Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: November 2009


House To Try To Pass Its Version Of Health Care This Week

And it has a number of Democrats more than a little nervous (including 40 Dems who’ve signed a letter stating they won’t sign on as long as the abortion provisions in the bill remain).  Why are they nervous?  Well, 2010 is right around the corner, Republicans has just won some key special elections and Nancy Pelosi has said she’d be ok with losing a few seats if she could get this bill passed.  Here’s a summary:

For starters, the bill is a lot more expensive than advertised. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) pegs its cost at $1.055 trillion over 10 years, not the $894 billion Mrs. Pelosi claims. Politico reports that “the legislation is projected to create deficits over the second five years” by front-loading revenue and benefit cuts and back-loading costs. The real cost, according to a Republican House Budget Committee report, could be $2.4 trillion for its first decade of operation.

In its first 10 years, the bill calls for $572 billion in new taxes (including a 5.4% income surtax on anyone making more than $500,000 a year), and $426 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts, which will hurt seniors and the poor and could lead to rationing of care.

The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation reported recently that the House’s legislation will whack small businesses because they would pay $153.5 billion of the surtax. Small businesses unable to provide health coverage to their workers would also pay up to 8% in new payroll taxes. This would cost them $135 billion more over the next decade, thereby diminishing their ability to create jobs.

In the House bill there is a $2 billion tax on those who already have health insurance, $20 billion in taxes on medical devices, $8 billion in taxes on anyone who buys over-the-counter drugs with money from their health-savings accounts, and $140 billion in higher taxes on drugs.

Mrs. Pelosi’s bill will drive up premiums. A family of four with an income of $78,000 would pay $13,800 for insurance a year by 2016, according to CBO. Their tab would average $11,000 without the bill.

Every American would be required to buy health insurance or be fined up to 2.5% of their income.

If they vote “yes” this albatross will be hung around the neck of every Democrat in the House – the blue dogs are particularly squeamish about it. Adding those who don’t like the abortion provision (among Democrats) and you have more than enough to defeat it. So why is Pelosi pushing it now? Like Reid, she isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to pure intelligence, but unlike Reid, she knows here domain and how to count votes.

How will she pull this off without some major changes or major concessions? I’m not sure, but right now, experts who are just as adept at counting votes as the whip say there aren’t enough to pass it. Watch and listen carefully as the week finishes with a scheduled vote on Saturday. If she figures out she doesn’t have the votes, we should see a delay. But if she thinks she has them, she’ll be pushing like hell to have the vote this weekend.

~McQ


Why Would We Want To Make The Same Mistake As Europe?

If you have a friend who is a supporter of the present monstrosity called “health care reform” because they think Europeans are better served by their system than we are by ours and the Democrat’s solution will make us more like them, ask them to watch this 4 1/2 minute video.

By the way, pay particular attention to the rising costs of health care in Europe and, more importantly, the chart which shows costs to include cosmetic surgery, which is the only market based part of health care we have. Amazing how that works, no?

[HT: Maggie's Farm]

~McQ


More Violent Protests In Iran

Protests have again flared in Iran on the anniversary of the take over of the US Embassy in the ’70s:

Security forces have used batons and tear gas to disperse opposition supporters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, witnesses and state media say.

Unconfirmed reports said the authorities had also opened fire.

Video posted on a reformist website showed hundreds of opposition supporters marching in central Tehran chanting “death to dictators”.

It came as an officially backed demonstration was held to mark 30 years since the seizure of the US embassy.

Thousands turned out for the anti-American rally, about 1.5km (1 mile) from where opposition supporters gathered in Haft-e Tir square.

Many of the opposition demonstrators wore green scarves or bands, which have been used in repeated protests since Iran’s disputed presidential elections in June.

I’ll remind you that this pattern in Iran – continuing protests across the country at every turn – is exactly the pattern that eventually brought the current regime to power after it overthrew the Shah.

The US’s response – well not much. They’ve been very vocal about Honduras, which is no threat at all to us, while mostly silent about the protests in Iran. And, as we know, Iran is indeed a threat to us and the Middle East. Their Qods forces are active in both Iraq and Afghanistan trying to kill American soldiers and thwart our efforts there.

And what do we do or say? Not much. About the best we get is this:

On Wednesday’s anniversary of the seizure of the US embassy, US President Barack Obama released a statement in which he urged Iran to move beyond the “suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation” that had prevailed between Iran and the US since then.

“Iran must choose,” the statement said. “We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question now is what kind of future it is for.”

My guess is the pro-democracy protesters in Iran would like to hear the same sort of thing from the US.

~McQ


Say “No” To Secret Treaties – Especially This One (update)

Corey Doctorow at Boing Boing has gotten a leaked copy of what is characterized as a “secret treaty” – secret because of so-called “national security” implications (secrecy, as we were told during the last election, is the first refuge of tyrants). In fact, it is a copyright treaty alleged to be a part of the Anti-Counterfitting Trade Agreement. Doctorow distills the treaty’s salient points as he understands them:

* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.

* That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.

* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM).

I’m assuming “DRM” stands for Digital Rights Management.

Read each of those points carefully. If accurate these measures would effectively shut down much of the internet and certainly, at a minimum, change the way political blogs function. And there is no question, given the onus being put on ISPs by this treaty to police copyright infringement, that they would err on the side of caution.

This is being negotiated right now in Seoul, Korea by the administration (and, as this Canadian blogger points out, these provisions are being pushed by the US) which so derisively trashed the “Patriot Act” during the presidential campaign. As Doctorow points out, it’s draconian provisions leave ISPs with little choice but to take down anything about which there is even a hint of doubt.  “Chilling effect” doesn’t even begin to describe the effect of such a treaty on free speech.

As for the transparency promised by this administration, this, among a mountain of things since it has taken office, apparently doesn’t fit that category.  Being negotiated away in secret is  your ability to access the internet and speak out if there’s even a hint (proof is not necessary) that copyrighted material is included in your piece.

Sound reasonable?  Or are you still a bit of a traditionalist and want to see legal due process and the presumption of innocence remain as the first line defense of your rights? If you enjoy the ‘net as it stands now, you need to speak out against this obvious attempt to control speech.  Treaties, even secret ones, still have to be ratified by the Senate.  The way to stop this one is to make it not so secret and demand that the Senate vote it down.

UPDATE: Reason’s Jesse Walker:

As the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement enters its sixth round of secret negotiations, rumors are emerging about the provisions under discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the reports it has heard here; if the leaks are true, the treaty will be filled with measures that, in EFF’s words, “have nothing to do with addressing counterfeit products, but are all about imposing a set of copyright industry demands on the global Internet.”

See Michael’s discussion about “corporatism”.  It’s like slipping an amendment to build a museum to Ted Kennedy into a defense appropriations bill – hide the desired but unpopular special interest legislation in a more popular and necessary bill.

~McQ


Analyzing Last Night’s Vote

Michael is of the opinion that last night’s results tell us fiscal conservatism is back in vogue. I think there’s certainly a hint of that in the VA win. What is certainly true is voters in VA rejected the Democratic message. And more remarkable was the fact that they rejected it down ticket as well – a sweep for the Reps. Not only that, they picked up majorities in heavily Democratic suburbs.  The size of the victory was stunning, to say the least.

But was it a rejection of the Democrat’s principles, an embrace of fiscal conservatism, a repudiation of the Obama administration or simply a reflection of the unease people feel with the economy and a belief Republicans handle that better? Or was it a little of all of those things?

What I’m driving at is both sides have a tendency to read too much into electoral wins, take off on a tear and find themselves on the losing side the next time around. The VA win, of all of the votes last night, was the biggest win for the GOP. But they need to temper their assessment so they, like the Democrats have, don’t overreach.

NJ, on the other hand, was a horse of a different color – or should I say donkey. Corzine had abysmal poll numbers well in front of the election. One of the biggest concerns among voters there was the corruption in government – it was rampant. And interestingly, the Republican candidate for governor, Chris Christie, had lead the fight against corruption, quite successfully I might add. So I’m not so sure that NJ, while still a huge win for the R’s, was so much a repudiation of Democrats and their principles as it was a repudiation of a specific incumbent. Again, the GOP should tread carefully to avoid reading too much into the NJ win.

That, of course, brings us to NY-23. The lesson in NY-23 can be summed up in one sentence, uttered last night by Brit Hume: “That’s why you have primaries”. The story here isn’t necessarily that the Democrat won. Given the disarray on the Republican side, I’m surprised it was as close as it was. Instead, it is about how badly the establishment GOP screwed up their selection process. Someone needs to tell them that the days of backroom selections which don’t reflect the desire or mood of the constituency were over a century ago. Had they had their primary and Hoffman won then it is hard to believe that the same level of support from the NRCC with no Scozzafava on the ballot siphoning off 5% of the vote (or campaigning for the Democrat) wouldn’t have yielded a much different outcome. In other words, establishment Republicans blew the election, not the activists. The good news for Republicans is they get to do this again in NY-23 in 2010. Let’s see if they can do a better job this next time.

All in all, a pretty decent night for the party that was in the wilderness not 6 months ago. But caution in interpreting the results should indeed be their watchword. In my opinion, establishment GOP types have not yet quite figured out the conservative insurgency which is now going on among them (and reflected in the Tea Parties, etc). Look for other challenges to Scozzafava-type candidates to continue in the future. They need to understand that much of their base has already rejected the usual approach to identifying candidates for office and that part of the base is willing to buck the establishment picks as they did in NY-23. In fact, NY-23, although a loss, will only encourage them.

The last observation I’ll make has to do with so-called independents. Indies went heavily for the GOP in the two governor’s races last night. That, if anything, should worry Democrats. Independents were the swing vote that decided the last presidential election. In a single year, they’ve found at least some Republicans worth their vote.

Additionally, this time it was the Republican base which was motivated. Democratic turnout was much lower in almost all areas of NJ and VA. And, unlike 2008, the young reverted to form and stayed home. Those are trends for the GOP to build on. However, as noted, they need to avoid over reaching as they do so.

~McQ


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.


Healthcare bill due in May August November uh, maybe next year

Democrats in the Senate have given some backdoor acknowledgement that the healthcare bill probably won’t be voted on this year.

Despite President Obama’s goal of signing healthcare reform legislation this year — one backed by assurances from congressional Democrats — Senate Democratic leaders Tuesday subtly acknowledged that’s not likely to happen as they started the delicate dance of walking back expectations.

Putting the legislation together has proved exceedingly difficult, and most aides now say there is virtually no way a bill can get to Obama’s desk this year.

This zombie refuses to die, but I suspect tonight’s election results will put a shotgun blast in it. Certainly the closer the 2010 elections loom, the more those healthcare disapproval ratings will matter.


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.


Buyer’s Remorse In Iowa

This is the day, one year ago today, that the world was supposed to change with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States.  Yet, as the New York Times tells us, in Iowa – a heartland state that went for Obama – the reviews of his presidency to this point get decidely mixed reviews.

Take the time to read the article, but what stood out for me were the following:

1. The “blame Bush” response to the problems he’s facing is wearing very thin. If you were wondering what it’s shelf life was, I’d safely guess it expired a couple of months ago.

2. Democrats there are still trying to keep the faith. But it is difficult even though they still think he’s doing a good job. Unfortunately the NYT didn’t bother to ask “with what”. Some do seem to believe he’s changed our image in the world for the better. I’m not sure that’s actually true given some of the situations developing (see Clinton’s latest fiasco in the Middle East, Russia nuking Poland in a simulation after our withdrawal of a defensive missile shield and Iran continuing to manipulate the process while NoKo announces “we have more nukes” – we may be “better liked”, but there isn’t much respect being shown).

3. Those independents and moderate Republicans that supported him seem to have jumped ship. His approval rating in Iowa has dropped from 63% to 54%. And there’s no telling how soft that number is.  There’s also a very big question of whether or not they can be wooed back.

4.  Obama is suffering from the economic woes as would any president.  However, there’s a nagging feeling developing among a number of supporters that he may not be up to the job.   The NYT noted that in several interviews he was described as being “cautious, tentative and prone to blame his troubles on others.” Or as one interviewee noted, he seemed more presidential when he was running than he does now.

I think Iowa reflects what many of his supporters feel – at least those who went “all in” on the “transitional political figure” myth. Instead they’re seeing a product of Chicago politics and a continuation of “politics as usual”. As mentioned there’s an underlying current of deep disappointment, manifested in the remarks about the depth of government’s intrusion, his seeming timidity and his penchant to blame others. And the unsaid criticism that is lurking behind every remark is he doesn’t seem to know how to lead and he may be in over his head.

Ironically, Afghanistan may end up being the make or break moment for his political future. Many Democrats said, in the article, that they don’t want to see an escalation in the war there. With moderate Republicans and independents walking away from him now, he might lose further support – this time among Democrats – with a decision that boosts the number of troops committed there.

It is kind of interesting to those who saw through this fellow and had the temerity to point out that his resume was paper thin and his leadership resume was non-existent that those who willingly blinded themselves to that are ruefully discovering that reality has consequences.  You can ignore it, but it won’t change it.  Unfortunately there’s another reality that isn’t going to change – we’re going to have to live with the consequences of buying into a myth for at least another 3 years.

~McQ


The AGW Payoff For Al Gore

His supporters call him a visionary. His detractors call him a con artist.  One thing is certain though, the hype of AGW is making Al Gore a very rich man. And that alone should make people very skeptical of his “cause”.

Few people have been as vocal about the urgency of global warming and the need to reinvent the way the world produces and consumes energy. And few have put as much money behind their advocacy as Mr. Gore and are as well positioned to profit from this green transformation, if and when it comes.

Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming skeptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world’s first “carbon billionaire,” profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.

And, in fact, the NYT describes just such a venture that will now pay off for Gore and his partners. You remember those “smart grid” grants handed out a week or so ago?

The company, Silver Spring Networks, produces hardware and software to make the electricity grid more efficient. It came to Mr. Gore’s firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital providers, looking for $75 million to expand its partnerships with utilities seeking to install millions of so-called smart meters in homes and businesses.

Mr. Gore and his partners decided to back the company, and in gratitude Silver Spring retained him and John Doerr, another Kleiner Perkins partner, as unpaid corporate advisers.

The deal appeared to pay off in a big way last week, when the Energy Department announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants. Of the total, more than $560 million went to utilities with which Silver Spring has contracts. Kleiner Perkins and its partners, including Mr. Gore, could recoup their investment many times over in coming years.

How very, uh, convenient. Anyone who doesn’t believe Gore’s connections inside government at very high levels isn’t paying off just isn’t paying attention. Gore has pushed AGW vigorously for years and until recently when the science he based his pitch on has been found seriously wanting, he’s pretty much had it his way. Governments around the globe swallowed it whole and the movement has grown into a veritable religion.

Gore’s reaction to the skepticism about his profiting off what many, myself included, consider a gigantic scam?

Mr. Gore says that he is simply putting his money where his mouth is.

“Do you think there is something wrong with being active in business in this country?” Mr. Gore said. “I am proud of it. I am proud of it.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being active in business in this country, Mr. Gore – unless of course it’s the coal business or the lumber business or the nuclear energy business, or the oil business. Or for that matter the pharmaceutical business, health insurance business or financial sector. Then there’s the car business …

Well you get the idea. What Mr. Gore is actually proud of is creating a business that’s a politically popular one and stands to suck in untold piles of money based on a scam that would make Bernie Madoff green with envy. Because Al Gore has created and is engaged in a “legal” ripoff the size of which the world has never seen. Of course he’s “proud of it”.

~McQ

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