EU on brink of a new dark age
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) always writes with a lightness of touch but he is a genuine classicist and it seems to me that his dark vision of the EU below could be largely true of the USA as well
It is one of the tragic delusions of the human race that we believe in the inevitability of progress. We look around us, and we seem to see a glorious affirmation that our ruthless species of homo is getting ever more sapiens.
It is one of the tragic delusions of the human race that we believe in the inevitability of progress. We look around us, and we seem to see a glorious affirmation that our ruthless species of homo is getting ever more sapiens. We see ice cream Snickers bars and in vitro babies and beautiful electronic pads on which you can paint with your fingertip and - by heaven - suitcases with wheels! Think of it: we managed to put a man on the moon about 35 years before we came up with wheelie-suitcases; and yet here they are. They have completely displaced the old type of suitcase.
Aren't they grand? Life seems impossible without them, and soon they will no doubt be joined by so many other improvements - acne cures, electric cars, electric suitcases - that we will be strengthened in our superstition that history is a one-way ratchet, an endless click click click forwards to a nirvana of liberal democratic free-market brotherhood of man.
Isn't that what history teaches us, that humanity is engaged in a remorseless ascent?
On the contrary: history teaches us that the tide can suddenly and inexplicably go out, and that things can lurch backwards into darkness and squalor and appalling violence. The Romans gave us roads and aqueducts and glass and sanitation and all the other benefits famously listed by Monty Python; indeed, they were probably on the verge of discovering the wheely-suitcase when they went into decline and fall in the fifth century AD.
Whichever way you look at it, this was a catastrophe for the human race. People in Britain could no longer read or write. Life expectancy plummeted to about 32, and the population fell. The very cattle shrunk at the withers. The secret of the hypocaust was forgotten, and chilblain-ridden swineherds built sluttish huts in the ruins of the villas, driving their post-holes through the mosaics.
In the once bustling Roman city of London (for instance) we find no trace of human habitation save for a mysterious black earth that may be a relic of a fire or some primitive system of agriculture. It took hundreds of years before the population was restored to Roman levels.
If we think that no such disaster could happen again, we are not just arrogant but forgetful of the lessons of the very recent past. Never mind the empty temples of the Aztecs or the Incas or the reproachful beehive structures of the lost civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. Look at our own era: the fate of European Jewry, massacred in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents, on the deranged orders of an elected government in what had been one of the most civilised countries on earth; or look at the skyline of modern German cities, and mourn those medieval buildings blown to smithereens in an uncontrollable cycle of revenge.
Yes, when things go backwards, they can go backwards fast. Technology, liberty, democracy, comfort - they can all go out of the window. However complacent we may be, in the words of the poet Geoffrey Hill, "Tragedy has us under regard". Nowhere is that clearer than in Greece today. Every day we read of fresh horrors: of once proud bourgeois families queuing for bread, of people in agony because the government has run out of money to pay for cancer drugs. Pensions are being cut, living standards are falling, unemployment is rising, and the suicide rate is now the highest in the EU - having been one of the lowest.
By any standards we are seeing a whole nation undergo a protracted economic and political humiliation; and whatever the result of yesterday's election, we seem determined to make matters worse. There is no plan for Greece to leave the euro, or none that I can discover. No European leader dares suggest that this might be possible, since that would be to profane the religion of Ever Closer Union. Instead we are all meant to be conniving in a plan to create a fiscal union which (if it were to mean anything) would mean undermining the fundamentals of Western democracy.
This forward-marching concept of history - the idea of inexorable political and economic progress - is really a modern one. In ancient times, it was common to speak of lost golden ages or forgotten republican virtues or prelapsarian idylls. It is only in the past few hundred years that people have switched to the "Whig" interpretation, and on the face of it one can forgive them for their optimism.
We have seen the emancipation of women, the extension of the franchise to all adult human beings, the acceptance that there should be no taxation without representation and the general understanding that people should be democratically entitled to determine their own fates.
And now look at what is being proposed in Greece. For the sake of bubble-gumming the euro together, we are willing to slaughter democracy in the very place where it was born. What is the point of a Greek elector voting for an economic program, if that program is decided in Brussels or - in reality - in Germany?
What is the meaning of Greek freedom, the freedom Byron fought for, if Greece is returned to a kind of Ottoman dependency, but with the Sublime Porte now based in Berlin? It won't work. If things go on as they are, we will see more misery, more resentment, and an ever greater chance that the whole damn kebab van will go up in flames. Greece will one day be free again - in the sense that I still think it marginally more likely than not that whoever takes charge in Athens will eventually find a way to restore competitiveness through devaluation and leaving the euro - for this simple reason: that market confidence in Greek membership is like a burst paper bag of rice - hard to restore.
Without a resolution, without clarity, I am afraid the suffering will go on. The best way forward would be an orderly bisection into an old eurozone and a new eurozone for the periphery. With every month of dither, we delay the prospect of a global recovery; while the approved solution - fiscal and political union - will consign the continent to a democratic dark ages.
An imperial presidency, on steroids
My new book, "The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency," already needs a second edition so I can expand the chapter on President Obama's abuse of his office.
If the president declares that his new immigration enforcement priority is octogenarian Estonians who entered the country without documents in the '40s, can he thereby unilaterally direct all other enforcement of the naturalization laws of the United States be suspended until all those scoundrels are rounded up?
If the president declares that justice requires that cosmetic surgeries in Los Angeles are necessary for his vision of the good life, can he unilaterally direct his Department of Health and Human Services to oblige all insurance-providing employers in California to require that benefit as part of the standard health insurance package?
If the president no longer cares to defend the federal laws criminalizing marijuana or any other drug, can he direct his Department of Justice to cease the defense of those laws in the federal courts of the United States?
The president's Friday edict on immigrants in the country illegally but brought here as children by others over the past decade and a half; his command regarding Catholic institutions and the morning-after pill; and the wave of his hand on the Defense of Marriage Act -- all of these acts and many more claim for the president a breathtaking unilateral authority over matters quite obviously within the shared control of the Congress and the executive.
There is no limiting principle curbing the president's unilateralism once exercised and unrebuked by Congress or the courts.
Defenders of the president's many decrees cite President George W. Bush's conduct of the war on terror as grounds for an expansive interpretation of executive authority, but they forget not only the Constitution's assignment of commander-in-chief authority to the president but also the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution from the fall of 2001. Bush acted pursuant to the Constitution's design and congressional authorization, not against it or without it, as is the case with President Obama.
Arthur Schlesinger wrote "The Imperial Presidency" in 1973. Forty years later, we realize he was decrying a piker by comparison with Obama.
Gov. Mitt Romney was right to note that the cases of young people brought here illegally and raised here for years and years present situations calling out for generous treatment and grace.
The working out of that treatment, however, is a complicated business with many subcategories of claims and circumstances, and Congress should be in the driver's seat. Sen. Marco Rubio is leading that effort -- or was, rather, until the president usurped the congressional authority, thus making comprehensive progress this year all but impossible.
The president's recklessness with regard to his understanding of his powers is growing in inverse proportion to his standing in the polls. As he falls farther and faster, and as crack-ups pile up, from "the private sector is doing fine" to his mistake-by-the-lake speech in Cleveland, he reaches wildly for any handle on which to hold and any special interest to which goodies can be delivered.
Same-sex marriage? You bet. The Dream Act? Why not? Recess appointees when the Senate isn't in recess? But of course.
A desperate and angry president can't even handle a boorish reporter without visible pique? Whatever happened to the maxim that the essence of good taste is never to be offended by bad taste?
Not with this president, not in this bunker, not during this campaign or, God forbid, after his re-election.
The Manhattan-Beltway media elites like the politics and the confrontations, as they are easy to film and drone on about.
Historians, though, will wonder, where were the grown-ups in the Fourth Estate who ought to have named and, if not condemned, at least noted an executive power on steroids, with all the irascibility and rage that such abuse brings?
Improving health care
By John Stossel
Any day now, the U.S. Supreme will rule on whether the Obamacare insurance mandate is constitutional. Seems like a no-brainer to me. How can forcing me to engage in commerce be constitutional?
But there's a deeper question: Why should government be involved in medicine at all?
Right before President Obama took office, the media got hysterical about health care. You heard the claims: America spends more than any country -- $6,000 per person -- yet we get less. Americans die younger than people in Japan and Western Europe. Millions of Americans lack health insurance and worry about paying for care.
I have the solution! said Obama. Bigger government will give us more choices and make health care cheaper and better. He proceeded to give us that. Bigger government, that is. The cheaper/better/more choices part -- not so much.
Costs have risen. More choices? No, we have fewer choices. Many people lost coverage when companies left the market.
Because ObamaCare requires insurance companies to cover every child regardless of pre-existing conditions, WellPoint, Humana and Cigna got out of the child-only business. Principal Financial stopped offering health insurance altogether -- 1 million customers no longer have the choice to keep their insurance.
This is to be expected when governments control health care. Since state funding makes medical services seem free, demand increases. Governments deal with that by rationing. Advocates of government health care hate the word "rationing" because it forces them to face an ugly truth: Once you accept the idea that taxpayers pay, individual choice dies. Someone else decides what treatment you get, and when.
At least in America, we still have some choice. We can pay to get what we want. Under government health care, bureaucrats will decide how long we wait for our knee operation or cataract surgery ... or if we get lifesaving treatment at all.
When someone else pays for your health care, that someone else also decides when to pull the plug. The reason can be found in Econ 101. Medical care doesn't grow on trees. It must be produced by human and physical capital, and those resources are limited. Politicians can't repeal supply and demand.
Call them "death panels" or not, a government that needs to cut costs will limit what it spends on health care, especially on people nearing the end of life. Medical "ethicists" have long lamented that too much money is spent in the last several months of life. Given the premise that it's government's job to pay, it's only natural that some bureaucrat will decide that 80-year-olds shouldn't get hip replacements.
True, surveys show that most Brits and Canadians like their free health care. But Dr. David Gratzer notes that most people surveyed aren't sick. Gratzer is a Canadian who also liked Canada's government health care -- until he started treating patients.
More than a million Canadians say they can't find a family doctor. Some towns hold lotteries to determine who gets to see one. In Norwood, Ontario, my TV producer watched as the town clerk pulled four names out of a big box and then telephoned the lucky winners. "Congratulations! You get to see a doctor this month."
Think the wait in an American emergency room is bad? In Canada, the average wait is 23 hours. Sometimes they can't even get heart attack victims into the ICU.
That's where we're headed unless Obamacare is repealed. But that's not nearly enough. Contrary to what some Republicans say, we didn't have a free medical market before Obama came to power. We had a system that limited competition through occupational licensing, FDA rules and other government intrusions, while stimulating demand through tax-favored employer-based "insurance," Medicare and Medicaid.
If we want affordable and cutting-edge health care, there's only one approach that will work: open competition. That means eliminating both bureaucratic obstacles and corporate privileges. Only free markets can give us innovation at the lowest possible cost.
Of course, that also means consumers should spend their own money on health care, limiting insurance to catastrophic expenses. Americans don't want to hear it. But that's the truth.
Scenes From Militarized America
* Deputies in Richland County, South Carolina will get “Navy SEAL” training. You remember Richland County. It’s the county where Sheriff Leon Lott put out a press release a few years ago to celebrate the new tank from the Pentagon’s 1033 program—one with a turreted, belt-fed, 360-degree rotating machine gun that shoots .50 caliber ammunition, and that he charmingly named “The Peacemaker.” He’s also the one who sent his SWAT team into the homes of University of South Carolina students whose only transgression was to have appeared in the same photo where Michael Phelps was pictured smoking pot.
* Portland, Maine gets a Bearcat, courtesy of DHS. The press release announcing/justifying the acquisition apparently cited Coumbine (in which the SWAT team didn’t go in, because it was too dangerous), and the infamous North Hollywood shootout, a 15-year-old story that has become the go-to incident to justify new military gear. It also cites two local incidents, one in which the suspect turned out to have been holding a pellet gun, and another that didn’t result in any criminal charges.
* The thumbnail above is from a series this photographer took of the Aventura, Florida SWAT team. Aventura is a town of 35,000 people, described on various blogs as a haven for shopping malls and country clubs. The town has recorded one murder in twelve years.
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