Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

At Least They’re Still Singing His Praises In Maryland

In elementary school.

Again.

Longfellow Elementary School in Howard Country, Maryland to be specific.

Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,

President Obama–He says Yes we can!
President Obama–We say Yes we can!
President Obama–I say Yes I can!
President Obama–He says Yes we can!

Barack Obama–Oh yes he rates,
The first Black President in the United States!
He’s smart and he’s–so so good!
He’ll lead this country as he should!

He wants us all to work together,
To make this country even better!
Prez’ Obama says–“Yes We Can!”
Make the US better–hand in hand!

Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President!

Since this was featured on a blog in an email, my first stop was snopes.com. They’ve never heard of it. Doesn’t mean its true, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if it was.  The Assistant Principle to whom the email allegedly is from does exist at that school. And the email is dated Sep. 29th of this year. So with enough due diligence to say “it’s plausible”, I’ll also say it is totally inappropriate – especially for first graders. And you’d think, after the blowup recently concerning the video of small school children singing a similar song, they’d know that by now.  And you have to assume the three ‘R’s have been mastered if they have time for nonsense like this.

The irony is Longfellow is probably rolling over in his grave as he surveys the “poetry” of the lyrics.

~McQ

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Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism

Ann Althouse is watching the propaganda so you don’t have to. Something in her review of the new Michael Moore agitprop, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, struck me as interesting:

The most striking thing in the movie was the religion. I think Moore is seriously motivated by Christianity. He says he is (and has been since he was a boy). And he presented various priests, Biblical quotations, and movie footage from “Jesus of Nazareth” to make the argument that Christianity requires socialism. With this theme, I found it unsettling that in attacking the banking system, Moore presented quite a parade of Jewish names and faces. He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

Am I wrong to see Moore as an anti-Semite? I don’t know, but the movie worked as anti-Semitic propaganda. I had to struggle to fight off the idea the movie seemed to want to plant in my head.

I may be alone in this observation, but for quite some time I’ve viewed anti-semitism and anti-capitalism as basically one and the same. Said another way, hatred for Jews appears to me to be closely tied to their historical affiliation with capitalist enterprises.

Certainly the anti-semitism found in the Middle East is somewhat different, in that there are religious and historical factors mixed in to that particular bigotry. And Christian Europe was never terribly friendly to the Jews either, with religious rivalry and illogical scape-goating (i.e. holding Jews responsible for killing Jesus, even though it was the Romans who actually did it, and Jesus was supposed to die according to the scriptures) being played out in large part there as well. Even so, I think there is definitely an anti-capitalist element to anti-semitism.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were often forbidden from owning land, or entering certain professions, which relegated them to doing the work that the Christians wouldn’t do. Lending money for interest had long been considered to be an awful enterprise, so much so that it was forbidden for Christians to engage in it (much as it is still so for Muslims). Therefore the Jews, who had no strictures* against charging interest, settled into those roles (as well as tax collectors, accountants, rent collectors, and other money-centered jobs), and for quite some time were the only lenders around. During the Roman Empire they were both reviled and tolerated for the practice. Of course, being the only lenders in town meant that when defaults happened, it would be a Jew who would looking for his “pound of flesh” and that did not make them any more desirable. Maybe it was during this time that the capitalist enterprises of making a profit from the use of money became closely associated with Jews, or perhaps it occurred much earlier, but before the term “capitalism” even existed there were Jews performing those functions.

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

With the rise of socialism in the industrial age, especially during the Progressive Era, all those capitalistic endeavors in which Jewish families had staked their claims started to fall into disfavor (even as they were employed with great abandon). Charging interest for money, always historically suspect, and all other occupations concerned with amassing capital were looked upon with increasing scorn. These were anti-social behaviors engaged in by the “greedy” who placed money above all else, and especially human well-being. It wasn’t uncommon for Jews to be treated as the face of these unsympathetic capitalist sorts.

In the age of industrialization vast sums were risked in building factories and the like, and huge fortunes were made, while regular working stiffs found themselves displaced from their idyllic farms and shacked up in dirty tenements, teeming with poverty (or so the story goes). As in medieval times when the Lord came up short on his payments, and couldn’t provide for those who depended on him, the Jewish lenders made for an easy target when industrialists failed. Wealthy bankers such as the Rothschilds and the Warburgs often came under scrutiny (and still do today) because of their Jewish heritage and massive family fortunes, and many conspiracy theories concerning Jewish attempts to control the world through their financial houses flourished. Indeed, during this ironically anti-capitalist period (ironic because of capitalism’s rapid spread during this time, raising the living standards of millions upon millions of people), political parties and community groups were sometimes formed based quite openly on their antisemitism. As an acceptable social prejudice, anti-semitism was often found to be quite politically useful in Europe and here in the United States. At the same time, prevailing political winds were blowing strongly in the direction of scientific socialism, and decidedly against capitalism and individualism.

Again, I don’t know how or when anti-semitism and anti-capitalism became so intertwined, but for at least the last 150 years I think it’s safe to say they share common space. If you were to replace the words “multinational corporations” with “the Jews” in the popular anti-capitalist screeds of today, I don’t think one would see much of difference in coherence (be that as it may) or objection from purveyors of these conspiracy theories.

Bringing it full circle, I think that close connection between anti-semitism and anti-capitalism is why Althouse gets this feeling from Michael Moore’s film:

He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

In some ways, the bigotries may be inseparable.

* To be sure, the Bible does prescribe certain regulations for lending, one of which has been interpreted as meaning that Jews were forbidden from charging interest to other Jews, while doing so for loans to gentiles was perfectly acceptable. As I understand it, however, these Biblical restrictions treat “lending” as a sort of charity (that may or may not be paid back), in which Jews were encouraged to be free with their money in the service of their tribe, while having no compunction to be so charitable with “outsiders” (although, there too, be charitable when possible is encouraged). In short, it is a “take care of you family” sort of restriction on lending and not a “screw anyone who’s not Jewish” policy that it is sometimes made out to be.

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Phantom Jobs Support Fake Recovery?

John Crudele alerts us to a GIGO (garbage-in-garbage-out) statistic the Labor Department uses and has used for a long time that provides erroneous data.  Bad as it is in normal times, it is even worse in bad economic times:

In 11 of the 12 months, the government adds massive numbers of jobs — sometimes more than 100,000 — that it thinks, but can’t prove, exist.

This is because the Labor Department uses something called the birth/death model, which assumes that no matter how bad the economy is, there are itty-bitty, newly-formed companies — which can’t be reached by government surveyors — that are creating jobs.

So it pumps up its statistics with unconfirmed jobs created which hides the real extent of the jobs lost. And, of course, as Crudele points out, the stats are iffy in a good economy, but reliance on them in this sort of an economy is simply a travesty.

Even the Labor Department has now admitted that:

Right after Friday’s report came out, Bloomberg News called Chris Manning, the national benchmark branch chief at the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and asked about the 34,000 probably non-existent jobs.

“In this period of steep job losses, the birth/death model didn’t work as well as it usually does,” Manning told Bloomberg. “To the extent that there was an overstatement in the birth/death model, that is likely to still be there.” No freakin’ kidding! This year alone, this model has added over 700,000 jobs that don’t exist to the government’s count.

The Labor Department is not only still using this model, but it nearly doubled the number of phantom jobs for this September compared with the same month last year.

So if you’re wondering how distinguished economists can get things so wrong, this provides a peek. After all, these are the statistics they’re stuck using. Phantom job creation stats based on an absurd assumption that says something’s happening that can’t be confirmed and, by the way, it continues to happen at the same rate even in the worst of financial times. Does that conform with your experience in the real world?

Mine either. Keep that all in mind when you hear the “experts” tell you that according to the latest unemployment stats, it just isn’t as bad as you might think.

[HT: Mark W.]

~McQ

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Who Denies More Medical Claims Than All Others?

Well, unsurprisingly, it isn’t private insurance companies, in some cases by quite a large margin.  A chart from some recent research by Beverly Gossage of the Show-Me Institute makes the case:

AMAdenials

You remember the outcry about CIGNA’s denial of Natalee Sarkisian’s liver transplant a couple of years ago? Well, as you can see by the numbers the chance of denial from Medicare is much higher than one from CIGNA.

It is these sorts of facts which are not apparent in the constant demonization of private insurance.

Interestingly, the AMA has come out in favor of government “health care reform” – whatever that may mean. The irony is the information that Ms. Gossage found came from the AMA’s own 2008 National Health Insurer Report. Is this the type of “competition and choice” the government insurance introduced in a public option would bring? Higher denial rates than private insurance?

I guess that’s insurance “reform”.

~McQ

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Dumping The Dollar

While the Fed tries to assure us that when the time comes it can wring the excess money it has pumped into the economy without driving it into the ditch, Paul Krugman and others want more spending, and we’re staring at 9 trillion in additional debt, the rest of the worldhas seems to be quietly deciding that the dollar has become an unstable currency in which they’d rather not trade:

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

They’re talking about a whole range of different currencies to replace the dollar but the fact remains that the old buck ain’t what it used to be and those trading in oil are looking for a more stable means of trade.

The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

Which explains some of the growth in the price of gold. Of course this transition will take time as the various countries carefully get rid of their dollar reserves over the coming years. However, if they are as committed to this transition away from dollar as the base trading currency for oil as this article indicates, then obviously the strength of the dollar will be adversely effected over that transition period and beyond as dollars are dumped. Couple that with the excess dollars we’ve pumped into the system these past few months and you can begin to understand the possible economic disaster this may end portend.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements – the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system – America’s trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington’s control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. “The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies,” a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. “The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won’t be able to use the US dollar.”

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years’ time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

We’ve been talking and hinting about this since it first began surfacing and warning of the dire economic consequences such a move would have. Of course it is the result of our own profligate spending and financial mismanagement, but I don’t think, for the most part people understand the implications of this move to replace the dollar. And it also doesn’t appear we have ability (much less a plan) to reverse this trend toward this change of the economic guard.

~McQ

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Breaking: Government Figures Out How To Shut Down Blogs

The Federal Trade Commission has just released a ruling (PDF) that requires bloggers to disclose anything–and I mean anything–they receive as a result of their blogging.  Free review copies of books.  Trips to oil rigs.  Payments.  T-shirts.  Whatever it is, you better disclose it, or you get slapped with a fine of $11,000 per infraction.

In other words, the government is now putting all web sites, professional or personal, under its thumb for failing to disclose everything they receive from any source.  And what are the guidelines for disclosure?  Why, none at all.  So, assuming you receive a free copy of a book–even if you don’t review it–you must disclose that you received it.  How do you disclose it?  I dunno.  How do you you know if your disclosure is sufficient?  I dunno.  The FTC, you see, will make those decisions on a “case-by-case” basis.

<sarcasm>I’m sure they’ll be quite fair about it, too.  And I’m quite certain that the FTC will never, ever selectively enforce these new rules so that more scrutiny is given to opponents of the current regime than to its supporters.</sarcasm>

The main thing to remember here is that free speech is not nearly as important as protecting the public from some blogger who doesn’t disclose that he got a free review copy of the book to read, in order to write the review.  And, of course, you’re all too stupid and venal to protect yourselves from the danger to the republic that freebies to bloggers represent.

But, we already knew that.

More info and quotes here.

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Downsizing Government

Our friends at the Cato Institute, the only think tank in DC dedicate to personal and economic liberty, have launched a new site, DownsizingGovernment.org, committed to cutting waste from the federal budget.

From the press release:

The research on the site also exposes that many public outlays—though vigorously defended by the politicians who created them and the constituencies they purport to help—are remarkably ineffective at achieving their core aims.

“Some people have lofty visions about how government spending can help society,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and the project leader for DownsizingGovernment.org. “But the essays on this website put aside such bedtime stories about how government programs are supposed to work, and instead focus on how they actually work in the real world.”

DownsizingGovernment.org is an ongoing project that launches today with detailed information on five cabinet-level agencies: Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. Subsequent departments will be added as they are completed in the coming months.

The site offers detailed examples of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, redundancy and corruption inside federal government agencies. It provides charts showing federal spending by department, federal aid to states and the number of subsidy programs.

You can follow Downsizing Government on Twitter @DownsizeTheFeds and you can become a fan on Facebook.

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Crushing of ObamaCare Dissent

A couple of weeks ago we learned that the Obama administration was “warning” insurance companies about how they addressed concerns with the plans being pushed in Congress, and in one case the Health and Human Services Department, at the behest of Sen. Max Baucus, started an investigation of Humana, Inc. regarding a mailer it sent out to its customers:

The Obama administration warned insurance companies Monday they face possible legal action for allegedly trying to scare seniors with misleading information about the potential for lost benefits under health care legislation in Congress.

“As we continue our research into this issue, we are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your Web sites,” said a notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Teresa DeCaro, an agency official, sent the notice to all companies that sell private Medicare coverage and stand-alone drug plans to seniors. The warning came as President Barack Obama’s health care legislation is moving toward key tests in a Senate committee over the next several days, and with public polls showing widespread skepticism among seniors.

In one case, the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees CMS, launched an investigation of Humana after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry.

“It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform,” Baucus said Monday, disclosing the HHS investigation.

It seems that at least one state is following in the federal government’s footsteps:

The Connecticut attorney general is seeking information about what the state’s five largest health insurers may have sent policyholders over legislation that would reform the Medicare program for the elderly.

[…]

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants information from Aetna Inc (AET.N), UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N), Health Net (HNT.N), WellPoint Inc’s (WLP.N) Anthem Health Plans unit and ConnectiCare Inc.

[…]

Health insurers have argued that cuts to Medicare Advantage would raise costs and reduce benefits for those who want the private plans.

Blumenthal and Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo said they made their requests after reports that Humana sent policyholders “deceptive” materials urging them to oppose changes to the Medicare Advantage program.

“Health insurers must stop using seniors as pawns — scaring them with misinformation in mailings — to oppose cost-saving healthcare reforms,” Blumenthal said in a news release.

Stephen Jewett, a spokesman for ConnectiCare, said health insurers are already required by federal law to have Medicare Advantage marketing materials approved by CMS.

“ConnectiCare believes this request is being spurred by ‘health reform politics’ and is not warranted,” Jewett said in a statement.

Humana, and apparently others, had committed the great offense of warning its Medicare Advantage clients that the current legislation proposed would negatively affect their coverage, which according to the CBO is entirely truthful. In fact, this has been known for quite some time, and Obama himself has said that cuts to Medicare would be part of of the way he intends to realize savings in his health care overhaul. Nevertheless, Obama and Baucus sicced the government on Humana anyway for what they allege were false and misleading claims.

The free speech and abuse of power implications were enough to draw fire from Republicans in Congress, one of whom, Rep. Dave Camp, took CMS to task:

I am writing to express my deep suspicion that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be selectively and inappropriately using its regulatory powers to intimidate and silence those who under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution are expressing legitimate facts about the Medicare cuts proposed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

[…]

Given the importance of health care to America’s seniors, I am sure you will agree seniors currently enrolled in MA have a right to know about how pending policy changes could affect them. I am certainly aware that MA marketing regulations are supposed to be used to ensure that communications from plan sponsors or affiliated groups do not include inaccurate information that would inappropriately steer seniors to certain MA plans. I have read the letter from Humana to its members and it does neither.

Moreover, I am concerned that CMS has taken action for political purposes, which threatens the integrity of the agency and of our democracy. To my knowledge, Humana is the only such plan to be targeted for investigation for speaking out against the Administration and Congressional Democrat’s plan. However, today CMS issued a ban on all MA health plans from distributing similar information.

Camp also pointed out that the AARP, “which has the largest MA plan in Medicare at 1.7 million enrollees, has been a vocal advocate in favor of the President Obama and Democrats’ health care proposals.”

They have spent millions of dollars communicating to its members the group’s support of President Obama’s proposed changes to Medicare via bulletins, television ads, newsletters, and its website. According to USA Today, AARP sent 8 million direct letters about health care reform and Medicare policies under consideration in Washington to its members over Labor Day. Additionally AARP has a “Health Action Now!” website that asks seniors to contact Members of Congress using an AARP-drafted letter that seniors can send via e-mail. These communications seem to be largely similar to the communications sent by Humana, other than they are in support of President Obama’s position.

For example, AARP’s website states that it’s a “myth” that “health care reform will hurt Medicare”, saying that it’s a “fact” that “none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.” This flies in the face of what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found as it relates to the MA cuts.

The reason behind the AARP’s advocacy may be good old-fashioned graft:

Again, how does AARP benefit from this? Why are they pushing this so hard to their members?

It benefits because along with the rest of the overhaul, Obama wants to institute changes to Medicare Advantage, the current public option for seniors.

Medicare Advantage is a catch-all program for low-income seniors which allows them to choose their drug insurance plan from a variety of companies. Basically, a senior pays into the program, picks an insurance company to go with, and the government subsidizes that company for the cost of the senior’s prescriptions. Everybody wins. (Note: This is different from the Medicare program, which is fully single payer, government run)

So if Obama cuts or eliminates Medicare Advantage, what will those seniors do? Well, they will either go directly to Medicare (the government single-payer option) or they will be forced to buy a supplementary package with a company like… AARP!

Currently, this supplementary drug option – called MediGap – accounts for 70% of AARP’s annual income. How much nicer would things be if they were the only game in town, huh?

Just to recap, the proposed ObamaCare plans will make cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, which will decidedly benefit MediGap policy sellers like the AARP. The AARP, in opposition to its members’ wishes, actively campaigns for ObamaCare, and in doing so spreads the myth that Medicare will not be changed by any of the proposed legislation. Meanwhile, insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans warn their clients that cuts are planned that will negatively affect their policies, a fact backed up by the CBO. The Obama administration, Max Baucus, the CMS, and no the Attorney General of Connecticut go after the insurance companies for allegedly spreading false and misleading information in an attempt to scare seniors away from supporting ObamaCare.

Recall also that the Obama administration, through the NEA, sought to enlist the artistic community’s support of its health care plans. This was a blatant attempt to create state-funded (or, at least, state-sanctioned) propaganda. Yet, insurance companies speaking the truth on behalf of themselves and their clients are besieged by the government? I repeat what I stated in the NEA post:

Now, you can call me a conspiracy theorist if it makes you feel important and wise, but how else other than “totalitarian” would you describe “free speech for me but not for thee” enforced at the end of a gun? Does that necessarily mean that we’re headed for gulags? No, but don’t let the failure to cross that line fool you. The Obama administration is putting on a full court press to pass its agenda, and apparently has no qualms about using every resource within its power, legal or otherwise, to accomplish that goal.

It should be clear by now that the only goal Obama truly wants to accomplish is universal health care, either straight away or in a time-release capsule. No other domestic policy takes up anywhere near as much of his time and effort, and his foreign policy is mostly an after thought. That’s fine. I believe he is damaging the country in pursuing this agenda, but it’s his presidency and his legacy, he can waste his political time as he sees fit. However, what is not acceptable in the least are the lengths to which he and his supporters are going to pass that agenda. That’s not just hurting the country from a policy perspective, it’s also seriously violating the constitution and further eroding any confidence the polity has in its government.

Again, was this the change people were hoping for?

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An Interesting Point And An Interesting Question

Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has some interesting things to say about the Obama Olympic trip. He too seems to have come to the conclusion many of us have about our new Commander in Chief:

What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an “optimal margin of illusion,” that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well. It is the other stage sets on which the president struts–like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations–that concern me.

To the point:

If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60 year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.

Good question. To this point, “persuasion” seems to be the sum of our foreign policy strategy. What’s our alternate strategy if that doesn’t work? Or is our “clinical narcissist” beyond the “optimal margin of illusion” besides seeming to be in way over his head?

~McQ

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