Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

$1,000,000,000,000

Have you ever wondered how much a trillion dollars really is?  Have you ever tried to get your head around that number?

Well here’s a handy measure.  If you were in the aircraft carrier buying business you could buy 222 Nimitz class carriers.

nimitz9

Or you could just give every man, woman and child in the US $325.50 each year for 10 years.

Yeah.

It’s one hell of a lot of money.

And if you only think its going to cost a trillion when the government gets into health care, I have a few hundred Nimitz class carriers you might be interested in.

~McQ

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Democrats Unveil Their “Affordable” Health Care Plan

And yes, that’s right, just because Democrats put “affordable” in the title doesn’t mean it is anything close to being affordable (unless another trillion in spending is something you find affordable). In fact, you can almost count on the opposite being true.

Another vitally important point to keep in mind is that trillion we’re batting around like we’re talking about spending ten bucks, is a government estimate. Anyone remember the government estimate about the cost of Medicare and how that turned out?

The Democrats are claiming the CBO “scored” this bill and it came up under the “affordable” column.  But the RNC says the CBO didn’t actually score the language in the bill:

In the second paragraph of CBO’s letter, it says, “”It is important to note, however, that those estimates are based on specifications provided by the tri-committee group rather than an analysis of the language released today.” So they scored what Democrats asked them to score. Not the actual bill.

Yes, in this infernal rush to get a bill out, we obviously couldn’t be patient enough to have the CBO score what the bill actually said vs. what the committees declared the bill would say. And we all know how honest our Congress is about such things, don’t we? Last but not least, the politics of the thing. Here’s a graph to show you how the planned appropriation of your money will take place:

houseDemHC Note carefully when the costs will actually begin to kick in. Yes, when Obama is safely in his second term and hopefully, at least as the Democrats reason, still with a Democrat majority Congress (since both the 2010 and 2012 Congressional elections shouldn’t be effected). Note the slope of the curve after that. Philip Klein, who put the chart together, explains:

It’s important to keep in mind that the most costly aspects of the legislation involve providing subsidies to individuals to purchase health care ($773 billion) and to expand Medicaid ($438 billion), but it takes several years for those provisions to kick in. As you can see from the chart below, that means that the costs start out relatively modest but ramp up over time. In the first three years of the plan the cost of the subsidies and Medicaid expansion is just $8 billion; in the first five years, it’s $202 billion; but in the last five years, it’s $979 billion. Put another way, 17 percent of the spending comes in the first five years, while 83 percent comes in the second five years. What this means is that the American people see $1 trillion over 10 years and they think that means the bill would cost about $100 billion a year — but the reality is more than double that. In the final year of the CBO estimates, 2019, the spending hits $230 billion.

Another important note – at the end of 10 years, that line on the graph isn’t going to drop to zero. It’s going to continue to climb. That’s “affordable?” If so, Democrats have given new meaning to the word.  And all of it to be paid for by taxing the rich.

Yes, in the midst of an economic crisis, the con artists in Washington are at it again.  They’ve co-opted “affordable” to sell their snake oil, ignored the impact of such a bill in a weak economy but carefully weighed the politics of it, and have decided that funding it on the back of “the rich” won’t have any adverse consequences when it comes to the economy and its health.

You can see this train wreck coming from miles and miles away, can’t you?

~McQ

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Sotomayor – The New “Conservative” Justice?

Move over Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, here comes Sonia Sotomayor.

I’m not sure who that was appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the woman everyone expected. As Sen. Lindsey Graham said:

“I listen to you today, I think I’m listening to [Chief Justice John] Roberts.”

She talked about “settled law”, precedent, how a justice must set aside their emotions, even to the point of saying she disagreed with Obama’s declaration that in judicial decisons, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.”

Perhaps the most unconvincing portion of her testimony, however, was her defense of the “wise Latina woman” comment. She began by declaring that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor couldn’t have meant what she said when she said “a wise old man and wise old woman would agree on a judicial case’s outcome”. Surely, Sotomayor reasoned, if one of them came to a different conclusion, that wouldn’t mean they were unwise.

She claims her statement was a “rhetorical flourish which fell flat”. She pointed out that she was trying to inspire mostly Latino audiences when she included her “flourish” in a speech. A reminder of that so-called “rhetorical flourish” that was supposedly aimed at the O’Connor maxim:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Yeah, I’m having difficulty with the connection as well. She went on to say:

“What I was talking about was the obligation of judges to examine what they’re feeling as they’re adjudicating a case and to ensure that that’s not influencing the outcome,” Sotomayor told Sessions. “We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside.”

Really? That’s what Sotomayor was talking about? Then I agree that it was indeed a rhetorical flourish which fell flat because I got precisely the opposite meaning from what she originally said.

Apparently she figured it was time to declare that whatever she said it should make no difference, because you see —

“To give everyone assurances, I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has equal opportunity to become a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences.”

Maybe it was just me, but I felt that Ms. Sotomayor was saying pretty much whatever the task demanded yesterday. I’m not at all assured that she believes anything she said in her “assurance” above. I thought her explanation about the “wise Latina” remark was poor at best.

That’s not to say she won’t be confirmed for the SCOTUS. She most likely will. In fact, I’d bet on it. However, that doesn’t mean she’s fooled anyone with the show she’s putting on during her confirmation hearings.

~McQ

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Who Is Going To Say, “We Can’t Afford It?!”

It may seem like a trivial sum given that yesterday the government’s deficit for the year reached a trillion dollars 3 months before the end of the budget year, but it is symptomatic of the problem that got us there:

President Barack Obama plans to announce a community-college initiative designed to boost graduation rates, improve facilities and develop new technology. The effort will involve $12 billion in spending spread over the next 10 years.

We. Can’t. Afford. It.

Why is that so freakin’ hard to understand?!

~McQ

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“Recovery Act” A Bust, But Not Because Economic Distress “Misread”

The vaunted stimulus which President Obama claims is doing exactly what it was supposed to do is seen by a majority of others as a complete bust.

Why? Mort Zuckerman lays some of it out:

About 40% of U.S. workers believe the recession will continue for another full year, and their pessimism is justified. As paychecks shrink and disappear, consumers are more hesitant to spend and won’t lead the economy out of the doldrums quickly enough.

It may have made him unpopular in parts of the Obama administration, but Vice President Joe Biden was right when he said a week ago that the administration misread how bad the economy was and how effective the stimulus would be. It was supposed to be about jobs but it wasn’t. The Recovery Act was a single piece of legislation but it included thousands of funding schemes for tens of thousands of projects, and those programs are stuck in the bureaucracy as the government releases the funds with typical inefficiency.

As I and many others pointed out when it was being passed, the stimulus package was nothing more than a collection of porky earmarks on an unprecedented level. It was a lefty wet-dream come true – full access to the treasury and the power to do whatever they wanted. Democrats finally had the power to reward themselves and their constituencies and they took full advantage of it.

This wasn’t a “misreading” of the economy as Joe Biden likes to claim, but a misappropriation of funds to fulfill political dreams and promises that had been denied them for years.

Zuckerman wants to wave off the problems with execution to the “typical inefficiency” of government (but I bet he’s all for the government expanding its role in health care), but this recovery act isn’t just about government inefficiency or bureaucracy. It’s about where the Recovery Act’s money is aimed – and it isn’t aimed at creating jobs.

That’s why, despite the dire claim that if the Recovery Act wasn’t passed, unemployment would rise above 8%, unemployment continued to rise, unabated, to 9.5%. And it will climb higher. It was never targeted at creating (or even saving) jobs. Nor was it targeted toward stimulating the economy (by getting money out in the economy and circulating).

It was a 787 billion dollar payoff/payback pork bill – something both Obama and the Democrats denied but which was obvious to anyone who took the time to look into the provisions of the bill itself.

And now we’re supposed to believe that the economy was worse than they thought and they simply “misread” it.

Nonsense.

For those of you paying attention, this is all a prelude to claiming a second “stimulus” is necessary, after having misappropriated almost a trillion of your dollars previously to pay off their political debt.

The answer, of course, is “no”.

They’ve already proven they can’t be trusted to address the problem at hand without succumbing to the lure of political payoffs. And, in fact, they gave those political payoffs higher priority than the economic distress we are suffering. They should not be given the opportunity to misappropriate anymore of your money to repeat the process.

Because they will.

~McQ

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CIA, Cheney and Al Qaeda

Unlike the left, I’m having difficulty getting too excited about a CIA program that never got out of the planning stage. The NYT carries the story today. Essentially the gist is that the CIA, under the supervision of Darth Cheney, planned (for 8 years apparently) to deploy assassination teams to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives where ever they were to be found.

Certainly, had they actually done that and say “captured or killed” someone in a place other than Iraq or Afghanistan, I think there would certainly be legal questions (and problems) involved (assuming we did so without the knowledge and permission of the country in which the person targeted was to be found). But as is obvious in the NYT story, these plans were never executed and for all we know, it may be because of those concerns about its legality that it remained only a plan.

On the other hand, I can also understand the concern of those who say all such plans, by law, must be disclosed to the body charged with oversight, whether executed or not. That’s how rogue operations are prevented, and this non-disclosure, by definition, would make it such an operation. Oversight and disclosure are key to a free and open society, so I’m sympathetic to the complaint that this operation was hidden and that’s wrong.

But other than that, I’m not at all sure any investigation in this program is going to come off as anything other than a witch-hunt and find little sympathy for the investigators with the public at large. This, in the big scheme of things, is going to be considered slap-on-the-wrist stuff for most of the public. Al Qaeda is not a sympathetic organization and considering plans to take out their leadership isn’t going to be seen by the majority of Americans as a “bad” thing, especially when the plans in question were never executed.

What happened is UAVs provided a viable alternative. Putting these sorts of teams together presented all sorts of unanticipated problems which, in combination with the UAV option, quickly shelved the idea. Why the program continued for 8 years and why Congress wasn’t informed are legitimate questions that deserve answers.

Special prosecutors and a legal witch-hunt, however, will not shed any more light on the subject and will find a largely unsympathetic public quickly on the side of those who sought, however clumsily, to protect us and against those who push the prosecution.

~McQ

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The Recession is Racist (Updated)

Just thought you should know:

While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.

Across the nation, the surge in unemployment has cut across all demographic lines, and the gap between blacks and whites has risen, but at a much slower rate than in New York.

Economists said they were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs in New York, especially when a large share of the layoffs in the city have been in fields where they are not well represented, like finance and professional services. But in those sectors, the economists suggested that blacks may have had less seniority when layoffs occurred. And black workers hold an outsize share of the jobs in retailing and other service industries that have been shrinking as consumers curtail their spending.

Hmm, so maybe it’s just NYC that’s racist?

“Low-wage workers and workers who lack skills are really getting hit hard,” he said. “These are the workers who are sort of fungible. They lose their jobs very quickly, particularly in retail, the people who move boxes and do unskilled work. There are large numbers of African-Americans in that sector.”

Manufacturing, which has shed more jobs than any other sector of the city’s economy, had become a mainstay for black workers, Mr. Jones said. Government jobs had also become a prime source of solid, stable work for many blacks in the city, he added. But lately there have been cutbacks there, too, as falling tax revenue has forced the paring back of budgets.

So it’s those who hire unskilled workers who are racist? This theme is confusing.

Still, Mr. Parrott’s analysis painted a stark picture of how uneven the effects have been for whites, blacks and members of other minorities. His figures show that whites gained about 130,000 jobs in the year that ended April 30 over the previous 12 months, but blacks, Hispanics and Asians all lost jobs during that period. Employment fell by about 17,000 jobs for blacks, 26,000 jobs for Hispanics and 18,000 for Asians and other ethnic groups, the data show.

“That’s a black-and-white employment picture,” Mr. Parrott said. “It’s like night and day over the 12 months. “There’s a real racial shift taking place in the city’s labor market in the past year.”

Okay, I’ve got it now. It’s white New Yorkers who are racist. Or maybe its the high-skilled labor market that’s racist? Again, I’m not sure.

But the article seems to imply pretty strongly that racism is at the bottom of this problem. Otherwise, why not mention how many of the unemployed are men, or of prime-age, or well-educated? Heck, why not mention that of the 108,000 [139,100 newly] unemployed workers in NYC [over the 12 month period between April 2008 and 2009], 61,000 [92,000] (or a little more than 56% [66%]) are white (which really makes you wonder where the 130,000 jobs figure came from)?* Obviously, the story is intended to tell us that somebody is being racist, and that’s why the “black-white gap in joblessness” is being discussed at all.

Welcome to post-racial Obamaland. If you don’t know whose fault it is, then it’s probably yours, racist.

UPDATE: Those numbers (in the sentence marked above with the *) were really bothering me. I went back and looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for New York City’s unemployment and discovered that the NYT article is way off. The number of jobs lost between April 2008 and April 2009 was 139,100, of which (according to the article) 17,000 were lost by blacks, 26,000 were lost by Hispanics, and 18,000 were lost by Asians and other races. Somehow or another, Mr. Parrott, who the article cites for the numbers, came up with 130,000 jobs gained by whites in this period. Of course, that makes absolutely no sense because, if it were true, then there would have been an increase in employment during that period, and the unemployment rate would have fallen, not skyrocketed. Instead, 139,100 people became unemployed, only 47,000 of whom were non-white. Ergo, instead of whites gaining 130,000 jobs, they lost 92,000.

There are other problems with the article as well, some of which you can discover by reading the NYT (in fact, the stories are written by the same person). For example, the story above cites low-wage, manufacturing and government workers as hardest hit, but last month the picture was just the opposite (emphasis added):

In the private work force, the weakness in May was concentrated in the fields of communications media, advertising and other information services, as well as in finance and education, according to James Brown, an analyst with the state’s Labor Department.

Those losses offset employment gains in tourism-related businesses and construction, Mr. Brown said. He said that aggressive price-cutting by hotels had kept tourists visiting and saved jobs. Construction benefited from the flow of federal stimulus funds, he added.

The latest numbers, Mr. Brown said, illustrate that New York’s economy is still contracting, despite recent fluctuations in the city’s unemployment rate, which was 8 percent in April.

“Although the unemployment rate actually dipped slightly in three of the last five months, the trend is still strongly upward,” he said. “Despite some positive notes, the city’s job market is still weak and the weakest areas — financial activities and professional and business services — will not resume growth until after the national economy improves.”

I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s wrong as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a racist.

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What’s Our Future? Bigger Government And Higher Taxes

At least that’s what Robert Samuelson sees for us. I can’t really dispute his numbers either:

For the past half-century, federal spending has averaged about 20 percent of GDP, federal taxes about 18 percent of GDP and the budget deficit 2 percent of GDP. The CBO’s projection for 2020 — which assumes the economy has returned to “full employment” — puts spending at 26 percent of GDP, taxes at a bit less than 19 percent of GDP and a deficit above 7 percent of GDP. Future spending and deficit figures continue to grow.

What this means is that balancing the budget in 2020 would require a tax increase of almost 50 percent from the last half-century’s average. Remember, that average was 18 percent of GDP. To get from there to 26 percent of GDP (spending in 2020) would require an additional 8 percentage points. In today’s dollars, that would be about $1.1 trillion, a 44 percent annual tax increase. Even these figures may be optimistic, because CBO’s projections for defense and “nondefense discretionary” spending may be unrealistically low. This last category covers much of what government does: environmental regulation, aid to education, highway construction, law enforcement, homeland security.

Now, this should come as no surprise, really, to anyone with a passing knowledge of accounting. When you increase spending without increasing revenue, you end up with a deficit. And what we’ve seen the government doing for decades is exactly that.  Now it’s in the midst of piling up massive deficits and planning huge increases in government.

And it’s not all the politicians fault. After all the average American keeps returning the same fiscally irresponsible people to the same place where they can continue doing what they’ve been doing for decades – spending us into bankruptcy.

Because, as Samuelson notes, Americans like the benefits even if they don’t like the taxes. So the formula has been a little different for each party but the result has been precisely the same:

Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting spending. Democrats want to increase spending without increasing taxes, except on the rich. The differences between the parties are shades of gray. Hardly anyone asks the hard questions of who doesn’t need benefits, which programs are expendable and what taxes might cover remaining deficits.

In fact, much harder questions are routinely ignored, such as “why is government getting into _________ at all?” To me that is the key question that is never asked. Name your program and tell me when anyone asks why government is involving themselves in such things?

It all comes back to the fundamental question which, over the centuries, has seen the answer change radically – “What is the basic function of legitimate government?”

Few are going to be able to argue successfully that the answer in 1781 was the same as it is today, are they? And you don’t really have to be an economist to understand what this direction we seem to be intent upon taking means for our future.  It should also be clear by now that those who’ve have gotten us into this mess have little incentive to change their ways and certainly no stomach for the sort of work it would entail:

There is little appetite for any of this, and so we face the consequences of much bigger government. Certainly higher taxes for future Americans. Probably a less robust economy. The CBO notes that elevated deficits would penalize saving, investment and income, while unprecedented tax burdens could “slow the growth of the economy, making the [government’s] spending burden harder to bear.” To such warnings, Americans’ collective response is: Go away.

Enjoy.

You can go back to sleep now.

~McQ

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The OAS’s Double Standard

Surprisingly, one member of the Washington Post – Jackson Diehl – has noticed the double standard the OAS has applied when it comes to Honduras vs. Venezuela.

Venezuelan Antonio Ledezma is no gadfly or dissident; as the mayor of Caracas, he received almost as many votes in last November’s election (700,000) as Manuel Zelaya (915,000) did when he won the presidency of Honduras in 2005. Yet while the Organization of American States has been united in demanding Zelaya’s return to his post, and in suspending Honduras for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter, it has studiously ignored the case of Ledezma — who, since his election, has been illegally driven from his office by a mob, stripped of most of his powers and budget, and subjected to criminal investigation by the regime of Hugo Chávez.

The reaction of the OAS? “None of our business”.

While championing Zelaya — whose attempt to illegally rewrite the constitution united Honduras’s Congress and Supreme Court against him — Insulza refused to interest himself in the case of Ledezma and other elected Venezuelan mayors and state governors who have been subjected to power-stripping and criminal prosecution by Chávez. The OAS “cannot be involved in issues of internal order of member states,” said a statement Insulza issued after a June meeting in Washington with Ledezma — a declaration he quickly contradicted once the pro-Chávez Zelaya was deposed.

The “Insulza” Diehl is referring too is OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza who has been absolutely uninterested in what has happened to the democratically elected mayor of Caracus or, for that matter, state governors and other mayors who’ve essentially enjoyed the same fate as Ledezma in Venezuela.

The reason? Simple – Insulza is counting on, in fact banking on, the support of Hugo Chavez for a second term as OAS GS. Insulza, who Diehl characterizes as a “Chilean socialist” knows he’s dead in the water without it. So he’s not at all inclined to rock the boat when it comes to Chavez’s illegal and unconstitutional moves in Venezuela.

Ledezma has courageously been pushing Insulza to acknowledge the problems in Venezuela:

Ledezma’s hunger strike eventually shamed Insulza into making a phone call in which he promised to meet with the Venezuelan mayors and governors in Washington, and to investigate their charges that Chávez had violated the democracy charter. But Insulza later repeated that “it is very difficult to determine how a country should organize itself internally.”

This is the face of the “new” OAS, which recently admitted the totalitarian dictatorship of Cuba into fold. It is now an organization which is driven by a socialist agenda that uses the veneer of ‘democracy’ as a way of legitimizing advancing its agenda throughout Latin America and as a weapon to thwart real democracy should it attempt to stop that agenda from successfully subverting a country.

But it obviously has no desire to really support democracy or investigate illegal and unconstitutional moves by despots in good ideological standing with the OAS leadership. That is reserved for those countries which haven’t yet converted to the socialist “Bolivar revolution” championed by Hugo Chavez – the defacto leader of the OAS. And, as Diehl points out, the OAS has been quite happy with the new administrations policies:

Such willful disregard of political repression was the prevailing policy among OAS members before the Honduran coup — including the Obama administration. Though Chávez launched his latest and most virulent campaign against elected opposition leaders and independent media shortly after Obama’s inauguration, the administration for months refused to publicly respond; instead, it agreed on a new exchange on ambassadors with Venezuela and repeatedly announced its hope to “work with” the caudillo.

My goodness, it sounds like Iran, doesn’t it?

Diehl holds out hope that the administration is figuring it out citing a recent Hillary Clinton interview with Globavision as proof. One interview, however, doesn’t prove that the administration has figured out it is being played like a fiddle or that it will take another look at how it has reacted to Honduras or the agenda of the OAS.

Diehl cites testimony before Congress the day after the interview and wonders what it means:

In testimony to Congress the next day, the State Department’s incoming assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, said that following the Honduras crisis, “it should be clear that the collective response of the hemisphere in support of democracy should not be limited to taking action simply when elected leaders are removed from office by force.” Does that mean the United States now will also push Insulza and the OAS to judge what is happening in Venezuela — and in Nicaragua, Ecuador and other states where freedom of the press and free elections have been under sustained attack? The administration’s high-profile effort to defend a hostile Honduran president has provided an opportunity to take the offensive against the hemisphere’s most dangerous anti-democratic actors.

Given what I’ve seen so far from this administration and its foreign policy, I’d have to guess the answer is a flat “no”.

~McQ

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