Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Axelrod Floats A Healthcare Middle Class Tax Trial Balloon

Over the years, one of the purposes the sunday news shows have come to serve is a venue from which to launch political trail balloons and see how well they float.

Some get shot down immediately. Some take flak but survive. And other sail right on through with very little notice. David Axelrod appeared on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos and launched one concerning taxes and health care. Axelrod first said that Obama still believes taxing health benefits is not the way to pay for health care (although during the ABC informercial, he essentially said that if it happened, it would be a compromise (and obviously not a show stopper for him)).

Stephanopoulos pushed a little harder on funding through taxation:

I pressed Axelrod on whether Obama will draw a line in the sand and veto any bill that funds health care reform with tax hikes for people making under $250,000 a year — despite a pledge Barack Obama made during the 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on the poor and middle-class.

“One of the problems we’ve had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don’t get anything done. That’s not the way the president approaches us. He is very cognizant of protecting people — middle class people, hard-working people who are trying to get along in a very difficult economy. And he will continue to represent them in these talks,” Axelrod said.

“But they’re also dealing with punishing health care costs, and that’s something that we have to deal with.”

Classic. He could have simply said “we’re open to compromise and if that’s what it takes to pay for it, then yes, we’ll raise taxes on the middle class in a New York minute.”

But instead he had to do the “we’re here to protect the middle class, but …” and then tell us how they really weren’t there to protect them in this particular case.

So to those of you who believed Obama when he said that 95% of Americans won’t see their taxes raised by a single dime – well, that’s no longer necessarily the case – if you let this trial balloon float away unimpeded (not that it will matter really – if they pass health care it has to be paid for somehow and there is no possible way only the richest 5% are enough to pay for that boondoggle).

~McQ

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Quote Of The Day

From a commenter on Arnold Kling’s Atlantic site, one of the more succinct summaries of what Waxman-Markey really is:

‘Cap and Tax’ simply provides more opportunities for political favoritism — creating arbitrary credits to be awarded to pet projects while getting others to pay for the favors. Meanwhile the energy expense baseline of the entire economy goes up. Waxman-Markey are gushing about how historic this bill is. That it is — it puts Smoot-Hawley in second place as potentially the most misguided economic legislation of the last 100 years.

Take the time to read Kling’s post as well.

If you’re wondering who will be paying “for the favors”, Conor Clarke at the Atlantic has been kind enough to put that in chart form using the CBO’s data on tax distribution:

cap and trade share by income

But remember you 95% out there – your taxes won’t go up by a single dime – not one dime. Your fuel, electric, transportation, food and just about anything else you can imagine? Dimes won’t even begin to describe the increases you’ll see.

~McQ

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Is It The Media’s Fault or Ours?

Michele Catalano starts her Pajama’s Media piece with this sentence:

There are more people who know what’s going on in the lives of Jon and Kate than what’s going on in Iran.

The “why” has never been more obvious to me than the two day “Michael Jackson is dead” orgy the television media has put us through. And of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this obsessive and non-stop coverage over a celebrity death.

But more importantly, Catalano points to a couple in a “reality” show who, quite frankly I had never heard of two weeks ago, as being a greater priority in people’s lives than what is happening in the world. Iran is reality. Jon and Kate? Well I have a confession to make – I simply don’t watch much TV. And so they definitely aren’t a reality to me.

Catalano’s point though, is well taken. I’ve been trying to follow the events in Iran closely for the past two weeks and during that time I’ve had “Jon and Kate” forced on me. Horror of horrors I learn they’re “breaking up”. Time was spent telling me how that has all come about. Anchors shook their head and told me how “sad” that was.

Meanwhile I had to learn of Neda’s death on the internet among the political blogs.

Then Michael Jackson dies. And here I am again trying to get word on a bill being voted on in the House that will radically change the lives of most Americans, see a little of the debate and find out the particulars of the legislation. Instead I have to watch the 15th viewing of the “Thriller” video, hear some yahoo tell me how much Michael Jackson meant to him, and listen to “reporters” speculate about his death and spread rumors about its cause.

Is there any question of why “more people … know what’s going on in the lives of Jon and Kate than what’s going on in Iran?”

But here’s the most important question:

Does the media decide what to feed us or do we tell it what we want to be fed?

~McQ

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Obama’s Contradictory Foreign Policy

Melanie Phillips points to an interesting contradiction:

As the world watched events unfold in Iran, Obama’s double standard over Israel was illuminated in flashing neon lights. How come he’s saying it is wrong for him to tell the Iranians what to do, people asked themselves, when he is dictating to Israel its policy on settlements?

It’s an excellent question. So what is the policy of the United States qua Barack Obama – strict hands off concerning the “internal affairs” of a country, or, in the case of Israel, what can only be considered “meddling” in internal affairs?

Just wondering …

~McQ

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Health Care – Plans To Exempt Unions, Tax Others

No “gold plated” care for you – unless you’re in a union.

Yes, friends, it’s payback time in the health care legislation world. Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Senate proposal to impose taxes for the first time on “gold-plated” health plans may bypass generous employee benefits negotiated by unions.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the chief congressional advocate of taxing some employer-provided benefits to help pay for an overhaul of the U.S. health system, says any change should exempt perks secured in existing collective- bargaining agreements, which can be in place for as long as five years.

The exception, which could make the proposal more politically palatable to Democrats from heavily unionized states such as Michigan, is adding controversy to an already contentious debate. It would shield the 12.4 percent of American workers who belong to unions from being taxed while exposing some other middle-income workers to the levy.

This is how they manage to get at your health care plan. Baucus wants to tax any health care benefit that is more costly than those provided federal employees. Those costs are about $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families. The claim is they again want to go after the “rich” who have “gold plated” plans. And the example in the Bloomberg article is the $40,543 in health benefits paid to Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the fifth largest U.S. bank.

Of course that threshold will also affect people much lower on the financial totem pole than Lloyd Blankfein. For example:

It can also affect companies such as Henderson, Nevada- based Zappos.com, where workers’ $11 per hour pay is supplemented by employer-paid health insurance plans worth about $7,500.

So immediately you have an $11 an hour employee liable for $495 at 15% of the difference. But remember, your taxes won’t go up by a dime. Not a single dime.

Why the desire to exempt unions? Well it gets a favored constituency off their back, is a measure of payback for their support and union members can then enjoy their “gold plated” coverage while $11 an hour workers pay the freight. Don’t believe unions have gold plated coverage. Try this example:

Sandra Carter, a retired Pacific Bell Telephone Co. technician from Stockton, California, said her health benefits, worth about $12,000 per year, were negotiated by the Communications Workers of America. She is unmarried with no children, meaning her individual coverage exceeds benefits paid to federal workers by about $7,800. If that amount were taxed at the 15 percent marginal rate, she would owe $1,170.

“I can’t afford the taxes I pay now,” said Carter, who said she suffers from diabetes. “Why should I get taxed on a benefit that keeps me a functioning person?”

Gee Ms Carter, why should anyone? Why is it any business of the government to limit the coverage to $4,200 and tax the rest. Who is Max Baucus, or anyone, to arbitrarily set the insurance limit at $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families and punish those who have better plans through taxation?

I would guess, however, Ms Carter is fine with unions being exempted and also fine with others being taxed in her stead.

Most unions, of course, see themselves as the exceptions deserving of such exemptions:

Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview that workers have often traded salary increases for better benefits in agreements.

Taxes “shouldn’t be taken from the backs of workers who have bargained away wages and other things for their benefits over the years,” Burger said.

But it is ok if others who’ve negotiated the same sort of exchange privately get nailed, eh Ms Burger? It’s not the principle, it’s the exception which is important here apparently.

To their credit, some unions are actually standing on principle:

“Either way, we are against a tax on health-care benefits in whatever form it takes,” said Jacob Hay, spokesman for the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union represents 500,000 workers, largely in the construction industry.

Special interest democracy – political payback – so blatant now that you don’t even have to wonder if it is being done. Democrats are shameless in their pursuit of it. If you’re in a favored group, your ship has come in.

~McQ

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Waxman-Markey (Cap And Trade) Passes The House

The vote was 219 to 212.

4 votes on the other side and it goes down to defeat.

So, who are these people:

Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle, Mark Steven Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), John McHugh (NY), Dave Reichert (Washington), Chris Smith (NJ)

They’re the Republicans who voted for the bill and assured its passage.

You may want to find some way to thank them for passing one of the largest and most regressive tax increases in US history.

~McQ

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George W. Obama

What were the charges?

Expanded executive power. Trampled on rights. Ruled by executive order. Creeping authoritarianism.

Does that about cover most of what the left tried to hang on the Bush presidency? And who was the answer to all those problems?

Well feast your eyes:

The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, is drafting an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

So it was never about principle, was it? It was always about politics.

Hope and change.

~McQ

[HT: tkc]

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Questions and Observations #2

For new readers the title is that for which the shortened “QandO” stands. This is the second in a series of questions and observations.

  • In the “you can’t make this up” department, China will block the sale of Hummer for “environmental concerns”.  I guess that’s their nod to the rest of the world after flatly refusing cut CO2 emissions in the future.
  • Ezra Klein is suddenly for smaller government, specifically the elimination of the Agriculture Committee. Of course the only reason he’d like to see it given the deep 6 is because it has, in Klein’s opinion, badly weakened cap-and-trade by extracting “a truly mind-boggling array of tax breaks, exemptions, and straight subsidies”. I guess Klein would like to temporarily make government smaller to make it larger.
  • Yes, Michael Jackson is dead – but for heaven sake, do we have to devote every minute of the news day to running “Thriller” vid and spreading rumors about the possible cause of his death? Is this what “news” organizations have become?
  • Apparently we’re still stalking the North Korean ship enroute to either Singapore or Burma. For those who are waiting for us to confront it and board it, that’s not going to happen. The “tough” UN resolution only provides for boarding if the North Koreans agree. And, while we can demand that they then go to the nearest port for inspection, the North Koreans can refuse that as well. The plan, it seems, is to convince the refueling port the NoKos pull into to refuse to refuel the ship. Then, when the NoKo ship runs out of fuel, put it under tow and then inspect it. As I understand it – they can then inspect it legitimately. Amazing.
  • Waxman-Markey, aka cap-and-trade, survived an earlier test vote that moved the bill to the floor for a 5pm vote. As I recall the margin was 5 votes. It is a job destroyer in the middle of a recession. The Center for Data Analysis of the Heritage Foundation figures it will cost 50,000 jobs in the transportation equipment sector alone. Their data for other sectors is available here.
  • House liberals have staked out a bit of ground on the health care bill saying they will not vote for it if it doesn’t include a public option – period. That is actually good news as the public option does seem to be in trouble. Any bill showing up without it will most likely not get the 80 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to vote for it. Add in the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, and it may be in very serious trouble without just the sticker shock of 1 to 3 trillion dollars of cost.
  • Mark Sanford? He should resign. The affair is between he and his family. He should resign because he was derelict in his duty and he misappropriated government funds to pay for his trip to Argentina.  Kinda like Bill Clinton should have resigned, not for the affair, but for lying under oath to a grand jury and attempting to obstruct justice.

~McQ

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In Iran, The Beat Goes On

Literally. The NY Times reports:

The authorities showed little inclination to heed chastisement by outsiders as a senior cleric called for demonstrators to be punished “ruthlessly and savagely.”

At Friday Prayer in Tehran University, the senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, referred to the demonstrators as rioters and declared, “I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson.”

Reuters quoted him as saying that demonstrators should be tried for waging war against God. The punishment for such offenses under Islamic law is death, Reuters said.

As for the murder of the woman named Neda, now a symbol of Iranian resistance worldwide, Khatami also dismissed that as propaganda ploy:

Khatami said Neda was shot by government opponents for propaganda purposes. “By watching the film, any wise person can understand that rioters killed her,” he said.

Any hope for a new election, or even a recount were dashed by the Guradian Council:

The 12-man Guardian Council’s statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges to the election result, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.

“The Guardian Council has almost finished reviewing defeated candidates’ election complaints … the reviews showed that the election was the healthiest since the revolution … There were no major violations in the election,” said Kadkhodai.

And while government thugs have been pretty successful in keeping protesters off the street, other signs of resistance are still evident:

There were other signs of continued resistance. A few conservatives have expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on Tuesday, newspapers reported Thursday. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking.

This is by far the most serious challenge to the present regime since the 1979 revolution which put them in power. And I’ll remind you again that it took a year from the initial protests for enough pressure to build (as other elements of the society joined the original dissidents) to the point that millions took to the streets and overthrew the Shah. And at this point, the mullocracy has nothing on the Shah’s regime in terms of brutality, oppression and totalitarian control.

~McQ

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“Man-Made Warming” Dubbed “Worst Scientific Scandal In History”

I understand that everywhere else today it is “Michale Jackson is dead” day – I suspect days such as this must be infinitely boring to most news junkies because the news is dominated by a single topic.

Meanwhile Democrats are doing their best to rush cap-and-trade through the House today even while the pseudo-science that supports their effort continues to collapse.  The WSJ has an article today which points out:

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

Interestingly, as the EPA story below points out, it has actually been suppressed here. But that hasn’t stopped the scientific community elsewhere from continuing to destroy the myth of consensus and replace it with a healthy, and might I add peer reviewed, skepticism real science brings to any theory:

In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak “frankly” of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming “the worst scientific scandal in history.” Norway’s Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the “new religion.” A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton’s Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists’ open letter.)

It is falling apart in big chunks now – not that anyone on the left here is listening. We’ve got the fingers firmly in the ears in Congress and the EPA. Both made up their minds years ago, having bought into the pseudo-science of Al Gore and are now determined to act on their preconceived notions – science be damned.

Economist John M. Keynes once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The answer for the left is ignore them and pass economy killing legislation as fast as they can.

The collapse of the “consensus” has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth’s temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

Meanwhile our blinkered ideologues push cap-and-trade while ignoring the new evidence.

Comforting, isn’t it?

~McQ

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