Health Policy in New Mexico

Last Friday, at the invitation of the Rio Grande Foundation, I spoke to state legislators in New Mexico about Gov. Richardson’s proposal to expand Medicaid.  In brief, I argued that Richardson’s proposal would trap more New Mexicans in low-wage jobs, make private-sector health care more expensive, and purchase little health for the money spent.

The Rio Grande Foundation just posted my powerpoint presentation on their website. (Let me know if it loses something without narration.)

Cheer Up, Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas is celebrating his 90th birthday with a new book and a jeremiad on the state of the world.

“Let’s face it,” he writes to “America’s young people”:

“THE WORLD IS IN A MESS and you are inheriting it. Generation Y, you are on the cusp. You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, Aids, and suicide bombers to name a few. These problems exist, and the world is silent. We have done very little to solve these problems. Now, we leave it to you. You have to fix it because the situation is intolerable.”

I ponder his analysis and recommend Indur Goklany’s book The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet to him at the Guardian’s Comment is free.

Pork and Elections

Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX) lost his seat in Congress in a runoff election yesterday, thus increasing the number of defeated House GOP incumbents to 22 (Republicans lost a total of 30 House seats, but 8 Democratic pickups were in open seats without an incumbent seeking reelection).

Interestingly, 5 of the 22 defeated Republican incumbents, including Bonilla, were members of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which controls the federal government’s purse strings and is responsible for doling out pork.

The relatively large number of defeated appropriators might be surprising for some inside-the-beltway analysts because the committee is notorious for sending boatloads of pork to the districts of congressmen who serve on the committee or face tough reelection races. 

As The Hill notes:

In the Labor-HHS-Education bill for fiscal year 2007, more than $146 million in hometown projects is reserved for appropriators’ districts, placing roughly 30 percent of the earmarked money in the hands of 15 percent of the House members. If passed as written, the average appropriator’s district would get $2.25 million compared with averages of $1.35 million for the districts of 43 politically vulnerable lawmakers who are not appropriators and $663,000 for districts that are neither competitive nor represented by an appropriator.

It has long been conventional wisdom that these pork projects help to guarantee reelection. But is it possible that the public has soured on the appropriations process?

After all, former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) is now in jail because of his illegal activities on the Appropriations Committee.  And appropriations-related ethical issues factored heavily into last month’s defeat of Representative Charles Taylor (R-NC), who chaired the Interior Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. 

It’s probably too early to declare that pork projects have changed from a political asset to a liability, but the appropriations process has certainly drawn much more public scrutiny recently.  As a result, the Republicans adjourned the 109th Congress without finishing all of the fiscal 2007 appropriations bills, preferring to instead push the issue off onto the incoming Democratic majority.  And the Democrats have already announced their plans to kick the can further down the road and avoid the fiscal 2007 appropriations process.

For the time being at least, it seems congressmen have lost their taste for pork, but don’t expect this phenomenon to last long.

Saving the Planet One Scientist at a Time

Good article just out in Rolling Stone about a dirt-cheap, sure-fire way to cool the planet if we ever decide the Earth is getting too warm for our liking: atmospheric particles.  Turns out there’s little doubt we could cool the planet substantially for about $100 million a year - less than the price of a good-sized wind farm. 

The author of the piece thinks this is nuts, but it’s unclear to me exactly why.  There’s little doubt that it would work.  There’s little reason to fear secondary, unanticipated consequences.  And it’s a lot cheaper than the alternatives. 

The real objection for many, I think, is that a substantial segment of the enviro community wants to fundamentally remake human civilization and the global economy.  Conventional greenhouse gas emission controls offer up that possiblity.  A half-dozen 747s sprinkling particulates across the arctic skies does not.

Posner’s “Avatar” Talks Law

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner’s “avatar” recently engaged in an online discussion in “Second Life,” a virtual online world.  A transcript is now available at New World Notes here

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Posner, he is perhaps the most influential, and certainly the most prolific, federal judge alive.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with avatars or virtual worlds–and, to be quite honest, I fall in this camp, having only heard about this phenomenon secondhand (in Larry Lessig’s great book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace)–see these descriptions

Here’s a taste of the sometimes surreal discussion (“JRP” is Posner, SL stands–I think–for “Second Life”):

Ludwig Swain: Copyright question: would you consider the “cloning” of a copyrighted real world architectural work into SL to be infringement or fair use?

Ben Solomon: No fair. That’s Bill Patry’s question

JRP: I think Patry is in here somewhere– maybe he’s the raccoon.

Basman Kepler: I believe Patry has described his avatar as looking like Swiper the Fox from the Dora cartoons.

JRP:  Great question on cloning a copyrighted real world architectural work into SL– probably infringement, on the theory that the SL counterpart is a derivative work, hence the property of the copyright holder.  These are excellent questions!

Say what you will about Posner, he has a sense of humor.

N.C. Police Shooting Results in Murder Charge — Or Not

Police shootings have come under sharp public scrutiny in recent weeks following incidents in New York and Atlanta that led to the deaths of, respectively, an unarmed bridegroom and an elderly woman. Not only have the involved officers been chastised for their actions, but so have internal affairs investigators whom critics claim are moving too slowly.

That criticism didn’t seem to apply to the investigation of a Dec. 1 police shooting of an allegedly unarmed community college student in Wilmington, N.C. Within two weeks, one of the involved officers was fired and charged with murder.

Or not.

Within 24 hours of the indictment, the foreman of the grand jury told the court that he accidentally checked the wrong box on the indictment form. The murder charge has since been rescinded.

For the latest developments in the N.C. shooting, visit Wilmington attorney Tom Kerner’s civil rights blog.

It is unclear what lesson should be drawn from the N.C. indictment/undo. Does it show that investigations need to move slowly to prevent errors? Does it mean the cops involved really were blameless? Or does it indicate that it’s difficult to hold law enforcement officers accountable for wrongful actions, even if those actions result in the death of one of the citizens that officers are forsworn to serve and protect?

One thing that is clear is that reports of questionable police shootings are becoming far too frequent, as followers of Radley Balko and Tim Lynch’s work already know. Here’s Radley’s excellent report on the militarization of American police units. And here is Cato’s map of botched police raids, which apparently may soon include new pushpins for Atlanta and Wilmington.

Bovard on the Military Commission Act

Jim Bovard has a piece in the American Conservative

Excerpt:

The MCA awarded Bush the power to label anyone on earth an enemy combatant and lock then up in perpetuity, nullifying the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution and “turning back the clock 800 years,” as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said. While only foreigners can be tried before military tribunals, Americans accused of being enemy combatants can be detained indefinitely without charges and without appeal. Even though the Pentagon has effectively admitted that many of the people detained at Guantanamo were wrongfully seized and held, the MCA presumes that the president of the United States is both omniscient and always fair.

Read the whole thing. 

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the pointer.