Did He Say 21 Trillion Dollars?

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I notice that the federal deficit for fiscal 2019, ended September 30, hit nearly one trillion dollars. The deficit has doubled since its post-recession low in fiscal 2015, though the economy is running flat-out.

None of the would-be Democratic nominees is making an issue of this. Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence. As a businessman, he was a bankrupt; as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party he aims to “Make America Great,” and do it with borrowed funds. The Republicans once cared about deficits and the national debt, but really it was a long time ago. For years afterward, they talked as if they cared, but it was talk only. Now they don’t even talk. That would be disloyal.

Democrats occasionally would remind Republicans that the last budget surpluses were under Bill Clinton. This was true, but it was not important, and clearly it was never going to happen again.

Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence.

For a moment it sounded as if there might be one voice in 2020 for fiscal rectitude. Billionaire Howard Schultz, the former chairman of Starbucks, longtime Democrat and contributor to Hillary Clinton, created a stir back in January by floating the idea of running for president as an independent. His signature issue was the deficit, the debt, and the public credit — businessmen’s issues, to be sure, but important ones. That the federal debt had risen to $21 trillion, he said, represented “a reckless and immoral abandonment of leadership” by both parties. He was absolutely right. He was also for reform of the immigration law and the federal tax code, which he said had been held up by the hyper-partisanship in Congress. He was right about that, too.

Speaking January 30 on MSNBC, Schultz said he was no longer a Democrat, because, he said, “I do not believe what the Democratic Party stands for” — namely, a federal takeover of health insurance, free college for all, and a job for everyone, guaranteed by the government. All these things, he said, would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I don’t believe what Elizabeth Warren stands for,” he said. “I don’t believe the country should be heading toward socialism.”

“You think Elizabeth Warren is a socialist?” a panelist asked.

ll these things would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I think she believes in programs that will lead to a level of socialism in America,” Schultz replied.

The TV people got on Schultz’s case for being a rich guy. Schultz did not apologize.

“I’m self-made,” he said. “I grew up in the projects in New York. Elizabeth Warren wants to criticize me for being successful. No. It’s wrong.”

The Democrats in Shultz’s hometown, Seattle, told each other that Schultz was a “corporate candidate” who didn’t believe in anything. It was not true; he just didn’t believe what they did. In any case Schultz was persuaded not to run, and by now he is entirely forgotten. So, apparently, is his central issue, the federal government’s uncontrolled spending and borrowing.

I’m sad about that. Probably I would have voted for him.




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First They Came for Lori Loughlin

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C-list actress Lori Loughlin and her husband are said to be “stressed” and “terrified” about the federal government’s actions in their college admissions bribery case.

They were originally charged in federal court with paying half a million dollars to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California on the pretense that they were athletes for the crew team. They were indicted for fraud and conspiracy. They pled not guilty, so they were indicted for money laundering. Now they’re being charged with “attempting to bribe officials at an organization that receives at least $10,000 in federal funding.”

If you think this is a bizarre crime, it is. It’s just another way of making everything punishable by the federal government. And in this case it’s just a reiteration of the original offense, a way of punishing people over and over for the same thing.

It’s about time that people in Hollywood realized that the aggressive state, which almost all of them seem to worship, is perfectly happy to crush people like them, too.

It’s no wonder that an anonymous “source close to Loughlin” asks, “How do you go up against the federal government, when the government has decided to make an example out of you?”

I strongly suspect that Loughlin and her husband are guilty of a ridiculous overvaluation of “higher education.” I once happened to be on the campus of Cal State San Jose when graduation was approaching, and I saw a posse of leftwing students passing out “diplomas” representing degrees in Middle Class Status. They smiled and shook the hands of the “graduates,” in perfect imitation of the way the poohbahs at commencement exercises smile and shake your hand when conferring on you the proof that you, even you, have Gone to College. Point taken. Certificates aren’t education, even though some people are willing to pay half a million bucks for them.

But I also know that Loughlin’s criminal charges are an absurd (though by now, very typical) instance of piling on by the federal government. It’s about time that people in Hollywood realized that the aggressive state, which almost all of them seem to worship, is perfectly happy to crush people like them, too. Will they learn? I doubt it.




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High Crimes and Misdemeanors

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Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel wrote October 3, “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” They conclude, though, that it’s “hard to argue” that the phone call “rises to the level of an impeachable offense.”

I think that’s about right. I read the summary of the conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president. It’s sloppy and unpresidential. The way to deal with it is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

Americans have removed presidents from office many times — by denying them reelection, by persuading them not to run again, and by passing the twenty-second amendment. In 230 years Congress has never actually removed a president through the full process of impeachment, though in Richard Nixon’s case it came close enough to force him to resign. But remember what Nixon did. A team of burglars broke in to the national office of the political party opposing his reelection, seeking damaging information; Nixon helped to cover this up. What did Trump do? He suggested that the president of Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son, an action that was improper for him to suggest. A US president, acting under the authority of his office, should not ask a foreign president to do something that might help him in his attempt to be reelected. Investigating the Bidens is not wrong in itself, though. It’s probably a good idea.

The way to deal with Trump's conduct is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

And think, too, of the high crimes and misdemeanors of other presidents. Franklin Roosevelt pushed through blatantly unconstitutional legislation in 1933, and when the Supreme Court tossed it out, he tried to subvert the Court. That is corrupting the balance of power under the constitution. It was such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

After Japan attacked the United States, Roosevelt signed an executive order to round up 110,000 Japanese Americans on the Pacific Coast and put them behind barbed wire. This was also blatantly unconstitutional, and, according to the FBI, not necessary. But there was a war on, and the public, the press, the Congress and the Court all let him do it. They didn’t condemn him, either, when the military under his command firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, or when he announced the policy of unconditional surrender, which likely prolonged the war. During the war, he also issued an executive order seizing the soft-coal mines to stop a strike by the United Mine Workers — an act that, when Harry Truman did it with the steel mills, would be found unconstitutional. Roosevelt cared nothing about the constitutional limits on his power. But the American people elected him four times, effectively making him president for life. Congress put his head on the dime, and the historians say he was the greatest president of the 20th century. No impeachment for him.

In 1945, Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not. If the Germans had done it, it would have been a war crime subject to prosecution at Nuremburg. In 1950 Truman took the country into the Korean War without a declaration of war or an “authorization for the use of military force” from Congress. Truman got an OK from the UN Security Council, but the law of the land said he needed one from Congress, and he didn’t bother to ask. In 1952, Truman seized the American steel mills by executive order in order to settle a labor dispute. That time, the Supreme Court, which was made up entirely of Democratic appointees, said his order was unconstitutional.

The historians now say Truman was “near-great.” And the neocons revere him.

FDR attempted such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

Lyndon Johnson did ask for an authorization to join the war in Southeast Asia — the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — but it was based on a false report that a US ship was attacked in international waters, without having violated the waters of North Vietnam. Almost 40 years later, George W. Bush asked for an authorization to start a war — not join one, start one — against Iraq, based on a false report that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapon. Johnson’s and Bush’s wars killed hundreds of thousands of foreigners.

Sum it up. We’ve had presidents who pushed through unconstitutional laws and tried to neuter the Supreme Court; who put more than 100,000 people in concentration camps without due process of law; who approved the killing of hundreds of thousands of foreign women, children, and old men in war; who took the nation to war based on falsehoods that they should have known were false (and maybe did); who went to war without authorization; and who seized the industrial properties of Americans without authorization. We’ve also had presidents who authorized illegal wiretaps, illegal spying, the removal of foreign governments, corruption of foreign elections, on and on.

Since Nixon, the only attempt to remove a president from office had to do with his lying about sex with an intern. And now comes a push to impeach a president over an improper suggestion made during a telephone call to a foreign ruler.

Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not.

I note also that a push to impeach Trump has existed ever since his election. His political opponents staged public protest marches against him before he had a chance to do anything. Now they go “Aha! We gotcha! A smoking gun!”

I run a risk by writing these words, because after they are published, a real “smoking gun” may pop up. Maybe, but it needs to be worse than this.




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One of Them Got It Right

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Representative Tulsi Gabbard have both said they would get US troops out of Afghanistan, but their clash during the October 15 debate shows only one of them really means it.

Tulsi Gabbard.

Gabbard has been smeared as an “agent of Russia” for her call to bring American soldiers home. Buttigieg didn’t call her that, but he did say pulling out from Syria was a “betrayal.” He described a Kurdish woman with a dead child in her arms, implying it was America’s fault. The issue in Syria — and also in Afghanistan — he said, was “keeping our word.”

The bottom line, he said, was that withdrawal “undermines the honor of our soldiers.”

Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I recall reviewing a book in 2013 about Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941: Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.

In the fall of 1941, President Roosevelt gave Japan an ultimatum: remove your invasion troops from China or else. A few in Japan, fearing a war with the United States, were willing to consider it. But the argument against it, which prevailed, was that any withdrawal from China would dishonor the Japanese soldiers who died there. It would be a betrayal. Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were (as Japan’s generals were told by its war-college war gamers) that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I remember the don’t-betray-the-troops argument and the maintain-our-credibility argument during the war in Vietnam. These arguments did not prevent the loss of the war, but they did lengthen the casualty lists.

In Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win.

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, is right that getting out would mean the government’s breaking its word, and doing that would undermine its credibility. And no matter where US troops are committed for any length of time, they have helpers and allies, and pulling out would leave allies in the lurch. Is that dishonorable? Yes, it is. But in Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win. Why not accept dishonor now, before it grows any bigger? The cost of postponing defeat is more killing, wreckage, and debt.

Gabbard will not be elected president. She’s right, though.




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Hunter Biden, Universal Genius

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“In retrospect, look, I think that it was poor judgment on my part. Is that I think that it was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it — I know that there was — did nothing wrong at all. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is ... a swamp in — in — in many ways? Yeah.”

Thus Hunter Biden, in a snuggy interview granted to ABC on October 15. Biden, the 49-year-old “kid” (as he calls himself) of a former vice president, was defending his choice by a Chinese state bank to receive more than a billion dollars in investments, and by a Ukrainian energy company to do some unspecifiable work for a salary of $600,000 a year. At the time, his “dad” was conducting diplomacy with China and bragging about how he got the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor by threatening to withhold a billion dollars of US aid.

Hunter Biden must be a universal genius. That’s why he’s not embarrassed to rattle so frankly through his list of jobs.

I’ve quoted a representative part of Hunter’s eloquent self-defense. But to me the most interesting part was his proof that he was overqualified to serve on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company.

I was vice chairman of the board of Amtrak for five years. I was the chairman of the board of the U.N. World Food Program. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the most prestigious law firms in — in the world. . . .

I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board — if not more.

So. There are two alternatives.

One: Hunter Biden is a universal genius. He knows more about law, investment banking, natural gas, worldwide food distribution, and the way to run a railroad than anyone else in — in — in the world. That’s why he’s not embarrassed to rattle so frankly through his list of jobs. (Which is, becomingly, only partial.)

Two: Hunter Biden is so stupid as to think he deserved those “jobs” — so stupid, indeed, as to be disqualified from any normal employment.

I’m betting on Two. And I have the strange idea that at least 50% of our ruling class has the same kind of CV that Hunter has, and the same unembarrassed attitude about it. They’re just too stupid to know they’re stupid.




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Who Will Police the Secret Police?

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The most famous remark about the American “intelligence [sic] community” was made by none other than Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you."

One would have expected those words to have been uttered as a challenge to the activities of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the rest of them. One would have expected them to set all Washington atwitter about the arrogance and vindictiveness of the Men in Suits. But no such thing. The words were cynically spoken, as a rebuke to President Trump for being “dumb” enough to quarrel with the intelligencers; and they were cynically received by the general populace. The secret police are now regarded as a grim inevitability, the subject of helpless humor, like death and taxes.

The words were cynically spoken, as a rebuke to President Trump for being “dumb” enough to quarrel with the intelligencers.

If you’re in the intelligence community, this is very good news for you. You can now do whatever you please. For instance:

1. You can collude with a presidential campaign to produce false evidence against associates of a rival presidential campaign.

2. You can leak the purported evidence to the press, then use the resulting press statements to justify secret judicial proceedings, secret surveillance, the planting of spies, and the smear of “treason” against the candidate and party you covertly oppose.

3. You can arrest and imprison the people you are investigating, claiming that they lied to you.

4. When the person you oppose manages to win, you can immediately start trying to get rid of him: you can entrap him into damaging statements; you can leak truths and falsehoods promiscuously to the press; and you can lean with so much gravitas on co-dependent “investigators” that they reprimand you, at most, for being “less than candid.”

You can arrest and imprison the people you are investigating, claiming that they lied to you.

5. When you fail in your attempt to convict the duly elected president of colluding with a foreign power, you can try to convict him of colluding with another foreign power, itself the enemy of the first foreign power.

6. You can decline to investigate, and scoff at the idea of investigating, the leaders of the political party you favor whenever there is prima facie evidence that they or their associates have colluded with or intimidated foreign powers, to the vast enrichment of themselves.

7. When the president suggests to the leader of a foreign country that such apparent misdeeds be investigated, you can leak his conversation in such a way as to engineer impeachment by his political enemies, who are eager to use the force of law to ransack the private papers and conversations of him and his associates, hoping to discover additional and unrelated “crimes.”

8. You can employ every imaginable tactic of obstruction to prevent the publication of your own proceedings, declaring that national security would be irrevocably damaged if anyone but your own “community” were permitted to decide what should be known about themselves.

The much more obvious, much more urgent question is “Who the hell empowered the CIA to spy on the president and try to remove him from office?”

9. You can go on social media and try to obstruct the president and the justice system by encouraging unlimited numbers of government employees to make damaging accusations, regardless of their truth or falsehood (see for instance this, from September 28).

Those are a few examples of what you are free to do; readers can continue the list for themselves, relying on their own knowledge — because anyone who cares to read knows all these things, and more.

Yet the current subject of dispute is, “What exactly may have been the subtext of President Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine?”, and not the much more obvious, much more urgent question: “Who the hell empowered the CIA to spy on the president and try to remove him from office?”

There are many reasons why that second question should be important and urgent to everyone, including people who don’t like the current president. The most significant reason is the most obvious: if the secret police can do these things to the president, they can, and they will, very happily and self-righteously do them to you. The fact that this idea seems to have registered on so few people is a truly terrifying indictment of today’s political mentality.




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The Face of NPR

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend a meet-greet-and-discuss with Stewart Vanderwilt, the new CEO of Colorado Public Radio (CPR), the state’s NPR franchise. Ambivalent about attending, I almost passed it up, preferring to relax with a cold beer after climbing one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks (there are 54) and suffering from leg cramps.

I’m almost glad I didn’t.

Vanderwilt’s audience was old, and about evenly divided between righties and lefties (or so I perceived . . . with at least two libertarians). One lady, the head of the organization sponsoring the meeting, opined sotto voce to her immediate neighbors that she no longer listened to NPR: “It’s too biased and too boring.” Hear, hear! I thought.

Overall listenership was dropping. To remedy this, he announced, NPR was adding new, more interesting programing.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind. After all, this was NPR’s CEO in Colorado (after stints in Indiana and Texas), and he trod gently, wanting to explain NPR’s raison d’être and knowing full well that he faced a mixed ideological audience.

Vanderwilt, a very ordinary looking and sounding fellow of average height and girth, began by stating that most people assume NPR gets its lion’s share of funding from the government — a useful straw-man gambit. “No”, he stated, “only about 2%,” further going into detail as to its funding sources.

He went on to acknowledge how polarized the public had become regarding the media, but insisted that NPR adhered to very objective standards. Noting, as a curious aside, that NPR franchises are divided into two formats — one consisting of mostly classical music stations and the other a talk show format — he said that during the Kavanaugh-Ford confirmation hearings many regular talk show listeners switched to the classical music format. It seemed to puzzle him. Notwithstanding that blip, overall listenership was dropping. To remedy this, he announced, the network was adding new, more interesting programing.

The New Yorker Radio Hour, added in late 2015, immediately came to mind. But to this mind that program is just more of the same old NPR pap (however well crafted). He enthused about a few other ideas, but none lit my kindling — I didn’t note them down and have since forgotten them.

Johnson surely pops a couple of “earnestness” pills every morning to help him seem engaged, objective, and authoritative.

What passes for groundbreaking, investigative, and — in NPR’s mind — controversial and edgy current events radio is shouldered by Joshua Johnson of the program 1-A, the inheritor of the timeslot inhabited by the late Diane Rehm show.

Johnson surely pops a couple of “earnestness” pills every morning to help him seem engaged — which he undoubtedly is — objective, and authoritative, while periodically reminding his audience that he’s both a person of color and gay. He prides himself in chairing debates so civilized that neither Bill Buckley nor Joe Pyne would recognize them as such. And his questions are so subtly stilted that the answers are boringly predictable; people are supposed not to be able to tell whether he’s a liberal or a conservative.

But back to Vanderwilt. He defended the existence of NPR by saying that the content of other media is driven by their owners, management, advertising clients, and ratings. What? NPR isn’t? Although there is some truth in those assertions, I disagreed strongly. Audiences have demanded that the media they read, watch, or listen to mirror their views . . . and the market has complied. Today nearly all media can be classified as having an identifiable political bent.

The questions are so subtly stilted that the answers are boringly predictable; people are supposed not to be able to tell whether he’s a liberal or a conservative.

Not so long ago — 30? 40? years — KFYI, a major Phoenix radio station (and anchor to the nationally syndicated Kim Commando Show), hosted conservative, liberal, libertarian, and “non-ideological, common sense” talk show hosts. Today it carries Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity throughout the day. KYCA, my hometown radio station, once tilted libertarian, carrying the Leonard Peikoff show and an agony call-in show based on the “rational basis of happiness,” a concept originally promulgated by Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist and Ayn Rand’s longtime lover.

Today there are no (to my limited knowledge) media that combine the likes of Joshua Johnson followed by, say, Tucker Carlson; or Rachel Maddow along with John Stossel; or Mark Levin and Chris Cuomo. Now those would be fun formats for NPR. Instead, the point-counterpoint (what little there is) is engineered by a process that includes a job my nephew once held before becoming an attorney. He was hired by cohost Janeane Garofalo for Air America’s The Majority Report to listen to Rush Limbaugh (yes, every day for three hours) and come up with opposing talking points. The show only lasted two years, while Air America, a left-wing, progressive enterprise, only lasted six.

Vanderwilt’s talk ended after a mere 20 minutes, at which point he opened the floor to questions and comments. My buddy Tom, a libertarian-leaning sometime listener, very diplomatically — even indirectly — said that NPR was both liberal (in the American sense) and boring; and that to admit it would at least slightly temper the boring part.

Audiences have demanded that the media they read, watch, or listen to mirror their views . . . and the market has complied.

Vanderwilt would have none of it. Like a seasoned pol deflecting an asked question with an answer to an unasked question, he glossed over the comment and artfully manipulated the word “liberal” into an interpretation akin to “inoffensive objectivity.”

This guy was good. So, building on Tom’s effort, I gave it a shot, using a dose of literary deconstruction (or what I thought might pass for it, the “discipline” being largely unintelligible to me) that might strike a chord with him. I said that I got most of my news from The Economist, which calls itself “a liberal publication” (in the European sense); and they’re of the opinion (as I’ve written before) that

Writing is seldom objective; reportage never is. Putting an idea into prose requires choosing words to convey the thought, while even selecting what constitutes a news story, deciding how to report it, or how much context to include, invariably slants it.

[But] ironically, the journal’s editorial stance results in much more objective reporting than that of an “objective” source such as NPR — for one thing, because a reader knows up front where The Economist is coming from.

Vanderwilt misconstrued my meaning, explaining that NPR’s editorial process strives very carefully to choose its words so as not to offend anyone. He added an apology in case that had ever occurred (being offensive, that is).

In that July 2012 article, “Check Your Premises,” I attempted a balanced analysis of NPR’s biases. This time I just surrendered to exasperated resignation. While driving in my car running errands I’ll just keep switching between NPR and what I jokingly call “right-wing hate radio.”




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Menus for a Free Lunch

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I wonder at the appeal of the progressives. I suffered through two and a half hours of the September 12 debate of the ten Democratic presidential candidates. These talkers inhabit a different world from the one that I do — not that my world is the only one, but it is mine and they are not of it.

Consider medical care. All of the candidates accept that medical care is a human right. I don’t, but even if I did, I would have to admit there are problems with it. Some medical care is necessary for life and health, some is good but not necessary, some is questionable, some is useless, and some is positively harmful. It would seem obvious that whoever is paying for the care would make these distinctions before signing the check. Certainly a prudent individual would, if he were paying with his own money.

Well, we mostly don’t do that anymore. We have health insurance, in which the insurer pays. Are we to assume that a good and proper insurer should never say no? Listening to the Democratic candidates, you’d think so.

All of the candidates accept that medical care is a human right. I don’t.

In the September 12 debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren said the health insurance companies, which she wants to run out of business, make their profits “by saying no.” I’ll stipulate that when they say no, they are trying to save money, and even the not-for-profits among them try to do that. But does America suffer from a systemic problem of insurance companies saying no to necessary claims?

Not in my world. I’m 68, and I’ve had a medical condition that put me in the hospital for 23 days and that cost several hundred thousand dollars. My private-sector insurer never said no to any of it. At the end of my hospital stay, I paid about one cent on the dollar of what it cost. I know others of my age who have had expensive procedures, and not one of them bellyached about his coverage. On the contrary — all of them were glad to have it. Elizabeth Warren said in the debate, “I have not met anybody who likes her health insurance company.” Hm. Have you asked?

I’ve argued with progressives for years about medical coverage. American progressives believe deep in their bones that covering everyone for everything will cost less than people pay to cover some people for some things. Sanders and Warren both said this. Sanders was vehement about it. “I wrote the bill,” he insisted. (It must be true!) Under his bill, the Vermont socialist said, Americans would get medical care, including prescription drugs, and would pay nothing out of pocket. And the taxes to bankroll this, which Joe Biden claimed would cost $3.5 trillion a year? Warren addressed that. Taxes would go up for the corporations and the rich, she said, adding, “Middle-class families are going to pay less.”

When insurance companies say no, they are trying to save money, and even the not-for-profits among them try to do that.

Really? Do people believe this? Do middle-class families pay less in taxes in Canada? The UK? France? Germany? Sweden?

It’s true that Americans pay in ways other than taxes, so that medical care takes a smaller share of gross domestic product in those countries than it does in the United States. But is their care as good? Canada spends 6.6% of GDP less than the US and gets mostly good outcomes, but it falls short of US standards in some ways. I live a hundred miles from British Columbia, and I’ve heard the stories about hospital stays there. The B.C. system is notorious for making people wait months for elective surgeries such as hip replacements, which can be scheduled in Seattle in a few days. It has few of the robot-arm da Vinci Surgical Systems for prostate removal, which are routine across the US border. Hospitals in British Columbia also have mixed-gender four-bed wards instead of private rooms.

Canadians do pay considerably less for drugs by having the provincial health authorities act as the sole buyers. This comes at a price: Canadians get fancy new drugs several years later than Americans do.

I live in Seattle. In my career in newspapers, I used to cover the biotech industry here. Back in the ’80s and ’90s Seattle had a gaggle of little biotechs fed by money from floating shares on the NASDAQ. The biotechs were trying to develop new drugs, non-drug treatments (a blood filter to treat cancer was one), and medical devices. Everybody in liberal Seattle was in favor of biotech. The local economic development gurus promoted biotech as the city’s industrial future. Twenty years later, it has been a disappointment. Most of the ventures failed, though one of them, ICOS, failed to hit the target it aimed at, cancer, and developed something else, the ED drug Cialis. The bottom line is that drug development is risky, unpredictable, and high-cost. The critics don’t understand that. I remember the Seattle elite praising the biotech industry, then turning around and saying that the high cost of drugs was scandalous.

The B.C. system is notorious for making people wait months for elective surgeries such as hip replacements, which can be scheduled in Seattle in a few days.

Canada and the rest of the world rely heavily on US companies to develop new drugs. Being second-order users does save them money, but there are tradeoffs that the progressives don’t want to talk about. Somebody has to pay the costs of drug research.

I am wary of the promised cheapness of “single payer.” In the American cultural setting it’s not going to be easy to make medicine cheap, but if the socialists, such as Bernie Sanders, do make it cheap, Americans won’t like what they get. In my case, my medical condition was detected in a CT scan and diagnosed after an MRI. Later, when I had a blood clot and reacted against the usual drug for it — heparin — the doctors gave me a newer biotech drug, argatroban. The whole experience made me very appreciative of my surgeon (a hot-shot 32-year-old from New Zealand) and of high-tech medical equipment, high-tech drugs, and the private insurance company (Group Health, since then absorbed by Kaiser Permanente) that paid for it.

The progressives want Medicare for All. Since my operation I’ve gone on Medicare, and it has cut my cost of health insurance by at least two-thirds. But Medicare is a forced subsidy paid by taxpayers younger than I. If everyone is to be offered the same deal, there will be no group left to plunder. Furthermore, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals less than market rates. In the state of Washington, a Rand Corp. survey https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3033.html in 2017 found that Medicare pays 42 cents for each dollar private insurers pay for similar procedures. Hospitals make up the shortfall by charging private-coverage patients more. That’s a cross-subsidy in addition to the taxpayer subsidy — and the progressives don’t want to talk about that, either.

Canada and the rest of the world rely heavily on US companies to develop new drugs. Somebody has to pay the costs of drug research.

None of the candidates at the September 12 debate addressed any of the drawbacks of Medicare for All. They don’t mention drawbacks or tradeoffs — only problems of the current system, such as all the paperwork (actually computer work) that health insurers require providers to fill out. Does Medicare not have forms to fill out? Are we really going to have an insurer that doesn’t ask questions and always says yes? You’d think so, listening to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But do Americans really believe that a monopoly run by federal employees will cost less and always give them what they want?

Yes, some of them do believe it.




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Are You Joking?

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On July 23, Jeffrey Epstein, the world’s highest profile prisoner, attempted to commit suicide while in federal custody in New York. Or somebody tried to kill him while he was in federal custody in New York. No one knows. On August 10 Epstein killed himself while in federal custody. Or he didn’t. No one knows.

Likewise, no one knows what happened to President Trump’s several orders, during the past year, for the declassification of all documents bearing on the attempt by our secret police to prevent him from becoming president, or continuing to be president. Or was it all documents? Or was it all documents about the FBI, the CIA, and the DOJ? Or was it . . . ?

This is the behavior of the federal government, at its highest and most visible ranks, regarding matters that are known by all.

In addition, no one knows what is happening with the current innumerable investigations of this and similar events, events that are so well attested as to have become, at this point, crashing bores. When, or if, the investigations are completed, will we hear again that Such and Such Grand Inquisitor “lacked candor” and might be prosecuted, except that he or she will not be prosecuted?

This is the behavior of the federal government, at its highest and most visible ranks, regarding matters that are known by all. Yet leading members of one of our great political parties are demanding that still more power be given to the state — power over healthcare, over incomes, over guns, over history itself — while leading members of the other great party, having promised to drain the swamp, demand that the state take unto itself the role of policing speech on the internet, targeting “unstable” speech with red flags, and so on.

Our descendants, should they still be able to read, and allowed to do so, will marvel at this childlike faith in the great god of government.




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Hurricane Ahead!

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I live in Orlando. If you’ve been listening to the glamour girls and breathless boys of the curvy couches in the newsrooms of New York, you would think that I live in a Death Zone. A hurricane is coming! A hurricane is coming! Shortages! Mayhem! Break out the plywood. Buy up all the water, bread, and peanut butter within a 500-mile radius. And get the hell out of there!

Well, let me tell you what it’s really like. Yes, the shelves were pretty bare on Wednesday, a full week before the hurricane is supposed to make landfall. (Some have said that preparing for a hurricane is like waiting to be attacked by a turtle.) For one evening, bread was gone, water was gone, and batteries were gone from many stores. But that was the first day of the hype. “Hurry! Hurry! You need seven days of water per person in order to survive the devastation! Get it all before someone else does!”

Shortages! Mayhem! Break out the plywood and get the hell out of there!

So how did I prepare? Well, yesterday I went to the beach. (Hurricane warnings make for perfect beach conditions: blue skies, warm water, strong waves, and nearly empty shorelines.) Meanwhile, my daughter took my grandson to Universal Studios (light breeze and five-minute wait lines.)

Today I went shopping. As I expected, based on last year’s hurricane preparations, pallets of bottled water encircled the entire perimeter of my local Publix. An employee stood at the front door, prepared to load a couple of cases into each customer’s cart so the heavy water would be conveniently located at the bottom while the customer continued shopping. So thoughtful! (It was also a gentle reminder that two cases would be plenty — no need to hoard.) The bread shelves were full as well, and stockers were busily replenishing other staples. There will be additional deliveries tomorrow and every day until the storm hits. There is simply no reason to panic about running out of food and water, despite Wednesday’s initially empty shelves.

Hurricane warnings make for perfect beach conditions: blue skies, warm water, strong waves, and nearly empty shorelines.

Home Depot is doing the same thing with plywood, batteries, generators, and flashlights, bringing in more supplies daily. Instead of raising prices to reduce demand, as store managers did in years past, they are planning ahead to satisfy rising demand with rising supply. We don’t need to get into a fight over who saw that last sheet of plywood first — there will be a whole pallet of plywood unloaded from the delivery truck any minute.

How is this possible? As demand quadruples with every frantic news report, why aren’t we experiencing severe shortages?

It’s simple: businesspeople are smart. They can read a weather report, review previous sales trends, anticipate demand, and adjust supply. Trucking companies can respond in advance too, diverting transportation where it is needed now, not where it might have been scheduled to go a few weeks ago. And because hurricanes move so slowly, business people have a couple of weeks to adjust their orders, assign overtime duties to stockers and checkers, and reassure their customers that the doors will be open and the shelves stocked throughout the run-up to the storm. And they’ll be open for business again just as quickly as they can after the storm. We aren’t going to starve. I promise you.

We don’t need to get into a fight over who saw that last sheet of plywood first — there will be a whole pallet of plywood unloaded from the delivery truck any minute.

Meanwhile, FEMA and the National Guard are on their way to Florida. They might be needed, if damage is severe. Also on their way are hordes of weather reporters, seeking out the highest water, the windiest corner, and the dangliest signs to show us just how desperate we are in Florida. (Remember last year’s phony photos of reporters hunkered down in raincoats and boots while residents strolled by in the background wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops?)

Some folks may experience severe damage and loss, especially those who live near the coast, and I feel compassion for them. They’ll need emergency help (and should receive it from their insurance companies). But for most of us, the local Publix and Home Depot have us covered. There’s no need to panic, and no need to break our budgets by purchasing more food than we actually need. And that, my friends, is how capitalism makes life better for everyone.




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