Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

July 4th Photoblogging, Ocean Beach

We spent the 4th of July in Ocean Beach.  Below are some pics of the fireworks display and other…festivities.

The fireworks show was pretty, as these sorts of things usually are.

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Immediately after the fireworks show ends, another OB tradition begins.  The 4th of July Marshmallow fight.  It started 40 years ago as a friendly marshmallow fight between some OB neighbors, but every one else quickly took up the tradition.

It’s now become like a soft-candy-based Festival of Landru.

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Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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Happy “Dependence” Day

I‘m sorry, but the more I get into the monstrosities coming out of Washington DC, the less I see “independence” as a reality. Just a quick read through Waxman-Markey (and a quick read in anything but easy given the size of the bill) will tend to make you a bit pessimistic about “independence”. Consider the mundane topic of shade trees:

SEC. 205. TREE PLANTING PROGRAMS.

(a) Findings- The Congress finds that–

(1) the utility sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States today, producing approximately one-third of the country’s emissions;

(2) heating and cooling homes accounts for nearly 60 percent of residential electricity usage in the United States;

(3) shade trees planted in strategic locations can reduce residential cooling costs by as much as 30 percent;

(4) shade trees have significant clean-air benefits associated with them;

(5) every 100 healthy large trees removes about 300 pounds of air pollution (including particulate matter and ozone) and about 15 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year;

(6) tree cover on private property and on newly-developed land has declined since the 1970s, even while emissions from transportation and industry have been rising; and

(7) in over a dozen test cities across the United States, increasing urban tree cover has generated between two and five dollars in savings for every dollar invested in such tree planting.

So now the federal government will issue guidelines and hire experts to ensure you plant shade trees properly:

(4) The term ‘tree-siting guidelines’ means a comprehensive list of science-based measurements outlining the species and minimum distance required between trees planted pursuant to this section, in addition to the minimum required distance to be maintained between such trees and–

(A) building foundations;

(B) air conditioning units;

(C) driveways and walkways;

(D) property fences;

(E) preexisting utility infrastructure;

(F) septic systems;

(G) swimming pools; and

(H) other infrastructure as deemed appropriate

And Waxman-Markey is indeed a “green-job creator” of a bill – it creates an entirely new job category – Federal House Inspector. Yes, that’s right, in order to sell your house in the future you must passed a federal housing inspection which will certify your home has the minimal energy rating necessary. And if not, you’ll be required to bring it up to par by replacing appliances (water heaters, air conditioning, etc) or repairing (leaky windows, etc) whatever the inspector finds before you can put it on the market.

Have a candelabra in your dining room? Don’t you dare put any more than a 60 watt bulb in there.  You need to also bone up on what you’ll be allowed to do with outdoor lighting, water dispensers, hot tubs and other appliances, not to mention wood burning stoves and water usage.

Yup, if this piece of legislation makes it through the Senate, we need to seriously rethink the name we give the 4th of July. “Independence” will no longer apply. And, given the level of intrusion this bill brings to our lives, you can just imagine what’s in store for us in any health care legislation passed by this administration.

Happy Dependence Day, folks.

~McQ

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1776 Project

A friend has started an organization called the 1776 Project, which he’s kicking off today “hoping to inform and educate voters by promoting the values and principles of a Constitutional government.” Here’s press release explaining the motivation:

The 1776 Project stresses that our Constitution is the single most important civic document in governing our nation. Its provisions, protections and prescriptions are all that is necessary and sufficient to the operation of a good, just and efficient government.

Organizers of the 1776 Project reject the notion that rights are given by government, instead believing the Bill of Rights protects the basic, individual liberties that are derived from natural rights that promote the pursuit of happiness.

Further rejecting the idea that the Constitution can be interpreted and changed however any political party wants to suit their needs, the organizers of the 1776 Project believe the document that created this Republic can only be changed by the process specifically laid out in Article V of the Constitution.

“Government cannot provide happiness, that is not its purpose,” says Jorge Gonzalez, founder of the organization. “It is up to each one of us, as individuals, to pursue our own desires and versions of happiness. This is the only way that we can really be a country united in one purpose.”

The 1776 Project will be announcing more events and providing information, resources and offering solutions on how Americans can take back their government through peaceful revolution and community outreach. Organizers welcome anyone who agrees with these values, regardless of political party, to join the 1776 Project to bring back a Constitutional government.

Check out the organization’s website and get involved on Facebook and Twitter.

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Palin To Resign

The stated reason:

Palin made the announcement flanked by Parnell and all of her cabinet. She said that recent incidents brought up by national media and the spate of ethics complaints have been taking away from her mission to serve Alaska.

She felt that it would be best to step aside and let Parnell and her cabinet continue.

My guess? She’s been tired of the moonbat attacks for a while, and the final straw was the McCain bunch. She’s most likely figured that in today’s poisonous political atmosphere, national exposure and national office just aren’t worth the price. Not that I think she’d ever have been elected to national office. However I do think the obsession by the left and the attacks on both her and her family have been both unseemly and vicious, but certainly not surprising.

~McQ

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More Health Care Lies

I don’t use the “L” word very often but in this case it seems completely appropriate.

The question:

Would a government-run health plan upend the employer-based health insurance system used by 160 million Americans?

The Democrats claim the answer is ‘no’.

Here’s their rationalization:

Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., say their plan would preserve employer-sponsored insurance coverage and create an affordable public option for those who need it.

“The … bill virtually eliminates the dropping of currently covered employees from employer-sponsored health plans,” Kennedy and Dodd said in a letter to members of the Health Committee, one of two Senate groups working on health reform.

The bill includes a “pay or play” provision that would require employers to provide adequate coverage for their workers or subsidize a system that will.

“Pay or play” would require companies to pay the government $750 per full-time worker per year ($375 for part-timers) if they don’t offer health coverage, or if they offer “qualified” coverage but pay less than 60% of workers’ premiums. Small businesses that employ fewer than 25 workers would be exempt.

The Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed the legislation, estimated that by 2019 the same number of workers would be covered by employer-based plans as would otherwise be the case under the current system.

“It tracks what we’re seeing in Massachusetts,” a senior Democratic aide on the Senate Health Committee said on a conference call with reporters.

I’ve put the lie in bold. Why is it a lie? Anyone out there have a $750 a year health care plan? Anyone? I don’t know of a plan for an individual that costs only $750. If there is, then there’d be no reason for any of this nonsense would there?

And Kennedy and Dodd (and the Democrats), the supposed “experts” on health care know that very well. This is pure disingenuousness on their part. This is a blatant attempt to launch a lie to get them past a very important sticking point in the public perception of the bill.

But the average – average – individual health care insurance cost in the US is almost $4,000. And then there’s the cost of administering it.

Hypothetical – you employ 100 people. Let’s say your company pays full health care coverage at the national average (for simplicity sake, assume they all have individual policies). You have two people who administer the coverage at $35,000 each. Your total cost each year to cover your employees is $470,000.

If you pay the federal government $750 per employee a year, your total cost is $75,000. But you can let the two people you’ve had administering your health care program go, saving $71,500 (includes -$1,500 for 2 less employees). Total cost of “pay or play” for you? $3,500 the first year ($73,500 vs. $470,000 every year afterward). In reality, however, it is a net savings of $466,500. You don’t have to be a very good businessman to figure out that one do you?

And remember – these figures only involve “individual” coverage. Family coverage is much more costly, but I see nothing from our two Senate experts which even addresses that. So obviously, the cost of the health care of 100 employees could be vastly more than my simplified example.

No wonder we see corporations coming out now to back this sort of a program. For the vast majority of them, $750 per employee is a huge savings not to mention getting them out of the health care provision and administration business. They’ll pay it gladly. If you like your doctor or your plan, tough beans. You’re going on the government plan. And, of course, the administration will be more than happy to blame your problem on “greedy corporations.”

When they do, just consider the lie and the incentive it provides and then lay the blame precisely where it belongs. Not that it will do you any good where it concerns your present doctor and plan.

Just another step along the road to single-payer brought to you by two lying Senators and backed by the CBO.

~McQ

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Honduras – “The Triumph Of The Rule Of Law”

Octavio Sanchez, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, takes exception to the charges that what happened with the removal of President Manuel Zelaya. was a military coup.

Instead, he says, it was a “triumph of the rule of law.” And he gives the world a little lesson in the Honduran Constitution.

In 1982, my country adopted a new Constitution that enabled our orderly return to democracy after years of military rule. After more than a dozen previous constitutions, the current Constitution, at 27 years old, has endured the longest.

It has endured because it responds and adapts to changing political conditions: Of its original 379 articles, seven have been completely or partially repealed, 18 have been interpreted, and 121 have been reformed.

It also includes seven articles that cannot be repealed or amended because they address issues that are critical for us. Those unchangeable articles include the form of government; the extent of our borders; the number of years of the presidential term; two prohibitions – one with respect to reelection of presidents, the other concerning eligibility for the presidency; and one article that penalizes the abrogation of the Constitution.

Sanchez makes the point that Honduras has gone through same sort of “trial and error” process with its constitution as has the US, France and other nations. But he then focuses on the 7 articles that cannot be repealed or amended. They form the crux of the case against Zelaya.

These are the facts: On June 26, President Zelaya issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the “Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly.” In doing so, Zelaya triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.

Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions. When Zelaya published that decree to initiate an “opinion poll” about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term. His actions showed intent.

Our Constitution takes such intent seriously. According to Article 239: “No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”

Notice that the article speaks about intent and that it also says “immediately” – as in “instant,” as in “no trial required,” as in “no impeachment needed.”

Supreme Court Justice Rosalinda Cruz defended the ouster of Zeyala as well:

The arrest order she cited, approved unanimously by the court’s 15 justices, was released this afternoon along with documents pertaining to a secret investigation that went on for weeks under the high court’s supervision.

Others have also defended Zeyala’s removal:

David Matamoros, a member of Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal, also defended the military’s action.

He said Zelaya originally called the vote a plebiscite, then, when that was barred, shifted to describing it as a poll, creating uncertainty as to its legal standing and his intent. No government agency was willing to conduct the vote, he said. All the ballots and equipment for the illegal poll were flown in on a Venezuelan plane, he said. The court ordered the materials confiscated.

Nothing has been said about the apparent meddling by Venezuela.  Nor has there been any investigation by those so interested in immediately condemning the action taken by the authorities in Honduras as a “military coup” into the constitutional claims of the interim government.  Given Sanchez’s description of the evidence and the constitutional provisions, it appears he may be right – this was indeed a triumph of the law.

So why was Zelaya flown out of the country instead of being arrested?

The Supreme Court and the attorney general ordered Zelaya’s arrest for disobeying several court orders compelling him to obey the Constitution. He was detained and taken to Costa Rica. Why? Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office. With him inside the country that would have been impossible. This decision was taken by the 123 (of the 128) members of Congress present that day.

15 justices of the Supreme Court, 123 of 128 Congress members, the Attorney General, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the military all acted in concert and apparently within the law and the constitution, to remove someone who had violated the constitution and essentially impeached himself.

Says Sanchez:

Don’t believe the coup myth. The Honduran military acted entirely within the bounds of the Constitution. The military gained nothing but the respect of the nation by its actions.

I am extremely proud of my compatriots. Finally, we have decided to stand up and become a country of laws, not men. From now on, here in Honduras, no one will be above the law.

Given that explanation and assuming it is the case, it seems we should be celebrating what Honduras has done instead of condemning it.

~McQ

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Today’s Employment Situation

First of all, let’s compare the current situation with employment with what the Obama Adnministration told us would happen if we didn’t pass the stimulus package.  As has been obvious for some time now the stimulus is not–as we repeatedly predicted–substantially impacting the employment situation.

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Unemployment: Promised v. Actual

Instead, employment has risen by more than 3%.

Now, today’s surprise was not that there were a net 467,000 jobs lost last month, but that the employment rate went up by only 0.1%.  The answer to that mystery is found in the employment data from the BLS, which shows that the civilian labor force declined by 358,000 people last month.

The Bureau of labor Statistics uses a neat bit of sleight-of-hand when calculating the unemployment rate.  If you are not in the workforce, you aren’t counted as unemployed.  You disappear from the numbers.

There are a number of ways to leave the labor force.  You can retire.  You can become injured or disabled.  Or, you can simply become so discouraged that you stop looking for a job.

For the latter category, that means you may still not have enough money to house and clothe your family.  and you might still really want to work.  But there are no jobs for you, and if you stop actively looking for work, then you drop out of the labor force.

Granted, there’s no other way to really count the labor force, but this does help explain why the employment rate remained much more restrained vis a vis the actual number of net job losses.  The number of people not in the labor force increased from 80,371,000 in May to 80,729,000 in June.  That nearly equals the number of job losses, so the unemployment rate comes out nearly even.

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Know Thy Enemy – And Loath Him

And after reading this, it won’t be hard to do:

Pakistan’s top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, is buying children as young as 7 to serve as suicide bombers in the growing spate of attacks against Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. targets, U.S. Defense Department and Pakistani officials say.

A Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said the going price for child bombers was $7,000 to $14,000 – huge sums in Pakistan, where per-capita income is about $2,600 a year.

“[Mehsud] has turned suicide bombing into a production output, not unlike [the way] Toyota outputs cars,” a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters recently. He spoke on the condition that he not be named because of ongoing intelligence efforts to catch Mehsud, a prime target for a U.S. and Pakistani anti-Taliban campaign.

People like Mehsud claim to represent a religion of peace and act on its behalf. Yet no religion of peace would ever sanction or condone actions such as this. Perhaps it is time we quit accepting their stated claims that they’re Islamic warriors and call them what they deserve to be called – animals barely worth the price of a bullet.

Rarely will you find me using the term “exterminate”. But when I read things like this, I truly believe that the Taliban are more than deserving of complete and utter extermination. This is a “seed” which needs to germinate no further.

God speed to the 4,000 Marines who’ve just launched Operation Khanjar. May their aim be true enough to bring down this miserable swine somewhere along the line.

~McQ

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Government Run Health Care – “Anecdotal” or Indicators of a Systemic Problem?

A couple of quick examples of real world problems with government run health care. South Africa:

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has issued an ultimatum to striking doctors, calling on them to return to work on Friday or face the music.

Addressing the media in Durban on Friday, Dhlomo said notices had been sent to all hospitals calling on all striking doctors, dentists and pharmacists to resume their duties no later than 08:00.

The department was also preparing a court interdict to force the striking health professionals to end the strike, he said.

“We as the department of health are designated as an essential service provider and therefore find the action of these health professionals [is] disrupting service delivery and compromising patients’ lives,” said Dhlomo.

He said the department had been more than reasonable in dealing with the unprotected strike.

“This situation is untenable, we cannot continue to put the lives of our people in danger and the government will act,” he said.

Dhlomo said people had died due to the unavailability of doctors, although he was unable give the number of people who died as a result of the strike.

A recent example you’re probably more familiar with from Canada:

A critically ill premature baby is moved to a U.S hospital to get the treatment she couldn’t get in the system we’re told we should emulate. Cost-effective care? In Canada, as elsewhere, you get what you pay for.

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

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

And this one:

In 2007, a Canadian woman gave birth to extremely rare identical quadruplets — Autumn, Brooke, Calissa and Dahlia Jepps. They were born in the United States to Canadian parents because there was again no space available at any Canadian neonatal care unit. All they had was a wing and a prayer.

The Jepps, a nurse and a respiratory technician flew from Calgary, a city of a million people, 325 miles to Benefit Hospital in Great Falls, Mont., a city of 56,000.

Great Falls was better equipped to handle their case than was Calgary? People like to dismiss these as “anecdotal”, but they continue to describe a system in which decisions have been made that end up endangering the lives of children. It is inevitable when the primary focus of “reform” is “lowering cost”.

Doctor’s strikes. Limited if not completely unavailable neo-natal care. The refusal of the system, based on cost concerns only, to provide certain care that places the lives of those on the margin in jeopardy.

Is that what we have to look forward too?

~McQ

[HT: Micaela S]

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Busting Medicare’s “Low Overhead Advantage” Myth

One of the favorite arguments of the government health care crowd is the supposed Medicare low overhead argument – i.e. Medicare is more efficient than private insurance because its overhead is so much lower than private administrative costs.

It goes like this:

But the administration of Medicare is a miracle of low overhead and a model, despite all the fraud and abuse, of what government can do right. Three percent of Medicare’s premiums go for administrative costs. By contrast, 10 to 20 percent of private-insurance premiums go for administrative costs. Roll that figure around on your tongue. When you swallow and digest it, you’ll understand that any hope of significantly reducing health-care costs depends on a public option.

Right now, the Medicare average is 3% and private insurance averages 12%. But Tom Bevan points out, some of that difference is an apples and oranges comparison:

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

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

However, when you make an apples to apples comparison, Medicare comes out much worse than private insurance:

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

So, contrary to claims of Alter, Krugman, and President Obama, moving tens of millions of Americans into a government run health care option won’t generate any costs savings through lower administrative costs. Just the opposite.

Make sure you click through and check out the real Medicare administrative costs as compared to private industry.

Then there’s waste fraud and abuse. Did you happen to catch that little hand wave at “fraud and abuse” in the first quote touting Medicare’s efficiency? What, pray tell, is one of the primary jobs of an administive system? Would you imagine it to be the elimination of fraud and abuse – or said another way, to ensure that the company pays legitimate claims and avoids fraudulent and unnecessary payments?

How efficient is a system which is awash in both fraud and abuse? And, without profit, what incentive do they have to eliminate it?

John Stossel takes that part of the “Medicare efficiency” myth apart:

But there’s a bigger point – the connection between “low” administrative costs and staggeringly HIGH levels of fraud and waste. As Michael Cannon at the Cato Institute and Regina Herzlinger at Harvard Business School have pointed out, much of the 10 to 20 percent of private insurance administrative costs goes to preventing fraud. Private insurers, you see, care about whether or not they lose money. Medicare, with its unlimited claim on the public purse, does not. It’s only taxpayer money, after all.

The results are predictable, but breathtaking nonetheless: an estimated $68 billion (with a B) in outright Medicare fraud every year (About $3 billion in Miami-Dade county ALONE.) On top of that, according to well-respected Dartmouth researchers, roughly a third of Medicare’s total $400 billion annual spending goes to procedures which were medically unnecessary.

That’s, on average, 68 billion every year. Imagine a private insurance company surviving with loss figures like that. But as Stossel points out, without an incentive to eliminate fraud and abuse, it continues year after year after year, with politicians and Medicare administrators tut-tutting but never really doing anything about it.

That is the reality of Medicare’s efficiency. It is also the probable model any future health care insurance run by the government. Efficiency is an illusion brought about by a statistical sleight of hand and ignoring the systemic waste, fraud and abuse of Medicare.

~McQ

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