Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: September 2010

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Dale?s Observations for 9-30-2010

First official photos of the new BMW K1600GTL are available. I-6 engine with 160HP, 129 ft-lbs of torque. Nice bike. http://bit.ly/9BSadX



Fisher-Price releases new toy: small plastic lozenges called “Chokies”.


Favorite Tony Curtis line: (In a thick New York accent) “Yonda lies da castle of my fodda, da caliph.”


Poll: Among California?s likely voters, 52 percent favor the proposition to legalize marijuana. http://bit.ly/9Lr9A5


It’s troubling that when jobless benefit applications are at 453K, it’s considered good news. http://bit.ly/cL9QXo


US mortgage rates drop, with the 30-year fixed at 4.32%. http://reut.rs/9PcSvx


China snubs US on boosting yuan’s value. Why wouldn’t they? They need a devalued yuan to keep exporting. http://bit.ly/95iEWh

Mickey D and health care – an exception to the rule?

Over on Memeorandum, there’s a frenzy of writing about a Wall Street Journal report that says McDonalds may drop its health care plan as a result of the impact of ObamaCare.

Note the operative word – "may". It doesn’t say it will, it doesn’t say it might, it says it "may" drop it because of the type of health insurance it offers and the impact of new regulations governing what amount of money must be spent by insurance companies for care. Specifically:

The requirement concerns the percentage of premiums that must be spent on benefits.

[…]

Last week, a senior McDonald’s official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain’s insurer won’t meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care.

It is called the "medical loss ratio", but in reality it is government telling a business how it must spend its money. What the business is telling the government is, given the type of insurance offered by the business, driven primarily by the type of business it does, it won’t be able to comply with the regulation and will have to drop it’s present coverage altogether.

Of course this is bad news for the administration which is still out there pushing the lie that if you like your insurance nothing changes and you get to keep it.  Naturally this flies right in the face of the lie and it’s such a high profile company that, well, something has to be done.

Like, make them an exception to the rule maybe?  You know, special interest government.  If you’re big enough and you can cause us enough embarrassment, we’ll “except” you from that which we require all the other drones to comply.

And that appears to be exactly what’s in the works if Jonathan Cohn is to be believed:

By this morning, both McDonalds and the administration were saying the story is overblown. McDonalds says it has no plans to drop the coverage and that it’s been in discussions with the administration over how to make sure it can keep offering the policies. The administration is saying much the same thing–that it’s aware of the issue, has been talking to industry representatives, and has already made clear these plans will be exempt from some of the early regulations on insurance.

Of course those plans obviously aren’t yet exempt since one assumes the legal team at Mickey D’s was able to successfully interpret how the new law would apply to them.  So what Cohn is really saying is “nothing to see here citizen, move along, nothing to see” – a fairly routine attempt at spinning a situation in which the administration got caught with its pants around its ankles on the road in front of a school into one that’s “no big deal”. 

But it is a big deal.  And, if “these plans” are exempt, why?  And which plans aren’t exempt.  Is Burger King off the hook too?  How about Taco Bell?

More importantly, where does the government get off telling a business how to spend its money?  Cohn tells us it is because the want to make sure executive salaries and perks aren’t excessive and overhead is kept to a minimum.  I say it is plain and simple unwarranted government intrusion that is becoming all too familiar since this administration has been in charge:

More important, the administration has yet to finalize the rule about how insurance companies spend their money (or what is known as the "Medical Loss Ratio".) It’s entirely possible the administration will phase in the requirement slowly. Most likely, then, McDonald’s employees who like these plans will get to keep buying them, at least for the immediate future.

Good thing we can read the bill now to find out what’s really in it, isn’t it?

~McQ

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Premise check – who has first claim to your earnings?

Richard Thaler, a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the Univ. of Chicago, writes a justification in the NY Times for increasing taxes on the rich.

It’s a curious effort. To end up where Thaler does, the premise one must use is “other’s have more of a claim on the money of those earning $250,000 than they do”. If you believe that, then it is easy to buy into the subsequent arguments Thaler makes in the article. For instance:

There is another possible argument for including the rich in these tax cuts, one based on “fairness.” By this reasoning, the wealthy are entitled to low tax rates because they have temporarily had them, and it would now be unfair to take them back.

But by that same argument, unemployment insurance should never expire, and every day should be your birthday. “Temporary” has no meaning if it bestows a permanent right.

The question comes down to whether we want a society in which the rich take an ever-increasing share of the pie, or prefer to return to conditions that allow all classes to anticipate an increasing standard of living.

Per Thaler, if you earn – note the word, "earn" – more than $250,000, wanting to keep what you earn is the same as desiring "unemployment insurance should never expire". If ever there was an example of a false equivalence, this one takes the cake. Per Thaler, earning equals a hand out.  If however, you believe government has first claim, Thaler’s comparison makes sense.

Note also Thaler’s implicit point that in reality you have no "permanent right" to your own earnings.  The only entity with that “right”, apparently, is government (and that’s primarily because they can enforce their “right” at the point of a gun).  Therefore it claims first right to what you earn and every "right" to arbitrarily decide what is "enough" for you to keep.

If you’re still having a problem understanding the absolutely abhorrent premise under which Thaler and much of the left operate, or believing that’s actually the case, let’s go back in the article to the first paragraph:

Want to give affluent households a present worth $700 billion over the next decade? In a period of high unemployment and fiscal austerity, this idea may seem laughable. Amazingly, though, it is getting traction in Washington.

"Present"? Again, how is it a "present" when the person or persons who earned the money are allowed keep it, unless you believe others have first claim on it?

This is the stealth premise that the left operates on consistently. It underlies every argument made to increase the taxes not only on the rich, but everyone. And that’s what many of those not seeing their tax increased don’t seem to understand when they applaud the class warfare the left uses to demonize the rich. They’re as susceptible to arbitrarily increased taxes once economic conditions improve as the rich are now – and it is all because of this premise which says “government has first claim on your earnings, not you”.

Unfortunately, it is something the GOP either doesn’t understand or is incapable of explaining.   It is a premise which must be challenged and exposed each and every time it is trotted out to substantiate tax increases for anyone.

And yes, that includes the rich.

~McQ

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Congress and the coming lame duck session

If you want to know why we get stuck with bad law, the conduct of the 111th Congress might provide the perfect case study on the subject. On the surface you’d think, with Democratic majorities in both chambers and a Democratic president, that it would work like a well-oiled machine.

But that’s not been the case. While Democrats have consistently tried to blame the problems of Congress on Republicans, most Americans understand that the GOP comes in for only a small part of the blame. Most of the problems with its lack of accomplishment fall directly in the lap of Democratic infighting and disagreement.

Even when Democrats had filibuster proof margins in both chambers, they only passed a portion of their agenda.  Part of it is because they spent so much time and political capital on the health care reform abomination.  That sort of sucked the air out of everything else.  And, the election of Scott Brown to the Senate finally put Democrats there in a position that required they finally consider the opposition when crafting their legislation – a distasteful but necessary added requirement (they’d much rather fight among themselves and blame the Republicans who had absolutely no power to stop anything prior to Brown’s election).

After wasting most of two years, the Democratic leadership is faced with two realities – the probability that they’ll lose their House majority in the upcoming elections (as well as some seats in the Senate) and only a lame duck session remaining to pass legislation they deem critical to their agenda.  That leaves them with about 6 weeks to jam pending legislation through the Congressional process (at the end of the session, any legislation not acted upon is in effect “killed” and must be introduced again in the next Congress).  In the Senate that means these Democratic priorities:

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wants the Senate to consider a package of tax-relief extensions he has been working on all year.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is intent on passing a renewable electricity standard.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, says his cybersecurity bill should also come up for a vote, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called for ratification of the New START arms-control treaty with Russia.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) says he intends to hold Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to a promise to schedule a vote on legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to curb carbon gas emissions for two years.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, told reporters Friday that leaders would also bring up a bill to address Chinese currency manipulation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, hopes Congress will pass food-safety legislation Reid tried to bring to the floor last week. Democratic leaders pulled the bill even though they could have had enough votes to stop a Republican filibuster.

And, of course there’s the Defense Appropriations bill to which Reid has added the contentious DREAM act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, assuring quick passage won’t happen.  None of the legislation listed is “minor”.  All deserve extensive review and debate.  Neither of those things will happen as the Senate leadership tries every parliamentary trick in the book to limit both and push the legislation through before the end of the lame duck session.  The House is no better and actually would add to the legislative backlog in the Senate if it does manage to pass its education bill.

Also remember that this Congress, for the first time in anyone’s memory, will not be passing a budget, but has punted that responsibility (or shirked it if you prefer) to the next Congress.  They have cobbled together and passed a CR (continuing resolution) which will keep government functioning and spending that 7 million dollars a minute it has become so used to spending.

This Congress has been, in my estimation, one of the worst in history.  Not because they didn’t pass megatons of legislation – I’m actually fine with fewer laws and less intrusion.  Instead its about what they did pass and how they passed it.  Additionally its about what they didn’t do (they’re responsible to present a budget but didn’t because of political consideration – that’s shirking your duty where I come from) and what they’re about to do (try to cram mountains of legislation through in a 6 week funnel which will most likely be ill considered, undebated, costly and poor in quality – although if ObamaCare is any indication, not lacking in quantity.

This isn’t how it is supposed to work. It is, however, all the reason you need to change the leadership and majority party.  I remember Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi charging that George Bush was “incompetent”.  Their leadership of the 111th Congress has redefined the word.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations for 9-30-2010

Whitman’s maid claims Whitman knew she was an illegal immigrant. Whitman posts the maid’s falsified employment docs. http://bit.ly/bormPh



California Gov. signs bill against loud aftermarket motorcycle exhausts. Now we’ll see if loud pipes really save lives. http://bit.ly/bUiFG9


Wow, that Gloria Allred is a c … uh … committed advocate for her client, huh?


Meg’s maid felt “exploited, disrespected, humiliated, and emotionally and financially abused.” But stayed for 9 years. http://lat.ms/auFy6P


Soooo, that went well. Meg Whitman Housekeeper Flakes On Allred Press Conference. http://bit.ly/9T7DmF


Two Things Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) Can’t Stand: Racial Intolerance and Vietnamese. http://bit.ly/cEShrW

Medicare Queens, Matt Taibbi and the cluelessness of the left

First recognize that we’re talking about "Rolling Stone" here, so in reality, the cluelessness should come as no real surprise. Well, apparently it shouldn’t come as any real surprise when associated with "political strategists" and "political commentators" on the left either, but I’ve already covered that today.

"Rolling Stone", however, is more of a cultural zine. Or was. But recently it put a scalp under its belt with the story it did on Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Never mind the general was an Obama pick, voted for Obama and was of a liberal mindset, a general is a general to the left. One down many to go.

But hey, in a world where the dead tree media is withering on the vine, it was a scalp that promised survival for a while. Ever ambitious, "Rolling Stone" has since decided to go after bigger game – the Tea Party. The new bête noire of the left, the Tea Party was an irresistible target.

And so off to Kentucky galloped "Rolling Stone’s" pick to handle this important assassination journalism project – Matt Taibbi. Three whole times Taibbi made the trip. And at its conclusion, based on what he’d observed there, felt qualified to tar the entire movement as a bunch of hypocrites and welfare recipients. And as you might imagine, it isn’t a flattering picture.

Taibbi then "validates" his entire premise in this excerpt that David Freddoso has helpfully clipped:

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it.

After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

“I’m anti-spending and anti-government,” crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. “The welfare state is out of control.”

“OK,” I say. “And what do you do for a living?”

“Me?” he says proudly. “Oh, I’m a property appraiser. Have been my whole life.”

I frown. “Are either of you on Medicare?”

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

“Let me get this straight,” I say to David. “You’ve been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?”

…Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it’s going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of sh–. All of them.

Frankly, I can’t imagine a more clueless argument. And it sends Freddoso into rant mode:

Of all the arguments liberals bring up against the Tea Party, this has to be the stupidest. Not only have millions of seniors and their employers paid billions of dollars into the Medicare system — 2.9 percent on every dime they’ve worked for in their entire life — but the program’s very existence has dried up whatever market there once was for old-age medical insurance. Our Medicare system, as President Obama never fails to point out, is unsustainable, and yet thanks to the government, very few senior citizens have any alternative.

Exactly so – you don’t pay into "welfare", nor are you in the Medicare system because you want to be. You’re there because at age 65, for the vast majority of Americans, you are given no choice! That’s a part that the left always forgets. If given a choice, would they be as "happy" with Medicare as the left likes to claim they are? Is their reticence to change in Medicare because they like it or because there is nothing else available to them? Those questions go unanswered because government has ensured there’s no viable option to its program.

Secondly, I don’t find most of what I read and hear from the Tea Party as "anti-government" as it appears Taibbi defines it (i.e. "no government"). I understand the Tea Party to represent those who want the return to Constitutional government in the strictest sense. That necessarily means a smaller, less intrusive and less costly government. But I’ve never understood it to mean "no government". Freddoso also rifts on the supposed hypocrisy Taibbi implies:

Taibbi also implies that conservatives have no place working for the government. (Hypocrisy! You believe government shouldn’t exist!) That’s basically all you need to know about the tone of his way, way longer than it’s worth reading piece, which is at various points just a stream of profanity. (He also predicts the inevitable co-opting of Rand Paul by the establishment GOP — he’ll sell out, just like his dad, right?)

If you’re still wondering if you ought to read Taibbi’s piece, Freddoso drops this last nugget to consider at your feet: [I]t isn’t young [libertarian] intellectuals like Koch who will usher Paul into the U.S. Senate in the general election; it’s those huge crowds of pissed-off old people who dig Sarah Palin and Fox News and call themselves Tea Partiers. And those people really don’t pay attention to specifics too much. Like dogs, they listen to tone of voice and emotional attitude.

Why is it every time I see a lefty say something like this my first thought is the almost Pavlovian reaction most of the left had to the "hope and change" mantra? As Palin would say, "how’s that hopey-changy thing working out", hmmm Mr. Taibbi?

Freddoso answers with a wicked jab at Taibbi’s cluelessness:

Oh, I see. So who does Taibbi think votes for Democrats? Do they win on the back of the college professor vote? Or is it on the back of ominous, threatening and false rumors that Republicans will take away Social Security, let old people die in the streets, then bury them in segregated cemeteries so that their bodies can be covered in toxic sludge until the oil companies decide they want to drill there?

Love it. Every lefty canard wrapped up in a single sentence. Read Taibbi’s piece if you must (unlinked here), but trust me, you’ve seen its thrust above and, unsurprisingly, it misses pretty badly. Freddoso concludes:

Perhaps next time Taibbi writes he can apply a few more facts and less uninformed, vulgar liberal smugness.

Yeah, I doubt it – that would require actual journalism.

~McQ

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Clueless conspiracy theory of the day – Chris Matthews edition

And an amazing one at that, although when you consider the source, perhaps not:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: You know, a great question, Charles, that wasn’t on my list to ask but I’m going to ask you because you seem like a sophisticated guy of many parts. You think business can sit on those billions and trillions of dollars for two more years after they screw Obama this time? Are they going to keep sitting on their money so they don’t invest and help the economy for two long years to get Mr. Excitement Mitt Romney elected president? Will they do that to the country?

Yes friends, he really said that. Businesses are, per Matthews, purposely sitting on their money in order to "screw Obama" without any thought or concern about what they’re doing to the country. And all to get "Mr. Excitement" elected.

Apparently Matthews thinks this is a "sophisticated" question to ask a "sophisticated" guest.

Listen to the non-answer answer. You can see "oh, thanks for that pile of crap question" written all over his face:

This, apparently, is what passes for journalism on the left. This is also why only 12% of cable viewers tune into MSNBC and the hosts there remain largely unknown.

They’ve earned their place.

~McQ

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Democrats whistling past the midterm graveyard

II’m always entertained by those on either side of the political spectrum who, when faced with an obvious and impending defeat, begin lists of why that won’t happen. This whistling past the graveyard is truly a testament to thinking which can somehow put aside every negative fact out there and some how spool up a "positive" outcome for his side. Today’s example is from a Democratic strategist who has discovered four more reasons Democrats will win in the mid-terms.

He sounds strangely like Republican strategists about a month before the 2008 presidential election who had umpteen reasons why McCain would win, none of which panned out. I have a feeling our Democratic strategist will have to reevaluate his ability to objectively analyze political races after the vote in November.

Nevertheless, his four reasons are, 1) Democrats will end up spending as much money as Republicans, 2)Voters aren’t voting for "generic" Republicans and that’s not good for Republicans, 3)Obama has switched to "campaign mode" and will save the day, and 4)the "enthusiasm gap" will close.

Sigh.

I feel for the guy. This is the thin thread upon which he hangs his hopes that Democrats won’t lose the majority in the House or seats in the Senate.

Feel free to read his "reasoning". It is full of stuff that might appeal to a political junkie who is knee deep into the whys and wherefores of this election. But for the average Joe – meh.

As the public’s attention as a whole slowly turns toward this November election, they will be guided by their overall perception of the shape of our country and its economy and who it is they think got us in this shape.  It is going to be incredibly hard shift the blame on the Republicans.  Crying about partisanship and in-fighting isn’t going to answer the mail.  For most, I would guess, the blame has already been placed.  So massive expenditures and “robust” GOTV efforts are unlikely to have the effect this gentleman might expect.  And, as he notes, the other side is going to be spending too – as well as mounting their own GOTV effort.

As for his point about Obama and campaign mode, let me beg to differ.  When has he ever switched out of that mode?  That’s part of his problem and why his job approval rating is 42% and only 38% say they’d vote to reelect him if the election was held today.  You’ve got politicians running from him.  HIs signature “accomplishment” is something not a single Democrat will campaign on.  And, you have professionals like Charlie Cook continuing to move races, as he did with 4 today, from “Solid Democrat” to “Likely Democrat” (see bottom right).

And that fact naturally speaks much more eloquently to this fantasy of closing the enthusiasm gap than anything else I can think of.

The Democrats are in a pickle of their own making.  They have had control of the Congress for 6 years and are hooked up to a failing presidency.  Those stark facts are what the public is going to take with them to the polls, and barring some economic miracle within the next 30 days, all this talk about generic politicians, the savior Obama, enthusiasm gaps closing and money to be spent is going to sound a lot like “we know McCain’s going to win and here’s why”.

Sometimes what is going to happen is just obvious – and this seems to be one of them.

~McQ

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Quick Hits: Scientific Journalism

In the vein of Jon Henke’s “The Ultimate Metablog” with the satire of a good Monty Python skit (is there any other kind?), Martin Robbins lays out the definitive article for how scientific journalism is constructed. Here’s the heading:

This is a news website article about a scientific paper

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?

My favorite bits:

In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won’t provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can’t be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.

[…]

This fragment will be put on its own line for no obvious reason.

[…]

This paragraph contained useful information or context, but was removed by the sub-editor to keep the article within an arbitrary word limit in case the internet runs out of space.

Be sure to read the comments as well, where most everyone plays along with the theme. But beware of the related links … you may be taken to a place you never, ever want to be.

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Promises, promises: If you like your insurance … nothing changes.

Remember this promise (it begins at about the 1:10 mark):

Here’s the reality:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

[…]

Under Medicare Advantage plans, the federal government pays private health insurers to sell customers over 65 years old enhanced policies, many of which offer prescription drug coverage not covered by standard Medicare. But the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been seeking to reduce the amount it pays to private insurers for such programs.

Medicare told Harvard Pilgrim to notify customers that its Medicare Advantage program, known as First Seniority Freedom, was being canceled. In a mailing, the insurer was required to list alternative Medicare Advantage plans, including those offered by its competitors.

[…]

It will be “slightly more expensive’’ than the Medicare Advantage plans, but competitive with supplemental insurance plans offered by rivals such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer, Bowman said.

Now I assume anyone who has read this blog for more than a day knows I’m not trying to argue for subsidized health insurance here.

Far from it. What I’m pointing out is the basic dishonesty that was rampant in the President’s promises about health care. An integral part of the plan to "pay for it" involved cutting out Medicare Advantage – an insurance supplemental plan that many seniors had and wanted to keep.

As you hear in the video, the promise wasn’t ambiguous or couched in rhetoric that gave a lot of wiggle room. Obama flat out says "if you like your insurance you can keep it. Nothing changes", or words to that effect.

A pure and unadulterated lie that he still tends to throw out there when trying to hype this white elephant Congress rammed through.

The simple fact – something anyone who took to understand where the Democrats were headed with this turkey – is that there was no way everyone could keep their insurance because the law was written to change the way insurance was delivered. And on the table, from the beginning, were cuts in Medicare that focused on eliminating what? An insurance program called Medicare Advantage.

It is one thing to watch a politician shade the truth a bit. It is quite another to watch one tell a bald faced lie (and I mean “lie” in the truest sense of the word, not how some tend to use it today). This one fits the latter category.

HT: Arley Ward

~McQ

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