Sunday, March 31, 2013

Prayers up for Kevin Ware - Geez, this was absolutely freakish.  Remember in the movie "Saving Private Ryan" where the medics have these ampules with morphine to quickly alleviate pain?  That was my first thought: give him the shot.  Yikes.
Happy Easter - It's a Charlton Heston weekend with "The Ten Commandments" last night and "Ben Hur" today.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The fever has broken - Over at Powerline, Steve Hayward notes a shift in tone over at the Economist because the 95% certainty of global warming...isn't.  (H/T Maggie's Farm.)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

There will be no retirement

Forbes: "The greatest retirement crisis in American history."
We are on the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world. In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many elderly Americans.
The article cites a statistic that 75% of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in retirement accounts.  Which is just mind-blowing.  The contributor Edward Siedle predicts that because of meager savings, most Americans will have to continue working, maybe until they're forced out.  That "bag boy" at the supermarket?  Not anymore.
Given the certainty that a retirement crisis is headed toward our shores, you’d think that our elected officials would be hard at work preparing a response. Of course, that’s not happening. To the contrary, conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.
I take umbrage at the idea I'm trying to "pare back" entitlements.  I'd rather see the eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security increased to 1) help their finances and 2) bring these programs back to their original intent of helping the elderly poor.  The first step towards sanity would be to acknowledge that, given demographic trends, there is no way these entitlement programs can continue without reform.  The status quo - the status quo - is that the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds will run dry and then will only be able to pay out what they take in as revenue, which means an automatic cut of about 25%.  But if you try to pare back $4/month from Social Security checks, it's portrayed as drowning Grandma in the bathtub.
Obama's insufferable moral vanity - Barack gave another speech today and the topic was shaming Congress into passing gun control legislation.  As usual, he sets himself up as the only person who hasn't forgotten about the children, while those bastards on "the other side" are heartless thugs.

Is it any wonder that this President is constantly at odds with the Republicans in Congress?  There is no daylight, no margin for discussion with this guy between public safety and Constitutional rights.  If you opposed Obamacare, it cannot be because you have legitimate concerns about the cost of delivery of care.  Now that gay marriage is the headlines, stay tuned for the One inferring that all who oppose it are loathsome homophobes.

Extra - Commentary: "Obama's appeal to emotion versus reason."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The obligatory post on gay marriage - What Iowahawk said.  "Maybe it's time for government to get out of the whole marriage business altogether."

Extra - Hit & Run: "In practical terms, Obama’s approach meant that Edith Windsor, the woman who brought the case, had to pay nearly $400,000 in taxes after her spouse died, money she would not have had to pay absent DOMA. So while the Obama administration now agrees with Windsor that the law is unfair, that has not stopped the federal government from taking her money."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Here comes Andy!

As a huge Disney fan, who has several pictures of Toy Story characters in front of "Al's Toy Barn", I want to go back just to try this out:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Paternalism for me, but not for thee - Over at Maggie's Farm: "Three cheers for the nanny state."  Everybody's always a big fan of the coercive state as long as it's the right kind of coercion, right Mayor Bloomberg?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

C'est fini - Hot Air: "France finally abandons that 75% tax on the wealthy."
Some Q&A - Wall Street Journal: "Making sense of Social Security and Medicare."
Don't be a fool, do bad in school

Powerline has a post titled "NPR goes rogue" because they ran a story on "This American Life" largely critical of the federal disability program and its perverse incentives.  I clicked through the story and just shook my head at this:
Jahleel is a kid you can imagine doing very well for himself. He is delayed. But given the right circumstances and support, it's easy to believe that over the course of his schooling Jahleel could catch up.
Let's imagine that happens. Jahleel starts doing better in school, overcomes some of his disabilities. He doesn't need the disability program anymore. That would seem to be great for everyone, except for one thing: It would threaten his family's livelihood. Jahleel's family primarily survives off the monthly $700 check they get for his disability.
Jahleel's mom wants him to do well in school. That is absolutely clear. But her livelihood depends on Jahleel struggling in school. This tension only increases as kids get older. One mother told me her teenage son wanted to work, but she didn't want him to get a job because if he did, the family would lose its disability check.
Good grief.  Also in the story: 40 years ago, most disability claims were for heart disease; now, the lion's share are hard-to-diagnose back pain and mental illness.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fun debt graphs aren't so fun - The Grumpy Economist reviews some recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office about spending, revenue and debt.  After years of sub-2% growth, the CBO is estimating around 4% growth which will fill the government coffers with tax revenues.

But what happens if economic growth remains low?  Oh, man, you don't want to know.  And you really don't want to know what will happen if interest rates reset to historical levels.  Oof.
In the driver's seat - In Saudi Arabia: "The woman who dared to drive."  I like the part where Manal al-Sharif was spotted and somebody yelled "Girl!"

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Let's go full-on Krugman

The dwarf at the NY Times has been writing the same article for four years now: forget about deficits and let federal spending fly.  Frank Fleming takes it all the way: "Why not just put the entire federal budget on credit?"
Think about it: We’re past $16 trillion in debt so far, and we’re just fine. We have a pretty good scheme going to keep up the level of government we want: We take big loans from our children and then die before paying them back. And we have no reason to stop.
No reason and no willpower, so let's go whole-hog.  Bernanke will keep pushing quantitative easing until the wheels grind to a halt and then we can invoke the Willie Sutton rule and go where the money is.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Another commission, primed for the trash heap - WashPost: "Durbin to propose Social Security commission."  Yes, I'm sure it will get token imprimatur of "doing something" before everybody ignores it.
Priorities - Jammie Wearing Fools: "No budget from Obama but he did makes his NCAA picks."  Phew, I was afraid he would leave the country, leaving us in suspense.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Psych! - There's an old cartoon I need to find: a guy with an "IRS" briefcase shows up at some guy's door and says: "Hey, we spent all your money.  Can we have some more?"  Fox News: "California businesses fuming over retroactive $120 million tax grab."

Extra - From Nice Deb.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crowding out all those things we call "the government"

Here's George Will two months ago:
"You wonder why discretionary spending is so low? Because nondiscretionary spending on entitlements is crowding out the Marine Corps, scientific research, everything else. And this is our future. We're going to be an assisted living home with an Army. That's going to be the American government."
And here's Robert Samuelson today with "America the Retirement Home."
The budget debate’s central reality is that federal retirement programs, led by Social Security and Medicare, are crowding out most other government spending. Until we openly recognize and discuss this, it will be impossible to have a “balanced approach” — to use one of President Obama’s favorite phrases. It’s the math: In fiscal 2012, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and civil service and military retirement cost $1.7 trillion, about half the budget. If they’re off-limits, the burdens on other programs and tax increases grow ever greater.
It's probably too late to turn back from the abyss.  As I wrote many years ago, the time for reform was before the horde of Baby Boomers retired.  Now that the largest group of American voters are getting their checks, and no politician is going to risk his or her career to stand in the way.  Samuelson notes that it's up to the President to tell America that programs initiated when the light bulb was "the latest thing" need to be reformed for the 21st century:
Only the occupant of the bully pulpit can yank public opinion back to reality. This requires acknowledging that an aging America needs a new social compact: one recognizing that longer life expectancies justify gradual increases in Social Security’s and Medicare’s eligibility ages; one accepting that sizable numbers of well-off retirees can afford to pay more for their benefits or receive less; one that improves generational fairness by concentrating help for the elderly more on the needy and poor to lighten the burdens — in higher taxes and fewer public services — on workers; and one that limits health costs.
In other words, we're doomed.  Sorry kids.  Now get to work.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A low rumble in Thunder Valley - Wow, I'm watching the NASCAR race from Bristol, Tennessee today and the stands are empty.  I know more drivers are seeking out sponsors than in previous years and TV ratings are down.  I guess Americans aren't so interested in watching cars turn left anymore.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Again with the numbers - Real Clear Politics: "Social Security, entitlements - the facts say fix them."  This part may provide a clue as to why young Americans (see below) can't get ahead: "Also in 1940, there were approximately 160 workers paying Social Security (FICA) taxes for every beneficiary. That ratio has dropped almost steadily during the intervening decades. In 1950 it was 16.5 to 1; in 1960 it was a tad over 5:1; and today it is less than 3:1. That arithmetic is simple, too, as are its implications."
Running on fumes - New York Times: "Younger generations lag parents in wealth-building."  Being the NYT, they conveniently overlook a lot of the reasons for this.  Oh, the housing bubble, OK.
Detroit goes under - Walter Russell Mead: "Michigan made it official this week: Detroit can no longer survive without adult supervision."
Fizzled out - Hit & Run: "New York City's soda ban is dead."  Enjoy that Big Gulp, Yankee fans.

Friday, March 15, 2013

We waited four years....for this?

Today's too-good-to-excerpt editorial in the Washington Post about the Senate budget: "The Democrats' complacent budget plan"
It is on the issue of entitlements that the Democrats’ document really disappoints. There is literally nothing — not a word — suggestive of trimming Social Security, whether through greater means-testing, a more realistic inflation adjustment or reforming disability benefits.
Didn't I call it?  Oh yes I did.
As for the coming flow of baby boomers into Medicare, the Democrats declare that “new retirees deserve the same promise of quality, affordable health care from which their parents have benefitted — and it is the position of the Senate Budget that they ought to get it.” There’s plenty of excoriation for the GOP “premium support” plan. But there’s no explanation of how the Democrats would pay for their “promise” — nary a hint of the many cost-saving reforms that would extend Medicare’s life without embracing the GOP plan.
In other words: "we don't have a plan, we just know we don't like yours."
In short, this document gives voters no reason to believe that Democrats have a viable plan for — or even a responsible public assessment of — the country’s long-term fiscal predicament. Read alongside the GOP’s own partisan outline, it leaves only a faint hope that sensible members of both parties, together with Mr. Obama, might yet meet in the serious middle.
On this last point, I agree that Paul Ryan's plan is a stiff thumb in the eye, especially the umpteenth attempt to repeal Obamacare.  (It's going to wither on the vine anyway when the states can't set up exchanges and companies start to self-insure).  But at least the House plan acknowledges long-term debt obligations.  For Obama and Patty Murray, it's like the guy who jumped out of a 60-story building and while passing the 20th floor saying: "No crisis yet."

Extra - From Veronique de Rugy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The (fiscal) reality-based community

Cue the spit-take.  The Hill: "Pelosi open to looking at Obama proposal to cut Social Security."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she'll consider Social Security cuts as part of a sweeping deficit-reduction package.
If you believe that Democrats in Congress will touch this with a ten-foot pole, I have a bridge in San Francisco to sell you.  As somebody wrote today, they're going to keep dancing to this tune until the music stops.

But maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe they're willing to trade tax reform for Social Security reforms, or more specifically, Obama's only (public) proposal: changing to the chained-CPI calculation for future benefits.  According to various sources, this more accurate calculation of inflation will save the federal government somewhere between $217 and $300 billion over 10 years.

Not a bad chunk of change, eh?  But over the next ten years, spending on Social Security expenditures will rise from $0.8 trillion this year to $1.4 trillion/year in 2023.  That means over the next decade, the total payments will top out around $11.5 trillion and $300 billion in chained-CPI savings will bring that crashing down to $11.2 trillion - a savings of 2.6%.

I think taking a more realistic calculation of inflation is, um, realistic.  Heck, I think anything that extends Social Security's solvency somewhere near my own retirement age is a plus.  But I guarantee that Democrats will run screaming from even this paltry, barely-a-scratch, adjustment because "scaring Grandma" is their biennial approach to winning elections.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Potemkin country

Zero Hedge: "Let's stop fooling ourselves: Americans can't afford the future."
More profoundly, the big picture numbers just don't add up. A nation that's collectively in hock to the tune of 373% of GDP – not including entitlement liabilities  which launch that figure to more than 1000% – needs to seriously face the fact that it cannot make good on its current promises, let alone entertain making them larger.
Not to worry: there's an unlimited pot of savings by not fighting wars we've already stopped fighting and counting the interest savings for money we would have borrowed.
It's for your own good, fatties - Hit & Run: "Bloomberg: I meddle because I care."
Well then - Hot Air: "Senior WH official: Obama's GOP outreach is a big waste of time designed to impress the media."  Are you not impressed?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sinking into Lake Michigan

Illinois pension manager: "We are not in a death spiral!"

The SEC today: "Oh yes you are."  "Illinois has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country. Governor Pat Quinn and the state legislature are currently locked in a political battle as to how best to fix an unfunded liability of $96.8 billion - a gap so large, it has led Illinois to have the worst credit rating among U.S. states."
Entitlement front: it's a put-on

Here's Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard reviewing the President's dinner with Republicans:
The White House screwed up the sequester fight, the president’s approval ratings are dropping, heretofore-friendly reporters are criticizing his failure to lead, and, while Obama remains relatively unconcerned about debt and deficits, he recognizes the political utility of reaching out to Republicans now in order to demonize them once again in the months leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. In short, it’s a setup.
That's my sense also.  This is all about the "optics" for Obama.  Entitlement reform is something he believes in the abstract when it strokes his ego as "bravely going against his own party" but it never arrives.  According to off-the-record accounts of the big dinner, when pressed on the need to take the lead on this very issue Obama searched for excuses to take action.

It's foolish to think that Obama will be an honest reformer for entitlements, which will swallow every penny of tax revenues in a few decades.  He won't do it.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Security theater - Fox News: "Fake bomb got past Newark screeners."  Damn, that 2% cut did compromise our safety after all.
There is no budget.  There is only the counter-budget. - Hot Air: "Obama's budget won't drop until April 8th."

So Jack Lew drew a line through the White House tours and then everybody stared at each other, unable to think of another thing to pare back in the budget.  Then they said: "screw it, we'll just wait for Ryan's."  It's called leadership, people.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


Over at Reddit, Zach Braff all-but-confirms a rumor long held about "Scrubs" that Neil Flynn just made up his lines.
"Neil is hilarious. He made up most of his lines. Sometimes a script would show up and when Neil enters it would just say (Neil makes up something and then exits.) A true genius improvisor."
Well played, Dr. Jan Itor.
A popular idea that's oh-so-wrong

Writing in the NY Times, Thomas Edsall spills a lot of ink to propose essentially one idea to save Social Security: raising the income limit subject to the payroll tax.  His argument boils down to: 1) it will work and 2) it is popular with Americans.  Yes, and robbing Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul.

The problem is that Social Security was supposed to be a "universal" benefit for all Americans where the size of your benefit is proportional to your income (with some progressivity built into the system).  But FDR also understood that the political popularity of the program would be undermined if John D. Rockefeller was getting a fat benefit check in the middle of the Depression.  Thus, the income cap also capped the maximum benefit received.

What Edsall never explains is whether lifting the limit on income subject to taxes would also lift the benefit - and I think it's safe to assume not.  The benefit will be capped but the taxes will not so Bill Gates will get his fat $1,261 check.  Otherwise, where would the savings come from?  Initially, there would be in influx of new FICA taxes but the future liabilities would also rise.

Interestingly, Edsall doesn't support means testing of entitlements because it would undermine the political support of these so-called universal programs.  But if he thinks these programs will be unpopular with means testing, he should wait until Social Security is broke in 20 years and everybody's benefits are automatically cut.  The current rate of return for an American worker is already negative and there's no political will to make any reforms.  Edsall's article does nothing but muddle the issue.  If you want Social Security to be a welfare program instead of a universal benefit, then just come right out and say it.  It's heading that way anyway.

President seeks lunch with noted Grandma-tripper and "social Darwinist"

Hot Air: "Obama to Ryan: let's do lunch".  Why the sudden interest in breaking bread with the House Budget Chair Paul Ryan?  Politico thinks it's because Obama is afraid that "regular order" in Congress will cut him out of the budget process:
By speaking directly with Ryan, Obama is hoping to enlist a powerful ally in convincing leadership to abandon its insistence on subjecting all future measures on the debt, deficit, taxes and entitlement reform to "regular order," the tortuous committee process dominated by party conservatives, according to a person close to the process.
So to recap: Mr. "We can't go from crisis to crisis" is a month late with his own budget and is trying to enlist support from moderate Republicans to do an end-run around the GOP leadership and undermine the regular legislative process.  In a couple days, Paul Ryan will release the House budget and - miracle of miracles - the Senate will have their own budget since 2009.  If history is any guide, Obama will then do his "I tried to reach out!" schtick before falling back to his default state of class warfare and retail populism.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

In his defense, he's writing the most beautiful budget you've ever seen - Weekly Standard: "Chief White House calligrapher gets paid $96K per year."

Ha-ha, just kidding.  He's not writing a budget.

Extra - Hot Air: "Sequestermania!"  And my favorite quip today: the White House has "jumped the sharquester."

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

All right, Hamilton!

NBC Connecticut: "Dunkin' Donuts worker stops robbery with hot coffee"

Honestly, Eric Clapton - I don't see how the fact that you didn't shoot the deputy is a mitigating factor.

Monday, March 04, 2013

C'mon lucky seven!  Massy needs a new source of revenue - I suppose the libertarian in me should say "if people want to gamble, let 'em gamble."  I just don't want it going on a couple miles from my house.  But Massachusetts is seeking new taxes for all sorts of goodies, and the nickel slots and potato salad buffets are coming to a Western Massachusetts town somewhere.

Frankly, I don't think nearby Palmer has the infrastructure to handle the traffic of a new casino.  There would have to some serious road work.  Springfield seems better equipped with a major downtown bus station to bring Granny into town to blow her Social Security check.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

I laughed at this but Gloria's still with us

Did my taxes today - oldest turned 17 last year so I lost the $1000 federal child tax credit.  I have to say that the online system has greatly improved over the past couple years.  When you log into the state systems, they recall personal information and the interface has become much more user-friendly.  Start to finish for federal and two state returns took me the length of "Inherit the Wind" on TCM this afternoon.  Not bad.
The President and his compliant enablers - Guy Benson: "Our useless White House press corps."

The one part of this annoyingly predictable press conference that was particularly grating was Obama lamenting woe is me: "What would you have me do?"  How about a regular order budget, chief?  That answer never occurred to either Obama or all those "smart folks" in the press room.

But then producing a budget would require work and we know that campaigning is his skill set.

Extra - From Legal Insurrection.