Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Two Muslim men suspected of trying to hijack a flight in China were beaten to death by passengers

I won't comment on the obvious comparison but it cries out for explanation

Two men who allegedly tried to hijack a plane in China were beaten to death by passengers and crew, state media said today. The men were part of a six-strong gang, aged 20 to 36, who attempted to hijack a Tianjin Airlines flight bound for Urumqi last Friday.

Minutes after the flight carrying 101 people took off from Hetian, southwest Xinjiang, three men in the front and three in the back stood up and announced their plans to terrified passengers, according to reports.

The group, all from the city of Kashgar in the west of Xinjiang, then broke a pair of aluminum crutches and used the pieces to attack passengers while trying to break into the cockpit, a regional government spokesman said.

They were tackled by police and passengers who tied them up with belts before the plane returned to the airport safely just 22 minutes later.

Several passengers and crew members were injured in the tussle. The alleged hijackers were taken to hospital where two of them later died, the state-run Global Times reported.

The newspaper said two others were hospitalised after mutilating themselves, but gave no others details.

The regional government spokesman added the men had smuggled suspected explosives on board. These were still being tested by police today.

Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority [Muslim] Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs), but is ruled by China's ethnic majority Hans.

There have been clashes between authorities and Uighurs resentful of government controls over their religion and culture.



Is Fourth of July still worth celebrating?

"After a long nasty war these colonies coalesced into a nation-state that called itself the United States of America. It was a constitutional republic based on self-rule operating under a document meant to guarantee minimal government coercion and maximum individual freedom. That country no longer exists."



Freedom and Frugality

I am told there is an Italian saying that translates as “It is raining again… PIG OF A GOVERNMENT!” The saying makes me wince because I can see myself raising a fist and shaking it in reproach at the drizzling sky. I spend so much time railing against statism that I risk defining myself by what I oppose. I risk taking the state inside me and allowing it to filter my approach to life.

This is another reason to Go Galt: to reclaim an unfiltered life and carpe the heck out of every diem. One of the ways to do so is deceptively simple. For want of a better word, it is “frugality,” by which I mean something quite different than most people.

For centuries, the North American way has been for people to work harder and earn more to ensure that their children had a better life. For centuries, the strategy succeeded. But today’s children are more likely to be crushed by debt than to inherit their parents’ wealth. Today, hard work is discouraged and punished. It is discouraged by a maze of regulations that police home businesses, for example. It is punished by soaring taxes and disappearing retirement funds.

Meanwhile, the political elites maintain power by draining productivity from society and funneling it into entitlements for the unproductive. As white-hot printing presses increase both the currency supply and prices, the average working person reaches out for some control of his own economic future.

Many people turn to frugality in response to economic bad times. That is, they view it as a necessary, but bitter pill they are forced to swallow, but would rather spit out. Viewing frugality as a form of poverty, they are driven to it through desperation, rather than a desire to increase control over their lives. To them, frugality must be a dreary thing, but in my life, the contrary is true.

A few years ago, my view of frugality changed due to an obvious realization that I had never fully grasped before. Material goods cost money; money is acquired in exchange for my time; my time is literally my life. If X costs $100 and I make $25 an hour, then X costs me four hours of life. Or rather, it costs four hours plus whatever time is consumed by the transaction costs of making money, such as the time and expense of a commute.

This was a paradigm shift for me. I ceased viewing possessions in terms of money and saw them in terms of time. And my time is a scarce good. The hours available can sometimes feel boundless, and it is easy to fall into the trap of valuing each unit as if it were part of an infinite supply. Of course, it is not. There are only so many hours left for me to live.

With no morbidity, I apply a version of “marginal utility” to those hours. This economic law says that a person values the first unit of a thing according to its highest use and values subsequent units less. For example, if you have one unit of water, then you value it highly for staving off dehydration and death. If you have a large number of units, then you value the last one for watering a house plant. You would be willing to spend far more for the first unit than for the last. I try to view my hours as though each one were a first unit and, so, highly valuable.

When I look in my closet, many possessions now represent wasted time: a dress I never wear, shoes that go with nothing… I won’t waste more time reproaching myself, but I need to learn a lesson from that closet. I traded irreplaceable units of my life for possessions I do not value; I call these possessions “the useless shoes of life.” They are things that are neither necessary nor worth the time I traded to acquire them. Instead, I could have been reading or writing, laughing with friends or watching movies with my husband.

And then there are the purchases I will never regret: books, DVDs, my sporty little econocar, our farm, the ingredients for a superb meal. Those items provide a utility that is well worth the cost. And yes, I include pleasure as a “utility.” Pleasure is one of the most useful things in the world. It makes you spring out of bed with energy in the morning; it makes you fall asleep with a smile on your face at night. But even pleasure should be balanced against the cost in time and purchased at bargain rates, if possible.

People respond to the idea of possessions representing units of their lives in different ways.

Some people redouble their efforts to earn more and so reduce the amount of time that any one purchase represents. This is a return to the traditional American dream: Work hard and prosper economically. I wish these people the best, but their choice is not mine. At this point, I find it difficult to understand why anyone would spend years at a job they don’t enjoy in order to own a bigger home than they can use, especially since the upkeep absorbs more time and cash. The trade-off doesn’t make sense.

Also, for the political reasons mentioned earlier, I no longer believe the American dream is functioning.

My choice is to earn and spend less in order to control my own time and to avoid fueling the State through more taxes. I have called this choice “frugality,” but some people are more comfortable with the term “voluntary simplicity.” The point of such simplicity is not to save every possible penny. It is to ensure that your time and money are expended on your goals. Voluntary simplicity can be viewed as a “business plan” for getting the most out of life. Ask yourself what your goals are and what is necessary to get there. Of equal importance, ask what is not necessary.

Every person will have a different answer. Some of my choices, for example, seem to run counter to frugality. For one thing, I live on a 40-acre farm, not in a small apartment. The choice is odd only if you equate frugality with cheapness, however. If you equate it with spending your resources to achieve your own values, then the farm is eminently frugal. An apartment would be cheaper, but it would also impoverish my life: no dogs, no walks down a gravel road, no garden, no privacy…

I look forward to my garden each spring and to cooking complicated ethnic meals so that the aromas of the world flood my kitchen. I intend to travel and experience the places that fired my fantasies as a child; someday, I will know what the stars look like in Africa and how a jungle smells. Rather than diverting time into “useless shoes,” I intend to live.

That is, after all, the purpose of freedom.



Obamacare was not killed off but it is still terminally ill

The Supreme Court’s upholding of the Obamacare legislation on Thursday does not settle the healthcare question because that legislation is largely unworkable. Equally, the pre-Obamacare U.S. healthcare system was unsatisfactory in a number of ways and becoming progressively more so. Under the assumption that either in 2013 or 2017 Congress and a new Administration will sit down and try to design a more rational healthcare system, I thought it worth outlining the basics of what such a system might entail.

It is unlikely that the Obamacare legislation will survive in the long term. First, it controls costs by capping Medicare payments and by the Independent Payment Advisory Board restricting expensive treatments. This is likely to be as unpopular and ineffective in the United States as is the equivalent National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (the Orwellianly named “NICE”) in Britain. Over time, both measures will also result in the degradation of healthcare quality. Second, the system will only work effectively if the tax on not joining becomes high enough to ensure universal participation. This will cause hardship in the lower income brackets that will be highly unpopular and become a political issue. As healthcare costs continue to rise, both for the state and for participating individuals, the demand for further healthcare reform will become overwhelming.

Start with the liberal demand that the impoverished should not go without health insurance. Phrasing the demand in that way itself increases costs, because it interposes a third party, an insurance company, between consumers and producers. In a free market, consumers and producers negotiate directly, thus ensuring that costs are minimized and quality maximized. Poor people have a right to healthcare, but they do not have a right to purchase that healthcare through insurance, and it makes no sense that they should.

Currently, the impoverished have two mechanisms by which healthcare is delivered to them. First, if their income is sufficiently low and they are fully documented in the U.S. bureaucracy, they have a right to Medicaid, which provides healthcare of variable quality and is paid for through taxes on the general population. Second, even if they are not fully accounted for in the state bureaucracy (for example, illegal immigrants, but also including the transient unemployed and the mentally ill) the hospitals have an obligation to provide emergency care if it is needed. In that sense therefore, few are denied healthcare altogether. However if even middle income people contract one of the ailments that requires huge amounts of spending to overcome it, they will end up with bankrupting medical bills and their life will be ruined.

The bankrupting effect of healthcare bills is exacerbated by two anomalies of the medical care payments system (apart from the excess costs of medical treatment generally, which I’ll get to). First, the emergency room mandate on hospitals, imposed by legislation in 1986, is entirely without compensation to them. Naturally, the hospitals have to pay for these services from somewhere, and they do so by raising rates on other customers. Second, the big insurance companies negotiate discounts with the hospital chains, which lessen their effect by raising their nominal rates, imposing inflated charges on the unfortunates who seek treatment paid for directly, without insurance. This combination of effects results in hospitals near big cities charging $10,000 per night for use of their facilities, an outrageous amount even in areas where a top-class hotel room can run as high as $500-600. Price gouging at this level, resulting in hospital costs five or ten times the full costs of hospitals in Europe, destroys the integrity of the system and makes it impossible to deal with.

Three other areas of excess systemic cost also need to be removed. First, the litigiousness of U.S. society has led to an immense class of parasitic lawyers attaching themselves to healthcare, their costs and settlements costing about 1.5-2% of GDP. When malpractice insurance for a newly registered doctor runs well north of $100,000, doctors’ earnings need to be inflated commensurately, not only by the $100,000 directly but also by the additional cost of the early years of practice, in which a doctor may be paying the full insurance premium but not yet earning enough to cover it.

Second, the insurance and legal bureaucracy surrounding medical care has made it uneconomic in many areas for doctors to operate as sole practitioners. In consequence, large clinics have been able to take over much medical practice. The result is lower earnings for the clinic doctors and inferior care for the patients, who find there is no alternative to visiting bureaucratically managed clinics in which personal knowledge of patients is impossible.

Whereas U.S. medical treatment thirty years ago was of incomparable quality, far better than available elsewhere, this is no longer the case. The belief among the general public that “doctors don’t make house calls” is valid, and is not adequately compensated for by the greater technological sophistication and lower error rate of today’s medicine.

Finally, today’s doctors are often overqualified. At an eminent heart surgeons’ conference on Chinese medicine at which I spoke two years ago, there was considerable complaint that U.S. doctors were not interested in undertaking primary care, and admiration of the Chinese system, in which primary care was readily available. “But then you have to remember” one eminent practitioner said, “that many Chinese doctors have only a bachelor’s degree.”

Immediately the problem became clear. In the medical as in the legal profession (where Law school is a pre-requisite in most states, as well as a bachelor’s degree) restrictive practices have been allowed to limit access to primary care and drive up its costs.

With the burden of litigiousness lifted, insurance companies largely removed from at least primary care and restrictive practices in the medical profession itself removed, the cost of much medical treatment could be reduced, not simply by 10-20% but by more than half. Remove also the cross-subsidization to insurance companies and the indigent inherent in the payment scheme, and medical care would become truly affordable for most people.

We then come to the essential problem of healthcare, that some people are healthier than others. In the public mind currently, this is thought to demand universal health insurance. But of course it does no such thing. For the vast majority of people, the premiums they pay in insurance and the Medicare/Medicaid taxes they pay are greater than the cost of the medical services they receive – otherwise medical insurance companies would go bankrupt. Costs are further increased by nonsenses required by a nanny state, such as forcing insurance companies to cover contraception and sex change operations.

In reality, public health insurance is indeed desirable, but only for catastrophic illnesses, either chronic or critical. There is no point in involving insurance companies in this provision, which simply adds another layer of cost. Instead, catastrophic insurance could be universal and provided by the state (or, in reality, by taxpayers) – thus satisfying the dreams of the left. However, it would involve an annual deductible of say $25,000 in any calendar year. Medical costs below this level would be covered by the individual, with wages being garnisheed if necessary to reimburse medical costs below the $25,000 level.

This system would cause occasional moderate hardship, but no catastrophes (individual hardship cases could be handled by local charities.) Medical costs would mostly be paid for directly, and in any case would be sharply reduced by the reforms described above. Individuals wishing to remove even the $25,000 annual risk could still purchase insurance, which would smooth their incomes and allow them to plan properly.

And overall, medical costs would be reduced from their current 17% of GDP to around the 10% of GDP that prevents the sector from bankrupting the economy. As in most areas it’s possible to design a decent medical and insurance system for the United States; only vested interests and political axe-grinding prevent us from doing so.




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)


1 comment: said...


Attended a 4th of July celebration Sunday. They were serving tacos and burritos. Not a hotdog in sight!