April 25th, 2013

The Unfolding Health Care Policy Fiasco

My, but isn’t this interesting?

Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.

A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”

Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.

Young Ezra Klein tells us that this really isn’t that big a deal; all that he says has happened is that a Republican amendment “has possibly created a problem in which the federal government can’t make its normal contribution to the insurance premiums of congressional staffers.” As a consequence, there is a need for “some method through which the federal government can keep making its current contribution to the health insurance of congressional staffers.” Klein sums up:

This isn’t, in other words, an effort to flee Obamacare. It’s an effort to fix a drafting error that prevents the federal government from paying into insurance exchanges on behalf of congressional staffers who got caught up in a political controversy.

Anyone who believes that this issue can be dismissed and dispensed with because of the “drafting error” excuse ought to read Megan McArdle, who points out that the “drafting error” excuse has been worn out, and that it may now be time to consider the entire health care reform bill “one long drafting error.” Of course, we would have known that earlier if we didn’t take Nancy Pelosi’s advice to pass the bill in order to find out what is in it.

In the meantime, get ready for increases in health insurance premiums. And don’t think for a moment that those increases will be limited to Maryland.

April 25th, 2013

Quote of the Day

A few weeks ago I was talking to a very nice, very liberal wonk type who had tried to start a small business and come away with a changed vision of regulation. The most dispiriting thing, he told me, was that it wasn’t even possible to know whether he was in compliance. He’s a very smart guy with top-notch research skills, but if he’d spent all his time researching the rules, and none running his business, he still couldn’t have been sure that he was legal. (This was a tame office sort of business, not a hazmat disposal firm.) Instead, he had to pay professionals and blindly rely on what they said. This was both expensive and demoralizing.

Megan McArdle. Anyone who thinks that the economy is not being held back by excess regulation should perhaps think again.

April 23rd, 2013

Why Does the New York Times Still Employ Maureen Dowd?

It is a mystery. Anyway, in the aftermath of the gun control defeat and Dowd’s hilariously bad column on the same, here is Megan McArdle trying desperately to explain Politcs 101 to a hopelessly confused student in Dowd:

… The American President and The West Wing are not searing portrayals of effective political management. They’re drama. The first question a dramatist asks is not “Is this how it really works?” but “Is it entertaining?” And the second is “Can the audience understand this in less than thirty seconds?” Veracity is way, way down the list. If you want a clue to how realistic it all is, consider that Aaron Sorkin awarded Jed Bartlett the Nobel Prize in Economics. Then go interview some Nobel Prizewinning Economists and ask yourself whether a single one of them would have the desire, or the ability, to run for president.

Jed Bartlett doesn’t win policy debates because of his amazing tactical skills, his overpowering arguments, or the sheer persuasiveness of his granite-faced brand of urbane folksomeness. He wins them because Aaron Sorkin is a liberal and he wants Republicans to lose on the major issues. Unfortunately for liberals, Tom Coburn and John Boehner don’t have their lines faxed over from Hollywood every morning.

And Megan McArdle points us to Walter Russell Mead, whose scorn for Dowd is magnificent to behold:

Column writing is dangerous work and long success in the game can lead to the stifling of that Editor Within who keeps you from looking too stupid in print. A rich self esteem, fortifed by decades of op-ed tenure and dinner party table talk dominance, has apparently given Ms. Dowd the confidence to believe that she is a maestro of political infighting, a Clausewitz of strategic insight and a Machiavelli of political cunning rolled up into one stylish and elegant piece of work. From the heights of insight on which she dwells, it is easy to see what that poor schmuck Barry Obama can’t: those 60 votes on gun control were his for the taking, if he was only as shrewd a politician as Maureen Dowd

The President needs to get his hands dirty, our genteel and accomplished op-ed writer advises the ex-community organizer and Chicago pol. He needs to get real, get down in the dirt, muck around with the senators and exercise raw power. Don’t make empty gestures and don’t give up, she advises him: fight! fight! fight!


If only Lyndon Johnson had understood the art of political pressure as well as Maureen Dowd. “You work with us, we’ll work with you.” It’s… brilliant! Reminding her about her six year term… if that doesn’t swing her around, nothing will. “You’re a mother…” This is a set of brass knuckles no one could resist. The NRA must be thanking its lucky stars that a bumbling amateur like Barack Obama is in the White House instead of the arch-politician Maureen Dowd; Heidi Heitkamp would have been putty in her elegantly manicured hands.

It goes on like that for quite a while, so be sure not to miss the entire blog post. I’d like to think that McArdle’s patient and desperate attempt to explain the facts on the ground—added to Mead’s entirely justified contempt for Dowd’s political instincts—would alert the New York Times to the fact that its columnist is simply not on the ball. But I have my doubts that the Times will take note. It seems content to have Dowd perpetually on its payroll, perpetually writing as though she is fourteen years old.

Nota Bene: To be fair to Dowd, she does seem to get the usual gaggle of suckers to approve of her drivel. I suppose she deserves some form of congratulations for that.

April 13th, 2013

Remember How Obamacare Was Supposed to Curb Health Care Costs?

It won’t.

Usually, at the end of blog posts discussing a nasty Obamacare-related surprise, I put up a certain video featuring Nancy Pelosi telling us that it was preferable to legislate health care reform before actually finding out what that reform entailed. But I see that Megan McArdle made the appropriately acid Pelosi-related observation in the last paragraph of her blog post, so no video this time.

April 3rd, 2013

I’ve Never Scared Myself While Writing an Article Before

But I guess there is a first time for everything:

Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control, warns “nightmare bacteria” with a “fatality rate as high as 50 percent” and a high resistance to antibiotics could soon become a public health crisis. A coordinated international effort to prevent that outcome is imperative.

He was referring to carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, commonly referred to as CREs, which are normally found in human intestines. As discussed by this primer issued by the CDC, these bacteria have been known to spread outside the intestines and cause infections—something that usually happens in nursing homes intensive care units, and rehabilitation centers, and usually affects elderly patients and/or those with compromised immune systems. Many of these patients are receiving care that includes having their skin breached with IVs, ports and catheters, which help in the spread of CREs.

CRE infections can be life-threatening, and as indicated by their name, cannot be treated even with carbapenem, which is a class of antibiotics that is used only when other antibiotics have failed, and which must be administered in hospitals, oftentimes intravenously. Even worse, Frieden points out, there is a way for CREs to spread their resistance to antibiotics to other bacteria, which may mean that a host of infections once considered easily curable might require hospitalization and intensive treatments to avoid patient deaths.

Frieden and the CDC tell us that we have “a limited window of opportunity” to do something about CREs. While CREs are currently confined to hospital and other care settings in the United States, the worry is that they may spread to the general population. If that happens, we will be in trouble, as CREs can be very hard to detect. Additionally, as the Wired story I linked to in this paragraph points out, we have to worry not just about CREs, but also other carbapenem-resistant bacteria that are not Enterobacteriaceae. The story references this finding on carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, which over the past fourteen years has become eight times less susceptible to carbapenem treatments. These superbugs, along with CREs, can pose a severe risk to the general population.

Read it all … if you are feeling brave, that is.

January 31st, 2013

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Government Overregulation Edition)

Those familiar with Uber swear by it as a wonderful alternative to regular taxi service—which typically involves desperate pleading and begging on the part of would-be customers as they try (sometimes futilely) to hail a cab. Perhaps one of the most prominent fans of Uber is Megan McArdle; see her writings here, here and here on Uber’s services. As McArdle notes, the DC Taxi Commission hates Uber with the fury of a thousand red giants since Uber has the temerity to compete effectively with DC taxi drivers and since the taxi drivers have a lot of pull with the Taxi Commission. If Uber ends up getting regulated into irrelevance or out of existence, the only people who will lose will be consumers in DC, but the DC taxi drivers and the commission don’t really care about that. They just want what they believe to be theirs, and to the infernal regions with the consumers and their wants and needs; as far as the drivers and the commission are concerned, this whole business about the customer always being right is just a bunch of taurine waste matter, not to be taken seriously.

Of course, we all know that DC is capable of craziness—after all, just look at the politicians who populate the city. But lest you think that disregard for consumer preferences is limited to DC, check out John Ross’s story:

Uber, the innovative private car service, is under attack again—this time in Denver. Transportation planners at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) are proposing rule changes that would cripple Uber’s business model.

Sedans would no longer be able to charge by distance, which is “akin to telling a hotel it is illegal to charge by the night,” says UberDenver’s Will McCollum.

Moreover, Uber drivers would be prohibited from parking within 200 feet of a hotel, restaurant, or bar—essentially barring the service from downtown. Uber customers use a smartphone app to view a real-time map of drivers parked nearby, so the change would mean drivers have to leave downtown and other high-density areas, turn on the app, and then drive back into the city to pick up fares.

If you think that these rules are not explicitly designed to run Uber out of Denver, then I have a Peace, Anger Management and Pacifism course taught by Chris Brown to enroll you in.

And of course, overregulation designed to make innovative businesses go the way of the dinosaur and dodo bird is not limited to Uber, or alternative limousine/taxi services, or DC or Denver. Here, in my wonderful home city of Chicago, we have to put up with food trucks being collectively treated like the Anti-Christ:

… For years city code has stipulated that no food truck can park within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. (Last summer, this ordinance was partially amended to allow for parking between midnight and 2 am.)

Both Balanzar and Hernandez said they go to great lengths to adhere to what city attorneys and many in Chicago’s food truck industry refer to as the “200-feet rule.”

“We went in the middle of the night, just to make sure there’s no traffic or anything like that. And we took a string, a 200-feet of string, and measured from a restaurant to the spot that we were planning to park. Just to make sure we’re 200 feet away,” Hernandez said in an interview at Kitchen Chicago, the West Side industrial center where a number of local food trucks prepare their products.

Balanzar, in particular, says that extra legwork recently paid off during a run-in with police enforcing that 200-foot rule at a West Loop intersection.

“The police came and said, ‘You know what, it’s about inches.’ So they said it’s OK,” Balanzar said.


This past summer, lawmakers tweaked some of those restrictions governing food trucks—granting them new rights, but also introducing more regulations and heavier fines.

For example: Cooking is now allowed in food trucks if the business passes hefty inspections and purchases the necessary equipment. Meanwhile, lawmakers bumped up fines for violating the 200-foot rule to as much as $2,000 and required trucks to have an on-board GPS device turned on whenever it is in service.

City officials said in a statement after the new ordinance took effect last summer that the GPS device helps both the City and customers keep track of mobile food vehicles. But food truck owners say they already reach out to their followers over social media.

Hernandez says he paid $125 for the device, plus a $25 monthly fee—a sum which might not sound like a lot, but he said his business only makes around $19,000 per year.

“I just think it’s wrong. I don’t know any other industry where you have to have a GPS or whether the City or the police need to know where you are 24-7,” he said.

I have written about this issue before. Note that the same silly, stupid “200 feet” rule that applies to Uber in Denver in terms of determining how close drivers can park to a restaurant, hotel or bar, applies to food trucks in Chicago in terms of determining how close they can park to a restaurant. Apparently, the “200 feet” rule is a symptom of a dumb law. For those who still think that government regulations exist to protect us from known and unknown dangers, and could not possibly serve rent-seeking purposes on the part of big businesses that work assiduously to put politicians in their pockets, this is your cue to think again.

I would hope that city governments in both DC and Denver wise up on their own about Uber. And I hope that Chicago’s city government wises up about food trucks. If they don’t, I could easily see some small-government, populist champions making some serious hay about the antediluvian views of the city governments in question the next time elections roll around. And I would see little reason not to support such rabble-rousers as they do so.


Your source for a certain percentage of things related to Pejman Yousefzadeh.