- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

Private health

In “Health Reform Fringe Benefits” (Commentary, Saturday), Jacob Sullum approves of President Bush’s health insurance proposal. The main idea behind the proposal is to encourage people to buy their own health insurance instead of joining a company plan. This is supposed to inject more competition into the market to lower overall costs and to reduce the ranks of the uninsured.

People would be given an incentive to go private by a tax deal in which all taxpayers would get a deduction from taxable income of $15,000 but the employers contribution would be treated as income. For example, according to Mr. Sullum, if you buy your own plan you could look at things like higher deductibles and lower co-pay for office visits. However, this overlooks the fact that many companies do in fact offer alternatives depending on co-pay, deductibles and other variables.

The main reason people will find private plans unattractive is that they require a physical exam and insurers will reject applicants if they have pre-existing conditions. Also, private plans reserve the right to terminate those who have a bad claims history and they do not offer as much in the way of lifetime reimbursements and annual out-of -pocket costs. Of course, they could be bound by new laws to behave differently, but at what cost?

The tax saving would depend on the overall cost of a plan and, in the case of company plans, the amount of the employer contribution. It would be in a range of $1,000 to $3,000 for people in a company plan and $4,500 for those in a private plan. Most people in a company plan would simply pocket the saving rather than incur the risks of a private plan for what might be, in reality, a net loss. It is also hard to believe that those whose incomes are high enough to have savings under a $15,000 deductible are at present uninsured.



Warfare and hindsight

In a letter on Saturday, Lt. Col. James E. Hutton, wrote that “the actual rules of engagement for coalition forces in Iraq gives commanders and soldiers ample flexibility to use the kind and amount of force needed to accomplish the mission and to defend themselves and others at all times.” The continued reality is that from ill-conceived “escalation of force” cards to continued misunderstanding and limitations concerning soldiers’ inherent right of self-defense, confusion at the troop level of this critical issue is rampant.

I had the opportunity to interview five young soldiers performing entry-control-point duty at the U.S. Embassy compound in the Green Zone. Each of the soldiers, after going off duty, was asked: “When do you believe you can use deadly force?” I received five different answers, but the overarching theme of each was, “I don’t know, sir, but I do know that I will be in trouble if I fire my weapon.” This seeking of affirmation — in other words, is it OK to shoot — is not unusual. Unfortunately, in Iraq, an individual’s decision to use force is often met with a full-blown criminal investigation.

Among judge advocates and commanders alike, there is great confusion over what “use proportionate force” means. Much of the confusion flows from trying to wedge the concept of “proportionate force” that appears in the Law of Armed Conflict (or the Law of War) into the Rules of Engagement and Rules for the Use of Force decision-making matrix.

The Law of Armed Conflict concept requiring nations to use only proportionate force during periods of hostilities is designed to prevent nations from responding to a minor border incursion with all-out war (or targeting a squad-sized element hiding in an urban area with a 2,000-pound bomb).

The concept of proportionality in international law has everything to do with limiting collateral damage and preventing the escalation of hostilities but nothing to do with limiting the amount of force an individual uses to defend himself. More frighteningly, confused judge advocates add insult to this injury by morphing the word “proportional” into “minimum.” The result is that troops are briefed regularly that they are to defend themselves with minimum force. This language is perhaps caused by the underestimation of troops’ capacity to appreciate proportionality. However, as one rules of engagement expert has proclaimed quite accurately: “Minimum deadly force is an oxymoron.”

In today’s world, the enemy is not such a clear-cut target. Our troops are deployed on counterterrorist, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and security assistance missions. And no enemy is wearing fashionable al Qaeda T-shirts by which they can be identified instantly.

Accordingly, U.S. forces should be trained properly on threat recognition and be given the necessary and proper “top cover” to make an instantaneous decision on the ground. Just as important, they need to know that their actions will not be judged in the clear vision of 20-20 hindsight but rather from the perspective of a soldier on the scene under situations that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — the same legal standard that applies to most law enforcement personnel here in the United States.

To continue to layer on tactically and legally silly restrictions will ensure that more young Americans are killed unnecessarily, and that would be a tragedy.


Course director

Rules of Engagement/Rules of Force Tactical Training Seminar

Severna Park, Md.

Ethanol issues

In “Ethanol and its unintended consequences” (Commentary, Sunday) Deroy Murdock demolishes the case for greatly expanding corn-based ethanol production.

Indeed, the case for ethanol is even weaker when one considers the need for fossil fertilizer inputs and the long-term erosion issues involved in corn production. But he is wrong to call ethanol “one of the environmentalists’ favorite tools for fighting global warming…”

Ethanol’s big supporters are agribusiness, Iowa (with its powerful caucus) and the politicians in thrall to the foregoing.

Still, President Bush’s goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017 is important to our national security. Global oil production likely will have entered decline well before 2017 and may have fallen by 20 percent or so by then.

If oil production falls by 20 percent, clearly consumption will fall by 20 percent. The challenge will be to maintain prosperity and mobility with less oil. We need to stop building highways and instead rebuild our national passenger rail network.

We need to stop building interchanges to address crowded intersections and instead build light rail. We need bike lanes, not more parking garages. That is what most environmentalists support.




Deroy Murdock says in his column: “Cultivating that much corn will require even more farmland. Securing it likely will require chopping down the same trees that inhale the carbon dioxide that humans and cars exhale.”

The latter statement implies that corn and other crops do not inhale CO2, and that is false. Plants, including corn, need CO2 to grow. Moreover, watering plants from the surface of the ground provides more moisture control. The roots of trees, on the other hand, go to subsurface water to get moisture, and this lowers the water table during times of drought. Also, two or three plantings of crops are possible during one year. Planting more trees in and near other trees is counterproductive because there is only a finite amount of water available for trees to share. It’s a basic supply-and-demand principle. Science has shown that trees don’t absorb as much CO2 when water is not available. Therefore, crop management is more practical.

The unintended consequences the Murdock column mentioned are not, in fact, unintended because they were known well before the big push for ethanol. Increasing the demand for corn should allow a decrease in subsidies to farmers because the demand for more corn will increase its price. However, corn is one of the worst products from which to produce ethanol because it takes about 29 percent more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than gasoline contains, and a gallon of ethanol has about 11 percent less energy content than a gallon of gasoline.


Silver Spring

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