Friday, February 29, 2008

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
...Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971. In that study, normal college students were randomly assigned to play the role of guard or inmate for two weeks in a simulated prison, yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days.

How and why did this transformation take place, and what does it tell us about recent events such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in Iraq? Equally important, what does it say about the "nature of human nature," and what does it suggest about effective ways to prevent such abuses in the future? ..

Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations
...The tax gap, the difference for a given year between taxes legally owed and taxes actually paid, for 2001 (latest available figure) is estimated to be between $312 and $353 billion. Criminal Investigation is one of the major IRS programs intended to minimize this revenue loss....

Statistical Data - General Tax Fraud
...Incarceration includes confinement to federal prison, halfway house, home detention, or some combination thereof....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Calm Before the Conflagration
The United States is funding and in many cases arming the three ethnic factions in Iraq—the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs. These factions rule over partitioned patches of Iraqi territory and brutally purge rival ethnic groups from their midst. Iraq no longer exists as a unified state. It is a series of heavily armed fiefdoms run by thugs, gangs, militias, radical Islamists and warlords who are often paid wages of $300 a month by the U.S. military. Iraq is Yugoslavia before the storm. It is a caldron of weapons, lawlessness, hate and criminality that is destined to implode. And the current U.S. policy, born of desperation and defeat, means that when Iraq goes up, the U.S. military will have to scurry like rats for cover....

Murderous dictators: cool, huh?
...Its been almost 60 years since my grandfather's arrest and 50 years since the Soviets invaded Hungary. The Prague Spring has come and gone, the Gdansk shipyard strike is history, the Berlin Wall has fallen. We've read Robert Conquest tell of Stalin's murderous deeds and Jung Chang tell of Mao's.

We've watched films about the Stasi and recoiled in disgust at the opulent lives of the Ceausescus. We know that Alger Hiss was guilty and that there was, after all, a communist conspiracy in America. We've read Solzhenitsyn and Sharansky. We know.

Yet still the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the Leader of the House of Commons, a member of the Cabinet, is in love with Fidel. When asked, earlier this week, in an interview: “Fidel Castro - authoritarian dictator or hero of the Left?” she answered unhesitatingly - “hero of the Left”.

Which brings me to this question - Why? Why does she think that? Why would she say that?

Let's eliminate from our inquiries the idea that Fidel was somehow better than the rest of them, better than Honecker and so forth. Those cigars, those battle fatigues, that beard. Kinda cool, no? No. Death sentences for those who want to flee, prison sentences for dissidents, gags for the press, jail for homosexuals, ruinous central planning for the economy, his support for a nuclear first strike against America, his opposition to any kind of reform, his four-hour long speeches, his personality cult. Fidel Castro was just like the rest of them.

So if we want to understand Ms Harman's response, it is not enough just to think about Cuba. We have to understand why parts of the Left, people who think of themselves as impeccably liberal, still think of communism as an heroic doctrine and communists as basically well meaning and a bit “alternative”. It's a pervasive attitude that goes well beyond politicians. Go to Tate Modern and you will find an exhibition of Soviet art - workers joyfully producing tractors or some such. In the bookshop you can buy a book of posters from the cultural revolution. Hitler memorabilia is not on sale. They wouldn't dream of having a room full of artfully designed Juden Raus! posters.

I struggle a little to understand the distinction being made here, but I think it is this. It's not that the liberals are unaware that millions died under Mao and under Stalin. It's just that they think it was different. Hitler had a killing machine; under Mao (“the greatest man of the 20th century”, according to Tony Benn) and Stalin many people just up and died.

I've heard this argument made before. When I wrote that my mother had seen Anne Frank arrive in Belsen, I had an e-mail from a Nazi claiming that I was wrong to describe the little girl as having been killed by the Nazis. She had, he said, died of typhoid. I responded that if you imprison an innocent person in terrible conditions or starve them, or both, and they die, you have murdered them. The same goes for the communists.

There is another reason why people prefer communists to fascists. It is that the latter believe we are entirely the product of our genes, while the former regard us as entirely the product of our environment. Somehow genetic determinism is regarded with greater distaste than environmental determinism. I am not entirely sure why. In any case, scientific evidence now shows that both views are wrong. Even if they weren't, neither justifies the killings carried out in their name.

Which leaves me with one final reason for the Left's attitude to communism - that anyone who defies the United States is somehow seen as a valiant progressive, whatever their crimes. I am sure that Castro's resistance to the US is a major reason for Harriet Harman's admiration.

From time to time, Left thinkers make an effort to reconcile liberals and America. From Tony Crosland in the Fifties to Jonathan Freedland's admirable and convincing book Bring Home the Revolution, the efforts have failed. Almost anyone - a homophobic, misogynist Islamist cleric for example - is given some credit if the US is their punchbag.

A few months ago the Tory candidate Nigel Hastilow had to resign for saying that Enoch Powell may have had a point. And it was right that he went.

Calling Fidel Castro a hero is worse.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Road to Serfdom
Here's what an article in this week's issue of The Lancet suggested:

"There is no doubt that this situation is a very important violation of the human rights of people in Africa. In recent years, international law has developed the notion of international crime to strengthen the accountability of individuals for serious violations. One indication of the gravity of acts and that they deserve treatment as international crimes that has been developed by the International Criminal Court is that they create social alarm. Active recruitment of health workers from African countries is a systematic and widespread problem throughout Africa and a cause of social alarm: the practice should, therefore, be viewed as an international crime."

The Exonerated
You could hear the ticking of the clock hanging in the back of the courtroom and the cries of the seagulls that circled above Boston as the jurors -- averting their eyes for the first time in the 50-day trial -- filed past the six men in the dock. The day before, the six had been convicted in the slaying of a local hood named Edward "Teddy" Deegan. The jury was now being asked to choose between a sentence of life behind bars or death.

His voice flinty, 73-year-old Justice Felix Forte addressed the first four defendants in turn. "You are sentenced to die in the electric chair." Undulating his hands to illustrate the chair's 2,000-volt current, he added, "On the designated date, the electricity will run through your body until death."

Joseph Salvati, a 35-year-old father of four young children, was next. Convicted of being an accessory to the murder, he rose uneasily to his feet. Forte asked if he had anything to say. Although Salvati had maintained his innocence from the beginning, he mumbled, "No."

"You are sentenced to Walpole Prison for the rest of your natural life, without possibility of parole," the judge said on that day, July 31, 1968. It was a death sentence of a different kind.

And it was especially harsh because Salvati -- and three of the other five defendants -- were innocent. Worse still, the FBI knew it all along....

...Although there will always be questions surrounding the 1965 alleyway shooting of Deegan -- several reports suggest that the FBI was forewarned and did nothing to stop the murder -- it's clear today that Joseph Salvati didn't have anything to do with it. Barboza admitted to participating in the slaying to his FBI handler, Special Agent H. Paul Rico. But with Rico's collusion, the hit man concocted a scenario that protected his partner, Jimmy "The Bear" Flemmi, while implicating the defendants, only two of whom were actually involved.

Barboza, for whom the Witness Protection Program was created, was ultimately murdered by the Mafia in 1976. Meanwhile, Salvati spent decades filing appeals from behind bars. He went into prison a vibrant man who loved his wife and kids, pasta and a bottle of wine shared with friends; he came out 29 years and seven months later a silver-haired great-grandfather.

Salvati was exonerated in January 2001, a month after a special task force investigating the Boston FBI office's handling of Mob informants uncovered long-hidden documents establishing that innocent men had been framed for Deegan's murder....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

America Won, Americans Lost
...The major reason for people's confusion on this account probably pertains to their reification or anthropomorphization of the collectives — whether they be clans, tribes, nation-states, or coalitions of such groups — whose violent conflict defines the war. Lost in the fog of war-related thought is the concrete, unique, individual person. Hardly anyone seems capable of talking about war except by linguistically marshalling such collectivistic globs as "we," "us," and "our," in opposition to "they," "them," and "their." These flights of fight-fancy always pit our glob against their glob, with ours invariably prettied up as the good against the bad, the free men against the enslavers, the believers against the infidels, and so forth — on one side God's chosen, on the other side the demons of hell.3

Of course, which is which depends entirely on the side that people happen to find themselves on, usually as a result of some morally irrelevant contingency, such as birthplace, family migration, or a line that distant diplomats once drew on a map.4 More than 50 years ago, sociologist George A. Lundberg observed that despite "the cavalier fashion in which 'statesmen' revise boundaries, abolish existing nations, and establish new ones, . . . the demarcations thus arrived at thereupon become sacred boundaries, the violation of which constitutes 'aggression,' an infringement on people's 'freedom.'"5 It's almost as if human beings clamored to slay one another on behalf of little more than historical accidents and persistent myths. French philosopher Ernest Renan aptly characterized a nation as "a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors."6

A widespread inclination to think in terms of the group, rather than the distinct individuals who compose it, plays directly into the hands of violent, power-hungry leaders. Without that popular inclination, the leaders' capacity to wreak destruction would be reduced nearly to the vanishing point, but with it, the sky's the limit — or maybe it's not the limit, now that space-based weapons are all the rage in the military-industrial-congressional complex. Nothing promotes the sacrifice of the individual to the alleged "greater good of the whole" more than war does. On this ground, government leaders successfully levy confiscatory taxes, impose harsh regulations, seize private property, and even enslave their own country's citizens to serve as soldiers, to kill or be killed in hideous ways....

... Stein's comment, which might aptly be applied far more generally, captures the essence of how the American people transformed their society from one in which, circa 1910, people enjoyed a great many freedoms to one in which, circa 1950, they had lost many of their former freedoms, perhaps irretrievably. Nothing propelled that process more powerfully than the two world wars — along with the New Deal, of course, but that crisis response itself involved little more than the revitalization, expansion, and elaboration of measures first taken during World War I, and therefore it must be understood as causally linked to the nation's participation in that war. Whenever the government went to war, whether the war was real or metaphorical, it necessarily went to war against the liberties of its own citizens.

Of course, it invariably justified these assaults on liberty by characterizing them as necessary, merely temporary means of preserving the people's liberties in the longer run — in General George C. Marshall's words, "sacrifices today in order that we may enjoy security and peace tomorrow."26That claim was either a mistake or a lie, because the U.S. government did not need to go to war, not even in the world wars, in order to preserve its people's essential liberties and way of life: neither Kaiser Wilhelm's forces nor Hitler's — and certainly not Japan's — had the capacity to deprive Americans of their liberties, "take over the country," "destroy our way of life," or do anything of the sort. This country has always contained persecuted minorities, and it still does; but since 1789, the only government on earth that has had the power to crush the American people's liberties across the board has been the government of the United States.

U.S. participation in World War I was the classic instance of a war whipped up by self-interested elites and carried into effect by a megalomaniacal president. As Walter Karp and other historians have shown, the upper-crust, Anglophile, northeastern movers and shakers — leading figures in what Murray Rothbard dubbed the Morgan ambit — maneuvered the psychically twisted, wannabe world saver Woodrow Wilson into seeking U.S. entry into the war.27 Wilson, in turn, on completely spurious grounds, stampeded the overwhelmingly opposed populace into the war against its better judgment. Once war had been declared, the government used a combination of relentless propaganda and Draconian coercive measures to beat down active opponents and to stir up a generalized frenzy of chauvinism — One Hundred Percent Americanism, as its devotees called it.

Within a few years, most people came back to their senses, but by then the harm had been done. U.S. participation in the war had brought about many inauspicious, irreversible, politico-economic developments within the United States, as I've already indicated. More important, it had contributed decisively to the creation of a worldwide complex of interrelated ethnic, political, and economic disequilibria whose resolution would entail many of the great horrors of the following century, including World War II, communism's geopolitical triumphs, the Cold War, and endless troubles in the Middle East.28 So obvious and poisonous were the war's fruits that soon after it ended, most Americans vowed never to take part in such an idiotic and destructive orgy again. Unfortunately, within a generation, they permitted themselves to be lured into an even more horrific charnel house.

Roosevelt idolaters and the jingoes of all parties have long maintained, of course, that the United States went to war altruistically to save the Jews of Europe from the monster Hitler and to stop Japan's horrible aggression in east Asia, especially in China. A fair reading of the evidence will not support either claim.

As for the European Jews, the U.S. government did not go to war to save them; once in the war, it did not conduct its military operations in a manner designed to save them; and, most importantly, it did not save them. Ultimately, some 80% of them were killed....

...Every year, on Veterans Day, orators declare that our leaders have gone to war to preserve our freedoms and that they have done so with glorious success, but the truth is just the opposite. In ways big and small, crude and subtle, direct and indirect, war — the quintessential government activity — has been the mother's milk for the nourishment of a growing tyranny in this country. It remains so today.

War and the Rise of the State
...What war causes, Porter argues, is an inexorable growth of powerful centralized government and bureaucracy, often at the expense of individual rights and liberties. However, war can sometimes also have the effect of fostering democratization in cases where governments are compelled to call on the less privileged members of society to bear arms and are frequently obliged to grant them new rights and opportunities in return.

Porter appears to regard all this as an important new discovery, despite earlier work along the same lines by authors ranging from Tocqueville and Max Weber to Theodore Rabb, Charles Tilly, David Kaiser and William McNeil, some of whom are cited in Porter's own copious footnotes. Perhaps he was moved to restate their conclusions by the belief that contemporary Europeans and Americans nonetheless still "resist acknowledging, much less squarely confronting, the pervasive role of war in our history and politics." He believes part of this may be due to ideological bias on the part of both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives admire military values and are sympathetic to the military outlook but refuse to acknowledge that "big government" has often been the direct outgrowth of war and preparations for war. Liberals "likewise cannot accept that the welfare institutions which they regard as hallmarks of human progress could possibly have derived in part from anything so horrendous as war."

Professor Porter is determined to disabuse both liberals and conservatives of such illusions, and he makes an impressive attempt, ranging over five centuries of European and American history, discussing such diverse subjects as public finance in the sixteenth Century Dutch Republic, the relationship between trench warfare and the rise of Fascism, government control of industry in France during World War I, and the impact of World War II on politics and social legislation in Sweden and Switzerland.

Having identified war as "a powerful catalyst of change," Porter has some difficulty in describing the nature of the change. His careful research keeps getting in the way of his social scientist's urge to generalize and categorize. Thus, "large states were better equipped than smaller ones to endure the violence of the Renaissance age"--except when they weren't; as in the case of Spain which "unravelled under the centrifugal stress of large scale violence." Then again, some small states, like the Dutch and the Swiss, didn't do too badly either. Further on we learn about "the democratizing penchant of modern armies" like Cromwell's round-heads and the soldiers of the First French Republic. Except this doesn't seem to apply to Prussia or Russia. War, Porter concludes, often stimulates national unity and political consolidation--except when it doesn't, as in the cases of Italy and Poland.

Although Porter disavows any attempt to "postulate a military dialectic of history," he ends up doing something very close to it, concluding his study with a call to "discard evolutionary and progressive models of change and humbly acknowledge this tragic and fundamental thread in Western Civilization." In his zeal to sustain this line of argument Porter is sometimes driven to questionable extremes. He defines "war," for example, to include not only international conflict and civil war but arms races and international rivalries, as well as all of the phenomenon associated with late nineteenth century imperialism. Even the use of "war" as a metaphor by FDR during the Great Depression qualifies for inclusion by the author, who sees the success of the New Deal as due to Roosevelt's success in "imparting a warlike urgency to the economic crisis." Having defined almost everything in modern political and economic history as somehow war-related, Porter has little difficulty in proving that war is "the fundamental thread in Western Civilization."

PORTER'S BOOK attempts to show how "war made the state and the state made war," in the words of historian Charles Tilly. ...

Dying to save 'The System'
For defenders of Canada's government-monopoly health care system, there is only one goal that truly matters. And, no, despite their earnest insistences to the contrary, that goal is not the health of patients. It is the preservation of the public monopoly at all costs, even patients' lives.

This week, the Kawacatoose First Nation, which has an urban reserve on Regina's eastern outskirts, announced it wanted to build a health centre there with its own money. ...

...Health critic Judy Junor said such private facilities threaten the public system, even if they do not offer fee-for-service scans, because they poach staff from public hospitals. "You can buy the machine," she sniffed, "that's the easy part. It's who's going to work it on a day-to-day basis."...

...During their 16 years in power -- a string that ended just over three months ago -- the Saskatchewan NDP refused to issue licenses for any MRI clinics not owned by government. In 2004, the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation proposed building one on its satellite reserve in Saskatoon. After three frustratingly long years seeking approval, the band gave up and went ahead with plans for an MRI-less clinic. Their members and the public will have to settle for second-best care because of the devotion of medicare's defenders to "the system," first and foremost.

By placing "the system" (and the well-paying jobs of NDP-voting union health workers) ahead of providing care for patients, the NDP have shown where their true loyalties lie.

It's the same across the country, and not just among New Democrats.

We are short 12,000 to 15,000 doctors in Canada because in the early 1990s, provincial health ministers -- Tory, Liberal and NDP -- desirous of preserving "the system," capped enrolments at medical schools. Doctors, they reasoned, are a major driver of costs with all the tests they order and treatments they perform....

Scandal of patients left for hours outside A&E
Hospitals were last night accused of keeping thousands of seriously ill patients in ambulance 'holding patterns' outside accident and emergency units to meet a government pledge that all patients are treated within four hours of admission.

Those affected by 'patient stacking' include people with broken limbs or those suffering fits or breathing problems. An Observer investigation has also found that some wait for up to five hours in ambulances because A&E units have refused to admit them until they can guarantee to treat them within the time limit. Apart from the danger posed to patients, the detaining of ambulances means vehicles and trained crew are not available to answer new 999 calls because they are being kept on hospital sites. ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Use of Private Care Tests British Health System
...One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor. “He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament....

The Politics of Fear
...Thus, even if the declining fortunes of the war on terror give the appearance that the politics of fear itself is on the wane, another campaign may be reviving it. While Democrats have become increasingly uncomfortable with the anti-democratic consequences of the hard power of the war on terror, they seem more comfortable with a “soft power” politics of fear: environmentalism.

Environmentalism is one of the few movements on the left that presents itself in the same totalizing political terms that the war on terror does on the right, and its influence only seems to grow as the war on terror’s influence declines. The New York Times’ bellwether of elite opinion, Thomas Friedman, recently swung around to the new framework. His solution for overcoming the “trauma and divisiveness of the Bush years” is “a new green ideology, [which] properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals, and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward.” ...

... In the attempt to rekindle hope and collective aspiration, however, Gore has summarized the way in which environmentalism reinvents the politics of fear. The belief that a threat to human life, especially one as global and overwhelming as eco-apocalypse, can transcend normal politics and create a sense of unique moral purpose is the differentia specifica of the politics of fear.

The global warming argument can be as morally coercive as the infamous ticking time-bomb torture scenario, even if the clock ticks slower. It’s not just that we should unite; we are, as Gore puts it, “forced by circumstance” to act. In the face of real political opportunities, there is always an element of freedom. One chooses between two alternatives, picks a principle, and commits to it. Imagining ecological collapse as an overweening crisis demanding immediate action and collective sacrifice, with emergency decisions overriding citizens’ normal wants and wishes, is not really a politics at all, but the suspension of politics – there is no political choice, no constituencies to balance, nothing to deliberate. There is no free activity, just do or die. It seems we will have traded one state of emergency for another....

Why I Oppose a Carbon Tax
...If you believe that human emissions of carbon dioxide create a significant risk of negative climate change, the solution seems obvious: reduce emissions. But this conventional wisdom is exactly wrong.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — which recently, together with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize — projects that, under fairly reasonable assumptions for world population and economic growth, global temperatures will rise by 2.8°C by the year 2100, and that this will begin to create costs equal to 1 to 5 percent of global GDP sometime in the 22nd century. So, it is argued, we should begin, right now, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in order to prevent some or all of these costs. The most frequently discussed methods for doing this are 1) a straightforward tax on carbon and 2) an inefficient, back-door (and therefore politically more palatable) tax on carbon called a cap-and-trade system.

Now, 1 to 5 percent of global GDP is a huge amount of money, and an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. But, in the case of global warming, the values may be exactly reversed: Getting most of the carbon out of the energy cycle today would be very expensive, and a century is a long time to wait for the payoff from this investment.

As we all know from everyday life, normally I would rather have a dollar today than the promise of a dollar a year from now. I “discount” the promise: The amount of cash I would be willing to take today in lieu of that promised dollar is termed its “present value,” and the percentage lower I am willing to accept today is called the “discount rate.” When decisions are made on the timescale of centuries, however, discounting can have counterintuitively large effects: Consider that if the legendary sellers of Manhattan Island had put $28 in an account with a 4 percent real interest rate in 1626, they would have enough money in the bank today to buy back all of the land in Manhattan. Albert Einstein supposedly said that “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest” — and this mathematical reality is central to the correct evaluation of plans to address the risk of climate change.

The “Stern Review,” produced by the British government last year, is cited frequently as demonstrating that the world should begin immediate, aggressive emissions abatement. But William Nordhaus, a Yale professor widely considered to be the world’s leading expert on this kind of integrated environmental-economic assessment, has pointed out that a crucial feature of the Stern Review was its assumption of a very low discount rate. To demonstrate just how unrealistic that assumption is, Nordhaus asks us to imagine a scenario in which global warming would lead to zero costs between now and the year 2200, at which point global economic growth would be permanently reduced by 0.1 percent — in other words, that economic output starting in 2200 would be 99.9 percent of what it would have been had there been no global warming. Under this scenario, how much should we be willing to pay today as a lump sum to avoid this cost? Using the assumptions of the Stern Review, Nordhaus points out, we would pay about $30 trillion, which is more than half of the world’s entire annual economic output. Thanks, but no thanks.

Why would sophisticated advocates for rapid, aggressive emissions abatement make such an obviously unrealistic assumption? Because they’re in a box. Given current global-warming-impact projections and normal economic assumptions, the costs of global warming justify only limited actions for the next several decades. ...

Homeless: Can you build a life from $25?
Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor's degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C.

But Shepard's descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents' home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty. ...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who Pays for Health Care?
...Shorter Dean Baker: Healthy people need to be required to pay for the health care of the sick. Typically, this is phrased a little more delicately –”people working together to provide affordable health care for everyone” or the like. But no, these days, folks like Baker and Ezra Klein just come right out and say it: If you’re healthy and don’t want to pay insurance premiums, too bad! The government needs to come and make you pick up the tab.

Universal health care advocates like to talk about the issue in moral terms, but the moral logic here seems extremely questionable. Forcing healthy people to open up their checkbooks whenever someone else gets sick seems mighty questionable. Perhaps I’m an outlier, but I wonder how popular insurance mandates and other requirements would be if, say, top-tier political candidates explained the policy on similar terms...

Health Care Metrics
...First of all, I think Ezra overstates the prevalence of emergency care. Not every medical situation is a dire one; in most cases, in fact, you're not about to die if care isn't given as soon as possible. Usually, those seeking care do have some time—even if only a few days or weeks—to make informed choices of their own. But because they're so insulated from costs due to the current insurance regime, they have no incentive to do so.

Anyway, I think his response fails to address my original point, which was that, no matter what, some entity needs to record and make available various health care metrics in order to make decisions about care. But there's no guarantee—and in fact, I'd argue that there's actually less of a guarantee—that the government is or will be equipped or willing to reliably do so.

Let's think about this for a minute. He argues first that individuals are doomed to lack the sort of information necessary to make choices about their health care. And then he argues that the government needs to spend "a lot of money" on effectiveness research. Presumably, if the consumer is unable to make determinations for him or herself, that means the government will be doing so instead. So although he pays some lip service to giving individuals the "maximum possible information and price transparency," what Ezra essentially wants to do is leave health care decisions in the hands of bureaucrat-experts (presumably, in a largely or fully public system, the ratings and determinations of the government body are followed by the health providers). And as I pointed out before, the government isn't exactly a bastion of accuracy and honesty when it comes to self-assessment. ...

Zoning and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis
Randal O'Toole has an interesting post rounding up evidence showing that zoning and other government land-use restrictions have played a major role in causing the subprime mortgage crisis. Zoning helped cause the crisis in two ways: by artificially inflating the price of real estate, and by increasing the likelihood of a "boom-bust" cycle in real estate prices.

As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser and UPenn economist Edward Gyourko showed in this 2002 paper, restrictive zoning greatly increases housing prices by artificially reducing the amount of land on which new housing can be built and also by reducing the amount of housing that can be built even in those areas where residential construction is permitted. Glaeser and Gyourko show that zoning restrictions account for a high percentage of the total cost of housing in some of the nation's most expensive real estate markets, such as California and the major East Coast cities. O'Toole's post cites more recent research that supports this conclusion (including his own). Higher housing prices helped cause the subprime mortgage crisis by forcing homebuyers to borrow more money in order to purchase homes of a given size and location. If prices had been lower, so too would homeowner indebtedness. Fewer buyers would be on the verge of default as a result of a market downturn; their debt burden would likely be much smaller relative to their income....

Is Limited Government Possible?
That which exists is possible. This simple observation complicates libertarian discussions of the possibility of limited government. On the one hand, the government of the United States is “limited” in the sense that it is not a totalitarian government that either claims or exercises the power to restrict all of human conduct. Even after the elimination of many of the constraints on federal and state powers contained in the original Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment, some limits are still observed. Moreover, the Congress and the states have not attempted to exercise the vast degree of federal and state power that the Supreme Court would likely uphold. So, in this sense, limited government clearly exists and is therefore possible.

On the other hand, the government of the United States far exceeds the very limited powers that libertarians believe are legitimate. Anarchist and minimal-state libertarians alike agree that laws against the unjustified use of force as well as fraud can be legitimately enforced by an existing government, by which I mean that government officials are not acting improperly when they enforce such laws and citizens have a duty to obey, even if the government’s claimed monopoly on law enforcement, as well as its claimed power to tax, violates individual rights. (Analogously, there is nothing unjust about delivering the mail, even if the postal monopoly is a violation of the rights of those who, like Lysander Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, are prevented from offering a competing service.) But the government of the United States claims and exercises far more power than any libertarian would consider just.

Libertarians aside, and perhaps more pertinent to this discussion, the U.S. government far exceeds the powers that the Founding generation itself would have thought to be just. After all, the U.S Constitution may exceed the libertarian limits upon government simply because its Framers may not have been trying to establish libertarian limits. No matter. To the extent their efforts to limit the power of government by means of a written constitution have failed to hold the line wherever they desired to place it, confidence that any line can be held is still undermined....

Monday, February 18, 2008

Child abuse by the government
What kind of society rips a 17-year-old autistic boy from his loving home and places him in a state-run mental institution, where he is given heavy doses of drugs, kept physically restrained, kept away from his family, deprived of books and other mental stimulation and is left alone to rot?

Certainly not a free or humane one.

Yet that's exactly what has happened to Nate Tseglin, after a teacher called Child Protective Services, the county agency charged with protecting children from many forms of abuse and given power to remove children from their family homes in certain circumstances. The teacher reported seeing self-inflicted scratches on Nate's body and complained about the doctor-approved arm restraints his parents used to keep Nate from hurting himself. Nate remains in Fairview Developmental Center (formerly Fairview State Hospital) in Costa Mesa, labeled a danger to himself and others, while his parents fight a lonely battle to bring their son back home.

Isn't there anyone out there who can help them?

After the complaint, social workers intervened and decided that the judgment of a psychologist who examined Nate's records but never even met the boy trumped a lifetime of treatment and experiences by his parents, Ilya and Riva Tseglin. Without prior notice, "the San Diego Health and Human Services agency social worker, with the aid of law enforcement, forcibly removed a struggling and terrified autistic boy … from his home, while his mother and father, who are Russian Jewish immigrants, and Nate's younger brother stood by helplessly," according to the complaint the parents, who have since moved to Irvine to be near Nate, filed with the court.

The forced removal came after the Tseglins came to loggerheads with the government over Nate's proper treatment. The parents are opposed to the use of psychotropic drugs and argue that Nate has had strong negative reactions to them. They point to success they've had with an alternative, holistic approach that focuses on diet and psychiatric counseling. The government disagreed, so it took the boy away from home and initially placed him in a group home – where he had the same negative reaction to the drugs that his parents predicted would happen....

Health plan rates may rise by 14%
To hold down state costs, officials are considering raising premiums as much as 14 percent and doubling some copayments for the subsidized insurance program that is at the heart of healthcare reform.

State officials said they want to ensure that the program, called Commonwealth Care, does not collapse under the weight of soaring costs or under a potential influx of residents whose employers drop coverage because the program offers a better deal for their workers.

"If we're not only trying to insure the uninsured, but insure the previously insured, that's going to blow the doors off," said Leslie Kirwan, the state's top budget officer and chairwoman of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority board that oversees Commonwealth Care....

Paris General
Until recently, when the political left wanted to promote universal health care, it would point to Canada as the example the U.S. should follow. Now the left is touting France. In a recent editorial, the New Republic stated "the French, whose system the World Health Organization recently declared the planet's best, have more hospital beds [than Americans]. They get more doctor visits, too, perhaps because their access to physicians is nearly unfettered--a privilege even most middle-class Americans surrendered with the spread of managed care." Apparently our great neighbor to the North has fallen out of favor with the socialized-medicine crowd.

Changing poster boys is nothing new for the left. In their 1979 book Free to Choose, Milton and Rose Friedman noted the increasing calamity that was the British health system: "The British National Health Service has now been in operation more than three decades, and the results are pretty conclusive. That, no doubt, is why Canada has been replacing Britain as the example pointed to." In recent years, thanks in large part to conservative and libertarian scholars, Canada's single-payer system has also been exposed as a mess. From hospital shortages to long wait times for surgery, the problem has gotten so bad that, as the New York Times recently reported, private clinics are now springing up at the rate of one a week in Canada -- even though they may be illegal.

Since Canada no longer "proves" that government-run health care is better than private care, the American left needs a new nation. And why not France? After all, if you can just overlook the trifling problems like the Muslim riots, nearly 10 percent unemployment, and college students protesting a new law that would allow employers to fire employees, France should serve as a great example....

Strike over French health reforms
Thousands of French health workers have held a one-day strike to protest against government plans to cut costs in the country's health system.

Doctors and hospital staff on Thursday marched on the Health Ministry in Paris, accusing the government of planning to privatise medical care.

France's health service is generous, treating patients without delay.

But the government insists reforms are necessary to reduce an annual health budget deficit of 10 billion euros.

Unions had called for a day of stoppages and demonstrations, to demand more staff and better working conditions. ...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Land-Use Regulation and the Credit Crisis
...Eicher’s research confirms my recent Cato policy analysis, The Planning Tax, which shows that growth-management planning has made housing unaffordable in a dozen or so states, particularly Hawaii, California, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and most of the New England states. Meanwhile, housing remains pretty affordable in most other states, including the fast-growing states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, because land-use planners have not yet seized power in those states.

In many cities, Eicher’s estimates of the cost of planning are very close to mine. For example, he estimates planning added $200,000 to the cost of a home in Seattle; my estimate was $180,000. For a detailed discussion of the differences between our two studies, see my blog, The Antiplanner.

Research by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has shown that land-use regulation not only drives up housing prices, it makes them more volatile too — more prone to crashes. It was just such a bubble and subsequent crash in property markets that has laid the Japanese economy low for more than a decade.

Sadly, planning advocates are trying to convince legislatures and city councils in most states that don’t have growth-management planning to pass such legislation and write such plans. Those plans not only deny the American dream of homeownership to low- and moderate-income families, they put the U.S. economy increasingly at risk of a Japanese-style crash.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Stress Positions And The Crucifixion
...The crucifixion is a “stress position” torture. The Roman would bind their victims’ hands above and outward. They would become so tired over a period of days that they would eventually suffocate to death. It was not a pleasant way to die. Actually, as awful as this sounds, the Romans took mercy on Jesus and killed him after only three hours. Our merciful Christianists should know this already....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Climate change, is democracy enough?
...Let us contrast this with the indecisiveness of the democracies which together produce approximately the other half of the world’s greenhouse emissions. It is perhaps reasonable to ask the reader a question. Taking into account the performance of the democracies in the reduction of emissions over the past decade, do you feel that the democracies are able and willing to reduce their emissions by 60-80 per cent this century or perhaps more importantly by approximately 10 per cent each decade?

If you say “yes” then you fly in the face of a track record of persistent failure in a wide range of environmental management leading to depletion of natural resources and fresh water, biodiversity and ecological service loss, loss of productive land and depletion of essential food sources such as ocean fish. In Australia, a surfeit of democracy carries much responsibility for the demise of the Murray Darling River, where debate has replaced action.

Such an analysis of democracy is conducted in the book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, co authored by myself and Joseph Wayne Smith, in a series from the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. The fundamental reasons why democracy is shackled in its present form relate to its fusion with the needs of corporate enterprise but also important is the human denial to recognise its limitations and the inhibition to criticise democracy and implement reform.

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. The subject is almost sacrosanct and those who indulge in criticism are labeled as Marxists, socialists, fundamentalists and worse. These labels are used because alternatives to democracy cannot be perceived! Support for Western democracy is messianic as proselytised by a President leading a flawed democracy

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties....

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Real Scandal: How Feds Invited the Mortgage Mess
Perhaps the greatest scandal of the mortgage crisis is that it is a direct result of an intentional loosening of underwriting standards—done in the name of ending discrimination, despite warnings that it could lead to wide-scale defaults.

At the crisis’ core are loans that were made with virtually nonexistent underwriting standards—no verification of income or assets; little consideration of the applicant’s ability to make payments; no down payment.

Most people instinctively understand that such loans are likely to be unsound. But how did the heavily-regulated banking industry end up able to engage in such foolishness?

From the current hand-wringing, you’d think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards—at the behest of community groups and “progressive” political forces.

In the 1980s, groups such as the activists at ACORN began pushing charges of “redlining”—claims that banks discriminated against minorities in mortgage lending. In 1989, sympathetic members of Congress got the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act amended to force banks to collect racial data on mortgage applicants; this allowed various studies to be ginned up that seemed to validate the original accusation.

In fact, minority mortgage applications were rejected more frequently than other applications—but the overwhelming reason wasn’t racial discrimination, but simply that minorities tend to have weaker finances.

Yet a “landmark” 1992 study from the Boston Fed concluded that mortgage-lending discrimination was systemic.

That study was tremendously flawed—a colleague and I later showed that the data it had used contained thousands of egregious typos, such as loans with negative interest rates. Our study found no evidence of discrimination.

Yet the political agenda triumphed—with the president of the Boston Fed saying no new studies were needed, and the US comptroller of the currency seconding the motion.

No sooner had the ink dried on its discrimination study than the Boston Fed, clearly speaking for the entire Fed, produced a manual for mortgage lenders stating that: “discrimination may be observed when a lender’s underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants.”

Some of these “outdated” criteria included the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, credit history, savings history and income verification. Instead, the Boston Fed ruled that participation in a credit-counseling program should be taken as evidence of an applicant’s ability to manage debt.

Sound crazy? You bet. Those “outdated” standards existed to limit defaults. But bank regulators required the loosened underwriting standards, with approval by politicians and the chattering class. A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money....

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Sun Also Sets
Back in 1991, before Al Gore first shouted that the Earth was in the balance, the Danish Meteorological Institute released a study using data that went back centuries that showed that global temperatures closely tracked solar cycles.

To many, those data were convincing. Now, Canadian scientists are seeking additional funding for more and better "eyes" with which to observe our sun, which has a bigger impact on Earth's climate than all the tailpipes and smokestacks on our planet combined.

And they're worried about global cooling, not warming.

Kenneth Tapping, a solar researcher and project director for Canada's National Research Council, is among those looking at the sun for evidence of an increase in sunspot activity. ...

...This solar hibernation corresponded with a period of bitter cold that began around 1650 and lasted, with intermittent spikes of warming, until 1715. Frigid winters and cold summers during that period led to massive crop failures, famine and death in Northern Europe....

...For instance, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar Research in Germany report the sun has been burning more brightly over the last 60 years, accounting for the 1 degree Celsius increase in Earth's temperature over the last 100 years.

R. Timothy Patterson, professor of geology and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Center of Canada's Carleton University, says that "CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet's climate on long, medium and even short time scales."...

...In 2005, Russian astronomer Khabibullo Abdusamatov made some waves — and not a few enemies in the global warming "community" — by predicting that the sun would reach a peak of activity about three years from now, to be accompanied by "dramatic changes" in temperatures....

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jail politicians who ignore climate science: Suzuki
...At a Montreal conference last Thursday, the prominent scientist, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient exhorted a packed house of 600 to hold politicians legally accountable for what he called an intergenerational crime. Though a spokesman said yesterday the call for imprisonment was not meant to be taken literally, Dr. Suzuki reportedly made similar remarks in an address at the University of Toronto last month....

..."What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there's a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they're doing is a criminal act," said Dr. Suzuki, a former board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"It's an intergenerational crime in the face of all the knowledge and science from over 20 years."

The statement elicited rounds of applause. ...

...The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, a Liberal-sponsored private member's bill that passed and was given Royal Assent last year, legally requires the Conservative government to abide by the international pact's short-term environmental targets.

In the event that conditions are not met, government officials are held liable.

"Every person who contravenes a regulation made under this Act is guilty of an offence punishable by indictment or on summary conviction, as prescribed by the regulations," the act reads, "and liable to a fine or to imprisonment as prescribed by the regulations." ...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics
...If successful, the system planned by the FBI, called Next Generation Identification, will collect a wide variety of biometric information in one place for identification and forensic purposes.

In an underground facility the size of two football fields, a request reaches an FBI server every second from somewhere in the United States or Canada, comparing a set of digital fingerprints against the FBI's database of 55 million sets of electronic fingerprints. A possible match is made -- or ruled out--as many as 100,000 times a day.

Soon, the server at CJIS headquarters will also compare palm prints and, eventually, iris images and face-shape data such as the shape of an earlobe. If all goes as planned, a police officer making a traffic stop or a border agent at an airport could run a 10-fingerprint check on a suspect and within seconds know if the person is on a database of the most wanted criminals and terrorists. An analyst could take palm prints lifted from a crime scene and run them against the expanded database. Intelligence agents could exchange biometric information worldwide.

More than 55 percent of the search requests now are made for background checks on civilians in sensitive positions in the federal government, and jobs that involve children and the elderly, Bush said. Currently those prints are destroyed or returned when the checks are completed. But the FBI is planning a "rap-back" service, under which employers could ask the FBI to keep employees' fingerprints in the database, subject to state privacy laws, so that if that employees are ever arrested or charged with a crime, the employers would be notified. ...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Health Freezes Over
The London Telegraph is reporting that the doctors believe "smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations."

Perhaps the doctors are following the lead of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the British agency that provides guidance on public health. In 2005, NICE proposed that the National Health Service use age as a measurement of a patient's worthiness for treatment.

The reason for the hard hearts in Britain: The NHS can no longer afford to provide free treatment for everyone.

For Britons, health care rationing isn't just a threat. It's a reality. The Telegraph says roughly one in 10 hospitals — usually those with financial problems — now deny some surgery to smokers and the obese.

On a moral level, the doctors have a point: Taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize care for those who make poor choices and then expect others to pay for their mistakes.

But that's exactly what universal health care does, and that's one of its primary flaws. It promises people that they'll be cared for no matter what they do to themselves. When the consequences of bad behavior are eliminated, there's a strong incentive to behave badly.

The threat to cut benefits to the old and the unhealthy in Britain is a clear confirmation that health care can never be free. Someone has to pay for it, and those people in Great Britain are so stretched that they can't meet every demand.

The threat also shows that health care can't be truly universal, at least not for the long term, because it becomes too costly to maintain as such. The belief among so many that care is free because there are no payments at the point of use only inflates demand....

Don't treat the old and unhealthy, say doctors
Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who are too old or who lead unhealthy lives.

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone.

Fertility treatment and "social" abortions are also on the list of procedures that many doctors say should not be funded by the state.

The findings of a survey conducted by Doctor magazine sparked a fierce row last night, with the British Medical Association and campaign groups describing the recommendations from family and hospital doctors as "out­rageous" and "disgraceful".

About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt.

Managers defend the policies because of the higher risk of complications on the operating table for unfit patients. But critics believe that patients are being denied care simply to save money.

The Government announced plans last week to offer fat people cash incentives to diet and exercise as part of a desperate strategy to steer Britain off a course that will otherwise see half the population dangerously overweight by 2050.

Obesity costs the British taxpayer £7 billion a year. Overweight people are more likely to contract diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and to require replacement joints or stomach-stapling operations.

Meanwhile, £1.7 billion is spent treating diseases caused by smoking, such as lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema, with a similar sum spent by the NHS on alcohol problems. Cases of cirrhosis have tripled over the past decade.

Among the survey of 870 family and hospital doctors, almost 60 per cent said the NHS could not provide full healthcare to everyone and that some individuals should pay for services.

One in three said that elderly patients should not be given free treatment if it were unlikely to do them good for long. Half thought that smokers should be denied a heart bypass, while a quarter believed that the obese should be denied hip replacements....

...Gordon Brown promised this month that a new NHS constitution would set out people's "responsibilities" as well as their rights, a move interpreted as meaning restric­tions on patients who bring health problems on themselves. The only sanction threatened so far, however, is to send patients to the bottom of the waiting list if they miss appointments.

The survey found that medical professionals wanted to go much further in denying care to patients who do not look after their bodies.

Ninety-four per cent said that an alcoholic who refused to stop drinking should not be allowed a liver transplant, while one in five said taxpayers should not pay for "social abortions" and fertility treatment. ...

State, local government workers see pay gains
State and local government workers are enjoying major gains in compensation, pushing the value of their average wages and benefits far ahead of private workers, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data shows.

The gap is widening every year, rising by an average $1.02 an hour last year and $2.45 an hour over the past three years. The better pay and benefits for public employees come as private-sector workers face stagnant wages and rising unemployment.

State and local government workers now earn an average of $39.50 per hour in total compensation, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Private workers earn an average of $26.09 an hour.

Benefits are a big reason for the gap.

Companies have trimmed pension benefits and asked employees to pay a greater share of medical costs.

Few governments have imposed similar cuts on teachers, snowplow drivers, lawyers and other civil servants.

From 2000 to 2007, public employees enjoyed a 16% increase in compensation after adjusting for inflation compared with 11% for private workers....

...State and local governments have more than $1 trillion in unfunded liabilities for pensions and retirement medical benefits for public employees....

Friday, February 01, 2008

Lack of Ethics in Government?
The study, released yesterday by the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center, found that nearly 60 percent of government employees at all levels -- federal, state and local -- had witnessed violations of ethical standards, policy or laws in their workplaces within the last year.

Observed misconduct was lowest at the federal level, with 52 percent of federal workers surveyed saying they had witnessed problems such as conflicts of interest, abusive behavior, alterations of documents and financial records and lying to employees, vendors or the public within the last year. . . .

Bush asserts authority to bypass defense act
WASHINGTON - President Bush this week declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill.

Bush made the assertion in a signing statement that he issued late Monday after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008. In the signing statement, Bush asserted that four sections of the bill unconstitutionally infringe on his powers, and so the executive branch is not bound to obey them.

"Provisions of the act . . . purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief," Bush said. "The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President."...