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  • Archive for March, 2010

    The Self-Reflecting Mirror of Good Intentions

    Posted by onparkstreet on 31st March 2010 (All posts by )

    “The most interesting, under-discussed, and potentially revolutionary aspect of the law is that it doesn’t pretend to have the answers. Instead, through a new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, it offers to free communities and local health systems from existing payment rules, and let them experiment with ways to deliver better care at lower costs. In large part, it entrusts the task of devising cost-saving health-care innovation to communities like Boise and Boston and Buffalo, rather than to the drug and device companies and the public and private insurers that have failed to do so. This is the way costs will come down—or not.”Atul Gawande, The New Yorker (via Real Clear Politics)

    Or not? Or not? Or not?

    Wait a minute. Proponents of Health Care Reform insisted that a crisis existed in American medicine – a crisis of steadily increasing costs and the uninsured. Forget for a moment the pages and pages and pages of regulation: the essential steel-frame structure at the heart of the bill consists – it seems to me! – of committees that have yet to write the myriad of rules that will govern the future of health care in this country. Isn’t that the case? Am I getting it wrong? And if I am, it’s not like the authors of the legislation took care to write something a layperson like me could understand. Do even the authors know what is in it?

    I respect the good Dr. Gawande very much, but I cannot understand how any physician or scientist – who ought to pride him or herself on evidence-based medicine – would sign off on something like this? It’s all supposition. It’s all promises. It’s all the self-reflecting mirror of good intentions.* There’s no there there. Not really. Not if you look beyond the gimmicks.

    Hey, if I’m being unfair, or misunderstanding, drop a line in the comments box, okay?

    * I used the above phrase in this comment at zenpundit on an entirely different subject. I’m pretty sure I made it up on the spot, but somehow, I always have a subterranean fear that I am plagiarizing someone a lot more clever than I am. Not sure what that is about, but now, thanks to my penchant for TMI, you all know that about me!

    Update: I am not saying the uninsured or costs are not a serious problem. What I am arguing is that the very legislation intended to solve the problem of cost is a roll of the dice in that regard. Why do we need an oxymoronic government “department of innovation” anyway? Why not break down government-set barriers and allow the experimentation to take place in the absence of said barriers? Honestly, I couldn’t understand a bit of the logic behind that article.

    Another Update: “Two Views On Health Care From The New Yorker,” Peter Suderman (Reason – Hit and Run)

    Posted in Health Care | 9 Comments »

    Self-Esteem vs Self-Respect

    Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2010 (All posts by )

    An interesting essay by Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychologist who has worked extensively in prisons. Via psychiatrist Dr Sanity, who adds thoughts of her own.

    My sense is that the self-esteem movement started benignly enough, with the sensible idea that it is usually better to focus on praising people for things they do right rather than on condemning them for their inadequacies. But it soon fell into the hands of various airheads, many of them professors in “education” schools, who too frequently have been hostile to the whole notion of individual achievement and individual accountability.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Britain, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, USA | 16 Comments »

    Image / Meme Needed

    Posted by Lexington Green on 30th March 2010 (All posts by )

    I know it can be done. I know it needs to be done. But I lack the skilz to do it.

    Here’s the request.

    Take this famous image:

    obama joker socialism

    Put the Joker’s wig on the head, and put the collar and shoulders of the Joker’s nurse uniform on the torso. Put the word “healthcare” in the box, in the same typeface.

    I know that ChicagoBoyz readers have the capacity to do this properly, or will send this request to someone who can.

    If want to send it to us, send it to:

    jokernurseimage@gmail.com

    If it is awesome, I will post it here on CB with credit to whoever sent it.

    I saw two efforts to do this on Google images and I did not like either of them. This should be exactly the same as the famous image, only slightly modified to include the wig and the shoulders and collar of the nurse’s uniform. There are plenty of images of the Joker’s nurse wig and uniform on the Internet, which a skillful Photoshopper could use.

    Note that I will not use any such image for commercial purposes. All I want is a compelling, easily replicable image / symbol that can be spread widely as part of the ongoing fight against Obamacare, starting here.

    Posted in Photos, Politics | Comments Off

    Taxes and the Rich

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th March 2010 (All posts by )

    On the opinion page at the Wall Street Journal Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute wrote an excellent article titled “The Rich Can’t Pay for ObamaCare“.

    The key concept is what he describes as “the elasticity of taxable income” or ETI. ETI measures how taxable income is impacted as tax rates increase; if you use a rate of 0.5 you assume that an increase in tax rates that would yield $1 if prior behavior held stead would yield 50 cents after the impact of behavioral changes is taken into account. However, instead of an ETI of 0.5, per the article:

    For incomes above $500,000, Treasury Department economist Bradley Heim recently estimated the ETI at 1.2 – which means that higher tax rates on the super-rich yield less revenue than lower tax rates.

    The article describes, in practical terms, how rich individuals can take action that illustrates this ETI:

    – dump dividend paying stocks (you will probably want to do this anyways because they are likely to fall in price because part of their value is tied to the reduced tax rate) when the 15% rate is raised
    – avoid selling stocks with capital gains when the rate rises, or sell stocks with unrealized losses at the same time to “net out” any gains owed to the government
    – reducing income near the $250k range when “phase outs” raise the MARGINAL tax rate to a very high rate through tax deferral strategies such as 401(k) contributions and the like
    – consider becoming a one-earner couple instead of a DINK if the penalty on incremental income becomes too great to make up for the cost of child care and the general decremented quality of life

    I really like this paragraph that should be an epitaph for tax policy:

    Punitive tax rates on high-income individuals do not increase revenue. Successful people are not docile sheep just waiting to be shorn.

    A sound tax policy has two main elements 1) it raises the amount of revenue that it is supposed to raise 2) it provides the minimal distortion of productive economic activity.

    Super high tax rates on the rich accomplish neither of these two attributes. They don’t raise the money as planned (in fact you could likely end up with LESS money overall) and they distort the economy by having our most valuable members of the economy step back from working at a time when their entrepreneurial drive is needed most to jump-start the economy.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Taxes | 14 Comments »

    Around Chicago

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Recently I took a few photos around Chicago of things that caught my eye.

    Upper left – someone started an impromptu art project by putting orange string on the bridges across the Chicago River.

    Upper middle – a car escapes the impound lot on Halsted avenue near the projects

    Upper right – a strange bell that shows the weather; unfortunately it seems to be stuck on “colder”. Maybe this is the “misery bell” because this spring has been lousy…

    Lower middle – I recently saw a guy trying to steam the junky, dirty snow off the street. This was new to me. Unfortunately he just gave up and started chipping away with a shovel and put it into the street, old school-style

    Lower center – there is a big “Palm” advertisement with Trump Tower in the background. I remember when I bought my first palm pilot, probably a decade ago, and Palm was “cool”. Recently a stock analyst put a price target of ZERO on Palm’s common equity for their stock price… um that’s not good. But at least they can afford an expensive billboard

    Lower right – another new billboard appeared in the neighborhood – this one is for “Cats Against Clay“. Apparently kitty litter is bad for cats. Or the price of a billboard is now so low that anyone can rent one. Perhaps one for LITGM, or Chicago Boyz?

    Posted in Chicagoania, Photos | 4 Comments »

    Waking Up That Wind Isn’t The Solution

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Wind power, like nuclear power, has incorrectly been described as a key part of the solution to electric generation in the USA. T Boone Pickens, the famous wildcatter, had a plan to develop large wind generating plans across the central US. Back in mid-2009 he folded his tent, noting that there wasn’t any prospect of building transmission lines to bring wind power from where the wind is best to the cities where the demand resides, as I noted here. Anyone remotely familiar with the actual capabilities of financing transmission nowadays knew it was a fools errand, since routing a transmission line literally takes over a decade of permitting and routing is often very inefficient, such as in this case.

    The Chicago Tribune finally awoke to this situation in a decent article in the Sunday paper, titled “Putting Wind Generated Power Where It Is Needed“.

    In the near term, companies are opting to harness wind power closer to existing transmission lines, usually near urban areas, to avoid the lengthy and costly process of building new lines. Aside from pockets of strong winds in the midsection of Illinois, however, some of the most powerful wind in the U.S. stretches from the upper Midwest, south, into Texas.

    In order to integrate and move that alternative power east through Illinois, the grid would have to be expanded and upgraded, say transmission experts and utility companies.

    The estimated cost to move that wind power east could range from $64 billion to $93 billion in 2009 dollars and would require 17,000 to 22,000 miles of transmission lines to be built in the eastern half of the country alone, according to the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) published in January and prepared for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    The Chicago Tribune even included a nice graphic that is in the post above; it clearly shows where the prime wind territory resides (west of the population centers in the Midwest) and the lack of transmission to bring this power to market.

    “In many instances, interconnection studies indicate that adding a new power plant would overload transformers and transmission lines hundreds of miles away,” the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association concluded in a white paper published last year. “…Its owners must pay to upgrade all of the transmission equipment, often at a cost approaching or exceeding the cost of the power plant itself.”

    While the journalist at the Chicago Tribune has finally stumbled upon the truth, which is that the best territory for wind generation is not located near population centers AND the cost and time of setting up the transmission grid far surpasses any reasonable possibility that this would reasonably occur, the writer fails to reach the logical conclusion of the situation, which is:

    WIND GENERATION IS NOT A VIABLE SOLUTION IN THE MIDWEST BECAUSE THERE IS NO TRANSMISSION GRID TO DELIVER THE POWER, AND THERE IS NO REASONABLE POSSIBILITY THAT WE WILL DEVELOP THE GRID OVER THE NEXT FEW DECADES.

    Thus, the reasonable conclusion is, we ought to stop talking about wind power in the Midwest and move on to more practical options.

    Too bad that isn’t going to happen and journalists are going to keep talking about wind power like it is viable, because they don’t know any better, and most readers will keep reading it as if it’s true.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation | 20 Comments »

    Two COINs for a Sunday Night

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 29th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Dominoes

    Dominoes

    Rufus Phillips

    Rufus Phillips:

    In 1954, as a young Army officer detailed to the CIA with little experience, Rufus Phillips became a member of what was then called the Saigon Military Mission – several years before America’s military involvement in Vietnam became a matter of public record. He worked directly under Col. Edward Lansdale, the Air Force officer working for the CIA who was responsible for managing the U.S. presence and advising the nascent South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem – trying, for example, to convince Diem to post realistic-looking election results. As the war progressed and America’s involvement deepened, Phillips led counterinsurgency efforts and won the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work; later, he became a consultant for the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey until the 1968 election.

    Phillips wrote a book Why Vietnam Matters and gave a lecture and Q&A session on it at the Pritzker Military Library on 11.22.2008. Phillips was concerned with outlining the lessons he learned in Vietnam and how they applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. One interesting observation Phillips made is on the domino theory in response to an audience question. He argued that the domino theory was very much in play in the mid-1950s in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. There was no organized native government at all so a few Commie insurgents showing up with a rifle was enough to constitute a government. This was less true in later years when those nations had developed some institutional strength, though it’s interesting that Laos and Cambodia followed South Vietnam in succumbing to Communist rule rather quickly…almost like dominoes.

    There is a video of the lecture here and an MP3 here.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Iraq, Middle East, Vietnam, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Happy Warriors & Not-so-Happy Ones

    Posted by Ginny on 28th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Long before I returned to my conservative roots, I loved the humor of a Buckley – the right seemed to have more fun with ideas. Great satire points out the foibles of the disproportionate. Jane Austen understood that. It is the sharp recognition of a truth about human nature that makes us smile, albeit ruefully. Even with the rather meager set of social values Seinfeld embodied, his friends, in their superficiality and greed and general laziness, made us laugh. We laughed because they didn’t recognize what we owe to others, what living with others requires of us – say, not sleeping under the desk or sharing bathroom tissue. The writer’s sense of the variety & density of our cultural restraints and our own impulses permeated that series.

    We enjoyed Seinfeld and his friends because they loved words but also because we took a certain pleasure in their violation of good manners that restrained us: we wouldn’t make their choices, but we would be tempted. We restrained those impulses (or hid them) because we understood they violated not just gentility but morality. The last episode made that clear to us: in the real world, we would have felt contempt (or guilt) – but watching them, we could laugh. That wasn’t a funny episode; it was an arresting conclusion.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, Humor | 9 Comments »

    Images, Analogies, and Cooties

    Posted by Ginny on 27th March 2010 (All posts by )

    In a comment, Mishu linked to “The Lie of a Liberal Arts Education.” Jeff Goldstein, of Protein Wisdom, tells us after a political cartoon was posted at his site, an old teacher e-mailed him, requesting that his name be struck from the list of Goldstein’s teachers. That we are responsible for those who have studied under us would make neither my raft of old teachers very happy nor me about many of my students. (Jonathan’s need to fix my comma splices, for instance, must make one of them spin in his grave.)

    I’d seen the comment (for the usual reason, groggy in the morning and late at night, I check out Instapundit). And I’d remembered it clearly, since it brought home the adolescent and enforced homogeneity of academic thinking but also because the cartoon was especially memorable, disturbing the way political cartoons can be. The visual and analogous are powerful weapons. The Muslims realize that – and we should, too. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we follow the actions of either the Jihadists or the average college faculty. When I went back later to show it to my husband, the cartoon was linked but no longer at the top of the page. It provokes, but it has a certain rightness. I found it and my husband was repelled. He felt it was in bad taste. His explanation for that gut reaction was not a defense of Obama nor of the content or the process of Healthcare legislation – as would any sentient being, he sees those as pretty bad. Nor did he see it as racist – indeed, worrying about that label would make any criticism difficult.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Health Care, Leftism, Obama | 19 Comments »

    To be clear….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 26th March 2010 (All posts by )

    “To be clear: it is not sufficient for those of us in the opposition to await a reversal of political fortune months or years from now before we advance action on health care reform. Costs will continue their ascent as the debt burden squeezes life out of our economy. We are unapologetic advocates for the repeal of this costly misstep. But Republicans must also make the case for a reform agenda to take its place, and get to work on that effort now.” – Paul Ryan in the New York Times

    Is that “to be clear” intended as a little dig at the rhetorical style, or stylings, of our President? Gentle jokes aside, this is a very good Op-Ed.

    *Because there’s more to life than Health Care Bills, here is a link about the William Eggleston photo exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit is running until May 23.

    Posted in Health Care | 2 Comments »

    Questions For Our Jewish Readers

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 25th March 2010 (All posts by )

    So this meetup between Obama and Netanyahu didn’t go…er…so well, from what I am reading. Some things I read tell me that this may alienate Jewish voters from Obama in the next election, or from the Democrats in the midterms.

    I don’t have a lot of contact with many Jewish folks here in the wilds of Wisconsin, so I would like to ask those who may have more daily interaction with those of the Jewish faith a few questions.

    If you are Jewish, does this latest episode make you not want to vote for Obama/Democrats if you voted for them before? If you have friends that are Jewish, is this what you are hearing from them?

    I think that relations will keep souring with Israel as Obama’s term goes on – do you think that this will affect him in the 2012 presidential election?

    Thanks!

    Posted in Israel, Judaism, Politics | 25 Comments »

    But the evidence is right there – right there! – in front of you.

    Posted by onparkstreet on 25th March 2010 (All posts by )

    (paraphrasing a conversation)

    Me: Hi, I’m calling about my AMA dues notice?
    AMA representative: Yes?
    Me: I’m not a member currently. I’d like to be removed from your mailing list, please. I don’t plan on becoming a member any time soon, so I don’t need the dues notices.
    AMA representative: Okay.

    ****

    From the AMA website a couple of days before the vote:Washington, D.C. – After careful review and consideration, the American Medical Association (AMA) today announced its qualified support for the current health reform bill as a step toward providing coverage to all Americans and improving our nation’s health system.”

    Also from the AMA website (where they have a counter “counting down” to the 21% Medicare Physician cuts with the admonition to “take action now”:)

    Resolving the problem now is the fiscally responsible course to take. Relying on past methods of postponing the immediate crisis will only increase the cost of a permanent repeal. Congress can no longer afford to kick the can down the road.”

    Does anyone want to explain the above statement to me? Seriously, I’m trying to understand what the organization might mean with that statement about fiscal responsibility – as they ask members to call and complain about cuts to physician medicare payments. What was that about CBO scoring again? I’m a dunce at all of this, so I ask for help from the readership! It’s a real question….

    Posted in Health Care | 8 Comments »

    Energy Futures Holdings (EFH) Revisited

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd March 2010 (All posts by )

    Energy Futures Holdings (EFH) is a large utility based in Texas that used to be TXU. They were taken over by private equity in one of the largest buyouts during the “peak year” of 2007. I wrote about them here as they began to have problems repaying their monstrous pile of debt which mainly comes due in 2014. If you go to this file on EFH’s web site and go to page 12 you can see the $20B in debt coming due on that date (EFH is privately held and thus does not have a stock ticker but since their debt is publicly held they do have analyst presentations).

    The New York Times wrote an article on the EFH buy out titled “Power Players, Unplugged” on February 28, 2010. While we may take the NY Times to task from time to time on politics in general I find their business writing to be of high quality.

    They sum up the deal as so:

    The buyout was, in effect, a gargantuan bet that natural gas prices would keep climbing; instead, plunging prices coupled with a hobbled national economy have cut into the cash the company generates.

    Investors who bought $40B of TXU’s bonds and loands – including legendary wise men like Warren Buffett – have seen huge losses as most of the bonds trade between 70 and 80 cents on the dollars. The other $8B used to finance the buyout came from the private equity investors themselves… analysts say that this latter stake currently has little value.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation | 12 Comments »

    Industry Leanings In Things Political

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 23rd March 2010 (All posts by )

    Data analysis guru and fellow Pythonista Drew Conway of Zero Intelligence Agents linked to Ideological Cartography, a blog whose author, Adam Bonica, posts interesting visualizations of political data. This post (Ideologically aligned and ideologically divided industries) had some interesting visualizations of the left-right ideological leanings of people in various industries as revealed by their campaign contributions (all data is from 2008):

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics, Statistics | 8 Comments »

    Bubble-icious — American History and Political Subsidies

    Posted by James McCormick on 22nd March 2010 (All posts by )

    As someone who’s written several times (here and here) about the course of modern health care (its inherent complexity and cost), I’ve been watching the latest moves in US health care funding with a great deal of interest.

    From the introduction of antibiotics to the breakthroughs in transplant surgery, medicine in the 20th century was in a position to provide dramatic improvements in health care (both quality of life and length of life) at relatively modest cost. Many consider it a golden age in medicine. My personal belief is that medical care is about to hit another burst of creativity and success (but at much higher cost-to-benefit) as non-invasive imaging, micro-surgery, diagnostic testing, and DNA-propelled pharmaceutical customizations kick in. I may be wrong, but I think my beliefs are a reasonable extrapolation of the trends in medical care since the end of the 1970s “silver bullet” period of medicine.

    So what do my guesses about modern medicine mean in a new era of greater tax subsidies for US health care? An era which, by necessity, must politicize health care further. It got me to thinking about the hidden subsidies during earlier periods of American history, powered by the domestic political systems of the time, and driven by citizen/voter appetites. And it got me thinking about the law of unintended consequences.

    After a few minutes scribbling on the back of an envelope, I came up with the following:

    US Bubbles Over Four Centuries

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Health Care, History, Medicine, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »

    Faustian Ambition

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd March 2010 (All posts by )

    AnoukAnge’s post on ambition, which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay. Although this may seem like a strange thing to spend time blogging about at the moment, given all the political news and events, I believe this topic is in fact highly relevant to current affairs.

    The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.

    Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

    If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

    Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

    FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
    To offer you my arm and company?
    GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
    Can unescorted find my way
    FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
    I’ve never seen the like of her
    She is so dutiful and pure
    Yet not without a pert allure
    Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
    I never shall forget, I know
    Her glance’s timid downward dart
    Is graven deeply in my heart!
    But how she was so short with me–
    That was consummate ecstasy!

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Germany, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Philosophy | 20 Comments »

    Silver Lining

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 22nd March 2010 (All posts by )

    Dennis the Peasant has some lucid thoughts:

    Much to my delight, I spent most of this week alternately entertaining and chauffeuring an old college pal who was visiting the wilds of Central Ohio. As opposed to sitting in front of a computer speculating about whether Obamacare would pass. I said last week that I thought it would pass, and it will. Anyone who was paying attention to Bart Stupack’s imitation of Hamlet should have known by last Thursday that he was never going to vote ‘no’.
     
    So Obama and Pelosi will have their bill, and Democrats own health care for better or for worse.
     
    Sure, it’s shitty legislation, but I can’t say I’m all that worried. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 25.5 years of dealing with people and their money, it’s that they will do anything to ensure their standard of living is not lowered. And that’s why I think that much of Obamacare will never actually see the light of day. In the end the mandate will go away, rather quietly, and by mutual consent. Probably via an indefinite delay in implementation. People simply will not tolerate a government order to lower their standard of living; and demanding a family making $88,000 pre-tax to spend $15,000+ after-tax to fulfil Obamacare’s mandate is just that.
     
    And while Obamacare does in many ways threaten our way of life, our liberty and so on and so forth, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that it really has had its upside as well. It’s been pure, unadulterated joy to watch legions of sanctimonious, holier-than-thou progressives sell out for the sake of pure partisanship and/or personal gain. It’s been fun to watch the kept men like Markos Moulitsas, Matthew Yglesias, Josh Marshall and countless others ditch single payer and the public option as if they had never once considered either worthy of interest, much less their support.
     
    We’re to the point where progressives are now out-Clintoning Bill Clinton. They’re now worse than the DNC Bill Clinton forced upon them. The DNC they loathed. The DNC they’ve so often derided as being so centrist as to be sell-outs. Now they’ve got health care reform written by AHIP and financed by PhARMA, and they couldn’t be happier. They’re now in the same league with boob-jumping evangelists, Hummer-driving treehuggers and spendthrift Republicans… and they couldn’t be happier.
     
    Like I said, that almost makes it all worthwhile.

    Posted in Health Care, Politics | 4 Comments »

    Obama Rubs Our Faces In It

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd March 2010 (All posts by )

    “We proved that this government, a government of the people and by the people, still works for the people.”

    That’s what Obama said after House Democrats passed his health scheme. It’s a revealing remark. The Democratic leadership ignored broad public opposition to pass this extremely consequential bill on a bare majority by a combination of dishonest rhetoric, bribery, scummy parliamentary maneuvers and sheer willfulness. Then the President had the nerve to abuse Lincoln’s great words to tell us — most of whom opposed the bill, as he well knows — that he and his colleagues did it at our direction (“of the people and by the people”) and for our benefit. I interpret his words, a characteristic inversion of the truth, as a direct insult to his political opponents, who on this issue are now the majority of the country. He knows that we know he is lying and he doesn’t care, because he thinks he can get away with it. And he appears to enjoy it. This is not someone who can be trusted with power.

    Posted in Health Care, Obama, Politics, Rhetoric | 18 Comments »

    Footwear Update

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 21st March 2010 (All posts by )

    I was a little sleepy last weekend and we went out for lunch and I noticed something odd when I looked down at the restaurant.

    Posted in Humor, Photos | 10 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st March 2010 (All posts by )

    The President has just given away the contents of half the nation’s wallets by arranging things so that the survival of the other half depend on getting it.

    -Richard Fernandez

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Health Care, Politics | 6 Comments »

    Worth Reading: Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 21st March 2010 (All posts by )

    Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft comes close to fulfilling the premise of its title. Written by Angelo M. Codevilla, it may be the clearest discussion of statecraft you’re likely to get from an American.

    Codevilla puts a great deal of emphasis on two themes throughout the book:

    1. Seriousness.
    2. Proper naming.

    He argues that American statecraft has been haunted by three spirits of obfuscation and unseriousness since around 1900: Liberal Internationalism, Realism, and Neoconservatism. Codevilla sums up the three: “As Liberals think that all well-administered peoples are alike and Neoconservatives that all democrats are alike, Realists think that all “moderates” are alike.” The fundamental problem Codevilla finds with all three strains of American foreign policy thinking is that they:

    1. Assume everyone in the world is an American under their skin.
    2. Assume foreign policy consists of scratching foreigners until the true inner American is revealed.
    3. Are ignorant or deliberately paper over the essential proposition that foreign policy deals with foreigners.
    4. Obfuscate the meaning of words such as diplomacy and war away from their basic dictionary meanings.

    Codevilla is not kind to what he sees as the wanton unseriousness and obfuscation of America’s twentieth and twenty-first century elites:

    Twentieth-century American elites, however, have committed our country to the grandest of ends but have not measured them against the means necessary to achieve them—ends hazily imagined, and means they might not have used even if they had them. Instead of scaling up means or scaling down ends, they invented vocabularies to describe a fantasy in which the means with which they felt comfortable would suffice to remake the world. This meant abandoning the wisdom concerning peace, war, diplomacy, intelligence, prestige, and economics accumulated in our civilization over millennia. In the new, unprecedented world they imagined, any given instance of peace was not the product of a particular peace victory and arrangement of power but rather the absence of conflict. Diplomacy was not a set of tools but a substitute for force. Intelligence was not a matter of a few hidden details but a magic wand to uncover the secret to effortless success. Prestige was a reputation, not for being effective but for being pleasant. Wealth was not one of many elements of power but everyone’s overriding purpose.
     
    To be other than sorcerers’ apprentices, American statesmen had better deal with reality as described in dictionaries. This book does not impose its own categories. It looks at international affairs as the interactions of individuals and groups who are what they are, want what they want, and do what they do. It is about the consequences of forgetting common-sense definitions: that diplomacy is mere communication, that international intercourse requires a positive imbalance of means over ends, that allies are available in inverse proportion to the need for them, and that war is the avenue to peace via the gateway of the enemy’s death or submission.

    Codevilla covers each major element of statecraft in its own chapter: diplomacy, economic power (money—money—money), war, intelligence, and civil defense (also known by the heavily Teutonic name of “homeland security”).

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    Posted in Book Notes, International Affairs, Military Affairs, National Security, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    A Question

    Posted by Ginny on 20th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Is it just me, or is Paul Ryan’s I.Q. (or tenacity, research or thoughtfulness or whatever) a difference in kind rather than in degree from Democrats with whom he spars? Nerds/wonks like that aren’t great presidents, but I’d sure like him on the side of anyone who is. Give him some power and he’d clearly feel restrained by the possible, the practical. He respects us – and those with whom he argues. And he just seems so damn right.

    Am I missing something – or, if I’m right, why do his remarks seem to slide off other’s well-oiled backs as if they were water? Of course, your average nerd doesn’t have hair that black and eyes that blue – he reminds me of that old Irish saying, God put in those blue, blue eyes with smokey fingers.

    Posted in Health Care, Politics | 11 Comments »

    Hubbard Street Dance Facility

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 20th March 2010 (All posts by )


    I do not know much about modern dance but went to a show at Hubbard Street Dance on the north end of Millennium Park (right behind the cool music shell) and their facility has interesting colors and neon lights. I only had my crappy blog camera with me and took some photos. It reminds me of an updated version of the United Airlines connecting tunnel between terminals B and C at O’Hare.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Photos | 11 Comments »

    “It’s Now or Never”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 19th March 2010 (All posts by )

    “If you want to make your voice heard on the health-care bill before the House votes on Sunday, you’d better do so quickly.” – Ed Whelan, NRO (via Instapundit)

    Don’t stop calling even if the vote ends up passing the thing. I’m quite serious about this. Keep relaying your concerns, keep calling, keep at it. Actions should have consequences.

    Update: Oh goodness, Instapundit is linking to this report of an incident in which serial phone calling to a Congressman’s office is interpreted as a form of harassment (Huh? How is that harassment? It’s about a specific bill that the Congressman is voting on ?)

    Well, I certainly don’t want anyone harassed or treated in any way other than civilly and decently. I wonder, however, if such incidents are inevitable given that technology has empowered us “little people” (an Army of Davids!) to repeatedly call, or text, or fax our Congressman, while the low-tech Congressional side is nothing other than a person logging the calls or texts or faxes. I don’t think this dynamic is going to change any time soon, and in an odd way, highlights the problems with a central authority attempting to deal with such a complicated phenomenon as rapidly changing technology. It’s yet another illustration of why health care shouldn’t be managed by central authorities… .

    Posted in Health Care | 22 Comments »

    Mini-Book Review — Smith — The Strong Horse

    Posted by James McCormick on 18th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Smith, Lee, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, Doubleday, 2010, 256 pp.

    Strong Horse is a series of conversations, observations and recollections of the author’s experiences in the Middle East over the last decade … focusing on Cairo, Beirut, Israel and Damascus. Living in Brooklyn, Smith took the events of 9/11 as a personal challenge to study in the region. That led him to discussing the political and social culture of the Arab world with individuals as varied as Sufi scholars, Koranic recitators, Lebanese Druze warlords, and Cairo doormen … engaging as well with more famous names such as Naguib Mahfouz (Egyptian Nobel Laureate in Literature), Edward Said, Omar Sharif, and Natan Sharansky.

    As the title of the book suggests, Smith feels the conflicts of the Middle East are largely an internal clash of Arab civilizations and involve the “captive” peoples (Copts, Druze, Christians, Jews, Sufis, Shia, etc.) who must somehow survive with Sunni majorities and governments in the region. The spillover of violence into the West, while constant, is therefore largely a secondary effect. The key question, the author believes, is over “who’s the real Muslim?” Since that bloody debate, by definition, doesn’t extend to the infidels, violence in the non-Muslim world is usually some form of manipulation in benefit of domestic agendas. The evidence of the last decade suggests the Arabs reserve the lion’s share of their bile and violence for each other. Though they provide unrelenting warnings about the dangers of inciting further violence by Muslims (through American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan), such concerns never seem to translate into a lighter hand by authorities within the region. It is this observation which leads Smith to propose that “strong horse” politics was, is, and will be, a enduring principle in the Middle East … and widely supported by Arabs of every persuasion.

    For Smith, Arab antagonism to Americans and Westerners is fundamental, being as they are neither Muslim nor, more importantly, Arab. The various Arab tribes and sects who feud endlessly amongst themselves do not permit any profound reconciliation with the Other, either across the religious and ethnic boundaries or within them. Muslim willingness to leverage Western allies against other Muslim powers is built right into Islamic history, as outlined with methodical effort in Efraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism: A History, reviewed earlier on chicagoboyz here.

    The author’s conclusion after his travels and conversations over the last decade is that “overthrow, domination, and eventual collapse” is a political pattern long established amongst the Arab tribes, largely reinforced (not introduced) by Islam, recognized for over half a millennium by Arab historians, and it shows little or no sign of change in the 21st century. The strong horse is the model for successful political change in the region. It was not chosen as a metaphor by Osama Bin Laden on a whim. And it resonates deeply within Arab culture. It is the aspiration of all participants in the political process in the Middle East, in Smith’s belief … and any discussion of peace (as opposed to interim truce) is a form of cultural betrayal. And punished accordingly. Despite the fact that this cultural habit reiterates destructive cycles without end, it cannot be relinquished without giving up a fundamental cultural narrative. The toxic results are self-evident to modern Arabs but if Smith is to be believed, they are caught in a situation where all they can do is “double down” on the model of political change that has served them very poorly in the past. Struggling to cope with the impact of two centuries of Western technology and culture, the Arab hope is that an Arab Strong Horse will arise. The reality is that it is the United States, and inadvertently Israel, that have found themselves in the role of Strong Horse in the Middle East. The burden of the role is that all parties in the region look to gain favor and/or manipulate the destruction of their domestic and regional competitors by playing games with the Strong Horse. As Smith quotes in passing, Arabs are better at feuding than warring. At the point at which they are able to escalate conflict to war, inevitably it is their culture and self-regard that pays the price. What was true of Napoleon in Egypt is now true of America in the Middle East.

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    Posted in Islam, Israel, Middle East, Terrorism, War and Peace | 3 Comments »