Friday, June 29, 2007

Budget Politics: Pot & Kettle

From a news story in the Washington Post:
"Democrats have pork spending on the menu for their grilling of Jim Nussle, President Bush's pick as White House budget director. Nussle's confirmation hearings will focus on the former congressman's pursuit of earmarks for Iowa, as well as ballooning deficits during his tenure as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The plan, Democratic strategists say, is to use the hearings to detail the collapse of fiscal discipline during the Bush administration and to grab the offensive from Republicans who are trying to turn the debate over Democratic spending bills into a morality play on thrift.

'We're not going to let these guys act like the protectors of fiscal prudence here when they've left a sea of red ink," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.)."
It seems to me that most of what Congress does these days fits the term "rent-seeking." As such, perhaps the very nature of the way Congress works involves "pork," and it really makes no difference whether the Democrat party or the Republican party controls Congress. Congress is Congress and "pork" pays for the vote trading that gets bills passed. (Of course, "earmarks" are an extreme version of what is called "pork," and it seems to me earmarks are a manifestation of Congressional corruption rather than part of the very nature of a legislature.) So, when I read the comment of the Democratic Caucus Chairman that "we're not going to let these guys . . . . .," it really seems to me that the Democrat strategy here is "the pot calling the kettle black." Can the pot calling the kettle black be an successful strategy? Given the rational ignorance of voters, the answer may be yes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Health Care

DAVID GRATZER has an article at Opinion Journal discussing health care systems. Dr. Gratzer points out that being "born and raised in Canada, I used to believe in government-run health care. Then I was mugged by reality." Here are some of the features of reality as he sees it:
  • "Her client, Lindsay McCreith, would have had to wait for four months just to get an MRI, and then months more to see a neurologist for his malignant brain tumor. Instead, frustrated and ill, the retired auto-body shop owner traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., for a lifesaving surgery. Now he's suing for the right to opt out of Canada's government-run health care, which he considers dangerous."
  • "A Canadian government study recently found that only about half of patients are treated in a timely manner, as defined by local medical and hospital associations. "The research merely confirms anecdotal reports of interminable waits," reported a national newspaper. While people in rural areas seem to fare better, Toronto patients receive care in four hours on average; one in 10 patients waits more than a dozen hours."
  • ". . . . A relative, living in Winnipeg, nearly died of a strangulated bowel while lying on a stretcher for five hours, writhing in pain. To get the needed ultrasound, he was sent by ambulance to another hospital."
  • ". . . . a hospital in Sutton Coldfield announced its new money-saving linen policy: Housekeeping will no longer change the bed sheets between patients, just turn them over."
  • ". . . . France's system failed so spectacularly in the summer heat of 2003 that 13,000 people died, largely of dehydration. Hospitals stopped answering the phones and ambulance attendants told people to fend for themselves."
  • ". . . . Dr. Day is a leading critic of Canadian medicare; he opened a private surgery hospital and then challenged the government to shut it down. 'This is a country,' Dr. Day said by way of explanation, 'in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years.'

These days there seems to be growing policy talk in Washington about nationalized health care. I'm afraid Dr. Gratzer's view of reality may become increasingly scarce in Washington.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Justice Thomas

Stephen Presser writes an interesting article on Justice Thomas. Here is one passage that suggests why Justice Thomas is one of my heroes:
"When Thomas took his seat on the Court, Justice Byron White gave him some advice about how to respond to the views of his new colleagues: “Don’t change your mind unless you’re truly persuaded.”

Thomas paid attention, showing his fierce independent streak in one of his first cases, Hudson v. McMillan (1992). The suit involved a black Louisiana prisoner named Keith Hudson. Guards had beaten him as a supervisor looked on, telling them not “to have too much fun,” leaving the inmate with “a cracked lip, a broken dental plate, loosened teeth, and cuts and bruises,” according to Hudson’s testimony. Hudson brought a civil rights claim, arguing that he had suffered “cruel and unusual punishment,” which the Eighth Amendment prohibits. In conference, eight of the Court’s nine justices agreed.

Thomas dissented, urging that Hudson’s injuries were actually “minor” and that the Constitution’s “cruel and unusual” language, correctly understood as the framers did, ought to be limited, at a minimum, to significant injury. “In my view,” he explained, “a use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be tortious, it may be criminal, and it may even be remediable under other provisions of the Federal Constitution, but it is not ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ ” Further, Thomas pointed out, the Eighth Amendment originally referred to the sentence meted out at trial, not to the incarceration conditions that followed. Any decision to abandon these historical understandings should be up to the people, acting through legislation or constitutional amendment, not to the unelected members of the Court."
What do I like about this story? I like that Justice Thomas pointed out that the 8th Amendment originally was about the sentence imposed, and even more importantly, that if this was going to be changed it should be done by "the people" through proper constitutional processes, not by the Court which is not supposed to have the constitutional power to amend the constitution.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

China, the Internet, and Liberty

' reports:
"Recognising the threat of China's growing online community, Chinese President Hu Jintao called in January for the Internet to be 'purified', and the government has since launched a number of online crackdowns.

'The department of propaganda has sent out regulations to try and control the opinions being spread on the Internet, but every citizen has the right to criticise or to take part in public affairs on the Internet,' said Zhu Dake, a professor at Shanghai Tongji University.

'The government has to accept the criticisms of the people, it can no longer react crudely like in the past.'"
This is a very interesting news story, and it's probably worth your time to read the entire piece. One thing the story suggests is that the internet is a fantastic technology for liberty, even in a system of political economy as politically repressive as China.

Can we imagine what the Chinese government might do in order to "purify" the internet?

Here at home, I'm hearing that many of our leaders in Washington are talking about a "fairness doctrine" because of their concerns about talk radio. It seems that the bottom line for such concerns is something like this: "We don't like what talk radio says about us." Maybe such talk by political leaders could also be described as efforts to "purify"? But, thank goodness, we have a First Amendment here at home that will allow us to continue to enjoy the liberty to speak our political minds, even through the means of talk radio. Or, am I too naive or optimistic with respect to our Constitution and the Supreme Court?

[HT Instapundit]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

National Parks, Monopoly, & Unofficial Tax

"When you check into monopoly-controlled lodgings at Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, you are told that one dollar of what you are being charged goes to support some private group that pushes its own agenda for the national parks -- unless you specifically object.

Who are these anonymous groups being funded by this back door method? They have high-sounding names expressing concern about national parks, but that is about all you know about them.

Why can't they get their money from their own members or by making a direct appeal to the public, stating their case, instead of by an unofficial tax on park visitors for a private lobby?"
Sowell's commentary offers good illustrations of problems that arise from monopoly, and in these illustrations he doesn't really emphasize the unofficial tax. Government granting a monopoly is troubling enough, but I am that much more concerned when government seems to be giving it's power to tax to unnamed special interest groups.