Independence Day Thought: Thank God That We Finally Got Rid Of Obama

Readers here know that President Trump was not my favorite candidate, and I have had numerous reasons to differ with him ever since he first became a candidate and up to the present.  But then, in a presidential election, the perfect candidate is never one of the options.  All you can do is choose between Option A and Option B.  Every candidate is badly flawed, and it's only a question of how badly.

So, now that we've had almost 6 months of Trump after 8 years of Obama, have things gotten better or worse?  OMG, it's not even close.  In honor of Independence Day, we should all thank God that we have finally gotten rid of Obama.

I will emphasize one of my recurrent topics, which is energy policy -- a subject which has somehow gotten completely intertwined with something called "climate change."  I find it beyond comprehension that this country elected as President, not once but twice, a man who not only thought impoverishing the people by increasing energy prices was a good idea, but promised, and then in office tried, to do everything he could to make that happen.  If you have never watched this January 2008 video of candidate Obama promising to make electricity rates "skyrocket" ("Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket"), you should.  The man actually thought he could change the weather by making you poorer!  And he looked down with supercilious scorn on anyone who dared to question him on that subject.  

And then, upon becoming President, he tried to push the plan through.  He briefly got control of both houses of Congress, with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but couldn't get the cap-and-trade price increase plan to advance.  Whereupon he set about to try to accomplish the same ends with the "pen and phone."  Next thing you know he was blocking pipelines; obstructing energy exploration on federal lands; forcing the closure of close to half of our electricity-generation capacity and replacement of same with uneconomic, expensive, intermittent and ultimately useless "renewables" like wind and solar; and agreeing at Paris without Senate consent to hobble the U.S. economy by forcing decreases in carbon emissions while the entire rest of the world (excepting the guilt-ridden dopes in Europe) got a pass and continued to build multiple times the coal generation capacity than we ever had.

This was not mere incompetence.  It was intentional, active effort at destruction of American prosperity.  Only by the grace of God did we have an energy sector not under the thumb of the President, that was able to circumvent Obama's efforts and produce the fracking revolution in spite of everything the President tried to do to stop it.

Over at the Supreme Court, Obama appointed people (Sotomayor and Kagan) who, whatever else, were completely reliable votes for unchecked expansion of the administrative state and of the total discretion of the President and his minions to do whatever they want by pen and phone and without checks and balances.  A third Obama appointment -- who would have cemented a solid majority for more of same for a decade or more to come -- was only staved off by a near political miracle.

Obama declared "income inequality" to be "the defining challenge of our time."  And then he proceeded to demonstrate that he knew nothing about the subject and to do everything he could to make things worse for low income people.  That is, everything other than increasing handouts and dependency.  But maybe that was the real point.  Food stamps exploded.  Social security disability exploded.  But how about making it easier for low income people to earn enough money to get ahead and be independent?  See above on intentionally increasing energy prices.  Did he even realize that the burden of such price increases would fall most heavily on the poor?  Of was he planning to fix that with a new handout program and more dependency?

Pushing income inequality as a moral issue, Obama lectured Americans that "at some point you've made enough money."  The Wall Street Journal reported over the holiday weekend that Barack and Michelle have just contracted to buy the mansion in Washington's Kalorama neighborhood that they have recently been renting.  It is 8200 sq. ft., and the price is $8.1 million.  I guess that moral lecture did not apply to ex-Presidents of the correct political affiliation.

And the kowtowing to foreign leaders and to international groupthink!  The United States does not have to apologize to anyone for its success.  We have the economic model and the economy that work, that have made us successful, and that we should offer as a model to the world.  And we had a President who did not like our economic model, was ashamed of our economy and of our success and of our country, and went around the world apologizing.  If you have not seen it, you might enjoy this article from Bloomberg over the weekend headlined "China, Germany Step Up As U.S. Retires From World Leadership."    Don't worry, it's not just Bloomberg.  Our entire press has no idea that "world leadership" comes from economic success and not from going along with international groupthink.

Our current President?   He issues too many tweets, some of which we might wish he could take back.  Big deal.  Meanwhile, he actually thinks that the idea of America is a good idea.  Undoubtedly that is the main reason that he is vilified by the Left.


What "Climate Leadership" Really Means -- Lots More Coal

Three weeks or so ago, we all got a good laugh from the New York Times fretting that China was in the process of seizing "climate leadership" from the United States.  As reported here on June 8, Pravda had just reported that China was aiming to win the "economic and diplomatic spoils" that would come from dominating the world markets for wind and solar energy.  Of course, this was big front-page news.

But wind and solar as sources of electricity are intermittent and fundamentally useless to power a 24/7/365 grid.  Are the Chinese really this stupid?  Or are they just putting up some token Potemkin village demonstration projects to deceive the deluded climate cultists into pressuring the U.S. to hobble its economy, even as China floods the world with hundreds of more coal plants?

Today's Pravda has the answer.  Of course, since the answer is inconvenient, it's not big front-page news, but rather buried on page A10.  The headline is "As Beijing Joins Climate Fight, Chinese Companies Build Coal Plants."   It seems that a German consultancy called Urgewald has gone out and compiled data on plans for new power plants around the world.  The compilation comes after a recent highly-publicized announcement that China had scaled back plans to build coal power plants, and had canceled more than 100 of them that had previously been planned.  That's "climate leadership"!  But according to the Urgewald data, even after the cancelations China seems to be gearing up to build some 700 new coal plants, both in China itself and in countries around the world:

China’s energy companies will make up nearly half of the new coal generation expected to go online in the next decade.  These Chinese corporations are building or planning to build more than 700 new coal plants at home and around the world, some in countries that today burn little or no coal, according to tallies compiled by Urgewald, an environmental group based in Berlin.

To give you an idea of the scale of this, the U.S. currently has around 600 coal generation units, of which close to 50 are currently scheduled for closure.  So, what the Chinese companies have in the pipeline for just the next few years is more than the entire U.S. capacity for generating electricity from coal.

And, of course, China is not the only one out there building new coal plants:

Over all, 1,600 coal plants are planned or under construction in 62 countries, according to Urgewald’s tally, which uses data from the Global Coal Plant Tracker portal. The new plants would expand the world’s coal-fired power capacity by 43 percent.  The fleet of new coal plants would make it virtually impossible to meet the goals set in the Paris climate accord, which aims to keep the increase in global temperatures from preindustrial levels below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Did you somehow have the impression that the Trump administration was going to destroy the world's environment by declining to join the Paris climate agreement and failing to cut back U.S. carbon emissions by around 25%?  Well, how is this even relevant to anything when the rest of the world is currently in the process of planning and building some three times as many coal electricity plants as the U.S. ever had?  See if you can find the answer to that question anywhere in Pravda!

The whole climate thing is quickly devolving into a game where countries around the world make preposterous and obviously false statements of intent to appease the climate cultists, while at the same time going ahead and developing the fossil fuel resources -- particularly coal -- just as fast as possible.  I just hope that you appreciate the humor.   

What's Going On In Afghanistan?

While everyone's attention has been diverted for the past few months onto insane conspiracy theories about Russia and, now, twitter wars with CNN hosts, what has been happening with some of the things that are actually important?  For example, have you heard anything lately about the war in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is famous as the country that no one can subjugate.  In the nineteenth century Britain fought endless wars there without ever bringing the place to heel.  In the 1980s the Soviet Union invaded and made a big push to gain control; but by 1991 it was the Soviet Union that had collapsed, and Afghanistan was basically back to its wild state.  After the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, when it emerged that Osama bin Laden had been using remote areas in Afghanistan for his training bases, the U.S. decided to take its chance.  

Seven years later, it was the same old morass.  If you are old enough to remember when Barack Obama was first running for President in 2008, you will likely recall that he made a big distinction between the two foreign wars that the U.S. was conducting at the time.  The war in Iraq was a "dumb war" that "never should have been authorised and never should have been waged."  But the war in Afghanistan was "the good war" that could be a success if only we did it right.  If it was going poorly, that was just due to Bush's incompetence.  What we needed to do was to make the effort to go ahead and win it, say, within 16 months, and then bring the troops home.  

After his election, Obama got going with a "surge" to over 100,000 troops in the country.  The coalition forces were led by the highly-regarded General Stanley McChrystal.  In the spring of 2010, I was invited to a seminar in Washington at which McChrystal (on a brief trip home) spoke.  After his talk, I got to ask a question, which went something like this:  "The Afghan economy is hugely dependent on the production of opium, with some estimates of the percent of Afghan GDP from opium in excess of 50%.  Yet the U.S. says it plans both to turn Afghanistan into a functioning country and also do away with the opium production.  How is it possible to eliminate the Afghans' dominant source of income without turning them all against us?"  I still remember how McChrystal's began his answer, which was "It's difficult."  The answer went on some from there, but it was completely clear that there was no idea or strategy that had any real chance to work.

Just a couple of weeks later, Obama fired McChrystal (replacing him with David Petraeus).  A few commanders later, in 2014, Obama decided to declare the American "combat mission" over and bring most (although not all) of the remaining troops home.  But several thousand troops still remained, and as Obama's presidency wound down, the insurgency in Afghanistan just wouldn't go away.  In July 2016 Obama decided to raise the number of troops back up.  A Bloomberg report on a statement Obama made on July 6, 2016, got the headline "Obama Finds He Can't Escape Afghan War He Once Vowed to End."  Over to you, Donald Trump!

What's the latest from Afghanistan?  I mean, we've now spent an estimated $800 billion plus in just direct military expenditures on this war (per the Watson Institute here) -- and that doesn't count plenty of things to come, like future healthcare costs for the vets.  You can be forgiven if you haven't noticed anything about this important subject lately, what with the Russia thing and the CNN twitter exchanges and whatever.  But Afghanistan involves serious questions of national security, let alone the trillion plus bucks.  What's going on?

The short answer is that fighting continues seemingly without end and the security situation has only deteriorated recently.  On May 31 a huge truck bomb went off right in the middle of Kabul, killing more than 80 and damaging much property, including several foreign embassies.  From a report in the Globe and Mail on that event:

Sixteen years after the United States and its NATO allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom – promising to deny safe haven to terrorist groups and to liberate Afghanistan’s people, primarily its women – the country’s unity government is dangerously fragile and its army controls a shrinking share of territory.  The Taliban are rapidly regaining ground, and women’s rights in the parts of the country back under their control are little different than in the days before the U.S.-led invasion.

The most recent substantive report in the New York Times was on June 28.  Excerpt:

Two Taliban groups that recently switched allegiance to the Islamic State have overrun an embattled district in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 government fighters and a large number of civilians, according to Afghan officials in the area. . . .  Last week, Islamic State fighters overran all of Darzab, according to the acting district governor, Baz Mohammad Dawar. Government officials were able to regain control of the district’s center, but not most of the rest of the territory; 10 police officers or soldiers were killed in the fight, he said.

How could it be possible that things are going so badly?  Amazingly, almost nothing you read on the subject addresses the fundamental issue, which is that the people are just never going to support a regime imposed from outside that intends to take away the major source of their income.  The major source of their income is opium.  How much of their income?  Unfortunately, there are no trustworthy numbers from Afghanistan.  The UN Office of Drug Control did a big survey of Afghan opium production in 2014, which claims to show that opium exports declined from close to 100% of Afghan GDP in 2002 to maybe 15% by 2014 (page 16).  I'm highly dubious that the recent figure could be so small.  For one thing, the same report shows opium production increasing from 3400 tons annually to 8400 tons over the same 2002-2014 period (page 17).  And then, what is supposedly the rest of the Afghan economy that has grown so rapidly?  They don't say, but the likely answer is foreign aid and contractor disbursements from the U.S. and other countries, counted at 100 cents on the dollar as they tend to do with these things.  But when the foreigners withdraw, all of that goes away, and the people who have been working for the foreigners become unemployed.  The thing that is left on which they can rely is the opium.

Looking for a serious article that actually addresses this subject, I find a long piece in The Nation from February 2016 by Alfred McCoy, titled "The Drug That Makes the Taliban Possible."  The prescient subtitle is "Until Washington deals with Afghanistan’s economic dependence on opium, the Taliban aren’t going anywhere."  The article describes how, over the course of the 16 years of the U.S. operation, Washington continuously engaged in ineffective eradication efforts against the opium fields, even as production soared.

Washington came to rely on private contractors like DynCorp to train Afghan manual eradication teams. However, by 2005, according to New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall, that approach had already become “something of a joke.” Two years later, as the Taliban insurgency and opium cultivation both spread in what seemed to be a synergistic fashion, the US Embassy again pressed Kabul to accept the kind of aerial defoliation the United States had sponsored in Colombia. President Hamid Karzai refused, leaving this critical problem unresolved. . . .  [In 2007] UN stated that Taliban guerrillas had “started to extract from the drug economy resources for arms, logistics, and militia pay.” A study for the US Institute of Peace concluded that, by 2008, the movement had 50 heroin labs in its territory and controlled 98 percent of the country’s poppy fields. That year, it reportedly collected $425 million in “taxes” levied on opium traffic, and with every harvest, it gained the necessary funds to recruit a new crop of young fighters from the villages. Each of those prospective guerrillas could count on monthly payments of $300, far above the wages they would have made as agricultural laborers.

McCoy says that he foretold in 2009 that continued military efforts without a transformation of the Afghan economy would never work.  But when Obama came in, the strategy was just more of the same straight military approach:

By attacking the guerrillas but ignoring the opium harvest that funded new insurgents every spring, Obama’s surge soon suffered that defeat [that I had] foretold. As 2012 ended, the Taliban guerrillas had, according to The New York Times, “weathered the biggest push the American-led coalition is going to make against them.” Amid the rapid drawdown of allied forces to meet President Obama’s December 2014 deadline for “ending” US combat operations, reduced air operations allowed the Taliban to launch mass-formation attacksin the north, northeast, and south, killing record numbers of Afghan army troops and police.   

For the latest, we have this from the New York Review of Books on June 18, "Afghanistan: It's Too Late":

Until now, Western forces have been able to keep the government in power by financing the budget and paying salaries and maintaining the Afghan army in the field. But it has become increasingly difficult, with the Taliban advancing in many parts of the country making US and NATO forces look increasingly irrelevant.

What about President Trump?  He has barely spoken on the subject of Afghanistan.  But new Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the issue a couple of days ago.  It will not surprise you to learn that Mattis's idea is -- more troops:

[Mattis] appeared to place blame on the Obama administration for cutting the number of troops "too rapidly."  "We may have pulled our troops out too rapidly, reduced the numbers a little too rapidly, but the difference today is that the Afghan army is actually able to carry the fight. . . ."

Well, he's a military guy.  You can't expect him to come up with a plan other than a military plan.

McCoy at The Nation, has an alternative plan:  The U.S. just needs to transform the Afghan economy by putting U.S. taxpayer money into supporting real agriculture, like "orchards" and "flocks":

[I]nvesting even a small portion of all that misspent military funding in rural Afghanistan could produce economic alternatives for the millions of farmers who depend upon the opium crop for employment. Such money could help rebuild that land’s ruined orchards, ravaged flocks, wasted seed stocks, and wrecked snowmelt irrigation systems that, before these decades of war, sustained a diverse agriculture.            

It is completely unclear why the Afghans would go along with this when opium pays far more.

I hate to say it, but there almost certainly is no perfect answer for Afghanistan.  Any hope of relative peace and calm in Afghanistan means living with widespread production of opium for the foreseeable future.  Alternatively, we can aggressively pursue eradication of the opium, and face the increasing ascendancy of the Taliban, widespread fighting, and the likely overthrow of the current Afghan regime within a few years.  Take your choice!  I guess it's no wonder that nobody wants to talk about it.

Update On The Disaster Of Crony Capitalism In New York

Here in high tax New York, the City continues to grow and prosper (although at a slower pace than low tax places like Texas and Florida), but upstate is a different story.  Who exactly wants to take on a tax burden almost as high as New York City, only to find yourself living, for example, in Utica?  In the upstate region, the population has been in absolute decline since 2010, and according to data compiled by the Empire Center, the decline only seems to be accelerating in the more recent years.  What to do?

For our New York City-dominated, progressive political culture, the idea of cutting taxes and regulations and trying to create a good business climate upstate is completely beyond the pale.  That leaves as the main alternative the idea, essentially, of bribing companies to move to, or remain in, upstate locations.  In other words, crony capitalism.  

Not that we are the only state engaged in this idiotic practice, but the scale of it in New York is quite breathtaking.  Compared to a total state annual budget of about $147 billion, of which about $105 billion comes from state funds and only $75 billion from all taxes, the state government lavishes about $8 billion per year on what are euphemistically called "economic development initiatives."  The annual $8 billion puts New York in the number one spot among the states for such largesse, which I guess should surprise no one.  Look into the matter, and you find that there are many dozens of projects and grants and handouts -- and yet you struggle to find even one that is anything other than a total failure.

Here is a round up dated June 7 from the Democrat & Chronicle (an affiliate of USA Today).  The headline is "NY spends $8B each year on job programs. So where are the jobs?"  

New York's economy . . . pours at least $8 billion a year — more than any state in the nation — into dozens of job-creation programs that haven't met their goals.  A six-month-long investigation by the USA Today Network in New York found myriad problems with the state's economic-development efforts, ranging from under-performing programs to a lack of transparency on how taxpayers' money is spent.  And despite the spending, the labor force outside New York City continues to shrink.

The investigative report is loaded with one dispiriting example after another.  I'll give you just a taste:

In late 2015, New York announced a sweeping agreement to save four Kraft-Heinz production plants across upstate, vowing to invest $20 million to save the 940 jobs.  Now, less than two years later, [in] the small town of Campbell in the Southern Tier . . . [e]fforts are teetering to keep open a Kraft cheese plant in the community of fewer than 3,700 people, and the company announced in May it will continue to look for a new buyer until August, leaving 330 jobs in the balance. . . .  

In December, Austrian computer chip maker ams dropped plans for a multi-billion technology campus in Utica with SUNY Poly. A nearly $5 billion SUNY Poly deal with IBM and other computer-chip makers ended in 2016, and now some of the equipment from the sprawling nanocenter in Albany is being auctioned off.  In Batavia, unrelated to SUNY Poly, a massive yogurt plant owned by Muller Quaker Dairy with Pepsi shuttered last year after three years and after hoping to create 200 jobs, leaving one of the largest dairy producing plants in the nation vacant.

And so forth.  But all of this pales next to the Big One, known as the "Buffalo Billion," which is the state-funded effort to turn around the economy of the state's second largest city with a big billion bucks of taxpayer loot.  I previously reported on how it was going in two posts last year, one in July and the other in September.   Things were bad then.  But, you won't be surprised to learn, they have since gotten far worse.  A guy calling himself Montana Skeptic has a long write-up June 26 at a site called Seeking Alpha (requires registration).  The post is titled "Tesla Has Stiffed New York State On The Riverbend Factory."

To jog your memory, I'll repeat some of the background.  Super crony capitalist Elon Musk somehow convinced the credulous New York functionaries to devote some $750 million of the "Buffalo Billion" to just one facility -- a brand new, (supposedly) state-of-the-art factory to make nifty-difty solar panels and solar roof tiles.  The facility is called the "Riverbend Factory" after its location along the Buffalo River.  To avoid getting the taxpayers on the hook for things like losses and loan guarantees and liabilities, our sophisticated representatives decided on a structure where they would just build the factory at complete taxpayer expense and lease it to Musk's company SolarCity for $2 per year.  Well, actually, the lease was not with SolarCity, but with an essentially asset-free sub of SolarCity called Silevo.  SolarCity (actually Silevo) then made a series of promises to New York, the most important being to hire and retain 4,900 employees and to spend at least $5 billion in capital, operating expenses, and other costs over ten years.

It seems that in December 2016 SolarCity (and its parent Tesla) basically bailed on the deal, and proceeded to sign a series of agreements with Panasonic under which Panasonic would take over and operate the factory, making who knows what.  There have been public disclosures of the deal, including in SEC filings.  No reason is given for SolarCity bailing, but Montana Skeptic suspects that the reason is that they could not get the technology to work.  A statement about the transaction from Governor Cuomo (which Montana Skeptic calls "utter nonsense") somehow spun the transfer to Panasonic as a good thing for New York:

[T]his agreement further cements Western New York’s position as a national leader in clean power technology and cutting-edge innovation.   

The Gov omitted just one small thing from his effusive praise of the agreement:  Panasonic explicitly declined to assume any of SolarCity/Silevo's obligations to the state, including the business about the 4,900 jobs and the other business about the $5 billion investment.  Here is the paragraph from the Panasonic agreement:

It is understood that (Panasonic) has no direct obligations or rights under the (Riverbend Agreement). If SolarCity is required to reimburse, refund, or otherwise return any financial benefits received under the (Riverbend Agreement), Tesla will have the sole obligation to pay such amounts directly to (New York State).

But of course, those obligations of "Tesla" are actually obligations of Silevo.  Good luck collecting on any of that!

Who knows, Panasonic may even succeed with this venture.  It might help that they are paying way below market rent, but we don't know because the amount of rent that Panasonic is paying to Tesla is not disclosed.  Anyway, where we are now is that the New York taxpayers are completely out $750 million, and we have a completely speculative upside that maybe Panasonic will hire some people or make some investment.  Great!

By the way, Montana Skeptic discloses in his article that he is short Tesla.  You may want to take that into account in evaluating his version of the events.  However, as far as I can see, in this situation Tesla has taken New York State to the cleaners.


It's Not Possible To Have A Rational Debate About Healthcare In The Political Arena

The genius of the private property/free exchange system (aka "capitalism") is that nobody other than the people who make things or provide services needs to know all the complexities of how the things are made or the services provided.  Least of all government bureaucrats.  An automobile may be a very complex thing to make, but to buy one all you need to know is how much it costs and whether you like this particular model better than the alternatives.  But then you get into the things provided by the government, which in recent times have come to include healthcare as Exhibit A.  Now all of a sudden government bureaucrats are supposed to know everything about how to provide care for heart conditions or diabetes or dementia or whatever in a cost effective way, and also simultaneously without ever putting anyone at financial risk.  And equally the public is now required to know enough about healthcare policy to participate in a political debate and to figure out whose proposals to support in the next election.

Frankly, it's just not possible for our political system -- or indeed for any conceivable political system -- to have a rational debate on such a complex subject.  Political actors need to appeal to marginal, often poorly-informed voters who pay attention sporadically if at all.  In the best case, debate on a complex issue gets condensed into slogans and epithets that almost always fail to capture the significant arguments.

And boy, are we a long way from the best case!  Looking over what prominent Democrats have had to say recently about Republican efforts to restructure Obamacare, you could be forgiven if you came to the conclusion that that entire side of the debate consists of accusing the Republicans of being murderers.  Am I exaggerating?  Let's take some examples:

Hillary Clinton, June 23 (tweet):  "Forget death panels. If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party." 

Bernie Sanders, June 23 (tweet):  "Let us be clear and this is not trying to be overly dramatic: Thousands of people will die if the Republican health care bill becomes law."

Elizabeth Warren, May 4 (tweet):  "Families will go bankrupt.  People will die."

And it's not confined to the party's headline septuagenarians.  Bob Unruh at had a big roundup of quotes on May 9, including the following:

Washington Post headline:  “Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually.”

DNC Chair Tom Perez:  “Trump and Republicans will own every preventable death, every untreated illness and every bankruptcy that American families will be forced to bear if this bill becomes law."

Kurt Eichenwald (senior Newsweek writer):  “I hope every GOPr who voted 4 Trumpcare sees a family member get long term condition, lose insurance & die.”

Think Progress:  “Approximately 17,000 people could die in 2018 who otherwise would have lived if a House Republican health proposal endorsed by the Trump administration becomes law."

You could go on with this literally as long as you want.  My reaction is, is this really the best they've got?  By the way, you won't be surprised to learn that these numbers for supposed excess deaths do not come from counting up anyone who can actually be individually identified.  Rather, they are based on statistical output of advocacy-driven observational studies.  Is there any reality to this at all?

Well, we're now a good three years into the full implementation of Obamacare.  Surely by now there should be some good statistics out there showing that Americans have become healthier, or that longevity has improved, or something like that, right?  Actually, it's the opposite.  James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal notes the lack of evidentiary support for health improvements from Obamacare in his Best of the Web column yesterday, "Why Didn't Obamacare Make Us Healthier?"    Freeman quotes from a December 8, 2016 New York Times article:

American life expectancy is in decline for the first time since 1993, when H.I.V.-related deaths were at their peak. But this time, researchers can’t identify a single problem driving the drop, and are instead pointing to a number of factors, from heart disease to suicides, that have caused a greater number of deaths.  A study on mortality rates released on Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that Americans could expect to live for 78.8 years in 2015, a decrease of 0.1 from the year before. The overall death rate increased 1.2 percent — that’s about 86,212 more deaths than those recorded in 2014.

Attributing those 86,000 excess deaths to the advent of Obamacare is just as fair as the use of flaky observational studies by Clinton, Sanders, Warren, et al.  But don't expect any apology from them.

If you want a more detailed scholarly analysis, Oren Cass had a long piece for the Manhattan Institute back in February, anticipating the barrage of unsupported "death" claims, titled "Will Repealing Obamacare Kill People?"   He makes a number of good points, although nothing with the punch of "People will die!!!!!"  Long excerpt from the abstract:

Studies showing positive effects from health-insurance coverage focus on private insurance, not Medicaid.

  • In Oregon, researchers studied the effects of expanding Medicaid coverage and found no improvement in health outcomes. Numerous other studies support this finding for specific conditions and procedures, for Medicaid expansions and for public health spending generally.
  • Where studies do find that Medicaid has a positive effect, it is for pregnant women and young children— groups whose coverage was not expanded by the ACA.

A statistical claim that the ACA saves large numbers of lives should be supported by evidence that it has reduced mortality rates; yet the opposite occurred.

  • In 2015, age-adjusted mortality rose and life expectancy declined in the United States for the first time since the early 1990s.
  • Nor is it the case that states adopting the ACA’s optional Medicaid expansion performed better than those rejecting it; to the contrary, mortality in 2015 rose more in Medicaid expansion states.
  • Despite implementation of the ACA, there were 80,000 more deaths in 2015 than had mortality continued to decline during 2014–15 at the same rate as during 2000–2013.

And even these two rebuttals don't get to the most important issue in my view, which is simply that socialism doesn't work.  To discuss repeal of Obamacare in terms of excess deaths or lack thereof supposedly directly attributable to presence or absence of "insurance" coverage is implicitly to accept the basic socialist fallacy.  That fallacy is this:  We know that the government, by passing out money or handing out or mandating benefits, can make any one person or small group of people better off; therefore, it follows that the government can make everybody better off by indiscriminately handing out money and benefits to all.  In the context of Obamacare, ignoring the socialist fallacy leads to ignoring the downside to the people of the trillions of dollars of additional expenditures for marginal if any health benefits.  It means ignoring the downside of further concentration of power in Washington.  It means ignoring the distortions and inefficiencies that a Washington-controlled system injects into healthcare markets.  It means ignoring the likelihood of decreased innovation in the healthcare system as providers figure out that their time is better devoted to gaming government payment systems and regulations than to developing better methods of care.

None of these things can really be directly measured.  We can't really say that x thousand additional people will die, nor that everyone will be y dollars worse off.  All we can do is look to places like the Soviet Union, Venezuela or Cuba to see how the socialist model gradually undermines the productive and innovative capacity of society, not the least in the healthcare area.   

Do You Know The Difference Between "Settlers" And "Immigrants"?

In our very inter-connected world, in any given year many people move from one political jurisdiction to another.  Such a move may be motivated by a large number of reasons -- economic (seeking a more prosperous or less expensive life), physical security (seeking to avoid strife and conflict), religious (seeking to be nearer to religious sites or co-religionists), weather, health, etc.  Most people who move to another country go by the name of "immigrants" in their new homes, but some go by the name of "settlers."   Do you know how to tell the difference?

I know that you probably think this is a silly question.  After all, everybody knows that "immigrants" are good, whereas "settlers" are bad.  Back in the 1980s, "settlers" was the term applied to whites who lived in apartheid-era South Africa, inspiring the slogan "one settler, one bullet" from their adversaries.  Today, the word "settler" is the term used to describe those, mostly Jews, who have moved into the territories (mainly known as East Jerusalem and the West Bank) taken by Israel in the 6 day war of 1967.  

On the subject of "immigrants," the United States has approximately 33 million or so of the legal variety, and another estimated 11 million of the "undocumented" (illegal) variety.  The combined total of about 44 million is more than 13% of current U.S. population.  In the United States, immigrants of the legal variety are entitled to essentially all of the rights and privileges of the native-born (exception: an immigrant cannot vote until becoming a citizen).  For purposes of buying or renting property in the United States, even legal residency is not a requirement.  Literally anybody can do it.  From

Unlike many countries that only allow land sales to those with citizenship in the country, the United States treats sales of real estate to foreigners almost the same as sales to citizens. The only limitations are usually imposed by homeowners associations, condominium associations, cooperatives, or other forms of community associations.     

And for renters?  In my home town of New York, we have a Human Rights Law that protects aspiring tenants from "discrimination" based on "immigration status" -- definitely including the "status" of "illegal."  According to DNAInfo here on Thursday, the City is even now investigating a landlord in the Corona neighborhood of Queens who allegedly "illegally harass[ed prospective] tenants" by "post[ing] a sign in his apartment building saying he wouldn't re-sign leases unless tenants showed their immigration papers."  Obviously, we mustn't have that.  After all, these people are immigrants.  We need to treat them as equals in every respect, even the ones in the country illegally. 

On the other hand, if we were talking about "settlers" the situation would be very different.  Currently I am spending the week in the country of Israel.  As we all know, the international community has with near-unanimity condemned the Israeli "settlers."  Most famously, back in December the UN Security Council passed a resolution declaring that the Israeli settlements were "a flagrant violation under international law."  That resolution became unanimous when the U.S., in the waning days of Obama and Kerry, failed to veto it, as the U.S. had vetoed comparable resolutions in the past.  

In preparation for our trip to Israel, our friends suggested that we see a new documentary movie "The Settlers," then recently released and playing in a theater in Greenwich Village.  The film was, to say the least, not favorable to the position of the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.  Many unhappy Palestinians appeared in the film, saying things like (paraphrase) "these have been our lands for many generations."  

But, I kept asking, can't anyone now just buy or rent some land or a house or an apartment and move in?  That's the way it works where I come from, and nobody really says a word about it (beyond the general issue for some that the overall level of immigration is too high).  In the Borough of Queens, where one of my daughters lives, they say that some 800 languages are spoken -- and everybody seems to be getting along just fine.  (Check out this map of Queens showing languages by neighborhood.)   

But the film studiously avoided addressing the question of why people can't just buy or rent property and move in as legitimate immigrants.  While here in Israel I have tried to investigate the answer to that question.  The Israeli view appears to be that almost all of the settlements are on land that either (1) was legitimately purchased from a prior Palestinian owner, or (2) was unoccupied land that had no prior registered owner, and therefore was owned by the state and is OK for anyone to occupy and then seek legitimate status.  There have been a few notable cases where land was acquired illegally (generally from someone who fraudulently claimed to be the owner, but did not have proper title), and in those cases the settlements have been forcibly removed.

So the question is, should the Israeli government forcibly prevent anyone who is not a Palestinian Arab from moving into the disputed territories (East Jerusalem and the West Bank)?  The argument most commonly advanced for the pro side of that question is that doing so would assist the "peace process," by leaving clean boundaries to enable negotiators to divide up territories for a prospective "two state solution."  Maybe.  But to favor that, you would have to believe that the "two state solution" is actually going to happen imminently, and also that, once implemented, a two state situation with clean ethnic and religious separation between the states would be stable and successful.  I don't believe either of those things.    

Why does the same principle that applies to the United States and Europe, and calls for us to accept large numbers of immigrants of all cultures and religions on an ongoing basis, and allow them to live among us wherever they choose, not also apply to the Palestinians and, for that matter, to everyone else?  No reason that I can see.

Meanwhile, the prosperity in modern-day Israel is quite remarkable.  In almost every respect -- appearance, architecture, prosperity, climate -- the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa are remarkably comparable to the big coastal cities of California like Los Angeles and San Diego.  Here is a picture of Tel Aviv from a raised spot along the Mediterranean coast:

Yes, that first (domed) building in the foreground is a mosque.  And here is a picture of Haifa from a high spot (the Bahai garden on Mount Carmel) overlooking the town:

In my naivety I would think that the Palestinians would want to get with the program that seems to be working so well, but that is not their current agenda.