Friday, July 31, 2009

Senator Air America on the Job

Just arrived in Washington, Al Franken is making headlines already . . . for berating a rich, influential guest invited to a Democratic Party event by Democrats.

T. Boone Pickens, oil gazillionaire presently touting the idea that wind energy can solve our Republic's various problems,* appeared at the Democrats' weekly policy lunch yesterday. Franken made it a point to berate him loudly for his financial support for the so-called Swift Boat ads.

Of course, Al Franken may yet prove to be an important source of wind energy, so perhaps the exchange will be akin the fabled falling apple meeting Isaac Newton.

*We aren't sure how someone with Pickens' wealth can fail to do the math that tens of millions of wind turbines would be necessary to replace fossil fuels in America's energy grid.

More Apocalyptic Climate Change

While the world bakes to a crunchy brown, Cincinnati is freezing over. July 2009 is officially the Queen City's coldest July on record.

This makes us all the more determined to see a cap-and-trade bill passed before it gets any colder.

Where's my sweater?

Our Discriminatory Government

SWNID owns a clunker. It wastes energy and ought to be replaced soon if the planet is to be saved. But we look in vain for help from the California Democrats who gave us the esteemed "Cash for Clunkers" program.

The SWNIDish clunker is a dishwasher, now at least a decade old, leaky, rusty and totally unreliable. We aim to replace it with a sleek, Energy-Star-approved model that will clean our dishes better, faster and quieter using less energy and water, thus keeping our world safe for dishwasher-users of the future.

But we find that our clunker doesn't qualify for a rebate from Uncle Sugar. The appliance industry has been passed over in a blatantly discriminatory move. Only automobiles constitute clunkers, though the same criteria applied to them would apply just as well to our polluting, wasteful dishwasher. And we don't need $4500. Just $45 would be nice.

We'll go further: as a dishwasher, our appliance is being profiled. Take a 1987 Dodge pickup to the dealership and you get a check. Take our dishwasher there and you'll get nothing but a puzzled expression. What is that if not profiling?

To avoid further discrimination like this, the government can do but one thing. Future "Cash for Clunkers" programs should be administered simply as cash for taxpayers. Just let us keep our money and we can replace what needs replacing, thank you very much.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

UK Doc: Don't Imitate UK Health System

Today was an exceptionally good day for opinion pieces on health care reform.

We commend also the WSJ piece by "Theodore Dalrymple," the pen name of a British physician who aptly analyzes the ill-conceived and executed notion of a "right" to health care. Along the way he notes such obvious but timely points as these:
  • When benefits are conceived as rights, government must grant them by coercing the populace.
  • Health care is not more fundamental to human existence than other goods or products, like food, clothing and shelter.
  • Asserting a right to health care seems to leave people without an ability to imagine why health care ought to be provided apart from the assertion of a right.
  • The question ought to be not about rights but organization: how can we best deliver health care? In that light, America needs fixing, but Britain is much worse off.
  • A "right" to health care has produced an even more unequal delivery of health care to the UK population, in what Dalrymple calls "the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe."

Someone Who Can Look into the Camera and Make Sense Without Sounding like He's Angry?

Here's a bit of Tim Pawlenty objecting to ObamaCare. We like (a) how he makes his objections highly understandable without dumbing-down; (b) how as a conservative he sounds warm but not patronizing; (c) how he deftly avoids the personal politics in favor of issue politics. We are less than pleased with his articulation of policy alternatives (headed in the right direction but not addressing the real issue of reforming health care financing so that the consumer understands and evaluates the real costs and so benefits directly from efficiencies).

But one can "hope" for actual "change" when one hears such as this:

More Excellent Analysis of the "Public Option"

Straightforwardly erudite Meg McArdle of the Atlantic offers today a superb blog posting on her personal objections to "National Health Care." We SWNIDishly deem the reasoning pristine and the rhetoric highly amusing. On the latter point, we offer a generous sampling:

I know, most of you have already figured out why I oppose national health care. In a nutshell, I hate the poor and want them to die so that all my rich friends can use their bodies as mulch for their diamond ranches. But y'all keep asking, so here goes the longer explanation. . . .

I'm afraid that instead of Security Theater, we'll get Health Care Theater, where the government goes to elaborate lengths to convince us that we're getting the best possible health care, without actually providing it. . . .

It's not that I think that private companies wouldn't like to cut innovation. But in the presence of even rudimentary competition, they can't. Monopolies are not innovative, whether they are public or private. . . .

[T]heoretical innovation is not the same thing as product innovation. We tend to think of innovation as a matter of a mad scientist somewhere making a Brilliant Discovery!!! but in fact, innovation is more often a matter of small steps towards perfection.

The one industry where the government is the sole buyer, defense, does not have an encouraging record of cost-effective, innovative procurement. . . .

At this juncture in the conversation, someone almost always breaks in and says, "Why don't you tell that to an uninsured person?" I have. Specifically, I told it to me. I was uninsured for more than two years after grad school, with an autoimmune disease and asthma. I was, if anything, even more militant than I am now about government takeover of insurance.

But you can also turn this around: why don't you tell some person who has a terminal condition that sorry, we can't afford to find a cure for their disease? There are no particularly happy choices here. The way I look at it, one hundred percent of the population is going to die of something that we can't currently cure, but might in the future . . . plus the population of the rest of the world, plus every future generation. If you worry about global warming, you should worry at least as hard about medical innovation. . . .

These aren't just a way to save on health care; they're a way to extend and expand the cultural hegemony of wealthy white elites. No, seriously. Living a fit, active life is correlated with being healthier. But then, as an economist recently pointed out to me, so is being religious, being married, and living in a small town; how come we don't have any programs to promote these "healthy lifestyles"? When you listen to obesity experts, or health wonks, talk, their assertions boil down to the idea that overweight people are either too stupid to understand why they get fat, or have not yet been made sufficiently aware of society's disgust for their condition. Yet this does not describe any of the overweight people I have ever known . . . .

The elderly are also wasting a lot of our hard earned money with their stupid "last six months" end-of-life care. Eliminating this waste is almost entirely the concern of men under 45 or 50, and women under 25. On the other hand, that describes a lot of the healthcare bureaucracy, especially in public health. . . .

Monday, July 27, 2009

Interpreting Democratese: "We Need Republican Votes"

Democrat Senator Kent Conrad says that the Ds in the Senate need R votes to pass health care reform.

Wait! Don't we recall that with the certification of Senator Stewart Smalley (D-Air America), the Ds have a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority and can pass all the long-awaited utopian legislation that the citizens long for? Is the problem that Senators Kennedy and Byrd are too infirm to show up for a vote? Is that the real health care scandal?

No, the situation is very different. Democrats facing re-election in any state that is not solidly and deeply blue are wary of casting votes for what will send taxes and deficits into historically ruinous territory. That's why Ds need R votes: so that they can share the blame.

Do Ds think that they can induce Rs to vote for their plan? Well, what would be the reason, even for RINOs like Senators Collins and Snow? (Not that they seem to need a reason to get their names mentioned appreciatively on the TV news programs that no one watches.)

The real work here is that Ds are laying the groundwork for blaming Rs for killing health care reform. This is the surest sign so far that the legislation is doomed and the most obvious clue to the obvious political strategy of the Ds going forward. The Republic is not safe until the last Republican has been rooted out and destroyed.

As this little drama unfolds, we are enjoying the spectacle of the Democratic Party's left wing (i.e. 80% of the party) wailing about the imminent squandering of their historic opportunity to remake American society. The Left knows that it has to work quickly before people get wind of what they're really up to, i.e., when people calculate the cost of fulfilling the promises. If the bills aren't passed before the reality sets in, the agenda is lost.

Obama's August deadline was all about that: pass this thing while people are on vacation, during what European journalists call the "silly season" when the media is filled with dumb stories about nothing that occupy space before the real work resumes in September and folks start paying attention to something other than their tans and their putting.

True But Stupid

Can Joe Biden ever rise above the Joe Biden stereotype?

As the weekend started, our logorrheic Vice President stated at length and in detail that Russia is in serious economic, political and demographic trouble and so will likely submit to America's diplomatic will in the future.

The Veep is right, of course, about Russia's miserable situation, not that Russia has ever been much better than miserable in its entire, miserable history.

However, by saying this undiplomatic thing in public, Biden has certainly made the future all the more difficult. Much of Russia's miserable history has to do with its national pattern of stubbornly resisting the will of the West so that it can bravely assert its rugged independence and equality at the table of nations, only to isolate itself and exacerbate its problems in the process. Saying that Russia is miserable is doubtless the best way to induce Russia to ignore that reality and act on its counterfactual opposite.

As we remember that Biden was picked by Obama to bring international heft to his ticket, we reflect on just what a miserable decision that was.

We're Surprised That Someone Hadn't Done This Sooner

This parody is worthwhile despite being a very obvious concept and despite being punctuated with the forced laughter that dominates commercial FM morning broadcasts:

We are reminded of a classic New Yorker cartoon depicting Santa reading from a long list to his elves. One elf has raised his hand and asks impertinently, "And how do you propose to pay for this giveaway?" Indeed!

Crouch: Nothing to See Here--But Stupidity

Contrarian analyst of American race relations and noted jazz critic Stanley Crouch has weighed in on Obama weighing in on Henry Louis Gates. Crouch's summation: yes, there's racism; no this has nothing to do with it; yes, Obama's remarks were stupid; no, he'll recover and continue to challenge the Republic effectively on matters of race.

Gentle readers will note Crouch's ability to use the dated term "Negro" with devastating ironic effect.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Re-Entering the Fray: Short Shots on Recent Topics

Our journeys here and there concluded, we signal a restoration of more frequent posting with a few observations about recent events:

  • We believe that the puzzlement about Sarah Palin's precipitous resignation as Alaska's governor is natural, given that Mrs. Palin seems a bit puzzled herself. We don't think she's puzzled about her reasons: she's fed up with her and her family being the objects of ridicule and constant accusation (perhaps most ridiculously, an "independent investigator" has now said that even though there's no rule against it, Palin violated ethics rules by allowing others to raise money to defend her against ethics accusations: apparently it's unfair for someone to let others provide support to avoid penury when one is accused, though that rule doesn't apply if you're a Clinton). We figure that the famous Vanity Fair piece was the final straw. But we doubt seriously the Palin has anything remotely resembling a plan for the next three years. She's just riding the wave, as she has since her political career began. But with the resignation, she's finished as a national candidate, unless Rs decide to offer her as a sacrificial lamb to an unbeatable Obama in 2012. There's just too much drama with Palin.
  • The Henry Louis Gates affair for us illustrates (a) that even the most racially sensitive (we refer both to Dr. Gates and to the arresting officer, both of whom have public records that deserve this laudatory description) can fall into the trap of acting on the paradigms of race-based behaviors. The fact that the President, himself a skilled navigator of racial categories, also fell into the trap is especially cautionary. We also wonder the degree to which Dr. Gates' reaction to the police call was the consequence of fatigue, jet lag, and maybe a few drinks.
  • President Obama's inability to set priorities, long noted by this blogger and others, is proving to be the ruin of his administration's first year. Couple that with his willingness to cede details to the miserable and radical Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives (need we mention again the extremist cabal of Pelosi, Waxman and Frank?), and we now ask what the President will do to recover when the end of the year shows his legislative agenda having failed, his popularity in a sinkhole, and his party in a free-fall leading into 2010. Can he reinvent himself as a triangulating moderate a la Slick Willie?
  • We are finding it more and more ironic that global warming continues to be treated as an unquestionable dogma while more prosaic and better demonstrated hypotheses, like industrialization and free trade creating greater prosperity for the world's poor, are at best ignored and at worst ridiculed.
  • To appreciate the global impact of American pop culture, we need only recall sitting in a hotel restaurant in India, eating our eclectically international buffet breakfast and listening to a medley of Muzak-instrumental arrangements of Michael Jackson songs over the PA, that after having heard at dinner the night before an Indian version of Boxcar Willie offering up "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Country Roads," and in honor of our impending departure from the Subcontinent, "Bye, Bye Love."
  • We continue to be amazed at how Christians refuse to learn the lessons of history. We count ourself a member of an American Christian "movement" that recalls its origins in at last refusing to observe the sectarian divisions ("Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian") that were imported from another land (Great Britain) whose influence of the faith had been dominant but was by then waning. We are sad to observe that those who recite that history most fondly are among those who replicate it today, carrying their American disputes to the rest of the Christian world and treating them as shibboleths. These are the ones most likely to be "left behind" as the demographic center of Christianity continues to move away from North America.
  • On the plus side, we are firm in our assertion that the recent, exceptional growth of that movement to which we belong is in some significant part the consequence of exceptionally well focused institutions having supported strategic elements of the church's ministry for a generation. For all their faults, the parachurch organizations devoted to education, mission, fellowship and motivation among the Christian Churches are working smarter all the time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama: 10th in a Field of 12

Gallup says that Obama's approval rating, which they put at 55%, is 10th highest of the 12 postwar presidents at the same point in their administrations.

A 50% plurality/near majority disapprove of his centerpiece initiative in healthcare.

We will now see whether Obama's considerable abilities extend to political tools other than his own personal popularity.

It Was Forty Years Ago Yesterday

For us the best story on the Apollo 11 moon landing is really a story about the Apollo 8 moon orbit, or more really a story about the resilience of American POWs during the Vietnam War.

Former POW James Warner shares the reminiscence of how he and other prisoners used the fragmentary news that they had of the Apollo program to shore up their own morale and erode that of their captors during their long and cruel imprisonment. It's a reminder of distant days, how much the world has changed and how much what is noble about the human spirit endures.

George W. Obama Strikes Again

Having run on Bush hatred, on occasions President Obama governs on Bush imitation.

One key imitative move has been prosecuting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan under the leadership of Bushie Robert Gates and with an unchanged strategy. For this we are grateful, even if Obama's most ardent supporters are confused.

Now another marked imitation emerges. Bush was notorious at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue for his "signing statements" which indicated aspects of legislation that he regarded as unconstitutional and, hence, which he refused to enforce as chief executive. Democrats wailed loudly at these, though it is noteworthy that their own iconic chief executive, Presidents Jefferson and Jackson, were famous for refusing to enforce what they regarded as unconstitutional.

Well, now Mr. Obama has made a signing statement of his own, specifically a refusal to be bound by congressional directives on the spending of grants for aid to be spent by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The present President insists that such strictures cannot constrain his constitutional power to conduct foreign policy and negotiate treaties.

Fair enough, we say. We don't care for much of Obama's foreign policy agenda, driven as it is by the orthodoxies of the global left, but we'll affirm that what he's doing is consistent with the way that POTUSes of the past have sparred with their adversaries in Congress over the boundaries of power. Had Reagan issued a similar signing statement regarding strictures on support for the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, one could have hoped for more clarity and less subterfuge in the conduct of foreign policy and national defense in that crucial battle of the waning Cold War.

The sweet irony is that Democrats are increasingly dissatisfied with the man who has led them out of the political wilderness and into a greater position of power than they have enjoyed in a generation. That says much about the party, and much about the constitutional system of federal government. Congress and the President are natural enemies, even when they go to the same convention.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Global Sensitivity of the Left

We return from the Subcontinent just as Mrs. Clinton is visiting. The clash of perspectives provides us with our first posting after our much-anticipated return.

A visit to India, the world's largest democracy and a nation of singular size, ethnic diversity, cultural complexity, economic potential, and strategic importance, by a US Secretary of State who brings unparalleled celebrity to her office, could be the occasion for various issues to be stressed. Among those that we would have suggested would be:
  • Introduction of more effective labor laws. While it may be argued that American labor laws are unnecessarily restrictive, in India they are virtually nonexistant. Workers in India's booming manufacturing sector work without provision for overtime, minimum wages, or the like. In a country developing through a surplus of unskilled labor, such provisions would be a boon to national welfare.
  • Greater provision for physical infrastructure. India's water and sewer systems are worse than a mess in many cities. Highways are crowded to the point of complete dysfuntion (our proposal for a new video game: Chennai Autorickshaw, with the objective of driving the iconic Indian vehicle as quickly as possible through the boomtown's chaotic traffic). A current project in Delhi was marred when an overpass collapsed, killing several workers. Such occurrences are too common in a country just learning effecient methods of infrastruture development.
  • Greater provision for human rights for all Indian citizens. While the Indian government has made big efforts to ameliorate the effects of Hinduism's inherent disriminatory patterns, some have exascerbated the problems the seek to correct. Renewed effort could do a lot to overcome past inequities and create a brighter future for the bulk of India's citizens.
  • Specifically, greater provision for religious rights for Christians. SWNID participated in a conversation in which a wise Indian friend indicated that if the American government would apply even some pressure to the Indian national government on this matter, the Indian national government would see to it that its northeastern states, including Orissa, would put a stop to the well-doumented persecution of Christians. (By the way, our Indian friend was asking that American Christians petition their government for such pressure to be applied. SWNIDish gentle readers will know what to do.)
  • Provision of free trade between the United States and India. India has an enormous potential to supply manufactured goods and e-servies to the US. In return, India provides the second largest market in the world for American goods and services. India has a particularly big appetite for things that the US does well, like construction equipment, machine tools, and financial services. Free trade will make Indians and Americans better off.

But no. Mrs. Clinton focused on something else: carbon emissions. The previous G8 meeting didn't yield a cap on carbon emitted by India or China. Hence, per the present dogma of the left, all other issues must yield to saving the planet.

Never mind that we don't know whether global climate change represents a pattern leading to something permanent and disastrous. Never mind that we don't know to what degree such change is caused by human activity. Never mind that we don't know whether efforts to restrain carbon emissions will make any difference, assuming that we had answers to the other issues. Never mind that economic analysis shows that (a) other initiatives would yield more benefit to the world's developing populations; (b) if real, climate change can best be adapted to by those populations already enjoying the fruits of economic development. The "inconvenient truth" for Mrs. Clinton and her ilk is that all the world must join the green initiative and restrain CO2.

Within the discussion, the Boss of Foggy Bottom offered this helpful advice:

There is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainably that will lower
significantly the carbon footprint of the energy that is produced and consumed
to fuel that growth.

Do tell, Madam Secretary? Please show us this more excellent way! Our utopian yearnings will not be satisfied until you descend Olympus or Sinai or the Ozarks and tell us what you've learned on the mountain from the god(dess). Why are you keeping the details of such an approach a tantalizing secret?

In the background of all the global warming noise lurks an assumption that we now SWNIDishly lay bare. The green left believes, we assert, that even if efforts to restrain carbon emissions prove unnecessary or ineffective, the effort will still yield other benefits in the restraint of industrial development that the left finds aesthetically and politically distasteful.

But we say there's a real cost to all this, and it will be carried by the world's poor. If denied the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of industrialization, they will remain in lives that are sadly nasty, brutish and short. If the world's body politic gives its attention and treasure to reducing the ominous carbon footprint, other courses of action promising real benefit to real people will inevitably be neglected, all assertions that there remains a way to do everything at once to the contrary.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Definitive Essay on Healthcare Reform

Our history notes a precious few essays so influential as to change the tide of politics. Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" was one. Thomas Payne's pamphlets made a similar mark.

Could we have today witnessed the appearance of another?

From the SWNIDish POV, "economist and retired business executive" George Newman (related to SWNIDish namesake Alfred E. Newman?) offers a piece of such insight, grace and wit that its elegance and persuasive power may put it in a category close to historic masterpieces. The title is "Parsing the Health Reform Arguments," and we celebrate it not just because its title uses a metaphor drawn from the sacred study of grammar. The essay superbly addresses all of the nonsense in the so-called healthcare debate with the laser-like focus and Shaw-like wit.

We won't spoil a moment by pulling quotations. Gentle readers without the strength to click the link and read should ask a friend to click the link and read aloud.

Friedman Consults Duodenum on Climate Change, Economics, Human Behavior

We offer gentle readers the range of views on the cap-and-trade bill, recently passed by the feckless Pelosi House of Representatives to prove the Founders' wisdom in making the Senate a very difficult place to make laws in our bicameral legislature.

First up is the storied, celebrated Thomas Friedman, he of the arresting metaphors without empirical evidence. Complaining that the cap-and-trade bill is too confusing (we note: 1500 pages) and too weak (!), he nevertheless begs that it be made law quickly.

His reasoning: (1) the world is watching! (2) "my gut tells me."

Mr. Friedman's clairvoyant alimentary canal, apparently able to speed-read legislation of such Proustian proportions, specifically tells him that this legislation will change Americans' behavior for the good forever, like the first declaration that smoking was bad for you.

Of course, part of this judgment comes not from the nether regions of Mr. Friedman's anatomy but the higher ones, like the brain:

Henceforth, every investment decision made in America — about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated — will look for the least-cost low-carbon option.

True enough, Tom! Investment decision-makers will note that the costs associated with the bill are not to be found among various trade competitors. Economic activity will naturally move to lower-tax countries, as it always does. That includes oil drilling, oil refining, electricity generation, and manufacturing. America will be "green" indeed, as a wilderness emptied of humans. Meanwhile, the deadly CO2 will simply churn out in other places.

Moving inland from our nation's Paper of Record, we find the contrasting opinion from the Denver Post's David Harsanyi. His opener is enough to satisfy our discerning gut:

Facts. Costs.Consequences.

Who cares?

We're in the middle of pretending to save the planet, baby.

One more gut lesson: beware of politicians and pundits in a hurry, especially in vacation season.