Halftime Report

The dust continues to swirl around the national food fight over universalizing some mutation of health insurance/assurance. President Obama, during his anybody-but-Fox tag-team campaign appearances this weekend, took pains to ruefully reflect on how unfair in argument and temperament are his critics … yet no mention of things like last Tuesday’s front-page story in the Los Angeles Times headlined “Doctors Go For Obama’s Reform” (which of course wasn’t referring to doctors at all, rather the AMA which lobbies for only 18% of physicians). In fact, 65%, of doctors surveyed say they oppose the proposed government expansion plan[1].

It gets worse: Forty-five percent of surveyed doctors said they “would consider leaving their practice or taking an early retirement” if Congress passes the plan that Democrats and the White House are championing. Under the proposed medical overhaul, an additional 47,000,000 people would have to be cared for – an 18% increase in patient load – without an equivalent increase in the nation’s 800,000 doctors. If 360,000 doctors quit, stress on the system will only worsen[2].

These are meaningful considerations because we are told that all this – everyone suddenly being insured with no commensurate influx of new doctors (in fact, a likely decrease) – will result in better care, lower cost, no middle class tax increase and no rationing. Eat your heart out David Copperfield.

Feeding on the public anxiety over the discrepancy between the obvious and the claims of proponents, on Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told Meet the Press host David Gregory that the healthcare plan being pushed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats is now dead and will not pass.

“There’s been no bipartisan conversation on Capitol Hill about healthcare,” Boehner said, “at some point when these big government plans fail – and they will, the Congress will not pass this – it’s really time for the president to hit the reset button, just stop all of this and let’s sit down and start over in a bipartisan way to build a plan that Americans will support.”

“So you think the plan is dead?” asked Gregory.

“I think it is,” said Boehner[3].

This comes just a week after hundreds of thousands of people came to the nation’s capitol to yell “Stop!”

Numerically, this was possibly the most significant Washington protest since the civil rights movement’s epic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The march could be the leading edge of the fabled Silent Majority being silent no more. That might give President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi reason to sit down and rethink everything they think they know about the American people[4].

Liberals continually misread the rest of us. Getting hundreds of thousands of kids, students, the professionally unemployed, and government workers to show up isn’t that hard [especially if someone buys the bus tickets]. Getting hundreds of thousands of middle-class, middle-aged people with jobs, careers, children and businesses to show up is way, way more impressive.

This misconception showed itself in media coverage (or lack of it) of the tea parties, which were portrayed as anti-tax protests, when the participants repeatedly told reporters that they were out to complain about the explosion of big government and take-overs of private businesses, ending in, but not beginning with, ObamaCare. This isn’t, and never has been, about a single issue. It’s been building since Congress passed an extremely unpopular bailout of banks; gave Chrysler to the UAW and General Motors to the West Wing; passed a “stimulus” bill that did little but pay back Democrat activists for the 2008 election; slammed cap-and-trade through the House; the appointing of three czars for every month of the year; and culminated in the heavy-handed attempt to gain control over the healthcare segment of the economy[5]. The breathtaking pace of Mr Obama’s first few months in office has given us non-Liberals pause for concern over what the country will look like when he’s through with it.

The American people don’t like being hoodwinked and we don’t like being force-fed somebody else’s Utopia and we’re turning out to say “Hold it! … give us these swell ideas one at a time and give us time to think about them. They may indeed be terrific, but if you’re not even going to read them, you don’t mind if we do, do you?”

Trust me, at some point they will listen. A whopping 48 of those Democrats – eight more than the size of their majority – are from districts that voted for both Bush and McCain. That America is very different from the Democrat base in blue America, and it sees many major issues very differently. There is a growing view that the cumulative impact of Democrat missteps has reached a critical mass, with Obama receiving some damage and Democrats in Congress and the Democrat Party receiving much more. What we are seeing is an electorate growing just as disgusted with the Democrat majority as it did with the Republicans in 2006.

As if to underline the point, Americans now hold Members of Congress in lower esteem than corporate CEOs … in fact, lower than any other category of professions polled[6]. Just one-out-of-four Americans have a favorable opinion of Members of Congress while seventy-two percent view them unfavorably, and there’s some intensity in that perception. Only four percent have a very favorable view of Congressmen, while thirty-seven percent view them very unfavorably. Even fifty-six percent of Democrats have an unfavorable view of Congress although their party controls both Houses of Congress. Of course, their opposition pales next to the eighty-six percent of Republicans and eighty-one percent of independents who have an unfavorable opinion of Congress.

I get into this degree of detail because we are told by the same people who think all of this is a good idea that the opposition is nothing but highly organized and artificial protesters, trying to drown-out honest, cultured debate (these are same people who called George Bush “Hitler” and the Bush West Wing “war criminals”).

The disgust is honest, and Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue ignore it only at their own professional peril.

[1] See Terry Jones, 45% of Doctors Would Consider Quitting If Congress Passes Healthcare Overhaul, in Investor’s Business Daily, September 15 2009.

[2] The US already has just 2.4 physicians per 1,000 population – below the median of 3.1 for members of the OECD, the official club of wealthy nations.

[3] Terence P Jeffrey, Boehner Says Democrat Health Care Plan is Dead, CNS News, September 20 2009.

[4] Mark Tapscott, What next for the Middle America Rebellion of 2009, in Washington Examiner, September 17 2009.

[5] Brian Faughnan, Voter Attitudes Hardening Against Democrat Congress, in Red State, September 18 2009.

[6] Americans Now View Congress As Least Respected Job, in Rasmussen Reports, September 21 2009. This national telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted by Rasmussen Reports September 17-18 2009, with a margin of sampling error for the survey of ± 3% and a 95% level of confidence.

Scientific Method

We’ve talked about “scientific method” before – about how this discipline distinguishes science from other avenues of thought and theory. An interesting demonstration may be about to take place that also applies to a rather arcane region of interest – the interface between the quantum and temporal worlds[1].

Dr Oriol Romero-Isart of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics [Garching, Germany], and his colleagues have posited a method by which they may be able to place a post-molecular object into a state of “superposition”, or exhibiting two distinct states at the same time, a decidedly quantum condition. Superposition is a delicate state, destroyed by any contact with the outside world, which is why objects larger than molecules prove problematic, because air molecules and photons are always bouncing off of them.

The innovative technique proposed exploits the very “solar wind” effect of photons that destroys the quantum dual-state. By crossing two tunable lasers of matched frequency, the intersection-point creates an optical cavity within which a single virus could be suspended. By gently (and simultaneously) adjusting the frequencies of the lasers, the photons can be made to absorb the vibration energy of the trapped virus about its center of mass until it is slowed to its lowest possible energy state, or its “ground state”. At this point, sending a singe lased photon towards the trap should do the trick. Since a photon is itself a quantum entity, it has more than one option open to it, and would be both reflected and transmitted at the trap, putting it into a superposition. By imposing a dual-state optical cavity on the virus, it forces it into a superposition of both its ground state and next vibrational energy state. Now the virus would be doing two different things at once.

This would take care of the repeatability test of scientific method – if successful, the technique should be able to be replicated by other laboratories – while also applying the “test for falsity” to another aspect of quantum theory. Most physicists believe that the reason quantum behavior manifests itself only in very small things is that objects are difficult to isolate from their dynamic surroundings. But prominent physicist (and colleague of Steven Hawking) Roger Penrose [Oxford] believes instead that there is a critical size, or mass, at which bodies cease to become quantum. If a virus – a living entity – can be superpositioned in an optical bottle, Dr Penrose’s “critical size” criteria will have been proven inadequate, or at least expanded by orders of magnitude (well into the temporal world), an adjustment extremely rare in today’s science.

Interesting stuff.

[1] See Marcus Chown, Could we create quantum creatures in the lab?, in New Scientist, September 15 2009.

Revise and Extend

Congress has a charming tradition whereby Members can “revise and extend” their public remarks for the official record. It gives, in other words, free license to say anything they want when people are listening, and then change those remarks for the record when no one is looking. Last Friday’s Press Dump[1] included a White House revision and extension of President Obama’s Wednesday speech, so rudely interrupted by Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) “You lie!” remark.

The bullet points released by the White House:

  • Undocumented immigrants would not be able to buy private insurance on the exchange. Those who are lawfully present in this country would be able to participate.
  • Undocumented immigrants would be able to buy insurance in the non-exchange private market, just as they do today. That market will shrink as the exchange takes hold, but it will still exist and will be subject to reforms such as the bans on pre-existing conditions and caps.
  • Verification will be required when purchasing health insurance on the exchange. One option is the SAVE program (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) which states currently use to make sure that undocumented immigrants don’t participate in safety-net programs for which they are ineligible.
  • There would be no change in the law that requires emergency rooms to treat people who need emergency care, including undocumented immigrants. There is already a federal grant program that compensates states for emergency room costs associated with treatment of undocumented immigrants, a provision sponsored by a Republican lawmaker[2].

Number one tells us that illegal aliens won’t be able to buy private insurance from private insurers through “the exchange”. There is no exchange, nor is one articulated in any of the bills presently out of committee in either House of Congress. So here, he is either talking to Democrat Members of Congress, or he’s just makin’ stuff up.

Number two tells us that private insurers not included in the non-existent exchange could still sell to illegal aliens, but that non-exchange private insurers will steadily shrink as “the exchange” takes hold. Non-exchange private insurers will be permitted, presumably, just regulated out of practicality. Again, no language exists that speaks to any of this. He’s either telling Democrats to create such language, or just makin’ stuff up.

Bullet number three tells us that SAVE (or some analog) would be used to validate immigration eligibility upon application to “the exchange”. Interestingly, this very provision has been proposed (by Republicans) in every Congressional committee considering healthcare legislation, and voted down (by Democrats) in every Congressional committee considering healthcare legislation. One wonders of what He speaketh.

Bullet four (no one will be turned away from emergency treatment) is non-sequitur to the question of insurance coverage for illegal aliens.

While rude, Mr Wilson seems to have those pesky Democrat-written facts on his side.

[1] The White House, like all agencies of government, issues press releases all the time. Many are handled by the Press Secretary during his daily presser with the White House press corps. When the White House wishes as little scrutiny as possible, however, it includes the material in Friday afternoon’s “Press Dump”, which comes out too late for the printed press to get into evening papers, and, it hopes, too late to vet and include in network evening news broadcasts.

[2] Mike Viqueira, White House on health care, illegal immigrants, NBC News, September 11 2009.

They Just Can’t Help Themselves

Upon ascending to the Speakership of the House, Nancy Pelosi (Twit-CA), looked America in the eye and promised to “drain the swamp … preside over the most ethical Congress in history.” And just before he started appointing his 30+ czars, a straight-faced President Obama promised the “most open administration” in history.

Democrats say the cutest things.

Ms Pelosi’s embarrassment du jour is one Charles Rangel (Cheat-NY), chairman of the tax-code-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Turns out he abbreviated his 2007 financial disclosure form by around half a million (so far). Apparently misunderstanding “credit union” to mean “doesn’t count”, Mr Rangel left off a $250,000 regular account and a $250,000 investment account at a “doesn’t count”. Forgetting that he has three properties in New Jersey, they didn’t show up either. Apparently confused by the Byzantine rules which he oversees, Mr Rangel has failed to report assets totaling over a million on various legally required financial disclosure forms. Oh yeah, then there’s the revelations that Mr Rangel didn’t report – and didn’t pay taxes on – income from his villa in the Caribbean.

The (Democrat-controlled) House Ethics Committee is desperately trying to decide if these connected dots constitute a pattern of tax evasion or are just serially coincidentally beneficial oversights on Mr Rangel’s part. This “investigation” shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, but it has dragged-on for months now, and shows no indication of figuring this out before, oh, say after the 2010 mid-terms.

In the matter of Mr Rangel’s Caribbean property, Tim “TurboTax” Geithner’s IRS allowed him to pay the ~$10,000 owed in back taxes, but did not require him to pay any penalty or interest. These same people – Pelosi, Democrat Ethics Committee, Geithner’s IRS – would have euthanized Dick Cheney for any two of these indiscretions.

Seeing the glass as half-full, Texas Representative John Carter has proposed HR 735, a bill that would normalize this treatment. Essentially, if the IRS finds a shortfall in one’s return, the clumsy filer could simply remit the unpaid tax and write “Rangel Rule” over the amounts owed in the spaces for penalties and interest.

Seeing the glass as a coiled snake, Democrats have given the idea a wide berth.

Obama’s Summer of Discontent

Aside from having to put lipstick on his pig of an August, President Obama comes face-to-face with his “negotiate or else” deadline on Iran. This will turn out to be more of an insight into his leadership than anything else (neither we nor anyone else – save Israel – is prepared to actually do anything about Iran’s nuclear program). Example:

“If they believe that this would give them a more secure position, a greater capacity to influence events, to intimidate their neighbors, to expand the reach of their ideology, they were mistaken,” SecState Hillary Clinton has famously said. “We do not intend to accept nuclear weapons by Iran.” She then went on, “They need to think again, because they will render their position less secure, they will trigger an arms race in the region, and they will certainly put greater pressure on the United States to extend a defense umbrella in order to hem in and contain them[1].”

NEWS FLASH: Setting up a regime of containment and deterrence IS accepting a nuclear-armed Iran.

For better or worse, the window closed on non-kinetically preventing Iran from developing the capacity for building a nuclear weapon some time during the Bush-43 administration. Sanctions leak (Russia, PRC, Denmark, France, etc); even “perfect” sanctions take longer to work then there is time remaining; and most sanctions are lifted for “humanitarian” reasons just as they are beginning to work. Sanctions were never going to bring Iran to the bargaining table in good faith.

And if we get them to the table, then what? No one can look at the five-year history of the EU-3/Iranian talks and hold any illusion that Iran was negotiating in good faith. During that pathetic charade, the West huffed and puffed, passed meaningless UN resolutions, and instituted sanctions that were immediately skirted by signatories; while Iran imported neutron initiators (nuclear triggers), developed expertise in micro-shaped-explosives (endospheric detonators), experimented with ceramic and carbon fiber re-entry shields, perfected centrifugal enrichment of uranium and built a buried enrichment facility housing thousands of centrifuges at Natanz.

The most difficult aspect of the talks for the Iranians was to stay awake.

FACT: Iran is going to reach the ability to construct a nuclear weapon (hence, re-defining “unacceptable” as containment and deterrence).

FACT: Any action taken against Iran for any reason will be blamed on the United States and Israel (I would not rule out black operations by third parties).

We should co-develop an attack strategy with Israel – and for God’s sake not tell the New York Times about it. This strike would be triggered by an attempt at nuclear intimidation by Iran on any of its neighbors, or an Iranian action taken in response to a third-party attack on Iran that is blamed on the US and/or Israel. It’s true that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but you can take the toys away from this regime. We were never going to be able to “eliminate” Iranian nuclear activity – it’s always been about delay. If we can get a less rabid leadership in Tehran (one that is not guided by apocalyptic religious zealotry), a nuclear Iran won’t be nearly as threatening to the region and the world as it is now. Any nation that denies the Holocaust while repeatedly promising one given the means, needs to be taken seriously.

Stay tuned for another inspiring prime time speech on how we will talk harshly to Iran if they don’t behave.

[1] Agence France-Presse, August 9 2009.

Government in a Meritocracy

Some may be surprised that I do see a role for government in healthcare (just not the starring one). This whole brouhaha began known as “universal healthcare” and has morphed into “health insurance reform”, which has always been the instrument by which universality was to be obtained. And it is the insurance vector that has been treated with the most disingenuousness. That began with the infamous “47 million uninsured”.

Well, turns out it’s not 15% of Americans, but less than 4% (~11 million), that are uninsured in the way that is meant when healthcare is discussed – those who are involuntarily and chronically uninsured (and this 11 million includes around 3½ million who are between jobs at any given time[1], which normally wouldn’t be counted, but I do include because of the depth of the recession)[2]. This attempt to include the young, those who already qualify for government programs but haven’t applied, those who choose to self-insure and illegal aliens in with those who are truly in need lends itself to lazy thinking and sloppy legislation. These are distinctly different flavors of “uninsured”, and each should be treated differently (or in the case of illegals, not at all).

Then the argument began treating “pre-existing conditions” as a mean-spirited prank of the insurance industry rather than a business reality (if you could get insured for a pre-existing condition, why would anyone get insurance before they needed it?). Then everyone who was in bankruptcy with an unpaid pharmacy bill was described as a healthcare-driven bankruptcy. And, of course, the Chicken Little argument – volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods if we don’t nationalize healthcare by noon.

But the biggest lie of all is the government “option” – that a government-run insurance program would “compete” with private insurance to “keep them honest”. The thought of this Congress keeping anyone honest doesn’t pass the laugh test. The thought that government would compete on a level playing field (thereby running the risk of being out-competed) doesn’t pass the laugh test. The thought that a political party that has championed nationalized healthcare for 30 years, being led by a left-wing that champions nationalized everything, would, with super-majorities in both Houses and the pink slip to the White House, engineer a fair competition with private insurers, doesn’t pass the laugh test. And sure enough, a reading of HR 3200 shows that within five years of passage, everyone will be covered by the government “option”.

Again, part of the problem everybody has with this is its sweeping nature, virtually redesigning the entire healthcare sector, but part of it too, is that the sales pitch lacks credibility. Almost nothing they say about it CAN be true.

If examined pragmatically, rather than ideologically, the public/private mix almost takes care of itself. The problem of who needs to be covered consists of the 11 million involuntarily and chronically uninsured, those with pre-existing conditions and those in catastrophic medical circumstances. Period.

The Truly Uninsured

Legal residents who have been without health insurance for six months and do not qualify for other government programs should be covered by an extension of Medicare (not Medicaid, which passes the problem off to the states), or, if the feds want to pass the problem off to the states, by an extension of Medicaid which includes a guaranteed prompt reimbursement of actual expenses incurred by those states. I prefer the latter, as problems are better solved closer to problem. Solving a problem for a guy in Cleveland from Washington is a bit like gardening from the second-floor balcony with your tools tied to sticks. That it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

Pre-Existing Conditions

A 3% addition to all insurance premiums should be set aside for a high-risk pool of state-regulated insurance for pre-existing conditions policies. This fund would be collected by the insurers (like withholding) and administered by the state in a separate fund (not general revenues). This could be used as a supplement to regular insurance policies issued by insurers, or for separate policies issued by a state insurance board (for just this purpose). Again, place control of the answer closer to the problem.

Catastrophic Care

Another 3% addition to all insurance premiums should be set aside for a catastrophic care pool of state-regulated insurance extensions to life-time caps on existing insurance policies. These funds would be tapped by carriers providing for clients who have catastrophic conditions and have reached their life-time coverage cap.

These two provisions would add 6% to the cost of insurance, but the reduction in premiums in states instituting pain and suffering caps on malpractice litigation has exceeded 6%, so, particularly when combined with tax exempt treatment of insurance costs, the net effect will still be a lower real cost of insurance for the public. And it is way less expensive than the trillion-dollar-plus “answer” to a $41 billion problem[3] being promoted by Washington.


A large part of the actual uninsured is that their insurance is tied to their job, so that, if laid off or fired (or for whatever reason don’t have a job), they are on the outside of the insurance game. By giving individuals a tax credit for health insurance costs (while employers retain their tax deductibility), the groundwork would be laid for separating insurance from depending upon one’s employer. It would also lay the groundwork for making the consumer more responsible for consumption – that is, the person getting the service would be responsible for the cost. Those chronically unemployed already fall under existing Medicaid aegis, so that’s outside the realm of considerations for portability.

This creation of a vast new market will also incentivize the insurance industry to tailor new policies that are not group oriented (as that term is used today), but rather offer “group” coverage and costs to those individuals that would qualify if part of an employer-insured group. This would go almost the rest of the way to detach insurance from dependence on employment.

This entire proposal would, of course, relinquish power from the Congress to the states and the people (as the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution stipulates), which is why it will never see the light of day.

[1] This natural churning of the job market is why 3 or 4% unemployment is considered to be “full employment”.

[2] See Every American is Entitled to Healthcare, published in these pages on June 21.

[3] That’s the amount of uncompensated medical services dispensed last year.

KГБ Gets the Last Laugh

Scratch another Liberal dream off the list – CIA has been functionally destroyed. And in the process, we may find out whether President Obama is truth-challenged or just not in control of his administration. Less than a month after “bankruptcy is not an option” for the automakers, the Obama government guided the automakers into bankruptcy. After spending a career (and a campaign) touting the wisdom of single-payer healthcare insurance, he now claims not to want it (but will sign a bill containing it) – if a lie falls in the rhetoric, did anyone hear it? And now, a couple of months after giving his “I’ve got your back” speech at Langley, he watches as his attorney general emasculates the Central Intelligence Agency.

The plain simple fact is that in the dank and poorly-lit corners of civilization, we had better have someone watching our backs, as there are those who would place us and our way of life at lethal risk. Since the close of World War II, that job has been done by the Agency. When the Carter administration decided to “fix” intelligence, the Church Commission cut funding to CIA, reigned-in their Operations Division (human intelligence gathering) and erected a legislative wall between foreign and domestic intelligence agencies. Hence, CIA couldn’t tell the FBI that al Qaeda members they’d been following since a meeting in Kuala Lumpur had entered the US.

Now it’s the Obama administration’s turn.

This whole dust-up centers around Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), ten of which were approved by the Justice Department prior to use, only one of which has become popular on the cocktail circuit of instant experts – waterboarding. This is a non-lethal technique that tricks the brain into thinking it’s being drowned and triggers an involuntary panic response. Liberals, thinking this is not something they would want to experience, branded it “torture” and cried for the prosecution of those who carried it out, those who advised them of its legality, and those who approved it. Their argument consisted of insisting that “torture” never works, and endangers our troops and civilians who might be captured in the field.

Well, it turns out that CIA’s inspector general did look into EITs and forwarded these same cases onto the Justice Department, where career prosecutors (not political appointees) examined them and found no criminal activity by CIA personnel – one civilian contractor was successfully prosecuted for acting outside of approved guidelines.

We now know, thanks to recently released reports, that CIA sought approval for EITs because it felt that Abu Zubaydah was withholding information about terrorist networks and plots. After internal discussion and legal vetting, EITs were approved, and sure enough, Mr Zubaydah revealed multiple ongoing operations and names of hitherto unknown al Qaeda operators. It was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, however, who became “a human Rolodex” (according to one of his interrogators) only after being waterboarded. While “torture” may or may not work, waterboarding clearly did. These banana republic investigations (the real ones have already been conducted) have a chilling effect on those charged with defending us from a “revival of barefaced barbarity”, unable to trust the government that tasks them.

As to whether EITs endanger our own personnel, you may want to ask Daniel Pearl’s widow if she’s glad her husband was decapitated before we began using EITs. The late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who has seen freedom’s enemies from the inside, said: “The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.” Can you say “apology tour”?

All interrogation of high-value captives has been removed from CIA, and will now be done by a panel under the purview of the FBI, answering only to the White House. Presumably the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will have someone on the panel, but the White House hasn’t yet decided just who will be involved. By virtually freezing CIA operatives at their desks and taking interrogation away, the administration has essentially de-missioned the Agency. Incredible.

The KGB (Russian: КГБ; Комитет государственной безопасности, Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti; “Committee for State Security”)[1] must be dumb-struck as to why we would let a political party do this to ourselves. I’ll admit I am.

[1] The KGB’s portfolio has been divided into the secret police agency FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) and the espionage agency SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), both of which are staffed by the former KGB.