Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

More Stupid Journalist Tricks

This quote from the NYT‘s Robert Frank is enough to cause any half-way intelligent person apoplexy [HT: Ramesh Ponnuru]:

Anti-tax zealots denounce all taxation as theft, as depriving citizens of their right to spend their hard-earned incomes as they see fit. Yet nowhere does the Constitution grant us the right not to be taxed. Nor does it grant us the right to harm others with impunity. No one is permitted to steal our cars or vandalize our homes. Why should opponents of taxation be allowed to harm us in less direct ways?

Oh, Jeez. Correcting all of the problems with this statement could fill volumes, but at its core is this mind-numbingly stupid assertion: “Yet nowhere does the Constitution grant us the right not to be taxed.

That’s right, genius, it doesn’t. Wanna know why? Because nowhere does the Constitution grant us any rights, you imbecile! That’s not what the Constitution is about or for. It doesn’t grant us the right to free speech, or to bear arms, or to due process, or to be secure in our possessions and properties. It doesn’t even grant anyone the right to vote. What it does is protect those individual rights, all of which existed prior to the Constitution even being contemplated. Which, incidentally, was the point to having a government in the first place (and not to use the state’s police powers to dole out goodies to favored constituencies, as seems to be all the rage nowadays).

Indeed, the only thing that Constitution does grant is limited powers to the federal government, all other powers being reserved to the States or the people (see Amendment X to that Constitution you are blathering about).

Accordingly, your argument is not just “insane”, to use Mr. Ponnuru’s term, it is also fundamentally misinformed. In the future, should find the need to expound upon the foundation of our government and/or its relation to individual rights, perhaps you should educate yourself about those concepts first.

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No, Seniors, You Won’t Be Able To Keep Your Health Insurance Plan

Throw this on the pile with the many lies broken promises from Obama about his health care initiative. It’s official now that a Democrat is saying it:

Democrats, having defeated a Republican attempt to block proposed Medicare cuts, now face an even bigger headache: concern among members of their own party over the program’s future funding.

President Barack Obama wants to cut spending on the federal insurance plan for the elderly to help fund his health-care overhaul. Part of that proposal would cut more than $100 billion from Medicare Advantage, through which the government hires private insurers such as Humana Inc. to deliver Medicare benefits to 11 million seniors, including extras like reduced co-payments and even gym memberships.

Should Congress scale back the program, “We’re not going to be able to say ‘if you like what you have, you can keep it,’” said Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “And that basic commitment that a lot of us around here have made will be called into question.”

Casey’s only referring to those who use Medicare Advantage, but that’s not an insignificant number of people. And it would be larger if not for some (ahem) “special provisions” that protect some constituents:

Senators Charles Schumer of New York, Bill Nelson of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon are among those who secured special provisions shielding constituents from cuts.

Casey says he wants “very comparable” protections for his state, where more than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries participate in Medicare Advantage. “It’s the kind of thing that will likely be addressed on the floor,” he said.

Well that certainly is “special” now, isn’t it?

Of course, the reason that Medicare Advantage is under attack, particularly in rural areas, is because it costs more than regular Medicare. That’s because when the government tried to get insurers to offer the program in rural areas none would do so because the rates were too low. The government then offered subsidies, and now almost everywhere in the U.S. has Medicare Advantage offered.

Medicare Advantage was created decades ago in hopes that private insurers could deliver Medicare benefits more cheaply. Companies were paid 5 percent less than the traditional program’s costs. Insurers, though, wouldn’t enter many rural markets at those rates, said Biles.

Beginning in 1997, the then-Republican controlled Congress increased subsidies to lure insurers into rural markets. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley said that before the increases, Medicare Advantage was available in only one of his state’s 99 counties. Now it’s in every county.

“To get it in rural America, it took some subsidies,” said Grassley.

Those subsidies made Medicare Advantage more expensive than traditional Medicare. “One of the big reasons Medicare is headed for insolvency is Medicare Advantage, so the notion that it can be left alone is detached from reality,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. “It’s been a runaway train.”

So, Democrats are faced with a Morton’s Fork: either cut Medicare Advantage, which will likely lead to insurers ceasing to offer it, or continue to fund it and be faced with a budget-busting health care plan. Either way, they end up with a plan that is probably not passable.

Incidentally, Humana, Inc. is one of the largest providers of Medicare Advantage coverage, whose revenues are closely tied to its success. You may recall that a couple of months ago, the government decided to try an shut down communications from Humana to its customers warning them that ObamaCare could mean a loss of their coverage.

Two-thirds of Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana’s earnings and one-fifth of Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s profits are tied to the program, according to an Oct. 1 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. research note.

“Significant funding cuts to the MA program would likely make the benefits seniors receive from MA unsustainable at their current levels,” said UnitedHealth spokesman Jon Stone in an e- mail. Humana spokesman Jim Turner said “it’s too early to identify the specific impact MA funding cuts would have on premiums and benefits.”

Humana cautioned seniors in September of possible cuts, urging them to “let your members of Congress know why Medicare Advantage is important to you.” The administration barred insurers from sending what it termed “potentially misleading” mailings. It later retreated after Republicans retaliated by blocking nominees awaiting Senate confirmation.

The White House secured one concession: requiring insurers to make their case only to seniors requesting such information.

I guess Congress wanted to be the first to tell them?

In any case, these are the sorts of problems that will (hopefully) make any health care legislation impossible to get passed. The way things are set up, a whole lot of disparate interest groups are pitted against one another, and in order to satisfy one, another has to lose. If Congress expands coverage to everyone, then those with health care will have to pay for it, either through higher premiums, fewer benefits or increased taxes. There simply isn’t enough tax money to fund the program (especially if that money is only going to be raised from “the rich” or some other disfavored group) and provide all the goodies that are being promised. And if the goodies aren’t delivered, then people start asking why we’re changing anything at all. Those questions will be particularly pointed when, whatever changes are made, voters are still likely to see higher costs and reduced services.

Given all the above, I don’t know what kind of bill can possibly emerge from the Senate. Let’s hope that means that none will. And to be on the safe side, plan on voting for candidates that will ensure that outcome.

[HT: Ace]

NASA May Have Its Own Climaquiddick Problem

To my mind, the biggest indicator of malfeasance in this whole Climaquiddick affair is the fact that researchers have been forced to use freedom of information laws to get to the underlying data that supposedly supports AGW. The leaked emails show that the CRU gang at least contemplated trashing data to keep it from private eyes, and with respect to original temperature data, in fact did trash it. Why, if the evidence is so overwhelming, would anyone want to keep such data from public view? Well, you know why, and it appears that NASA may have a similar problem:

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said NASA has refused for two years to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how the agency has shaped its climate data and would explain why the agency has repeatedly had to correct its data going as far back as the 1930s.

“I assume that what is there is highly damaging,” Mr. Horner said. “These guys are quite clearly bound and determined not to reveal their internal discussions about this.”

The numbers matter. Under pressure in 2007, NASA recalculated its data and found that 1934, not 1998, was the hottest year in its records for the contiguous 48 states. NASA later changed that data again, and now 1998 and 2006 are tied for first, with 1934 slightly cooler.

Mr. Horner, a noted global warming skeptic and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, wants a look at the data and the discussions that went into those changes. He said he’s given the agency until the end of the year to comply or else he’ll sue to compel the information’s release.

Image via <a href="http://smallestminority.blogspot.com/2009/12/zing.html">The Smallest Minority</a>

Image via The Smallest Minority


My familiarity with FOIA requests stems from legal cases, and I know that there are some fairly systematic, and time-consuming procedures that a government agency must go through before delivering the requested material. Typically, in the legal realm, the biggest time-consumer is filtering the material for privileged and classified material that need to be redacted before responding to the request. However, in the realm of scientific fact (i.e. requesting raw data), I can’t for the life of me think of one reason why any such data would have to be redacted or withheld. Temperature records, in the very least, should be easily producible well within the the 20 day limit for such requests.

To be sure, Horner is also seeking emails (and presumably other documents) that discuss the GISS reasoning underlying decisions to change the warmest dates on record, which could take some extra time:

NASA’s GISS was forced to update its data in 2007 after questions were raised by Steve McIntyre, who runs ClimateAudit.com.

GISS had initially listed the warmest years as 1998, 1934, 2006, 1921 and 1931. After Mr. McIntyre’s questions GISS rejiggered the list and 1934 was warmest, followed by 1998, 1921, 2006 and then 1931. But since then, the list has been rewritten again so it now runs 1998, 2006, 1934, 1921, 1999.

The institute blamed a “minor data processing error” for the changes but says it doesn’t make much difference since the top three years remain in a “statistical tie” either way.

Mr. Horner said he’s seeking the data itself, but he also wants to see the chain of e-mails from scientists discussing the changes.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 days. Mr. Horner says he’s never received an official acknowledgement of his three separate FOIA requests, but has received e-mails showing the agency is aware of them.

He said he has provided NASA with a notice of intent to sue under FOIA, but said he also hopes members of Congress get involved and demand the information be released.

NASA and CRU data are considered the backbone of much of the science that suggests the earth is warming due to manmade greenhouse gas emissions. NASA argues its data suggests this decade has been the warmest on record.

On the other hand, data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville suggests temperatures have been relatively flat for most of this decade.

Obviously the numbers matter, as does the justification for changing them. If everything was done in good faith, then there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. That such stonewalling has been going on for two years (according to Horner) suggests that there is something to hide.

Say Anything Radio Tonight

For anyone who might be interested, Rob Port of Say Anything Blog has graciously invited me to co-host his radio show tonight. It will be airing from 7-9 PM Central time, and can be heard on Ustream and can be seen right here (allegedly):

Tonight’s topics will include the Pelosi health care bill, the elections this week, the Fort Hood tragedy, and my post on Corporatism v. Capitalism. If you desire, you can call into the show toll free at 888-598-8464. Hope to hear from some of you all.

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Fiscal Conservatism Big Winner Tonight

Landslide victories up and down the ticket in Virginia, a somewhat surprising upset in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey, and a fine showing (and potential victory?) in upstate New York tonight, all make one thing clear: fiscal conservatism is back. The Republican Party will try to seize the moment as their call to ascendance, but that’s wishful thinking. The real victor tonight is fiscal conservatism. If the GOP doesn’t get on board, then they should expect to be wandering in the wilderness for a little while longer.

With that in mind, let’s think about the NY-23 race for a moment. As I’m writing this, it looks like the results won’t be known for some time. The conservative upstart and darling the grassroots Tea Party movement, Doug Hoffman, is trailing with a majority of the precincts reporting. However, as I understand it the exit polls give him the edge, there are several conservative-leaning precincts that haven’t been counted, and the number of absentee ballots (which won’t be tallied for some time) far outpaces the difference between Hoffman and the Democrat Bill Owens. In short, we probably won’t know the result of this race anytime soon. So be it.

Let’s assume that Hoffman loses. What does that mean? Liberals will point to the fact that, in races where someone was actually sent to Washington and thus could have a direct effect on Obama’s agenda, the Democrats made a clean sweep. GOP old-timers like Newt Gingrich will be quick to chide the base for supporting a third-party candidate thus handing a formerly Republican seat to Pelosi and her crew. Both will be completely wrong.

The idea that Democrats got a clean sweep of DC seats is an interesting spin, but it doesn’t make much sense in the long run. The way that House elections are districted virtually ensures party control of those seats, pretty much by design. That a Democrat wins an election as a Representative of a Democratic district is hardly indicative of anyone’s agenda, much less as a referendum on the latest national policy being rammed down our throats debated in Washington. Moreover, any knowledgeable Governor-elect knows that the health care bills proposed by Congress will be making their lives much more difficlut if passed, simply by virtue of the fact that they all try to pass a good deal of the costs onto the states in order to meet that magical, Obama-approved number of $900 billion. And let’s not forget that the liberal media and the White House itself [Yeah, big dif — ed.] has been distancing itself from the results all this past week. You can’t have it both ways, but don’t think that will stop the libs from trying anyway.

On the GOP side, you can expect the establishment types to aggressively tut-tut the conservative cranks who put the wind in Hoffman’s sails. “Better to have a RINO who supports Boehner for Speaker than a Dem who’s a sure Pelosi vote,” will be the admonishment. “Poppycock!” should be the response. If smaller government and lower taxes are truly the desired goal, then electing someone whom nominally carries the Republican standard but walks and talks like a Democratic duck does not further that aim. Instead, it makes it harder to obtain because, by Newt Gingrich’s logic, the base would have to continue to vote for her regardless of how she actually votes while in office, just to maintain the Republican caucus. In reality, it’s much easier for a conservative base to be energized into voting to unseat a Democrat tax-and-spender than a Republican one. Having Scozzafava in that seat would impede that opportunity.

If, on the other hand, Hoffman pulls out the win against all odds (e.g. running as a third-party candidate, only getting one slot on the ballot to two each for the other candidates), that would be a remarkable and unmistakable victory for fiscal conservatives. To be sure, in my mind, the fact that Hoffman is the candidate whom the Democrat has to beat is already a victory for fiscal conservatism. But an actual electoral victory would be huge. It sends the clear message that Congress’ profligate ways are no longer acceptable, and it almost ensures that ObamaCare, PelosiCare or WhateverCare will never become a reality. That’s because, regardless of what liberal pundits and Democrat mouthpieces say, the politicians who depend on reading the Tea leaves correctly will quickly surmise that voting for the health care monstrosities coming out of Congress is a suicide mission. Self preservation dictates that these savvy solons legislate these monstrosities to a slow, painful death. The same could be said of Cap-and-Trade or any other erstwhile tax bill considered for passage. In the very least, therefor, a Hoffman win means that fiscal insanity is held in low regard for the next election cycle.

So hold your heads up high, pioneers, for the returns tonight strike a harmonious tune. Fiscal conservatism sets the beat, and that symphony sounds sublimely sweet.

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Corporatists v. Capitalists

This guy is sooooo close to getting it exactly right, and at HuffPo of all places.

When I heard the word “corporatist” a couple of years ago, I laughed. I thought what a funny, made up, liberal word. I fancy myself a die-hard capitalist, so it seemed vaguely anti-business, so I was put off by it.

Well, as it turns out, it’s a great word. It perfectly describes a great majority of our politicians and the infrastructure set up to support the current corporations in the country. It is not just inaccurate to call these people and these corporations capitalists; it is in fact the exact opposite of what they are.

Capitalists believe in choice, free markets and competition. Corporatists believe in the opposite. They don’t want any competition at all. They want to eliminate the competition using their power, their entrenched position and usually the politicians they’ve purchased. They want to capture the system and use it only for their benefit.

The sensible approach would be to recognize the problem and figure out a way to avoid it the best we can. Money always finds a way in, but we can at least be cognizant of the issue and try to combat it as much as possible. We must do this as citizens who care about our democracy, but we must also do it as capitalists.

If he just realized that the answer isn’t “that we watch politicians with a very wary eye”, but instead to make sure that the politicians have as little and diffused power as possible. Without concentrated power, politicians have nothing to sell, including the power to protect big corporations. If there’s nothing to sell, the corporations have nothing to buy for their protectionist schemes and are left to sink or swim in the market just like the rest of us. The end result? More freedom and more free markets.

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Podcast for 01 Nov 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, and the health care bill that came to the house floor this week.

The direct link to the podcast can be found at BlogtalkRadio.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

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Travesty In Honduras

There were so many ways to get this right, and one clear to way to completely blow it. The Obama administration chose to blow it, and to blow it big, by embracing an imbalanced dictator-wannabe whose efforts are supported by the worst offenders of representative democracy and individual freedom in the region:

Zelaya prodly shows off his tinfoil curtains to US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon

Zelaya prodly shows off his tinfoil curtains to US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon

The interim leader of Honduras says he is ready to sign a pact to end its crisis which could include the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Roberto Micheletti said the agreement would create a power-sharing government and require both sides to recognise the result of November’s presidential poll.

Mr Zelaya said the deal, which requires the approval of the Supreme Court and Congress, would be signed on Friday.

The opponents had earlier been told by US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon that they had to reach an accord in order to ensure international support for the election on 29 November.

Afterwards, Mr Micheletti announced that a power-sharing deal had been reached that included a “significant concession”.

“I have authorised my negotiating team to sign a deal that marks the beginning of the end of the country’s political situation,” the interim leader told a news conference.

“With regard to the most contentious subject in the deal, the possible restitution of Zelaya to the presidency” would be included, he said.

Mr Zelaya described the accord as a “triumph for Honduran democracy”, and said he was “optimistic” of returning to power.

Fausta calls the above analysis “tactful” and translates the local press reaction as “Micheletti caves under US pressure and agrees to Zelaya’s return” and lists the following terms of the deal:

Noticias 24 lists the main points of the agreement (my translation: if you use this translation please credit me and link to this post):

1. The creation of a reconciliation government.
2. Rejection of political amnesty.
3. Recognition of the November 29 elections.
4. Transferring control of the Armed Forces from the Executive to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
5. Creating a verification commission to enforce compliance with the agreement.
6. Creating a truth commission to investigate the events before, during and after June 28, the date of Zelaya’s removal.
7. Requesting that the international community end all sanctions against Honduras and that they send in observers to the presidential election.
8. Supporting the proposal for a vote of the National Congress with the approval of the Supreme Court of Justice to reinstate all the Executive Power prior to June 28, that is, restoring Zelaya to power.

Although Zelaya’s restoration is largely symbolic (e.g. while he is returned to his office, the election in a few weeks will still occur, and the Supreme Court Electoral Tribunal [Thanks, La Gringa – ed.] now has power over the military instead of the President), the very fact that he is allowed to re-enter Honduras without being immediately arrested, much less that he will be able to call himself President once again, is perhaps the greatest shame of Barack Obama’s young presidency. Without Washington’s bullying of the duly constituted authorities in Honduras, the country would have been held up as an example of independent democracy done right, making a definable break with the banana republics of the past. Instead, the US entered the fray on the side of a criminal Chavista and used our considerable power to retard Honduras’ institutional growth.

There have been times in America’s past where the decision to throw our lot in with certain regimes was questionable at best. In the world of realpolitik, however, it is sometimes necessary to chose the least bad to defend against the infinitely worse. Much of our assistance and meddling in South and Central America, aimed at rebuffing the spread of communism, can be chalked up to that realpolitik. Yet never have we sided against the rule of law in order to defend the wishes of dictators. That is, until now.

Honduras will emerge from this escapade with its dignity and political institutions intact. Unfortunately, that will be despite our best efforts, not because of them.

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White House Stuck On Stupid

Well, über defensive and stupid, to be more accurate. At least with its war on Fox News there was some calculated ability to garner sympathy and support from the fevered progressive masses. Taking on one of the most reputable reviewers of the car industry, when it’s giving you good news, is just plain idiotic:

It is an odd, and we’d say regrettable, pattern of this White House that it lets itself get dragged down into fights with specific media outlets.

[…]

But in addition to Fox News, now The White House is going after highly-respected and influential car site Edmunds.com.

They’re actually using The White House blog to dispute the site’s analysis of Cash-For-Clunkers (via Detroit News).

The post is snarkily titled: “Busy Covering Car Sales on Mars, Edmunds.com Gets It Wrong (Again) on Cash for Clunkers”

For its part, Edmunds.com responded with a sober yet forceful smackdown. After pointing to the obvious flaws in the White House’s (defensive) thinking, they put the once-venerable office to shame:

With all respect to the White House, Edmunds.com thinks that instead of shooting the messenger, government officials should take heart from the core message of the analysis: the fundamentals of the auto marketplace are improving faster than the current sales numbers suggest.

Isn’t this a piece of good news we can all cheer?

I’m not sure which is more pathetic: the fact that the White House clearly lost a blog war, or that it is stupid enough to get involved in one in the first place.