Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Political Digest for March 3, 2010

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.

Two more House Dems demand Rangel step down as panel head
Just political posturing. Won’t mean anything unless members of that hotbed of corruption, the Black Caucus, break ranks and jump ship on Rangel. Excerpt: Two politically vulnerable Democrats on Monday called for Rep. Charles Rangel to step down as Ways and Means Committee chairman. Reps. Betty Sutton (Ohio) and Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) have joined the ranks of Democrats calling for the New York Democrat to relinquish his gavel in the wake of the ethics committee finding that Rangel violated House rules. 

Bad Advice to the GOP
Excerpt: The idea: allow all out-of-pocket spending on health care to be deductible. Or, put differently, allow people to buy health care directly with untaxed dollars, just as they can now (through an employer) buy health insurance. What’s wrong with that? If you’re getting insurance at work, your employer’s premium payments are escaping, say, a 25% income tax, a 15.3% payroll (FICA) tax, and a state and local income tax of 6% or more. For a middle-income family, the government’s share of the cost of your health insurance is approaching 50% — which is why so many people obtain too much of it. Now suppose that we had the same tax treatment for out-of-pocket medical expenses — for deductibles, copayments, and spending on items not covered by your health plan. All of a sudden, government would be paying almost half the cost of those expenses as well. This would have the effect of cutting in half the net cost to you of any medical expense not paid by your insurer. A $1,000 MRI scan would now have an aftertax cost of only $500. A $100 acupuncture session would cost you only $50. A $15,000 in vitro fee would now be $7,500. You don’t need Econ 101 to figure this one out. If you cut the price of anything in half, people are going to buy more of it — and medical care is no exception. In fact, people would have an incentive to buy medical services until they were worth only 50 cents on the dollar. We would inevitably get more spending, more waste, and more health care inflation. All the problems we now have in health care would become worse — not better.

Battle Brews Over Tactic to Win Passage of Health Bill: Reconciliation, Aimed at Avoiding a Filibuster, Is Called Nothing Special by Democrats, a Parliamentary Trick by GOP
Excerpt: The White House said Monday the leading tactic to win passage of the health-care bill was nothing extraordinary, rehearsing a key argument in the final public-relations battle over the bill. For their part, Republicans accuse the Democratic majority of trying to ram through legislation using a parliamentary trick that Republicans say was never designed for such a big bill. At issue is a procedure called reconciliation that allows the Senate to pass a bill with a simple majority, without needing 60 votes to override a filibuster. Before any votes are cast, both sides are trying to frame public views of the procedure. The battle is likely to heat up after President Barack Obama lays out his proposal for a "way forward" on health care. In a speech on Wednesday, Mr. Obama is expected to call on Congress to pass the sweeping Democratic health bill using reconciliation. Mr. Obama is also set to revise the legislative proposal he put forward last week, perhaps incorporating some Republican ideas from the daylong bipartisan discussion over health care last Thursday. In the last year, Republicans have often succeeded in portraying Democrats' tactics to pass a health bill as unsavory. A last-minute deal in December to win the vote of Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson helped Republicans capture a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts the next month. Republicans have also accused Democrats of negotiating the bill in secret. Mr. Obama and his aides have argued that Americans will warm to the health measure if they look at the substance of it, not the legislative sausage-making. And they say there is nothing unsavory about reconciliation, portraying it as enabling a simple "up or down vote" on the legislation.

Top Republican expects final healthcare vote before end-of-month recess
Excerpt: Republicans expect a final vote on healthcare around the easter holiday this year, the Senate's second-ranking Republican said Monday night. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he expected Democratic leaders to arrange their final votes on health reform to but up against lawmakers' recess for the Easter and Passover holidays. "This thing is losing support every day," Kyl said during an interview on Fox News. "And I think what they'll try to do is move it up against the Easter recess so that the members won't have time to go home and have a full recess period before they take the vote."

Alice in Health Care by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: Confusion between costs and prices add to the Alice in Wonderland sense of unreality. What is called lowering the costs is simply refusing to pay all the costs, by having the government set lower prices, whether for doctors' fees, hospital reimbursements or other charges. Surely no one believes that there will be no repercussions from refusing to pay for what we want. Some doctors are already refusing to accept Medicare or Medicaid patients because the government's reimbursement levels are so low. Similarly, if it costs a billion dollars to create one new pharmaceutical drug, then either we are going to pay the billion dollars or we are not going to keep on getting new pharmaceutical drugs produced. There is no free lunch. Virtually everything that is proposed by those who are talking about bringing down the costs of medical care will in fact raise those costs. Mandates on insurance companies? Why are insurance companies not already doing those things that new mandates would require? Because those things raise costs by an amount that people are unwilling to pay to get those benefits.

Nelson defends Senate health bill, signals strong backing for reform
He’s trapped. They will take out his bribe and he can’t vote no, or it looks like the bribe was the only reason for a yes vote. Excerpt: Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who withheld his support for the Senate-passed healthcare reform bill until practically the last minute, strongly hinted that he is prepared to back the final push to finish the job this spring. "Doing nothing on healthcare reform might seem like a reasonable option to some, but in my opinion it’s not. Our nation’s healthcare crisis will only get worse the longer we delay," Nelson said at a conference hosted by the Federation of American Hospitals.

Must-pass bills falter in unpopular Congress as Dems blame Republicans
Excerpt: Failure to advance must-pass legislation has added to the Democrats’ problems when Congress is suffering from its lowest approval ratings in years. Democrats claim they can blame Republican obstruction for the gridlock, but political experts and some Democratic allies say the majority party will also suffer because it controls Congress. To make matters worse, the stalled bills were expected to pass easily. The gridlock problem came to a head when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) held up a 30-day extension in unemployment benefits, filibustering what Democrats assumed would be a slam-dunk bill. Senate Democrats are catching blame from low- and middle-income workers, one of the biggest constituencies, for letting the situation spin out of control and leaving an estimated 200,000 workers without benefits this week. Democrats decried Bunning and the GOP in a flood of press releases Monday, but those feeling the pain may not make distinctions.

Economic Freedom, Democracy and the Quality Of Life
Economic freedom is good for you. Who knew? Excerpt: A capitalistic, or economically free, society is one in which institutions are characterized by personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and protection of person and property. It requires public policies that promote open markets, limited government, stable monetary growth, free trade and a strong rule of law, says Michael D. Stroup, a professor of economics and interim dean of the Nelson Rusche College of Business at Stephen F. Austin State University. The Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom Index (EFI) evaluates these public institutions and policies for more than 120 countries from 1975 to the present, based on objective, measurable data, says Stroup. In countries with relatively low levels of both economic and political freedom, adopting greater economic freedom is more likely to enhance society's well-being than increasing political rights through expanded democracy, says Stroup. Consider: A one-unit increase in a country's EFI score is associated with a 1.3 year rise in life expectancy at birth and reduces child mortality by 16 deaths per 1,000. However, a one-unit increase in a country's PRI score reduces life expectancy at birth by three months and reduces child mortality rates by only one-fourth as much (four deaths per 1,000) as a similar increase in the EFI score. Furthermore, a one-unit increase in the EFI score is associated with a 10.3 percent increase of two-year-olds with adequate vaccinations (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), whereas a one-point increase in PRI produces less than a 0.1 percent increase in vaccinations. Among countries with relatively high levels of both types of freedom, enhanced political rights improve the well-being of society less than economic freedom, says Stroup. Indeed: A one-unit increase in EFI increases life expectancy by one-and-a-half years and reduces child mortality by 14.6 deaths per 1,000. However, a one-unit increase in PRI decreases life expectancy by four months and reduces child mortality rates by only 1.6 deaths per 1,000. Moreover, a one-unit increase in EFI is associated with a nine-point rise in the percentage of two-year-olds with adequate vaccinations, while a one-unit increase in PRI has no significant effect.

American reliance on government at all-time high
The Collectivists are dragging us down the Road to Serfdom. Excerpt: The so-called "Great Recession" has left Americans depending on the government dole like never before. Without record levels of welfare, unemployment and other government benefits as well as tax cuts last year, the income of U.S. households would have plunged by an astonishing $723 billion — more than four times the record $167 billion drop reported last month by the Commerce Department. Moreover, for the first time since the Great Depression, Americans took more aid from the government than they paid in taxes. The figures show the devastating results of the massive job losses last year and indicate that the economic recovery that began last summer is tenuous and has a long way to go before many Americans resume life as normal, analysts said.

5 Ugly Truths Americans Will Have to Face
Yup. Excerpt: Even the United States of America is not immune to the rules of nature and commerce that govern other nations. Over the last few decades, our country has made some very foolish economic choices. It seems as if we have come to believe that the rest of the world is going to finance our government spending in perpetuity, even as it becomes clear that we have no intention of getting spending under control or paying back our debt. Because the wheels of history turn very slowly, we've gotten away with this for a long time, but as the baby boomers are starting to hit retirement age, the time to pay the piper is drawing nigh. In the next decade or two, we're likely to face a financial crisis more dire than any this nation has ever seen. What is that going to mean in real terms? It means that barring an unforeseen miracle, our out-of-control spending is going to lead to some very painful decisions that will make a lot of people, including conservatives, very unhappy. What you're about to read are the ugly truths about what our behavior today means for our country's future.

Coffee Party, anyone?
Excerpt: In the one-year that The Tea Partiers have been around they have been ignored, insulted, denigrated, and dismissed by mainstream media and official Washington. They have been shut out of public meetings, compared to Nazis, labeled wing-nuts, and denounced as dangerous kooks and populist radicals. In the face of these calumnies we are reminded that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Yes, that’s right; the political Left has decided to get in on the act. Drum roll, please. Enter, stage left; “The Coffee Party”.

A Tale of Two Quakes
Excerpt: But such preparation is also the luxury of a prosperous country, in contrast to destitute and ill-governed Haiti: Chile has benefited enormously in recent decades from the free-market reforms it passed in the 1970s under dictator Augusto Pinochet. While Chileans still disagree about Pinochet's political actions, they have not repealed most of that era's economic opening to the world. In the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, compiled by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Chile is the world's 10th freest economy; Haiti ranks 141st. Those reforms have allowed Chile to prosper, while many other Latin nations -- like once-wealthy Argentina -- have stagnated under the burden of Peronism. Wealthy nations have the resources to invest in safer buildings, modern health care, telecommunications and search-and-rescue capability, says the Journal.

Royal Statistical Society backs “models and data in the public domain"
Excerpt: And the hits just keep on coming for UEA/CRU and Dr. Jones. Now I wonder, where the heck is the American Meteorological Society? Earlier we reported on The Royal Society of Chemistry making a statement to the Parliamentary inquiry saying they as an organization support open data sharing. They join the Institute of Physics in making a strong statement on the practices of UEA/CRU. Now the Royal Statistical Society has weighed in with much the same opinion.

It Wasn't a Mortgage Recession After All: So Why Don't We Feel Better?
I don’t understand this well enough to have an informed opinion. (we are at the mercy of evil forces we don’t understand—and always have been). Excerpt: The Great Recession wasn't the result of subprime mortgage madness, according to a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research. It was just a plain old bank panic. Yeah, but weren't bank panics supposed to be a thing of the past, thanks to the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1934? That's the problem. The report, by Yale economics professor Gary Gorton, says subprime mortgage securitization was a mess -- a house of cards probably doomed to fall -- but subprime by itself simply wasn't big enough to put the entire financial system at risk. That required a failure of the Renew Sale and Repurchase (REPO) market for collateralized securities that over the last 30 years had come to backstop global finance. The problem here, of course is that hardly anyone has even heard of REPO, which manages to be an unregulated, uninsured $20 trillion business that is absolutely essential to keeping money flowing in the world. Subprime is only $1.2 trillion -- not big enough by itself to wag this dog. According to Gorton, the entire basis of global banking changed in the 1980s, thanks to money market funds and junk bonds, which took all the profit out of being a traditional bank. So banks began securitizing loans to regain those lost profits. The REPO market of interbank loans had always existed but it grew dramatically in the 1990s to support securitization. But since there was no deposit insurance for institutional loans measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, counterparties demanded collateral to back these overnight REPO loans that generally replaced demand deposits in the banking system.

Couple, son found dead in Darien after daughter calls cops
Chicago area home invasion. No word if the victims had access to self defense weapons.

Fake Tea Partier Also a Phony Soldier
The media used to have something called “journalists” who investigated claims. Now they just have propagandists who publish anything the detracts from the side they hate, usually conservatives. Excerpt: Dale Robertson, the racist nut who many in the media have paraded as emblematic of Tea Party attendees, claims to be a "leader" of the movement. In fact, he is a loner who has been rebuffed by every Tea Party group with which he has associated. Of course that did not dissuade the liberal media from unquestionably presenting him as the "leader" he dubiously claimed to be. The Washington Post and liberal blog Talking Points Memo both portrayed him as such, despite the fact that numerous Tea Party groups have publicly denounced him (none, as far as I can tell, have backed him). It turns out his "leadership" is not the only thing Robertson embellished. In a brief bio on his website, he lies about his military career.

Black Civil Rights activist murdered!
Alert the protesters and the media about this outrage! Oh, wait, he was murdered by Cuba. Never mind, it’s all good. Excerpt: Some background is in order. Shortly after Jimmy Carter visited Fidel Castro in 2002, played baseball with him, and returned home proclaiming Castro “a committed egalitarian who despises any system in which one class or group of people lives much better than another,” Zapata-Tamayo was beaten and arrested by Castro’s police for the crime of “disobedience.” In their twisted way, Castro’s secret police had a point: Tamayo, a humble rural plumber and bricklayer, had studied the (smuggled) works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi and had attempted some “civil disobedience” to protest the Stalinism imposed on Cuba by the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and their Soviet puppeteers. So Cuba’s Stalinist rulers pounced. Samizdats smuggled out of Cuba by eye-witnesses report that while gleefully kicking and bludgeoning Tamayo, his Communist jailers yelled: “Worthless Ni*ger! Worthless peasant.” Tamayo’s “disobedience” continued in proportion to his beatings and tortures. Tamayo remained, literally, “bloodied but unbowed.” Even Amnesty International recognized his plight and designated him an official “Prisoner of Conscience.” His exasperating defiance simply prompted the regime to more merciless beatings and to bump-up his sentence to 36 years in Castro’s dungeons. A little perspective: After conviction for planting bombs in public places (by a judiciary process declared scrupulously fair by the attending international press and human rights organizations) Nelson Mandela got a lighter sentence than did Tamayo for a peaceful protest. Needless to add, the regime that jailed Mandela was universally embargoed and condemned– and with particular virulence by the precise parties who hail Castro (who forbids any and all international human rights groups/observers from so much as setting foot in his fiefdom). That goes for Nelson Mandela himself. In 1991, he gushed, “There’s one place where Fidel Castro stands out head and shoulders above the rest. That is in his love for human rights and liberty!”

Bluest states also most in debt, highly unionized and solidly Democrat…
Well, who could have guessed? Excerpt: Forbes magazine has completed a comprehensive look at “The Global Debt Bomb” and in the course of compiling the results found this very interesting tidbit: “The five states in the worst financial condition–Illinois, New York, Connecticut, California and New Jersey–are all among the bluest of blue states. The five most fiscally fit states are more of a mix. Three–Utah, Nebraska and Texas–boast Republican majorities and two–New Hampshire and Virginia–skew Democratic.” But wait, it’s actually more serious than that when you look at the 10 states in the worst financial condition, according to Forbes: “Of the 10 states in the worst financial condition, eight are among a total of 23 defined by Gallup as “solidly Democratic,” meaning the Democrats enjoy an advantage of 10 percentage points or greater in party affiliation. These states include the ones listed above as making up the bottom five, plus Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin. “Of the three other basement-dwellers, Kentucky is defined as “leaning Democratic” (a five- to 10-percentage-point Democratic advantage) and the remaining two–Louisiana and Mississippi–are termed politically “Competitive” (less than a five-percentage-point advantage for either party). Louisiana tilts slightly Democratic and Mississippi slightly Republican.” Forbes quotes an Illinois political science professor who explains why these rankings turn out as they do: “Why do Democratic states appear to be struggling more than Republican ones? It comes down to stronger unions and a larger appetite for public programs, according to Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies and public affairs at the University of Illinois’ Center for State Policy and Leadership.

Must Read: Thinking About the Unthinkable: A U.S.-Iranian Deal
An interesting exercise in Real Politic for “Peace in Our Time.” The problem is that Muslims follow the Qur’an’s (3/28) teaching of Taqiyyah in which lying and deceit is justified to advance Islam, so they feel they are not bound by any deal with kufr, or unbelievers. Thus any deal would hold until they felt there was an advantage in breaking it, so this would have to be carefully structured. Excerpt: The United States apparently has reached the point where it must either accept that Iran will develop nuclear weapons at some point if it wishes, or take military action to prevent this. There is a third strategy, however: Washington can seek to redefine the Iranian question. As we have no idea what leaders on either side are thinking, exploring this represents an exercise in geopolitical theory. Let’s begin with the two apparent stark choices.

Iran says can cut energy to Europe, hit enemies
Iran could make European countries suffer by cutting off energy supplies and can target any adversary with its missiles, a senior Iranian military official said on Sunday. Iran is locked in dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear energy programme which Western countries fear is aimed at allowing Iran the chance to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says it is only interested in electricity.

Jihad, Inc
Important reading, but what this doesn’t talk about—few do—is that there is pretty solid support for the Jihadists’ positions in many mainstream theological schools of Islamic thought. Neither BO or GWB would dare admit that scary fact, preferring to wish it away with “Islam is a religion of peace” hope. Didn’t work with Shinto either, but that was only in one country. Excerpt: So we must begin by trying to understand what radical Islam is, what it’s not, and how it turns American-born Muslims into jihadist time bombs. The problem is not simply that in radical Islam this country faces a well-entrenched domestic enemy, but that the current administration, like the three that preceded it, has not shown any sign of understanding this reality, let alone a willingness to confront it. Simply put, radical Islam, though operating under the guise of religion and claiming to work in religion’s behalf, is less a religious movement than a revolutionary ideology akin to 20th-century totalitarian creeds like Nazism and Communism. It seeks religious legitimacy by embracing violent, reactionary, and obscurantist sharia doctrine — along with extremist interpretations of Islam, such as Wahhabism and Salafism — but it is quintessentially totalitarian in that it denies the legitimacy of Western civilization and the secular democratic order; these it considers to be jahiliyya — “barbarism” — in the words of the patron saint of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb. What is new in the Islamists’ presentation of the West as the implacable enemy of Islam is the framing of Islam’s conflict with it in apocalyptic, Manichean terms. The result is the demonization of the West as a subhuman civilization that must be destroyed if Islam is to survive and triumph. This demonization is coupled with the outright rejection of the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and any other religion or ideology in the long term. Here it is important to note that radical Islam sees itself as the perfect, God-ordained fusion of state and religion (din wa dawla) and, therefore, non-religious doctrines such as nationalism, socialism, and capitalism are seen as threats equal to those presented by other religions.

Brit Paratrooper who lost three limbs in Afghanistan bomb vows to return to sniper job
The Jihadists may eventually win, and impose a misogynistic 7th century theocracy on the free peoples of the world. But while we have men like this in the West, they will pay for their victories. Excerpt: If he succeeds in his ambition, 26-year-old Corporal Tom Neathway will be the most injured serviceman ever to return to battle. He has already passed an Army Medical Board assessment which graded him as operationally fit and is to begin a new course of weapons training to bring him up to the necessary standard He is also planning a 3,000ft, solo parachute jump over Poole harbour in Dorset to prove to Army bosses that he is ready to return to the front line. "I just want to show the army what I can do. The more I can do, the further forward I will get in Afghanistan and that is my ambition," he said. "There are plenty of jobs at Camp Bastion I could do, but I'm determined to go back to one of the static observation posts. I want to take a sniper's role on the peaks at Kajaki. "You only need one hand to fire the sniper rifle so I cannot see there is anything to stop me." Cpl Neathway, from Worcester, lost both of his legs above the knee along with his left arm when he was blown up while serving with 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment in Helmand Province in July 2008.

Five Muslim Soldiers Suspected of Food Poison Jihad Plot Discharged but Not Charged
Excerpt: The Muslim soldiers who have been under investigation at Fort Jackson have been removed from active duty but not charged. The group has been under investigation since Thanksgiving. The case is morphing. While the soldiers were cleared of a poison plot, the Muslim soldiers' laptops had been seized and were being analyzed. "Congressional officials with knowledge of the case said cell phones and Arabic writings had been confiscated as well."

Al-Qaida growing in strength and numbers in Africa
In 1998, three years before 9/11, I published a column about terror, in which I said terrorists now had the ability to destroy large buildings. It was headed, “America’s War on Terror will be long, slow and cruel.” Few were listening, but I’ve, alas! had no reason to change my mind. Excerpt: Al-Qaida's terror network in North Africa is growing more active and attracting new recruits, threatening to further destabilize the continent's already vulnerable Sahara region, according to U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials. The North African faction, which calls itself Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is still small and largely isolated, numbering a couple hundred militants based mostly in the vast desert of northern Mali. But signs of stepped-up activity and the group's advancing potential for growth worry analysts familiar with the region. The rapid recent rise of the al-Qaida group in Yemen — which spawned the Christmas airliner attack — is seen by U.S. officials and counterterrorism analysts as evidence that the North African militants could just as quickly take on a broader jihadi mission and become a serious threat to the U.S. and European allies. The Mali-based militants have yet to show a capability to launch such foreign attacks, but are widening their involvement in kidnapping and the narcotics trade, reaping profits that could be used to expand terror operations, officials and analysts said.

I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone. –John Updike

1 comment:

  1. This Royal Society knuckle-rap was to be expected - this "research" is no better than the "safety" calculations for atomic power stations were - one catastrophic accident per nuclear power station in a million years, but uncertrainty plus/minus 10 million years. Laugh or cry? As I see you are dealing with statistical research: I have put one of the most comprehensive link lists for hundreds of thousands of statistical sources and indicators on my blog: Statistics Reference List ( And what I find most fascinating is how data can be visualised nowadays with the graphical computing power of modern PCs, as in many of the dozens of examples in these Data Visualisation References ( If you miss anything that I might be able to find for you or if you yourself want to share a resource, please leave a comment.