Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

It is time to repeal DADT

Ben Smith at the Politico carries the story, I’m one of the signatories:

A group of leading military bloggers has issued a joint statement urging Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”The community of “mil-bloggers” — often hawkish, critical of White House and military leadership, devoted to both the First and Second Amendments — isn’t easy to define politically, but has proven an increasingly powerful voice from the ranks. The statement, which says that there have always been gay soldiers and that “very little will actually change” with the repeal of “Don’t Ask,” carries the signatures of the authors of some of the most prominent: Blackfive, Q&O, Outside the Wire, and the US Naval Institute Blog, among others.

The expected pushback is already beginning to mount in the comment section of the link above.  I’ve thought about it long and hard.  I’ve actually changed my mind from years ago.  I guess that’s because I’ve known of and served with soldiers I knew were gay.  And every one of them were good soldiers who served honorably and did an excellent job.

I’ve also come to understand that it isn’t going to be the activists or those who want to flaunt their homosexuality who are going to seek to serve their country. Being a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman is a hard, dirty and dangerous job.  Those that choose to serve are not going to do it because of who they love, but simply because want to serve their nation and the military is their chosen method of doing so.

This is a cultural change thing.  And the culture has been changing for years to more and more acceptance of homosexuality in terms of offering equal rights and protections.  This is simply an extension of that.  If I thought it would seriously effect readiness, I’d probably oppose it – but I don’t think it will.  Will there be some problems and some objections to overcome?  Yes.  But the military can and will overcome them.

The institution of the military is important to me, I’ve thought about this in some depth and come to the conclusion this is the right thing to do.  I agree with SecDef Gates and the JCS that DADT is a policy which needs to be repealed.  But I also support their recommendation that it needs to be done thoughtfully and at their own pace.  It also means that Congress will need to enact legislation to makes changes the UCMJ and some other necessary legislative steps to make this come to pass.

Sexual orientation should never be a bar to serving your country honorably in the profession of arms.


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Mollohan: Ethics, anti-incumbency or both?

So a relatively obscure Democratic representative of 28 years and with some ethics problems goes down in his primary.  In most election cycles you’d be likely pin the loss on the ethics problems and an opponent who successfully capitalized on them.   But you really can’t do that this time.  In the wake of Republican Bob Bennett’s ouster in Utah, West Virginia’s Rep. Alan Mollohan’s loss may be more than just an ethics problem.  In fact, it may have to do with the fact that he’s been in Congress for 28 years than any ethics clouds on his horizon.

It is getting harder and harder to deny there’s an anti-incumbent fever among the voters of this nation.  And, it appears, it isn’t dissipating.  Many politicians have read the tea leaves and are bailing.  David Obey and Bart Stupak know a loser when they see one, even after decades in office.  Harry Reid faces an uphill battle for re-election. And so do many more. The GOP needs to get a clue as Bennett’s loss points out. Anti-incumbent fever isn’t just confined to Democrats.

There are those who opine that this is all a referendum on Obama.  No, it’s not.  While certainly his agenda is contributing to the “vote the bums out” mentality, this is something that has been building for a while.  It is a rejection of “government is the answer” mantra and it is a demand for fiscal sanity, the reining in of the federal government and getting it out of our lives.  It appears the voters have finally decided this particular class of politicians – on both sides with some exceptions – isn’t the bunch to get that done.  Given their history and the conditions under which we suffer today because of them, I’d have to agree.

Watch for more of this in the coming months.


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World Health Org – We’ll prioritize health research, you just pay for it

At its base, most wars are a fight over resources and power.  The wars waged by governments and quasi-governmental agencies over revenue are really no different – they too are constantly looking for the resources to extend their power.  Take the UN’s World Health Organization:

The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations’ public health arm, is moving full speed ahead with a controversial plan to impose global consumer taxes on such things as Internet activity and everyday financial transactions like paying bills online — while its spending soars and its own financial house is in disarray.

The aim of its taxing plans is to raise “tens of billions” of dollars for WHO that would be used to radically reorganize the research, development, production and distribution of medicines around the world, with greater emphasis on drugs for communicable diseases in poor countries.

WHO resents the fact that most of the research done in the world is done on non-communicable diseases such as cancer instead of communicable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis mostly effecting poor countries.  WHO points to a 1986 study (1986?) that claims only 5% of global R&D was applied to health problems of developing countries.  Of course most understand that the developed countries already have effective methods of dealing with those communicable diseases that could be transferred to poorer countries, but that would kill their bid for this massive money and power grab.

Anyway, here’s the plan. WHO presented a “suite of proposals” for “new and innovative sources of funding” to WHO’s Executive Board in January.  Apparently they got the go-ahead then:

Now the proposals are headed for the four-day annual meeting of the 193-member World Health Assembly, WHO’s chief legislative organ, which begins in Geneva on May 17.

The Health Assembly, a medical version of the United Nations General Assembly, will be invited to “take note” of the experts’ report. It will then head back with that passive endorsement to another Executive Board meeting, which begins May 22, for further action. It is the Executive Board that will “give effect” to the Assembly’s decisions.

What it all means is that a major lobbying effort could soon be underway to convince rich governments in particular to begin taxing citizens or industries to finance a drastic restructuring of medical research and development on behalf of poorer ones.

The scheme would leave WHO in the middle, helping to manage a “global health research and innovation coordination and funding mechanism,” as the experts’ report calls it.

In effect, the plan amounts to a pharmaceutical version of the U.N.-sponsored climate-change deal that failed to win global approval at Copenhagen last December. If implemented as the experts suggest, it could easily involve the same kind of wealth transfers as the failed Copenhagen summit, which will send $30 billion a year to poor nations, starting this year.

An international cap-and-tax plan failed in Copenhagen, but never fear, there will always be some international organization with “innovative, new ideas” about tapping your wallet.   And all it needs, as was the case in Copenhagen, is enough gullible governments to agree to need for the tax (thankfully in this country, the Senate must ratify any such foolishness and to this point, at least, has refused such nonsense).  The “new and innovative” taxing, er, funding methods include:

• a “digital” or “bit” tax on Internet activity, which could raise “tens of billions of U.S. dollars”;
• a 10 percent tax on international arms deals, “worth about $5 billion per annum”;
• a financial transaction tax, citing a Brazilian levy that was raising some $20 billion per year until it was canceled (for unspecified reasons);
• an airline tax that already exists in 13 countries and has raised some $1 billion.

I bring all of this up to point out that whether this particular bit of nonsense goes anywhere, there are people and organizations all over the world (the UN in particular) which are constantly trying to establish “new and innovative” ways to increase their power and take your money.  These attempts, in the wake of this global economic downturn, are going to intensify in the years to come.  WHO is only a harbinger of these types – both domestic and international – who are going to try to tax us till we drop.  Revenue sources are the new key battleground for governments and NGOs, and when it all is boiled down to it’s essence, your earnings are the primary source for their future expansion of power.

The best way to counter this addition to power is to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and just say “no”.


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CBO – health care will cost $115 billion more

The deeper look into the recently passed ObamaCare continues to yield “surprises”.  I put “surprises” in quotes, because to those who took the time to actually think about what was being proposed and the institution doing it, none of this really comes as a surprise.

For instance – does it surprise anyone that large companies might drop their health care coverage because the incentive to keep it is less than the incentive to drop it?  The new law actually makes it cheaper for Verizon, AT&T and Deere to pay a penalty and drop coverage than to continue to pay it.

It should certainly come as no surprise, then, that the monstrosity the Democratic Congress passed might cost more than they claimed originally.  Remember this is the second upward revision by CBO.  In March CBO jacked the cost up from $788 billion to $940 billion.  Now that CBO has had the opportunity to actually read and study the entire bill and consider its cost implications at leisure it has found about $105 billion in additional spending necessary to “fund discretionary programs overhaul” and an additional $10 to $20 billion (always go with the higher number in cases like this) for “administrative costs to fund the overhaul”.  This revision puts us over a trillion in cost over 10 years – the figure opponents claimed the cost would be while $788 was being touted by Democrats.

While this comes as no surprise – at least to me (trust me, there’s going to be a lot more increased cost found in this absurd bill) – the following made me to laugh out loud and caused others to stare as I did so:

But a Democratic leadership aide on Capitol Hill said the Congress will have to stay within the budget.

“Just like other authorized programs, the discretionary programs in health reform will need to compete for funds within set budgetary limits,” the aide said.

You just can’t make some of this stuff up.  And I do wonder if he said it with a straight face.


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Government and obesity: Because it does everything else so well

Read the first sentence of the story carefully – the rest flows from there:

A White House report warns, “The childhood obesity epidemic in America is a national health crisis.”

An “epidemic”.  A “national health crisis“.  Got it? 

We have a climate crisis.  Solution: Big government.   We have a financial crisis.  Solution: Big government.  We have a health care crisis.  Solution: Big government.  We have an childhood obesity crisis.

Create a “crisis” and then create the solution. Any guess what the solution might be?  If you’ve been paying attention lately, you do:

The review by the Task Force on Childhood Obesity says one out of every three children is overweight or obese. The task force is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. President Obama ordered the comprehensive review of the issue.

The report includes familiar themes, emphasizing the importance of improved nutrition and physical activity. It also calls for some new and dramatic controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods.

It doesn’t require an advanced college degree to understand the thrust of those two paragraphs. “Solve the problem” is short-hand for enact the necessary controls to achieve the desired government goal “within a generation”.

You’re certainly not going to accomplish that by “suggesting” things be done, are you? And of course, the task force makes that quite clear with its “new and dramatic controls” on the marketing of whatever it or government decides are “unhealthy” foods.

Here’s what that means:

The task force wants junk food makers and marketers to go on what amounts to an advertising diet. It says media characters that are often popular with kids should only be used to promote healthy products. If voluntary efforts fail to limit marketing of less healthy products to young viewers, the task force suggests the FCC should consider new rules on commercials in children’s programming. It also challenges food retailers to stop using in-store displays to sell unhealthy food items to children.

More intrusion, more restrictions, less freedom. And, of course, if they get away with it with children, will the same sorts of restrictions be far behind with adults?


The advisory panel proposes better food content labeling on products and vending machines. Restaurants and vending machine companies are urged to display calorie counts. The experts say the FDA and USDA should cooperate with the food and beverage industries to develop a standard system of nutrition labeling on the front of packages. The study also suggests that restaurants should re-evaluate portion sizes, improve kids’ menus and list more healthy food choices.

Of course the task force is only “suggesting” these “improvements” now, but don’t forget that bold line above, “if voluntary efforts fail …”, well the implication is clear isn’t it? The same agency which has now undertaken to limit your salt intake by fiat is certainly up for dictating portion sizes, what should be on a kids menu and what is and isn’t “unhealthy” don’t you think?

And if you’re still not quite getting it yet, this should drive the point home:

The task force also sees a potential pocketbook approach to keep people from buying unhealthy foods. It calls for analyzing the effect of imposing state and local sales taxes on less healthy products.

Heh … well of course they do. And they’d not be averse to a federal tax either.

So where do they get the idea they have the right to pursue this? We’ll maybe “right” isn’t the proper word, but “power” works.  I think you might have already figured that out by now:

The report found one out of every three children is overweight or obese, conditions that increase their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer in their lifetimes. The cost of treating obesity-related ailments is estimated to be $150 billion per year.

And the government has put itself in charge of containing health care cost, hasn’t it?

It was that “health care crisis” they just “solved”, remember?

[HT: Jenn F.]


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Unemployment benefits and the law of unintended consequences

We often point out the unintended consequences of government actions simply to make a point to those who think government is the answer to all problems. Those that believe that need to closely consider the results of government “solutions”.  For instance – let’s extend unemployment benefits and extend and extend them some more.  How could there possibly be a downside to that?

In a state with the nation’s highest jobless rate, landscaping companies are finding some job applicants are rejecting work offers so they can continue collecting unemployment benefits.

It is unclear whether this trend is affecting other seasonal industries. But the fact that some seasonal landscaping workers choose to stay home and collect a check from the state, rather than work outside for a full week and spend money for gas, taxes and other expenses, raises questions about whether extended unemployment benefits give the jobless an incentive to avoid work.

Members of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association “have told me that they have a lot of people applying but that when they actually talk to them, it turns out that they’re on unemployment and not looking for work,” said Amy Frankmann, the group’s executive director. “It is starting to make things difficult.”

Of course, what is happening is those drawing the benefits are dutifully applying for jobs as required by the state in order to continue to draw unemployment benefits.  But, when it comes down to actually taking a job, they’re not at all interested – they applied to continue to qualify for the unemployment compensation, not actually get a job.

So wait a minute – are you saying that a landscape worker can’t make as much as someone on unemployment.  Well, yes, but not for the reason you think:

The average landscape worker earns about $12 per hour, according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. A full-time landscaping employee would make $225 more a week working than from an unemployment check of $255.

But after federal and state taxes are deducted, a full-time landscaper would earn $350 a week, or $95 more than a jobless check. The gap could narrow further for those who worked at other higher-paying seasonal jobs, such as construction or roofing, which would result in a larger benefits check.

The maximum weekly benefit an unemployed Michigan worker can receive is $387.

Some job applicants are asking to be paid in cash so they can collect unemployment illegally, said Gayle Younglove, vice president at Outdoor Experts Inc. in Romulus.

“Unfortunately, we feel the economy is promoting more and more people and companies to play the system and get paid or collect cash money so they don’t have to pay taxes,” Younglove said.

Heh … ya think?!

Michigan offers unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks (6 months). When those benefits run out, unemployed can apply for extended federal benefits up to a maximum of 99 additional weeks.

The federal jobless benefits extension “is the most generous safety net we’ve ever offered nationally,” said David Littmann, senior economist of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market-oriented research group in Midland. The extra protection reduces the incentive to find work, he said.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many workers are illegally declining employment, but 15 percent of Michigan’s economy is underground, where people trade services, barter or exchange cash without reporting it to the government, Littmann said.

No incentive to go back to work and have a large portion of one’s earnings go to taxes and a large incentive to game the system andcontinue drawing the benefits while engaging in (and growing) the underground economy – all of these unintended consequences provided by?

Government – which as usual doesn’t know when to get out of the way.

But, this will come as a comfort, I’m sure:

A person becomes ineligible for benefits if he or she fails to accept suitable work, said Stephen Geskey, director of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.

Yeah, I’m sure that’s strictly enforced and working out very well saving taxpayer dollars – don’t you?


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Welfare State’s Death Spiral

Robert Samuelson sees what is going on with Greece and the PIIGS as the beginning of the end for the welfare state:

What we’re seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn’t Greece’s problem alone, and that’s why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven’t fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies.

In fact, it is more basic than that.

The welfare state’s death spiral is this: Almost anything governments might do with their budgets threatens to make matters worse by slowing the economy or triggering a recession. By allowing deficits to balloon, they risk a financial crisis as investors one day — no one knows when — doubt governments’ ability to service their debts and, as with Greece, refuse to lend except at exorbitant rates. Cutting welfare benefits or raising taxes all would, at least temporarily, weaken the economy. Perversely, that would make paying the remaining benefits harder.

Catch 22 – Countries that will, regardless of what they do, adversely effect their economy.  They must pick their poison if they want to remain afloat.  All Greece demonstrates is a country further down the road toward this death spiral than others.   Samuelson points to this in some debt figures as a percent of GDP:

Countries everywhere already have high budget deficits, aggravated by the recession. Greece is exceptional only by degree. In 2009, its budget deficit was 13.6 percent of its gross domestic product (a measure of its economy); its debt, the accumulation of past deficits, was 115 percent of GDP. Spain’s deficit was 11.2 percent of GDP, its debt 56.2 percent; Portugal’s figures were 9.4 percent and 76.8 percent. Comparable figures for the United States — calculated slightly differently — were 9.9 percent and 53 percent.

I think you can see the trend.

Dean Baker disagrees with Samuelson, claiming Samuelson seems to have forgotten there’s a recession going on and parroting the old and increasingly discredited line that this is a time governments must spend more:

During recessions budget deficits always expand as tax collections fall and spending on items like unemployment insurance and other benefits rise.

Contrary to what Samuelson claims in this column. Most European countries have been willing to pay the taxes needed to support their welfare states. And this has not prevented them from maintaining rates of productivity growth (the long-term determininat of living standards) comparable to the United States.

But a quick check of some OECD numbers don’t seem to bear Dean’s claim that they’ve maintained productivity growth has rivaled those of the US (who, btw, is also in trouble and headed down this road):

Take a look at the PIIGS. Other than Ireland, those are not productivity numbers to brag about. In fact, look at the Euro 15. Those are not numbers to sustain the type of welfare system Europe has laid on and they certainly don’t signal healthy economies. They instead point to economies which are quite fragile and susceptible to downturns at any moment.

Samuelson is right – this is the biggest and best warning welfare states are going to receive. We can’t afford what governments have been doing for decades. Greece is the canary in the coal mine. We ignore it at our peril.


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Eggs, Omelets, etc.

Here is a police video.  It’s a warrant service on a chap who was believed to have an excessive amount of marijuana in his home.

Alas, the house wasn’t chock full of the sweet hemp of happiness.  Fortunately, however, the family owned a couple of dogs, so the raid wasn’t a total loss.

Megan McArdle says it very well:

This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell.  We started out by banning the things.  And people kept taking them.  So we made the punishments more draconian.  But people kept selling them.  So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders.  Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.

I don’t know how anyone can watch that video, and think to themselves, “Yes, this is definitely worth it to rid the world of the scourge of excess pizza consumption and dopey, giggly conversations about cartoons.”

And, frankly, I wouldn’t care if the guy had a room full of China White stacked up to the ceiling like he was Authualpa stockpiling gold for Pizarro.  Absent a compelling physical threat from the “dealer”, there’s simply no reason for the police to launch this style of paramilitary raid on a home, especially with children present. Yet, this has become practically the standard method of warrant service.  It’ll probably come as a shock to you, but I can remember a time when nightime raids on private homes were considered the hallmark of police states.

Now, it’s just called “policing”.

And if the 7 year-old kid in the video had been clipped by a stray round or richochet, I’m sure the officers involved would regret it, personally. But, they would undoubtedly say, “I was just doing my job,” a phrase that runs a close second only to “I was only following orders” in the Banality of Evil Hall of Fame.

And the idea that their choice of these tactics will eventually make such an outcome inevitable would probably never even occur to them at all.

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Why is Janet Napalitano still Secretary of DHS?

Tim Cavanaugh wonders if her latest utterances (not much different than her previous ones) are enough to finally get her fired?  I don’t know, but to say I have no confidence in her abilities would be an understatement.  Every time she has opened her mouth to comment on a security situation, she’s been wrong.  As Cavanaugh notes, that’s a reason to be concerned:

But it’s more than a joke because not all the people making those wildly wrong claims about Shahzad’s background and motivation were pundits or minor potentates like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The “one-off” attack line came from the highest official in the American government charged with preventing attacks exactly like Shahzad’s: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

It was her department which released the confidential memo, essentially a republishing of the scare-mongering Southern Poverty Law Center’s dubious assessment of supposed right-wing hate groups, in which DHS warned against “returning veterans” being a threat.  It has appeared, at least to many, that she is more concerned about the possibility of a domestic, right-wing problem than facing the facts that the recent threats and failed bombing attempts have all come from international Islamic terrorists.

This is an obvious politicization of her office. (Napolitano’s favored targets — health care protesters and disgruntled veterans — are distinguished not by their propensity toward violence but by their opposition to the administration.) But if you believe in the necessity of a Department of Homeland Security, every day Napolitano is in charge of it creates an actual risk to life and property. Napolitano has a positive burden of proof: She needs to demonstrate some understanding of how to do her job, or she needs to be fired, for the security of the United States and the safety of the American people.

I have to agree – at every opportunity she’s downplayed the real and emphasized that which hasn’t materialized yet. She seems, like much of the left, to be obsessed with the possibility of domestic right-wing violence with little or no evidence of its existence.  That speaks to me as politicizing the problem based on an agenda.  We don’t need a politically driven hack in the highest domestic security position in the nation.  Perhaps it’s time for President Obama to say “heckofa job, Nappy” and help her transition into a less demanding profession – that of a retired politician, or perhaps a political science professor at a backwoods college somewhere in the NorthEast.


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The other shoe drops – Fannie Mae asks for $8.4 billion

A few days after Freddie Mac requested $10.6 billion, Fannie Mae has asked for $8.4 billion:

Fannie Mae requested another $8.4 billion from the federal government on Monday, saying that due to trends in the housing and financial markets, the company expects its deficits to continue.

The government-controlled mortgage giant announced Monday that it lost $13.1 billion applicable to common shareholders in the first quarter of 2010.

The request cames just four days after Fannie’s twin Freddie Mac also asked for a handout – to the tune of $10.6 billion – after posting an $8 billion quarterly loss.

Don’t forget, this is off budget money – even though it adds to the deficit, its not counted – yeah, you figure it out.

Also remember that while Democrats rail against Wall Street and it’s culpability in the financial collapse, it was Freddie and Fannie which were implementing the policy of the US Government (namely the Community Reinvestment act which essentially gave them license to push and buy up sub-prime mortgages).

Finally this:

In using Fannie and Freddie to prop up the mortgage market, the government in December lifted a $200 billion limit on their bailouts, essentially giving the twin housing lenders a blank check. Fannie Mae has already received $76.2 billion from the federal government and Freddie has gotten $50.7 billion.

Both of these institutions, controlled totally by government, are still loaded to the gills with toxic assets. And government is using the smoke screen of financial regulation to attempt to hide the problems that Freddie and Fanny have. Blank check – nice fix, eh? It’s your pocket into which these two organizations are dipping.


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