Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Political Digest August 3, 2010

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

Social Security Jitters? Better Prepare Now
Excerpt: “People 50 and below should change their planning now to incorporate a benefit cut,” said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University who ran some numbers for us to see what life would be like if the retirement age were immediately raised to 70. That change would translate into a nearly 20 percent cut in benefits, because you would have to wait an extra three years to get the same amount of money, he added. Several financial planners told us they were assuming that clients in their 30s and 40s might receive just 50 to 80 percent of their full benefits. Or, the advisers say, they may figure that the cost-of-living adjustments applied to benefits won’t keep pace with inflation, or some other combination of adjustments. (For the record, executives from AARP said their polls had long shown that younger people were skeptical about receiving full benefits.) “It’s better to be conservative now than risk being underfunded for retirement,” said Jorie Johnson, a financial planner in New Jersey. Mr. Kotlikoff’s calculations looked at how a couple’s spending and saving patterns might have to change if the government raised the full retirement age to 70 (we assumed it was imposed right away, though such a change would probably be phased in over many years). That would essentially translate to a 19 percent cut in monthly benefits, according to Mr. Kotlikoff. He performed the calculations using his company’s retirement planning software, ESPlanner, which shows what people need to save to ensure a consistent standard of living over the course of their lives. Our examples illustrate how a cut in benefits might feel if you had longer to plan for it — say, you were 35 years old when the system changed. We also looked at the repercussions for a 45-year-old or a 55-year-old. In all cases, we based our assumptions on a married couple with two children and a $350,000 mortgage on a house in New York State. They save 10 to 15 percent of their income during their careers (the rate rises as they age) as well as an additional $100,000 for their children’s college education. They earn a conservative 2 percent above inflation on their retirement savings and retire at 65 but take Social Security benefits at 67, three years before full retirement age.

The Biggest Tax Increase in U.S. History?
Excerpt: The Obama administration just flip-flopped on a long-standing Barack Obama promise. What's new about that, you ask? In this case it amounts to what's likely the largest tax increase in U.S. history. President Obama has repeatedly asserted that the new health care law's individual mandate requiring everyone to have qualified health insurance coverage or pay a penalty is not a tax. In a testy exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos--who, ironically, also pushed for sweeping health care reform legislation when he worked for then-President Bill Clinton--Stephanopoulos pointed out that ObamaCare critics call the mandate a tax. Obama rejected the claim and noted that his critics call everything a tax: "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase." And yet the Justice Department now claims the mandate is a tax, but not because the legislation refers to the mandate as a tax--it doesn't. Rather, the lawyers at Justice want the Supreme Court to confer its blessings on ObamaCare when the issue comes before the Court, and the lawyers are increasingly concerned that the 20-plus state challenge claiming the mandate is unconstitutional may hold up. So the Democratic defense has morphed from the "Of course we have the constitutional power to impose an individual mandate" defense to "The Commerce Clause gives us the power to mandate coverage" defense and now to their "It's a tax" defense. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to levy taxes. Many conservatives rejoiced at the flip-flop, proclaiming they have caught the president and his administration in one more broken promise: not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year. If the mandate really is a tax, it could be the largest in history--and it affects everyone.

Rep. Ryan pushes budget reform, and his party winces
Excerpt: Viewing him as a rising star in the party, Republicans in Congress often talk up Rep. Paul Ryan as a potential governor, senator or House leader. The lanky, youthful-looking congressman from Wisconsin has begged off, citing his young children and limited desire to spend all his time raising campaign money. Instead, Ryan is running a campaign of a different sort, one his party has so far refused to adopt: He is determined to persuade colleagues to get serious about eliminating the national debt, even if it means openly broaching overhauls of Medicare and Social Security. He speaks in apocalyptic terms, saying the debt is "completely unsustainable" and warning that "it will crash our economy." He urges fellow politicians, and voters, to stop pretending that this problem will go away on its own. He administers his sermons with evangelical zeal. He will go anywhere and talk to anyone who will listen. When he is not writing op-eds and appearing on television, he can often be found speaking to liberal and conservative audiences alike about his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan he says would fix the problem.

PETE STARK: - The Federal Government can do most anything in this country

Rare earth blockade shows how China plays the globalisation game
Excerpt: THE United States and Europe have been remarkably insouciant about supplies of rare earth minerals so crucial to frontier technologies, from hybrid engines to mobile phones, superconductors, radar and smart bombs. China accounts for 97pc of the world output of this family of obscure metals. Assumptions that Beijing would not risk its reputation as a global team player by strangling supply have proved naive. To wide consternation, it is cutting export quotas by 72pc for the second half of this year. The Pentagon is scrambling to work out what this means for US security. An interim report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) said that "rebuilding a US rare earth supply chain may take up to 15 years". Fifteen years? China's rare earth blockade is becoming more piquant by the day as the country swaps threats with the US over the South China Sea. I leave it to scholars at The Hague to evaluate China's claim to "indisputable sovereignty" over waterways that carry half the world's freight shipping. One does notice that much of the sea is a long way from China, and close to Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei. There are no settled communities on the islands. The Falklands parallel is invalid. What is new is that China has chosen to press the issue by calling these waters a "core interest", like Tibet and Taiwan. It is conducting live-fire naval and air exercises. Equally new is that the Obama administration has chosen to resist, a change of tack after sponsoring China's fuller inclusion in world governance through the G20 and the IMF. "We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. Legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In plain English, "back off".

Just another day at Ways and Means
Excerpt: There's something in the water, if not the Scotch and bourbon, at the HouseWays and Means Committee, and a procession of chairmen just couldn't resist taking deep drafts of whatever it is. It's entertaining for the rest of us, but expensive. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who has been in Congress longer than almost anyone else, spent Thursday vainly trying to cut a deal with the House ethics committee over his presumed capital indiscretions with the tax man. Charlie is a master craftsman of congressional bonhomie, and like most of his colleagues, he imagines that rules, most of which Congress writes, apply only to the peasants. What Charlie wants most of all is to keep his seat in the House. He thinks a public trial, which looks like what he'll get, would be embarrassing, though it's hard to imagine how a member of Congress could any longer be humiliated by anything. Mark Twain, who lived in a more innocent age, gilded or not, famously observed that Congress is our only native criminal class. What could he think of several recent chairmen of the once-powerful HouseWays and Means Committee, where taxes originate. The most recent miscreants are Democrats, but that's only because Democrats preside over the House more often than Republicans.

The United Cities of America
Excerpt: The great irony of those championing the demise of the Electoral College is that they are ostensibly ( I say ostensibly because I believe there is nothing pure about the motive here) doing so to promote more freedom, not less. What a load of baloney. Right now a presidential candidate, most of whom come from America's semi-permanent "political class" with all its elitist trappings, is still forced to "sully" himself and campaign in what is euphemistically referred to as "flyover country" because the Electoral College votes of those states still mean something. He has to eat the occasional corn dog instead of arugula salad in order to demonstrate his "solidarity" with people who "cling" to all those things he finds inherently beneath his dignity. He has to address "inane" local issues that would ordinarily be delegated to "lesser" human beings. Now do away with the Electoral college. All the same elitist politician has to do now is set up shop at five star hotels in America's five or ten largest cities by population. He can "root" for the Yankees while he's in New York and the Dodgers while he's in LA. He can blow virtually his entire campaign war chest making sure he nails down the popular vote in a handful of places and be done with it. And federal power expands exponentially as a result. Obviously this is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. They took great pains to ensure the separation of powers at the federal level and equally great pains to ensure that the individual states had a substantial say in how this country was governed. So much so they included the input of state legislatures in that "pesky" Constitutional Amendment process that the American left finds so "problematic."

National Health Service: It's Coming to America
Excerpt: Anyone who believes a U.S. health care system based on the NHS model can somehow fare better than Britain's had better consider this recent headline and story from London's Sunday Telegraph: "Axe Falls on NHS Services; Hip operations, cataract surgery and IVF rationed; Cancer care, maternity, pediatric services at risk." Rationing? Oh yes, and it is something the unconfirmed, recess-appointed U.S. health care czar, Donald Berwick, strongly favors. British government leaders had promised to protect frontline services. The Obama administration also made similar promises in order to win enough support from members of Congress, most of whom never read the bill before they voted for it. Here's what America can look forward to if it follows the NHS model, according to an investigation by the Sunday Telegraph: "Plans to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from budgets for the terminally ill, with dying cancer patients to be told to manage their own symptoms if their condition worsens at evenings or weekends." Never has "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" sounded more callous. Nursing homes for the elderly would be closed, the number of hospital beds for the mentally ill reduced and general practitioners would be discouraged from sending patients to hospitals. Accident and emergency department services would also be cut. Thousands of jobs would be lost at NHS hospitals, reports the Telegraph, "including 500 staff to go at a trust where cancer patients recently suffered delays in diagnosis and treatment because of staff shortages." Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association called the cuts "astonishingly brutal." She expressed particular concern at attempts to ration (that word again) hip and knee operations. "These are not unusual procedures," she said. "This is a really blatant attempt to save money by leaving people in pain."

Speaker Pelosi wants pre-election tax cut vote
Will she have a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts the rest of us got? Excerpt: House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants a vote before November elections on whether to extend tax cuts for those with annual income over $250,000 a year, she said in an interview broadcast on Sunday. "The tax cuts for the wealthiest ... (with income of) $250,000 and above, were the Bush initiative," Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week," referring to former President George W. Bush. "I don't see any reason why we should renew a tax cut that only gives a tax cut to the wealthiest people in America, increases the deficit, and doesn't create jobs," Pelosi said. "That doesn't make any sense." Asked directly whether she would push for a House vote before the November 2 election on whether to extend tax cuts for the middle class while letting those for wealthier citizens expire, Pelosi replied, "It would be my hope."

The U.S. Brainpower Map
Yeah, if all that brainpower is in DC, how come we’re in such a mess?

The Soak-the-Rich Catch-22
Excerpt: Tax reduction thus sets off a process that can bring gains for everyone, gains won by marshalling resources that would otherwise stand idle—workers without jobs and farm and factory capacity without markets. Yet many taxpayers seemed prepared to deny the nation the fruits of tax reduction because they question the financial soundness of reducing taxes when the federal budget is already in deficit. Let me make clear why, in today's economy, fiscal prudence and responsibility call for tax reduction even if it temporarily enlarged the federal deficit—why reducing taxes is the best way open to us to increase revenues. —President John F. Kennedy, Economic Report of the President, January 1963. If only more of today's leaders thought like JFK. Sadly, in the debate over whether to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and if so whether the cuts should be extended to those people who are in the highest tax bracket, there is a false presumption that higher tax rates on the top 1% of income earners will raise tax revenues. Anyone who is familiar with the historical data available from the IRS knows full well that raising income tax rates on the top 1% of income earners will most likely reduce the direct tax receipts from the now higher taxed income—even without considering the secondary tax revenue effects, all of which will be negative. And who on Earth wants higher tax rates on anyone if it means larger deficits?

Arizona Sheriff: 'Our Own Government Has Become Our Enemy'
Excerpt: Pinal County (Ariz.) Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose deputies patrol a county along the U.S.-Mexico border, is hopping mad at the federal government. Babeu told CNSNews.com that rather than helping law enforcement in Arizona stop the hundreds of thousands of people who come into the United States illegally over its southern border in Arizona, the federal government is targeting the state and its law enforcement personnel. “What’s very troubling is the fact that at a time when we in law enforcement and our state need help from the federal government, instead of sending help they put up billboard-size signs warning our citizens to stay out of the desert in my county because of dangerous drug and human smuggling and weapons and bandits and all these other things and then, behind that, they drag us into court with the ACLU,” Babeu said.

White House Seeks to Clarify F.B.I. Powers vis-à-vis E-Mail
Where are all the people who used to scream Bush was trashing the constitution? Excerpt: The Obama administration has asked Congress to give clear authority to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain records related to the context of e-mails and other Internet-based communications without first obtaining a warrant from a judge.

Waters offers strong denial of charges as panel is formed
Excerpt: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) offered a strong denial Monday to charges she broke House ethics rules. “I have not violated any House rules," Waters said in a statement released Monday. "Therefore, I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do and instead have chosen to respond to charges made by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in a public hearing." Waters released the statement after the House ethics committee released an 80-page report detailing allegations against her, and after the panel announced it has formed an adjudicatory subcommittee to hold a trial regarding the charges. The committee said the body would first meet for an "organizational meeting" but did not announce a date. The House broke for a six-week recess on Friday evening. Waters will be the second member of the Congressional Black Caucus [CBC] to face an ethics trial after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who faces his own trial over 13 alleged violations of House rules and federal statutes.

Obama to Dems: Don’t worry, I won’t campaign for you
Excerpt: As lunch was served in the Roosevelt Room of the White House one day last week, President Obama assured the nine Democratic members of Congress sitting around the table that he would do anything he could to help them survive their fall elections. Even, he said, if it meant staying away. “You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking.

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