Archive for October, 2009


Jobs Saved?

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

Life is good for the federal government when they can make up whatever numbers they want to track the success of their stimulus money.  In an article which is making its way arond the news, it appears that the stimulus has created or saved around 650,000 jobs.  Though that sounds impressive, I am forced to wonder exactly what we have gotten for our money.

The new data released late Friday represents 156,614 federal contracts, grants and loans awarded to more than 62,000 state and local governments, companies, school districts, universities, non-profits worth a total of $215 billion.

So, that means 650,000 jobs were created on the basis of $215 billion in government spending.  Using simple division, that means each job cost the US government — and us, the taxpayers who are footing the bill –$330,769.23 per job.

Now, while $330k may sound like a pretty small sum of money to Wall Street tycoons, members of Congress, and the lovely Mr. Madoff, that is a rather large sum of money for the average American.  Recalling that the stimulus money was (supposedly) aimed at construction oriented infrastructure projects make the money per job seem even more excessive.  Even at union wages, I’ve never heard of a construction worker who makes that kind of money.

So where on earth is it all going?

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Swine Flu Emergency

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Politics

As the international hyperventilation over swine flu continues, it appears that the disease is now a national emergency.  As absurd as the declaration, and its associated language, are, the stated reason for the declaration now is fairly revealing of different issues with the US government.

According to Jennifer Nuzzo of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Biosecurity, the national emergency declaration is “just a precautionary move so if need be we can focus on the care of patients rather than focus on administrative hurdles. In disasters, you often don’t have the time or luxury to keep the paperwork in order. You want hospitals focusing on patients.”  White House spokesman Reid Cherlin echoed this sentiment, stating that “If granted a waiver [under the declaration], hospitals would be freed from some regulations that guide their behavior during normal day-to-day operations.”

To phrase all of that somewhat differently, it sounds as if normal government regulations are getting in the way of doctors and hospitals providing effective medical treatment by default, and the state of emergency is needed to allow patients to be cared for in ways more in line with how medical professionals, rather than government bureaucrats, feel is most appropriate.

If a state of emergency is considered necessary for the management of such a benign illness, that fact alone should raise serious questions about the impact of government regulation during times of normal operation.

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More Banking Nonsense

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

According to the Wall Street Journal, it appears that Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) wants people to start taking more money out of their bank accounts.  In particular, bank accounts which are empty.  While I know the government withdraws from an empty treasury all the time, there is precious little reason to think that doing the same is a good idea for the rest of us.  What it really appears is that Dodd wants to create a sort of back door by which individuals who probably couldn’t get loans in the traditional way are nevertheless able to access and spend more money than they have to their name.

While overdraft fees are well known to make people who get hit with them grumble, the reality is that they serve an important economic function.  From the perspective of the consumer, overdraft fees are, first and foremost, as sort of punitive damage incurred when the consumer withdraws more money than he has to his name.  While an overdraft fee can certainly put a cramp in someone’s day, an FDIC study reports that the fees are seldom onerous, ranging from $10 to $38 per infraction, with a median of $27 per overdraft.  A full 3/4 of the population will not incur any overdrafts at all over the course of a year, and only the most elite group of bank abusers, those with 20 or more overdrafts in a year, will average more than $1,000 in fees annually.  Of course, all of these fees are 100% avoidable.

More importantly to the legislation at hand, overdraft fees represent a compromise between consumers, banks, and retailers.  The vast majority of overdraft fees are incurred during debit card transactions or from writing bad checks.  In other words, the fees come from people spending money that they don’t have to purchase goods or services in situations where neither the vendor nor the bank necessarily know that the consumer has insufficient funds.  In the world of banks, where vendors are unable to receive any information from the bank while the customer is still present, most retailers charge a bounced check fee, if they’re willing to accept personal checks at all.  Debit cards, which either bounce immediately or not at all, remain widely accepted because vendors know that payment is guaranteed.  The guarantee on that payment, however, comes from banks, through overdraft protection.

If overdraft protection is opt-in, then much of the benefit attributable to debit cards will go away.  The overdraft system works in part because it is so wide spread and dependable.  The clear intent of this proposed legislation, however, is to make it less wide spread.  If debit cards become unreliable, retailers will stop allowing them, much as they have stopped allowing checks.  Banks, to ensure the same level of reliability, may find themselves pressured to allow debit card users to fall below zero balance in their accounts, effectively turning the debit system into a credit system — in particular, a credit system for low income people who likely couldn’t get credit through normal channels.  Consumers, no longer affected by the significant incentive overdraft fees provide to stay within their means, will become more likely to allow their balances to fall sub-zero, at least for short periods of time.

In all, this move strikes me as yet another example of Congress trying to encourage people to spend money they do not have, remove culpability for those that do, and set up private banks for future failure.


Stimulating Seniors

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

Once again it appears that Obama is preparing to redistribute taxpayer’s money to a favored constituency, budget deficit or not.  The next stop on the Obama Money Train, it appears, are senior centers and nursing homes around America where he will come riding in with a pile of $250 checks, totaling to $13 or $14 billion worth of increased debt depending on who happens to be counting.  The move is already being applauded (of course) by seniors groups and the AARP, and has the support of top Democrats in Congress.  If the Associated Press is to be believed, it looks like there’s even Republican support, though they’re at least (pretending to be) looking at the increase in deficit spending with concern.

The money handout comes, supposedly, as a result of the formula used for calculating annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) for Social Security dictating that there would be no increase in payouts this coming year. COLA is based explicitly on inflation and is intended to make sure that the purchasing power of payments to beneficiaries will not diminish over time.  Falling gas prices and a stale economy have actually caused a slight bit of deflation over the course of the past year.  To offset the lack of an official increase from COLA, Obama apparently wants to give away $250 to “senior citizens, veterans, retired railroad workers and people with disabilities.”

Looking over the list of recipients reveals an interesting collection of intended payees.  Senior citizens are obvious recipients as they are the primary beneficiaries of Social Security.  People with disabilities also make sense, because many of them are eligible for Social Security as well.  The payment to veterans is a little surprising; I wouldn’t have thought that they are on Social Security any differently than the rest of us, though many do get government pensions.  And then there are the retired railroad workers; where did that come from?  Plus, looking over another article, it looks like maybe all retired government folk (and railroad workers) might actually receive the benefit, whether they qualify for Social Security or not.

I wonder how many other favored constituencies might be added to the list before it’s all over.

Of course, the correct number to add is something on the order of negative four.  COLA is meant to maintain a level of purchasing power for Social Security beneficiaries, not to be a perpetually increasing rate of wealth redistribution from the young to the old.  We should be thankful, in fact, for the stagnation, as it increases seniors’ purchasing power without driving the program closer to its already impending bankruptcy.

As for the notion mentioned in the article that seniors deserve more because the cost of drugs has gone up, why is the payout not $250 to everyone who buys prescription drugs?  If that was really the concern, tying the money to drug purchases is the only logical way to address it directly.  Of course, the cost of drugs is being handled a different way: Medicare D is seeing an increase, which will serve to offset the (supposedly) skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs.

It is probably to anyone’s political turmoil to vote against this latest round of absurdity.  Nevertheless, seniors are going to get exactly what they deserve under the law.  There is nothing unfair about honoring a standing agreement.  It is, however, quite unfair to the younger generations to siphon their money and change the rules at a time when wallets are already tight and nearly one in ten members of the working population is not actually working at all.

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The Trouble with Liberals Is…

   Posted by: Elizabeth    in Links

I came across an article this week that perfectly articulates something that I have been saying myself for quite a long time, but didn’t have the proper words to express until now: Debating Leftists Is Like Debating Charles Manson.

The thesis of the article is this: that Leftists aren’t “operating in the same reality [as their debate opponents]. They do not operate in reality at all.”

This is something I come across in seemingly every major issue that liberals and conservatives come to a head about. Truly Conservative views are backed up with solid, undeniable facts. Liberal views are “supported” with a lot of logically invalid emotional appeals.

Take, for example, the gun issue. The conservative stance is that guns in the hands of law abiding citizens are relatively safe and are certainly more safe than only criminals possessing guns. They have several decades of studies with which to support this position. The liberal stance? “But I just don’t think it’s a good idea to have guns [wherever].” Wait.. I’m sorry.. when did “I just don’t think…” ever become a valid debate point? It doesn’t matter what you think, what can you PROVE? What can you show us with factual, valid evidence? And for that matter, why are we still passing laws based on what people think, especially in situations where the data points otherwise?

(Are you listening to me, Congress? Lowering healthcare costs by RAISING HEALTHCARE COSTS is just not. going. to do it. Query: how many of you, as of this moment, are ACTUALLY, CERTIFIABLY INSANE? I want to see hands, people, because nothing else makes any semblance of sense.)

But I digress. The point is that you cannot have a reasoned debate with people when you cannot agree on the premises. Conservatives think laws should be written based on, dare I say it, TRUTH. On what is actually happening in our country. Liberals, on the other hand, think they should be based on PUPPIES AND KITTIES, AND OH MY GOD THE CHILDREN. I don’t know… maybe there’s something wrong with me… but I just don’t find that a particularly compelling argument.


Insuring the Uninsured

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

One of the recurring themes in the health care debate is the plight of the uninsured American who is given a death sentence because he or she can’t afford to buy insurance and ends up with a major illness.  These people, the rhetoric goes, need a safety net (provided by government) to ensure that nobody is forced to die because they can’t afford the care they need.  The blogosphere has been filled with anecdotes of people losing coverage when they get cancer or some other major illness.  Conservatives have pointed out that there is already a safety net: America’s emergency rooms.  I recently heard about another safety net that already exists, in the form of an anecdote about an uninsured husband and wife who actually got coverage after finding out that the wife had cancer.

The couple in question is a classic couple from Anytown, USA.  The husband owns his own small business, the wife is primarily a mom to their 2.3 children and a dog.  They have enough money to pay the bills and have some fun, but the family isn’t particularly wealthy.  Neither one had employer provided insurance, and they made the decision to not take the plunge with an individual plan.  After all, they are young, healthy, and active; and adding an insurance payment would have put some strain on the family budget.  Put simply, they are the embodiment of the average uninsured American.

Then one day, the wife falls unconscious.  Her husband calls 911 and she’s taken to the emergency room, where she gets a bunch of testing done, more or less all on the hospital’s dime.  The safety net covered exams come back and say that she has a cancerous tumor.  A big one.

From everything President Obama, the Democrats in Congress, and the media have told me, this is the point where I’m supposed to be thinking, “She’s screwed.”  This story is a bit more interesting.

Instead of going home to die, her and her husband take a trip to their local Medicaid office to talk to someone there about getting some help.  An employee there takes a look at their bank account, and recommends a strategic withdrawal to bring the balance below the magical amount required by regulation.  Since the husband owns his own business, they also ask for some business records; mostly copies of the old bills that he’s paid to prove that the company is legit.  Though his paperwork was in a state of disaster, the husband managed to cobble together enough bills to prove what he needed to prove.

Medicaid said they would cover her cancer.

Shortly thereafter, she went in for surgery at one of the best hospitals in the region under the care of a nationally known surgeon.  The report from surgery was everything positive; it’s likely that she will recover quickly and respond well to treatment with radiation, chemo, or both.  Far from screwed, she stands a good chance of being cured.

The safety net worked.  Even without health care reform, the life of at least one uninsured American — who managed to get coverage in a situation where most people talk about losing it — was saved.



On Incomprehensible Legislation

   Posted by: Robert    in Law, Politics

I happened across a video of Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) which one of my friends linked to on his blog which talks about the legislation being considered by Congress and the value that the senator places in reading the legislation his colleagues write.  The video itself is specifically aimed at the health care bill, but I get the sense that Senator Carper is really talking a bit more generally about a wide range of legislation and other legal documents.  The video can pretty much be summarized by the sentence, “No, I don’t read the bills, and I don’t know why anybody would; they do come with a plain English summary, so I just read that.”

Around the 3:40 mark, Senator Carper mentions some confusion with the desire of anyone to read legislative language, stating,”Why [legislative language] is of value, why someone should need to read that, I don’t understand.”  Well, Senator, maybe I can help you out with that.  The reason that people should read the legislative language is that it is the legislative language, not the English summary, which will ultimately become the law.  The legislative language becomes entered into the United States Code; a body of law which is binding on everyone to which the laws contained within apply.

When a person is accused of violating the law and brought to court, it is the duty of the judge to “begin … with the text of the statute.” (Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs) There clearly must be something important about the legislative language if it, rather than the English summary, is the starting place for the courts.  Of course, it is simple enough to recognize that “something” as the fact that only the former is the law.

Freedom under the rule of law requires that everyone should be able to fairly know all of their rights and obligations.  Any person of average intelligence should be able to understand all of the laws which apply to him or her without needing to have the law explained by “experts” like lawyers, judges, and legislators.  What kind of freedom can there possibly be when even the experts are unable to understand the law?

It would not be hard for legislators to adopt a simple formula for deciding whether or not a law is too complex: If they can’t figure it out, it’s too complex.  In my view, that is reason enough to vote against a bill.  Doubly so when the bill is guaranteed to be invasive into the lives and freedoms of Americans, who deserve, at the barest of minimums, to know exactly the ways in which their freedoms are soon to be abridged.



Party Biased Health Care

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

I doubt there are too many people who remember this, but a couple of months ago the RNC published a survey asking people for their opinions on the health care debate as it stood at the time. One of the questions caught a bit of flak from the left, which caused the RNC to backpedal, calling it “inartfully worded.” The text of the question was this:

It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?  [ ] Yes, [ ] No, [ ] Undecided

The adjective describing that question is not “inartful,” but “prescient.”Garrison Keillor, in the Chicago Tribune, flatly suggests that dropping coverage for Republicans might be a good idea.  Even if Mr. Keillor meant that as a joke, I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone proposes the idea seriously.

Shame on the RNC for backpedaling.  The question they asked is important.  The issue they raised is real.  The political gamesmanship that health care permits is something that needs to be discussed, because even though party biased health care may not be part of this bill, how ever can we guarantee that it might not be part of the next one?