Monday, May 31, 2010
Obamacare taking on water
...Since passage, reports have revealed that ObamaCare would cost over $1 trillion by any standard, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), not “merely” $940 billion as previously reported (while its total costs in its real first decade, 2014 to 2023, would continue to be well over $2 trillion); that ObamaCare has prompted major corporations to discuss dropping their employer-provided health-care plans; that businesses would have to file 1099s not only for every person to whom they pay $600 in wages but for every vendor with whom they do $600 in business, thereby imposing a paperwork nightmare and incentivizing companies to avoid doing business with a myriad of small firms rather than a handful of big ones; that ObamaCare would create 159 new federal agencies, offices, or programs; that the Obama administration’s Medicare Chief Actuary says ObamaCare would raise U.S. health costs by $311 billion in relation to current law and would shift about 14 million people off of employer-provided insurance — and some of them onto Medicaid; that ObamaCare’s would discourage employment, as — for example — hiring a 25th worker would cost a business $5,600 in addition to wages and benefits; that ObamaCare would impose a severe marriage penalty, offering additional subsidies as high as $10,425 a year if couples merely avoid marriage; that a lone provision in ObamaCare, which would penalize employers if their employees spend more than 9.5 percent of their household income on insurance premiums, would cut the net income of businesses like White Castle by more than half; that even though ObamaCare was supposed to get people out of emergency rooms and into doctors’ offices, those who build emergency rooms say the effect will be just the opposite and that they are gearing up for increased business; that doctors shortages are looming and would be accentuated by ObamaCare, both because more people would seek care (otherwise, what would the $2 trillion be buying?) and because fewer people would likely enter a demanding profession that would now promise greater restrictions and lower pay; and that President Obama’s nominee to head Medicare and Medicaid under ObamaCare is an open advocate of the British National Health Services’ NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and its methods of rationing care....
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Who are the real "crazies" in our political culture?
...In 2003, the crank lunatic-monster Ron Paul vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq, while countless sane, normal, upstanding, good-hearted Democrats -- including the current Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Senate Majority Leader, House Majority Leader, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and many of the progressive pundits who love to scorn Ron Paul as insane -- supported the monstrous attack on that country.
In 2008, the sicko Ron Paul opposed the legalization of Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program and the granting of retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms, while the Democratic Congress -- led by the current U.S. President, his Chief of Staff, the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Majority Leader -- overwhelmingly voted it into law. Paul, who apparently belongs in a mental hospital, vehemently condemned America's use of torture from the start, while many leading Democrats were silent (or even supportive), and mainstream, sane Progressive Newsweek and MSNBC pundit Jonathan Alter was explicitly calling for its use. Compare Paul's February, 2010 emphatic condemnation of America's denial of habeas corpus, lawless detentions and presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens to what the current U.S. Government is doing.
The crazed monster Ron Paul also opposes the war in Afghanistan, while the Democratic Congress continues to fund it and even to reject timetables for withdrawal. Paul is an outspoken opponent of the nation's insane, devastating and oppressive "drug war" -- that imprisons hundreds of thousands of Americans with a vastly disparate racial impact and continuously incinerates both billions of dollars and an array of basic liberties -- while virtually no Democrat dares speak against it. Paul crusades against limitless corporate control of government and extreme Federal Reserve secrecy, while the current administration works to preserve it. He was warning of the collapsing dollar and housing bubble at a time when our Nation's Bipartisan Cast of Geniuses were oblivious. In sum, behold the embodiment of clinical, certifiable insanity: anti-DADT, anti-Iraq-war, anti-illegal-domestic-surveillance, anti-drug-war, anti-secrecy, anti-corporatism, anti-telecom-immunity, anti-war-in-Afghanistan....
Ron Paul: Constituents changed my mind on 'don't ask, don't tell'
So why did Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), after supporting "don't ask, don't tell" since its introduction in 1993, vote to begin the process to repeal it?
"I have received several calls and visits from constituents who, in spite of the heavy investment in their training, have been forced out of the military simply because they were discovered to be homosexual," Paul said Friday. "To me, this seems like an awful waste. Personal behavior that is disruptive should be subject to military discipline regardless of whether the individual is heterosexual or homosexual. But to discharge an otherwise well-trained, professional, and highly skilled member of the military for these reasons is unfortunate and makes no financial sense....
Latest climate climbdown: the Royal Society reviews its statements on global warming
The latest institutional retreat from uncritical support of the AGW hypothesis is one that will chill warmists to the core: the Royal Society has announced it is to review its public statements on climate change. The Society now believes that its previous communications did not properly distinguish between what was widely agreed on climate science and what is not fully understood. It has appointed a panel to review its statements, assisted by two critical sub-groups, including a number of Fellows who have doubts about the received view on the risks of increasing CO2 levels.
In fact this review has been forced on the Society by 43 of its Fellows who demanded last January that the pamphlet Climate Change Controversies, produced in 2007 and published on its website, should be rewritten to take a less aggressive stance in support of AGW and respect climate change “agnostics”. In such partisan activities the Royal Society has form: in 2005 it published “A guide to facts and fictions about climate change”, which denounced 12 “misleading arguments” which today, post Climategate and the subsequent emboldening of sceptical scientists to speak out, look far from misleading.
This development does not, of course, mean that the Royal Society is embracing climate scepticism. On the contrary, it is very reluctantly modifying its stance to accommodate some of its Fellows who take the very scientific position that a degree of agnosticism is good practice when hypotheses remain unproven. Yet this retreat from absolutist global warming orthodoxy will deeply dismay the AGW lobby. For years, there was no fiercer proponent of the AGW theory than the Royal Society. Its previous president Lord May notoriously stated: “The debate on climate change is over.”...
In Spite of State Law, Maryland Law Enforcement Officials Still Arresting, Charging People for Recording Cops
...No one expects what they say to a cop during a traffic stop to be private. But when you combine that with how some Maryland cops and prosecutors are interpreting the law, such as in Graber's case, you get a perverse result: When a cop pulls you over or detains you for questioning, he—the public servant with the badge and the gun—retains a right to privacy for the entire encounter. You don't.
This does not sound like a serious interpretation of the law. But it's apparently the interpretation among Maryland law enforcement officials. A cynic might conclude that law enforcement officials in Maryland are reacting to the McKenna embarrassment by threatening and cracking down on anyone who videotapes on-duty cops, and they'll interpret the law in whatever way allows them to do so. At least until a court tells them otherwise.
Whatever their motivation, their legal justification is dubious. The McKenna case is a strong argument in favor of more citizen monitoring of on-duty police. The police not only beat the kid, they then lied about it in police reports. The security camera footage of McKenna's beating, which is controlled by University of Maryland Campus POlice, mysteriously disappeared. The officer in charge of the camera system is married to one of the officers involved in the beating. Does anyone really think the charges against McKenna would have been dropped—and the officers who beat him suspended—if it weren't for the cell phone videos?...
Friday, May 28, 2010
How Many Employers Will Drop Health Coverage Under ObamaCare?
When the CBO estimated how many individuals would end up shifting away from their current employer-sponsored health care coverage under the PPACA, it found that 3 million workers would likely lose their current coverage. But it's increasingly looking like that estimate could be low: A number of big employers are already considering dropping employee coverage, and a new study from former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Cameron Smith suggests that, depending on the details of the insurance employers currently offer, the number could be far higher. According to their analysis, the law "provides strong incentives for employers–with the agreement of their employees–to drop employer-sponsored health insurance for as many as 35 million Americans." If that happened, it would raise the bill's cost from about a trillion dollars to an estimated $1.4 over the first decade....
Bursting the Myths of the Great Depression
Government of all kind depends on elaborate mythologies to keep the people complacent in the face of constant attacks on their liberty, their property, and even their lives. Kings used to proclaim that they were divine or at least that they ruled with divine approval, so disobedience to them was actually disobedience to God or the gods. That worked to keep most of the citizenry in line for a very long time.
As religion started losing its hold over people, rulers came up with new ideas. One was that the state was like a big, sheltering family where everyone had to cooperate for the common good — as directed by the government. Another idea was that the alternative to control by the government, anarchy, was so terrifying that it must be opposed at every turn. Government, according to this notion, is our bulwark against many calamities, including economic implosion. If it weren’t for the benevolent, far-seeing actions of politicians and their hired regulators, we would have to endure repeated and prolonged depressions. So even if you aren’t crazy about everything the government does, you need to accept it because the alternative is so much worse.
The argument that we need the government to stabilize and stimulate the economy came to the forefront during the 1930s and it’s there once again following the bursting of the housing bubble and the stock-market collapse in 2007-08. People who never think the state has too much power are beating the drums and hollering that these events once again prove the need for government to have a tight — tighter — grip on the economic reins. Numerous articles and books have been written on the wisdom we can gain by looking back in history at the Great Depression and President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The message they convey is that laissez-faire capitalism causes depressions and we must rely on activist government for salvation.
Economist Robert Murphy (Ph.D. from New York University, formerly on the faculty of Hillsdale College and now an independent scholar) agrees that we can learn a lot by looking back at the Great Depression and New Deal, but maintains that the lessons to be learned are the exact opposite of those that our political establishment (including its many intellectual hangers-on) want us to learn. Far from proving any defect in capitalism, the Depression actually shows that politicians should refrain from political meddling with the economy, especially federal tampering with money and credit. Also, if we hunt for the truth about the New Deal, we discover that it was just a parade of endless folly and bungling that made things worse. ...
... Americans have also been told that the Depression wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for Herbert Hoover’s dogged insistence on letting the free market correct itself. But that idea, Murphy demonstrates, is also utterly false. Hoover was thoroughly committed to “progressive” policies he felt would put the economy back on its feet. Especially revealing is Murphy’s recounting of the fact that back in the Harding administration (1921-23) Hoover had argued in favor of government “stimulus” and interventionism. Fortunately, President Harding listened instead to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who argued for federal budget and tax cuts to help speed recovery, but otherwise not to tinker with the economy. Under Mellon’s approach, the economy quickly rebounded from its sharp postwar slump. Hoover, however, remained devoted to his belief that recessions call for more government intervention, not less.
Once the stock market crashed in 1929 and unemployment rose, Hoover (who had been elected president in 1928) rejected the counsel of Mellon and others who urged him to follow the same course Harding had. He was certain that it would be more effective and humane for the federal government to step in and override the slow and “cruel” free-market adjustment process. By embracing an activist approach, Hoover managed to convert what would have been a short recession into America’s worst depression.
Hoover was voted out of office in disgrace in the 1932 election, but to his dying day he remained adamant that his activist, “progressive” economic policy was right. ...
Bill Requires Diversity in Calif. Pension Funds
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's public pension funds would have to report the ethnicity and gender of some of the outside investment managers they hire under a bill that passed the state Assembly on Thursday.
The bill states that businesses owned by women and minorities are not adequately represented in the state's pension fund portfolios, compared to their proportion of California's population. It passed on a 41-22 vote and now moves to the state Senate.
California's Public Employees' Retirement System, which is known as CalPERS, and the State Teachers' Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, hire external companies to manage parts of their investment portfolios.
The bill seeks to increase the pension funds' business with what it terms ''emerging investment managers.'' It defines those as qualified investment advisers who are women or members of a minority group, and who would manage a portfolio of between $10 million and $1 billion. ...
...The nation's largest public pension fund, which serves 1.6 million government employees and retirees, said it lost $55.2 billion in its 2008-09 fiscal year.
''It comes at precisely the wrong time, with CalPERS now facing a massive shortfall in its investment portfolio,'' said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who is running for U.S. Senate. ...
We must stop saying ‘The science demands...’
Mike Hulme, professor of climate change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, is a passionate advocate of science. Yet, as he tells spiked, when it comes to climate change, too many people expect too much of science. Physics and ethics seem to have become conflated in the climate change debate. We see politicians expecting science to determine policy; we see environmental campaigners, armed with peer-reviewed papers, expecting it to win all the arguments; and, in turn, we see so-called sceptics expecting their science to refute the green vision of society. But for Hulme, author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, science cannot, and should not, be expected to do these things. It is no substitute, he argues, for politics or for moral judgements.
‘The phraseology that I object to – because it’s inappropriate – is “the science demands this” and “the science demands that”, as though the making of climate policy, or policy in general in fact, is a simple process of translating scientific evidence or scientific knowledge claims directly into policy. In no area of policy is that the case – least of all in climate change, where the making of policy has to bring in a much wider range of pieces of evidence and also political and ethical considerations.’...
...Yet if consensus is predicated upon disagreement, why, politically, is there so much anxiety about anyone appearing to challenge the consensus, with people branded as ‘deniers’ and modern-day heretics if they dare to question what some greens mistakenly consider to be concrete agreement amongst leading experts? ‘One of the reasons for that’, says Hulme, ‘is because of this belief that there is a specific relationship between scientific knowledge and policy. As a result, it is argued that you have to have clear and certain scientific knowledge that will translate into clear and certain policy. And if the science is presented as being not clear and not certain, then the whole argument, or the whole policy, breaks down.
‘And that’s why so many of the battles, so many of the ideological battles, are fought through the proxies of science and scientists – because people think that if you win that battle, then you’ve won the policy battle. This again is an inappropriate understanding. Actually, the ideological battles, the policy battles, have to be held on the territory of politics, ethics, worldviews and beliefs. That’s where the legitimate battle should be held.’...
Thursday, May 27, 2010
ObamaCare vs. Small Business
For decades small business owners have been telling anyone who would listen that they need health-care reforms that lower costs. But President Obama and his allies in Congress pushed through a law that will dramatically raise health-care costs and increase the overall cost of doing business. What's more, the federal mandate requiring that nearly all U.S. residents carry health insurance by 2014 seriously threatens our basic constitutional rights and individual freedoms.
This is why the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), on behalf of small business owners nationwide, has joined the lawsuit with 20 states mounting a constitutional challenge to this devastating new health-care law.
This law is death by a thousand cuts for small business owners. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the overhaul will cost about $115 billion more than first projected, bringing the total to more than $1 trillion. Small businesses will also now have to deal with an onslaught of new taxes and burdensome paperwork. ...
Stimulus Surprise: Companies Retrench When Government Spends
Recent research at Harvard Business School began with the premise that as a state's congressional delegation grew in stature and power in Washington, D.C., local businesses would benefit from the increased federal spending sure to come their way.
It turned out quite the opposite. In fact, professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloy discovered to their surprise that companies experienced lower sales and retrenched by cutting payroll, R&D, and other expenses. Indeed, in the years that followed a congressman's ascendancy to the chairmanship of a powerful committee, the average firm in his state cut back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent, according to their working paper, "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?"
"It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman's state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending," Coval reports.
Over a 40-year period, the study looked at increases in local earmarks and other federal spending that flowed to states after the senator or representative rose to the chairmanship of a powerful congressional committee....
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Schumer's racket: Lobbyists and hedge funds
Three years ago, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., leaned on hedge funds to lobby more. The funds soon hired his banking staffer as a lobbyist. She began raising money for Schumer. Now he's championing financial regulation that would benefit these hedge funds. "Racket" might be the right word here.
Here's the story: In January 2007, the month Democrats took control of Congress, Schumer invited hedge funds executives to dinner, where, the New York Times reported, he "had some simple advice for the billionaires in his midst: If you want Washington to work with you, you had better work better with one another."
Until then, hedge funds had largely minded their own business. But in the 2008 elections, they tripled their previous contributions to politicians, with Schumer and Barack Obama as their favorites, along with other Senate Democrats (Schumer was head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee).
But more to Schumer's point, the hedge funds shifted their lobbying into high gear. After spending less than half a million in 2006, they spent more than $6 million in 2007....
...But how did Schumer benefit from his January 2007 meeting with the hedgies? How does Schumer always benefit? Fundraising. Democrats in 2008 brought in $11.7 million from hedge funds, nearly twice the GOP haul....
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Experts: 'Doc fix' a budget band-aid
The problem first became apparent in 2002, when Medicare costs outpaced the SGR. A Republican-led Congress stepped in with extra funding the following year, preventing a reduction in doctor payments. Congress has continued to do so for seven years now.
Under both Democratic and Republican leadership, Congress has consistently delivered the necessary funds to avoid cuts to doctor salaries.
A CBO report this month estimated that $276 billion would be required to shore up Medicare for the next decade. Not surprisingly, no politician wants to get stuck with that check. So they’ve all politely deferred from the financial commitments in order to avoid the appearance of adding billions of dollars to the national deficit.
But the “doc fix” actually fixes nothing. Health policy experts agree that health spending is not slowing down, so the short-term patches only “kick the can down the road,” as Van de Water put it. “They want to have their cake and eat it, too.”
In other words, it’s a face-saving gimmick that makes it look like Congress is sticking to Medicare cost controls when it isn’t, despite numerous red flags over the years. ...
The Greeks Get It
Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it. ...
...What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. ...
Any Given Sunday
Last September, I was at some off-the-record Washington dinner and happened to be at the table of a Democratic Congressman. He'd just gotten back from recess in his district, where he'd been subjected to the full Tea Party treatment. As he described the rage he'd witnessed, it was clear he was spooked. I remember thinking he was more scared of voting for the healthcare bill than he was of voting against it, and that was going to be a problem.
I thought about that Congressman this past Sunday as I watched more than 700 protesters from National People's Action gather on the front lawn at the home of Gregory Baer, deputy counsel for the Bank Regulatory and Public Policy Group at Bank of America. NPA was coming from the other end of the spectrum from the Tea Party, and was there to demand a meeting with Baer's boss, the bank's CEO, Brian Moynihan. They were black and brown and white, senior citizens and little kids sitting on shoulders and lots of teenagers. They had bullhorns and signs and chanted "Bank of America! Bad for America!" (which, I promise, sounds better as a chant than it reads on the page). To hush the crowd, organizers would raise their clenched fists, and instantly it would fall silent. This was disciplined bedlam: like some crazy hybrid of a hip-hop show and a picket line....
...It's about damn time. We have witnessed the greatest implosion of American capitalism in nearly a century, and the only grassroots movement the cataclysm seems to have birthed is a right-wing populist backlash. When the country suffered a trauma that massively discredited the establishment rulers, the Democratic Party became the establishment. And progressive groups in DC, under stern White House orders not to cause trouble (don't show up at his door! he's a donor! we might nominate him for something!), descended into what one organizer calls "grotesque transactionalism."
"Showdown in America" is a rebuke to that tactic. Choosing direct action does not mean abandoning legislative mobilization, but it articulates a broader vision than just support for this or that amendment. "Now is not a time for tinkering," said NPA's executive director, George Goehl, at the organization's conference earlier that day. "We're not here to eke out a few victories along the margins. To make suffering a little less worse for people.... The brutal facts are that we cannot begin to build an economy for all of us when we have a democracy that works only for corporations and members of Congress."
If we're going to get reform on the scale we need, bank lobbyists and members of Congress alike have to be confronted with the terrifying thought that the system from which they profit might just be run over—that 700 angry protesters might show up on their lawn any given Sunday.
The Next Bailout: $165B for Unions
A Democratic senator is introducing legislation for a bailout of troubled union pension funds. If passed, the bill could put another $165 billion in liabilities on the shoulders of American taxpayers.
The bill, which would put the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation behind struggling pensions for union workers, is being introduced by Senator Bob Casey, (D-Pa.), who says it will save jobs and help people....
Charges filed in Carnahan health care forum fight
ST. LOUIS (KMOX Radio) -- Three months after the punches were thrown, a prosecutor in St. Louis County has filed charges against six people in connection with fights outside a congressional forum on health care.
It happened outside a Russ Carnahan town hall meeting, on an August night when the national debate over health care reform was rising like a heat wave before a thunderstorm. Members of the Service Employees International Union clashed with members of the Tea Party.
Now, St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington has issued a total of ten charges spread out among six people.
Reached by phone after she left the office for the Thanksgiving holiday, Redington spoke from memory in general terms about the case.
Among those charged, two accused of assault in connection with the beating of Tea Party activist Kenneth Gladney. Gladney had claimed that two men wearing SEIU shirts attacked him as he sat at a table giving away tea party buttons....
Hate crime: Obama backers beat up black critic of health-care 'reform,' use racial slurs
Kenneth Gladney, a black critic of Obama’s health-care plan, was beaten, kicked, and called racist names by members of the SEIU, a corrupt and powerful left-wing union that backs Obama’s plan, leaving him wheelchair-bound and too weak to speak. This hate crime took place at a St. Louis "town hall" meeting. SEIU members are bused in to town hall meetings called by liberal lawmakers in order to create the illusion of grassroots support, and intimidate would-be critics.
To curry favor with the corrupt SEIU, the Obama Administration has betrayed union workers by gutting federal regulations that uncover corruption by union leaders and their misuse of union members’ dues. The SEIU spent over $60 million to elect Obama....
"[W]hat if we could just be China for a day?... You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions...."
...A love of autocracy often lurks beneath the liberal veneer. There's this idea that the right answers are known and the people are just too deluded and distorted to see what they are and to vote for them. And Friedman openly deplores the internet, which decimates moderation because there are people like me who who persecute elite truthbearers like him. Ooh! It's a lynch mob. Ha. Sorry. I don't want the rope. I just want to laugh at you....
The Privileged Call for Limited Dictatorships
...They propose dictatorship because they are no longer able to get away with their former arguments, which boiled down to: “shut up. You’re stupid. We’re cool.”
They propose dictatorship because they know their lives would be completely unaffected by such a thing. They will still have access to their Park Avenue doctors; they will be exempt from the rationing of medical treatment that the Obama administration now admits will take place. They will continue to be the privileged useful-idiot voices of the politburo. They will still have their limos and their lunches, where they will sit together and bloviate about what must be done for the commoners who cannot be trusted with their own lives.
“And in fact, you are absolutely right…” they will say to each other, and in their insulated little Pauline-Kaelesque worlds, they will not be able to imagine that anyone with any sense would possibly disagree.
Every murderous totalitarian government of the 20th century began with some insulated group of faux-intellectuals congratulating each other on how smart they are, and fantasizing about how, if they could just install a dictatorship-for-a-day, they could right all the wrongs in the world. ...
Monday, May 24, 2010
Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits
Across Western Europe, the “lifestyle superpower,” the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.
Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.
Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. “The Europe that protects” is a slogan of the European Union.
But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.
With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions. ...
...Figures show the severity of the problem. Gross public social expenditures in the European Union increased from 16 percent of gross domestic product in 1980 to 21 percent in 2005, compared with 15.9 percent in the United States. In France, the figure now is 31 percent, the highest in Europe, with state pensions making up more than 44 percent of the total and health care, 30 percent.
The challenge is particularly daunting in France, which has done less to reduce the state’s obligations than some of its neighbors. In Sweden and Switzerland, 7 of 10 people work past 50. In France, only half do. The legal retirement age in France is 60, while Germany recently raised it to 67 for those born after 1963. ...
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Alongside Night Author to Sue United States for Copyright Infringement
Author/filmmaker, J. Neil Schulman, today announced his intention to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement of his 1979 novel, Alongside Night, which tells the story of the collapse of the American economy due to massive government overspending and the issuing of unbacked money and credit to pay the interest on the national debt.
Schulman intends to name the United States government as his primary defendant. According to Schulman, “The United States government — both the executive and legislative branches, aided by the courts, have stolen the entire premise — and a lot of the plot — of my novel!”
Schulman also intends to name, as co-defendants in his copyright infringement lawsuit, the Federal Reserve Bank, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, General Motors, and the country of Greece.
“Just look at TV news or read a newspaper,” Schulman said. “Plot point after plot point is identical. In my 1979 novel I have General Motors go bankrupt — General Motors then files for bankruptcy. I have Europe issue a common currency in my novel called the ‘eurofranc’ — the European Union then goes and issues the ‘euro.’ In my novel I have a European Chancellor, based in France, accuse the U.S. President of having the monetary policies of a banana republic — then the President of the European Union — also based in France — slams U.S. plans to spend its way out of recession as ‘a road to hell’ and says President Barack Obama’s massive stimulus package and banking bailout ‘will undermine the liquidity of the global financial market.’ The copycat nature of all these plot points and dialogue” — says Schulman — “could not be more obvious!”...
Joe Sestak: Um, yeah, Obama tried to buy me off by offering me a job
Comedy gold from “Meet the Press,” polished off by DNC Chair Tim Kaine grudgingly admitting that it might be time for the White House to come clean. If you need your memory jogged about this, I don’t blame you: Sestak first dropped the bombshell that the White House tried to bribe him out of the primary against Specter more than three months ago. A month after that, pieces were already appearing about how absurd Gibbs’s stonewalling had become; two months later, he’s still stonewalling, refusing this morning to tell Bob Schieffer anything about it except that nothing “inappropriate” happened. Which is probably true: Handing Sestak a briefcase full of money to get out of the race would be indictment-worthy, but handing him the same cash in the form of a paycheck plus the prestige that comes with the title of Secretary of the Navy is just good ol’ horse-trading. No wonder “Washington” is a curse word....
Obama wins the right to detain people with no habeas review
ew issues highlight Barack Obama's extreme hypocrisy the way that Bagram does. As everyone knows, one of George Bush’s most extreme policies was abducting people from all over the world -- far away from any battlefield -- and then detaining them at Guantanamo with no legal rights of any kind, not even the most minimal right to a habeas review in a federal court. Back in the day, this was called "Bush's legal black hole." In 2006, Congress codified that policy by enacting the Military Commissions Act, but in 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that provision unconstitutional, holding that the Constitution grants habeas corpus rights even to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo. Since then, detainees have won 35 out of 48 habeas hearings brought pursuant to Boumediene, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to justify their detention.
Immediately following Boumediene, the Bush administration argued that the decision was inapplicable to detainees at Bagram -- including even those detained outside of Afghanistan but then flown to Afghanistan to be imprisoned. Amazingly, the Bush DOJ -- in a lawsuit brought by Bagram detainees seeking habeas review of their detention -- contended that if they abduct someone and ship them to Guantanamo, then that person (under Boumediene) has the right to a habeas hearing, but if they instead ship them to Bagram, then the detainee has no rights of any kind. In other words, the detainee's Constitutional rights depends on where the Government decides to drop them off to be encaged. One of the first acts undertaken by the Obama DOJ that actually shocked civil libertarians was when, last February, as The New York Times put it, Obama lawyers "told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team."...
...But the Obama administration was undeterred by this loss. They quickly appealed Judge Bates' ruling. As the NYT put it about that appeal: "The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight." Today, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the Bush/Obama position, holding that even detainees abducted outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram have no right to contest the legitimacy of their detention in a U.S. federal court, because Boumediene does not apply to prisons located within war zones (such as Afghanistan).
So congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for winning the power to abduct people anywhere in the world and then imprison them for as long as they want with no judicial review of any kind. When the Boumediene decision was issued in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." But Obama hailed it as "a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo," and he praised the Court for "rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus." Even worse, when Obama went to the Senate floor in September, 2006, to speak against the habeas-denying provisions of the Military Commissions Act, this is what he melodramatically intoned:
As a parent, I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence. . . .
By giving suspects a chance -- even one chance -- to challenge the terms of their detention in court, to have a judge confirm that the Government has detained the right person for the right suspicions, we could solve this problem without harming our efforts in the war on terror one bit. . . .
Most of us have been willing to make some sacrifices because we know that, in the end, it helps to make us safer. But restricting somebody's right to challenge their imprisonment indefinitely is not going to make us safer. In fact, recent evidence shows it is probably making us less safe.
Can you smell the hypocrisy? How could anyone miss its pungent, suffocating odor? Apparently, what Obama called "a legal black hole at Guantanamo" is a heinous injustice, but "a legal black hole at Bagram" is the Embodiment of Hope. ...
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has passport confiscated
The Australian founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks had his passport confiscated by police when he arrived in Melbourne last week.
Julian Assange, who does not have an official home base and travels every six weeks, told the Australian current affairs program Dateline that immigration officials had said his passport was going to be cancelled because it was looking worn.
However he then received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Last year Wikileaks published a confidential list of websites that the Australian government is preparing to ban under a proposed internet filter – which in turn caused the whistleblower site to be placed on that list. ...
Only morons, cheats and liars still believe in Man-Made Global Warming
Well of course I would write a headline like that having just spent the last three days in Chicago at the Heartland Institute’s 4th International Conference on Climate Change. This is the event the cackling, cloak-wearing, befanged AGW-denying community attends every year to glorify in their own evil. And naturally, in the wake of Climategate, a mood of uproarious triumphalism has prevailed as distinguished skeptical scientists, economists, and policymakers from around the world – Pat Michaels, Richard Lindzen, Ian Plimer, Bob Carter, Fred Singer.. you name them, they’re here – have gathered to dance on the smouldering ashes of the mythical beast ManBearPig.
Except we shouldn’t use that word “sceptic” any more. Richard Lindzen – Godfather of Climate Realism – told us so in one of the keynote addresses.
“Scepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition,” he said. “Current global warming alarmism hardly represents a plausible proposition.” Not least, he pointed out, because the various activist scientists, greenies and government institutions pushing AGW theory have failed to “improve their case over 20 years.” So paper thin are the AGW movement’s arguments that pretty much the only defences left to them are desperate techniques like the appeal to authority (“the Royal Society believes in AGW and the Royal Society is, like, really old and distinguished, so AGW must be true”) and cheap slurs....
US faces one of biggest budget crunches in world – IMF
...But the really interesting stuff is the detail, and what leaps out again and again is how much of a hill the US has to climb. Exhibit a is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the US (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100pc of GDP by 2015 – a far steeper increase than almost any other country....
...But level of debt isn’t the only problem. Then there’s the fact that the US has a far shorter maturity of government debt than most other countries, meaning that even if it weren’t borrowing any extra cash it would have to issue a large chunk of new stuff each year as things are. The killer table to show you that is this one, which shows a country’s “gross financing needs” – in other words how much debt it has to issue in the coming years to keep itself functioning....
...What does this mean? Basically with a large financing need, you are particularly vulnerable if the market suddenly decides it doesn’t want your debt, since those extra interest rates they charge you mount much more quickly. ...
Saturday, May 22, 2010
America's new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control
America faces a new culture war.
This is not the culture war of the 1990s. It is not a fight over guns, gays or abortion. Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country's future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise -- limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.
It is not at all clear which side will prevail. The forces of big government are entrenched and enjoy the full arsenal of the administration's money and influence. Our leaders in Washington, aided by the unprecedented economic crisis of recent years and the panic it induced, have seized the moment to introduce breathtaking expansions of state power in huge swaths of the economy, from the health-care takeover to the financial regulatory bill that the Senate approved Thursday. If these forces continue to prevail, America will cease to be a free enterprise nation.
I call this a culture war because free enterprise has been integral to American culture from the beginning, and it still lies at the core of our history and character. "A wise and frugal government," Thomas Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address in 1801, "which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government." He later warned: "To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." In other words, beware government's economic control, and woe betide the redistributors. ...
...The George W. Bush administration began the huge Wall Street and Detroit bailouts, and for years before the economic crisis, the GOP talked about free enterprise while simultaneously expanding the government with borrowed money and increasing the percentage of citizens with no income tax liability. The 30 percent coalition did not start governing this country with the advent of Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It has been in charge for years. ...
...Yet in truth, it was government housing policy that was at the root of the crisis. Moreover, the financial sector -- where the crisis began and where it has had the most serious impact -- is already one of the most regulated parts of our economy. The chaos happened despite an extensive, intrusive regulatory framework, not because such a framework didn't exist.
More government -- including a super-empowered Federal Reserve, a consumer protection watchdog and greater state powers to wind down financial firms and police market risks -- does not mean we will be safe. On the contrary, such changes would give us a false sense of security, especially when Washington, a primary culprit in the crisis, is creating and implementing the new rules.
The statist narrative also held that only massive deficit spending could restore economic growth. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," Obama warned a few days before taking office. "Only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the cycle that is crippling our economy."
This proposition is as expensive as it is false. Recessions can and do end without the kind of stimulus we experienced, and attempts to shore up the economy with huge public spending often do little to improve matters and instead chain future generations with debt. In fact, all the evidence so far tells us that the current $787 billion stimulus package has overpromised and underdelivered, especially when it comes to creating jobs. ...
...To win the culture war, those of us in the 70 percent majority must reclaim -- and proclaim -- the morality of our worldview.
Unfortunately, we often fail to do this. Instead, we sound unabashedly materialistic. We talk about growth rates, inflation and investment, while the 30 percent coalition walks off with the claims to happiness and fairness. (According to Obama, for example, we need to restore "fairness" to our tax code by increasing taxes on the wealthy and exempting more people at the bottom from paying anything.)
The irony is that it is the 30 percent coalition, not the 70 percent majority, that is fundamentally materialistic. What do they consider the greatest problem of poor people in America? Insufficient income. What would be evidence of a fairer society? Greater income equality. For the leaders of the 30 percent coalition, money does buy happiness -- as long as it is spread evenly. That is why redistribution of income is a fundamental goal and why free enterprise, which rewards some people and penalizes others, cannot be trusted.
The 70 percent majority, meanwhile, believes that ingenuity and hard work should be rewarded. We admire creative entrepreneurs and disdain rule-making bureaucrats. We know that income inequality by itself is not what makes people unhappy, and that only earned success can make them happy.
We must do more to show that while we use the language of commerce and business, we believe in human flourishing and contentment. We must articulate moral principles that set forth our fundamental values, and we must be prepared to defend them. ...
Padded Pensions Add to New York Fiscal Woes
In Yonkers, more than 100 retired police officers and firefighters are collecting pensions greater than their pay when they were working. One of the youngest, Hugo Tassone, retired at 44 with a base pay of about $74,000 a year. His pension is now $101,333 a year. ...
...Despite a pension investigation by the New York attorney general, an audit concluding that some police officers in the city broke overtime rules to increase their payouts and the mayor’s statements that future pensions should be based on regular pay, not overtime, these practices persist in Yonkers.
The city has even arranged for its police to put in overtime as flagmen on Consolidated Edison construction sites. Though a company is paying the bill, the city is actually reporting the work as city overtime to the New York State pension fund, padding future payouts — an arrangement at odds with the spirit of public employment, if not the law.
The Yonkers experience shows how errors, misunderstandings and wishful thinking are piling hidden new costs onto New York’s public pension system every year, worsening the state’s current fiscal crisis. And the problem is not just in New York. Public pension costs are ballooning everywhere, throwing budgets out of whack and raising the question of whether venerable state pension systems are viable.
In fact, the cost of public pensions has been systemically underestimated nationwide for more than two decades, say some analysts. By these estimates, state and local officials have promised $5 trillion worth of benefits while thinking they were committing taxpayers to roughly half that amount. ...
...According to pension data collected by The New York Times from the city and state, about 3,700 retired public workers in New York are now getting pensions of more than $100,000 a year, exempt from state and local taxes. The data belie official reports that the average state pension is a modest $18,000, or $38,000 for retired police officers and firefighters. (The average is low, in part, because it includes people who worked in government only part time, or just a few years, as well as surviving spouses getting partial benefits.)
Roughly one of every 250 retired public workers in New York is collecting a six-figure pension, and that group is expected to grow rapidly in coming years, based on the number of highly paid people in the pipeline. ...
The feral vanguard
...Increasing levels of coercion are necessary to expand the socialist system, and keep wealth producers trapped within it. To maintain popular support, the socialist needs voters to stay angry at designated class enemies. The Obama style of total government control over private businesses tends to turn feral with frightening speed, because it attempts to preserve the illusion of private enterprise, even as the “entrepreneurs” are enslaved to the total state....
...A nation which pours its gross domestic product into entitlements and subsidies is essentially trying to short-circuit itself. It will eventually succeed.
It’s imperative for the American people to understand this is the inevitable result of collectivist economics. Political control of the marketplace always degenerates into the political class robbing independent citizens and unpopular industries, to maintain the support of indentured constituents. Packaged votes and bundled political donations, from loyal and motivated groups, are a far easier route to power than somehow keeping the majority of the country happy – a goal that always eludes socialism, because compulsion and ideology make poor substitutes for ambition and innovation.
That explains why socialism is miserable. It turns feral because it always makes promises it cannot keep, and the primary skill of a successful politician is the ability to avoid responsibility. As of this writing, it remains the official position of the Democrat Party that not a single one of its members bears any responsibility for the subprime mortgage crisis. Dodd, Frank, and Obama swam in millions of dollars of campaign donations and graft. They blocked audits of Fannie Mae, and gave speeches assuring the country that it was completely solvent. They greeted any suggestion of reform or oversight with furious accusations of greed and racism. None of them have been punished. In fact, they all enjoy more power than ever today, although Dodd’s time is running out.
When these politicians insist they bear no responsibility for the disasters they have engineered, or the failure of their policies, their loyal supporters believe them. The hunt for the “true” villains predictably follows. The authors of the deficit time bomb will never admit they made impossible promises, or knowingly sold out future generations to acquire immediate power. They knew ObamaCare was a ridiculous fraud – their house organ, theNew York Times, recently told Greece it should privatize health care to bring down costs. The socialists will never accept responsibility for the system beginning to crash down around them… not while they can designate fall guys for their supporters to hate.
Desperation ignites hatred into violence. The American middle class holds the power to write a different ending than the fiery death spiral twisting through the streets of Athens. That fate is only inevitable if we listen to the people who tell us we don’t have any other choices. We are a nation blessed with millions of clever minds, willing hands, and radiant hearts. There’s no problem we cannot solve, once we dismantle the failed State telling us it’s illegal to try. We can work together as free men and women, or depend on the State to loot individuals for the benefit of the collective, until they have nothing worth stealing. There are no other choices. There never were.
The Rand and Rachel Show
...Here’s Maddow, brandishing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as though this is the only matter worth considering in the forthcoming race between Rand Paul and the Democrat, an awful neo-liberal prosecutor, Kentucky’s current attorney general, Jack "I'm a Tough Son-of-a-Bitch" Conway. Between Conway and Paul, which one in the U.S. Senate would more likely be a wild card – which is the best we can hope for these days – likely to filibuster against a bankers’ bailout, against reaffirmation of the Patriot Act, against suppression of the CIA’s full torture history? Paul, one would have to bet, and these are the votes that count, where one uncompromising stand by an outsider can make a difference, unlike the gyrations and last-ditch sell-outs of Blowhard Bernie Sanders. Liberals love grandstanding about what are, in practice, distractions. You think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is going to come up for review in the U.S. Senate?
If Rand Paul hadn’t been so preoccupied with winding up for what he plainly thought was his knock-out punch, concerning Maddow’s posture on the right to bear arms in every restaurant in America from Joe’s Diner to Le Cirque, he could have turned the tables easily enough, just by saying that this ritual flourishing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t have too much to do with what has happened to blacks since that glorious day, from an appalling school system, to blighted housing, constricted employment possibilities, shriveled share of the national income and most recently the greatest transfer in US history of money and assets from African Americans to rich white people by the mortgage speculators, given free rein by Democrats and Republicans....
D.C. Metro Police Escorted SEIU Protesters to Bank Of America Executive’s Home
The family of Greg Baer, Bank of America executive, is located in a jurisdiction protected by the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), which responded promptly to a disturbance call from his neighborhood last weekend.
According to Corporal Dan Friz, an MCPD spokesperson in Rockville, Maryland, the department received a disturbance call from one of Baer’s neighbors at 4:10 pm last Sunday. Four MCPD units arrived at Baer’s Greenville Rd. address at 4:15 pm. At least two Metropolitan Police Department units from the nearby District of Columbia were already at the scene when they arrived.
Why? Because police cars attached to the Washington MPD’s Civil Disturbance Unit had escorted the SEIU protesters’ buses to Baer’s home. Such cross-jurisdictional escort activity is not uncommon for both departments according to Friz and Metro Police Department spokesperson Officer Eric Frost. Still, the District police did not inform their colleagues of what was about to happen in one of their Maryland neighborhoods....
...So, let’s sum this up: A caravan of SEIU buses receive a Metropolitan (D.C.) Police Department escort to a private home in Maryland where the protesters, from all appearances, violate Montgomery County law by engaging in a stationary protest. The Montgomery County police were not informed by their cross-jurisdictional colleagues of the impending, unusually large protest pending in their jurisdiction....
Facts and Myths about the Financial Crisis of 2008
V. V. Chari - Consultant
Lawrence J. Christiano - Consultant
Patrick J. Kehoe - Monetary Advisor
The United States is indisputably undergoing a financial crisis and is perhaps headed for a deep recession. Here we examine three claims about the way the financial crisis is affecting the economy as a whole and argue that all three claims are myths. We also present three underappreciated facts about how the financial system intermediates funds between households and corporate businesses. Conventional analyses of the financial crisis focus on interest rate spreads. We argue that such analyses may lead to mistaken inferences about the real costs of borrowing and argue that, during financial crises, variations in the levels of nominal interest rates might lead to better inferences about variations in the real costs of borrowing. Moreover, we argue that even if current increase in spreads indicate increases in the riskiness of the underlying projects, by itself, this increase does not necessarily indicate the need for massive government intervention. We call for policymakers to articulate the precise nature of the market failure they see, to present hard evidence that differentiates their view of the data from other views which would not require such intervention, and to share with the public the logic and evidence that burnishes the case that the particular intervention they are advocating will fix this market failure. ...
Credit crunch? What credit crunch?
Thu Dec 11, 2008
(Reuters) - The credit crunch is not nearly as severe as the U.S. authorities appear to believe and public data actually suggest world credit markets are functioning remarkably well, a report released on Thursday says.
As a result, governments are pumping masses of public money into the economy across the world because of the difficulties of a few big, vocal banks and industries such as car manufacturing, which would be in difficulty anyway, according to the report published by Celent, a financial services consultancy.
"It's just stabbing in the dark with trillions of dollars," Octavio Marenzi, report author and head of Celent, told Reuters in a telephone interview where he questioned the depth of the analysis that preceded numerous fiscal stimulus packages.
The report, much of which is based on U.S. Federal Reserve data, challenges a long list of assumptions one by one, arguing that there is indeed a financial crisis but that, on aggregate, the problems of a few are by no means those of the many when it comes to obtaining credit.
"It is startling that many of (Federal Reserve) Chairman (Ben) Bernanke and (Treasury) Secretary (Henry) Paulson's remarks are not supported or are flatly contradicted by the data provided by the very organizations they lead," said the report.
Perhaps the U.S. central bank and treasury department, and authorities in other countries by extension, know something they are not telling anyone and which is far more worrying than the public data shows, the report says.
Or, more plausibly, they were generalizing erroneously from the bad experience of a limited number of big banks and companies that are in any case in difficulty....
...Regarding U.S. business access to credit, the report says:
*Overall U.S. bank lending is at its highest level ever and has grown during the current financial crisies.
*U.S. commercial bank lending is at record highs and growing particularly fast since May 2007.
*Corporate bond issuance has declined but increased commercial lending has compensated for this.
As for the interbank market, it says:
*lending hit its highest level ever in September 2008 and remained high in October and that overall interbank lending is up 22 percent since the start of the financial crisis, taken to be mid-2007.
*The cost of interbank lending, as measured by the interest rates banks charge each other for lending overnight Fed funds, dropped to its lowest level ever in early November and remains at very low levels....
Alabama evangelist gets life plus 51 years for dead wife in freezer, abuse of girl
An Alabama evangelist who authorities say terrorized his family while preaching at revivals has been sentenced to life plus 51 years in prison after being convicted of killing his wife and storing her body in a home freezer.
Circuit Judge John Lockett imposed the sentence Thursday on Anthony Hopkins, 39, who showed no remorse during the proceeding. He got the maximum sentence of life for murder and additional time for convictions including sodomy and sexual abuse.
Assistant District Attorney Ashley Rich called Hopkins "evil of the worst kind."...
Time to rein in government pay
...According to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, the total cost of wages and benefits for state and local workers in 2008 was $1.1 trillion, or half of total spending by state and local governments. That number is about to skyrocket. While the private sector lost more than 7.3 million jobs, the number of government jobs increased by about 100,000 since 2007. This comes just as millions of Baby Boomers on government payrolls are beginning to cash in on their mostly underfunded defined-benefit pension plans. The Reason Foundation's Adam Summers notes that in California and elsewhere, government employee benefits have increased by as much as 50 percent in the past decade, "allowing many workers to retire as young as 50 or 55 years old with pensions equal to as much as 90 percent of their final salaries. These are benefits unheard of in the private sector."...
What's really behind SEIU's Bank of America protests?
...Last Sunday, on a peaceful, sun-crisp afternoon, our toddler finally napping upstairs, my front yard exploded with 500 screaming, placard-waving strangers on a mission to intimidate my neighbor, Greg Baer. Baer is deputy general counsel for corporate law at Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), a senior executive based in Washington, D.C. And that -- in the minds of the organizers at the politically influential Service Employees International Union and a Chicago outfit called National Political Action -- makes his family fair game.
Waving signs denouncing bank "greed," hordes of invaders poured out of 14 school buses, up Baer's steps, and onto his front porch. As bullhorns rattled with stories of debtor calls and foreclosed homes, Baer's teenage son Jack -- alone in the house -- locked himself in the bathroom. "When are they going to leave?" Jack pleaded when I called to check on him....
...Now this event would accurately be called a "protest" if it were taking place at, say, a bank or the U.S. Capitol. But when hundreds of loud and angry strangers are descending on your family, your children, and your home, a more apt description of this assemblage would be "mob." Intimidation was the whole point of this exercise, and it worked-even on the police. A trio of officers who belatedly answered our calls confessed a fear that arrests might "incite" these trespassers....
...After Baer's house, the 14 buses left to descend on the nearby residence of Peter Scher, a government relations executive at JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500).
Targeting homes and families seems to put SEIU in the ranks of (now jailed) radical animal-rights activists and the Kansas anti-gay fundamentalists harassing the grieving parents of a dead 20-year-old soldier at his funeral (the Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the latter). But that's not a conversation that SEIU officials want to have. ...
...Complicating this picture is the fact that BofA is the union's lender of choice -- and SEIU, suffering financially, owes the bank nearly $4 million in interest and fees. Bank of America declined comment on the loans....
...Sunday's onslaught wasn't designed for mainstream media consumption. There were no reporters from organizations like the Washington Post, no local camera crews who might have aired criticism of this private-home invasion. With the media covering the conservative Tea Party protesters, the behavior of individual activists has drawn withering scrutiny.
Instead, a friendly Huffington Post blogger showed up, narrowcasting coverage to the union's leftist base. The rest of the message these protesters brought was personal-aimed at frightening Baer and his family, not influencing a broader public....
The Green Jobs Myth
A Spanish economics professor said attempts by his country to create a green economy would fail. Now a Spanish government report confirms his findings, blunting claims that the professor's report was biased.
The professor, Gabriel Calzada Alvarez of Juan Carlos University in Madrid, produced a 41-page study last year on the European experiment of going full bore on the conservation front. He found that "the Spanish/EU-style 'green jobs' agenda now being promoted in the U.S. in fact destroys jobs."
For every green job created by the Spanish government, Alvarez found that 2.2 jobs were destroyed elsewhere in the economy because resources were directed politically and not rationally, as in a market economy.
"The loss of jobs could be greater if you account for the amount of lost industry that moves out of the country due to higher energy prices," the professor told the press.
Alvarez's findings, of course, were rejected by the environmental left, which tried to smear him as a stooge of the oil industry.
But inconveniently for the eco-conscious, his results have been backed up by Carlo Stagnaro and Luciano Lavecchia, a couple of researchers from the Italian think tank Istituto Bruno Leoni.
They found that in Italy, the losses were worse than they were in Spain: Each green job cost 6.9 jobs in the industrial sector and 4.8 jobs across the entire economy....
Mayor Says Arson Spree in Flint, Mich., Meant to 'Terrorize' the City
A string of suspicious fires that hit the battered city of Flint, Mich., after more than 20 firefighters were laid off and two firehouses closed were meant to "terrorize the community," the mayor claims.
Since the job cuts in late March, 153 of 202 fires mostly in vacant buildings were classified as suspected arson, city officials said. The number of arson fires began to decline after a federal grant enabled the city to rehire some of the firefighters.
"I don't believe in coincidences," Mayor Dayne Walling told ABCNews.com.
A string of 14 suspicious fires erupted the night before the city laid off 23 firefighters and 23 police officers on March 24 in an attempt to close an $8 million budget deficit. Two of Flint's five fire stations were also shut down that night.
"The initial string of fires, more than a dozen in the first 24 hours as those layoffs were going into effect, were clearly motivated by a political agenda to terrorize the community," Walling said.
The mayor won't say who he believes is behind the arson spree, but said he doesn't believe members of Flint's fire department were involved. A handful of arrests have been made in connection with the fires, including gang members and people scavenging abandoned buildings for cooper and metal.
The mayor said he believed the arsonists were not amateurs.
"It is an individual or group of individuals who have a certain level of training, a certain lack of fear of fire," Walling said. "Often multiple fires are set within the same structure& When I say training it means somebody who understands whether it means from an engineering or architectural or military perspective. Those initial arsons were not someone paid by a gang member." ...
Friday, May 21, 2010
The Health Insurers' Faustian Bargain
In early 2009, health insurance companies struck a Faustian bargain with the Obama administration. In exchange for a law requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, they agreed to regulations requiring them to offer coverage to all comers regardless of preexisting illnesses. Now that ObamaCare is law, insurers are learning that they may have sold their souls to the Devil -- along with the lives of the American people.
At first glance, ObamaCare might seem a good deal for insurance companies by guaranteeing them a market for their services. But this guaranteed market comes at a steep price, with the government dictating whom insurers must cover, what benefits they must offer, and what prices they may charge.
Mandatory insurance will inevitably raise insurers' costs. Under any system of mandatory insurance, the government must necessarily determine what constitutes an "acceptable" policy. This creates a giant magnet for special interest groups seeking to include their favorite benefit in the mandatory package....
...Implemented nationally, ObamaCare could drive many insurers out of business altogether. In essence, private insurers would survive only at the arbitrary pleasure of the government. And the bureaucrats' whims can be arbitrary indeed.
When insurers recently pointed out that ObamaCare did not actually require them to immediately offer coverage for certain children with preexisting conditions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius immediately threatened to issue regulations forcing them to do so -- regardless of the actual letter of the law.
And Congress is now seeking to expand the newly-passed ObamaCare legislation to give federal regulators the same power as Massachusetts state regulators to veto proposed insurance rate increases unless federal officials considered them "reasonable."
ObamaCare thus places a noose around private insurers' necks. Insurance companies will be required to offer numerous benefits determined by politicians and lobbyists. But they will be allowed to charge only what government bureaucrats permit. No business can survive long if it must offer $2,000 worth of services to customers but can charge only $1,000.
Although it is tempting to take delight at the insurance industry's self-caused plight, the inevitable collapse of the private insurance market would also leave millions of Americans without coverage. Even though this crisis would be caused by government policies, liberals would gleefully portray it as a "failure of the free market" and demand that the government "rescue" health care. The end result would be a "single payer" socialized medical system like Canada's or Great Britain's, with rationing and long waits for medical care....
Mass. Senate approves bill to contain health costs
The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill aimed at curbing soaring health care costs for small businesses.
The bill requires wealthier hospitals to make a one-time $100 million contribution to help slow the rising cost of insurance premiums for small employers....
Former pastor of Florissant church charged with mail fraud
The former pastor of a Florissant church has been indicted on mail fraud charges.
Prosecutors allege that 62-year-old Danny O'Guin exploited his position as leader of the Parker Road Baptist Church to solicit loans from church members, telling them the money was to repair properties he owned out-of-state.
He also reportedly told parisioners to "keep quiet" about the loans....
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Little liars grow up to be great leaders
Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast-developing brain and means children are more likely to have successful lives.
A team of Canadian academics have found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick-witted they will be in later years and the better their abiliy to think on their feet.
"Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib," said Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University who carried out the research. "Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life."...
Leaked Doc Proves Spain’s ‘Green’ Policies — the Basis for Obama’s — an Economic Disaster (PJM Exclusive)
...On eight separate occasions, President Barack Obama has referred to the “green economy” policies enacted by Spain as being the model for what he envisioned for America.
Later came the revelation that Obama administration senior Energy Department official Cathy Zoi — someone with serious publicized conflict of interest issues — demanded an urgent U.S. response to the damaging report from the non-governmental Spanish experts so as to protect the Obama administration’s plans.
Most recently, U.S. senators have introduced the vehicle for replicating Spain’s unfolding economic meltdown here, in the form of the “American Power Act.” For reasons that are obvious upon scrutiny, it should instead be called the American Power Grab Act.
But today’s leaked document reveals that even the socialist Spanish government now acknowledges the ruinous effects of green economic policy.
Unsurprisingly for a governmental take on a flagship program, the report takes pains to minimize the extent of the economic harm. Yet despite the soft-pedaling, the document reveals exactly why electricity rates “necessarily skyrocketed” in Spain, as did the public debt needed to underwrite the disaster. This internal assessment preceded the Zapatero administration’s recent acknowledgement that the “green economy” stunt must be abandoned, lest the experiment risk Spain becoming Greece.
The government report does not expressly confirm the highest-profile finding of the non-governmental report: that Spain’s “green economy” program cost the country 2.2 jobs for every job “created” by the state. However, the figures published in the government document indicate they arrived at a job-loss number even worse than the 2.2 figure from the independent study.
This document is not a public report. Spanish media has referred to its existence in recent weeks though, while Bloomberg and the Washington Examiner have noted the impact: Spain is now forced to jettison its plans — Obama’s model — for a “green economy.”
Remarkably, these items have received virtually no media attention....
No, You Can't Keep Your Health Plan
...To implement this strategy, companies need to be able to exert more control over doctors. So insurers are trying to buy up medical clinics and doctor practices. Where they can't own providers outright, they'll maintain smaller "networks" of physicians that they will contract with so they can manage doctors more closely. That means even fewer choices for beneficiaries. Insurers hope that owning providers will enable health policies to offset the cost of the new regulations.
Doctors, meanwhile, are selling their practices to local hospitals. In 2005, doctors owned more than two-thirds of all medical practices. By next year, more than 60% of physicians will be salaried employees. About a third of those will be working for hospitals, according to the American Medical Association. A review of the open job searches held by one of the country's largest physician-recruiting firms shows that nearly 50% are for jobs in hospitals, up from about 25% five years ago.
Last month, a hospital I'm affiliated with outside of Manhattan sent a note to its physicians announcing a new subsidiary it's forming to buy up local medical practices. Nearby physicians are lining up to sell—and not just primary-care doctors, but highly paid specialists like orthopedic surgeons and neurologists. Similar developments are unfolding nationwide.
Consolidated practices and salaried doctors will leave fewer options for patients and longer waiting times for routine appointments. Like the insurers, physicians are responding to the economic burdens of the president's plan in one of the few ways they're permitted to.
For physicians, the strains include higher operating costs. The Obama health plan puts expensive new mandates on doctors, such as a requirement to purchase IT systems and keep more records. Overhead costs already consume more than 60% of the revenue generated by an average medical practice, according to a 2007 survey by the Medical Group Management Association. At the same time, reimbursement under Medicare is falling. Some specialists, such as radiologists and cardiologists, will see their Medicare payments fall by more than 10% next year. Then there's the fact that medical malpractice premiums have risen by 10%-20% annually for specialists like surgeons, particularly in states that haven't passed liability reform.
The bottom line: Defensive business arrangements designed to blunt ObamaCare's economic impacts will mean less patient choice.
Newark pastor charged with sexual assault
The pastor of a church in Newark, New Jersey and one of his female congregants are accused of forcing teenage girls to videotape the pair having sex. 55-year-old Moises Cotto and 37-year-old Brenda Pabon were arrested earlier this week.
According to investigators, Cotto and Pabon allegedly made the girls videotape them having sex and forced at least one girl to strip and pose for pictures. Cotto also is accused of attempting to sexually assault one of the girls.
Cotto is a pastor at the Congregation Yahweh at 20 Chester Avenue. He also is affiliated with Yahweh Congregations in Jersey City and Paterson. Pabon is a member of the congregation in Newark. The two began having an affair in 2008 and would meet regularly at the Benedict Motel in Linden where the alleged abuse took place....
Pastor charged with swindling more than $470K from church members
The pastor of a church in Aurora has been charged with three felony counts of theft by deception for allegedly bilking three men, including one member of his church, out of more than $470,000.
The pastor, 49-year-old Howard Richmond, of the 2900 block of Brossman Avenue in Naperville, was taken into custody about 6 a.m. Wednesday without incident after Aurora Police executed a search warrant at his home, according to a release from Aurora police. ...
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
TV Show Videotaped Raid That Killed Detroit Girl
(May 18) -- A reality-TV crew videotaped the Detroit police raid in which 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot to death, and the girl's family is suing the police.
"The videotape shows clearly that the assistant police chief and the officers on the scene are engaging in an intentional cover-up of the events," Geoffrey Fieger, the family's attorney, told The Associated Press. He filed the suit today in U.S. District Court, alleging police needlessly threw a flash grenade into the home, burning Aiyana before she was shot.
A video filmed by the crew of A&E's reality-TV show "The First 48" captured the raid, which set out to arrest a murder suspect but ended with Aiyana's death....
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Fake photo used in Science article
ABC recently reported on a letter signed by 250 scientists published in the journal Science.
The letter is accompanied by a photo of a lone Polar Bear on an ice berg credited to ISTOCKPHOTO.COM. The photo is a fake with the following note in the photo caption at Istockphoto: "This images is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now."...
The Last Trillion-Dollar Commitment
...Managing their political risk required the GSEs to offer Congress a generous benefits package. Campaign contributions were certainly one element. Between the 2000 and 2008 election cycles, the GSEs and their employees contributed more than $14.6 million to the campaign funds of dozens of senators and representatives, most of them on committees that were important to preserving the GSEs' privileges. And Fannie knew how to "leverage" its giving, not just its assets; often it enlisted other groups that profited from the GSEs' activities--the securities industry, homebuilders, and realtors--to sponsor their own fundraising events for the GSEs' key congressional friends. In addition to campaign funds, the GSEs--Fannie Mae in particular--enhanced their power in Congress by setting up "partnership offices" in the districts and states of important lawmakers, often hiring the relatives of these lawmakers to staff the local offices. Their lobbying activities were legendary. Between 1998 and 2008, Fannie spent $79.5 million and Freddie spent $94.9 million on lobbying Congress, making them the twentieth and thirteenth biggest spenders, respectively, on lobbying fees during that period. Not all of these expenditures were necessary to contact members of Congress; the GSEs routinely hired lobbyists simply to deprive their opponents of lobbying help. Since lobbyists are frequently part of lawmakers' networks--and are often former staffers for the same lawmakers--these lobbying expenditures also encouraged members of Congress to support Fannie and Freddie as a means of supplementing the income of their friends....
...Even if the earlier affordable housing projects were not losers, however, they represented a new and extra-constitutional way for Congress to dispense funds that should otherwise have flowed through the appropriations process. In one sense, the expenditures were a new form of earmark, but this earmarking evaded the constitutional appropriations process entirely. An illustration is provided by a press release from the office of Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the most ardent supporters of the GSEs in Congress. The headline on the release, dated November 20, 2006--right in the middle of the GSEs' affordable housing spending spree--was "Schumer Announces up to $100 Million Freddie Mac Commitment to Address Fort Drum and Watertown Housing Crunch." The subheading continued: "Schumer Unveils New Freddie Mac Plan with HSBC That Includes Low-Interest Low-Downpayment Loans. In June, Schumer Urged Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae Step Up to the Plate and Deliver Concrete Plans--Today Freddie Mac Is Following Through." If this project had been economically profitable for Fannie or Freddie, Schumer would not have had to "urge" them to "step up." Instead, using his authority as a powerful member of the Senate Banking Committee--and a supporter of Fannie and Freddie--he appears to have induced Freddie Mac to make a financial commitment that was very much in his political interests but for which the taxpayers of the United States would ultimately be responsible....
...In addition, in January 2005, only a few months after the adverse OFHEO report on Fannie's accounting manipu-lation, three Federal Reserve economists published a study that cast doubt on whether the GSEs' activities had any significant effect on mortgage interest rates and concluded further that holding portfolios--a far risker activity than issuing MBS--did not have any greater effect on interest rates than securitization: "We find that both portfolio purchases and MBS issuance have negligible effects on mortgage rate spreads and that purchases are not any more effective than securitization at reducing mortgage interest rate spreads." Thus, the taxpayer risks cited by Greenspan could not be justified by citing lower mortgage rates, and, worse, there was a strong case for limiting the GSEs to securitization activities alone--a much less profitable activity than holding MBS.
The events in 2003 and 2004 had undermined the legitimacy of the GSEs. They could no longer claim to be competently--or even honestly--managed. An important and respected figure, Alan Greenspan, was raising questions about whether they might be creating excessive risk for taxpayers and systemic risk for the economy as a whole. Greenspan had suggested that their most profitable activity--holding portfolios of mortgages and MBS--was the activity that created the greatest risk, and three Federal Reserve economists had concluded that the GSEs' activities did not actually reduce mortgage interest rates. It was easy to see at this point that their political risk was rising quickly. The case for continuing their privileged status had been severely weakened. The only element of their activities that had not come under criticism was their affordable housing mission, and it appears that the GSEs determined at this point to play that card as a way of shoring up their political support in Congress.
From the perspective of their 2008 collapse, this may seem to have been unwise, but in the context of the time, it was a shrewd decision. It provided the GSEs with the potential for continuing their growth and delivered enormous short-term profits. Those profits were transferred to stockholders in huge dividend payments over the past three years (Fannie and Freddie paid a combined $4.1 billion in dividends last year alone) and to managers in lucrative salaries and bonuses. Indeed, if it had not been for the Democrats' desire to adopt a housing relief bill before leaving for the 2008 August recess, no new regulatory regime for the GSEs would have been adopted at all. Only the Senate Republicans' position--that there would be no housing bill without GSE reform--overcame the opposition of Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), the banking committee chairman, and Schumer.
The GSEs' confidence in the affordable housing idea was bolstered by what appears to be a tacit understanding. Occasionally, this understanding found direct expression. For example, in his opening statement at a hearing in 2003, Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), now the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, referred to an "arrangement" between Congress and the GSEs that tracks rather explicitly what actually happened: "Fannie and Freddie have played a very useful role in helping to make housing more affordable, both in general through leveraging the mortgage market, and in particular, they have a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing." So here the arrangement is laid out: if the GSEs focus on affordable housing, their position is secure....
...Beginning in 2004, after the GSEs' accounting scandals, the junk loan share of all mortgages in the United States began to rise, going from 8 percent in 2003 to about 18 percent in 2004 and peaking at about 22 percent in the third quarter of 2006. It is likely that this huge increase in commitments to junk lending was largely the result of signals from Fannie and Freddie that they were ready to buy these loans in bulk. For example, in speeches to the Mortgage Bankers Association in 2004, both Raines and Richard Syron--the chairmen, respectively, of Fannie and Freddie--"made no bones about their interest in buying loans made to borrowers formerly considered the province of nonprime and other niche lenders." Raines is quoted as saying, "We have to push products and opportunities to people who have lesser credit quality."...
...Between 2005 and 2007, Fannie and Freddie acquired so many junk mortgages that, as of August 2008, they held or had guaranteed more than $1.011 trillion in unpaid principal balance exposures on these loans. The losses already recognized on these exposures were responsible for the collapse of Fannie and Freddie and their takeover by the federal government, and there are undoubtedly many more losses to come....
...For many years before 2004, Fannie and Freddie had followed relatively prudent investment strategies, even with respect to affordable housing, but they suddenly changed their approach in 2005. Freddie Mac's report, for example, shows that the percentage of mortgages in its portfolio with subprime characteristics rose rapidly after 2004. Tables 1 and 2 show that for each category of mortgages with subprime characteristics, most of the portfolio of loans with those characteristics was acquired from 2005 to 2007. For example, 83.8 percent of Fannie's and 90 percent of Freddie's interest-only loans as of June 2008 were acquired from 2005 to 2007, and 57.5 percent of Fannie's and 61 percent of Freddie's loans with FICO scores of less than 620 as of June 2008 were acquired from 2005 to 2007. It seems unlikely that competing for market share or complying with HUD regulations--which contained no enforcement mechanism other than disclosure and delay in approving requests for mission expansions--could be the reason for such an obviously destructive course.
Instead, it seems likely that the event responsible for the GSEs' change in direction and culture was the accounting scandal that each of them encountered in 2003 and 2004. In both cases, they lost their reputation as well-managed companies and began to encounter questions about their contribution to reducing mortgage rates and their safety and soundness. Serious observers questioned whether they should be allowed to continue to hold mortgages and MBS in their portfolios--by far their most profitable activity--and Senate Republicans moved a bill out of committee that would have prohibited this activity.
Under these circumstances, the need to manage their political risk became paramount, and this required them to prove to their supporters in Congress that they still served a useful purpose. In 2003, as noted above, Frank had cited an arrangement in which the GSEs' congressional benefits were linked to their investments in affordable housing. In this context, substantially increasing their support for affordable housing--through the purchase of the subprime loans permitted by HUD--seems a logical and even necessary tactic....