Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

“If I can’t have it, nobody can”

As with most good intentions, the American’s With Disabilities Act has grown into something which in some cases obviously violates that initial intent.  Designed to provide equal access to Americans with both physical and mental disabilities, the common sense side of such an endeavor has begun to fall to the more absurd and, frankly, selfish interpretations of the law.

The benign intent – equal access – has become a more authoritarian application and is resulting in penalizing the able.

The latest illustration of that comes to us from the world of academia.  And the result is a bureaucratic ruling which delayed, if not destroyed, a great idea. 

As we all know, college is an expensive proposition.  So anything which helps reduce that cost is something which should be at least explored to see if its viable.  A few schools were engaged in just such a project involving the Amazon Kindle – an e-book reader that users can download books onto.  In this case the books were text books:

Last year, the schools — among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve — wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Reduced cost for text books.  Reduced paper usage.  It would seem a perfectly sensible project for schools to undertake.  Well, it did until the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped in based on a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind:

The Civil Rights Division informed the schools they were under investigation. In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn’t use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.

In short the Federation is saying, “if we can’t use the Kindle, no one can”.  Interestingly, there wasn’t a single blind student in any of the project courses.

The Kindle, of course, is speech capable.  It will read to you.  However, as it was configured then, it required a sighted person to get to that part of the menu.  So while one can understand the complaint to a point, I don’t understand the reaction.  Why must everyone be banned from this common sense approach to saving money and resources because a very small segment of the population couldn’t yet avail themselves of the technology?   Key word – ‘yet’. 

It goes to a premise that we see constantly espoused on the left – only government is capable of adjudicating and enforcing “fairness”, even when such an adjudication is absurd and, as it turns out, an over reaction. 

School officials were a bit baffled by the ruling:

Given the speed of technological development and the reality of competition among technology companies — Apple products were already fully text-to-speech capable — wasn’t this a problem the market would solve?

Of course it would.  And competition would drive it – such as Apple.  But the Justice Department decided if the blind can’t have it, neither can the sighted.

In early 2010, after most of the courses were over, the Justice Department reached agreement with the schools, and the federation settled with Arizona State. The schools denied violating the ADA but agreed that until the Kindle was fully accessible, nobody would use it.

Kindle knew the idea for saving money through using e-text books was a good one.  They also knew, given Apple’s entry, that they would lose out if it wasn’t accessible to the blind.  So they developed a Kindle – the latest version – that is fully accessible to the blind.  And, it was a project which had already been in the works prior to the intrusion of the government.

That, however, didn’t stop the Civil Rights Division from again warning educators:

But as Amazon was unveiling the new Kindle last week, Perez was sending a letter to educators warning them they must use technology "in a manner that is permissible under federal law."

So here we have a problem that was in the process of being solved by the market when the need was identified.  In the mean time, as that problem was being solved, the project could have moved forward and eventually benefitted any number of students with lower cost text books and less paper usage.  Instead, no one was able to use the technological tool, and now that the problem has been solved, the federal government is still warning schools about the use of such devices.

There are those who will claim, some in our comment section, that this would have never happened had it not been for government.  That is simply not true.  As noted, the revised Kindle that would accommodate the blind was already on the drawing board for the next revision.   Instead what we saw is unnecessary government intervention.  Instead of warning the schools off of the project, had the government checked with Amazon, they’d have discovered that the desired product was under development. 

They didn’t.  They instead decided to use the authoritarian approach and threaten the schools with the law.  As one person said:

"As a blind person, I would never want to be associated with any movement that punished sighted students, particularly for nothing they had ever done," says Russell Redenbaugh, a California investor who lost his sight in a childhood accident and later served for 15 years on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "It’s a gross injustice to disadvantage one group, and it’s bad policy that breeds resentment, not compassion."

It is bad policy, and as it was used in this case, bad law.  Anyone who has made it into adulthood knows that life is not fair, never has been and will never be.  We each, to some degree or another and in varying degrees of severity, have disabilities for which we have to compensate.  Most of us have no problem with reasonable and common sense accommodations which enable those among us with more severe disabilities the chance to participate more fully.  However, when you begin to penalize the able because the disabled don’t have the same opportunity to participate for whatever reason, then it is a level of intrusion that is both unwelcome and unwarranted. Unfortunately, though, it is all too common.

~McQ

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Charting health care’s demise and government’s growth

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) had his staff do a study of the ObamaCare bill after its passage to assess exactly what Democrats had blindly passed into law. He also asked his staff to put a chart together to represent the health care system under that law.

The result is mind-boggling and troubling. And if you figured the Secretary of Health and Human Services was the new defacto health care czar, backed by the IRS, you’re correct.

Below is a thumbnail of the chart to give you a flavor of its complexity. Brady admits only represents a third of what is in the bill after which it got too crowded. Said Brady, "it’s actually worse than this."

obama_chart

You can see a full size representation of the chart here.  As you peruse it read the legend carefully.  You’ll notice 3 areas color coded – “new government”, “expanded government” and “private”.  It also charts “new relationships”, such as regulations, requirements and mandates, reporting requirements, oversight and money flow.

Evident to anyone with the IQ of a mushroom is the incredible complexity of what our masters in Congress cobbled together in haste and passed before anyone could actually read the thing through and study the probable consequences.  The chart includes:

  • $569 billion in higher taxes;

  • $529 billion in cuts to Medicare;

  • Swelling of the ranks of Medicaid by 16 million;

  • 17 major insurance mandates; and

  • The creation of two new bureaucracies with powers to impose future rationing: the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the Independent Payments Advisory Board.

As might be expected, ObamaCare fulfills almost all the promises of the critics – top driven, bureaucratic, complex, expensive and set up to ration health care.

The chart gives visual evidence of the type monstrosity that has been foisted upon the American public by Democrats.  Says Kevin Hassett:

This clearly is a candidate for most disorganized organizational chart ever. It shows that the health system is complex, yes, but also ornate. The new law creates 68 grant programs, 47 bureaucratic entities, 29 demonstration or pilot programs, six regulatory systems, six compliance standards and two entitlements.

Yes friends, the DMV teaming up with the Post Office, have now “organized” your health care and promise it will be “better and less expensive”.

And don’t forget – your new health care czar has the power to make judgments about health care that, by law, cannot be challenged either through an administrative process or the courts.  So you are stuck with whatever the Sec HHS decides.  That means:

A sprawling, complex bureaucracy has been set up that will have almost absolute power to dictate terms for participating in the health-care system. That’s what the law does to government. What it does to you is worse.

Based on the administration’s own numbers, as many as 117 million people might have to change their health plans by 2013 as their employer-provided coverage loses its grandfathered status and becomes subject to the new Obamacare mandates.

Those mandates also might make your health care more expensive. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that premiums for a small number of families who buy their insurance privately will rise by as much as $2,100.

Finally, and as noted above, there is to be a huge expansion in Medicaid “paid for” by cutting care to the elderly:

To pay for this expansion, the bill takes $529 billion from Medicare, with roughly 39 percent of the cut coming from the Medicare Advantage program. This represents a large transfer of resources, sacrificing the care of the elderly in order to increase the Medicaid rolls.

Another revenue source are the “Cadillac plans” – for those who have them and pay for them, the gig’s up:

Front and center among the new taxes is the 40 percent excise tax on those lucky people with so-called Cadillac health plans. The higher insurance costs that are driven by the government mandates will push many more ordinary plans into Cadillac territory.

As we’ve discussed, the bill relies on a constant revenue stream from these insurance plans from now on, assuming everyone will pay the 40% increased cost to keep their plans.  That’s not likely at all, and cutting these plans will effect millions – many of whom bought in lock, stock and barrel, to the promise “if you like your doctor and you like your plan, you can keep both”.

Look at this chart and tell me how you do that.

Yesterday a federal judge in VA ruled that the state of Virginia had “standing” to sue the federal government over the law.  That, of course, means nothing more than the lawsuit moves forward, but it is an important first step in repealing this monstrosity or at least the more intrusive and odious parts of it.  Obviously it doesn’t ensure success in that endeavor and the White House typically believes it is on the side of angels and the Constitution when it comes to running our lives.

We’ll see.  But clearly Nancy Pelosi was right when she said “we have to pass the bill to see what’s in the bill”.  Now that we have this chart, we know what’s in the bill – the largest power grab by the federal government since the income tax.

“Change” you can believe in, huh?

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-08-02

Samsung may be announcing the first credible, Android-based tablet device–and iPad competitor–on August 11. http://bit.ly/cRevNa #

Documentary: U.S. economy is at the beginning stages of a currency crisis that will ultimately lead to hyperinflation. http://bit.ly/ckkYC3 #

Homeownership rate continues to slide, hitting its lowest rate in fifty years. http://usat.me?39517364 #

George W. Bush to do first post-presidential interview in November http://usat.me?102070 | I would so love to see him angrily lash out. #

Construction spending for June was higher than expected, increasing by 0.1%. #

The ISM index came in at a better than expected 55.5. In general, a figure higher than 50 indicates an economic expansion. #

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Clueless in California

You have to watch this 3 minute video if you want a clue as to why we’re in the shape we are now as a nation. And Pete Stark obviously isn’t the only one who thinks the “federal government can do most anything.” Also notice he never addresses the questions directly. He hems and haws around, clearly clueless as to how to answer the very specific and pointed questions. Lastly, watch his pathetic little slam at the questioner at the end.

Is it any wonder we have legislation that many consider to be a Constitutional travesty? Is it any wonder that Congress now “enjoys” the worst approval numbers in its history (since polls have been taken)?

~McQ

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What part of “production” don’t these people get?

In today’s NY Times, Robert Schiller laments the lack of jobs brought by the “stimulus”.  Essentially, he posits, government focus is on the wrong thing.  Instead of boosting the GDP, the “stimulus” should be focused on creating jobs.  And where should government be focusing that effort?

Why not use government policy to directly create jobs — labor-intensive service jobs in fields like education, public health and safety, urban infrastructure maintenance, youth programs, elder care, conservation, arts and letters, and scientific research?

Would this be an effective use of resources? From the standpoint of economic theory, government expenditures in such areas often provide benefits that are not being produced by the market economy. Take New York subway stations, for example. Cleaning and painting them in a period of severe austerity can easily be neglected. Yet the long-term benefit to businesses from an appealing mass transit system is enormous. (This is an example of an “externality,” which the market economy, left to its own devices, will neglect.)

The problem with this idea, of course, is nothing is really produced.  In fact, the focus on kicking up the GDP isn’t the wrong focus.  And trying to produce make-work jobs or “service” jobs don’t help with that.  They certainly would keep those who got the jobs busy, but a clean subway will not lead to more jobs elsewhere.

The tendency to think like this is apparent among a certain set who believe that spending money on jobs, whatever the sector and whatever the labor, make a difference.   A job is a job is a job.

But it isn’t.  Government jobs are not jobs that “produce wealth”.  They consume wealth.  And they don’t certainly don’t produce jobs that do produce wealth.

That comes in the private sector where people produce things – to include services – that other people want and that old “voluntary exchange of value between two people” takes place and produces wealth, which in turn kicks up the GDP.

It is wrong-headed to think the government can “stimulate” employment by employing people in non-productive, busy work jobs.

If government has a role in a recession or depression it should be to clear the way with less regulation and provide the incentives through tax breaks for businesses to hire and expand. 

What is hold all of this up at the moment is the unsettled tax picture and regulation regime as well as new legislation the business world is still trying to digest and pending legislation which would further complicate recovery.  It isn’t rocket science.  Until the marketplace is much more settled than it is now, no jobs are going to be created and now businesses are going to expand.

You can paint and clean all the subway systems in the US and it won’t make any difference.  The mid-term elections, however, may.  If the GOP takes the House and closes the gap in the Senate, you may start to see some hiring and some expansion, based on the belief that the worst is over  – governmentally that is – and perhaps it is now safe to begin the long, slow process of recovery.

~McQ

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Observations: The Qando Podcast for 01 Aug 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the possibilities of Revolution, Secession, and Constitutional conventions.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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BlogTalk Radio – 8pm (EST) Tonight

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s):

So you say you want a revolution? – IBD wonders if we’re on the brink.

Within their rights, but it is right? – Ground zero mosque debate.

Stupidity and EJ Dionne – How Dionne demonstrates the shallowness, and, well, “stupidity” of the left’s arguments.

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Bush tax cuts – it’s not your money, so quit whining

William Gale regales us with what he calls "Five myths about the Bush tax cuts" , in the Washington Post today.

Highlights, or lowlights if you will, of a couple of them are as follows.  “Myth” one:

Extending the tax cuts would be a good way to stimulate the economy.

And the ammo that makes it a myth:

According to the Congressional Budget Office and other authorities, extending all of the Bush tax cuts would have a small bang for the buck, the equivalent of a 10- to 40-cent increase in GDP for every dollar spent.

So a 10% to 40% increase in GDP – at this time – is something to sniff at?  Note how he worded the increase.  He used the word “cent” instead of “percent”.  Yeah, no attempt to shade the point at all, huh?

Then this:

As the CBO notes, most Bush tax cut dollars go to higher-income households, and these top earners don’t spend as much of their income as lower earners.

Right.  A) they’re the ones who actually pay taxes – many lower income earners do not.  B) “Spending” is a loaded term.  The high income earners don’t bury their money in the back yard safely tucked into a coffee can.  They invest it.  And, for those paying attention, it is investment in the economy that’s lacking at this time.

The rest of the “myths” are as pathetically argued as the first.

In reality, this is just another in a long line of liberal justifications for taking your money based in the premise that it isn’t really yours to begin with.

If you don’t believe me, look at “myth” 3 which states “Making the tax cuts permanent will lead to long term growth.  Gale says:

A main selling point for the cuts was that, by offering lower marginal tax rates on wages, dividends and capital gains, they would encourage investment and therefore boost economic growth. But when it comes to fostering growth, this isn’t the whole story. The tax cuts also raised government debt — and higher government debt leads to higher interest rates.

Note that Gale tacitly admits that the "myth" is actually true. However he tries to caveat that with a horrible result that I assume he believes effectively destroys the point. The tax cuts “raised” government debt.

Uh, no, they didn’t. Excessive government spending without the revenue raised government debt. These tax cuts have now been in place for years and government debt has grown exponentially. How is that the fault of a tax cut or the tax payer?

Of course it’s not – unless you believe that money, all money, really belongs to government and it gets to decide how much you can or can’t have. How else do you claim allowing an earner to keep more of what he earned as a cause for "increased government debt?"

Of course Gale forgets one of the aspects of letting the tax cuts expire – but I suppose that’s because it’s not a "myth" in his book. A recent study finds the following to be true as a result of letting the Bush tax cuts expire:

The study found that raising just the lowest income tax rate from 10 percent to 15 percent would cost 88 million taxpayers an average of $503 next year.

Lowering the child tax credit from $1,000 to $500 per child would cost 31 million families an average of $1,033 in 2011; the reinstatement of the so-called marriage penalty, a peculiarity in the tax code that forces some married couples to pay more for income tax than they would if they were single, would cost 35 million couples an average of $595 each, according to the preliminary numbers.

[…]

Income tax rates will rise for almost every bracket, with the bottom rate going from 10 to 15 percent and the top rate going from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Dividends and capital gains taxes also are expected to rise.

So the “your taxes won’t increase by a single dime” pledge for the gullible 95% was a crock and they should have known that when Obama promised to end those tax cuts.  But it’s hard to do that when you’re also gulled into believing that they were only tax cuts “for the rich”.

In fact, they were across the board tax cuts and now the middle-class will discover that at the end of the year as they crank up the Turbo Tax and are shocked, shocked I tell you, that their taxes have increased.

And that’s no myth, my friend.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-31

This, by the way, is what a properly scrubbed rear tire looks like. http://twitpic.com/2aanbr #

They really are lazy animals.And there's two more of them sleeping in here. http://twitpic.com/2aamc3 #

I FINALLY found a replacement for Claq Qui snus. "Nick and Johnny" Strong is very similar, despite the silly name and packaging. Good stuff. #

My review of the Michelin Pilot Road 2 motorcycle tires. They're well worth the money! http://bit.ly/d4DV5N #

I've been working all night to create a new template for my motorcycle blog. http://bit.ly/b3pGcs #

Fox News Poll: 62 Percent Think U.S. Is on the Decline, and headed towards socialism. http://bit.ly/aXL7RV #

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Might there be a “second revolution” and if so, what would it look like?

Investor’s Business Daily is asking "Will Washington’s failures lead to a second American revolution?"

Good question. I don’t see it in the offing at the moment, but if the course continues – i.e. governmental overreaching coupled with increasing cost and incompetence – anything is possible.

Says IBD:

People are asking, "Is the government doing us more harm than good? Should we change what it does and the way it does it?"

Sure they’re asking that.  And sure they’re wondering if they should change it.  But that’s really all they’re doing at the moment.  There’s no impetus – other than talk – to make the fundamental change that is necessary to rein in this government.  Not yet anyway.

That’s because most of us are still comfortable enough that we’re not willing to do what is necessary (and destabilizing) to make those changes.  We’d rather complain and threaten politicians.

I’m not saying I’m any better or any more prepared than anyone else – I’m just putting forth an observation.

Nope – unfortunately, things will have to get even worse than they are now before I can imagine a “second revolution”.  And I’d wonder what form it would take.  Peaceful but determined overthrow of the system?  A new “Constitutional Convention” where the “people” again try to limit government to a specific and downsized role in our lives?

Or would it incorporate the enshrinement of certain “entitlements” and various programs that much of the libertarian right find unconstitutional and intrusive?

Who knows?

IBD seems to think Obama is driving us toward such a revolution.  Yet somehow, as unpopular as George Bush was, it didn’t happen then.  Perhaps its the cumulative effect of having two relatively unpopular presidents, one from each side, which will trip the trigger?

Again, I’m not seeing it or feeling it.

I’d love to see a second “Constitutional Convention” if I was assured that its intent would be limiting government.  But in today’s political climate and with the decades of “entitlements”, I have no faith that’s what it would be.  I also have no faith that the outcome of a Constitutional Convention would be acknowledged, much less followed by this government.

It’s a real thought to ponder.  How, short of a bloody revolution – which may or may not come out the way freedom loving people would prefer – do we get government under control?

If there is a 2nd revolution, what form would it take?  What would be the tipping point?  Would we survive it?

Looking out over the political landscape today, I simply don’t know the answers to any of those questions.

~McQ

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