Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The newest oxymoron? “Government efficiency”

I’m always surprised by people that think government can run something better and more efficiently than a private entity.  Oh sure, there are things that are best left to government – like national defense – because it simply makes more sense when it comes to that.  But the fact that we charge them with that duty doesn’t mean they run it efficiently.

Governments have no incentive to be efficient.  We’ve talked about how, in private concerns, the profit motive provides incentive to be efficient.  In government there is no such motive.  So waste, fraud and abuse are rampant.

How rampant?  Take a look at this chart:

We’ve all been told by the Democrats that the government can help lower costs in health care.  But when you look at the 4 health care items on the chart (Medicare fee for svc, Medicaid, Medicare part C and D), you are looking at $63.5 billion … that’s with a “b” … dollars a year in “improper payment rates”.  Also look at the percentage of error.  In the EITC program, 22.7% or 12.6 billion of what they pay out is in error. (Don’t forget, the chart looks only at programs of $750 million or more a year – and we all know there are literally thousands of government programs below that threshold doing the same thing.)

Add all these up and government is making about $100 billion dollars a year in improper payments.  So if anyone wonders why I snort derisively when I hear Congress talk about a $10 billion savings over 10 years (not to mention that usually means not spending as much as they now spend) you can understand why. We’re not bleeding money at a federal level, we’re hemorrhaging it. What in the world is a 10 year $10 billion dollar “savings” worth when government is blowing a trillion dollars in 10 years via waste, fraud and abuse?

But do they actually address the problem?  No.  We’ve known about this level of waste, fraud and abuse for years … decades even.  And absolutely nothing of worth has been done to correct it.  In fact, given the amount of expansion the federal government has seen in the last decades, it’s gotten worse.  As the Mercatus Center says:

While people of good conscience on both sides of the political aisle can debate the merits of whether or not government should be involved in certain activities, none should tolerate the high levels of improper payments currently associated with government spending on social welfare programs. Federal spending has grown too massive to be adequately overseen. Waste, fraud, and abuse squanders public resources and undermines trust in government.

Indeed.  But there is one sure fire way to at least reduce this waste, given the apparent fact that government hasn’t a clue about how to reduce it.  Get government out of areas it has no business and cut spending.  Simplistic?  Not really.  That is a solution, or at least a partial solution.  I certainly understand there will be argument about the areas where government should be involved or not, but hey, crazy me, I’ve always found the Constitution provides some pretty good guidelines.  And, of course, then you have to elect legislators with both balls and a charter to do that (and who won’t succumb to “Potomac fever” when they arrive on the scene) and stay on them until they do what is necessary to accomplish the task.

Yeah, I know, not going to happen anytime soon.  People like their government cheese too much and most don’t mind at all that someone else is paying the freight.

Meanwhile this atrocious and unacceptable waste of your tax dollars will continue unabated (and likely get worse) – a victim of “government efficiency”.

~McQ

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 25 Mar 14

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.5% in January, and is up 7.4% over the previous year.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index was up 0.8% in January. On a year-over-year basis, the index is up 13.2%.

New home sales fell from January’s 468k annualized sales rate to a 440k rate in February, as higher prices held down sales.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index in March rose a very sharp 4.2 points to 82.3.

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index continued to decline in March, down a point to -7.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index was unchanged in March at 123.0.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The White House resource link

I thought I’d, you know, take a tour of QandO.   A real tour, of things I might use more than once every year, because prior to this my ramblings seldom needed any kind of links or documentation.   That being the case I can report I’ve poked around in the wardrobes, steamer trunks and closets here back stage, and God help them they’ve given me access to all kinds of things. :mrgreen:

While I was puttering around in the right hand column, I noticed ‘resources’ (“which”, says the narrator in my head “he’s seen and even used before but didn’t bother to make note of….”).

Bottom of that list….”White House”.   Yep.  The White House.   I stopped trying to learn about QandO and clicked it.  Attention span of a gnat I swear.

The White House.

I was greeted by the count-down clock for the destruction of the world, err, I mean the amount of time people have left to enroll in the mandatory health care system before the deadline is arbitrarily extend  by the President on the afternoon of March 30th because not enough people will have enrolled.   We may only need another 15% of the country to sign up anyway.  What’s that you say?

Keep reading.

Slightly down the page there’s a tab – Engage and Connect – Opening the doors to the White House.   Where it says “President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history.”  That brought forth a friendly chuckle, and I had to know more.    Ah, that zany transparency thing again, such kidders.   Now I would learn how I could participate.  Clicking on the link, I saw two more links under ‘participate’ – “We are a nation of immigrants” and “Speak out in support of Health Care Reform”.   Apparently we are not asked to participate if we want to speak out against Health Care Reform, that isn’t particularly surprising, but I thought showhow it might be helpful to mention it here.

I clicked We are a nation of immigrants.  They generously offered to let me give them my own immigrant story, which they can probably get from the NSA or FBI or my sister’s ancestry.com account, so I declined to give it to them again to avoid duplication.  A link says the President is committed to common-sense reform that fixes our broken immigration system.  Have you ever noticed it’s always going to be a common-sense reform?  Phew, I thought he was for some crazy radical scheme like handing out citizenship to 11 million or so people who snuck into the country illegally!

Now we were getting somewhere!   Four points, four simple points.    Border Security, Strengthening enforcement, Earned Citizenship and Streamlining Immigration.

1st point, Border Security – Beef up the borders.  We now have more agents, specifically on the Canadian border. Probably to keep undocumented Canadian rodeo riders, country western singers and actors from sneaking in, though it doesn’t really say.  I can’t tell how many agents…both numbers 3800 and 2200 are mentioned so maybe it’s 6000, agents now, but yeah!   The site goes on to say we’ve doubled the number of agents nationwide since 2004, up to 21,000.  By default, we may then assume we have more on the southern border too.  No, we must assume because the numbers were a little vague.   By ‘a little vague’, I mean nonexistent.

They didn’t say anything specifically about the increase of coverage on the southern border.  Just that we had more boots on the ground.  I presume we have people wearing the boots and didn’t just sort of scatter empty ones from Port Isabel to San Diego.   Then again, it did say we’re using technologies to secure the land and maritime border.  Maybe we have special sensors in empty boots that detect doctors, engineers and web programmers as they attempt to sneak in across our southern land border.   They don’t mention if we have floating boot buoys at sea to keep zodiac boats full of undocumented physicists from sneaking in along the Gulf coast.   Well, that was a good start anyway.  I assume these are the professions of people who have already breached the border, because the Chamber of Commerce and the High Tech companies  seem very keen to grant them all amnesty for their undocumented transgression, NOW.

2nd Point, Strengthening Enforcement – ah, big heading here says “Cracking down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers”.  This deserves the copied quote:

– “It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers…most businesses want to do the right thing… So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status. And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.”

President Barack Obama, January 29, 2013

Apparently we need a national system to check you out Ivan Ivanovitch, when you apply for a job, to make sure you’re here legally.  It needs to be a national database.  Fraud resistant tamper proof identification, which of course won’t be used for you to vote in elections, that would be wrong to disenfranchise you and only a racist would suggest such a thing.  It will be required when you get a job at, 7-eleven, or McDonalds or Lockheed Martin or Booz Allen Hamilton.  A nagging voice in my mind keeps mumbling about some national data collection thingy or other that was an overwhelming success in October of last year.

Anyway…

Penalties for hiring illegals will be significantly increased!   Hurrah!  Take that Koch brothers!  Take that Mitt Romney!  I don’t know that any of them hire illegals, unless Harry Reid says he heard someone say they did.  All this made me wonder what weak worthless penalties we currently have in place for companies that hire illegal, I mean, undocumented, workers.

So I did a web search “penalties for illegal hiring” and the very first hit on Google says – Obama eases penalties for businesses hiring illegal immigrants.

Well, that took the wind out of my sails.  Well, that and seeing them being called illegal instead of undocumented even on the White House web site.

There were 4 items listed on how we’re going to fix immigration, and when I checked just one with sources other than the White House, it proved to be, uh, like saying I could keep my insurance plan if I liked it.  25% of the plan the White House is talking about is already crap and I haven’t even finished looking at half of it yet (which means 50% of the plan I do know about is crap).

So I stopped.   That was sooooo disappointing.

There’s obviously a rogue intern at work here, or a low level functionary from Cincinnati.  I considered sending a note to the President so he didn’t have to find out on the 6:00 PM news on Friday that someone in his administration wasn’t on the same page he was and was making him look silly on the White House web page.  He’d be very angry, no one would be angrier.

Maybe I’d have better luck with “Speak out in support of Health Care reform”

I clicked the link.   Ah there’s a nice picture of the President, sitting at a kitchen table…with a bunch of people who look like Tea Partiers…and a skin-head!!!  Maybe it’s just the camera angle, maybe that guy has some hair on the back of his head, maybe it’s the edge of a NAZI tattoo!  Lord! Nary a Secret Service agent in sight!

And the bold caption says “85% of Americans have already benefitted from the Affordable Care Act”.  85% of YOU, because  so far as I know aside from an increased tax burden and higher premiums on a slightly less generous insurance plan, that number does NOT include me.

At this point I couldn’t go further, because I was sort of afraid if I clicked any other White House site links I’d find myself in an odd room with a bottle with a little tag that said  “drink me” and a cake with a note that said “eat me”.

That’s my way of telling you stay away from the White House resource link…..

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

An Introduction

Dear readers of QandO.

Hello.

I intended this to precede my musings on the Crimea, alas, Id10T error received by WordPress novice.

Normally you may see my…observations…in the comment section here, assuming you read the comment section, and assuming you read my comments.

After years of being ‘looker’  somehow my credibility would be increased (nay confirmed even!)  if I used my real name, at least, according to one particular person I shall not name (curse you Voldemort!).   On reflection perhaps ‘pain in the …’ would have been a better handle for me, but when I first commented, I was only  ‘looking’, hence ‘looker’.  That didn’t last long.

The proprietors have apparently had enough of my Irish whispers in the background and rather than show me the door, have decided that I should try and earn my keep instead.   So they’ve offered me the opportunity to stop merely being a wordy guest, and maybe do some actual work.

Trust me, I have now officially discovered writing allegedly coherent, if not thoughtful, pieces for presentation versus commenting ain’t the same thing.   My level of respect for those who do so daily has risen dramatically.

I would like to express my thanks to all the contributing authors, especially Dale and Bruce, for this opportunity.

As for everyone else, I am sorely tempted to warn you to flee while you may.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Crimea (and beyond)

When the Russians more or less militarily annexed the Crimea a couple of days ago , it was pretty obvious the West wasn’t going to go to war over it, any previously mumbled promises to Ukraine that implied we might aside.  It’s still obvious, not that avoiding a war is a bad thing and all.

Who can blame Europe for not wanting another war? They’ve hosted so many, and I’m reliably told if you wander about you can still find nostalgic bits of wreckage to prove it.   There are parts left over from wars everywhere. Castles, forts, the Kaiser Wilhelm church (what’s left of it) in Berlin.  Graves….lots and lots of graves.  Graves of local men, and graves of men who came from across the world, and graves of civilians.

In January of this year, in Euskirchen Germany, a bulldozer operator was killed by a bomb from WWII, and it’s not uncommon for unexploded ordnance to be found, some dating back to the big fandango they held 100 years ago this year.   The Europeans have done a super job of cleaning up the place, and I’m 100% certain they aren’t interested in having to do it again anytime soon.

This is why, no one, not even the allegedly crazy Russians, really wants to die for real-estate to get it back into Russia.  Maybe some Ukrainians are willing to die out of pride for Ukraine, but the Russians prefer it be done with the bare minimum of shooting, explosions and death.   Even ‘crazy’ ‘evil’ people understand that upsets folks, and the shooting, explosions and death get out of control, and pretty soon it’s happening everywhere in sight.   The Russians don’t want a war either, but they’re not averse to picking up (re-acquiring) some real-estate on the cheap.

For my entire life we, Americans, helped keep the Russians from taking over the joint by being in places they wanted to be before they could be there. Kudos to NATO and all for asking us to stay.  But everybody knew when we parked Americans in their path all across Europe and the Russians did drive tanks through Fulda Gap…if they did it over American bodies; America was likely to take a war-like exception to it.  Geo-politics and military science is brutally practical about things like that, and the Russians understood.  America was across the ocean and much harder for Soviet tank division to blitzkrieg than a quick push to the east bank of the Rhine.  We made it difficult for them by being where they wanted to be in ways that only war, or government over throw, could clear us out of.  We stood in Western Europe and they stood in Eastern Europe and we glared at each other.  The Europeans understood where the fight was going to happen if it happened.  If some were nicer to the Soviets (now the Russians) than we liked, it was probably out of practicality.   At times they glared at both us and the Russians.

The ‘other’ people further east, in the Russian zone, just had to live with the Russians because clearing them out would wreck the joint, and everybody knew that too.  They didn’t glare at anybody because they didn’t dare.  Then the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapsed, they became Russians again and Ukrainians and Latvians and Estonians and Lithuanians and Moldovans and Serbs and you get the idea.

The Europeans don’t want a war, the Russians don’t want a war, we don’t want a war.  Having so much experience in wars, and cleaning up after wars, one can understand the reluctance to do the centennial anniversary reenactment of 1914 this year with live rounds.

Still, Russian occupation of the Crimea should never have happened if the West was sincere about helping the Ukrainians keep their lands (especially after the Russians vs Georgia take-down in 2008).   I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places. But our word has to mean something too, and if we bother to give it, we ought to keep it.  Not keeping it leads to where we are, drawing red lines and erasing them just as quickly, making threats on an international basis and then barring a couple people from Disney World to show how much we mean it.   There’s a whole set of posts that could be written on why we let down our guard in Europe.  A quick hit list, military use fatigue, the cost, the simple hope that the not Soviet Russians weren’t going to start up the ‘let’s take over a country’ club again, resurgent Russian pride, feckless American policy, and a new world order.

The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold.  A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium.  Who knew?   It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently.   I do know our Secretary of State thinks they exist ( I mentioned feckless American policy); Angela Merkel seems to think they exist.  But maybe no one forwarded the memos to Vladimir Putin, because all in all he seems pretty proud of using the old rules, and so are his constituents.

No, there is no magic set of new rules.  I can’t even say it would be nice, because not only is it not real, it’s not even clearly laid out what it means internationally.  Furthermore the old rules still work and still apply.  Power and vacuums of power.  In fact these new rules already seem remarkably ineffective against people who still use the old rules. As a result there aren’t any new magic formulas or methods for getting the Russians to give Crimea back now either.    They certainly aren’t going to do it because we in the West tell each other that Russia is naked in the eyes of the world.  They aren’t going to do it no matter how many times some idiot calls them ‘evil’.   They aren’t going to do it because they suddenly understand they’re violating the 21st century rules.

Just because the West doesn’t want to apply power doesn’t mean the Russians can’t and won’t.   When a country can take over a chunk of another country in a week, there really isn’t much threats that will take months to show effect are going to do to stop them.   Done deals.  Because people don’t want to wait that long for results (especially the Ukrainians in this case), and life, and business, and in Europe’s case, the need to heat their houses, goes on.

If the West is serious, and worried about the Russians moving into Kiev, park ‘non-threatening’ NATO forces in Kiev.  Not just visiting, full time. Park a ‘non-threatening’ contingent of ground troops in Estonia (note the date of that article, last year…). See if the other Baltic countries would like to have permanent physical NATO contingents with troops who are not local. Go beyond ‘air policing’. Put the equivalent of a guard contingent on the equivalent of the Rhine bridges before the Russians do the equivalent of occupying the Rhineland.

And hit our own damn power reset button. Drill like hell for natural gas and oil here in the US and export it to Europe to cut their dependence on Russia.  The Russians will understand, they’ll bitch, but they’ll stop because they really don’t want the same war we don’t want.  There can’t be a whole lot in Estonia the Russians want to die for.

Project POWER back into the vacuum we’ve created before Putin again proves the old rules, the same ones Hitler used so well, still work just fine.   Do it before Chamberlain calls to say he wants his ‘new’ rules back.

Not gonna happen, I realize.  We have ‘smart’ diplomacy now, we lead from behind.  We’re going to jaw about the new international rules the millennium brought us, and threaten the Russians with our economic power even while we struggle to keep that power turned on for ourselves.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Mar 14

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Russia, ICANN, and Bill Quick’s new novel, Lightning Fall.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

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 Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Book Review: Lightning Fall

Bill Quick is a well-known blogger and writer, and many of you may be familiar with his DailyPundit blog. He has a new book out called Lightning Fall: A Novel of Disaster. It’s pretty…dark.

Basically, the story starts in the near future, with a nuclear terrorist attack. The attack is state-supported, not only by the usual suspects in the Middle East, but also by Mexico. New Orleans gets nuked, and a a major EMP blast essentially disables everything that uses electrical power in the states west of the Rockies. Then it gets worse.

America’s political leadership isn’t up to the job of responding. President Millicent Carter isn’t the best person to handle this sort of crisis, despite the keen political acumen and assistance of her husband, ex-president B.J. Carter–who was impeached, but not convicted, in the late 1990s. So, 60 million people are set to starve to death, or die in horrific rioting, or be killed by the invading army from Mexico, while the President does essentially nothing useful, and much that is counterproductive. This kicks off a Constitutional crisis.

Everything gets just about as bad as it possibly could, but, while it’s dark, it’s a pretty compelling read. I recommend it.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 20 Mar 14

Initial jobless claims rose 5,000 to 320,000. The 4-week average fell 3,500 to 327,000. Continuing claims rose 41,000 to 2.889 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.4 points to -29.0 in the latest week.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook Survey rose from -6.3 to 9.0 in March.

Existing home sales fell -0.4% in February to a 4.6 million annual rate. On a year-over-year basis, sales are down -7.1%.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose a solid 0.5% in February.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $40.7 billion last week, with total assets of $4.222 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $39.1 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $23.7 billion in the latest week.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Europe discovers its gas problem

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared the G8 to be dead, thanks to Russia’s take over of the Crimea:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the Group of Eight leading nations defunct given the current crisis in Ukraine, in a clear message to Russia that the world’s seven other major industrialized countries consider its actions in Ukraine unacceptable. “As long as there is no political environment for such an important political format as the G-8, the G-8 doesn’t exist anymore, not the summit nor the format,” said Ms. Merkel, in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. “Russia is widely isolated in all international organizations,” the chancellor said.

Ah, yes, the old “isolated in all international organizations” gambit.  And what have all the “international organizations” done in reaction to Russia’s Crimean takeover?  About what they did when Russia pushed into Georgia.  A whole lot of nothing. It is one thing to have international organizations that have teeth and are willing to do something in reaction to such a blatant act.  But when they mostly issue statements condeming the action and void the Netflix accounts of certain Russian officals, being isolated from those organizations isn’t such a big deal.  All it does is make further diplomatic efforts more difficult, not that it is clear that Russia is open to diplomatic overtures.

Another thing that is happening is Europe is discovering it has managed to put itself in an energy situation that isn’t at all to its advantage.  30% of Europe’s natural gas flows through Russian pipelines (Germany gets 40% of its natural gas supplies from Russia).

So the scramble is purportedly on to change that situation.

European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now. EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. “Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union,” one EU official said on condition of anonymity. As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the European Union’s “indigenous supplies”, which include renewable energy and shale gas.

Now, one would think that such a situation would call for drastic and speedy action.  Anyone want to bet how long they dither and, should they decide to exploit their “indigenous supplies”, how onerous the rules and regulations will be?

When leaders of the European Union’s member states meet today and tomorrow (20-21 March) in Brussels, they hope to reach consensus on the EU’s long-term climate goals. But agreement appears unlikely because of deep divisions between east and west. Ahead of the summit, ministers from 13 member states signed a declaration supporting a European Commission proposal for an EU commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 – up from a 20% target set for 2020. This ‘green growth group’ includes France, Germany, Italy and the UK. But Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are wary of the target and the timeline, and are resisting any such commitment.

The latter group will most likely be all for moving ahead as speedily as possible to exploit “indigenous supplies”.  They’ll meet some pretty stiff headwinds, apparently, from the Western EU nations. You can almost see this train wreck coming.

Meanwhile in the pursuit of “green energy”, Europe is apparently ready to toss in the towel:

Governments across Europe, regretting the over-generous deals doled out to the renewable energy sector, have begun reneging on them. To slow ruinous power bills hikes, governments are unilaterally rewriting contracts and clawing back unseemly profits.

You have to laugh.  “Unseemly profits”?  They’re subsidies, sir.  Not profit.

It’ll be interesting to see if the EU has the will to sort this all out in the next couple of days.  If one is a betting person, you’d have to guess that the odds for success are long, given the EU’s recent history.

~McQ

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Buy Dale’s Books!