The Postman Never Thinks Twice

September 23, 2009

Today’s Drudge Report has a link to this piece from The Smoking Gun:

Plea In Post Office Pilferage: Man admits lifting 3012 Netflix DVDs from Massachusetts mail facility

SEPTEMBER 22–A postal worker who stole more than 3000 DVDs mailed by Netflix to its customers pleaded guilty yesterday to federal theft charges. Myles Weathers, who worked at a mail processing and distribution center in Springfield, Massachusetts, was nabbed last year for the video heist after Netflix officials became suspicious about the frequency with which DVDs were being pinched. Weathers, 49, was subsequently arrested after surveillance footage showed him removing DVDs from Netflix envelopes and placing the discs into his backpack. The below criminal information filed yesterday in U.S. District Court does not disclose whether Weathers was building an impressive home video library or planning to sell the hot titles. A plea agreement, an excerpt of which you’ll find here, valued the recovered 3012 DVDs at $36,471. Weathers, now a former government employee, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 23. While his felony plea carries a maximum of five years in prison, sentencing guidelines call for a term of about a year in custody (emphasis added).

To recap, a government postal worker pleads guilty to a felony for stealing Netfilx DVDs he could have rented for $7.95/month. I wonder if this might be an example of the “savings” President Obama talks about under the government healthcare plan.

Netflix’s inventory tracking system detected the pilfering fairly quickly. Then the authorities got involved. It probably took them a while to obtain a court order and set up hidden cameras for the sting. In the meantime, 3,012 Netflix DVDs were stolen. Makes you wonder how effectively a government-run healthcare system will deal with hospital employees pilfering controlled substances. There are savings to be had, but only if you look at things from the criminal’s point-of-view.

I wish I could find the link, but Mark Steyn wrote a piece some years ago regarding the government’s ineptitude keeping track of terror suspects. Beyond the government’s usual Inspector Clouseau fumbling, you have the Jamie Gorelicks intentionally creating Chinese walls to ensure the left hand can’t know what the right hand is doing. Despite billions spent on counter-terrorism, our government failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks even though weird conversations like this at flight schools were reported: “Just teach me how to fly the plane, infidel! I don’t need takeoff or landing instructions.”

Meanwhile the private sector has no trouble targeting products to specific customer interests. Steyn humorously noted that Amazon probably sent the 9/11 hijackers emails along the lines of “Dear Muhammad, As someone who recently purchased Death to Infidels by Mustapha bin Saudi, we thought you might be interested in Jihad Forever! from the same author.” Hilarious, if you don’t mind gallows humor.

To reiterate Steyn’s point, Amazon’s and Netflix’s systems cost a fraction of what the government spends, yet they gather pertinent intelligence more efficiently. Meanwhile, President Obama claims against overwhelming evidence to the contrary that a government-run healthcare system will be more efficient and more affordable than private insurance.

If you want to get a glimpse of what a government “option” would look like, check out the series Parking Wars on A&E. My good friend Sam C. (who really ought to have his own blog so I can link to him instead of plagiarising his ideas) introduced me to this reality series, which follows employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), ticketing agents, booting and towing crew, and impound lot clerks. I’ve only caught snippets from a couple of episodes. In one, a pregnant woman’s car is towed while she was in labor. In another, a woman’s car keys are missing from the impound lot.

One surreal scene involved a clueless cashier at the impound lot. To retrieve one’s vehicle, in addition to paying the hefty impound fees, the owner must provide paperwork from the traffic court indicating they paid the fine, along with a valid driver’s license and insurance card. The PPA cashier at the impound lot inexplicably refuses to release the vehicle because the insurance policy effective date had passed. The clerk persists in his refusal even after the owner points out that the policy’s expiration date hasn’t lapsed.

The mixup is eventually straightened out, but what’s the car owner’s remedy if it isn’t? You can’t fight City Hall, and the hefty impound fees continue to accrue while you waste more time and effort trying to tell your side of the story to a municipal judge. The municipal judge may be marginally smarter than the impound cashier, but he is equally immune from being fired for incompetence. Who decides?

Bureaucrats get to decide who are the winners and losers, yet their decisions often resemble the fable of the crow who challenged the nightingale to a singing contest. A group of pigs agree to judge the competition. The nightingale sings a beautiful, haunting melody, while the crow loudly shrieks “Caw, caw, caw!” to raucous cheers from the bench. The pigs predicatbly declare the crow the winner. Afterwards, the disconsolate nightingale is seen crying. Another songbird tells her not to cry because she lost. The nightingale replies, “I’m not crying because I lost. I’m crying because the judges are pigs.”

They say the postman always rings twice (and steals 3,000 DVDs apparently), but under a single-payer system the government official always gets the last word. And the rest of us can either accept the pigs’ decisions and humbly eat crow, or we can go postal.


To Serve Man

September 22, 2009

Serve the people

A shop assistant in Beijing displays a shirt bearing an image of President Obama’s face imprinted over that of Communist dictator Mao Zedong. The Chinese characters depict the Maoist slogan “Serve the People,” written in Mao’s calligraphy. According to Reuters, the shop has sold thousands of shirts bearing the “Oba Mao” design since the products arrived a month ago.

Considering that Chairman Mao “served” nearly 50 million of “the people” in the Great Leap Forward just fifty years ago, the sale of such Maoist iconography in China is simply mind-boggling. It’s as if T-shirts “celebrating” Kristallnacht with Ahmandinejad’s image emblazoned over Hitler’s suddenly became a fashion rage in Tel Aviv (though I’m sure they’d be quite popular elsewhere in the Middle East) .

At least there’s still a majority of Americans left who don’t trust Communists. Or should I say Kanamits?

“There is nothing ulterior in our motives, nothing at all. You will discover this for yourselves before too long simply by testing the various devices which we will make available to you. We can show you, for example, how to add a certain very cheap nitrate to the soil and end famine on earth for good and all. We can demonstrate to you quite practically the principles of the force field in which you may cloak each nation with an invisible wall, absolutely impenetrable by bombs, missiles or anything else. We ask only that you trust us, only that you simply trust us.”

Narrator: “That was what we all thought. It was the age of Santa Claus, only these Kris Kringles came without white whiskers or rosy cheeks or twinkling eyes. They were nine-foot tall enigmas who descended on us like locusts, but nobody was counting or worrying.”

Sound familiar? Perhaps a T-shirt with Obama’s image morphed over a palimpsest of a Kanamit savior would serve as a clue to the motives of those who claim to “serve the people.”

Hat tip: John Derbyshire at National Review Online.

A Republic, and We Will Keep It

September 17, 2009

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

Today marks the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

On September 17, 1787, 39 of 55 delegates attending the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed a document that when ratified by all thirteen states, established a form of government unlike anything the world had ever seen.

It did not come easily. Only 55 of the 74 delegates selected by their respective states attended the Convention. Rhode Island chose not to send delegates. The delegates to the Convention originally met to advise the Continental Congress on how “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the [Articles of Confederation] adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” They soon recognized the defects of the Articles were too great and too many to cure by amendment, and that a new form of government was needed.

On May 25, 1787, George Washington was unanimously chosen president of the convention and deliberations began. Over the next four months during a sweltering summer, a relatively young (average age 42) but experienced and brilliant group of political thinkers intensely debated questions about natural law, human nature, the proper scope and source of authority of government, the relationship between the national or federal government and the states, and the balance of power between larger and smaller states.

The Framers drew upon their vast wealth of shared experience living under the British Crown, upon deep insights into the lessons of history, and upon the best of classical and modern thought to create a document described by a good friend as a “masterpiece of minimalism.”

The English philosopher John Locke provided their shared belief in a natural law that entitled every person to life, liberty, and property, and that the proper role of government was to protect these rights. The French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu provided the framework for the system of separation of powers they adopted to prevent the undue concentration of power in a single person or body. Because the states were preexisting political entities and their concern about encroachments from the new national government, they invented a previously unheard of system in which the national and state governments would exercise dual sovereignty in separate and prescribed areas.

The Convention delegates met in secret throughout the long, brutal summer of 1787. Records of its proceedings were not reported to the public, who clamored for news of the deliberations. When the Convention finally finished its great work, a Mrs. Powel asked Benjamin Franklin as he was leaving the state capitol building in which the delegates met: “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Today, 222 years later, it’s worth asking ourselves Mrs. Powel’s question: “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” But instead of asking our representatives in name only what government have we got, we must send them this message loud and clear:

We have a Republic, and we intend to keep it.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

September 15, 2009

Last week, a message was circulating on Facebook promoting the following sentiment: “No one should die because they cannot afford health care or insurance and no one should go broke or bankrupt because they get sick.” The message asked everyone who agreed with the statement to post it on their Facebook status box.

This week, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times made the absurd claim that anyone who disagrees with the post-racial President™ is racist. Silly me to think that one of the few benefits of electing to the presidency an inexperienced community organizer with disturbing ties to shady characters was that it would finally put an end to such race-baiting nonsense.

There’s no need to spend much time on Dowd’s piece. To paraphrase the legal maxim, her ignorance speaks for itself. Evidently, subtlety is not among Dowd’s strengths. Nor does she seem to possess the ability to discern irony, as evidenced by her Obligatory Two Minutes of Hate screed against Joe Wilson, the Left’s Emmanuel Goldstein de jour, in a piece ostensibly directed against the right’s alleged propensity to label political opponents as “the Other”:

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

The Facebook message and Dowd’s demonization of opposition to Obama are good examples of the liberal/statist good cop/bad cop attempt to frame the debate on controversial subjects like government-run healthcare.

No one really disagrees with the sentiment expressed on Facebook. It’s a noble-sounding sentiment, but noble-sounding sentiments are a dime a dozen. They contribute nothing toward the enormous cost of providing health insurance for 30 million or 47 million uninsured. That’s a large part of their attraction: it costs liberals absolutely nothing to give a thumbs-up to a message approving lofty-sounding, utopian goals. Giving lip-service to lofty-sounding platitudes is much easier and psychologically more rewarding than presenting factual and logical arguments in favor of one’s policy preferences. Also, they get to frame political issues simply as contests between morally enlightened persons like themselves who favor a universal, government-subsidized healthcare option and evil, reactionary troglodytes like us who secretly wish to deprive poor people of lifesaving care.

Outside the liberal world of magical thinking, most of us understand that, like most things, healthcare costs include a broad range of goods and services that are not free, but must be paid for. For most of us, the question is which system will provide the best overall healthcare at a reasonable cost. While insurance is a necessary means of financing extremely expensive but relatively rare occurrences, it is an inefficient and costly way of paying for everyday expenses. This is a question liberals are generally not very interested in examining, else they would not instinctively gravitate to the same single-payer models that have demonstrably failed everywhere and every time they have been tried.

Imagine how much your auto insurance would cost if it was administered the way most people’s health insurance works. Instead of paying for routine maintenance like oil changes out of pocket, you would file a claim with your auto insurer, who would either have to pay whatever the mechanic charges, fight over the reimbursement rate for each “claim,” or go through the trouble and expense of developing and contracting a network of preferred mechanics to keep such costs down. You and I certainly wouldn’t go through the bother of looking for the cheapest/best mechanics because the insurance company would be the one paying the bill.

A much better way to fix problems with health insurance is to make health insurance function more like auto insurance. Limit insurance to expensive drugs/procedures via a high-deductible policy and pay for everyday healthcare expenses, such as checkups and routine preventive care, with your own money. Health insurers should also be allowed to charge higher premiums to people whose lifestyles demonstrably correlate to higher healthcare costs. Again, this is something auto insurers currently do, charging higher premiums to young male drivers, people with a history of accidents, etc.

Safeway has implemented several innovative market-based solutions, such as paying employees who quit smoking, lose weight, lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, etc. As a result, their healthcare costs have remained flat over a four-year period whereas overall health insurance costs have grown at nearly double the inflation rate over the same period.

Tort reform is another way to control costs, not just the ridiculous multi-million verdicts on junk science claims that former Democrat VP candidate John Edwards specialized in, but also billions in unnecessary and redundant tests performed not because they are appropriate, but to defend against such frivolous malpractice suits.

Yet these and other reforms that actually would help (like eliminating wasteful government mandates that continue to drive up insurance costs) are conspicuous in their absence from Obama’s healthcare proposals. But for true believers, the healthcare debate isn’t about actually improving the healthcare system, but about validating their failed leftist worldview and reaffirming their unswerving faith in their own moral superiority.

The title of this piece comes from a famous koan by Hakuin. It describes the ineffable concept of a soundless sound. But the sound of one hand clapping is all around us. It’s the familiar sound of a liberal driving around in his Prius with only one hand on the wheel. You see, he can’t drive using both hands because one hand is continually kept busy patting himself on the back, congratulating himself for his presumed moral superiority over the rest of us.

Hayek called it “the fatal conceit,” the idea that “man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.”

The fatal conceit is the deafening soundless sound of one hand clapping.

Never Forget

September 11, 2009

Slick Willie 2.0

September 10, 2009

The Seven Big Lies of Obama’s Speech

Must-read article by Robert Tracinski in today’s Jewish World Review. Not just a fisking of Obama’s Teleprompter’s healthcare speech last night, but insightful on Obama’s use of classical rhetorical devices to deceive his delusional flock of singularly stupid sheep.

We had our warning during the campaign, we really did.

Remember Barack Obama’s famous speech on race, back in March of 2008? Obama had spent 20 years listening to the sermons of Jeremiah Wright, full of venomous anti-Americanism and attacks on “white America.” Yet when the reverend’s rants were revealed to the public, Obama tried to convince us that he just happened to be missing from the pews on any well-documented Sunday, and that the Jeremiah Wright we saw and heard was not the Jeremiah Wright he knew.

It was a giant, implausible lie. Yet the speech was smoothly delivered and well-turned, perfectly balanced to seem to empathize both with the grievances of blacks and with the concerns of whites. So most people seemed to believe it.

This is what Obama’s supposed gift for rhetoric amounts to: the ability to tell a smoothly polished bald-faced lie.

And that was the whole essence of Obama’s big night. It was a pack of lies from beginning to end, and if we’re going to finally see through this flim-flam artist once and for all — as more and more people are beginning to do — then we had better identify them one at a time.

Flim-flam artist and pack of lies pretty much sums up this character and his healthcare speech last night. I couldn’t stand to watch more than 15 minutes. Here are the seven big lies:

1) Obama’s proposal is just minor, incremental tinkering.
2) Obama’s plan is bipartisan.
3) You can keep your existing insurance.
4) The “public option” will not be subsidized by government.
5) The health-care bill will pay for itself with cost savings.
6) There are no death panels.
7) Obama doesn’t want a government takeover of medicine.

Please read the entire piece. I‘ll just add my two cents re: Big Lie #3. Obama swears that there is nothing in his plan that will force you to give up your existing [employer-provided] insurance. In the very next breath, he cited a laundry list of so-called reforms he would imposed on insurers that according to Obama would “make the insurance you have work better for you.” Here’s the text:

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition?. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care.

Of course each of these government-mandated changes would drive up the cost of insurance premiums for employers when his supposed rationale for “fixing the system” is that healthcare costs are already too high. By raising costs already bordering on prohibitively expensive, these changes will force employers to choose between cutting the workforce during a time of high unemployment, cutting healthcare benefits or dropping healthcare coverage altogether forcing employees into the public option (since new private individual plans will not be allowed), or slashing wages.

This sort of dishonest cant simply insults one’s intelligence. Yet the Democrats were not insulted. Even worse, they rewarded such drivel with a standing ovation.

Live and Let Die

September 10, 2009

Proponents of single-payer systems (read Socialized Medicine) frequenty cite infant mortality rates to demonstrate the alleged deficiencies in our healthcare system vs. other industrialized countries. Statistics don’t lie, but people reporting and citing numbers often do. Because other countries have very different standards for counting and reporting live births, apples-to-oranges comparisons present a skewed and dangerously misleading impression.

In a 2005 piece titled Infant-Mortality Myths, physicians Michael Arnold Glueckand Robert J. Cihak explain:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition, all babies showing any signs of life – such as muscle activity, a gasp for breath or a heartbeat – should be counted as a live birth. The U.S. strictly follows this definition. But many other countries do not.

Switzerland doesn’t count the death of very small babies, less than 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) in length, as a live birth, according to Nicholas Eberstadt, a former visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Population and Developmental Studies. So comparing the 1998 infant mortality rates for Switzerland and the U.S. (4.8 and 7.2,respectively, per 1,000 live births) is comparing apples and oranges.

In other countries, such as Italy, definitions vary depending on where you are in the country.

Eberstadt notes “underreporting also seems apparent in the proportion of infant deaths different countries report for the first 24 hours after birth. In Australia, Canada and the United States, over one-third of all infant deaths are reported to take place in the first day.”

In contrast, “Less than one-sixth of France’s infant deaths are reported to occur in the first day of life. In Hong Kong, such deaths account for only one-twenty-fifth of all infant deaths.”

As UNICEF has noted, “Under the Soviet-era definition … infants who are born at less than 28 weeks, weighing less than 1,000 grams [35.3 ounces] or measuring less than 35 centimeters [13.8 inches] are not counted as live births if they die within seven days. This Soviet definition still predominates in many [formerly Soviet] countries. … The communist system stressed the need to keep infant mortality low, and hospitals and medical staff faced penalties if they reported increases. As a result, they sometimes reported the deaths of babies in their care as miscarriages or stillbirths.”

The point about how medical statistics are politicized in Communist countries is not just a historical footnote. In that island paradise celebrated by Michael Moore, the Congressional Black Caucus, Dan Rather, and countless Hollywood celebrities, Cuban doctors are forced to abort babies with prenatal defects. Most of these abortions are done without the mother’s consent and often without their knowledge. As you read this, take a moment to think of a courageous black physician named Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who is currently serving a 25-year term in a Cuban prison for refusing to participate in forced abortions, putting the lives of his patients ahead of Cuba’s precious infant mortality statistics.

Considering the devastation wrought by 50 years of Communism, we must concede that Cuban infant mortality stats look pretty good. As they should since they exclude infants deliberately killed in order to inflate those stats. Killing defectives also cuts costs. Jeremy Bentham would approve. The greatest good for the greatest number. Well not exactly, but certainly the greatest good for El Numero Uno.

A more helpful indicator of the quality of neo-natal care is survival chances of very premature, very low birth-weight babies:

American advances in medical treatment now make it possible to save babies who would have surely died only a few decades ago. Until recently, very low birth-weight babies – less than 3 pounds – almost always died. Now, some of these babies survive. While such vulnerable babies may live with advanced medical assistance and technology, low birth-weight babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) recently had an infant mortality rate 20 times higher than heavier babies, according to WHO. Ironically, U.S. doctors’ ability to save babies’ lives causes higher infant mortality numbers here than would be the case with less advanced treatment.

This week, the Daily Mail reported the heart-wrenching story of Sarah Capewell and her son Jayden . Born prematurely at 21 weeks and 5 days, Jayden was breathing on his own, had a strong heartbeat and was moving his arms and legs, but his British doctors refused to care for him because of medical guidelines endorsed by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine and followed by NHS hospitals.

Guidance limiting care of the most premature babies provoked outrage when it was published three years ago.

Experts on medical ethics advised doctors not to resuscitate babies born before 23 weeks in the womb, stating that it was not in the child’s ‘best interests’.

The guidelines said: ‘If gestational age is certain and less than 23+0 (i.e at 22 weeks) it would be considered in the best interests of the baby, and standard practice, for resuscitation not to be carried out.’
Medical intervention would be given for a child born between 22 and 23 weeks only if the parents requested it and only after discussion about likely outcomes.

The rules were endorsed by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine and are followed by NHS hospitals.
The association said they were not meant to be a ‘set of instructions’, but doctors regard them as the best available advice on the treatment of premature babies.

In the US, Jayden would have been given every chance to survive. In fact, just a few weeks before the guidelines were published, a baby in the U.S. named Amillia Taylor, who was born prematurely at 21 weeks 6 days, nonetheless received medical care and is alive and healthy today.

Advances in medicine and technology make it possible for very low birth-weight premature babies to survive in cases that were unimaginable even a few years ago. You won’t know until you try the saying goes, but the 2006 guidelines drawn up by a faceless group called the Nuffield Council on Bioethics would not let Jayden’s doctors try to save Jayden’s life. All because Jayden had the temerity to be born 48 hours before the guidelines said he should.

I’m sure the experts in bioethics on the Nuffield Council would bristle at the suggestion that they constitute a Death Panel, but their utilitarian calculus, meticulously applied by the callous clinicians at James Paget Hospital in Norfolk, who denied responsibility using a variant of the Nuremberg defense (“We were only following guidelines”), meted out a de facto death sentence on Jayden. Because he was born 48 hours too soon. Perhaps their efforts would have been for naught. Perhaps he would have died anyway. We’ll never know. During her labor, Sarah Capewell desperately begged a pediatrician “You have got to help,” to which he replied, “No, we don’t.”

Limiting available healthcare options to whatever level of medicine is currently feasible will likely ensure that future medical advances are less likely to occur. There’s a reason why the US leads the world in R&D for life-saving prescription drugs and countries that ration healthcare do not. That’s the pragmatic argument. For me, the more compelling reason is the harm to our souls when we ignore the transcendent univeral moral code written in our hearts. If the human soul and moral law do not exist, then my argument is meaningless. But if they do exist, then we are literally playing with fire. In stifling the natural human tendency to show even minimal compassion for a distraught mother and her infant, we lay the groundwork for an inhumane system that values statistics and views people as numbers.

Woody Allen once quipped that 80 percent of success is just showing up. One never knows until one tries whether our efforts will make a difference, but I’d say 80 percent of making a difference is in the trying.

Jayden’s doctors didn’t even try. Shame on them.