Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: October 2009

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Senators Divert Funds For Military Training, Ammunition and Fuel To Pet Projects (Earmarks)

They’re shameless when it comes to building personal monuments to themselves or to boosting their re-election chances – they’ll even take funds designated for a military fighting two wars to do it:

Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.

Among the 778 such projects, known as earmarks, packed into the bill: $25 million for a new World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million to launch an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Senator Tom Coburn expresses my sentiment in a much more moderated tone than I’m feeling right now:

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, called the transfer of funds from Pentagon operations and maintenance “a disgrace.”

“The Senate is putting favorable headlines back home above our men and women fighting on the front lines,” he said in a statement.

Come on Senator – there’s an election approaching. Diverting money from training, fuel, maintenance and ammunition accounts to help their chances to retain power is much more important that the lives of our troops in combat.

Honoring a dead Kennedy certainly takes priority over teaching some young warrior how to avoid being killed in combat. Another museum in a key state is much more important than ensuring soldiers are able to maintain the equipment necessary to their survival. And, of course, they don’t need that much ammo – do they?

I’ll stop here, but my disgust for the political pigs engaged in this sort of looting knows no depth or bounds. They’d steal the coins off a dead man’s eyes if they thought it would help them politically.  And that disgust extends to those who do the same thing without endangering our troops. It is just a matter of degree, not kind.

~McQ


Bribing Doctors With Your Money

Of course this sort of political bribery isn’t necessarily unusual or confined to one party. It is just a particularly blatant example of the practice that is at the heart of the rot infecting our form of government:

The White House and Democratic leaders are offering doctors a deal: They’ll freeze cuts in Medicare payments to doctors in exchange for doctors’ support of healthcare reform.

At a meeting on Capitol Hill last week with nearly a dozen doctors groups, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate would take up separate legislation to halt scheduled Medicare cuts in doctor payments over the next 10 years. In return, Reid made it clear that he expected their support for the broader healthcare bill, according to four sources in the meeting.

Quiz: What was one of the major means of “paying for” health care reform? That’s right – cutting payments to Medicare providers. What has Harry Reid et. al. just promised to do with this freeze? Give away those savings.

What does that then automatically do? Increase the cost of the legislation they’re proposing and making the CBO estimate of cost null and void. It also will most likely bend the cost curve up again (not that any serious person actually believed the current version would really bend it down in practice).

What does that mean? Well it means that President Obama, true to his word about not signing a bill which adds to the deficit, will veto this one if the promise is accepted.

When pig’s fly.

We all know that’s a promise he’ll be most pleased to break if he can get something – anything – to sign and call health care.

And, as an aside, making promises like this says to me that despite all the happy spin about how the administration and Democrats are regaining their health care mojo, they’re still short of what they need to pass the legislation.

~McQ


WaPo Tries To Spin Poll On Health Care

The Washington Post has a new poll out in which they declare that two of the most controversial aspects of the health care reform legislation working its way through Congress now enjoy majority approval. Those are the public option and the insurance mandate that requires everyone get insurance.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the support for the public option is based more on a fantasy than reality. I think that a majority, if there truly is one, have bought into the talking points of “choice and competition.” Neither will exist once the public option, as envisioned by Congress, is actually in place. What leads me to believe that’s the case is this sentence later in the WaPo story:

Independents and senior citizens, two groups crucial to the debate, have warmed to the idea of a public option, and are particularly supportive if it would be administered by the states and limited to those without access to affordable private coverage.

Essentially what that describes is Medicaid – not a public option. Medicaid is administered by the states. Of course removing restrictions which prohibit insurance companies from selling across state lines and removing state mandates which drive up the overall cost of a policy would most likely provide “affordable private coverage”. But as usual those provisions have been rejected by Democrats writing the legislation even though they’ve been brought up repeatedly by Republicans.

Now I don’t equate Medicaid with the “public option” that I’ve heard politicians talk about.

Interestingly, deeper in the story and after trumpeting a “majority” now backing the public option, the Post says:

Overall, 45 percent of Americans favor the broad outlines of the proposals now moving in Congress, while 48 percent are opposed, about the same division that existed in August, at the height of angry town hall meetings over health-care reform. Seven in 10 Democrats back the plan, while almost nine in 10 Republicans oppose it. Independents divide 52 percent against, 42 percent in favor of the legislation.

In other words, the headline could have just as easily been “Majority still opposes health care reform” and/or “Majority of Independents Not In Favor Of Health Care Legislation”.

Instead we get “Public Option Gains Support”. That’s really irrelevant if the total bill is seen as unacceptable not to mention the numbers of opposed vs. those in favor haven’t changed since August.

But then, it all depends on how you want to spin something, doesn’t it?

~McQ


Medical Marijuana Policy Kudos

As one of our commenters likes to remind another, “small steps”:

The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

This is good news and – although the fed seems to reserve the right to change its mind – a return to a modicum of federalism. Kudos where and where they’re due.  And another step toward the decriminalization of pot.

~McQ


AfPak: Indecision May Negate Possible Strategic Success

Pakistan’s army is on the march against both the Taliban and al Qaeda in South Warziristan where there is a large concentration of both:

The Pakistani army pushed farther into a mountainous Taliban and al-Qaeda haven Sunday, as civilians continued to flow out of an area that has become a full-fledged battleground.

On the second day of a ground offensive in the restive border region of South Waziristan, the military said at least 60 militants and five soldiers had been killed. The Pakistani Taliban, which the government says has plotted a cascade of recent attacks on security forces from its base in the area, told the Associated Press that its fighters had inflicted “heavy casualties” against the army.

The fight in South Waziristan is a key test for Pakistan’s military, which is tasked with shattering a rising Islamist insurgency that has killed nearly 200 people in bombings and gunfights in the past two weeks. American officials, who have urged Pakistan to get tougher on militants operating on its soil, say the region is also a hub for militants who plan attacks on U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.

According to reports we’ve been asking for and encouraging the Pakistanis to take exactly this sort of action since the Obama administration has been in office.

Question: How long do you suppose the Pakistanis will commit to such operations and continue to push back against the Taliban and al Qaeda if we continue to dither about our commitment? Here we have a desired result in action.  You’d think that would be extremely useful against the very target candidate Obama said we’d taken our eye off of with Iraq – namely Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Are we conducting  a complimentary and supporting NATO operation right now?  And if not, why not?

I’ll tell you why – the administration is instead worried about the results of a run-off election in Afghanistan and can’t manage to separate that from the supposed strategic goal that candidate Obama laid out as our purpose for being Afghanistan in the first place.

All things being equal, it would be wonderful to have a popularly elected government free of corruption and connected across the country with provincial and local governments. But what has that to do with that primary goal of defeating (i.e. eliminating) al Qaeda and those who support it who are now located between Kabul and Islamabad? Eliminate the threat, go home, and let the Afghan’s sort out who they want in charge and what sort of government they’d prefer.

In the meantime, we’re undermanned to do what we claim, or at least claimed, was our goal – kill al Qaeda and its supporters. We’ve finally seen Pakistan get off its collective posterior and do what we’ve been asking them to do for years and we’re unprepared to support the operation even though we’ve had 10 months in which to make a decision (IOW, why aren’ t we engaged in an operation that supports theirs?).

If Pakistan’s losses mount while we (and NATO) sit on our rear ends, how long do you imagine Pakistan will commit to proactive and costly offensive combat?

~McQ


Lefty Blog Discovers Regressive Tax In Baucus Health Care Bill

Now one can only hope they’ll take as close a look at cap-and-trade. Anyway, FireDogLake discovers the following:

An excise tax on high-end health insurance benefits is an extremely regressive tax on the middle class. Even though Ezra Klein claims this tax is progressive, it is not. It would raise relatively little money from the wealthy.

It is true that the bottom 30% is unlikely to pay very much of the new excise tax, but ,by the same token, the top 0.1% will pay almost none of it either.

This is the middle class tax of all middle class taxes. Many, many middle class people work for companies and corporations which offer health care plans that are above and beyond the average for such plans the Baucus bill has set. The so-called “Cadillac” policies are nothing more than those whose cost is above that average. The intention, of course, is to tax them to pay for the bill. The result will be one of two things – a reduction in the benefits to meet the average and avoid the tax (thereby drying up one of the revenue streams this bill depends on to fund it) or, if a public option is involved, withdrawing their present plan in favor of dumping their employees in the public option plan and paying a fine (which is sure to be less than paying for and administering a plan of their own).

In every way the middle class gets screwed. It either ends up paying the increase in cost that the tax entails, or it sees it’s benefits cut to avoid the tax, or gets dumped into a public option if that’s available.

Calling the plans the Baucus bill targets “Cadillac” plans is just another example of identity politics used to marginalize those who are the targets of the tax. It is an attempt to wring any sympathy for the victim out of the process by implying it will be the rich who are effected. As FDL has discovered, that’s not the truth at all.

But then, the truth is rarely to be found existent when politics is in play.

~McQ


White House Thinks Porkapalooza (Stimulus) Wasn’t Enough

Paul Krugman has been stumping for a “2nd stimulus” for months. Robert Reich says we should spend like drunken sailors until the good times roll again. And apparently the White House is open to doing exactly that:

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was adamant on Sunday, when asked if President Obama was considering a so-called second stimulus to deal with the rising unemployment rate. “I think it’s too soon. It’s premature to say, ‘Is a second stimulus needed?’ ” she told David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press.

But a moment later she said the White House was already looking at tax credits and other measures to further stimulate the economy. “There are a range of suggestions that are being considered right now by his economic team, and we’ll see what we come forward with,” she added.

On its face, the two comments sounded like a contradiction. But at the White House, there is no confusion. More stimulus is coming, but it just won’t be called stimulus.

Because the former porkladen spending bill filled to the rafters with earmarks has given “stimulus” a bad name. However there’s another reason which is much more political. If they call the second raft of spending “stimulus” it is tantamount to admitting the first “stimulus” didn’t work. And the polls tell them that a second stimulus would be deeply unpopular.

So how will this work?

[T]he new stimulus efforts, which are still under discussion, are unlikely to be packaged into a single bill, which would be politically unpopular. An August Gallup poll, for instance, found that 65% of Americans opposed a “second stimulus” and 51% thought that the Federal Government “should spend less” than it is currently spending on stimulus. And that opposition is likely to grow after the announcement on Oct. 16 that the federal deficit for the fiscal year that just ended hit $1.4 trillion, which, at almost 10% of the total economy, represents the largest share since the end of World War II.

In fact, what you’ll probably see is various “stimulus” devices hidden in other bills as they make their way through Congress. They’ll most likely be in bills, such as the Defense Appropriations Spending Bill in which Democrats hung the “hate speech” law, that Republicans will find difficult to oppose.

More money we can’t afford, more deficit, more debt.

I thought this was all about change. Seems like business as usual, and frankly, the same business that got us into the shape we’re in now.

~McQ


Obama Administration Votes To Restrict Free Speech (update)

This is worrisome. I just featured a story in which Democrats have slipped a “hate speech” bill into the Defense Appropriations bill in a bid to further eroding our 1st Amendment protections. Now we find out that the Obama administration has supported a UN resolution that is also designed to restrict free speech:

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the “Muslim street” and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

One of the bedrock sentiments of free speech is “I may not like what you say, but I defend until the death your right to say it”. This resolution may not have the force of law, but it is the second example of a disturbing trend with this administration which essentially assaults that sentiment. In both cases, you’re not allowed to say something which government arbitrarily decides is “hate speech” or “negative racial and religious stereotyping”. In the case of the UN resolution, there’s not even any nod to “incitement”.

I find it disturbing that speech codes are beginning to seep into national and international laws and resolutions in contravention of our Constitutional rights. It is and has been one of the dreams of the far left (which seems to have found its way into power) to institutionalize political correctness. The trend has been toward doing just that in much of the world:

The “blasphemy” cases include the prosecution of writers for calling Mohammed a “pedophile” because of his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha (which was consummated when she was 9). A far-right legislator in Austria, a publisher in India and a city councilman in Finland have been prosecuted for repeating this view of the historical record.

In the flipside of the cartoon controversy, Dutch prosecutors this year have brought charges against the Arab European League for a cartoon questioning the Holocaust.

Do we want to become a part of this anti-free speech circus? While I may find Holocaust deniers to be ignorant fools I find no reason to put them in jail because of it. Yet that is precisely what the sort of resolution just supported by this administration leads toward (and something that actually happens in certain European countries). All in the name of politics. While I may not agree with Christopher Hitchens, I certainly believe he deserves the right to be heard when he speaks of his atheism, no matter how acerbic or insulting his speech may be deemed by some. The right of free speech demands he have that ability. Political correctness demands he speak only what is approved and suffer consequences (TBD) if he strays from that narrow pathway.

Controlling speech is one of the first things totalitarians attempt to impose. As stated, while this resolution does not have the force of law, it and the hate speech legislation pending in Congress suggest a trend. It is a trend that should be resisted mightly. It represents steps down the path toward a form of government that is fundamentally opposed to that our founders instituted here and guaranteed with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

UPDATE: Here’s a little test for you - read the article and identify those engaged in “hate speech” or “negative racial and religious stereotyping” or both? And who, based on the premise they should, be punished?

~McQ


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.

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