Archive for March, 2010

I actually think this it is unfair to highlight Fidel Castro’s endorsement of Obamacare, but I’m in a grumpy mood because I’ve started a diet, so I’ll simply twist the knife a bit by noting that we probably could improve American healthcare by imposing Cuban-style rationing. I imagine many of our obesity-related health problems would disappear if we were limited to one pound of beef and 12 eggs per month. Ah, the joy of socialism! Solidarity in malnutrition. But I better stop lest I give Obama some new ideas:

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Thursday declared passage of American health care reform “a miracle” and a major victory for Obama’s presidency, but couldn’t help chide the United States for taking so long to enact what communist Cuba achieved decades ago. “We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama’s) government,” Castro wrote in an essay published in state media… “It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence … the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago,” Castro wrote.

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I don’t seem to be as depressed as everyone else about Obamacare, in part because our system is already so distorted and controlled by government that (this is my rough guess, to be sure) all we did was move from a system that is 68 percent run by government to a system that is 79 percent run by government. Nonetheless, any movement in the wrong direction is terrible. But there is one group that will celebrate the passage of the reconciliation portion of Obamacare. As noted by an Oklahoma newspaper, the Senate of the United States voted to kill an amendment that would deny subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs for convicted child molesters, rapists, and other sex offenders. 

The Senate on Wednesday killed a proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn to prevent convicted sex offenders from getting Viagra or similar prescriptions in the insurance markets to be established under the new health reform law. …Coburn, R-Muskogee, called the new health reform law “the greatest assault on liberty this country has ever had,” as he put Democrats in the position of voting down his proposal to prevent convicted child molesters, rapists and other sex offenders from getting federal drug coverage for erectile dysfunction drugs. The amendment was killed by a vote of 57-42. …”This amendment will prohibit prescriptions for recreational drugs for rapists and child molesters,” Coburn said. “Nobody can disagree with that … If this bill goes through without this amendment, your tax dollars are going to be paying for Viagra for child molesters. That’s what’s going to happen.”

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Greece is in trouble for a combination of reasons. Government spending is far too excessive, diverting resources from more efficient uses. The bureaucracy is too large and paid too much, resulting in a misallocation of labor. And tax rates are too high, further hindering the productive sector of the economy. Europe’s political class wants to bail out Greece’s profligate government. The official reason for a bailout, to protect the euro currency, makes no sense. After all, if Illinois or California default, that would not affect the strength (or lack thereof) of the dollar.

To understand what is really happening in Europe, it is always wise to look at what politicians are doing and ignore what they are saying. Political union is the religion of Europe’s political class, and they relentlessly use any excuse to centralize power in Brussels and strip away national sovereignty. Greece’s fiscal crisis is simply the latest excuse to move the goalposts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Germany and France are now conspiring to create an “economic government” for the European Union. Supposedly this entity would only have supervisory powers, but it is a virtual certainty that a European-wide tax will be the next step for the euro-centralizers.

Germany and France have [proposed] controversial plans to create an “economic government of the European Union” to police financial policy across the continent. They have put Herman Van Rompuy, the EU President, in charge of a special task force to examine “all options possible” to prevent another crisis like the one caused by the Greek meltdown. …The options he will consider include the creation of an “economic government” by the by the end of the year. “We commit to promote a strong co-ordination of economic policies in Europe,” said a draft text expected to be agreed by EU leaders last night. “We consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU and we propose to increase its role in economic surveillance and the definition of the EU’s growth strategy.” …Mr Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, is an enthusiastic supporter of “la gouvernement économique” and last month upset many national capitals by trying impose “top down” economic targets. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has called for the Lisbon Treaty to be amended in order to prevent any repetition of the current Greek crisis, which has threatened to tear apart the euro.

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I thought it was an outrage when it was reported that the unfunded liability for state government pension plans was about $500 billion, or perhaps even $1 trillion. I’m not even sure what to say about this item. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Biggs from the American Enterprise Institute estimates that the shortfall for overly-generous pensions for state government bureaucrats is about $3 trillion.

Pension plans for state government employees today report they are underfunded by $450 billion, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. But this vastly underestimates the true shortfall, because public pension accounting wrongly assumes that plans can earn high investment returns without risk. …In a recent AEI working paper I’ve shown that the typical state employee public pension plan has only a 16% chance of solvency. More public pensions have a zero probability of solvency than have a probability in excess of 50%. When public pension assets fall short, taxpayers are legally obligated to make up the difference. The market value of this contingent liability exceeds $3 trillion.

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Or maybe this belongs in the “great moments in international bureaucracy” series since it relates to European Union law. Regardless, we have another sign of Europe’s fiscal nightmare. A court in the United Kingdom has given a big green light to welfare tourism by ruling that a foreign citizen can get handouts based on children living in another country.I realize, of course, that there is welfare tourism in the United States, but surely no state would give money for children living elsewhere (at least I hope). The Daily Express reports on the latest lunacy from the other side of the Atlantic.

A landmark ruling that allows jobless migrants to claim benefits in Britain for their children living in their home country sparked outrage last night. Critics warned the judgment could “open the door” to thousands of benefits tourists abusing generous payouts in Britain. In yesterday”s High Court ruling ” showing how EU law is taking precedence over the UK”s ” a Portuguese national living in Britain won a legal battle for child benefit for his two daughters in his home country despite no longer working and claiming incapacity benefit here. …three top judges blocked an appeal by HM Revenue and Customs to prove he was not eligible for the money. Lawyers for Mr Ruas argued EU rules allowed any worker from an EU country who was employed or who received “social assistance” to claim child benefits even if the child lives abroad. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers” Alliance, said: “This opens the door to a huge bill for taxpayers which is utterly unjustified. “Now there are even greater incentives for people to come to Britain trying to take advantage of the benefits system. Time and again it seems these judgments go against the best interests of hard-pressed British taxpayers.”

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I realize that the “Taxpayers vs. Bureaucrats” series is rather depressing, with only two tiny pieces of good news out of 18 installments, so I’m almost reluctant to unveil a new series. But odious and corrupt deal-making is a fundamental – and probably unavoidable – feature of government, and we need to shine a spotlight on the way government really works. This is especially important since the bigger the government, the more rampant the sleaze. Our first post in the series highlights a Wall Street Journal column exposing how one Congressman is funneling some of the loot from a new government monopoly to a campaign contributor:

President Obama and Congressional Democrats have been criticized for being antibusiness. But Washington is about to bestow a huge gift upon one particular type of business—the type that doesn’t pay taxes. Despite bipartisan opposition, this week the Democrats hope to use budget reconciliation in the Senate to ram through changes to the health-care bill the House passed on Sunday. Coming along for the legislative ride is a federal takeover of the student-loan market. …All such loans will now come directly from the U.S. Department of Education. …But while Democrats are eliminating a revenue stream at for-profit companies, they are simultaneously creating another one for a handful of favored nonprofit companies. Currently, for loans that the government makes directly to students, the Department of Education conducts competitive bidding and hires private companies to service the loans. But in the pending bill, several dozen nonprofit firms will be eligible to receive no-bid servicing contracts on up to 100,000 student accounts for each firm. Which nonprofit organizations will qualify? California’s ALL Student Loan looks to be a big winner, thanks to language written by Representative George Miller of California. ALL Student Loan may have helped its cause by retaining the services of Vincent Reusing, a lobbyist whom the Chronicle of Higher Education has described as a “personal friend” of Mr. Miller. …According to OpenSecrets.org, Mr. Reusing has contributed more than $80,000 to various Democratic campaigns, including Mr. Miller’s.


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In a great article written in response to the passage of the health care bill last week, Thomas Sowell argued that perhaps the biggest problem with a government controlled health care system is the inherent threat to privacy. 

The same argument can be made regarding increased government involvement in any area of life, including financial matters and banking, even if such intrusions are done in the name of “righteous goals” such as stopping tax evaders. 

Even the massive transfer of crucial decisions from millions of doctors and patients to Washington bureaucrats and advisory panels — as momentous as that is — does not measure the full impact of this largely unread and certainly unscrutinized legislation. If the current legislation does not entail the transmission of all our individual medical records to Washington, it will take only an administrative regulation or, at most, an executive order of the president to do that.

With politicians now having not only access to our most confidential records, but also the power to grant or withhold medical care needed to sustain ourselves or our loved ones, how many people will be bold enough to criticize our public servants, who will in fact have become our public masters?

Despite whatever “firewalls” or “lockboxes” there may be to shield our medical records from prying political eyes, nothing is as inevitable as leaks in Washington. Does anyone still remember the hundreds of confidential FBI files that were “accidentally” delivered to the White House during Bill Clinton’s administration?

Even before that, J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive confidential FBI files on numerous Washington power holders made him someone who could not be fired by any president of the United States, much less by any attorney general, nominally his boss.

The corrupt manner in which this massive legislation was rammed through Congress — without any of the committee hearings or extended debates that most landmark legislation has had — has provided a roadmap for pushing through more such sweeping legislation in utter defiance of what the public wants.

Too many critics of the Obama administration have assumed that its arrogant disregard of the voting public will spell political suicide for congressional Democrats and for the president himself. But that is far from certain. http://article.nationalreview.com/428968/point-of-no-return/thomas-sowell

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