Eric Cartman Does Glenn Beck

Don't get me wrong, I respect and admire Glenn Beck, but sometimes his epiphanies that take three days, two radio shows, three television shows and a blog post to develop tend to get on my nerves.  Condensing his rhetoric down to a single show, then repeating his points often would seem to me to be a better format.

Will We Die Or Go Bankrupt Without National Healthcare?

Two recent studies emanating from Harvard find that lack of health insurance has (1) been a major contributing factor in two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies in the United States in 2007 and (2) has actually caused 45,000 deaths in this country every year.

These studies were conducted by Harvard Medical School Professor, Dr. David Himmelstein and Cambridge physician Steffie Woolhandler, who are co-founders of the group Physicians for a National Health Program. Obviously we can expect completely fair and unbiased work from these advocates of universal healthcare.

In the bankruptcy study, PNHP researchers randomly chose bankruptcy filers from among 2,314 cases filed in from early 2007 as a base.

The researchers then conducted extensive telephone interviews with 1,032 of those filers to detail how illness and medical expenses contributed to their bankruptcy status. Four in 10 of the "medically bankrupt" had lost two or more weeks of wages due to their own or a family member's illness, roughly 35% had spent more than $5,000 or 10% of their annual income in out-of-pocket medical bills, and 43% specifically cited their own or a family member's illness as a reason for filing for bankruptcy.

Citing the study's findings, Himmelstein called private insurance "a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain." Woolhandler said the findings demonstrated that in the current debate about healthcare reform, proposals to "expand phony insurance -- stripped-down plans riddled with co-payments, deductibles and exclusions -- won't stem the rising tide of medical bankruptcy."

The study follows a 2005 study by the same researchers, who found that between 2001 and 2007, the proportion of all bankruptcies that could be attributed to medical problems rose by 49.6%
While the good doctors demonstrate a bias toward a single solution of the perceived healthcare problem, they fail to realize that bankruptcy is always caused by less-than-frugal-choices by those seeking protection from debtors. If healthcare debt was the only issue, charity from the public and often from the providers is commonly granted.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute finds that the PNHP will not pass the smell test.
But fewer than one percent of Americans enter bankruptcy each year. Of those, only three to five percent are plausibly bankrupt due to medical debt. These numbers present the inconvenient truth that our health system is not leading to bankruptcy in America.

The Himmelstein study paints a picture of an American middle class that even with health insurance coverage is being bankrupted by health care costs. The share of bankruptcies attributable to health care costs rose by 50%between 2001 and 2007, according to the study. The message is that rising health care costs bankrupt the insured middle class as well as the uninsured lower class.

The only problem is that the study is fatally flawed. Dr. Himmelstein is a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization that describes itself on its Web site as "the only national physician organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to implementing a single-payer national health program." An additional Harvard coauthor, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, is co-founder and secretary of the organization. Even though the article states on the front page that the authors have no conflict of interest, two are self-declared activists for single-payer health care, and they have twisted the data to fit their cause.

Aparna Mathur, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow . . . told me in a telephone conversation that "the Himmelstein surveys overstate the effect of medical debts on bankruptcy. Despite obvious problems with the survey methodology, it was clear to me . . . that the study was being used as a pretext for making the case for universal health insurance."

Dr. Himmelstein's study contradicts the economics literature on personal bankruptcies. Most reputable studies are based on the Survey of Consumer Finances, published by the Federal Reserve, which lists different types of consumer debt. Medical debt rose slightly from 5.5% of all debt in 2001 to 5.8% of all debt in 2007, according to the Fed.

A study by the Department of Justice examined more than 5,000 bankruptcy cases between 2000 and 2002. It found that 54% of bankruptcies involve no medical debt, and more than 90% have medical debt of less than $5,000. Even among the minority of bankruptcies that report medical debt, only a few have enough to cause personal bankruptcy.

Dr. Himmelstein gets different results because he uses a smaller sample and a different methodology than other studies. . . . His survey assumes that when a medical problem is mentioned that associated medical costs are automatically associated with bankruptcy. In addition, anyone is counted as medically bankrupt if they cite illness or medical bills as a reason for bankruptcy, even if other debts, such as foreclosure and credit card debt, are a primary reason.
In December 2009, PNHP published yet another study designed to encourage universal health care. This time they set out to reinforce earlier studies on the relationship between health insurance and mortality. In summary the study reported:
The study, which analyzed data from national surveys carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), assessed death rates after taking education, income and many other factors including smoking, drinking and obesity into account. It estimated that lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths annually.

Previous estimates from the IOM [Institute of Medicine] and others had put that figure near 18,000. The methods used in the current study were similar to those employed by the IOM in 2002, which in turn were based on a pioneering 1993 study of health insurance and mortality.

The researchers took into account the severity of the injuries and the patients’ race, gender and age. After those adjustments, they still found the uninsured were 80 percent more likely to die than those with insurance — even low-income patients insured by the government’s Medicaid program.

“I’m really surprised,” said Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians and a doctor at Denver Health Medical Center. “It’s well known that people without health insurance don’t get the same quality of health care in this country, but I would have thought that this group of patients would be the least vulnerable.”

Megan McArdle, writing in March 2010 edition of The Atlantic, wonders if the new "gargantuan" health care proposal is all that stands between us and death.
Perhaps few people were asking, because the question sounds so stupid. Health insurance buys you health care. Health care is supposed to save your life. So if you don’t have someone buying you health care well, you can complete the syllogism.

The bigger problem is that the uninsured generally have more health risks than the rest of the population. They are poorer, more likely to smoke, less educated, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be obese, and so forth. All these things are known to increase your risk of dying, independent of your insurance status.

There are also factors we can’t analyze. It’s widely believed that health improves with social status, a quality that’s hard to measure. Risk-seekers are probably more likely to end up uninsured, and also to end up dying in a car crash—but their predilection for thrills will not end up in our statistics. People who are suspicious of doctors probably don’t pursue either generous health insurance or early treatment. Those who score low on measures of conscientiousness often have trouble keeping jobs with good health insurance—or following complicated treatment protocols. And so on.

The possibility that no one risks death by going without health insurance may be startling, but some research supports it. Richard Kronick of the University of California at San Diego’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, an adviser to the Clinton administration, recently published the results of what may be the largest and most comprehensive analysis yet done of the effect of insurance on mortality. He used a sample of more than 600,000, and controlled not only for the standard factors, but for how long the subjects went without insurance, whether their disease was particularly amenable to early intervention, and even whether they lived in a mobile home. In test after test, he found no significantly elevated risk of death among the uninsured.

This result is not, perhaps, as shocking as it seems. Health care heals, but it also kills. Someone who lacked insurance over the past few decades might have missed taking their Lipitor, but also their Vioxx or Fen-Phen. According to one estimate, 80,000 people a year are killed just by “nosocomial infections”—infections that arise as a result of medical treatment. The only truly experimental study on health insurance, a randomized study of almost 4,000 subjects done by Rand and concluded in 1982, found that increasing the generosity of people’s health insurance caused them to use more health care, but made almost no difference in their health status.

If gaining insurance has a large effect on people’s health, we should see outcomes improve dramatically between one’s early and late 60s. Yet like the Kronick and Rand studies, analyses of the effect of Medicare, which becomes available to virtually everyone in America at the age of 65, show little benefit. In a recent review of the literature, Helen Levy of the University of Michigan and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago noted that the latest studies of this question “paint a surprisingly consistent picture: Medicare increases consumption of medical care and may modestly improve self-reported health but has no effect on mortality, at least in the short run.”

The Obama Dossier

Carbon Dioxide Is Not A Pollutant

James R. Fencil has written two excellent essays on the subject of carbon dioxide as the gas relates to the natural order of our world. One of the essays called Carbon: Passive rider on the Earth/Space Machine has received much attention at American Thinker, Skeptics Corner, Gates of Vienna, Doc's Talk and Free Republic.  For the non-scientists among us, this short article is one of the best that I have found to help me understand what processes involving CO2 are occurring around us.

In a note to Dymphna over at Gates of Vienna, Mr. Fencil confidently proclaimed that CO2 is harmless and that there is no need for concern even if carbon dioxide is increasing for either anthropogenic or solar reasons. On the other hand he is dismayed by the "flat worlder" attitude among berserk global warming advocates.

As continued research progresses we can already confidently state that the claims of the “CO2-is-a-pollutant- crowd” are insupportable in the face of life’s flourishing throughout a 95% decline in atmospheric CO2 concentration. This fact is documented in the scientific record.

Disaffected humans will just have to find something else with which to flagellate themselves. We can take comfort, however, in the knowledge that their need is great, their determination unabashed and their perverse imaginations sufficient to the task of finding another bad, unfixable thing human beings have done.

The other Fencil essay, entitled Carbon Dioxide ... Then and Now explains the author's reference to a 95% reduction in CO2. It is posted below:
Carbon dioxide, CO2, comprises 0.04% of our current global atmosphere. This amount is the meager remainder from a substantially larger original quantity

The onset of life began the process, in part irreversible, of burying CO2.

All plant life takes CO2 from the atmosphere or the waters to form its bodily mass, releasing oxygen, O2, in the process. Upon dying this plant mass either oxidizes, recombining C with O2 to form CO2, or it sinks beneath the ground undergoing conversion to fossil fuels.

Animal life feeds upon plant life and in addition combines CO2 with calcium oxide, CaO, to form CaCO3, limestone. This limestone is the stuff of the white mountains---Amalfi Coast, Cliffs of Dover, Mountains of New Hampshire, etc.---abundantly scattered about the planet. Ubiquitous limestone quarries supply materials for concrete roadways, blacktop highways and all cement-based manmade structures. When animal mass dies it too oxidizes, releasing CO2, but its limestone components remain permanently buried and unavailable.

Limestone is 40% by weight CO2. Consider the immensity of this irreversible burial.

It will be apparent that prior to the onset of life the earth’s atmosphere was CO2-rich.This original CO2-rich atmosphere, instead of being hostile to life, was entirely congenial to life; that’s when life began. We live today in a CO2-lean atmosphere.
- - - - - - - - -
Modern hothouse experiments using intentionally augmented concentrations of CO2 yield luxuriantly flourishing plant growth. It’s easy to see how the gigantism of plants and animals in the carboniferous era came about.

Only we pygmies remain today.

Alas life has been operating on a colossal scale to attenuate the CO2-rich atmospheric concentrations present at the beginnings. Our feeble human activities, such as oxidizing some small fraction of the vast buried fossil stores thereby releasing some traces of CO2, merely forestall life’s self-extinguishment.

What a draft upon credulity that the august U.S. EPA, submitting to the blandishments of a gang of kneejerk anti-establishment types abetted by political hacks and science-challenged postmodernists, would see fit to declare the origin of life, CO2, a pollutant.

No Government Left Behind

In the 35 years between 1965 and 2000, the federal government spent $778 billion in educational aid to some 14,000 U.S. school districts.  In January 2002, George W. Bush, embracing the design of the most liberal Edward "Teddy the Swimmer" Kennedy, signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  Originally designed to be in place for just five years, Congress has been renewing the Act's provisions annually with the ardent support of Democrats.

Under NCLB, public schools are required to test students each year to assure reading and math skills are at "grade level." Schools districts are being judged by student performance on the tests and federal funding is being dispensed accordingly.  Under the law, all schools must be in compliance by 2014, but that goal is unattainable. NCLB is administered by the individual states, each of which have the responsibility to develop and administer standardized tests.

The 2008 budget was $24.4 billion for No Child Left Behind which represents a 41% increase over 2001 education spending. This budget also included a 59 percent increase in Title I grants to local educational agencies.Admittedly, government bureaucracy is expensive, but these numbers are above and beyond the local taxpayer funds to run the schools, pay the teachers, and comply with the federal law.  To put this all in perspective, the budget divided by the 98,000 schools receiving assistance, that works out to be over $250,000 per school for administering one test per year to three of four grades.

As might be expected, political expediency creeps into the decision making at the local and state school board levels. Chasing "free" money, states are now dumbing down tests and schools are, in fact, changing curricula to "teach" the tests in order to have better results to report.
Students are taught… how to take tests. They are given simple, unrealistic, useless data to memorize, because that is the kind of data that is likely to be on the tests. They are taught how to write 5 paragraph essays, which is great for writing portions of tests, but completely useless in college or the workplace. They are taught how to fill in bubbles; deduce which multiple choices are probably wrong and make guesses. They are taught simple mathematical tricks instead of the process of finding proofs.

As is the case in most giant government programs, we have yet another failure in No Child Left Behind. The incredible waste is evident but is now an expected part of the ever-increasing power grabs at the federal level. We need to simplify by reducing federal government educational programs to as close to zero as possible, thus allowing state and local authorities to receive funds on a simple distribution system in order to carry out public education of our children.

Would we be better off without public schools? I think so, but elimination of these "boat anchors" that are holding down American society is far too radical for even a Libertarian.

This Sign in Kenya is Correct

Barack Obama's father, of  course, was born in Kenya!  As for our president . . .

“I just don’t want Wells Fargo to steal it."

The Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho reports this most distressing story:

A retired miner and rancher in southern Idaho, who found long-lost certificates of deposits estimated to be worth more than a half-million dollars, was informed by the bank holding the CDs that they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Bill Coffey, who still holds the original certificates, said an attorney representing Wells Fargo sent him a letter earlier this month stating the bank had no way of determining whether or not the CDs had already been cashed-in without being submitted.

The certificates date back to 1979, when Coffey and his son, Ed Coffey, bought about $290,000 in CDs from a bank in Rio Rancho, N.M. The six-month CDs had an interest rate of 10.315 percent, but the rate was required to reset every six months. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Wells Fargo bought the Rio Rancho bank in 1999 — including the bank’s CDs.
In other words, the bank cannot find the original records from the New Mexico bank, so the depositor is being asked to prove that he didn't receive the proceeds from the CD's. Apparently, redeeming CDs without the actual certificate is not an unheard of practice in banking circles. Some banks, it seems, actually accept a simple photo ID in order to make a cash distribution.

There are many missing details that can effect this case. For example, we do not know if the Rio Rancho bank failed and Wells Fargo was designated through the FDIC as the "white knight" banker to take over or whether Wells simply purchased the NM bank. Adequate record-keeping is primary to obtaining FDIC protection on CD's so the acquiring bank certainly had to exercise "due diligence" when the bank operation was transferred.

Bill Coffey is about to hire an attorney, so we will have to wait a while for the "rest of the story."
“It’s not that I need the money because I’m doing fine financially,” Coffey said. “I just don’t want Wells Fargo to steal it. To me, it’s just a matter of principle — they’ve had my money to work with for 30 years, and now I want it back.”

From Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2010


Greece's Economic Woes and America's Future

We can rely on talented wordsmith, Victor Davis Hanson to provide the interesting anecdote to whet interest in the economic disaster that faces Greece, once renowned as the birthplace of Democracy. Dr. Hanson relates this short tale at The Corner:

Is Greece Our Future? [Victor Davis Hanson]

I lived in Greece for more than two years, and one of my best memories is of a small hotelier at a seaside resort. He checked you in; he cooked; he did the landscaping at night; he did all the maintenance during the day. I asked him why he didn't hire more help, since his hotel wasn't all that small and he seemed to be going 24/7. What followed was a harangue about the cost of hiring a permanent worker in Greece, the difficulty of ever firing him if he proved worthless, and why he preferred to do everything himself rather than fill out all sorts of forms and hire unmotivated but tenured employees. Besides, he said, almost everyone was on some sort of pension, disability, or government benefit, and was unwilling to work, so his choices were either illegal immigrants or broke foreign students. Then he launched into a blast against socialism, and explained how he was forced to become an expert tax dodger, how he would barter for all the transactions he could, and why he hated the government. He finished by sighing that in Greece, the people spend their time either devising ways to get government money or scheming to avoid the tax collectors — or, preferably, both.

I think the medicine for Greece's current crisis will prove more unpalatable than the wasting disease.
Corruption, it seems, has long been a part of the Greek psyche. Corruption begins with government control and acceptance by the citizenry of interacting with government and the service economy through a system of bribes . . . even to point of having a pricing structure for the bribes:
Greek citizens made 900 million euros in payoffs nationwide in 2008, according to Transparency International. Its 2009 survey of 6,000 Greek citizens found that 300 euros was the going rate for a bribe to pass an automobile emission inspection. The cost to jump to the top of a waiting list for an operation in a state hospital was about 2,500 euros.
Acceptance of corruption has naturally resulted in the decline in the rule of law and the growth of a Greek underground economy which even has a name, “paraoikonomia”.

The size of this shadow economy dwarfs all the black markets of the world, constituting upwards of 30% of the monetary equivalents of Greece's marketplace. As a point of reference, the U.S. underground economy is about 10% of our total economy. In general, this shadow economy constitutes acts to evade taxes through illegal activities such as dealing in stolen goods, drug trafficking and manufacture, prostitution, gambling, fraud and barter.

The deep recession that grips Greece and much of the world, however, threatens this small nation with bankruptcy, which in turn threatens the European Union and its currency, the Euro. But the Greeks are far more concerned with conditions at home.
The Greek economy’s difficult battle is not only being waged on the front pages in the Greek and international press nor only at Davos and Brussels, nor will its outcome depend only on European institutions and the wishes of foreign investors. The crisis has hit our neighborhoods, our streets, our villages. Things have changed very quickly, as if we were overcome by a natural disaster and had no time to prepare, to escape. A walk in one of the capital’s relatively well-off residential neighborhoods presents a microcosm of the first effects of the crisis. Money has run out, the habits of a lifetime are changing. On a corner is a hardware store that is closing after being in business for 21 years. “I don’t see any future,” says its owner. He is close to 50 and still full of energy and the will to work. “You have to read the signs,” he says. “These days remind me of the time when the stock exchange was crashing – those who stayed in, believing things would get better, got burnt. Now hardly anyone comes into my shop. The owners also upped the rent – from 800 euros, they now want 1,700. I told them: ‘Go find someone who can pay that much.’ I’ll spend some time thinking about what I’ll do. I might go somewhere as an employee. I might go abroad.”
Back to Victor Davis Hanson's question, "Is Greece Our Future?  With a corrupt government running roughshod over the citizenry, spending money that we don't have on programs that will not turn our economy, the only sane answer is  . . . yes, indeed.

Coats To Challenge Bayh

Robert Costa at NRO reports that Dan Coats will challenge Evan Bayh for Bayh's U,S. Senate seat this fall.

According to numerous reports, former Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.) will challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) for the seat he previously held from 1989 to 1999. Coats was appointed to the seat after Dan Quayle was elected Vice President in 1988, then re-elected in 1990 and 1992. NBC's Chuck Todd points out that this is a "delayed matchup from '98" when "Coats chose retirement rather than face [an] uphill battle against then-Gov. Bayh." Sources say he'll make his announcement on Wednesday.

Early Draft Of Constitution Found reports that a heretofore undiscovered draft of parts of the Constitution was discovered written on the back of another treasured draft composed by one of the Constitution's framers, James Wilson.
Researcher Lorianne Updike Toler was intrigued by the centuries-old document at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

On the back of a treasured draft of the U.S. Constitution was a truncated version of the same document, starting with the familiar words: "We The People. . . ."

They had been scribbled upside down by one of the Constitution's framers, James Wilson, in the summer of 1787. The cursive continued, then abruptly stopped, as if pages were missing.
The article continued by acknowledging James Wilson's important role in the writing of the Constitution:
Wilson, who lived in Philadelphia, was selected July 24, 1787, with four other members of the Constitutional Convention to serve on the Committee of Detail.

The committee - which also had John Rutledge, Edmund Randolph, Nathaniel Gorham, and Oliver Ellsworth - used 28 resolutions passed by members of the convention to flesh out the Constitution.

They finished their work and presented it Aug. 6, 1787, to the Constitutional Convention. It included Wilson's famous "We the People" beginning.
The significance of the find, especially in this age of electronic document files, was incredible in the mind of Lorianne Toler.
"The Constitution may be the most important document written in modern history," said Toler. "It is the longest-standing written constitution and the basis for most of the constitutions in the world."

After finding the draft, "I felt like an actor in the movie National Treasure, but [actor] Nicolas Cage was nowhere to be found," Toler added.

"However, what I found was a national treasure - the real national treasure."
How this draft differed from the Constitution's Preamble is not discussed but William A. Jacobson over at Le'gal In'sur'rec'tion tells us that his sources reveal that this draft version read:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Unless, of course, you don't like what we write, in which case you can make stuff up as you go.