Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: April 21, 2010

Senate seeks to have federal government control private health care premiums

Apparently the fear of increased premiums in reaction to the new Health Care Reform law recently passed by Congress is prompting Senate Democrats to propose a bill that would
give the federal government the power to regulate health insurance premiums.

Of course, you never saw this coming, right?

It appears our overlords simply do not trust those greedy insurance companies to not raise their premiums in reaction to the new law.  Or as Sen Tom Harkin explains it:

“Rate review authority is needed to protect consumers from insurance companies’ jacking up premiums simply because they can. Protections must be in place to ensure that companies do not take advantage of current market conditions before health reform fundamentally changes the way they do business in 2014.”

You have to laugh (or throw up a little) at the economic naiveté and pure hypocrisy contained in that statement.  Naive because it totally discounts the market and opts for central (and populist) top-down control (and we know how well that works) and hypocritical because the federal government is presently raising taxes before 2014 to “pay” for the health care monstrosity they’ve foisted upon us. 

Care for a little more sanctimonious drivel intended to justify this power grab? Diane Feinstein:

“Water and power are essential for life,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “So they are heavily regulated, and rate increases must be approved. Health insurance is also vital for life. It too should be strictly regulated so that people can afford this basic need.”

Really? Is that why it has to be “strictly regulated”? Or is it because if the market actually begins to react  properly to the artificial pressure brought by the legislation Democrats passed it will be shown up for the fiscal black hole and legislative piece of garbage it is?

Sen. Lamar Alexander brings a little context to the debate:

“Health insurance companies’ profits for one year equal about two days of health care spending in the United States. So even if we were to take away all the profits of the so-called greedy insurance companies, that would still leave 363 days a year when health care costs are expanding at a rate our country cannot afford.”

Let’s also remember that the 4 major health insurance companies in Massachusetts – all non-profit organizations – requested over 200 premium increases and were denied all but a few. Was it greed that drove them to request those increases?

Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a research center that advocates free-market health policies, said the Democrats’ proposal was unlikely to succeed in lowering insurance costs.

“Capping premiums without recognizing the forces that are driving up costs would be like tightening the lid on a pressure cooker while the heat is being turned up,” Mrs. Turner said.

Instead, it gives single-payer types (like Harkin and Feinstein) a way to hurry along the failure of the private health insurance market and eventually, by fiat, usher in government health care.

Mr. Harkin praised a bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would give the secretary of health and human services the power to review premiums and block “any rate increase found to be unreasonable.” Under the bill, the federal government could regulate rates in states where state officials did not have “sufficient authority and capability” to do so.

Arbitrary, capricious and, if passed, eventually deadly. Just hide and watch.



Kyrgystan/Honduras – I have to ask the obvious question…

First though, the background:

Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev insisted Wednesday that he was still the rightful leader of his country, breaking several days of silence after his flight into exile.

“I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community,” he said, speaking to reporters in Belarus where he took refuge earlier this week.

“I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me,” Bakiyev said in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

After the fit the Obama administration threw about Honduras enforcing its Constitution by deposing their president who had violated it, I’m sure we’re being consistent with Kyrgyzstan.  After all, we insisted (and still insist) that the former president of Honduras – the the “duly elected president” – must be returned to power before relations with Honduras will normalize.  I assume the Obama administration is insisting the same thing happen in Kyrgyzstan, right?

The interim Kyrgyz government that took power in a violent revolt last week has been officially recognized by the United States, the US ambassador to the country announced Sunday.





UN: Haiti mission money spent mostly on staff

If, like millions of Americans, you’ve been moved by the plight of the poor Haitians in the wake of the recent and terrible killer earthquake, and want to contribute to their relief, may I make a suggestion?  Don’t send your hard earned money to the UN.  It would most likely not be used to help the Haitians.  Instead, you’ll probably help pay for some UN staffer’s catered lunch.

Yes friends, as usual, the UN’s Haiti mission is redefining “bureaucratic efficiency”.  Charged with relief and “peacekeeping” duties, most of the budget is being spent – on themselves.

The United Nations has quietly upped this year’s peacekeeping budget for earthquake-shattered Haiti to $732.4 million, with two-thirds of that amount going for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel, not residents of the devastated island.

The world organization plans to spend the money on an expanded force of some 12,675 soldiers and police, plus some 479 international staffers, 669 international contract personnel, and 1,300 local workers, just for the 12 months ending June 30, 2010.

Some $495.8 million goes for salaries, benefits, hazard pay, mandatory allowances and upkeep for the peacekeepers and their international staff support. Only about $33.9 million, or 4.6 percent, of that salary total is going to what the U.N. calls “national staff” attached to the peacekeeping effort.

Presumably, the budget also includes at least part of some $10 million that the U.N. has spent on renting two passenger vessels, the Sea Voyager (known to some U.N. staffers as the “Love Boat“) and the Ola Esmeralda, for a minimum of 90 days each, as highly subsidized housing for some of its peacekeepers and humanitarian staff. The tab for the two vessels, which offer catered food, linen service and comfortable staterooms and lounges, is about $112,500 per day.

So in essence, about $235 million of that $732 million dollar budget is actually going to Haitian relief. Certainly everyone recognizes it costs money to put relief workers and peacekeeping troops in to a situation such as that, but imagine, if you will, the outcry if a private charity was found to be only using 22% of its money to actually do the job for which it was donated, and, instead had spent the bulk on the things the UN seems to think take priority over relief for Haitians.

Then remember that in the total scheme of UN things, the US pays 27% of its budget. That means, if we break it down by shares, that the US taxpayer – that’s you – has “contributed” almost $199 million to the UN Haitian boondoggle with $133 million going to the Love boat, et al.

Tell me again why we continue to sponsor this wretched third world debating club?



New Jersey, Tea Parties and real “change”

I mentioned a few days ago that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey correctly identified the source of the voter’s anger in that state, ran on it, managed to get elected and now is in the middle of a very interesting and effective campaign to reign in government and government spending.  I also mentioned that he’d probably get only as far as the public was willing to tolerate cuts to services. 

Well, so far, it seems the public is still engaged and supporting him.  Take yesterday’s elections addressing school district budgets:

Thirty-four of 39 school budgets in the county were defeated.

School districts spending plans were massacred at the polls during the annual school elections Tuesday as voters used the ballot box to vent their frustrations about higher taxes.

According to unofficial results at press time, only five of 39 school district budgets were passed, a 12 percent approval rate, the lowest this decade and possibly longer.

The only other time this decade that fewer than half the budgets failed was in 2006 when only 17 of 39 budgets won approval.

As the article notes, it was a “massacre”.

The Governor has pitted himself against a very powerful (and arrogant) teacher’s union which has, in the past and with Democrats in power, pretty much gotten its way.   But because Christie has laid out the options and the reality of the situation faced by the taxpayers of the state (NJ has the highest taxes in the nation), the union isn’t in quite the powerful position it once enjoyed.  Voters are letting it be known that, even if they don’t entirely support the Governor’s plan, they at least give it more support than that of the teacher’s union.

Interestingly, the turnout was not typical for these types of elections:

Unlike most elections, this year’s featured heavy turnout as voters appeared to come out in droves to weigh in on spending plans.

That’s an engaged and active electorate taking the opportunity, as the article notes, to “weigh in” on how their tax dollars are spent.  And, for the majority of the budgets, they did not like what they saw (there’s a whole process that follows this that may see those budgets passed anyway, but if that happens it will only further inflame the situation).

Now I keep turning to New Jersey, a deeply blue state in most elections, to point to it  as an indicator.  Like the Tea Parties, what is going on in NJ is an indicator of the level of anger and frustration the electorate (to include Democrats) has with government at all levels today.  The election of Scott Brown in deeply blue MA was another indicator.  The Tea Parties a third indicator.

All of them are fair warning to politicians of all parties that this mid-term coming up isn’t going to be your normal election.  I’m beginning to think sea-change.  And I’m also beginning to think that if the newly elected group doesn’t work out, sea-change number 2 will follow in two years.  I think the people are serious about changing the culture of government at every level, I think they’re more engaged than they’ve been in decades, and I think they’re going to stay engaged.

Pundits and politicians continue to whistle past this political graveyard saying that the American people will forget all of this by November, espeically if we see some light at the end of the  “economic improvement” tunnel.  That the public can’t sustain this anger for that long and it will wither away.  While I admit that’s certainly been the case at times in the past, I think they’re fooling themselves if they think that’s going to happen this time.

So watch New Jersey during the run up to November.  Watch what happens there.  See if the people of NJ begin to turn on Christie and his program.  See if his support begins to wane.  I’m guessing it won’t – at least not before November.  And if it doesn’t, I think the word “bloodbath” to describe the results of the midterms may end up being considered an understatement.



Transparency? Not this White House

Ben Smith at Politico reports that Police chased off reporters yesterday during a protest of DADT by gay service members, in uniform who chained themselve to the fence.  As you might expect, the press was not at all happy:

Police chased reporters away from the White House and closed Lafayette Park today in response to a gay rights protest in which several service members in full uniform handcuffed themselves to the White House gate to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

People who have covered the White House for years tell me that’s an extremely unusual thing to do in an area that regularly features protests.

Smith has a video up showing this happening. Some might think that Smith is making too much of a isolated incident, but apparently there is some real discontent within the White House press corps specificially and the Washington media in general.  This is just another incident that further deepens that discontent.

Jamie Dupree points out that every White House eventually comes into conflict with the WH press corps and the press in general – there a natural friction there.  The press wants unlimited access and the WH simply can’t grant that.  However, Ed Chen, the head of the White House Correspondent’s Association says this particular White House seems even worse than others:

Chen’s quote to Politico is very interesting, saying that in his over 10 years at the White House, “rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.”

In other words, reporters feel like this administration is not being very open on a number of fronts.

At issue is how the Obama White House has limited press access to events, using its own photographer for example to take pictures, and not allowing photo opportunities and/or questions for Presidential meetings with other world leaders.

Now you may say, “big deal, so the press is whining”.  And I’m not one to normally stick up for the press.  But they do have a job to perform. And as all of us know, especially when the news might be damaging to political opponents, Democrats love to wave “the people’s right to know” around like a flag.

However, the thing to be reminded of here is the promise – the most transparant administration ever (right up there with the Pelosi promise of “the most ethical Congress ever”). This strong-arming of the press to keep them away from covering some “dissenters” is just another in a long line of examples of what you get when you buy a pig in a poke and don’t do the due dilligence of examining the character and background of the person making all the grand promises.

The discovery process – which the very same press should have been an intimate part of prior to Obama’s election – is now yielding much less than was hoped for (yes, I use the word “hope” in place of “expected” because expectation is usually based in actions of the past). Perhaps that’s why Obama’s popularity polls continue to fall.

Meanwhile the press is reaping what it helped sow.