Topic: General

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.

California Single-Payer?

It’s been largely under the media radar screen, but California may be on the verge of establishing a single-payer health care system.  Late last month, the California Assembly passed legislation establishing a Canadian-style, government-run health care system.  The legislation had earlier passed the California Senate, and while there are small differences that will have to be reconciled, there is no doubt that the bill will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.  The question now is whether Schwarzenegger will veto the bill.  In the past he has said he would, but it’s an election year and he is under big pressure from unions and others to sign it.   Schwarzenegger has caved in other issues recently, from prescription drug price controls for MediCal to vehicle emission controls to state budgeting.   If he signs this bill it will be bad news for Californians and a terrible precedent for the nation.

Under the bill:

  • Private health insurance would be abolished.  The state would become the sole payer for all health care services.  The bill does not specifically prohibit paying for a procedure “out of pocket,” although it states several times that its intent is to have “a single payer.”  We will probably have to wait to see how this would be interpreted by the commission established to oversee the new program, and later by the courts.  The bill does, however, require that doctors take all patients and in the order that they apply for service.  Thus, you couldn’t jump the queue by paying cash.  Nor could a doctor set up a cash-only practice.
  • The bill establishes global budgets for health spending in the state.  If the budget is exceeded the state could cut reimbursements to providers or prohibit capital expenditures.  The latter would impact the quality of health care nationwide, limiting research and development and undermining many of the nation’s top hospitals.
  • The bill contains no funding mechanism (beyond using federal Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and VA funding).  Earlier versions of the bill proposed funding the proposal with a 3 percent income tax hike and a job-killing 8 percent hike in the payroll tax.  The latest version would have a commission decide how to pay for it.

Interestingly, the Assembly amended the bill to strike out the words “health care consumer” wherever they appeared and replaced them with “patient.”

After College Presidency, Telling It Like It Is

In this morning’s New York Times, William M. Chace, a former president of Emory and Wesleyan Universities, offered the welcoming speech he always wanted to give to incoming students, but could never deliver as a college president. Just a bit of his speech explains what should be obvious about skyrocketing college costs, but is constantly denied by “experts” in higher education policy: As more and more money goes into the ivory tower, students demand ever-grander amenities, and tuition prices are driven higher and higher.

Laudable [a fictitious university] could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.
Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

For state and federal policymakers, the implications of the basic economic reality Chace describes should be pretty clear. All the aid that they give to students using taxpayer dollars–more than $96 billion in the 2004-05 academic year alone (which is more than twice the inflation-adjusted total of just 10 years prior)–allows students to demand more and more grandiose stuff, and in so doing drive college costs to ever-dizzier heights.
 

What Washington Thinks of You

For a hint of what Washington bureaucrats think of the rest of the America, take a look at this letter to the Wall Street Journal:

You say the average federal civil worker makes more than the average private sector worker. That’s true, but this isn’t even an apples and oranges comparison – it’s more apples and filet mignon. The federal government doesn’t sell fast food or operate large-scale retail stores using minimum-wage employees. So yes, medical researchers at the National Institutes of Heath [sic] and the Centers for Disease control [sic] are paid more than entry-level workers at McDonald’s. Yes, intelligence analysts in the Department of Defense and State Department diplomats working under harsh conditions around the world are paid more than Wal-Mart greeters. And, yes, the thousands of dedicated doctors and nurses caring for our wounded and disabled veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs are paid more than a new barrista [sic] at Starbucks.

Max Stier
President
Partnership for Public Service
Washington

Max Stier, a lobbyist on behalf of government, whose official biography boasts that he “has worked previously in all three branches of the federal government,” sees medical research and intelligence analysis when he thinks of the federal government. And when he thinks of the 124 million Americans who work in the private sector, he can only imagine McDonald’s clerks, Wal-Mart greeters, and Starbucks coffee servers. Stereotypes, anyone?

As I wrote a few years ago, some people in Washington look across the fruited plain and see only a vast and barren wasteland interrupted by federal bureaucracies.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in 1992, “The ballot box is the place where all change begins in America”–conveniently forgetting the market process that has brought us such changes as the train, the skyscraper, the automobile, the personal computer, and charitable or self-help endeavors from settlement houses to Alcoholics Anonymous to Comic Relief.

Entrepreneurs and businesses in America satisfy far more of our needs than coffee, Big Macs, and cheap clothes, as useful as those things are. Housing, for instance. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Software and computer networks. Entertainment. Medical research. (Yes, there’s some done at NIH. There’s more done by pharmaceutical companies.) Compound interest. In that earlier article, inspired by the latest proposals for some niggling regulations of banking services, I suggested:

Consider the presumptuousness of such a bill and the relative contributions of banks and senators to our lives. Civil society, hampered at every turn by petty political rules, takes thousands of years to develop the technology, the complex market mechanisms, and the levels of trust necessary for individuals to be able to get cash, at midnight, in an airport or a 7-Eleven thousands of miles from home, from a bank that they do no other business with–and members of Congress decide that the bank shouldn’t be able to charge a dollar for that service. Imagine what kind of banking services we’d have if we had to wait for Congress to develop the necessary institutions, and then imagine what we might have if Congress got entirely out of the business of controlling, hamstringing, and bullying banks.

Has Max Stier ever tried to do business with American Express and the Social Security Administration, Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service, McDonald’s and the DMV? His demeaning of 124 million American workers in the attempt to defend the above-market wage rates of bureaucrats is laughable. But it’s also insulting, and utterly revealing of the Washington mindset.