Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Politica Digest October 20, 2009

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

Record-High Deficit May Dash Big Plans
$1.4 Trillion in Red Ink Means Less to Spend On Obama's Ambitious Jobs, Stimulus Policies
I was at a meeting in Colorado over the weekend, where Sen. John Barrasso spoke. He said the reason most of the “stimulus” money had not been spent so far, was that the Democrats timed the spending to kick in during the run up to the 2010 election, thus buying re-election with taxpayers’ dollars. He also pointed out that the only reason “health care reform” was coming in so “cheap” was that the taxes to pay for it kicked in immediately, while most of the spending didn’t kick in until after the 2012 election. The Democrats plan to take the SGR formula problem out of the bill this week, in S1776, making it look even cheaper by putting the spending someplace else. He also said there is $10B in the healthcare bill for sidewalks and jungle gyms in the cities and claimed that the mob was heavily involved in Medicare Fraud, because the profits were higher, and the penalties and chance of getting caught lower than for drug dealing. Given the fact that a majority of the voters didn’t realize the terrible Bush deficits of the past two years were passed by Democrat-controlled Congresses, this shell game will probably work.

Cash for Clubbers
Excerpt: The federal credit provides from $4,200 to $5,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and when it is combined with similar incentive plans in many states the tax credits can pay for nearly the entire cost of a golf cart. Even in states that don't have their own tax rebate plans, the federal credit is generous enough to pay for half or even two-thirds of the average sticker price of a cart, which is typically in the range of $8,000 to $10,000. "The purchase of some models could be absolutely free," Roger Gaddis of Ada Electric Cars in Oklahoma said earlier this year. "Is that about the coolest thing you've ever heard?" The golf-cart boom has followed an IRS ruling that golf carts qualify for the electric-car credit as long as they are also road worthy. These qualifying golf carts are essentially the same as normal golf carts save for adding some safety features, such as side and rearview mirrors and three-point seat belts. They typically can go 15 to 25 miles per hour. In South Carolina, sales of these carts have been soaring as dealerships alert customers to Uncle Sam's giveaway. "The Golf Cart Man" in the Villages of Lady Lake, Florida is running a banner online ad that declares: "GET A FREE GOLF CART. Or make $2,000 doing absolutely nothing!"

Yes, the CRA Is Toxic
Excerpt: To begin with, the CRA defenders’ claim that CRA lending mostly wasn’t subprime is highly misleading. It would be more accurate to say that 90 percent of CRA lending wasn’t classified as subprime. CRA lenders, along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the two government-sponsored entities that bought loans from lenders, enabling them to make more loans—commonly classified CRA loans as “subprime” only if they contained such features as high fees, high rates, or low initial payments with adjustable interest rates. But approximately 50 percent of CRA loans for single-family residences were nevertheless made to borrowers who made down payments of 5 percent or less or had low credit scores—characteristics that indicated high credit risk. Whether or not anyone called these loans “subprime,” in other words, the chances are good that many of them have defaulted or remain at high risk of doing so. Though the feds, again, haven’t collected figures for CRA loans’ performance as a whole, we do have statistics from a few lenders that are troubling indeed. In Cleveland, Third Federal Savings and Loan has a 35 percent delinquency rate on its CRA-mandated “Home Today” loans, versus a 2 percent delinquency rate on its non–Home Today portfolio. Chicago’s Shorebank—the nation’s first community development bank, with largely CRA-related loans on its books—has a 19 percent delinquency and nonaccrual rate for its portfolio of first-mortgage loans for single-family residences. And Bank of America said in 2008 that while its CRA loans constituted 7 percent of its owned residential-mortgage portfolio, they represented 29 percent of that portfolio’s net losses…. Edward Pinto, a consultant to the mortgage-finance industry, was the chief credit officer at Fannie Mae in the 1980s.

The inevitable Medicare cuts
http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2009/10/the_inevitable_medicare_cuts.htmlExcerpt: One should never expect an overabundance of honesty in political debates. But in the current debate on health care reform, both Democrats and Republicans may well be setting new records for obfuscation. Take Medicare, for example. The Democrats would have us believe that they can cut $500 billion from Medicare spending over the next 10 years without anyone getting less of anything. They are going to save that money, the president says, by eliminating "fraud, waste, and abuse." Undoubtedly that would be the same fraud, waste and abuse that presidents have been eliminating since at least, say, Ronald Reagan. But, contrary to the president's rhetoric, the bills that Congress is currently debating do cut Medicare. (Paging Joe Wilson!)

Small Group Now Leads Closed Negotiations on Health-Care Bill
Excerpt: Three months before he was elected president, Barack Obama vowed not only to reform health care but also to pass the legislation in an unprecedented way. "I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table," he said at an appearance in Chester, Va., repeating an assertion he made many times. He said the discussions would be "televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." But now, as a Senate vote on health-care legislation nears, those negotiations are occurring in a setting that is anything but revolutionary in Washington: Three senators are working on the bill behind closed doors. (Transparency? We don’t need no stinkin’ transparency!)

Wasting Away
What? Fraud and waste in a Democrat-controlled government health care plan? Impossible! Excerpt: While the sick languished in alleyways and on park benches in the city with the nation's highest AIDS rate, D.C. government allowed widespread waste and mismanagement to overwhelm the city's AIDS services. (Coming soon to your health care!)

In health debate, those numbers are just numbers
The CBO's price tags are educated guesses, but guesses nonetheless
Excerpt: "We're always putting out these estimates: This is going to cost $1.042 trillion exactly," he said. "But you sort of want to add, you know, 'Your mileage may vary.' " As Democrats embark on a plan to reorder one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the CBO is the umpire, charged by Congress with assessing the effect on the federal budget and the potentially profound impact on American lives. The Senate majority leader has vowed to hold no vote on a health plan until the CBO passes judgment. But the agency, while almost universally praised for honest and impartial analyses, does not have a crystal ball. (and when has a government program come in under what was predicted?)

ObamaCare's Tax on Work
Excerpt: None of the new distortions that the Senate health-care bill will layer onto the already-distorted tax code have received the attention they deserve, but in particular its effects on marginal tax rates could use scrutiny. Incredibly, for those with lower incomes, ObamaCare will impose a penalty as high as 34% on . . . work. Central to Max Baucus's plan—assuming the public option stays dead—is an insurance "exchange," through which individuals and families could choose from a menu of standardized policies offered at heavily subsidized rates, provided that their employers do not offer coverage. The subsidies are distributed on a sliding scale based on income, and according to the Congressional Budget Office 23 million people will participate a decade from now, at a cost to taxpayers of some $461 billion. Think about a family of four earning $42,000 in 2016, which is between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level. CBO says a mid-level "silver" plan will cost about $14,700 in premiums, of which the family will pay $2,600—since the government would pay the other $12,100. If the family breadwinner (or breadwinners, because the subsidies are based on combined gross income) then gets a raise or works overtime and wages rise to $54,000, the subsidy drops to $9,900. That amounts to an implicit 34% tax on each additional dollar of income. (If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait ‘til you see what it costs when it’s free. –P. J. O’Rourke.)

The Baucus Death Spiral
Excerpt: Insurance death spirals occur when regulators force insurers to offer coverage (“guaranteed issue”) at premiums below the known risk of those they are insuring, without any assurance that the shortfall can be made up elsewhere. When insurers comply with these rules and offer relatively low cost health insurance policies to all comers, quite predictably, many sick people step forward to sign up. When the insurers then try to turn around and charge higher premiums to the relatively healthy to cover their costs, the healthy, also quite predictably, are more reluctant to enroll because they can see the premiums they would have to pay would very likely exceed their health-care costs. So they often say "no thanks" to the insurance and decide to take their chances by going without coverage instead. As more and more healthy people exit the marketplace, insurers are then forced to raise premiums for everyone who remains, which only further encourages the lower risks to opt out. This vicious cycle of rising premiums and an increasingly unhealthy risk pool is called a ‘death spiral’ because it eventually forces the insurer to terminate the plan. This is not a hypothetical, textbook scenario of what might happen to a poorly run insurance market. It has happened before — many times and in many places. See, for instance, the experience in Kentucky, and in Washington state, and in Maine too. There’s no reason it couldn’t happen nationwide. The Obama White House and congressional Democrats convinced themselves months ago that they could avoid the fate of these failed state reform efforts by forcing the young and healthy to buy insurance, whether they wanted it or not. And so, all of the bills under consideration in the House and Senate would make government-approved health insurance enrollment compulsory for all Americans. Those not complying would have to pay a new tax, collected by the IRS. But the assumption that Congress would be able to hold the line and permanently sustain a punitive new tax on Americans for not buying government-approved insurance was always dubious. And, sure enough, Democrats, staring political reality in the face, have been backing away from a tough “individual mandate,” step by step, ever since they returned from their August recess. The Finance Committee adopted amendments that delayed the mandate’s full implementation and dramatically reduced the tax penalties for non-compliance.

Swiss Health Care Thrives Without Public Option
Excerpt: Like every other country in Europe, Switzerland guarantees health care for all its citizens. But the system here does not remotely resemble the model of bureaucratic, socialized medicine often cited by opponents of universal coverage in the United States. Skip to next paragraphSwiss private insurers are required to offer coverage to all citizens, regardless of age or medical history. And those people, in turn, are obligated to buy health insurance. That is why many academics who have studied the Swiss health care system have pointed to this Alpine nation of about 7.5 million as a model that delivers much of what Washington is aiming to accomplish — without the contentious option of a government-run health insurance plan. (So why aren’t Democrats looking at the Swiss? Let politics in the system, maybe.)

A Better Health Care Alternative
Excerpt: Health care reform is stuck on the public health insurance plan. But a better, less controversial alternative exists in the consumer-driven health insurance system of Switzerland. The many Americans who do not trust private health insurance companies grouse that if they were forced to buy health insurance, they would not want to choose solely from these companies. They want a public insurance option instead. But turning to a health insurance plan run by the U.S .government as an alternative can ruin the economic future of this country--and, likely, the medical care of the sick. The reasoning behind the dire economic prospects that accompany a public plan is simple: Congress will curry favor with current enrollees by underpricing the plan, in essence borrowing the money from future generations. This is exactly what Congress has done with Medicare, whose unfunded liability for future benefits is estimated at $38 trillion--2.5 times 2008's gross domestic product. Congress created this massive liability by charging enrollees too low a price. If Medicare were a private insurance company, its costs would increase by a trillion dollars annually for the interest on its liabilities (assuming 3% interest). Federal government's accounting policies may ignore this number, but it is real nevertheless.

You Will Get Health Insurance at DMV -- Literally (It's in the Bill)
Thought this was satire. Excerpt: The most revelatory passage in the so-called "plain English" version of the health care bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved on Tuesday (without ever drafting the actual legislative language) says that in the future Americans will be offered the convenience of getting their health insurance at the Department of Motor Vehicles.This is no joke. If this bill becomes law, it will be the duty of the U.S. secretary of health and human services or the state governments overseeing federally mandated health-insurance exchanges to ensure that you can get your health insurance at the DMV. You will also be able to get it at Social Security offices, hospitals, schools and "other offices" the government will name later. Page 19 of the committee's "plain English" text says: "The Secretary and/or states would do the following: ... Enable customers to enroll in health care plans in local hospitals, schools, Departments of Motor Vehicles, local Social Security offices, and other offices designated by the state."

Earmark Probe Focusing on Former Aide to Visclosky
Excerpt: A federal investigation into defense contracts awarded through congressional earmarks is increasingly focused on a former top aide to Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) who worked with the congressman on funding requests from clients of a powerful lobbying firm, according to two sources familiar with the probe. Investigators have gathered evidence that Charles E. Brimmer, Visclosky's former longtime chief of staff, suggested to some lobbyists that companies seeking Visclosky's help in getting Pentagon funds would need to commit to a program of donations to the member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, the sources said. The Justice Department is trying to determine whether Brimmer's proposal constituted quid pro quo, an illegal act in which a public official requests something of value in exchange for an official action. Brimmer, 55, Visclosky's right-hand man on political and appropriation decisions, announced in late May that he would retire from his post, days after investigators subpoenaed records from Visclosky's offices and from Brimmer personally. Visclosky said then that investigators sought information about the congressman's dealings with the PMA Group, a lobbying powerhouse that also has been a focus of the investigation. (More of that Republican “Culture of Corruption” Nancy Porklosi warned us about, no doubt.)

2010 Threat to Democrats Comes From Three Directions
Excerpt: Three forces threaten Democrats in the 2010 elections: populist anger on the right, disaffection in the middle and potential disillusionment on the left. Little more than a year out, the political landscape for the coming midterm elections looks decidedly more favorable for Republicans than in either of the past two elections -- hardly a surprise, given the shellacking they took in 2006 and 2008. Whether their expectations for 2010 are met or exceeded, however, depends on the confluence of the political forces that have been building since President Obama's inauguration. Today, Republicans expect gains across the board. As GOP pollster Neil Newhouse put it, "In the last two election cycles, our candidates have been campaigning into the wind. Assessing the political environment right now, it sure looks like we're going to have a nice little breeze at our back." But strategists aren't certain whether that breeze will turn into a political gale. Whatever problems Obama and the Democrats are having, Republicans aren't wildly popular, either. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped engineer the 1994 GOP victory, offered an astute analysis when asked to compare the climate today with conditions heading into 1994. "People are more frightened than they were in '93 and '94 -- both by the radicalism of the administration and by the economy," Gingrich said. But he added: "They're more skeptical of Republicans than they were in '93 and '94. The aftereffect of '06 and '08 is there's not a rush to Republicans."

Democratic Fault Lines Open Up
Excerpt: The Democratic coalition's ability to bridge its economic, regional, and class differences is endangered by values conflicts threatening to emerge over a wide range of domestic issues, including health care, global warming, labor rights, and consumer protection. President Obama's desire to slow the growth of medical spending, for example, has the potential to force to the surface differences within his party over whether it is appropriate or morally justifiable to impose new limits on treatment of the elderly, the terminally ill, premature babies with severe birth defects, and people in need of organ transplants. Such values disputes may well complicate regional and class tensions, pitting the party's "empathy" wing against its less liberal, more tightfisted "discipline" wing.

Republican optimism may get scotched by reality
Excerpt: But just as Democrats came to realize with their 2004 flop, "Anybody but ..." isn't an effective strategy, especially against an incumbent who may struggle to govern but who excels at campaigning. Republicans must remember President Lincoln's rejoinder to Ohio Sen. Benjamin Wade, who said that "anybody" could command the Union army: "Anybody will do for you, but not for me. I must have somebody." Right now, the leading Republican for 2012 is a talk show host who left the Arkansas governor's mansion almost three years ago and is starting a tour for his first Christmas book. That doesn't mean that Mike Huckabee will be the nominee, but it does mean that the party is heading for an ugly time. Huckabee makes a good "anybody" to 29 percent of Republicans, but the party will soon have to have "somebody."

Left shocked by FB assassination poll
But they had nothing to say about FB pages on killing Bush: Let’s take a closer look, shall we? The first charming and witty page, titled “We all Want To Kill George Bush” is in the category “Just for Fun - Fan Clubs”

Swine Flu Characteristics Becoming More Evident
Excerpt: As swine flu continues to spread around the globe, a clearer and in some ways more unnerving picture of the most serious cases has started to emerge, indicating that the virus could pose a greater threat to some young, otherwise vibrant people. The virus can cause life-threatening viral pneumonia much more commonly than the typical flu, prompting the World Health Organization on Friday to warn hospitals to prepare for a possible wave of very sick patients and to urge doctors to treat suspected cases quickly with antiviral drugs. Experts stress that most people who get the H1N1 virus either never get sick or recover easily. But some young adults, possibly especially women, are falling seriously ill at an unexpectedly rapid pace and are showing up in intensive care units and dying in unusually high numbers, they say. Although why a minority of patients become so sick remains a mystery, new research indicates that H1N1 is different from typical seasonal flu viruses in crucial ways -- most notably in its ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and cause viral pneumonia. "It's not like seasonal influenza," Nikki Shindo of the World Health Organization said at the conclusion of a three-day meeting of more than 100 experts the WHO convened in Washington to review swine flu. "It can cause very severe disease in previously healthy young adults." Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that vaccine production was proceeding more slowly than hoped. Officials had predicted that about 40 million doses would be available by the end of October, but that projection will probably fall short by about 10 million to 12 million doses, said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. (Get your shot when you can—I can’t spare any readers.)

Why Are the French so Prone to Suicide?
Excerpt: France offers its citizens unusual comforts, with first-rate health care, long holidays, sit-down lunches, protected jobs and generous welfare. What then is the explanation for the high suicide rate? The veneer of security masks much uncertainty, says the Economist. Job protection rules discourage permanent job creation, so the young drift on temporary contracts. Unable to shed staff, firms give employees meaningless jobs instead, to try to nudge them out. Big French firms, many once branches of the civil service, have been opened up to market competition, bringing new pressures to perform in the office or factory floor. According to a survey, the French have less confidence in their employees (32 percent) than do either Germans (47 percent) or Americans (54 percent).

Taliban fight back against Pakistan offensive
Okay, I was only a SSgt. But it seems to me the Obama administration could have coordinated an offensive against them on the other side of the border. Maybe I missed it.

Obama Drops Plan to Isolate Sudan Leaders
Obama violates campaign promise? I’m shocked, shocked! Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has formulated a new policy for Sudan that proposes working with that country’s government, rather than isolating it as President Obama had pledged to do during his campaign.

Flow of terrorist recruits increasing
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/18/AR2009101802549.html?nav=hcmoduletmvExcerpt: BERLIN -- Midway through a propaganda video released last month by a group calling itself the German Taliban, a surprise guest made an appearance: a clean shaven, muscular gunman sporting the alias Abu Ibrahim the American. The gunman did not speak but wore military fatigues and waved his rifle as subtitles identified him as an American. The video contained a stream of threats against Germany if it did not withdraw its troops from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Although the American's part in the film lasted only a few seconds, it has alarmed German and U.S. intelligence officials, who are still puzzling over his background, his real identity and how he became involved with the terrorist group.

When Defeat is the Answer
Excerpt: The latest sign of the Left’s defection over the war comes from the Los Angeles chapter of the anti-war group International A.N.S.W.E.R. On Sunday, ANSWER sponsored an antiwar “teach-in” on Afghanistan at Los Angeles City College. The event was the group’s latest “local action” in its self-described “struggle” against alleged U.S. imperialism in “Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, the Philippines, Latin America and beyond.” All this is standard fare for the radical group, with one notable exception: It now considers the Obama administration the enemy.

Somalia: Ramadan quiz winners get prizes of guns and grenades
The Religion of Peace.

What the collapse of Israel would cost
Excerpt: Think of what Israel has done for the military security of the Western world, merely by working for its own security. What country destroyed the ambitions of that wretched Soviet ally Nasser and upended him forever, caused his disappearance and with him, Nasserism? What country -- despite the predictable and predicted condemnation (not least from the administration of George H. W. Bush and James Baker) -- destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor, and in so doing, derailed for 21 years his nuclear ambitions, which is to say until he himself was removed, so that those ambitions were never realized? What country recently destroyed the nuclear installation in Syria that Iran and the North Koreans had built? Whose pressure now is really the cause of whatever measures at this point the so-far dilatory and delaying Americans and others may take against Iran? And what country, do you suppose, will in the end deal most effectively with the chiliastic madmen of the Islamic Republic of Iran? What country today supplies all kinds of technological advances that are then taken advantage of by the United States? [See drones.] What country is best able to penetrate, and to make sense of, intelligence derived from the Muslim Arab states and from Iran?

Is there more time left on Iran's nuclear clock?
Excerpt: Now that’s interesting. The seeming breakthrough in negotiations on October 1 in Geneva – where Iran agreed to send most of its estimated 1,500 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment – may not have been exactly what it appeared. Iran may have had no alternative but to seek foreign help in enrichment because its own centrifuges wouldn’t work. “The impurities, certain metallic fluoride compounds, would interfere with centrifuge enrichment” at Iran’s facility at Natanz, reported the newsletter’s Bonn correspondent, Mark Hibbs. This news strikes me as a potential bombshell. If the Nucleonics Week report is accurate (and there’s some uncertainty among experts about how serious the contamination problem is), the Iranian nuclear program is in much worse shape than most analysts had realized. The contaminated fuel it has produced so far would be all but useless for nuclear weapons. To make enough fuel for a bomb, Iran may have to start over – this time avoiding the impurities.

Look who wants kids to walk to neighborhood schools, not be bussed to schools further away.
Excerpt Rev. Jackson says students from Altgeld Gardens should not have to travel 4 1/2 miles away to Fenger High School when Carver Military Academy is a five minute walk from their homes. Carver is one of the city's selective enrollment schools like Whitney Young, Payton, and North Side Prep. Rev. Jackson says that, if students must be bussed, they should be bussed "up" to Payton or Nequa Valley (in Naperville), "not over".

In Praise of No, No, No
Excerpt: Forget Sarah Palin," remarked The Associated Press. "The female maverick of the Republican Party is Sen. Olympia Snowe." CNN's resident rational, reasonable, moderate Democrat, Paul Begala, called Snowe the "last rational, reasonable, moderate Republican." Snowe even unleashed her own cringingly absurd self-congratulatory missive, claiming, "When history calls, history calls." You know what? History always calls. You're in the United States Senate, for goodness' sake.

Suckered by the Russians
Excerpt: HILLARY Clinton was in Russia last week, hoping to "reset" relations with the Russians which, she said, had been damaged by the policies of George W. Bush. As a token of the Obama Administration's intentions, Mrs. Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a large, red "reset" button when they met in Geneva in March. But instead of the Russian word for "reset" (perezagruzka), Mrs. Clinton used on her mock button the word "peregruzka," which means "overcharged." The Russian press had a field day. That gaffe was a harbinger of things to come.

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