Topic: General

Virginia Tees up a Senate Race

Virginia’s voters – about 1.5 percent of them, anyway – have given James Webb a narrow victory in the Democratic Senate primary, setting up a race with incumbent George Allen that promises to be among the most interesting in the country. Allen, who has mysteriously been regarded as a leading presidential candidate, will now have to spend some time at home fighting off the bestselling novelist and former Navy Secretary.

Webb is not your typical Democrat, which is why he had trouble winning the nomination over a lesser-known party activist. But he should be strong in the general election. He’s a Vietnam War hero who was appointed Navy Secretary by Ronald Reagan and was an early and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, warning in 2002 that “there is no exit strategy.” He can appeal to both leftwing Democrats and moderates who are increasingly disillusioned with the war and the Republicans.

Polls indicate that some 15 to 20 percent of voters hold libertarian views, differing from both liberals and conservatives. Webb’s opposition to the war and his boast that he’s  “pro-choice, pro-gay rights but also pro-Second Amendment” should give him strong appeal to those voters. He thinks the GOP-controlled Congress “rubber-stamps” whatever the Bush administration does, and as a result “we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis in this country … far more serious and far more widespread than anything we saw during the Watergate era.” However, the Washington Post editorialized that his ”somewhat strident populism on trade policy tends toward xenophobic sloganeering and business-bashing.” He’ll have to develop a more thoughtful position on economic issues to make much headway with libertarian-leaning voters.

If he does, it will be interesting to see what libertarians make of the choice between an orthodox conservative Bush Republican and an unorthodox antiwar Democrat. As governor, George Allen scored a 40 on Cato’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors (his predecessor, putatively liberal Democrat Doug Wilder, scored 75), and he has no notable achievements in the Senate. He voted for the war, the Patriot Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and the No Child Left Behind Act.

Let the battle for the libertarian center begin.

AMA to the Devil: “Let’s Make a Deal”

A reporter at the AMA annual meeting informs me that the House of Delegates has adopted a resolution with the adorable title of “Individual Responsibility to Obtain Health Insurance.”  An early draft [.doc] of the resolution (prepared by the AMA’s Council on Medical Service, and which may have been modified before passage) recommends this change to AMA policy:

That our American Medical Association support a requirement to purchase a minimum of catastrophic and preventive health insurance coverage for individuals and families earning greater than 500% of the federal poverty level, with substantial tax penalties for noncompliance. 

Once sufficient government subsidies are put in place, the resolution calls for slapping everyone with an individual mandate and “substantial tax penalties for noncompliance.”

As I wrote earlier, the AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  Yes, the AMA used to oppose tax-and-mandate schemes.  But ”in light of shifting public opinion in favor of requiring some individuals to purchase coverage” the AMA now supports requiring consumers to purchase a product that — wait for it — increases the quantity of physician services that consumers demand.

The Council’s reasoning also includes this gem:

In considering an individual requirement for health insurance, the Council believes that at some point incomes rise to a threshold where personal responsibility should be required…

Hmm.  And when incomes rise even higher, say to physician-like levels, what should be required then?

In September, Cato will publish a book by professor of law and medicine David Hyman that catalogues the damage done by physicians’ last deal with the devil.

The Power to Seize

You already know about the Duke University lacrosse players that have been indicted for rape.  The investigation is ongoing and the prosecutor is now ordering Duke University to turn over personal records for the other athletes on the team.  If Duke balks, the government could levy fines until the information is surrendered.

The power to seize private property is supposed to be divided between the executive branch and the judicial branch.  That is, the police file a search warrant application with a judge.  If the judge approves, the search takes place.  What does the judge look for in the application?  Well, the Fourth Amendment speaks of “probable cause” and “particularity” –  so the judge is basically looking for a good basis for the police to interfere with someone’s liberty.   No judicial approval, no search.  (There are exceptions, but that’s the general idea).  The “basis” for the prosecutor’s subpoena to Duke University amounts to …  ”they’re on the lacrosse team.”

The executive branch (police) bypasses the judicial “check” whenever it can get away with it.  If a search warrant application would be shaky, just use a subpoena. When most people think of subpoena, they imagine an official-looking envelope that arrives via certified mail.  Think again.  The government likes to claim that it is not using subpoenas as substitutes for search warrants, but you decide for yourself.  This is not a police raid, it’s an “administrative inspection.”

If Cato could subpoena the government, we might get a clearer picture on how officials use these powers, but the state is fierce about its own records.  For background on how prosecutors have been using grand jury subpoenas to bypass constitutional safeguards, read this.

Thanks to Crime and Federalism for the pointer.

SC in SC

South Carolinians go the polls today to vote in primaries and for several state office holders, and the future of school choice in the state could be substantially affected by the results. The position of state superintendent is up for grabs, with both pro- and anti-market candidates. There are also several legislative primary races in which incumbent foes of parental choice are being challenged by pro-choice candidates.

Stay tuned for an update tomorrow.

An Actual Anti-Communist Movie

At a time when most of Hollywood still sees Fidel Castro as a hero, it is interesting that a new movie portrays him as anything but.  The Lost City, starring Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, and Bill Murray (Dustin Hoffman also has a terrific walk on) is a chilling story of the communist rise to power in Cuba.  The love story is bit sappy, but the movie is worth it just for the scene in which the communists ban saxophones as “an imperialist instrument.” And the soundtrack is a treat.   If you’re looking for a change from Al Gore, check it out.

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The AMA: Protectionist to the Core

Radley Balko catalogues some of the wackier things going on at the American Medical Association annual meeting this week.  However, those who were worried that the AMA may have abandoned its old tricks should have no fear.

Among the topics the AMA will consider this week is a call for increased regulation of “convenience clinics” that offer an alternative to the physician’s office (and thus threaten physicians’ incomes).  Such clinics are mushrooming in locations like retail stores.  They provide quick access to basic care by trained nurse practitioners, who refer patients to physicians when necessary.  According to a Chicago Tribune report:

“We see lots of minor illnesses like colds, sore throats, and write a lot of prescriptions, typically for viruses,” said Maxwell, who views her clinic as a complement to a physician’s care. “It’s a place they can go when the doctor’s office is closed.”

…As at most other retail clinics, the operators say their offices are open seven days a week, with evening hours, and no appointment is necessary. A doctor comes by to review charts and other decisions made by the nurse practitioners but typically does not see patients.

Such clinics advertise that they will treat patients with routine maladies in 15 minutes or less, the amount of time you might spend in a waiting room at a doctor’s office as physicians pack more patients into a day.

There’s a very simple solution that the AMA could recommend to physicians who feel threatened by the competition:

  1. Expand your office hours;
  2. Shorten your waiting times;
  3. Lower your prices.

But that’s wishful thinking.  The AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  That unsavory tradition is alive and well.

Local Musician Tired of Being Hassled by the Man

A recent article on the new Massachusetts health insurance law quotes an aspiring young musician who is skeptical of both the individual mandate and the subsidies designed to help low-income individuals satisfy the mandate:

“I’m aware that I lead a lifestyle where you have to live really cheaply. So something I think about is what if I tried to do something to make a little more money?” said Crosby. “What if I get a job and I start having to pay several hundreds of dollars for health insurance just because I come out of making a low income? Sometimes I think the state does things that encourage people to stay poor.”

Rock on, Ryan Crosby.  Rock on.