Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

Final Thoughts

Final as in the last thing I’m thinking about when I go to bed. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a bit of a brain dump at the end of the day, instead of writing about the hottest topic du jour, so consider this a flagship post (N.B. even though my not-so-well-thought-out-or-composed trial balloon was pretty much a flop).

I have very mixed feelings about the announcement from the Pay Czar today that 7 of the firms receiving TARP money would have their salaries dictated to them, resulting in as much as a 90% pay cut (although I’ve also heard 90% was the average).

On the one hand, I figure if you dance with the devil, then you can’t complain when he calls the tune. And since in my estimation these firms should have been allowed to fail in the first place, I’m not exactly shedding any tears over their lost compensation. If they wanted to have control over their businesses, then they shouldn’t haven’t gotten involved with the government in the first place. Whatever Paulson said in that room that fateful day, the decision-makers still had a choice. That they chose poorly is really not my problem, and I don’t feel one bit sorry for them.

Yet, I have no way of knowing if any of those salaries being cut would be going to mismanagers or saviors of the bailed-out firm. Clearly if these firms are going to survive (and the taxpayers are going to have any chance of getting their money back), then we would want the smartest, most industrious, and capable workers in there plugging away, whether it’s in the mail room or the board room. But how is that supposed to happen if these people aren’t getting paid their market rate? Why wouldn’t they go somewhere else, or start their own private companies?

More importantly, what sort of precedent does this set? I understand that the Pay Czar’s actions are legitimized by Congress in the statute setting up the TARP program, but what constitutional authority ever gave any of them the right to dictate pay? The Commerce Clause? The General Welfare Clause to which Congress is now hitching its hopes on forcing people to buy health insurance? The answer to that question only raises much deeper and frankly hair-raising questions.

If Congress can constitutionally give the Executive Branch the power to dictate the pay of those who receive federal funds, what else can it do to those being subsidized? If the federal government is picking up the tab for any portion of your health insurance or health care, for example, what limits can it place on the way you live your life? Can it force you not to smoke? Not to drink? Maybe you won’t be allowed to go skiing or rollerblading without a special permit. Would motorcycle riding still be allowed? How about eating fatty foods of any sort? What happens to student loan recipients? Will their classes be decided for them? Their future employment?

Scoff if you must, but if the government can dictate what your intellectual and physical efforts are worth, then why can’t it also dictate what your actual life is worth? And don’t be confused into thinking that decisions concerning how much the government will pay for your health care, or what you will do to earn a living, are anything but a determination of how much your life is worth.

Like I said above, I’m ambivalent about the Pay Czar actions. While I’m not crying over some Wall Street fat cats having the their lucre cut off, I am worried about the seeming ease with which Americans are taking this news and their apparent lack of interest in what it could mean for them (and me!). Governments are dangerous, no matter what goodies you think you might personally get from them. A government that exercises control over any of our lives with fanfare from the constituents, or worse, with their apathy, is by far the most dangerous. Which government and which polity do we have now?

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Is A “Public Option” Really Popular With The Public?

Although Obamacare is still pretty unfavorable to most Americans (and getting worse?), for some reason a nebulous “public option” continues to poll rather well. Jay Cost takes a look at the polling data and offers a reasonable suggestion for the disparity:

How can we reconcile these gloomy numbers with the sunny results on the public option?

It might be due to the public’s lack of information. I’m sure that the average polling respondent is paying some attention to the health care debate, but she is paying much less attention than political junkies. This will limit the amount of information she actually has in her mental filing cabinet. So, the crucial question is: even if she has absorbed some pro- and anti-reform arguments, does she have enough information to relate them to specific reform proposals? Color me skeptical on that one. I think your average respondent – even with some general opinions on reform – will have a hard time using those broad considerations to evaluate items like the individual mandate, guaranteed issue, community rating, and…wait for it!…the public option.

So, asking about specific proposals might be taking the conversation too far into the woods for the average respondent – and she is going to have a hard time recalling a relevant piece of information upon which to base a response. Instead, she might use the question itself as a basis for her answer. It follows that the information or perspective given in the question could make her more or less partial to the proposal under consideration.

I made a similar argument back in August when dissecting a report alleging that there is 80% support for the public option. Among other problems with supposed poll, it was not at all clear that respondents even new what was meant by “public option”:

If in fact the question was worded as described by Singer, then the inclusion of the phrase “if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” alters the results dramatically. Although some have suggested that this is the reason we need health care insurance reform so desperately, it completely ignores the fact that those who can’t afford health insurance are generally covered by Medicaid, SCHIP and other federal and state programs. So when respondents are asked whether such people should be covered, how do we know they aren’t thinking about those federal and state programs already in existence and not the public option as proposed by Obama and Congress? In short, we don’t. To be fair, the question allegedly refers to “starting a new” program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people understood the question to be asking about ObamaCare’s public option.

Indeed, according to PSB, “only 37 percent define ‘public option’ correctly” and “about one-fourth of those polled believe the ‘public option’ is a national health care system, similar to the one in Great Britain.” Of course, how to “correctly” define the public option is not revealed, but suffice it to say that the survey’s respondents did not reveal they had a concise grasp upon what a public option actually means.

The fact is that most people have better things to do with their lives than become expert in the sausage-making going on in D.C. That they are rationally ignorant (and, thanks to the MSM, often completely misinformed) of the details regarding the public option should come as no surprise.

But Cost digs much deeper and finds that the wording of the survey questions makes a dramatic difference. He points out that most of the recent polling uses “feel-good-phraseology” that tends to diminish the concept of government control and assume the idea that the public option would “compete” with private insurers:

If the theory that question wording is playing a role is correct, then altering the wording should induce a change in the results. So, what happens when information less partial to the Democratic side is introduced? To start answering this question, let’s consider the Gallup results, which are decidedly less bullish on the public option:
USA Today Gallup Poll

Like ABC News/WaPo, Gallup uses the Democratic buzzword “compete.” However, Gallup also uses a Republican buzzword: “government-run.” This is opposed to the weaker formulation – “government administered” – offered by CBS News/New York Times and CNN. With this more balanced choice of words, Gallup finds a roughly even split. I would not call this definitive evidence, but it suggests that we might be on the right track.

More damning is the result of a Rasmussen poll where the wording is less “feel-good” and the public option question is followed up with this one:

Suppose that the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers. Workers would then be covered by the government option. Would you favor or oppose the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option if it encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers?

What happens when this Republican argument is substituted for the Democratic argument? Support for the public option plummets dramatically. Nearly 3/5ths of all respondents voiced opposition to the public option when it was phrased in this way.

Additionally, Rasmussen asked whether respondents thought the public option would save taxpayers money (they didn’t), whether they thought it would offer better health insurance than private insurance (again, no), and whether people preferred to have a public option or a guarantee that nobody will lose their current coverage (the guarantee won in a landslide).

As Cost admits, none of this means that people are necessarily against the public option, just that their opinions are highly influenced by the way questions are asked, stemming from the fact that they are relatively uninformed about the topic. However, Cost’s theory would explain why there is such incongruity between the public’s distaste for the ObamaCare plans floating around Congress and their seeming desire for a public option. Interestingly enough, it also explains why “Medicare for all” is the new rallying cry coming from Washington.

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Podcast for 18 Oct 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the Libaugh NFL story, Obama;s war on FOXNews, and the state of the press in general.

The direct link to the podcast can be found at BlogtalkRadio, since my old computer is becoming an increasingly unreliable recording resource.

Observations

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

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Will Balloon Boy Be The New Schiavo?

Call it a hunch .., because, well, it is … but I have this sneaky suspicion that the balloon boy and his family will turn into the new Schiavo case for the GOP. None of us know what actually happened, and anybody with an ounce of human dignity can only be happy that the child was not actually an errant passenger in that derelict dirigible. All the skepticism seems to hinge upon an offhand comment from a six-year-old, whom I know from experience are less than reliable sources of information (“What did you do in school today, son?” “Nothing.” “Did you play with any of your friends?” “I don’t remember.”). Yet, the way this story is being pressed, I fully expect that some Republican upstart is going to seize the opportunity to turn the attention on him or herself, turning what should be a passing tale of tragedy averted into a crusade for (yet more) state control over the task of parenting.

I truly hope that I’m wrong. That cooler heads will prevail. That, if indeed the parents set this whole thing up as a publicity stunt, the local authorities will handle it sternly, yet quietly. “We” don’t need to be involved, and even more importantly, there is no reason at all that Congress should be sticking it’s nose into the situation.

But I can’t help but think, given how the GOP so successfully delegitimized itself in the now-infamous Terry Schiavo case, somehow or another they will find a way to do so here. The perceived moral high ground will be too tempting, once again, and the party that used to believe in limited government (at least, during the Reagan years) will find a way to insert itself into a place that no limited-government advocate would ever want to be. When all we should be thinking is, “thank God that kid is safe.”

With the current challenges to the entrenched Republican power, I can understand why taking up the banner for poor Falcon’s safety will seem so irresistible. After all, establishment candidates are having a difficult time with the conservative base, and anyone whose been paying attention knows that the boiling Tea Partiers are not particularly keen to just toss out Democrats in the next election. Republicans who continue to support the profligate ways of Washington are just as vulnerable.

All the more reason then to show how the Grand Old Party cares more about life and death than those dirty Democrats, just a they did with Schiavo, by meddling in the affairs of a local issue that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the rest of the country. Hey, those votes aren’t going to buy themselves!

This is one of those times that I really hope I’m wrong, and that reasonable minds prevail. But politics being what it is, I think there is a very real chance that some idiot Republican is going to start a movement in Congress to save the Falcons of the world. Because Lord knows that when there’s a problem to be solved, only the federal government can provide the necessary answers.

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Should Rush Sue?

For anyone who has been paying attention to how the media treats conservatives, the current smearing of Rush Limbaugh should comes as no surprise. The radio personality expresses an interest in being a part owner of the St. Louis Rams and, because the players in the NFL are something like 75% black (which, of course, nobody has a problem with), the racial knives come out in an instant. Unsourced and ill-founded claims that Limbaugh is a racist immediately flood the media airwaves. The problem is, quotes alleged to have been uttered by Limbaugh are entirely made up. Not that the media made any effort to find that out.

So where are these racist soundbites? Where’s the audio? Where’s the transcript? Name the year. Heigh-ho, say CNN’s Rick Sanchez and the rest of the basement-ratings crowd. Not our problem: It’s for Limbaugh to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s never said it.

We’re too busy fact-checking anti-Obama jokes to fact-check our own reporting . . .

The conservative commentator is now threatening to sue for defamation (via Gateway Pundit). I carry no water for Limbaugh, and have only heard snippets of his show a few times in the past 15 years or so. When he called out the media for lauding Donovan McNabb just because he was a black quarterback, I thought he was being ridiculously divisive and adding politics where it wasn’t needed, even as I agreed that the Eagle QB was overrated. What I have never seen is any actual evidence that Limbaugh is a racist or that he supports racism in any way. For that reason, and because I think the media needs to be held accountable for its unmitigated torturing of the truth on a daily basis, I hope that Limbaugh follows through with his threat.

Now, despite being an attorney, I’m actually pretty non-litigious. Most people don’t understand how expensive, invasive and stressful being involved in a court case can be, even when they have ironclad circumstances in their favor. In Limbaugh’s case, he would have it even tougher because, thanks to Times v. Sullivan, he would have to prove actual malice (i.e. that the libelous statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not), which is harder than it seems. Even so, he has an excellent case to punish the MSM for its routine malpractice, and if he’s willing to spend the money I think he should go for it.

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Still Not Getting It

Other than whistling-past-the-graveyard willful ignorance, how is it that the left and the media (yeah, I know, same thing) can still be so clueless when it comes to the Tea Party movement? The catalyst was the passage of the TARP bill last year, and the continued profligacy of government spending has served to fan the flames of these growing protests. Despite being deemed racist, ignorant, lunatic fringers who are nothing more than astroturfed loud-mouths bought and paid for by (take your pick) the GOP, the insurance industry, et al., the tea partiers have only become stronger and more noticeable. And although the message is excruciatingly simple (Taxed Enough Already), the left/media is still shocked to discover that this isn’t some devious plot to overthrow Obama and the Democrats that was orchestrated by Karl Rove:

While the energy of the anti-tax and anti-Big Government tea party movement may yet haunt Democrats in 2010, the first order of business appears to be remaking the Republican Party.

Whether it’s the loose confederation of Washington-oriented groups that have played an organizational role or the state-level activists who are channeling grass-roots anger into action back home, tea party forces are confronting the Republican establishment by backing insurgent conservatives and generating their own candidates — even if it means taking on GOP incumbents.

“We will be a headache for anyone who believes the Constitution of the United States … isn’t to be protected,” said Dick Armey, chairman of the anti-tax and limited government advocacy group FreedomWorks, which helped plan and promote the tea parties, town hall protests and the September ‘Taxpayer March’ in Washington. “If you can’t take it seriously, we will look for places of other employment for you.”

“We’re not a partisan organization, and I think many Republicans are disappointed we are not,” added Armey, a former GOP congressman.

In other words, it’s not the party, it’s the spending stupid.

However, for some the message is still not getting through:

The right-wing “Tea Party” activists are, obviously, deeply opposed to the Obama White House’s policies and the Democratic agenda in general. But Alex Isenstadt reports that they’re not especially pleased with the state of the Republican Party, either. Apparently, the Teabaggers think the GOP is too moderate…

Now, the notion of hostilities between right-wing activists and really right-wing activists is, to a certain extent, entertaining. State and local Republican parties are already pretty unhinged — pick a state GOP platform at random and read it — but that’s apparently insufficient.

But the part of this that’s really remarkable to me is the notion that the Republican Party of 2009 is just too darn reasonable and open to compromise with those sneaky Democrats, as far as this crowd is concerned.

Yes, the recovery-opposing, nominee-blocking, ACORN-hunting, Fox News-following, health care-rejecting, gay bashing, global warming-denying, scorched earth-raging Republican Party isn’t far enough to the right for the Teabggers.

Talk about misreading the Tea leaves. Benen misses the boat completely. He and his lefty adherents are convinced that the GOP started some fake grassroots campaign to take on Obama and the Democrats, stoked by racial fears of having a black man in the White House, and that the movement has now turned on them. But that was never the case. Instead, it was always about the runaway spending in Washington:

Tea party organizers say their resistance to Republican Party-backed primary candidates has much to do with what they perceive as the GOP’s stubborn insistence on embracing candidates who don’t abide by a small government, anti-tax conservative philosophy.

There it is in a nutshell. The people are tired of speaking out against runaway spending by Democrats just to get Republicans who do the same thing, only at a slightly slower pace. It’s the fundamental thinking in Washington that needs to change, not the letter behind the politician’s name.

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0% Tolerance; 100% Nonsense

We’ve all heard the stories about students being suspended for bringing aspirin to school, etc., where administrators are tasked with enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to drugs, weapons, and the like. While being kicked out of school for a few days for bandying over-the-counter analgesics is bad enough, when kids who are otherwise good citizens are thrown into reform school you know things are really getting out of hand:

Zachary Christie is a six-year old student in Newark, Delaware who is facing 45 days in reform school because he brought his new Cub Scout eating utensil to school for lunch. The utensil includes a knife, and this violates the school’s brainlessly, robotically enforced zero-tolerance policy on “weapons on school property.”

I can sort of understand the school’s problem with Christie having a knife (although, if it isn’t a lock-blade, it’s use as a weapon is awfully questionable), but how on earth does that merit being sent to reform school? When I used to work with troubled kids in a alternative-education wilderness program (where most of the kids came to us through social services and/or the courts), they were allowed to have pocket knives, and these were the kids who were kicked out of every school they had ever attended. If they could be trusted with such a utensil, why is that a Cub Scout can’t have one?

If I were the kid’s parent, I would be looking to move as quickly as possible, because that sort of non-tolerance is simply intolerable.

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Podcast for 11 Oct 09

In this podcast, Michael and Dale discuss Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and health care reform.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Grant For Firefighters Goes To … ACORN?

Apparently the funds were intended to be used for the improvement of fire safety in low-income and poor households (e.g. adding smoke detectors). But somehow or another ACORN managed to beat other grant applicants for the funds, by a rather wide margin:

Nearly $1 million in Homeland Security funding typically earmarked for fire departments has been awarded to ACORN, despite a clear signal from Congress that it intends to cut off federal funding to the embattled group …

It was one of only three such grants issued to the state and made up almost 80 percent of the firefighting money earmarked for Louisiana, prompting one of the U.S. senators fr-m the state to demand that the funds be taken back.

That Senator, who cited the O’Keefe-Giles prostitution sting as a reason for revoking the grant, was David Vitter. Predictably, thanks to Vitter’s problems with fidelity, his involvement evoked this response:

When asked how the money would be spent, ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring issued a statement criticizing the senator, who confessed in the past to having used an escort service.

“Senator Vitter knows a lot more about prostitution rings than anyone here does, so we’ll defer to him on any matters pertaining to the videos attacking ACORN,” the statement read. It did not explain how the group plans to spend the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

Had to see that one coming, didn’t you, Senator?

Nevertheless, how ACORN was able to secure a grant making up 80% of Louisiana’s firefighting money from the federal government is an awfully curious question. Considering that Congress has been systematically defunding the organization over the past several weeks, and that ACORN has no firefighting expertise to speak of, one wonders how other more deserving applicants were overlooked.

One such group might have been the St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 3, which applied for a $120,000 grant to purchase smoke alarms for low-income families after a January fire killed four children in a home that had no working detectors.

“We wanted to buy smoke detectors to spread to homes all over the community to prevent that fr0m happening again,” Chief Charles Flynn said in an interview Tuesday.

“I have no problem with not getting a grant, I’ve lost grants before,” said Chief Flynn, one of the fire officials who complained to Mr. Vitter in a letter.

“My issue is ACORN in New Orleans. Their mission statement says nothing about fire safety or fire prevention. It bothered me that ACORN got $1 million and there are so many smaller and bigger departments that have a need for that money.”

The Monroe Fire Department was the only squad in Louisiana to receive a grant and will be awarded $192,000. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office will receive $62,000.

ACORN received $997,402, slightly less than the maximum allowable grant of $1 million. A total of $35 million was available for the grants project to fire districts across the country this year.

This story just screams corruption with a capital “C”. I’m sure Congress will get right on that. [/sarcasm]

[HT: Hot Air HL]

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