Monday, November 30


Will Wilkinson:
I’ve waited a bit on this one to see how it would shake out. The hacked/leaked emails and data seemed to me like prime fodder for motivated cognition. My expectations were pretty much met. Many alarmists have inappropriately minimized the importance of the evidence of a shameful conspiracy to enforce what is clearly an ideological party line among climate researchers. Many skeptics have gone too far in using the revelations as grounds for casting doubt on the entire scientific case for AGW. But, clearly, the thrust of the scandal vindicates the skeptics’ claims that the science of climate change is conducted in an ideologically charged atmosphere, that there really are coordinated attempts to suppress or marginalize studies and scholars out of step with the favored narrative, and that there really are coordinated attempts to make evidence in favor of the favored narrative look better than it really is.

The scientific implications of the Climategate files are probably small, but the political implication is certainly large–because of the politicized nature of climate science confirmed by the files. Verification of the existence of conspiring enforcers of orthodoxy weakens the strongest rhetorical weapon in the alarmist arsenal. The idea that the science behind predictions of potentially catastrophic warming is rock solid and that the putative scientific consensus reflects the rock solidity of the science licenses the inference that there is no scientifically respectable excuse for skepticism of or disagreement with the consensus. That is a big stick to thump people with. But the Climategate files strongly suggest that at least some of the science is not rock solid and that the scientific consensus is at least in part the product of silencing or marginalizing those who might upset it. The files have made “How can we be sure that you did not fudge your data” and “How do we know that dissenting voices have been given a fair hearing?” questions that we now must ask rather than questions skeptics can be effectively shouted down for asking. The files show that suspicion is warranted. That’s a big deal.

It is not surprising to see a “Move along! Nothing to see here!” response from alarmists, but there is certainly something to see. Though I’m sure some ideologues will merely amp up their armtwisting thug tactics to protect the fragile perception of consensus they had achieved (precioussssssss!), I predict that the overall response from the scientific community will be healthy and invigorating. Climate science will become more transparent and more rigorously by-the-book because climate scientists are becoming more fully aware that the impulse to jealously protect a public perception of consensus can undermine itself by producing questionable science and a justifiably skeptical public.
Word. See also Clive Crook.

An evolutionary arms race

Below is a fascinating excerpt from The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are, by Robert Wright.


Link blag

The Economist looks at America's fiscal deficit.

Ezra Klein explains how the filibuster morphed into a routine 60 vote requirement, which was eye opening for me.

Later he bemoans the neglected House. One wonders whether Ezra would be making the same argument if we had a Speaker Gingrich or Speaker Delay.

FiveThirtyEight eyes European intolerance.

Kurt Vonnegut was hard-as-nails badass.

The top 20 unfortunate lessons girls learn from Twilight.

People eating Bhut Jolokia, world's hottest pepper.

Today's kid reporter winner had an odd reaction.

How's that Iraq surge faring now?

Andrew editorializes.

Time to GTFO. And a pox on everyone who supported the Iraq war and/or surge and still stands by that decision.

Where's Rob?

Science groaners

The Schrödinger's cat one is best.

Sunday, November 29

Saturday, November 28

Quote of the day

"If this is [Sarah Palin's] game of Scrabble, you can only imagine what her foreign policy would be like."

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

Pigovian economics

WSJ - Mr. Pigou's intellectual legacy is being rediscovered, and, unlike those of Messrs. Keynes and Friedman, it enjoys bipartisan appeal. Leading Republican-leaning economists such as Greg Mankiw and Gary Becker have joined Democrats such as Paul Krugman and Amartya Sen in recommending a Pigovian approach to policy. Much of President Barack Obama's agenda—financial regulation, cap and trade, health care reform—is an application of Mr. Pigou's principles. Whether the president knows it or not, he is a Pigovian.

Mr. Pigou pioneered the study of market failure—the branch of economics that explores why free enterprise sometimes [fails]. During the 1930s, Mr. Keynes lampooned him as a reactionary because of his suggestion that the economic slump would eventually recover of its own accord.

But while Mr. Pigou believed capitalism works tolerably most of the time, he also demonstrated how, on occasion, it malfunctions. His key insight was that actions in one part of the economy can have unintended consequences in others.


Spreading the patriotic message everywhere

Via Ordinary Scott

At 1:27 ...
People want to go against the word of God and live alternative.
The media wants to crucify conservatives.
Just 'cause we live by a set of principles.
To me liberals are some sick individuals.
They want to ban the Second Amendment—that's just criminal.
God forgive me if I sound a little cynical.
But how are you going to support killing a baby?
And how you gonna ban prayer in the Navy?
Another thing matters: it's between a man and a lady.
Have you all lost your minds? Have you all gone crazy?
Every night I pray to God: Daddy, save me.
And give us a leader like the one we had in the 80s.
Maybe one day our prayers will be answered.
And we'll be cured from this liberal cancer.
Until that day I keep on praying.
And ignore what the left-wing lunatics are saying.
Dear Lord, please save us from your followers.

Friday, November 27

Chart of the day

THE ECONOMIST - Between 1960 and 2008, turkeys bulked up by around 11 pounds to 29 pounds, an increase of 64%. Coincidentally, in that same period the average American man gained 28 pounds (166.3 pounds to 194.3 pounds, a 16.8% increase), almost the equivalent of a turkey

(via Perry)

Top five Republican distortions

TPM has a handy guide.

Thursday, November 26

1985 Dungeons & Dragons moral panic film

"This medieval fantasy world is so detailed, so real, that some say it has caused kids to kill in the real world...since these games are so violence-orientated you do not just play at the game, you become the game, you are the game."

Part 2 here

Image search in China

Can you spot the difference?

Things I'm thankful for today...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Quote of the day

"I celebrate Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way. I invite everyone in my neighborhood to my house, have an enormous feast, and then I kill them and take their land."

—Jon Stewart

Photos of the day

Former servicemen cried as they said goodbye to their fellow soldiers, at the end of their army-service term, at a railway station in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, Wednesday.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz climbed stairs at Chabad House in Mumbai Wednesday. The site, home to the Mumbai chapter of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish movement, was one of several sites attacked by gunmen on Nov. 26, 2008. The coordinated attacks claimed 166 lives. A Pakistani court has indicted seven people in the terrorist acts.

Fans, one holding a painting of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, cheered as they listened to her speak before she signed copies of her book “Going Rogue” in The Villages, Fla., Tuesday.

(via WSJ)

Wednesday, November 25

Obesity and health costs: here come the vice police

Ezra Klein shows the correlation between obesity and increased health costs...
As long as we help pay for each other through Medicare, Medicaid, and assorted other subsidies, the aggregate health of the nation is a concern for taxpayers, not just individuals. But this isn't just about government. As long as most of us pay health-care premiums based on the average health needs of other people (and that's true for everyone receiving employer-based health coverage, and any other type of risk-pooled coverage), the health of others will be a financial concern for us.
I look at this and see yet another reason we should transition to a real individual health market, with HSAs and catastrophic-only insurance, so that people are responsible for their own health.  Just like car insurance.

Progressives look at this problem and think we should tax soda and other fattening foods. (seriously!)

A dirty child is a healthy child

Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California found that being too clean could impair the skin's ability to heal. The San Diego-based team discovered that normal bacteria that live on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt.

These bugs dampen down overactive immune responses which can cause cuts and grazes to swell, or lead to rashes, according to research published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

"These germs are actually good for us," said Professor Richard Gallo, who led the research.

[..] The findings bear out the "hygiene hypothesis", first proposed in the 1980s, which suggests that early childhood exposure to bugs might "prime" the immune system to prevent allergies. It has been used to explain why increasing numbers of children in developed countries, where antibacterial sprays and wipes are common, suffer from allergies such as hay fever and eczema. "The exciting implication of the work is that it provides a molecular basis to understand the hygiene hypothesis," said Prof Gallo. "This may help us to devise new therapeutic approaches for inflammatory skin diseases".

According to Allergy UK, rates of allergy trebled in the UK in the last decade, with one in three suffering.

The pressure group Parents Outloud, which campaigns to stop children being "mollycoddled" and "oversanitised" by health and safety regulations, welcomed the research. "Hopefully research like this will help parents realise that it's natural and healthy for children to get outdoors and get mucky and that it doesn't do their health any harm," said a spokeswoman, Margaret Morrissey.
I wasn't aware of this technical term for it, but I've held to a version of the hygiene hypothesis from a young age.

For instance I've long refused to routinely wash my hands before meals, but I know people who do so obsessively. Yet now I never get sick, and they do. Seems to me my immune system has been better trained.

I think not oversanitizing is to most pathogens what being vaccinated is to viruses: it gets you some exposure and gives your immune system an opportunity to build up resistance. Like running drills.

Tuesday, November 24

The "first 10 years" health spending

Peter Suderman explains the Democrats' accounting gimmick:
Think of it this way: If you decided to add the cost of a gym membership to your budget next year, at $100 a month, it would cost you $1200. But if you decided to wait until July to join, the cost would only be $600 in next year's budget. Cheap, right? Well, not really, because the following year, and every year after, the membership would cost you the full $1200. That's basically what Democrats are doing here: Holding off on implementing the bulk of the reform's new programs and new spending in order to make the initial total seem less expensive.

The misery index

The misery index is an economic indicator, created by economist Arthur Okun, and found by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. It is assumed that both a higher rate of unemployment and a worsening of inflation create economic and social costs for a country.

[..] During the Presidential campaign of 1976, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter made frequent references to the Misery Index, which by the summer of 1976 was at 13.57%. Carter stated that no man responsible for giving a country a misery index that high had a right to even ask to be President. Carter won the 1976 election. However, by 1980, when President Carter was running for re-election against Ronald Reagan, the Misery Index had reached an all-time high of 21.98%. Carter lost the election to Reagan.
A graph of changes in misery during presidential terms, via Cato:

This seems to jive with common wisdom about recent presidents: Reagan and Clinton were good, Carter was terrible, and the Bushies were mostly neutral.

Naturally, any metric that values reductions in inflation is going to make Reagonomics look good.  Presently we're working our way out of a deflationary recession, so the usual rules don't apply; some more inflation would actually be good right now (and help bring up employment to boot).

Going Rogue in review

The top customer review for Going Rogue: An American Life...
5.0 out of 5 stars Ain't afraid of no Vietcong king, November 17, 2009
By Gen. JC Christian, patriot
There are many kinds of truth. There are truths based on facts, truths based on faith, and truths based on something that sounds as if it should be true (truthiness). Then there's the kind of truth we find in Sarah's book: stories and concepts that become truths simply because she states them. She's a lot like our Lord and Savior, Glenn Beck, in that respect.

Sometimes, she states truths that would be considered ludicrous if uttered by someone else. Her claim that the McCain campaign forced her to spend $150,000 in RNC funds to dress her family in designer clothes is one example of that. Although it might be easier to believe that she acted like a trailer park Zsa Zsa who'd found a credit card left behind at a possum feed, she blames McCain staffers. That's good enough for us, because we have faith; we want to believe her truths.

But the book isn't perfect. As much as I enjoyed the few short paragraphs in which Mrs Palin laid out her policy objectives, she could have condensed it all into one sentence: "I'm going to grab an Oxo Good Grips Stainless Serving Spatula and go all mavericky on your non-white, non-Christian and non-heterosexual butts."

The book also fails to expose Mrs. Palin's intellectual brilliance and keen grasp of foreign policy issues. Why wasn't the text of her recent speech in Hong Kong included? Although it remains secret, it's rumored that she viciously rebuked the Vietcong king for his assault on the Empire State Building. That's a speech we've been waiting for nearly 75 years to hear. It's big news and should have been included.

As you read other reviews of this book, please remember that Mrs. Palin has many enemies who are eager to pan her work. The Palin family's most potent nemesis, Levi's johnston, is no doubt fully erect and ready to spew globs of misfortune upon them for a third time. And reason-adoring intellectuals are certain to point out that an interview on Good Morning Topeka doesn't qualify as a policy summit in the Far East.

But a few bad reviews won't stop her. She's seen much worse from her kitchen window. It can't be pleasant to gaze upon Antichristograd every morning as you brew your coffee.

My review isn't complete, but I think I'll quit anyway, because writing reviews, like governing, is just too darned hard to finish.

The tradeoffs of health reform

David Brooks gets it right today about the debate over healthcare reform. The fundamental question is, Should Americans embrace a more robust social safety net at the cost of much higher marginal tax rates, reduced work incentives, and a smaller economic pie?

From a strictly economic perspective, there is no right answer to this question. Arthur Okun said long ago that the big tradeoff in economic policy is between equality and efficiency. The pending healthcare reform bill moves us along that tradeoff. Let's just not pretend, as some healthcare reformers would have us do, that we can easily get more equality without paying the price in efficiency.

Put simply, the healthcare reform bill would make the United States more like western Europe. That may mean more security about healthcare, but it also means that future generations of Americans will likely spend more time enjoying leisure (.pdf)
I think Brooks and Mankiw are using the wrong terminology here. This is a tradeoff of subsidizing expanded health coverage, not a tradeoff of reforming the system.

I've discussed plenty of reforms that would increase the efficiency of health care in the US with no costs of higher marginal tax rates, reduced work incentives, or a smaller economic pie.

(The political problem, of course, is that most such reforms run afoul of entrenched interests like the AMA cartel, the AARP, large employers, etc).

Monday, November 23

SNL does Obama in China

The incoherent Senate debate

Megan parses...
The major [Republican] talking points are these:
  1. This bill uses accounting gimmicks to front load the taxes and back load the spending, which is the only reason it's deficit neutral over the ten year window
  2. The Democrats are refusing to let cuts to doctor payments stand, and also, doctors don't get paid enough
  3. Millions of people are going to be added to Medicaid, which is a terrible program because providers don't get paid enough.  Also, it would be too expensive to add people to Medicaid.
  4. Medicare costs too much, and also, shouldn't be cut.
  5. The Republicans favor "real reform" which mostly seems to consist of liability caps.
...The Democrats had their own set of uncompelling talking points:
  1. Insurance companies are evil institutions which deny everyone any care that costs more than a pack of Freedent gum.  Also, they cannot control health care costs without substantial government intervention, because they spend far too much on expensive procedures.
  2. Ted Kennedy sure was a swell guy, wasn't he?  He'd be proud of every dang one of us today.  (It is impossible to exaggerate how great a role this point played.  There was a five minute stretch which consisted largely of people telling Ted Kennedy's replacement that Teddy would be awfully proud of him, and him saying, "No, really, Ted would be proud of you.)
  3. Small and medium sized businesses are groaning under the weight of their health care costs.  Also, starting next year, we're going to force them to give you much more generous coverage from your employer, such as coverage for non-dependant "children" up to the age of 26.
  4. This problem is incredibly urgent, which is why we have to pass this bill, which now takes effect in 2014, RIGHT NOW.

Sunday, November 22

Orwell vs. Huxley

In cartoons...

Maybe Huxley was right.

Saturday, November 21

Quote of the day

"I also want to pause for a moment, if I can, Mr. President, to recognize a colleague who is here tonight only in spirit, Ted Kennedy... tonight we and in the days to come will pay him the highest compliment as our colleague by fulfilling that quest of achieving the goal that all americans aspire for, and that is a national health care plan that serves every one of our citizens."

Sen. Dodd (D-Conn.), just before the Senate's vote on considering health-care reform.

Public option politics

Read Nate Silver.

Empty LA

Above are my favorites, more here.

Conservative Democrats voting to proceed, but not happy

This comes from the Republican Policy Committee in the Senate (ht K-Lo)
Even though Democrats likely have enough votes to get onto the bill, below are quotes from conservative Democrats where they condition their vote on the second cloture motion on changes to the bill.

- Sen. Nelson (D-Neb.): "Throughout my Senate career I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct. That's what the vote on the motion to proceed is all about. It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill released Wednesday.  In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that's not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion—needing 60 votes—to end debate, and oppose the final bill."

- Sen. Lieberman (I-Conn.): "I've told Sen. Reid that I'm strongly inclined, I haven't totally decided, but I'm strongly inclined to vote to proceed to the healthcare debate, even though I don't support the bill that he's bringing together, because it's important that we start the debate on healthcare reform, because I want to vote on healthcare reform this year. …  I also told him that if the bill remains where it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage."

- Sen. Landrieu (D-La.): "My vote to move forward on this important debate should in no way be construed by the supporters of this current framework as an indication of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end.  I have decided that there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done."

- Sen. Lincoln (D-Ark.): "In fact, madam president, this vote for or against a procedure that allows us to begin open debate on health care reform is nothing more and nothing less. … I will vote to support -- will vote in support of cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill, but, madam president, let me be perfectly clear: I am opposed to a new government-administered health care plan as part of comprehensive health insurance reform, and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by leader Reid as it is written. I, along with others, expect to have legitimate opportunities to influence the health care reform legislation that is voted on by the senate later this year or early next year. I am also aware that there will be additional procedural votes to move this process forward that will require 60 votes prior to the conclusion of the floor debate. I've already alerted the leader, and I'm promising my colleagues, that I'm prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included."

The surge^H^H^H^H^Hstimulus is working!

NYT gathers projected counterfactuals...

Gang of three to block public option?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said she’d deliver the deciding vote to push forward with a sweeping health reform plan in the Senate Saturday, ending days of speculation over whether President Barack Obama’s signature priority would proceed to the floor or suffer a debilitating blow.

As with several centrists before her, Lincoln’s yes vote to start debate came wrapped in series of serious concerns about the current bill – and she said it would require major revisions before she could cast a similar vote in favor of final passage.

"I'm prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a public option is included," Lincoln said, adding that she specifically would vote against the version of the public option in the current Senate plan.
Nate Silver adds:
Needless to say, it would have been very, very bad news for the Democrats if the motion to proceed to debate on their health care plan had failed tonight. But I'm not sure how newsworthy this really is. The potential hold-outs, like Lincoln and Ben Nelson, are going to have much greater leverage later on, when the bill nears its second major procedural hurdle: the cloture motion to proceed to the final vote.

And there's some bad news for Democrats too: Lincoln has joined Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman in making a fairly explicit threat to filibuster a bill that contains a public option. Mary Landrieu, on the other hand, sounds a little bit more open to compromise. But this impromptu Gang of 3 -- Lincoln, Nelson, Lieberman -- could be a tough one for progressives to penetrate.
If they drop the public option on these grounds, maybe that brings Snowe's vote in play as well.  From what I've gathered the Obama Administration really wants Snowe's vote, but of course couldn't drop the public option for this reason alone without risking a progressive revolt.

The end of HSAs?

Health reform will kill consumer-driven health-care?

Perry argues that this is taking away the only way to avoid uproars over cost control. I tend to agree.

Because cost control is bad politics when done with central planning rather than consumer choice, Democrats have set the issue aside and are instead focused on expanding coverage with public programs and subsidies...

Apart from being economically unsustainable, this is also bad politics since it does little to improve the system for people who are already insured.

Friday, November 20

Great Wall

Cool, never seen that much in one photo (click to biggify)

The era of big government will be over

 Some progressives are admitting it.

Foreign greetings

Thursday, November 19

Protesting diplomacy

Unfortunately Obama's bow was too deep, the Japanese dislike handshakes (though exceptions are made for foreigners), and any touching during a bow is a serious faux pas in Japanese culture.

But almost nobody on the Right is aware of this; they've just been hysterically criticizing the very act of bowing (nevermind that Nixon and Bush Sr. did so as well).

Regional world GDPs

The United States' almost-constant share of GDP over recent decades is quite striking and surprising.

The less efficient and less dynamic economies of European welfare states, meanwhile, have not been able to keep up the same growth rate.

Perry's bottom line:
World GDP (real) doubled between 1969 and 1990, and has increased by another 60% since then, so that world output in 2009 is more than three times greater than in 1969. We might mistakenly assume that the significant economic growth over the last 40 years in China, India and Brazil has somehow come "at the expense of economic growth in the U.S." (based on the "fixed pie fallacy") but the data suggest otherwise. Because of advances in technology, innovation, and significant improvements in U.S. productivity, America's share of total world output has remained remarkably constant at a little more than 25%, despite the significant increases in output around the world, especially in Asia.

Quote of the day

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Jon Stewart explains to conservative pundits why he doesn't like Palin

Palin's mammoth book toor

Wednesday, November 18

Big Daddy Byrd

As of today, U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) becomes the longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. Senate.

To celebrate this milestone, we offer the following video, which pretty well summarizes Byrd’s extremely long tenure in the Senate. If you ever wanted to know what corruption looks like, here’s your chance.

Yeah, man.

Ezra is also unhappy with the record.

Conan O'brien's Palin interview

A Digger protests:
I would hate to be Sarah Palin right now. The media is dragging her through the mud just from this one interview.

While this is somewhat funny I personally feel it is kind of disrespectful...even if you hate Palin...

In my opinion no one deserves this no matter what your personal political views are.
Another responds:
Marxist. Death panels. Palling around with terrorists. Yep, not fair to Sarah. Distortions. You betcha.

Link blag

Ezra Klein defends the individual mandate.

He also says to stop worrying about inflation; Krugman agrees.

DIA's New York correspondent looks at criticisms of the torture trials and finds them wanting.

Pictures of libraries.

Ironic oil ad from the sixties.

Danish advocacy group encourages you to "hit the bitch" as part of their campaign to end domestic violence.

Statuary rape.

AT&T rep has a soul.

Comical dog exercise.

Blood and Treasure

Source: iCasualties, CRS (.pdf)

In 2008 Obama campaigned on Afghanistan as "the good war"—so voters wouldn't think him too dovish. And as you can see we haven't been doubling down—more like quintupling down.

But for what? How does this end?

A wiser man once said: "It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war."

That was Barack 2006.

(cross-posted at Library Grape)

Jeffrey Flier on health reform

The Dean of Harvard Medical school writes:
Health 'Debate' Deserves a Failing Grade

Our health-care system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform. Tax policy drives employment-based insurance; this begets overinsurance and drives costs upward while creating inequities for the unemployed and self-employed. A regulatory morass limits innovation. Deep flaws in Medicare and Medicaid drive spending without optimizing care.

Speeches and news reports can lead you to believe that proposed congressional legislation would tackle the problems of cost, access and quality. But that's not true. The various bills do deal with access by expanding Medicaid and mandating subsidized insurance at substantial cost—and thus addresses an important social goal. However, there are no provisions to substantively control the growth of costs or raise the quality of care. So the overall effort will fail to qualify as reform.

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system. The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by overregulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.

In effect, while the legislation would enhance access to insurance, the trade-off would be an accelerated crisis of health-care costs and perpetuation of the current dysfunctional system—now with many more participants. This will make an eventual solution even more difficult. Ultimately, our capacity to innovate and develop new therapies would suffer most of all.

There are important lessons to be learned from recent experience with reform in Massachusetts. Here, insurance mandates similar to those proposed in the federal legislation succeeded in expanding coverage but—despite initial predictions—increased total spending.

Tuesday, November 17

Obama in China

[..] the founding documents that guide our democracy [..] put forward a simple vision of human affairs, and they enshrine several core principles -- that all men and women are created equal, and possess certain fundamental rights; that government should reflect the will of the people and respond to their wishes; that commerce should be open, information freely accessible; and that laws, and not simply men, should guarantee the administration of justice....

"And that is why America will always speak out for these core principles around the world. We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don't believe that the principles that we stand for are unique to our nation. These freedoms of expression and worship -- of access to information and political participation -- we believe are universal rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities -- whether they are in the United States, China, or any nation. Indeed, it is that respect for universal rights that guides America's openness to other countries; our respect for different cultures; our commitment to international law; and our faith in the future.

"I am a big believer in technology and I'm a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity.

"And so I've always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I'm a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet -- or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged."
Fallows reacts:
[..] he said just about as much on censorship and liberties as a visiting dignitary could say, in the circumstances
Photo: President Barack Obama walked by an honor guard during a ceremony at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People Tuesday.(David Gray/Reuters)

Quote of the day

"..I do not say that all Muslims are terrorists, but I have noticed that an alarmingly high proportion of terrorists are Muslim." Christopher Hitchens

Sarah Palin, international face of the opposition

Dish reader:
In response to your other reader emails requesting that you leave Sarah alone, let me say - don't leave her alone! I am currently living overseas in Sydney and let me tell you, she is the international face of the Republican party. Unlike parliamentary systems of government where there is a clear opposition leader, in the US there is no clear leader. So for whatever reason (I'll leave that analysis up to the experts) Sarah Palin has become the international de facto face of the opposition. No one in Sydney knows who John Boehner is. No one knows who Mitch McConnell is. Yes, they know John McCain, but he is old news. Whenever you read or hear a story down here about political opposition to any of Obama's policy initiatives it is always Sarah Palin that is quoted.

That ten year-old who refused to pledge

"I very solemnly, and with a little bit of malice in my voice, said 'Ma'am with all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge.'"

Former soldier faces jail for handing in discarded gun

Guildford, UK - A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty".

Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.

The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five year's imprisonment for handing in the weapon.

In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: "I didn't think for one moment I would be arrested.

"I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets."

The court heard how Mr Clarke was on the balcony of his home in Nailsworth Crescent, Merstham, when he spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden.

In his statement, he said: "I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges.

"I didn't know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him.

"At the police station, I took the gun out of the bag and placed it on the table so it was pointing towards the wall."

Mr Clarke was then arrested immediately for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station, and taken to the cells.
Alex Massie is enraged:
[..] assuming that these are all the relevant facts, this is worse than absurd: it is monstrous. Next time you hear a copper complaining that people don't respect the police think on this and remember that if the police are mistrusted it is, at least in large part, because they have often forfeited the right to be trusted. This story, extreme as it may be, reaffirms that.

The law is clearly at fault here, but that doesn't excuse the willful, even vindictive abandonment of common sense in this instance. This isn't a miscarriage of justice, it's a betrayal of justice and with the exception of Mr Clarke all concerned, including the jury, should be ashamed of themselves.
NRO adds:
The legal explanation for this fiasco is that possession of a gun without a permit is a 'strict liability' offense (ie there are no excuses) which carries a mandatory (ah yes, those mandatory minimums again...) sentence of at least five years. The real explanation is, of course, that the law is insane.

Monday, November 16

Not quite as scary this way

O Fortuna, 12th century, first set to music by Carl Orff in 1935.
O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
dissolvit ut glaciem.

Sors immanis
et inanis,
rota tu volubilis,
status malus,
vana salus
semper dissolubilis,
et velata
mihi quoque niteris;
nunc per ludum
dorsum nudum
fero tui sceleris.

Sors salutis
et virtutis
michi nunc contraria,
est affectus
et defectus
semper in angaria.
Hac in hora
sine mora
corde pulsum tangite;
quod per sortem
sternit fortem,
mecum omnes plangite!
O Fortune,
just as the moon
Stands constantly changing,
always increasing
or decreasing;
Detestable life
now difficult
and then easy
Deceptive sharp mind;
it melts them like ice.

and empty,
you whirling wheel,
stand malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game,
my bare back
I bring to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and in virtue,
is now against me
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating string;
since through Fate
strikes down the strong,
everyone weep with me!
Also liked the Spanish translation.

Why is the trial a problem?

Josh Marshall counters:
[..] most of the criticism comes under three distinct but related arguments:
  1. Civilian trials give the defendants too many rights and protections and thus create too big a risk they'll get acquitted and set free.
  2. Holding the prisoners and trial in New York City puts the city's civilian population at unnecessary risk of new terror attacks.
  3. Holding public, civilian trials will give the defendants an opportunity to mock the victims, have a platform to issue propaganda or gain public sympathy.
The first two arguments strike me as understandable but basically wrong on the facts. The third I find difficult in some ways even to understand and seems grounded in bad political values or even ideological cowardice.


Sunday, November 15

Biden's in charge

Quote of the day

"..I've got [Palin's] book, I have it right over here [..] I made a prediction when I talked with her yesterday. I said "You've got enough in here that people who get hold of this, like the AP, or any of the state-controlled media, they're going to focus on the soap opera aspects of your book and they're going to ignore what is truly one of the most substantive policy books I've read. This woman, governor Palin, clearly is jazzed by policy, particularly environmental policy and energy policy, as well as taxes and so forth."

Rush Limbaugh, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 13 November 2009

Saturday, November 14

The decade in seven minutes

Quote of the day

"After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York -- to New York -- to answer for their alleged crimes, in a courthouse just blocks away from where the twin towers once stood."

Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General

Friday, November 13

David and Goliath, 21st century edition

Palestinian demonstrators used slingshots to throw stones at Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Nilin, near Ramallah, Friday.

(via Pime)

How to eat a chicken wing

We've been doing it wrong our whole life! No, seriously.

Sen. Webb (D-VA) on the terror trials

Via TPM:
"I have never disputed the constitutional authority of the President to convene Article III courts in cases of international terrorism. However, I remain very concerned about the wisdom of doing so. Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor. It will be disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts.

"The precedent set by this decision deserves careful scrutiny as we consider proper venues for trying those now held at Guantanamo who were apprehended outside of this country for acts that occurred outside of the country. And we must be especially careful with any decisions to bring onto American soil any of those prisoners who remain a threat to our country but whose cases have been adjudged as inappropriate for trial at all. They do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.

"I have consistently argued that military commissions, with the additional procedural rules added by Congress and enacted by President Obama, are the most appropriate venue for trying individuals adjudged to be enemy combatants."
For most of the detainees now in Guantanamo, this is probably true. But I think the Obama administration appreciates that because previous commissions enacted by Bush lacked the fairness and legitimacy of due process, merely reforming them is not enough. We must break with that past somehow.

Viewed in this light, trying KSM and a handful of others in New York seems inspired and fitting.

May they get their just desserts at an indisputably fair trial. And may the rest of the mess Bush left at Guantanamo be dealt with fairly but more quietly with the new commissions.

"Offensive Cyber War Turned The Insurgency In 2007"

Ambers summarizes:
Now it can be fully revealed: In May of 2007, the National Security Agency launched a massive cyber offensive against insurgent cell and computer networks in Iraq, which officials believe was responsible for breaking the back of the insurgency.  Shane Harris at National Journal takes you inside the Oval Office as the decision was made:
Former officials with knowledge of the computer network attack, all of whom requested anonymity when discussing intelligence techniques, said that the operation helped turn the tide of the war. Even more than the thousands of additional ground troops that Bush ordered to Iraq as part of the 2007 "surge," they credit the cyberattacks with allowing military planners to track and kill some of the most influential insurgents. The cyber-intelligence augmented information coming in from unmanned aerial drones as well as an expanding network of human spies.
When Bob Woodward wrote about unspecified techniques used to turn the tide of the war, this is what he meant.

Morale plummets in Afghanistan, improves in Iraq

WASHINGTON – Morale has fallen among soldiers in Afghanistan, where troops are seeing record violence in the 8-year-old war, while those in Iraq show much improved mental health amid much lower violence,
Look for the Right to praise the surge as a success and berate Obama for dithering on Afghanistan.

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