Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for February, 2010

Germany backs words with actions

Posted by sanityinjection on February 26, 2010

If you follow foreign policy, you know the drill when it comes to NATO missions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – places where actual fighting takes place. America’s NATO allies (with notable exceptions such as the UK) usually make big promises about sending troops, but once the bleeding starts they have a tendency to cut and run.

With this in mind, I salute the German Parliament, which today overwhelmingly approved the government’s plan to send 850 more German soldiers to Afghanistan. Granted, many of these will be focused on training Afghan soldiers and won’t be serving on the front lines, but that is in fact the type of assistance that is needed at the moment. The increase represents a 19% increase in the size of the German force currently in Afghanistan.

Obviously no country likes to send its young men and women into harm’s way. But clearly Germany is committed to doing its part in the shared fight against Islamic terrorism. I hope other NATO countries will follow the German example and send their additional troops where their mouths have been.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Common sense on health insurance reform

Posted by sanityinjection on February 25, 2010

As with many issues, most of what you read about health insurance reform is long on scoring political points and short on telling the truth about why our current system is really broken. I invite you to check out Clifford Asness’ comments over at Bloomberg. Because Mr. Asness is not a politican, he is free to tell the truth about touchy subjects such as the tax deduction for health insurance and the isse of pre-exisitng conditions.

Asness’ proposals may or may not be the right solutions to health care, but he zeroes in on the issues that today’s “bipartisan health care summit” should be talking about – that is, if it were a serious effort at compromise rather than a pointless Potemkin show for the media.

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Anything you can do, we can do better? USA hockey defeats Canada

Posted by sanityinjection on February 22, 2010

So much to write about today, but let’s start with the really important stuff. Yesterday’s victory by the US Olympic hockey team over Canada was a very big deal, indeed, for both North American countries. It marks the first time the US team has defeated Canada at the Olympics since 1960 – half a century ago.

However, the impact is arguably greater in Canada, where hockey is more than a sport – it is seen as a fundamental aspect of the nation itself, similar to the American trio of “Mom, baseball, and apple pie.” While the Canadian team does not always win gold at the Olympics, being defeated in the preliminary round by its larger southern neighbor hurts because it hits at issues of Canadian identity and the relationship between the two countries. In many ways, Canada functions as a sort of “little brother” of the US. Until now, Canadians could reassure themselves that despite many areas of US dominance, Canada was still better than the Yanks at its national sport of hockey.

And yet, as Canada begins a round of soul-searching, it is important not to overreach in drawing conclusions. Some in the US are already referring to the game as the “Second Miracle on Ice”, but this victory of experienced American NHL players over their experienced Canadian NHL teammates hardly compares with the 1980 US squad of college players defeating the seasoned Soviet professional team. (If the North American Olympic teams were still made up of amateurs, I would bet Canada would still have a decisive advantage over the US.) Canada remains in the medal hunt and is rightly considered an extremely dangerous and tough team.

It is also important to recall the disadvantage that Canada faces in trying to compete with the much larger and richer US in virtually any area. Given enough time and proper application of resources, it is practically inevitable that the US will eventually prevail.

But does this mean that Canada must be resigned to becoming the 51st US state, as it is sometimes jokingly called? Hardly. Ironically given the hockey result, the Vancouver Games have seen a tremendous flowering of Canadian patriotism. The Canadian crowds, known in the past for being polite and a bit reserved, have waved their flags and cheered their country’s teams as vigorously as the Americans do when the games are held in the US, to the point of reducing a Danish curler not used to the noise level to tears. And the Canadian athletes have responded by ending the country’s gold medal drought on its home soil. In fact, at a Canada curling match yesterday with the game on the line at the end, the crowd spontaneously broke out into the national anthem “O Canada” and inspired their curler to throw the winning shot – an occurrence that is without precedent in Canadian history.

In fact, there are still plenty of areas where Canada can hold its head up high in comparison to its neighbor to the south. Canada rightly prides itself on its success in preserving its amazing natural resources and wildlife. It also enjoys a much more admirable record of respecting native peoples and honoring its agreements with them. Canadians enjoy a reputation around the world as a kind, generous, and friendly people. Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary all ranked among the top 30 cities in the world in quality of life in 2009 (all higher that the top-rated US city, Honolulu), reflecting a worldwide perception that Canada has quietly managed to achieve a nice balance of factors that make it a very desirable place to live – just ask the approximately 250,000 people who every year give Canada one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world.

So, while the US may well be singing the lyrics of the Irving Berlin song “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” to their Canadian neighbors in the wake of their hockey upset and their overall dominance of the Olympic medal count so far, the verdict is far from decided. Until the day when Canadian colleges and universities start recruiting hockey players from the US rather than the other way around, Canada will still be known as the home of hockey.

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

UNICEF needs Tony Lake now!

Posted by sanityinjection on February 18, 2010

The Obama Administration is supporting Tony Lake to be the new Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund – better known as UNICEF. I cannot state strongly enough that I am 120% in support of this nomination!

For those not familiar with Mr. Lake, he is a long-time leftwinger who served as the National Security Advisor under President Clinton fron 1993 to 1997. Yes, Mr. Lake was the single American primarily tasked with safeguarding the security of the United States of America during the years when Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Iran, and North Korea were allowed to increase their weapons capabilities unchecked by American action. In fact, it was Lake who was primarily responsible for the failure to adequately follow up on the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. To the extent that there is one individual who bears the most responsibility for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is Tony Lake.

That’s why I am proud to support Mr. Lake’s candidacy for the important position of Executive Director of UNICEF. I have full confidence that Mr. Lake will do a much better job look after the welfare of children around the world than he did looking after the security of the people of the United States. Furthermore, I expect that his duties as head of UNICEF will take up enough time and energy that he will be unable to offer any of his wisdom on national security issues to anybody from now on.

UNICEF needs Tony Lake….but possibly not as much as the rest of us need UNICEF to need him.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tug of war between privacy and security continues

Posted by sanityinjection on February 17, 2010

Of the many controversial topics in politics, one of the perennial favorites is the continuum between public safety and individual privacy. In other words, how do we protect an individual’s reasonable personal privacy while at the same time giving the government the tools it needs to keep us safe and protect us from criminals and terrorists?

The Founding Fathers considered this question very seriously. They came up with features such as search and seizure restrictions, due process, and the right to bear arms as ways of limiting the government’s power to intrude into citizens’ lives. With the passage of time, technology has vastly changed the landscape of the issue, offering new abilities to criminals, law abiding citizens, and law enforcement alike.

I try to keep an open mind and avoid a rigid ideology when it comes to these questions. For example, consider the recent decision by the TSA to begin randomly swabbing some air passengers’ hands to check for explosive residue. Even the ACLU is saying that if done properly, this is a reasonable security measure that does not constitute an excessive violation of travelers’ privacy; and I am inclined to agree.

But some questions are a bit more complicated, such as the issue of law enforcement’s access to cell phone location data. Many of us may not be consciously aware that whenever we use our cell phones, we are establishing a record of where we are located at that moment which is preserved by our phone service provider. There are good reasons why this should be possible – for example, emergency responders need to be able to locate someone making a 911 call if they cannot give their location. And law enforcement authorities can gain access to this information with a properly executed search warrant.

However, the courts are now being asked to consider whether law enforcement should allowed to access cell phone location information (though not the content of any transmissions) without a warrant. The Obama Administration is arguing that people using cell phones do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding their location when using a cell phone, and therefore no warrant should be necessary. Complicating the issue is the distinction between historical location information, and prospective or real-time location as seen on many television shows such as “24”.

For me, this is a much tougher question. The value of allowing law enforcement to access such information is fairly obvious. But the “expectation of privacy” question is a difficult one once you take the content of the conversation out of the equation. It would be easy to stand on principle and argue that the government has no right to know where a citizen is at any given time unless there is a presumption that laws have broken. But consider: The government knows where you are every time you get on a train or airplane, or make a phone call from a land line. Why should cell phone use be qualitatively different? If the government is actively chasing a terrorist, do we want them to have to get a signed search warrant before they can use cell phone location to find and apprehend him?

I admit to being torn, but I find myself leaning toward the Administration’s position on this. The potential for abuse seems minimal compared to the likely benefits in terms of public safety. But I’m open to being convinced the other way. What do *you* think?

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

US successfully tests laser missile-killer

Posted by sanityinjection on February 12, 2010

You want to know why I am generally supportive of defense spending? This is why.

The US Missile Defense Agency has just announced that last night they successfully tested an air-based laser missile interception system. In other words, a special jet plane goes up in the air, locates the missile, fires a laser and destroys the missile.

Folks, this is science-fiction/cartoon stuff brought to life. It also represents one of the many aspects of US missile defense technology that continues to develop at a rapid pace. We are getting close to the point of having systems in place that can successfully defend against a limited WMD missile attack, thanks to the foresight of Ronald Reagan who created the predecessor of missile defense in 1983 with the “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. This most recent test is exactly the kind of thing Reagan had imagined and for which he was mocked and sneered at by his opponents.

Even better, this particular piece of technology is a joint venture among Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin. Which means jobs for Americans and no squabbling between the big three areospace firms.

Want more good news? The technology is actually cost-efficient. While the laser-equipped planes are probably expensive to build, once operational it cost much less to fire the laser to blow up a missile than it would to hit it with another missile. Win, win, win, win.

Of course there is a way to go between successful tests and actual deployment of a working system. But isn’t it nice to have some good news on the security front for a change? Sort of puts in perspective yesterday’s crowing by the Iranians about enriching a tiny bit of uranium – something the US mastered over half a century ago. Where are your lasers, Mr. Ahmadinejad?

Posted in Domestic News, Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The federal “jobs” bill is just more government waste!

Posted by sanityinjection on February 11, 2010

From the same folks who brought you the wildly successful federal stimulus bill, now get ready for the new federal jobs bill, intended to address the biggest problem facing the American economy right now: high unemployment. Cost? $10 billion – a real bargain compared to the last boondoggle. Trouble is, it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

The theory is that properly designed federal legislation can provide incentives for private sector companies to hire more workers, thereby decreasing unemployment and strengthening the economy. And there is nothing wrong about that – in theory.

The problem comes when you try to make it work in practice. For that $10 billion cost, the estimated number of jobs the legislation is expected to create is only 80,000 to 180,000. Meanwhile, since the start of the recession, the economy has lost 8.4 million jobs.

If you do the math, using the most optimistic figure of 180,000 jobs, the cost for creating each job is about $55,500. In other words, the program creates jobs by essentially paying the first year of the job’s salary with taxpayer dollars. (Not quite, actually, as some of the spending doesn’t go to the companies but covers the government’s costs to oversee the program.) But since the federal incentives go away after the first year, what do you think a smart business owner is going to do? He’s going to hire the person, let the government pay the salary, then lay the person off after a year when the incentives go away and he can’t afford it anymore – resulting in no permanent job creation at all.

Of course, the counter-argument is that after a year’s time the economy will have improved enough that the business will be in better shape to afford to add the worker on their own dime. That, however, is contrary to most economic forecasts which suggest that the effects of this recession will be with us for at least the next two years or so.

So, while well-intentioned (and even negotiated in a bipartisan fashion, mirabile dictu!), what this bill ultimately does is waste $10 billion of the taxpayers’ money. It’s a good example of how well-meaning legislation can actually end up having a negative impact. Of course, the Republicans who vote against it will be immediately tarred by the President and the media as “do-nothings” and “obstructionists”. Here’s hoping they have the courage to do the right thing in spite of the criticism.

If the federal government *really* wants to create jobs, it should stop trying to cleverly incentivize businesses to do what they don’t want to do. Instead, it should get out of the way. Cut the capital gains tax, which will encourage more private investment in companies so that they will have the funding to add jobs where there are real jobs to be done. Also cut the corporate tax so that more companies will stay in the US or relocate here, thus preserving existing jobs for Americans and hopefully adding new ones.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Debating the health insurance “individual mandate”

Posted by sanityinjection on February 11, 2010

One of the features that is likely to be included in any federal health care reform bill is the “individual mandate” – a legal requirement that every citizen must purchase health insurance or be subject to fines and penalties. This provision is generally seen as an essential part of any plan that expands health insurance coverage to just about everybody as the President and his allies want to do. It is necessary because you need to have the healthiest people – who might otherwise choose to gamble on not buying insurance – participating in the system in order to help pay for the cost of care for those who are sick and need expensive treatments.

A good example of this is the so-called “Massachusetts model” enacted by that state under its former Governor Mitt Romney. In Massachusetts, you are required to provide proof of your health insurance (sent to you by your insurance company) when you fill out your state income taxes. If you cannot do so, you are penalized.

Let us not beat around the bush: If you are forced to pay for something you don’t think you need, in order to subsidize it for somebody else – that is socialism. The individual mandate is the closest thing to the old left-wing goal of “socialized medicine” short of an actual government insurance program or “public option”.

A number of states such as Virginia are taking action to try to pre-empt a federal mandate by passing legislation banning it in their state. While it’s legally questionable whether such laws would actually be valid against a federal law, it is interesting to note that support for the idea is coming from both Republicans and Democrats.

Imagine for a moment you are Bill Gates. Why do you need health insurance? You can afford the cost of even the most expensive health care procedures. You have no incentive to pay monthly premiums against the chance of getting sick or injured. Under an individual mandate, you would be forced to buy health insurance not for your own good, but as a required contribution to the cost of everybody else’s insurance. Unfortunately for everybody else though, Bill Gates’ insurance isn’t necessarily any more expensive than ours, so he is not paying into the system any more than you or I do.

I believe that individual health insurance mandates are wrong in principle. If you have to be compelled to do something that’s supposed to be good for you, maybe it isn’t so good for you. If health care costs were more reasonable, there would not be such pressure to socialize them. Once again, we see that reducing the cost of health care is the most important reform, and that successfully doing so would reduce the need for other reforms. Any reform that achieves some other goal such as expanding coverage but fails to impact the actual cost of health care is essentially doomed to fail.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the Tea Party movement? It’s the government waste, stupid.

Posted by sanityinjection on February 11, 2010

I have been surprised recently by conversations with some left-leaning acquaintances. Normally fairly astute when it comes to the media, they seem to have swallowed wholesale the media’s caricature of “Tea Party” protesters as radical extremists. Though I have never attended a “Tea Party” protest or participated in any related activities, I have found myself having to defend and explain the Tea Party “movement”. Sure, there are always a few wackos that show up at any protest, but the majority of Tea Party-ers are simply ordinary Americans who are angry that the federal government seems determined to waste as much of their money as humanly possible.

“But the stimulus worked,” say my left-wing friends, “it saved us from another Great Depression.” I disagree, but it’s dificult to prove one way or another.

What is not at all difficult to prove though, is the obvious examples of waste and corruption that the “stimulus” money has been spent on. Consider this insanity: The Polk County, Florida school district received $350,000 in federal stimulus money, which they are using to buy iPods for parents of students with disabilities as prizes for filling out an online survey.

Is anyone going to step forward and seriously defend this as the best use of our tax dollars? I think not. Admittedly, $350,000 is a drop in the bucket of the vast stimulus bill, but you know what? $350K here and $350K there, all over the map, eventually starts to add up to real money.

Doesn’t reading about this kind of waste and excess make you at least *imagine* making some sort of protest? If so, congratulations: You’ve grasped the essence of what the “Tea Party” phenomenon is all about.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Progressive”policies are failing the real-world test

Posted by sanityinjection on February 9, 2010

In a great piece, Matt Welch, the editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, analyzes the so-called “progressive” policies of the Obama Administration and explains why they are failing both in the foreign and domestic realms. Essentially, Welch argues that it has been so long since progressives have been in power that their ideas have not had to meet the test of being applied to the real world. He also neatly disposes of the canard that the person of George Bush was the greatest obstacle to international cooperation and world peace: “No amount of international do-goodism is going to prevent countries from acting in what they perceive to be their own self-interest.”

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »