Topic: General

Big Day

Today the U.S. government hands over control of the Iraqi army to the Iraqis and takes control of American political debate.

Incredibly, the McCain-Feingold ban on independent broadcast advertising that mentions candidates by name, beginning 60 days before the election, is apparently not mentioned in any major media. The blackout period for free speech has been noted in newspapers by such civil libertarians as Ryan Sager, Jacob Sullum, and the D.C. Examiner. But no news stories warning people to stop talking about candidates. No editorials from major papers deploring this restriction on political speech before an election. Nor even any editorials hailing the new restrictions, which might be more likely since most major papers endorsed the McCain-Feingold legislation.

What would McCain, Feingold, and the New York Times say if the U.S.-backed government in Iraq banned any criticism of itself for the next 60 days? Would they say “one giant step toward democracy”? I doubt it.

Anyway, if you want to criticize a member of Congress, or just ask your neighbors to call him about an issue, you’re free to do that – starting November 8.

Gingrich’s Big Government Manifesto

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is reportedly planning to run for president in 2008, hoping to ride a wave of nostalgia for the Republican revolution of 1994 to the nomination.   Admittedly, the current Republican Congress is so bad on so many issues, that Gingrich’s tenure looks like the good old days.   But anyone who seriously believes that Gingrich is a small-government conservative in the mold of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, should look at the new Contract with America-style manifesto that Newt has proposed as the basis for Republicans to campaign on this fall.

Much of the proposal is simple pandering to various base groups.  Confronted with the many serious problems facing this country, Newt proposes that Republicans base their campaign on such crucial issues as declaring English to be the national language, forbidding the courts from considering cases involving the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, and creating a national voter ID card.   Many other proposals would explicitly increase the size of government.  For example, Gingrich would expand No Child Left Behind to create national teacher competency standards.

Gingrich does call for Congress to cut spending.  Well, not exactly.  He does not actually call for any specific spending cuts.  What he proposes is budget legislation that would lead to a balanced budget in seven years.  Perhaps balancing the budget takes so long because he wants to spend so much more on a national energy policy.  Gingrich proposes an array of subsidies to every conceivable energy interest group and project from ethanol to hydrogen-powered cars.  Of course, there’s nothing in Gingrich’s manifesto about reforming entitlement programs.  That’s hardly surprising—Gingrich supported the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Gingrich does embrace a couple of good ideas, such as making permanent the repeal of the death tax and overturning the Kelo Supreme Court decision.  But, in general, Gingrich seems to be calling for the Republican Party to continue its march toward big government conservatism.  Goldwater and Reagan must be spinning in their graves.

What You Don’t Know Is Costing You… Dearly

The excellent blog Sound Politics had a great post yesterday by Marsha Michaelis, revealing how little Washington state residents know about current levels of public school funding. Washington is fairly close to the national average, with total per-pupil spending in 2004-05 coming in at $10,121. Only 12 percent of Washingtonians surveyed came within $2,000 of that figure. (There’s nothing special about Washington state in this regard, by the way. A similar knowledge gap was found earlier this year in Florida).

When asked if $10K was too low, too high, or about right, 61 percent of Washingtonians said it was either too high or about right.

In other words, the reason taxpayers keep voting to increase public school spending is that they have no idea what is being spent per child now. If they did know, they’d stop feeding the beast.

But why doesn’t the public know how much the public schools spend per-pupil? I’ll let Marsha explain that one.

Lenin, Hitler, Bin Laden — and Iraq

In his speech yesterday before the Military Officers Association of America, President Bush focused on Osama bin Laden’s speeches and writings. “We know what the terrorists intend to do because they’ve told us,” Bush told the assembled crowd, “and we need to take their words seriously.”

For the president’s part, bin Laden’s words affirm that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. “For al Qaeda,” the president explained, “Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America – it is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.”

We know of Al Qaeda’s intentions – to expel the Americans from Iraq, and then to establish a Caliphate there – but what do we know of their capacity for achieving such ends? History is littered with the names of kooks and fanatics who aspired to global world domination. In relatively recent times, Americans remember cult leaders such as David Koresh, and perhaps even Jim Jones, but the vast majority of these individuals merit barely a footnote in textbooks.

The president wishes us to focus on the exceptions, on the evil, tyrannical few who have managed to translate their grandiose intentions into reality. He pointed to Lenin, and to Hitler, men who laid out their plans in clear view, in published writings and in speeches, but who were all but ignored until after they had seized the reins of power.

President Bush further contends that bin Laden has much in common with Lenin and Hitler, and that “History teaches that underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake.”

We must not underestimate bin Laden, but we would be foolish to fight a war on his terms. We must especially avoid the apocalyptic conclusion that a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq will have the effect of handing all of Iraq over to Al Qaeda on a silver platter. For what differentiates the Lenins and Hitlers of the world from countless other megalomaniacal fanatics was their unique ability to marry their evil designs to the power and resilience of a modern state, complete with an industrial base and a functioning military.

As Justin Logan and I wrote last year, the claims that bin Laden can and will create such a super state in Iraq are absurd on their face. The Kurds will not tolerate Al Qaeda in their midst. Neither will the Shiites, including many of the factional leaders and militia groups that are outspoken in their hostility to the United States. Even many Sunni Arabs, the minority who have lost the most since Saddam Hussein was removed from power, are loathe to make common cause with the murderous jihadists perpetrating indiscriminate violence against innocent Iraqis.

Rather than empowering potential allies in the fight against Al Qaeda, the continuing U.S. military presence is discouraging Iraqis from stepping forward because it feeds into bin Laden’s cynical narrative – that the Western nations, with the United States in the lead, seek to humiliate and dominate Iraqis, and all the Arab peoples. Absent a formal pledge to leave, ideally by some date certain, President Bush’s repeated assertions to the contrary are seen as nothing more than rhetoric, in contrast to the proximate, physical reality of nearly 140,000 U.S. troops on sacred Arab lands.

The occupation is counterproductive in the war against Al Qaeda, but it is also ineffective in its other stated aims. Nearly three and a half years since American forces went into Iraq, the U.S. military presence has not delivered on the promise of establishing a stable and unified Iraq. And for those who say Americans must be more patient, that monumental change takes time, perhaps even generations, it is not too much to expect that the trend lines would at least be moving in the right direction.

But they are not. Three nationwide elections in 2005 have not delivered stability, nor have they contributed to it. If anything, the political process in Iraq has empowered some of the most radical elements in Iraqi society. The ethnic militias and the death squads have used the political process to infiltrate the Iraqi Interior and Health ministries, among others, and have subverted the good faith efforts of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to establish order.

With no definitive milestones on the horizon – there are no nationwide elections scheduled for Iraq until 2009 – the occupation grinds on indefinitely. Beyond the sickening drip-drip-drip of American casualties, there is the torrent of violence against Iraqis, particularly sectarian killings of Iraqi vs. Iraqi. From this maelstrom of bloodshed, the president can offer only more of the same. “The road ahead is going to be difficult, and it will require more sacrifice.”

That it is, and that it will be.

NHS: Let No Good Hospital Go Unpunished

This one’s about a month old, but still worth comment. In early August, Telegraph.co.uk reported that Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is punishing hospitals that don’t make patients wait for care.

Since the NHS is bleeding money, the bureaucracy wants hospitals to observe minimum waiting times for non-emergency care (e.g., 122 days) as a way of limiting expenditures. Hospitals that do not impose those minimum waits – i.e., that treat each patient as soon as they can – lose funding. According to the Telegraph, “One gynæcologist said that he spent more time doing sudoku puzzles than treating patients because of the measures.” One hospital was penalized £2.4 million for eliminating their waiting lists. All this is happening while the Labor government has promised to reduce waiting times.

It’s not that the minimum-wait policy is so outrageous – given the task of the NHS. It’s that the task itself is outrageous and guaranteed to produce such perverse results. As the Telegraph editorialized:

This bizarre situation arises from the Government’s pseudo-market system, which creates conflicting objectives for “purchasers” (PCTs) and “providers” (hospitals).

In a real competitive market, increased demand can allow prices to rise, thus increasing profits, which allow the market to grow. Efficient producers can then reduce their unit costs and their prices, and so give a better deal to the consumer. The prevailing logic is that the more customers who are served - or products that are sold - in a given period of time, the better the business does.

But PCTs have budgets that are predetermined by Whitehall spending limits, and there is no way for them to conjure extra revenue out of the air or to grow their market. As a result, the hospitals that are most successful in providing prompt treatment are running through the finite resources of their PCTs at an unacceptably rapid rate.

So the NHS is faced with a perverse outcome: hospitals providing precisely the kind of immediate access to treatment that patients want and that Government ministers profess to demand, are punished financially by another arm of the Whitehall machine. Any government that wants to reform NHS funding will have to address this conundrum that lies at the heart of a tax-funded monopoly healthcare system.

Britons are lucky that they can opt out of such a perverse system – but that’s only if, as Jacques Chaoulli observes, they are lucky enough to be able to pay twice.

Schwarzenegger Will Veto Single-Payer Bill

In yesterday’s post, I worried about whether California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would follow through on his promise to veto a single-payer health care bill in that state. It now appears that he will do so. That’s good news for the people of California. But the fact that the nation’s largest state came so close to a government-run health care system should serve as a wake up call. Unless health care is reformed in a free market direction, a government takeover is only a matter of time.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Die

James Lovelock, the author of the “theory known as Gaia, which holds that Earth acts like a living organism, a self-regulating system balanced to allow life to flourish,” has a new message for us: Never mind, it’s too late, Gaia can’t handle industrialization. Earth will be at least 10 degrees hotter in a decade or two. It’s irreversible. “We are poached,” the Washington Post reports.

So we might as well enjoy ourselves. Burn those fossil fuels. Build those McMansions. Eat those cheeseburgers. We’re doomed anyway.

Or you could recall an earlier doomsayer, Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, who wrote in 1968, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” He was slightly off. But he kept his job at the prestigious university, he made a bundle on his bestseller, and he still writes for publications like Scientific American. He’s even quoted praising Lovelock in the Post article.

As for Lovelock, he’s the subject of a huge, lavish, sales-boosting two-page profile in the Washington Post. Not to mention respectful reviews in major papers on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s speaking Friday at the respected Carnegie Institution of Washington. Why are people like Lovelock and Ehrlich treated seriously?

Crossposted from Comment is free.