Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Between 1965 and 2011, the official poverty rate was essentially flat, while the government spending per person on poverty programs rose by more than 900% after inflation.
We are a nation of assimilated immigrants.
Immigration without assimilation is invasion.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Partial posting, 1730 Wednesday; letters added at 2140; post complete.
This cold/flu hangs on longer than I thought, and there are construction workers making startling noises at random intervals as they work on my house now that the rains are over, so I’m not sure what we have here, or what order to present it in. I have a massive amount of interesting mail on subjects that need comment, and not a lot of energy to make comments with. I’ll do the best I can.
The present discussion is “replacing” Obamacare. Since that is impossible, it is difficult to discuss. Obamacare cannot easily be replaced, because of its most popular feature, which appears to be endorsed by Trump: forbidding insurance companies from denying you “insurance” or charging you a higher premium because you have pre-existing conditions. Of course a policy they have to sell you despite pre-existing conditions is not insurance at all; it’s a subsidy.
Imagine if they banned charging more for “pre-existing conditions” when selling home fire insurance, or auto collision insurance, or property liability insurance. You have bought no fire insurance. Your house catches fire and is severely damaged. You go to the local insurance office and ask to buy a fire insurance policy which will cover your present problems. They would laugh at you. So you get the local legislative body to insist they sell it to you. They do: the premium is the cost of your house repairs, plus some other fees. When you protest, the agent explains, politely, that the insurance company is in business to make money, and they cannot sell you a policy on which they know up front that they will lose money; thus the price.
Now you go back to the legislature and get them to forbid the insurance company from charging you more than your neighbors pay just because you have a “pre-existing condition,” namely that your house has already burned down.
The company thinks about this, then divides your costs by the number of policyholders that it has, and adds the resulting number to the cost of a policy. If this case involved only you, and the company was large, the additional price would not be very great, and perhaps few would notice; but if thousands of uninsured people whose houses had already burned came in insisting that the company sell them a policy at the rate anyone else could buy a policy for, insurance prices would skyrocket; as indeed they have under Obamacare. Requiring everyone to buy the policy under pain of a fine would help only if (1) the fine were large enough, and (2) there were enough people with enough money who could afford the policies.
If not, the plan fails again: either they pay the fine and buy a policy if and only if their house burns, or they plead poverty and can’t buy it at all, then ask for welfare to pay for their ruined dwelling. Meanwhile, that local insurance company, with many of its fellow companies, has got out of the fire insurance business, and does something else. My neighbor finds himself unable to afford fire insurance, and can only hope and pray that his house does not burn.
Of course, we have few politicians silly enough to do this with fire insurance, and insurance companies abandoning health care insurance still sell fire insurance.
I could go through the same arguments for auto insurance: you don’t get to buy collision insurance after the accident totaled your car, and if you got the law changed to require the insurance company to sell you a policy at the same rate that someone without a pre-existing wreck would pay, everyone’s collision auto insurance would skyrocket. The same with liability insurance: if you were involved in a wreck that destroyed you neighbor’s car, and you didn’t have enough liability insurance to cover it, do you think you could now buy some? And if you passed a law requiring the auto insurance company to sell it to you despite the pre-existing condition, what would happen to auto insurance rates?
Turn now to health insurance. The old story about pre-existing conditions generally concerned someone who had health insurance – generally provided by an employer – and lost it because he changed employers. He had, since his last insurance application examination, developed a condition: cancer, perhaps, which was discovered in the examination for the new policy. If he had not changed jobs, he would have remained insured, and when his dread disease manifested itself, his insurance company would have had to pay. Now he has no insurance since the new policy is denied due to pre-existing conditions. He is in big trouble, and through no fault of his own.
That sort of situation might be amenable to legislation; some combination of liability assignment, some to the individual, some to the previous insurance company, and some to the new one. It could get tricky, and I won’t attempt a plan here; there would have to be an interval between employments when premiums would continue to be paid (COBRA worked in our case) and perhaps the new company could be mandated to accept applicants with a similar policy with a different company: after all, he was insured, he didn’t have the pre-existing condition when he bought the first policy, and had it been discovered while he still had the old policy – etc.
But that is not what Obamacare did, and the mandate to accept, and with no additional premium cost, “pre-existing conditions” is very popular among Republicans, Democrats, and Mr. Trump. The problem is that this is not insurance at all. It is an entitlement, and an expensive one at that. I see no way to keep that provision and “replace” Obamacare. The Republicans will have to bite the bullet: admit that you can’t “insure” against something that has already happened. If you got a policy as a non-smoker and took up the habit of smoking, would you expect your rates to go up? What about obesity? You weren’t fat when you bought the first policy, but you are now; yet the second company cannot charge you more for this (now) pre-existing condition? That’s nonsense.
Insurance companies are in business to make money. One way they make money is shrewd investment of the large pools of money they collect, but they must be very careful on those investments, because at any time there may be enormous cash demands from an insured who has suffered a stroke, or heart attack, or automobile accident. The mathematics of insurance are complex, and different companies use different mathematics: they have in essence bet that you will pay them before your claim, in premiums, as much or more as they are now going to pay for the claim. They make their profits largely on careful investment of that money before the claim.
If an early claim is fairly certain – pre-existing conditions – there is a near certainty that they will lose money on the policy. There is no reason for them to sell you that policy, no matter how much you want to buy it. The inducement in Obamacare was that making everyone buy the policies would let them profit because everyone does not need insurance; it has a negative expected value for young healthy people. (Actually, it has a negative expected value for all purchasers, but that’s another discussion: there are still good reasons to take out insurance policies. This has been discussed for a very long time, a great deal of it during the Chancellorship of Bismarck.
We are not going to settle the issue here, but be aware that replacing Obamacare and keeping the requirement that they not charge more for pre-existing conditions is impossible, because what emerges is not insurance at all, but a complex scheme of subsidies not only to the “insured” but also to the insurance companies. Those subsidies have to be paid either with taxes or borrowed money; there is no other source. An enormous boom in the economy with a great increase in productivity may mask this while it lasts, but booms don’t last forever; and the productivity increases may be due to increased use of robots; that makes for more goods, but fewer jobs. But that, too, is a matter for a different discussion.
(I am presuming that we will never levy tribute on the neighbors, or send the armed forces out to loot and sack and bring home what they can’t hide which gives us revenue neither borrowed nor taxed. Of course that has been done, by democracies as well as tyrannies, but it is not a practice usually employed by the United States.)
You can repeal Obamacare, complete with the restrictions insurance companies can place on applicants with pre-existing condition; but you cannot “replace” it with anything keeping that restriction except with massive subsidies which at present we cannot afford.
What is the EM Drive? And Does it Really Work? Scott Manley
Scottish astronomer Scott Manley in sixteen minutes covers the original peer reviewed paper on EmDrive, how the experiment detailed in the paper worked,the implications for physics if the reported observations in the paper are repeatable, and why he is still a skeptic, while admitting that he believes it would be, as surfers might put it, “way hanging low cool” if it works.
That’s my view, but of course I have no data and don’t experiment. Extraordinary claims – and this is certainly extraordinary – require extraordinary evidence. I would very much like to see a series of crucial experiments to determine once and for all if we have thrust without mass ejection. It may be that something is ejected; but if it can keep it up for weeks without noticeable mass loss, something interesting is going on.
Cheap access to interplanetary space changes the economic situation something wonderful.
Irrationality in the election process
Donald Trump’s primary run and election shocked me. By shocked, I mean more than surprised. So much so that I changed my views on politics. Where before I believed in making a choice of candidate based on reason, Trump showed me that I was mistaken. (In this sense Trump followed Hitler, and I do not mean that as an insult. Like Hitler, Trump treated the election as irrational and acted accordingly. The result validated his approach.)
IMO Trump’s primary run demonstrated that the electoral process is not rational. If he ever showed consistency in his approach to different candidates, I failed to see it. Instead, it seemed to me that he shifted with the winds and worked to project an image that would garner the most votes at the moment. Opportunistic populism, if you will.
Trump’s approach in the general election changed again. Trump’s attacked Hillary Clinton by echoing the perceptions of the people of Middle America. She never answered his attacks, possibly because she thought a response to be beneath her dignity, possibly because she had no answer; but in either case, Trump damaged her. Clinton played well in California. Trump played well in the swing states that decided the election.
Anyway, that is my view of the election. I shall be grateful to hear yours.
Live long and prosper
h lynn keith
That may be the first use of Hitler in rational discourse I have seen in some time. I am not sure I have a complete understanding of the Trump strategy; like nearly everyone else not already in the Trump camp, I thought he had no path to the White House.
CIA Data Dump
I’m still waiting for the real story with this; I see nothing that I didn’t know or expect. But, I saw one thing that interested me. The spying software for the Samsung smart TV was developed by CIA and MI5
— as opposed to MI6. I suspect you know the difference and it was not surprising to see a foreign US intelligence service cooperating with a domestic UK intelligence service to learn new ways to spy on folks. I always say the UK is on the cutting edge of tyranny and it’s not meant as an insult but an observation.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Joshua Jordan, KSC
I am not at all sure what we ought to be doing, who ought to be pardoned, and who ought to be prosecuted.
Del Valle, Texas
More on the “Russian” hack
From Wikileaks’ release of CIA documents. Could this be the source of the “Russian” hacks?
“The CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.
With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”
Richard White Del Valle, Texas
Trump Wiretaps Timeline
There’s a ten-step timeline of the apparent Obama Administration wiretapping of the Trump campaign, based on what’s public so far, at
Step 4, “October: FISA request” is particularly interesting.
“The Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.”
No evidence found, but wiretaps continue? “..for national security reasons”? Of a Trump Tower computer server? So, they were apparently reading the campaign’s email? Starting when?
Also, “wiretaps” plural? Were they just looking at that one server the FISA court had authorized (after shooting down a broader surveillance request)? Or might they have been casting a wider net? Listening also, say, to phone calls?
I have to wonder where the information came from that Senator Sessions had in fact had a meeting (plus an apparent casual public encounter) with the Russian ambassador.
The obvious source would be, covert surveillance of that ambassador.
If so, that would presumably be classified information. How did it come to the Post?
And if not, then was the information from covert surveillance of Senator Sessions? If so, done by who, and on what authority?
I’m beginning to think some people might have taken the assumption they had no chance of losing this election and run just a little too far with it.
Then instead of just covering up after November, doubling down.
This is rapidly getting very interesting indeed.
Trump Wiretaps Timeline
And here’s a detailed look at the legal implications if the Obama Administration indeed sought and used FISA court warrants to wiretap the Trump campaign, then disseminated (rather than instantly deleted) information on US citizens from these taps that was NOT “information necessary to protect the United States against actual or potential grave hostile attack, war-like sabotage or international terror.”
Short version: This lawyer says both obtaining the second, narrowly-targeted FISA warrant without mention of “Trump” and any dissemination of information gathered from it are both serious crimes.
One more addition to the timeline also – before the first, named-Trump attempt to get a FISA warrant failed (only the 13th such refusal out of over 35,000 such requests) the previous Administration is supposed to have tried for a wiretap warrant through the ordinary courts. That initial request is said to have also been turned down for complete lack of evidence.
Of course there is denial that any warrants were requested, and definite denial that if any were President Obama was unaware of them. I am not aware that we have heard from Sally Yates, who presumably would have been involved. As you say, interesting times.
2110 Wednesday: it now appears there was a FISA warrant in October, according to a usually reliable but not official government source. The last message we had from General Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, was that there were no FISA warrants obtained regarding the Trump organization; now we are told that there was one, and also a “regular court” warrant as well. No evidence was found of any collusion between the Trump Organization and Russia. During the Cold War the search for American academics and government employees influenced by or under the discipline of Communism or the Communist International was very controversial.
random thoughts on health care
I may have thought of a possible solution to the conundrum of uninsured pre-existing conditions (and unpaid emergency room visits, etc.)
The government will advance money to cover the condition, at prevailing rates of Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement, assuming the risk of non-payment, but will manage collections as if the present value of the advance is a tax to be recovered (complete with penalties and interest) from the patient or their estate.
Otherwise manage the health insurance industry so as to minimize costs of services provided, with high copays (or total cost out of pocket) for “lifestyle”-induced charges such as smoking, obesity, drug abuse, and the consequences of risky sexual practices.
I doubt that would work. but I am not sure why; perhaps when I am better recovered.
I was sent this link in mail and promptly lost the message. I did open the link. It is an interesting account. Note, though:
Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish?
Newly discovered evidence is upending our understanding of how early settlers made a life on the island — and why they suddenly disappeared
[snip]Accordingly, the Vikings were not just dumb, they also had dumb luck: They discovered Greenland during a time known as the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from about 900 to 1300. Sea ice decreased during those centuries, so sailing from Scandinavia to Greenland became less hazardous. Longer growing seasons made it feasible to graze cattle, sheep and goats in the meadows along sheltered fjords on Greenland’s southwest coast. In short, the Vikings simply transplanted their medieval European lifestyle to an uninhabited new land, theirs for the taking.[snip]
The entire story makes it clear that it was warmer in Viking times than now, which is the important point. No hockey stick.
Stephen’s proposed cure is worse than the disease
Also, Stanley Schmidt said it (or a version of it) over 20 years ago.
Bottom line, the only way to ensure that individuals never achieve the power to destroy the world is a world tyranny that stops all research and scientific training. Which in and of itself would inevitably end in the United Nation’s “Agenda 21” extreme depopulation agenda. Even without Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
The species-level solution is to get off planet as rapidly and widely as possible, and having enough people as broadly trained as possible in ways to recognize and defeat the symptoms of individual – and/or – state-sponsored WMD megalomania, with (at most) enough government to coordinate their efforts without curtailing the liberty or learning experiences of the world’s benign citizens.
My CoDominium stories have that theme: the CoDominium tries to suppress scientific research. It is never very successful and eventually flat fails.
I think the Obamunists are being a bit ‘cute’ when they deny ‘tapping Trump’s phones’.
That may in fact be accurate.
They don’t have to ‘tap’ his phones, specifically. They tap EVERYONE’s phones—and all their other electronic communications—and archive the data.
Then, considering that you can walk down to Best Buy and purchase 4 terabytes of storage that soak up less than 5 watts, all for $123 (today’s price), look at the capabilities (and power requirements) of this facility while keeping in mind that the el cheapo 4TB drive can archive 16 years of a single phone line. 24/7/365:
Remember, this is only the latest, and most highly publicized, of MANY such facilities operated by NSA.
What they do, that is illegal, is to to task their insiders in the SIGINT system to search the electronic archives for ANY communications from, to, or about their political enemies that could be used to embarrass or blackmail them and use it for maximum political advantage. And we see the results.
So, technically, they didn’t ‘tap’ Trump’s phone. They just searched the archives for every electronic communication from, to, or about him and leaked the most promising results to the press.
As a reminder, remember the time that Newt was in a parking lot somewhere and there just happened to be an intercept hobbyist near him who had an intercept system in his car, with recorder, who just happened to be scanning along, stumbled across Newt’s conversation, recognized who was talking, understood the importance of what was being said, and started his recorders in time to record the entire conversation? And of course, being a rabid Democrat, he felt obligated to turn the tape over to the DNC (or some senior Democratic official; I didn’t look the recipient up). And how, despite the blatant illegality of intercepting and recording private conversations, nothing happened to the fortuitous hobbyist? We know what happened to Newt, though.
You can believe that story if you want to; I prefer to believe that the bulk NSA intercepts were combed for Newt’s traffic, that particular conversation appeared to be a deadly weapon against him, and the partisan ‘hobbyist’—really? he accidentally ran across Newt’s conversation on his scanner, in his car, recognized his voice, and started his recorders in time to record both sides of the conversation, which occur on different frequencies—simply provided the cover which the MSM (the propaganda arm of the DNC) would run with and defend against all attacks.
It does appear (Wikileaks) that the NSA and others have collected a powerful lot of data; how much has been processed is not known. I am uncertain whether processing already collected data requires a FISA warrant; one thing Congress should discover and publicize.
The New Moon Race? Orion vs Dragon
Dear Doctor Pournelle,
Report that SpaceX has two clients with the money and courage to pay for a flight in a Dragon capsule to the moon and back, on a free return trajectory, late next year.
NASA is also planning to fly its’ first ORION mission in 2019, and to send it into lunar orbit for a week. This would also be the first launch of the new SLS heavy lifter, able to place 70 tons into LEO.
Things may finally be moving towards a manned lunar base of some sort, and even better, one where English is not a second language…
The last Moon Race went well; perhaps this one will? Of course if EM Drive works—
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.