Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Today’s Biggest Non-Surprise

It’s certainly a big political story because it almost assures a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for the Democrats. But if anyone is particularly surprised by Arlen Specter switching parties at this time, I’d have to say you’re not much of a observer of politics.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter blames his move on the GOP no longer being the “big tent” party he was a part of in the ’80s. But in fact, it is because he’s assured of losing in the Republican primary in 2010 while if he runs as a Democrat incumbent, he will most likely not have any real  primary opposition.  Pat Toomey, the Republican, almost beat Specter the last time out.  Those considering a run as a Democrat can most likely be talked out of it if Specter switches (and that was probably part of the deal).

I’m sure Specter will have all sorts of claims of principled reasons why he is leaving the GOP when he meets the press later. But in fact, he’s never seemed to have any foundational principle except that which could be described as “doing what is necessary to gain and maintain power.” And, what you’re seeing now is a politician with his finger firmly in the air gaging which party offers him the least resistance and best opportunity to retain his seat – and that certainly isn’t the GOP.

Here’s to Arlen Specter getting creamed in 2010.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

One of my favorite actors, 76 year old Michael Caine, gives us the quote of the day:

“The Government has taken tax up to 50 per cent, and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America,” he said at the weekend. “We’ve got 3.5 million layabouts on benefits, and I’m 76, getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them. Let’s get everybody back to work so we can save a couple of billion and cut tax, not keep sticking it up.”

“Atlas Shrugged” becomes more and more relevant as governments take more and more of what people earn while leveraging such actions on the support of those “layabouts” Caine cites. The good news is that Caine has America to fall back on, which has relatively lower taxes. The bad new is, given the amount of debt being piled on, that is going to change.

~McQ

Selective (and Safe) Outrage

I love uninformed hypocrites like this – they provide wonderful blog-fodder:

Poland’s Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas.

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,” Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Of course Zimerman, who is certainly old enough to have played while Poland was under the totalitarian control of the USSR apparently never said a word at the time about the country that actually had “hands” on his country and controlled it completely, but instead blithely played on.  And, of course, the primary reason he’s free to travel and insult this country is because our military stood in opposition to the USSR along the Iron Curtain for decades and faced down his real oppressor.

Hypocrite.

Coward.

Delta is ready when you are, sir.

~McQ

Government and Markets

This story typifies, at least to me, the problem we can expect in the health care field if government becomes even more involved than it is now:

Obama administration officials, alarmed at doctor shortages, are looking for ways to increase the supply of physicians to meet the needs of an aging population and millions of uninsured people who would gain coverage under legislation championed by the president.

The officials said they were particularly concerned about shortages of primary care providers who are the main source of health care for most Americans.

One proposal — to increase Medicare payments to general practitioners, at the expense of high-paid specialists — has touched off a lobbying fight.

Family doctors and internists are pressing Congress for an increase in their Medicare payments. But medical specialists are lobbying against any change that would cut their reimbursements. Congress, the specialists say, should find additional money to pay for primary care and should not redistribute dollars among doctors — a difficult argument at a time of huge budget deficits.

The trend for years has been away from general practice and toward specialties. Part of that stems from the fact that specialists are paid more than generalists.

Most of us understand that most of our medical care will take place in our latter years with the obvious exception of certain genetic and chronic diseases which afflict a portion of the younger population. So Medicare, which kicks in at 65 whether you want it or not, is a major payer (and player) to family practice doctors who care for older Americans that make up the bulk of their practice.

With that being the case, we’re seeing fewer and fewer medical students option to become family practitioners, preferring the more lucrative pay specialists earn. The consequent result of low pay, huge patient loads and little recourse for changing that has seen family practice numbers in medical universities drop alarmingly. Why spend all that time and money learning a particular craft when the rewards aren’t as great as you want?

So here we have the market for family practitioners reacting to a distortion in the market created by the government refusing to pay at what the doctors feel is an adequate rate for the treatment of the majority of their patients. The market’s feedback mechanism sends the signal to the potential doctor to look at areas which would be more lucrative than family practice to receive adequate compensation. That area is specialization.

The reason I bring this particular example up is the competing proposals. One say, “hey, if you want more family practitioners, pay them more – that provide the incentive to become a generalist”. On the other hand, there’s a proposal to do that, but to accomplish that increase at the expense of specialists who take medicare.

How do you suppose specialists will react? Well if they do as two of mine have, they’ll simply say, “sorry, we don’t treat Medicare patients”.

And how do you suppose such a decision would effect the number of family practitioners. Well, that would depend on how much they’re willing to increase payments to them.

In the era of massive budget cuts and the promise by government to “decrease” the costs of health care, any increase in my estimation, would by minimal and not enough to change the tide concerning family practice. But taking that increase out of what is paid specialists certainly might be the tipping point for many of them to declare they’ll no longer treat Medicare patients.

Certainly our old friend the Law of Unintended Consequences again at work.

~McQ

Pelosi, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, and Hypocrisy

You know, when you’re in DC it seems such a calm and beautiful place, and yet, the cynical machinations of politicians continue unabated.

We now have Nancy Pelosi under fire for essentially sanctioning the “advanced interrogation techiniques” by not speaking up against them or opposing them when she was briefed about their use many years ago:

Nancy Pelosi didn’t cry foul when the Bush administration briefed her on “enhanced interrogation” of terror suspects in 2002, but her team was locked and loaded to counter hypocrisy charges when the “torture” memos were released last week.

Many Republicans obliged, led by former CIA chief Porter Goss, who is accusing Democrats like Pelosi of “amnesia” for demanding investigations in 2009 after failing to raise objections seven years ago when she first learned of the legal basis for the program.

She and her staff can be as “locked and loaded” as they wish, but the fact remains that she’s said nothing about the use of those techniques for 7 years – not a single, solitary word to anyone about opposing them on any grounds.

So the use of these techniques wasn’t something which was going on in a dark corner out of the view or knowledge of Congressional leadership. Democrats have tried to sell that as the “conventional wisdom” – a fascist and authoritarian president making decisions that violate human rights behind closed doors and without the knowledge of the enlightened Dems who would surely have stopped it if they had only known.

But they did know – and said nothing. In the realm of Washington politics that is the same as giving something sanction.

More importantly, Democrats would like for you to believe that these things took place due to an out-of-control executive branch. However, and as usual, this all took place because both Republicans and Democrats in Congress allowed it to take place. When you have the information necessary to stop something you supposedly oppose and do nothing, you become as complicit as anyone.

So as I said in the beginning, Pelosi’s staff as “locked and cocked” as they wish, and they can spin it until they puke, but the fact remains she can’t plead ignorance and she certainly can’t say she did or said anything in opposition, and that that speaks louder than anything her spin machine can gin up in her defense.

Whether or not you agree with the use of the techniques doesn’t change the fact that when it came to “put up or shut up” time where leadership and principle were called to the fore, Nancy Pelosi blew it and any criticism or spin she or her staff now puts forward has the horrific stench of hypocrisy emanating from it.

~McQ

Obama’s First 100 Days

USA Today says the public sees Obama’s first 100 days as a “strong opening”.

But when you get in the number of the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, it’s not quite as strong an opening as you might expect:

Now, 56% say he has done an “excellent” or “good” job as president vs. 20% who rate him as “poor” or “terrible.” An additional 23% say he has done “just OK.”

His excellent/good rating on national security is 53%. On the economy, it is 48%.

“He is seen as someone who was handed a large array of challenges and is dealing with them in a sensible way,” adviser David Axelrod says.

Those are lower numbers than I expected. And certainly very interesting numbers on the most pressing interest of the day – the economy. Those numbers also signal to me that this is now considered the “Obama economy” now, whether deserved or not.

As for national security, I’m not sure what rates the number – he’s really not done anything concerning national security except do a little talking about the subject. And, despite claims to the contrary, SEALs taking out three rag-bag pirates who botched a highjacking was not a victory on the national security front.

~McQ

Economy: No Longer In “Free Fall”

While I appreciate the fact that we’re hearing a more positive spin from the Obama administration concerning the economy, the so-called “glimmers of hope” aren’t really anything but outliers.

Worse-than-expected news on unemployment and home sales Thursday dampened optimism that a broad economic recovery might be near.

Jobs losses aren’t expected to bottom out until the middle of 2010 and the housing market hasn’t bottomed out yet either:

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes fell 3 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million units, with February revised down to 4.71 million units. Sales had been expected to fall to an annual rate of 4.7 million units, according to Thomson Reuters.

Per the analysis, the best reading of these economic indicators is that perhaps the “free fall” is coming to an end.

“The economic downturn remains intense, but it is no longer intensifying,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “We are still falling, but we are no longer crashing.”

So, while we may have passed what some are terming the “crisis stage”, the economy is still contracting. I’m coming to believe that we may not see any real and meaningful “glimmers of hope” until mid 2010.

~McQ

Couldn’t Happen To A Nicer Guy

Patterico brings us some good news about Ted Rall:

I don’t normally gloat when someone loses their job, but for this tool, I’m willing to make an exception. Especially given that his “job” consists of comparing U.S. soldiers to suicide bombers; mocking widows of terror victims; profiting from Pat Tillman’s death; assuming the voice of Iraqi soldiers talking about killing American soldiers; making leftist political hay out of the Nick Berg beheading; lying about lefty blogger vitriol; and suing a guy for making him appear to be a “rude, petty, self-absorbed writer/cartoonist” (which is what he is).

I normally don’t celebrate anyone being laid off – but in Rall’s case I’ll make an exception.

Rall will reemerge, unfortunately, but for the time being, he hasn’t the well funded platform from which to spread his crap. I personally find that to be a net positive.

~McQ