Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Checkmate", say's Vlad

Beautifully written, balanced argument via The most balanced and realistic version of what's actually going on in Georgia and South Ossetia anywhere on the internet.


Russia has been biding its time, but its victory in Georgia has been brutal - and brilliant

The cartoon images have shown Russia as an angry bear, stretching out a claw to maul Georgia. Russia is certainly angry, and, like a beast provoked, has bared its teeth. But it is the wrong stereotype. What the world has seen last week is a brilliant and brutal display of Russia's national game, chess. And Moscow has just declared checkmate.

Chess is a slow game. One has to be ready to ignore provocations, lose a few pawns and turn the hubris of others into their own entrapment. For years there has been rising resentment within Russia. Some of this is inevitable: the loss of empire, a burning sense of grievance and the fear that in the 1990s, amid domestic chaos and economic collapse, Russia's views no longer mattered.

A generalised resentment, similar to the sour undercurrents of Weimar Germany, began to focus on specific issues: the nonchalance of the Clinton Administration about Russian sensitivities, especially over the Balkans and in opening Nato's door to former Warsaw Pact members; the neo-conservative agenda of the early Bush years that saw no role for Russia in its global agenda; and Washington's ingratitude after 9/11 for vital Kremlin support over terrorism, Afghanistan and intelligence on extremism.

More infuriating was Western encouragement of “freedom” in the former Soviet satellite states that gave carte blanche to forces long hostile to Russia. In the Baltic states, Soviet occupation could be portrayed as worse than the Nazis. EU commissioners from new member states could target Russian policies. Populists in Eastern Europe could ride to power on anti-Russian rhetoric emboldened by Western applause for their fluency in English.

Nowhere was such taunting more wounding than in Ukraine and Georgia, two countries long part of the Russian Empire, whose history, religion and culture were so intertwined with Russia's. Moscow tried, disastrously, to check Western, and particularly American, influence in Ukraine. The clumsy meddling led to the Orange Revolution.

Georgia was a different matter. Relations were always mercurial, but Eduard Shevardnadze, the wily former Soviet Foreign Minister, knew how to keep atavistic animosities in check. Not so his brash successor, Mikheil Saakashvili. From then on, hubris was Tbilisi's undoing.

It was not simply the dismissive rhetoric, the open door to US advisers or the economic illiteracy in forgetting dependence on Russian energy and remittance from across the border; it was the determined attempt to make Georgia a US regional ally and outpost of US influence.

Big powers do not like other big powers poaching. This may not be moral or fair but it is reality, and one that underpins the Security Council veto. The Monroe Doctrine - “hands off the Americas” - has been policy in Washington for 200 years. The US is ready to risk war to keep out not only other powers but hostile ideologies - in Cuba and Nicaragua.

Vladimir Putin lost several pawns on the chessboard - Kosovo, Iraq, Nato membership for the Baltic states, US renunciation of the ABM treaty, US missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. But he waited.

The trap was set in Georgia. When President Saakashvili blundered into South Ossetia, sending in an army to shell, kill and maim on a vicious scale (against US advice and his promised word), Russia was waiting.

It was not only Mr Saakashvili who thought that he had the distraction of the Olympics to cover him; the Kremlin also knew that Mr Bush was watching basketball, and, in the longer term, that the US army was fully engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the day that the Russian tank brigade raced through the tunnel into South Ossetia, Russia has not made one wrong move. Mr Bush's remarks yesterday notwithstanding, In five days it turned an overreaching blunder by a Western-backed opponent into a devastating exposure of Western impotence, dithering and double standards on respecting national sovereignty (viz Iraq).

The attack was short, sharp and deadly - enough to send the Georgians fleeing in humiliating panic, their rout captured by global television. The destruction was enough to hurt, but not so much that the world would be roused in fury. The timing of the ceasefire was precise: just hours before President Sarkozy could voice Western anger. Moscow made clear that it retained the initiative. And despite sporadic breaches - on both sides - Russia has blunted Georgian charges that this is a war of annihilation.

Moscow can also counter Georgian PR, the last weapon left to Tbilisi. Human rights? Look at what Georgia has done in South Ossetia (and also in Abkhazia). National sovereignty? Look at the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia. False pretexts? Look at Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada to “rescue” US medical students. Western outrage? Look at the confused cacophony.

There are lessons everywhere. To the former Soviet republics - remember your geography. To Nato - do you still want to incorporate Caucasian vendettas into your alliance? To Tbilisi - do you want to keep a President who brought this on you? To Washington - does Russia's voice still count for nothing? Like it or not, it counts for a lot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You Go, Russia!

As the only American who truly believes the Russian Federation has been wholly justified in its intervention in Georgia over the course of the past few days, it appears I am also the only one who has not taken the reporting of the media hook, line and sinker. I do this thing, usually on the internet - I read. To those who think that the big bad Soviet Empire is once again rearing its evil head to challenge the benevolent world hegemony of the United States, this post is for you.

Russia is completely justified in their actions in Georgia because they were attacked. It is as simple as that. Here's a brief, layman's history of the conflict in Georgia

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1990s, Georgia became its own independent nation. The Russian Federation, in an explicit deal with the United States, agreed to respect the national sovereignty of the states formerly within its sphere of influence, as long as the U.S. and NATO did not attempt to influence these states.

In 1992, the predominantly-Russian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (who's North Ossetia counterpart is part of greater Russia) passed referendum to secede from Georgia and rejoin their Russian bretheren. This referendum was wholly unrecognized by the international community, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia became autonomous regions of Georgia, though technically still within its borders.

With tensions flaring throughout the '90s, a joint peacekeeping effort was set up between South Ossetia, Georgia, and Russia, where all three stationed peacekeeping troops in an attempt to maintain a balance that would enable the stability of the entire region.

Flash foward to the 21st century - NATO membership has been all but promised to Georgia, millions of dollars worth of aid has been siphoned its way, and Georgia has become an active member of the "Coalition of the Willing" by stationing a few thousand troops in Iraq. The United States' promise to Russia, to keep its fingers out of its former sphere of influence, had been broken.

Last week, in response to South Ossetian separatist actions, the Georgian military, using rockets provided to it by the United States, launched indiscriminate missile attacks upon the capital of South Ossetia, killing, amongst many others, ten Russian peacekeepers.

Let us now discuss a hypothetical. A resurgence, against promised actions, of Russian training and arming of the Cuban military, followed by the Cuban army, using rocket launchers provided by Russian, killing ten American peacekeepers stationed...somewhere. Ten dead Americans at the hands of Russian rockets launched by the Cuban military. Our tanks would have rolled into Havana within 48 hours.

Yet the United States has reacted with moral indignation to the actions of Russia, hypocritically claiming that it had violated the national sovereignty of its tiny neighbor. While it is true that without a doubt Russia is pursuing other interests, namely energy interests, in its conflict with Georgia, the base issue here is that the Georgians started a war, hoping for U.S. intervention on their side, and the Russians ended it. The Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, should be thankful that Putin and Medvedev let him remain in office and didn't wipe Tbilisi off the face of the Earth.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Arnold: Kicking Ass and Taking Names

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in efforts to fight the state's estimated $15bn budget deficit, announced today the firings of 22,000 state employees and pay cuts for a further 200,000. Democrats are livid, but the simple fact of the matter is that Schwarzenegger, faced with a seemingly insurmountable budget deficit, did what was necessary to take a major step towards balancing the state's budget.

California is currently in a dire state of affairs, and these cuts will save it $100m a month, or roughly $1.2bn of the $15bn budget shortfall. After signing the order cutting jobs and pay for state employees, Schwarzenegger was quoted saying something I, after seeing his support for the morally/intellectually bankrupt Republican presidential candidates, would have never thought could possibly come from his mouth. He said,

"Today I am exercising my executive authority to avoid a full-blown crisis and keep our state moving forward." ... "This is not an action I take lightly but we do have a budget and, as governor, I have a responsibility to make sure our state has enough money to pay its bills."

Brilliance. Sheer brilliance. True, fiscal responsibility. Unlike the federal government, the State of California lacks the ability to simply print more money to pay its bills. The three presented options for Schwarzenegger to consider, therefore, were a.) borrow against California's future, and the futures of its children, b.) raise taxes, thereby exacerbating the economic woes that created the budget deficit in the first place, or c.) make a tough, surely unpopular political decision that is in the state's best long-term interests. Schwarzenegger has made the correct choice.

When presented with a severe budgetary crisis, the first reaction of any executive should be to take the steps necessary to cut as much of the massive, inefficient bureaucracy as possible. Yes, 22,000 people will lose their jobs, and 200,000 more will take a substantial pay cut, but compared to the other choices, namely raising taxes, the economic hit the state takes due to this action will be negligible.

The simple fact of the matter is that the public sector in California, or anywhere, produces nothing. This is a truism that spans all governments wherein the means of production exist within the sphere of the private sector. By cutting 22,000 jobs instead of raising taxes or borrowing against the state's future, Schwarzenegger has chosen to subject Californians to longer DMV lines over economy stifling taxation. The state will (easily) survive the loss of 22,000 bureaucrats.

Governor Schwarzenegger undoubtedly has more tough choices ahead of him in his attempts to make up the additional $13.8bn budget shortfall, but his willingness to make tough choices such as thing one should give a prelude to his future actions to ensure California's fiscal solvency. His ability to make the correct choice despite its political ramifications should give heart to all Californians worried about the future of their great state.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We don't need any more oil! Just inflate your tires!!

The title of this post speaks for itself. It is flabbergasting to me that this man is a major party nominee, though after Carter, Dukakis, Dole, Gore, Kerry, and W., I guess its just more of the same.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thanks Matt Drudge, for bringing this wonderful gem to all our attention

Obama the Prophet~

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bureaucracy makes me pull my hair out

About a year ago, a friend of mine left his broken-down, piece of garbage 1991 Bronco on the street outside my house. Two months later, it was still there. Another month passed, and one day, walking home from class, I noticed that the City of Corvallis, Oregon had placed a notice on the street. It read something like this:

"This street will be undergoing maintenance from (date) to (date) and no parking shall be allowed here for the duration of this work."

So I pulled out my phone, and I called my friend, who drove to town immediately and moved his vehicle. I thought to myself, "cool, you can leave your car on the street here for months on end, and nothing bad will happen to it."

Flash forward to on or around July 1, 2008. Having graduated with my BA in political science from Oregon State, the time came for me to say goodbye to Corvallis. The final day of my lease was June 30th, and my run down truck that I had intended to sell for scrap metal still sat in the driveway at my rented house. Knowing full-well that my lease was up, I, through considerable effort, managed to push my broken down truck with three flat tires into the street and "parked" it legally on the side of the street. Three weeks have now passed. I have had numerous phone calls from people interested in the vehicle, but all have been lowballs and I have been unable to make a special trip back to Corvallis in order to sell my truck.

Last Friday, I received a call from my previous landlord to tell me that my truck had been tagged for impound. Apparently, the City of Corvallis municipal code states that no vehicle can remain parked in the same spot for more than 48 hours at a time, and that violators were subject to impounding. I am currently more than an hour away, and am unable to make the trip down to Corvallis to meet someone to sell my vehicle, so I figured I would do the next best thing - call the City of Corvallis, attempt to negotiate some sort of extension, where I would have another week or so until I can make my final trip to Corvallis to assist my girlfriend in moving the last of her stuff out of her apartment, and sell my truck.

Unfortunately for me, the City of Corvallis' Parking Enforcement Bureau is a state-run agency. This means that it is apparently impossible to get a phone call answered or even returned during normal business hours. It doesn't matter that were I to drive to Corvallis, put my truck into neutral, and push it forward twenty feet, it wouldn't be impounded. Nor does it matter that my friend's Bronco was parked in the very same spot for three months without any trouble. My truck has been tagged for impound and I can do NOTHING about it, save spending a considerable amount of money and time to drive the eighty-odd miles to push my truck into a new parking spot. But wait, I can't intelligently do even this, seeing as how everyone I know in Corvallis has left for the summer, my landlord has gone back home to Arizona, and Parking Enforcement won't even answer my phone call to tell me if, indeed, my truck has even been towed yet.

Stupid government regulations enforced by lazy, worthless state employees cost everyday Americans like myself billions of dollars annually. My truck, worth about $500, has probably already been impounded, which carries with it a fee probably close enough to that figure that, adding the gas expense and the time involved with driving to deal with the problem, I'd likely barely break even.

How much better would this situation be if the City of Corvallis Parking Enforcement Bureau was a privately-owned service? Much.

Firstly, I'd be able to get my phone calls answered, or even *gasp* returned because a private service on contract with the city would be held liable for the way it treats its customers (citizens) and poor treatment of these customers would result in the loss of the service contract.

Secondly, were I able to get in touch with Parking Enforcement through this high tech device known as "the telephone", it is likely that a privately owned parking enforcement service would be likely to grant case-by-case exemptions from the 48-hour parking limit, once again a beneficial side-effect of a city service wherein customer service actually matters.

Thirdly, due to the profit motivations of a private entity, residents of Corvallis, also known as tax-payers, would be able to enjoy the services of high quality parking enforcement at a far lesser cost.

Now, as I do in every argument I make, I am searching my brain for a counter-argument to my position. In what ways are a government-run parking enforcement system preferable to one in private hands? I can think of none.

Parking enforcement is simply not in the same boat as "the judiciary". While I understand many of the arguments both for and against a government-run judiciary, my Libertarian leanings notwithstanding, I do indeed favor a state-run court system. Private institutions with the power to deprive individuals of their freedom are a scary thought, but parking enforcement isn't in the same boat. It is a service, and should it be provided by a private entity, it would be far better. One has to look no further than the average DMV branch to see precisely why government has no place providing services, even services that are a direct result of its intrusive regulation.

At this point, my only hope is that the inefficiencies in municipal government that have frustrated me to the point I was compelled to write this post will benefit me in that it will be another few weeks before the City manages to get around to impounding my vehicle.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Let's not make Martyrs out of them

Barack Obama has recently called for the execution of Osama bin Laden (should he ever be caught). John McCain, and most other Americans, likely share the same view of the issue. They are all wrong. Only through martyrdom will extremists like bin Laden live to corrupt another generation of Islamic youth. We must not make this mistake.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Re: My Fourth of July post

Just wanted to make it clear (as it apparently was not) that my Fourth of July post wasn't an anti-fireworks rant. It was, instead, merely pointing out that the actual purpose of fireworks are to simulate a war zone, and thusly every Fourth of July American's are given a slight reminder of what the revolutionaries in the War of Independence went through, and to furthermore point out that for most Americans, this thought doesn't even cross their mind. I was just hoping to remind people how nice it is that we, as Americans, only have to deal with explosions once a year, as opposed to every day, and to remind them how especially nice it is that our explosions aren't meant to kill people.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July: the one day every year in which Americans get to simulate the experience of living in a war-torn nation. On this one day, like every day in Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, much of Africa and the Middle East, Americans get to feel what its like to have the explosions and lights of perpetual warfare around them. The explosions we hear as we take part in the festivities, should they be taken out of the context of a national holiday, would be quite frightening to most Americans.

Americans, by and large, have never experienced civil strife. They have never experienced the frightening explosion of a nearby building being struck by an errant mortar. They have never had to deal with the reality of the constant sound of explosions interfering in their everyday lives.

One day a year, we put up with the loud noises of fireworks well into the night. Cities deferentially allow fireworks enthusiasts to violate noise ordinances. America becomes a war zone. A kiddie war zone.

The bright and happy national tradition of symbolically reliving the Revolutionary War once a year gives Americans a(n extremely) basic understanding of what it is like to be in a war zone.

Most fail to recognize the meaning behind the sounds of the fireworks. To them, they are the sounds of fun, of a national holiday. To me, they are the sounds I am happy to not have to hear the other 364 days a year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I didn't see this one coming!

Barack Obama has "taken a step back" in his promises to remove all American combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of him taking office. I wonder how all the mindless Obama lovers will manage to justify their continued support for the "change" candidate. How much of a change from "politics as usual" is it really when a politician says one thing during the primaries and something completely different in the general election?

Want to save the planet? Buy a used car

One of the most infuriating facets of this entire "carbon footprint" green environmentalist nonsense is when the guilty bourgeois - yuppie upper-middle class liberals with a guilty conscience and enviro-activist mindset attempting to offset years of vapid consumption - buy hybrid vehicles to "save the planet" from, essentially, themselves.

Members of this guilty bourgeois express incredulity at anyone who would be as brash and irresponsible as to drive an SUV, yet the hypocrisy of their positions is extremely hard to deny. Personal freedom be damned, the guilt-stricken believe that all carbon emissions(read: all economic activity) should be taxed heavily, and the government should become entrenched in the day-to-day lives of all Americans in the hopes of "saving the planet".

The global warming debate is still raging, despite what the IPCC and other groups would have us believe, but let us pretend for a moment that global warming is real, and it will spell doom for humanity within the next hundred years. Shouldn't the proponents of anthropogenic global warming be the ones most up to date with information on the methods in which humans can reduce their carbon footprint?

This would logically be the case, but these people are not known for their logic. These are the same people who would have had us believe in the 1970s that the world was about to reenter an ice age. These are the same people that buy hybrid vehicles in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. These people are stupid.

The construction of the average car requires 27-54 barrels of oil (1,100-2,000 gallons). Hybrids, due to their numerous high-tech subsystems, require more. By today's oil prices of $144, at least $7,776 dollars of a new automobile's purchase price pays for the energy required to make said auto. This energy comes from, guess where, oil, coal and natural gas.

The carbon footprint created by the manufacture and transport of each and every hybrid vehicle on the road, should we be concerned with such things, is huge. Anyone who purchases one should not be able to call themselves an environmentalist with a straight face. Any true environmentalist who both cares about his or her carbon footprint but also recognizes the need for personal transport in daily life should without a doubt engage in the purchase of an automobile that has already set its carbon footprint - a used car.

Many used cars, especially ones released following the oil shocks of the 1970s, get extremely good gas mileage. Many newer model used cars do as well. Yet, regardless of whether or not a hybrid gets 45 mpg as opposed to a mid-80s sedan's 33, the sedan's carbon footprint was already set when it was manufactured. In 1988. This is a no brainer: hybrids, the same as all new cars, are terrible for the environment, and anyone who drives one to save the environment is a fool.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Health Care Fiasco Follow-Up

On a bit of a more personal note, I arrived home today to see a brand new Matrix hatchback parked in my driveway. The car belongs to my roommate's girlfriend, a woman with a young child. The woman is currently on food stamps, and I have previously gotten into arguments with her over the introduction of a universal health care system in the U.S.

In short, her position is "I can't afford health care for my baby. The government should do it for me." This goes along the same reasoning as to why she accepts food stamp assistance from the state.

Yet, there in my driveway is a brand new, $20,000 automobile. She's surely paying hundreds a month for an automobile she does not need, and has the gall to say the government (read: other people) should pay for her food and health care.

This kind of an outrageous use of taxpayer money for personal enrichment is what is so infuriating about the health care debate in the United States. Yes, there are people out there who cannot provide health care insurance for themselves, but its not everybody. Most people that don't have health care insurance don't simply because the cost is very high, and other, immediate wants, control their spending habits. Things, like new cars and high definition televisions, are too hard for many to resist when confronted with the decision between health insurance and needless frills. So many of the uninsured people in the United States have no health care out of voluntary choice: the choice to buy the car outweighing the cost of health care insurance compared to the perceived chance of illness , and in the end, the 2008 Matrix in my driveway proved too enticing for my roommate's girlfriend to resist. Though she could have saved herself $30,000 by purchasing a $1200 used BMW like I did instead of paying the car's ticket price and interest on the car loan for five years, she, like many others, chose not to. She chose dependence upon the government over self-reliance. Why? Because she was allowed to by the slew of welfare-state programs that allow her to abandon responsibility for the care of her child.

Though I have never been on food stamps, Medicaid, or any other governmental welfare-state program, I have known many, many people who have, and these people have all shared a single, common bond - they didn't need the assistance they were receiving. They just wanted it.

Getting $160 worth of food stamps every month, for the people I have known accepting such assistance, has simply meant an additional $160 of monthly expendable income, which in my experience has usually been used to purchase alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, or another needless frill. While there are people who genuinely need welfare, food stamps, and government health care assistance, the vast majority of people in these programs do not, and the end result is American citizens, taxpaying individuals across the country, end up paying for the "needed" services for a group of people that don't "need" the help, in the purest sense of the word.

As someone with a pretty heavily libertarian bend, I foresee an American of the future where the tiny fraction of people who honestly cannot provide for themselves are assisted to the extent of their need through charitable donations. In lieu of enough charity in the United States to provide assistance to these people, which though I doubt would happen I certainly can admit the possibility, then even this libertarian is willing to concede that the state could be allowed to provide for these people. Yet the main gist of this post remains the same - most people receiving state assistance for food, medical care, or housing, don't actually need it. Only by removing the free giveaway of goods, services, and dollars to these people can you ever hope to encourage unwed single mothers like my roommate's girlfriend to buy some goddamn health insurance for her child instead of a shiny new car.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The United States' Health Care Fiasco

The main argument against philosophical world views supporting limited government is that they lack any semblance of compassion for those who cannot provide for themselves in the marketplace. A system of free-market capitalism is viewed by its detractors as a regulatory vacuum in which those without personal means are sheep at the perpetual whim of those with the economic power necessary to exploit the masses. It is this idea that is at the crux of Marxist philosophy, and it is this idea, though usually pursued with the most benevolent of intentions, that inevitably leads to a decrease in the individual standard of living and, more importantly, individual liberty.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated that by examining the health care fiasco that has developed in the United States since the Johnson and Nixon administrations first began to use the federal government to meddle in the nation’s health care institutions. The creation of Medicare, brought into existence under Johnson, and the passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act, signed into law under Nixon, mark the beginning of this meteoric rise in the price of health care.

Information from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows a direct correlation of an increase in per capita GDP spending on health care in the United States: it rose from $352 per capita in 1970 to $1072 in 1980; $2752 in 1990, and $5711 in 2003 – out-pacing inflation at a tremendous rate and leaving many Americans no longer able to afford even minimal levels of health care. Contrasting this rise in health care spending per capita, Denmark, which led Europe in per-capita spending increases and which had a 1970 per capita spending of $384, in the three decades since had seen its per capita spending increase to only $2743 – less than half the current per capita spending rate of the United States.

And Denmark is not alone. All the world’s other industrialized nations have seen similarly low increases in the rate of per capita health care expenditures when compared to the United States, suggesting that something is inherently wrong at the core of the U.S. health care system and that the answer is not as simple as the “universal v. free market” debate that dominates the political discussion.

That said, there is no denying the correlation between government involvement and the steep rise in the cost of health care. The simple fact remains that health care existed in the United States well before the government got involved, and it does not require nor is it assisted in any way by government regulation with the stated purpose of allowing it to function efficiently. Free of burdensome government regulations, health care in the United States would not only continue to exist, but would improve. Marketplace competition, which is non-existent as Americans are currently forbidden to purchase health insurance outside their given states, would return to the health care sector, leading to increased quality of care and decreased costs.

It is not to say, however, that all types of government involvement in the health care sector have created the catastrophic scenario Americans now face, where 17% of their gross domestic product is spent on health care. Indeed, it is the wrong kind of government involvement, done at the behest and for the benefit of private corporate interests, the pharmaceutical and insurance companies that have pushed their agendas and interests through thirty years of systematic, aggressive lobbing.

It was the HMOs, like Kaiser Permanente, founded by Edward Kaiser and the source of the above-mentioned data that pushed for the passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 which heralded the beginning of the exponential increase in American health care expenditures; it was the insurance companies that pushed for regulation that disallowed the purchase of health insurance over state lines; and it was the pharmaceutical companies that lobbied to ban imports of prescription drugs and loaded Medicare Plan B with what essentially amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars siphoned directly from the hands of the taxpayers to the pockets of shareholders.

It is these corporate fat cats, the people whom the proponents of health care regulation cite as necessitating such regulation, that profit the most from its very enactment. In giving the government the power to regulate health care, it is also given the ability to corrupt such power, and it is this corruption above all else that is responsible for the meteoric rise and ridiculous cost of health care in the United States.

Regulations, with benevolent intent or not, always benefit some individual or group of individuals. With the level of corruption in politics on the national level, where only those represented by lobbyists in D.C. having any actual influence in the political process, it is inevitable that any regulation, no matter how benevolent its intent, will eventually be corrupted into an ill-gotten payday by the clients of the many lobbying firms in Washington. By doing away with these regulations, the ability of the insurance, pharmaceutical, or any other industry to corrupt the power of their government for personal gain at the diffused cost to many is severely retarded.

Yet, for the many problems deregulating the health care sector would solve, it is met by many with critiques, the most common of which states that deregulating health care would cause the profit motivation of the free market to come into conflict with the health concerns of millions of Americans, leading to a situation where health care providers are given a monetary incentive to deny health care claims – a readily observable phenomenon in the U.S. health care system that has undeniably led to countless amounts of unnecessary death and despair.

Examine the source of this problem, however, and a different story is told. While it is true that any for-profit insurance agency or health care provider is going to attempt to maximize its profits, in a free market system (one which should not be confused with the corrupt, over-regulated system currently enjoyed by the American public) the elimination of barriers, such as the ones preventing individuals from purchasing health insurance over state lines or importing prescription drugs from Canada, will create levels of competition and consumer choice that are currently nothing but fond memories of the distant past.

While it is a given that health insurers will perpetually attempt to maximize their profits, as any private for-profit entity in the free market should, in a free-market system where the ability of an individual to choose his or her health care provider from an unlimited number of companies is maintained, competition has returned to the market and the insurance companies engaged in constant attempts at frivolous claim denial will soon find themselves with a significantly smaller market share, or none at all. At the same time, the insurance companies with a word-of-mouth track record of high quality service, low cost, and no frivolous claim denials will soon find themselves in high demand, as individual Americans are now able to choose a health care provider from anywhere in the country, and not simply within the borders of their home state. The bottom line is this: if there is a demand for an insurance provider that treats its clients well, it is a niche in that market that will inevitably be filled.

Another critique of free-market health care is that with the elimination of government health care assistance programs in a nation the size of the United States, there will always be a small number of people simply unable to provide for their own health care needs. Though this percentage of the population is nowhere near the majority of people currently reliant upon the federal government for health care, or who have no health care at all, the answer to the problem of this small is not a massive new federal bureaucracy that robs Americans of health care choice and personal freedom.

The leading reason most uninsured Americans are uninsured is that they simply cannot afford to be. Instead of creating a taxpayer funded system that will stifle our economy and permanently break a malfunctioning but ultimately fixable sector of the American economy, a better alternative is to attempt to create an environment where more people are able to provide health care for themselves, rather than simply creating a new, perpetual bureaucracy that will siphon trillions of dollars from the U.S. economy in the long term in order to create a mediocre, albeit universal, health care system.

The alternative is much more tenable. By deregulating the health care sector, the bought-and-paid-for regulations that Big Insurance and Big Pharmaceutical have used so effectively to line the pockets of their corporate executives and shareholders become a thing of the past, and true competition, which inevitably leads to greater personal choice, higher quality of health care, and lower overall costs, returns to the most wasteful and corrupt sector of the U.S. economy.

If the health care system in the United States were to become deregulated, the vast majority of uninsured Americans would once again be able to provide health care for themselves on an individual basis, instead of being in perpetual reliance upon the federal government for assistance. Furthermore, billions of dollars would be saved annually by eliminating waste from the bloated government bureaucracy currently responsible for pissing away billions of taxpayer dollars every year through Medicare, Medicaid, and the slew of unnecessary regulations in place only for the benefit of the corporate elite. In a deregulated health care system, the federal government could even provide for those unable to provide for themselves, but in the low-cost environment of a deregulated system, it could do so in a much more efficient manner.

The health care system of the United States today is so bloated with unnecessary costs, waste, and corruption that it is likely that even a relatively inefficient, government-sponsored universal health care system could cost significantly less than the current system. Yet, even taking this fact for granted, which it certainly is not, the United States must be wary of the call for universal health care and increased government involvement in the health care sector as a way to solve the woes of the current system. It is one way of doing things, but it is not the best way. By removing the federal government from the system entirely, costs will go down, quality of service will go up, fewer Americans will be unable to insure themselves, and those unable to provide for themselves could receive government-subsidized health care at a fraction of current costs.

The quality of health care in the United States is the envy of the world, and this fact is oft-ignored in the arguments of the proponents of universal health care and increased government involvement in the health care system. The problem with health care in the United States is not that it is bad, just that it is too costly and unavailable to far too many. While the introduction of a universal health care system in the United States would ensure that all Americans would be able to receive health care coverage, it cannot be forgotten that the incredibly high quality of health care in the United States is an economic response to the monetary incentive for offering such high quality service. Remove this monetary incentive through the introduction of universal health care, and health care quality invariably suffers.

The goal of the United States should therefore be two tiered – aiming both to ensure every American has access to health care and to prevent the stifling of innovations in medical technology and practice that have allowed for the development of America’s world-renown high standard of care. While the adoption of universal health care can ensure all Americans have health care, it cannot prevent the decrease in overall quality due to lack of monetary incentive sure to accompany sweeping new regulations, nor can it address the base problem facing the health care system of the United States, the simple fact that the more the government is involved, the more money is lost every year to corruption and waste. Corruption and waste, these two perpetual residents in any governmental system, are the main culprits for the current health care fiasco in the United States. Only by attacking the base cause of these symptoms, government involvement, can progress towards a better health care system truly be made.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Side effects may include: bad policy?

To the chagrin of Libertarians, drug users, and hippies everywhere, the federal government long ago decided some of the non-food substances consumed by humans needed to be controlled. Many of the substances that permeate our culture are against the law - possessing or distributing these drugs can yield a fine or substantial jailtime. Other substances, however, are not so illegal, simply restricted to those above a certain age. While hypocrisy, logic gaps, and misplaced moralism in regards to these two types of controlled substances are widespread and ever present, they pale in comparison to the sheer ineptitude and corruption involved in controlling the market for prescription drugs.

There are two ways to look at the federal government's control of substances. Acting as the benevolent protector, the government restricts the possession and ingestion of substances to only those substances with current medical application, and only to those with permission of
government-sanctioned "parents", the country's health care professionals. Any drug with high risk of dependency and no current medical application is labeled 'Schedule 1', a category which includes a laundry-list of hard drugs, heroin, DMT, and ecstasy to list a few.

This benevolent agenda of control is propegated upon the idea that the average American simply doesn't have the medical knowledge to know what effects any given substance will have upon him - that must be left solely to health care professionals. The government argues it has a viable interest in protecting its citizens from their own stupidity and ignorance, and uses this as a justification for not allowing people to put whatever they want into their bodies.

The more cynical way in which to view current U.S. drug policy is as a policy created by politicians completely in the pocket of the major pharmaceutical companies. The major pharmaceutical companies spent $4.1bn on advertising in 2005, a number accompanied by obscene profits of $42bn, according to Fortune Magazine.

From the tens of billions of dollars made every year by the pharmaceutical companies, a sizeable quantity finds itself as funds for election campaigns of senators, congressman, and presidents, regardless of party, ensuring not only that politicians friendly to the drug industry's agenda remain in power, but that every politician be an amiable compatriot in maintaining Pfizer and Glaxo Smith Kline's monopoly on the "feel good" market.

And it is a "feel good" market. Be it cocaine, vidocin, or prozac, people take drugs because it makes them feel good. Society has moralized prozac and vicodin dependence to look more favorably than a coke habit, but in reality all three are drugs which, if done too much, become addictive. One of my favorite hours of television each week centers on a pill-popping egomaniacal physician - yet were he to snort lines of cocaine as often as he popped vicodin you would be hard pressed to get "House M.D." on TV anywhere outside of premium cable.

Politicians have created a "feel good" drug monopoly for the pharmaceutical companies in exchange for the funds they need to stay in office, and the pharmaceutical companies have used this lobbying clout to keep drugs as innocuous as marijuana illegal. After all, if you legalized marijuana, people would hit the pipe instead of the pharmacy everytime they had a pain or an ache - robbing the drug manufacturers, or at least the legal ones, of their beloved profits.

Instead the government enforces the pharmaceutical monopoly on artificially feeling good through force, fines, and prison, effectively creating a nation of prescription drug users who have moralized their addictions as legal, and therefore acceptable, at the same time condemning and outlawing the sinful ways of recreational drug users.

People feel the way they do about drugs - it is a deep-seeded belief and not something a single article is going to change about a person. The system of double standards in place, however, creates a charged moralistic environment that serves to directly line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, where prescription pills are alright but illicit drugs are immoral.

The bottom line is that it is one or the other - either chemical dependencies of any kind are unacceptable, or they aren't. Yet, to classify marijuana as schedule 1, thereby putting it on the same level as heroin and crack cocaine, defines it as a drug with a high chance of addiction, no accepted medical use, and inherent dangers involved in its use (choking on a Cheet-oh I'd imagine). As a counter to that, classified as schedule 3, meaning far lesser standards of government control and penalty for violating drug control laws, are both anabolic steroids and Vicodin. Steroids, unlike marijuana, used without physician consent come with severe developmental side effects, from high blood pressure and heart disease to reduced sexual function, and Vicodin, which is extremely addictive, has become a drug of choice for pill-poppers nationwide.

The double standard here is immoral - it amounts to nothing short of a handout to the "legal" drug dealers of the United States: GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, allowing them to legally cause the addictions of millions to its products and price-gouge, all in the name of profit.