Putting an End to “The War on Terror”

Our responses to the threat of terrorism are all too often described as “the war against terrorism.”  But this makes no linguistic sense; terrorism is one of many dangerous phenomena, not an enemy.  We do not describe our responses to the threat of hurricanes, for example, as a war against hurricanes.  More important, the war metaphor has severely biased both the nature and extent of our responses to the threat of terrorism.

First, the war metaphor implies that the primary response to the threat of terrorism should be a military response.  Terrorism, however, is the tactic of those who are motivated to seek political change by violence but are militarily weak.  The most important and too often neglected first question to address is whether some change in policy – such as the foreign basing of U.S. military forces – would reduce the motive for a terrorist threat against Americans at a lower cost than any other potential response.  Maybe not.  In that case, the most effective responses to the residual threat of terrorism are improvements in intelligence, intelligence sharing, and the capability of local police forces – with several special operations forces the only important military response.  The very expensive new weapons systems in the U.S. defense budget, in contrast, contribute nothing to increasing our security against the threat of terrorism.

Second, the war metaphor leads to an overreaction to the the threat of terrorism by inviting misleading comparisons of current conditions with those during prior conditions properly described as wars.  Those who defend an aggressive response to the threat of terrorism are quick to point out that the current losses of liberty and property to counter this threat have been small relative to those during wars.  But the threat of terrorism is very different than the threats during a war in three dimensions: Terrorism presents the small probability of a small loss (unless terrorists acquire a nuclear weapon) but one that may be extended indefinitely.  A war presents a larger probability of a large loss but one that is likely to be limited to a few years.  Most of us are prepared to sacrifice some liberty and property when there is an increased threat to our lives, but the difference in conditions presented by the threat of terrorism and wars strongly affects how much that we are prepared to sacrifice.  In general, people should be expected to be willing to pay a lower current price for security when the expected loss is lower and the period of potential loss is longer; for both of these reasons, how much liberty and property we should be expected to sacrifice in response to the threat of terrorism is far less than during a war.

This perspective leads me to conclude that the U.S. Government should substantially reduce the several dimensions of the current cost of responding to the threat of terrorism to a level sufficient to support only the most effective of these responses for a duration that may be indefinitely long.  Americans may have a lot to learn by a better understanding how Britain, Spain, and some other countries have responded to a threat of terrorism for decades with little sacrifice of liberty or property.

We may still need to replace the war metaphor with some metaphor that better reflects an effective, sustainable response to the threat of terrorism, but I will leave that to someone who is a better wordsmith.

Against Equity and Good Conscience, Indeed

Medicare watchers know that the federal government recently – and improperly – sent checks to 230,000 seniors. The checks were supposed to reimburse certain seniors for premiums paid under the new Medicare prescription drug benefit (Part D). But seniors who were not supposed to receive any money at all instead got checks worth an average of $215 – for a total of almost $50 million in erroneous payments.

The feds tried to get seniors to return the money – that is, until the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. filed suit to stop them. In fact, the Center even argued that even though seniors were not entitled to the money, they should get to keep it:

In certain circumstances a beneficiary may be entitled to a waiver of the overpaid refund. Waiver of the overpayment may be available to a beneficiary who was without fault in causing the overpayment and where repayment would be against equity and good conscience.

(Bold and italics in original.)

So not only may seniors pressure Congress to grant them windfalls that they don’t really deserve (e.g., Part D), but according to the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a senior should also get to keep even unlegislated transfers from younger Americans if the senior feels that returning the windfall “would be against equity and good conscience.”

But this is par for the course with Medicare. For more examples of Medicare madness, attend or watch online this Thursday’s book forum for Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, a new book by Cato adjunct scholar David Hyman.

The Sun Also Rises

The latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, one of the top peer-reviewed science journals publishing research on climate change, features a fairly arresting paper by physicists Nicola Scafetta and Bruce West on what’s driving atmospheric warming.  Their conclusion?  About 50 percent of the warming over the past century might well be due to … the sun.  From the executive summary:

We study the solar impact on 400 years of a global surface temperature record since 1600. This period includes the pre-industrial era (roughly 1600–1800 or 1600–1900), when negligible amount of anthropogenic-added climate forcing was present and the sun realistically was the only climate force affecting climate on a secular scale, and the industrial era (roughly since 1800–1900), when anthropogenic-added climate forcing has been present in some degree. We use a recent secular Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstruction (Moberg et al., 2005), three alternative total solar irradiance (TSI) proxy reconstructions (Lean et al., 1995; Lean, 2000; Wang et al., 2005) and a scale-by-scale transfer climate sensitivity model to solar changes (Scafetta and West, 2005, 2006). The phenomenological approach we propose is an alternative to the more traditional computer-based climate model approach, and yields results proven to be almost independent on the secular TSI proxy reconstruction used. We find good correspondence between global temperature and solar induced temperature curves during the pre-industrial period such as the cooling periods occurring during the Maunder Minimum (1645–1715) and the Dalton Minimum (1795–1825). The sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the observed global warming since 1900 (Scafetta and West, 2006). We briefly discuss the global cooling that occurred from the medieval maximum (1000–1100 AD) to the 17th century minimum.

Newsworthy?  Apparently not.  A Nexis search this morning finds not one single story in the print media referring to the paper.  Why?

A paper published this week in Nature comes to the opposite conclusion, and that paper hit the LA Times.  I don’t know which paper makes the stronger argument, but I do know that the print reporters are in no real position to judge.  Yet one gets some press and the other doesn’t.    

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Beggar Thy Neighbor

This item is a month old, but worth taking the time to read – especially if you work on health policy in the states. Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. That state’s governor, Bill Richardson, is planning a run for the presidency and recently proposed expanding New Mexico’s Medicaid program. In an article for National Review Online, Gessing does a superb job of explaining why that is the wrong approach. Other state think tanks should take note.

Medicare, Only More Fun

On Thursday, Cato will host a book forum for Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, a new book by Cato adjunct scholar David Hyman. Medicare Meets Mephistopheles takes a satirical look at the crown jewel of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Hyman is a rising star in the field of health law and policy. A lawyer and a doctor, he is professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2004, he was the lead author of Improving Health Care: A Dose of Competition, the first joint report by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. This year, he guest-edited an issue of the Journal of Health Policy, Politics and Law devoted to that report. Prof. Hyman also has a habit of quoting Austin Powers in his law review articles.

Ted Marmor, one of Medicare’s leading advocates, will comment, as will Robin Wilson, a visiting professor of law at Washington & Lee University.

The forum will be held at noon this Thursday at the Cato Institute, and will be followed by a luncheon. Other details, including how to preregister, are available here.

Nanny vs. Nanny

It’s time for a war on thinness!

On the eve of London Fashion Week the growing trend for “size-zero” models in the fashion industry is causing grave concern.

Experts say legislation is now needed to protect the health of the models and of the teenage girls and young women who are influenced by them.

They are urging London to follow the lead taken by Madrid — and likely to be adopted by Milan — of banning models below a certain size from the catwalks.

Under any ban, super-thin models such as Lily Cole would be barred. London Fashion Week, which begins next week, has so far refused to follow suit.

[…]

Steve Bloomfield, spokesman for the Eating Disorders Association, said today: “We do think legislation is needed.

“This is about protecting the young women and men who work in the fashion industry, as well as those who are at risk of an eating disorder and can be influenced by the pictures that they see.

Given that skinny women are hopelessly manipulated by the fashion industry, and that obese women are hopelessly manipulated by the food industry, I propose the following magic-bullet legislation:

The government should buy every obese person subscriptions to the top fashion magazines; meanwhile every skinny person should be forced to sit through a dozen McDonalds, sugary cereal, and Hostess cupcake commercials.

In six months, we’ll all wear the same size, and everyone will finally be equal.

It’s worth noting that despite all of this talk about childhood obesity, the average adolescent today is between 200 and 1,000 times more likely to have an eating disorder than Type II Diabetes (eating disorder ranges from the National Institute of Mental Health and diabetes statistics from the CDC). The state of Arkansas recently won wide praise from the public health community for a new policy of weighing all the state’s public shool kids, then sending a kind of obesity “report card” home to parents. Given the above numbers, there’s probably a pretty good chance that policy’s doing more harm than good, no?

Indeed, Britain and Australia have both seen a recent uptick in eating disorders in young girls as a result of both countries’ hysterical anti-obesity hype:

Girls as young as five are unhappy with their bodies and want to be thinner, according to a study which blames peer pressure in a child’s early years at school. Most girls thought that being slim would make them more popular, claimed the research in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. They would also have no hesitation in dieting if they gained weight. The study was conducted among five- to eight-year-olds in South Australia, but experts said last night that British children felt “paranoid” about their weight - partly because of the Government’s anti-obesity message.

Dr Andrew Hill, of Leeds University Medical School, said research among more than 200 eight-year-olds showed a high awareness of the campaign against obesity. “Children have absorbed anti-fat messages loud and clear”, he said. “To get people to listen about a condition, you talk it up, and we have got obesity on the health agenda.

Just another example of the unintended consequences resulting from paternalistic government.

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