Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Massachusetts: The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Democrats

It would appear that long-shot Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown has a fighting chance of winning the “Ted Kennedy Seat” in Massachusetts. Brown reminded the moderator that the seat was, in fact, “the people’s seat”, not Ted Kennedy’s during a recent debate. And, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, Brown is within 2 points of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley.

Much of that has to do with the hard work Brown has put in campaigning for the seat. Much of it also has to do with an early entitlement mentality by Coakley (it’s a Democratic seat in Massachusetts and that entitles Democrat Coakley to the seat) and then probably one of the most inept and clueless “campaigns” imaginable after she finally discovered that the cake-walk had been canceled.

Will Brown pull it off? Well that obviously remains to be seen. It’s certainly not unprecedented to see a Republican elected in Massachusetts, but they’ve been few and far between. But you have to ask, in such a reliably Democratic state as Massachusetts (a state I’m able to spell, but apparently isn’t so easy for the Coakley campaign) why a Republican is even this close?

Well, several things come to mind. One is the direction of the country. As many polls tell us, the vast majority of us – up into the 70% area in some polls – don’t like the direction of the country. The left was sure the election of Obama, and the retirement of that nasty old George Bush, not to mention the banishment of the Republicans, would reverse that trend. But if anything, it has deepened it. So there’s a natural constituency for “change” but not as the Obamanauts think of it.

An indication of the dissatisfaction with Democrats in general has been the abandonment of the party by independents. In droves. Independents – i.e. people with no specific party affiliation – are the “third party” which creates the coalition that pushes one of the two major parties (who don’t have enough members to do it solely by themselves) over the electoral line in elections. One of the obvious reasons Brown is doing as well as he is has to do with the numbers of independents on his bandwagon.

Last – Coakely is just an unattractive candidate. She’s simply not the best choice for this election. Why she is “the one” remains a mystery to me, but since Brown has closed the gap, she’s what the Democrats are stuck with and are now, it appears, trying to find a way to drag her over the finish line with a win. She’s seemingly doing very little to help in that effort. However the DNC and the unions are beginning to pump people and cash into the state.

But they face something, I think, they had on their side as recently as November of 2008 – an enthusiasm gap. The GOP in the state, such that it is, is enthusiastic about their candidate and their chances. And they want the seat – badly. It appears the independents that support Brown are also enthusiastic about the choice and their chances. But that enthusiasm doesn’t seem to exist on the Coakley side of things.

And on election day, that may make the difference. Why? Because this is a “special election” meaning it’s the only thing being decided that day. There’s no national election to pull Democrats to the polls. No important local or state referendum to excite them into voting.

Nope – it’s only about Brown or Coakley, and the enthusiasm seems to be working most for the GOP candidate vs. the Democratic one.

Democrats are now in a bit of a panic. What will they do if Brown actually wins? Brown has already promised to vote against the health care reform bill (which would ironically scuttle the bill Democrats have attempted to sell as Ted Kennedy’s legacy). So they’ve come up with a contingency plan. Should Brown pull it off, the Democratically controlled state government will simply delay certification of the election by any means necessary until the interim appointed “Senator” now warming the seat is able to cast the 60th vote for the bill.

Sweet. Manipulation of the process for political reasons is certainly nothing new in Massachusetts. This would simply be the cherry on top.

~McQ

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Obligatory Haiti Post

I’m not being dismissive when I use that title, it’s just that QandO isn’t a “breaking news” blog, nor are disasters – and that’s what has happened in Haiti – our normal cup of tea.

That said, the tragedy is heartbreaking and, if your moved to do so, please contribute to the relief effort. A word of advice – give only to those organizations you recognize as reputable. As with any disaster, the unscrupulous and despicable will attempt to cash in on the generosity of those who genuinely want to help.

As for some of the side-show going on – was it really necessary for Pat Robertson to claim that Haiti’s problems stem from a “pact with the devil” and tout it as a “true story” when it is, at best, an unproven rumor? And even if it was true, it happened 200 plus years ago – who cares? There is a much more rational explanation to be had – like upwards of 70 different dictators exploiting the people of that nation over those 200 years. That may sound like the result of a pact with the devil, but it is, instead, an unfortunate result of colonialism and slavery creating the conditions in which such authoritarian exploitation was possible.

Haiti is and has been a basket case for quite some time. However, that’s not the immediate concern. Thousands have been killed and millions are suffering. It was an earthquake, not God or the devil’s revenge. Help if you can, it is the humane thing to do.

~McQ

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Yesterday, I had two dogs…

…Today, I have twelve.  Click on the pics below for hi-res versions.

Contessa and her 10 puppies

Contessa and her 10 puppies

Contessa gave birth to 10 little Cane Corsos today.  8 Male, 2 female.

They’re adorable.

We call this one "Light Green"

We call this one "Light Green"

We “named” them based on the color of bands we put around their necks.

One of the runts, "Dark Blue"

One of the runts, "Dark Blue"

Most of the puppies weighed in at between 450-480 grams, but we have two runts: Dark Blue male is 413 grams and Pink female is 400 grams.  Pink didn’t seem to want to suckle either at Contessa or at a bottle for the first couple of hours, but at about 2 o;clock, she found a nipple and went to town.  We were afraid we might lose her at first.

One of the male puppies, Lavender, weighed in at 550 grams.  I like him a lot.  He may be the one we keep, depending on how he does on temperament testing.

It was a long day, but at the moment, mother and puppies are sound alseep.

Contessa was a real trooper.  She handled all ten puppies as they were born, and needed no real assistance from us for any of them.  Considering that this was her first litter, and a very large one, she handled it like a pro, though she’s completely exhausted right now.

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Health Care Reform:When Is A “Cadillac Plan” Not A “Cadillac Plan”?

Why when you’re a part of a favored special interest group of course:

Unions tentatively struck a deal Tuesday to exempt collectively bargained healthcare plans from a tax on high-cost plans expected to be used to help raise revenue for the healthcare overhaul.

The left constantly clamors for “fairness” but quickly throws such concerns under the bus when it is possible that one of their favored special interest groups may be negatively effected.

As Philip Klein notes:

If this policy is adopted, it would mean that there could be two Americans receiving the exact same benefits, but one American may be taxed and one wouldn’t, and the only difference would be one of them being a member of a union. This is unseemly and unfair, even by the standards of Obamacare. It has nothing to do with policy-making. It’s simply an outright bribe to a constituency that has contributed handily to Democratic campaigns.

Legislative favoritisim? How “progressive”.

It doesn’t get anymore blatant than this, folks.

~McQ

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Naive? Dumb? Or Just Doesn’t Understand How Taxes Work?

Jake Tapper, today, asking Presidential spokesperson Robert Gibbs about the bank tax:

TAPPER: On the fee for banks, without asking for any details, how can you guarantee that this, that this fee, tax, levy, whatever it ends up being, is not passed on to consumers and they take another hit when it comes to Wall Street?

GIBBS: Yeah, well, look, obviously, Jake we’ll have a chance to go through the structure of this. The economic team has worked for quite some time on a structure that will ensure that what taxpayers gave to banks to ensure their safety and security, in a time of crisis, is paid back in full. And I can assure you that is one of the things the economic team has taken into account in the structure.

Unless the “structure” plans to ensure bank fees aren’t raised in any other area to capture the money this “fee, tax, levy, whatever” from the banks, then of course banks are going to pass it on. If the “structure” is going to prevent such a raise in fees anywhere within the bank, then this isn’t a new tax, it’s a government takeover of the banks.

~McQ

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Hiding The Decline: What Is The Real Unemployment Rate?

Most likely it is much more than what is officially acknowledged.

That’s because it’s all about how you count them. Right now, for instance, the official unemployment number is 10%. If you add the underemployed, though – people working part time who want full time jobs – that number jumps to 17.3%

But is the 10% number right? Most likely not. Don Surber points to one reason:

Crudele explained: “When the Labor Department puts out the January employment figures on Feb. 4, they will include an assumption that a lot of companies went out of business.

“This is something called the birth/death model that is used by the department. Last year it caused 356,000 jobs to be subtracted from the January job count… Nobody in the media will pick up on this, but the Labor Department will also do something called a benchmark revision on Feb. 4 that will subtract around 840,000 jobs that the government thought existed, but really don’t.”

356,000 jobs here, 840,000 jobs there and pretty soon you have 1,196,000 more unemployed than advertised.

Oops.

That would change that 10.0% to 10.8%.

“Oops” indeed. I have an inherent distrust of estimates based on models. Maybe it’s the AGW nonsense that has turned me so against them. But still, how many “benchmark revisions” have been done in this recession and how many jobs have been shuffled off to the “do not exist anymore” bin without being added to the unemployment rate? In reality, we could easily be in the 13 or 14% area.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle had a short blurb today that gives you insight into the real size of the unemployment problem:

There are 6.4 job seekers for every job opening in the U.S., according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest rate since BLS began tracking such data in December 2000.

The ratio in December 2007? 1.7 to 1.

~McQ

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Haiti: Let The Conspiracy Theories Begin

Lordy, lordy. While I take my shots at the government, almost on a daily basis, but there are limits to what I can and will credibly blame on the government of the United States.  The tragedy of that just occurred in Haiti is not one of them. But someone billing themselves as a “Pair A Normal Guys” has come up with the definitive explanation of what happened there:

While the loss of life and devestation [sic] in Haiti is unimaginable there may be a more hidden agenda behind this tragedy. Suppose this “natural disaster” been a weather weopan aimed at Cuba but came up short in it’s delivery? The possibility of this being true is not far fetched or out-of-this-world in theory. Weather manipulation and weather warfare are not new concepts and certainly could be the choice of the powers that be to devastate an enemy with a cloak of Mother Nature’s disguise to fall back on. The fact that there was a seemingly unnoticable quake in California recently or a possible test fire and then the Haitian quake the largest ever recorded in the region seems a little suspicious to me. The secrets of our world and the secret weopans [sic] that are harboured within our world are something we need to expose, if this was infact a targeted weather weopan [sic] at Cuba the question then remains who sent it and who’s next?

Be sure to check the video at the site out as well – must see “Truth TV”. Weather weapons from the black helicopter crowd. Now we can do earthquakes?  Then how in the world did we “miss” Cuba?

Heh … It takes all kinds doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, in the real world, watch the mobilization by the US to help Haiti. Tell me who else does it better or faster?

~McQ

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UN Anti-Corruption Office Closed

Is there a more useless or corrupt organization than the UN? The famous “Third World Debating Club”, primarily supported by US tax dollars, is used as a platform for attacking the US (and the West) and squandering money. It is also famous for corruption, such as the oil for food scandal and many others.

Recently, and as quietly as they could manage, the UN shut down it’s Procurement Task Force, an anti-corruption task force set up in 2006 in the wake of the oil for food scandal. Since its establishment the anti-corruption unit has uncovered 20 more major schemes involving about 1 billion in US contracts and individual aid.

And now? Now those cases are being dropped as the PTF is dissolved:

But at the beginning of 2009, the United Nations shuttered the agency and diverted its work to the Office of Internal Oversight Services’ permanent investigation division.

Since then, the number of cases opened, pursued or completed has dropped dramatically and the division has let go most former task force investigators, the AP found in an examination of U.N. documents, audits and e-mails, along with dozens of interviews with current and former U.N. officials and diplomats.

Over the past year, not a single significant fraud or corruption case has been completed, compared with an average 150 cases a year investigated by the task force. The permanent investigation division decided not to even pursue about 95 cases left over when the task force ceased operation, while another 80 unfinished cases have languished.

What that really says, at least as I see it, is the PTF was all for show – an organization that was established in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal as an effort to placate an enraged world. But 3 years later, the UN feels safe enough that it can disband its only real anti-corruption unit, a unit that was obviously becoming a hindrance to the ability of the corrupt among the body to siphon off billions.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a fan of the UN. It lost its way not long after its formation and has become nothing more than a vehicle for looting richer nations and providing a forum for dictators and authoritarians to condemn those who oppose them.

This development provides the US a perfect opportunity to pull out of the UN. Unfortunately we won’t and I know that as well. Making the best of a bad situation, the least we should do is insist that the PTF be rechartered as a permanent addition to the UN structure and strengthened with more investigators before we send the organization another dime of “dues”. Without that, the corruption that is apparently inherent in the organization will run rampant, and that’s simply unacceptable. No permanent PTF, no dues. And drag our erstwhile “allies” into this as well.

Yeah, I know – accountability, what a concept. Perhaps we ought to try it out here first before we demand the UN do it, huh?

~McQ

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Health Reform Bill – Makes Bernie Madoff Seem Like A Piker

Today the Wall Street Journal asks what many of us have been asking for quite some time – why aren’t the numerous and specific warnings about the real cost and destructiveness of the proposed health care plan being heeded?

Of course the simple answer is those who are determined to take health care under the government’s purview really don’t care – they finally have the opportunity long denied them and they plan on taking advantage of it. So, much like the “science” of man-made global warming, they’ve picked their narrative, settled on it and will not entertain anything which might impede them from attaining their goal – government control of the health care market.

Those who’ve read this blog are very familiar with how Democrats have gamed the system (CBO’s statutory 10 year window) and used cheap accounting tricks (collect taxes immediately, don’t start paying benefits for 5 years – gives the appearance of bending the cost curve down) to make the case that they’re actually spending less on health care over the years and saving us from the bankruptcy they claim the status quo will eventually bring.

Another report, which I mentioned last week, carries a devastating warning about the plan being considered behind closed doors by Congressional Democrats. Yet it has received no major media exposure.

It is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) report. And chief actuary Richard Foster is very candid about the impact of what Congress is planning. Not the smoke and mirror show Congress puts out there, but a peek at the reality of what Congress is proposing:

Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reports that under his analysis national health spending will rise under the bills by $222 billion over the next 10 years. In other words, ObamaCare really does “bend the cost curve”—up.

Even that estimate exists only on paper, as Mr. Foster has the honesty to admit. Because “most of the coverage provisions would be in effect for only six of the 10 years of the budget period, the cost estimates shown in this memorandum do not represent a full 10-year cost for the proposed legislation,” he writes. The report is punctuated by phrases like “unrealistic” and “doubtful,” and Mr. Foster adds that “the scope and magnitude of these changes are such that few precedents exist for use in estimation.”

Let’s stop right here with the obvious point to be made. The $222 billion, as mentioned, is the estimate for the next 10 years. However, as Foster points out, the spending would occur in only 6 of those 10 years. So that spending is offset by 4 years of revenue collection. If we remove that buffer and simply take 6 into 222 and then multiply it by 10, we’re most likely a bit closer to the real spending number than the contrived one – $370 billion, a difference of a mere $148 billion. Or, in reality, the $222 is a number that was tweaked to ensure when it was added to the other numbers the total fell below the threshold of $900 billion – the point at which it was claimed the cost curve would be bent upward. Had Congress found that to get to the number they needed they would have to collect taxes for 10 years and not provide benefits for 8 years, that’s how the bill would have been written.

It was never really about actually bending the cost curve down – it was all about creating the perception that the cost curve was being bent down, nothing more.

And there’s more to understand about that $222 billion number:

That $222 billion is a net figure, even after accounting for the fact that most of the newly insured—18 million people—will be dumped into Medicaid, “where provider payment rates are well below average.” And for the fact that ObamaCare is “paid for” only in the sense that Medicare’s payments to doctors are assumed in the bill to be cut by more than 20% this spring and even deeper after that, which will never happen in practice.

Mr. Foster adds that other planned Medicare cuts would damage doctors and hospitals: “Over time, a sustained reduction in payment updates, based on productivity expectations that are difficult to attain, would cause Medicare payment rates to grow more slowly than, and in a way that was unrelated to, the providers’ costs of furnishing services to beneficiaries.” This is how price controls would work in practice, even as Medicare has hit its spending targets only four times in the last 25 years.

Again, we know that Congress plans a “doc fix” which will amend the law to keep the 20% cut from taking place this year. And there’s nothing, given the history of this program, that argues that 20% cut will ever take place. It is a figure based on an assumption that will most likely never happen. Note well the last sentence – with an addition of 18 million new Medicaid insured, how many times in the next 25 years do you supposed Medicaid will hit its spending targets? You might also want to keep in mind that is mostly a federally mandated program administered by the states who share the cost. What will this addition of 18 million new insured do to state budgets – especially if the assumed cuts in payments are never made?

But let’s say Congress, somewhere along the line, finds the intestinal fortitude to cut those payments to providers as they say they are. What would be the impact?

He says many providers will be forced to stop accepting patients who are insured by the government, as opposed to those who have private coverage “with relatively attractive payment rates.” The resulting two-tier health-care system “should be considered plausible and even probable initially.”

If they cut, those patients they bring on may not be able to find a health care provider, so the patients suffer. If they don’t make the cuts, spending goes through the roof and the taxpayer suffers. It’s a lose/lose. But what should be patently obvious to anyone reading all of this is the $222 billion net spending claim by Congress for this particular part of the health care reform bill is as bogus as their promise of transparency.

Just delving into the particulars of this one portion of the bill should disabuse any objective person of the belief that what is being proposed is going to cost less than what we presently have. It is all a wretchedly wrought political façade designed to gain your support for long enough to pass this monstrosity. And my guess is should it pass, we’ll all be poorer and eventually sicker for its passage.

~McQ

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How Terrorism Wins – Part II

Fareed Zakaria provides the second installment in how terrorists win (the example of the Met deciding not to show art depicting the prophet Mohammed being the first):

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

He is exactly right. Terrorism is all about effecting change through the threat of or use of violence. It is a tool of the weak that can be devastatingly effective if those at whom it is aimed overreact. The aim may be political change. The aim may be economic change. Or terrorists may be satisfied with any change they can effect through their actions which makes life miserable for those at whom it is aimed. As Zakaria points out, given our response, the latest terrorist failure is, in fact, a win. We’re jumping through our collective arses trying to react to the threat and pretty much settling on making air travel more miserable for everyone.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

We know, to this point the one common thread that links these “needles” and separates them from the “hay”. But we continue to resist using that as a discriminator as we refine our security searches because, apparently, discrimination (aka “profiling”) is a much worse political sin than getting airliners with 300 souls on board blown out of the sky.

It simply defies common sense.

~McQ

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