Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of Course the Sequester is Going to Happen

Despite the caterwauling on the horrible impact of sequestration that those wascally Wepublicans foisted on the poor President, it is going to happen.  A friend of mine saw Paul Ryan on Meet the Press towards the end of January and immediately concluded that the Republicans were not going to be blackmailed over defense cuts.  Ryan's performance is masterful and worth taking the time to watch, he schools David Gregory. Ralph Benko predicted that the Republicans want to actually have the fight over spending when the Continuing Resolution expires on March 27.  The Republicans will have the leverage that comes from the need to continue funding the government.  When the House puts forth a budget that keeps the government running, the Democrats will be hard pressed to allow the government to shut down.  This gives the Republicans the opportunity to more permanently reduce government spending by passing a budget for the rest of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, I know from first hand knowledge that one of the reasons the sequestration is going to hit the Department of Defense particularly hard is that Obama directed the Department of Defense to spend at last year's level of funding through the first half of this fiscal year.  As a result, when a budget cut of 10% has to be executed over half the year, it looks like a more drastic 20% cut.  I suspect, but lack the proof, that the President did this for political reasons.  First, he did so not to lose votes in places like Virginia.  Second, he got the additional benefit of making the cuts to defense appear more draconian because they must be executed over a shorter time frame.

Meanwhile, most of the country is going to yawn at the actual effects of sequestration.  There will be pockets of pain in cities with a high concentration of defense civilians, and maybe some longer lines at the airport.  I think this works to the advantage of those who want to cut spending because the over-reaction to sequestration will be seen as "crying wolf."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sequester - Its the Democrats Who Won't Compromise

I had the unfortunate experience of listening to two hours of MSNBC today, while waiting for my wife in a hospital waiting room.  (It was a routine procedure, no worries.)  Besides the ridiculously loaded language* they used whenever describing Republicans, I found their arguments on the coming sequestration to be the worst of their propaganda.  The essence of the argument is that the Republicans invented sequestration and foisted it upon an unsuspecting President and now won't compromise because they want to wreck the country.  This is because at MSNBC the government IS the country and they equate an $85 billion cut to a Federal budget of $3.8 trillion (2.2%) to wrecking the country.  At least one guest made the point that the size of the sequestration is 1/175th of the Gross Domestic Product, saying it is hard to believe it will have much effect on the economy.  Indeed, with sequestration already a certainty, the stock market has not moved much.

With the tax increases that were passed at the beginning of the year, the Democrats got what they asked for, more taxes on the rich.  But of course, now they want even more.  I am waiting for them to propose meaningful reductions in spending.  That's why there is a sequestration.  They don't believe that there is a spending problem.  Until they do, their is no room for serious discussion.


I found this quote from a WSJ article on the sequester:

In the current dustup, Mr. Obama is showing little appetite for negotiating with leaders on Capitol Hill. Thursday, Mr. Obama spoke by phone with Mr. Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, his first time speaking to either GOP leader in weeks. People familiar with the call said it did little to bring the two sides closer to agreement.

*In one example, Rush Limbaugh was described as "a mouthpiece of the Republican Party" when he is not a spokesman and if he was, the loaded term "mouthpiece" shouldn't be used by a self respecting news organization.

Weekend Music Chill

The 1990s seem like a bit of an odd time with respect to pop music.  Grunge was popular in the first half of the decade, but there doesn't seem to be a defining sound.  Regardless, I like a lot of the music.  I thought these guys would have more big hits, but it was not to be.

This is Dishwalla with their hit "Counting Blue Cars."

From the same era, here are the Foo Fighters with "Learning to Fly." I was going to post a live version, because this video is "puant du fromage," but the lead singer wants to scream the lyrics in the live versions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Will Filner Finish His Term?

Bob Filner appears a little unhinged, and frankly unprofessional in this video from local news station NBC 7.  He hijacks a news conference by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to make accusations of unprofessional conduct.  His view of the role of the City Attorney appears entirely unbalanced.  The City Attorney can't be fired by the mayor, because he is elected directly by the public.  Filner's tactics are those of a bully or a Congressman, not used to the necessity of working with other members of the team.  It seems irrational for the mayor to waste political capital on a personal and public fight with another official with whom he must work in the future.  His ego is writing a check he may lack the political capital to afford.

It is clear that Filner is dealing from a weak hand; so he throws a tantrum.  But his tantrum is exactly the response of a someone who feels powerless; this makes him look weak.  His strategy on the hotel tax is also incoherent.  He claims that it is illegal, but then makes a demand for a bigger cut before he will sign off on a contract to use the proceeds to fund a tourism campaign.  If the tax is illegal, then the city is not going to get its cut for public safety.  And if the tax is legal, then using the money for public safety will make it illegal.  I don't see Filner's play in this, unless he is just grandstanding.  Ultimately, the public judges the mayor on results.  Starting vendettas is not typically the way to achieve positive results.

Maybe he just has anger management issues.  I'm thinking its only 50/50 that he finishes out his term.

Here is the video, click here if the embed doesn't work.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Obama's Dilemma on Keystone XL . . . As If

The New York Times would have us believe that the President faces a tough choice on the Keystone XL pipeline project.  The only tough choice he faces are which lies he will trot out to justify betraying American workers who would benefit from the project.  The Greenies were in full throated protest today over the impending decision, even though the outcome is not in doubt.  The original pipeline was rejected because of some not believable nonsense about protecting Nebraska grasslands.  Those objections have been set aside with a new plan that has received approval from the governor of Nebraska.  But the left has made clear all along that their objection is linked to global warming, not any harm the pipeline might cause grasslands.

All that is left now is to see how Obama hides the fact that his administration's agenda is driven entirely by the pseudo-religious agenda of the left.  The oil trapped in the tar sands of Alberta is going to find its way to market, no matter what the administration does.  The only question is whether Americans get jobs as a result or not.  The President recently announced his sixth pivot to jobs and the economy; he will abandon this pivot in record time as soon as the Keystone decision is announced.  There are unions who are in favor of the pipeline, but that won't matter.  Obama is dedicate to the farthest left of his base.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Colorado House Restricts Gun Rights

The Colorado House of Representatives passed four bills placing restrictions on gun possession today.
Among the proposals are bills that would require background checks for all gun purchases - paid for by applicants - a ban on ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds and a measure to allow colleges in the state to ban concealed weapons on campus. 
The left and the President, but I repeat myself, keep arguing that background checks are just so reasonable that only child-haters would object.  What does a background check really mean?  The FBI says this about background checks and its database.
Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase.
It all seems so quick and reasonable. Who else is ineligible, besides criminals?  It turns out that you don't have to be convicted of anything to be ineligible.  From the U.S. Code:

(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing orhaving reasonable cause to believe that such person -         (1) is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;        (2) is a fugitive from justice;        (3) is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802));        (4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution;        (5) who, being an alien -           (A) is illegally or unlawfully in the United States; or          (B) except as provided in subsection (y)(2), has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (as that term is defined in section 101(a)(26) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(26)));
The paragraph regarding "adjudicated as a mental defective" made me wonder as well.  It turns out that your Second Amendment rights can be violated without the need for a court hearing.  Adjudicated turns out to mean that a government agency has decided that you're crazy.  Maybe because you want to keep your guns. According to ABC News:
The definition of a "mental defective" includes anyone whom "a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority" has determined to be "a danger to himself or other" because of "marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease."
I can't find the primary source for that definition, but its pretty scary.  It means that any American could be targeted and once committed, can never really get their gun rights restored.  In the comments section of the lead news article, a gun control advocate remarked that gun-rights supporters were complaining over being inconvenienced.  I think not.  Restrictions on our rights that lack the due process is hardly an inconvenience; it attacks the bulwark of our liberty, the Bill of Rights.

None of this would have prevented the tragedy at Newtown, CT.  Given that some of the most tragic gun violence has occurred at schools, allowing schools to ban concealed weapons will lead to more, not less gun violence.  I think these killers are perfectly aware that there is a near zero probability that they will face armed resistance when they launch their murderous sprees on campus.  Only arming a sufficient number of personnel on campus will change that calculus.

Finally, it is predictable that these laws will be shown to have zero statistical correlation to any reduction in firearm violence.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Filner Should Speak Up

San Diego Mayor, Bob Filner, has been keeping silent about his views on the 2% hotel tax.  I previously argued that I thought the tax violated Proposition 26.  City Attorney Jan Goldsmith pointed out that the city was taking risk in the comments section on sdrostra.  City Attorney Goldsmith cited his office's legal opinion which finished with this conclusion:
Prop 26 defines every government imposition of a duty to pay funds to government as a tax unless one of seven enumerated exceptions applies.  It is not clear whether the City’s traditional businessbased assessments can meet one of those exceptions. . . .
However, it is Mayor Filner's failure to respond that is bothering me now.  The U-T reported that he has made no public statement on his failure to sign an agreement to release the tourism district's funds.
Filner has declined to respond to repeated requests for an interview. He also failed to appear Wednesday night for a scheduled appearance at the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association's annual awards presentation and was unable to attend Thursday morning's annual tourism meeting where he was to be a speaker.
Hardly a display of leadership.  There may have been good reasons for his inability or failure to attend these events, but because they create doubt in the public mind, he owes the public a statement on the issue.  I wish he would just come out and say that he is not going to sign a contract because the tax is unconstitutional.  His prior statements that he wanted to use those tax dollars for "public safety" create doubt as to his real intentions.  On other occasions, the mayor isn't shy about sharing his opinion, why now?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SOTU Brutus?

I missed the delivery of the State of the Union (SOTU) address tonight, but read the text.  As usual, the President has conveniently forgotten facts and argues against straw-man positions that Republicans have never taken.  Before I plunge in with criticism, there were some things that were good, or at least not that awful.

Is Uncle Joe falling asleep back there?
  • With the exception of path to citizenship, Obama said most of the right things on immigration reform.  I especially liked this quote: And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy. If only I thought he really meant it.
  • He made a feeble call for compromise, which would have been nice if he had practiced it any time over the previous four years.
  • He calls for means testing Medicare, of course, he doesn't call it that, stating obliquely that he will "ask more from the wealthiest seniors." I actually believe this is a good idea, because as the level at which means testing for medicare falls, which is inevitable, given its problems, political support for the status quo will be undermined.  Without getting specific, he says that he will propose more cost savings from Medicare.  That would be great if it were not for our experience with him, that when he offers no specifics, he actually has no plan.
  • Deficit reduction gets a lot of air time.  That in itself is evidence of how the tea party has changed the political dialog.
  • He talked about bursting the college bubble.  I like that he points out that college costs are soaring and threatens to link federal aid to reigning in costs.  Emphasizing the known link between good technical education at two year schools and employment was also good to read.

Of course there were multiple lapses of memory and disregard for fact:

  • He calls sequestration harsh, blames the Congress for passing it, neglecting that he signed the bill.
  • Standard accounting treatment of assets that are depleted is called a tax loophole.
  •  He conveniently ignores that the federal government created the college bubble through various loan and scholarship programs.
  • al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self. Really? How do they strike deep into the desert and take over an Algerian gas plant? 
  • We will invest in new capabilities for the armed forces.  I hardly think so when you signed the sequestration law that significantly cuts their budget.  If true, he will have to cut troop strength even more, because that is the only place to weapons development money.
  • He waves the bloody shirt of Newtown to propose gun control that would not have prevented the tragedy at Newtown.
  • He claims credit for increased natural gas production even while his EPA works furiously to make extraction more difficult.
And there was the plain awful stuff.
  • Imperial overreach on climate change, the usual: if Congress won't act, then I will.
  • More shovel ready public works.  Worked great last time.
  • More green energy subsidies. Worked great last time.
  • Another wasteful "Head Start" like program. For an indictment of Head Start, read here.
  • Another minimum wage increase that will predictably increase unemployment.
  • And there was this whopper: That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.  His illegal and unconstitutional targeting of American citizens, anywhere in the world, without authority is a heinous violation of the constitution.  Congress should rescind the authority granted the President after 9-11 because they have been stretched beyond meaning. 
  • Some scheme to make sure that stricter voting laws are removed in red states.
I'm glad I didn't watch the speech, knowing Obama's style of delivery would only made it more unpalatable.  Someone I know who supposedly had some inside preview of the speech told me I would be surprised.  I was not.  This speech was devoid of any concrete proposal that will see the light of day in this Congress, with the possible exception of the immigration portion.  Meanwhile, folks, read the whole transcript here, and then check the debt clock on the right side of the page.  Let me know if the speech matched the seriousness of our dilemma.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Fine Mess - The Hotel Tax

I find myself partially agreeing with Mayor Filner on the subject of San Diego's hotel tax.  He has stalled on signing the contract that would allow the hoteliers to start using the proceeds to promote tourism and the hotels of San Diego.  In an earlier post, I noted that he wanted to use the revenue for "public safety," but now he is just saying that he had said the tax is illegal.  If the tax is illegal, it can't be used for any activity, including public safety.  Meanwhile, the UT article linked above notes that there are lawsuits proceeding against the hotel tax, claiming it violates Proposition 26, passed 2010, which requires a supermajority vote of the people to raise taxes.  Here is what the state constitution says about taxes and votes, from Article XIII C, California Constitution:

Text of Section 1:
Definitions. As used in this article:
(a) "General tax" means any tax imposed for general governmental purposes.
(b) "Local government" means any county, city, city and county, including a charter city or county, any special district, or any other local or regional governmental entity.
(c) "Special district" means an agency of the State, formed pursuant to general law or a special act, for the local performance of governmental or proprietary functions with limited geographic boundaries including, but not limited to, school districts and redevelopment agencies.
(d) "Special tax" means any tax imposed for specific purposes, including a tax imposed for specific purposes, which is placed into a general fund.
(e) As used in this article, “tax” means any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by a local government, except the following:
(1) A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of conferring the benefit or granting the privilege.
(2) A charge imposed for a specific government service or product provided directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of providing the service or product.
(3) A charge imposed for the reasonable regulatory costs to a local government for issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections, and audits, enforcing agricultural marketing orders, and the administrative enforcement and adjudication thereof.
(4) A charge imposed for entrance to or use of local government property, or the purchase, rental, or lease of local government property.
(5) A fine, penalty, or other monetary charge imposed by the judicial branch of government or a local government, as a result of a violation of law.
(6) A charge imposed as a condition of property development.
(7) Assessments and property-related fees imposed in accordance with the provisions of Article XIII D.
The local government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a levy, charge, or other exaction is not a tax, that the amount is no more than necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the governmental activity, and that the manner in which those costs are allocated to a payor bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity.

Text of Section 2:
Local Government Tax Limitation. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution:
. . .
(d) No local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless and until that tax is submitted to the electorate and approved by a two-thirds vote. A special tax shall not be deemed to have been increased if it is imposed at a rate not higher than the maximum rate so approved.

Sorry for the extended legalese, but I am hard pressed to see how this tax, paid by hotel guests, who do not receive a direct benefit from the tax, can be passed by the hotels themselves.  The city clerk tabulated the votes for the tax, so it appears to have the force of law of the city government behind it.

The hotels could solve this problem themselves, by putting together a local association and agreeing to pay into a fund to promote tourism.  There would be a free rider problem for hotels that wanted the benefits, but didn't pay in.  Perhaps the Tourism Marketing District could omit links and mention of those hotels names in their promotional materials and web sites.  Using the police power of government to enforce the hotels association dues is out of constitutional bounds.

Meanwhile, what happens to the money piling up if the tax is found to have been unconstitutional?  It would be a nightmare to refund the customers, but if I were a judge in the case, that's what I would require.  That would also be a mess to clean up, but so would any other plan that would attempt to deal with the fees collected.  The sooner the courts resolve, the better.

Weekend Music Chill

This weekend's music is from my childhood.  Pop liked Ian & Sylvia, and their music still get stuck in my head sometimes.

Here they are with "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well."

Another my favorite of mine off the Four Strong Winds album, "Royal Canal", isn't available on video, so I posted The High Kings performing this classic Irish folk song. They play this much more slowly than Ian & Sylvia. Also, the original title of this song is "The Auld Triangle," but because Ian & Sylvia were the first to put the tune on a record and called "Royal Canal," it sometimes causes confusion. The Royal Canal is a real canal that runs from Dublin to Cloondara and was restored in 2010.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Obama's Urges Will Not Lead to Act Of Congress

The actual headline from the NY Times was "Obama Urges Congress to Act to Stave Off Cuts."  No matter, the President again fails to lead, choosing merely to demagogue his opponents without proposing anything meaningful.
“They should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months,”
So let's parse this.  The President refuses to offer any specific spending cuts.  He just got an increase in the tax rate on the rich, as well as an increase in their capital gains rate.  Now he wants more tax increases, but obfuscates his meaning with the words, "tax reform."  Further, he missed the deadline to propose a budget to Congress, by which he could have clarified his position. 

The final paragraph of the article hits the heart of the matter.  
While the budget office forecast that annual deficits will decline significantly as the economy recovers, the budget office once again emphasized that the deficit will rise later in the decade, beginning in 2016, and continue do to so as the population ages and health care prices rise.
The President refuses to countenance any reform to social security or medicare and his party demagogues those who suggest that the issue must be addressed.  He is harming the country.  The problem won't go away on its own.  Further, the sequestration battle deflects attention from a solution.  As a Democrat, Obama could save the nation by proposing sensible reform, because only bipartisan reform of these two largest entitlement programs will stave off fiscal catastrophe.  That he thinks only to use the issues for political gain does not speak well of him.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Deficit and Immigration

Today's U-T is reporting that about 365,000 illegal immigrants evaded border security forces this year, down from a peak of 1.2 million in 2005.  This is either good news that stepped enforcement is working or proof that the border is still porous, depending on your point of view.  This may turn into one of those rare problems that goes away on its own.  The following chart of Mexican fertility rates informs the issue:

As you can see, Mexico's fertility rate had fallen very close to the replacement rate of 2.1 by 2010.  I expect this downward trend to continue and will result in much less economic pressure for Mexicans to desire to immigrate to the United States.  A WSJ article on America's baby bust indicates that a similar pattern is taking place in all of Latin America.  So while we debate how to solve illegal immigration, the problem may be solving itself.

That's not to say there is nothing to fix.  It still behooves us to secure the border, in order to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering.  But if we had a very broad based guest worker program, I think the number of illegal crossings would vastly diminish.  That would also increase the success rate for catching border crossers, because they would be much more rare, and the resources in place would be adequate to the task.

I look forward to reasonable immigration because we need more workers in this country, especially skilled workers.  Expansion of the legal avenues of immigration, such as the H-1B visa program, are unlikely to happen outside of the context of full reform.  But I am also committed to the rule of law, so I demand a secure border and that those who have entered illegally not be permitted citizenship, even if we allow them to stay under some circumstances.

What has this got to do with the Federal budget deficit?  Looming future deficits are a result of the poor shape of our demographic curve.  We don't have enough workers compared to the number of folks drawing medicare and social security.  The graph below shows a bulge of workers peaking in the 50-55 age range, with fewer workers behind them to produce the economic output necessary to sustain them in retirement.  Further, we can predict that the base of the graph will continue to shrink over time, see WSJ article on baby bust.

Certainly, there are other issues exacerbating the deficit.  Federal spending jumped in 2008-2009.   Promised benefits have also grown, and medical cost inflation has exceeded general inflation, but this profile would still spell trouble.  Increased immigration is a stop gap measure to fill in the gaps in this curve.  But that requires reform of the current system.

But in the long term, forces are at work that are slowing the growth of population world wide.  Doom-and-gloomers are now predicting extinction of the human race in 600 years due to falling birth rates, just getting ahead of the curve, I guess.  However, the forces and incentives shaping today's falling birth rates will certainly undergo change themselves.  Who knows what technology will bring to cause that change?  Child rearing robots could be THE key invention of the next century.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Weekend Music Chill

Pandora continues to delight. I found Chip Taylor performing "Big River" on a Pandora station I made: "You Don't Miss Your Water" radio. Unfortunately, I can't find a decent quality video to with it, so here is the original performed by the "Fabulous Johnny Cash," in the day, so to speak.

Here is Chip Taylor performing in a decent quality video with Angel of the Morning.