Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The Top 10 Indicators Your Employer Has Switched To The “Public Option”

From a friend, a little humor to start your Sunday:

(10) Your annual breast exam is done at Hooters.
(9) Directions to your doctor’s office include “Take a left when you enter
the trailer park.”
(8) The tongue depressors taste faintly of Fudgesicles.
(7) The only proctologist in the plan is “Gus” from Roto-Rooter.
(6) The only item listed under Preventative Care Coverage is “an apple a
(5) Your primary care physician is wearing the pants you gave to goodwill
last month.
(4) “The patient is responsible for 200% of out-of-network charges,” is not
a typographical error.
(3) The only expense covered 100% is, “embalming.”
(2) Your Prozac comes in different colors with little M’s on them.


(1) You ask for Viagra, and they give you a Popsicle stick and duct tape


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Constitutional Questions About Health Care Reform

It’s about time:

President Obama has called for a serious and reasoned debate about his plans to overhaul the health-care system. Any such debate must include the question of whether it is constitutional for the federal government to adopt and implement the president’s proposals. Consider one element known as the “individual mandate,” which would require every American to have health insurance, if not through an employer then by individual purchase. This requirement would particularly affect young adults, who often choose to save the expense and go without coverage. Without the young to subsidize the old, a comprehensive national health system will not work. But can Congress require every American to buy health insurance?

My question? When has such a concern stopped the government in the past under either Republican or Democratic administrations or Congress?

Not that this isn’t an excellent question and I’m glad to see someone raising it. But you have to ask, would we be in the shape we’re in today if past administrations and Congress (not to mention SCOTUS) had seriously been concerned with the Constitution?

So, having had my say about that, let’s explore the point about mandated insurance coverage that David Rivkin Jr and Lee Casey try to make Their considered opinion is contained in a fairly short paragraph, and the answer is “no”:

The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.

Rivkin and Casey support their conclusion with case law and precedent which they claim would preclude a constitutional basis for an individual mandate in either the most abused clause of the Constitution – the commerce clause – or within the power to tax. Given that, they say:

This leaves mandate supporters with few palatable options. Congress could attempt to condition some federal benefit on the acquisition of insurance. States, for example, usually condition issuance of a car registration on proof of automobile insurance, or on a sizable payment into an uninsured motorist fund. Even this, however, cannot achieve universal health coverage. No federal program or entitlement applies to the entire population, and it is difficult to conceive of a “benefit” that some part of the population would not choose to eschew.

Taxation as a means (such as being fined by the IRS if you don’t have health insurance) of enforcing the mandate is a Constitutional no-go as well:

Congress cannot use its power to tax solely as a means of controlling conduct that it could not otherwise reach through the commerce clause or any other constitutional provision.

They conclude:

Of course, these constitutional impediments can be avoided if Congress is willing to raise corporate and/or income taxes enough to fund fully a new national health system. Absent this politically dangerous — and therefore unlikely — scenario, advocates of universal health coverage must accept that Congress’s power, like that of the other branches, has limits. These limits apply regardless of how important the issue may be, and neither Congress nor the president can take constitutional short cuts. The genius of our system is that, no matter how convinced our elected officials may be that certain measures are in the public interest, their goals can be accomplished only in accord with the powers and processes the Constitution mandates, processes that inevitably make them accountable to the American people.

Sounds good and I’d love to believe it – but looking around, you have to wonder how we got to where we are today if we’re as committed to the limits imposed by the Constitution as these two believe. If you listen to them, this mandate business is dead. No can do. But we’ve watched our legislators and the executive branch – on both sides – consistently find ways around the obstacles (and case law) these two lay out there.

I want to believe it, but I’m forced by reality to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.


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You Know They’re Reaching …

When this is the best they can do (and they think what they’ve done is funny).

And for some reason, linking to the actual post they cite seems a little beyond them (read the comments – the commenters are no brighter than the blogger – they’re all talking about the garage sale post). I think that may have something to do with the grade level of the “humor”.

BTW, in case you’re in the dark, the guy pictured with me there is Kevin Whalen (the pic was taken at the ’07 Milbloggers Conference). That actually makes the title somewhat funny, but ironically the Sadly, No! kids appear unaware of that (be sure to read the explanation of the “joke” to be found in the title – uh, yeah).

It’s pretty sad when a site supposedly known for its biting humor bites it that badly.

Here’s hoping they don’t “wee-wee” up their next attempt as badly as they did this one.


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I got a call yesterday at about 3pm from Keesler Air Force Base, home of the Hurricane Hunters.

“Hey, can you get to Andrews AFB by Sunday morning? If so we’ll fly you through Hurricane Bill!”

Heck yeah. So I go about doing all the things you have to do to get ready for such an adventure and at about 10am this morning I take off toward DC. About 30 min into the drive, my Airforce PAO contact on the scene calls me to makes sure I’ve got the mission time and we talk about what to take on the flight. She’s talking a flight of 11 to 14 hours. I’m pretty much covered on all the gear I need, but she suggests I pick up some food to take with me since there will be no in-flight meals. OK, I can handle that.

So I continue on toward Andrews when I get a second call.

“I hate to have to call and tell you this, but the National Hurricane Center has canceled tomorrow’s tasking and the mission is scrubbed”.

Ah well, Bill was just a Cat 2 storm and apparently losing a little bit of steam. I made ’em promise me they’d keep me at the top of the list for the next storm. I definitely still want to join that rather exclusive club of people who’ve flown through the eye of a hurricane – on purpose.


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Obama Says 95% Won’t See Taxes Go Up. 68% Don’t Believe Him

Yeah, it’s a provocative title, but it is certainly a way to interpret what the latest Gallup poll indicates:

A new Gallup Poll finds that 68% of Americans believe their federal income taxes will be higher by the time Barack Obama’s first term as president ends. This includes 35% who say their taxes will be “a lot higher.”

It is also another indication of why Obama’s job approval numbers are tanking and why Americans, using the only real outlet available to some of them, i.e. townhalls, appear angry.

They simply don’t trust a thing this administration and the Congress is putting out there. The irony, of course, is that the Democrats and Obama thought that circumstance had handed them the perfect political storm with which to pass huge social programs liberals had dreamed of for decades. They had a crisis and, as Rahm Emanuel said, they weren’t going to let it go to waste.

But it has doubled back on them in a fairly quick and dramatic way. Suddenly, in the crisis fever they whipped up, people who were normally uninterested in politics started paying attention. And what they saw didn’t please them. They saw the federal government pumping unheard of amounts of borrowed money into various black holes, taking over whole industries and parts of others and planning on taking over even more, such as health care. That, all while telling us what we knew was intuitively and historically false – they’d run them more efficiently and effectively than the private side could.

It was a huge wake-up call for the American public, formerly known as the slowly and quiescently boiling frog. That level of activity, money and government intervention in a short 6 to 8 month period grabbed the public’s attention and, even in short attention span America, has kept it.

Democrats and the administration reacted badly. And they continue to do so. Falsely believing they had some sort of mandate to act as they wished, they’ve completely blown the health care debate. As Greg Lyons notes at Salon – Salon for heaven sake – “you won’t win the healthcare debate by calling people stupid racists”. But that seems to be the Dem game plan. And again we’re treated to the delicious irony of Democrats calling for “civil debate” while characterizing Americans who disagree with them as “political terrorists”, “brownshirts” and “un-American.”

Yes, this has turned into a perfect storm alright, but not at all the one the Democrats and administration thought they were going to get to exploit. And I can’t say I’m displeased about that in the least.


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The Garage Sale Police

What is more quintessentially American than the garage sale?

Americans have held them for decades and, in fact, attending them is a pleasant passtime for many each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But Big Brother has decided that such Americana is a menace to our children.

Yes, friends, the “Garage Sale Police” are coming.

If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Now I don’t know about you, but when children outgrow toys, parents usually store them away, give them away or, eventually, sell them at a garage sale. What parents don’t do is keep up with which toys have been recalled by their manufacturers.

But that’s precisely what you must do now if you want to sell the kid’s old toys at your garage sale:

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army say they do that anyway. But Ma and Pa cleaning out the attic – yeah, not so much.

But in this brave new world, you must be aware that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.

“We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.”

Now you can take that any way you wish to take it, but denying on the one hand that they’ll be dispatching inspectors to garage sales and saying “but we’re still going to enforce” on the other sends a very mixed message. Their method of enforcement will be fairly easy – they’re hoping that garage sale buyers will turn in garage sale sellers breaking this odious law.

Well, I’ve got a fairly simple and straight forward message for the feds – butt out. We’ve been raising our children safely since the dawn of humanity without you and we don’t your garage sale police to keep them safe – thank you very much.

And politicians wonder why people are seemingly angrier and angrier about what they see coming out of Washington?


[HT: The Liberty Papers]

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Protest Songs – They Ain’t What They Used To Be

How bad is it? Watch this and cringe. This is a take off on the Peter, Paul and Mary (well, actually a Bob Dylan song, but PPM made it famous) song, “Blowing in the Wind”. At the end of this they all seem quite pleased with themselves – well, except for the guy on the right who appears to want to quietly back out of the picture.

As Reason’s Nick Gillespie says:

Remember the old line about how the left won the ’60s culture war because “they had better songs”?

Well, if the music matters in public policy debates, then this song is the ultimate weapon for opponents of single-payer health care. And folk music. And quite possibly, humanity itself.

Heh … Indeed.


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Krugman, Obama and “Progressive Revolt”

Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.

Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.

Says Krugman:

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.

While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.

Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.

But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.

The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.

Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.

Krugman concludes:

So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.

Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.

Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.

So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.


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Stimulus? Try Offshore Drilling

During the last days of the Bush administration, there was a small flurry of hope among proponents of drilling for oil and gas which is off our coast. The president lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling and Congress, understanding the politics of the moment, let their ban expire. As the Washington Examiner explains, that leaves only one obstacle to the US finally going after what is thought to be about 3 billion barrels of oil and 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas:

So the only thing keeping U.S. firms from drilling off our own continental shelf is President Barack Obama and his secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, who is slow-walking the approval process that must be cleared before the work can begin.

However, President Obama has managed to break 2 billion of your dollars loose to loan to Brazil to help bankroll their offshore drilling in the Atlantic. One assumes that will give Brazil a savings which will allow them pursue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well, since they are one of a number of nations pursuing oil and gas there:

Brazil, China, India, Norway, Spain and Russia have all signed agreements with Cuba and the Bahamas to initiate exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico within the next two years. So the prospect of seeing Russian oil rigs 45 miles off the Florida Keys — where American oil companies are now forbidden to drill — is a very real possibility.

That “very real possibility” would see us buying oil from the Gulf from foreign oil producers when it was just as readily available to us and our own companies.

And who would you rather produced it – US companies who have proven over the years that they have the ability to recover both oil and gas safely and in an environmentally sensitive way or foreign companies 45 miles off your coast who could give a good rip one way or the other how environmentally safe their methods were?

Then there’s the recession, jobs and the government’s hunt for revenue. This seems like a natural “shovel ready” industry that wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a nickle to crank up but would benefit the economy and the tax base:

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the development of America’s coastal oil and gas resources would generate more than $1.3 trillion in new government revenue and 160,000 high-paying jobs over the next two decades.

Instead of going full bore and trying to get this program off the ground – or in this case, in the water, we’re still piddling around trying to pass legislation:

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., are bipartisan co-sponsors of a bill that provides coastal states such as Florida their fair share of revenues produced by off-shore drilling and production. The same thing should be done for states on the East and West coasts. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s lawmakers hope to tap deposits off Santa Barbara to generate billions in royalties, and Virginia’s front-running gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has made drilling 50 miles off that state’s coast a key component of his energy plan.

Meanwhile foreign nations are moving to exploit resources we should have been exploiting for decades.

We have a huge looming energy gap. We’re behind the curve as it stands right now. While all the politics is focused on health care reform, this need isn’t going away and only becomes worse. Instead of “slow-walking” this, Barack Obama and Ken Salazar should be fast-tracking it and getting us out in those offshore areas to grab the most productive regions first. If we don’t, we’ll be moaning about how the percentage of oil and gas we import has gone up again.

And, as usual, that will be our own negligent fault.


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Obama – It’s Just August

Whistling past the graveyard, the White House is trying to write off its recent troubles in selling health care reform to it being nothing more than the problem of – August?


Because, you know, everyone understands that August just isn’t Obama’s month.

Obama on a recent conference call with the DNCC discussing health care:

“There’s something about August going into September where everyone in Washington gets all ‘wee-weed’ up,” the president said.

He pointed to last August’s selection of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to join the Republican ticket as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee.

“‘Obama’s lost his mojo,'” the president said the media were saying after Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign received a short-lived bump from palin.

“You remember all that?” Obama added.

I remember it. Of course this isn’t just about “Washington” getting “all ‘wee-weed’ up” . Trying to compare an election in which people stand to be sort of obliquely effected in their everyday life by the eventual winner to the passage of legislation which would directly effect their daily life, health and liberty is the first mistake. In an election a candidate is, at most, a possible threat. In the present situation what is being proposed is a direct threat and is being considered as such.

Last August, Barack Obama was an articulate and attractive unknown. Since his inauguration, he’s anything but unknown. Trying to pretend this August is at all similar to last August and Obama will get his “mojo” back because he did so previously is foolish at best.

He’s fond of saying “this isn’t about me”. In this case he’s exactly right – and that’s why his most recent forays into the heartland to sell this “reform” have had little effect. That’s also why this August and the months that follow will be nothing like those last year.


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