The Democrats’ new financial regulation bill exempts the SEC from the Freedom of Information Act. The SEC is already using the provision to insulate itself from scrutiny.
In regard to the president’s deficit commission, Glenn Reynolds remarks:
When they say “everything’s on the table,” they don’t really mean “everything, including elimination of the Department of Education, and privatization of Social Security, and a 15% across-the-board cut in federal payrolls.”
Or to put it more bluntly, when they say everything’s on the table, they are lying.
President Obama is taking four vacations in a little over a month. Hey, anything that keeps him out of the White House is fine by me.
Our various stimulus boondoggles are more expensive than the war:
(From National Review.)
The Economist reports:
WHEN Jorge Urosa, the archbishop of Caracas, said recently that Hugo Chávez was installing a “Marxist-communist” regime in Venezuela, the country’s leftist president called him a “troglodyte” and accused him of “instilling fear in the people.” Yet Mr Chávez, an avowed socialist, is openly seeking to introduce what looks like a novel form of communism. After taking over the courts and provoking an opposition boycott of legislative elections, he is now targeting state and municipal governments, currently the last bulwark against his rule among elected officials. By forcing them to compete for resources with pliable “communes”, he may starve them to death.
I’m not sure what is so novel about Chavez’s communism. It sounds as though the communes will control all aspects of their members’ lives, and membership is not voluntary:
Each commune will “regulate social and community life [and] guarantee public order, social harmony and the primacy of collective over individual interests.” Their courts will have jurisdiction over all residents, even though the communes are exclusively intended for socialists.
The Economist notes that the project is unpopular and unconstitutional, but it seems unlikely that either matters any more.
If you have an online subscription to the Economist, their piece on the politics of the Saudi royal family is quite interesting. I’m afraid there’s no good way to excerpt it, though.
Max Boot looks at the WikiLeaks Afghanistan document dump and finds nothing there:
The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.
In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.
Andrew Exum, in an NYT op-ed, says the same thing:
ANYONE who has spent the past two days reading through the 92,000 military field reports and other documents made public by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. I’m a researcher who studies Afghanistan and have no regular access to classified information, yet I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance. I suspect that’s the case even for someone who reads only a third of the articles on Afghanistan in his local newspaper. . .
The documents do reveal some specific information about United States and NATO tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment that is sensitive, and will cause much consternation within the military. It may even result in some people dying. Thus the White House is right to voice its displeasure with WikiLeaks.
Yet most of the major revelations that have been trumpeted by WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, are not revelations at all — they are merely additional examples of what we already knew.
Barbie, in Toy Story 3:
Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!
The notion that governments derive their only just authority from the consent of the governed is a foundational principle of the American experiment. However, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 23% of voters nationwide believe the federal government today has the consent of the governed. Sixty-two percent (62%) say it does not, and 15% are not sure.
Der Spiegel reports:
With expensive accounting rules, an increased threat of litigation and hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for some firms, the once prestigious New York Stock Exchange and other American markets have become unattractive to Germany’s biggest companies. Daimler and Deutsche Telekom have fled this year and the few remaining are likely to follow.
How sad is it that (at least in this regard) America’s free market is now weaker than Germany’s? Friedrich Hayek must be rolling in his grave.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
The Allegheny County district attorney’s office has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit against it by redistributing a memo explaining that it is not against the law to videotape a police officer in the course of doing his duty.
The unusual settlement — which includes no financial terms — came about after a Hill District man was charged with violating state wiretap laws in April 2009. . .
Though it has not yet gone out, the memo will be sent to the Allegheny County police chiefs association, as well as to its local prosecutors.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania agreed to the settlement after determining that the assistant DA did not approve the charges. Unfortunately, the charges against the officer in question — one Nicholas Mollo of the University of Pittsburgh police — were dismissed despite him being guilty of false arrest, and (apparently) of filing a false affidavit. Mollo claimed on the affidavit that the assistant DA did approve the charges.
POSTSCRIPT: I’ve often been critical here of the ACLU for its poor sense of priorities in civil rights, but the ACLU of Pennsylvania actually does a lot of good work, at least in Allegheny County.
Timothy Geithner says we are early in the recession (!):
“Right now, the best thing the government can do…is help create the conditions for the private sector to start to invest in hiring again,” [Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner] said. “Now, we’ve seen six months of positive job growth by the private sector. That’s pretty good,” Geithner said. “Pretty good this early in a recession.“
Early in the recession? Which would be scarier: if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or if he does?
(Via Hot Air.)
The Department of Justice is disinterested in protecting military voting rights.
UPDATE: More here, including:
Adams notes that the DoJ website has an entire section for felons looking to recover their voting rights, but nothing at all on MOVE. Their information on military voting pre-dates MOVE and is now inaccurate, Fox News reports, and the DoJ doesn’t appear to consider fixing that a priority.
Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison.
The intervention, which has angered US relatives of those who died in the attack, was made by Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, a week before Megrahi was freed in August last year on grounds that he had terminal cancer.
The document, acquired by a well-placed US source, threatens to undermine US President Barack Obama’s claim last week that all Americans were “surprised, disappointed and angry” to learn of Megrahi’s release.
Scottish ministers viewed the level of US resistance to compassionate release as “half-hearted” and a sign it would be accepted.
The US has tried to keep the letter secret, refusing to give permission to the Scottish authorities to publish it on the grounds it would prevent future “frank and open communications” with other governments.
If this is true (and it sounds like it is, since a major newspaper claims to have the correspondence), this is absolutely sickening. It’s one thing to have backed the release. But it’s quite another, having backed the release, then to pretend to be shocked and dismayed.
UPDATE: Originally I mistakenly said it was the Australian that had the correspondence, rather than the London Times. I’ve corrected the error.
Unless some contrary information comes to light, I consider this a non-controversy in which the State Department and the Obama administration acted honorably and appropriately.
I disagree. One can argue that the administration’s position, preferring compassionate release to prisoner transfer, is justified. However, the letter clearly failed to convey our opposition to Megrahi being released from Scottish custody at all. “The United States is not prepared to support” hardly sounds like full-throated opposition. I admit, I don’t speak Diplomat, but for a translation you can look to the Scottish reaction that found our opposition to Megrahi’s release to be “half-hearted”. So while the administration’s position may have been justifiable, it’s execution was certainly incompetent.
But all this is beside the point! It’s one thing for the administration to have reluctantly accepted the release. It’s quite another, once it happened, to pretend to be shocked and dismayed by it. That was neither honorable nor appropriate. It damaged our relations with the UK (again) for no reason other than to offer the Obama administration a little temporary cover.
In response to a request from Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, the Department of Interior’s acting Inspector General, Mary Kendall, announced she is opening an investigation into whether a Department of Interior report recommending an offshore drilling ban was manipulated to appear as if the ban was endorsed by seven experts from the National Academy of Engineers.
The report endorsed a six-month ban on deepwater drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, and explicitly stated “the recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.” The National Academy of Engineers experts responded to the report by noting that their views had been misrepresented and that a drilling ban “will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation’s economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill.”
Some major health insurance companies have stopped issuing certain types of policies for children, an unintended consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, state officials said Friday. Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in his state UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield have stopped issuing new policies that cover children individually. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said a couple of local insurers in her state have done likewise.
Starting later this year, the health care overhaul law requires insurers to accept children regardless of medical problems. Insurers are worried that parents will wait until kids get sick to sign them up, saddling the companies with unpredictable costs.
No one should be surprised by any of this. Of course insurers are going to stop writing policies for children! The new rules make them unprofitable. Family plans will survive (for now), because even those abusing the system will have to pay for the whole family, and probably the whole family isn’t sick. Existing policies will survive as well; those people aren’t abusing the system.
An unintended consequence? Perhaps. A predictable consequence? Definitely.
(Via Hot Air.)
It doesn’t look good for the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona:
“Why can’t Arizona be as inhospitable as they wish to people who have entered or remained in the United States?” U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton asked in a pointed exchange with Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler. Her comment came during a rare federal court hearing in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer (R).
Bolton, a Democratic appointee, also questioned a core part of the Justice Department’s argument that she should declare the law unconstitutional: that it is “preempted” by federal law because immigration enforcement is an exclusive federal prerogative.
“How is there a preemption issue?” the judge asked. “I understand there may be other issues, but you’re arguing preemption. Where is the preemption if everybody who is arrested for some crime has their immigration status checked?”
(Via Hot Air.)
UPDATE: But then, sometimes the tea leaves are wrong. . .
Veronique de Rugy writes:
In this paper, published in Economic Policy Journal, economists Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andre Zylberberg looked at the impact of public employment on overall labor-market performance. The authors use data for a sample of OECD countries from 1960 to 2000, and they find that, on average, the creation of 100 public jobs eliminated about 150 private-sector jobs, decreased overall labor-market participation slightly, and increased by about 33 the number of unemployed workers.
I don’t know which is more shocking, that public-sector employers aren’t required to participate in Social Security, or that public-sector pensions are so insolvent that they’re thinking of giving up such a plum privilege.
Fox News reports:
The fire alarm system on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was partially disabled prior to the catastrophic explosion that caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a rig worker testified Friday.
The rig’s chief electronics technician told a federal panel that the Horizon’s general alarm system was deliberately set in “inhibited” mode so that sirens would not wake the sleeping crew in the middle of the night.
“They did not want people woken up at 3 a.m. from false alarms,” Michael Williams told the six-member panel. As a result, the alarm failed to trigger during the emergency, and workers were forced to sound the alarm through the loudspeaker system on board.
But Transocean, the rig’s owner, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it is common for alarms on rigs and vessels to to be “zone based.”
“It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience,” the company said. “The Deepwater Horizon had hundreds of individual fire and gas alarms, all of which were tested, in good condition, not bypassed and monitored from the bridge. The general alarm is controlled by a person on the bridge and sounded from there, only when conditions require.”
I know, there’s a lot of competition, but this one has to be up there. A New Jersey judge rules that Moroccan Muslims are allowed to rape their wives:
This court does not feel that, under the circumstances, that this defendant had a criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault or to sexually contact the plaintiff when he did. The court believes that he was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.
This wasn’t even a criminal case. The judge was denying a restraining order. Fortunately, sanity prevailed on appeal.
Rasmussen reports that we truly are governed by an elite class at odds with the people:
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 75% of Likely Voters prefer free markets over a government managed economy. Just 14% think a government managed economy is better while 11% are not sure. . .
America’s Political Class is far less enamored with the virtues of a free market. In fact, Political Class voters narrowly prefer a government managed economy over free markets by a 44% to 37% margin. However, among Mainstream voters, 90% prefer the free market.
Outside of the Political Class, free markets are preferred across all demographic and partisan lines. This gap may be one reason that 68% of voters believe the Political Class doesn’t care what most Americans think. Fifty-nine percent (59%) are embarrassed by the behavior of the Political Class.
ASIDE: Rasmussen defines the political class (4% of the population), as those whose answers to a set of questions show an affinity for government. The mainstream class (65%) answer the opposite way.
Rasmussen also notes an interesting gap between affinity for “capitalism” and “free markets”:
A Rasmussen Reports survey last year caused quite a stir by showing that just 53% of Americans prefer capitalism over socialism. That stat even made its way into a Michael Moore film. By April 2010, the preference for capitalism was up to 60%. However, there is still a significant gap between support for capitalism and support for free markets. While some politicians and economists use the terms interchangeably, just 35% believe a free market economy is the same as a capitalist economy.
One reason for the gap in support for capitalism and free markets is clearly the behavior of some large American corporations. Seventy-three percent (73%) of Americans believe that Goldman Sachs is likely to have committed fraud as charged by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Seven-out-of-10 Americans believe that government and big business work together against the interests of consumers and investors.
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, frequently calls companies and chief executives “Benedict Arnolds” if they move jobs and operations overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Sen. John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in Congress, dodged a whopping six-figure state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring her in Newport, R.I.
Isabel – Kerry’s luxe, 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage – was designed by Rhode Island boat designer Ted Fontaine.
But instead of berthing the vessel in Nantucket, where the senator summers with the missus, Teresa Heinz, Isabel’s hailing port is listed as “Newport” on her stern. . .
Cash-strapped Massachusetts still collects a 6.25 percent sales tax and an annual excise tax on yachts. Sources say Isabel sold for something in the neighborhood of $7 million, meaning Kerry saved approximately $437,500 in sales tax and an annual excise tax of about $70,000.
Just to be clear, Kerry’s not doing anything wrong by mooring his yacht in Rhode Island. He’s merely doing what anyone would do to avoid high taxes. The point is that Kerry is an idiot and a hypocrite.
The secondary point is the Massachusetts “sails tax” is stupid. It’s easy for people to move their boats, so what the tax does is push business out of state.
Our government is throwing trillions of new spending on every boondoggle imaginable, financed by tax hikes and monumental deficits, but they are looking to cut spending in the one area that really is a federal responsibility: defense.
I guess that means the world must be getting safer, right?
(Via the Corner.)
A patent troll is a firm that does no research, makes no products, and whose business is based solely on buying up patents and suing for infringement. Patent trolls are generally defined by three attributes: (1) nearly all their employees are lawyers, (2) nearly all their assets are patents, and (3) nearly all their revenue comes from litigation. (This is distinct from a patent dealer, who buys patents and resells them to other firms that might actually produce the products.)
Now, an enterprising shyster, Steve Gibson of the new firm Righthaven, has come up with the idea to use the same model for newspaper content.
To be fair, copyright trolling isn’t as bad as patent trolling. You’re safe from copyright trolls if you don’t use the content, which can’t be said for patent trolls. But both of them are parasites on creativity: patent trolls exploit innovations that look vaguely like their patents, while copyright trolls exploit derivative works.
Worse, in at least one case, the shyster sued the original author, on behalf of a derivative work:
Copyright enforcement outfit Righthaven has filed some questionable lawsuits in the past, but really outdid itself in a case against Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor.
That lawsuit, one of several filed on Friday, alleges that Curtis infringed copyright by reposting an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Problem is, that article was itself based on an annual survey conducted by Curtis of ticket prices for entertainment shows.
Yes, Curtis went to the trouble of fielding a survey and then shared his findings with the newspaper, only to find himself sued for posting portions of the ensuing article on his own blog.
Anyway, the only good way to fight back against this is to boycott Righthaven’s clients and send them no traffic. Righthaven won’t say who they are (after all, the point isn’t to prevent copyright infringement, but to exploit it), so we only know the one that has already been revealed in litigation, Stephens Media. The boycott won’t be hard: Stephens Media owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a much of small-town papers you haven’t heard of.
President Obama came Donald Berwick a recess appointment to head Medicare and Medicaid, even though the appointment was not stalled, in order to avoid public scrutiny for his radical views. The Wall Street Journal has compiled a handy list of some of those views. (I can’t speak to the context of these statements, but given Berwick’s other statements, we have every reason to believe they are not out of context.)
For central planning, and against individual autonomy and markets:
- “I cannot believe that the individual health care consumer can enforce through choice the proper configurations of a system as massive and complex as health care. That is for leaders to do.”
- “The unaided human mind, and the acts of the individual, cannot assure excellence. Health care is a system, and its performance is a systemic property.”
- “Please don’t put your faith in market forces. It’s a popular idea: that Adam Smith’s invisible hand would do a better job of designing care than leaders with plans can.”
- “Indeed, the Holy Grail of universal coverage in the United States may remain out of reach unless, through rational collective action overriding some individual self-interest, we can reduce per capita costs.”
- “It may therefore be necessary to set a legislative target for the growth of spending at 1.5 percentage points below currently projected increases and to grant the federal government the authority to reduce updates in Medicare fees if the target is exceeded.”
- “A progressive policy regime will control and rationalize financing—control supply.”
- “One over-demanded service is prevention: annual physicals, screening tests, and other measures that supposedly help catch diseases early.”
- “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care—the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.” [This one is from here, not from the list.]
Health care should be run by bureaucrats, not doctors:
- “I would place a commitment to excellence—standardization to the best-known method—above clinician autonomy as a rule for care.”
- “Young doctors and nurses should emerge from training understanding the values of standardization and the risks of too great an emphasis on individual autonomy.”
Those last two are possibly the most chilling. Berwick is saying that we must provide one-size-fits-all care, and not give doctors (let alone patients) the power to do what they think is best.
This is the man who is now running Medicare and Medicaid.
But Berwick himself has no stake in the program; he has made arrangements never to need Medicare. His foundation, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has pledged to give him and his wife health care from retirement until death.
Berwick wants to ration care and to standardize care, but for everyone else, not himself.
POSTSCRIPT: Berwick’s foundation is a funny thing. In 2008 (the most recent year available), it received $12.2 million in revenue. (Republicans would like to know where that money came from, but since Democrats avoided holding a hearing for Berwick, they never had the chance to ask.) In that same year, it compensated him $2.3 million in pay and benefits. That’s nearly a fifth of the foundation’s entire revenue.
A new Quinnipiac poll:
A year after President Barack Obama’s political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 – 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 – 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Unfortunately for Republicans, they can’t nominate an unnamed Republican. Anyway, I agree with Patterico that the remarkable thing here isn’t the result, but the fact that Quinnipiac would be willing to embarrass President Obama by asking the question. His stock certainly has dropped.
Dana Milbank ought to learn to check original sources:
“I think there’s a good reason for a conservative to vote yes, and that’s provided in the Constitution itself,” Graham told his peers before reading to them from Federalist No. 6, by Alexander Hamilton. “The Senate should have a special and strong reason for the denial of confirmation,” he read, such as “to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from family connection, from personal attachment and from a view to popularity.”
Milbank is wrong: Graham was not reading from Federalist #6. First, a quick glance would reveal that #6 has nothing whatsoever to do with confirmation. In fact, Graham was referring to #76. More importantly, the passage that Graham “read” does not appear in #76 either; it is stitched together from bits and pieces with some additions and deletions.
Once Milbank’s appeal to the authority of Hamilton’s text is ripped away, one can debate whether Lindey’s paraphrase is faithful to the spirit. (The answer is no.)
It’s sad to see Milbank doing less fact-checking than Internet Scofflaw.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB that a provision in Sarbanes-Oxley that insulated the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board from influence was unconstitutional. The provision said that PCAOB members could only be dismissed for cause by the board of the SEC, who themselves could also only be dismissed for cause. The Court found that two levels of for-cause dismissal leave the president unable to oversee the board, which violates the Constitution’s separation of powers.
Since Sarbanes-Oxley did not include a severability clause, Free Enterprise Fund sought to have the entire law struck down. The Court did not do so. In the constitutional equivalent of awarding $1 in damages, the Court struck down the for-cause dismissal provision, but left the rest of the law intact.
How did the Court rule that the provision was severable in the absence of a severability clause? The Court said (p. 28):
“Generally speaking, when confronting a constitutional flaw in a statute, we try to limit the solution to the problem,” severing any “problematic portions while leaving the remainder intact.”
So, despite popular understanding to the contrary, a severability clause is not required for the remainder of the law to remain intact. Instead, they look at the law and see whether it makes sense without the unconstitutional provision (p. 29):
The remaining provisions are not “incapable of functioning independently,” . . . and nothing in the statute’s text or historical context makes it “evident” that Congress, faced with the limitations imposed by the Constitution, would have preferred no Board at all to a Board whose members are removable at will.
I’ll concede that this reasoning seems defensible. Nevertheless, I think it assigns to the Supreme Court more editorial control than it ought. Faced with an unconstitutional law and no explicit indication (such as a severability clause) of how to correct it, the Court is taking on the job of determining what constitutional law the Congress would have written. In so doing, I think the Court is usurping the Congress’s legislative role. It would be better to send the bill back and let the Congress decide explicitly what it should say, rather than the Court guess what the Congress would decide.
The Court seems to recognize the danger (p. 29):
In theory, perhaps, the Court might blue-pencil a sufficient number of the Board’s responsibilities so that its members would no longer be “Officers of the United States.” Or we could restrict the Board’s enforcement powers, so that it would be a purely recommendatory panel. Or the Board members could in future be made removable by the President, for good cause or at will. But such editorial freedom—far more extensive than our holding today—belongs to the Legislature, not the Judiciary. Congress of course remains free to pursue any of these options going forward.
but the Court believes that it is okay for it to exercise editorial freedom as long as it is not “extensive”.
Naturally it is the judiciary’s job to make judgement calls, but every judgement call makes the outcome less predictable, and predictability is the very essence of the rule of law. Where possible, the judiciary ought to make predictable, bright-line distinctions, and limit judgement calls to the bare minimum. Here the Supreme Court indulged in a judgement call it did not need to make.
But it seems that precedent going back at least to 1932 already establishes that the Court should make such a judgement call. Not one of the nine justices held out for my position.
Now let’s consider another piece of dreadful legislation without a severability clause: health care nationalization. The individual mandate appears to be unconstitutional. If the Court agrees (a big if, granted), the next question is whether the individual mandate will be held to be severable from the rest of the law.
As noted above, the question is whether it is “evident” that Congress would not have passed the law without the mandate. I think it is. The law is a delicately assembled Rube Goldberg machine. Without the mandate, the preexisting-condition provision will quickly bankrupt health insurers. Thus, the preexisting-condition provision must surely go as well. Furthermore, the mandate is the mechanism by which the law coerces changes in required health coverage (such as preventative care).
Would Congress have passed Obamacare without preexisting conditions, and without changes in required health coverage? Certainly not. It only barely passed as it was. Moreover, even if we imagine that it might have passed, the process of excising the unconstitutional provisions and all the other provisions that depend on them is exactly the sort of “blue-pencil” exercise that the Court is saying here is outside its power. I’m not a lawyer, but experts seem to agree: if the mandate falls, the whole bill will fall.
Set aside the moral issue of abortion for a moment, and just think of it as a medical-ish service. Dan Mitchell notes that the stability of the price of abortion illustrates the power of market forces, in contrast to the third-party payer problem for most health care:
Many people think that market forces don’t work in the health care system and that costs will always rise faster than prices for other goods and services. There are a few examples showing that this is not true, and proponents of liberalization usually cite cosmetic surgery [chart here] and laser-eye surgery as examples of treatments that generally are financed by out-of-pocket payments. Not surprisingly, prices for these treatments have been quite stable — particularly when increases in quality are added to the equation.
I just ran across another example, and this one could be important since it may resonate with those who normally are very suspicious of free markets. As the chart from the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows, the price of an abortion has been remarkably stable over the past 20-plus years. [Chart here.] Let’s connect the dots to make everything clear. Abortions generally are financed by out-of-pocket payments. People therefore have an incentive to shop carefully and get good value since they are spending their own money. And because market forces are allowed, the cost of abortions is stable. The logical conclusion to draw from this, of course, is that allowing market forces for other medical services will generate the same positive results in terms of cost and efficiency.
Okay, this is creepy:
In a 13-page reply to questions posed by Representative Ed Markey from Massachusetts and Congressman Joe Barton from Texas, Apple said it collects GPS data daily from iPhones running OS 3.2 or iOS 4. The phones collect the GPS data and encrypt it before sending it back to Apple every 12 hours via Wi-Fi. Attached to the GPS data is a random identification number generated by the phone every 24 hours. The information is not associated with a particular customer, Apple said.
Apple uses the data to analyze traffic patterns and density, it said. Apple collects such data from customers who have approved the use of location-based capabilities on the phone and who actually use an application that requires GPS.
It’s all in the click-through license, Apple says, adding that if you don’t want your phone to report your location, all you have to do is disable the GPS on your phone. Sheesh.
It’s not been a good week for Apple.
The Bush administration’s Justice Department’s actions were inappropriately political, but not criminal, when it fired a U.S. attorney in 2006, prosecutors said Wednesday in closing a two-year investigation without filing charges.
The decision closes the books on one of the lingering political disputes of the Bush administration, one that Democrats said was evidence of GOP politics run amok and that Republicans have always said was a manufactured controversy.
This was perfectly obvious from the first day of the supposed scandal: US Attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, and they can be dismissed at any time for nearly any reason. The only way the dismissals could have been illegal was if the firings were intended to influence a case improperly, and no evidence ever surfaced to suggest that was the case.
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that a majority of retirees say they expect their current [Social Security] benefits to be cut, a dramatic increase in the number who hold that view. And a record six of 10 non-retirees predict Social Security won’t be able to pay them benefits when they stop working.
Skepticism is highest among the youngest workers: Three-fourths of those 18 to 34 don’t expect to get a Social Security check when they retire.
Actually, this seems low. A quarter of young people think they might get Social Security? Other than wishful thinking and/or ignorance, I can’t account for it. Social Security is already losing money, nine years early.
Randy Barnett has been saying for some time that the Obamacare health insurance mandate, which institutes a penalty for inactivity, would be an unprecedented use of Congress’s interstate commerce power. At first his contention was mocked by Democratic legislators and law professors alike, but Barnett now seems to have won the argument without it ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.
When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.” . . .
Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.
As the NYT notes, this is a significant shift from politicians who swore that the individual mandate was absolutely not a tax. Here’s President Obama (literally) mocking George Stephanopoulos for calling the individual mandate a tax (cue to 3:00):
Whether these statements will hurt the administration’s argument in court, I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll be mentioned.
However, even if the court eventually finds that the mandate is a tax, not a penalty, Obamacare isn’t out of the woods yet. A new paper argues that the individual mandate is also unconstitutional as a tax. Their argument is as follows:
- The Constitution, as amended, provides for three sorts of taxes: (1) direct taxes, which must be apportioned by population, (2) excise taxes (also called indirect taxes in the legal literature, although the term does not appear in the Constitution), which must be uniform, and (3) income taxes, which must be on “derived income” (a term of art in the legal literature).
- The mandate is not an excise tax, as it taxes no particular activity and also is not indirect (i.e., it is not passed on to another party).
- If (counterfactually) it is an excise tax, it is unconstitutional because it is not uniform.
- It is not an income tax because it does not tax derived income.
- If it is a direct tax, it is unconstitutional because it is not apportioned by population.
What would a completely failed economic policy look like? Pretty much like this, I’d say:
After you’re done gasping, also notice how the graph remains within the usual range until right around the beginning of 2009.
A few days ago it was revealed that at least two states (Pennsylvania and New Mexico) were covering abortion in federally funded high-risk health insurance pools. Now the AP is reporting that the Obama administration has issued rules barring such pools from covering abortion in most cases. If true, that’s welcome news. It would also be very surprising, coming from this administration, so I’m waiting to hear of a loophole.
Meanwhile, the Reproductive Health Reality Check, while bleating about how awful this is, underscores the fact that abortion funding is permitted under the health care nationalization law:
But here’s the catch, nothing in federal law actually restricts the use of federal or state money for abortion in PCIPs.
Recall how we were repeatedly told that the Hyde amendment would magically prevent any federal money from being spent on abortion. As I noted previously, that was a bald-faced lie. (The Hyde amendment only applies to Medicaid.) Now that the bill has been passed, the left has no reason to deny it any more.
(Via the Corner.)
In a preview of what we can expect nationwide as Obamacare takes effect, Massachusetts firms are dumping their health insurance:
The relentlessly rising cost of health insurance is prompting some small Massachusetts companies to drop coverage for their workers and encourage them to sign up for state-subsidized care instead, a trend that, some analysts say, could eventually weigh heavily on the state’s already-stressed budget.
Since April 1, the date many insurance contracts are renewed for small businesses, the owners of about 90 small companies terminated their insurance plans with Braintree-based broker Jeff Rich and indicated in a follow-up survey that they were relying on publicly-funded insurance for their employees. . .
The Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy annually surveys employers and found no significant drop in coverage as of the end of 2009, when more than three-quarters of companies offered health insurance.
But insurance brokers say the pace of terminations has picked up considerably since then among small companies, of which there are thousands in Massachusetts. Many of these companies — restaurants, day-care centers, hair salons, and retail shops — typically pay such low wages that their workers qualify for state-subsidized health insurance when their employers drop their plans.
(Via Power Line.)
The Economist has a column against the idea of fairness as an organizing principle for government.
A sense of fairness, as any parent knows, develops irritatingly early. A wail of “It’s not fair!” is usually the first normative statement to come out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. People seem to be hard-wired to demand fairness. Studies in which people are offered deals that they regard as fair and unfair show that the former stimulate the reward centres in the brain; the latter stimulate areas associated with disgust.
For the British fair play is especially important: without it, life isn’t cricket . . . The French have taken to using le fair-play in sport, presumably because (as their coach’s refusal to shake hands with his opposite number after losing to South Africa suggested) their own culture finds the concept rather difficult. When talking politics, however, the French, like the Americans, tend to go for the more formal notion of justice. But fairness appeals to the British political class, for it has a common sense down-to-earthiness which avoids the grandiosity of American and continental European political discourse while aspiring to do its best for all men.
I didn’t realize that this was a societal difference between America and Britain, but if it is, good for us. (And for France, I suppose.)
Fairness is a pernicious concept because it is totally subjective. It can mean anything to anyone, so it really means nothing at all. Consider two children: Alice (age 15) and Bob (age 10). Alice’s bed time is 10:30, and Bob’s bed time is 10:00. Both children are unhappy: Bob because Alice’s bed time is later, and Alice because when she was 10 years old her bed time was only 9:30. It’s not fair.
In politics, progressives tend to put things in terms of fairness: The rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. What exactly would be their fair share is never stated, but it’s always higher than they are paying now. (In 2007, the top 10% paid 70% of the income tax.) Free trade isn’t fair trade. (Whatever that means.) We need a Fairness Doctrine to shut down conservative talk radio.
ASIDE: Even when progressives use the word “justice” (e.g., “social justice”), they usually don’t actually mean objective justice, but some sort of subjective concept — which is to say fairness. We need to defend the word “justice”. The left has perverted the word “liberal” to the exact opposite of its historical meaning, we can’t let them have “justice” as well.
The author shies away from a full-throated condemnation of fairness, but I think all this what he is getting at in his conclusion:
Yet the fact that everybody believes in fairness is a clue to what’s wrong with the notion. Like that other warm-blanket word, “community”, it signals limp thinking. What exactly is “fair” about restricting trade, for instance? Or “unfair” about letting successful people in business or other fields enjoy the fruits of their enterprise without punitive taxes?
“Fairness” suits Britain’s coalition government so well not just because its meanings are all positive, but also because—like views within the coalition—they are wide-ranging. To one lot of people, fairness means establishing the same rules for everybody, playing by them, and letting the best man win and the winner take all. To another, it means making sure that everybody gets equal shares.
Those two meanings are not just different: they are opposite. They represent a choice that has to be made between freedom and equality. Yet so slippery—and thus convenient to politicians—is the English language that a single word encompasses both, and in doing so loses any claim to meaning.
Fairness is fudge. This newspaper will have none of it. We reject the wide, woolly notion of fairness in favour of sharper, narrower words that mean what they say, like just or cruel.
It turns out the health care nationalization act imposes a sales tax on real estate sales. A story in the Washington Post purports to debunk it, but actually just argues semantics:
- It’s not a sales tax or a transfer tax, it’s a Medicare tax. Why I should care about the label is beyond me.
- It doesn’t affect anyone making under $200k per year. First of all, taxes are a drain on the economy whoever pays them. Second, $200k is not $250k, the level at which Obama promised we would not face a tax increase. But, most importantly, sales taxes are invariably passed on to the buyer, so the fact that the tax is levied on the “rich” has no bearing on who actually pays it.
- The tax is levied only on the profit. Untrue. More precisely, it depends on how you define profit. The calculation of profit doesn’t figure in inflation, nor does it figure in the amount spent maintaining the home (major improvements, on the other hand, are figured in), so one could easily end up paying the tax despite taking a loss in real terms. Indeed, if inflation soars in the coming years (as it seems like it must) most of the price of a home will be “profit”.
- The tax is calculated using a very complex formula. Can’t argue with that one.
The New York Times reports fiction as truth:
The question of racism in the amorphous Tea Party movement is, of course, a serious one, since so much of the Republican Party seems to be in the thrall of its activists. There have been scattered reports around the country of racially charged rhetoric within the movement, most notably just before the vote on the new health care law last March, when Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, the legendary civil rights leader, was showered with hateful epithets outside the Capitol.
A dispute is brewing between the American accounting standards board (the FASB) and the international board (the IASB) over whether all assets should be marked to market. The American board (by a 3-2 vote) says yes; the international board wants to maintain the status quo, which says that historical cost is fine for assets that are held to maturity.
The FASB’s position frankly doesn’t make any sense. For an asset that is held to maturity, exposing the day-to-day volatility of its market value is misleading, not revealing. Moreover, many assets simply aren’t liquid enough to be marked to market anyway. Given that it can’t be done universally, or even close to universally, why be so dogmatic about mark-to-market?
Hugo Chavez has destroyed Venezuela’s food industry:
SOMETHING is rotten in the state of Venezuela: over 2,300 container-loads (and counting) of decomposing food, imported by the government last year and never distributed. The scandal is particularly embarrassing for President Hugo Chávez, since it comes amid growing shortages of basic foodstuffs in state-run grocery chains. But rather than rethink his statist food and agriculture policy, the president has declared “economic war” on the private sector. . .
Since 2003, the government has imposed price controls on many foodstuffs. In that year the government defeated a business-led strike which came close to paralysing the economy. The private sector has since faced mounting harassment.
The results have been persistent shortages and soaring inflation: the price of food and drink rose by 21% in the first five months of 2010, according to the Central Bank. Elías Jaua, the vice-president, this week blamed inflation on “speculators [linked to] political interests seeking destabilisation as part of a campaign strategy”, before a legislative election in September.
Basic goods are scarcer in Mercal and PDVAL shops than in private supermarkets, according to a survey by Datanálisis, a polling company. But the government is stepping up expropriations of farms, food manufacturers and distributors, in a bid to achieve what it calls state “hegemony” over the food supply. On June 7th it announced the takeover of 18 more food companies accused of violating regulations.
All eyes are now on Empresas Polar, a family-owned giant that is Venezuela’s biggest private food-and-drink company. . . Mr Chávez has often threatened Lorenzo Mendoza, Polar’s billionaire chairman, with expropriation. But as the rotting food shows, his government is better at destroying the existing order than at creating a viable alternative. Some 70% of Venezuela’s food is now imported, which generates ample opportunities for graft. Most of the farms and food companies the president has expropriated suffer from inflated payrolls, declining productivity and rampant inefficiency. His threats against Polar are rejected by a well-paid and loyal workforce. The company is one of the biggest remaining obstacles to the installation of Cuban-style communism in Venezuela. But to seize it now might well lose Mr Chávez the legislative election. As Venezuelans say “love, with hunger, doesn’t last.”
A few days ago I commented that I thought Apple’s refusal to put the iPhone 4 out for beta testing is substantially responsible for the trouble they are having now. The Wall Street Journal backs up my contention:
The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4′s development that the device didn’t get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter.
The iPhones Apple sends to its carrier partners for testing are “stealth” phones that disguise a new device’s shape and some of its functions, people familiar with the matter said. Those test phones are specifically designed so the phone can’t be touched, which made it hard to catch the iPhone 4′s antenna problem.
Apple gave its carrier partners far less time to test the iPhone 4 before its launch and gave them significantly fewer devices to test than other handset makers, people familiar with the matter said. AT&T Inc., Apple’s exclusive partner in the U.S., has until recently taken the brunt of criticism for dropped calls on Apple phones.
For what it’s worth, I like my iPhone 4 and I don’t plan to return it. I have had dropped calls, though; whether they would have dropped with my old iPhone 3G, I cannot say.
We already knew it was a lie that health care nationalization would not pay for abortions, but we didn’t (or, at least, I didn’t) know how many ways it would fund abortion, and how quickly that funding would start: Obamacare will be funding abortions in Pennsylvania and New Mexico beginning pretty much immediately.
That’s two of the four plans for which the National Right to Life Committee was able to find language, so there will surely be dozens more.
Earlier this week, I wondered if, by passing a fake budget, Democrats were giving up the ability to ram legislation through the Senate using reconciliation. The Washington Independent says the answer is yes:
Recognizing that Democrats would be reluctant to record “yes” votes for a budget that would augment the deficit, the House leadership opted to deem as passed a “budget enforcement resolution” instead, just before the July 4 recess. While the distinction between an enforcement resolution and a full budget is largely technical, there is one crucial difference: Under the enforcement resolution, Democrats can no longer use a parliamentary tactic known as budget reconciliation next year — a process Democrats had hoped might allow them to pass key pieces of legislation, such as a jobs bill, with 51 votes in the Senate, as opposed to the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
The fake budget may be a bad thing in terms of the honesty of the budget, but I’d say this consideration outweighs that, particularly with the specter of a mad duck session on the horizon.
(Via the Corner.)
Another reason to despise BP (there are so many):
The oil giant BP faced a new furor on Thursday as it confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to conclude a prisoner-transfer agreement that the Libyan government wanted to secure the release of the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans. . .
BP’s statement on Thursday repeated earlier acknowledgments that it had promoted the transfer agreement to protect a $900 million offshore oil-and-gas exploration deal off Libya’s Mediterranean coast. The British justice minister at the time, Jack Straw, admitted after Mr. Megrahi was repatriated and freed that the BP deal was a consideration in the review of his case.