Friday, March 25, 2011

Japan can do it

They're an example to us all -- and show what could be done everywhere

The picture of gaping chasms in a Japanese highway demonstrated the power of the March 11 earthquake. Now the astonishing speed of reconstruction is being used to highlight the nation’s ability to get back on its feet.

Work began on March 17 and six days later the cratered section of the Great Kanto Highway in Naka was as good as new. It was ready to re-open to traffic last night.

Many workers returned to their jobs the day after the quake and subsequent tsunami and some businesses in the worst-hit regions have already reopened.

The Japanese recovery has prompted some investors, including American Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, to declare that the disaster which has left 23,000 dead or missing represents a ‘buying opportunity’ in the money markets.



The great budget battle


A "quagmire" in Libya?

Democrats were shouting from the rafters about a "quagmire" (getting bogged down) when George Bush sent troops into Iraq but it seems that Obama may have got the USA into a real quagmire in Libya -- with very confused policy objectives being the cause

Let's imagine that all goes well in Libya. The rebels, protected by air strikes, recapture lost territory and sweep into Tripoli. Moammar Gadhafi and his sons one way or the other disappear.

Leaders propose a democratic and secular constitution that voters overwhelmingly approve. The first act of the duly elected government is to issue a proclamation of thanks and friendship to the United States, Britain, France and others who prevented Gadhafi's mass slaughter.

Well, we can all dream, can't we? But in the cold light of day, none of these happy eventualities seems very likely. As one who hopes for success in this enterprise, I am dismayed by the contradictions in the course we are following.

Some three weeks ago, Barack Obama said Gadhafi "must go." But the United Nations Security Council resolution under which we are acting stops well short of this goal.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen confirmed that Gadhafi may remain in power indefinitely. National Security Council staffer Ben Rhodes said, "It's not about regime change."

If not, then the purported purpose of the operation, to "protect civilians," could be of unlimited duration. Libya might well be divided between a Gadhafi regime in the west around Tripoli and a rebel regime in the east around Benghazi.

Maintaining the existence of the latter will likely require military force. Obama has conceded that the United States is currently in command of operations, but says that command will be handed off to others in "days, not weeks."

But news reports make it clear that the overwhelming majority of military forces in action are American. Putting a British or French officer in command will not change that. And putting U.S. forces under foreign command might weaken support for the enterprise here at home.

Obama's policy is reminiscent of the old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. The policy satisfies advocates of humanitarian intervention, like the National Security Council's Samantha Power, who remember Bill Clinton's regret that he didn't intervene to stop the slaughter in Rwanda.

Unfortunately, in order to satisfy those who oppose anything smacking of unilateralism, it took time to get the U.N. Security Council to act, so that we missed the moment when it seemed possible that recognition of a rebel government or imposition of a no-fly zone would topple Gadhafi.

That delay gave him time to launch a counterattack that made him strong enough to withstand the limited military action that could get multilateral approval.

By accepting limits on U.S. involvement, Obama aims to satisfy skeptics of military action, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who publicly pointed out the difficulties of maintaining a no-fly zone. We have seen this before, when Obama announced his surge in Afghanistan together with a deadline for the beginning of troop withdrawals.

The result in Libya is a policy whose means seem unlikely to produce the desired ends.

In the process, this Democratic president has jettisoned some of the basic tenets of his party's foreign policy.

"It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action," candidate Obama said in December 2007. But Congress was not informed or, it seems, consulted in any serious way about this decision to take military action in Libya.

Instead, members of Congress, like the general public, heard the president make the announcement in Rio de Janeiro. That's quite a contrast with George W. Bush, who sought and obtained congressional approval of military action in Afghanistan in September 2001 and Iraq in October 2002.

Since then, many Democrats have denounced Bush's "rush to war" in Iraq. But military action there began a full five months after Congress approved. Obama didn't wait five days after the Security Council resolution.

Bush argued that intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was in the national interest. Obama, who has made the same argument about Afghanistan, doesn't seem to be making it about Libya. For some supporters of his policy, the absence of any great national interest makes it all the more attractive.

It's not likely to remain attractive to American voters if it fails to result in the overthrow of Gadhafi and leads to an open-ended military commitment in a nation where our vital interests are not at stake.

But a better outcome is at least possible. After all, history shows that dreams sometimes do come true.



Doctors Give the Practice of Medicine under Obamacare a Grim Prognosis

On Monday, The Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of current and future physicians to discuss the impact of Obamacare on their profession. Their remarks highlighted the importance of the doctor-patient relationship as the heart of the practice of medicine and detailed direct threats as a result of the new health law.

Representative Michael Burgess, M.D., (R-TX) explained that part of being a physician is fighting for the best interests of each individual patient. Under Obamacare, this will be harder to do, as government inserts itself further into the provision of care. One example is the creation of accountable care organizations (ACOs) in Medicare. Representative Burgess pointed out that under ACOs, doctors would not be held accountable to patients, but rather to the hospital or health plan in charge. Based on his experience as an OB/GYN, Representative Burgess argued that it will be more difficult for doctors to stand up for patients’ needs to insurers or the government if they work directly for the latter.

Dr. Martha Boone, a urologist from Atlanta, further argued that currently, if an insurer denies coverage for a certain treatment, she can call the medical director (a fellow physician) and explain her rationale. In the case of coverage provided by the government, such as Medicare and Medicaid, that’s not an option—the answer is always no. Greater government influence in medical decision-making will come at the expense of patients’ own desires.

Physicians’ concerns go beyond the expansion of bureaucratic power into patient care. Jeet Guram, a first-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, pointed to the new law’s expansion of Medicaid, a flawed program, to cover an additional 18 million Americans. Since Medicaid pays physicians significantly lower rates than private insurance or Medicare, it is difficult for doctors to accept Medicaid patients without risking insolvency. As more Americans enter the system, barriers to access for Medicaid beneficiaries will become even more pronounced.

Of further concern to Guram is Obamacare’s “misalignment of priorities” when it comes to medical innovation. The new law increases government control over cost and utilization of services, which could distort demand. Further discouraging innovators are the law’s new taxes on pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. As Representative Burgess said, investors “don’t hazard big things for small rewards.” Medicine is on the cusp of exciting new territory, but discouraging future innovation could change that.

The sentiments expressed by the panel echo those of the medical profession at large. According to a recent survey sponsored by Pfizer, 59 percent of physicians cited the interference of non-medical entities in medical decisions as a negative development in the health care system. And 50 percent held an unfavorable view of Obamacare, compared to 24 percent who saw it as favorable.

Threats to the doctor-patient relationship existed before the passage of Obamacare. However, rather than empowering doctors and patients, the new law will result in further erosion as a result of government intrusion in health care.



An Obamacare waiver for the whole of NYC?

We read:
Rep. Anthony Weiner said Wednesday he was looking into how a health law waiver might work for New York City.

Weiner, who is likely to run for mayor of New York, said that because of the city’s special health care infrastructure, his office was looking into alternatives that might make more sense. Weiner is one of the health care law’s biggest supporters; during the debate leading up to reform, he was one of the last holdouts in Congress for the public option.

“The president said, ‘If you have better ideas that can accomplish the same thing, go for it,’” said Weiner. “I’m in the process now of trying to see if we can take [President Barack Obama] up on it in the city of New York, … and I’m taking a look at all of the money we spend in Medicaid and Medicare and maybe New York City can come up with a better plan.”

New York is one of two states that pass on Medicaid expenses to cities and localities, so “the city winds up having an enormous Medicaid expense,” Weiner said.

Weiner can spin this as a testament to how "flexible" the law is until he's blue in the face (don't fall for that ruse), but in truth, this amounts to an astounding admission of failure. This is an ardent supporter of The Greatest Federal Law Ever publicly conceding that it doesn't make sense for the nation's largest city -- and scrounging for workable alternatives. Wow.



An economic fallacy that will not die

Economic lunacy abounds, and often the most learned, including Nobel Laureates, are its primary victims. The most recent example of economic lunacy is found in a Huffington Post article titled "The Silver Lining of Japan's Quake" written by Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspectives Quarterly, who has also written articles for The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post.

Mr. Gardels says, "No one -- least of all someone like myself who has experienced the existential terror of California's regular tremors and knows the big one is coming here next -- would minimize the grief, suffering and disruption caused by Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami. But if one can look past the devastation, there is a silver lining. The need to rebuild a large swath of Japan will create huge opportunities for domestic economic growth, particularly in energy-efficient technologies, while also stimulating global demand and hastening the integration of East Asia. ... By taking Japan's mature economy down a notch, Mother Nature has accomplished what fiscal policy and the central bank could not."

Gardels is not alone in seeing silver linings in disasters. Harvard University's Professor Larry Summers, former Obama economic adviser and Treasury secretary, said the disaster "may lead to some temporary increments, ironically, to GDP as a process of rebuilding takes place. In the wake of the earlier Kobe earthquake, Japan actually gained some economic strength."

It's not just disasters in Japan. After Florida's devastating 2004 hurricane, newspapers carried headlines such as "Storms create lucrative times." and "Economic growth from hurricanes could outweigh costs." Economist Steve Cochrane added, "It's a perverse thing ... there's real pain, but from an economic point of view, it is a plus."

Why might Japan's and Florida's devastation be seen as "pluses"? French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) explained it in his pamphlet "What is Seen and What is Not Seen," saying, "There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen."

Bastiat elaborated further in his "Broken Window Fallacy" parable where a vandal smashes a shopkeeper's window. A crowd forms, sympathizing with the shopkeeper. Soon, someone in the crowd suggests that instead of a tragedy, there might be a silver lining. Instead of the boy being a vandal, he was a public benefactor, creating economic benefits for everyone in town. Fixing the broken window creates employment for the glazier, who will then buy bread and benefit the baker, who will then buy shoes and benefit the cobbler and so forth.

Bastiat says that's what's seen. What is not seen is what the shopkeeper would have done with the money had his window not been smashed. He might have purchased a suit from the tailor. Therefore, an act that created a job for the glazier destroyed a job for the tailor. On top of that, had the property destruction not occurred, the shopkeeper would have had a suit and a window. Now he has just a window and as a result, he is poorer.

After the 2001 terrorist attack, economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column "After the Horror," "Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack -- like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression -- could do some economic good." He explained that rebuilding the destruction would stimulate the economy through business investment and job creation.

Do a simple smell test on these examples of economic lunacy. Would the Japanese economy face even greater opportunities for economic growth had the earthquake and tsunami also struck Tokyo, Hiroshima, Yokohama and other major cities? Would the 9-11 terrorists have done us an even bigger economic favor had they destroyed buildings in other cities? The belief that society benefits from destruction is lunacy.



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: