Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Debt and the Deficit

In the video linked in the post below, Pam Stout reminds us that a big reason that the Tea Party came into being was a sense of dread over the size of the national debt and deficits. At just the right moment Donnald B. Marron puts this into scholarly perspective with pictures in National Affairs. (As an aside, those, like Letterman, who complain that the Tea Partiers weren't active when Bush was President, should notice how much worse the trends are under Obama.)

First, to help me get your attention I offer two graphs from the article.

Obama towers over his predecessors.

Obama - Up, Up and Away!

Unfortunately, voters still aren't paying attention and don't seem to care about the impending disaster. However, just as a Republican might have won the 2008 Presidential election if they had listened to Rasmussen and positioned themselves on economic issues, so now, Republican candidates could start winning, and positioning by taking on the debt issue. More from Mr. Marron:

Before we can hope to make a dent in our deficits and debt, there must be broad agreement among the public and the governing class that we even need to. There are still some commentators on both the right and the left who continue to insist that deficits and debt do not matter much. It is important to understand why they are mistaken.

Running deficits can certainly be appropriate — and even beneficial — at times of particular stress, such as wars and recessions. But in the long run, persistent large deficits and growing debts undermine our nation's prosperity.

He goes on to point out seven key reasons why long term deficits and debt hurt the United States. Summarizing:
  1. Debt undermines growth by crowding out investment.
  2. Debt fuels inflation, a hidden tax and destroyer of wealth.
  3. Foreign holding of our debt gives them leverage to negotiate in other areas.
  4. Use of shorter and shorter term debt puts interest rate risk on the budget.
  5. Rising debt limits our ability to raise money to combat a new crisis or our ability to go to war (not always a bad thing I guess.)
  6. Due to the magic of compound interest, debts grow on their own. Especially when you are financing current operations out of debt.
  7. We're screwing our children and grandchildren. (Marron uses the PC "intergenerational fairness.")
This is why we should applaud Jim Bunning for his insistence on pay-go. This is why we should mock every stimulus boondoggle. This is why we should demand an end to earmarks. This is why we should demand less spending everywhere. This is why we need to get the Democrats out of the majority in Congress and Obama out of the White House.

Tea Party Explained on National TV

I posted a video of Pam Stout on the David Letterman show at B-Daddy's Other Blog. A little more about Pam's evolutions here, of all places.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Racism and the Tea Party - Update with Video Rebuttal

Scroll down for update.
Image courtesy of Tea Party blogger Nice Deb.

I had hoped not to blog on this topic, but the left won't let it die. Gratuitous, mindless, endless and unfounded cries of racism are injecting even more poison into the body politic. David Paul Kuhn has an excellent rebuttal to the likes of Frank Rich, Jimmy Carter, Maureen Dowd, and lesser lefty lights.

For decades, leading liberals explained white concerns about urban upheaval, crime, welfare, school bussing, affirmative action and more recently, illegal immigration, as rooted in racism. Not safer streets or safer schools. Not concern about taxes for welfare, as working class whites (like all races) struggled in their hardscrabble lives. Not regular men who never knew "white male privilege" but were on the losing end of affirmative action (recall Frank Ricci). Not job competition or economic class. Instead, leading liberals constantly saw the color of the issue as the only issue.
I further add this absurdity. When Obama took office in January 2009 he had an approval rating of 76%, while his approval numbers are now down to 48%. Assuming about 225 million adult Americans, that means that 63 million Americans suddenly turned racist in just over one year? I'm not buying it.

More importantly, since this meme will have to be refuted day after day for the next two and a half years, we must inculcate an intolerance for racism in the Tea Party. Since the movement is self organizing, the only way to enforce this is through peer pressure. It is important to our movement, and important that Americans start to see what liars that criers of racism really are.

I leave with you some thoughts that Jay Nordlinger published in NRO's The Corner, quoting a letter from a reader (Nordlinger is not sure if he agrees, BTW.)

As everyone sweats out the final Obamacare tallies, I’m struck by a couple of other stories. In one case, someone reported hearing an anti-black epithet used at a political rally. In another case, dogged police finally arrested the perpetrator of an intolerable crime. The perp is a 16-year-old kid who made a potentially offensive comment on a Wal-Mart overhead speaker. That these things are even remotely newsworthy leads me to one conclusion: Racism in America is dead. We had slavery, then we had Jim Crow — and now we have the occasional public utterance of a bad word. Real racism has been reduced to de minimis levels, while charges of racism seem to increase. I’ll vote for the first politician with the brass to say that “racism” should be dropped from our national dialogue. We’re a good nation, among the least racist on earth . . .


Andrew Ian Dodge provides a link in the comments to an incredible video in which the whole racism and violence meme is entirely debunked and MSNBC is again shown to be utter tools, shilling shamelessly for the Democrat party in total denial of the facts.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Next on the Menu - Amnesty

That the administration's next big push will be amnesty should not surprise anyone. Dick Morris warned of this during the campaign in 2008 and others have pointed out that the costs of Obamacare will seriously explode if covering illegals were part of the calculus. But now that Obamacare has passed, exploding its costs will just put pressure to raise taxes. Further, it will help buy votes from the newly amnestized. This is why I will oppose any efforts by the administration on this issue; no matter how reasonable they try to sound. They will lie about their real intention to get millions of new voters on the rolls hooked on government subsidies and voting Democrat for life.

Many of you know that I once favored some kind of immigration reform and I still do; but not under this administration and not while this health care legislation is on the books. I also want to be clear that there should NEVER be a path to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally. I guarantee you that if you talk to a Democrat leader today about this issue and you propose any solution, but indicate your unwillingness to compromise on the citizenship issue, they will call you racist and refuse any negotiation.

We'll see what comes next. Any Republican that cooperates should be challenged in the primaries. Lindsay Graham, that means you.

The Nanny State's New Target - Calories on Menus

Dean posts about another nice little surprise that no one bothered to tell us about before the Obamacare bill was signed. Specifically, a new requirement that every chain restaurant publish its calorie count on its menu. The Nanny State is coming into its full glory and I'm feeling like Jack.

I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Ails Us - Part 2

Much has been made recently about all the anger over matters politic today. Peggy Noonan, in yesterday's WSJ, talks about the temperature being too high and Democrats and Republicans alike appear to be using the anger for partisan advantage. But we should examine the causes of the anger and not be dismissive. And I think that we find at its roots, a moral crisis of our own making.

Starting with the current health care debate, there is a sense of entitlement by those who argue in favor of a national program. Health care is a right they cry, and given that we have enshrined other goods as rights, how can we argue effectively that they are wrong. Other goods delivered by the government have become de facto rights, Children's education, a minimum income for the elderly and Medicare. And no one argued to end Medicare in the latest debate, as a matter of fact, the harm to be done Medicare under Obamacare was a key argument against its implementation.

However, in a free society, we have no right to the fruits of the labor of others; it is not our right to live by the sweat of another's brow. Doctors are not obligated to save our lives without just compensation, nor is the general population obligated to pay for that which we should be responsible ourselves. Ultimately, this is the moral code that we all instinctively live by, that we should be responsible for our own welfare and that of our families. We are angry because we are being punished for our integrity and figuratively spat upon and told that we are selfish and racist. We know that both our taxes and our insurance premiums will rise, we don't like it, because we have done nothing to deserve this and have made clear our desires. That many are angry is understandable. I do not condone threats or actual violence, but merely point out that the anger behind it is understandable.

Those on the other side believe that this moral code has a failing; because it does not guarantee that the less fortunate will be spared suffering. Further, they do not believe that a system of free enterprise is actually free, because people are fools, easily manipulated by those with corporate power and unable to make choices to free themselves of its tyranny, especially in the work place. They argue that we must hand over power to the "wise" who will establish an order of fairness and upend these evils through their benevolence. Hayek called this the fatal conceit. What they fail to acknowledge is that freedom and responsibility are damaged, and the "wise ones" in government will be even more self serving than any corporate leader ever can be, because of the power of competition. The self serving nature of the ruling class, even in a democracy, has long been understood.

But the problem gets even worse, because the "wise" have abandoned all pretense at having any moral compass of tradition, religion or constitution to constrain their desires. In order to gain power, they promise an electorate that we can have something for nothing; that we can take from the rich to meet our needs, nay to meet our rights. And as an electorate, we have bought into this.

Consider some history. Social Security, from the start, was never fully funded by its beneficiaries. Those who benefited in the past typically paid in far less than they received in benefits, burdening future generations with a system that returns to current workers 2% or less. Medicare was funded the same way, through a tax on current workers for the benefit of the elderly who had already retired. Both are now enshrined as rights.

More recently, home ownership became a quasi-right, propped up by easy money from the Federal Reserve and a structure that removed the risk of default on mortgages from those making the loans. It was the perfect con, everyone was getting what they wanted. No one cared that people lied on mortgage applications, no one cared that credit rating agencies had no clue about the value of mortgage backed securities, but rated them anyway. No one cared that the Federal Reserve's job of maintaining the value of the currency, a moral imperative that prevents theft by stealth, decided its job was to prevent stock market collapse or falling home prices.

Finally, we must ask why there is such a large population of people who need so much public assistance, such as subsidized health insurance, that our nation can't easily afford a small social safety net for an unfortunate few. KT has argued well and repeatedly that our culture devalues men and fathering which results in vast numbers of children lacking a father in their lives, and we are reaping a bitter harvest of underachieving, highly incarcerated youth as a result. And a typical moral failing of the incarcerated as well as those who can not complete high school is the seeming inability to take responsibility for their own lives. We see sex as recreational and wonder why so many men are then uninterested in ties that truly bind.

What can be done? Repealing Obamacare is probably the only place to start, because it has not really kicked in, so it is the easiest piece. But in the long run, merely repealing this one instance of overweening government will do nothing to dampen demand for ever more programs. We must change the culture of entitlement, to call it out for what it is, and to argue effectively, logically and passionately that this culture of entitlement and responsibility-shirking will wreck our country.

I leave with you an email that was forwarded to me by 'Dawg, but whose original authorship is unknown.

The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the presidency. It will be easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to an electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails us. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The republic can survive a Barack Obama. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president.
I might no have used the word fools, but I do agree that we the people elected a man who promised us more government goodies paid for by the rich not us. I guess those who believed that are indeed fools.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

San Diego District 6 City Council Elections

I am taking a time out from national politics, to explore the San Diego City Council race in District 6. I am just getting started looking at the candidates and will report from the debate on April 8 at Clairemont High School. Right now, the flyer shows four candidates, although I could swear there were five only a week ago. When I saw the flyer, I had little knowledge about the candidates, so here is my preliminary round up:

Howard Wayne

Former Assemblyman (78th district East Countyish, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, Bonita) and Democrat. His experience and fundraising probably make him the favorite. On his web site he touts the endorsement of the firefighters and police unions, so right away, I am highly prejudiced against him. This means he won't take on firefighter work practices or the pension problems crippling the city budget, or so it would seem.

Lori Zapf

Her website has some pretty decent proposals; reform pensions, balance the budget (but that's the law). But she also cow-tows to the firefighters and police. She also touts making "quality of life" and neighborhoods her first priority. San Diego City Beat is trying to paint her as some kind of anti-gay bigot, so she is making the right enemies. She was also involved in an organization called Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse, another plus. She is also, horrors, the only Republican in the officially non-partisan race.

Steve Hadley

Steve Hadley is Donna Frye's chief of staff. Frye is the current District 6 council member. He will come with her mixed baggage, she was occasionally the voice of sanity on the council but I always felt that she was too close to the unions. Hadley's issues page on his web site
takes on a number of issues regarding pension that show his knowledge of the real problem. I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately he also seems anti-development with his emphasis on mitigation plans and other minutia of urban planning.

Ryan Huckabone

The last candidate also seems the least likely to win. The platform page of his web site calls for shifting to a defined contributions pension system for new employees; I wholeheartedly agree. (But dude, get some professional help for your web page.) He also calls for limiting spending, but offers very little concrete, other than capping expenses at 2% below projected revenue. Maybe not a bad idea, but more needs to be done. He also takes on water reclamation as a key initiative. He may be very far sighted, but I don't think this will generate excitement, unless water rationing gets way worse. Finally, he states that he will work very hard to keep the Chargers in San Diego; I couldn't disagree more. I would like to see some other city deal with the financial subsidies that come with supporting an NFL team, so I am not thrilled.

My options aren't looking so great, but I will be attending the debate on April 8.For any readers residing in San Diego or absentee voting in San Diego (CZ?), I invite you to comment on what questions I should ask. My proposed question is, "What action will you take that will anger the public employees union but save the taxpayers significant money?"

Look forward to your comments.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Weekend Music Chill

We're having a little bit of a torpedo theme this weekend, and I always liked Tom Petty's breakthrough album "Damn the Torpedoes." So here he is with Here Comes my Girl, from 1979.

And since we're playing Tom Petty, I couldn't resist adding "American Girl" even if my girl half Aussie.

Did He or Didn't He?

Was Dear Leader behind the sinking of the Cheonan? I look at the evidence so far on B-Daddy's Other Blog.

Quick Hitters

I was looking around for news items today that demonstrate the idiocy of the current administration and found a target rich environment. (Apparently, so have the North Koreans.)

1. Health Care Costs Already Underestimated

HotAir breaks down the impact of the removal of a subsidy to corporations that was used to keep retirees on the corporate prescription drug plan. The Congress counted as savings towards the cost the elimination of this subsidy; but businesses are going to eliminate the subsidy and push their retirees on Plan D medicare drug plan, increasing those costs, voila, increasing deficits.

2. Obama Makes Mortgage Mess Worse

H/T again to HotAir. The administration demonstrates its economic illiteracy by demanding that banks allow unemployed borrowers to not have to pay their full mortgage payment. This will encourage lending to help the recovery how? With lenders losing money on existing loans, and the chance that any particular borrower will get reduced payments because they lose a job, new lending will be harmed. This will not stop the problem of underwater borrowers, who fall into about three equal categories: Those for who will eventually default, no matter what help they receive; those who will work their way out of the mess on their own; and those who might be helped.

3. Humiliating the Prime Minister of our only really ally in the Middle East.

Netanyahu was in Washington this week for talks with Obama; but was treated shabbily by a President willing to bow to Saudi royals and high five Chavez. Not only was there no photography allowed of the Israeli PM, but apparently, the Israelis were left to cool their heels for an hour while Obama had dinner, put his kids to bed, who knows?

4. The President doubles down on the lies he told to sell health care. (From the New American, this one just writes itself.)

If Republicans want to run on a platform of repealing the health care reform Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday, the President is encouraging them to "go for it!" "They're actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November," Obama told a gathering of about 3,000 yesterday at the University of Iowa field house in Iowa City (left). "And my attitude is, go for it! If these congressmen in Washington want to come here in Iowa and tell small-business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest,"
Go for it? I think we will. The Tea Party will be working hard to do just that. Mr. President what's your estimate of the number of seats your party loses in November?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

People Are Angry

In what is surely an overplayed headline, Drudge is linking to a story that Democrat house members are at risk for violence. Stenny Hoyer is playing this up, and hinting darkly about Republican... well something:
“I would hope that we would join together jointly and make it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity,” Hoyer told reporters. “And when we see it, we speak out strongly in opposition to it. And I would hope that we would do that going forward.”

However, John Boehner had already been quoted:
“I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Boehner said. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let's do it the right way."

Exactly. Threats of violence and violence itself are the refuge of the impotent, such as al-Qaeda, who don't really believe in their ability to persuade. That anger is palpable, but must condense to a steely resolve to undo the damage this does to the constitutional form of our Republic. We will make a difference this November, there is and will not ever be a need for violence in our form of government.

By the way, the only thing I watched on Sunday from the news was Boehner's speech, it was magnificent and captured my feelings, so here he is:

Note the bureaucratic way in which the acting Speaker turns away Boehner's request for a call of the roll.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Insurance Mandates - Weak Link?

I see the mandates in the health care bill as the weak link for two reasons. First, most immediately, I believe that compelling an individual, through the use of fines, and potentially jail time, to purchase health insurance should be found unconstitutional. A 9th amendment argument could be made, and that seems most fruitful to me. Regardless of the success of such a lawsuit, it would also provide a vehicle to ridicule the administration's position and continue to erode public support for this bill. We might reasonably ask what limit does the constitution place on the Congress if the mandate is allowed to stand. This might hopefully change the terms of debate about the commerce clause. Also from the Volokh Conspiracy on the merits of this approach:
We should also remember that litigation is likely to center on the bill’s mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance even if they prefer not to. This is one of the least popular elements of the bill, a fact that would give the courts further political cover. Eliminating the individual mandate might eventually destabilize other parts of the bill. Without the mandate, insurance companies might start lobbying for repeal of other elements of the plan (since the bill would no longer be a huge bonanza that gives them many additional customers). If the ban on excluding coverage of preexisting conditions is maintained, the elimination of the mandate would incentivize citizens to wait until they get sick to purchase insurance. It’s unlikely that such a system could persist for long.

As a symbolic matter, I think someone is going to end up in jail for not paying the fines involved with the insurance mandates. This will also rally support for repeal, as the true Stalinist nature of this bill is clearly brought home by images of someone behind bars.
Dang, now I need a loan for bail AND the money to buy health insurance.

Professor Perry and others have pointed out the other weakness of the mandates; the fines are too small to prevent the bad behavior of individuals opting out of health insurance until they are sick. Then their pre-existing condition won't prevent them from opting back in just in time to be covered.
Consider: 27 million people are covered by health insurance purchased directly, i.e. outside employer-based plans. The average cost of an insurance policy with family coverage in 2009 is $13,375. A married couple with a median family income of $75,000 who choose not to insure would be subject to a fine of 2.5 percent of that $75,000, or $1,875. So the family would save a net $11,500 by not insuring. If a serious illness occurs--a chronic condition or a condition that requires surgery--they could then buy insurance. Since fewer than one family in four has annual health-care costs that exceed $10,000, the decision to drop coverage looks like a good bet. For a lower-income family, the fine is smaller, and the incentive to be uninsured is even greater.
Interestingly enough, this might have the opposite effect than intended. Specifically, if millions of Americans drop their health care insurance as well as employers, who only face a $2000 per year fine, then a new market place for cash only medical services might develop. This could conceivably start a process to wean the public from third party payer, once they began to see how convenient and inexpensive it could actually be. See Carpe Diem for a post on Retail Health Clinics.

I note that the subsidies don't kick in until 2014, so we should keep brainstorming the strategy for roll back. Incremental roll back is probably more feasible, but I am no expert.

Health Care - The Morning After

I have some preliminary suggestions for igniting a movement to repeal the health care monstrosity as the first step in reigning in our out of control government to within its constitutional purview.

It seems appropriate that we should expropriate some of the tactics of our foes to wage a war to restore constitutional government. So here are some suggestions to get us started.

Some industries and even particular companies within industries were instrumental in both getting the ball rolling and in ultimately passing the legislation. They should be called out through boycotts and shareholder protests. Where they are manufacturers, we can picket retail to stores to remove their products from the shelves, even if this fails, it generates publicity that such corporations loathe. We should call out some of those same corporations to start spending money on adds against the health care bill. These ads don't even have to support any particular candidate, but a constant drum beat on this issue in November is necessary for electoral success.

Even though some of the "fixes" in the legislation that will be sent to the Senate would ameliorate the disgusting nature of this bill; we should press the Senate Republicans to defeat it, because it may not pass muster for "reconciliation." This will cause the House Democrats to feel betrayed and leaving them hanging.

We need to file suit over the mandate to purchase insurance and anything else we find to be egregiously unconstitutional. I guarantee that there is more lawless shenanigans embedded in this bill that has not yet been found and publicized.

Part of our plan to repeal could start with removing funding and taxes from spending bills as early as 2011. The President has no power, except that of veto to prevent the Congress from reducing spending. When Clinton used this against Gingrich in the 90s, threatening a government shutdown, the Speaker responded idiotically. Congress has the authority to slice their spending bills as narrowly as they desire, so the offending provisions that the President threatens veto over could be reduced to small areas where a shutdown wouldn't bother the public. We should start by making the IRS funding a target. Pass a funding bill for the IRS that specifically excludes funding for health care choice enforcement and dare Obama to veto it.

We have to get the Republicans to vow not a single bit of cooperation with the Dems on another piece of Obama backed legislation for the remainder of his single term. The next target will be immigration "reform" which will be to immigration what this bill was to health care. Adding the current illegals to the rolls of is the ostensible goal, to provide the Dems with big majorities. As an aside, I favor immigration reform myself, but I demand that there be no path to citizenship for those who have come here illegally, ever. I might see my way clear to letting them live here if I know they will never be allowed to vote.

That took me a half hour to dream up. I look forward to your suggestions.

Where do we establish a national clearing house for ideas like these? Looking for the SarahB, Leslie and Dawn to comment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Meaning of Today's Health Care Vote

Our Inspiration, the Founding Fathers.

I started writing before the vote on health care "reform" today. I once again invoke Churchill:
Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

The importance of a victory today is massive, and so are the consequences of losing. But even if we win today, the war to keep our government within the contours outlined by our constitution role will continue. I know this because I have wrestled with understanding the gap between government in practice versus the theory of limited government since I fell in love with the genius of our constitution as a boy of 12. I conclude that the demand that government ameliorate suffering and seeming injustice is responsible for an ever expanding federal register and budget. Defeat or victory today will not change this. Further, a certain portion of the intellectual class lusting for a power they cannot attain in a free society, will always invent clever arguments for the expansion of government. It is simultaneously our curse and our opportunity to live in a time when the price to be paid this piper is coming due. It affords us the chance to expose the hypocrisy and lies of a century and a half of "progressive" lies that began with Marx and his ilk. The coming recession or inflation will make obvious the costs of ignorance of the fundamental notions of liberty and economy.

Because the the free market is utopia neither theory nor in practice, we need solutions that limit government involvement as our free markets continue their inexorable change. Libertarian and conservative think tanks like Heritage and Cato that propose such solutions are necessary but not sufficient. In the mean time the public has, rightly or wrongly, entrusted the federal government with certain duties. The intellectually lazy approach that seemed to have been taken by the Bush administration, where regulation or action that wasn't supported by the administration was neglected, must cease in any new Tea Party endorsed administration. Even if the administration was actually carrying out its regulatory duties properly, it must win the propaganda war to ensure that it is doing so, even as it searches for better and less intrusive means to secure the regulatory outcomes desired, because the failure will be perceived to be a market failure or the result of "laissez-faire" ideology.

And if the House passes this bill today, that also is not the end of the war. First, the "benefits" do not kick in right away, but subsidies and taxes do. This provides a small window of opportunity for repeal, probably in 2013. Second, the financial pressures on the federal budget will only be exacerbated by this bill as new taxes further distort and depress the economy and new spending sucks credit, the fertilizer of entrepreneurs, out of the economy. This will make clear the wisdom of the Tea Party's emphasis on limited and constitutional government and free markets. We must recruit candidates that believe in these principles and dedicated to rolling back this legislation.

However, Dana Millbank has compared the passage of health care to social security's passage in the 30's. He specifically, points to the impossibility of repeal because it will become just like social security, sacrosanct to the public. At first, I agreed and this is why I have placed defeating Obamacare at the top of my personal political agenda. However, this bill will be so filled with unpopular measures, that it can be dismantled, perhaps, not all at once, but certainly piece by piece. It is unlike Social Security in this way, it is not a singular piece of legislation that guarantees a certain income to the elderly. It is a hydra-headed beast certain to be unpopular for a long time to come. Tarring everyone associated with its passage, given the time available before many of its provisions kick in can be a winning strategy for a party of limited government.

I heard the voting is starting, so I will end this post. I wanted to be on the record before the final outcome is known.

God bless the Congress and the United States of America.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Operation Code Red

A regular overseas reader in Lithuania, CZ, left this comment, that I wanted to liberate:

Just spent the last couple of hours sending emails to as many representatives as would let me. I thanked them for voting NO on this horrible health care legislation. I picked up this link from Carpe Diem blog. CodeRed is fighting the Obama/Pelosi Government Health Care Takeover. Representatives and contact info is here, how they voted in November and their current status. 29 are still undecided; we only need 11 more NO votes for this bill to die!!! See the Code Red site.

The site says it is down to 16 undecided with the "No's" having a one vote lead.

I might add that CZ and her husband are doing the Lord's work in Lithuania, helping the many orphans there when they make the transition to adulthood.

Weekend Music Chill

Because it's been a long week and because I know that Skippy-san, with whom I only occasionally agree, would probably like this, here is this weekend's music:

Inflation Nightmare?

Michael Kinsley, of all people, has a very interesting article on the possibility and danger of inflation. I say surprisingly because, in the years I have followed him, he has gone from being somewhat liberal to a solid lefty. Further, he himself states that every leading economist (whatever that means) is convinced that there is no danger of inflation. That by itself worries me, because economists, in general, were unable to predict our present predicament.

Kinsley makes sense too. Basically he is saying that since Volcker squeezed out inflation in the late 70s and early 80s, we have been living on credit ever since, and the government's response, Republican and Democrat has been to spend more borrowed money. How this cannot end in inflation is beyond me. The best paragraph:

My specific concern is nothing original: it’s just the national debt. Yawn and turn the page here if you’d like. We talk now of trillions, not yesterday’s hundreds of billions. It’s not Obama’s fault. He did what he had to do. However, Obama is president, and Democrats do control Congress. So it’s their responsibility, even if it’s not their fault. And no one in a position to act has proposed a realistic way out of this debt, not even in theory. The Republicans haven’t. The Obama administration hasn’t. Come to think of it, even Paul Krugman hasn’t. Presidential adviser David Axelrod, writing in The Washington Post, says that Obama has instructed his agency heads to go through the budget “page by page, line by line, to eliminate what we don’t need to help pay for what we do.” So they’ve had more than a year and haven’t yet discovered the line in the budget reading “Stuff We Don’t Need, $3.2 trillion.”
Here is where the Tea Party comes in. It is a central tenet of all of the various Tea Party movements to reign in government spending, to stop new spending and cut existing spending, even if the cuts are to popular programs. There is no other way out, except inflation.

Compared with raising taxes or cutting spending, just letting inflation do the dirty work sounds easy. It will be a terrible temptation, and Obama’s historic reputation (not to mention the welfare of the nation) will depend on whether he succumbs. Or so I fear. So who are you going to believe? Me? Or virtually every leading economist across the political spectrum? Even I know the sensible answer to that.

And yet …

But inflation will wreck the country more surely than Obamacare, this is why we must continue to beat the drum for less spending now.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quote of the Week

From The Hill:

Subcommittee on Oversight ranking member Charles Boustany (R-La.) said the IRS provision in the bill "dangerously expands, in an ominous way the tentacles of the IRS and it's reach into every American family," he said today during a press conference.
Could you think of a more popular institution to enforce the provisions of Obamacare? But I have to wonder why this news, as I posted a similar story last September.

More from the story:

Assuming it becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office expects the IRS will need roughly $10 billion over the next 10 years and nearly 17,000 new employees to meet its new responsibilities under health reform.
This makes clear the relationship between loss of liberty and this bill, in case you needed convincing.

IRS Agents:
Enforcing Health Care Choice.

Meanwhile, I keep getting whipped back and forth and whether we can "KILL THIS BILL." Keep the pressure on. We are being forced to play defense, never a good position to be in, but we have the lead and can run out the clock to achieve victory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marxist Critique of Obamacare and Palin Derangement Syndrome

The Economist reports that Google is well on its way to developing the world's best translator.

For over four decades the boffins tried to program computers to “understand” the structure and phonetics of language. This meant defining rules such as where nouns and verbs go in a sentence, which are the correct tenses and so on. All the exceptions to the rules needed to be programmed in too. Google, by contrast, saw it as a big maths problem that could be solved with a lot of data and processing power—and came up with something very useful.
. . .
Its book-scanning project has thousands of titles that have been translated into many languages. All these translations are very good, done by experts to exacting standards. So instead of trying to teach its computers the rules of a language, Google turned them loose on the texts to make statistical inferences. Google Translate now covers more than 50 languages, according to Franz Och, one of the company’s engineers.
. . .
The design of the feedback loop is critical. Google asks users for their opinions, but not much else.
[to tune the performance of the translation.]
What's that got to do with the title? This Obamacare is an example of the ruling class believing that because it is smarter than its subjects, it can dictate to them the outlines of the "best" system. But as Google's experience shows the feedback of billions of people will help build the best translation engine, even if it's baseline is designed by experts. In the same way, if the experience of hundreds of millions of patients can be brought to bear on the delivery of medical care it can be improved.

But the problem is larger than Obamacare, it goes to the world view of those who think they know best for us, when in fact, their prescriptions are largely self serving. They seek to form a perpetual ruling class through the imposition of state control that only the experts in the bureaucracy can understand and to which the commoners lack access.

For a fuller treatment and how this leads to Palin derangement syndrome, see B-Daddy's Other Blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's a Trap!

Every time I see positive or negative proclamations on health care this week, I think of Admiral Ackbar's famous warning. There have been so many pronouncements on both sides of the debate on whether or not there are the votes to pass the Obamanation of health care bill, that I believe it's all for show to maneuver politically. Drudge headlines have kept me whipsawed of late.

Meanwhile, expect more shenanigans from Pelosi, who is more desperate than a 50 year old virgin to consummate the matrimony (unholy or otherwise) of the Senate bill and some hitherto undefined package of "fixes." She has floated the constitutionally questionable idea of "deem and pass" to pass the fixes while not actually voting on the Senate bill. Demon pass would be more like it.

All I can say is that Tea Party patriots need to burn up the phone lines, in their own districts, to keep the pressure on their Congresscritter. If we can push this to the Easter recess, they can here how constituents are still angry over this monstrous crippling sucking beast of new spending.


In the comments, Sarah takes issue with my injunction to call only one's own congressman/women/beast. I had heard that on Glen Beck, but Sarah is closer to the issue:

But I disagree on one point. Folks often wonder if it does any good to call outside their district, and what we are hearing from staffers across the county is that it depends on where the caller is from. Since California is considered a liberal state, our calls mean more. If WE don't like the bill, it must really suck. And we are a huge fundraising state. So, I vote for call your district AND all those wishy washy lawmakers on the fence.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Obamacare and Cost Estimates

I'm going all in this week to defeat Obamacare. As I posted some time ago, this is the one program of this administration that must be defeated, everything else can be undone. Reason number.... well, who's counting, is that these programs ALWAYS COST MORE than advertised, (sorry for the shouting). And the reaction of the politicians is always, "well, it's too important, so cost overruns be damned." Exhibit A is in the YouTube video below. First, a little background from The Heritage Foundation.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support held a hearing on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and its role in providing assistance to struggling families.

The Obama Administration’s witness, Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, Carmen Nazario, included in her testimony a request to extend for a year the TANF Emergency Fund at a cost of $2.5 billion. This would extend a $5 billion program created in the Stimulus package last year that severely undermines the success of welfare reform. It essentially pays states for every new TANF case added to the caseload creating a perverse incentive to grow the size of the welfare state.
Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, testified at the same hearing that federal and state welfare spending under the Obama Administration is already on a trajectory to spend $953 billion in 2011 on means-tested programs for the poor.
Bureaucratic stupidity follows when Ms. Nazario is queried on these facts:

One More Reason to Hate Obamacare

As if we really needed one. Dean at BwD has an excellent post about the politicization of health treatment regimes under New Zealand's system of socialized medicine. Virginia Postrel (on the right, via Instapundit) talks about her personal experience in donating a kidney and getting breast cancer in the embedded video.

She also has a thoughtful article on the perils of Obamacare to the progress of medicine itself in The Atlantic. (What does the term progressive mean?) She leads with the provocative quote, "If I lived in New Zealand, I'd be dead" which she later qualifies. But for me the key issue is this:

The American health-care system may be a crazy mess, but it is the prime mover in the global ecology of medical treatment, creating the world’s biggest market for new drugs and devices. Even as we argue about whether or how our health-care system should change, most Americans take for granted our access to the best available cancer treatments—including the one that arguably saved my life.
As one might expect, the readers of The Atlantic are not amused and her article generated considerable comment. Postrel answers them in a follow on article and talks specifically to the myth of cost cutting.

Wiping out administrative costs, often cited as an advantage of centralized health-care systems, might reduce the cost of care to a lower level, but those costs would continue to rise. The growth of medical expenditures in the U.S. is not caused by administrative costs but by increases in the technical intensity of care over time—a.k.a. medical progress. The technocratic magic of “scrutiniz[ing] new treatments for effectiveness,” as described in a January New Republic article, could limit cost increases only by denying patients some of the care they want and by blocking the adoption of newer and more expensive treatments. We know that Americans hate such limits.
Exactly. Americans hate such limits for good reason, we want to be able to save our lives and pay for it if need be. With health care insurers among the least profitable industries in the land and the government's experience of administering Medicare ripe with fraud, we know that we won't even save money on this God-forsaken plan; but we do know it will kill innovation. Now there's a bargain I don't want to make.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SD Coffee Party Additional Thoughts

A couple of more thoughts on yesterday's coffee party event. I really liked their dedication to civility in talking to our neighbors. There were some people at the coffee party whose views were not left of center, (libertarian or other) and others who clearly had an agenda (like the guy who wouldn't give up talking about his petition for majority rule); all were treated respectfully, kudos to the organizers. However, I think that our neighbors on the left think we have been shouting at them; we are not. The Tea Party Patriots have indeed been shouting, not at our neighbors, but at our elected officials, because they have refused to listen. Interestingly, many of those at yesterday's coffee party also complain that elected politicians don't listen to them either.

I was also heartened by the reading of the preamble to the Constitution. Even if we don't fully agree on interpretation, it forms a basis for discussion and even dialog on matters politic. Further, it gives us the chance to ask this question of our neighbors on the left, "What limits does the Constitution place on the federal government?" It would be unreasonable for the answer to be none.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Diego Coffee Party - UPDATE Video; UPDATE clarification

I attended a Coffee Party meeting at noon today at Lestat’s West on Adams Ave. The location was the first clue as to the orientation of the majority of the group and it didn’t disappoint. To be fair, there were some outliers. After some preliminary remarks the facilitator had everyone in the room, eventually 78 people, say why they had come. This round of introductions was interrupted when the KFMB camera and reporter showed up and the facilitator repeated some ground, including this telling welcome: “Welcome to the first meeting of the San Diego Tea Party.” By his own admission, the Tea Party was clearly on his and everyone else’s minds.

The attendees were mostly of the left of center, progressive type. I took notes as each attendee introduced themselves, but rather than put you in a stupor with all 70+, here are some common themes that emerged. Most people had some anti-corporation animus, often fueled by the recent Supreme Court decision. In my own remarks, I played off that by pointing out how the government subsidizes corporations and used ethanol helping ADM and health care bill forcing Americans to buy from health insurers as examples. There were at least six references to “government is not the enemy” which was seen as a counter-theme to the Tea Party movement. A number alluded to air time given the movement by CNN, MSNBC and Rachel Maddow in particular. A number of people had worked on other campaigns in the past 3 for Ross Perot, 1 for John Anderson and 1 for Donna Frye. There were a couple of outliers, one self identified libertarian and a Navy guy who said national security was his main concern (don’t think he’ll be back).

Enough about the folks. The leadership of the meeting had a very tight focus and stuck to the agenda see documents below. The leader, er facilitator, wore a black T shirt that said (a self styled Ocean Beach “progressive” group) in green letters and a little peace sign for the O. I was struck by how often he kept saying how “national” wants us to do this or that. He started sounding like Michael Scott on The Office, talking about how “corporate” says this or that. Because they never really got around to articulating any positions, nor could they get any agreement about a common position, it had the feel of a front organization from the 30’s or 50’s.

The final outcome? They all agreed on making a sign. It said “San Diego Civility.” I agree, I’m for civility, having seen nothing but that at the Tea Party rallies; the mighty Waynok, my independent observer, agrees. They also agreed to separate into three subgroups: "Mid-City", "West of I-5", and "East County" and meet again in two weeks. South Bay didn’t quite get enough attendees for its own group.

Honestly, I can’t see where this is going, but it has clear national direction. But it has this whole hierarchical feel to it, unlike the Tea Party which is very decentralized. No one seemed to mind either. Having been to a number of libertarian confabs, this was quite the shock to me. Libertarians can't even agree on a dinner menu. Also, there seemed to be only one ironclad rule that the facilitator enforced, the next meeting of the sub-group had to be in a coffee shop. No kidding. I think this might be a long term weakness.

There were also some good things about the whole event. If people really start getting involved and holding politicians accountable to the people, even if different segments don’t agree, that will still be good for this country. The public at large does agree on a few things, that deficits are hurting the economy and that giveaways to special interests and pork barreling are harming the average citizen.

I was also struck by how many people were upset by the polarization of the country, where they felt that friendships were damaged by political differences. I agree. Objective polling shows the country is getting more polarized. Finding some ground that is truly common will help the nation. Stopping special interest pork might be one place to start.

Handouts for the Day (We Are Very ORGANIZED): (Click to enlarge)


Da Rules:


UPDATE: One of the attendees posted video on YouTube. Yours truly is featured at about the 45 second mark; I will make no editorial comment about my own demeanor.

UPDATE: Clarification

In the comments, OB Rag takes my comment about a "top down" approach as criticism that the movement was somehow not authentic, and indeed some readers appear to have taken it that way. I meant to merely contrast the difference between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party. Those in the Coffee Party approach their movement with a hierarchical view of organization. Even if the the national headquarters is someone's garage, it doesn't change the fact that the outlook is hierarchical. Many of us in the Tea Party are deliberately viewing our movement through the lens provided by The Starfish and the Spider, and using the techniques and mental models provided by that book to build a networked, leaderless organization. Hierarchical and networked organizations are neither good nor evil per se, examples of networked organizations included the American revolutionaries, al-Qaeda and the current Tea Party movement. Hierarchies surround us daily and include our own federal government, most corporations, and the Communist Party cells of the last century.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weekend Music Chill

I spent a good portion of my adult life working an environment in which there were no women present, that's right, none, aucun, keine, nada. See my post on how my former life might be changing here. Now I find myself in the San Diego Tea Party, with three very capable ladies in leadership roles, (No, I'm the Tea Party Leader) and it all seems to be working swimmingly. So I thought I would post some inappropriate music to go with these non-germane gender generalizations. Here are two versions of the same 80s tune, let me know which one you like best. Enjoy.

Couldn't find the video of the original version but you can listen to Elvis here.

Maybe They're Listening

But not this guy, pictured at right, James Inhofe (R-OK).

House Democrats thought they would be clever and ban earmarks going to "for profit" companies. The House Republicans went them one better and voted to eschew ALL earmarks. Amazing what a few protests over wasteful spending can do. This is more than symbolic. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal editorial, 10,000 earmarks a year are worth $16 billion in added spending. Further, Sen Tom Coburn, Inhofe's saner counterpart from Oklahoma had this to say,

"I've long said that earmarks are the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington," said Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who has crusaded against the practice. "Banning earmarks is a long overdue, common sense step that will help Congress win back the trust of the public and tackle our mounting fiscal challenges."
Exactly. Meanwhile tone deaf establishment Republican Inhofe had this to say in rebuttal.
"By refusing to have projects in Oklahoma, you don't save the taxpayers one cent,'' Inhofe said, adding the money will be steered to projects in other states, either by Democrats in Congress or the administration.

Apparently $16 billion is indistinguishable from one cent; somebody's been in Congress way too long. Time for a primary challenge? Too bad, he isn't up for re-election until 2014. This kind of thing drives me nuts, because Inhofe has been a leading voice in the fight against cap and trade and has almost single-handedly ridiculed it to death and put the warmists on notice about their sleazy methods. Hypothetically, if he was up in 2010, would Tea Partyers support a challenge in the primary? My answer is yes, because it might get him to see the light on this issue.

But the mere fact that Dems think they have to cover their back sides on irresponsible spending, when they used to just ignore the issue, is a sure sign the Tea Parties are having an impact.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Post-Racial Census

WC Varones encourages us to list our race as American on the next census, linking to a an article on HotAir encouraging the same. I wholeheartedly agree, and likewise agree its wrong to simply lie about it. It's time to expunge racial differences from our vocabularies and thought processes. Racial politics is the poison in the well of civil discourse in this nation; crying "racism" has supplanted patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels.

Women on Submarines

I posted an article on my other blog about women on submarines, having been called out publicly by Dean and privately by 'Dawg. A little off topic for this forum.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bad Ideas That Won't Die - National ID Card

The next way station on the road to amnesty for illegal immigrants is a proposal by Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer for a national ID card, no strike that, national workers card. The fact that Graham and Schumer are working together means that it will have all the bipartisan fabulousness of, of, of ... "No Child Left Behind."

From the WSJ article:

The biggest objections to the biometric cards may come from privacy advocates, who fear they would become de facto national ID cards that enable the government to track citizens.
Ya think?

We can't secure our borders, we can't come up with a reasonable guest worker program, so the cum laudes in Congress are going to deprive the citizenry of any remaining right to privacy; so they can say, voila, we have solved the illegal immigration problem, now let's do some serious amnesty, which almost rhymes with sodomy for a good reason.

Sorry for the run-on, but coherence fails me.

Image for this post courtesy of Dr. Bulldog and Ronin, a seriously deranged conservative blog I suggest you check out.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Final Push on Healthcare? Yes and No

No, it will never be over. But we are in the final stages of the current battle. If you are like me, the election of Scott Brown may have lulled you into a false sense of complacency over Obamacare. That was obviously a mistake. Whatever the travails of former Rep Massa (D-ranged), the incident shows the full and fierce engagement of the White House is to get something past. The WSJ even believes that a double cross for House Dems might be in the works, and listening to Massa, you might agree. How's this for an evil plan. Get the House to pass the Senate bill, along with another "reconciliation" bill to fix the perceived problems in the Senate bill. The first bill goes to the White House for signature in the Rose Garden, the "reconciliation" bill dies in the Senate in a horrid, grotesque and disgusting manner. House Dems are screwed, even Senate Dems are screwed, because they also look played. Obama gets health care, but only the taxes kick in initially. Eight months from now? Who knows, maybe everyone has forgotten, the American people have curiously short attention spans.

That makes the current battle an important one to win. The Tea Party enthusiasm is needed now more than ever.

In the longer war, the left will continue to try to push health care in a socialist direction because it is the area of the economy that is already the most socialized. The only way to win this war permanently is to start reforming health care in ways that reduce government involvement. The place to start is medicare. Medicare advantage, where insurers are rewarded for keeping people alive, might be a place to start. I welcome other suggestions to reduce government intervention under medicare while not cutting current coverage.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

California and the B Word

And no I don't mean one of those cuss words, recently outlawed in the Golden state, I mean bankruptcy. I have heard the idea of bankruptcy as a way to get our dysfunctional legislature to deal with the gaping deficit the state faces. As best I can tell, a state, unlike a municipality, cannot declare bankruptcy. It can certainly fail to pay its obligations, but it can't seek court protection from creditors and work out a settlement. This is because each of the states have sovereignty under our federalist constitution. I just want to make sure that we don't believe that bankruptcy is an option that will force the state to cut spending, the way it has worked in some municipalities.

The inability to declare bankruptcy doesn't mean the state can't be bankrupt in the popular sense that it has no means to pay its obligations. Steven Greenhut has an invaluable article on the current state of the state's finances that points out that we are probably already there. He points out that the current union dominated legislature is not going to solve this mess on its own.

As I pointed out earlier, maybe some reasonable solutions could be put into place. Best to have them at the ready if fate offers us a chance to push them forward.

I agree with Greenhut that the state is headed for a financial melt down, the debt ratios are unsustainable, and the eventual tightening of monetary policy will have a downward spiral effect. As interest rates rise, the state deficit will increase, then the bond raters will downgrade the state's credit rating. This will lead to increased costs for short term borrowing, eventually to prohibitive rates. The end result will be an obvious de facto bankruptcy. Workers will be furloughed, and state bonds will go unpaid. Beyond that, I can't really predict the future, but I pray to God it happens near November, so we have a chance to dislodge all those legislators who believe they represent the SEIU and not the voters of the state.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Keeping Tabs on the Nutroots Nation

Three quick items. I saw an article on HufPo, which I will not dignify with a link, that basically says the Tea Party is racist. The logic? Tea Party's are against the bank bailouts but also against banking reform, so we don't have any valid position. (That the allege reform might make matters worse, doesn't occur to this political Einstein.) Therefore only racism is left. Obviosusly. Plus Tea Party types didn't protest Bush doing the same things that Obama is now doing, therefore the only possible explanation is racism. The fact that there are many African-Americans in the movement overlooked. The fact that maybe we just hit the limit, the fact that Obama's deficits are multiples of Bush, with no end in sight? None of this occurs to the wingnuts.

There will be a Coffee Party right here in San Diego, at Lestat's Coffee House in the heart of North Park. Noon, Sat. March 13. You can sign up here. Note that the Coffee Party is supposedly all about the love and cooperation to solve our nation's problems (read pass Obamacare.) So I'm thinking, what if I sign up and show up with my Viva la Reagan Revolucion T? How much love do you thing I would get? What if lots of Tea Party types signed up? If I went, I would absolutely be on my best behavior, because I like the fact that people are caring about the political process. But I just predict intolerance from this movement. (BTW, there might be common ground for discussion, on the Coffee Party facebook page they linked to an article about how the Senate health care bill provides all sorts of loopholes for insurers to game the system. An opening discussion point might with a lefty type might go like this. "Hey I noticed how forcing more Americans to purchase health care is a big windfall for the insurance industry. We must oppose such a calamity.")

And in the category of "I should have known better," the Daily Kossacks have dropped any pretense that they are against Obamacare because it doesn't contain a public option and are in full throated cheerleading mode. I think this means we can't count on any principles from House Democrat lefties who might vote against a bill that in fact violates many of their stated principles.

P.S. While writing this post, I signed up for that coffee party. Don't know if I'll go, any advice?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Quick Hitters

San Fran Chronicle headline:
Bdaddy responds in the comments: I disagree with this article and the Constitution is on my side:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

Ever notice how Democrat favored policies have a racist outcome, even if Dems aren't racist? Welfare trapped minorities into a life of dependency. Racial quotas breed resentment of minorities. Public school monopolies primarily put inner city minorities at a disadvantage. Abortion impacts blacks disproportionately more than whites. The latest? Minimum wage increases enacted in 2007 are strongly correlated with increasing black teen unemployment. The WSJ has the story, but here is the picture worth a thousand words.

Speaking of harm to the black community, Obama's lies about abortion and health care continue unabated. Despite promising to keep the balance of the Hyde amendment, here is what he is really up to.

The president's plan goes further than the Senate bill on abortion by calling for spending $11 billion over five years on "community health centers," which include Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions.

Finally, when will the Republicans do something to deserve our vote? They tossed Jim Bunning over the side because he had this CRAZY notion that any spending should be accompanied by a means of paying for it and he held up a bill extending unemployment benefits because of it. Instead of making him a poster boy for Democrat ridicule, and he plays the part well, the GOP should have gotten behind the idea. The public is anxious and fed up with the debt and deficits. The Tea Parties got started in opposition to porkulus, TARP and bailouts and a dread over the debt. WHEN WILL YOU GET IT, GOP?

Weekend Music Chill

This song always reminds me of California, despite this band's origins in Florida. They also made the best version of Ghost Riders, which I will post on B-Daddy's Other Blog if I can find it. When I was a teen, I always they these guys were country, but the wiki says they are "southern rock." Go figure.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Don't Give Up On California

At San Diego's Tea Party rally last Saturday, Dawn really jolted me when she said not to give up on California, adding "Remember, this is the Golden State." It made me realize that I had. I figured the state needed to "hit bottom" like a drunk, before it collectively came to its senses. The spread of a vibrant Tea Party movement within the state attests to the truth of what she said.

But how to fix it? Right now the state legislature is unable to cope with a $21 billion budget deficit. It is dominated by Democrats who would rather outlaw cussing or pass a veto-ready universal health insurance scheme, rather than deal with the reality of this crisis. This deficit is 1% of the state's GDP, making it sound small, but the state is already known for having both a high sales tax and a high income tax, so where the hell is the money going?

California Tax Revenue by type, Source Red County, California

My research has shown that overall spending as a percent of personal income has fluctuated up and down for the last decade. Unfortunately, in the good years the legislature spends every nickle of it, saving nothing for a rainy day.

Looking at this graph, things don't LOOK so bad. But notice that spending ramped up from 1997 to 2007 and that despite a recent downturn, we are still way up. Also, these figures are adjusted for inflation. There is no reason to believe that per capita spending, adjusted for inflation should vary from year to year. Here is the scarier unadjusted picture:

But it still doesn't answer where all that swag is going.

But here is a clue:

Approximately 85% of the state's 235,000 employees (not including higher education employees) are unionized. As the governor noted during his $83 billion budget roll-out, over the past decade pension costs for public employees increased 2,000%. State revenues increased only 24% over the same period. A Schwarzenegger adviser wrote in the San Jose Mercury News in the past few days that, "This year alone, $3 billion was diverted to pension costs from other programs." There are now more than 15,000 government retirees statewide who receive pensions that exceed $100,000 a year, according to the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.
Amazingly, even Willie Brown, seems to agree there is a problem. From the same article:

My hope is that these and other reforms find support in unlikely places. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a well-known liberal voice, recently wrote this in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians—pushed by our friends in labor—gradually expanded pay and benefits . . . while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages. . . . [A]t some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact."
So what's to be done? Amazingly I found this Deloitte Research Study that had some good ideas. (I usually have a low opinion of consultants.) Here are a few that I like:
  • Curtail abuses of policy primarily in pay raises and sick leave that allow inflation of benefits.
  • Raise employee contribution requirements. After all these are generous pensions, state employees should contribute, the way I do for my federal pension.
  • Develop a plan and stick to it. Stop shifting the burden to future generations.
  • Put newly hired workers into lower cost programs.
  • Limit cost of living raises to actual inflation.
  • Scale back generous early retirement programs.
But the one thing they don't say that would give short term relief is: REDUCE THE NUMBER OF STATE EMPLOYEES. (Sorry for shouting).

By shifting work to contractors, who usually have a defined contribution plan and away from the defined benefits plan the state provides, it will immediately start reducing the burden of future pensions on the state. Further, there are many areas where the state could contract for services and save money, because, as Willie Brown points out, state workers are paid above the private sector average.

These are things that could be done without cutting state "services." Cutting actual programs is a blog for another day. But I just want to point out one quick win. About 25% of the state budget is for "health and human services," much of which is for welfare. From the Fox & Hounds blog:

In 1996, Congress took much-needed action to reform the federal welfare program. The reforms tore down the old federal entitlement program and empowered states to implement genuine welfare-to-work programs. Caseloads across the country, including California’s, began to decline.

But we didn’t go far enough. While other states tightened their time limits and sanctions, California’s program remained lax, with extended time limits and weak sanction policies. The direct consequence of the state’s failure to clean up the system is the disproportionately high welfare rate we face today.

And we’ve tolerated these bloated welfare rolls despite the fact that most CalWORKs recipients aren’t following the rules. The law requires welfare recipients to meet a minimum level of work participation, but only 22 percent of work-eligible welfare recipients in California actually do so. Incredibly, of California recipients required to work in 2007, 64 percent didn’t work at all—not a single hour. This must change.

My link to that article is not an endorsement of Steve Poizner for Governor. I am still sorting out my options.

Summary of my overly long blog post. Fix spending by reforming pensions, reducing the number of state workers and running our welfare system like the rest of the country.