This Conservative Party hit on Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff is just unbelievably devastating. To a small extent they seem to me to have buried the lead and it’s the final seconds where they really nail him:
The interesting thing is that in a multi-party system it’s difficult for the party behind an attack ad like this to reap all the benefits. This makes Ignatieff and the Liberals look terrible, but depending on your ex ante political preferences thinking worse of Ignatieff could turn you into a voter for the separatist Bloc Québécois or the social democratic NDP rather than the center-right Conservatives. And, indeed, over the past week we’ve been seeing a surge in support for the NDP.
Republicans are getting ready to capitalize on record prices at the pump with a May focus on oil and gasoline. The government shutdown battle put the issue on the back burner even though prices at the pump have been rising steadily since February. Now, with President Barack Obama already on the defensive, the GOP is ready to pounce. House Republicans are planning bill introductions, hearings, markups and floor votes on legislation aimed at expanding domestic oil production in response to high gasoline prices.
Politics is politics, but for the sake of improved public understanding it’s worth underscoring the fact that the only way government impacts the price of gasoline over the long and medium term is through taxes. And America already has basically the lowest gasoline taxes in the developed world, a policy that’s currently starving our transportation infrastructure. The basic gas price problem we face is that the American economy is growing slower than the global average. China and India are both poor enough to grow faster than we do, and large enough that rapid growth from a small base has an appreciable impact on the worldwide total. If we ask them nicely to stop growing so quickly and they choose to comply, then natural resources will start becoming more affordable. If not, then not.
Next week, the United Kingdom’s Prince William and Catherine Middleton will tie the knot, in a wedding that has graced the cover of newspapers across the world. One study from technology specialist firm Greenlight found that the wedding receives one mention online every ten seconds, and online search engine and news source Yahoo! brags that Internet searches about the royal wedding soared “eight million percent overall” since the couple announced their wedding.
One of the most-covered aspects of the wedding is its guest list. Included among the coveted list are singer-songwriter Elton John and actor Rowan Atkinson of “Mr. Bean” fame.
However, one name on the guest list is stirring up controversy. Al Jazeera English reports that Bahraini human rights activists — who are facing a brutal crackdown in the country that has killed or disappeared hundreds following a nonviolent pro-democracy uprising — are outraged that Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, is among the 40 foreign royals invited to attend the wedding:
Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, was one of more than 40 foreign royals invited to attend the British royals’ wedding in Westminster Abbey on Friday. Human rights advocates were quick to condemn the decision to invite al-Khalifa to the ceremony.
Najib Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that protesters were expecting the British to take a “tough stance,” rather than invite those accused of grievous human rights abuses to the high-profile celebrations. “Calling our crown prince at a time when people are being killed … for demanding their political rights and peacefully protesting, is extremely disappointing,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re losing the hearts and minds of the people in this region.”
Watch Al Jazeera English’s report about activists protesting the invitation of the Crown Prince:
It was the Crown Prince himself that was widely regarded as the Bahraini figure who invited Saudi troops into the country to help violently put down the student-led movement for democracy.
The Bahraini government’s latest tactic it is using against its nonviolent protest movement is to target Shi’a mosques for destruction. Some reports indicated that dozens of places of worship have been destroyed by al-Khalifa’s government. Earlier this month, a Bahraini captured a picture of a man praying in the ruins of one mosque ordered demolished by the government:
By inviting al-Khalifa, Kate and William may be sending a message to the world that the British monarchy is indifferent to the atrocities being committed by the Bahraini monarchy. The famed couple should consider whether this is the message it wants to send.
Facing an international pressure campaign, al-Khalifa backed away from his earlier intent today and will no longer be attending the wedding.
,Although the prince is no longer coming, the Bahraini Ambassador to the UK, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa, the former head of the country’s intelligence services and someone who has been accused of overseeing torture, is coming.
In a developing country like China, the same things that drive a city to increased prosperity (more industrial activity) tend to drive more pollution. And increased prosperity also tends to drive activities like more driving that lead to more pollution. But all else being equal, less pollution should make for a more prosperous city since people don’t like dealing with foul air.
Siqi Zheng and Jing Cao and Tsinghua University team up with UCLA’s Matthew Kahn to derive a clever estimate in “China’s Rising Demand for Green Cities:: Evidence from Cross-City Real Estate Price Hedonics” (PDF) and show that “in a typical Chinese city, about 15% of air pollution in terms of PM10 blows in from neighbor cities and the sandstorm origin, and on average, a 10% decrease of the imported pollution from neighbors is associated with a 2.5% increase in home prices.” So it seems that measures a city can take to reduce its self-generated pollution will, ceteris paribus, make it a more desirable place to live. Though it also seems that cities don’t fully internalize the negative externalities associated with air pollution anymore than firms do.
No one loves war more than the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol. Kristol is one of the biggest cheerleaders for George W. Bush’s costly and unnecessary war in Iraq. He is a staunch defender of torture. And he wants America to start even more wars to bring about “regime change in Syria and Iran.” So it should come as no surprise that Kristol wants the Obama Administration to ramp up its military presence in Libya.
On Fox News Sunday this morning, Kristol lamented what he perceives as an obstacle to a broader effort in Libya. Kristol claims that the United States is now relying less on slower, lower flying aircraft that are relatively easy to shoot down — and that this is a bad thing:
The A-10 and the AC-130 were doing a huge amount of damage in those first couple of days. Then we pulled them back. Now we’re bombing from 25,000 feet . . . . It’s ridiculous. What are we saving now?
If you talk off the record with people from the Administration, they’re terrified of having some American pilot show down, taken hostage. The A-10 and the AC-130 fly low and sort of lumber along. They do a huge amount of damage.
You can’t get involved in a military action like this though and be totally driven by fear of one American pilot getting shot down. It’s just wrong, in my opinion.
Morality is obviously a difficult subject for Kristol, so he could use a brief tutorial on what the word “wrong” means. Dragging the United States into an unnecessary war against a nation that did not attack us is “wrong.” Torture, which is both an ineffective interrogation method and a good way to contribute to our enemies’ recruitment efforts, is “wrong.” Thrusting our already-overstretched military into war with every nation Bill Kristol doesn’t like is “wrong.”
Living every day in abject terror that the people you sent into harms way could be killed or captured — even if you sent them there for good reason — is the opposite of “wrong.”
Despite having some good words to say about about the consumer-focused approach to health care policy, I do think the liberal conventional wisdom is basically correct to think that stingier insurance coverage isn’t some kind of miracle worker in this regard. One important factor here is the 5:50 rule whereby about half the costs in a health care system are driven by just five percent of the patients. In other words, a huge share of resources go to treating people who are very, very ill so even though at any given time a consumer model might apply to most people, it doesn’t apply to the majority of the spending.
The other reason is what Karl Smith is pointing to here, namely that there’s very little reason to think that when human beings act like health care consumers they behave like rational health-maximizing agents. People do not appear to be interested in pursuing cost-effective improvements in health outcomes, so there’s little reason to think that giving individuals more autonomous choices would result in that end. The most cost-effective systems out there appear to be highly statist systems that become stingy due to tax-aversion and then ration the provision of care.
As the U.S. steps closer to the economic ledge, a litany of Republican lawmakers are holding the debt ceiling hostage over unpopular priorities like lowering the corporate tax rate or cutting entitlement programs. Likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum made his own ransom demand today on Fox News Sunday, telling host Chris Wallace that defunding the health care law is “the price” he demands for the debt ceiling and that he’d “absolutely” let the country go into default over it:
SANTORUM: [The health care law] is a program that if the president wants to defend, he should stand up and say the 2012 election is about Obamacare. We’ll put this on hold, and make it a referendum on Obamacare.
WALLACE: Well ok that’s 2012, but you’re saying you’d let the country go into default on this issue.
SANTORUM: No I think the president would let this country go into default on this issue.
WALLACE: But you would make that the condition — you’d make that the price?
SANTORUM: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Santorum’s ransom demand would force a choice between two evils. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would force Congress to make devestating cuts that would eviscerate basic government services (including national security and social safety net programs), would increase unemployment and retard economic growth, and would erode confidence in the U.S. Treasury bonds creating widespread panic in global financial markets.
But if Congress pays Santorum’s “price,” it would not only jeopardize popular provisions such as insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions but “cripple existing Medicare programs” by preventing the government from making payments to cover seniors. What’s more, as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office noted, defunding health care would actually increase government spending by $5.6 billion by 2021 and, ironically, increase the federal deficit anyway.
But Santorum’s extreme positions didn’t stop there. He also whole-heartedly endorsed House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare elimination plan. Ironically touting it as the same thing as “Obamacare,” Santorum argued that his plan will lead to more savings over time. When confronted with the fact that seniors would actually pay more for health care over time, Santorum told Wallace that it’s worth it in the “short-term.”
I’m sort of reminded of the time back in the 1990s when Apple was trying to use intellectual property law against Windows. At the time, it seemed perfectly clear to me that Windows was, in fact, basically an effort to copy Mac OS. And yet I think it’s hard to deny that we’ve all benefitted as consumers from the fact that the copying was allowed to proceed….
I think the argument that we can’t treat health care services exactly like other consumer goods makes sense. If someone makes some questionable decisions and hits a run of bad luck and can’t afford a television, then he goes without television and it’s fine. If there’s a car crash and there’s an injured man on the side of the road, then letting him die because he has no savings isn’t an ethically acceptable option. So that’s a big difference.
Health care is generally not a refusable or elective service. By this, I mean that in most cases, the health care costs are driven by medically necessary procedures. You get pneumonia. Your knees wear out. You find a lump in your breast. You notice blood in your stool. Barring the denial/self-neglect approach that some people take, when you develop a medical problem, you need to spend money to remedy it. While the timing of your knee replacement may be elective, whether to do it or not generally is not, if the alternative is being disabled and non-ambulatory.
Thus, “the demand for medically needed care is not going to be terribly price responsive.”
I think this is the wrong way to think about the issue. “Knee replacement surgery” doesn’t denote a single unique thing. Our methods for doing it change and improve over time. And there are multiple dimensions along which they might improve. One kind of improvement might be to develop a way that’s 10% “better” and twice as expensive. Another kind of improvement might be to develop a way that’s 90% as good and half as expensive. In the economy as a whole we see lots of improvements of both kinds. HDTVs are better than conventional TVs, but when they first came on the market they were very expensive. Ikea, by contrast, was all about making furniture cheaper even while compromising slightly on quality. In a universe where knee replacement surgery was universally paid for out of pocket, then we’d see lots of innovations of both sorts. But in the universe we have, innovation in the health care sector almost always drives us in the “more and better” direction.
Thinking about this is further complicated by the fact that in the USA, health care programs are a major means of income redistribution. Try imagine instead a country with a single payer health insurance system funded by a VAT, and, separately, a progressive income tax to redistribute income. In that country, it’s clear that “higher income tax and more redistribution” would always be the authentically left-wing posture. It’s much less clear that “higher VAT and bigger health insurance budget” would be.
National Wildlife Federation: “While I’m not one to despoil the fantasies of children by pointing out this weekend’s spokesbunny doesn’t exist, there is a very real threat that the American pika, the mountain bunny of the Rockies, could soon become a figment of our memory.”
The American pika, a mountain-dwelling mammal in the West, does not do well in temperatures above 78 degrees.
I typically focus on what the science tells us about the catastrophic impacts humans face if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path. If self-preservation won’t motivate us, whatever empathy we can muster for our furry friends surely can’t.
Still, last year, I thought the apparently ‘expendable’ pika deserved at least one blog post, after the Obama administration threw them under the bus, denying them Endangered Species Act protection (see “So long Pika, we hardly knew ya“).
Now it’s Earth week and Easter Sunday — and there’s a new study on the grim local extinction rates of the pika, as Brad Johnson reports: