Political Animal


POLITICIANS….Do politicians ever learn? Answer: no.

Tom DeLay, apparently barely in control of his rage these days, decided to get the feds involved in tracking down those Texas state legislators who fled the state last week. That’s bad, but let’s face it: it’s not really that bad. When asked about it, he could have just shrugged, fessed up, promised a full investigation or something, and it all would have blown over.

But no. Instead, he seems to have gone into full blown coverup mode. The Texas cops have already shredded their records under ridiculous pretenses, and Tom Ridge is now refusing to hand over his records. So instead of risking a bit of late night talk show derision, he’s now awakening the slumbering giants of the press corps, some of whom will shortly begin to see Pulitzers dancing in front of their heads and head off to harry the Majority Leader, yea until the ink runs dry in the presses and the pixels on our screens die from overuse.

Josh Marshall has the latest, of course. Since I don’t like DeLay I guess I think this is all just fine, but even so it’s slightly painful watching yet another of these train wrecks unfold.

Of course, it’s still not too late to confess. If DeLay has even a shred of political intelligence peeking through the fog of arrogance and fury currently controlling him, that’s what he’ll do. Pronto.

Genetic Screening

GENETIC SCREENING….Healthcare plans are in the news, and a couple of times lately I’ve made offhand statements about how national healthcare is “inevitable.” But it occurs to me that the last time I explained why I believe this was about six months ago, well before I had comments on this site.

So here it is again. There’s nothing original here, and my argument has nothing to with political ideology. It’s entirely technical.

The problem is the increasing effectiveness of genetic screening. There’s still room for dispute about how accurate this kind of testing will ever get, but let’s stipulate for the moment that in the next 10 or 20 years genetic screening becomes pretty accurate for a fairly wide range of diseases.

When that happens, private insurance is no longer possible. Here’s why:

  • If screening is done on a widespread basis but the results are kept confidential, people with high risks will all go out and buy more insurance. Result: this is a classic case of asymmetrical information, and the insurance companies go bankrupt.

  • Conversely, if the results are shared with the insurance company, they will decline to insure anyone with a high risk for an expensive disease. Result: very large numbers of people will be completely excluded from receiving healthcare for serious (often fatal) illnesses.

In both cases, the system fails. Either the insurance companies go broke, or else the ranks of the uninsured swell to enormous numbers. Even large group plans would start to feel some pain as people began making employment decisions based on the results of genetic screening tests.

This is why single payer national healthcare strikes me as inevitable. Only by insuring everyone and spreading the risk across the entire country do you make individual riskiness unimportant.

So the only real question left is a technical one: how good will genetic screening get? There are certainly limits to its accuracy, and it will never yield anything more than probabilistic estimates, but probability is what insurance is all about. Move the odds a bit, and the whole system falls apart.

The unfortunate thing is that this problem will creep up slowly as these tests get incrementally better over time. As this happens, and political pressures build, we will apply small patchworks to the existing healthcare system, and we will do this over and over until we have a rickety edifice that is literally the worst of all possible worlds. On the other hand, if we put away the ideology and understood the changes that technology is going to bring, we could work now to build a system that makes sense for the future. In the long run, we’d save a ton of money and a ton of anguish.

But there’s not much chance of that because everyone sees this as a partisan issue, not a technological one. That’s a shame.


CLASSIFIED….Bob Graham has repeatedly criticized the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11 and charges that they are engaging in a coverup because of their continuing refusal to declassify portions of the House-Senate committee report on the attacks.

This got me to thinking about the classification process. Why is it that only the executive branch is allowed to declassify documents?

I’m not thinking of the vast bulk of routine classified documents, which for practical reasons ought to stay under the control of various executive departments. But it’s fairly common for there to be a dispute over some high profile documents like the ones Graham is talking about, and I wonder why Congress allows the executive to keep exclusive control of this.

Is there any reason, for example, to trust, say, the Secretary of State’s opinion more than that of the chairman of the House intelligence committee? Why doesn’t Congress give itself the power to declassify documents itself if it wants to?

Or why not set up some kind of external committee to resolve high profile cases? Perhaps a group of high-ranking ex-government types: presidents, vice presidents, intelligence directors, etc. People who have dealt with the highest level of intelligence in the past, who understand the dangers of declassification, and whose patriotism is unquestioned.

Instead, Congress defers entirely to the executive. Doesn’t this seem a bit odd?


NEPOTISM….William McGowan writes today in NRO about the horrible problem of nepotism in the media. It’s funny, though, he has such a hard time finding examples of this that in order to fill out a full column he has to resort to naming reporters whose parents are merely famous (Cuomo, Vanderbilt, Kennedy), as opposed to those whose parents were actually famous journalists (Koppel, Toobin, and….um, that’s it, actually).

But how could he have possibly missed NRO’s very own poster child for legacy hires, Jonah Goldberg himself? That seems an odd omission, no?

Anyway, now that NRO has come down firmly against the horrors of legacy hiring in the liberal media, I shall wait breathlessly for a similar denunciation of this in all other fields as well. Like, say, investment banking, Fortune 500 management, and Ivy League admissions. That ought to be a good show, shouldn’t it?