Entries from June 2009

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David Frum June 11th, 2009 at 5:09 am 9 Comments

Signs are appearing that the Obama administration will soon begin a push for “comprehensive” immigration reform: ie amnesty. My latest column in The Week suggests that comprehensive reform follows one of Donald Rumsfeld’s famous rules: “If you cannot solve a problem, make it bigger.” That rule did not work out so well the last time we applied it. I offer a different, more modest but more effective alternative: enforcement plus waiting for self-deportation plus time and mortality to resolve much of the problem. 

As well, yesterday I recorded a Bloggingheads diavlog with my old friend Brink Lindsey. Among other things we discuss the (from my point of view grim) results of Brink’s grand idea that libertarians join forces with liberals rather than conservatives. 

Finally, here is a link to yesterday’s broadcast on “Marketplace.” In the auto crisis, don’t just blame the unions. Blame the auto dealers too!

Massachusetts Wakes Up To Government Waste

June 10th, 2009 at 7:38 am 6 Comments

I recently returned from a delightful weekend in Massachusetts, decease where I was born and raised. I visit my home state frequently, and nearly every time I do, am reminded of why I’m no longer a Democrat.

This time, it took just 5 minutes reading the Boston Herald to refresh my non-Democrat bona fides. The Herald has declined precipitously in recent years in regards both to quality and content (though it isn’t in the same dire financial straits as its main competitor, the Boston Globe), but it still does articulate a populist, to “hell with ‘em all” antipathy to government waste that’s a healthy reaction to Massachusetts’ one party state and old boy patronage system. The latest examples of the state’s sclerotic public sector are debates in the State House regarding the Bunker Hill and Evacuation Day holidays and work rules for police officers directing traffic at construction sites. Readers interested in what makes Massachusetts’ political culture so especially noxious will necessarily have to indulge my parochialism.

Since 1935, schoolchildren and state and local government employees in Suffolk County (which includes Boston and not much else) have taken June 17 off in honor of Bunker Hill Day, which commemorates the early Revolutionary War battle that the American rebels lost. And since 1941, these same privileged public employees have also taken off March 17th for Evacuation Day, which celebrates the British evacuation from Boston in 1776. (Schools in Somerville, part of Middlesex County, close on both holidays, and schools in Cambridge, also in Middlesex, close on Evacuation Day).

There is no good reason for these holidays, and their pointlessness is made all the more egregious by the fact that residents of just one county – and only public employees at that – are allowed to fully “observe” them by taking a day off from work. If the events that these holidays are meant to commemorate are as crucial to the state’s history, then all of its citizens – private and public sector employees alike – ought to partake in them. 

The very narrow group of people who benefit from these holidays shows that the campaign to preserve them amounts to little more than special pleading. No one is saying that the story behind the holidays be eliminated entirely from the public consciousness; that the Governor not sign customary proclamations recognizing their significance or that historical associations be forbidden from staging battle reenactments and the like. Indeed, the Bunker Hill Day parade normally occurs on a Sunday. It is just the work furlough aspect that legislators, led by the handful of good-government Republicans in the legislature, wish to amend. Nevertheless, the prospect of one less day off for the state’s abundant and generously compensated employees has roused the Boston penchant for ridiculous hyperbole. “If we eliminate these holidays today in Suffolk County, then what’s next?” State Senator Jack Hart, Democrat of South Boston, ominously asked. “Do we eliminate maybe Presidents’ Day? Do we eliminate July 4th? Why don’t we get rid of Thanksgiving?” 

The waste of these holidays has been made all the more clear thanks to the economic crisis. 35,000 public employees get to skip work, and while eliminating the holidays would save $6 million, a relatively small amount given the size of the state’s multi-billion dollar annual budget, there’s never a bad argument against cutting government waste. But the greatest benefit of revoking the holidays would be the symbolic value of such a move, a sign of fiscal rectitude in a state that has for too long embodied quite the opposite.

And if none of these reasons for revoking Bunker Hill Day are good enough, surely the fact that it commemorates a battlefield loss is sufficient. Americans are a martial people, with a proud military history and culture. We’ve won plenty of battles in our nearly 250 years of history as a Republic. Why commemorate a defeat with the pomp and circumstance normally reserved for a victory?

A less passionately charged controversy, but one equally emblematic of Massachusetts’ shoddy political culture, is the battle being waged over the monumental question of whether police officers should exclusively direct traffic around road construction. The state’s powerful police union is up in arms that Governor Deval Patrick has made moves to double the number of non-police officers who perform such tasks, arguing that mere civilians are not capable of working as human stop signs on country roads. Earlier this month, police representatives blamed civilian “flaggers” for causing two recent road accidents and warned that further mayhem will be inevitable as long as this policy persists.

If there were any evidence that civilian traffic directors – who must be at least 18 and receive state training in traffic control and first aid – are responsible for more accidents than police officers, then the union might have a point. Except that there has been no statistical increase in traffic accidents since the implementation of this new policy, at least according to the Massachusetts Highway Commissioner. Police officers, it seems, are no better at directing traffic than the rest of us.

The real reason for the union’s ire, of course, is no different than what most labor disputes boil down to: money. While civilian flaggers can earn up to $57 an hour and police details only earn $37 an hour, the state will be able to save millions of dollars (an estimated $5-$7 million according to a state auditor’s report) by avoiding onerous union featherbedding and work regulations that force it to contract a specific number of officers for a minimum number of hours. The new policy will allow the state greater labor flexibility, in turn allowing it to shave unnecessary costs.

Of course, privatizing the whole flagger process never seems to have crossed the minds of any of the officials involved in this dispute. But this is, after all, Massachusetts. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

You Read It First At New Majority

June 9th, 2009 at 1:53 pm 7 Comments

The current issue of New York magazine features a profile of New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.  The article notes that after law school and a year of practice at a New York firm:

[S]he received a prestigious clerkship with Court of Appeals judge Roger Miner, for sale a Republican appointee. Because the position was so coveted, patient and Gillibrand had not finished in the top 10 percent of her law class, it was assumed that she received the position based on her father’s Amato connections.

Surprising news?   Not to NewMajority readers.  This story was first reported by NewMajority’s own Tim Mak on January 28:

[Gillibrand] acquired an extremely prestigious clerkship with Judge Roger Miner at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals… Clerkships in a court of appeals are notoriously difficult to attain, especially without prior work experience in lower courts. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals counts within its jurisdiction New York, Connecticut and Vermont, and is counted among the most competitive of clerkships. Second Circuit clerkships typically go to students of top-fourteen law schools that have graduated at the top of their class, are members of their law review, and have clerked at a district level first.

While there is no way to investigate what Gillibrand’s law school grades were, there is evidence that she was not a top student at UCLA. This is because UCLA law students who graduate from the top 10% of their class are inducted into the Order of the Coif, an elite legal society. A recently obtained list containing Order of the Coif members from Gillibrand’s graduating year doesn’t include the name Tina Rutnik, or any other variation of that name. It is unlikely that Senator Gillibrand declined to join the Order. Lolly Gasaway, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Order of the Coif, writes in an email to NewMajority that she “has never heard of anyone turning it down”.

Further, Gillibrand’s biography does not indicate that she graduated from UCLA with any sort of academic honors, nor does it suggest that she was a member of the UCLA Law Review. How do you get a clerkship without high grades? Politics can play a part.

You read it here first at FrumForum.com.

The Latest Healthcare Fad

June 9th, 2009 at 12:25 pm 6 Comments

Mention McAllen, nurse Texas, hospital and people don’t usually think of health care.  But as Dr. Atul Gawande observes in a beautiful and eloquent essay, site perhaps they should.

Begins Dr. Gawande:

It is spring in McAllen, Texas. The morning sun is warm. The streets are lined with palm trees and pickup trucks. McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which has the lowest household income in the country, but it’s a border town, and a thriving foreign-trade zone has kept the unemployment rate below ten per cent. McAllen calls itself the Square Dance Capital of the World. “Lonesome Dove” was set around here.

McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami—which has much higher labor and living costs—spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns.

His essay, in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker, describes the incredible story. The people of McAllen are getting much health care – but no one thinks that they are any healthier or better for it.

Dr. Gawande, a former advisor to Hillary Clinton in her 1990s health-reform efforts, advocates ACOs, as an alternative to today’s “untenably fragmented, quantity-driven systems of healthcare.”  Under these accountable-care organizations, providers would work together, quality would increase, and prevention would be promoted.  It is a remedy to the “sheer profiteering” of, well, doctors and hospitals in McAllen, Texas.

Joseph Antos, an AEI senior fellow, concisely critiques the idea:

Sounds great. So great that Gawande is prepared to penalize providers who don’t form such organizations. But, despite the enthusiasm of experts (including Mark McClellan, physician and former administrator of Medicare), ACOs do not exist and it is not clear how they would accomplish what has been promised.

Even Gawande admits that this would “by necessity” be an experiment. As he says, we do not know what the necessary ingredients are that account for the success of systems like the Mayo Clinic and Geisinger Health, and we do not know how to transplant them into the bloated health system that typifies most of the country.

What he doesn’t say is that we cannot solve our health system problems by top-down solutions that focus solely on the suppliers of healthcare. If a reformed health system is to succeed, it will have to engage patients to take more responsibility for their health spending decisions. And it will have to respond nimbly to the demands of its customers—something that is sorely missing today

Clearly, there’s a problem in McAllen. But it’s bigger than one town in Texas, and it won’t be solved by the latest policy platitude.

Health reform is dominated by fashionable ideas.  Remember when HMOs were the panacea?  Add ACOs to a growing list of “cures” touted in Washington today, including price controls for pharmaceuticals and prevention.

Democracy In Albany

June 9th, 2009 at 12:06 pm 7 Comments

Sheer drama took center stage in Albany yesterday. The elements of surprise, betrayal, insurrection and resurrection were in full play as the Republicans retook control of the New York State Senate in what can only be described as a Hollywoodesque coup.

The Democrats were just about to approve (or so they thought) the state’s annual pork barrel spending resolution, according to the Albany Times Union, “in which they took the lions share of money.” Just then, Sen. Tom Libous (R-Binghamton) stood up to demand a vote on a measure that will affect the course of New York politics for some time to come. The motion at hand was simple but stunning: the immediate election of new Senate leadership to reflect the startling new majority caucus, including now-“independent Democrats” Hiram Monserrate of Queens and Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx.

Then the chaos ensued. Presiding Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany) awkwardly tried his best to stop the motion from being passed and a roll call from even being cast. He even attempted to adjourn the Senate without concurrence from the floor. Eventually, Libous threatened to have Breslin removed from the dais by security lest he refuse to relinquish the chair that would no longer be his. See the drama unfold here and here.

As flustered Democrats stormed out of the Chamber, hoping (assumingly) to invalidate the impending vote for new leadership by their absence, one of the Democratic Senators pulled the light switch. It wasn’t the Republicans, however, that were left in the dark. The New York Times reports:

Asked by a reporter what was occurring, Senator Malcolm A. Smith, leader of the Senate Democrats who was huddled in the hall with his staff, responded, “I’m trying to find out right now.”

A spokesman for Mr. Smith, who lost the titles of majority leader and Senate president in the shakeup, issued a statement later saying that Democrats would challenge the vote, but it was not clear that they had grounds to do so.

There was no ground to stand on. Sen Smith arguably already knew this, since he was visibly playing nice before the evening news cameras as he kept referring to Espada and Monserrate as “my friends and colleagues.” Perhaps Smith should have said something to his spokesman Austin Shafran, who referred to Espada and Monserrate as “a thug and a thief” just a little while earlier in the evening. Whoops!

Smith’s office also released a statement that he in fact was still Majority Leader. But that was just nonsense on the part of the Democrats. Yes, they were outraged. Yes, they were deeply offended and downright embarrassed. But all the talk of legal challenges to the Republicans’ parliamentary coup d’état yesterday honestly has made them look just plain ridiculous. The Times sums David Paterson’s juvenile reaction in a sentence:

The governor also said “I will not allow this,” but then conceded that there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Indeed. In perhaps the wildest day in Albany since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer was outed as “client no. 9,” the New York Democratic Party was once again badly burned. Last time, at least they could say that an unpopular governor has been hoisted off their shoulders. This silver lining is harder to find this time around. After barely five months in charge, the NY Senate Democrats are back in the Minority ranks where, before January, they spent the past 40 years.

By the end of the exciting episode, Senator Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) was once again sworn in as new Senate Majority Leader while Espada was officially made President Pro Tem, just a heartbeat away from the Governorship.

The events that transpired yesterday will beget serious consequences and inquiries:

  • Who was the mastermind behind the revolt? That would be Tom Golisano, billionaire political activist from Rochester and three-time candidate for governor, who has taken up the cause of “making Albany more open” and curtailing Democratic legislation that he considers anti-business. Shortly after the power switch, Skelos appeared before the press with Golisano and thanked him publicly for his organizational efforts. According to the Times Union, “he began the process of pushing for change two months ago.”
  • Why did Espada and Monserrate defect? They were already part of the moderate “gang of four” (with Sens. Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz Sr.) that had grown quite disgruntled with Sen. Smith’s leadership and behavior in the budget process, and deplored both Smith and Paterson’s push for gay marriage. Both downstate Democrats were ripe for the picking, and according to one Republican staffer in the Capitol, “Golisano got to them, and they seized the opportunity.”
  • What is the future of gay marriage in New York? According to several Democrats I’ve spoken with: “It’s dead.”
  • What does the future hold for Espada and Monserrate? Nothing promising. Both come from districts where elections are generally decided in the Democratic primary. They’ll most likely lose their seats in 2010—if they make it that far. Monserrate is currently facing battery charges for slashing his girlfriend with a broken bottle last year. According to another report, “Espada is being investigated by the attorney general’s office for his role in a health care agency.” If either is convicted, they’ll be removed from office instantly.
  • What does the revolt mean for Albany? In the short term, there is going to be a return to massive gridlock, especially in light of the current huge budgetary fiscal situation. In the long run, it might strengthen Paterson’s hand in dealing with the State Assembly and the unions for a more moderate fiscal approach. According to one Democrat, this means “more job cuts, less taxes, which is what I think he wants, but can’t get.”
  • What does the revolt mean for 2010? One Republican staffer told me about an expected “domino effect” that will directly affect the imminent special election in NY-23. Now that Senate Democrats are in the minority, upstate Democratic Senator Darrel Aubertine may very well go ahead and run for the McHugh’s old congressional seat. He’s been reportedly mixed about running, but now that he’s in minority rule and likely to face cuts in his budget and staff, there’s a good chance that he’ll take the plunge for Congress. Aubertine won his Senate seat in a super-tight election and has already been placed in the GOP’s crosshairs.
  • What about the 2010 census? As one Democratic source told me, “If the Dems control both branches, the NY GOP is royally ****** because the demographic chickens will come home to roost with the loss of population upstate and growth downstate. The GOP base in the Senate and upstate will be gone.” I’m told every Republican office is extremely mindful of this. A worst case scenario could destroy the GOP in New York.
  • Any more surprises on the way? Many on both sides of the aisle are wondering whether we’ve seen the last of the party swaps or if more moderates are in the wings and thinking about switching. One Democrat from the Capitol Region told me that “there were 6 other moderates who weren’t there for the vote and who might switch if the incentives are right.” We’ll have to wait and see.

I know that New York City is the city that never sleeps. But Albany, for good and ill, never ceases to amaze.

Serves The North Koreans Right

David Frum June 9th, 2009 at 8:04 am 2 Comments

President Obama may send Al Gore to North Korea to try to negotiate the release of two detained American journalists.

And for added negotiating muscle, perhaps Gore might threaten a live-screening of his movie, the director’s cut.

Are Canadians Less Patriotic than Americans?

June 9th, 2009 at 7:56 am 29 Comments

Where are the crowds of cheering citizenry?  Where are the school children, laughing and waving little flags?

Canadian journalist Guy Crittenden replies:

D-Day, Shmee-Day. I believe that these photos are from the annual Canadian military parade celebrating the Loyalist victory over the Americans in the War of 1812 — a war that is not emphasized in American history text books, for obvious reasons. At the end of the war (which we sometimes call the Great War, not to be confused with the other major war we won with help from the English and the French, for which the Americans took credit) we controlled vast stretches of what is now called New England (the name of which, on its own, tells you something). Being a non-barbarous people, after defeating you we agreed to an enlightened peace treaty in which we gave back some of the territory we had conquered from the losers (i.e., the Americans). Unlike your gloating imperial culture, we organize our triumphant parades as rather low-key affairs, in much the same way as a top tennis player might say something like “Good show, old chap” to the fellow whose hand he’s shaking at the net, after demolishing him 6-0 in three straight sets. To be honest, the hiding we gave you back then has become a bit of a bore and we no longer come out in large numbers to rejoice. When you’re Number One (as we are) you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. Over time, we recognized that our immature brother to the south — so new to (and excited about) “democracy” — could be contracted to do the dirty work of military campaigns and economic brinksmanship around the world on our behalf. We let the Americans wear egg on their faces and brashly take credit for various conquests, while we quietly enjoy the benefits, sip gin and tonic and play croquet, and sell you a bit of oil now and again when we need more cash, from the vast underground reserves we were so smart to protect during the War of 1812, allowing you to keep the vast stretches of worthless scrub land that you still hold dear and are prepared to die for.

So that, my friend, is what the parade and the photos are all about. Some day, remind me to tell you how the White House got its name…

Guy Crittenden is an award-winning environmental journalist and edits the industry magazines HazMat Management and Solid Waste & Recycling.

Originally posted at STORMBRINGER.

Obamahealth: More Money For Worse Care

June 9th, 2009 at 7:24 am 7 Comments

It’s early June.  In a matter of days – probably in less than a week – Senate Democrats will release a massive bill that will upend American health care.  Though the details aren’t known, for sale Senator Baucus and his colleagues will probably unveil a proposal that will include a requirement for people to buy health insurance (even if they don’t want it), ambulance a new federally-run health-insurance exchange, sales and a public plan option to compete with private insurance.  The goal: reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

Without hesitation, it’s the biggest health-care legislative effort since 1993.  There is no guarantee of success and the credibility of the White House is on the line.

Why then is the Administration talking up cost savings?

From a distance, they seem off-message. Last Monday, for example, the Council of Economic Advisers released a report discussing the economic benefits of restraining the growth in health spending.

The report happily notes that for a family of four with health spending trimmed back by 1.5% a yearincome in 2020 would be approximately $2,600 higher than it would have been without reform (in 2009 dollars).”

It’s all good stuff and the report makes important points.  But how does this tie into the coming debate – that is, their justification for, say, allowing millions of non-elderly Americans to opt into a Medicare-style plan?

The CEA work is just one such Administration effort.  A few weeks ago, the White House organized an event with representatives of major health-care stakeholders pledging to reduce the growth in health spending.  (See here for my thoughts on the “voluntary” agreement.)  The White House keeps pushing the same point: from entitlement reform (it’s about health reform, they insist) to pursuing “value” in health care, they seem cost-obsessed and decidedly out of step with this year’s agenda.

Yuval Levin, writing at NRO, notes how unusual it is:

There has been something very odd about the logic of the Democrats’ case on health-care reform the past few months. Rather than focus on access and the uninsured, as they have usually done and as Obama did during the campaign, they’re talking about their massive expansion of the government’s role in American health insurance as a way to save money, and focusing a lot of attention on the (unquestionably pressing) need to control health care costs. The trouble is, they don’t actually have any plan to control health-care costs.

Levin goes on to note – as others have – how thin the White House plan is for reducing health-care cost growth.  Presently, all they have is a vague agreement from industry, with no targets, specifics, or consequences should costs not be contained.

Many assume that President Obama wants to pass legislation this year, and then move on.  And his domestic agenda hardly lacks for ambitious non-health-care goals.

But perhaps there is a larger agenda here.  The press releases, speeches, and reports are part of a concerted effort now to lay the groundwork for the next health-care debate.  After they have passed landmark legislation this year, after tens of millions find themselves in a public plan or an expanded Medicaid, the Administration sees a day when it will be in a position to push cost control.  Cover everyone now, largely through government efforts, and then – armed with the full weight of the federal government as the largest purchaser of health services in the country (and the world) – cut costs.

Commentators have dubbed 2009 “the year of health-care reform.”  The Administration is settling down for a long fight, one that will stretch well beyond this December.

These are the years of health-care reform.

Can’t Shut A Bad Man Up

June 9th, 2009 at 7:07 am 44 Comments

Boston-area talk radio host Jay Severin makes Mark Levin look like Diane Rehm. So it was with great displeasure that I heard about his return to the airwaves last week after a month long indefinite suspension.

The proximate cause of Severin’s latest banishment was a fusillade of intemperate remarks that he made about Mexican immigrants, health whom he labeled “leeches, see ” “primitives” and “criminaliens.” Hospital emergency rooms, treat he said, have become “essentially condos for Mexicans.” He also blamed, in the midst of the national hysteria over swine flu, our neighbors south of the Border for bringing disease into the United States. “In addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico — women with mustaches and VD — now we have swine flu.”

But this was not the first time that Severin, a former political consultant to Pat Buchanan, had made disgusting comments about a whole group of people on his WTKK radio show. In a 2004 conversation with a caller about whether the United States should “befriend Muslims,” Severin retorted, “You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them.” How’s that for a foreign policy!

Severin is also creative with the truth, particularly in regards to his resume and achievements. In 2005, he claimed on-air that he had received a Pulitzer Prize for online journalism, even though there is no such Pulitzer category (Severin hasn’t won a Pulitzer for anything). Asked about the claim by the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh, Severin offered this lame response: “What I said was, there is a prize that my editor told me is the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for Web journalism. That is a hell of a caveat.” That is a hell of a caveat, and would render whatever accomplishment he imagined for himself next to meaningless, except Severin didn’t offer it.

Severin issued the requisite apology for his latest tirade, the sort of insincere expression of regret that politicians and celebrity abusers of the law and/or basic standards of propriety seem to offer on a weekly basis in response to popular outrage over their misbehavior. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who has a monthly radio show on WTKK, weighed in on the controversy, saying that while he “read and appreciated [Severin’s] apology,” “we have got to figure out a way on this station and in our broader civic life to engage even on difficult issues without demeaning people who differ from us in background or point of view.” Those are wise words from the Governor. A first step would be to start ignoring Severin and other blowhards, whatever their political leanings.

Mitch Daniels Puts A Better Face On The Gop

June 8th, 2009 at 1:49 pm 2 Comments

iTunes: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels joins FF reporter Jeb Golinkin and discusses the way forward for conservatives, his stance on cap-and-trade, and whether or not he intends to run for President.

Download the FrumForum.com podcast here.


More information:

Gov. Daniels’ editorial on cap-and-trade from the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124234844782222081.html

Text of Gov. Daniels commencement address at Butler University: http://www.in.gov/gov/gov_newsroom.htm

Audio of Gov. Daniels’ Butler University commencement address (.mp3 for download): http://www.in.gov/gov/files/Audio/050909_Butler.mp3

Video of Gov. Daniels’ Butler University commencement address: http://in.gov/gov/files/Press/butler_commencement.wmv

Gov. Daniels delivers the Weekly Republican Address on May 30: http://www.gop.gov/media/weekly-republican-address/09/05/30/weekly-republican-address


(Image of Governor Daniels meeting with Miss America 2009 Katie Stam.)