Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-08

RT @EdMorrissey @andylevy: Goodbye, Anna Chapman, et al.// We'll always have Facebook. | Now they get to go back to the Rodina as heroes. #

RT @ErickaAndersen: Wow never would have known this is what @maddow looked like back in the day! | Time is a bitch. #

RT @markknoller BHO: Reps want car keys to the economy: "They don't know how 2 drive." | Driving on the wrong side of the road's no better. #

Palin video: 'Look out Washington,' here come 'Mama Grizzlies' http://usat.me?99223 | She's a rock star, bless her empty little head. #

Preventing you from doing a line of coke is more important than the safety of little Mexican children. http://usat.me?39177718 #

Initial jobless claims are still stuck at around 450k. June retail sales were sluggish. http://usat.me?39182882 #RecoverySummer #

Six months old. Seventy pounds. Titus Pullo Corso. http://twitpic.com/23d4ly #

I completely missed the earthquake. I was sitting down in the back yard being smothered by dogs, and never felt a thing. Nor did the dogs. #

Stone Russian Imperial Stout. 10.5% alcohol by volume. Yeah, its been that kind of day. http://twitpic.com/23cd6m #

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If you’ve lost Streisand, you’ve pretty much lost the left

The annual gathering of the “intelligentsia” at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen CO would normally be a love fest for left leaning politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of leftish thinkers.

But this year, for some reason, it isn’t a place where Barack Obama would feel particularly comfortable, it seems. Speakers have been anything but complimentary on the current administration’s policies or the direction of the country.

One of his recently more outspoken critics is Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of US News and World Report. On a panel shared with Harvard business and history professor Niall Ferguson, Zuckerman was none to kind to the present commander-in-chief or his economic policies:

“We are, without question, in a period of decline, particularly in the business world,” Zuckerman said. “The real problem we have…are some of the worst economic policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”

And why does Zuckerman – a business owner in his own right – feel this way:

Zuckerman added that he detects in the Obama White House “hostility to the very kinds of [business] culture that have made this the great country that it is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with that or else we will do great damage to this country with a public policy that could ruin everything.”

Those aren’t words couched in nuance or diplomacy as one can immediately tell. Those are the words of a man – an Obama supporter – who has come to the realization of how serious a mistake he and others who supported this President made.

Ferguson was no less critical. Panning the policy which has kept extending long-term unemployment benefits, Ferguson said, “Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

And, adding to Zuckerman’s “nation in decline” observation he said:

“The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” A dashing Brit, Ferguson added: “Can I say that, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”

When the “S” word found its way into the conversation, Ferguson was a little less forthright with his answer:

“If you’re asking if the United States is about to become a socialist state, I’d say it’s actually about to become a European state, with the expansiveness of the welfare system and the progressive tax system like what we’ve already experienced in Western Europe,”

Or, “yeah, the US is headed that way”. Ferguson also warned that in essence we were moving toward becoming an “implicit part of the European Union” and he warned, “I’d advise against it”.

Ferguson even complemented Republican Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” as the “radical, root-and-branch reform not only of the tax system but of the entitlement system” that is necessary to “unleash entrepreneurial innovation.”

That won’t exactly come as music to the ears of Peter Orszag and Larry Summers who are expected at the event later this week. Summers has come under criticism as well for his explanations of why the recovery was to this point jobless.

Sitting in the audience, clapping enthusiastically with all the rest of the invited were Barbara Streisand and her husband James Brolin – neither of whom would be described as from the conservative set. When asked, at the conclusion of the panel discussion, for their impressions they said:

“Depressing, but fantastic,” Streisand told me afterward, rendering her verdict on the session. “So exciting. Wonderful!”

Brolin’s assessment: “Mind-blowing.”

Actually, it is more mind-blowing than one might imagine. If Obama has indeed lost the likes of Zuckerman and Ferguson that’s certainly a blow to him. But if even the likes of Streisand and Brolin can see the problem and its origin, he has most assuredly lost a good part of the left.

~McQ

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That for which we are and aren’t willing to pay

At least according to this Rasmussen poll.

It fairly clearly demonstrates that there is a resistence to the attempts by our federal leadership to further the welfare state that now exists here.

For instance:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Adults shows that only 19% would be willing to pay higher taxes to avoid layoffs of state employees. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say they would not be willing to pay more in taxes for this reason. Another 11% are undecided.

The 19% probably are state employees (just kidding).  But that’s a pretty damning majority.  It says, very clearly, that there are no sacrosanct jobs, and certainly not within government.  It also makes it clear that if those jobs are to be saved, increased taxation isn’t the way.

Entitlement programs don’t do much better:

Twenty-two percent (22%) would pay higher taxes to prevent cuts in entitlement programs for low-income Americans. Sixty-three percent (63%) say they would not pay more to keep these programs afloat. Another 15% are undecided.

Again, an overwhelming majority see entitlements as less important than cuts in their own income due to increased taxes.  A not so subtle warning to politicians that before they raise taxes, which they will, there had better be some real cuts to entitlements made. 

Education cuts have a lesser majority, but still, taxpayers are in no mood for tax increases:

Americans are slightly less opposed to paying higher taxes for education. Thirty-four percent (34%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to provide funding for public education, but 54% say they are not. Another 12% aren’t sure.

Where the public seems somewhat willing to consider higher taxes (although a majority still isn’t willing to pay them) is in the area of public safety and police.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to increase the number of police and firemen in their communities. Still, 52% say they would not be willing to do so. Another 10% are not sure.

Now, there’s a context to these poll results that needs to be understood:

Most U.S. voters (52%) continue to believe that tax increases will hurt the economy, while just 22% think tax increases are good for the economy.

The economy is dictating at least part of this feeling by the public – its uncertainty and the continued economic downturn have voters wanting to hold on to every dollar they can.  What’s interesting about the results is that while each category above has a majority against raising taxes, this isn’t just a blanket rejection.  You go from an overwhelming majority of voters saying no to new taxes to save government jobs and stop cuts in entitlements to a bare majority when it comes to public safety.

That should inform politicians of the public’s priorities and where the line is if it comes to the point that taxes must be raised.  Whether these attitudes will change if the economy improves is anyone’s guess.  I’m not saying I favor tax increases, btw.  I’m a “no new taxes” guy.  Government gets more than it should have now, in my estimation.

I offer this as an interesting peek into the mind of the public right now.  The point, of course, is given these numbers, appeals to save government jobs and/or prevent entitlement cuts is going to fall on deaf ears.  Politicians who pursue increased tax revenues for those reasons (and at the behest of government unions like the SEIU) will be shooting themselves in the foot, politically speaking.

The pubic is in no mood for increased taxes.  Woe be unto any pol who pushes them right now, especially to save government jobs and entitlements.

~McQ

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Trying to justify taxing “caloric sweetened beverages”

Or as you know them, soda’s, energy and sports drinks and fruit juices.

The USDA has gotten in the act – all in the name of science and health, of course – and has offered it’s opinion on the matter.  Linked is the report summary.  Here is what they found:

• A tax-induced 20-percent increase in the price of caloric sweetened beverages could reduce net calorie intake from all beverages by 37 calories per day for the average adult. The effects for children were estimated to be larger—an average reduction of 43 calories per day.

• By assuming that 1 pound of body fat has about 3,500 calories, and assuming all else remains equal, the daily calorie reductions would translate into an average reduction of 3.8 pounds over a year for adults and 4.5 pounds over a year for children.

• The weight loss induced by the tax could reduce the overweight prevalence among adults from 66.9 to 62.4 percent and the prevalence of obesity from 33.4 to 30.4 percent. For children, the at-risk-of-overweight prevalence would decline from 32.2 to 27.0 percent and the overweight prevalence would decline from 16.6 to 13.7 percent.

Let me summarize – a 20% tax would reduce consumption of these beverages enough to take “37 calories a day” out of your diet.  That resulting net loss of 37 calories would average 3.8 pounds for year and take the overweight population from 66.9% to 62.7%.

Really?  37 calories a day – the amount of calories you burn getting off your fat behind and walking to the fridge for another soda?  Overweight people normally ingest more calories a day than they burn.  And that caloric intake is usually well over 2,000 calories a day.  37 calories?  That’s a third of a granola bar, for heaven sake.

This is science?

Oh, wait – a couple of qualifiers:

1. A large group of individuals are overweight or obese by only a few pounds, and a small reduction in calorie intake could change their weight classification; and

2. Many overweight and obese Americans consume large amounts of caloric sweetened beverages. For example, 10.6 percent of overweight adults consumed more than 450 calories per day from caloric sweetened beverages— nearly three times the average amount of 152 calories consumed by adults.

And, of course, it is the job of government to help tax these people into a new weight classification?  Well of course it is – Congress just gave themselves the power to make it their business.

Of course this 37 calorie drop a day assumes that a) overweight people won’t change a thing other than dropping the consumption of “caloric sweetened beverages”, b) won’t attempt to fulfill their desire for sugary food with something else or c) won’t grudgingly pay the tax and continue their consumption habits .   The further assumption, of course, is they’ll lose the weight as a result of the negative incentive provided by a 20% tax.

Not only are these people marginal scientists, they seem to know very little about human nature.  On top of that, they certainly don’t seem to understand the political blowback something like this is likely to have. 

But, just the fact that the USDA is dabbling in studies about taxing sugary drinks should tell you all you need to know about the continued intrusive depths to which government now plans to go to regulate everything in your life. 

Freedom means the freedom to succeed and to fail.  It means as long as  you aren’t violating or intruding on someone else’s rights, you can pretty much do whatever you want – to include get fat on sugary drinks.  What it doesn’t mean is some outside agency deciding what is or isn’t good or healthy for you and deciding to tax you into the behavior it deems proper.

But that’s precisely what this “study” is all about.

Freedom is becoming a rare commodity in this land, and we need to understand that and fight against any and all attempted intrusions no matter how trivial or seemingly well intentioned.  Allowing the incremental encroachment of government in all areas of our lives is the sure way to kill freedom and put us well on the road to serfdom.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-07

Mommy's Black Eye: A Guide To Keeping Daddy Happy #failedchildrensbooks #

Why Mommy Hates Daddy's Secretary. #failedchildrensbooks #

All My "Uncles": Mommy Needs to Have a Life, Too #failedchildrensbooks #

Today's P/E ratio for the S&P 500 is 19.3. The historical avg is 15.7. that implies the S&P index could drop another 200 points to 862. #

The general rule is, if you're taking vacations to Thailand, you're probably up to no good. http://bit.ly/cAzi7f #

I can't figure out who I care less about: Lindsay Lohan, or Levi Johnson. #

Wow. Seems like a slow news day. #

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Our coming fiscal trainwreck

Last Friday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released a report commenting on the CBO’s long term budget outlook. As one might imagine, it’s not pretty:

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its Long Term Budget Outlook. Under CBO’s “Extended-Baseline Scenario,” the long-run fiscal picture has slightly worsened over the next twenty years, compared to last year, but significantly improved over the longer run – due largely to the impact of health care reform on spending and especially revenues. However, CBO’s overall analysis shows the budget to be on an unsustainable path, with debt moving to unprecedented and cripplingly high levels.

One has to wonder how any budget found to be on an “unsustainable path, with debt moving to unprecedented and crippling high levels” could at the same time show significant improvement over “the longer run”. The fact remains that whatever “significantly improved” picture any particular budget provides over another one, the bottom line remains “unsustainable, unprecedented and crippling” for our future. The Committee’s report goes on:

Under current law, CBO projects that public debt will rise from 62 percent of GDP this year, to 84 percent by 2040, and to 107 percent by 2080. This scenario is highly optimistic, since it assumes that all the 2001/2003 tax cuts will expire this year as scheduled, there will be no AMT patches or doc fixes, all of the savings in the health care bill will be sustained over the next two decades, and revenues will eventually exceed 30 percent of GDP.

“Highly optimistic” doesn’t begin to describe this budgetary charade. A 6 month “doc fix” has been passed the Senate and is awaiting House approval. Most believe it will continue to be passed in the foreseeable future. Legislators do not have the spine necessary to refuse the fix and weather the consequent political fallout which would see a mass exodus of doctors from the Medicare program. And anyone with the IQ of an onion knows that the “waste, fraud and abuse” savings promised for health care are simply throw-away promises made to balance out the numbers and get the bill passed into law.

So there are no savings on the way through health care. Optimistic is the wrong word to use here. It should be “fraudulent”. In fact, if we throw out the fraudulent health care assumptions, we end up with reality – which CBO calls its “Alternative Fiscal Scenario”:

Under CBO’s Alternative Fiscal Scenario, which does not make these assumptions, debt will rise to 87 percent by 2020, 233 percent by 2040, and to 854 percent by 2080.

There’s the most likely picture we’ll see in 2020. And frankly, at that point, it will almost be a runaway fiscal train. Impossible to stop and headed for a disastrous crash.

Even under the “highly optimistic” scenario, we’re in deep, deep trouble:

Yet, even under the current law revenue scenario – in which all the 2001/2003 tax cuts expire at the end of this year, policymakers discontinue the annual practice of enacting AMT patches, real bracket creep continues unfettered into perpetuity, and the excise tax on high cost health care plans grows to raise an increasing amount of revenue (3 percent of GDP by 2080) – revenues will fall short of spending. And under this scenario, revenue will grow to 30 percent of GDP. That’s twice as large a share of the economy as we will raise in 2010, and nearly 50 percent greater than any time in our history.

We’re certainly seeing history in the making, but it isn’t history in which we should be willing participants. The solution isn’t difficult to see, but politically its implementation is very hard to do. That’s because there are no political incentives to solve the problems. In fact, there are tremendous political incentives not to do that. That’s because no matter how much fiscal sense austerity measures (spending cuts, reductions in force, closing government agencies and departments, etc.) make, they’re painful and a political minefield. And we’ve yet to see the political class – regardless of their ideological bent – willing to seriously tackle this crisis in any meaningful way and take the political hits necessary to do so.

No one really expects that to change. Of course, that means the doomsday analysis by the CBO, which will be mostly ignored by politicians on both sides, is likely to come to pass. What the politicians of today plan on doing is letting those of their ilk in office at the time the fiscal train crashes deal with it and the fallout. How’s that for being ill served by the political class? Of course it’s nothing new – it’s been going on for decades.

Unfortunately for us, when the avoidable crisis finally hits in the near future, it will most likely be too late to do what is necessary and politically viable at the same time. Those stuck with the problem, at that time, will essentially have to commit political suicide. Of course, given the gravity of the situation they will face, they’ll have absolutely no choice.

What will come out of the trainwreck is anyone’s guess – but whatever it is will be a country that is weaker, less powerful and more vulnerable than it has been since its founding. And its enemies will be sure to take advantage of that situation, you can count on it.

~McQ

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Indie voters approval of Obama’s job performance drops to 38%

One of the things many election analysts continue to cite as a hopeful sign for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections is the fact that Obama’s approval rating has remained fairly high.

The thinking, then, is the vote won’t be about him or his agenda and that means Democrats may be successful in keeping the focus local and weathering the storm of electoral anger.

I don’t think so.  And here’s why:

Thirty-eight percent of independents approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, the first time independent approval of Obama has dropped below 40% in a Gallup Daily tracking weekly aggregate. Meanwhile, Obama maintains the support of 81% of Democrats, and his job approval among Republicans remains low, at 12%.

That’s right – those that have the power to swing any election have mostly fallen out of love with Obama.  And, one would assume, that would be driven by what he has done or not done as the case may be.  But the point is 4 months before these crucial elections, only 38% of the group that secured him in office still approve of him and the job he’s doing.

You don’t think that will reflect in November?

Democrats and the left, of course, have no where to go but they can stay home – and I think many will.  The Republicans and the right are fired up and energized.  They’re going to turn out.  Whether or not independents turn out or not, it appears they will not be overwhelmingly supporting Democrats because of “good approval ratings” for the president.  In fact, the opposite case can be compellingly made.

I think it is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone, to include Congressional Democrats, that the GOP will win seats in both chambers of Congress.  The only thing left to guesswork is how many.

~McQ

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The future of Obamacare is on display in Massachusetts

No one denies that Obamacare is modeled after the Massachusetts model signed into law there by Governor Mitt Romney. In fact, in 2006 then Senator Barack Obama called it a "bold initiative" that it would "reduce costs and expand coverage"  and as recently as early this year, now President Obama called his initiative, “essentially identical” to that of Massachusetts.

And that’s precisely how Obamacare was sold to the American public.  I use “sold” advisedly, since most of the American public made it clear they didn’t want what Obama and the Democrats were selling.  But regardless, they passed it into law anyway.

So now we turn our attention to the experiment that has been running in MA for years and what do we find?

Massachussets has the highest average health care premiums in the nation, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal’s</em> Joseph Rago.  In fact, Governor Deval Patrick has tried to cap insurance premiums, arbitrarily denying 235 of 274 rate increases submitted by the major health insurance companies serving the state (all nonprofits, by the way).  However a state appeals board has since reversed Patrick’s arbitrary caps.  The state is appealing the board’s decision.

In the meantime, the insurance companies have suffered $116 million in loses.

Robert Dynan, a career insurance commissioner responsible for ensuring the solvency of state carriers, wrote that his superiors "implemented artificial price caps on HMO rates. The rates, by design, have no actuarial support. This action was taken against my objections and without including me in the conversation."

Mr. Dynan added that "The current course . . . has the potential for catastrophic consequences including irreversible damage to our non-profit health care system" and that "there most likely will be a train wreck (or perhaps several train wrecks)."

As a result of the Patrick rate caps, three of the insurance companies are under administrative oversight because of concerns about their financial viability. And that’s not all. In order to cut costs, rationing and other measures are being contemplated:

Naturally, Mr. Patrick wants to export the rate review beyond the insurers to hospitals, physician groups and specialty providers—presumably to set medical prices as well as insurance prices. Last month, his administration also announced it would use the existing state "determination of need" process to restrict the diffusion of expensive medical technologies like MRI machines and linear accelerator radiation therapy.

Meanwhile, Richard Moore, a state senator from Uxbridge and an architect of the 2006 plan, has introduced a new bill that will make physician participation in government health programs a condition of medical licensure. This would essentially convert all Massachusetts doctors into public employees.

There are literally no surprises to be found in those two paragraphs.  All of this was foretold by critics of the Obamacare plan. All of it. These are inevitable outcomes of such a plan.  It was clear from the outset that Democrats and the administration were selling something they couldn’t deliver – essentially no changes in your coverage except less cost.  Massachusetts has proven that to be the pure nonsense critics called it from the beginning.  As Rago says:

In other words, health reform was a classic bait and switch: Sell a virtually unrepealable entitlement on utterly unrealistic premises and then the political class will eventually be forced to control spending. The likes of Mr. Kingsdale would say cost control is only a matter of technocratic judgment, but the raw dirigisme of Mr. Patrick’s price controls is a better indicator of what happens when health care is in the custody of elected officials rather than a market.

Or, as goes Massachusetts, so goes the country under Obamacare.

Is it any wonder 60% of the nation favors repeal?

~McQ

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Coming government layoffs

Apparently the only jobs the massive "stimulus" may have saved, at least temporarily, were government jobs. Now, even those are in jeopardy as state and local governments are forced to deal with the reality of their fiscal situation:

Up to 400,000 workers could lose jobs in the next year as states, counties and cities grapple with lower revenue and less federal funding, says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com.

[…]

Layoffs by state and local governments moderated in June, with 10,000 jobs trimmed. That was down from 85,000 job losses the first five months of the year and about 190,000 since June 2009. But the pain is likely to worsen.

States face a cumulative $140 billion budget gap in fiscal 2011, which began July 1 for most, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While general-fund tax revenue is projected to rise 3.7% as the economy rebounds in the coming year, it still will be 8%, or $53 billion, below fiscal 2008 levels, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

And that means that states will not be able to afford some of the services or staff they presently employ.  And that, of course, means layoffs and even more workers seeking jobs.  While to this point, many state and  localities have been able to avoid layoffs by offering furloughs, that option is no longer viable for most.

And economic growth isn’t looking all that hot either.  Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner is amending his third quarter economic growth estimate from 1.9% to 1.5%.

If this is a recovery, I’d hate to see a depression.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-06

You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many bananas, maybe a thousand. #moviequoteswithbananas #

Take the gun. Leave the bananas. #moviequoteswithbananas #

Apparently, California has solved every major problem the state faces. http://bit.ly/dhNJMA #

RT @bdomenech @JimPethokoukis: What would it take to get unemployment below 9% by Election Day? | An act of God. #RecoverySummer #

I'm sure the Republicans had a good reason for putting Mr. Steele in as RNC Chair. I wonder what it was. #

Kristol to Steele: "Your [RNC] tenure has of course been marked by gaffes and embarrassments." Not BFFs, I guess. http://bit.ly/9jIdQh #

Huh. The weather widget on my HTC Incredible says we'll have a high of 77 today, with mixed rain and snow. That should be interesting. #

Expect up to 400k government layoffs at state, local level. http://usat.me?39146644 #RecoverySummer #

ISM says service sector growth slows in June http://usat.me?39151612 # RecoverySummer #

Turkey just keeps pushing the Israelis. It looks to me as if Turkey is intentionally sabotaging the relationship. http://bit.ly/aaldBx #

3 headless bodies found in car in Mexico http://usat.me?39146528 | And my cruise to Mexico begins in just 7 weeks! #

Defense chief restricts interviews after McChrystal flap http://usat.me?39120926 | Closing the barn door after the horse has left, are we? #

McCain: Steele must assess his future as GOP head http://usat.me?39132882 | Is there some sort of pool on Steele resigning I can get into? #

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