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March 2014 Archives

March 2, 2014

When Government Rations Drugs

In an irony, the British under the last Labour government created a National Institute for Health Care Excellence, supposedly to assure that drugs were equally available across the country. Instead, NICE (the institute's acronym) is shorting thousands of Britons from obtaining medicine that could prolong or improve their lives, according to a recent article in the Telegraph.

Examples include drugs to combat kidney cancer and a common form of eye disease that is a frequency cause of blindness.

Continue reading "When Government Rations Drugs" »

March 4, 2014

Oil, Gas and Failed US Foreign Policy

What if the US in recent years had allowed gas fracking on public lands and had, for example, permitted the Keystone Pipeline to be built? What if instead of preventing oil and gas development, that is, we had supported it?

What if we and the European Union had encouraged fracking attempts in Poland and Ukraine instead of looking away as business was made difficult for private companies in the region?

For one thing, we and the Europeans would be in a much stronger position in Ukraine right now and Ukraine would have a better chance at economic survival.

Russia, of course, is the beneficiary of US and EU diffidence. The Russians' main income sources are oil and gas. The Russian pipeline to Europe runs through Ukraine and Russia has not been shy about using it to intimidate Eastern European governments. (A 20 percent "discount" is offered to friends.) But if we and the EU had encouraged regional sources--which would have meant urging regulatory reform, for example, and stamping out corruption--the gas story would have been much brighter. Instead, most Eastern European fracking efforts have been thwarted.

President Obama and the US and EU left have thus handed Vladimir Putin a very handy weapon to control the former Soviet satellites. He has gas, they need gas.

Continue reading "Oil, Gas and Failed US Foreign Policy" »

March 7, 2014

The Great Lent

Many Christians follow Lent, the season of repentance that begins with Ash Wednesday and leads to Holy Week and Easter. But the 300 million Orthodox believers worldwide observe "The Great Lent" in a somewhat different manner. Our Senior Fellow on Human Exceptionalism, Wesley J. Smith, writes about it movingly at First Things.

March 8, 2014

Qatar Spotlighted as Sponsor of Islamists

Most people think of Qatar merely as one of the six Gulf states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and part of one of Islam's quieter regions. Yes, it sponsors the often-irritating Al Jazeera television network, but that's about as much notice as it gets in the West.

But to some of its neighbors, Qatar is seen as a hub of finance for radical Islamists and anti-Saudi forces, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the regimes of Iran and Syria. Qatar is accused of financing Hezbollah and its takeover of Beirut. Qatari support helps Assad's regime, but also Assad's most dangerous al-Qaeda linked opponents, al-Nusra. In sum, wherever there is trouble, Qatar seems to be found in the background. Most pertinently, it is widely thought that the Emir of Qatar would like to see the leaders of some of his neighbor states replaced in due course.

Continue reading "Qatar Spotlighted as Sponsor of Islamists" »

Take Up Request for Natural Gas

The U.S. Congress has been asked to expedite U.S. shipments of natural gas to Central Europe. Four Central European countries--Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia --have written Speaker John Boehner and are writing Senate Leader Harry Reid--asking for Congressional action to speed permits to export natural gas.

If the U.S. Government wants to do anything that will counter Vladimir Putin's invasion of the Crimea without using the military, this is a sound proposal. The Central Europeans whose countries once were under Soviet domination know that their ability to resist Putin's intimidation will be stronger if they have a new supply of gas.

Continue reading "Take Up Request for Natural Gas" »

March 9, 2014

Defense and Economics Are Meeting

Cutting the defense budget still further as the Obama Administration proposes is looking more and more like historic folly. In some respects, this is absolutely the worst time to be signaling a U.S. conviction that the world has become safer and more friendly to American economic interests.

Robert J. Samuelson is an economist who is making the economics-defense connection. Eventually, U.S. businesses are going to wake up to the danger of defense cuts, too.

The reverse is also true; namely, economics is another strength in defense and needs to be employed that way. In Ukraine right now the U.S. should pursuing Eastern European energy development--and Western European return to nuclear power--as a way to prevent Russian intimidation. America itself needs to announce plans to ship its own liquid natural gas to Ukraine and anyone else who wants an alternative to Russian natural gas.

Continue reading "Defense and Economics Are Meeting" »

March 13, 2014

Colorado: Obamacare Becoming Very Consequential

Is Colorado typical? It appears, according to an article in the D.C. Examiner, that Colorado has seen almost three times as many health insurance cancellations under Obamacare as new enrollments under Obamacare (249,000 versus 89,000).

A friend in Indiana, meanwhile, reports that his insurance company cancelled his private insurance as a result of Obamacare, saying they were leaving the state. Indiana now has three private insurance providers where they had five before. Is this progress?

Continue reading "Colorado: Obamacare Becoming Very Consequential" »

March 14, 2014

New Orleans Charter Schools Can Become an Inspiration for Other Communities

In the months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 New Orleans found itself with a great many unusable public schools, as well as a drop in the number of students. The crisis gave rise to a major change; the city went to charter schools, eventually making school choice available to every parent in the city.

If you visit New Orleans, as my wife and I did recently, you will find that residents make it point of pride to show off the new charter schools and announce the subsequent rises in student achievements in standardized tests, graduation rates, etc. Whereas the Big Easy used to lag the rest of the state, it now leads.

Continue reading "New Orleans Charter Schools Can Become an Inspiration for Other Communities" »

March 15, 2014

Fateful Mistakes in Ukraine

It is important to hear differing opinions as nations head into conflict, whether the conflict is economic and political or military--or all of those. One of the problems with Russia's deceitful takeover of the Crimea and its fomenting of agitation in Eastern Ukraine is that people in Russia know almost nothing about the reality. Vladimir Putin has been busy closing down all dissenting domestic news organs that might inform them. For example, videos of the obscene palace erected by the corrupt President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, were seen all over the world, but not in Russia. Indeed, the Swiss report today a deep investigation into large scale money laundering by Yanukovych "and his entourage".

But none of this comes to the notice of ordinary Russians because only Putin's propaganda is tolerated there now. No wonder he is popular.

On the other hand, as we go forward Americans need to come to grips with the failure of US diplomacy two decades ago when the USSR folded. We had the chance, as Reagan's ambassador to Russia,Jack Matlock explains in a Washington Post article, to make Russia a close ally, as we did Germany and Japan after World War II. We made some gestures, but that's about it.

Continue reading "Fateful Mistakes in Ukraine" »

March 17, 2014

Energy is Glaring Hole in Ukraine Response

Let me be succinct. We cannot go to war over Crimea or even Ukraine. Economic sanctions will cut both ways and, like the sanctions on Iran, wind up getting undercut with the passage of time. But the response of the Obama Administration so far has been so tepid as to ignite humiliating laughter on the part of the Russians.

What is most glaringly absent is a US response based on Russia's dependence on its energy sector for economic survival. Without oil and gas sales the Russian economy sputters. Russia's customers--often intimidated and manipulated by the Kremlin--are the weakest link in the Putin power strategy. The US has a fine opportunity right now to work in concert with those customers--the Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), plus Western European countries--to circumvent the Russian monopoly. They will gain confidence and Russia may will be sobered up by the long term prospect of declining markets.

President Obama likes Executive Orders. How about one accelerating approval of US sales of liquid natural gas to Europe?
How about approval of the Keystone Pipeline--thereby further increasing US energy independence and lowering the international price of oil (and thereby restraining Maduro in Venezuela as well as Putin in Russia)? How about announcing the opening of US federal lands for fracking--with the same results?

How about specific aid to Eastern Europe to encourage development of fracking? Failure of such encouragement in recent years has helped hold them back--to Russia's advantage.

Continue reading "Energy is Glaring Hole in Ukraine Response" »

Newspaper's Great Idea for Political Accountability

Newspapers typically like to give advice to politicians on how to clean up their act, but the papers often fall short of thinking of what they can do besides observing, critiquing and endorsing. Congratulations therefore to the San Francisco Chronicle that has come up with one of the best reform ideas in years--and one they themselves can implement.

The subject is special interest group questionnaires that go out to political candidates trying to pin them down on issues before an election. It sounds harmless until you realize that it can become a kind of extortion. The public views of a candidate--in sync with the electorate--are something else in the questionnaires, constituting a kind of hidden promise.

The prime example used by the Chronicle, as you'll see from the article, is the teachers unions. The demands they make on candidates is breathtaking--almost as daunting as the money the union leaders raise from mandatory dues and then throw into election races. Republicans almost automatically are out of consideration, but Democrats--if they favor school reform--are in a real bind.

Continue reading "Newspaper's Great Idea for Political Accountability" »

March 18, 2014

Funny, What a Great Book Review Can Do

K&P cover.jpg

Some books are like fireworks that shoot up, elicit "ooohs!" and then disappear. Others are like a smoldering fire that gathers attention slowly, but eventually becomes an unavoidable conflagration. George Gilder's Knowledge and Power we think is in the latter category. It was read by one reviewer at Forbes, who passed it on to others. Eventually, there were some six articles on K&P, as well as an occasional piece elsewhere. People who read the book become enthusiastic. FreedomFest declared it the "Book of the Year."

But there was strange lack of notice at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Journal, however, moved today with a glowing review of the book ("The Real Market Makers", by Matthew Rees)--and notification that its contents are not only interesting but important to the future of the economy. He also addresses the "difficult" portions of the book:

positive change in the world is central not only to George Gilder's work, but to Discovery Institute in general.

Continue reading "Funny, What a Great Book Review Can Do" »

March 20, 2014

Satire Focus Shifts to New Special Interests

Prickley City Comic.gif

Public employee union leaders, politicized government bureaucrats and special interest cronies in the private sector who trade political influence for economic favors: these are the new power elites in America whose existence and scope finally are being recognized. They often invoke the poor, but do nothing much for them. In the case of teachers union leaders (in New York and Chicago, and even Washington State), they are beginning to become the objects of satire.

Here's another case: In Seattle, the Luddite City Council has just decided to restrict passenger car services like Uber that have attracted enthusiasm almost everywhere they are tried. Young techie Seattlites love them because they easy, reliable and quick--summoned by a mere cell phone call. These services also have the merit of moving more people out of their own cars, thus saving fuel and parking spaces, and often are used by people going out to parties as a responsible way to respond to the admonition not to drink and drive. Think about this. Seattle is a city where officials constantly have made private car driving more and more problematic. Yet when a brilliant technology comes along that allows car owners to leave their vehicles at home, the City retaliates!

The problem, of course, is that Seattle and other cities long ago established a taxi-cab monopoly for passenger pick-ups. The taxi technology and style is familiar, but now old fashioned--early 20th century. The people who own the cabs have to get pricey medallions, and understandably treat them as an exclusionary, non-competitive entitlement, the way, say, a medieval silversmith regarded his guild membership. The rise of free enterprise ended the stultifying effects of the medieval guilds, but the desire for monopoly persists as a predictable human ambition. The political power is with the taxi companies.

The Seattle City Council might have found a means to deregulate the taxi cabs over a period of time so that taxi owners were not suddenly and completely disadvantaged. Instead, the Council came down on the side of limiting the upstart competitors of the taxis. This is the Luddite solution, the reaction of people (to go back to the medieval example) who want to smash new technology rather than learn to live and thrive with it.

Greg Gottesman, a principal of Madrona Investment Co. in Seattle--who knows something about innovation--reacted to the City Council with a fine satire that has been reprinted repeatedly (so I am hardly the first). Meanwhile about 35,000 people have begun protesting the City Council's action.

Greg Gottesman's article follows.

Continue reading "Satire Focus Shifts to New Special Interests" »

March 23, 2014

Poverty Question Meets Inequality Issue

Without gaining much attention, candidate Barack Obama let it slip in the 2008 campaign (remember his conversation with "Joe the Plumber"?) that fairness in the economy might require "spreading the wealth around." A slip five years ago, it has been a theme in office, one emphasized by the Occupy movement and plugged by the media. Actual inequality has increased in recent years, but the left sees that as an argument for doubling down.

Finally, the right has taken up the challenge. Yes, by all means, let's talk about inequality. Indeed, where is inequality most pronounced and how does that correspond with politics? Dr. Richard Morrill, noted geographer from the University of Washington, has a recent study that shows that the most economically unequal areas of the country are places like Manhattan and San Francisco. Dr. Morrill draws no policy implications, but readers can. As Joel Kotkin points out in Forbes, those just happen to be hubs of blue state politics and cultural attitudes.

The least unequal places (with some exceptions) tend to be medium sized cities and the much derided suburbs.

Continue reading "Poverty Question Meets Inequality Issue" »

March 24, 2014

Yes, Putin has Allies

Recent U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael A. McFaul had an important article in Monday's New York Times. It is important, if nothing else, for its more clear eyed awareness of the Russian challenge than the Times' editorial stance so far.

For example, he states ominously, "The shrill anti-Americanism uttered by Russian leaders and echoed on state-controlled television has reached a fanatical pitch with Mr. Putin's annexation of Crimea. He has made clear that he embraces confrontation with the West, no longer feels constrained by international laws and norms, and is unafraid to wield Russian power to revise the international order." Times readers need to hear this kind of wake-up call.

However, Ambassador McFaul makes a strange, but understandably common mistake. He writes, "Mr. Putin's Russia has no real allies. We must keep it that way. Nurturing Chinese distance from a revisionist Russia is especially important, as is fostering the independence of states in Central Asia and the Caucasus."

The observation is true up to a point about China and Central Asia. However, it is a vast oversight to suggest that because Russia does not have allies in a formal manner--secured by treaties--it lacks allies in the real world.

Continue reading "Yes, Putin has Allies" »

March 25, 2014

Media Self-Censor News on Autocrats

This space noted that Vladimir Putin does, indeed, have allies among other autocratic regimes. One trait of such regimes is censorship of negative news. Today, the New York Times reports that another editor has left Bloomberg News because it censored a report on corruption among the Chinese elite.

It is bad enough that autocrats censor their own media, are Western news media so worried about staying in good with autocracies where they have bureaus and do business that they, too, must self-censor on negative news?

Continue reading "Media Self-Censor News on Autocrats" »

March 28, 2014

Russia and China Pay for US Propaganda; But US Media Don't Notice

Every Friday I get a copy of China Daily with my subscription to the Seattle Times. Similar deliveries are made in other cities--to selected zip codes. The paper sometimes has interesting articles, but mostly I look at it to see how the Chinese government--that pays for the newspaper--is covering world events. For example, they mostly dodged on Russia's invasion of Crimea.

Meanwhile, the New York Times this morning (Friday) includes an insert called "Russia Beyond the Headlines." If you look hard you will find teeny, tiny print that says "This special advertising feature is sponsored and written by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia) and did not involve the reporting and editing staff of the New York Times. Inserts also have run in the Washington Post.

The lead article in the eight page insert is "How Crimea's Past Complicates its Future." The main thrust of such pieces is not to challenge readers with a direct confrontation but to provide a different point of view than it is assumed most Americans hold.

I don't mind if the Chinese and Russians want to pay for space in American newspapers to propagandize us. I do wish that the nature of the product was more conspicuously proclaimed. For openers, why is there no US news coverage of the foreign propaganda efforts? If some conservative domestic group were to fund an insert into the Times or pay to send whole conservative newspapers along with regular deliveries of local papers you can be sure that the press would find that a very interest news story, at the least. How many days' coverage would it get if the Koch brothers were paying the bill?

Continue reading "Russia and China Pay for US Propaganda; But US Media Don't Notice" »

March 31, 2014

Dirty Little Secret About Special Interest Money

The media and academic trope on campaign finance has long been that "fat cat" Republicans raise and spend far more money than the "party of the little guy," the Democrats. But if that was true, say, thirty years ago or more, it definitely is false today. The new tech billionaires are usually Democrats (social issues liberals with little sympathy for businessmen who struggle to get ahead). Many have some environmental crotchet that is quite separate from however they made their money. Such people back the Democrats. Most of the richest Congressional districts are represented by Democrats.

The public employee unions, meanwhile, have more political money to spend than any conservative organization or groups of organizations. The Tea Party was an off-setting force in 2010 and 2012 because it was able to mobilize volunteers and small donors. But as a rule few ordinary conservatives conceive it their duty to send money to a political party or candidate. (Of course, neither to ordinary liberal voters.)

There are a number of Republican big-givers left, such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. Their reward is to be demonized.

Continue reading "Dirty Little Secret About Special Interest Money" »

Prosecute the Prosecutors

Prosecutors who abuse their mandate are sometimes worse than the supposed criminals they pursue, especially when the pursued actually are not guilty or are guilty only of trivial offenses. That was true of the prosecutors who effectively brought down Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. They were brought down themselves for this grotesque machination. Meantime, they arguably changed the balance in the U.S. Senate, which may have been their illicit aim all along.

So, if you think all prosecutors are non-political, think again.

The pursuit of Rep. Tom DeLay in Texas falls into the same category. DeLay was a tough politico, but the case against him was trumped up. He had to leave Congress and at first was convicted--then acquitted. His assailants, meanwhile, go free.

Now we have the case of the collateral damage visited on Kelly Rindfleisch, a minor worker in Scott Walker's county executive administration when Walker--now Wisconsin's Governor--was its occupant. Collin Levy of the Wall Street Journal tells the tale. Note this kind of persecution could happen to almost anyone. Note also in this story how the wrath of the prosecutors can be turned on whoever tries to help their target, for example, someone who contributes to a legal defense fund.

Eventually, as the courts get ahold of such matters, the spotlight may and should turn from the innocent person being harassed and harried, and rest on the real miscreants, the rogue prosecutors who have abused their trust. Literally anybody can be prosecuted. A Judge Saul Wachler is attributed with the statement that a prosecutor can get a grand jury "to indict a ham sandwich" if he wants to. That sadly is true.

Continue reading "Prosecute the Prosecutors" »

Sue the College Board Over Biased History

The Heartland Institute reveals that the Advanced Placement test for the college-bound is suffused with left wing bias. It seems that the American colonialists were most notable for their racism, not their quest of freedom, and the Declaration of Independence was a rather trivial document, apparently. Etcetera.

Some students are not going to do well on such a tendentious exam. They should sue the College Board that puts it on (along with the Student Achievement Test). Careers and life success depend on an objective understanding of history. A vain, novel and far left perspective is damaging to to the college prospects of people in the mainstream. Someone who thinks highly of the American Founders (as most people do) will be disadvantaged by the new AP.

Continue reading "Sue the College Board Over Biased History" »

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