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Wariness of Helpful Government in Case the Picture Flips

Many college graduates over the past few decades will have come across live painting performances, in which the artist makes a performance out of the craft.  My recollection is that the guy I saw back in 1993 was a bit of a pioneer (Denny Dent, I think), and part of his set involved pretending to mess up a painting of Jimi Hendrix only to flip it over and reveal the work as a success.  The image of him flipping that painting over comes to mind when I read news like this, in the Providence Journal:

The Cranston Police Department and Cranston Public Schools are working together to implement a program that will help identify homes of children with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities.

The goal is to improve safety for children, and parents have the option to include their children in the registry, according to a news release from the chief of the Cranston Police Department, Col. Michael J. Winquist. Parents who wish to participate may fill out a form on the department’s website. Forms are also being distributed through the city’s public schools.

Yes, it’s well intentioned and voluntary.  But… but… I can’t help but think of CBS’s proclaiming Iceland’s supposed progress in “eliminating Down syndrome” by aborting unborn children who have it and the constant push to implement and expand legalization of euthanasia around the world.

While I wouldn’t criticize the city for implementing the program, or residents for utilizing it, I think it’s important to pause and recognize that the picture being painted in our culture has all the features of a truly terrifying portrait and may only require a flip to reveal where it was going all along.

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Memorial Hospital and Signs of Decline

Rhode Islanders may be getting used to the evidence of decline, but when a hospital closes, it carries with it an especial sense of foreboding.  Ted Nesi reports on WPRI.com:

Care New England’s board voted Monday night to close Memorial Hospital after a proposed takeover deal for the cash-strapped facility fell through, the company revealed Tuesday. …

Fanale said Memorial currently employs roughly 700 people, some of them part-time, and jobs are likely to be found for some of them at Care New England’s other facilities. “We’re not going to be able to save every one, but to the extent we’re able to [we will],” he said. He also emphasized that patient safety will be a priority as the hospital winds down. …

Memorial is licensed for 290 hospitals beds, but in recent months it has had just 15 to 20 inpatients a day. “It leaves you in a devastating situation,” Fanale said.

This is sad to see, but we live in a state in decline.  Add this story to other obvious warning signs, like the closure of Rhode Island retail staple Benny’s.   On a broader scale, recall that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) showed the Ocean State dropping to 49th in the country, from its five-year perch at 48th.  Even seemingly unconnected stories like the Warwick teacher sick outs are part of the story; after all, the underlying cause in that city (and most of the state) is plummeting enrollment.

These are the sorts of things you see when government attempts to structure society around government-heavy services provided to people who otherwise have no reason to live here.  The government plantation model doesn’t work; government can’t be a state’s core industry.

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Media Bias Like Rock in the Late ’60s/Early ’70s

In the past couple days, I’ve skipped over a few articles that would have made for easy posts because, frankly, the bias of the American news media has become so egregious that it’s not even interesting to point out anymore.  Even relatively straight reporting on President Trump’s actions tends to be slathered with subjectivity meant to instruct readers not on what has happened or what some policy will do, but to signal how they’re supposed to feel about it.

One article on which I almost posted yesterday was Amy Goldstein’s Washington Post piece, appearing in a watered-down version in today’s Providence Journal, on President Trump’s Affordable Care Act executive orderOnline, the Projo disappeared the article and sent the link to an entirely different AP release.  Take a look at this paragraph as originally posted:

The White House and allies portray the president’s move to expand access to “association health plans” as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces and letting some Americans buy skimpier coverage at lower prices. The order is Trump’s biggest step to carry out a broad but ill-defined directive he issued his first night in office for agencies to lessen ACA regulations from the Obama administration.

If this is an outlier in the mainstream coverage of President Trump, it isn’t by much.

This trend among journalists brings to mind the over-production of pop/rock music in the early ’70s.  The Beatles were famously unhappy with Phil Spector’s saturation of Let It Be with orchestration.  When George Harrison remastered All Things Must Past 15 years ago or so, the liner notes expressed his urge to “free the songs” from all of the layers of sound, and demos of the songs released with the Beatles Anthology albums give a wistful sense of what could have been.

In other words, the current style of reporting on the president as a sort of fad for adding layers of virtue-signaling editorial content to reporting.  Luckily there are (metaphorical) hard rock and folk trends running alongside the schlock if you know where to look.

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No Surprise: More Sex, More Consequences of Sex

News that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise is being reported as if it’s inexplicable, but it’s not really a new observation.  This is from Bill Tomison and Julianne Lima on WPRI:

The number of people in Rhode Island who have sexually transmitted diseases – especially chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – is way up, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. The trend is being seen nationwide, too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

Put together, it’s a ten-year high in the three STDs, the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Joseph Wendleken said on Wednesday. He called it “very disturbing.”

The reason why STDs are skyrocketing is not clear. Condoms and other forms of protection are more accessible than ever.The theory is that more people are taking part in risky sexual behavior and meeting more potential casual sex partners through the surge of online or app-based dating.

For those willing to look, these trend have popped up with reference to STDs as well as teenage pregnancies.  Most typically, however, the subject gets media attention in the context of trying to write off abstinence-only sex ed programs, so effects like that described above are downplayed because it runs contrary to the mainstream narrative.

The culture changes in an atmosphere of sex-promotion, and at the end of the day, the culture wins.  The underlying message of the condoms, condoms everywhere approach is that the urge toward sex cannot be resisted, which intrinsically contains rationalization for not resisting the urge for better-feeling non-prophylactic sex.

So, what do we end up getting?  More attempts to fix consequences, without consideration of the ever-broadening scope of those consequences — things like government-subsidized health care to provide screening and medicine that might reduce the likelihood of HIV infection, not to mention expanded funding for abortion.

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Achieving Health Care for All

From my wonky perspective, this is the most important part of Mike Stenhouse’s health care–related op-ed in today’s Providence Journal:

I believe that a two-pronged approach to health care can ensure affordable access for every American. First, let patients determine what level of coverage they need by repealing most government mandates. Health services and insurance have become unaffordable because of rapidly expanding government interference in the market. The free market did not create our health-care crisis; over-regulation did. Increased transparency and consumerism, as well as major tort reform, could reduce medical liability risks and further drive down costs.

Second, subsidies or vouchers for low- and middle-income Americans to purchase private insurance is a benefit a wealthy society such as ours should provide. If we pool all of the federal and state dollars currently allocated to health care — and eliminate wasteful government bureaucracies — we can subsidize sustainable, lower-cost, high-quality private health care for those who need assistance.

I’ve been arguing for this for about as long as health care policy has been a visible national topic of conversation.  Allow catastrophic-coverage plans that protect people in the case of… umm… catastrophe, and route everything else through health savings accounts that have some sort of tax favorability for those who contribute to them (whether the plan owner, an employer, or some sort of benefactor), from which Americans pay directly for health care services.

Such a program would cover everybody for the unpredictable worst, and it would preserve the utility of a pricing mechanism.  People would know what they’re paying for services and could decide whether any given procedure was worth the money.  Moreover, as a society, we could better understand what we’re funding when we deposit money into the accounts of our disadvantaged neighbors.  We could look at the cost of providing everybody with catastrophic coverage plus some basic preventative and emergency care, and then we could debate what additional services ought to be covered through the welfare program.

Meanwhile, employers, private charities, and others could make similar decisions for people in whom they take an interest.  Of course, this wouldn’t allow progressives to control our lives or siphon money from our health care.

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Gaming GOP Health Care for Scary Numbers

Dan McLaughlin points out a… let’s say… significant caveat about that study showing trillions in “cuts” to states in the latest Senate GOP health care proposal:

The study finds a $215 billion-over-seven-years reduction in spending from 2020-2026, but then jumps up to $489 billion when one more year is added, and ends up at $4.15 trillion by 2036. Why? Because Graham-Cassidy provides funding through 2026, then requires an affirmative reauthorization of the block grants after that. Avalere treats that “funding cliff” as if Congress has barred future funding. (“As the bill does not appropriate block grant funding to states after 2026, Avalere does not assume any state block grant funding available from 2027 onwards.”) Even over the full 17-year time horizon, as CAP Health Care analyst Topher Spiro confirmed to me on Twitter, the study assumes $1 trillion in cuts from the changed funding formula, meaning that 75% of the projected “cuts” are attributable entirely to the program requiring further authorization by Congress by 2026.

So, basically, researchers with integrity would have limited their time line to the period actually covered by the legislation.  When 2026, either the program would be working well and therefore be easily renewed or it wouldn’t be working well and Congress would have to come up with something else.  But the objective of this study — which the long window of itself strongly suggests — was clearly to stoke fear and gin up outrage.

Of course, as I emphasized last week, what really ought to be scaring Americans is the cost of ObamaCare if nothing is done.  Somehow, that angle doesn’t make it into the reporting, though.

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Limits on Your Health, Not on Government

With Rhode Island’s own Democrat congressional delegation, particularly Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, signing on for Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders’s single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care plan, Betsy McCaughey’s recent New York Post article is worth a read for its turning of the tables.

Details on how Sanders’s plan would actually work, notably with regard to paying for it, are sparse, but McCaughey teases out some implications of concern.  For one thing, according to McCaughey, private health care would be made illegal.  Everything would have to go through the government system.  Consideration of UHIP and DCYF in Rhode Island and the Veterans Health Administration nationally (to pick just three examples) make that prospect terrifying.

Perhaps even more significant, though, is this:

BernieCare guarantees you hospital care, doctors’ visits, dental and vision care, mental health and even long-term care, all courtesy of Uncle Sam. Amazing, right? But read the fine print. You’ll get care only if it’s “medically necessary” and “appropriate.” Government bureaucrats will decide, and they’ll be under pressure to cut spending.

That’s because Sanders’ bill imposes an annual hard-and-fast dollar limit on how much health care the country can consume. He makes it sound simple — Uncle Sam will negotiate lower prices with drug companies. Voilà. But driving a hard bargain with drug makers won’t make a dent in costs. Prescription drugs comprise only 10 percent of the nation’s health expenditures.

Consider this “hard-and-fast dollar limit” in the context of another national controversy over the debt ceiling and debate of the Senate GOP’s latest health care proposal, which would limit the expansion of government spending on health care, a prospect that Democrats and the media elite (not just news, by the way) are endeavoring to tar as inhumane.  How can it be cruel to limit government spending on health care, but just dandy to ration health care generally?

The quick (if specious) answer may be that government spending accrues to the vulnerable and disadvantaged, but that argument dissipates if the wealthy are barred from supplementing their own care.  Single-payer simply becomes the government providing care for services that and to people whom it considers worthy.

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Who Pays for Wasted Money?

A friend of mine has a favorite story about a coworker — both in a career for highly intelligent professionals — who seemed sincerely convinced that the government could help the economy by building jet airliners and flying them into the ocean.  Obviously, that’s an extreme iteration of a common economic ignorance that one would hope would cause most people to pause and think, “No, wait, that can’t be right.”

The anecdote came to mind while reading an AP story by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, about the big ObamaCare increases facing those who receive no subsidies for their individual plans:

“We’re caught in the middle-class loophole of no help,” said Thornton, a hairdresser from Newark, Delaware. She said she’s currently paying about $740 a month in premiums, and expects her monthly bill next year to be around $1,000, a 35 percent increase.

“It’s like buying two new iPads a month and throwing them in the trash,” said Thornton, whose policy carries a deductible of $6,000.

The point that needs to be stated is that it doesn’t make the waste any more palatable when other people are receiving those two trash-destined iPads per month courtesy of the U.S. government.  The number of people throwing out metaphorical iPads for which they’ve paid may be small, but adding all of the subsidies up amounts to a lot of airplanes at the bottom of the ocean.

Of course (to be fair), all that money isn’t just producing garbage but is buying insurance against risk, albeit at an exorbitant cost with unjustifiable increases.  Acknowledging that the money is buying somethinghowever, only directs our attention back to the underlying injustice:  The government is just forcing some Americans to buy something for other Americans… and undermining our rights and increasing our overall risk in order to do so.

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The Coincidence of Medicaid Expansion with Opioid Abuse

The Wall Street Journal recently put a spotlight on a matter that deserves more consideration:

A recent study by Express Scripts Holding found that about a quarter of Medicaid patients were prescribed an opioid in 2015. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson presents intriguing evidence that the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare may be contributing to the rise in opioid abuse. According to a federal Health and Human Services analysis requested by the Senator, overdose deaths per million residents rose twice as fast in the 29 Medicaid expansion states—those that increased eligibility to 138% from 100% of the poverty line—than in the 21 non-expansion states between 2013 and 2015.

There were also marked disparities between neighboring states based on whether they opted into ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. Deaths increased twice as much in New Hampshire (108%) and Maryland (44%)—expansion states—than in Maine (55%) and Virginia (22%). Drug fatalities shot up by 41% in Ohio while climbing 3% in non-expansion Wisconsin.

A quick look around the Internet didn’t produce Senator Johnson’s evidence, so I’m not able to say how Rhode Island fits into the picture.  Still, data from the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) shows that Rhode Island’s illicit drug use (other than marijuana) as a percentage of population matches that of New Hampshire, with Maine well below.  Recall that Rhode Island’s government jumped right into the Medicaid expansion with scarcely any discussion.

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Want Cancer Progress, Keep Progressive Government Out of It

Allysia Finley recently wrote a fascinating interview article for the Wall Street Journal with cancer researcher Carl June about a new strategy for curing cancer.  The conversation delves into the power of market forces and the undue burdens of regulation.

He’s also confident that economic competition will spur innovation. The University of Pennsylvania has licensed its CAR T-cell treatment to Novartis, and other pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing for their own cures. “There are at least 40 companies right now making CAR T-cells . . . and they are incentivized to make it more cheaply,” he says. “The rate of innovation is so fast, patent life is going to be irrelevant for T-cells because it will be like your phone. Every two or three years, you buy a new phone because it’s better even though the patent hasn’t gone out.”

Regulators can’t possibly keep up with the rate of technological change and, beyond the likelihood that incumbent players will capture them in order to hinder competition, that gives them incentive to hold innovation back to a rate that they can tolerate.  As June makes clear, the innovation and competition are more effective at regulation of products and prices than a handful of bureaucrats with their own incentive structures could be.

That was one of my central concerns when ObamaCare came online — that the anti-corporate, anti-profit Left, if allowed to dominate health care, would freeze our advances.  In short, if you really want progress in some area of society, your best bet is to keep the progressives out of it.

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The Government Caregiver Cometh

Editor of a Web site for seniors Carol Marak says she “made a very conscious decision” to remain single and childless.  One might question how conscious that decision could have been if this is accurate:

But today, Marak and her single, childless contemporaries are facing a repercussion of their decision that never crossed their minds as 30-somethings: “How in the world will we take care of ourselves?” she asks.

Having a spouse and children to take care of you is an obvious consideration and ought to be top-of-mind when making these sorts of major life decisions.  If that isn’t the case, our culture must be doing something to suppress this thought and make it seem less consequential.

In that context, it’s astonishing that Anna Medaris Miller’s article never raises one very probable response to Marak’s question:  Aging Baby Boomers will vote themselves massive amounts of government assistance, to be financed by subsequent generations without the help of the children those Boomers never had.

Apart from the direct costs of using government to replace families, if we’re not careful we’ll edge toward a generation that is dependent upon government for its senior-years support and vulnerable to a growing push to give government control of health care and to allow assisted suicide.  (On the bright side, doctors won’t have to rely on family members to hold down people they’re killing if the victims patients don’t have families.)

Miller’s article certainly points to a problem that we need to address, as a society, but we should do so culturally, not through government.

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Chilling: H5069, Single Payer Healthcare (And the Inconsistencies It Poses)

In the course of reviewing certain bills filed during this year’s General Assembly session, I clicked on H5069 — and stared in growing horror at all of the red-lining (i.e., everything to be struck from current law). I turned to the succinct description of this bill written by Justin Katz, Research Director for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, for the Center’s Freedom Index and the horror did not abate:

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Single-Payer Healthcare is an Assault on Families’ Rights to Make Personal Medical Decisions

Recently on the world stage, we’ve witnessed the unthinkable results of a government-controlled health care system in Great Britain. The tragic story of Charlie Gard’s death and his parents battle against a socialist health care system has broken the hearts of you, me, and people around the world.

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Acceptance of Life’s Disappointments, U.S. and U.K. Attitudes

Here’s some interesting philosophizing on a rainy summer day.  Building on the observation that folks in England are too content to accept drying machines that don’t dry, Corinne Purtill draws broad conclusions about the difference between Brits and their American peers.

Purtill herself is an American just returning to her native country after five years across the Pond, and although she flirts with complimenting her fellow Americans, she can’t quite bring herself to side with us.  Indeed, in backing away from that conclusion, she may capture modern progressives’ true sense of trade offs:

This American bias toward change—newer, better, different—has fueled countless innovations. It has also fueled a culture of thoughtless consumerism.

Like progressives, one gets the sense that Purtill’s final analysis is that “thoughtless consumerism” outweighs “countless innovations” on the scale of human values:

Under the proper circumstances, [the British have] is a mature and useful perspective. Suffering—large and small—is an unavoidable feature of human existence. In the face of illness, loss, or heartbreak, the American insistence on looking on the bright side and fixing the problem can feel heartlessly clueless. Some things cannot be fixed.

Here’s what Purtill misses: Seeing a “bright side” shows that there is acceptance of suffering.  We accept what is and seek to improve what can be changed.  Why compound the loss of a loved one with the frustrations of a dryer that doesn’t work?

For that matter, why not work to reduce the amount of human suffering?  Let’s turn our lens in the other direction and witness Charlie Gard, whose parents the British government told they could not try to save his life, even though they had the money and a doctor willing to attempt new methods for helping him.  Where did the parents want to take the child for help? The United States.

Maybe it’s because I’m so thoroughly American that I can’t achieve an adequately “mature and useful” perspective, but I can’t quite see how innovating to fix problems while maintaining a fundamentally positive outlook on life is the “heartlessly clueless” attitude, here.

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