Tuesday, December 03, 2013
America as Ukraine
Ще не вмерла Україна, ні слава, ні воля*
I've not blogged for quite awhile, owing to an unusually busy and difficult semester. That's a bit unfortunate, because so much is happening that I'd like to comment on. Well, after mid-December we will be back in action. (For one thing, we will be crowing because so far we are batting about 80% on our predictions for 2012!)
But events in my old home, Ukraine, won't wait. If you haven't followed the story, Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution threw out the corrupt pro-Russian/Soviet leadership in favor of a pro-West pro-market president and government. Unfortunately, while liberal in the classical sense, Yuschenko was also ineffectual (there's something about having Russia's FSB/KGB attempt to assassinate you that makes you cautious, I guess). His opponent and Putin's favorite Ukrainian Viktor Yanukovych managed to win the 2010 presidential elections. He set about turning to Russia, reducing ties with the West, and increasing corruption and authoritarianism. Ukraine's perpetual struggle to break the shackles of Russian domination was dealt another blow in late November of this year, when Yanukovich refused to sign a free trade agreement with the E.U. and instead gave indications he would join Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In other words, Yanukovych turned down a chance for closer ties with the free world (this term still has meaning in East-West terms) in favor of those bastions of liberty and prosperity, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Just think... if he plays his cards right, Putin might even "let" Ukraine join the Belarus-Russia Alliance!
Ukrainians responded by protesting in Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti, "Independence Square," and elsewhere. In turn, Yanukovych's Berkut and other security forces responded violently. And now, in demonstrations reminiscent of Ukraine's glorious Orange Revolution, Ukrainians** are erupting. In Kyiv, thousands of people are blocking government buildings, essentially enforcing a real government shutdown.
Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, held a vote on "no confidence" in the Azarov government, but it failed; the opposition had 41% of the Rada, but needed to break 50%. What's left? It's now in the hands of the Ukrainian people themselves. There will be turmoil and civil disobedience, of course. And, I hope, further political action that will bring down the Yanukovych and install a pro-reform, pro-freedom, pro-independence leadership. We at Unforeseen Contingencies fervently hope that the Ukrainians prevail over the Russians, and that Ukraine retains its independence and is able to advance freedom.
So far as I can tell, the U.S. government is largely neutral (neutered) in this affair. Obama is either in Putin's thrall or sees this as a way to further wreck the West... or maybe he simply doesn't care. Regardless, the soft power Obama was supposedly going to wield doesn't exist, and America is out of the picture.
But more interestingly for me, despite the entirely different histories, cultures, demographics, geographies, and institutional arrangements, America and Ukraine seem on strangely parallel courses. Like Ukraine, American is now in the hands of a leader who is a lawless thug, one who spouts utter nonsense and pursues destructive policies that ruin the country and sell its people into vassalage, but build his and his political cronies' power and wealth. Congress seems unwilling or unable to respond. The Supreme Court is complicit. As in Ukraine, it is left to alternative powers to try to stop the destruction. In our case the alternative powers are not just the people but also the States -- our federal system gives us an additional check on the federal government's power, and in many respects Americans'** position is much stronger than that of Ukrainians. Still, both countries are in dire straits, burdened with dangerous leaders who are selling out what freedom we have for their own benefit. Both are in danger of being saddled with institutions that will impoverish us and leave us beholden to governmental masters. May heaven help us and may freedom prevail.
I'd like for that to be the end of my post. Given the extreme threats to life and liberty that we're seeing from our federal government, I'd like it if we could minimize the discord in the libertarian and quasi-libertarian camps. But alas! Never failing to disappoint one's lowest expectations, Lew Rockwell and his band of pseudo-anarchist pseudo-libertarian pro-communist idiots are all in favor of the Berkut beating the heads of my friends in Ukraine for daring to protest. You see, the EU is actually the new USSR and Vladimir Putin is Ukraine's bulwark against totalitarianism.
Yeah, right. This is simply lunacy. But it's par for the course. Keep in mind that their leading light, Murray Rothbard, went to extreme lengths to defend Josef Stalin on "libertarian" grounds. Ugh. But if this is how Rockwell, Raimondo, and the rest of them feel, they should contact us here at Unforeseen Contingencies. We'll be happy to arrange for them one-way tickets to their destinations of choice in the SCO... provided they promise to stay there.
* First line of Ukraine's national anthem. The ideas in the first verse are worth contemplating:
Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom,
Upon us, fellow Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more.
Our enemies will vanish like dew in the sun,
And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own
**Yes, yes, I know, there are Ukrainians who favor vassalage to Russia and there are Americans who favor vassalage to a progressive authoritarian state. But they don't count.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Happy Day After U.N. Day!
Case in point: the U.N. bureaucracy has embarked on a jihad against The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and state "castle doctrine" and "stand your ground" laws. Read the U.N. link to see how utterly crackpot the U.N. is -- they are taking their lead from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an obscure collectivist black separatist organization that trains young black people as "Afrikan Scouts," learning combat and survival skills. I hasten to add I am all for teaching all young people such skills, along with pride and appreciation for one's heritage -- it's the racist and collectivist "one people one destiny" message I oppose. The MXGM message is one the U.N. "experts" would be joining me in vehemently denouncing if Camp Pumziko were "whites only."
It only gets crazier. Another U.N. "expert" was outraged that his investigation into "stand your ground" laws was delayed by Obama's shutdown, and denounced the Republican Party and endorsed Obamacare. One would suppose that domestic political matters might be seen as outside the scope of a U.N. investigation on "human rights," or that the design of health insurance markets and governmental budget issues would be seen as outside the expertise of "human rights" lawyer -- but no, there's apparently infinite hubris on the part of these self-appointed "experts."
Here's an excellent analysis of the U.N. bureaucracratic meddling that goes far deeper than I do here, and it's worth reading. (Thanks to Alex Newman and The New American.) Meanwhile, the clueless dunce U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has announced that the United States have committed themselves to the U.N. Small Arms Treaty. Well, no. The U.S. Senate has not ratified the treaty and unless this happens the U.S. is no more "committed" to it than it is to the League of Nations. Furthermore, the Second Amendment of the Constitution precludes substantial portions of the treaty -- the Senate has no authority to amend the Constitution. And furthermore, the American people have final say in this, since we, not the Congress, nor the President, nor the Supreme Court, are the ultimate source of political authority. Any "authority" the U.N. has is derived from member states, and hence the U.N. is so far down the chain of authority as to make its claims of authority absurd and laughable.
But by all means, if the U.N. wishes to try to enforce gun control or any other of its crackpot schemes in the United States, it should go right ahead. That would be one way to ensure its rapid demise.
(Note: some of the more conspiracy-minded argue that there really are various plans afoot to have U.N. "Blue Helmets" occupy the United States. I'm quite skeptical, but who knows what the kookier of the international "experts" might be thinking --after all, I once heard one state in an interview on NPR that private property rights had to be abolished everywhere in the world. But more to the point, even if the U.N. voted unanimously to invade the U.S., there's a little problem. The only country in the world capable of transporting the enormous number of forces that would be required is the United States. Hence U.N. Blue Helmets occupying the U.S. remains a fantasy.)
(Thanks to Sipsey Street for originally posting some of the material I've cited here.)
Thursday, October 24, 2013
On 12 October I participated in the 32nd running of the Le Grizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon in the Flathead region of Montana. As regular readers know (recently several people have actually claimed to be regular readers!), Barack Obama's spiteful shutdown included canceling the permit from the USFS to run the traditional course along Hungry Horse Reservoir. RD Pat Caffrey worked like crazy to establish a new, non-federally-shutdownable course on Montana Secondary 486, and in the process established a new Le Grizz aphorism..."The federal government has shut down. Le Grizz does not shut down." Readers already know that Caffrey was successful, and I completed my 13th Le Grizz. Here's the rest of the story.
I arrived in the Flathead a few days early to check out the course and relax; Montana's Flathead Valley and the surrounding mountains are particularly lovely in early October. It tends to be cool, and the tamaracks and quaking aspens are changing color. There might be a skiff of snow down low, and certainly more on the mountaintops. And the summer tourists are are long gone and the skiers haven't yet arrived.
My crew began arriving as well -- my mother, who had last been at Le Grizz in 2007, showed up with my brother John and his wife Renette, neither of whom had crewed for me before. Longtime friend and fellow adventurer and crew member Jeff Ross arrived, with Luna as navigator. And a friend of ours from MSU days, Marc Pittman, also joined us. None of use had seen Marc since, well, he claims it has been 37 years, which seems about right. (By MSU I mean the real one -- Montana State University.)
I took advantage of the early start. Despite my somewhat improved running, I figured I needed all the help I could get. I know pretty much all of the early starters anyway, and it is fun to meet with them and to run in the lead for a bit. The race began at the Polebridge Mercantile, which kindly opened its doors very early for us. We started out in the dark, ran out maybe 1/4 mile to Montana 486 and headed south. I felt great for a change -- I think that's the effect of the speedwork -- I seem to warm up more quickly. We ran 3 or 4 miles south and turned around. As we headed north, it started to get light, and soon I was tied for the "lead" (but in fact, already an hour behind most people, running with Adriana M. of Missoula. I've run with her before in races, most notably at Elkhorn 2012, where I caught up with her about 60 seconds after she had a little meeting with a bear that ran past her. As we ran together talking, some race support in a truck point out to us a couple of very healthy looking foxes (man, were they furry) watching us. One ran off and I called to the other one to come run with us. It looked like it actually might -- it took a step toward us, but then hesitated, turned and vanished... kind of the way Adrian did a few miles later. We ran together until maybe mile 10, and then, good bye. She had told me she had to finish, drive back to Missoula, and start working by 8:00PM... an emergency guardian ad litem case had just come up, which is why she did the early start. Awesome running performance and even more awesome dedication.
The rest of the day consisted mostly of running with Jeff and Marc accompanying me on bikes, and regular rendezvous with the rest of my crew every 4 or 5 miles. I cannot say enough to do justice to all my crew members. They were upbeat and encouraging, they took care of my every need and then some. Marc and Jeff got me a huckleberry bear claw baked that morning at Polebridge Merc, Marc handed me astounding ginger cookies just baked by his wife, Jeff stuffed me full of cashews when I needed protein and fat, and Mom, John, and Renette kept me hydrated and passed me chunks of elk summer sausage. Mostly it was just fun to talk with them all. (Funny thing... talking with Marc felt like we'd last seen each other only a couple of days ago, not 37 years.) I also talked with numerous runners, fast and slow, and their crews. Great time.
It was pretty cool and overcast. We had a a little graupel, but no rain. I felt very strong, and I think I ran relatively fast for the first 20 or so miles. I slowed down for various reasons, but felt pretty good throughout. Towards the end I was unsure how much farther we had and did not push when I might have. The course was, I think, harder than earlier courses. This s almost certainly true, since it is an out-and-back while the others involve net altitude loss. But also the hills were deceptive -- driving them a few days before wasn't bad, but they were frickin' loooooooong!
I finished faster than last year. If readers care about the time, they'll have to consult the Le Grizz Gazette, it was still so slow I won't report it myself.
At the finish Pat told me to hang around for a special award. I did, and in a few minutes was summoned before the wildly cheering crowd to receive the "Government Shutdown Award," for most volatile commentary on Le Grizz and the government shutdown. Unforeseen Contingencies, now an award winning blog (see last page of the 2013 Le Grizz Gazette for more details). I have to say, the Obama strategy of inflicting pain on the American people simply in order to try to preserve the badly designed and horribly executed Obamacare is one of the most vindictive, vicious, and alarming acts I have seen for an American official in my lifetime. I suspect we are in for worse before this is over. But the post cited in the Gazette illustrates clearly how we can get through any difficulties.
Afterwards my crew and I headed for the firepit and the traditional fried chicken, beer and potatoes. I cannot say how wonderful this combination is after a 50 mile run. I simply urge all readers to try the entire experience themselves.
Sated, we started heading back for our vehicles, when suddenly in the not-so-far-distance a wolf pack began howling. It's only the second time I have heard wolves in the wild, and if you've not heard this... well, one more good reason to run 50 miles in the Montana wilderness. The evening I bumped into a crew member for Jim Ballard (who finished his 20th Le Grizz, just a little ways behind me). She told me how she had gotten out of their rig to go back to bring Jim some stuff, and suddenly out of the dark a large wolf ran right in front of her. She jumped back into the car. Several runners also saw grizzlies during the race, and Jeff and Marc noticed a live trap the MT Fish & Game had set for a problem grizzly that has been up to some sort of mischief.
You know, it's really quite a different feeling to spend most of the day running slowly, realizing you are only midrange in the food chain, and everyone above you is considerably faster.
The next day we had a big breakfast at the always excellent buffalo cafe in Whitefish MT. Later John, Mom, and I drove up along Hungry Horse Reservoir on the traditional course. There was no evidence at all of the shutdown. Nothing was closed -- not that "closing" really was in the realm of possibility -- what exactly would you close? Would you demand the bears hibernate early? Fence out the elk? Or just tell people they have to stay in town and pretend the rest of the world is closed? Plenty of people were out cutting firewood and the like. And USFS has no role at all in Le Grizz, other than requiring a fee for a permit. They don't attend the race, don't supervise it, don't do a damn thing other than take our fee...which I presume was refunded. Some "shutdown."
But it was a great race, not to be forgotten. I hope there are many more. Obamacare and other things coming down the pike are going to do great damage to this country. I summarize what is wrong with ACA here, and in the future will talk about other problems. But despite the best efforts of various political visionaries and schemers, the good will conquer the bad. Le Grizz is about what is right with the world and with America. It's about individuals tackling difficult challenges, it's about enjoying life, it's about people supporting it other, it's about having fun together, it's about appreciating the beauty of the wild and of civilization. (Huckleberry bear claws combine the best of both.) That's what will prevail.
So stay tuned for the Second Saturday in October 2014!
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Unforeseen Contingencies makes Le Grizz Gazette!
What's wrong with Obamacare, anyway?
Before beginning I should mention two things: First, I'll mostly focus on economic issues. But in addition there are important ethical, political, and Constitutional problems with ACA which I'll largely ignore. That's not to imply they are unimportant, for they are; but because the budget and debt ceiling are first of all economic issues, I'll stick to the economics. Second, any criticism of ACA should not be taken as a defense of the status quo. To the contrary, the pre-ACA status quo was unacceptable. The problem with our current "solution" is, in a nutshell, that it retains and reinforces many of the bad parts of the status quo while it jettisons many of the better parts.
In fact, perhaps that's a good place to start. The basic problem with the American health care system was incoherent prices and overall costs that were spiraling upwards. But what would you expect when consumers (patients) not only didn't directly bear the costs of the health services they used, they couldn't even find out what prices were? The medical equivalent of the recent food stamp (EBT card) fiasco in Louisiana, that's what you'd expect. The way health insurance is structured, the cost of getting additional services is effectively zero for consumers. Why economize when goods are essentially free? Fill up those shopping baskets with everything your doctor happens to suggest.
But of course health care services aren't free. The consumption of services as if they were free means a much higher quantity demanded. To the extent prices are free to fluctuate, this demand makes them rise, which in turn drives up the cost of insurance. And to the extent prices aren't free, other kinds of costs -- e.g. availability and waiting time for a doctor -- increase. Exacerbating this is that doctors themselves have incentive to recommend procedures of limited or doubtful usefulness without regard for cost. Since the patient doesn't bear the cost, the patient might possibly benefit, and the doctor certainly benefits -- what's not to like? Given all this, it's not surprising that health care spending has been high with a rapid rate of growth.
A genuine solution would involve the consumer-patient directly bearing costs of what he uses, so that he and his doctor would have incentive to weigh expected benefits against costs before adding more procedures. Unfortunately, ACA goes in exactly the opposite direction, further divorcing the patient from the decision making process. All insurance policies must meet government standards; they must be comprehensive, coverage amount must be unlimited (good grief!), and insurance premiums must largely avoid risk rating. And since insurance is now mandatory, we should expect enrollment to increase. And to the extent insurance enrollment increases, so does demand for health care -- demand that is uncoupled from careful consideration of costs. If you expect this to do something other than further drive up prices, well, back to Econ 101 with you! A real solution puts patients in charge. ACA does the opposite, largely eliminating patient choice with its mandates and dictates. (BTW, CBO omitted this from their analyses, mostly because because law forbids them from incorporating theory into their projections, but I suspect also they were pressured to do this. I think this because some CBO reports specifically raise the possibility of increased demand affecting prices and dismiss it, rather than simply noting it.)
To make matters worse, the increased expense forced upon existing health care plans (they too must meet guvamint standards) drives their prices up. Also, the ACA forces most firms to either provide this more expensive insurance for all their "full time" employees ("full time" is now 30 hours, according to the ACA) or pay fines. Since insurance is quite expensive relative to the fines, many firms are choosing to cancel their insurance programs and send their employees to those wonderful Obamacare exchanges. And because ACA raises the price of insurance, firms are also cutting back on full time employees and increasing the use of part time workers. This helps lock-in underemployment and at the same time imposes higher premiums with higher deductibles on the underemployed.
ACA imposes two basic solutions to these problems. The first is IPAB, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a commission that gets to decide what procedures will be covered by Obamacare, and what they will cost. Think Gosplan and you'll have the idea. IPAB also has what is effectively control over federal spending on health care -- it requires a 3/5 vote in Congress to override IPAB's diktats on spending. Hence it is unConstitutional and will likely face a challenge before SCOTUS at some point. Regardless, the Gosplan method of blocking innovation, cutting services, and imposing price ceilings is one way to cut costs... but it's a highly destructive one.
The other "solution" ACA provides is to subsidize poorer people when they buy insurance. This certainly doesn't reduce costs, it simply makes someone else pay them. But that's the problem in the first place -- when people suppose someone else is paying, they don't weigh costs and benefits. These recipients will become one of the vested interests who will fight for ACA if it is fully imposed. They will also fight for expansion of subsidies and benefits. And if the "opponents" are the likes of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and the rest of the "reasonable" Republicans, they'll win. That's why, from the start, I suggested that ACA would eventually lead to an American national bankruptcy.
These are just a few broad economic criticisms and hardly a complete critique. But they are fundamental problems with Obamacare, not issues that can be fixed with a few tweaks. The entire program is badly conceptually flawed, if your goal is to fix what was wrong with the American health care system. On the other hand, if the goal is to eliminate most private insurance, make citizens increasingly dependent on the government, augment the power of the state over the people, and perhaps wreck the United States in the process, Obamacare is just the ticket.
I think many citizen supporters of the ACA are well-intentioned -- they believe that this program will increase insurance coverage, reduce prices, and make Americans better off. After all, that's what they've been repeatedly told by their leaders. I don't believe that advocates of ACA among the political class are well-intentioned at all, nor do they believe what they've said about it. That's why Congress specifically insisted on exemptions for themselves and their staffs. That's why union leaders and some big businesses have been crying for exemptions. That's why Obama himself is exempt. They know it is a bad plan and also know the implementation is being bungled badly. But their goals never were to fix problems in health care and to make Americans better off. Their goals have always been power and wealth, to be had at the expense of the America people.
And that's what's wrong with Obamacare.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Breaking News! Steele finishes 13th Le Grizz and receives...blogging award???
Just finished the 32nd running of the Le Grizz 50 mile ultramarathon, my 13th. In addition to the usual finishers' trophy I was also called forward the receive the "Government Shutdown Award," in recognition for what Race Director Pat Caffrey described as "the most volatile commentary on the government shutdown and how it affected Le Grizz." The trophy (the one in my right hand in the photo) features a horse's patoot, as my father was wont to call it, plus the inscription "Government Shut Down Award. If a tree falls in the forest and a politician hears it, he will blame someone. Le Grizz XXXII." Unforeseen Contingencies -- now an award-winning blog!
(Full report to follow with photographs and wolf stories.)
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Unforeseen Contingencies Storms the Barrycades!!!
Well, actually, no... it wasn't closed. In fact, there was no visible evidence of the "shutdown" that I could see anywhere. Not that it would be possible to physically block all the roads, paths, trails, turnoffs, campgrounds etc. here -- there's probably not that much chain in the United States -- but I didn't even see a sign posted anywhere. And I did see both USFS and Bureau of Reclamation personnel working.
Well, so much for my protest. I did, however, reconnoitre the 2013 Le Grizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon "Government Shutdown" course, which runs on Montana State Highway 486 from Polebridge, MT to the Canadian border and back. We race Saturday, and I will have a race report up at some point thereafter. Meanwhile, here are a few photos of the course. Click any photo for expanded version.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
Le Grizz -- it's on!
This area is big time grizzly country. I'm running fast for a change.
Occupy! or the strange choices of Barack Obama
Apparently now they are letting in some of the Honor Flight visitors, but no one else... i.e. expending effort to punish Americans. This has nothing at all to do with government being shut down, of course.
What strikes me as particularly interesting is that when the young comrades of the "Occupy" movement were out doing real harm by occupying public and private spaces, Barack Obama expressed sympathy for them. But World War II vets -- well, obviously they have no place in Barack Obama's vision for America.