Never Tell Me the Odds!

At Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi scoffs at the pundits who say that Bernie Sanders is out of the running for the Democratic presidential nomination:

These stories are not based on anything. They’re space-filling guesses usually grounded in some grumbling personal complaint the outlet or pundit in question has about whatever politician they’re trashing.

It’s an annoying and condescending kind of campaign reportage. What makes it particularly ridiculous is that a lot of the people doing it were part of an epic face plant on the horse race front four years ago.

The across-the-board failed prognostications of last election season were a thing to behold. They constituted one of the larger industry-wide failures in a journalism business that has seen a few of them since the Iraq fiasco. Literally every major news outlet called the 2016 election wrong.

He has a point. Many of the pundits got 2016 wrong but the polls and more serious analysts actually got it largely right. Anything can happen, I suppose, but I do not believe that Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee for president for one, simple reason. Everything we know about the process and the individuals who govern the process tells us that it’s rigged. Not only is it rigged but it’s rigged in a manner specifically tailored to prevent Sanders or a candidate like him from winning.

I think that Sanders will get some delegates. He may even win the plurality of delegates in some states. But he will also not win any delegates in many states because he won’t get 15% of the vote. As of this writing the only candidate positioned to win enough delegates is Joe Biden.

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Things To Come

I’m putting together an anthology post covering a lot of the issues of the day and digesting the information into tabular form. Topics will include abortion, health care, and trade and will examine the extreme views on the issues with some attention paid to what is done in other countries. As it turns out when people say “we just want what the Europeans have”, it ain’t necessarily so.

I’m accepting suggestions for topics to include in my table.


A Cure for Hardening of the Arteries?

Have you ever wondered what causes hardening of the arteries? Some researchers at the University of Cambridge think they’ve figured it out and have identified a way to cure it, a commonly-prescribed antibiotic that’s been around for nearly 60 years. The antibiotic itself is not without serious side effects so I expect we’ll see more research on it.

I found that the article made interesting reading.

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What Do Physicians Think?

I found this item at the Chicago Tribune by Lisa Schenker on the views of the American Medical Association on “Medicare For All” somewhat misleading:

Doctors gathered in Chicago for the American Medical Association’s annual meeting this week are increasingly finding themselves at the uncomfortable center of a national debate over “Medicare for All.”

A group of doctors, nurses and medical students protested the meeting, criticizing the association’s opposition to Medicare for All — the idea of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. And on Monday, the doctors at the meeting heard a speech by Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a Trump appointee who devoted a chunk of her talk to what she sees as problems with the proposal.

She told the audience, to applause, that Medicare for All would lead to higher taxes, lower payments for doctors and rationing of health care, among other things.

“We are deeply committed to helping those who need it, but while doing that, we must put the patients and their doctors in the driver’s seat to make decisions about their care, not the government,” Verma said.

So far the AMA has stood by its opposition to Medicare for All, also sometimes referred to as a single-payer system, even as it’s become a hot topic ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled a bill earlier this year to move to a single-payer health care system. About 56 percent of Americans surveyed earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would favor all Americans getting their insurance from a single government plan.

I think it’s factually accurate but doesn’t really put the matter into perspective. Opposition to health care reform from the AMA in the 1960s almost prevented Medicare and Medicaid from being enacted. Opposition to reform by the AMA in the 1990s sunk the Clinton Administration’s attempt to reform health care as well. The Obama Administration succeeded in getting the Affordable Care Act passed, not the least reason being the payments to physicians written into the act. Paying for reform was instrumental in getting Medicaid passed in 1965, too.

But the AMA is not the powerhouse it was. In the 1950s 75% of physicians belonged to the organization; now 25% do. Ironically, the number of members has not changed a great deal. What has changed is the total number of physicians. In 1960 nearly all U. S. physicians were born and trained in the U. S. Now many are what are called “internationally trained physicians”, many from South Asia.

The other source of the AMA’s power is its custodianship of the Physician Specialty Codes and that it is relied on heavily by the Medicare system to determine the relative value of different procedures. You didn’t think those were determined solely by the federal government or the workings of the market, did you?

I would speculate that physicians are divided on M4A and will remain so. The devil will, of course, be in the details. A version of the plan which cuts reimbursement rates to the Medicare reimbursement rate will probably meet with greater opposition than one that doesn’t but I don’t believe any projection that has shown savings from M4A has ever assumed that reimbursement rates would be left alone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t some internecine warfare among different medical specialties as specialists seek to preserve their proportionally higher reimbursement rates, one of the factors that distinguishes the U. S. health care system from European systems.


The Most Dangerous Game

You know, they say there’s nothing more dangerous than a cornered rat but I can’t help but think that when each of the opposing sides both think they’re winning it’s even more dangerous.


Paranoia Strikes Deep

I was going to link to an excellent backgrounder at on how China captured the rare earths market. The article is highly critical of China for its methods and the U. S. for becoming dependent on China for strategic materials. The article doesn’t articulate it this way but we’re very much in the position that Germany or Japan was in with respect to oil in the 1930s. From a strategic standpoint Germany had to invade the Soviet Union and Japan had to invade Malaysia. Fortunately, we don’t need to invade anybody to correct our position we just need to get our priorities in order and the article makes some fine, practical suggestions for doing that.

Unfortunately, the site is down. Funny, that.

I’ll link to it if and when it comes back up again.


What Presidents Actually Do

In the second piece at The Atlantic Peter Beinart is concerned that the Democratic presidential candidates are essentially standing mute on the subject of China:

Trump and Xi Jinping may be leading the world into an era in which money, goods, information, and people flow less freely across national borders than they have for the past quarter century. The headline of a recent op-ed by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer calls this “The End of the World as We Know It.”

How do the major Democratic presidential candidates feel about this potentially epic shift? We don’t really know. They rarely bring it up on their own. Bernie Sanders says nothing about China on his website. Neither do Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, or Kirsten Gillibrand. All Joe Biden says about China on his website is that it’s “rising.” On hers, Amy Klobuchar pledges to “invest in diplomacy and rebuild the State Department and modernize our military to stay one step ahead of China.” Kamala Harris’s website says the United States should “work in lockstep with our partners” to confront “China’s unfair trade practices.” That’s about as substantive as it gets.

The reason they don’t talk about it is obvious—Democratic voters aren’t interested in it:

To be fair, presidential candidates tend to talk about what voters want them to talk about. And despite Trump’s trade war, Democratic voters are most concerned about health care, education, the environment, and abortion.

The office of the presidency has essentially four responsibilities: chief diplomat, command in chief of the military, managing director of the federal government, and signing bills into law. Democratic voters are primarily interested in that last role, an effective trompe-l’œil on the part of the Congress and the media. It is the least important role of the president, the area in which he or, potentially, she is least powerful. The reason for Congressional inaction isn’t mostly the president. It’s bitter factionalization and that the Congress likes it that way.

I was dissatisfied with Donald Trump’s filling of all of the roles of president including as diplomat in chief. So far I think he’s been pursuing the right goals but the results aren’t in yet. Maybe his maximalist, threaten and bluster approach will work. The Democrats need to take stands. It isn’t enough just to do everything the opposite of what your predecessor did.


Don’t Believe What They Say

I’ve run across two articles at The Atlantic that I wanted to bring to your attention. In the first Nick Hanauer confesses that the scales have fallen from his eyes and he no longer believes that education is the solution to all of the United States’s social problems:

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

There is no amount of spending on education that will make up for those deficits. If your objective, like Mr. Hanauer’s is a more equal society, you should adopt strategies that will result in achieving that. Without making this post booklength let me sugggest two of the most important steps in doing that.

This is the kernel of the piece:

The job categories that are growing fastest, moreover, don’t generally require a college diploma, let alone a STEM degree. According to federal estimates, four of the five occupational categories projected to add the most jobs to the economy over the next five years are among the lowest-paying jobs: “food preparation and serving” ($19,130 in average annual earnings), “personal care and service” ($21,260), “sales and related” ($25,360), and “health-care support” ($26,440). And while the number of jobs that require a postsecondary education is expected to increase slightly faster than the number that don’t, the latter group is expected to dominate the job market for decades to come. In October 2018 there were 1 million more job openings than job seekers in the U.S.

First, remember the rule of holes: when you’re in a hole stop digging. If you have a strategy for a more equal society that can level the society (other than by pushing everyone else down) while as high a percent of the people here have an inadequate command of the English language, have not graduated from high school or the equivalent, and do not have skills that can command a middle class wage as is presently the case, propose it. I would submit that there is none. We must limit the number of self-selected immigrants coming into this country which means changing our immigration laws to a skills-based system and enforcing the border.

Second, keep substitution in mind. In 1830 you and your family could survive with a strong back, the willingness to work, a mule, and a plow. You still can but it won’t support a middle class lifestyle and very few people aspire to that—I would speculate a number approaching zero.

Nowadays a bank can have people with only minimal skills sort their checks or they can invest in automation and the people to run the machines. That’s true in practically every sector of the economy. Jobs can be performed by workers with low skills for which they will receive low wages or they can be performed by fewer workers with higher skills who will be paid more.

The most respected study of the effect of immigrants on wages acknowledged that immigrants compete with the lowest-paid workers, pushing their wages down, but it did not address the issue of substitution at all. The consequence of an endless supply of workers willing to work for minimum or sub-minimum wage is that companies align their workforces accordingly.

Practically speaking, the objective of those who don’t want to control our borders or adopt a skills-based immigration system is a sharply divided class society based on race. Don’t believe them if they say otherwise. They are either fools or knaves.

The second but related thing is that we need to devote more attention and resources to the most basic responsibility of government. Education and health care are very nice things. Preserving order in our cities and enforcing the laws are essential.


At Our Expense

At RealClearPolitics Frank Miele complains that Congress’s powers have been stretched beyond anything actually found in the Constitution:

the Constitution does not make clear anything about oversight responsibility. The theory of oversight responsibility in entirely the creation of the judicial branch and is not found anywhere within the four corners of the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution spells out the affirmative powers of Congress, mostly in rather restrictive, finite terms. Congress can borrow money. Congress can establish Post Offices. Congress can punish piracy. Congress can declare war. That sort of stuff. Nothing remotely close to oversight.

That’s because oversight is a so-called “implied” power — not to be confused with an “imaginary” power. It derives, we are told, from the “necessary and proper” clause included at the end of Article I, Section 8. That is also called the “elastic clause” because it has been stretched every which way to expand the power of Congress beyond recognition. Here is the full foundation on which the “oversight powers” of Congress rests:

“To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Search as you will through the “foregoing powers,” however, you will not find any reference to anything remotely like oversight of the executive branch. As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no reference to the executive branch or the president in any of the preceding 17 clauses. Therefore, it cannot be “necessary and proper” for Congress to exercise oversight, nor ultimately does the power “to make all laws” needed to enforce congressional authority have any relevance to the desire of Congress to investigate the president’s private life and business.

and that’s true. Congress’s powers have been stretched beyond anything recognizable. So have presidential powers. The power to declare war does not belong to the president but to the Congress. Additionally, most federal “laws” aren’t laws at all but regulations decided on by executive branch departments. Congress has, unconstitutionally some might say, delegated those powers to the executive branch.

The judicial branch, too, has arrogated powers to itself that the Constitution does not bestow on it. Examples of that include reviews of state laws to determine Constitutionality and extending the Court’s power to areas beyond the federal government’s enumerated powers, areas which have been controversial since the Court rendered its decisions.

Where is all of this power coming from? The answer, uncomfortable as it may be, is that centralized power comes at the expense of state power and individual freedoms. Basically, it’s at our expense.


Driving Under the Influence of Chicken Wings

Okay, a 16 year old kid is pulled over in Manitoba for driving 170km/h in a 100km/h zone. His excuse? Chicken wings:

Offhand I suspect he was probably worse off after having gone to the bathroom. The grand in fines probably didn’t help, either.