Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obesity = Hunger?

Today on NPR, guest Bill Ayers (wait, where have I heard that name before?) argues that hunger is a major problem for the poor in the USA. Obviously, a major problem with this position is evidentiary: the biggest health problems among the poor are related to obesity, not starvation. So, applying pseudoscience that would make L. Ron Hubbard blush, Ayers asserts that the two are really the same thing.

A true Alinskyite, Ayers knows that lies that contain a kernel of truth are the best ones, and this one is exemplary. It's certainly possible to be malnourished and also obese. And obesity caused by excessive consumption of junk food has bad side effects. But these effects are secondary.

An obese person simply isn't going to die of starvation, or lack of nutrition. Take two people. One of them is given a steady diet of McDonald's chicken nuggets and Egg McMuffins. The other is given 800 daily calories of rice. Is there any doubt which is the more healthful diet? The chicken nuggets contain all sorts of bad stuff, but they contain enough nutrients to sustain life indefinitely. The first person might die of a heart attack at age 50, but the second person is unlikely to survive to adulthood.

By ignoring this primary fact, Ayers tries to create the myths necessary to underpin more government control of our economy. First, it's health care. Then, it's food production, because, as he asserted (with no evidence at all) on the show, eating a (more expensive) apple today instead of an apple pie leads to equivalent health care savings in the future. He does not connect the dots (yet), but it's easy to see where this leads (just look at the U.K.): restriction of "unhealthy" foods, subsidy of "healthy" foods, rationing of government-run health care for people who lead "unhealthy" lifestyles, etc.

Health care is one of the key commanding heights of the entire economy. If the left is allowed to control it, all sorts of other, smaller battles will be lost. It's just a matter of time.

And by the way, why is Bill Ayers still allowed in polite society? Doesn't NPR know he's an unrepentent terrorist?

Liberal Fascism Watch

James Lovelock, inventor of the "Gaia" hypothesis, says that democracy must be suspended in order to combat climate change.

"Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Sound familiar? It might if you'd lived through the Great Depression. FDR wanted to mobilize America as if we were in a war. LBJ declared a "war on poverty." GWB declared a "war on terror." Any time there's a threat to a democracy, the statists want to use war mobilization to bypass democracy. So this is nothing new.

Luckily for Lovelock, democracy is rapidly being bypassed already all over the West. So his wish is coming true.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Great Freak-Out Freak-Out

Kos himself freaks out about Kathryn Jean Lopez tweeting the following:

there are bigger fish to fry but the president's leg on the oval office desk is a jarringly perfect image of this administration's approach

Kos' understated, non-freaking-out response:

How is that jarring, other than the wingnuts still can't get over the fact that Obama gets to sit in the Oval Office?... Just when you think the fringe right has reached peak idiocy, they always manage to top themselves.

I guess Kos doesn't understand about symbolism, which was KJL's point. He also hasn't learned that this thin-skinned response to every mild criticism of his guys is not attractive. KJL offers a mildly critical observation; Kos responds with a hand grenade. But it's the right that are the wingnuts. Got it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Death of Fiscal Federalism

Veronique de Rugy writes on the death of fiscal federalism.

Fiscal federalism is the idea that states should set their own economic policies rather than following directives from Washington. Libertarians have a particular attachment to the concept. If states can differentiate themselves on the basis of taxes, spending, and regulation, that gives Americans more leeway in deciding the rules under which we live. If we’re dissatisfied with the policies of the state we live in, we can register our discontent by voting with our feet and moving to another jurisdiction. This competition for residents helps keep lawmakers in check, giving them an incentive to keep taxes and other intrusions modest.

For decades, alas, fiscal power has become increasingly centralized, making a joke of federalism. Washington has taken over more and more state functions, largely through grants to state and local governments, also called grants-in-aid. Figure 1 shows federal grant spending in constant dollars from 1960 to 2013. As you can see, total grant outlays increased from $285 billion in fiscal year 2000 to a whopping $493 billion in fiscal year 2010—a 73 percent increase. Grants also account for a bigger share of federal spending: 18 percent in 2009, compared to 7.6 percent in 1960.

I wrote about this in January in relation to the Oregon state tax hikes.

Well, That Didn't Take Long

David Frum is leaving the American Enterprise Institute. There's no proof that this came in response to his "Waterloo" column, but the timing sure is coincidental.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yale Bait

What the heck is going on at Yale?

Introduced in 2002, Sex Week at Yale has courted controversy from the beginning. Held every other year, it brings to campus everyone from porn stars to sex-toy manufacturers, and has grown bigger with each installment, this year topping 30 events. They included, to name a few, a presentation on "kink" and fetishism, a lingerie show that used Yale students as models, two presentations in defense of non-monogamous relationships, an instructional presentation on masturbation, a female-condom giveaway, and a graphic presentation on erotic genital piercing.

Is there any adult supervision going on at this school? They say the "culture wars" are over. If so, we lost.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Modest Proposal

According to the New York Times, the Greek government was essentially betting on its own insolvency.

They only made a measly 35 million euros on the deal, doing little to offset their billions of debt. But taken to its logical extreme, this strategy offers a brilliantly postmodern solution to debt problems. It's the perfect hedge! Worried that your government might be running up too much debt? No problem: just make a bet that you'll go bankrupt. If you lose the bet, then you didn't go bankrupt. If you win, then you use the proceeds to pay off your debts.

To be sure, there's a slight timing problem here. If you win, then you already went bankrupt. Maybe you can just "deem" everything back to the status quo ante and call it even.

If only AIG had thought to buy their own CDSs (or sell them - I can never keep this straight), we might have avoided the whole financial crisis!

The Potential Constitutional Nightmare

I don't know enough Constitutional law to judge the merits of this, but some people who do clearly think that the insurance mandate in the health care bill may be unconstitutional. Let's just imagine for a moment that it fails a constitutional challenge. What happens next?

Well, what happens next is a disaster of epic proportions, because the rest of the bill would still stand. So with the provisions preventing insurance companies from denying coverage of pre-existing conditions, there would be no reason to have coverage until you needed it. So healthy people would stop buying coverage, and the pool would be only sick people. Premiums would skyrocket; sick people would go bankrupt; insurance companies would go out of business. It would basically mean the regulatory destruction of an industry.

Now, most likely this sequence of events wouldn't actually occur because, if the mandate is overturned, there would be some time to legislatively repair the damage before the pre-existing condition provision comes into effect. But the mandate is the linchpin of the whole bill. I'm really not sure how any of the rest of it stands without it. It would be extremely interesting to see how the debate on how to fix things afterwards would play out.

Poor Saps

Last night on NPR, a young New York bike messenger was interviewed about his take on the health care bill. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but essentially what he said was: "Public options? Single payer? I have no idea what's in the bill. But I've been uninsured for five years so I hope it helps me."

This poor guy. Sure, he's going to be "helped." The insurance mandate will require him to buy insurance or pay a fine. Will either one make him better off? Probably not. Either way, he'll basically be subsidizing health insurance for older, sicker people. This is entirely by design. And this guy has no idea what's coming.

Monday, March 22, 2010

David Frum: Monday-Morning Quarterback

David Frum writes a hard-hitting after-action report of the health-care battle. I'm pretty sure this is the same David Frum who used to be a conservative and wrote for National Review. But it's possible he's being impersonated by some sort of doppelganger. We've known for some time that Frum has divorced from the Buckley wing of the conservative movement, but this column makes me wonder just where he's coming from at all.

...[W]e do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney's Massachusetts plan.

If this is true, then Republicans shouldn't mind the bill all that much, should they? But then why does Frum say: "Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s"? Apparently, this bill is basically conservative, with a few liberal problems tossed in like "redistributive taxes on productive enterprise", "weighing so heavily on small business", and "expanding Medicaid". News to me. I thought conservatives ideas for health care reform revolved around tackling the third-party payer problem, tort reform, and, you know, all those other things that Republicans were offering as counter-proposals to the Democrat bill.

Frum wants to believe that Republicans were the party of "no." I can understand why, if he's listened to the Democrats and the MSNBC media. But if he had watched the health care summit he'd know that Republicans have actually offered lots of ideas. It's just that Obama and the Democrats rejected them out of hand. Democrats have huge majorities in the House and Senate, and the Presidency. That pretty starkly limits the power of the opposition. That the bill came as close to failure as it did attests to the leftward maximalization strategy the Democrats followed when crafting the bill and propelling it through the legislature.

Finally, Frum levels a major accusation of duplicity at the popular mouthpieces of the right:

So today's defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it's mission accomplished.

It's understandable that Frum is bitter, but this is terribly disingenuous. Does Frum seriously believe that Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox News, the NY Post, and the handful of other opinion makers on the popular right were hoping for the success of Obamacare and the rest of the lefty legislative agenda on the way, and are trashing it in a clever, deep game to maximize their markets? If that were true, why does the left want to quash them? Frum is engaging in paranoid fantasy here.

Furthermore, he himself is a member of the conservative entertainment industry. Or at least he purports to be. I'm not sure he's all that conservative or, for that matter, all that entertaining.

The Burden of Liberty

Another timely Google quote of the day:

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. (George Bernard Shaw)

Indeed. Much easier, for example, to hand over to the government the responsibility for our health care, than to take on that responsibility ourselves. As we have seen.


The health care debacle, obviously, is deeply, deeply disappointing. America is changed forever. The culture of dependence becomes more entrenched. The likelihood of rolling back these entitlements - or any entitlement - lessens. The one-time American culture of bumptiously independent, self-reliant individuals, if it wasn't dead already, is now in a coffin, nailed shut, six feet under.

It would be nice if we could just stop talking about it now, but we'll have to endure months of Republicans (rightly, but still exhaustingly) campaigning for its repeal, then Republicans winning big in November, then Republicans failing to repeal it, then Supreme Court challenges to certain measures, and on and on forever. Health care will now be part of every public debate. I should just include it as a permanent label on every blog post.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kucinich in the Coal Mine

It's no surprise at all that Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has switched his previous "no" vote on the health care bill to "yes." His reasoning for the earlier vote was that the bill wasn't progressive enough; specifically, because it lacked a public option. His statement on his change to supporting it:

If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform.

Of course. As we have been saying all along, the Democrat bill is the first domino in a series that ends with what Kucinich deems "comprehensive health care reform," and what a normal person would call "government-run health care." It's foolish for leftists to want to kill this bill because it isn't lefty enough - all they need is to proceed in steps until their ultimate vision is realized.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Deeming the Bill Passed

The Democrats are up to something new in the health care saga. Instead of actually passing the Senate bill by a, you know, vote thingy, they are talking about "deeming" it passed if some other legislation is passed. This trickery is supposed to give Democrat congressmen cover when they face voters this fall - they can say, hey, we didn't actually "vote" for the Bill. It just passed by some magic process, outside of our control!

The politics of this seem highly dubious, but we can worry about that later. The interesting part is the "deeming" trick. Republicans have used it before, and it's been challenged and upheld in the Supreme Court. So there's little doubt that, even though any normal person would instantly recognize this as a shady, undemocratic, shyster trick, it's probably technically legal.

Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy tries to make the case that it's OK that the trick has been used by Republicans before, because those were for "uncontroversial" measures, like raising the debt ceiling. It still shouldn't be used, he says, for passing such a major piece of legislation as the health care bill.

Sure, we don't make lawmakers dot every "i" and cross every "t" every time. But that doesn't mean we've abandoned the right to make them play it by the book when it comes to a controversial matter. When there's a real dispute, they have to pass the bill the regular, constitutionally mandated way: Both houses on the exact same text, with every legislator accountable for his vote.

An alternate solution is simple and, I think, preferable: make lawmakers dot every "i" and cross every "t" every time. McCarthy's analogy to a criminal trial is false: such trials happen every day, incur significant expenses, and have a well-established appeals process if something goes wrong. Legislation in Congress, on the other hand, only passes a few hundred times a year at most (with only a few dozen bills a year that are controversial), has widespread consequences, and cannot be repealed without another act of Congress (or Constitutional invalidation).

Furthermore, as McCarthy says, "stipulation" happens in nearly every trial. The Slaughter procedure is invoked only rarely. And when it has been in the past (by Republicans), it was challenged by Democrats on Constitutional grounds, which leads me to believe that the legislation involved was not uncontroversial. (It's undeniably true that raising the debt ceiling is less consequential that the health care bill. But that was not McCarthy's argument: he said "controversial.")

The unfortunate but inescapable conclusion is that Republicans helped create this legislative environment by their own trickery, and now they are reaping the consequences. We all may end up paying dearly as a result.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Menendez Recall

Senator Bob Menendez is facing a recall challenge from Tea Party voters in New Jersey.

RoseAnn Salanitri, a Branchville resident and organizer of the Tea Party group in Sussex County, today said the group believes Menendez votes for too many taxes....

"If you hire them, you should be able to fire them," she said.

All due respect to Salanitri for having the gumption to try this. And the NJ state constitution does have a recall provision for senators. But surely this kind of thing flies in the face of the U.S. Constitutional design of the upper house. The Senate is meant to be the slow-moving, deliberative body, with members serving six years precisely so that they will be less subject to the whims and vicissitudes of public opinion.

So, in fact, the founders specifically reject Salanitri's argument that if you hire them, you should be able to fire them. We give Senators a long-term contract. As a NJ voter, I'd be very happy to see Menendez go. But this is not the way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feuding Quotes

Google's quote of the day is from Alfred E. Wiggam:

A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time.

My response would be thus:

A liberal is a person [no self-respecting liberal would be so sex discriminatory as to say "man"] who believes that everything is being done for the first time.

This one strikes close to home, considering the name of this blog. When conservatives stand athwart history yelling "Stop!", a part of the reason may be the one Wiggam accuses us of. And I stand by that: there are certain things that simply should not be done even once. But the much more common reason is that liberals - as a group - have very little sense of history. The solutions they propose have usually been tried before, with predictable side effects (or, worse, unpredictable ones).

Liberals are generally not even in touch with their own history. Many modern liberals disdain the term "liberal", preferring "progressive." This shows a profound ignorance on their part. The Progressives of the first part of the 20th century were eugenicists (Margaret Sanger), racists (Woodrow Wilson), and, well, fascists or at least sympathizers with fascism (I use the term in its narrow and precise meaning, not as a synonym for Nazism or Hitlerism). Jonah Goldberg documented this extensively in Liberal Fascism.

Guilty Pleasures

Every so often I'm in the mood for a peanut butter and banana sandwich. It's something I've liked since I was a kid. For me, simple works best: toasted whole wheat bread, peanut butter on both slices, and sliced banana in the middle. Some people put honey on this - not me. Nothing else is needed.

But lately I figured out a new twist: sauteed plantains. I've enjoyed a good plantain for a long time, but never tried to cook them myself until just a few weeks ago. It struck me: what would a peanut butter and plantain sandwich taste like. I can now tell you: truly decadent!

You can buy frozen ripe plantains (Goya brand, and probably other brands as well) for an easy way to try this out. But sauteeing your own plantains is the only way to get the full experience. Use butter and don't forget to sprinkle a little kosher salt over them after cooking.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Math Allegories in "Alice in Wonderland"

Fascinating article in the NY Times about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In "Alice," he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

Some of Carroll's satire is simply wrong - de Morgan's discovery of complex numbers turned out to be integral to modern mathematics and, in a twist of irony, physics and even engineering. But it's still worth bearing in mind when reading Alice.