Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obamacare writedowns again

In response to the sadly predictable vitriol aimed at Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative websites, the Journal is addressing the Obamacare Writedowns again:
A White House staffer told the American Spectator that "These are Republican CEOs who are trying to embarrass the President and Democrats in general. Where do you hear about this stuff? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative Web sites. No one else picked up on this but you guys. It's BS." (We called the White House for elaboration but got no response.)

In other words, CEOs who must abide by U.S. accounting laws under pain of SEC sanction, and who warned about such writedowns for months, are merely trying to ruin President Obama's moment of glory. Sure.

Presumably the White House is familiar with the Financial Standard Accounting Board's 1990 statement No. 106, which requires businesses to immediately restate their earnings in light of their expected future retiree health liabilities. AT&T, Deere & Co., AK Steel, Prudential and Caterpillar, among others, are simply reporting the corporate costs of the Democratic decision to raise taxes on retiree drug benefits to finance ObamaCare.

When the Medicare prescription drug plan was debated in 2003, many feared that companies already offering such coverage would cash out and dump the costs on government. So Congress created a modest subsidy, equal to 28% of the cost of these plans for seniors who would otherwise enroll in Medicare. This subsidy is tax-free, and companies used to be allowed to deduct the full cost of the benefit from their corporate income taxes (beyond the 72% employer portion).

Democrats chose to eliminate the full exclusion and said they were closing a loophole. But whatever it's called, eliminating it "will be highly destabilizing for retirees who rely upon employer sponsored drug coverage" and "will impose a dramatic and immediate impact on company financial statements."

That's how the AFL-CIO put it in a December 10 letter. The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—also known as the AT&T and Verizon workforce—were opposed too. So much for White House claims that reporting these facts is partisan.


Democrats have responded to these writedowns not by rethinking their policy blunder but by hauling the CEOs before Congress on April 21 for an intimidation session....The Towers Watson consulting firm estimates that the total writeoffs will be as much as $14 billion, and the 3,500 businesses that offer retiree drug benefits are by law required to report and expense their losses this quarter or next.
Read it all. Actions have consequences.


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Founders vs. Progressives

Michael Barone:
The Progressives of the early 1900s -- Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, New Republic founder Herbert Croly -- argued that in an industrial era of mass production and giant businesses, ordinary people were helpless and needed government's guiding hand. It would be more efficient, they argued, for centralized, disinterested experts to administer national institutions than to let chaotic markets operate freely and to observe the Constitution's horse-and-buggy limits on government power. The Founders were out of date.

The Progressives had their way for much of the 20th century. But it became apparent that centralized experts weren't disinterested, but always sought to expand their power. And it became clear that central planners can never have the kind of information that is transmitted instantly, as Friedrich von Hayek observed, by price signals in free markets.

It turned out that centralized experts are not as wise and ordinary Americans are not as helpless as the Progressives thought. By passing the stimulus package and the health care bills the Democrats produced expansion of government. But voters seem to prefer expansion of liberty.


The Declaration of Independence's proclamation that "all men are created equal" with "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has proved to be happily elastic. It still sings to us today, thanks to the struggles and sacrifices of many Americans who gave blacks and women the equality denied to them in 1776.

In contrast, the early Progressives' talk of an "industrial age" and an outmoded Constitution sounds like the language of an age now long past. Their faith in centralized planning seems naive in a time when one unpredicted innovation after another has changed lives for the better.
I tend to think of Barone as a polls and districts guy, but this is an outstanding historical perspective and philosophy piece. Click, read it all...

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Henry Waxman knows enough to be dangerous (and not a jot or tittle more...)

I don't know if everyone has seen this yet, or not, but the following is a copy of a letter from Representatives Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak to the chairman of AT&T, following AT&T's announcement that the new health care reform bill would mean a $1 billion write-down for the company.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the petulance, ignorance and idiocy on display in that letter (though I hope to come back to it), let's briefly discuss a little bit of history for Representative Waxman. We don't need to go all the way back to the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash and the start of the great depression. We can stay within the last decade and talk relevant history.

In late 2001, Enron, a large energy services company based in Texas, went bankrupt. Spectacularly. The reasons for this are varied, and include a business model in which they didn't actually produce anything, and there was never a legitimate reason for the company to be valued as highly as it was at the peak. Essentially, Enron was a bubble, but the bubble had been sustained by some fraudulent accounting.

Well, clearly, the Enron bankruptcy was disastrous for many people. Equally clearly, what some people did was just plain wrong. So Congress sprang into action, as it is wont to do (as Rahm Emmanuel said following the Obama election, "you never want to let a crisis go to waste") and, in 2002, passed the "Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act," better known as Sarbanes-Oxley. One can debate its efficacy (which is, frankly, unknowable) vs. its cost (which is considerable - a boon to accountants and lawyers, not so much to the rest of the world [as is so often the case when Congress passes legislation]) but it is the law of the land, and businesses need to comply with it.

So here are a couple of brief summaries of part of what Sarbanes-Oxley requires of corporations and their accountants and officers.

Summary of Section 401
Financial statements are published by issuers are required to be accurate and presented in a manner that does not contain incorrect statements or admit to state material information. These financial statements shall also include all material off-balance sheet liabilities, obligations or transactions.

Summary of Section 409
Issuers are required to disclose to the public, on an urgent basis, information on material changes in their financial condition or operations. These disclosures are to be presented in terms that are easy to understand supported by trend and qualitative information of graphic presentations as appropriate.

This is really pretty easy to follow. A publicly-traded corporation is legally required, when something happens that materially affects its bottom line, to make that information known to current and potential investors. That is to say, they must - must, under penalty of law - declare that things which are going to affect the bottom line are going to affect the bottom line. They must do it in forms which are legally required to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When the chairman of AT&T stands up, or issues a press release, saying that the new health care law is going to have $x million dollars of impact on AT&T's bottom line, he is not being partisan. He's not engaged in Obama-bashing, or trying to subvert the Congress. No, he's complying, as required, with the law that Congress has enacted.


(Sick of this? Sorry, not done yet. Blame Obama and Pelosi and Reid...)

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Actions. Have. Consequences.

Through the looking glass...
The White House political and legislative operations were said to be livid with the announcement by several large U.S. companies that they were taking multi-million or as much as a billion dollar charges because of the new health-care law, the issue was front-and-center with key lawmakers. By last Friday, AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., and AK Steel Holding Corp. had all announced that they were taking the one-time charges on their first-quarter balance sheets. More companies were expected to make similar announcements this week.

"These are Republican CEOs who are trying to embarrass the President and Democrats in general," says a White House legislative affairs staffer. "Where do you hear about this stuff? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative websites. No one else picked up on this but you guys. It's BS."

On Friday White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett were calling the CEOs and Washington office heads of the companies that took the financial hits and attacked them for doing so. One Washington office head said that the White House calls were accusatory and "downright rude."
I'll be coming back to this shortly. But let me just say, not for the first time, and not for the last, that the people currently running our government are utopians and fantasists of the highest order. They understand nothing about the way the world works, and expect it to bend to their will just because.

It just doesn't work that way.


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I know, I know - we're not living in the city of God...

Thinking - still - about what the Democrats just did in significantly expanding the scope of the government intervention in the health care system, I ran across this passage:
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on.
-- Augustine of Hippo, City of God
It depends, I suppose, on one's definition of the word, "justice," but it's hard to come up with a good reason to think that confiscating from many in order to provide services they find offensive to their moral sensibilities would qualify.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Profile in Courage

Howard Fineman
A Democratic senator I can't name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.

Besides that, this Democrat said, people who already have coverage will feel threatened and resentful about helping to cover the uninsured—an emotion they will sanitize for the polltakers into a concern about federal spending and debt.
Any commentary there about it being "the right thing to do?" "Making the country stronger?" "Reducing the budget deficit?" "Covering the uninsured?"

Nope. Party loyalty.

Do you suppose this guy's constituents might be interested in knowing that they, who have put him into this exalted and power position, are of less interest to him than Harry Reid and Barack Obama?

Here's my advice to all voters - since Howard won't tell us who he's talking about, you have to assume that ALL Democratic Senators are more interested in Harry Reid and Barack Obama than their constituents' best interests, and VOTE THEM OUT!

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Apparently, there's no possibility of the Red Sox being mediocre offensively...

Nick Cafardo:
Baseball people who have watched the Sox still don’t know what to make of Cameron, Beltre, and Ortiz, the consensus being they’ll be the keys to whether the Sox are a really good offensive team or whether they will need every bit of their pitching and defense to keep them in games.
Isn't it possible, Nick, that there's actually some middle ground between those two extremes? If they "need every bit of their pitching and defense to keep them in games," wouldn't that imply that they were a really bad offensive team? Surely there's room for a team to be somewhere between "really good" and "really bad," right? Like, maybe, "pretty good" or "OK" or "not bad" or "good" or "mediocre?" Do they have to be "really good" or "really bad?"

Or do just have nothing to say so you have to say it in meaningless extremisms?

Just curious...

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Finisar Xgig default console settings

Just pull your new Finisar XGIG analyzer out of the box? Frustrated that you can't hook it to the network without configuring its IP address and your default gateway, and you can't find the serial console settings anywhere, not in the packing material, not on Finisar's website?

I know the feeling.

Here - this'll help. At least, these are the settings that my Finisar Xgig had out of the box:
8-bits, no parity, 1 stop bit
No HW or SW flow control
You're welcome.

(Why did I blog this? So the next time I google "finisar xgig default console settings," something useful will come up...)

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World's smallest violin playing for Rep. Driehaus

Mark LeBar, on Rep. Steve Driehaus comment that "people are going to criticize my decisions...but my wife, my kids, my neighbors are out of bounds.”
Interesting that Rep. Driehaus himself doesn’t take my wife, my kids, my body, or anything else about me, to be ‘out of bounds’ when he legislates. It’s all up for grabs in the legislative process; there are no bounds to what he is entitled to impose on me through force. Probably he should not be surprised that people become less inclined to respect those ‘bounds’ – which are, indeed, bounds of decency – when the political class has so far rejected and replaced common decency with its officious and intrusive will.
Indeed. One can understand his desire not to have people chanting outside his house. Why can't he understand their desire not to have the Federal Government destroy their health care system?


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The Obamacare Writedowns

Saturday's editorial in the Wall Street Journal, noting some of the same business announcements that I did last week:
It's been a banner week for Democrats: ObamaCare passed Congress in its final form on Thursday night, and the returns are already rolling in. Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses.

This wholesale destruction of wealth and capital came with more than ample warning. Turning over every couch cushion to make their new entitlement look affordable under Beltway accounting rules, Democrats decided to raise taxes on companies that do the public service of offering prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare. We and others warned this would lead to AT&T-like results, but like so many other ObamaCare objections Democrats waved them off as self-serving or "political."


The Democratic political calculation with ObamaCare is the proverbial boiling frog: Gradually introduce a health-care entitlement by hiding the true costs, hook the middle class on new subsidies until they become unrepealable, but try to delay the adverse consequences and major new tax hikes so voters don't make the connection between their policy and the economic wreckage. But their bill was such a shoddy, jerry-rigged piece of work that the damage is coming sooner than even some critics expected.
There's a lot more to come...

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Still wondering...

If the Federal Government can make people buy health insurance, what can't it make them do?


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Romney on RomneyCare

I like Mitt Romney. I really do. I thought he did as good a job as Massachusetts Governor as a Republican can do and he seems to be like a good guy. I supported him in 2008, and have been expecting to support him again in 2012.

But he's doubled-down on stupid.
Mitt Romney offered an enthusiastic defense last night of the comprehensive health care law he helped create four years ago in Massachusetts, even as he pointed to crucial distinctions between it and a similar national program enacted last week by Democrats.

“Overall, ours is a model that works,’’ Romney said in response to a question after a speech at Iowa State University. “We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama is stepping in and saying ‘one size fits all’ ’’?
Ours is NOT a model that works. We did NOT solve our problems at the state level. While he's right on the federalism/states rights aspect, he cannot spend the next two years pretending that Romneycare has made anything better in Massachusetts, because when it comes time to vote for the next President, a) people are going to be absolutely sick of government health care, both as a reality and as a discussion topic and b) it's going to be obvious to everyone that what's happened in Massachusetts hasn't worked.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

"...a culmination of a sequence of unpopular major initiatives..."

Arnold Kling:
The health care legislation represents a culmination of a sequence of unpopular major initiatives from Washington. First, there was Henry Paulson’s massive transfer of wealth from the people most hurt by the financial crisis to some of the people most responsible for it. Next, came the massive, ill-conceived stimulus bill, which was not timely, targeted, or temporary but instead a pure power grab by Washington. Health care legislation is merely the latest straw.

The American people are watching their country being transformed from an exceptional, vibrant free economy to a broken European welfare state, and many of us do not like the direction of change. We may not know exactly what is in the health care legislation (does anyone?), but we know its intent to assert government authority over health insurance. We know that it creates a large entitlement, paid for in large part by unspecified future cuts in Medicare.


I believe that the elites have so mistreated the American people that we should declare that a state of war exists between America and Washington. Our goals in this war must go well beyond the repeal of this year’s health care legislation. Here is a list of additional goals that I would propose:

1. End the current bailouts and prevent future bailouts. Starting immediately, limit the Federal Reserve to holding only Treasury instruments. The Fed needs to go back to being a central bank, not a piggy bank.
2. Cut the pay of civilian Federal workers by 10 percent. The private sector is making painful adaptations to hard times. The government needs to start doing what any other organization would do when its revenues are down.
3. Restructure entitlements so that the future path of spending is sustainable. Congressman Paul Ryan’s “road map” is an example of what an honest budget would look like. If Democrats would prefer higher taxes to such a road map, then those taxes should be explicitly budgeted, rather than pretending that the funds for future benefits are going to appear by magic.

The point here is that health care legislation was just one battle. The overall war is larger. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamomoto is reported to have said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” So it should be with us today.

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Yeah, I'm sick of it, too...

Anyone want to take a wild guess at which topic I addressed most frequently last week? Anyone?

"Ha, ha," I hear you say. "Very droll. Very amusing. Not."

Well, in response to your unasked question, let me just say this - yes, I too am sick to death of this topic. It arouses in me a strange combination of sadness, repulsion, loathing, anger and pity. I'd love to stop thinking about it. But it's a fact of life and we all need to deal with it.

This is just a warning - there are going to be more posts on Obamacare this week. There remains a lot to say, and a lot of people saying it well. And there's more news of the apres Barack le deluge type that I'll be sharing, because, while there may be someone somewhere whose ego doesn't derive great pleasure from being able to say, "see, I told you so," if you've been reading me for any length of time you know that that someone isn't me.


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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week begins...

ἔλαβον τὰ βαΐα τῶν φοινίκων καὶ ἐξῆλθον εἰς ὑπάντησιν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐκραύγαζον ὡσαννά· εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κύριου καὶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"

Happy Palm Sunday, everyone...


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Friday, March 26, 2010

Baseball Crank's AL East EWSL

The Baseball Crank has his AL East EWSL (Established Wins Shares Level) report up for the AL East, and, like mine, his numbers find the Red Sox to be a very strong team.
This Red Sox team doesn't look offensively strong enough to me to be a real 100-win team, but they and the Yankees are doubtless the strongest teams in the game by a healthy margin, in Boston's case due to their depth, pitching and defense. The rotation has some question marks, especially Matsuzaka and the durability of Lackey, but as with the rest of the roster there are fallbacks. Maybe the biggest vulnerable keystone is Mike Cameron, the oldest guy in the starting lineup and a key to improving Boston's outfield defense; a Drew-Ellsbury-Hermida outfield is not nearly as solid afield.
Click the link, read it all. The bottom line is that his numbers are saying about the same thing mine did. He's actually got Boston five games ahead of New York, though I don't think that's actually a prediction. As I quoted, he thinks the numbers are overestimating, a little bit, how strong they are, which sounds like he's got them in the high 90s, as do I.

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Those silly conservatives...

How foolish to think that the Obamacare takeover of the health care industry might possibly be considered to be unconstitutional!

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
- James Madison, Federalist #45
What did James Madison, who wrote it, know about the Constitution?

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Obamacare adding jobs!

Hey, I've made a big deal about Obamacare killing jobs, but in fairness, I should note that it's going to create some, as well.

In India.
Mumbai – With 22 pen strokes, President Obama signed into existence not just a historic healthcare reform law but also monumental piles of paperwork: New member registration forms. More claims. Ever-expanding databases. And on top of that, pressure to cut costs.

The bulge in administrative work may look like a nightmare to American insurance firms and government employees. But to outsourcing executives here in India, it’s heaven-sent. A number of Indian companies are already anticipating an increase in workload thanks to Obama's healthcare law.

The addition of 32 million insured Americans is “very significant” for Indian outsourcers, says Ananda Mukerji, chief executive officer of Firstsource Solutions in Mumbai. Companies like his will see “increased opportunities” as US health insurers and hospitals scramble to reorganize to comply with the new law, he wrote in an email to the Monitor.

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Quote of the day

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one.
--James Madison

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"Racist slur" used at Tea Party? Breitbart says, "Put up or shut up."

Andrew Breitbart, putting his money where his mouth is.
There is no reason in 21st century America on an issue that is not a black or white or a civil rights issue to have a bloc of black people walk slowly through a mostly white crowd to make a racial point. The walk in and of itself — with two of the participants holding their handheld cameras above their heads hoping to document “proof” — was an act of racism meant to create a contrast between the tea party crowd and themselves.


They have not come forth with evidence to show that even one person hurled the vile racist epithet. The video also shows no head movement one way or another. Wouldn’t the N-word provoke a head turn or two? Is it really possible that in 2010, in a crowd of 30 or 40 thousand people — at the center of a once-in-a-lifetime media circus — not one person’s flipphone, Blackberry, video recorder or a network feed caught a single incident? And if not, then at least someone could have found an honest tea partier to act as an eyewitness — or the Congressional Black Caucus would have confronted the culprit(s). If that had happened, there would be an investigation to see if the perpetrator was a left-wing plant.


It’s time for the allegedly pristine character of Rep. John Lewis to put up or shut up. Therefore, I am offering $10,000 of my own money to provide hard evidence that the N- word was hurled at him not 15 times, as his colleague reported, but just once. Surely one of those two cameras wielded by members of his entourage will prove his point.
Will he have to pay out that $10,000? I suspect not. Will any of the media outlets that ran with this particular slander retract it? Again, I suspect not...

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A discussion on civility

From the past 24 hours or so on Facebook.

FF: Tea Partiers - see quotes below from varous news sources. What's gives? This isn't "unfortunate". This is wrong and is being fed by republican and conservative rhetoric. The responsibility clearly lies there. Death Threats, vandalism, might I suggest attempted murder. This isn't civil disobedience, this is criminal activity.

"Tea partiers shouted the "n word" at Rep. Lewis. They yelled homophobic epithets at Rep. Frank. One [dem who voted for the health care overhaul] had a coffin left on his lawn. Another was told snipers would kill the children of lawmakers who voted yes. A gas line was cut at a home that tea partiers thought belonged to Rep. Perriello. "

"A conservative blogger posted the home address of Congressman Tom Perriello, urging tea partiers to "drop by."

LB: Any use of threatening tactics, and racist or homophobic slurs are completely outrageous and indefensible.

That said, I suggest that you do a little more research on at least a) the allegations of racial epithets aimed at Representative Lewis and b) the alleged "coffin on the lawn" at Rep. Carnahan's home. There's no evidence whatsoever in support of a (and a lot of video and audio is available) and allegations that a coffin were left on Rep. Carnahan's lawn are both incorrect factually, and dishonest characterizations of the prayer vigil that took place.

And while you've got your dudgeon on, this might be a good time for you to comment on the threatening phone calls that Jean Schmidt is getting, the gunshot at Eric Cantor's office, the SEIU beating of Kenneth Gladney, etc.

FF: I have no objection to calling all of these nut jobs repulsive both sides of the spectrum. But I'm hearing dismissals from the republican side.

LB: Where? Who's dismissing it? Yes, people are dismissing the things that didn't happen, but who's excusing or dismissing actual bad behavior? Don't drop this and go on your merry way - give us citations, please.

FF: Gun imagery was used in a posting on the Facebook page of Sarah Palin urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket two years ago. Palin's post featured a U.S. map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts.

McCain defended Palin, saying it was commonplace practice and "part of the lexicon" to refer to "targeted" congressional districts.

LB: Really? That's it?

Dude, that's pretty lame. Politicians of both parties "target" seats of the other party in elections. There aren't faces in the cross-hairs but congressional districts. It's a pretty big stretch to associate that with political violence and of course John McCain is dismissing it. Try to step back from it for just a moment and imagine that it was, instead of Sarah Palin, the Democratic Congressional Committee that had crosshairs or bullseyes on their target map. Do you honestly thing that there would be any coverage of it at all?

Now you have clearly indicated that there are "dismissals" of actual bad behavior, those things that you mentioned earlier, a couple of which may be true. I ask again, who's dismissing them?

I really don't have the time to do the research necessary for the big rant right now, but I'll give you the short version. The press in this country isn't objective - it's chosen sides. And covering individual stories and issues objectively is hard, but fitting things into storylines is easy. The storyline is, and has been for the last seventy years, that the Republican party is the captive of the right-wing, and that conservatism is a mental illness. Democrats just represent the mainstream.

So every time a whack-job kills an abortion doctor, the media indicts the whole pro-life movement, but when parents kill themselves and their kids because they're so concerned about global warming, that's an isolated incident. A Democratic congressman reports that a colleague reported hearing a racial slur in a huge crowd of people, and, "OMG, the Tea Partiers are all racists!" But you have people at anti-war parades carrying signs saying "we support the troops - when they shoot their officers" and there's no mention of it in the press at all, because it doesn't fit the storyline. Some of it, I think, isn't even intentional - it just never occurs to the reporters that comments from the left might be inappropriate, because they agree with the underlying sentiments or policy goals.

You want to exercise your dudgeon over the level of political discourse? There are plenty of reasons to do so. But selective, and selectively partisan, outrage isn't particularly interesting...

I want to make it quite clear, that the existence of this stuff:

does not, in any way, justify racial or homophobic slurs against congressmen, or violence or threats of violence. I'm unutterably opposed to political violence.

I'm also tired of it becoming an issue only when those on the right do it. I'd take the complaints of liberals a lot more seriously if there were a demonstrated consistency in their opposition to crude political discourse, not just using it as another partisan tool to bash conservatives.

Someone whose political ideology is represented on the air by Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher and John Stewart is in no position to cast aspersions of incivility at someone whose political ideology is represented on the air by Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. If environmentalists are not to blame for Ted Kaczynski, then pro-lifers are not to blame for Scott Roeder.

The Tea Parties have had millions of Americans peacefully assemble to petition their government, with, as near as I can tell, about ten "incidents," seven of which were instigated/caused/perpetrated by anti-Tea Partiers.

Again, if someone at one of these events is threatening or using inappropriate slurs, that's wrong, and I condemn, rather than condone, it. But what's predominantly happening right now is that the media is running a storyline to try to marginalize and destroy the entire "Tea Party" movement. That, and that alone, is why this is a story.

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Too late to do any good, media starts to cover the health care lies...

One of the points that the President and the Democratic Congressional leadership repeatedly used as a selling point was that this bill would not only not expand the budget deficit, it would shrink it. This was obviously a lie, as they put in many fantastic provisions designed specifically to get good CBO scores, provisions that a blind man could see wouldn't be accurate.

Now that it's safely passed and signed, of course, the mainstream press can begin to cover it. So things are going to trickle out like this AP story:
In the first two days after the law was signed, three major companies — Deere & Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Valero Energy — said they expect to take a total hit of $265 million to account for smaller tax deductions in the future.

With more than 3,500 companies now getting the tax break as an incentive to keep providing coverage, others are almost certain to announce similar cost increases in the weeks ahead as they sort out the impact of the change.

Figuring out what it will mean for retirees will take longer, but analysts said as many as 2 million could lose the prescription drug coverage provided by their former employers, leaving them to enroll in Medicare's program.
Well, duh. Change the laws and behavior changes. The CBO score was based, in part, on the nonsensical assumption that they could remove this corporate tax benefit and it would result in a net benefit to the Federal treasury. More tax revenue, no cost, what could possibly go wrong? Well, corporations, not being morons, respond to this government behavior by cutting the programs which have now become significantly more expensive, leaving those people to go directly into Medicare. So instead of being a net cash flow positive, closing the budget deficit, it's going to end up a net cash flow negative, increasing the budget deficit.

This didn't take a lot of foresight to see. But the bill wasn't ever designed to help the budget deficit problems, no matter how vociferously the President has lied said that that was the case. It was designed to allow them to lie pretend claim that it was designed to help the budget deficit problems.

Fasten your seat-belts, folks, because this is just getting started, and it's going to be a bumpy ride...


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Wordle puzzle - 03/26/10

18th century political document. Yeah, this is an easy one. I felt it was appropriate because, unlike some members of the political class, I still have affection and respect for it...

The answer to last week's puzzle Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

A topic on which I agree with Barack Obama

The individual mandate is a bad idea.

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et plus le deluge...

And hey, what about that bastion of evil, Caterpillar1?
Caterpillar Inc. said Wednesday it will take a $100 million2 charge to earnings this quarter to reflect taxes stemming from the newly enacted U.S. health-care legislation.

The world's largest construction equipment manufacturer by sales warned last week that provisions in the legislation would subject it to federal income taxes on the subsidies it receives for providing prescription drug benefits for its retirees and their spouses.

Since the Medicare Part D program was enacted in 2003, the Peoria, Ill., company and more than 3,500 others that already provided drug-benefit expenses to retirees have received tax-free subsidies as an incentive to maintain their drug programs.

The subsidies average $665 per person covered by a company-sponsored prescription program, according to benefits consultant Towers Watson.

About 40,000 Caterpillar retirees receive company-sponsored drug benefits, which are more generous than Medicare's drug plan, which requires recipients to pay some out-of-pocket expenses.

The charge is expected to be a one-time cost, but Caterpillar argues that higher taxes and other potential cost increases related to insurance mandates in the legislation will hinder the company's recovery this year after a 75% profit plunge in 2009.
Thank God - THANK GOD! - that we have Obamacare in place to provide health insurance for all of those workers that will be put out of work by ... Obamacare...

1 - Bob Tita. (2010, March 25). Caterpillar Income Hit By Health Bill Provision. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), p. B.1. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1992661551).

2 - What's Caterpillar going to do with $100 million anyway? Pay employees? Stockholders? Suppliers? Nah, much, much better that the Federal government take that money and use it to pay IRS agents and health-care bureaucrats...

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Plus le deluge...

Zoll Medical has had it too good for too long. It must be punished to increase equity in our society...
The bill passed by the House Sunday night contains a particularly damaging version of the $20 billion hit for the medical device industry, meaning Zoll and other medical device makers could well be headed for hard times.

"We believe that the tax will cost us somewhere between $5 million and $10 million a year," says Richard Packer, Zoll's chairman and chief executive officer. "Our profit in 2009 was $9.5 million."

That would be a devastating blow. Zoll employs about 1,800 people. Roughly 1,600 of them are in the United States, and about 650 of those are in Massachusetts. Once the new tax kicks in, that could all change. "We can't run this company at a break-even or a negative rate," says Packer, "so we will be forced to look at alternatives."
Thank God - THANK GOD! - that we have Obamacare in place to provide health insurance for all of those workers that will be put out of work by ... Obamacare...

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Apres Barack, le deluge...

Nothing runs like a Deere:
Deere & Company announced today that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law this week will adversely impact its expenses for fiscal 2010. As a result of the legislation, the company's expenses are expected to be about $150 million higher on an after-tax basis, primarily in the second quarter. This impact was not included in the 2010 outlook for net income attributable to Deere & Company of approximately $1.3 billion disclosed in the company's first-quarter earnings report on February 17th.
Thank God - THANK GOD! - that we have Obamacare in place to provide health insurance for all of those workers that will be put out of work by ... Obamacare...

(H/T: Jonah Goldberg)

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Daniel Foster has an excellent roundup of the "vote-a-rama" in the Senate last night, which included items like Tom Coburn's Bars Sex Offenders from Receiving E.D. Drugs amendment.
Now, our friends on the Left will say this is time-wasting gamesmanship, and they’re mostly right. The Democrats have displayed a level of discipline of late unseen in years. The Republican amendments stand absolutely no chance of stopping this forced march toward passage of the reconciliation measure.

But for every Coburn Amendment (no sex pills for pervs, bless the senator’s heart), designed as much to embarrass Democrats as address an issue, there are a half-dozen amendments aimed at striking down the most noxious parts of the bill and, perhaps more relevantly, asking Democrats to go on record to keep their promises.

The Burr amendment would guarantee that our soldiers’ and veterans’ health-plans are protected under Obamacare (it is an open question whether they in fact are). The Inhofe amendment would strike unfair and innovation-killing taxes on medical devices for children and the disabled. The Collins amendment would strike a job-killing tax on businesses that hire unemployed workers. The Hutchinson amendment would allow states to opt out of most of the bill’s odious provisions.


These are important amendments, and this process is a dress rehearsal for what repeal — if it comes — will likely end up looking like. Senator Cornyn took a beating (in my inbox at least) for telling the HuffPo that Republicans likely won’t (or can’t) repeal the bill tout court. And while I think the goal should be to do just that, the more realistic scenario is a step by step dismantling of the worst parts of the bill and a replacement of others (yes, like the preexisting conditions ban) with more free market- and taxpayer- friendly alternatives.

So while this wee hour vote-a-rama is as much a dog-and-pony show as anything else, pay attention. It is a debate we will have again in 2011 or 2013, and by then, the outcome could be much different.

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"Repeal, replace and reform..."

Karl Rove:
Republicans have a powerful rallying cry in "repeal, replace and reform." Few voters will want to keep onerous mandates that hit individuals and taxes that hobble economic growth. Rather than spending a trillion dollars on subsidies for insurance companies and Medicaid expansion, as ObamaCare does, Republicans should push for giving individuals the same health-insurance tax break businesses get, which would cost less.

Republicans must also continue to press for curbing junk lawsuits, enabling people to buy insurance across state lines, increasing the amount of money they can sock away tax free for medical expenses, and permitting small businesses to pool risk.

Opponents of ObamaCare have decisively won the battle for public opinion. As voters start to feel the pain of this new program, Republicans will be in a stronger position if they stay in the fight, make a principled case, and lay out a competing vision.

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What's next?

Good news for the GOP from CBS, of all places:
A CBS News poll released Wednesday finds that nearly two in three Americans want Republicans in Congress to continue to challenge parts of the health care reform bill...62 percent want Congressional Republicans to keep challenging the bill, while 33 percent say they should not do so. Nearly nine in ten Republicans and two in three independents want the GOP to keep challenging. Even 41 percent of Democrats support continued challenges.
Of course, the big issue isn't how people feel now - it's, "how are people going to feel in November?" I wish the election were today, but it isn't. And there's a lot of time for events to alter the landscape between now and then.

Frankly, the pitch cannot be kept this high for the entirety of the next eight months, and it would be a mistake to try. They need to keep fighting it without being hysterical every day. This is a time for grim resolve as opposed to harsh rhetoric. There's been a time for that (and Lord knows that I've indulged) but people will tune that out shortly, and it would be a mistake to try to continue it. There will be a time to ramp it back up after Labor Day, but for now, working the courts and continuing to make the case that it's a mistake are the things that need to be done.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perfect. Just perfect...

Hard to believe that anyone didn't support this flawless piece of legislation...
Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.

Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.


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What is seen and what is unseen...

I've referenced Bastiat before, the broken window fallacy of economics, and the law of unintended consequences. (Indeed, it sometimes seems as if I've mentioned nothing but.) In this outstanding piece, Ronald Bailey takes a look back at the US medical system from a 2020 vantage point.
The seen aspect of health care reform is that it has had some success in providing more Americans with access to vintage 2010 medical therapies. The unseen aspect is that more people are suffering from and dying of diseases that might well have been cured had the Obama version of health care reform never been enacted. As a result of health care reform, Americans forfeited 2020 medicine in favor of more equal access to 2010 treatments.
Read it all, because there's more and it's all important. Frankly, I think that he's being generous to this "reform," but the stifling effect on innovation is one of my big concerns.


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Pre-existing conditions, Cornyn and the health-care marketplace

A commenter on my Cornyn post raises an excellent point:
However, when I envision ideas for forcing insurance companies to accept pre-existing conditions, what I really see is two fold. One, pre-existing conditions for children (and there are many ways to handle this). The second, and the one I think hits more to your point, is for those individuals who have had insurance prior to their condition, and even were treated with help from their insurance during their condition, but then lost their job and, when attempting to apply for insurance at another company, they are denied.

This is a person who constantly paid into a fund to insure against these type of issues. However, since our system so closely ties health insurance to your job, it's possible that you can be a victim of the no 'pre-existing conditions' problem even though you're not one of the 'risk takers' who tried to go without insurance.

I think there's room for stipulations on coverages of people with pre-existing conditions (proving they maintained health insurance for a reasonable amount of time; loss of insurance due to situations other than just cancelling; etc..).
Obviously, someone who has paid for insurance all along, and is willing to continue paying, should be able to maintain coverage. If that requires regulation of insurance companies in our current system, I'm amenable to having that discussion. If that's ALL that Senator Cornyn's saying, well, that's not unreasonable, given our current circumstances. I do not get the impression that that's what people think when they hear about pre-existing issues coverage, though. Maybe I'm wrong.

That said, that's a problem that's a result of too much government interference in the marketplace, not too little, and the current legislation makes it worse, not better.

Philosophically, I don't believe that the government should be telling insurance companies what to do - the market should. And I believe that, in the absence of government caused market distortions, people would buy insurance and keep insurance and their employers and the government wouldn't be involved. Companies that dropped sick people wouldn't keep healthy ones, because people talk, information spreads and no one's going to pay for coverage that isn't there when you need it, and they'd go out of business. People wouldn't need to change insurance upon changing jobs. They'd go out into an insurance market that was competitive, choose a policy according to their situations, and pay the premiums themselves with no employer involvement, hence no portability issues.

But the government introduced market distortions when it imposed wage freezes and price controls in the 1940s, and employers added health insurance as a benefit in order to incentivize employees to whom they were forbidden by law to give raises. That has mushroomed into the current system where everyone gets health insurance from his employer rather than buying it himself.

And, of course, they had to keep sweetening the plans, introducing more market distortions. Stop and think about this for a moment - you go to the doctor and have an annual physical. Why on earth do you need or want an insurance provider involved in that transaction? Shouldn't that be an expense that you shoulder alone, at a price negotiated by you and your doctor? If you have a child with an ear infection, why is the cost of that antibiotic borne by the collective premiums rather than you? There's a massive disconnect between the consumers of health services and the payers for health services.
The problem of third party payment, or a disconnect between the end-user, the provider of services and the payor, is one that was best articulated by the economist Gordon Tullock. Tullock argued that there is little incentive in an insurance-based system for user of services (the employee) to question price or even inquire about it. Perhaps the late Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman said it best when he stated there is little incentive to question price when someone else is paying the bill.
If that's a problem (which it is) is it ameliorated or exacerbated by what Congress and the President did this week?

I think the answer's pretty clear...

Anyway, it's conceivable that Cornyn's comment wasn't quite as idiotic as it sounds, but again, only if applied to people who are actually paying for coverage when they get sick. Someone who is not covered who then attempts to get coverage upon getting sick, well, that isn't "insurance."

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Democrats vote taxpayer-funded viagra for rapists and pedophiles

This, at least, is amusing...
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl.) introduc[ed] an amendment beyond agreeable. Titled “No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs To Sex Offenders” it would literally prohibit convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders from getting erectile dysfunction medication from their health care providers.

While it will undoubtedly be difficult for Democrats to vote against the measure (one can conjure up the campaign ads already), the party plans to do just that.


Exit question: How long after they vote on the Viagra amendment before we see a YouTube ad asking, “Why does Harry Reid want to give rapists erections”? Over/under is two days.
Go Tom Coburn, go! And there must be dozens of amendments you can make them refuse - put 'em all up there and make 'em vote!

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Obama lied. What else is new?

Obama lied, the US economy and health system died...
Now it comes out that, even before the Senate bill was passed by the House, the Democrats were already telling one of the most prominent groups that they had coaxed into publicly supporting the legislation, the AMA, that they planned to repeal these "savings" — and to do so before the season turned from spring to summer.

There are words for people like this, and "cynical," "disingenuous," and "deceitful" are some of the nicer ones.
Of course, is it really a lie if no one believes it in the first place?


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Health care discussion

UPDATE2: Content added on 3/24 at 6:36 AM - scroll down
UPDATE: Content added on 3/22 at 9:34 AM - scroll down
Original Post added on 3/22 at ~8:00 AM

I've heard it said that a fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject. I may be a fanatic, at this point, with regards this so-called "health-care reform" bill, soon to be signed-into law despite its glaring constitutional deficiencies. There are likely to be several posts about this before the week is over, mostly saying the same things, or linking to other people saying the same things. If you are as sick of this whole topic as I am, this may irritate you. And there's certainly a possibility that I'm just going to stop, because rather than releasing frustration, every keystroke and article read are increasing it.

So consider yourself warned.

Some health care thoughts from discussions I've had elsewhere with Someone Else (SE)1. This may get longer as the day goes on...

LB: I would love to have someone explain a) where the United States Constitution empowers the federal government to require that individual citizens purchase health insurance, and b) how this legislation will cut the federal budget deficit.

SE: a) The same place where it says Congress may make laws???

LB: That's not good enough. The Congress has limited powers which are specifically enumerated in article 1, sections 7 & 8. If they've got the power to make you buy health insurance, it's in one of those. I don't see it - maybe you could point it out to me. One would assume that would also mean that they have the power to make you buy diapers or cat food or velvet Elvis paintings or dwarf pornography, if that were to strike their fancy. If not, if you really think that Congress doesn't have the power to make you buy products you don't want, how is health insurance any different? If you do believe that they've got that power, well, your property isn't your property anymore, is it? You'd best hope they decide to let you keep it, since you've decided that you've no right to it.

SE: b) reduce the overall costs of Medicare and Medicaid (Oh, my, government run socialized health care!!).

LB: What experience with government, at any level, has convinced you that it's capable of doing ANYTHING efficiently? What on earth makes you think that Medicare and Medicaid are going to get less expensive now that the government's going to put more people on them? What government agency have you ever seen run more efficiently, effectively and cheaply than a comparable private enterprise?

SE: I think I'd look at the issue from another angle. Defeat of health care reform in Congress is the only obstacle to its fruition. Can you realistically foresee a constitutional challenge to the legislation?

LB: Are you suggesting that this somehow does NOT get a constitutional challenge?

"Attorneys general in three states — Virginia, Florida and South Carolina — have indicated they will file legal challenges to the measure, on the grounds that it violates the Constitution by requiring individuals to purchase insurance."

NY Times

There's a large group of state attorney's general who had a conference call last night and are planning a multi-state lawsuit. "We plan to file the moment Obama signs the bill. I anticipate him signing it tomorrow. Check back for an update at that time. I will post a link to the lawsuit when it is filed. It will lay out why the bill is unconstitutional and tramples individual and states rights."

Now, what the courts will do with is anyone's guess, but it's absolutely going to the courts. That's not even a question.

Look, we're either governed by a Constitution which means something or we're not. The powers of Congress are enumerated in Article I, section 8. Keep in mind that the 10th amendment decrees that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Now go back to Article I, section 8, and tell me where the constitutional authority for forcing citizens to purchase any specific product is. (Hint: The reason it's hard to find is that IT ISN'T IN THERE!)

UPDATE: Bumped at 9:34 AM

SE: No suggestion of that at all. I'm simply looking at the likelyhood of success of the challenge as telling.

No doubt the challenge will have an excellent argument as you've intimated, however the view is clearly partisan and the speed and urgency of its timing smacks of political drama more than anything.

LB: Seriously, is the Constitution a partisan document? If the Federal Government has the power to force citizens to buy a product, from whence does that power spring? Cite me an article and section, quote some text.

Again, I don't know what the courts will do. They've allowed the federal government to do a great many things which are not sanctioned by the Constitution. That doesn't mean that they'll allow this, but who knows?

But if it's a partisan argument to be saying, "hey, the Constitution is supposed to limit the power of the federal government, and We The People have NOT granted them the power to take this step," then hell yes, I'm partisan. I know for damned sure which side of that argument I want to be on.

It isn't enough that someone thinks that it might be a good idea. It isn't enough that Nancy Pelosi has the best intentions in the world (a premise which I don't grant anyway, but for purposes of discussion...) It wasn't enough that Richard Nixon's men thought it was vital to the national interest that he be re-elected, or that he thought it was important to preserve the prerogatives of the executive branch. If the Constitution doesn't give them the right to do it, they can't do it, and you can't acquiesce even if you like the result. Because once you've ceded this ground, how do you argue against the next thing, the one that you DON'T like? How do you argue when they pass a law decreeing that all American citizens must purchase a gym membership and food from specified "healthy food" dealers, because after all, it's for their own good? Either there's a legitimate constitutional power being exercised here or there's not. If not (and I believe that there's not), they must not be allowed to do it. If there is, show me where in the document that it comes from.

UPDATE2 (4/24):
SE: Repeal it? Really? Wow. Huh. Unconstitutional? Really? Huh. Don't think I've ever seen so much kicking and screaming among supposed adults. Or so much sore loser-ness. 'But Daddy! sniffle...cry...I want the Big ice cream cone!! And I don't want anyone else to have ANY!

LB: The high deficit concern on the part of Republican voters has been there for years - disgusted conservatives are a big part of the reason that the Democrats won the Congress in 2006, at which point in time, the deficit explosion began. Before that, it was trending downward.

And if you believe that the Federal Government is constitutionally empowered to force a private individual to purchase some good or service from a private company, please show me, article and section, from whence that power derives. Because I don't see it. I think that the "individual mandate" is unconstitutional. Blatantly. I've yet to see a compelling argument that it's not.

And it's just plain wrong to be forcing people to buy things they don't want. Seriously, if the government can make you purchase health insurance, what can't they make you purchase? And why not? Where's the constitutional prohibition on making all citizens subscribe to pay pornography channels to keep the adult film business in the black? Yeah, they're probably not going to do that, but if they wanted to, is it your position that it would be constitutionally permissible? If it isn't, how is it that they can make a single man buy health insurance that includes (and charges for) pediatric, gynecological and maternity services?

We live, at least theoretically, in a constitutional Republic. Our representatives are supposed to be bound by the constitution. If you, as apparently they, don't give a damn what the constitution says, then be honest and say it. But don't whine and moan when those of us who do believe that the government should be bound by it express that.

As for repeal, that can't happen with Obama in the White House. But a majority of the American people, according to all of the polling data, did not want this bill and still don't. The bill's been 10+ points underwater in the polls for seven months now, and they still bribed congresspeople and twisted arms and forced it through. It's a constitutional abomination. It has special deals all over the place, including airports for Bart Stupak's district, every other state paying Nebraska's share of the Medicare costs in exchange for Ben Nelson's Christmas Eve vote, etc.

And that "don't want anyone else to have any" is a disgusting comment. The idea that this bill is going to make anything better for anyone is a fantasy. This is a delusional bill that allows the people who support it to climb into bed at night secure in their virtue, because they "care" about "the less fortunate," and ignore the fact that it's going to drive up costs, drive up premiums, put people out of work, put companies out of business, stop innovation and bring the country closer to the brink of bankruptcy. But hey, it's those EEEEVIL Republicans that don't care about anyone...

1 - Someone Else is two different people at first posting - again, that may change...

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An open letter to Senator John Cornyn

Dear Senator Cornyn,

You are an idiot.
In a brief chat with the Huffington Post on Tuesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) implicitly acknowledged that Republicans are content with allowing some elements of Obama's reform into law. And they'd generally ignore those elements when taking the fight to their Democrat opponents as November approaches.

"There is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things," the Texas Republican said. "Now we are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction."
Assuming that you said what you have been quoted as saying, you're an idiot.

Do you not understand that forcing companies into covering pre-existing conditions takes them out of the "insurance" business entirely? Do you not understand what "insurance" actually means? Do you not understand that "insurance" only works if you pool resources, covering the people who get sick with the premiums of those that don't? Senator Cornyn, how long would an auto insurance company stay in business if they had to cover pre-existing conditions? "Here's my check, thanks for the policy, by the way, my car was totalled last week and I need you to replace it..." Who would pay for life insurance if they could sign a form, certify a check, and have their loved ones walk it down to the "life insurance" company after they died?

Forcing companies to cover pre-existing conditions without forcing people to buy insurance just guarantees that the only people buying "insurance" policies are SICK PEOPLE! And what the hell is the point of laundering their money through "insurance" companies instead of just giving it to doctors?

The point is, the mandate to cover pre-existing conditions is ONLY feasible in the context of a system with an individual mandate. Otherwise, there's no incentive whatsoever for healthy people to buy "insurance." You can't invalidate the individual mandate and leave the rest in place. The system that the Democrats rammed through this week is doomed to collapse, but the pre-existing condition mandate for companies with no individual mandate for consumers would pre-collapse. It cannot possibly work. You might as well require hospitals to power their lights using perpetual-motion machines. It's a fantasy of which one second's thought should disabuse the meanest intellect.

And so, to suggest that you aren't going to touch the "pre-existing conditions" requirement for "insurance" companies is essentially to say that you're going to leave the whole plan alone.

Thanks for nothing.

(Not very) Respectfully (at the moment) yours,

Lyford Beverage

UPDATE: The American Spectator website has a walk-back, of sorts, from the NRSC, quoting Cornyn as saying
“Some media outlets have misrepresented my position on repealing and replacing the President’s $2.6 trillion health care bill. Make no mistake about it: I fully support repealing this Washington takeover of health care and replacing it with a bipartisan bill that lowers the cost of health care.
I'm glad to read that from him, but, assuming that he actually said the words "there is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things..." then everything I wrote stands. It is what it is.

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Obama adminstrator manipulates system, favors political allies

Obama Education Secretary"manipulated system," "favored political allies":
Chicago Breaking News reported late last night that former Chicago schools chief and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan manipulated a system to favor powerful political allies by placing their children in the schools of their choice. The discovery of a list, the existence of which had been long denied by the city, and its composition of mainly high-powered political figures calls into question the appeals system used to reconsider applications that had been denied by the top Chicago-area schools:
While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.
No need to worry though - there couldn't possibly be favoritism and manipulation of resources when the government runs health care...

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"How long can the President wait before he comes clean with the American people?"

Greg Mankiw:
I could not help but fear that the legislation will add to the fiscal burden we are leaving to future generations. Some economists (such as my Harvard colleague David Cutler) think there are great cost savings in the bill. I hope he is right, but I am skeptical. Some people say the Congressional Budget Office gave the legislation a clean bill of health regarding its fiscal impact. I believe that is completely wrong, for several reasons (click here, here, and here). My judgment is that this health bill adds significantly to our long-term fiscal problems.

The Obama administration's...spending programs require much higher taxes than we have now and, indeed, much higher taxes than they have had the temerity to propose. Here is the question I have been wondering about: How long can the President wait before he comes clean with the American people and explains how high taxes needs to rise to pay for his vision of government?
His criticism of the bill is more ... restrained than mine, but the whole piece is worth reading...

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Ugly - an understatement

Michael Graham:
In the past 48 hours I’ve heard from readers and listeners who are so upset that they can barely speak. They gasp. Or even cry. That’s how horrified they are by what Obama called “an ugly process.”

Ugly? Pal, calling this mess “ugly” is like saying Tiger Woods has marital problems.

I have never seen a political moment as brutally repugnant as the week leading up to the vote. It began with the abandonment of reason. Obama and his allies made statements that were so clearly and demonstrably false that if he weren’t the president I’d call him a liar. Let’s just say he went full-on Clinton for Obamacare.
Process matters. As I said before,
It should come as a surprise to no one that a process that couldn't possibly produce a piece of legislation worth supporting has produced a piece of legislation that isn't worth supporting.
I seem to remember a big outcry from the press during the early 70s about the problem with the Nixon administration letting "the end justify the means." I'm not hearing so much about that right now...


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Is the individual mandate constitutional?

Unlike me, Ilya Somin ia a real lawyer (in fact, I believe he's a professor of Constitutional Law). Like me, he believes that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
In my view, the individual mandate is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress’ powers under both the Commerce Clause and the Tax and Spending Clauses. I believe that courts should strike it down regardless of the political situation.
Frankly, I don't understand how you could possibly make the case that Congress has the power to impose the individual mandate, or much of the rest of what's in this abomination. But I'm not a lawyer...


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"20 ways Obamacare will take away our freedoms..."

20 Ways ObamaCare Will Take Away Our Freedoms
Of course, the overhaul is supposed to provide us with security. But it will result in skyrocketing insurance costs and physicians leaving the field in droves, making it harder to afford and find medical care. We may be about to live Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”


4. Think you’d like a policy that is cheaper because it doesn’t cover preventive care or requires cost-sharing for such care? Tough. Health insurers will no longer be able to offer policies that do not cover preventive services or offer them with cost-sharing, even if that’s what the customer wants. (Section 2712).


6. You must buy a policy that covers ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services; chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

You’re a single guy without children? Tough, your policy must cover pediatric services. You’re a woman who can’t have children? Tough, your policy must cover maternity services. You’re a teetotaler? Tough, your policy must cover substance abuse treatment. (Add your own violation of personal freedom here.) (Section 1302).


16. The government will extract a fee of $2 billion annually from medical device makers. If you are a medical device maker what you will pay depends on your share of medical device sales in the U.S. So, if you sell 10% of the medical devices in the U.S., what you pay will be 10% multiplied by $2 billion, or $200,000,000. Think you, as a medical device maker, know how to better use that money, say for R&D? Tough. (Section 9009 (b)).

The reconciliation package turns that into a 2.9% excise tax for medical device makers. Think you, as a medical device maker, know how to better use that money, say for research and development? Tough. (Section 1405).
Obviously, there's much, much more. None of it's good.

Anybody think that technological improvements in medical care will continue apace? Yeah, me neither. That's actually one of my biggest fears with this bill, the way that it's going to punish innovation. What's the point of spending years developing something if the government makes it impossible for you to profit from your efforts?

There's simply nothing good in this bill. Nothing at all.


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ObamaCare's immediate impact

Brad Warbiany is looking at ObamaCare’s Immediate Impact. His conclusion?
So there you have it, folks. Of 18 highlighted points, most or all of them will increase payments made by government or increase health insurance premiums. This is “bending the cost curve”.
From the point of view of those on the left, despite their protestations of concern over people's costs, this is not a bug, it's a feature.

What does Barack Obama really want? What do Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank and Russ Feingold and John Dingell and Sheila Jackson Lee really want? They want a single-payer system. They want all medical care provided by the federal government. They don't want insurance companies between people and their doctors - they want government bureaucrats between people and their doctors.

So they impose all of these conditions and regulations which will drive up premiums, and people are going to be very upset. At which point in time we get the, "the fixes didn't go far enough, we really need to add a public option to give people a place to go other than the greedy insurance companies." This bill is step one. It's the camel's nose under the tent. It fixes nothing, but puts in place the precedence and regulatory framework necessary for the next step.

(H/T: Instapundit)


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Going down with the ship...

Michael Ramirez is going, yet again, to offend some people. But not me:

The ship's definitely going down if the damage can't be reversed. Whether he goes down with it remains to be seen...


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Monday, March 22, 2010

Plausible analysis, or wishful thinking?

Ira Stoll is far, FAR more optimistic about this health care debacle than I am.
Republicans despondent because they think the bill is a government takeover that is about to ruin the American health care system may want to cheer up. First, if the bill is half as terrible as the Republicans say it is, Americans are going to be so upset about it that they blame the Democrats. That will redound politically to the benefit of the Republicans, and it may even make a repeal of the bill possible. Second, even without passage of this bill, health care costs were growing to the point where they were putting pressure on family and government budgets, and it was about to get worse because of the aging of the Baby Boom generation into Medicare. Now the Republicans have a plausible way of blaming the Democrats for all these problems, which were going to happen anyway under the course set by a Republican administration.
I hope he's right, but that strikes me as another example of analysis by wishful thinking...


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Quite an accomplishment...

Peter Suderman:
In the end, then, we're left with a highly expensive, fiscally dangerous expansion of health insurance that locks even more people into a broken system. That's an achievement, all right, but not a particularly good one.


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"That campaign begins today..."

Mitt Romney:
America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation — rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends. He promised better; we deserved better.

He calls his accomplishment “historic” — in this he is correct, although not for the reason he intends. Rather, it is an historic usurpation of the legislative process — he unleashed the nuclear option, enlisted not a single Republican vote in either chamber, bribed reluctant members of his own party, paid-off his union backers, scapegoated insurers, and justified his act with patently fraudulent accounting. What Barack Obama has ushered into the American political landscape is not good for our country; in the words of an ancient maxim, “what starts twisted, ends twisted.”

His health-care bill is unhealthy for America. It raises taxes, slashes the more private side of Medicare, installs price controls, and puts a new federal bureaucracy in charge of health care. It will create a new entitlement even as the ones we already have are bankrupt. For these reasons and more, the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today.
Go for it. (And hey, if we could get rid of RomneyCare here in Massachusetts, that would be great, too...)

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"It’s NOT a Health Bill, NOT a Medicare Tax and It Can’t Possibly Cost Only $940 Billion..."

Alan Reynolds at the CATO Institute:
* The “reconciliation bill” is not a “health bill” but an anti-health bill. It relies heavily on price controls, taxes and fines to punish doctors, hospitals and formerly innovative companies the produce prescription drugs and medical devices. If we treated farmers, food companies and grocery stores the way Congress threatens to treat the health industries would anybody expect food to become better or cheaper?
* The 3.8% tax on both labor and investment income is not a “Medicare tax.” It’s surtax on income that goes into the slush fund, not the Medicare trust.
* The bill could not possibly cost “only” $940 billion unless it contained a sunset provision — repealing the law after 2019.

In fact, new spending is negligible for four years. At that point the government would start luring sixteen million more people into Medicaid’s leaky gravy train, and start handing out subsidies to families earning up to $88,000. Spending then jumps from $54 billion in 2014 to $216 billion in 2019. That’s just the beginning....
If you aren't angry enough yet, read it all.


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"Fantasy in, fantasy out..."

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, on the Democrats ludicrous claims that Obamacare will cut the deficit:
In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would
raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.
Fantasy in, fantasy out. I remain incredulous at how many people seem to be thrilled that they've been lied to by the President and the Congressional Leadership. There is no level on which this legislation is not a disaster in progress, a slow-motion train wreck.

And how did this piece ever get published in the New York Times?

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Blowing my own horn. Again...

In the run-up to the 2006 mid-term election, there were several instances of Republicans and/or conservatives criticizing the Republican majority in Congress, and going so far as to urge a vote against them, so as to "chasten them," the idea being that they'd repent their sins and take back the House in 2008 and operate in a more conservative fashion.

I disagreed.
The "throw the bums out" idea is an idea with significant appeal. But I think that the "teach the Republicans a lesson now and everything will be better when they come back in 2008" is wishful thinking at its most wishful. If I were absolutely convinced that a Democratic takeover in 2006 would inevitably lead to a stronger, chastened and more conservative Republican majority in 2008, I might agree with the "throw the bums out" sentiment. I'm nowhere near that sanguine.


I see no particular reason to expect a Democratic takeover, if it occurs, to be a transitory, 2-year event. If the people haven't seen enough from Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean and the party they lead to recognize their fundamental unseriousness yet, what is the wellspring of the belief that they'll recognize it two years from now?

I'm a voter whose top three concerns at the Federal level are 1) National Defense, 2) Taxes and 3) Judges. There's not one of those concerns that would be better served by a Democratic Congress than a Republican one.
I wonder how those "throw the bums out" 2006 voters feel this morning? I hope that they look at the headlines and, instead of asking how we got here, look in the mirrors.

Look, there were a lot of problems with the Republican Congress from 2000-2006. They fell far, FAR short of what we'd like to see from them. But there isn't a single, solitary aspect of government that has not been worsened by the change. I'm going to link this a dozen times between now and November. I was right.

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What is, and what should be

Boston Globe:
Historic YEA on Health

New York Times
Congress Sends White House Landmark Health Overhaul

Washington Post
House passes health-care reform bill without Republican votes

This is a little less snappy, but more accurate:
Democrats overcome bipartisan opposition, ram through Constitutional abomination

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A permanent campaign issue

The quote of the day (so far) comes from the excellent Wall Street Journal editorial:
This week's votes don't end our health-care debates. By making medical care a subsidiary of Washington, they guarantee such debates will never end.
If anyone doubts that, consider abortion. Roe v. Wade didn't end the national debate, it began it, by taking the responsibility away from the states and citizens. With the passage of this legislation, if it stands, every flu, ear infection, sprained ankle, broken arm, pregnancy or cancer diagnosis becomes an occasion for federal action.

There's more good stuff in there.
We also can't mark this day without noting that it couldn't have happened without the complicity of America's biggest health-care lobbies, including Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Business Roundtable and such individual companies as Wal-Mart. They hope to get more customers, or to reduce their own costs, but in the end they have merely made themselves more vulnerable to the gilded clutches of the political class.

While the passage of ObamaCare marks a liberal triumph, its impact will play out over many years. We fought this bill so vigorously because we have studied government health care in other countries, and the results include much higher taxes, slower economic growth and worse medical care. As for the politics, the first verdict arrives in November.
Read it all.

Or, for the sake of your mental health, just walk away...


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"You write the headline..."

From the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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Wow, did Stupak sell his "principles" on the cheap!

OK, this made me laugh...
A STUPAK PAYOFF? “U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) announced three airports in northern Michigan have received grants totaling $726,409 for airport maintenance and improvements. The funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration.” Probably just a coincidence.
Calling Tom Coburn - let's get working on those appropriation bills...

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

This used to be a free country...

A cheerful assessment from Mark Steyn:
governmentalized health care not only changes the relationship of the citizen to the state but the very character of the people. As I wrote in NR recently, there's plenty of evidence to support that from Britain, Canada and elsewhere.

More prosaically, it's also unaffordable. That's why one of the first things that middle-rank powers abandon once they go down this road is a global military capability. If you take the view that the US is an imperialist aggressor, congratulations: You can cease worrying. But, if you think that America has been the ultimate guarantor of the post-war global order, it's less cheery. Five years from now, just as in Canada and Europe two generations ago, we'll be getting used to announcements of defense cuts to prop up the unsustainable costs of big government at home. And, as the superpower retrenches, America's enemies will be quick to scent opportunity.

Longer wait times, fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt, the end of the Pax Americana, and global Armageddon. Must try to look on the bright side...
It's tough to overstate the magnitude of what Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have wrought this afternoon. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern said, "here must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no." We passed that moment, apparently, in November of 2008, because the American people have been saying "NO" furiously, at the top of their lungs for at least the last nine months and here we are anyway. Too many people went to the polls and "sinned in haste," having now to "repent at leisure."
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract

- T.S. Eliot
I wonder if Michelle Obama is proud to be an American tonight? Other than the abandonment of millions of Vietnamese to the communist north, I cannot think of a more disgraceful act by the United States Congress in my lifetime.

The United States of America may or may not outlive this mistake, but I don't expect that I will...

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Bart Stupak...

...has caved. He's accepted the worthless word of Barack Obama that he'll issue a worthless executive order and the plain language of the "health care" reform bill which everyone on both sides admits allows federal funding to be used for abortions will somehow not be used to allow federal funding to be used for abortions.

Bart Stupak needs a title, something that represents his true contribution to this effort. So I propose that he hereafter be known as "Bart Stupak - the father of government-funded abortions."

Bart "Confiscator of Tax Dollars For Abortions" Stupak

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"Praise To You, Lord"

This morning's anthem, "Praise To You, Oh Jesus Christ," by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).

The Park Street Church Sanctuary Choir, C. Thomas Brooks directing
Organist - Roy Brunner

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stupak "finished with Pelosi..."

Robert Costa:
Two pro-life GOP members close to Stupak tell NRO that any Stupak deals are off. They just spoke with him and they said he's finished with Pelosi. They rejected his enrollment corrections proposal.
This is momentous news, either great or terrible.

It's great, because if she had the votes, Pelosi wouldn't be working Stupak at all.

It's terrible if she got the votes without him so didn't need to work him any further.

We won't know which it is yet for a while. What we do know is that, unfortunately, she only needs to get to 216 once, and the rest of it will pay for it for a long, long time once she does...

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Idle thought

It is easy to mock that which we understand well. It is also easy to mock that which we do not understand. Many times people who believe they are doing the former are actually engaged in the latter.

And a quote, on a similar theme...
Only a clever human can make a real joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.
- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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People change, humanity doesn't

I started writing, saying things that I wanted to say about our government and our society, but I ran across a quote that interested me, and tracking it to the source material, I found that someone had already written what I wanted to write. I was beaten to the punch, but here are some of the things that happen to a prosperous society:
To those who had easily endured toils, dangers, and doubtful and difficult circumstances, ease and wealth, the objects of desire to others, became a burden and a trouble. At first the love of money, and then that of power, began to prevail, and these became, as it were, the sources of every evil. For avarice subverted honesty, integrity, and other honorable principles, and, in their stead, inculcated pride, inhumanity, contempt of religion, and general venality. Ambition prompted many to become deceitful; to keep one thing concealed in the breast, and another ready on the tongue; to estimate friendships and enmities, not by their worth, but according to interest; and to carry rather a specious countenance than an honest heart. These vices at first advanced but slowly, and were sometimes restrained by correction; but afterwards, when their infection had spread like a pestilence, the state was entirely changed, and the government, from being the most equitable and praiseworthy, became rapacious and insupportable.


From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, and pride prevailed among the youth; they grew at once rapacious and prodigal; they undervalued what was their own, and coveted what was another’s; they set at naught modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint.
Of course, Gaius Sallustius Crispus was writing about 1st century AD Rome, and Augustine was quoting him in The City of God, but I don't see anything there that isn't relevant to early 21st century America.

If I might descend, briefly, into "partisanship," passages like this are among the things that are relevant to a discussion of "conservatives" and "liberals" (as those terms are currently in use). I've written, many times, of the dangers of utopianism as a governing philosophy. How far have we come in the last 2000 years? Technologically, we've advanced tremendously, but people are still people, with all of the inherent flaws that the Romans had. Lord Acton wrote that "power corrupts" over 100 years ago, Sallust wrote about the corruption of power 1800 years before that, David slept with Bathsheba and had Uriah the Hittite killed 1000 years before that, and the Lord rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah 1000 years before that.

The names change; the lessons remain the same. Human beings are inherently flawed. You cannot build a perfect entity from flawed parts.

The idea that the human condition is perfect-able is lovely but it's fantastic, not realistic, and any program or policy instituted with that idea as an underlying assumption or premise is doomed before it starts. And anyone who believes that he can order society so as to render it perfect has to, in the end, become a tyrant, because a free people will always have the freedom to make bad choices.

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