Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Testimony: Sens. Conrad, Dodd told of VIP loans
WASHINGTON – Two influential Senate committee chairmen were told they were getting special VIP deals when they applied for mortgages, an official who handled their loans told Congress in closed-door testimony. Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad had denied knowing they were getting discounts when they negotiated their loan terms.

Robert Feinberg, who worked in the VIP section of Countrywide Financial Corp., testified about the loan terms before the Senate Ethics Committee, and provided the same information in an interview with Republican investigators of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He could be prosecuted for making false statements.

Both senators have said that at the time the mortgages were being written they didn't know they were getting unique deals from Countrywide, a company that lost billions of dollars on bad loans and since has been purchased by Bank of America.

Dodd, D-Conn., who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, still maintains that he got no preferential treatment. Conrad, D-N.D., who leads the Senate Budget Committee, took that position initially, but later acknowledged he did get a special deal....

...The senators were VIP borrowers in the program known as "friends of Angelo." Angelo Mozilo was chief executive of Countrywide, which played a big part in the foreclosure crisis triggered by defaults on subprime loans. The Calabasas, Calif.-based company was bought last July by Bank of America Corp. for about $2.5 billion....

The Henry Louis Gates "Teaching Moment"
...After Oakland police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed subway passenger Oscar Grant at point blank range last New Year's Day, police attempted to confiscate cell phone photos and videos of the shooting. Fortunately, not everyone complied. Mehserle will now be tried for murder.

In the last few years we've seen numerous other incidents where cell phone videos and photographs, surveillance video, or handheld video cameras have both exposed police misconduct and shown officers to have falsified police reports. In most of these cases, the police at various points attempted to confiscate, alter, or destroy the photographic evidence.

Still, sentiment like Tucker's is common. Commenting on Gates' arrest, National Review's Jonah Goldberg wrote that he counts himself among those who are "deferential to police," and willing to "give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons." That's a common position among conservatives. At a Federalist Society luncheon a few years ago, Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson praised the Supreme Court for "putting more trust in our police officers" in recent rulings. Los Angeles Police Department officer Jack Dunphy (a pseudonym) oddly concluded at National Review Online that the lesson from the Gates/Crowley affair is that anyone who asserts his constitutional rights when confronted by a police officer risks getting shot.

This deference to police at the expense of the policed is misplaced. Put a government worker behind a desk and give him the power to regulate, and conservatives will wax at length about public choice theory, bureaucratic pettiness, and the trappings of power. And rightly so. But put a government worker behind a badge, strap a gun to his waist, and give him the power to detain, use force, and kill, and those lessons somehow no longer apply. ..

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ignoring Science
...Their research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, indicates that nature, not man, has been the dominant force in climate change in the late 20th century.

"The surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean that made warming El Nino conditions more likely than they were over the previous 30 years and cooling La Nina conditions less likely" says co-author de Freitas.

"We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century. It may even be more if the period of influence of major volcanoes can be more clearly identified and the corresponding data excluded from the analysis."

These findings are largely being ignored by the mainstream media. They simply don't fit the worn narrative that man is dangerously warming the Earth through his carbon dioxide emissions and a radical alteration of Western lifestyles mandated by government policy is desperately needed....

...Sharp Americans are starting to understand H.L. Mencken's observation that "The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it." That pretty much sums up the modern environmentalist movement.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal
...Consider small-time inventor and entrepreneur Krister Evertson, who will testify at today's hearing. Krister never had so much as a traffic ticket before he was run off the road near his mother's home in Wasilla, Alaska, by SWAT-armored federal agents in large black SUVs training automatic weapons on him.

Evertson, who had been working on clean-energy fuel cells since he was in high school, had no idea what he'd done wrong. It turned out that when he legally sold some sodium (part of his fuel-cell materials) to raise cash, he forgot to put a federally mandated safety sticker on the UPS package he sent to the lawful purchaser.

Krister's lack of a criminal record did nothing to prevent federal agents from ransacking his mother's home in their search for evidence on this oh-so-dangerous criminal.

The good news is that a federal jury in Alaska acquitted Krister of all charges. The jurors saw through the charges and realized that Krister had done nothing wrong.

The bad news, however, is that the feds apparently had it in for Krister. Federal criminal law is so broad that it gave prosecutors a convenient vehicle to use to get their man.

Two years after arresting him, the feds brought an entirely new criminal prosecution against Krister on entirely new grounds. They used the fact that before Krister moved back to Wasilla to care for his 80-year-old mother, he had safely and securely stored all of his fuel-cell materials in Salmon, Idaho.

According to the government, when Krister was in jail in Alaska due to the first unjust charges, he had "abandoned" his fuel-cell materials in Idaho. Unfortunately for Krister, federal lawmakers had included in the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act a provision making it a crime to abandon "hazardous waste." According to the trial judge, the law didn't require prosecutors to prove that Krister had intended to abandon the materials (he hadn't) or that they were waste at all -- in reality, they were quite valuable and properly stored away for future use.

With such a broad law, the second jury didn't have much of a choice, and it convicted him. He spent almost two years locked up with real criminals in a federal prison. After he testifies today, he will have to return to his halfway house in Idaho and serve another week before he is released....

Union Pension Woes Help Spur Push For Forced Arbitration
...Firms fear that remaining provisions — especially mandatory arbitration — would still harm them.

Among their concerns is that they could be forced to pay into ailing union-run pension funds. Indeed, many business lobbyists believe this is the real agenda behind the legislation.

"The status of underfunded pension funds is a huge part of the motivation to get card check passed," said Ted Phlegar, an attorney with the Chamber of Commerce.

Why pensions? Because many union-managed funds are seriously underfunded.

The average union pension has resources to cover just 66% of what is owed to participants, according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp....

...EFCA's other provisions include mandatory binding arbitration if workers have voted to unionize but the union and the company haven't agreed on a contract. One thing unions could push for in ar bitration is having the firm contribute to a union-run pension fund....

...Businesses fear arbitration could be used to require them to take up the slack in underfunded pension plans. In effect, companies could have to pay the pensions of people who never worked for them.

"We would walk in the door inheriting the unfunded liability that a pension plan already has on the books," said Brett McMahon, a vice president of Miller and Long, a construction company, and a member of Associated Builders and Contractors, which opposes EFCA. "Once you start contributing (under current law) you become liable for the plan's deficiencies before you got there."...

Is the Climate Science Debate Over? No, It’s Just Getting Very, Very Interesting (with welcome news for mankind)
How many times have you been told that the debate on the science of climate change is “over”? Probably almost as many times as Al Gore has traveled in private jets and limousines to urge audiences to repent of their fuelish ways.

Although tirelessly intoned by politicians, major media, advocacy groups, academics, and even some Kyoto critics, the “debate is over” mantra is just plain false. The core issues of climate-change attribution, climate sensitivity, and even anthropogenic detection remain very much in play....

...Watts and a team of more than 650 volunteers have visually inspected and photographically documented 1003, or 82%, of the 1,221 climate monitoring stations overseen by the U.S. Weather Service. In a report summarizing an earlier phase of the team’s investigation (a survey of 860+ stations), Watts says, “We were shocked by what we found.” He continues:

We found stations located next to exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.

In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations–nearly 9 of every 10–fail to meet the National Weather Services’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating/reflecting heat source. In other words, 9 or every 10 stations are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures because they are badly sited.

“It gets worse,” Watts continues:

We observed that changes in the technology of temperature stations over time also have caused them to report a false warming trend. We found gaps in the data record that were filled in with data from nearby sites, a practice that propagates and compounds errors. We found adjustments to the data by both NOAA and another government agency, NASA, cause recent temperatures to look even higher.

How big a problem is this? According to Watts, “The errors in the record exceed by a wide margin the purported rise in temperature of 0.7ºC (about 1.2ºF) during the twentieth century.” ...

...Satellite observations are not influenced by heat islands or subject to the quality control problems detailed by Watts, and satellite records tally well with weather balloon observations–an independent database. However, the “debate is over” crowd is unlikely to embrace this solution. The satellite record shows a relatively slow rate of warming–about 0.13ºC per decade–hence a relatively insensitive climate....

...This argument is unpersuasive if the warming of recent decades is not unusual or unprecedented in the past 1300 years. As it happens, numerous studies indicate that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP)–roughly the period from AD 800 to 1300, with peak warmth occurring about AD 1050–was as warm as or warmer than the Current Warm Period (CWP)....

...Richard Lindzen of MIT spoke to this point at the Heartland Institute’s recent (June 2, 2009) Third International Conference on Climate Change:

What was done [by the IPCC], was to take a large number of models that could not reasonably simulate known patterns of natural behavior (such as ENSO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation), claim that such models nonetheless adequately depicted natural internal climate variability, and use the fact that models could not replicate the warming episode from the mid seventies through the mid nineties, to argue that forcing was necessary and that the forcing must have been due to man. The argument makes arguments in support of intelligent design seem rigorous by comparison....

The Obama cult
...Appalled by such hubris, a libertarian scholar called Gene Healy wrote “The Cult of the Presidency”, a book decrying the unrealistic expectations Americans have of their presidents. The book was written while Barack Obama’s career was still on the launch pad, yet it describes with uncanny prescience the atmosphere that allowed him to soar.

Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.”...

Researcher Condemns Conformity Among His Peers
... The strength of this urge to conform can silence even those who have good reason to think the majority is wrong. You’re an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of “expert” they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you’ll bear the less comfortable label of “maverick,” which is only a few stops short of “scapegoat” or “pariah.”

A remarkable first-hand description of this phenomenon was provided a few months ago by the economist Robert Shiller, co-inventor of the Case-Shiller house price index. Dr. Shiller was concerned about what he saw as an impending house price bubble when he served as an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York up until 2004.

So why didn’t he burst his lungs warning about the impending collapse of the housing market? “In my position on the panel, I felt the need to use restraint,” he relates. “While I warned about the bubbles I believed were developing in the stock and housing markets, I did so very gently, and felt vulnerable expressing such quirky views. Deviating too far from consensus leaves one feeling potentially ostracized from the group, with the risk that one may be terminated.” ...

...If the brightest minds on Wall Street got suckered by group-think into believing house prices would never fall, what other policies founded on consensus wisdom could be waiting to come unraveled? Global warming, you say? You mean it might be harder to model climate change 20 years ahead than house prices 5 years ahead? Surely not – how could so many climatologists be wrong?...

Obama to miss Guantanamo deadlines
Obama administration officials said Monday they would not meet self-imposed deadlines for deciding what to do with scores of detainees too dangerous to release from the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The delays, involving those who cannot be tried, raise questions about whether the White House can close the prison by January, as President Obama pledged when he took office....

...Civil liberties groups expressed concern Monday that the White House was planning to preserve the ability to hold some prisoners indefinitely.

"The Obama administration must not slip into the same legal swamp that engulfed the Bush administration with its failed Guantanamo policies," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "A promise deferred could soon become a promise broken."...

$23.7 Trillion to Fix Financial System?
"The total potential federal government support could reach up to $23.7 trillion," says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in a new report obtained Monday by ABC News on the government's efforts to fix the financial system.

Yes, $23.7 trillion.

"The potential financial commitment the American taxpayers could be responsible for is of a size and scope that isn't even imaginable," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "If you spent a million dollars a day going back to the birth of Christ, that wouldn't even come close to just $1 trillion -- $23.7 trillion is a staggering figure." ...
Climate Science: follow the money
The Science and Public Policy Institute announces the publication of Climate Money, a study by Joanne Nova revealing that the federal Government has a near-monopsony on climate science funding. This distorts the science towards self-serving alarmism. ...

...The US Government has spent more than $79 billion of taxpayers’ money since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, propaganda campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks...

...Meanwhile in a distracting sideshow, Exxon‐Mobil Corp is repeatedly attacked for paying a grand total of $23 million to skeptics—less than a thousandth of what the US government has put in...

Forecasting Guru Announces: “no scientific basis for forecasting climate”
It has been an interesting couple of days. Today yet another scientist has come forward with a press release saying that not only did their audit of IPCC forecasting procedures and found that they “violated 72 scientific principles of forecasting”, but that “The models were not intended as forecasting models and they have not been validated for that purpose.” This organization should know, they certify forecasters for many disciplines and in conjunction with John Hopkins University if Washington, DC, offer a Certificate of Forecasting Practice. ...

YESTERDAY, a former chief at NASA, Dr John S. Theon, slammed the computer models used to determine future climate claiming they are not scientific in part because the modellers have “resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists”. [1]

Today, a founder of the International Journal of Forecasting, Journal of Forecasting, International Institute of Forecasters, and International Symposium on Forecasting, and the author of Long-range Forecasting (1978, 1985), the Principles of Forecasting Handbook, and over 70 papers on forecasting, Dr J. Scott Armstrong, tabled a statement declaring that the forecasting process used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lacks a scientific basis. [2]

What these two authorities, Drs Theon and Armstrong, are independently and explicitly stating is that the computer models underpinning the work of many scientific institutions concerned with global warming, including Australia’s CSIRO, are fundamentally flawed.

In today’s statement, made with economist Kesten Green, Dr Armstrong provides the following eight reasons as to why the current IPCC computer models lack a scientific basis...

“There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.”
No one knows exactly how much Earth’s climate will warm due to carbon emissions, but a new study this week suggests scientists’ best predictions about global warming might be incorrect. The study, which appears in Nature Geoscience, found that climate models explain only about half of the heating that occurred during a well-documented period of rapid global warming in Earth’s ancient past. The study, which was published online today, contains an analysis of published records from a period of rapid climatic warming about 55 million years ago known as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM.

“In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record,” said oceanographer Gerald Dickens, a co-author of the study and professor of Earth science at Rice University. “There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.”...

Autos, banks spend $20M lobbying
Auto companies and eight of the country’s biggest banks that received tens of billions of dollars in federal bailout money spent more than $20 million on lobbying Washington lawmakers in the first half of this year.

General Motors, Chrysler and GMAC, the finance arm of GM, cut back significantly on lobbying expenses in the period, spending about one-third less in total than they had in the first half of 2008.

But the eight banks, the earliest recipients of billions of dollars from the federal government, continued to rely heavily on their Washington lobbying arms, spending more than $12.4 million in the first half of 2009. That is slightly more than they spent during the same period a year ago, according to a review of congressional records....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama Claims Immunity, As New Spy Case Takes Center Stage
SAN FRANCISCO – The latest legal volley attacking President George W. Bush’s once-secret electronic eavesdropping dragnet gets its first court hearing here Wednesday, nearly four years after the warrantless surveillance program was revealed.

The Jewel v. NSA lawsuit was filed in September by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It responded to 2008 federal legislation that immunized the nation’s telecommunications companies from suits challenging their complicity in the President’s Surveillance Program. The EFF redrafted its earlier case against the telcos to target the government for funneling Americans’ communications to the National Security Agency without warrants.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will hear arguments from both sides on the Obama administration’s motion for the case to be thrown out.

In court filings, the administration says the suit (.pdf) “would require or risk the disclosure of information that is properly subject to the state secrets privilege and related statutory privileges.” The administration claims it’s shielded by sovereign immunity, in addition to citing the controversial state secrets privilege.

All the while, the EFF maintains the dragnet surveillance (.pdf) continues unabated under Obama....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inside The Bureaucracy Obama Envisions
If you think government is too big and too costly, wait until ObamaCare kicks in. The Congressional Budget Office put the price tag of the House Democrats' health care takeover plans at $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But the CBO's fine print included a telltale caveat:

"We have not yet estimated the administrative costs to the federal government of implementing the specified policies, nor have we accounted for all of the proposal's likely effects on spending for other federal programs."

You don't need an accounting degree or clairvoyant powers. The administrative costs and spillover spending effects will be astronomical. Look at existing federal programs.

In 1966, the Office of Management and Budget put the total taxpayer costs for Medicare at $64 million. In 2011, Medicare costs are expected to balloon to nearly $500 billion.

Medicaid cost $770 million in 1966. By 2011, that program will cost taxpayers an estimated $264 billion.

The Virginia-based Council for Affordable Health Insurance estimated that the administrative expenses of both programs last decade were 66% higher than those of private sector health insurance companies....

Runaway Train To Less Freedom, Higher Taxes And Rationed Care
...The bill would increase income taxes by $583 billion. The White House says only the rich would be taxed. The truth is, this would be a tax on job creation. More than half of all those taxed would be small-business owners, and the taxes would be substantial.

The White House projection that 5 million jobs would be lost doesn't even factor in the adverse effects of this tax, but money taken from the pockets of job creators inevitably leads to pink slips for employees.

Even the Washington Post editorial board says "there is no case to be made" for this "ad hoc" and "unrealistic" tax. The Post notes the tax would encourage the wealthy to hide their money rather than make productive investments, and it would make it harder to tap the rich's incomes "if and when Congress and the Obama administration get serious about the long-term federal deficit." The Post concludes this "is bad policy any way you look at it."

In addition, the bill would impose a 2.5% penalty — or tax — on those who remain uninsured. So if you don't feel you can afford health insurance, you'll get to send money to the IRS instead. This is sort of the opposite of having your cake and eating it too. ...

Reformers' Claims Just Don't Add Up
...Forty-seven million people lack insurance. Of the remaining 85% of the population, or 258 million people, polls show high satisfaction with the current coverage. Indeed, a 2006 poll by ABC News, the Kaiser Family Foundation and USA Today found 89% of Americans were happy with their own health care.

As for the estimated 47 million not covered by health insurance, 20 million can afford to buy it, according to a study by former CBO Director June O'Neill. Most of the other 27 million are single and under 35, with as many as a third illegal aliens.

When it's all whittled down, as few as 12 million are unable to buy insurance — less than 4% of a population of 305 million. For this we need to nationalize 17% of our nation's $14 trillion economy and change the current care that 89% like? ...

...U.S. life expectancy in 2006 was 78.1 years, ranking behind 30 other countries. So if our health care is so good, why don't we live as long as everyone else?

Three reasons. One, our homicide rate is two to three times higher than other countries. Two, because we drive so much, we have a higher fatality rate on our roads — 14.24 fatalities per 100,000 people vs. 6.19 in Germany, 7.4 in France and 9.25 in Canada. Three, Americans eat far more than those in other nations, contributing to higher levels of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

These are diseases of wealth, not the fault of the health care system. A study by Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa found that if you subtract our higher death rates from accidents and homicide, Americans actually live longer than people in other countries.

In countries with nationalized care, medical outcomes are often catastrophically worse. Take breast cancer. According to the Heritage Foundation, breast cancer mortality in Germany is 52% higher than in the U.S.; the U.K.'s rate is 88% higher. For prostate cancer, mortality is 604% higher in the U.K. and 457% higher in Norway. Colorectal cancer? Forty percent higher in the U.K.

But what about the health care paradise to our north? Americans have almost uniformly better outcomes and lower mortality rates than Canada, where breast cancer mortality is 9% higher, prostate cancer 184% higher and colon cancer 10% higher....

...Recent polls show that more than 70% of Germans, Australians, Britons, Canadians and New Zealanders think their systems need "complete rebuilding" or "fundamental change."...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Financial Crisis and the CRA
...Sizable pools of capital came to be allocated in an entirely new way. Bank examiners began using federal home-loan data—broken down by neighborhood, income, and race—to rate banks on their CRA performance, standing traditional lending on its head. In sharp contrast to the old regulatory emphasis on safety and soundness, regulators now judged banks not on how their loans performed, but on how many loans they made and to whom. As one former vice president of Chicago’s Harris Bank once told me: “You just have to make sure you don’t turn anyone down. If anyone applies for a loan, it’s better for you just to give them the money. A high denial rate is what gets you in trouble.” It’s no surprise, then, that as early as 1999, the Federal Reserve Board found that only 29 percent of loans in bank lending programs established especially for CRA compliance purposes could be classified as profitable....

...As economist Russell Roberts of George Mason University points out, Bank of America reported that nonperforming CRA-eligible loans were a significant drag on its third-quarter 2008 income. Its earnings report states: “We continue to see deterioration in our community reinvestment act portfolio which totals some 7 percent of the residential book. . . . The annualized loss rate from the CRA book was 1.26 percent and represented 29 percent of the residential mortgage net losses.” This is a far cry from the advocates’ standard line that CRA loans, while less lucrative than standard mortgages, are still profitable.

But the CRA advocates, including the New York Times, continue to claim that CRA-qualified loans made by regulated financial institutions performed well and shouldn’t be implicated in our current troubles. They point to the results of an evaluation of CRA loans by North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital, which found that such loans performed more poorly than conventional mortgages but better than subprime loans overall. What they don’t mention is that the study evaluated only 9,000 mortgages, a drop in the bucket compared to the $4.5 trillion in CRA-eligible loans that the pro-CRA National Community Reinvestment Coalition estimates have been made since passage of the Act. There has been no systematic study, by either the Government Accountability Office or the Federal Reserve, of the performance of loans cited by banks in their CRA filings. Many such loans weren’t even underwritten by the banks themselves, which often purchased CRA-eligible loans (advertised in such publications as American Banker) and then resold them. Again, the emphasis was on showing regulators that loans were being made—not how they were performing. How could such a system not lead to problem loans and high delinquency and foreclosure rates? Eight years ago, when the national average delinquency rate was 1.9 percent, Marks told me that the rate for his organizations’ loans was 8.2 percent....

What's Next, Mr. President -- Cardigans?
...And perhaps most important, as with Carter, his specific policies are genuinely unpopular. The auto bailout -- which, incidentally, is illegal, springing as it has from a fund specifically earmarked for financial institutions -- has been reviled from the get-go, with opposition consistently polling north of 60 percent. Majorities have said no to bank bailouts and to cap and trade if it would make electricity significantly more expensive.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, more than 80 percent are concerned that health-care reform will increase costs or diminish the quality of care. Even as two House committees passed a reform bill last week, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned that the proposal "significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs" and dramatically raises the cost "curve." This sort of voter and expert feedback can't be comforting to the president. ...

...The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year. ...

...In the same way that Bush claimed to be cutting government even while increasing real spending by more than 70 percent, Obama seems to believe that saying one thing, while doing another, somehow makes it so. His first budget was titled "A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility," even as his own projections showed a decade's worth of historically high deficits. He vowed no new taxes on 95 percent of Americans, then jacked up cigarette taxes and indicated a willingness to consider new health-care taxes as part of his reform package. He said he didn't want to take over General Motors on the day that he took over General Motors. ...

...On this last point, Obama is a perfect extension of Bush's worst trait as president. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, a massive, transformative piece of legislation that plainly went unread even as Congress overwhelmingly voted aye. Bush whipped up an atmosphere of crisis every time he sensed a restive Congress or a dissatisfied electorate. And at the end of his tenure, he rammed through the TARP bailout at warp speed, arguing that the United States yet again faced catastrophe at the hands of an existential threat. ...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bay State Rationing
Unable to pay the enormous cost of Commonwealth Care, the state's subsidized insurance plan for low-income residents, Massachusetts lawmakers are throwing legal immigrants off the rolls. The state simply does not have enough money to pay its bills, and cuts have to be made somewhere.

Three years ago, Massachusetts enacted a law that required every resident to have medical insurance. Commonwealth Care was created to subsidize those who couldn't afford to buy their own. It didn't take long for the program, which never achieved coverage for everyone, to run into trouble.

Costs soared from $158 million in the first year to $630 million in 2007, then doubled in 2009 to $1.3 billion. Enrollment in the program has also surged. It stands at roughly 181,000, up from 165,000 in the early spring, and is projected to reach 212,000 next year.

With 200,000 still uninsured — most of whom likely would be eligible for the subsidized program — imagine how much more steeply the costs would be rising if the state had met its goal of insuring everyone.

Both Democrats and Republicans hailed Massachusetts' attempt to ensure that everyone had medical insurance coverage. Some on the right even praised the state for taking a market-based approach to the issue.

A few observers, however, correctly noted that such a system cannot possibly be sustained. Demand, they said, will overwhelm it, just as demand has caused medical care rationing in Great Britain and Canada....

Will Wilkinson on Inequality
...You can see leveling in quality across the price scale in almost every kind of consumer good.19 At the turn of the 20th century, only the mega-rich had refrigerators or cars. But refrigerators are now all but universal in the United States, even while refrigerator inequality continues to grow. The Sub-Zero PRO 48, which the manufacturer calls "a monument to food preservation," costs about $11,000, compared with a paltry $350 for the IKEA Energisk B18 W. The lived difference, however, is rather smaller than that between having fresh meat and milk and having none...

A Modest Proposal, 2009 Edition
...Oh, sure, in an emergency, the government will foot the bill for a public defender to represent the poor and indigent, but that’s hardly a comfort to those who needed a lawyer before getting into the emergency condition in the first place. Besides, while we have many dedicated public defenders, it’s hardly a news flash that the wealthy can afford much better representation and have a much better chance of prevailing in court in criminal cases. When the poor, working class, and middle class end up in that emergency situation, they can lose their homes and property to pay for decent legal care — and that shouldn’t happen in America, should it?

After all, unlike health care, Americans actually do have a Constitutional right to legal representation in court. Some will scoff and say the lack of a lawyer, or a bad lawyer, can’t cause your death. Those critics may want to talk with the inmates who got freed from Death Row and lifetime prison sentences after having mediocre attorneys lose cases when the defendant was really innocent. Bad or nonexistent legal representation can take years off of your life, and can definitely get you killed.

Even beyond that, though, the wealthy and connected have access to a much wider range of legal services than even the middle class can afford. Estate planning, trust funds, tax shelters — all of these can be expertly provided to those with the resources to afford them, while other Americans get second-class status in our legal system. For those who aspire to egalitarianism of result, this arrangement should be such an affront that it demands real action — now.

I propose that the government impose a single-payer system on the legal profession. ...

It's Not An Option
...So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.

From the beginning, opponents of the public option plan have warned that if the government gets into the business of offering subsidized health insurance coverage, the private insurance market will wither. Drawn by a public option that will be 30% to 40% cheaper than their current premiums because taxpayers will be funding it, employers will gladly scrap their private plans and go with Washington's coverage.

The nonpartisan Lewin Group estimated in April that 120 million or more Americans could lose their group coverage at work and end up in such a program. That would leave private carriers with 50 million or fewer customers. This could cause the market to, as Lewin Vice President John Sheils put it, "fizzle out altogether."

What wasn't known until now is that the bill itself will kill the market for private individual coverage by not letting any new policies be written after the public option becomes law.

The legislation is also likely to finish off health savings accounts, a goal that Democrats have had for years. They want to crush that alternative because nothing gives individuals more control over their medical care, and the government less, than HSAs.

With HSAs out of the way, a key obstacle to the left's expansion of the welfare state will be removed....

Could we be wrong about global warming?
Could the best climate models -- the ones used to predict global warming -- all be wrong?

Maybe so, says a new study published online today in the journal Nature Geoscience. The report found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.

"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."...

Walter Williams: Why the rush to OK ‘cap and trade’ in the Senate?
...“Cap and trade” is first a massive indirect tax on the American people and hence another source of revenue for Congress. More importantly “cap and trade” is just about the most effective tool for controlling most economic activity short of openly declaring ourselves a communist nation and it’s a radical environmentalist’s dream come true.

So why the rush and the press on the Senate? Increasing evidence is emerging that far from there being global warming, the Earth has been cooling and has been doing so for 10 years.

Prominent atmospheric scientists have recently sent a letter to Congress saying, “You are being deceived about global warming. ... The Earth has been cooling for ten years. ... The present cooling was not predicted by the alarmists’ computer models.”

Last March, more than 700 international scientists went on record dissenting over manmade global warming claims. About 31,500 American scientists, including 9,029 with Ph.D.s, have signed a petition, that in part reads, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

The Obama administration’s EPA sees the increasing evidence against global warming as a threat to their agenda and has taken desperate measures. About a week before the House vote on “cap and trade,” the Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released some EPA e-mails, demonstrating that an internal report by Alan Carlin, a 35-year career EPA analyst, criticizing EPA’s position on global warming, had been squelched for political reasons (http://bit.ly/11XwoC).

One of the e-mails is from Dr. Al McGartland, director of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics reads, “The administrator and administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. ... I can see only one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.”...

Past warming shows gaps in climate knowledge - study
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A dramatic warming of the planet 55 million years ago cannot be solely explained by a surge in carbon dioxide levels, a study shows, highlighting gaps in scientists' understanding of impacts from rapid climate change.

During an event called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, global temperatures rose between 5 and 9 degrees Celsius within several thousand years. The world at that time was already warmer than now with no surface ice.

"We now believe that the CO2 did not cause all the warming, that there were additional factors," said Richard Zeebe, an oceanographer with the University of Hawaii at Manoa....

In West Wing: Grueling Schedules, Bleary Eyes
...Political Washington has long fostered a workaholic culture, the expectation that the rewards of service on the big stage of national government come with 18-hour, on-call days. But even the most hardy of Obama's staff members are beginning to recognize the toll that the pace is taking.

"I felt like a heavyweight boxer lying on the mat," Gibbs said last week, describing his mood before leaving with the president for an eight-day trip across 10 time zones.

Air Force One landed early yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base, carrying a presidential team that caught just a few hours of sleep each night in Russia, Italy and Ghana. All plan to return to work before sunrise today.

The grueling schedule has forced most of the presidential aides to abandon physical exercise, and the few who persist -- often because of incessant goading from their fitness-fixated commander in chief -- have planned their workouts at times that stretch their schedules even further. ...

...One study conducted for the British Parliament found that "mental fatigue affects cognitive performance, leading to errors of judgement, microsleeps (lasting for seconds or minutes), mood swings and poor motivation." The effect, it found, is equal to a blood alcohol level of .10 percent -- above the legal limit to drive in the United States. ..

The Price of Innovation
...Veterinary spending is rising just about in line with human medical spending. Kudoes to AEI for publishing a graph that seriously undercuts one of the major conservative arguments about health care: that the main problem is consumers who don't bear their own costs. Veterinary spending is subject to few of the perversities that either left or right suppose to be the main problems afflicting health care spending. Consumers pay full frieght most of the time. They are price sensitive, and will let the patient die if keeping him alive costs too much. There is no adverse selection. There is no free riding on mandatory care. Government regulation is minimal. Malpractice suits are minimal, and have low payouts. So why is vet spending rising along with human spending?

Two reasons, presumably: technological change and rising income. As we get wealthier, we spend more of our income on former luxuries, like keeping our pets healthy--nineteenth century veterinary care for sick cats consisted of a sack and some stones to weight it down with. And improvements in health care technology are giving us more things to spend that money on. With the help of my family, I bought my dog five extra years of life with an MRI that diagnosed his slipped disk; without it, we'd have had to put him to sleep when he was three. Worth it? I think so. But in 1950, I couldn't have afforded it, even if it had been available.

... Ricky Alardo, a homeless alcoholic nicknamed Ricky Ricardo, swigs cheap vodka by day at his favorite corner in Washington Heights, then calls an ambulance to chauffeur him to the hospital for a free meal and a warm place to sleep, courtesy of taxpayers who fund his Medicaid benefits.

For a chronic caller like Alardo -- who phones 911 four or five times a week -- the annual medical bill can be as high as $300,000. Over 13 years, the length of time he has been abusing the emergency room, he has cost the medical system an estimated $3.9 million.

In Midtown, another bum, Robert, has faked emergencies to get food and shelter in ERs about 40 or 50 times in the past three years -- and taxpayers pick up his tab, too.

Ricky and Robert are among the dozens of "frequent fliers" who clog the 911 system, tie up city ambulances, crowd emergency rooms and burn through Medicaid money. ...

Will Health-Care Innovation Survive Obamacare?
I have the sense that many defenders of an even-more-fully-government-run health care system have a hard time taking this question seriously. But they should. It’s just a fact that much of the world’s medical innovation comes from the U.S. This goes a good way toward explaining with why survival rates for many potentially mortal health problems are highest in the U.S., and also partly explains why U.S. costs are so high. Indeed, that a certain strata of Americans spend so much, often on stuff that makes no difference, also partly explains the high U.S. level of innovation. Profligate U.S. spending on state-of-the-art treatments acts as a subsidy to the health care systems of other countries, who get to free-ride off American innovation and (often “wasteful”) market experimentation....

Truth In Lending
...Rep. Darrell Issa of California, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has released a report that every American should read.

The analysis details how powerful Democrats in Congress insisted that government-subsidized housing be geared to serve the purposes of social justice at the expense of sound lending....

...• With an implicit subsidy to American homeowners in the form of reduced mortgage rates, Fannie Mae and its sister government sponsored enterprise, Freddie Mac, squeezed out their competition and cornered the secondary mortgage market. They took advantage of a $2.25 billion line of credit from the U.S. Treasury.

• Congress, by statute, allowed them to operate with much lower capital requirements than private-sector competitors. They "used their congressionally-granted advantages to leverage themselves in excess of 70-to-1."

• The two GSEs were the only publicly traded corporations exempt from SEC oversight. All their securities carried an implicit AAA rating regardless of the quality of the mortgages.

• The Department of Housing and Urban Development set quotas for GSE investment in affordable housing....

...• In 2006, Freddie paid the largest fine in Federal Election Commission history for improperly using corporate resources to hold 85 fundraisers for congressmen, raising a total of $1.7 million....

Are There Really 47 Million Americans Who Can’t Afford Health Insurance?
...The 47 million uninsured number is generated by an annual U.S. Census Bureau report. However, that report also states that the 47 million uninsured includes roughly 10 million illegal aliens without health insurance. Thus, if we subtract out the illegals, the number of uninsured American citizens without health insurance declines by more than 20 percent . . . to roughly 37 million.

But is it accurate to assume that even 37 million Americans cannot afford health insurance? Absolutely NOT. Even Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign once admitted that 25% of the uninsured could afford health insurance but chose not to purchase it. The Census Bureau reports that there are roughly 17 million people who make more than $50,000 per year and who, for whatever reason, decide not to carry health insurance.

In short, with two reasonable adjustments, the number of Americans who cannot afford health insurance has been reduced from 47 million to approximately 20 million.

But is the 20 million figure itself reasonably accurate? Probably not. Individuals moving between jobs lose their employer-provided health insurance, and when they do the Census Bureau counts them as “uninsured.” Technically true. Yet during normal economic times, roughly half of these individuals will re-acquire health insurance coverage with a new employer in about four months.

Finally, there are millions of adult Americans and children who have nearly free access to medical care benefits through Medicaid and other government programs who don’t really need the direct cost of health insurance and who don’t carry any.

Thus, with reasonable adjustments, there are in fact less than 10 million individuals who are so-called “chronically uninsured.”...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Climate change: The sun and the oceans do not lie
...What makes this even odder is that the runaway warming predicted by their computer models simply isn't happening. Last week one of the four official sources of temperature measurement, compiled from satellite data by the University of Huntsville, Alabama, showed that temperatures have now fallen to their average level since satellite data began 30 years ago.

...Two episodes highlight the establishment's alarm at the growing influence of this ''counter consensus''. In March, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has a key role in President Obama's plans to curb CO2 emissions, asked one of its senior policy analysts, Alan Carlin, to report on the science used to justify its policy. His 90-page paper recommended that the EPA carry out an independent review of the science, because the CO2 theory was looking indefensible, while the "counter consensus'' view – solar radiation and ocean currents – seemed to fit the data much better. Provoking a considerable stir, Carlin's report was stopped dead, on the grounds that it was too late to raise objections to what was now the EPA's official policy. ...

...Fielding put to the minister three questions. How, since temperatures have been dropping, can CO2 be blamed for them rising? What, if CO2 was the cause of recent warming, was the cause of temperatures rising higher in the past? Why, since the official computer models have been proved wrong, should we rely on them for future projections?

The written answers produced by the minister's own scientific advisers proved so woolly and full of elementary errors that Fielding's team have now published a 50-page, fully-referenced "Due Diligence'' paper tearing them apart. In light of the inadequacy of the Government's reply, the Senator has announced that he will be voting against the bill.

The wider significance of this episode is that it is the first time a Western government has allowed itself to be drawn into debating the science behind the global warming scare with expert scientists representing the "counter consensus" – and the "consensus" lost hands down. ...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Friday’s Incredible News Dump
...The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal.

The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to “unprecedented collection activities” by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks…...

... The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday…

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy....

...The exact nature of the program remains a mystery. This official hinted that the secret program involved assassinations overseas but declined to provide further details....

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Billions in aid go to areas that backed Obama in '08
...Counties that supported Obama last year have reaped twice as much money per person from the administration's $787 billion economic stimulus package as those that voted for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, a USA TODAY analysis of government disclosure and accounting records shows. That money includes aid to repair military bases, improve public housing and help students pay for college.

The reports show the 872 counties that supported Obama received about $69 per person, on average. The 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34. ...

Blue-State Stimulus?
..."There's no politics at work when it comes to spending for the recovery," insisted White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Of course, he's right. No one actually sits down and directs the money to Obama supporters and away from McCain supporters.

They don't have to. It's baked in the cake. That's the way our national laws are written. They benefit supporters of Democrats, who tend to support big government, and disadvantage supporters of the GOP, who tend not to support big government.

No wonder polls show people losing faith in the stimulus.

To date, most of the $158 billion that has been made available has gone to state governments. And the bulk has gone to places like California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey — blue states all....

Blame The G8 For Energy Speculation
...But, more generally, the G8--and its members this week--are disingenuous when they speak about energy prices, in three ways.

1) They are trying hard to talk up the market, with regard to global growth. At the same time, the hard data continue to disappoint. Naturally, this causes volatility in oil prices.

2) They claim to see no link between their failure to converge on climate change/environmental policies and what happens to energy prices. The extent to which industrialized countries' effectively control carbon emissions will have a big impact on the longer-run demand for oil. Flip-flopping on this issue discourages investment in the energy sector (regular and alternative), and thus directly and indirectly contributes to oil price volatility.

3) The very cheap money policies of leading central banks, including the Fed, the Bank of England and arguably also the European Central Bank, lower the funding costs for big players who want to take large positions in commodities markets. Essentially, we are providing the credit that makes big speculative positions possible. Add to this mix a "too big to fail" attitude and a "yes we can, recapitalize through trading profits" deal with policymakers, and you see why major financial firms are likely to place huge commodity bets in the months ahead....

The Obama justice system
Spencer Ackerman yesterday attended a Senate hearing at which the DOD's General Counsel, Jeh Johnson, testified. As Ackerman highlighted, Johnson actually said that even for those detainees to whom the Obama administration deigns to give a real trial in a real court, the President has the power to continue to imprison them indefinitely even if they are acquitted at their trial. About this assertion of "presidential post-acquittal detention power" -- an Orwellian term (and a Kafka-esque concept) that should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares at all about the most basic liberties -- Ackerman wrote, with some understatement, that it "moved the Obama administration into new territory from a civil liberties perspective." Law professor Jonathan Turley was more blunt: "The Obama Administration continues its retention and expansion of abusive Bush policies — now clearly Obama policies on indefinite detention." ...


Giving trials to people only when you know for sure, in advance, that you'll get convictions is not due process. Those are called "show trials." In a healthy system of justice, the Government gives everyone it wants to imprison a trial and then imprisons only those whom it can convict. The process is constant (trials), and the outcome varies (convictions or acquittals).

Obama is saying the opposite: in his scheme, it is the outcome that is constant (everyone ends up imprisoned), while the process varies and is determined by the Government (trials for some; military commissions for others; indefinite detention for the rest). The Government picks and chooses which process you get in order to ensure that it always wins. A more warped "system of justice" is hard to imagine.

...Meanwhile, former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed is engaged in what The Guardian calls "an urgent legal attempt to prevent the US courts from destroying crucial evidence that he says proves he was abused while being held at the detention camp detainee." The photographs -- which show Mohamed after he had been severely beaten and which he claims was posted on the door to his cage "because he had been beaten so badly that it was difficult for the guards to identify him" -- is scheduled to be destroyed by the U.S. Government, an act The Washington Independent's Alexandra Jaffe calls "another black mark on the Obama administration’s promised transparency."...

Medicare's Mythical Administrative Cost Savings
...Rather, private insurers have costs that Medicare doesn't have within the agency. Private insurers bill. Medicare does too, but the IRS has its own budget--hell, its own courts--which don't show up on Medicare's balance sheet. Private insurers negotiate with suppliers. Medicare does too, but most of the negotiation takes place between lobbyists and Congressmen who again, do not show up on Medicare's balance sheet. The Federal government has all sorts of these little items which relieve government agencies of reporting certain costs. But the costs remain.

My guess would be that these explicit costs are still lower than Medicare's. But then there are implicit costs to government fiat that markets don't have. As Tyler Cowen points out, taxation has deadweight losses, and Medicare is a tax on employment, which is something we are particularly anxious not to suppress right now.

The final point is that while people commonly think of administrative costs as "wasted", in fact, they are an important part of the market system....

...Third, we're still driving quite a bit of product innovation. Our messy, organic, wasteful, unfair, irrational system allows experimentation, and they cherry pick the best results. If we stopped doing this, their system would stop looking so good.

Detainees, Even if Acquitted, Might Not Go Free
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.

Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration argues that the legal basis for indefinite detention of aliens it considers dangerous is separate from war-crimes prosecutions. Officials say that the laws of war allow indefinite detention to prevent aliens from committing warlike acts in future, while prosecution by military commission aims to punish them for war crimes committed in the past.

Mr. Johnson said such prisoners held without trial would receive "some form of periodic review" that could lead to their release....

Obama: “Universal Principle” Gives Presidents the Right to Keep Ruling Even If They Violate the Law
Honduras removed its would-be dictator, President Mel Zelaya, for violating his country’s constitution by seeking to extend his term in office, and replaced him with a leading Congressman. Zelaya’s removal was authorized by Articles 239 and 272 of the Honduran Constitution, and ordered by his country’s Supreme Court, after he used coercion and aid from Venezuela’s dictator to push an illegal referendum. But Obama has joined Cuban dictator Castro and Venezuelan dictator Chavez in demanding that Zelaya be reinstated.

Originally, Obama’s justification for this demand was his erroneous claim that Zelaya’s removal was “illegal.” But when Honduras’s new president, a veteran legislator, pointed to stacks of court rulings that Zelaya had violated, the fact that the Honduran Congress had voted 123-to-5 to replace Zelaya, and that the military had legally executed a warrant for Zelaya’s arrest, Obama changed his tune.

Now, Obama claims that Zelaya must be put back in power because of the “universal principle that people should choose their own leaders”. Never mind that even publications that criticized the manner of Zelaya’s removal, like the Economist, have candidly admitted that Zelaya was unpopular with Hondurans, who overwhelmingly back the removal of their president — and that Zelaya was a bullying crook with approval ratings below 30 percent. In the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other papers, Hondurans have overwhelmingly supported his removal...

Monday, July 06, 2009

To Critics, New Policy on Terror Looks Old
Civil libertarians recently accused President Obama of acting like former President George W. Bush, citing reports about Mr. Obama’s plans to detain terrorism suspects without trials on domestic soil after he closes the Guantánamo prison.

It was only the latest instance in which critics have argued that Mr. Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledge “to restore our Constitution and the rule of law” and raised a pointed question: Has he, on issues related to fighting terrorism, turned out to be little different from his predecessor?...

...“President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He may have a more complicated process with members of Congress. But in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration.”...

Obama's embrace of Bush terrorism policies is celebrated as "Centrism"
...In his New Republic article today, Goldsmith reviews what he calls the "eleven essential elements" of "the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy" and documents how -- with only a couple of minor exceptions -- Obama has embraced all of them. In those cases where Obama has purported to "change" these elements, those changes are almost all symbolic and ceremonial, and the few changes that have any substance to them (banning the already-empty CIA black sites and prohibiting no-longer-authorized torture techniques) are far less substantial than Obama officials purport. None of Goldsmith's analysis is grounded in the proposition that Obama hasn't yet acted to change Bush policies, thus rendering a nonsequitur the response that "Obama needs more time; it's only been 4 months." Goldsmith is describing affirmative steps Obama has already announced to adopt the core Bush "terrorism" policies.

Just consider some of Goldsmith's examples: Obama makes a melodramatic showing of ordering Guantanamo closed but then re-creates its systematic denial of detainee rights in Bagram, and "[l]ast month Secretary of Defense Gates hinted that up to 100 suspected terrorists would be detained without trial." Obama announces that all interrogations must comply with the Army Field Manual but then has his CIA Director announce that he will seek greater interrogation authority whenever it is needed and convenes a task force to determine which enhanced interrogation methods beyond the Field Manual should be authorized. He railed against Bush's Guantanamo military commissions but then preserved them with changes that are plainly cosmetic.

Obama has been at least as aggressive as Bush was in asserting radical secrecy doctrines in order to prevent courts from ruling on illegal torture and spying programs and to block victims from having a day in court. ...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Parsing the Health Reform Arguments
...- "Forty-five million people in the U.S. are uninsured."

Even if this were true (many dispute it) should we risk destroying a system that works for the vast majority to help 15% of our population?

- "The cost of treating the 45 million uninsured is shifted to the rest of us."

So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we are harangued about the 45 million people lacking medical care, and on Tuesday and Thursday we are told we already pay for that care. Left-wing reformers think that if they split the two arguments we are too stupid to notice the contradiction. Furthermore, if cost shifting is bad, wait for the Mother of all Cost Shifting when suppliers have to overcharge the private plans to compensate for the depressed prices forced on them by the public plan.

...- "U.S. companies are at a disadvantage against foreign competitors who don't have to pay their employees' health insurance."

This would be true if the funds for health care in those countries fell from the sky. As it is, employees in those countries pay for their health care in much higher income taxes, sales or value-added taxes, gasoline taxes (think $8 a gallon at the pump) and in many other ways...

Deadbeat: Not Just A Circumstance, A State of Mind
Lose what little faith you still have in your fellow Americans with the new Mortgage Metrics Report. For the first time, the quarterly report [pdf] from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision includes information on redefault rates for modified mortgage loans.

That is, lenders are increasingly offering supposedly distressed borrowers substantial reductions in principal and interest payments. (See page 25 to see how rapidly these modifications are becoming much more charitable to the borrowers.) Redefault data track how many of these renegotiated loans end up back in trouble. There's a wide variety in types and degrees of trouble — everything from 30 days' tardiness on payments to completed foreclosures.

But one pattern emerges when you add up all the redefaults per quarter and compare them to the total number of loan modifications: When you take deadbeats and give them a free opportunity to get out of contractual obligations they willingly signed before God and country, a fairly reliable majority of them — and often a fillibuster-proof 60+ percent — end up deadbeating again.

In general, the more loans you modify, the higher the percentage of redefaults: In the first quarter of 2008, 68,001 loans were modified, and 40,206, or 59 percent, of those have ended up 30 days late again, or worse. In the first quarter of 2009, 185,156 loan mods were done, and of those, 120,067, or 64 percent, ended up in trouble....

...But even that isn't really encouraging, because some of the "trouble" categories were artificially depressed in that period (through, for example, statewide foreclosure moratoriums in effect in some of the most deadbeat-rich areas). Also, the terms of loan mods are getting much more generous: Where last year banks tended to offer only small gestures like maturity-lengthening or a slightly better interest rate, now they're offering to reduce principal, pay all closing costs for new mortgages etc....

Obama Backs Dictatorship in Honduras
Honduras removed its bullying, autocratic President after he began behaving as a dictator, and its Congress replaced him with a less power-hungry member of his own political party. Now Obama is joining the Cuban dictator Castro and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez in demanding the Honduran ruler’s return. This is simply outrageous....

...If Richard Nixon had been impeached and convicted for Watergate, and then refused to leave office, until being forced out by the military, would that have been a “military coup”? Of course not. But Obama and many in the press are taking a similarly extreme position in demanding the reinstatement of Honduras’s would-be despot...

Busting the Adminstrative Cost Benefit Myth
...In fact, President Obama has made this claim several times. This statistic about Medicare's low administrative costs has become one of the linchpins in the argument for a "public option" on health care. The only problem, not surprisingly, is that it's hogwash.

The explanation is really quite simple, and it's provided here by Robert Book of the Heritage Foundation. The statistic cited by Alter and Krugman uses administrative costs calculated as a percentage of total health care costs (For Medicare it's roughly 3 percent and for private insurers it's roughly 12 percent).

But here's the catch: because Medicare is devoted to serving a population that is elderly, and therefore in need of greater levels of medical care, it generates significantly higher expenditures than private insurance plans, thus making administrative costs smaller as a percentage of total costs. This creates the appearance that Medicare is a model of administrative efficiency. What Jon Alter sees as a "miracle" is really just a statistical sleight of hand.

Furthermore, Book notes that private insurers have a number of additional expenditures which fall into the category of "administrative costs" (like state health insurance premium taxes of 2-4%, marketing costs, etc) that Medicare does not have, further inflating the apparent differences in cost.

But, as you might expect, when you compare administrative costs on a per-person basis, Medicare is dramatically less efficient than private insurance plans. As you can see here, between 2001-2005, Medicare's administrative costs on a per-person basis were 24.8% higher, on average, than private insurers....

Regime Uncertainty in the 1930s: A New Deal Insider’s Account
...But beyond that, what had been done? For one thing, the confusion of the administration’s utility, shipping, railroad, and housing policies had discouraged the small individual investor. For another, the administration’s taxes on corporate surpluses and capital gains, suggesting, as they did, the belief that a recovery based upon capital investment is unsound, discouraged the expansion of producers’ capital equipment. For another, the administration’s occasional suggestions that perhaps there was no hope for the reemployment of people except by a share-the-work program struck at a basic assumption in the enterpriser’s philosophy. For another, the administration’s failure to see the narrow margin of profit on which business success rests - a failure expressed in an emphasis upon prices while the effects of increases in operating costs were overlooked - laid a heavy hand upon business prospects. For another, the calling of names in political speeches and the vague, veiled threats of punitive action all tore the fragile texture of credit and confidence upon which the very existence of business depends.

The eternal problem of language obtruded itself at this point. To the businessman words have fairly exact descriptive meanings. The blithe announcement by a New Deal subordinate that perhaps we have a productive capacity in excess of our capacity to consume and that perhaps new fields for the employment of capital and labor no longer exist will terrify the businessman. To the politician, such an extravagant use of language is important only in terms of its appeal to the prejudices and preconceptions of a swirling, changeable, indeterminate audience. To the businessman two and two make four; to the politician two and two make four only if the public can be made to believe it. If the public decides to add it up to three, the politician adjusts his adding machine. In the businessman’s literal cosmos, green results from mixing yellow and blue. The politician is concerned with the light in which the mixture is to be seen, the condition of the eyes of those who look....

MIT's unscientific, catastrophic climate forecast
...The Financial Post asked us to look at a report last month from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, titled "Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century Climate based on uncertainties in emissions (without policy) and climate parameters."

The MIT report authors predicted that, without massive government action, global warming could be twice as severe as previously forecast, and more severe than the official projections of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The MIT authors said their report is based in part on 400 runs of a computer model of the global climate and economic activity.

While the MIT group espouses lofty-sounding objectives to provide leadership with "independent policy analysis and public education in global environmental change," we found their procedures inconsistent with important forecasting principles. No more than 30% of forecasting principles were properly applied by the MIT modellers and 49 principles were violated. For an important problem such as this, we do not think it is defensible to violate a single principle.

For example, MIT forecasters should have shrunk forecasts of change in the face of uncertainty about predictions of the explanatory variables; in this case the variables postulated to influence temperatures. More generally, they should also have been conservative in this situation of high uncertainty and instability. They were not....

...When one looks at long series of Earth's temperatures, one finds that they have gone up and down irregularly, over long and short periods, on all time scales from years to millennia. Moreover, science has not been able to tell us why. There is much uncertainty about past climate changes and about the strength and even direction of causal relationships. To wit, do warming temperatures result in more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or is it the other way round -- or maybe a bit of both? Does warming of the atmosphere result in negative or positive feedback from clouds? There are many more such questions without answers. All this strongly suggests that a no-change forecast is the appropriate benchmark long-term forecast....

Friday, July 03, 2009

PROMISES, PROMISES: Indian health care's victims
...The U.S. has an obligation, based on a 1787 agreement between tribes and the government, to provide American Indians with free health care on reservations. But that promise has not been kept. About one-third more is spent per capita on health care for felons in federal prison, according to 2005 data from the health service....

...When it comes to health and disease in Indian country, the statistics are staggering.

American Indians have an infant death rate that is 40 percent higher than the rate for whites. They are twice as likely to die from diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have a stroke, 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and 20 percent more likely to have heart disease....

...His Horse is Thunder often travels to Washington to lobby for more money and attention, but he acknowledges that improvements are tough to come by.

"We are not one congruent voting bloc in any one state or area," he said. "So we don't have the political clout."...

...Dorgan has led efforts in Congress to bring attention to the issue. After many years of talking to frustrated patients at home in North Dakota, he says he believes the problems are systemic within the embattled agency: incompetent staffers are transferred instead of fired; there are few staff to handle complaints; and, in some cases, he says, there is a culture of intimidation within field offices charged with overseeing individual clinics...

There's No Such Thing as Free Health Care
President Obama says government will make health care cheaper and better. But there's no free lunch.

In England, health care is "free"—as long as you don't mind waiting. People wait so long for dentist appointments that some pull their own teeth. At any one time, half a million people are waiting to get into a British hospital. A British paper reports that one hospital tried to save money by not changing bedsheets. Instead of washing sheets, the staff was encouraged to just turn them over. ...

..."The more time I spent in the Canadian system, the more I came across people waiting for radiation therapy, waiting for the knee replacement so they could finally walk up to the second floor of their house." "You want to see your neurologist because of your stress headache? No problem! Just wait six months. You want an MRI? No problem! Free as the air! Just wait six months."

Polls show most Canadians like their free health care, but most people aren't sick when the poll-taker calls. Canadian doctors told us the system is cracking. One complained that he can't get heart-attack victims into the ICU.

In America, people wait in emergency rooms, too, but it's much worse in Canada. If you're sick enough to be admitted, the average wait is 23 hours....

...It's true that America's partly profit-driven, partly bureaucratic system is expensive, and sometimes wasteful, but the pursuit of profit reduces waste and costs and gives the world the improvements in medicine that ease pain and save lives.

"[America] is the country of medical innovation. This is where people come when they need treatment," Dr. Gratzer says.

"Literally we're surrounded by medical miracles. Death by cardiovascular disease has dropped by two-thirds in the last 50 years. You've got to pay a price for that type of advancement."

Canada and England don't pay the price because they freeload off American innovation. If America adopted their systems, we could worry less about paying for health care, but we'd get 2009-level care—forever. Government monopolies don't innovate. Profit seekers do.

We saw this in Canada, where we did find one area of medicine that offers easy access to cutting-edge technology—CT scan, endoscopy, thoracoscopy, laparoscopy, etc. It was open 24/7. Patients didn't have to wait.

But you have to bark or meow to get that kind of treatment. Animal care is the one area of medicine that hasn't been taken over by the government. Dogs can get a CT scan in one day. For people, the waiting list is a month....

Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar
Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff." ...

..."Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."

The Next Top Model?
...In recent decades, Foreign Affairs' readers (and editors) have seen the nuclear winter melt down, the energy crisis metastasize into an oil glut, and the population bomb implode. This breathtaking string of global systems modeling fiascos leaves some analysts asking why climate models are deemed sacrosanct when variables as critical as the sensitivity of the climate to the doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have failed to converge on uncontroversial values....

Canadian Physician Exodus Benefits United States, Hurts Canada
Canada has quietly emerged as a major supplier of physicians to the United States in the past several years, second only to India in the number of doctors it produces for the American medical market, according to a new study in the April 10 Canadian Medical Association Journal.

During the past 30 years, about 19,000 physicians trained in Canada have crossed the border into the United States and depleted the Canadian supply of physicians in the process, says the study, which was conducted by the AAFP's Robert Graham Center, the department of pediatrics at New York University and the department of family medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. According to "The Canadian Contribution to the U.S. Physician Workforce," in 2006, 8,162 Canadian-educated physicians were providing direct patient care in the United States. That figure accounts for about one in nine Canadian-trained physicians, which is equivalent to having two average-sized Canadian medical schools dedicated entirely to producing physicians for the United States. ...

5 Climate Studies That Don't Live Up to Their Hype
A leading climate scientist argues that overbroad claims by some researchers—coupled with overblown reporting in the media—can undermine the public's understanding of climate issues. Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate modeler, author and PM editorial advisor, concurs with the consensus view that the planet's temperature is rising due largely to human activity. But, he says, many news stories prematurely attribute local or regional phenomena to climate change. This can lead to the dissemination of vague, out-of-context or flat-wrong information to the public.

"People think that if there's a trend, it has to be connected to this bigger trend," he says. "You often get this kind of jumping the gun." Sometimes researchers are citing a potential connection to global warming to get noticed, he says, and sometimes journalists are focusing on that connection to make the story more compelling. "There's a bit of a backlash amid people who have a brain," says Schmidt. "It's akin to [the media's reporting on] medical studies. It adds to people's confusion."

Here are 5 studies Schmidt points to that made unfulfilled promises, used loose, questionable climate connections to sensationalize a story or predicted events that never came to be. ...

Here We Go Again: How to Read Those HELP Numbers
...After all, you're interested in the HELP bill because it's a vehicle to enact health care reform. But health care reform necessarily involves a few more pieces--pieces outside of HELP's jurisdiction.

In particular, there's going to be a substantial expansion of Medicaid, which will cost money. There will also be reforms to Medicare and Medicaid that save money. And that's in addition to whatever new revenue reform claims, whether in the form of cap on the employer tax exclusion, President Obama's proposal for itemized deductions, or some other resources.

Since we have a pretty good idea of the size of the Medicaid expansion, we can estimate its impact very roughly. It should reach somewhere in the neighbrohood of another 20 million people. ...

...But that's wrong, too. If you want to factor in the coverage effects of the Medicaid expansion--which, again, is being done by another committee--then you need to factor in the cost effects too. That will probably inflate the program's total outlays to somewhere between $1 and $1.3 trillion--which, by the way, is more or less what experts have been saying all along....

Obama's Top Five Health Care Lies
...Obama took his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, to the mat for suggesting that it might be better to remove the existing health care tax break that individuals get on their employer-sponsored coverage, but return the vast bulk--if not all--of the resulting revenues in the form of health care tax credits. This would theoretically have made coverage both more affordable and portable for everyone. Obama, however, would have none of it, portraying this idea simply as the removal of a tax break. "For the first time in history, he wants to tax your health benefits," he thundered. "Apparently, Sen. McCain doesn't think it's enough that your health premiums have doubled. He thinks you should have to pay taxes on them too."

Yet now Obama is signaling his willingness to go along with a far worse scheme to tax employer-sponsored benefits to fund the $1.6 trillion or so it will cost to provide universal coverage. Contrary to Obama's allegations, McCain's plan did not ultimately entail a net tax increase because he intended to return to individuals whatever money was raised by scrapping the tax deduction. Not so with Obama....

...Ignoring the reality that Medicare--the government-funded program for the elderly--has put the country on the path to fiscal ruin, Obama wants to model a government insurance plan--the so-called "public option"--after Medicare in order to control the country's rising health care costs. Why? Because, he repeatedly claims, Medicare has far lower administrative costs and overhead than private plans--to wit, 3% for Medicare compared to 10% to 20% for private plans. Hence, he says, subjecting private plans to competition against an entity delivering such superior efficiency will release health care dollars for universal coverage.

But lower administrative costs do not necessarily mean greater efficiency. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office analysis last year chastised Medicare's lax attitude on this front. "The traditional fee-for-service Medicare program does relatively little to manage benefits, which tends to reduce its administrative costs but may raise its overall spending relative to a more tightly managed approach," it noted on page 93....

Canada's Single-Prayer Health Care
Ava Isabella Stinson was born last Thursday at St. Joseph's hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Weighing only two pounds, she was born 13 weeks premature and needed some very special care. Unfortunately, there were no open neonatal intensive care beds for her at St. Joseph's — or anywhere else in the entire province of Ontario, it seems.

Canada's perfectly planned and cost-effective system had no room at the inn for Ava, who of necessity had to be sent across the border to a Buffalo, N.Y., hospital to suffer under our chaotic and costly system. She had no time to be put on a Canadian waiting list. She got the care she needed at an American hospital under a system President Obama has labeled "unsustainable." ...

...Infant mortality rates are often cited as a reason socialized medicine and a single-payer system is supposed to be better than what we have here. But according to Dr. Linda Halderman, a policy adviser in the California State Senate, these comparisons are bogus.

As she points out, in the U.S., low birth-weight babies are still babies. In Canada, Germany and Austria, a premature baby weighing less than 500 grams is not considered a living child and is not counted in such statistics. They're considered "unsalvageable" and therefore never alive.

Norway boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world — until you factor in weight at birth, and then its rate is no better than in the U.S.

In other countries babies that survive less than 24 hours are also excluded and are classified as "stillborn." In the U.S. any infant that shows any sign of life for any length of time is considered a live birth.

A child born in Hong Kong or Japan that lives less than a day is reported as a "miscarriage" and not counted. In Switzerland and other parts of Europe, a baby is not counted as a baby if it is less than 30 centimeters in length....

The Pitfalls of the Public Option
...Even if one accepts the president’s broader goals of wider access to health care and cost containment, his economic logic regarding the public option is hard to follow. Consumer choice and honest competition are indeed the foundation of a successful market system, but they are usually achieved without a public provider. We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices.

An important question about any public provider of health insurance is whether it would have access to taxpayer funds. If not, the public plan would have to stand on its own financially, as private plans do, covering all expenses with premiums from those who signed up for it.

But if such a plan were desirable and feasible, nothing would stop someone from setting it up right now. In essence, a public plan without taxpayer support would be yet another nonprofit company offering health insurance. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

In practice, however, if a public option is available, it will probably enjoy taxpayer subsidies. Indeed, even if the initial legislation rejected them, such subsidies would be hard to avoid in the long run. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants created by federal law, were once private companies. Yet many investors believed — correctly, as it turned out — that the federal government would stand behind Fannie’s and Freddie’s debts, and this perception gave these companies access to cheap credit. Similarly, a public health insurance plan would enjoy the presumption of a government backstop....

...It is natural to be skeptical. The largest existing public health programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are the main reason that the government’s long-term finances are in shambles. True, Medicare’s administrative costs are low, but it is easy to keep those costs contained when a system merely writes checks without expending the resources to control wasteful medical spending....

...If the government has a dominant role in buying the services of doctors and other health care providers, it can force prices down. Once the government is virtually the only game in town, health care providers will have little choice but to take whatever they can get. It is no wonder that the American Medical Association opposes the public option.

To be sure, squeezing suppliers would have unpleasant side effects. Over time, society would end up with fewer doctors and other health care workers. The reduced quantity of services would somehow need to be rationed among competing demands. Such rationing is unlikely to work well.

FAIRNESS is in the eye of the beholder, but nothing about a government-run health care system strikes me as fair. Squeezing providers would save the rest of us money, but so would a special tax levied only on health care workers, and that is manifestly inequitable....