Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Take the lead...but not too far - Jennifer Rubin looks at the Virginia race for governor and asks "Is McDonnell pulling away?" The Republican candidate should settle into a small single-digit lead because any higher and Democrats are apt to "pull a Torricelli" just like Obama tried with New York governor David Paterson.
Celebrities vs. non-celebrities on health care reform - Via Hot Air. Both sides make compelling points: the non-celebrities cite sources and the CBO while the MoveOn side has Olivia Wilde.
Fun with definitions

Here's a word for today's news: saturnine - "slow to act or change; of a gloomy or surly disposition"

And here's the context: "Penske pulls out of Saturn deal" and "GM to close Saturn."


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We're broke again

Boston Globe: "State may see $200m shortfall". But wait, it gets worse:

The state’s budget problems are compounded by the fact that Patrick and top lawmakers have relied in large part on one-time revenues to plug the previous budget gaps, using federal stimulus money that will dry up next year and a state reserve fund that is dwindling. Additionally, economists have warned that the state is in a multiyear cycle that will continue to strain budgets until at least 2014.

"Oh, Lordy," said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, when told of the estimates. "Numbers like this for September suggest [the state’s revenue estimates] could be $500 million or more too high for the year."

Revenue dropped despite a controversial decision by Patrick and the Legislature to increase taxes by more than $1 billion, including boosting the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. Retailers warned that the state would not raise nearly as much as estimated, predicting that customers would go to New Hampshire or the Internet to avoid additional taxes.
Going to the Granite State to escape taxes? You mean like this guy?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Message received - Rasmussen Polls: "Support for health care plan hits new low." And could it be that some in the media have a new opinion on the emperor's clothes? To Copenhagen!
Boston Globe's meaningless health care poll

I honestly don't understand the relevance of this poll in the Globe indicating "State's health system popular." For the vast majority of people in the Bay State, the Massachusetts health insurance mandate had no effect since most people already had health care through employers. It's like polling everybody in America how they feel about in-ground pools. Love 'em!

President Obama tells us, again and again, that the reason health care reform is necessary is because of spiraling costs. These costs have not been contained in Massachusetts:

Double-digit increases in premiums have become almost routine in Massachusetts, with the state’s major insurers saying they will raise rates about 10 percent next year. This trend began well before the overhaul passed, however, and when asked whether the law was having an impact on the cost of their own care, only about one-quarter of those surveyed said the law was “hurting’’ their own costs.
In fact, Beacon Hill politicians were so keen to pass the insurance mandate, they didn't even think about the cost; that was for later:

Blendon said the survey’s findings on cost control suggest that perhaps leaders in Washington should consider following the Massachusetts formula: Aim for universal coverage first, and then tackle costs.

"The fact that Massachusetts is still going along with a still relatively popular law, by doing it in pieces, may be the best piece of advice Massachusetts can give the nation," he said."This was politically doable here because all of the difficult choices of slowing costs weren’t on the table."
Wow, that's leadership: candy first and cavities later. So far the cost of government health care in Massachusetts have only risen but, we swear, we're going to tackle the cost issue soon.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Amazing Race update – What? It's on tonight?

Honest to heaven, I didn't know the 15th season of the Emmy-winning (every time) Amazing Race started tonight until I got the Sunday paper. Why does CBS do this?

Well, here's the super-quick update: twelve teams started out in Los Angeles but – right at the starting line – they had to complete a task before moving on. One team failed and then there were eleven. Didn't even get to leave the city: somebody has a rendezvous with Fail Blog.

Teams went to Tokyo to appear on a Japanese game show. Essentially, they had to eat a "wasabi bomb" which is very hot and spicy. Teams left in sequence to go to a Shinto shrine. The next day, they flew to Vietnam where they had to put mud around a tree and then herd up some ducks. The forgettable team finished last, and I forgot them already.

Some interesting teams this season:
One guy who has Asperger syndrome and his buddy.
A really good-looking Christian couple who have not given in to their impulses yet.
Two female professional poker players.
Harlem Globetrotters "Flight Time" and "Big Easy."
Montana father/son farmers Gary & Matt who won the first leg thanks to their duck-herding skills.

Extra - Pat has a longer update with "We're racing again!"
Garry Trudeau's selective outrage - Today's Doonesbury cartoon criticizes the overheated rhetoric that compares President Obama with Hitler. It's ignorant and outrageous, I'll agree. But Trudeau had eight years to raise the same objection and, somehow, this idea never came to ink.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Didn't see that coming - Government intervention raises the cost of credit. Scrivener: "Price controls produce the same results as always." I'm sure the results will be completely different with the health insurance companies, though.
Because we're broke - Maggie's Farm: "Why the skepticism about government health care?"
Secret assurances

As Senate Finance chair Max Baucus searches the national couch for spare change to pay for health care reform, one idea that has gained attention is taxing "Cadillac" health care plans. But now that the unions are balking, it looks like that plan will be set aside:

But labor’s main complaint is Mr. Baucus’s proposal to tax insurance companies for their most generous policies, as a way to raise revenue and to discourage wasteful health care spending. Labor says insurers would pass on their tax costs in higher premiums, not just for corporate executives but also for unionized workers with rich health benefits.

Under Mr. Baucus’s plan, the tax would apply to family policies worth more than $21,000 a year. The typical employer-provided family plan costs roughly $13,000, but packages for some unionized workers can run much higher. Democrats are discussing raising the threshold, and the White House has privately assured labor that union benefits will not be affected.
To be fair, some union jobs are dangerous (think: coal miner) and thus the insurance policies are more costly. But if I'm not mistaken, my armchair legal knowledge tells me that taxing one group of people (non-union workers) and not another under the same criteria constitutes a bill of attainder which is unconstitutional. So there will be no Cadillac taxing and Obama will have to make up new ways to scrounge the trillion dollars he needs for health care reform.

VAT tax, anyone?

Flashback – WashPost in May 2009: "Once considered unthinkable, U.S. sales tax gets a fresh look." I'll bet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now in Newark - WiFi was free in Texas but now I only have a 20 minute complimentary window in Newark, since they're on the ripoff Boingo network. But I like their $9.95 "unlimited" access. Who sits around an airport more than two hours?
Empty Garden state - Speaking of odd-year elections, Chris Christie is looking strong against incumbent governor Jon Corzine in New Jersey. It seems possible that Corzine is unpopular because it has one of the highest tax burdens in the country and the Tax Foundation rated NJ the worst state in the country for businesses.
Why the rush? - Democrats on the Senate finance committee won't post the health care reform legislation online or allow for 72 hours to review, calling them "delaying tactics" and provoking bickering after marathon sessions. What's the big hurry to rewire one-sixth of the U.S. economy? Off-year elections are a'comin.
Because a Senate seat appointed by a Democrat can't wait - Well, the Massachusetts legislature reversed their "Mitt Romney" rule and allowed unpopular governor Deval Patrick to name Kennedy aide Paul Kirk to serve in the U.S. Senate. He won't run for re-election and his sole job will be to vote "aye" on the health care reform bill. I didn't get to see Patrick's statement to the press but it would have been nice if he had admitted the original legislation from Beacon Hill was wrong because it denied Massachusetts full representation in the Senate, regardless of political party.
Killing time in San Antonio airport - A long day of traveling ahead, but at least I have free WiFi!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Presentation completed - Time for a nice steak dinner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So it's come to this - Via the Corner, the FDIC is looking to borrow money from large banks instead of the Treasury to insure funds in shaky banks, in part to sidestep the popular outrage that would follow another taxpayer-paid bailout.
Can we deal with this problem first? - As Obama tries to create a whole new entitlement for America, he's yet to deal with the old one. From Hot Air: "CBO predicts Social Security cash deficits in 2010-2011."

Extra - Ace: "What a perfect time to expand goverment spending to levels hitherto undreamed by man."
San Antonio update

Taking a break in a Texas Starbucks with WiFi connection. Hooray! Yesterday I walked the half-mile from the hotel to the Alamo which is described as a shrine to Texas independence. On my way back, I got disorientated and - as heaven as my witness - a local guide appeared from nowhere to send me in the right direction. People here are really very friendly and polite. Maybe it has something to do with concealed weapons. (Right, Bram?)

The conference right now is working through some microwave-type technology so it's not really my cup of tea. My presentation is tomorrow afternoon so we'll see how it goes. At the Alamo gift shop, I picked up a Texas flag-style tie; maybe the crowd will go easy on me at question time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strange definitions

"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean" - Humpty Dumpty

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the road again

Time for another business trip to Texas, this time to San Antonio. I think my potential internet access will be much better than my last trip, since I'll be staying much closer to the central part of the city. They have Starbucks down there, right? See you soon.

Watching the Emmys - Ken Howard had the line of the night: "I'll make my speech short in case I'm interrupted by a congressman or a rapper."
It was nice to think it was true - Remember those microloans, the ones that earned Mohammad Yunus the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize? Well, they may not be the panacea to poverty that everybody hoped. From the Boston Globe "Small change - Billions of dollars and a Nobel Prize later, it looks like 'microlending' doesn't actually do much to fight poverty." Bummer.
Racist! - I just read on the New York Times web site that this guy asked New York governor David Paterson (who is black) to withdraw from the gubernatorial race.
No wonder Obama's snubbing Fox News - The President won't shut up but he refuses to appear on the highest-rated cable news network. Hmmm...I wonder why. Anyway, Chris Wallace calls the Obama White House "the biggest bunch of crybabies."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Karl Rove - He's a liar "half truther."
Marlboros, Pepsi, and gas - So much for the pursuit of happiness. Melissa C: "Taxing the poor and middle class." (H/T Maggie's Farm)
Matchbox cars for all - Economist "Small isn't beautiful": "Carmakers have escaped calamity. Now they face a big, long-term problem: people are moving to smaller vehicles." Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to take my Pontiac Vibe to run some errands.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crunch time for the talking heads

The word on the street is that Obama is going to appear on maybe five Sunday talk shows this weekend. This is the time, finally, for the mainstream media to show that they're serious about getting answers from this White House instead of recirculating the same tired points. I suggest the Sunday talk show hosts start with this Charles Krauthammer column as a baseline.

Let's start with three simple questions that still have not been answered:

1. How can you possibly pay for this?
2. In what way is the public option a fair player in the "insurance marketplace" if it's subsidized by taxpayers?
3. Is the individual insurance mandate even constitutional?

Update - Big surprise. The networks, CNN and Univision (not Fox) lined up for interviews and asked about race. I guarantee there won't be a sliver of difference between all these interviews.
Massachusetts health care, continued - Critical Condition: "Is Massachusetts really the model?"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tragically unhip

A couple days ago, I got my early-teen son a cell phone, mostly so he can be in touch during extracurricular activities. Tonight I went to his school's open house and discovered that I was quite likely the last parent in junior high to get his kid a cell phone.

The "Crackberry Kids" start young.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts

How's the great Bay State health care plan going? Today's Boston Globe has the latest: "Health costs to rise againInsurers to boost rates about 10% - Shift of expenses to workers likely"

(That's good stuff: "likely.")

The higher insurance costs undermine a key tenet of the state’s landmark health care law passed two years ago, as well as President Obama’s effort to overhaul health care. In addition to mandating insurance for most residents, the Massachusetts bill sought to rein in health care costs. With Washington looking to the Massachusetts experience, fears about higher costs have become a stumbling block to passing a national health care bill.
Whew, bad timing for this opinion piece from Governor Deval Patrick: "Massachusetts is a health-reform model." But if you read it, you'll discover that the Bay State is poised to address the rising cost of health care...soon. Some had argued that this minor detail should have been addressed before passing legislation, but you'll see it will all work out.
Bipartisanship on health care reform - Contentions "Consensus at last!": "Senator Max Baucus announced his health-care proposal and achieved what few expected - a broad coalition of Right, Left, and Center." They all hate it.

More - Great headline from FiveThirtyEight: "Baucus compromise bill draws enthusiastic support of Senator Max Baucus." A compromiser of one, as it were.

And this - From Investor's Business Daily: "Is health care reform constitutional?" Check your 10th Amendment, citizens.
Scooped like a tub of Moose Tracks after the kid's soccer game

I apologize for that simile. Any-hoo, everybody but everybody is blogging about the ACORN scandal as the mainstream media sniffs. Even Jon Stewart is appalled that the "big" news outfits were lapped by a couple of kids from the cast of "High School Musical." Then it should be no surprise that a new low of only 18% of Americans believe the press is fair with all sides. Good times.

Extra - Meet the scoopers on Scrivener. James O'Keefe borrowed his "pimp coat" from Grandma and Hannah Giles is a minister's daughter.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Barack "Joe Isuzu" Obama

Tom Bevan meditates on a Bob Herbert column and wonders if our president is knowingly lying or engaging in wishful thinking:
So Obama's assertion that he can expand coverage and care without adding a dime to the deficit over the next ten years is, by the admission of even one of his most ardent supporters, a claim that virtually no one believes. Generally speaking, when someone makes a claim that no one believes it's characterized as a lie.
(H/T Contentions) The unavoidable paradox I see here is that Obama claims Medicare is a program so full of waste and abuse, that we can magically find a half-trillion dollars to fund a brand-new government-run health care program that will be super-efficient, we pinky-swear.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The best Wolverine

Dang, the big C takes Patrick Swayze at only 57. Here's to you, high kicker:

Americans respond to Obama's big speech

With a giant "meh."

The WashPost has a tepid "Reform opposition is high but easing."
George Stephanapoulous states: "Bottom line: right now, voters are almost exactly where they were before the speech."
The Boston Globe declares: "Public insurer support fading - Moderates move away from option"
USA Today: "Speech doesn't boost Obama"

What's the White House response to this lack of response? More cowbell!

NY Times blog: "Obama May Do Back-to-Back TV Interviews Sunday"

That's leadership, baby.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hero - Let us now pause to praise Norman Borlaug, the man who saved millions through agricultural productivity.
Entitlement nation - Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe: "What 'right' to health care?"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More Pablo Neruda, less "Casey at the Bat"

Well, I missed all the health care debate, so let's go with this story I heard this on NPR this afternoon:

Fernando Perez, the 26-year-old outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, has written an essay in the September issue of Poetry Magazine about the firm place poetry holds in his life. Perez says poetry and baseball occupy different realms of his life.
Perez says that around the time Mark McGwire was spotted with andro in his locker, he was caught with a volume of poetry. Interesting story.
Not fun - My DSL was out all this evening because the only moving part - the power switch - became disabled. I popped it open and jury-rigged a jumper but I think I'll need a new box. Does anybody know if I can just replace the equipment (a Westell Model 327W) and go? Or do I have to re-install software or something? Thanks.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

An insult to the national intelligence

I can't give Obama's speech a proper review because I had class tonight so I only heard part of it on the car radio. But of what I did hear it was 1) nothing new and 2) ridiculous.

I have to ask: is Obama illiterate? Has he read any newspapers besides the New York Times? Glanced at a blog? Has he even heard of the Congressional Budget Office?

A couple days ago, I predicted the speech would be a harangue with no details. He harangued and provided no his own admission! His characterization of those evil insurance companies was cartoonish, full of moustache-twisting profiteers. The public option was misrepresented and his explanation of how this trillion-dollar plan would be paid for was risible. It would take me all night to go through the transcript and correct all the contradictions, truth-shading, and outright lies.

Extra - Cato liveblogged the speech with many links.

Even more - GOP rep Joe Wilson apologizes for yelling "You lie!" to Obama. Which is appropriate because it's disrespectful to the President. Plus, Obama didn't lie because he corrected the number of uninsured in the country to leave out the illegal immigrants he counted before, just in time for this speech.

And this - A review from Power Line: "This was not, to put it kindly, a speech that was directed at thinking people."

Monday, September 07, 2009

Senate health care plan to tax insurance companies you – The latest health care plan out of the Senate Finance Committee will cost "only" $900 billion to be partially paid for by the insurance companies that wouldn't dream of passing the cost on to consumers. Heavens, no.

Extra - Opinion Journal: "Obamacare's crippling deficits"
Obama takes to the campaign trail

Someday this bright, energetic man with flawless judgment might make it to the White House:

President Obama delivered a rousing campaign-style pitch on Monday for his proposed health care overhaul, telling thousands of cheering union workers at a Labor Day picnic here that Congress should stop debating because "it’s time to act and get this done."

As he tries to resurrect his health proposal, Mr. Obama has been under intense pressure from Congressional leaders to lay out specifically what he wants. Aides said he will do so in the speech on Wednesday.
Mr. Obama did not offer details on Monday – "I want you all to tune in," he told the crowd - but he did give a few hints of what is to come.
Those few hints were telling a handpicked crowd of union workers that he'd like to see the public option, but he won't push for it, since he's merely a candidate for the Presidency.

I strongly suspect that Wednesday's address to Congress will be an hour-long harangue. There will be no new details as Obama casts himself as the avenging advocate for the little guy, fighting the bureaucracy of Congress. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty by taking a position on anything and Congress isn't about to stick its collective neck out, especially when the polls show dwindling support for federal health-care reform. This whole thing's going down in a heap and Obama's going to disappointed with all of us.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Smart guy declares himself smart - Mises Economics blog on Krugman's latest - "The whole thing reads like a big fairy tale and the author is the hero in the end."
Joe Cool fires up the teleprompter again

Here's the WashPost's resident Obamacare cheerleader Ezra Klein on Obama's big speech next week:

This is health-care reform's endgame, or close to it. Next Wednesday, Barack Obama will give a prime-time address before both houses of Congress. But that's not all he's giving Congress. The administration is going to put a plan down on paper. The question is what it will say.
Conversations with a number of White House officials make it clear that, at this point, even they don't know.
What the hey? If there's one thing I've learned from years of giving presentations it's this: 1) tell 'em what you're going to say, 2) say it, 3) tell 'em what you just said. After months of debate, nobody has any idea what the White House wants from health care reform other than the ambiguous and contradictory goals of "universal coverage" and "deficit neutral." Charles Krauthammer describes the options for Obama:

But he has to say x, y, and z. He has to make a pronouncement on the public option, and he also has to make a critical strategic decision. Is this about cutting costs, which will destroy him in popular opinion, or does he ignore that now and make it all about expansion of coverage and guaranteeing of coverage?
The Atlantic gives the same advice:

He also needs to clarify what he wants, what he would not tolerate and what his plan really stands for.
Details? Yeah, he's not going to do that:

But the officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to unveil a detailed legislative plan of his own.
So what's the point of this speech other than more of the same? Well, as I like to say: when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This is what happens, America, when you elect a guy with no executive experience, limited legislative experience, and whose sole claim to fame is that he can give a good speech. You get more speeches.

What you don't get is leadership.

Extra - Jennifer Rubin: "Looking for a way out."

More - Mickey Kaus on the possibilities: "It's possible that White House aides are deluded about Obama's persuasive powers. It's possible that they're deluded about the impact of invoking Senator Kennedy's legacy two weeks after his death."
Gouge them job makers

Jeff Jacoby makes a lot of sense and provides a heap of background in "Obama's soak-the-rich mentality"

Governments delude themselves when they imagine they can easily raise all the money they want by soaking the rich. The rich always have other options. When taxes grow too onerous, high earners can adjust their economic behavior. Some move to Spain to play soccer for La Liga. Others, less glamorously, cut back on their investments, forgo new business opportunities, seek out tax havens, or work fewer hours. The impact is felt not only in lower-than-expected tax revenues, but in lower rates of growth and productivity and job creation. Jobs are disproportionately created by those who have money to invest. "You can’t have employment and despise employers," Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas used to say. "No goose, no golden eggs."
Sound reasoning, I'd say. How about you guys?

Senate Democrats are revisiting proposals to raise taxes on high-income people to help pay for an overhaul of the health-care system.
Car crash - Business Week: "After the clunker party, an auto sales hangover." Car sales soared in August by borrowing from sales for the rest of 2009. Also, can you guess which motor company most benefitted from the C4C program? It was good ol' Mom and apple pie Hyundai.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do as I say

And I'll do it too:

Leaders should practice what they preach. It sounds obvious, says Alan Deutschman, but too few ­leaders-in business or politics-actually do it. In "Walk the Walk," Mr. Deutschman, a consultant and ­former ­Fortune magazine writer, argues that ­leaders are most effective when they rely on the power of their ­example.

As the ­expansion of McDonald's was getting ­under way in the 1950s, for instance, Ray Kroc, the company's empire builder, listed ­cleanliness among the chain's three key values (along with service and quality). But he didn't just talk cleanliness; an earlyemployee of a ­Chicago-area ­McDonald's ­remembered him personally picking up trash around the ­restaurant and scraping up gum with a putty knife. ­Message: Cleanliness counts. And: If cleaning isn't beneath me, it isn't ­beneath you.
Not as I do:

A Westport lawmaker who voted to hike the state sales and alcohol taxes was spotted brazenly piling booze in his car - adorned with his State House license plate - in the parking lot of a tax-free New Hampshire liquor store, the Herald has learned.

Michael J. Rodrigues’ blue Ford Crown Victoria, emblazoned with his “House 29” Massachusetts license plate, was parked outside a Granite State liquor store on Interstate-95 South over the weekend, according to a witness who provided pictures to the Herald.
Extra funSay Anything blog: "If government-run health care is such a great idea, why won’t members of Congress enroll their own families?"