If You Love Forests, Let Them Burn

[This post was co-authored by Brian Isom.]

Today marks 49 years since Earth Day was first established by Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI). Since then, the United States has made great strides towards improving the nation’s collective impact on the environment. Air pollution has fallen drastically. Efforts to clean up Superfund sites have removed toxic contaminants from hundreds of lands and rivers.

One place where we are failing, however, is healthy management of our forests. Nearly a century of anti-wildfire sentiments has damaged forest ecosystems and driven up the cost of preventing and controlling wildfires. It’s time to embrace fire as a natural part of the American landscape and a crucial means of preventing devastating blazes.

What Government Doesn’t Know About Health Care

In Washington, D.C., two different federal agencies are demonstrating why government bureaucrats are the last people who should ever be put in charge of any aspect of health care.

Writing at RealClearHealth, Grace-Marie Turner describes two big Medicare mistakes—one made by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the other made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Both mistakes have damaged the effective delivery of health care services to Americans receiving Medicare benefits.

This tale started in 2014 when Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA)—directing HHS to establish market-based Medicare payment system for clinical labs that would accurately reflect prices paid in the commercial market.

So far, so good.

To set market rates, HHS needed to collect payment data from a representative sample of labs regarding how much they were being paid for specific tests by private payers. But HHS didn’t do that. Instead, it gathered rate information from fewer than 1% of laboratories nationwide, ignoring data from the other 99%, in turn leading to some deep payment cuts to many independent labs and clinics serving rural communities.

Doug Badger of the Galen Institute analyzed the implementation of the new law in 2018. In implementing the new law, Badger found the HHS bureaucrats constructed a deeply flawed “system that places excessive weight on rates private insurers pay to large, publicly traded chains of clinical laboratories.”

Never Look Away: A Cinematic Masterpiece for Our Times

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the German director of the film The Lives of Others (2006), has produced another masterpiece. It is entitled Werk ohne Autor (or Never Look Away in the United States) and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, but it was the best movie of 2018. Perhaps unintentionally, it is also a libertarian cry.

A young man who aspires to become a painter, Kurt, traverses the atrocious sequence of twentieth-century Germany: Nazism, the destruction of his city and family during the war, East German communism, and his country’s partition, which forces him to flee to the western side.

During that journey, Kurt experiences the chilling fate of the citizens of countries marked by totalitarianism and violence on a massive scale, in which any relationship can intertwine the lives of victims and perpetrators without their knowledge. Such is the case of Kurt (whose close aunt and mentor was murdered when he was a child, under the eugenics program conducted by the Nazis against “defective” beings) and Ellie (his girlfriend and wife, who studies fashion design and whose father was in charge of that policy in a Dresden hospital).

All the political and social systems through which Kurt passes want to regiment his vocation, turning his craftsmanship into a political or social instrument and suppressing his creative sovereignty.

Why 2018 Federal Tax Collections Rose Even Though Corporate Tax Revenue Fell

With the deadline for U.S. residents to file their 2018 income tax returns having once again come and gone, a good question to ask is, How much money does the federal government collect each calendar year?

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Monthly Treasury Statements are the sources for the numbers shown in the chart below for the tax years of 2016, 2017, and 2018.

U.S. Government Combined Tax Revenue from All Major Sources, 2016-2018

Uncle Sam receives a pretty steady annual income from his tax collection racket, which is surprising because the U.S. government enacted significant income tax cuts for corporations and individuals in 2018.

You Can Fight City Hall, but You’ll Almost Certainly Lose

One of the chief reasons why almost every regime in the world has converged to a system of participatory fascism is that this system creates or retains a great variety of institutionalized opportunities for the state’s victims—who compose the great majority of the people—to challenge the state’s exactions and to “make their voices heard,” thereby gaining the impression that the rulers are not simply oppressing and exploiting them unilaterally but involving them in an essential way in the making and enforcement of rules.

These opportunities help to allay public resentment and anger, assuring people that they have had “their day in court,” and thereby serve to prop up the regime and its ongoing exploitation. These official avenues of protest and resistance are, however, rarely of any real avail. The oppressed citizens and other residents are protesting the actions of legislatures, government executives, bureaucracies, and courts run by the very people who are engaged in the oppression and plunder. The opportunities for voicing feedback are, in effect, ways in which people are allowed to request that the slave master stop beating them or reduce the severity of the beating. Rarely do the petitioners win, and even when they do, the costs of making their appeals, especially through the legal system, guarantee that they will be impoverished in the process.

Heads you lose, tails you lose. I promise you that in making the foregoing statements, I am speaking not only from my scholarly engagement with the matter but also from my personal experience, some of which grinds on seemingly endlessly even as I tap out this cri de coeur.

Federal Judge Shoots Down His Own Second Amendment Ruling

Back on March 29, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez struck down a California law that banned high-capacity rifle magazines. The Cuban-born Benitez, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote that “Individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts.” California’s law, according to the judge, “turns millions of responsible, law-abiding people trying to protect themselves into criminals.” Benitez cited examples of citizens who ran out of ammunition defending themselves against home invasions by violent criminals.

Law-abiding Californians found relief in the ruling, but not state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who complained directly to Benitez. Incredibly enough, the federal judge responded by reversing his own ruling.

Mick Jagger Has Heart Surgery in New York

Rolling Stones fans will be happy to hear that Mick Jagger is on the mend after having heart surgery in New York. While advocates of socialized medicine like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might wonder why a British citizen like Jagger would choose to have surgery in the United States rather than get “free” health care from the British National Health Service (NHS), I’m confident that regular readers of The Beacon will have a ready answer to that question. Despite heavy government involvement in US health care, there is enough of a free market remaining in the US that British citizens who can afford it will choose higher-quality US care to British socialized medicine.

There’s no need for an in-depth argument here because the facts speak for themselves. Given the choice, people will avoid socialized medicine, at least when there is a lot at stake. Will anyone argue that Jagger is uninformed and made a poor choice by coming to the US to avoid the NHS?

I’d like to see the question put directly to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez: “Why do you think Mick Jagger chose to have heart surgery in New York rather than using Britain’s NHS?” I don’t see any (persuasive) answers to that question except that markets provide better health care services than socialized medicine.

Tourism Trade-off

Gavin Newsom is coming out as a big-time supporter of tourism, but not on his home turf. The California governor recently visited El Salvador and offered “mutual support” to boost tourism in that Central American country. The beaches in El Salvador, Newsom explained, have “some of the best waves in the world” and surfers should flock there. Promotion of a foreign nation’s tourist industry was not the only aspect of the trip Californians might find odd.

As Katy Grimes notes in the California Globe, California bans travel of state employees to 10 U.S. states with social policies that displease Golden State lawmakers. Attorney General Xavier Becerra recently extended the ban to South Carolina, because it allows faith-based groups to withhold adoption services over moral objections, and that this allegedly discriminates against the LGBTQ community. As Grimes points out, El Salvador “actively discriminates” against LGBTQ people and bans abortion, “prosecuting it regardless of the female’s age, whether she’s a victim of rape or incest, or to save her life.” By all indications, the travel ban of AB 1887, does not apply to Gov. Newsom, who also overlooked another reality.

Proportional Voting for the House of Representatives?

Many democracies elect their legislatures (or parliaments) through proportional voting. Parties submit a list of candidates for election, and voters vote for the party, not the candidate. Parties are represented in legislatures in proportion to their vote shares. A party that gets 40% of the votes gets 40% of the seats.

This contrasts with the plurality system used in the United States in which candidates run for seats and the candidate that gets the most votes wins. Perhaps we should change the method of electing representatives to the House of Representatives to adopt proportional voting.

Rather than having representatives run in individual districts, parties would put forward a slate of candidates in a national election, and people would vote for the party of their choice. Parties would be represented in proportion to their shares of the national vote.

Preferring Prejudice

During the 1970s, the University of California, Davis, twice rejected Allan Bakke for admission to medical school, but not on the basis of his academic qualifications, which were excellent. Bakke is a person of pale skin shade, and UC Davis had reserved a quota of admissions to minority students whose qualifications did not measure up to Bakke’s. Something similar is now taking place at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento.

A number of students were accepted to the school’s rigorous Humanities and International Studies Program (HISP). The students’ parents then got a call from district officials informing them that the acceptance notice had been an error. As Katy Grimes explained in the California Globe, it soon emerged that a group of qualified Asians and students of no color had been excluded up-front, and that Sacramento Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar considered the HISP “too white.”

  • Catalyst
  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org