Friday, January 31, 2014

If Obamacare Doesn't Kill Small Medical Practices, Bureaucratic ICD-10 Coding Requirements Might

News headlines have focused on the bureaucratic mandates, financial looniness, and unlikely assumptions that seem designed to drive medical providers away from the Affordable Care Act or out of business entirely. But this year, a non-Obamacare bureaucratic car bomb is set to explode in the medical world in the form of ICD-10—a new coding system for patient diagnoses and inpatient procedures. Mandated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the coding system standardizes communications among providers and insurers. Well, it standardizes them more, since ICD-9 has been in place for 30 years. Uncertainty over hitches in replacing the old coding system with a brand new one has industry experts advising practices to keep several months worth of cash on hand to cover lags in reimbursement. Practices lacking that much liquidity under the mattress may be truly screwed.

Theoretically, the new coding system covers inpatient care involving Medicare, Medicaid, and "everyone covered by the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act." The government says up and down that the new codes aren't really necessary for private practices providing outpatient care. A handy FAQ insists:

Will ICD-10 replace Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) procedure coding?

No. The switch to ICD-10 does not affect CPT coding for outpatient procedures. Like ICD-9 procedure codes, ICD-10-PCS codes are for hospital inpatient procedures only.

But as EHRIntelligence points out, "While it’s true that CPT/HCPCS codes will continue to be the gold standard for outpatient procedures, providers will be required to include ICD-10 diagnostic codes with their claims in order to receive reimbursements from payers."

So, if doctors want to be compensated by anybody other than cash-only patients, they need to adopt the new codes, too.

The problem is that glitches are anticipated in switchover to the new coding system, since nobody is allowed to use it before October 1, 2014, and everybody is required to use it after that day. That's right, another government-mandated healthcare industry hard launch, exactly one year after debuted.

Actually, ICD-10 and were originally scheduled to launch on the same day in 2013. That would have been fun.

The Healthcare Billing & Management Association warns that "it is possible that not all payors will be ready for ICD-10 on October 1, 2014," so "it will be important that you are able to submit in both ICD-9 and ICD-10 formats." The group further recommends that practices "establish a line of credit to tide the office over during the first months following the implementation of ICD-10" to acommodate reimbursement delays.

The CMS itself notes in its Implementation Guide for Small and Medium Practices:

The transition to ICD-10 will result in changes to physician reimbursements. ... [C]hallenges with billing productivity combined with potential payer claim processing challenges may result in signicant impact to cash flow. This may require the need for reserve funds or lines of credit to offset cash flow challenges.

According to HealthcareITNews:

Healthcare providers may face disruptions in their payments even if they are on target to operate using ICD-10 codes on Oct. 1, 2014. 

Since providers will, and indeed need, to be able to pay rent and staff salaries if the transition does not flow as smoothly as testing has indicated, experts advise having up to several months' cash reserves or access to cash through a loan or line of credit to avoid potential headaches.

"Just figure that with the transition to ICD-10 there will be delays in reimbursement," said April Arzate, vice president of client services at MediGain, a Dallas-based revenue cycle and healthcare analytics company.

Arzate recommends keeping enough cash on hand to cover medical supplies, payroll, rent, and the rest of a medical practice's overhead for three to six months.

A separate document on risk-mitigation strategies for implementing ICD-10, prepared by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, specifies a "minimum of six months of cash reserves to mitigate revenue impacts over the ICD-10 transformation period."

Lines of credit might step in where available cash is short, but banks issue lines of credit to good risks—not medical practices already struggling in an uncertain regulatory environment.

If you're a doctor, now is a good time to look at your cash flow, or your retirement options. If you're a patient, you might just consider buying your favorite doc a good-bye drink.


Two Utterly Banal Thoughts

Reading Michael Huemer’s paper “In Praise of Passivity” – especially given that I learned of it from my colleague Bryan Caplan – prompts two quick thoughts, neither of which is unique.  Each thought is on why we are likely, into the distant future, to continue to suffer the curse of social engineering – to have to endure what I might take to calling “collective treatment by a college of dark-agish economic proctologists.”

First, too many people continue today to cherish their superstitions.  These people want to believe that secular salvation is possible.  They refuse to accept the reality that reality is not optional.  Just as people have forever and to this day fallen prey to peddlers of snake-oil, get-rich-quick schemes, lose-weight-while-you-sleep frauds, and enlarge-your-penis-with-a-pill shysters, people have forever and to this day fallen prey to peddlers of economic salvation.  People enjoy believing in the efficacy of grand promises of quick riches through simplistic schemes such as “increase government spending,” “diminish the value of the currency,” “cure the cause of rising prices by using price controls to prevent the symptom of rising prices,” and (always especially popular) “take wealth from the rich and give it to the less-than-rich.”

None of these superstitious ‘cures’ requires much thinking beyond the childish ability to understand that if the promises came true, everyone would be better off save for the Bad Guys whose evil-doings allegedly caused reality to fall short of some imaginable ideal.

Second, just as peddlers of snake oil, Ponzi schemes, sugar tablets labeled ‘diet pill,’ and penis-enlargement treatments do personally profit from their victims’ gullibility, superstitions, and desire to believe that reality can be suspended, so, too, do peddlers of the likes of minimum-wage legislation, Keynesian ‘cures,’ and ‘income redistribution’ profit personally from widespread economic ignorance and too-many people’s desire to have their economic woes, real or imagined, ‘solved’ by god-like miracle workers housed in government offices.  History has no shortage of ‘leaders’ who’ve profited (and, to this day, continue to profit) handsomely from selling social-engineering snake oil to the general public.

With so many eager buyers and so many eager sellers, dark-age-ish economic policies will always be with us.



The Market is Taking Over Sweden’s Health Care

While contemporary mythology has it otherwise, the market is not a distinct phenomenon: it is what exists when people interact and otherwise voluntarily transact with each other. The broad definition of the market is simply what people (choose to) do when they are not forced to do otherwise. So it is not surprising that even the Soviet Union, “despite” its anti-market rhetoric, fundamentally relied on markets: foreign markets for prices to guide planners’ economic calculation, and domestic black markets for resource allocation and goods distribution according to people’s real needs and preferences. The black market, indeed, was “a major structural feature” of the Soviet economy.

In other words, we should expect to see markets wherever governments fail. Or, to put it more accurately, markets exist where government cannot sufficiently repress or otherwise crowd out voluntary exchange.

So it should be no surprise that, as The Local reports, Swedes en masse get private health care insurance on the side of the failing welfare systems. This is indirectly a result of the relatively vast liberalization of the Swedish economy over the course of the past 20 years (as I have noted here and here), which has resulted in the “experimental” privatization of several hospitals (even one emergency hospital is privately owned). While previously only the political elite (primarily, members of the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament) had access to private health care through insurance, the country now sees a blossoming and healthy insurance market.

Private health care insurance was initially offered to employees as part of employers’ benefits packages, since this ensured direct access to care when needed, and a faster return to work. This trend was easily recognizable in service sectors heavily dependent on the skill and knowledge of individual employees. Working as a professional consultant in Sweden in the late 1990s and 2000s, I personally experienced and benefited from such private health care insurance through my employer. This type of very affordable insurance provided same-day appointment with GPs and specialists alike, whereas going to the public hospital would have entailed waiting in line during the overcrowded “open access” times or waits of perhaps a week or more to see a GP.

My experience is first-hand with both alternatives, and they were at the time as different as night and day. While talking heads in the media cried out that private insurance created a “fast track” for “the rich,” the net effect for the already overwhelmed public health care system was relief through decreased demand. As we should expect from any shift toward market, everybody was ultimately better off thanks to this (limited) marketization of Swedish health care (perhaps excepting bureaucrats who previously enjoyed the power to directly control health care).

Waiting for Care

Swedes maintain that they get good (they mean great) health care, and the statistics partly confirm this. In fact, Sweden’s health care was recently noted as the tenth most efficient in the world (excluding smaller countries). The decentralized regional system of government (regional governments, taxing incomes in the range 10-12 percent, are primarily responsible for health care, public transport, and cultural subsidies) has undoubtedly contributed to this, especially since the national voucher/guarantee system enacted in 1992 has increased competition between regions and thereby placed pressure on politicians and hospital administration.

The fact that one in every ten people voluntarily foregoes care even though they need it, according to the regulating authority Socialstyrelsen's status report 2011 (3 percent of whom could not afford care, p. 64), should also lessen the pressure on the health care system. It should also be noted that Swedish bureaucracy overall is comparatively effective and efficient (likely a result of the country being very small and having a long tradition of both governmental transparency and a hardworking population), so why would this not also be the case in health care?

The main problem is naturally due to the central planning of health care, whether or not it is planned by regional “competing” governments. While access and quality are guaranteed by national law, Swedes usually have to line up for care. As noted above, wait times may be days or weeks for appointments with GPs while several (or many, and increasing) hours for ER care, but the real problem is apparent in specialist care such as surgery where wait times are not uncommonly several months, or even years.

Swedish media frequently reports on cases of mistreatment, extreme wait times, and deaths due to not being offered care in time. An increasingly common phenomenon is denying the severely ill ambulance for all sorts of symptoms, for example severe burns, blood poisoning, myocardial infarction (1, 2), or stroke.

Even an otherwise laudatory article in The New York Times notes how wait times are the problem in Swedish health care. This remains a major shortcoming despite the national “health care guarantee” (guaranteed care within 90 days). As in any market where consumption is subsidized through artificially low (or no) fees, demand skyrockets and there is simply no way for suppliers of the service to keep up with it.

Private insurance and (semi-)private hospitals in this sense offers relief for an otherwise unsustainable system; their net effect is lower demand on public hospitals, which should make life easier for many in Sweden. Access used to be more difficult, except for those who could skip the regular system by taking advantage of personal relationships or family bonds with physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel. My personal experience speaks to this latter fact, though it generally is dismissed by Swedes wanting to believe in the system. The fact that “knowing the right people” can open doors is irrefutable, however. And it is important in socialized systems.

A Constant Lack of Funds

As in the NYT article, all problems including the wait times are generally blamed on a “lack” of funds. As Jonsson and Banta note, “limited resources do result in waiting lists and other restrictions.” In the media and political discourse, this is discussed as “cutbacks,” but yet the funds seem to never be enough.

This is symptomatic for any public system — the allocated funds are never (and can never be) sufficient. There is simply too much waste due to lack of incentives and market prices. In order to deal with health care’s runaway costs (or pressure to cut costs, depending on one’s view), health care providers tend to employ the same techniques as others subjected to a public primarily one-payer system. These techniques may vary over time and can be different in different places, but they all amount to exploiting loopholes or in other ways circumvent the system’s limitations. One such technique includes a type of “creative” accounting to up the hospital’s cash inflow by indicating in the patient’s medical records a more expensive treatment than the one actually given. One treatment on the books, another off the books.

This is of course an expected outcome of a centrally planned system with relatively limited health care user fees (contrary to popular myth, Sweden’s health care is not “free”). When Swedes get health care, it is generally of quite good quality. But to get it, they need the right connections, or insurance. The former offers no guarantee but only a relative improvement, while the latter is a proper market contract. No wonder Swedes take advantage of their newfound opportunity to have health care insurance.

The Future: Sweden or the United States?

Liberals tend to point to Sweden as a good example of how well an extensive welfare state functions. They are not completely wrong, since Sweden is a rather well-functioning country. But this is despite the welfare state; these live in the past, and assert that Sweden today is one part in the 1970s and two parts their own imagination. The fact is that the Swedish welfare state imploded in the early 1990s; it was crushed under its own weight after more than two decades of rapid decline.

The reason Sweden is doing so well at present is partly an illusion and partly a market story. It is an illusion since what other countries we have to compare with are also welfare states (or, as in the case of the United States, a warfare-welfare state); being best of the worst does not mean one is actually good. It is a market story since Sweden has for more than two decades consistently rolled back the welfare state, introduced market prices and private ownership, “experimented” with market-like incentives for public providers, and cut taxes

What Sweden has done is hardly sufficient, but it appears to be in the right direction. More importantly, it is in a direction not taken by many other countries — and this explains the country’s relatively strong financial condition.

In contrast, the United States is moving toward the liberal distorted image of what Sweden is supposedly like. While Sweden is embracing a system including what appears to be real health care insurance, the U.S. is moving from a hybrid third-party payer system (inaccurately described as private health care insurance) to an all-out public health care system following ObamaCare.

When the United States is firmly going down the road to serfdom, the market appears to be taking over Sweden’s health care.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. 

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Obama's SOTU buries immigration up front without any detail

I'm inclined to say it was the least bad statement on immigration that he or George W. Bush have made in the SOTU addresses. It felt buried.

And despite the fact that the news media has been making it seem like immigration is about 60% of Mr. Obama's agenda for this year, he gave it only a perfunctory paragraph.  Here it is:

"Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.  Let's get it done. It's time."

Of course, we know the absolutely horrible things Mr. Obama would do under the term "immigration reform."

But it seems a good sign that he thought it would be harmful to his cause to tell Americans anything specific that he wants on immigration.

We had been told ahead of time that he would play nice with his immigration statement so as not to offend House Republicans who he is trying to win over. Still, I was a bit surprised -- and I think encouraged -- by his timidity.

Republicans picked one of the House's top party leaders -- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) -- to deliver the response.

Because many news media have practically declared the inevitability of House Republicans helping pass an amnesty this year, I was much more interested to hear what she would say.

Since she didn't really mention that many issues, it wasn't a good sign that she and her colleagues thought she should make such a big deal about immigration reform. Still, hers was also just a paragraph and more vague than specific:

"And yes, it’s time to honor our history of legal immigration.  We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."

But her rhetoric is vague enough that the Republicans at their Chesapeake Bay retreat Wednesday through Friday won't have to embarrass her or seem to reject her when they show no enthusiasm for the GOP leadership's definition of "imigration reform."

Back when I was a congressional correspondent sitting in the press box overlooking the SOTU proceedings, I took a lot of notes on how and when particular Members responded to parts of the speech. I had to depend on the camera feed for the TV networks, but I was intrigued with what I saw from the top 3 House Republican leaders during the President's immigration paragraph.

After his first sentence ending in "fix our broken immigration system," Vice President Biden quickly moved to his feet as did all Democrats in a pretty resounding ovation.

That certainly put Speaker Boehner in a tough position. He knew the cameras were on him. His corporate donors want him to give Mr. Obama what he wants. But Mr. Boehner also had earlier this morning seen a strong negative reaction from his Republican Members to the news reports about a possible GOP legalization plan. Does the Speaker rehearse his reactions ahead of time?  What would he do on this one?

I was relieved that Mr. Boehner didn't seem to have the slightest inclination to stand the way leaders of the "other party" sometimes feel they have to when baseball, mom and apple pie are being lauded.  Instead, Mr. Boehner gave a non-commital facial expression and slowly applauded while remaining seated.

The camera swung to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who was giving a moderate applause while looking very serious.  At the edge of the camera shot was the No. 3 House Republican Kevein McCarthy also being careful not to look too enthusiastic, despite recently saying that he looked forward to moving legislation that gives work permits and legalization to most illegal aliens.

It looked like maybe a half-dozen Republicans were confident enough of their constituents to stand with the Democrats in the ovation.

At the end of the President's immigration paragraph, there was more heavy applause.  The camera caught Mr. Cantor not joining at first and then offering a pretty slow clap.

I'm not going to read too much into what the various body language tells us about where these GOP leaders stand but I think tells us worlds about where they think their constituency stands.



Some more Reactions to Obama’s State of the Union Address

“The president says that the economy is improving substantially. Sadly, the average worker does not believe that. As President Barack Obama enters his sixth year in the White House, 68 percent of Americans say the country is either stagnant or worse off since he took office, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

“There is good reason for the pessimism. In 2007, 66 percent of Americans over age 16 either had a job or were looking for one. Today, that is down to 62.8 percent, the lowest labor-force participation rate since 1978.”

“In his meandering mess of a speech tonight, President Obama managed to completely gloss over the relevant facts regarding the failures of his signature health care law. Rather than admit the problems and apologize for them, the president chose to ignore the millions of Americans who’ve learned that even if they like their plan they can’t keep it, or even if they like their doctor they can keep him. Instead, he based his metric of success on the number of Americans signed up for Medicaid, an already overburdened and failing entitlement system which offers the false promise of care to millions of Americans.

“President Obama has made health care unaffordable for millions of citizens while needlessly disrupting our economy. At most, his health care exchanges are signing up 15 percent of the uninsured Americans they were supposed to enroll. And why? Because the American people are finding that the promises he made about bringing down the price of health insurance for individuals and families were complete and utter lies. If all the promises he’d made about Obamacare had come true, the president’s speech tonight would’ve been a victory lap. Instead, it’s a grim insistence that his broken policy will endure, despite how much it has hurt Americans across the country.”

“President Obama dares to say ‘research shows government preschool is a great investment’ just a few months after yet another highest-quality study shows it’s fool’s gold. The president apparently prefers only the poor-quality research that supports his agenda of saddling kids with debt while failing to equip them to pay it off.

“The president is quite bold to claim his micromanaging, dictatorial education policies are already improving student achievement when the statistics show his penchant for making laws without congress has slowed poor and minority kids’ achievement growth. The common core education standards and tests his administration has illegally pushed on schools still have no positive track record despite millions spent, and millions more to come.”

“It seems to me if there was a theme that ran through his talk, it’s that executive orders will fall from his pen like leaves from trees on a breezy day in late fall. Congress should grow a spine and remind the president that its job is to make the laws, and the president’s job is to see that the laws are faithfully executed. That’s why Congress is called the legislative branch of government and the presidency is called the executive branch.

“Apart from throwing a few crumbs to his base, President Obama produced nothing novel or interesting in his speech. But he did sadly reaffirm his commitment to a virtually Utopian society in which government takes the initiative on nearly all fronts. And that is plainly not in the spirit of what is distinctively American or just.

“I had hoped for some learning from the president — to the effect that the private sector is where solutions lie to nearly all our real problems. Government’s only role must be, as Jefferson said, to ‘secure [our] rights’ — not to train Americans for anything other than, perhaps, defending the country from potential aggressors. It is not the job of government to ‘give us a chance,’ since our form of government doesn’t include some monarch handing out favors to subjects.”

“From the SOTU, you’d never guess that we have a record low in number of people employed, record levels of debt, abysmal international standing in education, chaos in the Middle East, and millions losing their health insurance. But we’re going to the Olympics, finding natural gas (on private lands only), and planning (still) to close Gitmo (thereby upholding our constitutional ideals). Amanda in Arizona got health coverage, a small business opened in Detroit, and carbon emissions are way down (no attribution given to our dismal economy). All we need to do now is extend unemployment insurance, raise the minimum wage, and end gun violence. That last bit is one of a number of things Obama promises to do single handedly if Congress won’t cooperate.

“Now that ObamaCare has fixed health care, and reduced al Qaeda to a mere remnant, we can move on to fixing education.

“From the enthusiastic applause, it would appear that Congress is persuaded by this fantasy, though a few audience shots showed some dour-looking Republicans. They’re the ones getting blamed for ‘creating crises.’ Otherwise, all is well, and God bless America.

“How can anyone take this charade seriously?”

“Richard Nixon was called ‘Tricky Dick.’ Bill Clinton was called ‘Slick Willy.’ Perhaps Obama will be referred to as ‘Smoothie Barack’? The State of the Union Speech is theatre, a one-time performance, delivered for its quotability on wide range of issues, but almost instantly forgotten. All that remains of it is the memory of how smooth Obama’s delivery was because, if there is one thing he can do, it’s deliver a speech.

“What Obama delivered was a list of the same policies that have ill-served the nation. After five years, we know that what he cannot do is provide leadership sufficient to govern America. Foreign or domestic, his policies have been marked by failure.

“He made reference to the global warming hoax, saying ‘The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.’ The debate is not settled. It has raged since the later 1980s when the hoax was introduced. Global warming is such a failed hoax it has had to be renamed climate change. He then referred to ‘carbon pollution,’ but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is vital to all life on Earth. The fundamental truth remains of no importance to the president.

“On the long roster of issues he addressed, he placed an emphasis on putting Americans to work again, but that remains a difficult goal to achieve when his administration is scaling new heights in the production of regulations that choke the nation’s business community, from large corporations to small businesses. There was no mention of the Keystone XL pipeline which his own State Department estimated could produce 42,000 jobs.

“He advocated raising the minimum wage when all that will accomplish will be to reduce jobs and drive up costs to consumers.

“He dramatized Obamacare by using examples of people he said benefitted from it, but made no mention of the millions who have or will lose their healthcare plans and even their choice of a personal physician. He’s smooth, but he is also an accomplished liar.

“By the end of the week, it will be back to normal in Congress. The president will be ignoring it, issuing executive orders when he can. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, will continue to obstruct more than 150 pieces of legislation sent by the Republican controlled House to aid the economy and address other issues.

“Obama is a smooth talker, but talk is not enough. We were treated to a long speech, but one that had as little real substance to suggest its content will ever be fulfilled and, in many cases, that is a very good thing.”



UK: Catholics lean to Left as Anglicans go Right: Study finds how each denomination of Christianity is likely to vote

Catholics are more likely to vote Labour while Church of England worshippers most consistently back the Conservatives, according to new research.

Think tank Theos said they have carried out the first in-depth analysis into the relationship between religion and politics in Britain.

Catholics were found to be the most left-wing of Christian groups and more pro-welfare than Anglicans, who were said to be more authoritarian in their political values.

Non-religious people are most consistently libertarian, taking a strong line against censorship and are sceptical about management and the fair distribution of wealth.

Nick Spencer, Theos’s research director and co-author of the report, said that while there are clear alignments between religious views and voting, 'block votes' do not exist in Britain.

'Every five years or so, someone claims that this or that religious (or non-religious group) might swing the election,' he said.

'Politics isn’t like that, however, and this report shows that religious block votes do not exist in Britain as many claim they do in America.

'It does show, however, that there are clear and significant alignments between various religious and political camps, of which politicians should be aware.

'At a time when mass party membership, political ideology and party tribalism are at a low ebb, we should pay attention to the big political values that shape our voting behaviour.'

The report ‘Voting and Values in Britain: Does religion count?’ was based on data from the latest 2010 census.

Researches said non-Christian groups were harder to analyse because of small samples.

However, in 2010 Muslims tended to strongly vote Labour, as did Hindus and Sikhs to a lesser extent.

By contrast, the Jewish vote was more likely to go to the Conservatives and Buddhist to the Liberal Democrats.

All groups, irrespective of religion, rated the economy, immigration, the budget deficit and unemployment as their most important issues.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Federal Government Has Declared War on Work

While 50 years ago the federal government declared war on poverty, I would submit that in recent years it has led an undeclared but real new war: a War on Work. The government increasingly is using its coercive powers to punish people who want to work, creating a vast class of able-bodied Americans dependent on the government—and politicians—for their daily bread.

The statistics are startling. A smaller proportion of working-age Americans works today than when the recession officially ended 4-1/2 years ago (June 2009).

But this trend is not just a failure of policies to encourage economic recovery, such as the stimulus package and the ineffective, highly expansionary Federal Reserve monetary policy. The decline in work has been going on since at least 2000, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Suppose today we had the same proportion of Americans working that we did in 2000—the end of the Clinton administration. We would have 14.6 million more workers in America—4 million more than the number of unemployed.

Making reasonable assumptions about the productivity of these lost workers, the annual national output today would be over $2,500 per person higher—over $10,000 for a family of four. The actual recent recorded decline in real median income per household almost certainly would not have occurred. Much of the 21st-century growth dearth—the fall in growth rates from above 3% to only 2% a year—would have been averted.

While a vast number of government policies cause a decline in work, let me mention just six:

 *  Extended unemployment benefits.

 *  Expansion of food stamps.

 *  Higher taxes on workers, especially the most productive ones.

 *  Increases in Social Security disability payments.

 *  Increases in Pell Grants and other forms of federal higher education aid.

 *  Increases in minimum wage laws at local, state and federal levels.

Extended Unemployment Benefits

For almost eight decades, the federal-state unemployment insurance system provided 26 weeks of benefits for unemployed workers, with occasionally a modest short-term extension of those benefits (to typically 39 weeks) during recessions. In 2013, those benefits were given for 73 weeks—four years after the recession ended.

You pay people not to work—and many respond accordingly. In the month with the highest unemployment (10.8%) since the Great Depression, December 1982, the average duration of unemployment was 18.0 weeks; in December 2013, it was 37.1 weeks.

The 73-week benefit provision ended recently, but President Obama and the Senate want it extended—preventing the creation of many jobs.

Food Stamps

If the government subsidizes the purchase of life’s most critical essential—food—it reduces the need to work. In 2000, 17.1 million Americans received food stamps; in October 2013, 47.6 million did.

Higher Taxes on Workers

A decade ago, in 2004, the top marginal federal income tax rate was 35%; today, it is about 43%, counting ObamaCare-related taxes. There is overwhelming empirical evidence that high income taxes impede economic growth. There has been a vast migration of Americans, for example, from the 41 states with state income taxes to the nine states that do not tax work income.

Social Security Disability

In 1990, about 4 million Americans and their dependents received Social Security disability payments—today 11 million do. At a time when health care is improving, and more Americans work in relatively less-risky nonindustrial settings, there has been an explosion in the number of people paid not to work because of alleged inability to do so.

Federal Student Financial Aid

In 2000, fewer than 4 million Americans received Pell Grants to attend college; by 2012, nearly 9 million did. From 2002 to 2012, total federal aid more than doubled, going from $83 billion to $170 billion. Yet large portions of those recipients never graduate, and many that do are truly underemployed—we increasingly have college-educated taxi drivers, janitors, bartenders and retail sales clerks.

Minimum Wage

Seven years ago today, the federal minimum wage was $5.15. By the end of this year, if Obama gets his way, it will be $9.25. Many cities and states have enacted huge minimum wage increases, at a time when the unemployment rate of black teenagers exceeds 35%.

Future Nobel laureate George Stigler noted in 1946 that minimum wage laws caused unemployment, and subsequent empirical evidence overwhelmingly shows that they kill jobs for the most vulnerable unskilled workers.

No nation ever achieved greatness when vast portions of its productive workforce were idle. America will not regain its economic vitality until it ends this war on work.



The ObamaCare Carnival of Perverse Incentives

Cities With Unfunded Health-Care Commitments Are Getting Ready to Dump Their Retirees On the State Exchanges

With fewer glitches to deter them, millions of Americans are now logging on to the ObamaCare health-insurance-exchange websites. When they get there, many are discovering some unpleasant surprises:

The deductibles are higher than what most people are used to, the networks of doctors and hospitals are skimpier (in some cases much skimpier), and lifesaving drugs are often not on the insurers’ formularies. Even after the government’s income-based subsidies are taken into account, the premiums are often higher than what people previously paid.

Why is this happening? Because the new law gives insurance buyers and sellers perverse incentives to behave in ways that create these problems. Things will only get more out of whack as more and more unhealthy people enter a system designed to be paid for by premiums from healthy people.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the benefits insurers must offer are strictly regulated. The law piles on benefits for which everyone must have coverage, whether they could ever use the benefits or not. At the same time, insurers set their own premiums and choose their own networks of doctors and hospitals.

To keep premiums as low as possible, the insurers are offering very narrow networks, often leaving out the best doctors and the best hospitals. In September, the Los Angeles Times reported that Blue Shield will have only about half the doctors in its exchange plan as it has in its traditional plan. One of the exchange plans in Colorado includes only a single Denver hospital, the one that usually treats Medicaid patients.

Narrow networks can be good or bad. Wal-Mart  has selected a half-dozen centers of excellence around the country for its employees, places carefully chosen for their high quality and low costs. The exchange health plans, by contrast, appear to care only about cost. They are offering low fees—sometimes even lower than the rock-bottom fees Medicaid pays health-care providers—and accepting only those providers who will take them.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to charge the same premium rate to anyone who wants to sign up, regardless of health status; and they are required to accept anyone who applies. This means that to make ends meet they must overcharge the healthy and undercharge the sick. It also means insurers have strong incentives to attract the healthy (on whom they make a profit) and avoid the sick (on whom they incur losses) by, in effect, making their plans less appealing to the sick.

Here’s how they seem to be doing it: In structuring the plans they offer on the ObamaCare exchanges, the insurers apparently assumed that the healthy will choose the plan they buy based on its price, while ignoring other features of the plan. It makes sense: If I am healthy why wouldn’t I shop for the lowest price? If I later develop cancer, I can move to a plan that has the best cancer care. By law, these plans will be prohibited from charging me more than the premium paid by a healthy enrollee.

Insurers also assume that people who already are ill or otherwise expect to use a lot of health care pay much closer attention to the cost of deductibles and which doctors and hospitals are in the insurer’s network. To have any hope of balancing their books, insurers must then attract the maximum number of customers who are likely to stay healthy and thus not use so much of the care they paid for, while unhealthy people in effect use more than they paid for. This is why most plans are apparently designed to attract people willing to overlook high deductibles and less access to health care in return for lower premiums.

Yet no matter how narrow the provider network, health plans are going to cost more if they enroll more people with above-average health-care costs. And that is what is about to happen.

For some years, the federal government and some states have operated and subsidized risk pools. These allowed the chronically ill and other high-cost people who were “uninsurable” to purchase insurance for the same premium healthy people pay. Under ObamaCare, however, the pools are due to shut down and send their enrollees to the exchanges, where the above-average cost of their care will be implicitly borne by higher premiums charged to everyone enrolled in the plans.

To make matters worse, cities and towns with unfunded health-care commitments are getting ready to dump their retirees on the state exchanges. Since retirees are above-average age, they have above-average expected costs. The city of Detroit, for example, is planning to dump the costs of about 10,000 retirees on the Michigan exchange.

Then there are the job-lock employees —people who are working only to get health insurance because they are uninsurable in the individual market. Under ObamaCare, their incentive will be to quit their jobs and head to the exchanges.

In sum: A lot of high-cost patients are about to enroll through the exchanges. This will force up premiums further for all other buyers.

At some point, politicians of both parties will realize that we can do better than this. That will require a real market for health insurance with premiums that reflect real risks. There is a role for government in helping people with severe health problems. That is why risk pools exist. What we didn’t need was to destroy the market for the many in order to give aid to the few.



Affordable Housing: Rhetoric versus Reality

Lessons from California

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent veto of Assembly Bill 1229, which authorized cities and counties to impose mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinances, sent a positive signal to the housing market and may help solve the housing shortage in California. Unfortunately some are still trying to modify a failing policy.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will consider revising its current inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires builders to set aside a certain number of units at discounts for low-income families.

Passed in 2004, the policy has been a complete failure when compared to nearby surrounding jurisdictions. To cite one example: Sacramento County has produced only 263 subsidized units, compared to 1,528 units in less populated Elk Grove.

The current county program requires setting aside 15 percent of new housing for sale or rent at subsidized rates. County staff members concluded that the current ordinance was detrimental to the creation of market-rate housing, so they are now suggesting lowering the subsidy for new-home construction to 8 percent. Unfortunately, this rate is still higher than many other regional fees and will continue to place the county at a competitive disadvantage in producing new housing.

Inclusionary zoning is actually exclusionary because it raises housing prices and reduces the growth rate of new housing stock, making it more difficult and less affordable for individuals struggling to find housing in this area. The only winners are the few lucky lottery winners who get to purchase new units at subsidized rates.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is the homebuilder—and ultimately the new-home buyer—that bear the burden of this policy.

The ordinance is like a tax on new housing because it forces builders to sell some units at significantly lower prices or to pay an in-lieu fee, reducing overall revenues. The supply of new housing will decrease, causing prices to increase. Some potential buyers, facing higher prices, will go elsewhere and increase the demand and prices of homes in nearby cities or far flung “exurbs,” where the costs of development are lower. Overall prices rise and new home production falls, placing homes out of the reach of many middle-class families.

Politicians like inclusionary zoning because it allows them to raise taxes indirectly. It also allows them to point to a new “affordable” project in their jurisdiction to show off to their constituents. As a former city council member and mayor, I am aware of the allure to act like you are doing something to solve a problem. Unfortunately, this is a problem created by local politicians.

California law only requires that jurisdictions plan for their housing needs. There is no requirement to provide subsidized housing and create artificial housing shortages.

Recent court decisions have required municipalities to demonstrate that a reasonable nexus exists between new-housing development and the demand for subsidized housing. Many municipalities have hired consulting firms to provide such a nexus. Unfortunately, these studies are performed by consultants with backgrounds in urban planning and very little training in economics. As a result, these studies reflect a lack of clear economic thinking using established economic models. They suggest a market failure for subsidized housing because more housing means more demand for subsidized units. Their approach could easily be applied to the purchases of cars, food and clothing, requiring a tax on all newly produced goods. Not surprisingly, none of these studies have been vetted by academic economists or published in respectable economic journals.

If county residents want to support subsidized housing, there are less costly ways of doing so. Voucher programs, down-payment assistance, and other programs allow qualified low-income individuals the freedom to choose where to locate, the type of housing they prefer and the amount of housing they can afford.

Regardless, any solutions for providing subsidized housing should be paid by all taxpayers rather than singling out new homebuyers. If that approach (which would require a popular vote to authorize broad taxation) is too politically risky, at the very least the board should make certain that the cost of the revised Affordable Housing Ordinance is competitive within the Sacramento region.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ignoring Facts and Attacking Character

The Left finds its foes not just wrong, but morally repugnant

Thomas Sowell

One of the things that attracted me to the political Left as a young man was a belief that leftists were for “the people.” Fortunately, I was also very interested in the history of ideas — and years of research in that field repeatedly brought out the inescapable fact that many leading thinkers on the left had only contempt for “the people.”

That has been true from the 18th century to the present moment. Even more surprising, I discovered over the years that leading thinkers on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum had more respect for ordinary people than people on the left who spoke in their name.

Leftists like Rousseau, Condorcet, or William Godwin in the 18th century, Karl Marx in the 19th century, or Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw in England and American Progressives in the 20th century saw the people in a role much like that of sheep and saw themselves as their shepherds.

Another disturbing pattern turned up that is also with us to the present moment. From the 18th century to today, many leading thinkers on the left have regarded those who disagree with them as being not merely factually wrong but morally repugnant. And again, this pattern is far less often found among those on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.

The visceral hostility toward Sarah Palin by present-day liberals, and the gutter level to which some descend in expressing it, is just one sign of a mindset on the left that goes back more than two centuries.

T. R. Malthus was the target of such hostility in the 18th and early 19th centuries. When replying to his critics, Malthus said, “I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor.”

But William Godwin’s vision of Malthus was very different. He called Malthus “malignant,” questioned “the humanity of the man,” and said “I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made.”

This asymmetry in responses to people with different opinions has been too persistent for too many years to be just a matter of individual personality differences.

Although Charles Murray has been a major critic of the welfare state and of the assumptions behind it, he recalled that before writing his landmark book, Losing Ground, he had been “working for years with people who ran social programs at street level, and knew the overwhelming majority of them to be good people trying hard to help.”

Can you think of anyone on the left who has described Charles Murray as “a good person trying hard to help”? He has been repeatedly denounced as virtually the devil incarnate — far more often than anyone has tried seriously to refute his facts.

Such treatment is not reserved solely for Murray. Liberal writer Andrew Hacker spoke more sweepingly when he said, “Conservatives don’t really care whether black Americans are happy or unhappy.”

Even in the midst of an election campaign against the British Labour party, when Winston Churchill said that there would be dire consequences if his opponents won, he said that this was because “they do not see where their theories are leading them.”

But, in an earlier campaign, Churchill’s opponent said that he looked upon Churchill “as such a personal force for evil that I would take up the fight against him with a whole heart.”

Examples of this asymmetry between those on opposite sides of the ideological divide could be multiplied almost without limit. It is not solely a matter of individual personality differences.

The vision of the Left is not just a vision of the world. For many, it is also a vision of themselves — a very flattering vision of people trying to save the planet, rescue the exploited, create “social justice,” and otherwise be on the side of the angels. This is an exalting vision that few are ready to give up, or to risk on a roll of the dice, which is what submitting it to the test of factual evidence amounts to. Maybe that is why there are so many fact-free arguments on the left, whether on gun control, minimum wages, or innumerable other issues — and why they react so viscerally to those who challenge their vision.



Baltimore Mall Shooting: Black Shooter Kills Two White People, Wounds Five, Possibly After Being Rejected By A White Girl

In the recent Mall Of Columbia shooting,  a black teenager walked into a mall with a shotgun, killed two white people his own age, possibly because he'd been rejected by a white girl in favor of a white man.

The male shooter, who has been identified as Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park, Maryland died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the attack.[6][5][2] According to WBAL, the gunman was Brianna Benlolo's ex-boyfriend, and Tyler Johnson and Benlolo were engaged

Eric Holder has once again come out with his line about the US being a "Nation of Cowards" about race. This is true. The headlne above contains facts that won't even appear in most MSM stories, and will never  appear in a headline. And all the stories will be about gun control, mental illness, depression, and metal detectors in malls.

None of them will be about the real issue: that for a white girl to get into a relationship with a black or Hispanic teenager may be easier than getting out.

There are young women every year who don't get out alive. That's a "Talk" worth having with your daughter.



Restoring Israel’s Rights: The Levy Report

The Jewish people’s considerable rights to the land of Israel are founded upon several bases:

Jews have been on the land for close to 4,000 years, most notably within eastern Jerusalem (where the Old City and the Temple Mount are located), and Judea and Samaria – all places where ancient Israelite heritage is marked.  Jews, in fact, are the indigenous people of Israel, present not only historically, but with continuity over the centuries.

In modern times there are legal precedents for establishing the Jewish claim to Israel: This is with reference to the San Remo Conference, the Mandate for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, confirmed in international law, and more.

These Jewish rights have certainly not diminished over the years.  Yet there is a prevailing perception that this is the case – that there has been a rethinking of what properly accrues to the Jewish State of Israel.  A revisionist perception, we might say.

This perception has been fueled by Palestinian Arab leader Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts, who – in insisting ad nauseum that Israel’s proper place is behind the “1967 border” – reveal themselves to be major advocates of the dictum that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Of course this business of a “1967 border” is a lie: there was no border established to Israel’s east after the War of Independence ended in 1949, only a temporary armistice line.  The armistice agreement was not even with a “Palestinian people,” but with Jordan.  Nor did Security Council Resolution 242 require Israel to pull back fully from Judea and Samaria, which was secured defensively during the Six-Day War in 1967.

But why bother with facts when a myth more favorable to the political interests of the Palestinian Arabs can be successfully generated?  Today, a good part of the world believes that Judea and Samaria consist of “Palestinian land,” which Israel must “return.”  The president of the United States speaks in such terms.  Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, called “settlements” (pejoratively), are referred to either as “illegitimate” or “illegal,” and the stumbling block to peace. Eastern Jerusalem, today part of the united capital of Jerusalem under full Israeli sovereignty, is called “Arab Jerusalem.”

It must be noted, however, that this Palestinian Arab myth could not have been successfully generated had successive Israeli governments self-confidently and persistently presented truths to counter the lies. Regrettably, since Oslo, this has not consistently been the case.

While no Israeli government has ever declared Judea, Samaria and the eastern part of Jerusalem to be “Palestinian land,” some have skirted close to embracing this position by behaving “as if.”  (A subject that perhaps merits a whole other article.) Some Israeli leaders to the left have swallowed the notion in its essence, speaking in terms of what the Israelis owe the “Palestinians.”  Some others are ideologically opposed to any such concept but timid about bucking a position that is politically correct internationally. This requires a determined strength, as significant parts of the international community, e.g., Europe, are predisposed to a pro-Palestinian Arab, anti-Israel position.

The good news here is that we may be about to witness a shift in the situation.

The current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is not ideologically committed to a notion of eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as “Palestinian land.”  He is neither Ehud Olmert nor Ehud Barak.

Rather – with the single notable exception of the Iranian nuclear issue – Netanyahu is a man whose style is marked by a tendency to play along, rather than making waves.  There is substantial reason to believe he has done this, again and again, in the mistaken belief that this will lessen the pressure on Israel and accrue favor within the international community. In point of fact, this is counterproductive.

In January, 2012, Netanyahu appointed a committee – popularly referred to as the Levy Committee – to examine the status of Israeli building in Judea and Samaria. Edmund Levy, former Justice of the High Court, headed the committee; its other members were Alan Baker, international lawyer and former adviser for the Foreign Ministry, and Tehiya Shapira, retired Tel Aviv District Court Judge.

The Committee’s Report, which was released on July 8, 2012, is 90 pages long in the original Hebrew.  (Only summaries exist in English.)  It consists of both conclusions and recommendations and provides legal arguments and research.

The accusations currently being leveled by the international community against Israel as a violator of “international law” because of building in Judea and Samaria are countered by the Levy Report conclusions.  That is, because of both historical and legal factors, the decades-long presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria is not “belligerent occupation.” Israel’s situation is unique (sui generis) and Israel has the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria.

The Report then offers a number of important recommendations, consistent with the conclu­sions, regarding adjustments in Israeli policies and practices in Judea and Samaria. These recommendations would clarify the rights of Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria, who currently find themselves at a serious disadvantage: The Israeli legal system default there favors Arabs.

At present, law-abiding, tax-paying Jewish Israeli citizens who bought their homes in Judea or Samaria in good faith and with the assistance of multiple government agencies can be forced to abandon those homes, if ownership of the land on which their homes are located is challenged by local Arabs, before the issue of who actually owns the land has been properly adjudicated.

These and a host of similar situations are violations of basic rights for Jews that should not be permitted to continue. Levy Report recommendations speak to these concerns.

I have it from an impeccable source that when Prime Minister Netanyahu first saw the Report, he declared, “Ah, this is just what we need.”

But information about the report was leaked, and Netanyahu, confronting the international furor that would result from its official adoption, did an about-face.  He referred the Report to the Ministerial Committee on Settlements, where it was tabled without discussion.  To this day, it sits in a drawer somewhere, effectively never having seen the light of day.

And so, the Levy Report disappeared from the radar screen of public awareness.  But it was not forgotten by Israeli activists and politicians with a nationalist orientation, who understood its enormous importance.

In the fall of 2012, a small group of seasoned activists formed an ad hoc committee to pursue plans for securing the adoption of the Report by the government. International lawyers and politicians were consulted, the political climate was assessed and assessed again; and plans for a campaign evolved through several permutations.  Persons and organizations of prominence who would lend their names to the campaign were sought (FP editor Jamie Glazov and FP parent organization, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, are both listed).  Additionally, and necessarily, backers to provide funds were secured.

As the plans for the campaign have coalesced over the last few months, the Campaign Committee has become convinced that the timing is right.

This is, first, because of the farcical “negotiations” with the Palestinian Authority.  If there are going to be such negotiations (certainly not advocated by the Campaign Committee) it is important that Israel negotiate from strength, and this means stating Israeli rights without equivocation. There is scant time to delay on this. It’s one thing to concede that Israel “must” withdraw from at least part of Judea and Samaria, because this is “owed” to the Palestinian Arabs, and quite another to say that it is Israeli land by right and any concessions to the Palestinian Arabs would be a matter of choice and discretion.

Then there has been an encouraging shift within the government, with a greater number of ministers and deputies who are nationalist or who tend to be opposed to the notion of a Palestinian state, such as: Moshe Ya’alon; Naftali Bennett; Danny Danon; Yisrael Katz; Tzipi Hotovely; Ze’ev Elkin; Uzi Landau; Yair Shamir; and Uri Ariel. Add to this list Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset.

Lastly, there is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s second Bar Ilan speech of October 6.  Instead of speaking of a “two state solution,” as he had previously, he emphasized Jewish rights in the land.  A change of tone that many consider significant.


Chris Brand is ill and hospitalized at the moment so no new news commentary from him this week.


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)


Monday, January 27, 2014

Are Leftists just looters?

An interesting email from a reader below.  I add some comments at the foot of it  -- JR

You claimed about Leftism: "Until you accept that the aim of Leftists is to hurt, not help, none of their actions makes sense.  Leftism, Liberalism, Progressivism are all words for the politics of hate. They hate the world about them.  And with motivations like that behind them, principles pass them by like a fart in a breeze"

I think I must disagree with you, based on my own experience with Leftists (particularly those one might label as "limousine Leftists"). Leftism, of whatever variety, appears to be much more about power and control, and about making a profit from the work of others through the process of managing economic activity.

Leftism shares the characteristics of a religion in that the founding ideology is axiomatic, and that any argument or dissent against their fundamental principles as stated is immoral. These principles can me quite flimsy and situational - for example, during the global cooling scare, arguing against the anthropomorphic global cooling theory was immoral and dangerous, until such time as empirical evidence transformed this thesis into an anthropomorphic global warming theory, after which arguing against the anthropomorphic global warming theory (or reflecting upon the earlier cooling theory) was immoral and dangerous, after which this changed to an anthropomorphic "climate change" theory, etc. This "Leftspeak" phenomenon is best described in the afterword of George Orwell's book, 1984.

Leftists may use the politics of hate to demean and isolate targets of opportunity, but this is not their defining characteristic. Leftists are just as likely to laud and promote some faction or class of people when such a strategy might be to their advantage. This may be as benign as the promotion of vegetarians or as destructive as the promotion of illegal drug traffickers, but the primary end is the empowerment and enrichment of the Leftist elite. Thus why, for example, Leftists who might go to excess to promote the civil rights of Muslims in Western countries preach non-interference with the extermination of Muslims in Syria. So also why Leftists who bristle at the slightest indignity to American Blacks will demean Blacks who vote Republican or who are known to be prominent conservative theorists as "race traitors".

Perhaps the best way to understand the Left is as a transnational criminal mafia, which are made up of a loose confederation of national socialist gangs that tend to co-operate to loot non-Leftist nations for their mutual benefit. Much like any other organized crime syndicate, they may certainly wreak havoc on the societies they inflict themselves upon and do frequently turn to fraud and violence to achieve their aims, but they do not do so simply in the name of spite or vindictiveness, no more than a bank robber's ultimate goal is to inconvenience banks. The bottom line for all Leftist entities is monetary gain and for a growth in prosperity and influence for their leadership elite. Absent this dynamic, Leftist factions tend to wither away.

That Leftist principles are merely whatever makes good propaganda at the time and that Leftists are power-mad I agree with.  The flexibility of their principles is certainly notorious, as their embrace of Islam shows.  If Leftists had ANY sincerely-held principles, they would be relentless enemies of Islam.

What I think the above account overlooks  however is the  passion of Leftists.  They are not just looters.  They are driven.  And hate is the driver.  They want power mainly to hurt others or to hurt whole societies -- as we saw with Pol Pot, Stalin etc.  They actually have a bloodlust towards those as they see as standing in the way of their ideal society  -- which is a society with them at the top running everything and dispensing favours, of course.  They normally have to mask that bloodlust but it soon pops out once they gain unrestrained power -- as after a communist revolution --JR.


Fact-Free Liberals: Part III

Thomas Sowell

Since this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the "war on poverty," we can expect many comments and commemorations of this landmark legislation in the development of the American welfare state.

The actual signing of the "war on poverty" legislation took place in August 1964, so the 50th anniversary is some months away. But there have already been statements in the media and in politics proclaiming that this vast and costly array of anti-poverty programs "worked."

Of course everything "works" by sufficiently low standards, and everything "fails" by sufficiently high standards. The real question is: What did the "war on poverty" set out to do -- and how well did it do it, if at all?

Without some idea of what a person or a program is trying to do, there is no way to know whether what actually happened represented a success or a failure. When the hard facts show that a policy has failed, nothing is easier for its defenders than to make up a new set of criteria, by which it can be said to have succeeded.

That has in fact been what happened with the "war on poverty."

Both President John F. Kennedy, who launched the proposal for a "war on poverty" and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who guided the legislation through Congress and then signed it into law, were very explicit as to what the "war on poverty" was intended to accomplish.

Its mission was not simply to prove that spending money on the poor led to some economic benefits to the poor. Nobody ever doubted that. How could they?

What the war on poverty was intended to end was mass dependency on government. President Kennedy said, "We must find ways of returning far more of our dependent people to independence."

The same theme was repeated endlessly by President Johnson. The purpose of the "war on poverty," he said, was to make "taxpayers out of taxeaters." Its slogan was "Give a hand up, not a handout." When Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law, he declared: "The days of the dole in our country are numbered."

Now, 50 years and trillions of dollars later, it is painfully clear that there is more dependency than ever.

Ironically, dependency on government to raise people above the poverty line had been going down for years before the "war on poverty" began. The hard facts showed that the number of people who lived below the official poverty line had been declining since 1960, and was only half of what it had been in 1950.

On the more fundamental question of dependency, the facts were even clearer. The proportion of people whose earnings put them below the poverty level -- without counting government benefits -- declined by about one-third from 1950 to 1965.

All this was happening before the "war on poverty" went into effect -- and all these trends reversed after it went into effect.

Nor was this pattern unique. Other beneficial social trends that were going on before the 1960s reversed after other bright ideas of that decade were put into effect.

Massive "sex education" programs were put into schools, claiming that this was urgently needed to reduce a "crisis" of teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases. But teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases had both been going down for years.

The rate of infection for gonorrhea, for example, declined every year from 1950 through 1959, and the rate of syphilis infection was, by 1960, less than half of what it had been in 1950. Both trends reversed and skyrocketed after "sex education" became pervasive.

The murder rate had been going down for decades, and in 1960 was only half of what it had been in 1934. That trend suddenly reversed after the liberal changes in criminal laws during the 1960s. By 1974, the murder rate was more than twice as high as it had been in 1961.

While the fact-free liberals celebrate the "war on poverty" and other bright ideas of the 1960s, we are trying to cope with yet another "reform" that has made matters worse, ObamaCare.



The deluded man

Does he believe his own BS?  Probably not

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, was recently interviewed about Syria. While many of his assertions can be debated, one especially requires a response. Throughout the interview, he repeatedly insisted that, if Bashar Assad would only leave power, everything would go well — especially for all of Syria's minorities.

In his words: "I believe that a peace can protect all of the minorities: Druze, Christian, Ismailis, Alawites — all of them can be protected, and you can have a pluralistic Syria, in which minority rights of all people are protected."

Elsewhere in the interview, Kerry declared that "The world would protect the Alawites, Druze, Christians, and all minorities in Syria after the ousting of Assad."

The problem here is that we have precedent — exact precedent. We've seen this paradigm before and know precisely what happens once strongman dictators like Assad are gone.

As demonstrated in this article, in all Muslim nations where the U.S. has intervened to help topple dictators and bring democracy, it is precisely the minorities who suffer first. And neither the U.S. nor "the world" do much about it.

After the U.S. toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, Christian minorities were savagely attacked and slaughtered, and dozens of their churches were bombed (see here for graphic images). Christians have been terrorized into near-extinction, so that today, a decade after the ousting of Saddam, more than half of them have fled Iraq.  The "world" did nothing.

Ever since U.S.-backed, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists overthrew Qaddafi, Christians—including Americans—have been been tortured and killed (including for refusing to convert), their churches bombed, and their nuns threatened.  Not much "pluralism" there.

Once the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, in place of Mubarak — and all with U.S. support — the persecution of Copts practically became legalized, as unprecedented numbers of Christians—men, women, and children—were arrested, often receiving more than double the maximum prison sentence, under the accusation that they "blasphemed" Islam and/or its prophet.

Not only did the U.S. do nothing — it asked the Coptic Church not to join the June Revolution that led to the ousting of the Brotherhood and Muhammad Morsi.

In short, where the U.S. works to oust secular autocrats, the quality of life for Christians and other minorities takes a major nosedive. In Saddam's Iraq, Qaddafi's Libya, and Assad's Syria (before the U.S.-sponsored war), Christians and their churches were largely protected.

Today, Syria is the third worst nation in the world in which to be Christian, Iraq is fourth, Libya 13th, and Egypt 22nd.

So how can anyone — especially Christians and other minorities — have any confidence in Kerry's repeated assurances that religious minorities will be safeguarded once secular strongman Assad is gone — and by the "world" no less — leading to a "pluralistic" Syria?



Message From the Left: If You Buy a Gun, You Will Kill Yourself

Leave it to our “friends” on the Left to draw exactly the wrong conclusions from a given set of facts. Take gun control, for example. In Leftspeak, “gun control” – harsh restrictions on gun ownership – makes the world safe by removing guns “from our streets.” However, notwithstanding the dirty little secret that the Entitlement Class currently controlling the levers of U.S. political power wants to disarm the public en route to its ultimate goal of statist tyranny, scholarly studies like those published in economist John Lott's book “More Guns, Less Crime” have conclusively shown that implementation of gun control laws is directly correlated – and strongly, at that – with violent crime rates. Further – as the title of Lott's book also suggests – per capita rates of gun ownership are inversely correlated, again strongly, with crime rates. As another data point: The NRA notes that gun ownership is at an all-time high at exactly the same time the nation's murder rate is approaching an all-time low.

But never mind the facts. Leftists have never let those pesky things get in the way of a good yarn. Fortunately for them, the halls of Pollyanna-academia are filled with mush-heads who stand ready to “refute” these inconvenient truths. The latest effort was recently published in the otherwise-reputable Annals of Internal Medicine. Now why, one might ask, would a journal of internal medicine focus on a political issue like gun control? Great question; we can't answer it. The gist of the study is the “conclusive” finding that having a gun inside one's home makes one more likely to successfully attempt suicide.

Of course, the authors of this brilliant study ask us to check our brains at the Left-think door before we critically examine their findings. As Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine notes, these researchers would like us to put aside the fact that someone contemplating suicide might actually have the malice aforethought to go out and buy a gun; or that “the same personality traits or circumstances that increase their risk of suicide also make gun ownership more attractive.” Sullum further asks, “In how many cases, if any, did an abusive husband disarm his wife and use the gun she bought for self-defense against her? Were the people who committed suicide determined enough that if a gun had not been available they would have killed themselves anyway?” Who knows? No one bothered to investigate these obvious questions.

The problem is that no analysis beyond a first-order glance at the data was made during the study. The pre-biased authors had a conclusion in search of research data to support it, as is often the case with such “studies.” Without knowing the details of each death, the study – though full of facts – is wholly worthless because so many other independent variables which bear directly on the results were not even considered, let alone evaluated. Not to worry, however: For the ideologically driven, facts that don't support the forgone conclusion may be readily discarded.

However, in debunking the latest leftist gun-control tripe, let's not forget to keep our eye on the ball: At issue here is not “how safe” we feel with or without guns. The real issue is whether we, as U.S. citizens, have the right to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment – period. The Constitution's answer is, “Yes.” Setting aside the buffoonery that renders this study worthless, even if its claims were accurate, its findings would have no impact on our constitutional rights.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Please Take Me off Your List of Hate

Mrs Instapundit sends off a fiery reply below to the latest attempt to "psychologize" conservatives.  Leftists have been doing that at least since 1950 and the amusing thing is that most of what the Leftists write is transparent projection:  They accuse conservatives of what are their own faults  -- hate, authoritarianism etc.  So it is no wonder that their attempts to substantiate their accusations through actual psychological research eventually come to naught.  Background here and here.

The "polarized mind" concept below is just the latest version of a very old accusation.  On previous occasions it has been referred to by Leftists as "intolerance of ambiguity", "rigity" "dogmatism" and lack of "openness".  When you know how closed off from evidence Leftists are, you can see why they project that on to conservatives.  Background here  -- JR.

So I received this press release about a newly released book by psychologist Kirk J. Schneider Ph.D:


    Lorna Garano


    A Psychologist Diagnoses the Tea Party-and other extremists threatening our world. In “The Polarized Mind: Why It’s Killing Us and What We Can Do about It,” Kirk J. Schneider Ph.D., calls for a new and deeper psychological understanding of our greatest political and social conflicts and those who drive them.

    It’s easy for liberals to snicker at the misspelled signs and misplaced anger of the Tea Party, but psychologist Kirk J. Schneider says that we dismiss or diminish groups like this at our own peril. Schneider, the author of THE POLARIZED MIND: WHY IT’S KILLING US AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT (University Professor Press, 2013, paperback), has done an exhaustive study of extremist movements throughout history and he says it’s time for us to look more seriously at what he calls “the polarized mind.” In “The Polarized Mind: Why It’s Killing Us and What We Can Do about It,” Kirk J. Schneider Ph.D., calls for a new and deeper psychological understanding of our greatest political and social conflicts and those who drive them.

    “You can see gradations of the ‘polarized mind’ at work in virtually all destructive political movements from Nazi Germany to Maoist China to our very own Tea Party. In fact, it is the pervasive malady of the 20 and 21st Centuries,” says Schneider.

    How does the Tea Party fit in? Many among its ranks have seen their lives profoundly upended by economic, social, and political trends beyond their control. They tend to be middle class people who are mired in debt and have seen a sharp decline in their living standard due to the shift to a service-industry economy. They often face stiff competition for low-wage jobs and when they land them they may be confined to dull, meaningless work day after day. They resent any government help for people who are even less fortunate and train their anger on those who are the least responsible for their plight. And it’s not just an empty wallet that drives them. It’s also a sense of social dislocation. “I think many in this movement are embittered over the increasing complexity of contemporary life. They look at the 9/11 attack-which once would have seemed unthinkable-the decrease in church attendance in many places, the loss of two-parent households, gender equality, the lack of simple ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ presentations of the U.S. vs. the rest of the world, and they feel profound existential anxiety-as if the ground beneath them is giving way,” says Schneider.

    Although you won’t find “polarized mind” in any official diagnostic manual, for Schneider it’s crucial that the psychological community and the world at large rethink our ideas about mental illness if we are to understand the forces at play in the world. “When we think of mental illness, we think of a discrete and politically powerless group of people who have received a diagnosis, but if you look at the key criteria for diagnoses it’s abundantly clear that they describe vast swaths of the population, not a marginalized group,” says Schneider. Look, for example, at some of the traits of narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy: A callous disregard for the feelings of others, the reckless disregard for the safety of others, a sense of entitlement, arrogance, a grandiose sense of self-importance. These traits are readily seen in the Tea Party and other extremist groups.

    “No one can or should deny the historical forces that have shaped movements like the Tea Party, but to overlook or dismiss the psychological factors that are linked to them is to have less than a full understanding of what makes extremism tick-and how we can defuse it,” says Schneider. Recognizing the polarized mind when we see it is the first step.

Here is the reply I sent back to Lorna Garano:

"How DARE YOU send me this trash associating law abiding American citizens with Nazi Germany and Maoist China. I am a psychologist who has sympathy for my fellow Americans who are so “extremist” that they believe in lower taxes and the Second Amendment. Horrors!

What is “killing us” are polarized minds like Kirk J. Schneider Ph.D who is so narrow-minded that he thinks those who have different political beliefs than himself are the enemy and seeks to assign them with a “diagnosis.” What is truly extremist and scary to those of a more conservative or libertarian persuasion is that so many psychologists such as the one below are such political hacks for the Democratic Party. Please take me off your list of hate.

Helen Smith, PhD"



Democrats' Demonizing Validates Conservative Critique of Big Government

Does anyone else wonder what has become of all the calls for "civility"? Because it seems as though prominent Democrat politicians are engaging in an orgy of downright-creepy, vituperative name-calling. Creepy? Yes. Because it's chilling that they have the power to act this way -- and get away with it.

The President suggested that many of those who now disapprove of him do so because they are racists.

Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his assertion that, when it comes to matters of race, America is a "nation of cowards."

Senator Chuck Schumer characterized Tea Partiers as bigots and antisemites.

Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted that those who hold mainstream conservative principles are so extreme that they have no place in the state of New York.  New York City mayor Bill de Blasio agreed with him.

There are two points to all of this worth making.

First, such character assassination is not a mark of a party that has confidence in its own ideas -- or its own standing with the American public. It is the mark of a party that realizes just how unpopular its stewardship and its ideology has become. That's why it must desperately seek to marginalize those who disagree; if the ideas were as unpopular or as extreme as Democrats would like for Americans to believe, name-calling would be unnecessary and marginalization would happen on its own.

Second, the tactic itself emphasizes just how out-of-control government -- and those who run it -- have become, thus implicitly reinforcing the validity of the conservative critique. I noted that the IRS harassment of conservatives (and even the Christie administration's bridge controversy) both reflect a profound lack of respect on the part of the governing elites for regular American citizens. So does this government-official-led name-calling and demonizing.

Sure, Americans have a history of robust political debate between parties -- and between American citizens. But there's something wrong when any group of government leaders engage in an organized effort to deride and demonize a group of ordinary American citizens (much less have the ability and willingness to follow up the demonization with government harassment of dissenters). Keep in mind that those they attack are not people who are "enemies of the state," dedicated to overthrowing the government or terrorizing its population. These are people who simply disagree with ideological assumptions of the (Democrat) ruling class about the policies that will most benefit America and its people.

Truly, any time Democrats start with the name-calling, it falls on everyone of good-will -- Democrat or Republican, liberal or moderate or conservative -- to point out that it is unbecoming in a nation where the people are supposed to be the masters -- not the targets or the servants -- of the government and its leaders. And start trying to right the power imbalance between the people and the government so that no government leader, of either party, will be arrogant enough to try to get away with this in the future.



Obama’s income equality push is a dangerous path

By Rick Manning

You can’t turn on a talking head program these days without someone decrying income inequality.  The talking points are everywhere, even reaching the Sundance Film Festival where some of the nation’s one percenters decried the disparity.

Congressional Democrats, desperate for something to talk about besides their failing Obamacare law, are urgently trying to change the subject to increasing unemployment insurance and minimum wage.  All under their campaign umbrella messaging that income inequality is bad.

Yet it is income inequality that has been at the heart of the very capitalist system that helped a vast majority of people rise out of poverty.

Does anyone seriously believe that someone who spent a decade studying and going through privation to become a brain surgeon should get paid the same as someone who is a 7-11 clerk?  Obviously not.  While few have chosen to go through the arduous process of learning the intricacies of brain surgery, virtually anyone who is willing to show up to work on time can be an entry level order taker.

Yet, somehow, those on the left argue that income inequality is a bad thing.  The consequence of this argument is that the brain surgeon income should be capped and reduced through higher taxes, while the wage of the low-skill order taker should be raised under the illusion of “income inequality.”

No one is going to feel sorry for guys like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, and that is not the point.

The point is that Bill Gates did not start out as one of the wealthiest men in the world, he started out as an upper-middle class kid with a love for computers, whose moxey and toughness took him to the top of the economic food chain.  This is a journey that any American can take if they have the smarts and willingness to risk everything to compete and win in brutal economic competition.

If income inequality did not exist, what incentive would there be for inventing and perfecting the personal computer, cell phone or even to work long hours in the hopes of a promotion, when you really would prefer to go home?

And while this may seem extreme, the ultimate statement of the supposed income equality that Obama and his minions promote is Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  These twelve words serve as a perfect embodiment of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality — this dangerous push for equal outcomes — permeates post-modern American culture.

Marx’s words have also served as the excuse for the murder of 80 million Chinese by Mao, and the slaughter of another 30 million or so in Russia by Lenin and Stalin.

Powerful words, that once they take root, allow any act to be justified in the pursuit of “income equality.”

Government is ultimately the power to coerce.  The power to force people to pay taxes, follow rules and regulations and do what those in charge dictate under the threat of imprisonment or worse.

As Mao himself wrote, “all power derives from the end of a gun” meaning that ultimately the threat of violence and the perceived willingness to use it against the people, is a government’s only real tool to enforce its will.

Now we have wealthy actors and news readers mouthing the income inequality lines written by their big government intellectual masters, without even recognizing that the pursuit of income equality is actually the greatest evil in the world.

Income equality is an evil that plays the seductive class warfare card which historically has led to guillotines and pogroms — little more than pretext to dictatorship clothed in high-minded sounding rhetoric.

And while I am confident that President Obama’s handlers envision his upcoming State of the Union speech with the John Lennon song “Imagine” playing in the background, the problem is that the underlying goal of government enforced income equality is to steal from those who create wealth and redistribute that wealth to those who are politically favored.

Even John Lennon figured out that his utopian imagination was a failure, as he fled to the United States to avoid living under similar confiscatory tax policies that existed in Great Britain at the time.

Of course, it doesn’t take a 90 percent tax rate epiphany to figure this out, as any seven year old who attends Sunday School could answer why the income inequality plea is both wrong and doomed.  Just ask them about the Eighth of the Ten Commandment which plainly states, “thou shall not steal.”

How hard is that to understand?



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)