On the Rescue of Ingrid Betancourt

The rescue by the Colombian army of Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors held hostage for years by the FARC guerrillas constitutes a crippling blow to the rebel group. Due to her high profile as a former presidential candidate, the release of Betancourt had become a powerful bargaining tool for the FARC. Now their standing is severally damaged. However, the guerrilla group still holds hostage approximately 700 people in the jungles of Colombia. This rescue, along with other serious setbacks that the FARC have suffered in recent months, including Hugo Chávez’s call to put down their arms, should further isolate the FARC and increase the pressure within the group to put an end to the armed conflict.

Cohn’s Fuzzy-Math Health Care Plan

Over at The Plank, my friend Jonathan Cohn makes a first pass at a Center for American Progress paper on John McCain’s proposed health insurance tax credit.

The main thrust of the CAP paper is that McCain’s tax credit would raise taxes on some people. I can’t really argue with that. If you replace an unlimited tax break with a limited tax break (especially one whose growth is limited), then some people are going to pay higher taxes. The fact that McCain’s tax credit is “refundable” makes the tax-hike problem worse: high-income people must suffer higher tax increases to pay for the new welfare payments. For what it’s worth, I have forwarded a proposal to reform the tax treatment of health insurance that does a much better job of protecting people from tax increases. But that’s not why I’m blogging.

After Cohn finishes with the tax-hiking aspect of McCain’s tax credits, he writes:

But this is where we run smack into the real problem of the McCain plan… This is an incredibly crude and ineffective way of controlling costs. It puts the entire onus on the consumer–basically, it says to everybody “spend less on health care” without doing anything to make sure that people can actually get decent health care at that price. There’s no guarantee of minimum benefits, in terms of services covered or limits on out-of-pocket expenses; nor is there any guarantee of available coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. (Folks with pre-existing conditions could still get coverage through employer policies. But, of course, as the tax deduction goes away, employers will have less incentive to give such coverage in the first place.)

The better way to control costs is with a variety of approaches that starts with a guarantee of coverage to everybody.

That is the Left’s approach to cost-containment – give more health benefits to more people with more ailments, while making everyone pay less – and it is just plain goofy.

More stuff costs more money. Universal coverage equals more stuff. If you’re going to use “universal coverage” and “cost-containment” in the same breath, you’d better tell me where you’re going to cut.

Defending Nukes

Walter Pincus writes for the Washington Post today:

Most overseas storage sites for U.S. nuclear weapons, particularly in Europe, need substantial improvements in physical security measures and the personnel who guard the weapons, according to a newly available Air Force report.

I bet many Post readers saw that and wondered why in the world the United States still has nuclear weapons in Europe. The answer is no good reason. In the Cold War, some US war planners worried about being overrun by numerically superior Soviet forces and wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons to slow a Soviet invasion or deter it from occurring. The sense of this at the time was questionable, given the difficulty of limiting the exchange. Now there is no strategic justification for placing these forces in Europe – unless it’s to trade to Russia for reductions in their own tactical nuclear weapons arsenal, where security is more worrisome. But tactical nuclear weapons were absent from the Moscow Treaty on nuclear arsenals that the US and Russia negotiated in 2002, and no agreements have occurred since then.

The nukes in question are reportedly all relatively small B-61 bombs designed for delivery by F-16s. The disposition of our tactical nukes in Europe is secret, but according to this report from the Federation of American Scientists, we recently removed all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom, leaving 150-240 nuclear bombs scattered at six bases, some European run, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

All this gets to the absurdity of US nuclear weapons force posture – the maintenance of the famous Triad, which was always more a logroll among military communities in the Air Force and Navy than a strategic imperative. The US gets all the survivable firepower it needs, and then some, from our 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines. Today, the need for land-based nuclear missiles is questionable. The case for nuclear bombs delivered by aircraft is hard to articulate, let alone believe, especially when they are deployed to defend rich nations capable of defending themselves from a state, Russia, that is no longer our enemy.

They Want to Post WHAT?

According to the Raleigh News & Observer:

The [North Carolina medical] board, charged with licensing and disciplining the 22,000 doctors who practice in North Carolina, has proposed posting all malpractice payments going back seven years as part of a new effort to broaden the kind of information patients can see about the doctors who treat them. About 25 states have adopted similar rules.

What does North Carolina’s health care industry think about the proposal?

[T]he measure has met opposition from doctors and hospitals, the insurers who write their medical malpractice policies and the lawyers who defend them against patient lawsuits…

The hearing Monday drew 32 speakers, with 24 speaking against the board’s plan to post all payments, no matter how large or small, going back seven years.

No doubt some of those settlements involved no wrongdoing by the defendants. But does that mean we should deny patients all such information?

Oh, and another, unrelated story in today’s News & Observer reports:

Eighteen patients who had operations at Duke hospitals in 2004 sued Duke University Health System on Monday, charging that it committed fraud and negligence in connection with the patients’ exposure to surgical instruments mistakenly washed in elevator hydraulic fluid…

Hospital officials cited tests it conducted, which it said showed the instruments were sterile and that microscopic concentrations of fluid that remained on the tools posed no risk to patients.

Theft by Gavel

A judge has decided to “correct” Leona Helmsley’s disposition of assets.

From the New York Times:

Judge Renee R. Roth of Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan will also play a role. She has already demonstrated a willingness to be flexible, cutting the size of Trouble’s trust fund to $2 million, from the $12 million prescribed in Mrs. Helmsley’s will, and ordering that the difference be added to the pending charitable trust.

Judge Roth also agreed to a settlement between the trustees and two of Mrs. Helmsley’s grandchildren who were explicitly left out of her will. The agreement gave those grandchildren $6 million each.

It’s easy to let Helmsley’s interest in dogs distract us from what Judge Roth has done here. But consider this: If this judicial interference can happen to someone who can afford the best law firm in the USA to arrange her estate, what’s to stop some state official from messing with your property? I had to endure a semester of “Trusts and Estates” during law school and I’m sorry to report that what Judge Roth has done is fairly common. Wills can be “adjusted” according to the “flexibility” of the executor and the judge.