Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

CIA Out To Get Dems?

Seriously, you just can’t make stuff like this up.

–Democrats decry waterboarding as torture and claim it occurred because of lack of Congressional oversight (on the Republican watch).

–CIA releases 40 separate documents that chronicle key Democrats, to include Nancy Pelosi, were aware of the use of EIT, to include waterboarding, for years.

–Democrats claim the CIA is out to get them and that becomes the story.

Yeesh.

~McQ

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“Suddenly”, Social Security Is In Trouble

Turbo Tax Tim Geithner tells us:

Social Security’s annual surpluses of tax income over expenditures are expected to fall sharply this year and to stay about constant in 2010 because of the economic recession, and to rise only briefly before declining and turning to cash flow deficits beginning in 2016 that grow as the baby boom generation retires.

Of course what Geithner and the Democrats want you to believe is this sudden problem with both Social Security and Medicare has been brought on by the recession and, of course, that means it’s Bush’s fault.

But I took the opportunity to hit the QandO archives and found a couple of interesting live blogs Dale did. The first was the State of the Union address from February 3, 2005.

Thirteen years from now, in 2018, social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year, the annual shortfall will get larger…By 2042 the system will be bankrupt.

That line, of course, was met by Democratic jeers.

A couple of months later at one of his rare news conferences, Bush again emphasized the point and adjusted the dates. As Dale live blogged it:

—Social Security will start spending more than it take in 2013. By 2040, it’ll be bankrupt. Like, you know, it’s not bankrupt now, really.

Again, that was met by Democratic jeers. That’s because Bush mentioned private accounts. Incredibly, much to the horror of many on the right, he also mentioned means testing. But still, the Dems were more interested in blowing off the impending crisis as fiction than addressing it.

The same story was told the next year with the same results.

Our boy Harry Reid in May of ’06:

In a statement released Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the trustees’ report “confirms that, despite White House scare tactics, Social Security remains sound for decades to come.”

According to Reid, “The real threat to Social Security comes from Republicans, most of whom support and voted for privatizing Social Security.”

As it turns out Medicare/Medicaid is in much worse shape than Social Security, and deserves some discussion as well – but the Social Security question is instructive. This isn’t some ‘sudden’ problem brought on by the recession. This is one that was identified years ago and ignored by the very same people who are now trying to lay blame elsewhere. Just something to remember when they stand in front of the microphones, look directly into the cameras and lie through their teeth.

~McQ

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Business As Usual In Congress

The Congress described as the “most ethical and open Congress” in history by its Speaker is busy writing massive and costly health care legislation in secret. Even Democrats aren’t happy about this process:

Forty-five House Democrats in the party’s moderate-to-conservative wing have protested the secretive process by which party leaders in their chamber are developing legislation to remake the health care system.

The lawmakers, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said they were “increasingly troubled” by their exclusion from the bill-writing process.

They expressed their concerns in a letter delivered Monday to three House committee chairmen writing the bill, which House leaders hope to pass this summer.

Representative Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat who is chairman of the coalition’s health task force, said: “We don’t need a select group of members of Congress or staff members writing this legislation. We don’t want a briefing on the bill after it’s written. We want to help write it.”

Of course the Blue Dogs are Democrats elected in mostly conservative districts and thus hold seats which have traditionally been Republican. Meanwhile the chairmen of the three committees in question all hold safe Democratic seats.

The committee chairmen writing the House bill are Representatives Henry A. Waxman and George Miller, both of California, and Charles B. Rangel of New York.

Asked about the letter, Karen Lightfoot, a spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman, said he had met with some members of the Blue Dog Coalition and welcomed their suggestions. When she was asked why, then, they were complaining, she said, “That’s more of a question for the Blue Dogs than for us.”

Very similar to the Obama outreach to Republicans on the budget and stimulus. He ‘welcomed their suggestions’, but they certainly had no chair at the table when the legislation was formulated.

Your future health care is being decided behind closed doors by the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Apparently input from the “center” and right are not welcome.  I’m not surprised in the least, but I’m sure there are some out there that are.

~McQ

[HT: Mary R]

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Predicted vs. Actual

Here’s an interesting little chart I found at Innocent Bystanders.  The light blue line is the Obama administration’s prediction of how terrible unemployment would be if we didn’t pass the stimulus plan.  The dark blue line is the prediction of how much better things would be we did pass it.  The dark red triangles show the actual unemployment statistics.

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

So, how’s that recovery plan working out for us?  Not so good, apparently.

I merely provide the chart for informational purposes.  I know it’s useless to make any criticisms of the actual performance of the plan, just as it was useless to predict that this is pretty much what would happen.

Besides, saying, “I told you so”, is so churlish and mean.

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Podcast for 10 May 09

In this podcast, Michael, and Dale discuss the county’s failing energy and economic policies.

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 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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Energy Policy – “10 Inconvenient Truths”

Sometimes the little surprises life hands you are the most pleasant. While in Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference, my trip sponsored by API, I happened to meet another blogger who introduced himself to me as a “raging liberal”. In the course of three days and a few good beers, Chris Nelder and I had some very enjoyable and interesting conversations. And, interestingly, Chris and I agree on where the policy debate stands as it pertains to energy. Chris wrote an outstanding article detailing his observations about the current situation, and, for the most part, I agree completely with his well thought out assessment. Here is his list of “10 Inconvenient Truths” that he feels all policy makers must understand before they can effectively plan for the future:

1. We have extracted nearly all of the world’s easy, cheap oil and gas, and now we’re getting down to the difficult, expensive stuff. The largest untapped resources that remain are in extreme places like deepwater and the Arctic, and marginal formations like shale. As a result, global oil production has for all intents and purposes peaked. Natural gas production will also peak in 10 to 15 years. Neither technology nor high prices will change that. Therefore we must begin to replace those fuels with renewables, and use what remains much more efficiently, with the expectation that most of the world’s oil and gas will be gone by the end of this century.

While I agree with Chris’s point about renewables, I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that “most” of the world’s gas and oil will be gone by the end of the century, especially if we make progress developing cheap, renewable and clean alternatives. That’s not to say he might not be right, but I continue to look at the improvements in technology and the fact that the same sort of predictions have been made for decades and here we are. But on the main point of gearing up renewables, we agree completely. We must prepare for the possibility Chris is right and we need to do that now.

2. Drilling for oil and gas drilling in the OCS and ANWR must and will be done; our need for those fuels is simply too great to pass them up. An additional 2-3 mbpd will put a dent in the roughly 12 mbpd we now import, but if we drill for it now, it won’t come to market for 10 years or more. By that time, it probably won’t even compensate for the depletion of conventional oil in North America, nor will it do much to reduce prices. But it will be crucially necessary, and producing it won’t make an ugly mess of the environment.

You see someone on the left here who has studied the problem, understands the processes used and has formed an opinion that is outside his side’s political mainstream. He understands that technology has advanced to the point that the oil and gas industry can drill for oil and gas safely and with a very small footprint. In fact, advances in sub sea technology are almost to the point where the entire process can be safely and productively located under the waves. So, in a “comprehensive” scheme, the left has got to drop its almost knee-jerk resistance to such drilling and understand it must be a part of an overall energy solution.

3. Renewables are clearly the long-term answer, as is an all-electric infrastructure that runs on its clean power. However, it will likely take over 30 years for renewables to ramp up from a less than 2% share of primary energy today to 20% or more. They probably won’t even be able to fill the gap created by the decline of fossil fuels. Oil and gas currently provide about 58% of the world’s primary energy, and they will remain our primary fuels for a long time to come.

To believe “green fuels”/renewables are the immediate and total answer to today’s energy needs is to deny reality. We have to remember that there is going to be a growing energy gap as more and more nations come on-line in the first-world and demand more energy as a result. Oil, gas, nuclear and coal are going to play a large and significant part of bridging that gap even as we work to develop renewables. As a nation we cannot afford that sort of short-sighted thinking. It is critical that everyone understand that while the preference is for renewable, clean fuels, the reality is they’re still quite a ways off, while the energy demand continues to grow unabated and certainly with no concern for our personal energy preferences.

Continue reading

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Someone Has To Pay For Health Care “Reform”

Today’s “Health Care Reform” day.

One of the myths Democrats are going to try to continue to promote is that 95% of Americans are getting a tax cut. Of course that means they’re politically prohibited from raising income taxes. But that certainly doesn’t mean that they must refrain from other taxes and fees which will impact 100% of Americans and, by the way, if they’re like the following, will be highly regressive:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based watchdog group that pressures food companies to make healthier products, plans to propose a federal excise tax on soda, certain fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and ready-to-drink teas. It would not include most diet beverages. Excise taxes are levied on goods and manufacturers typically pass them on to consumers.

The proposal is also being touted as something which will help pay for “health care reform”:

The Congressional Budget Office, which is providing lawmakers with cost estimates for each potential change in the health overhaul, included the option in a broad report on health-system financing in December. The office estimated that adding a tax of three cents per 12-ounce serving to these types of sweetened drinks would generate $24 billion over the next four years.

Of course the article goes on to state that lawmakers aren’t considering the tax at present, but then the vast majority of our legislators don’t write or read the legislation they pass so saying they’re not considering it doesn’t mean it isn’t being considered by those who will write it (like the CSPI) or won’t be in legislation.

This sort of tax is also seen as a means of modifying behavior because a certain group considers the product it wants taxed as “unhealthy”.

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs. At least a dozen states already have some type of taxes on sugary beverages, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it’s something government should discourage the consumption of,” Mr. Jacobson said.

Given that government is now seeking entry into the health care arena in a much bigger way than at present, and its stated goal is to make health care less costly, this fits supports the goal and gives the argument credibility that it wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. Note the phrase I’ve put in bold – it should send shivers down your spine. What sort of precedent would that set? And, what would be next?

Well, here you go:

Health advocates are floating other so-called sin tax proposals and food regulations as part of the government’s health-care overhaul. Mr. Jacobson also plans to propose Tuesday that the government sharply raise taxes on alcohol, move to largely eliminate artificial trans fat from food and move to reduce the sodium content in packaged and restaurant food.

And that’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The premise that it is the job of government to modify behavior through taxation (especially if it saves money) has obviously been swallowed whole.

Back to the original point about the myth of the tax cuts for 95% of Americans:

The beverage tax is just one of hundreds of ideas that lawmakers are weighing to finance the health-care plans. They’re expected to narrow the list in coming weeks.

But you can bet that the list won’t be too narrow – someone has got to pay for this. And, with mommy government deciding what you can and can’t eat, you might actually lose some weight. Not because you are necessarily eating healthy food, but because you can’t afford as much anymore. That’s because the one thing you can count on is your wallet will definitely lose weight as this “health care reform” abomination moves forward.

~McQ

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What Will Be The Real Cost Of Health Care “Reform”?

From a Washington Post editorial commenting on the health care industry proposal yesterday to try to save 2 trillion dollars over 10 years:

But it is important to note what wasn’t included yesterday. None of the interest groups signed up for a specific number; no one is saying who will sacrifice what, or how much. All are promising to “do our part,” but the actual share of the $2 trillion that would fall on each pair of shoulders was not laid out. What would make up the substance of the plan? That remains to be seen. How would the private sector be held accountable for this promise to reduce costs? That, too, remains to be seen.

Of course, Barack Obama’s promises to save money through the usual nebulous “waste, fraud, and abuse” rhetoric are no more specific than those proposed by the “interest groups” yesterday:

Make Health Coverage Affordable. The plan must reduce waste and fraud, high administrative costs, unnecessary tests and services, and other inefficiencies that drive up costs with no added health benefits.

As is obvious, the assumptions in this sentence are legion and that includes the savings.

The White House has emphasized repeatedly that health-care reform is entitlement reform — that is, an answer to the nation’s long-term fiscal challenge. Yet, so far, it is backing a plan to expand coverage that would cost taxpayers between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion over 10 years, while it has proposed health-care savings of only $309 billion.

Calling it an entitlement reform and “an answer to the nation’s long term fiscal challenge” effectively lumps all health care under government auspices. An entity which has managed to mismanage the portion it has assumed over the years into a “fiscal challenge’ now wants the rest of the industry under its effective control with an initial price tag of 1.5 trillion (anyone who has ever monitored government estimates of cost know they are always low ball estimates which end up costing many more times the initial estimate).

I’d like to see the WaPo challenge that estimate and this:

Financing Health Care Reform. The reserve fund is financed by a combination of rebalancing the tax code so that the wealthiest pay more as well as specific health care savings in three areas: promoting efficiency and accountability, aligning incentives towards quality and better care, and encouraging shared responsibility. Taken together, the health care savings would total $316 billion over 10 years while improving the quality and efficiency of health care, without negatively affecting the care Americans receive.

You can read the specifics of the administration’s plan below the cited paragraph, but in essence it consists of curbing waste, fraud and abuse (as if that’s actually measurable in terms of savings) and increasing “quality” of care (an “efficiency” that assumes the present “quality” isn’t good enough), stressing preventive care (and assuming everyone will take advantage of that) and reducing drug prices (a form of cost control).

How anyone assumes even $316 billion in savings based on those assumptions is beyond me. But what one can fairly claim, given experience with government proposals and estimates, is that 1.5 trillion as a “cost” figure is probably well below its eventual or real cost. If anyone actually believes the government will be more efficient in the delivery of health care than a market based system (something we don’t have, even now, as government’s intrusion has distorted that market) will gladly buy into the claims being made. Those of us who have seen these sorts of grand programs and estimates before (check into the promised cost of Medicare and its eventual real cost) know that we’re being led down the primrose path to ruin by a bunch of smooth talking politicians who really haven’t a clue … again.

~McQ

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Is McCrystal the “Petraeus” Of Afghanistan?

There was no “nicety” to this very public change of commanders in Afghanistan. In command for only 11 months, Gen. David McKiernan has been fired. In his place will be LTG Stanley A. McChrystal. Secretary Gates made it clear:

“Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at a news conference this afternoon announcing General McKiernan’s dismissal.

Gates tried to smooth it over a bit (generals and admirals don’t like to be handled like this):

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered few reasons for General McKiernan’s ouster beyond generalities that “fresh eyes” were needed. “Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Mr. Gates said. It was simply his conviction, he added, “that a new approach was probably in our best interest.”

The media will give you the boilerplate on McChrystal’s career including his recent stint as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command who ran all special operations in Iraq (and his part in the Pat Tillman investigation which wasn’t quite as sterling).

But there’s more to it than just the fact that he commanded JSOC in Iraq. As abu muqawama points out, there was a big improvement in JSOC after McChrystal took command and how that impressed a certain other commander:

I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal’s work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)

So my guess is that Gen. Petraeus had a hand in McKiernan’s new status as “former commander”. Apparently he wasn’t seeing in McKiernan the type of thinking Petraeus feels is necessary to win in Afganistan.  He may see in McChrystal the type of outside-the-box thinking he feels is necessary to turn the effort around there.

Abu again:

I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone’s line-up.

Game on.

Frankly, I’m pleased with the move. Time will tell if it pans out, but it shows me a seriousness about the war in Afghanistan that I wasn’t sure existed within this administration. This isn’t a half-hearted move.   Tip of the cap to the Obama administration for doing what I believe is necessary to move the war forward in a positive manner. Credit where credit is due and all of that.

~McQ

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