Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Quote of the Day – Joe Klein sedition edition

Joe Klein joins Joan Walsh as charter members of “history began on Jan. 2oth 2009″ club:

On the Chris Mathews Show Sunday, I said that some of the right-wing infotainment gasbags–people like Glenn Beck etc.–were nudging up close to the edge of sedition. This has caused a bit of a self-righteous ruckus on the right. Let me be clear: dissent isn’t sedition. Questioning an Administration’s policies isn’t sedition. But questioning an Administration’s legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine or overthrow it certainly is.

~McQ

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Heartland Institute’s “Freedom Pub”

Jim Lakely, a former Washington Times journalist who has been a good friend of QandO from the beginning, is now with the Heartland Institute and is the “bartender” and host at the libertarian think-tank’s “Freedom Pub“.  The Pub opened for business yesterday.

As Jim describes it:

It’s friendly place where those who value liberty and honor the Founders’ vision of America can gather together and express themselves.

It’s a group-blog community where you can sign on and have your own page and keep up with others who share your views. I’ve signed up (anything to get the word out) and will probably do some crossposting of QandO posts there.

Give it a look and if you’re so inclined sign up and contribute. If Jim’s in charge, I can promise you it will be a worthwhile endeavor.

~McQ

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The New York Times finally figures out why ObamaCare won’t work. The example? New York.

This info, of course, has been available for years, but those dauntless and investigative reporters within the New York Times organization have just recently stumbled upon an example which, if revealed earlier, might have derailed the ObamaCare train.  Might.  I mean, that assumes every shady technical device known to politicians wouldn’t have been used to ram it through – but who knows, it might have been enough to dampen the vote in the House had it been chronicled.

What in the world am I talking about?  Why the health care system in New York state – the one the flagship NYT suffers under.  The health care insurance system that’s been in place for years – decades even.

New York’s insurance system has been a working laboratory for the core provision of the new federal health care law — insurance even for those who are already sick and facing huge medical bills — and an expensive lesson in unplanned consequences. Premiums for individual and small group policies have risen so high that state officials and patients’ advocates say that New York’s extensive insurance safety net for people like Ms. Welles is falling apart.

The problem stems in part from the state’s high medical costs and in part from its stringent requirements for insurance companies in the individual and small group market. In 1993, motivated by stories of suffering AIDS patients, the state became one of the first to require insurers to extend individual or small group coverage to anyone with pre-existing illnesses.

New York also became one of the few states that require insurers within each region of the state to charge the same rates for the same benefits, regardless of whether people are old or young, male or female, smokers or nonsmokers, high risk or low risk.

Healthy people, in effect, began to subsidize people who needed more health care. The healthier customers soon discovered that the high premiums were not worth it and dropped out of the plans. The pool of insured people shrank to the point where many of them had high health care needs. Without healthier people to spread the risk, their premiums skyrocketed, a phenomenon known in the trade as the “adverse selection death spiral.”

You remember the outrage when an insurance company in California tried to raise its premiums 30+%?  It cited “adverse selection death spiral” as the reason – it is covering sicker people who are much costlier while the healthier are leaving the plan due to the cost.  Massachusetts is undergoing the very same phenomenon. the four non-profit insurance providers have requested rather large premium increases (and been denied them) for the very same reason as the California company And now we discover, New York – which, as the article points out  has been a “working laboratory for the core provisions of the federal health care law” for years – is and has been playing out the precise outcome many who opposed this bill foretold.

And somehow, until now, that never managed to find its way into the pages of the Times.  As an aside, I have to say that since it has turned to advocacy journalism, it is a pale shadow of its former self and that’s one of the reasons it is headed toward ruin.

Anyway, apparently the politicians in DC learned from the New York debacle.  Thus the individual mandate and the fine on employers for not covering their employees.  Otherwise, as New York has proven:

“You have a mandate that’s accessible in theory, but not in practice, because it’s too expensive,” said Mark P. Scherzer, a consumer lawyer and counsel to New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, an advocacy group. “What you get left clinging to the life raft is the population that tends to have pretty high health needs.”

And the Democrats don’t want the insurance companies to be able to charge the sick what is necessary to cover them.  Instead they want to force healthier Americans to subsidize the expense through coercive mandates and fines.

Amazing – and yet there are those among us who will look you in the eye, and with a straight face tell you this is exactly what the founders of the country envisioned when they wrote the Constitution.

~McQ

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It’s not just Obama

One of the things I’ve been saying for months is the Tea Party is not just a reaction to Obama and his agenda (although both he and his agenda have just continued to add to a decline in public trust and satisfaction in government). The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press published a chart that makes that point well:

The present slide, in both trust in government and satisfaction with the nation began in about 2003 – one would guess about the time of the invasion of Iraq. Note that at that time trust in government was at an all time high. But the erosion of that trust and satisfaction in the nation, began a pretty steep slide at that point. Note too that satisfaction with the nation (i.e. the nation headed in the right direction) took a brief turn upward with the election of Barack Obama but then swiftly turned south again. Presently both indicators at near all time lows.

Note as well that the last time the indicators were in the same area was 1994 when Democrats were power and after a precipitous decline from the Bush I administration that continued through the first two years of the Clinton administration.  Also consider that when the trust numbers again began to rise after ’94, the GOP was attempting to pass the Contract with America (aimed at some of the present Tea Party goals) and were ending “welfare as we know it”.

Some would argue that the political stars are aligning precisely as they did in ’94 which saw a resounding GOP victory. The situation, via the graph, certainly seems similar. But is it really? A couple of key paragraphs may disabuse one of that notion:

The public’s hostility toward government seems likely to be an important election issue favoring the Republicans this fall. However, the Democrats can take some solace in the fact that neither party can be confident that they have the advantage among such a disillusioned electorate. Favorable ratings for both major parties, as well as for Congress, have reached record lows while opposition to congressional incumbents, already approaching an all-time high, continues to climb.

The Tea Party movement, which has a small but fervent anti-government constituency, could be a wild card in this election. On one hand, its sympathizers are highly energized and inclined to vote Republican this fall. On the other, many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the Tea Party represents their point of view better than does the GOP.

This indicates the dissatisfaction isn’t necessarily partisan. That is the dissatisfaction with the state of the nation and the decline in public trust haven’t been driven exclusively by Obama and his agenda. As you can see, both indicators were in rapid decline well before Obama was a glint on the political horizon. What has happened is a over the past 10 or so years, the political culture within the country has begun to shift. More and more awareness of the impact, intrusion and cost of government has reached a broader audience. Our technology and connectedness has indeed had a political impact. And the numbers you see on the chart are partially a result of that.

So while Obama is the man in the hot seat at the moment, he isn’t the only reason for this general feeling of distrust and dissatisfaction. This has been brewing for some time – years in fact. It just reached a critical point – a “turn out in the streets” point – when TARP, bailouts, takeovers and trillion dollar deficits came so fast and furious that it could no longer be ignored or glossed over. Government is out of control, the Tea Party is simply a manifestation of the general dissatisfaction with government. Neither party is immune from the voters ire this November because they recognize both got the nation in this position. The only advantage the GOP holds is they are marginally recognized as the fiscally conservative/small government party (why, after the Bush years, is anyone ‘s guess). That’s why they hold a lead in most Congressional polling. But I wouldn’t call it a solid lead at this point. The Pew study makes it clear that many out there see the TP as what the GOP isn’t – truly committed to fiscal conservacy and small government. In other words, a significant portion of potential GOP voters don’t trust the GOP anymore than they do the Democrats although the GOP should be the party of choice for them (if one is to believe the principles they espouse).

The point – if the GOP wants to take and hold the reigns of power at a national level, they had better not only talk the talk (something they’re very good at) but also, once given the opportunity, walk the walk (something they are very poor at doing and the reason -although they don’t seem to understand it – they continue to get bounced out of power).

Why?

Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation’s top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed. With the exception of greater regulation of major financial institutions, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation’s problems – including more government control over the economy – than there was when Barack Obama first took office.

Figure it out boys and girls – here’s the ticket. Accept it, internalize it, run on it and then do it. If they don’t then the cycle you see above in the chart will only repeat.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Apr 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, Tea Parties, and the Democtrats’ approach to politics. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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BlogTalk Radio – Tonight 8pm (EST)

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

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

Subject(s):

It has sort of been an SSDD week for news. Nothing earth-shattering or ground breaking in particular. Tax day came and went. Tea Parties convened and protested. Democrats seem ready to again ignore jobs and the economy to push their favorite ideological agenda items. And unemployment was “unexpectedly” higher. Same Stuff Different Day.

So, we’ll talk a little about unemployment, a little on what in the world the Democrat political strategy is in all of this, maybe why Bill Clinton is so darn sure the Republicans won’t take back either chamber of Congress this fall (but will blow up another federal building … or something) and, if we have time, touch on Obama’s foreign policy as it pertains to Iran and Israel (or the NYT/Gates claim that he really doesn’t have one for Iran … or for that matter, Israel).

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NYT: In secret memo Gates complains US has no strategy to stop Iran nukes

The NY Times continues its recent tradition of publishing the contents of secret memos with information from one about our strategy, or lack thereof, for dealing with Iran:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

If true, it certainly isn’t unexpected.  In fact, the US has spent more time saying what it won’t do (i.e. taking things off the table) than what it will (“serious” sanctions).  However it appears that may be changing, finally.  If the Times is to be believed (which, anymore, is not an automatic) it is beginning to dawn on the brain trust that a) Iran isn’t at all intimidated by the prospect of sanctions b) feels no serious threat to their intentions and c) doesn’t plan on discontinuing them.

So this memo, if reported correctly,  is an apparent effort to ramp up a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with Iran – an actual strategy.  And that includes some military options should “diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.”

Is there really anyone out there holding out hope that “diplomacy and sanctions” will have the desired effect?

Of course, and as expected, White House officials deny the absense of a strategy. National security adviser Gen. James Jones claims:

“On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

Except -according to the NYT  – the Secretary of Defense, certainly someone who would be privy to any military options, doesn’t seem to think we do.

For instance:

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

Then what?  Testing nuclear weaponry’s design no longer requires actually detonation of a nuclear device.  Sophisticated computer simulations now serve that purpose.  So Gates’ point – if he made it – is entirely credible.  They could indeed become a “virtual” nuclear state without us ever knowing about it (although I doubt their arrogance would allow the Iranian government to pass up an opportunity to rub the world’s nose in it).

The Times also contends:

According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.

But if we’re talking the “full range of contingencies” certainly one which has to be taken seriously and for which a strategy has to be formed.

In fact, other than “senior officials” and the NYT, there’s not much to verify the memo exists or the strategy doesn’t.  And a Gates spokesman has even gone as far as to claim, in the Secretary’s name, that such a strategy does exit:

“The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran.”

So does the Gates memo actually say what the NYT says it says?

I’m inclined to say yes, despite the statement of the Gates spokesperson because of this:

Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.

“Should the president call for military options, we must have them ready,” the admiral wrote.

That clearly indicates that at least Adm. Mullen didn’t believe the strategy included the necessary and appropriate military options.  And, as the NYT further reports, that seemed to be confirmed recently in some Senate testimony.  Speaking of the military contingencies against Iran, the Times says:

Administration officials testifying before a Senate committee last week made it clear that those preparations were under way. So did General Jones.

So I think it is fair to conclude that Sec. Gates may have written this memo that the NYT is reporting on and, in fact, that there isn’t yet a comprehensive long-range strategy to deal with a nuclear Iran.  To translate that a bit more, what that means is the administration’s focus has been almost exclusively on diplomacy and sanctions and Gates is making the case that those don’t appear they will yield the desired results and a more broad spectrum strategy which includes military contingencies be included and seriously considered.

He’s right.  But this may also be an effective way to get the word to Iran that time is running out and the military guys are beginning  be taken more seriously in discussions about how to react to Iran’s nuclear intransigence.

~McQ

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The Professorial among us – why are they lefties?

I’ve been chuckling my way through this article as it reminds me of a certain denizen of the comment section here.  It’s just too freakin’ funny (and accurate) not to share:

Many academics not only envy people with money, but also those who enjoy political authority. Professors are more confident than most that they have the truth and are convinced that, if given the opportunity, they would rule with intelligence, justice, and compassion. The trouble is that few Americans, at least since the time of Andrew Jackson, will vote for intellectuals. (The widespread assumption that Presidents who have Ivy League degrees are intellectuals is highly debatable. The Left declared consistently that George W. Bush, who had diplomas from Yale and Harvard, was mentally challenged. Barak Obama, who was not really a professor, has sealed his academic records.) How many professors run City Hall anywhere? How many would like to? How many humanities and social science professors are consulted when great civic issues are discussed and decided? Who would even invite them to join the Elks?

Instead of steering the machinery of local, state, and national politics, academics are relegated to writing angry articles in journals and websites read by the already converted and pouring their well-considered opinions into the ears of young people who are mostly eager to get drunk, listen to rap, watch ESPN, and find a suitable, or at least willing, bed partner for the night.

On the Left and Right money means power, and we “pointy heads” and “eggheads” are on the outside looking in. One thinks of Arthur Schlesinger Jr swooning over the Kennedys for the rest of his life because they gave him a title and a silent seat in some White House deliberations. Those making as much money as, say, an experienced furnace repairman account for little in this world, despite the PhD. How many academics even sit on the governing board that sets policies for their campus? It is all most humiliating. (To see how intelligently and objectively academics use the authority they have, examine the political correctness the suffocates the employment practices and intellectual lives of almost all American campuses. Aberlour’s Fifth Law: “Political correctness is totalitarianism with a diploma.”)

Even more:

One way to compensate for this bleak and futureless existence is to become involved in left-wing causes. They give us a sense of identity in a world seemingly owned and operated by Rotarians. And they provide us with hope. In big government we trust, for with the election of sufficiently enlightened officials, we might gain full medical coverage, employment for our children, and good pensions. These same leftist leaders might redistribute income “fairly,” by taking wealth from the “greedy” and giving it to those of us who want more of everything. A “just” world might be created in which sociologists, political scientists, botanists, and romance language professors would achieve the greatness that should be theirs. It’s all a matter of educating the public. And hurling anathemas at people of position and affluence we deeply envy.

Bingo.  Those that can, do.  And those that can’t … seek tenure.

[HT: Maggies Farm]

~McQ

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The New Jersey model

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about newly elected NJ governor Chis Christie.  The Republican, elected in a traditionally blue state, ran as if he’d be a one-termer and laid out the distasteful medicine necessary to put the state’s fiscal house in order.  To the surprise of many, he won.  He’s now engaged in doing what he said he’d do.

His assessment and conclusion are solid:

“We are, I think, the failed experiment in America—the best example of a failed experiment in America—on taxes and bigger government. Over the last eight years, New Jersey increased taxes and fees 115 times.”

And what has NJ gotten for that?

New Jersey’s residents now suffer under the nation’s highest tax burden. Yet the tax hikes haven’t come close to matching increases in spending. Mr. Christie recently introduced a $29.3 billion state budget to eliminate a projected $11 billion deficit for fiscal year 2011.

Obviously, as must be done in a state which has the nation’s highest tax burden, Christie has laid out a very aggressive plan that cuts spending to eliminate that deficit. And, as you might imagine, the entrenched interests which will see their budget’s cut are almost unanimous in their opposition. Most the opposition comes from government unions, and especially from New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union.

And Christie is using a little of the left’s favorite tactics against them:

“I’m a product of public schools in New Jersey,” Mr. Christie explains, “and I have great admiration for people who commit their lives to teaching, but this isn’t about them. This is about a union president who makes $265,000 a year, and her executive director who makes $550,000 a year. This is about a union that has been used to getting its way every time. And they have intimidated governors for the last 30 years.”

Christie is obviously not going to be intimidated. And he’s got the numbers and, apparently, the public behind his effort to pare the educational establishment down to a manageable and affordable size:

While the state lost 121,000 jobs last year, education jobs in local school districts soared by more than 11,000. Over the past eight years, according to Mr. Christie, K-12 student enrollment has increased 3% while education jobs have risen by more than 16%. The governor believes cuts in aid to local schools in his budget could be entirely offset if existing teachers would forgo scheduled raises and agree to pay 1.5% of their medical insurance bill for one year, just as new state employees will be required to do every year. A new Rasmussen poll found that 65% of New Jersey voters agree with him about a one-year pay freeze for teachers.

The union, of course, has it’s own favored solution and I assume you can guess what it involves:

But the teachers union wants to close the budget gap by raising the income tax rate on individuals and small businesses making over $400,000 per year to 10.75% from its current 8.97%.

Obviously he has a lot of other fights within the state on his hands, such as cutting the onerous regulation regime the state has built, but he has a primary goal and desire to return the state to fiscal sanity. And he also knows that to do that he has to lower overall taxes – if he wants to again attract business and those who earn enough to provide a solid tax base.

The governor aims to move tax rates back to the glory days before 2004, when politicians lifted the top income tax rate to its current level of almost 9% from roughly 6%. Piled on top of the country’s highest property taxes, as well as sales and business income taxes, the increase brought the state to a tipping point where the affluent started to flee in droves. A Boston College study recently noted the outflow of wealthy people from the state in the period 2004-2008. The state has lately been in a vicious spiral of new taxes and fees to make up for the lost revenue, which in turn causes more high-income residents to leave, further reducing tax revenues.

So here’s a governor who understands that what has been heaped on the back of the taxpayers that are left is too much and is looking at other real ways of reducing the cost of government – i.e. actually seeking out where it has become bloated, putting some of the costs of the benefits government workers receive back on them, cutting unnecessary spending all with a goal of eliminating the deficit the state faces. And, by the way, planning on reducing the tax rate with an eye toward luring back the affluent and businesses with an eventual goal of actually increasing tax-revenues, and jobs, and all the other benefits such an influx would bring.

“What I hope it will do in the end is first and foremost fix New Jersey, and end this myth that you can’t take these people on,” he says. “I just hope it shows people who have similar ideas to mine that they can do it. You just have to stand up and grit your teeth and know your poll numbers are going to go down—and mine have—but you gotta grit it out because the alternative is unacceptable.” He also strongly believes that voters elected him specifically to fight this fight. “They’re fed up. They’ve had enough. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t win,” he says.

He’s probably right about that. He probably wouldn’t have won 3 or so years ago.  And he’s right that the voters, as his election demonstrates, are “fed up”.  But, once the cuts start to hit, nothing says Christie will be given the continued support necessary to accomplish his goals.  But he seems to be a man who is going to do all he can to accomplish them. I call it the New Jersey model because if successful, Gov. Christie will provide both the blueprint and the success story which small government/fiscally conservative types can point to when discussing what must -and can – be done at both a state and national level. I’ll be watching the NJ saga develop with great interest over the years, and wishing Gov. Christie the best of luck in attaining his goals.

~McQ

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