Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Will Waxman-Markey Inspire A Trade War?

Apparently it will according to some who have actually beaten their way through the entire bill and read the contents:

The Ways and Means Committee’s proposed bill language (pdf) would virtually require that the president impose an import tariff on any country that fails to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course in this full bore onslaught of major life changing legislation which the Democrats seem determined to push through the Congress as quickly as they can (citing the imminent crisis it will foment if they don’t), this issue seems to be lost in the shuffle:

“This is a sleeper issue that lawmakers have not been paying enough attention to,” said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinational corporations like Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. advocating for an open international trading system.

“The danger is, you focus so much on leveling the playing field for U.S. firms, that you neglect the potentially serious consequences that this could have on the international trading system,” Colvin said.

Ya think?

Nancy Peolosi is aiming for a vote in the House this Friday, before the July 4th recess. That obviously will mean very, very limited debate, if any. As NRO notes:

Not content to tempt political fate by imposing huge carbon taxes on the American middle class, Democrats have added a provision which imposes stiff tariffs on our trading partners if they don’t adopt aggressive carbon restrictions of their own.

You heard correctly: progressives have authored a bill that earns the mortal enmity of domestic energy consumers and our most crucial trading partners at the same time. Economy-killing climate policies and a trade war — together at last!

The devil is in the details:

Leaks from Hill offices indicate that the president would now be forced to impose the carbon tariffs — and could only opt out of doing so with permission from both chambers of Congress. Carbon-intensive imports would be subject to penalties at the border unless the country of origin requires emission reduction measures at least 80 percent as costly as ours. (The original Waxman-Markey bill had a threshold of 60 percent.)

Brilliant. Of course, some are going to argue that such measures surely will not be in the Senate version and not survive the reconciliation process when the two versions are merged. With this Congress I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

There’s some talk that the blue dogs are going to oppose this bill. Obviously you would expect the GOP to oppose it as well. Are there enough other Dems to oppose so as to defeat it? Pelosi may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to many things, but over the years she has learned to count votes I’m sure.

Bottom line: this bill is an economy killer, plain and simple. But it is also a progressive wet-dream shared by Pelosi. She is going to do everything in her power to push it through the House.

~McQ

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Government Health Care – VA’s “Shoddy Standards … Put Veterans At Risk”

We had a little dust-up this week when I mentioned Ezra Klein’s propensity for government run health care and that he held the VA up as a shining example of what that can be.

Apparently it is a no-no among the crowd that follows Klein to include the government run military hospital system with the government run VA hospital system in a general critique of government run health care. And as is typical of drive-by commenters, they ignored the gist of the post to concentrate on pretending that two government run health care systems were not at all alike (because both have major problems).

So today, we’ll just talk about VA and the latest findings that support precisely what I said in the last post – VA has major systemic problems which are dangerous and, as Rep. Harry Mitchell,(D-AZ) who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations said:

“[T]here is no question that shoddy standards — systemic across the VA — put veterans at risk and dealt a blow to their trust in the VA,”

And then there’s the growing controversy over procedures that exposed 10,000 veterans to the AIDS and hepatitis viruses.

What have those interested in veteran care found when they looked at the system?

An official with the American Legion who visits and inspects VA health centers said complacency, poor funding and little oversight led to the violations that failed the cancer patients in Philadelphia and possibly infected 53 veterans with hepatitis and HIV from unsterilized equipment at three VA health centers in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.

“Lack of inspections, lack of transparency” were likely to blame, said Joe Wilson, deputy director of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for the American Legion, who testified before Congress this month on transparency problems in a budgeting arm of the VA.

What’s he talking about? Well apparently the VA is discovering standards and procedures that have been commonplace in the civilian health care system for decades. Remember the problem with endoscopic procedures in multiple locations which led to contamination?

But investigations conducted by the VA last month show that systemic problems remain. Under half of VA centers given surprise inspections had proper training and guidelines in place for common endoscopic procedures.

Many believe the state of the VA is due to chronic underfunding:

Richard Dodd, a litigator who has represented veterans in lawsuits against the government, said that poor funding has lowered the quality of care and interest from some physicians.

“They’re generally under-funded … and I think the interest of the doctors suffers to some degree,” he told FOXNews.com. “Generally speaking, the physicians that work at the VA work there because they have no interest in private health care, and in some situations are unable to find jobs in private industry.”

Of course “underfunded” is always the claimed “root cause” of any problems with government run entities, isn’t it? Take education, for instance.  But underfunding has little to do with procedural failures. That’s just flat bureaucratic incompetence. It is also a persistent problem for top down, bureaucratic systems like – government run health care.

VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki and senior leadership “are conducting a top to bottom review of the Department,” a VA representative told FOXNews.com. “They are implementing aggressive actions to make sure the right policies and procedures are in place to protect our veterans and provide them with the quality health care they have earned.”

But, of course, Gen. Shinseki, for all his military competence, wouldn’t know a proper endoscopic procedure from a walnut tree. And, apparently, neither to those in the system who’ve overseen the present ones. Or said another way, confidence isn’t real high that an apparently inept bureaucracy can suddenly discover competence.

For example, something as simple as drug inventory:

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit to determine how accurately the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) could account for inventories of non-controlled drugs at increased risk for waste and diversion in its health care facilities (facilities). VHA needs to improve its ability to account for non-controlled drugs to reduce the risk of waste and diversion. VHA cannot accurately account for its non-controlled drug inventories because it has neither implemented nor enforced sufficient controls to ensure pharmacy inventory practices are standardized and pharmacy data is accurate.

How can you tell me how “cost-effective” your pharmacy program has been when you don’t even know what your non-controlled drug inventories are and have never bothered to implement or enforce control over them?

Systemic problem.  But this is the shining example of government run health care according the Klein and others.  Underfunded, shoddy, overburdened, old facilities and equipment, a lack of transparancy and controls, insufficient training and poor procedures all driven by a top down bureaucracy.

Yeah, sign me up.

~McQ

[HT: Looker]

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No Hot Dogs For Iran

It took almost two weeks of brutalizing their own people, but the invitation for Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July parties at U.S. Embassies around the world has finally been rescinded. Of course this was done about a day after President Obama gave this mealy-mouthed answer to a question on the subject:

Q: Are Iranian diplomats still welcome at the embassy on the Fourth of July, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think as you’re aware, Major, we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with — we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years, in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.

For those of you who need a translator, the answer was “yes”. Today the answer is “no”.

I’m glad they’ve awakened up there to the reality of what is happening in Iran and finally made some sort of move, no matter how trivial or symbolic, to show their disapproval. But it has taken unrelenting pressure to get them to move off of their “engagement at any cost” policy.  In the case of 4th of July celebrations, it would have been a travesty to have representatives of the present brutal regime present.  Ed Morrissey asks what they’d have been present for anyway:

Besides, what Independence Day values would the Iranian regime want to celebrate with us? Freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? The freedom to peaceably assemble or petition government for a redress of grievances?

Obama rather arrogantly reminded us that “only I am President of the United States”. But as former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger reminded Obama, that means he represents the people of the United States when he speaks and in the case of the Iranian violence, he hasn’t represented them very well at all.

~McQ

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Some Mullahs Join Iranian Protests

Don’t forget that the 1979 Iranian revolution took about a year to gestate after the initial protests. And it picked up support from other elements of society as it grew.

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Whether these clerics voted for Ahmadinejad or one of the opposition candidates is unknown. What is important here, is the decision to march against the will of Iran’s supreme leader who called the results final and declared demonstrations illegal.

This is an indicator that what happened in ’79 may be beginning to happen in ’09 as well.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mullahs rule supreme. They are the country’s conservative clerics; the guardians of the Islamic revolution and its ideologies. They’re loyal only to God and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Obviously that particular equation is under assault with these clerics physically making the point that their loyalty is elsewhere. Check out the article for the picture of these clerics among the protesters.

~McQ

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Was A Question Staged at Yesterday’s Presser?

If so, in terms of presidential press conferences, that’s a real “freedom of the press” no-no. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is pretty sure that a question from the Huffington Post was, in fact, staged:

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.

Milbank reports that he knew Pitney was there because Pitney had been contacted by the White House and was escorted by White House staffers to the reporters area and told he’d probably be called on. Milbank takes it from there:

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised.

I bring this up because while it may seem trivial to some, it points to the lengths this White House will go to stage manage even such events as press conferences. Manipulation of the press is usually much more circumspect than this and doing it as they did with a grinning Rahm Emanuel standing on the sidelines points to a certain arrogance and cavalier attitude toward the tradition of freedom of the press.

But yesterday’s daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner — from the Huffington Post.

Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question’s wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday’s show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia.

Milbank says what wasn’t discussed was Afghanistan, Iraq, or many other critical topics with the time, instead, given to those with the prearranged questions. Not good. Not healthy. But, as Milbank points out, pretty ironic.

Part 2 happens tonight with the ABC informercial for the President’s health care plan.

From watchdogs to lapdogs, the media, with the exception of those like Milbank, simply play along.

~McQ

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Cap and Trade – The Plan to Raise Gasoline Prices

And apparently force you into those electric cars the government is dumping all that money into.

According to API president Jack Gerard, in a letter he sent to members of Congress, the plan included in Waxman-Markey is pretty darn clear:

The legislation will drive up individual and commercial consumer’s fuel prices because it inequitably distributes free emissions “allowances” to various sectors.  Electricity suppliers are responsible for about 40% of the emissions covered by the bill and receive approximately 44% of the allowances – specifically to protect power consumers from price increases.  However the bill holds refiners responsible for their own emissions plus the emissions from the use of petroleum products.  In total refiners are responsible for 44% of all covered emissions, yet the legislation grants them only 2% of the free allowances.

Upon reading that I assume anyone with the IQ of warm toast can see where that is headed. It is a targeted tax on oil and gas which will be passed on to the consumer in just about every conceivable way possible. Both at the pump and in the cost increases rolled into products we buy due to increased transportation costs, etc.

Electricity, however, whose coal plants are supposedly one of the primary producers of CO2 and very much responsible for the emissions problems we supposedly have get a pass. Does that even begin to hint that this legislation isn’t just about controlling CO2 emissions?

In fact, it shouts it out fairly clearly doesn’t it. Keep the proles happy by ensuring their power to the house is subsidized and stick it to them at the pump where government (who now has a stake in the game) wants consumers buying “green” cars. Don’t you just love it when a plan begins to come together?

Moving on, Gerard’s letter lays out some sobering numbers:

This places a disproportionate burden on all consumers of gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, jet fuel, propane and other petroleum products. An analysis of the Congressional Budget Office Report indicates that it could add as much as 77 cents to a gallon of gasoline over the next decade. And, according to the Heritage Foundation this legislation could cause gas prices to jump 74% by 2035. That means, at today’s prices, gasoline would be well over $4 a gallon.

Of course by 2035 we’ll all be riding around in vehicles powered by uincorn methane. And everyone knows that unicorn methane is nontoxic, environmentally friendly, smells good and is eco friendly.

That said, there is the cap and trade plan as it pertains to one vital segment of our economy in all its simple glory. It will force you to pay outrageous prices to use petroleum products in order to move you to the desired, but not yet available, means of conveyance. In the meantime, and until it is available, you’ll just have to suffer with the cost increases.  Also remember that government estimates of cost are notoriously conservative and the real cost of such legislation is likely to be much higher than anticipated.

And don’t laugh too hard when they try to sell that to you by saying they’re attempting to save the planet. They’re exempting coal fired power plants for heaven sake. Trust me, this isn’t about emissions. If it were, they wouldn’t treat natural gas the way they do in the legislation as the letter points out.

After all, they’re the government and they’re there to help.

~McQ

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The Irony of Obama

In the wake of President Obama’s presser yesterday, Walter Shapiro makes an observation:

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally – very occasionally – the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president’s public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has at times spoken in particularly mealy mouthed fashion because he is fearful (as he has repeatedly explained) that his words could be hijacked by the Iranian theocrats. Even during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama ducked condemning the Iranian election as totally fraudulent by carefully saying, “We didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitely what happened at polling places throughout the country.” Obama – who more than most leaders understands the power of inspirational rhetoric – has been forced to keep his most potent weapon (his moral outrage) sheathed through most of the Iranian crisis.

It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? The man whose primary political resource is his rhetorical abilities is rendered essentially speechless when it is only speech which is required to stand strongly by Iranians fighting for their freedom and rights and condemn their oppressors.

But let a CEO get a bonus he doesn’t like and he can muster both anger and eloquence.

Truly a strange world we live in.

~McQ

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The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

In The New Ledger, Christopher Badeaux has penned one of the most withering takedowns of a public figure since H.L. Mencken’s obituary of William Jenning’s Brian. Badeaux’s target:  Andrew Sullivan.  A few samples are in order.

On Sullivan’s campaign against circumcision:

To say that Sullivan has focused his laser-like mind on human reproductive organs is to engage in an understatement worthy of the master himself. We could simply look at Sullivan’s relentless, years-long focus on circumcision (a relentlessness not well-captured by the internet tubes, as Sullivan’s archives traditionally become difficult to search when he moves from site to site), an unusual genre for a man who will never have children and who is not Jewish or Muslim, though perhaps not so unusual given his general interest in the member in question. One could focus on his decision to start calling a 4,000 year old religious tradition “male genital mutilation,” thus cleverly calling untold generations of Jews child abusers and torturers, a decision that marks the sort of intellectual territory into which only a man bravely unwilling to live in Israel can tread.

On Sullivan’s participation in the Sarah-Bristol-Trig Palin controversy:

Andrew Sullivan immediately leaped into the fray. Unlike the rest of these non-experts, many of whom began to back off of the story when word emerged that Mrs. Palin’s daughter was pregnant and had been close to the time of Trig’s birth, Sullivan, who apparently received a secret medical degree while attending Harvard, began obsessively following this story, turning the Atlantic from a fairly uninteresting opinion website into a leading journal of gynecology and obstetrics. Rarely in human history has a gay man been that obsessed with a married woman’s vagina.

On Sullivan’s views about the Catholic Church:

Sullivan sees deep plans within plans, and lives by undercurrents the likes of which we mere mortals cannot fathom; is it any wonder that his break with any apparent connection with Catholic teaching or thought, Scripture, and reality came when he perceived a great teaching moment on Benedict XVI’s ascension? Certainly not, because if there is anything about which we can be certain, it is that Sullivan is as constant as the polar ice.

Sullivan’s problem with pre-35th Century Catholicism, he has repeatedly assured his readers, is in its offenses against human dignity, human dignity only usually being a code word for sodomy.

On Sullivan’s thoughts about The Jews:

One sign of a writer’s mental disfigurement, laziness, undiagnosed psychoses, or, obviously in the case of Sullivan, inhuman insight, is the gradual realization that the term “neoconservative” is a useful stand-in for “Jews whose loyalty belongs first to Israel, and then to the United States, if at all.” Sullivan has clearly reached this point, as one can note from some of his most recent thoughts...

Surely Sullivan, keen observer of men, sees what we cannot: That the Jews (or rather, a subset of American Jews) are in close collaboration with Israel, are working to undermine our brave President’s policy of allowing Iranians to die in their streets, never understanding that President Obama’s indifference is actually a brilliant ploy to force the theocrats of Iran to spontaneously step down and allow a thousand fabulous flowers to bloom. You see, he’s clearly not taking issue with the “neocons” for wanting to toss out the clerics; he discerns that because of their love of blood-of-Gentile pastries and determination to overtly strike out at theocrats, dictators, and Palestinian children, they’re being counterproductive.

The whole thing is brutal.  And brutally funny.

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The “Bullet Fee”

Shades of the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.

A protester is shot dead in Iran. His father learns of his death:

Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

But we don’t want to be the “foil” so we’ll withold saying anything that might be misinterpreted. Well, except this:

But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.

Ed Morrisey calls this “despicable”. I say he’s being very understated in his criticism.

Pass the hot dogs.

Please.

~McQ

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TARP, Winners and Losers and the Constitution

So far my favorite (yes I’m being sarcastic here) government program to date has been the “clunkers for dollars” scam. We’re suffering from overspending and over-extended credit and the government puts together a program in which it tries to entice people with old, but probably paid off cars to go into debt for a new one by giving them $4,500 dollars of your money to buy a more fuel efficient model.

Brilliant.

But I have to say, this one is also a great (sarcasm again) program as well:

It can be difficult to keep straight all the billions going to auto companies. But today the Department of Energy is reportedly set to announce that it will begin doling out sums from a $25 billion loan program for the development of fuel-efficient cars. The money comes from a bill passed last September and signed by President Bush and is totally separate from the TARP.

Among the first recipients are Ford, Nissan and Tesla, the small electric car company. The amounts will be announced today, but Ford has requested $5 billion. Nissan is getting the money to build a battery-electric car in its Tennessee plant.

A few points – one, does anyone hear the public clamoring for electric cars out there? They may be, but I’ve sure missed it. Why in the world is my money going to these companies to build something I’m not asking for and really don’t want – especially given the stage the technology is in right now. Yup, its government picking winners and losers again and we know how that seems to always turn out.

Two – although I’m completely against this, it is obvious it is going to happen, so I have to ask, why are we subsidizing a foreign auto maker with my money?

Three – and I know this is a completely silly question, but would some Constitutional scholar out there point me to the part of said document that makes this all kosher?

Thanks.

~McQ

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