Competition: Grocery Wars

From deep in flyover country, RSP's home of Chicago, IL to be exact, comes news of a vicious price war between grocery stores Jewel and Dominick's. So vicious in fact, Dominick's has cut prices up to 30% on what the company is calling "things the typical shopper will have on their list." Think staples, not impulse buys (exactly the wrong place to cut price).

Grocery stores are among the most competitive industries on Earth. The largest chain in the U.S. has net pretax margins of 2.5%. You can't go more than three weeks without food, but if you're willing to play catastrophe roulette, you can go three weeks without health insurance. So why is competition good at keeping costs down for something you absolutely cannot live without (food) but not good for something slightly lower (health insurance) on the hierarchy of needs?

Real competition in health care and health insurance (they aren't synonymous, mind you) isn't on the table. Because we've convinced ourselves health insurance is pre-paid health care we ignore how we're stoking demand for health care, raising costs for everyone. That's on top of defensive medicine and Medicare's fee-for-service model, which, amazingly, creates supplier-induced demand. That's why the public option is faux competition. It's designed to snare, at first, the chronically unemployed, the uninsurable and the least healthy. Its premiums, in the absence of subsidies, will be higher than the private market. Which means it will be subsidized, either directly or through price controls. It also means, over time, legal barriers to private coverage to catch healthier/younger people in the public option's tuna net. Ask a public option advocate this: if I consent to the public option, will you consent to a side-by-side national, mandate free insurance market?

There are undeniable failures within health insurance, one of which flows directly from our employment based system: the uninsurable (your kid gets diagnosed with a financially catastrophic disease and then you're unemployed). Private ownership is imperfect too but it's a stronger bond than the third party problem created by our current employer model. This will distance me from my conservative brethren, but I believe government has a proper role in protecting some of the uninsurable.

How's this for a little health insurance reform: access to a means tested pool for the uninsurable, a national mandate free market (in addition to, not in lieu of, mandates) and ending the employer tax preference. Throw in subsidies for the poor and a refundable tax credit for the premiums for kicks. One other thing, too: provider price lists.

That's change we can believe in!


Lepechauns, Loch Ness Monster and the Public Option

Ask a conservative if the press has a leftward bias, and he'll look like you just asked if humans need oxygen. My inclination is that those who go into political journalism think of themselves as the next Woodstein and tend to look for Watergates where they do not otherwise exist. Thus we get fake scandal after fake scandal. That such scandals are caused by Republicans/conservatives is icing.

That said, if you'd like an unambiguous sign of how bias toward the president works in real time, check out this story. It's titled "Majority of Americans Believe Health Care Myths." Silly things like believing the federal government will become more involved in personal health care decisions, or that wait times will go up, or that costs won't come down.

Only after reading a bit into the story do we learn that the myth believing majority believes in what the White House considers myths. That's not remotely the same thing as "Majority Believes in Myths." It just means a majority doesn't believe what the White House believes.

Look at the graph below from the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. Why would anyone in their right mind believe ObamaCare will cost more than advertised? Beats me.


Hypocrisy Never Takes a Vacation

The Washington press corps hated George Bush, but they loathed his Texas ranch even more. His visits during the Bush White House years, especially the annual relocation of the working White House every August, were derided as proof that he was a lazy leader who preferred the complete detachment of a dusty, remote family compound, even while ordinary Americans suffered through more modest vacations.

That’s all in their past now, all but forgotten, I suppose, during these past eight months of starry-eyed, tongue-tied “coverage” of the Kingdom of Barack Hussein Obama, the Great and (did we mention?) Black POTUS.

Bush was just some obnoxious rich (did we mention?) White guy who exploited the levers of evil capitalism to buy his own ranch. (To think, if he’d just erected an elaborate swing set they might have softened their criticism a bit). And no member of the liberal media cared that Bush ran one of the most buttoned-up administrations in many years. Meetings began on time. They were run effectively and efficiently. The work got done. Bush did not do the Washington social scene. He lived a disciplined life. He was physically fit. He did not smoke or drink. He went to church on Sunday. He showed up in Iraq when he was “on vacation”. But none of it mattered. What mattered was that they hated him.

Ah, but then there is BHO. Obama is a self-made former community organizer with only a modest multi-million dollar Chicago home (that he didn’t overpay for, or maybe didn’t pay one dime for), but with no “ranch” as a refuge from the angry mobs who reject his Socialist vision for America.

The Washington Kool-Aid Corps has fallen over itself to point out that the Obamas are paying for the $35,000-a-week private home they are using as vacation HQ this week on Martha’s Vineyard. No one will dig into the facts to learn who is actually underwriting the vacation. Someone or some group of someones is. They did it for Bill Clinton back in the day. It doesn’t matter. Poor Barack needs a break. He has been working so hard to jam change down our throats. He won the Presidency but the campaigning has not stopped. So many speeches. So many teleprompters. Leave him alone. Leave those beautiful children alone. Leave First Lady Michelle alone.

Forgotten (or simply ignored) of course is that Obama transforms the “demands of the office” into an endless procession of family trips across Europe and Africa, and, more recently, to the Grand Canyon. And how can we forget “date night” to Manhattan? Or Michelle’s shopping spree in London with the girls? And the Obama family’s post-election trip to a private enclave on the island of Oahu last Christmas. Bush did not pull this kind of crap.

The Washington press — the gang of impostors who last week feigned sadness upon the death of legendary reporter Bob Novak, a man with whom it has nothing in common — would be utterly shocked to go back and review the list of world leaders and dignitaries hosted by President Bush in Crawford, Texas. It is staggering. Yet, Obama comes under zero criticism in recent days for his failure to pick up the phone to 10 Downing or Edinburgh to express America’s outrage that the government of Scotland has released the Lockerbie Pan Am bomber to Libya.

If you doubt the hypocrisy that attends Obama’s first “official” vacation as 44th President, please compare and contrast between the here and now and four short years ago.

Associated Press, Aug. 24, 2009: Close Obama friends — including White House senior adviser (and former Chicago slumlord) Valerie Jarrett and Chicago physician Eric Whitaker — planned to join the family for what White House officials described as a long-overdue break from the daily jostling of Washington.

“There are no official events scheduled in the week ahead. I anticipate that he’ll play golf a number of times,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday.

Ahead for the first family: likely trips for ice cream and salt water taffy, possibly a bike ride and plenty of quiet time at a secluded 28-acre private estate that rents for $35,000 a week.#

USA Today, Aug. 3, 2005: Except for last year when he was campaigning for re-election, Bush has spent every August at his ranch since becoming president. With this trip, he has made 51 ranch visits.#

Huffington Post, July 22, 2009: When Barack Obama kicks off his flip-flops on the Martha’s Vineyard sand next month, he’ll be adding a modern note to the island’s black history that stretches back three centuries. Decades ago, the island was a summer sanctuary for middle-class black families unwelcome elsewhere. Martin Luther King Jr. swam and wrote there.#

The Washington Post, Aug. 3, 2005: President Bush is getting the kind of break most Americans can only dream of — nearly five weeks away from the office, loaded with vacation time. The president departed Tuesday for his longest stretch yet away from the White House, arriving at his Crawford ranch in the evening to clear brush, visit with family and friends, and tend to some outside-the-Beltway politics. By historical standards, it is the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years.

The more vociferous among Bush’s foes have noted that he spent a month at the ranch shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when critics assert he should have been more attentive to warning signs. To Bush and his advisers, that criticism fundamentally misunderstands his Texas sojourns. Those who think he does not remain in command, aides say, do not understand the modern presidency or Bush’s own work habits.#

Finally, there are few — maybe zero — high profile comedians who will poke fun at Barack Hussein Obama, and certainly there will be no comedy bits about the fact that Obama delayed his arrival onto Martha’s Vineyard to await the passage of Hurricane Bill. Hillary Clinton, the diminished Secretary of State, was probably howling by contrast.

But, as for President Bush, the late night comedy writers were not similarly restrained. To wit:

“Hurricane Katrina has been particularly hard on President Bush, who was forced to end his vacation two days early. He was supposed to be clearing brush in Texas until Friday. Now he’s going to get back to the White House tomorrow. You know, if he doesn’t use his vacation days, he loses them, so this is hard on everybody.” — Jimmy Kimmel

“President Bush is going on his annual vacation. The White House says he goes to his Texas Ranch to unwind. I’m thinking, when does he wind?” — David Letterman

“As you know, President Bush is taking five weeks off. It’s like he’s still in the National Guard.” — Jay Leno

What do you suppose the writers will propose when Obama visits Hyannis this week to meet with a dying Ted Kennedy? What one-liners will be generated as Obama luxuriates on 28 private acres while the war in Afghanistan deteriorates, even as the deficit builds and the outlook for Democrats up for re-election in 2010 worsens?

I can only assume they will suffer an enormous case of writers’ block.

The Gateway to the Ultimate Prize

Unfortunately, today the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, has engaged in behavior that endangers all American citizens. He has appointed a special prosecutor that wiCheck Spellingll investigate CIA interrogators who questioned some of the most dangerous individuals on the planet in an effort to protect all of us. Even CIA Director Leon Panetta is opposed to this and has reportedly said that he will resign as a result.
There have already been investigations of those who allegedly abused the terrorist detainees. These investigations resulted in exactly one prosecution and subsequent conviction (a CIA contractor abused a terrorist with a flashlight).

By allowing this to happen, President Obama has started down the path of investigating the Bush Administration for its conduct of the War on Terror (which according to the Obama Administration does not exist). This is the gateway to prosecution of the Bush Administration officials who drafted the memos on enhanced interrogation techniques. However, I do not think that the witch hunt will stop there. The ultimate prize for the far left of the Democratic Party is the prosecution of Vice President Cheney. That is, in large part, what this is all about. I also would hate to think that this action is being taken by the Administration in an effort to take away the focus away from their failing health care plan.

So, what we have here in the criminalization of policy between succeeding administrations. Every American should think long and hard as to whether this is what they want. This type of behavior is more suited to banana republics where the current government sets up “truth commissions” to criminalize the policies of its predecessor.

The consequences to our peaceful transfer of power between administrations will be undermined. It will prevent the current occupant of the Oval Office, whomever he happens to be, from receiving frank and open advice from his advisers and attorneys. Staff members will not be willing to engage in a free exchange of ideas with administration colleagues if they believe that they will be subject to criminal prosecution for their analyses at some indeterminate time in the future. Mr. Obama has left open the possibility of criminal prosecution because one lawyer has a different legal analysis than another.

Next, it becomes difficult to recruit qualified people to work in the government. Why would anyone want to give up a lucrative career in the private sector to enter public service if the results of that work culminate in a jail sentence? The relatively small salary of a public official, combined with an overly intrusive vetting process already make a career in a Presidential administration less than ideal. The threat of criminal prosecution may be the final straw that prevents qualified individuals from serving their nation.

Also, Mr. Obama’s statement opens the possibility of the criminalization of policy differences between Administrations. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush was presented with circumstances that are different than those currently facing President Obama. President Bush made the decision to allow for enhanced interrogations based upon the world as it existed at that time. Mr. Bush put in place policies that some may find objectionable. President Obama, as Mr. Bush’s successor, is free to make the determination that Mr. Bush’s policies were incorrect, inappropriate and/or no longer necessary. However, criminalizing the policy decisions of his predecessor establishes an incredibly poor precedent for all of Mr. Obama’s successors.

In addition, it has a chilling effect on those heroic Americans who are currently serving in uniform or working in the intelligence community. How motivated will they be to pursue their craft in attempting to obtain information from terrorists in their custody that is vital to our national security? Based these investigations, it is very possible that critical information that could save the lives of thousands of US citizens will never be obtained so as to stop a terrorist attack.

The President is once again showing us that he is not up to the task of being Commander-in-Chief. He is continuing to show our enemies that he is weak. It is particularly troubling that at the exact same time that Mr. Obama is begging our allies to take the terrorists that are currently (and thankfully) detained at Guantanamo Bay, he is now looking to incarcerate brave American citizens who answered their country’s call to service. What message does that send to those who would do us harm?

Smart Move

Irrespective of one's views on Ben Bernanke and his performance (mine: big thumbs up) BHO is smart to get ahead of this issue now. Should CIA interrogation investigations suck up all the remaining oxygen in Washington, there's no upside to a will he/won't he soap opera for either BHO or public markets.

Great vacation, ready to start posting again.


Vacation Reading

I'm out of town this week so I won't post much, except sporadic links to good articles. Like this one on health care. It's written by a self-identified Democrat who makes no outlandish claims that all opposition to Obamacare is by right-wing, racist, profiteers (which in Demoland, is redundant). He more thoroughly articulates what RSP has said in different ways:
  1. Health insurance isn't health care.
  2. Health care costs are driven by the industry's complete lack of consumerism and the distorted incentives mandated by government.
  3. There's a broad misuse and misunderstanding of what insurance can/should provide.
Address those issues, says the author, and health care costs can rationalize. IMHO, Obamacare, to the extent it relies on price controls and faux competition will accomplish nothing.


The Teleprompter Presidency

The number of people who claim to have witnessed historic moments is always inflated, but I was seated shoulder to shoulder recently with someone who actually had a very good seat in Chicago's Grant Park last November on the night Barack Hussein Obama claimed victory in the race for the White House.

To my left, as we shivered inside an enormous, mega-air conditioned ballroom at McCormick Place on Wednesday was none other than one of Obama's former teleprompter operators from Campaign 2008. Youthful guy. Maybe mid-30s. Pleasant. And extremely competent.

Of course, never lacking sarcastic jabs, I wanted so badly to point a finger into his shoulder blade and shout, "Oh, so youuuu'rrrreee the one!"

Alas, we didn't talk politics. We were working a live event, he as the prompter guy, I as the script writer in the wings, waiting for someone to request a late edit. One of us is a skilled technician, the other determines the tone and tenor of the content. The relationship is entirely symbiotic.

Before the event started, he happened to share a photo, summoned from a laptop, with another member of the crew. And there it was, Obama standing amid a crowd of handlers, backstage at a campaign stop, while hovering over his beloved prompter operator.

Putting aside the chilling reality that Obama used well-crafted words loaded into prompters (by writers sensitive to radical left wing messages softened by clever tone and tenor) to mislead 53% of the voting populace as it sloshed back gallon upon gallon of Hope-n-Change Kool-Aid, I was fascinated by Prompter Guy's observations from deep inside Obama 2008.

Basically, he told his fellow union member (all of these event production people tend to be, perhaps under coercion, union labor) that prompter gigs have exposed him to numerous powerful and famous speakers. Prompter Guy said Obama easily is one of the five most intellectually gifted people he has encountered in his lifetime. He explained that the former junior Senator has a capacity to grasp complex subjects very quickly and thoroughly.

I was not surprised, frankly. Some of the most diabolical people across human history have been born with, and have brashly abused, gifted intellects. I won't name any examples because, well, you know, that's hate speech.

But this point is extremely important. This intellectual superiority, this coolness, a certain other worldliness, takes us precisely to what concerns so many millions of Americans who will never come within 100 miles of the man. Essentially, B. Hussein Obama was born to be the Socialist's President. He is the ideal conduit because he has been a willing vessel his whole life, filled from his most formative days with contempt for free market capitalism, individual self-reliance, Constitutional sanctity, and the exceptionalism that defines this country to its core. And he is a genius when it comes to repackaging Socialism as something everyone can embrace, making it sound like ... change, hope, a better America. Roll it up, Mr. Prompter.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, just flat out said it. While Obama comprehends the complex social constructs of Socialism, and is stringently adherent to the raw brutality of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals", Rabinowitz observes that "despite a great election victory, Mr. Obama, it becomes ever clearer, knows little about Americans. He knows the crowds—he is at home with those. He is a stranger to the country's heart and character."

And former President Bush strategist Karl Rove echoed a similar sentiment today in a Journal opinion column. "What worked in the Obama campaign," he writes, making reference to those glorious days when rhetoric rolled on the prompter screen and out of Obama's well trained mouth, "will often backfire on the Obama presidency. But old habits are hard to leave on the trail."

They are especially hard to foresake when there are always willing accomplices who will sit in the chilly shadows, producing the words and rolling them up on the magic prompter.


Let's Be the Strong Horse

Evidently, the United States is no longer engaged in (i) a War on Terror, (ii) a War Against Islamic Extremists, (iii) fighting jihadists, or (iv) a global war. Last Thursday, President Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, took all of these terms off the table of acceptable words inside the White House during a speech in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Brennan said that, “The President does not describe this as a ‘war on terrorism’”. The only terminology that Mr. Brennan said that the administration is using is that the U.S is “at war with al Qaeda.” The President himself has not used the term “War on Terror” in public since January 23. Evidently, the Obama Administration does not believe that other terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, are worth fighting.

Apparently, therefore, it’s okay with Mr. Obama if black market cigarette smuggling continues in North Carolina and the proceeds are used to fund Hamas and Hezbollah cells that may be operating in the United States. It is bad enough that these two Iranian controlled and funded terrorist organizations actively engage in armed conflict on a daily basis against one of our closest allies, Israel, but the fact that the President does not feel that they pose an enormous threat to the security of the American people is beyond troubling.

Mr. Brennan continued with his politically correct nonsense by saying that it is wrongheaded to continue to claim that we are fighting “jihadists” because it is using “a legitimate term, ‘jihad’, meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal” which “risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.” In Western parlance, the term “jihad” had universally meant holy war. It wasn’t until the politically correct victimization crowd, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”), claimed otherwise. (Let’s not forget that CAIR itself is a group that supports terrorism. It was formed by the Muslim Brotherhood and it was an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation.)

Mr. Brennan said that he and the President lamented “inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness” surrounding the national security debate and said that Mr. Obama has views that are “nuanced, not simplistic; practical, not ideological.” This, of course, is just further proof that President Obama does not understand the nature of the threat that we face from Islamic extremists, regardless of the organization that they belong to. There is no nuance needed in the goal of defeating those who would try to kill us or subjugate in an effort to restore the caliphate.

As Osama bin-Laden said, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." Therefore, it would seem to make sense for the members of the Obama Administration to spend time acting like we are, in fact, the strong horse, as opposed to talking about nuance and political correctness. (I must give the President for the continued use of the Predator drones in Pakistan. This program, started by the Bush Administration, has been very successful. So much so that some on the left want it to stop. Hopefully, this helps send that message to the terrorists that you can run, but you can’t hind.)

The goal of US foreign policy should be the security of the American people. It should not be to try to have the United States be liked around the world. As a matter of fact, sometimes, it is better to be feared than liked. I don’t think that the President knows what it means to be the strong horse. Unfortunately, that endangers us all.


Health Care Politics, The Chicago Way

Do you like 80s music? Do you like watching members of Congress squirm? Then enjoy this short video.


Unions for Thee, Not for Me

I would add commentary to this story but the irony is so damn wonderful it's better to just let it stand on its own.


In Memoriam: John Hughes

The Daily Pander and Steven L. Baerson are proud graduates of Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, IL (Classes of 1986 and 1985, respectively). This otherwise bit of arcana is interesting today only because film director John Hughes, who passed away yesterday, used our high school as a model, and often a set, for a number of his films. Several of my classmates can be seen as extras in a number of his films and members of the cast of The Breakfast Club could be seen walking the halls learning about the daily conduct of burnouts, athletes, dorks and cheerleaders.

A personal high school highlight is the filming of Ferris Bueller's Day Off during my junior and senior years. There are at least a half a dozen scenes in and around GBN and as a going away present to us graduation seniors the school arranged a private viewing of the movie for my entire graduating class.

Sleep well Mr. Hughes.

Good Day for Team Obama

Unemployment is getting less worse, Mr. Market rallied healthily. All in all a nice way to start the weekend for job seekers, long investors and the White House.

The cherry on top is today's news that a missile strike, likely American, killed Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. RSP believes the best way to deal with terrorists and would be terrorists is to kill them in a merciless, bloody and public way. We also believe all collateral damage is the responsibility of governments that house or mother in any way the newly ex-terrorist.

Congratulations to Team Obama on a job well done.

We Scooped Another One!

Evidently, leading conservative commentator (and medical doctor), Charles Krauthammer, has been reading RSP or has been listening in on our weekly lunch meetings. His health care reform is exactly what we've been taking about for years and writing about since January. The only elements that he is missing are to allow the sale of medical insurance across state lines and to allow for the sale of mandate free policies (in addition to, not in lieu of, mandate policies). There, we've fixed healthcare, or more accurately health insurance. Charles, as admirers of yours, we're glad that we paved the way for your article this morning!


Immoral Profit is Redundant

Remember how the saintly, beneficient Speaker Pelosi called out the unadulterated, unregulated profits of those horrible, profiteering, no good, terrible, dastardly, evil villains health insurance companies? Here are net after-tax margins (relative and absolute) of United Healthcare (UNH), Wellpoint (WLP) and Aetna (AET). Also included are number of medical policy holders, according to each company.

UNH: 3.7%/$2.97B/30M (est.)
WLP: 4%/$2.49B/35M
AET: 4.4%/$1.38B/19M

Dear reader, please don't take this as a defense of insurance companies. I don't like them any more than you do. But let's pretend Pelosi's right and health insurance profits are immoral. Fine. Take them all and distribute them evenly across all policyholders.

Thanks for the $80 check Nancy. Great job reforming healthcare.

Prove It

The most ethical, transparent Administration in the history of executive power, run by the Smartest Man Ever is so convinced C4C is successful on all known fronts it won't release the data to prove it.

But the Administration will seek to expand the program.

C4C Success is a Fiction? Then Do it Again, Only Bigger!

Joe Biden calls C4C an unqualified success. The Feds underpriced the program right out of the gate so, of course, they'll follow The Daily Pander's Rule of Political Spending*.

Check out this distorted assault from a conservative hack who's also the CEO of a partisan website which is a well known member of the right-wing attack machine.

*The Daily Pander's Rule of Political Spending: When a program is a success, make it bigger. When a program is not a success, it's because the program wasn't big enough.

Bill Clinton is Back on the World Stage

Congratulations to our nation’s forty-second President, Bill Clinton, as he successfully obtained the release of the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have been held hostage for the past four months by the North Korean regime. Mr. Clinton did a masterful job in obtaining the release of these Americans who have been held against their wills by a crazed dictator. The Obama Administration also deserves credit because, other than Jimmy Carter, no former American President would attempt such a mission without the support and coordination from the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama also deserve credit for something else today. They also engaged in an action that helps to legitimize a rogue nation that not only has nuclear weapons, but is actively attempting to export their related technology to other outlaw states. By sending the former President of the United States to pay a courtesy call to North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, President Obama has allowed a crazed dictator to share the world stage with the once most powerful man on earth. This lends credibility to Mr. Kim and it will, of course, be used by him as propaganda both at home and abroad.

Imagine some other third world dictator sitting in his palace in Tehran, for example, reading about this or watching it on CNN International. He could not help but believe that by continuing to engage in bad behavior, maybe, some day, he too will be able to meet with President Clinton. It is doubtful that either former President Bush would want to be photographed with Kim Jong-Il. George W. Bush was, after all, the one who, correctly, declared that North Korea was a member of the Axis of Evil.

It is not surprising that President Clinton would allow himself to be used as a prop by the North Koreans. He had, of course, allowed himself to be used like this while he was in office. Remember, he is the one who sent his Secretary of State to Pyongyang. Who can forget the entertainment at the large outdoor stadium with the starving people of North Korea all flipping their cardboard signs in unison and on cue. And, don’t forget about the goodies that Secretary of State Madeline Albright brought to Mr. Kim. As a Chicagoan and long time Chicago Bulls fan, it was somewhat insulting that the gifts included a Michael Jordan autographed basketball. (I wonder if Mr. Kim has sold that basketball on E-Bay in an effort to raise hard currency for his fellow North Korean citizens. I tend to doubt that.)

During the Clinton Administration, the North Koreans develop their first nuclear weapon. As a reward for that, President Clinton extended the courtesy of having his top diplomat pay a visit. It was under President Clinton that the North Koreans signed an agreement to discontinue their nuclear program. Despite a signed piece of paper, they didn’t stop. And, Mr. Clinton, like his two successors, did nothing (unless you believe that the old adage of “Stop or I’ll say stop again”, is doing something – I don’t).

I am very happy for Ms. Ling, Ms. Lee and their families. If it was my daughter who was being held hostage, I would demand that the US government do everything in its power to ensure her safe return, including sending a former President to help negotiate her release.

However, for the rest of us, I’m afraid that today’s mission of mercy may have unintended consequences. The North Koreans do not act out of selflessness. Something must have been promised to them in exchange for the release of the hostages. In the years to come, we will find out if a secret deal has been made. If I’m right and something was promised, hopefully, it will not be costly to our national security. And, whether there is a secret deal or not, the world’s most dangerous dictator got to spend the day, in full view of the TV cameras, with the former President of the United States. Not a bad way to spend a few hours and, at the same time, make yourself a more credible figure to your partners in crime.


Who You Gonna Call? Unionbusters!

Guess what institution is most opposed to both individual health insurance ownership and, I'd argue (despite their rhetoric), the single payer model?

Labor unions.

Unions extract a fee from owners, through workers, by restricting labor supply. If quantity of labor (Q) goes down and demand is unchanged, then price (P) increases. Basic economics. Union management carves out some portion of the delta, leaving itself much better off, workers somewhat better off and owners slightly worse off (absent productivity gains, which BTW, as I've said repeatedly on this blog, owners are stupid if gains aren't shared with labor).

Global competition, the relative decline of American industrial hegemony and the rise of the service economy have severely impaired the ability of union negotiators to use the power of artificial labor supply restrictions to inflate their members wages. What would happen to unions' value proposition if individuals owned health insurance directly (through ending the employer tax exclusion) or if citizens and legal residents enjoyed cradle-to-grave, head-to-toe Federalized health insurance? The union business model would collapse.