsequent declines in radiation are associated with long cooling periods in which the green house gases then gradually disappear (are re-absorbed) into terrestrial and ocean sinks, as reflected in the data from coring the Antarctic Ice Cap and Sargasso Sea.

The current 100 year solar radiation cycle may now have reached its peak, and irradiation intensity has been observed to be declining. This might account for the very recent net cessation of emission of green house gases into the atmosphere starting about 1988, in spite of increasing generation of anthropomorphically-sourced industrial-based green house gases.

While it seems likely that solar radiation, rather than human activity, is the "forcing agent" for global warming, the subject surely needs more study.

That's just the summary of the article. Having somebody like Robert Kennedy calling people traitors for not doing something about global warming puts me right off my feed. I just can't get over how willing people are to believe all of these politicians that have jumped on the anthropogenic/anthro-centric global warming bandwagon and who are now fighting for the reins.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Get rid of all these rotten politicians"

Hear! Hear! That was Robert Kennedy creating part of the sound and fury signifying ... well, nothing ... at the Live Earth Concert:
[I]t was nonmusicians at this concert who made the most passionate pleas about demanding action for the environment. "Get rid of all these rotten politicians that we have in Washington, who are nothing more than corporate toadies," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist author, president of Waterkeeper Alliance and Robert F. Kennedy's son, who grew hoarse from shouting. "This is treason. And we need to start treating them as traitors."

Well, I like the part about getting rid of "all these rotten politicians", but why for refusing to move more quickly to forestall anthropogenic, anthro-centric global climate change? I say "Hear! Hear!" to that! Stall forever, says I!

There were more maudlin appeals:
Primatologist Jane Goodall offered a greeting in chimpanzee language, before saying, "Up in the North the ice is melting, what will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?"

And there was this bit of bloviating:
For John Mayer, the raised awareness that Live Earth U.S.A. brought to the issue of climate change made the event a success. "I think a lot of people at Giants Stadium today want to listen," he said. "Awareness works likes a vitamin. You go to the bathroom and 99 percent of it is gone but you hope that you retained 1 percent."

How apropos to use bathroom similes for this event.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

You can be skeptical all you want...

...but, jeez, lady! Keep it to yourself, eh? French Housing Minister, Christine Boutin, expressed apparent belief that President Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:
French official suggested Bush was behind September 11

Sat Jul 7, 7:34 AM ET

PARIS (Reuters) - A senior French politician, now a minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, suggested last year that U.S. President George W. Bush might have been behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to a website.

The website, which promotes September 11 conspiracy theories, has posted a video clip of French Housing Minister Christine Boutin appearing to question that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group orchestrated the attacks. Boutin's office sought to play down the remarks.

Asked in an interview last November, before she became minister, whether she thought Bush might be behind the attacks, Boutin says: "I think it is possible. I think it is possible."

The next paragraph is particularly revealing:
Boutin backs her assertion by pointing to the large number of people who visit websites that challenge the official line over the September 11 strikes against U.S. cities.

"I know that the websites that speak of this problem are websites that have the highest number of visits ... And I tell myself that this expression of the masses and of the people cannot be without any truth."

Followed by a little CYA:
Boutin's office sought to play down the remarks, saying that later in the same interview she says: "I'm not telling you that I adhere to that position." This comment does not appear on the video clip on ReOpen911.

It would be my public duty to inform Madame Housing Minister that lots of people believe lots of things. Conspiracy theories, the honest-to-God-this-time end of the world scenarios, receiving $5 from Bill Gates just for visiting the Microsoft web site, name it, people will believe it.

I think that Mme. Boutin should visit and put her mind at rest about the tendency people have to believe three outrageous things before breakfast.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, XXXVII

Well, the concert's over and Madonna has saved the planet:
Wearing a below-the-knee puff-sleeved dress, matching knee-length leggings and black patent Mary-Janes, the star of the show, Madonna, took to the stage for her performance of Hey You where she was joined by a choir of schoolchildren.

She then strummed an electric guitar to Ray of Light before bursting into La Isla Bonita accompanied by cult New York Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello

Madonna thanked Al Gore, the brainchild of the nine concerts across the globe, "for giving the world the wake-up call it so badly needs and for starting an avalanche of awareness that we are running out of time".

"Running out of time." Gad! It is absolutely amazing how much people want to believe that things will go to hell unless we sing about them or watch Al Gore's movie.

Madonna tried to resurrect the most amazingly drastic global warming reversal ever attempted (emphasis mine):
She said: "Lets hope tonight's concert and the concerts going on around the world are not just about entertainment but starting a revolution around the world. If you want to save the planet let me see you jump."

She must have heard about World Jump Day! Say! With the concert "beamed to 2 billion people", she certainly had a much larger audience than WJD was able to muster!

What this planet needs is LIVE BAIT!

A reader of my last post about Al Gore's Live Earth concert sent me a link to his own blog. The link describes a far more constructive event than the silly world-wide music concerts for anthropogenic global warming. That event is Live Bait!

Global WORMing Responsible for Global WARMing

June 25th, 2007

GLOBAL WORMING may be the culprit behind the much-talked-about “climate crisis” that, according to people like Al Gore, threatens the existence of life on Planet Earth.

This revelation comes courtesy Jim Frederickson, research director at the UK-based Composting Association. He was quoted in a recent Materials Recycling Week magazine article as saying the following:

“Worms produce a significant amount of greenhouse gases. Recent research done by German scientists has found that worms produced a third of nitrous oxide gases when used for composting.”


“The emissions that come from these worms can actually be 290 times more potent than carbon dioxide and 20 times more potent than methane. In all environmental systems you get good points and bad points.”

Now that mankind has been duly informed that worms are serious polluters likely responsible for global warming, I’ve developed a handful of possible solutions for dealing with this slimy menace.

And, by golly, he lists some pretty good ones. Makes me want to take up fishing again.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert"

So said rock patriarch Roger Daltrey of The Who regarding erstwhile American Vice President Al Gore's Live Earth concert set to start tomorrow.

I haven't said anything about anthropogenic, anthro-centric global climate change in quite a while. Not that there haven't been oodles of news stories; it's the quantity that gets to me. I'm juicing up for a couple, three reviews of the news here shortly.

But this story about pop stars expressing doubt about Live Earth roused me enough to laugh, at least. Here's what some of them are saying besides that gem by Daltrey. Bob Geldoff, organizer of Live Aid and Live 8:
"Why is he (Gore) actually organising them?" Geldoff said in an interview with a Dutch newspaper in May, adding that everyone was already aware of global warming and the event needed firm commitments from politicians and polluters.

Rock group, Arctic Monkeys
have become the latest music industry stars to question whether the performers taking part in Live Earth on Saturday are suitable climate change activists.

"It's a bit patronising for us 21 year olds to try to start to change the world," said Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, explaining why the group is not on the bill at any of Al Gore's charity concerts.

"Especially when we're using enough power for 10 houses just for (stage) lighting. It'd be a bit hypocritical," he told AFP in an interview before a concert in Paris.

Bass player Nick O'Malley chimes in: "And we're always jetting off on aeroplanes!"

Large parts of the band's hometown of Sheffield were flooded at the end of last month after a deluge of mid-summer rain that some blamed on global warming. Two people were killed.

But the band wonder why anyone would be interested in the opinion of rock stars on a complex scientific issue like climate change.

"Someone asked us to give a quote about what was happening in Sheffield and it's like 'who cares what we think about what's happening'?" added Helders.

"There's more important people who can have an opinion. Why does it make us have an opinion because we're in a band?"

The Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant,
attacked the arrogance of pop stars who put themselves forward as role-models.

"I've always been against the idea of rock stars lecturing people as if they know something the rest of us don't," he was reported as saying by British music magazine NME.

OK, it isn't all that humorous. All of these folks taking themselves way too seriously about an event that is the modern equivalent of a rain dance.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Books: Crazies and Wimps

This week I've been reading the latest book by Bernard Goldberg, Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right - How One Side Lost its Mind and the Other Lost its Nerve. Goldberg is the author of Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News, Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite, and 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken is #37).

There are lots of little tidbits on Don Imus, Ann Coulter, Fox News, "Bush Derangement Syndrome", Alec Baldwin, girly men, global warming, the separation of church and state, muslim extremists, the War on Terror, Jews, pork barrel spending...lots of stuff. All of it organized very well, allowing one to crack open the book anywhere and spend a pleasant half hour.

His most trenchant commentary is on the subject of race in America. I thought I'd quote a passage towards the end of Crazies. I think it hits the sweet spot of the overwhelming hypocrisy built into our handling of racial issues:
[I]f affirmative action and racial preferences are such a good idea, then why don't we use them in really important things, like sports and politics?

Let's start with basketball. To make college and pro teams more diverse, let's reject some really talented black players in favor of white guys, who might not be as good but bring something very important to the table—namely the color of their skin; their minority whiteness.

But what about merit, you say. Shouldn't we take the best players without regard to race? In a word, No! White kids grew up with a distinct disadvantage. They go to inferior high schools (basketball-wise), and could never compete in the big leagues without affirmative action.

But won't the white kids feel stigmatized? Won't they know they got picked for the team not because of their ability but because of their skin color? Who cares! Too much is at stake to worry about such insignificant matters. Sports, as we all know, are a microcosm of America. And so America has a stake in the greater good. And that greater good is called ... diversity!

My plan is to initiate affirmative action at two college basketball powerhouses: the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Why there? Because in 2006 the head coaches of the men's basketball teams at both of those schools publicly came out against a state ballot measure that would have outlawed racial preferences in college admissions. "I know what it takes to build a team," Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach said, "and that is diversity. We need all kinds of players on our team."

So, if Coach Tom Izzo and his pal Coach Tommy Amaker of the University of Michigan care so much about diversity then I'm sure they'd be very happy to ditch four or five of their talented black players to make room for four or five young white men who can't jump—or maybe can't dribble, either. All in the name of diversity, of course!

Now let's move on to politics. Under my plan, beginning with the 2008 presidential campaign, every white male candidate would have to tell the American people where he stands on affirmative action as it is currently practiced—meaning that race is used not just as a factor, but often as the factor in deciding who gets into college or who gets hired in the workplace. Once we've established who's for it and who's against it, we would then use the University of Michigan affirmative action plan as our model. Under that plan, certain applicants got twenty extra "admission points" simply because they were minorities. The system worked quite well. It kept many highly qualified white kids out, since they had the wrong skin color. Diversity, as we all know by now, is more important than anything else.

And so it is with presidential politics. Last time I checked, this country has never elected a black president. That's because Americans are racists. If they weren't, they would have elected a fine, decent, honorable man like Al Sharpton, when he ran.

Under my plan every white male candidate who comes out in favor of affirmative action—if he is running against a woman or a racial minority—would have to spot that candidate ten percentage points before the votes are even counted, to make up for past injustices against women and minorities. So if the white male candidate were to "win" the vote by, say, nine percentage points—he would in fact lose the election, because of the ten bonus points. What could be more fair?

Satire, yes, but the point he makes is that racial preferences do nothing for "diversity"; the divide is only increased. It becomes reverse institutional racism. Why do we have to go through that all over again?

The answer? Because it makes people feel better to think that something exculpatory is being done to redress grievances. And if that something bears an uncanny resemblance to the flawed racist policies of the past, well then, we have a lot of guilt to atone for.

It's masochism, self-flagellation. However, many people opposed to this reverse discrimination say nothing because being in the crosshairs of the diversity crowd's gunsights isn't too far removed from what would have happened to a white bus driver in Selma, Alabama, in the 50s who dared to allow blacks to sit in the front of the bus.

Remember what happened to Lawrence Summers, former Harvard President and former Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton? The reverse discrimination/affirmative action crowd at Harvard disgorged him from his position as President because he dared to say out loud that he thought that genetics might be a reason why there were fewer women in the fields of math and the hard sciences.

Summers crumpled under the relentless criticism from the diversity mavens because he knew that he had said something entirely out of character for a Harvard President with the pedigree he has. He apologized repeatedly and abjectly for having strayed from the fold. He even went so far as to pledge other people's money to increase diversity awareness at Harvard. None of it was good enough for that crowd, though. Summers resigned and order was restored, the order of the right-thinking diversifiers. (A very good synopsis and analysis of Summers' gaffe can be found here.)

The Crazies insist that their guilt-ridden compassion should be the law of the land and the Wimps accept the craziness as the price of high office. Isn't it time for "a little rebellion, now and then" that Jefferson called for?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Recent commentary: the Commutation

Was President Bush right in commuting Lewis Libby's sentence?

(published 9-Jul-2007, Appleton Post-Crescent)

He certainly has the Constitutional right. Joe Wilson, Plame's husband, can spout off all he likes about a congressional investigation, but the President's power to pardon is absolute. What's fascinating to consider is what someone else might do with the pardoning power. Hillary Clinton said last month that "Nonviolent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons." Sounds like all the pot smoking Democrats in Leavenworth might have freedom to look forward to. But just 4 days later she said: "This commutation sends the clear signal that ... cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice." Not that I understand what that means, exactly, but it seems that certain non-violent offenders, namely Republicans, deserve prison. Ex-President Clinton pardoned actual violent criminals, Puerto Rican terrorist bombers, just before his wife's Senate race in New York, a stronghold of Puerto Rican votes. Might cynicism trump justice, too? But that's different: they vote Democrat.