Stating the Obvious

Writing at Huffington Post, Dan Karr explains why the the PPACA’s repeal or replacement is inevitable:

Political discussion aside, The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will fail for business reasons. Whether the ultimate result is the law getting repealed or modified, change is necessary to have a viable and vibrant health insurance industry that drives cost reduction and improved customer service.

The fundamental reason the ACA will fail is because it mandates a minimum Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). MLR is the percentage of premiums paid out to cover health care expenses. When this law came into effect, many American’s thought mandating MLR was good because it guaranteed a minimum level insurance companies would pay to cover health care costs. However, the unintended consequences are having the opposite effect.

The problems associated with mandating MLR are two-fold: 1) incentivizing the insurance industry to become less efficient; 2) contributing to the elimination of new insurers entering the market and increasing the level of competition.

I find this observation pretty ironic:

Health care costs increasing at more than two times the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index is a problem the U.S. has suffered for decades. The ACA clearly did not cause this problem, however, the problem will worsen under any law that mandates MLR. The solution lies in pricing and cost transparency, encouraging competition and rewarding efficiency.

Ironic because many of us have been screaming about this for decades and the PPACA was structured as it was under the false assumption that covering more people would reduce costs. I also think that his solution is a phantasm. I think that effective solutions require providers to produce more health rather than incentivizing them to produce more care.


Siegel’s Climate Change Bullet Points

I mostly agree with David Siegel’s observations about climate change at RealClearPolitics. Here are his bullet points:

  1. Weather is not climate.
  2. Natural variation in weather and climate is tremendous.
  3. There is tremendous uncertainty as to how the climate really works.
  4. New research shows fluctuations in energy from the sun correlate very strongly with changes in earth’s temperature, better than CO2 levels.
  5. CO2 has very little to do with it.
  6. There is no such thing as “carbon pollution.”
  7. Sea level will probably continue to rise — but not quickly, and not much.
  8. The Arctic experiences natural variation as well, with some years warmer earlier than others.
  9. No one has demonstrated any unnatural damage to reef or marine systems.
  10. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others are pursuing a political agenda and a PR campaign, not scientific inquiry.


  • Global warming is real.
  • Freak storms are going to cause a lot of damage.
  • Most of the doom and gloom stories are predictions based on wrong assumptions.
  • All the decarbonization we can do won’t change the temperature much.
  • Geo-engineering only makes sense if you are a true believer.
  • We have much bigger real problems to pay attention to.
  • Alternative energy solutions should evolve naturally, without subsidies.
  • We shouldn’t penalize developing nations who burn fossil fuels.
  • Nuclear is the future power source.

from which he concludes we should do nothing whatever to “decarbonize” which is where he and I part company. For geopolitical and reasons of prudent stewardship of resources if for no other reasons we should end our subsidies for consuming fossil fuels. Those take thousands of different forms including the full court press for “infrastructure improvement” (defined as roads and bridges). There are other kinds of infrastructure projects that don’t subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels. Tackle those first.


When I Am in Rome I Fast

Here’s an interesting test case. According to this story, Youssif Z. Omar, a native of Libya, physically dragged his 14 year old niece, from a Columbia, Missouri high school on the grounds that she was not wearing a hijab.

My take: that is not our custom. If the facts are as reported and he is not a U. S. citizen, his visa should be cancelled (regardless of its nature) and that should be handled administratively to the greatest degree possible. I’m afraid that would run into 14th Amendment issues but it’s my opinion.

He’s clearly a guy who doesn’t care to comport himself according to the rules of his host country. I’m against banning the wearing of hijabs but I can see the argument for doing so which involves guys like this.


Fighting Terrorism Without Fighting

If this article at The Diplomat is to be credited, the way the Chinese plan to reconcile their non-interventionist policies without their pledge to fight terrorism doesn’t actually involve any fighting:

A recent Xinhua piece outlined China’s vision for how to fight terrorism in Africa, and it had nothing to do with military operations against groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and al-Mourabitoun (which claimed responsibility for the November 20 hotel attack in Mali). Instead the piece focused on supporting the affected states to fight their own battles against extremists, by providing “technological aid and intelligence sharing.” Xinhua also argued that, by arming rebels around the world, the West has made terrorist groups stronger, rather than weakening them.

In this light, China sees its economic outreach to Africa (and the Middle East) as steps forward in the fight against terrorism – ways to tackle terrorism at the root by eliminating poverty and providing employment for those who might otherwise be drawn to extremist groups.

Of course, China’s understanding of the “root causes” of terrorism can be called into question based on its actions in Xinjiang province, where heavy-handed security measures may actually be backfiring and increasing terrorist activity. China seems to cling to the belief that economic development can cure all ills, whether in Xinjiang, Mali, or Afghanistan — despite evidence to the contrary in China’s own far-western province. Still, Western military efforts haven’t proved much more successful either.

Maslow’s hammer. It explains both our eagerness to use military force and China’s reluctance.


What the Kurds Will Do

There’s an interesting article at War on the Rocks on the takeaways from the campaign to retake Sinjar. Here’s the critical passage, at least from my standpoint:

The Kurds’ priority in this campaign is not to expel ISIL. Rather, it is to remain strategically significant, consolidate control over territories and resources, and maintain long-term coalition support to help protect their expanded borders. These nationalist priorities mean that capturing Sinjar will not necessarily embolden the Kurds to expel ISIL outside areas they consider Kurdish, at least not without Sunni Arabs taking the lead. Washington should recognize these limitations and also focus on the Sunni Arab local partners that can and should liberate ISIL strongholds, in coordination with the Iraqi government.

The Kurds will fight for Kurdistan but not for Iraq. The Iraqis have shown little desire to fight for Iraq. If they won’t, who will and, more importantly, why should we? To what end?

There are other ways to mitigate the risks posed by terrorism than fighting other people wars for them and I’ve suggested some. The greatest obstacle we face in mitigating the risks is that we won’t acknowledge that our notional allies are actually the greatest supporters of terrorism.


The Best Laid Plans

I think there’s something Martin Feldstein is missing in his remarks on China’s 13th Five Year Plan. When he writes:

Finally, and perhaps most important, the population of working-age individuals is no longer growing, a result of the 35-year-long policy of restricting most families to no more than one child. Although the government recently replaced the one-child limit with a two-child limit, it will be nearly two decades before that change can increase the size of the working-age population. Until then, increasing the growth rate of the effective labor force requires shifting workers from low-productivity employment in agriculture to the urban labor force.

The Chinese government is therefore considering several policies to increase the pace of urbanization, including the creation of several new large cities to accommodate some of the 600 million individuals who still live in rural China. Similarly, the government will phase out the hukou system of residency permits that now prevents migrants to the cities from obtaining full health care and education benefits.

Here’s the problem. China’s agricultural productivity has been decreasing for the last decade. China has followed the same path that the Soviets did. As Dr. Feldstein put it “shifting workers from low-productivity employment in agriculture to the urban labor force”. China did a better job of it because for two decades (1985-2005) they were able to reduce the rural labor force and increase agricultural productivity at the same time. Since then they haven’t. Unless they can increase productivity, further reducing agricultural labor will result in China producing less food. They have polluted their soil, water, and air to the extent that IMO that’s unlikely to happen.

Which is why they’ve been leasing farmland, e.g. in Ukraine and in Africa. That’s their strategy for maintaining their food self-sufficiency policy in the face of declining agricultural productivity.

There’s something to be concerned about: that the Chinese will use the same poor practices that has injured their own land elsewhere.


The Second Variety

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Thiel remarks:

What’s especially strange about the failed push for renewables is that we already had a practical plan back in the 1960s to become fully carbon-free without any need of wind or solar: nuclear power. But after years of cost overruns, technical challenges and the bizarre coincidence of an accident at Three Mile Island and the 1979 release of the Hollywood horror movie “The China Syndrome,” about a hundred proposed reactors were canceled. If we had kept building, our power grid could have been carbon-free years ago.

Instead, we went in reverse. In 1984, Ohio’s nearly finished William H. Zimmer nuclear plant was abruptly converted into a coal-burning facility: a microcosm of the country’s lurch back toward carbon.


The single most important action we can take is thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time. If we are serious about replacing fossil fuels, we are going to need nuclear power, so the choice is stark: We can keep on merely talking about a carbon-free world, or we can go ahead and create one.

Now he tells us. I was saying that forty years ago.

There are two sorts of environmentalists: practical environmentalists who genuinely want to solve the problems caused by our growing need for energy and romantics among whom there is a strong Luddite streak. The latter group are not merely unhappy with technology for producing the problem, they don’t want to use technology to solve it, either. Hence the emphasis on conservation by the poor, a plan which can only succeed if the poor produce enough carbon to make a difference, something of which I’m skeptical.

As I’ve pointed out before, I am not a global warming skeptic. More of an agnostic. I am, however, a global warming remediation plans skeptic. I have yet to see a plan proposed by anybody that will actually solve the problem it is claimed is before us. Show me your plan so I can evaluate it.


Claims and Counter-Claims

A dizzying array of claims and counter-claims are being made about Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Su-24 bomber. CNN reports that Turkey is repeating its claim that the Russians violated Turkish airspace and the Russian aircraft was shot down in self-defense, along with a somewhat bizarre expansion:

Erdogan said Friday that Turkey didn’t initially know the nationality of the warplane shot down.

“Turkey did not shoot down Russian plane on purpose. This was only an automatic reaction to a border breach. This is an exercise of the rules of engagement. The nationality of these planes who are flying towards our border were unknown despite the warnings,” Erdogan said. “It is impossible to know this at that time.”

The Russians for their part have made some interesting counter-claims, as explained in this post at zerohedge. Summarizing the Russians’ claims:

  1. The Russian aircraft received no warning of any kind prior to being shot down.
  2. The Russians had given their flight plan to the Americans well in advance.
  3. Russian radar monitoring data suggest that the Turkish fighter must have set out to intercept the Russian plan before it was visible on Turkish radar.
  4. Consequently, the most likely scenario is that the Turks ambushed the Russian plane with the assistance of information provided by the Americans.
  5. The Russian plane was returning from the border when it was attacked by the Turks and therefore did not constitute a threat.
  6. Which means that the Turks committed a war crime.
  7. That the shooting down of the plane was videoed from the ground suggests preparation.
  8. That the recovery of the pilot’s body by terrorist forces on the ground was videoed also suggests preparation.

I think what we really need now is some U. S. satellite imaging or radar monitoring data that confirms the Turks’ side of the story. Absent that the preponderance of the evidence suggests the Russians are right.

What if the Russians are right?


Swiss Vote “No Burqas”

I’ve mentioned before that Switzerland has as close to a direct democracy as any modern country. Any law of any magnitude is turned over to the people to be approved or rejected by direct popular vote. In Switzerland the people have spoken and they’ve said “No” to burqas. From The Express:

Muslim women can no longer wear the full-body garment in shops, restaurants or public buildings and anyone caught flouting the ban could be struck with a £6,500 fine.

The local government of Ticino approved the referendum after the Swiss Parliament ruled that the ban did not violate the country’s federal law.

Two in three voters in the canton backed the move in an overwhelming result for a referendum, in the wake of heightened terrorist alerts across Europe.

The law which MPs voted for only applies to veils which covers the body from head to foot worn by the 40,000 Muslim women in Switzerland and also applies to all tourists visiting the area.

I have what I fear is a very unpopular opinion. I think that the citizens of a country have total authority within the constraints of prior law to control what is or is not acceptable behavior within its borders. In effect, what it means to be Swiss. The Swiss have decided that burqas are unacceptable in Switzerland.

My prediction is that this will not be the last similar law in the ethnic states of Europe.


Fighting Terrorists

I wanted to remark on a particularly astute comment left by one of my regular commenters. My remarks were inspired by this section:

There are groups of people who want to foist their agenda and ideology on others, but instead of doing it peacefully or violently against the primary targets, they use violence against unrelated targets – terrorist tactics.

and this:

As far as fighting the Islamist terrorist organisations using tanks and artillery, good luck. You can fight the conventional military branch of the organization, and you may defeat it. That leaves the remaining organizations without military branches free to do what they want to do, but I am sure it feels good.

Some nostalgic people wish we could fight the terrorists with the tactics that were effective during World War II against the Germans and the Japanese. We can’t. Contrary to the war movies you might have seen, during World War II the important campaigns were not the big set piece battles but the campaigns against the enemies’ productive capacity and civilian morale. What became clear during the Viet Nam War was that we were no longer willing to wage wars against civilian morale but the enemy was quite capable of waging war against ours, hence “asymmetrical warfare”.

The terrorists don’t have much productive capacity to speak of. They’re less an army as we understand such things than bandits. If they’re successful in their objectives, tens or hundreds of millions of their subjects will die, simply because they can’t be supported under the form of society and economy they want to impose.

They capture the munitions they use or the resources they sell to buy munitions. Consequently, they aren’t dependent on the morale of the people in the territories they control. Honestly, I don’t think they give a damn about their morale.

Objectively, we could fight a war of extermination against them if we were willing to kill terrorists and civilians alike. Alternatively, we can just let them have their way within the borders of the countries who won’t or can’t put them down and otherwise have no commerce with them other than under very constrained conditions. By “no commerce” I mean no trade, no communications, no seats in the UN, no travel other than within designated “trade towns”.

Since I don’t think we’re willing to wage a war of extermination or quarantine them, I think that the greatest likelihood is that we’ll just put up with the situation. Given the degree of personal empowerment in the modern world, that means we’ll put up with hundreds or thousands of deaths at the hands of terrorists every year and deteriorating conditions of security and freedom within our own borders.

However, our leaders will feel good about their high-mindedness.