Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: August 2009


Podcast for 23 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce  and Dale discuss the top stories of the past week.

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.

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Obama Administration Finally Admits CBO Was Right (Update)

Right about what? Well, in this case, the 10 year budget estimate. Remember this chart first seen in March?

wapoobamabudget1

This was the difference between the Obama administration and the CBO estimate based on the Obama administration’s 10 year budget. At the time the CBO said that the budget estimate would raise the debt by 9.1 trillion dollars. The Obama administration said, at the time, that the CBO was wrong.

Quietly, at 7pm this last Friday night, the Obama administration raised its estimate of what their budget would add to the debt by the 2 trillion the CBO had said was always there. What that means for the chart is you can ignore the pastel red bars – the Obama estimate – in favor of the dark red bars.

The administration claims that its change in the estimate is due to things which have apparently changed since March, but of which they were just unaware might happen:

Obama administration officials have concluded the economy was much worse last year — and tax revenues much lower — than they had initially assumed, which means that the estimated budget deficit will increase from $7 trillion to about $9 trillion over the coming decade.

This has to give you all sorts of confidence in other White House cost estimates not to mention their denials of the CBO’s accuracy on things like cap-and-trade and health care in favor of their own.

They didn’t know enough to make an accurate estimate. But the CBO did.

So when the administration says that health care reform will save money and the CBO says it will “bend the cost curve upward”, what should this example lead us to believe?

The cost curve is going to bend upward.

UPDATE: James Pethokoukis thinks this is a prelude to CBO kicking their estimate up a notch:

Expect the CBO to also crank up its forecast, which will be higher than the administration’s. Also, this is further evidence that the common wisdom that people don’t care about budget deficits (no matter what the polls say) is wrong. C’mon, leaking such news on a late Friday afternoon?

~McQ


More Hope and Change – Rendition-style

Remember the uproar on the left about “rendition” and how that sort of thing was simply “un-American”, unconstitutional and a legal travesty? I’m not going to pretend I don’t agree with many of the arguments made then. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is how the left was again punked by the man in the White House. Recall this from the Obama campaign website:

“From both a moral standpoint and a practical standpoint, torture is wrong. Barack Obama will end the use torture without exception. He also will eliminate the practice of extreme rendition, where we outsource our torture to other countries.”

And:

As a candidate last year, President Obama vowed to end “the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”

And 7 days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from conducting “extraordinary rendition”.

But last week a Lebanese man was snatched by the FBI in Afghanistan. His claims sound faintly familiar. He charges he was stripped naked, subjected to a cavity search and photographed among other things:

In court papers, Azar said he was denied his eyeglasses, not given food for 30 hours and put in a freezing room after his arrest by “more than 10 men wearing flak jackets and carrying military style assault rifles.”

Azar also said he was shackled and forced to wear a blindfold, dark hood and earphones for up to 18 hours on a Gulfstream V jet that flew him from Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to Virginia.

Before the hood was put on, he said, one of his captors waved a photo of Azar’s wife and four children and warned Azar that he would “never see them again” unless he confessed.

“Frightened for his immediate safety . . . and under the belief he would end up in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to be tortured,” Azar signed a paper he did not understand, his lawyers told the court.

His crime? Terrorism? A Taliban leader? A person making terroristic threats? Someone who had engaged in combat against Americans?

Well sort of – he apparently inflated some invoices.   And the Obama administration was out to serve warning that they just weren’t going to put up with that.

Now, I recognize that we only have his word about what was done to him, and he could certainly be embellishing certain aspects of his incarceration for effect, but the FBI admits to part of it apparently feeling that this invoice padder was a threat on a par with Osama bin Laden and should be treated accordingly:

Prosecutors, however, said that Azar was “treated professionally,” kept in a heated room, offered food and water repeatedly and “provided with comfortable chairs to sit in.”

They said he was photographed naked and subjected to a cavity search to ensure that he did not carry hidden weapons and was fit for travel. Court records confirmed that Azar was shackled at the ankles, waist and wrists and made to wear a blindfold, hood and earphones aboard the plane.

Prosecutors also said that FBI agents read Azar his rights against self-incrimination on three occasions, and that he “voluntarily” waived them.

The FBI agent in charge, Perry J. Goerish, denied in an affidavit that Azar was “told he would never see his family again unless he confessed.”

Additionally an accomplice who was arrested with him has not made similar charges, but has pled guilty to those charges.

But the bottom line is a foreign national was snatched in Afghanistan, shackled, blindfolded and whisked off to an undisclosed location (it ended up being the US) and, in effect, treated just like the terrors suspects the CIA had taken previously.

Yet the LA Times decides:

Their case is different from the widely criticized “extraordinary renditions” carried out after the Sept. 11 attacks. In those cases, CIA teams snatched suspected Al Qaeda members and other alleged terrorists overseas and flew them, shackled and hooded, to prisons outside the United States without any arrest warrants or other judicial proceedings.

Ah, well, there you go – this apparently was legal, so, you know, that makes it all okay. Pretty much exactly the same thing except this time there was a legal veneer to help everyone, to include the LA Times, declare this case is “different”.

Yeah? Seems just like old times to me.

~McQ


The Top 10 Indicators Your Employer Has Switched To The “Public Option”

From a friend, a little humor to start your Sunday:

(10) Your annual breast exam is done at Hooters.
(9) Directions to your doctor’s office include “Take a left when you enter
the trailer park.”
(8) The tongue depressors taste faintly of Fudgesicles.
(7) The only proctologist in the plan is “Gus” from Roto-Rooter.
(6) The only item listed under Preventative Care Coverage is “an apple a
day.”
(5) Your primary care physician is wearing the pants you gave to goodwill
last month.
(4) “The patient is responsible for 200% of out-of-network charges,” is not
a typographical error.
(3) The only expense covered 100% is, “embalming.”
(2) Your Prozac comes in different colors with little M’s on them.

AND THE NUMBER ONE SIGN YOU’VE JOINED OBAMA’S HEALTH CARE PLAN

(1) You ask for Viagra, and they give you a Popsicle stick and duct tape

~McQ


Constitutional Questions About Health Care Reform

It’s about time:

President Obama has called for a serious and reasoned debate about his plans to overhaul the health-care system. Any such debate must include the question of whether it is constitutional for the federal government to adopt and implement the president’s proposals. Consider one element known as the “individual mandate,” which would require every American to have health insurance, if not through an employer then by individual purchase. This requirement would particularly affect young adults, who often choose to save the expense and go without coverage. Without the young to subsidize the old, a comprehensive national health system will not work. But can Congress require every American to buy health insurance?

My question? When has such a concern stopped the government in the past under either Republican or Democratic administrations or Congress?

Not that this isn’t an excellent question and I’m glad to see someone raising it. But you have to ask, would we be in the shape we’re in today if past administrations and Congress (not to mention SCOTUS) had seriously been concerned with the Constitution?

So, having had my say about that, let’s explore the point about mandated insurance coverage that David Rivkin Jr and Lee Casey try to make Their considered opinion is contained in a fairly short paragraph, and the answer is “no”:

The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.

Rivkin and Casey support their conclusion with case law and precedent which they claim would preclude a constitutional basis for an individual mandate in either the most abused clause of the Constitution – the commerce clause – or within the power to tax. Given that, they say:

This leaves mandate supporters with few palatable options. Congress could attempt to condition some federal benefit on the acquisition of insurance. States, for example, usually condition issuance of a car registration on proof of automobile insurance, or on a sizable payment into an uninsured motorist fund. Even this, however, cannot achieve universal health coverage. No federal program or entitlement applies to the entire population, and it is difficult to conceive of a “benefit” that some part of the population would not choose to eschew.

Taxation as a means (such as being fined by the IRS if you don’t have health insurance) of enforcing the mandate is a Constitutional no-go as well:

Congress cannot use its power to tax solely as a means of controlling conduct that it could not otherwise reach through the commerce clause or any other constitutional provision.

They conclude:

Of course, these constitutional impediments can be avoided if Congress is willing to raise corporate and/or income taxes enough to fund fully a new national health system. Absent this politically dangerous — and therefore unlikely — scenario, advocates of universal health coverage must accept that Congress’s power, like that of the other branches, has limits. These limits apply regardless of how important the issue may be, and neither Congress nor the president can take constitutional short cuts. The genius of our system is that, no matter how convinced our elected officials may be that certain measures are in the public interest, their goals can be accomplished only in accord with the powers and processes the Constitution mandates, processes that inevitably make them accountable to the American people.

Sounds good and I’d love to believe it – but looking around, you have to wonder how we got to where we are today if we’re as committed to the limits imposed by the Constitution as these two believe. If you listen to them, this mandate business is dead. No can do. But we’ve watched our legislators and the executive branch – on both sides – consistently find ways around the obstacles (and case law) these two lay out there.

I want to believe it, but I’m forced by reality to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

~McQ


You Know They’re Reaching …

When this is the best they can do (and they think what they’ve done is funny).

And for some reason, linking to the actual post they cite seems a little beyond them (read the comments – the commenters are no brighter than the blogger – they’re all talking about the garage sale post). I think that may have something to do with the grade level of the “humor”.

BTW, in case you’re in the dark, the guy pictured with me there is Kevin Whalen (the pic was taken at the ’07 Milbloggers Conference). That actually makes the title somewhat funny, but ironically the Sadly, No! kids appear unaware of that (be sure to read the explanation of the “joke” to be found in the title – uh, yeah).

It’s pretty sad when a site supposedly known for its biting humor bites it that badly.

Here’s hoping they don’t “wee-wee” up their next attempt as badly as they did this one.

~McQ


Shucks!

I got a call yesterday at about 3pm from Keesler Air Force Base, home of the Hurricane Hunters.

“Hey, can you get to Andrews AFB by Sunday morning? If so we’ll fly you through Hurricane Bill!”

Heck yeah. So I go about doing all the things you have to do to get ready for such an adventure and at about 10am this morning I take off toward DC. About 30 min into the drive, my Airforce PAO contact on the scene calls me to makes sure I’ve got the mission time and we talk about what to take on the flight. She’s talking a flight of 11 to 14 hours. I’m pretty much covered on all the gear I need, but she suggests I pick up some food to take with me since there will be no in-flight meals. OK, I can handle that.

So I continue on toward Andrews when I get a second call.

“I hate to have to call and tell you this, but the National Hurricane Center has canceled tomorrow’s tasking and the mission is scrubbed”.

Ah well, Bill was just a Cat 2 storm and apparently losing a little bit of steam. I made ‘em promise me they’d keep me at the top of the list for the next storm. I definitely still want to join that rather exclusive club of people who’ve flown through the eye of a hurricane – on purpose.

~McQ


Obama Says 95% Won’t See Taxes Go Up. 68% Don’t Believe Him

Yeah, it’s a provocative title, but it is certainly a way to interpret what the latest Gallup poll indicates:

A new Gallup Poll finds that 68% of Americans believe their federal income taxes will be higher by the time Barack Obama’s first term as president ends. This includes 35% who say their taxes will be “a lot higher.”

It is also another indication of why Obama’s job approval numbers are tanking and why Americans, using the only real outlet available to some of them, i.e. townhalls, appear angry.

They simply don’t trust a thing this administration and the Congress is putting out there. The irony, of course, is that the Democrats and Obama thought that circumstance had handed them the perfect political storm with which to pass huge social programs liberals had dreamed of for decades. They had a crisis and, as Rahm Emanuel said, they weren’t going to let it go to waste.

But it has doubled back on them in a fairly quick and dramatic way. Suddenly, in the crisis fever they whipped up, people who were normally uninterested in politics started paying attention. And what they saw didn’t please them. They saw the federal government pumping unheard of amounts of borrowed money into various black holes, taking over whole industries and parts of others and planning on taking over even more, such as health care. That, all while telling us what we knew was intuitively and historically false – they’d run them more efficiently and effectively than the private side could.

It was a huge wake-up call for the American public, formerly known as the slowly and quiescently boiling frog. That level of activity, money and government intervention in a short 6 to 8 month period grabbed the public’s attention and, even in short attention span America, has kept it.

Democrats and the administration reacted badly. And they continue to do so. Falsely believing they had some sort of mandate to act as they wished, they’ve completely blown the health care debate. As Greg Lyons notes at Salon – Salon for heaven sake – “you won’t win the healthcare debate by calling people stupid racists”. But that seems to be the Dem game plan. And again we’re treated to the delicious irony of Democrats calling for “civil debate” while characterizing Americans who disagree with them as “political terrorists”, “brownshirts” and “un-American.”

Yes, this has turned into a perfect storm alright, but not at all the one the Democrats and administration thought they were going to get to exploit. And I can’t say I’m displeased about that in the least.

~McQ


The Garage Sale Police

What is more quintessentially American than the garage sale?

Americans have held them for decades and, in fact, attending them is a pleasant passtime for many each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But Big Brother has decided that such Americana is a menace to our children.

Yes, friends, the “Garage Sale Police” are coming.

If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Now I don’t know about you, but when children outgrow toys, parents usually store them away, give them away or, eventually, sell them at a garage sale. What parents don’t do is keep up with which toys have been recalled by their manufacturers.

But that’s precisely what you must do now if you want to sell the kid’s old toys at your garage sale:

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army say they do that anyway. But Ma and Pa cleaning out the attic – yeah, not so much.

But in this brave new world, you must be aware that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.

“We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.”

Now you can take that any way you wish to take it, but denying on the one hand that they’ll be dispatching inspectors to garage sales and saying “but we’re still going to enforce” on the other sends a very mixed message. Their method of enforcement will be fairly easy – they’re hoping that garage sale buyers will turn in garage sale sellers breaking this odious law.

Well, I’ve got a fairly simple and straight forward message for the feds – butt out. We’ve been raising our children safely since the dawn of humanity without you and we don’t your garage sale police to keep them safe – thank you very much.

And politicians wonder why people are seemingly angrier and angrier about what they see coming out of Washington?

~McQ

[HT: The Liberty Papers]


Protest Songs – They Ain’t What They Used To Be

How bad is it? Watch this and cringe. This is a take off on the Peter, Paul and Mary (well, actually a Bob Dylan song, but PPM made it famous) song, “Blowing in the Wind”. At the end of this they all seem quite pleased with themselves – well, except for the guy on the right who appears to want to quietly back out of the picture.

As Reason’s Nick Gillespie says:

Remember the old line about how the left won the ’60s culture war because “they had better songs”?

Well, if the music matters in public policy debates, then this song is the ultimate weapon for opponents of single-payer health care. And folk music. And quite possibly, humanity itself.

Heh … Indeed.

~McQ

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