October 13, 2009

1989 Was the Year of Liberation; Will 2009 Be Seen As the Year of the Authoritarian?

Matt Welch at Reason has a read-the-whole-thing piece at Reason Online (HT Hot Air Headlines) about American media elites’ deliberate underplay of the events of 1989, up to and including the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how the nation that brought it about is slipping into statist authoritarianism (I deleted references in the following excerpt to other articles in Reason’s most recent print edition):

The Unknown War
The defeat of communism 20 years ago was the most liberating moment in history. So why don’t we talk about it more?

November 1989 was the most liberating month of arguably the most liberating year in human history, yet two decades later the country that led the Cold War coalition against communism seems less interested than ever in commemorating, let alone processing the lessons from, the collapse of its longtime foe. At a time that fairly cries out for historical perspective about the follies of central planning, Americans are ignoring the fundamental conflict of the postwar world, and instead leapfrogging back to what Steve Forbes describes as the “Jurassic Park statism” of the 1930s. There have been more Hollywood hagiographies of the revolutionary communist Che Guevara in the last five years than there have been studio pictures in the last two decades about the revolutionary anti-communists who dramatically toppled totalitarians from Tallin to Prague. And what little general-nonfiction interest there is in the superpower struggle remains stuck in the same Reagan vs. Gorby frame that made the 1980s so intellectually shallow the first time around.

The consensus Year of Revolution for most of our lifetimes has been 1968, with its political assassinations, its Parisian protests, and a youth-culture rebellion that the baby boomers will never tire of telling us about. But as the preeminent modern Central European historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote in a 2008 essay, 1989 “ended communism in Europe, the Soviet empire, the division of Germany, and an ideological and geopolitical struggle…that had shaped world politics for half a century. It was, in its geopolitical results, as big as 1945 or 1914. By comparison, ’68 was a molehill.”

…. And even these numbers only begin to capture the magnitude of the change. The abject failure of top-down central planning as an economic organizing model had a profound impact even on the few communist governments that survived the ’90s. Vietnam, while maintaining a one-party grip on power, launched radical market reforms in 1990, resulting in some of the world’s highest economic growth in the last two decades. Cuba, economically desperate after the Soviet spigot was cut off, legalized foreign investment and private commerce. And in perhaps the single most dramatic geopolitical story in recent years, the country that most symbolized state repression in 1989 has used capitalism to pull off history’s most successful anti-poverty campaign. Although Chinese market reforms began in the late ’70s, and were temporarily stalled by the Tiananmen Square massacre (which, counterintuitively, emboldened anti-communists in Europe), China’s post-Soviet recognition that private enterprise should trump the state sector helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty.

…. In the long fight between Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, even the democratic socialists of Europe had to admit that Friedman won in a landslide. Although media attention was rightly focused on the dramatic economic changes transforming Asia and the former East Bloc, fully half of the world’s privatization in the first dozen years after the Cold War, as measured by revenue, took place in Western Europe. European political and monetary integration, widely derided as statist by the Anglo-American right, has turned out to be one of the biggest engines for economic liberty in modern history. It was no accident that, in the midst of Washington’s illegal and ill-fated bailout of U.S. automakers, Swedish Enterprise Minister Maud Olofsson, when asked about the fate of struggling Saab, tersely announced, “The Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories.”

That said, Welch misses the mark in his final paragraph:

Ironically, the one consistent lesson U.S. officials claim to have learned about the Cold War is the one that has the least applicability outside the East Bloc: that aggressive and even violent confrontation with evil regimes will lead to various springtimes for democracy. It is telling that the victors of an epic economic and spiritual struggle take away conclusions that are primarily military. Telling, and tragic.

Well, at least he admits that it’s a lesson. But it has plenty of applicability outside the East Bloc, as I explained to an unfortunately misled person on the right a few weeks ago. This person in essence told an e-mail group that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries were destined to fall on their own because they had all run out of central-planning gas and cited some scholarly work that supposedly proved it.

My response refuted that claim and exposed its historical ignorance:

C’mon. You’re smarter than this.

Cuba and North Korea have “fallen apart” too, and to a far more serious extent than the Soviet Union and its satellites ever did — but you’ll note that even after 5 decades, they haven’t fallen.

To fall, they will have to be pushed. As of now, no one will do it. They will not fall until someone does.

To fall, despite having “fallen apart,” the Soviet Union had to be pushed. Reagan, John Paul, Thatcher, Walesa, and others on the inside pushed. Otherwise, the fall wouldn’t have happened.

No, it didn’t take a full-blown military conflict to win the Cold War. It took the decidedly firm, consistent, and persistent group just identified to stand their ground while those on the inside did the pushing, knowing that the West had their backs.

In nine months of the new administration we have had little firmness, no consistency, and almost no persistence. For them, the dissident movement in Iran might as well not exist; it’s as if they prefer that it not exist. North Korea is an annoyance best kicked down the road to the next administration. Cuba, whose people deserve liberation, will more than likely endure as a totalitarian state even after its head totalitarian dies. Venezuela grows ever more militant, and it’s of no concern.

If this doesn’t change, the postures just described, combined with the domestic monstrosities that have been and are being foisted on us, may well lead future historians to declare 2009 a turning point towards authoritarianism, and perhaps even towards the ascendancy of terrorism.

NYT Blog Says PWC Study Is ‘Industry Report,’ While It Omits Dem Pedigree of Economist Disputing It (Update: Plus a $2K Kerry for Prez Donor)

NoObamaCare0809Let’s see. A Big 4 independent public accounting firm vs. the Democratic Party’s go-to health care economics guy. Who has more presumptive credibility?

It’s more than a little offensive to see the people whose party gave us entitlement programs with multitrillion-dollar unfunded liabilities (Social Security and Medicare), pension plans that are completely unsustainable (the federal government and many states), and year-over-year budget increases that almost always dwarf inflation — in other words, people with absolutely no record of financial credibility on matters big and small — go after Big 4 accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and its “industry-funded” study on what would happen to insurance premiums under the BaucusCare iteration of ObamaCare with the eager assistance of their media apparatchiks.

Understand this: When PwC prepares a report for the health insurance industry projecting, in the Wall Street Journal’s words, that “the Senate Finance Committee’s big health-care bill would raise health insurance premiums by thousands of dollars a year,” one can be confident that it is based on exhaustively researched and thoroughly reviewed work.

Here’s the whiny Democratic reaction to the firm’s report:

“Distorted and flawed,” said White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass. “Fundamentally dishonest,” said AARP’s senior policy strategist, John Rother. “A hatchet job,” said a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

One indication of the impotence of the response is the fact that the only “substantive” objection thus far is from an “MIT economist” who claims that “the industry report failed to take into account administrative overhead costs that he said will “fall enormously” once insurance polices are sold through new government-regulated marketplaces, or exchanges.”

There’s only one “little” problem: Economist Jon Gruber is hardly “independent.” Did you know that Gruber’s Wikipedia entry begins by noting that he has been “called the Democratic Party’s ‘most influential health-care expert’ by the Washington Post“? The New York Times Prescriptions blog “somehow forgot” to share that little tidbit with its readers. Imagine that. (UPDATE: Here’s another “little” problem also not disclosed by the Times — Gruber gave $2,000 to John Kerry’s presidential effort in 2004.)

PwC, by stark contrast, is an independent entity both in appearance and fact. The firm asserts that “Regulators have cited the PwC online independence system as the model for the profession.” It and other public accounting firms go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conflicts of interest, and subject their reports to intense scrutiny before they are released.

Even without the professional help of PwC, common sense tells us that Gruber’s contention is highly questionable.

This is supposedly how overhead will “fall enormously” under Max “Hatchet Job” Baucus’s Senate bill:

SenateKeepYourDocFlowchart92209

Or perhaps you prefer this “fall enormously” model, courtesy of what is contained in House Bill 3200:

HouseDemsHealthCareChart0709

If you think these massive, unwieldy, out-of-control contraptions are going to enormously lower “administrative overhead” in the entire system, I want what you’re smoking.

Oh sure, the government might (emphasis might) keep its own admin costs low — by shifting the overwhelming share of the burden onto providers, intermediaries, and patients. Providers will be stuck doing work that will distract them from their primary caregiving tasks, and patients will have to navigate the byzantine mazes shown above. Both of those factors will work work to limit the supply of available time and resources for patient care and/or increase the cost of providing it because of having to employ more administrative help. Combine that with an increase in demand driven by overutilization of what will have become a supposedly “free” good for a large numbers citizens (and non-citizens), and you have the recipe for the very increases PWC cited.

If you don’t believe PwC, all you have to do is look at the real-world disaster of CommonwealthCare aka RomneyCare in Massachusetts. As I noted in this previous post, costs have exploded, of course including administrative costs, while the system is on verge of imposing serious rationing of care.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: Non-shocking non-disclosure of the day — Gruber gave $2,000 to John Kerry’s presidential effort in 2004. Perhaps that’s the going price of admission for becoming the designated “health care economist.” The NYT’s blog missed that bit of info too. Imagine that.

UPDATE 2: Heritage showed back in late June (HT Patterico) that Medicare’s administrative costs per beneficiary is actually higher, despite myriad obvious advantages (broader base, not having to pay income and other taxes, etc.) than that of private insurers.

That’s very helpful. It would have been even more helpful if Heritage hadn’t played a misguided role in creating the RomneyCare monster forming the foundation for the statists’ current push.

Positivity: Pope Benedict to receive paralyzed artist’s portrait of Fr. Damien

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

FatherDamienFrom Rome, in an article written shortly before Father Damien was canonized:

Oct 9, 2009 / 06:24 am

As the October 11 canonization of Fr. Damien de Veuster approaches, an art teacher is leading a small group from Hawaii to Rome to present Pope Benedict XVI with a portrait of the saint painted by an artist paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS.

Fr. Damien, a hero to Hawaiians, ministered to a major leper colony on Molokai where he contracted and eventually succumbed to leprosy in the late nineteenth century.

The late artist Peggy Chun had created the artwork with the help of schoolchildren at Holy Trinity School in Honolulu. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had affected her to the point where she could only move her eyes.

Shelly Mecum, an art teacher at the school and a friend of Peggy, spoke with CNA from Rome in a Thursday phone interview about the portrait and its creator.

She described Peggy as an “invincible artist” who wouldn’t let ALS stop her from creating.

“When she couldn’t paint with her left hand, she used her right. When she couldn’t paint with her right, she used her mouth.”

According to Mecum, ALS completely “entombs” its victims.

“That’s what Peggy said it felt like, being buried alive in your own body.”

Despite her crippling symptoms, which led to her death on Nov. 19, 2008, Peggy used an ERICA eye response computer to communicate. She also used a device that would read her brainwaves.

“She was the first brainwave artist on the planet,” Mecum told CNA.

Peggy painted her portrait of Fr. Damien, titled “The Damien,” by directing others. She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke “just like Renaissance artists.” The work is part painting and part mosaic.

She spent 18 months giving directions week by week to paint the 50,000 quarter-inch squares that would be used in the eight-foot by four-foot painting.

She was assisted by 142 children from Holy Trinity school over a period of 18 months. The students, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, understood themselves as “Peggy’s hands.” ….

Go here for the rest of the story.

Boston Globe: Serious Rationing Nearly a Reality Under MA’s CommonwealthCare

MAhealthConnectorLogo1009I suppose President Obama is still running around telling everyone who will listen, along with anyone else who won’t, that “If you like your doctors and medical providers, you can keep them.”

It would also not surprise me to learn that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is still singing the praises of CommonwealthCare, the state-run system conservatives also deride as RomneyCare, so named after Mitt Romney, Patrick’s allegedly Republican predecessor who brought it into being. Patrick even wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed column several weeks ago that called CommonwealthCare a “model for national reform.”

As an apparently pivotal Senate committee vote on imposing statist health care on the entire country looms, the Boston Globe’s Liz Kowalczyk has inconveniently reminded statists (HT Hot Air) that the alleged wonders of the Bay State’s care regimen are instead leading it inexorably into serious rationing, and to a direct contradiction of Obama’s and Patrick’s core claims. Currently on the horizon are serious limitations on choice of care providers and annual capitated payments to those providers. Kowalczyk would probably protest that she never uses the word “rationing,” but it really doesn’t matter. Anyone with even a modicum of sense will recognize these moves for what they are.

Here are some of the key paragraphs in Kowalczyk’s Sunday report:

The state’s ambitious plan to shake up how providers are paid could have a hidden price for patients: Controlling Massachusetts’ soaring medical costs, many health care leaders believe, may require residents to give up their nearly unlimited freedom to go to any hospital and specialist they want.

…. a growing number of hospital officials and physician lead ers warn that the new payment system proposed by a state commission would not work without restrictions on where patients receive care – an issue some providers say the commission and the Patrick administration have glossed over.

“You can’t reap these savings without limiting patients’ choices in some way,’’ said Paul Levy, chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It’s a huge issue, it’s huge.” Dr. James Mongan, president of Partners HealthCare, a Beth Israel Deaconess competitor, agreed that it wouldn’t “work without some restriction on choice.”

A state commission recommended in July that insurers largely scrap the current fee-for-service system – in which insurers pay doctors, hospitals, and other providers a negotiated fee for each procedure and visit – and instead pay providers a per-patient annual fee to cover all of the patient’s medical care.

…. The Massachusetts proposal would involve a more ambitious restructuring of health care than any of the cost-cutting ideas being discussed in Washington. Under a global payment system, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers would form large networks, called accountable care organizations, that would provide most of the care for individual patients and divvy up the payments. Doctors would try to coordinate patients’ care within these networks, which would share electronic medical records and treatment plans. And to manage costs, they would try to direct patients to the hospital within the network that could provide good-quality care at the lowest cost, while generally using teaching hospitals for advanced care.

…. Sarah Iselin, head of the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy and cochair of the payment commission, said the (commission) panel understood the importance of addressing the effect of its recommendations on patient choice, but “felt these issues could be figured out” later by a board that would be created to oversee the transition to a new payment system.

Well, if CommonwealthCare is indeed the model, then its imminent rationing should also be seen as a preview of things to come nationwide, regardless of the pie-in-the-sky contraptions Congress is attempting to cobble together. When theses messes meet reality, they invariably lead to rationing accompanied by a shocking degree of bureaucratic control over the minutiae of medicine.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air adds this question:

This is a microcosm of what we can expect on a national basis if ObamaCare gets enacted. Will the media start reporting this in that context?

When indeed?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.