Free Markets, Free People


Middle Class Tax? Knock, Knock – “Hello Out There!”

Read this carefully. This is from George Stephanopoulos:

To get the economy back on track, will President Barack Obama have to break his pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans? In a “This Week” exclusive, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told me, “We’re going to have to do what’s necessary.”

Geithner was clear that he believes a key component of economic recovery is deficit reduction. When I gave him several opportunities to rule out a middle class tax hike, he wouldn’t do it.

“We have to bring these deficits down very dramatically,” Geithner told me. “And that’s going to require some very hard choices.”

“We will not get this economy back on track, recovery will be not strong and sustained, unless we convince the American people that we are going to have the will to bring these deficits down once recovery is firmly established,” he said.

For the gullible who believed their taxes weren’t going to go up “one dime”, Turbo Tax Tim is laying the ground work to prove your gullibility.

For those who never believed the “promise” to begin with, big surprise, right?

But the more important point is found in Geithner’s last sentence in the cite. In there he’s telling the public that they have to bear the cost of this administration’s profligacy. Because, you see, they spent your money (like the porkapalooza they called the “stimulus package”) like drunken sailors on shore leave and it is now up to you – the sober ones in this deal – to bail them out. But watch ’em – they’re going to claim they saved the economy.

And now they’re ready to save the climate and fix your health care too.

Yes some very hard choices are going to have to be made – some adults are going to have to stand up to Timmy and the boys and say “no”.


Dialing It Down On Health Care

Charles Krauthammer nails it today in an editorial in the Washington Post (and not just because he and I agree that something called “health care reform” is going to pass):

Yes, Obama’s aura has diminished, in part because of overweening overexposure. But by year’s end he will emerge with something he can call health-care reform. The Democrats in Congress will pass it because they must. Otherwise, they’ll have slain their own savior in his first year in office.

That’s party politics (which we’ve come to learn from both parties, usually means putting the party first and the country second). They are not going to be responsible for killing the presidency of a Democrat. But they’re also not going to pass anything like what they started out to pass.

So what will it be?

But that bill will look nothing like the massive reform Obama originally intended. The beginning of the retreat was signaled by Obama’s curious reference — made five times — to “health-insurance reform” during his July 22 news conference.

Thus the beginning of the campaign to demonize the insurance companies as “the villains”. And it is going to be a long and loud campaign until the “something” is passed.


Reforming the health-care system is dead. Cause of death? Blunt trauma administered not by Republicans, not even by Blue Dog Democrats, but by the green eyeshades at the Congressional Budget Office.

Krauthammer have a slight disagreement on this. Not that the CBO is the primary entity that put a lance through the heart of “health-care system” reform – and that is what Obama referenced repeatedly and, when you talk about type of care and changing the behavior of doctors, is obviously more than “insurance reform”.

Our disagreement stems from my belief that health-care system reformation isn’t at all dead, it’s just delayed. One things the Democrats are adept at is incrementalism. They’ve worked diligently for decades to expand relatively modest programs into huge, wasteful bureaucratic monstrosities that hand out money – at least that which finally works its way through the bureaucracy – like a political party handing out “walking around money”.

This, unfortunately will be no different. And even more unfortunately something on which the Democrats can begin their incremental construction will be law by this fall.


Racism and Crying Wolf

As we discussed on the last podcast, as well as in various posts here at QandO, the biggest missed opportunity in the whole Gates kerfuffle was to draw attention to the civil liberties issues. By immediately crying racial profiling, Prof. Gates clouded an otherwise sympathetic view of his standing as a homeowner. Of course, if he hadn’t behaved the way that he did (calling Sgt. Crowley a racist cop), then he likely would never had been arrested in the first place. Nevertheless, what we should have taken from the l’affair Gates was that scenes such as the following are all too familiar:

Pepin Tuma, 33, was walking with two friends along Washington’s hip U Street corridor around midnight Saturday, complaining about how Gates had been rousted from his home for not showing a proper amount of deference to a cop. “We’d been talking about it all day,” said Tuma. “It seems like police have a tendency to act overly aggressively when they’re being pushed around,” Tuma recalled saying.

Then the group noticed five or six police cruisers surrounding two cars in an apparent traffic stop on the other side of the street. It seemed to Tuma that was more cops than necessary.

“That’s why I hate the police,” Tuma said. He told the Huffington Post that in a loud sing-song voice, he then chanted, “I hate the police, I hate the police.”

One officer reacted strongly to Tuma’s song. “Hey! Hey! Who do you think you’re talking to?” Tuma recalled the officer shouting as he strode across an intersection to where Tuma was standing. “Who do you think you are to think you can talk to a police officer like that?” the police officer said, according to Luke Platzer, 30, one of Tuma’s companions.

Tuma said he responded, “It is not illegal to say I hate the police. It’s not illegal to express my opinion walking down the street.”

According to Tuma and Platzer, the officer pushed Tuma against an electric utility box, continuing to ask who he thought he was and to say he couldn’t talk to police like that.

“I didn’t curse,” Tuma said. “I asked, am I being arrested? Why am I being arrested?”

It should come as no surprise that, in fact, Tuma was arrested on a charge of ‘disorderly conduct”:

D.C.’s disorderly conduct statute bars citizens from breaching the peace by doing anything “in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others” or by shouting or making noise “either outside or inside a building during the nighttime to the annoyance or disturbance of any considerable number of persons.”


Tuma spent a few hours in a holding cell and was released early Sunday morning after forfeiting $35 in collateral to the police, he said. A “post and forfeit” is not an admission of guilt, and Tuma doesn’t have a court date — but the arrest will pop up if an employer does a background check.

So, adding insult to injury, Tuma gets arrested for expressing his opinion on a public street, spends the night in jail, and then is “legally” pickpocketed by the police. This is a problem, just as it was with the Gates mess, and is the real issue that should be discussed.

Forget racial profiling and other obscurants for a moment and contemplate just how much power has been granted to the police here. Is that a wise decision? Surely we want the police to be able to use their judgment in a given situation, but when a law is drafted so broadly as to provide cover when a cop feels insulted then such law flies in the face of constitutional protections.

Furthermore, situations like this really undermine the concept of police being “professionals”. Having the power to arrest someone because they get a little mouthy is not a power any real professional should want or need. Being a professional means being able to negotiate the situation through one’s abilities, not through one’s grant of extraordinary power. I mean, could you imagine if lawyers had the ability to throw people in clink for insulting them? Who would be safe?

The fact of the matter is that there are just too many laws to begin with. Cut down on number if infractions cops are expected to enforce, and you will cut down on the number of incidences where the police overstep their authority. When the only thing in danger is a cop’s feelings, then I think it’s safe to say that incarcerating anyone is a monumental waste of time and resources that could be better spent going after real criminals.

Welfare Statism Update

I showed you the chart yesterday – here are the numbers and trends behind it:

The top 1 percent, those earning over $410,000, consists of 1.4 million taxpayers, while the bottom 95 percent contains 134 million.

In 2000, before the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that some claim disproportionately benefited the rich, the top 1 percent paid less than 38 percent of income taxes while the bottom 95 paid almost 44 percent. Since the tax cuts, the top 1 percent’s share increased over 2 percentage points while the bottom 95 percent’s share decreased 5 percentage points. Those that argue the tax cuts solely benefited the rich are mistaken.

President Obama plans to raise the top 2 marginal tax rates on those making over $250,000 a year, and Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) wants to slap a 6 percent surtax on top of that to partially pay for a government take over the health care system. These tax hikes, in addition to damaging the already badly weakened economy, will further shift the burden of the income tax to the highest earners.

In contrast, the bottom 40% of taxpayers pays no income taxes on average. In fact, they get money from the tax code well above anything they paid in because of refundable credits. And President Obama’s Make Work Pay credit, passed as part of the stimulus, will increase the money redistribute to these non-taxpayers.

So you have 1.4 million paying more in income taxes than the bottom 134 million. And 40 million of those 134 pay nothing and, in fact “get money from the tax code well above anything they paid in”, which, of course, would be any withholding.

Fair? Of course not. Additionally Democrats are interested in increasing the marginal rate by 2% on those making $250,000 a year (can you even begin to imagine how many small businesses that will impact?) with Rangel all for piling another 6% on top of that.

And yet the economic picture is looking up?

I’m emphasizing this story because of the impact it has on this obvious movement from less freedom and more welfare statism. This is directly out of that playbook. Like the old saying goes, the problem with, in this case welfare statism, is at some point you run out of other people’s money.


Dan Rather Petitions The Government

From my favorite drama queen:

Rather called on President Barack Obama to form a White House commission to help save the press Tuesday night in an impassioned speech at the Aspen Institute.

“I personally encourage the president to establish a White House commission on public media,” the legendary newsman said.

Such a commission on media reform, Rather said, ought to make recommendations on saving journalism jobs and creating new business models to keep news organizations alive.

At stake, he argued, is the very survival of American democracy.

“A truly free and independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom,” Rather said in an interview yesterday afternoon. “This is not something just for journalists to be concerned about, and the loss of jobs and the loss of newspapers, and the diminution of the American press’ traditional role of being the watchdog on power. This is something every citizen should be concerned about.”

Here’s a novel idea Dan – why doesn’t the “public media” commission its own commission on saving itself without dragging the government into it?

For such an advocate of a “truly free and [an] independent press” why are you courting the government as your savior? No strings in that approach are there?

In effect, this is Dan Rather implicitly trying to lay the groundwork for a government bailout of the press – and then he’d demand afterword that we all consider the product a “truly free and independent press”. Yeah – like GM is a truly free and independent car company, huh Dan?


“Cash For Clunkers” Is A Clunker To This Point

What got us into the financial mess we’re in today? Well all the experts and economists tell us it was overspending and debt.

So what’s the solution? Why encouraging more consumer overspending and debt incentivized with your tax dollars of course.

I’m speaking of the “Cash for Clunkers” program – a $1 billion dollar government program that gives a $3,500 to $4,500 cut in price, obviously subsidized by your taxes, to owners of old “gas guzzlers” that meet a certain criteria as an incentive to go into debt for a new more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly car.

You say a billion bucks in the big scheme of things isn’t much. Of course that’s not the point. The government has no business giving your tax dollars away to subsidize someone else’s car purchase. None.

And here’s another point to consider:

But dealers reported problems with the government’s online system to get the transactions approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is running the program.

Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said he was “astounded” to learn at a meeting Tuesday representing about 150 Minnesota dealers that not one has had a deal approved.

“We had dealers representing 1,500 to 2,000 transactions,” he said. “We asked how many had a deal approved yet, and not one hand went up.”

Lambert said the government has created a program that’s “so big and cumbersome that it can’t find a way to accept anything. We’re sending in good, reliable deals.”

It’s nerve-racking for the dealers, he said, because they have given the customer $4,500 and now the dealers need to be reimbursed.

This is a crummy little billion dollar program that began July 1st and the government (why is the NHTSA in the car business?) has yet to figure out how it is supposed to work and how to reimburse dealers who’ve apparently followed their guidelines and laid out hundreds of thousands of their own dollars in anticipation of being reimbursed by the government.

In the meantime, what government has managed to create is a giant and apparently unresponsive bureaucratic mess.

And this is the crew you want running your health care?

All I can say to the dealers is you should have known better.


The Shape Of Things To Come

A short little blurb in the WSJ:

The medical costs of treating obesity-related diseases may have soared as high as $147 billion in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, as its new director set a fresh tone in favor of more aggressively attacking obesity.

Fresh my rear end. The only thing “fresh” about it is another bureaucrat discovering a “fresh” new area in which to intrude.  A little reading between the lines is required.

Note the name of the agency. Is it a stretch, given what we’ve seen lately, to imagine this agency recommending that obesity be classified as a “disease”?

Why else would the director of the CDC even address the issue?

Of course once it has been declared a disease, all sorts of “prevention” can be legislated – for your own good, of course. And to “cut medical costs”.

The cost of treating obesity doubled over a decade, signaling the rising prevalence of excess weight and the toll it is taking on the health-care system. The medical costs of obesity were estimated to be $74 billion in 1998, according to a study by federal government researchers and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hmmm can taxes on food – sugary drinks, high calorie foods, etc – be far behind? Right now that may be a little more difficult and problematic because the government doesn’t have control of health care in this country. But, with that in the offiing, I think the new director of the CDC is just anticipating this “fresh” direction once said legislation is expelled from the bowels of Congress.

Just keeping you up to date.


Health Care Reform – Peeling The Onion

There are a number of things going on in the health care reform debate that are the reason Democrats are at odds with each other. One, obviously is cost. What should be apparent, even to rocket scientists like Nancy Pelosi, is that the American people are not buying into the premise that “government can expand coverage, improve care and do it for less”. It’s not happening.

And, of course, those on the blue side that are leading the “no way, no how” charge are the so called Blue Dogs. Bolstering the Blue Dog position is the CBO, or Congressional Budget Office – a non-partisan organization which “scores” proposed bills for cost and savings. In the last few weeks it has consistently found Democratic Congressional legislative proposals wanting – pointing out none delivered the promised savings over the long haul.

Predictably, the CBO has come under fire from the left, and yesterday the White House joined the fray. Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, Peter Orszag said – carefully – that the CBO’s recent analysis might be feeding a perception that its tendency is toward “exaggerating costs and underestimating savings.”

Given how the costs of most government programs skyrocket after implementation, I’m having difficulty buying into this supposed perception. And it may say more about Orszag, former CBO director, than it does about the CBO now.

However, what Orszag is talking about specifically is a proposal that is another part of the infighting going on among Democrats.

“The point of the proposal … was never to generate savings over the next decade,” Orszag said in a letter posted on Saturday.

“Instead the goal is to provide a mechanism for improving quality of care for beneficiaries and reducing costs over the long term.”

In fact, the proposal is about shifting power from Congress to the Executive Branch:

The new council, if approved, would replace the current Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which is made up of doctors and health care experts. Once a year, it gives recommendations about coverage and reimbursement rates for Medicare but has no authority to enforce its ideas. Its report in March recommended that payments for primary care physicians be increased and home health services rates be decreased.

The proposed council would be comprised of doctors and health care experts making their recommendations based on extensive data and analysis of best health care practices, according to administration officials.

It would be an independent executive branch agency — which would give its recommendations more weight. The president would have to approve or disapprove the its recommendations as a package. If it is approved, the package would be enacted if Congress did not vote against it within 30 days.

This isn’t necessarily about “best health care practices” – this is about centralizing the decision making and making it harder and harder for Congress as a whole and individual Congressmen specifically, from excepting their district or certain constituent health care providers from some of the provisions. The White House wants to take that little perk away from them. And that’s another one of many stuggles going on within this fight to pass something.

A Democratic president trying to take power away from a Democratic congress is probably not the best way to try to pass something that the President can call “health care reform”. That’s not to say I support this council in either form – its more to point out how clumsily this administration is proceeding in all of this. If you want legislation passed so your signature issue doesn’t fail, it may be best not to try to take power away from a friendly Congress and take it yourself. Executive power grabs don’t just happen in the national security area as the Democrats constantly criticized Bush for attempting. They can occur in many other areas. We’ll see if the Dems will be as critical of this power grab as they were of the ones alleged of the previous administration.


The Transparent Administration – Part II

I noted the other day that the Obama administration was hiding its revised budget numbers from the public until August. Obviously, in light of the push to pass health care legislation, they don’t want anymore bad news out there than the CBO has already delivered. And, of course, there’s no doubt that had the news been good, they’d have fallen all over themselves to publish it.

That brings us to our “transparency” moment today. This will probably ring a familiar bell:

Obama administration officials have rejected a watchdog group’s request for a list of healthcare industry executives who’ve been meeting secretly in the White House with Obama staffers to discuss healthcare changes being drafted there and in Congress.

According to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is suspicious of the influence of health industry lobbyists and company officers, it received a letter from the Secret Service citing an Obama Justice Department directive and denying access to visitor logs under the “presidential communications privilege.”

Sound familiar?

Of course it does. But since Darth Cheney and the evil oil executives weren’t involved, my guess is it will hardly make a ripple among lefty critics of the Bush administration.

Promises, promises, this guy was all about promises, remember?

The Problem

Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.

Secrecy Dominates Government Actions: The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the “state secrets” privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.

But you know, the new guy would never do that. He promised!

And you remember the criticism from Democrats and the left about Bush and his signing statements?  Well, guess what?

Congressional Democrats warned President Barack Obama on Tuesday that he sounded too much like George W. Bush when he declared this summer that the White House can ignore legislation he thinks oversteps the Constitution.

In a letter to the president, four senior House members said they were “surprised” and “chagrined” by Obama’s statement in June accompanying a war spending bill that he would ignore restrictions placed on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The rebuff was reminiscent of Bush, who issued a record number of “signing statements” while in office. The statements put Congress on notice that the administration didn’t feel compelled to comply with provisions of legislation that it felt challenged the president’s authority as commander in chief.

Democrats, including Obama, sharply criticized Bush for his reliance on the statements. Obama said he would use them sparingly and only if authorized by the attorney general.

Hope and change.