“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, April 15, 2011

Irrational Expectations Concerning Medicare

Since Paul Ryan's budget was released, liberal Democrats have been howling that it will impoverish seniors while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy.

I cannot help but see this as a case in which liberals have chosen to ignore something which is quite obvious, i.e., since the 1930s, Congress has enacted three similarly- and badly-designed social welfare programs- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid- which have largely accounted for the large, uncontrollable federal spending increases which have resulted in unsustainable, unaffordable federal deficits and net externally-held debt.

Over the past week, I've heard various liberal pundits, journalists and Congress members bemoan how Ryan's plan 'will make seniors pay more for health care,' without acknowledging that the promises which have been made via the various welfare programs were always unaffordable in the long term.

For example, Social Security was intended as a safety net program for the few seniors left without private savings to fund their old age. However, once people knew of the existence of the program- surprise- they began to save less, substituting consumption for savings. Thus, a safety net was turned into an entitlement on which most seniors began to depend for old age pension income, rather than saving for it themselves.

Eighty-some years on, America has finally come to the end of the road in terms of continuing to borrow from the rest of the world to fund its social program spending.

In the meantime, I have just viewed, for the second time in a year, a 2009 program detailing the corroding infrastructure of the US. People in the program ask, rhetorically, how and why the US has let its roads, bridges, water and sewer systems become so decrepit.

That's easy.

Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid.

The fall off in large-scale civil engineering projects, except for the interstate highway system, dates, more or less, from after WWII. By the end of the 1960s, the federal government had expanded its scope, staff and spending to encompass ever more social programs, while tangible infrastructure became less important.

It's my contention that our nation has, in effect, whether explicitly or implicitly, chosen to consume its early-mid-twentieth century infrastructure, by not re-investing in it, while using the money not spent on that to fund lavish retirement and health care programs.

Medicare was never sustainable nor affordable as designed. It's a false choice to suggest that Ryan's replacement of the current open-ended, general-fund-based defined benefit approach by a defined contribution, insurance payment subsidy approach, represents an unfair or unnecessary cut in benefits to the affected.

The choice, as Ryan contends, and his Democratic collaborator, Alice Rivlin, agrees, is between this change, and the end of the program within a decade or so.

To continue to complain that Republicans are cutting benefits for seniors, the ill or poor, misses the point.

Having legislated and then promised citizens levels of social spending which were never sustainable forever, it's not realistic for liberals to voice this complaint.

To return to our Framers' views, what these three programs have done is what Jefferson believed to be the worst thing a generation could do to a following one- bequeath it a debt for money spent. In this case, it wasn't spent on infrastructure, but intangible, fleeting lifestyle expenses for several generations of Americans. Money which can't be recouped and will leave no lasting tangible trace.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wonderboy Picks On The Wrong People

With his formal re-election campaign announced, Wonderboy has lost no time in taking shots at various and sundry people on the political scene.

On Sunday, his attack dog and political campaign manager, David Plouffe, made the round of Sunday talk shows. Among his barbs were smirking comments that Americans 'will never hire Donald Trump' to be president. He said some other rather unkind things, as well. But I found his desultory dismissal not of Trump, per se, but of American voters' preferences, insulting.

Trump may be a buffoon, but Wonderboy is still president. It's unseemly for him to arrogantly, especially through his minions, dismiss other candidates before the fact.

Then there came Wonderboy's own personal ambush of Paul Ryan. I happened to catch a clip of him being interviewed after the president's vaunted budget address yesterday afternoon. Ryan had been invited to sit in the front row, along with, from what I could see from the video, other GOP House budgetary notaries.

Instead of the 'olive branch' Ryan said he'd been told would be on offer, Wonderboy instead personally savaged Ryan's proposal in his talk.

I think this time, the First Rookie has picked on the wrong guy. Ryan is a smart, affable, self-effacing, genuinely well-intentioned Representative. He's not smarmy, nor is he some 50-year old hack.

Of all the people Wonderboy may have chosen to target, I think Ryan is not the right one. He already showed his fear of the Wisconsin Congressman way back during the infamous Blair House health care summit. If you recall, when Ryan had the camera and was in the midst of making a very telling point, Wonderboy pointedly called an aide over and began to confer, thus drawing every camera off of Ryan and to himself. He was probably telling the aide which basketball games to Tivo that evening.

My point, however, is that a sitting president running for re-election has a delicate task. He can't appear too political or mean-spirited.

Both of which Wonderboy has managed to do in just one week.

Ryan, for the record, said that instead of an olive branch, he felt he'd merely seen the 'campaigner in chief' on display yesterday afternoon.

More Blatant Liberal Bias On CNBC

As I write this, Wonderboy is probably beginning his budget speech which has been reshaped by Paul Ryan's Path To Prosperity budget.

CNBC's flaming socialist political reporter, 'Red' John Harwood, assured one and all that, just like Clinton won the budget debate of his term by planning to reach targets over 10 years, rather than the GOP's 7 years, so, too, will Wonderboy win this time by taking 12 years, instead of Ryan's 10, to reach his budget targets.

Windbag and generally empty-headed, uncredentialed economics reporter Steve Liesman then chimed in that 'the bond market just wants to see a plan,' so Wonderboy's plan will win, and it won't matter that it takes longer to cut deficits.

For the record, we'll see how the bond market reacts to prospects of continuing extravagant spending on social programs while, according to reports, defense spending gets the axe. Doesn't sound like something markets will feel all the comfortable with, but time will tell.

According to pre-speech leaks, the First Rookie will eschew Ryan's move to a defined-contribution approach to Medicare, in which the government will subsidize the purchase of private insurance, rather than be the ultimate 3rd party payer. This morning, also on CNBC, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, who took payoffs in the form of sweetheart mortgages from Angelo Mozillo's Countrywide Finance, while chairing the Senate committee that regulated the firm, contended that all Medicare needs is a little spending restraint that some panel can provide. He declared that Ryan's approach is unnecessary, and that seniors won't really have to feel any pain at all.

Conrad then recalled Clinton forming some panel to do this, and assured viewers that it would work this time, too.

Of course, nearly 20 years ago, federal spending and deficits were mere fractions of what they are today. Ratios such as spending/GDP and debt/GDP were significantly lower, too.

It goes to show how arrogant Wonderboy and his handlers are that they think nobody will recall that, just a week ago, he was still calling for higher spending and more 'stimulus.'

One pundit quoted an administration source as saying that 'a week from now, nobody will remember that Ryan's budget plan came first.'

That's pretty cynical, isn't it?

But with media buddies like those on CNBC, I guess Wonderboy's staff figures they can lie all they want and the public will be fooled for at least another eighteen months.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The 2011 Budget Brawl

With last week's game of government 'shutdown' in the rear view mirror, conservatives are still complaining about John Boehner caving in and accepting only $31B of spending cuts and relaxing terms such as ending Planned Parenthood funding.

It was instructive to hear Wonderboy's various public statements in the days leading up to Friday's budget deal. I don't when I've heard a president tell so many lies in one week. As do his colleagues, the First Rookie conveniently skips over the fact that his own party didn't bother to pass this budget last year, at the appropriate time, when they had a majority. I actually heard one Democratic Representative shamelessly lie, declaring 'we didn't have the votes' at the time last year.

Is it really possible these Democrats think voters are so stupid they'll accept these lies?

Another lie involves just what would have occurred, should the budget deal not have been reached. Democrats keep calling it a 'government shutdown,' while Republicans referred to it as a 'government slowdown.' The difference, of course, involves how the funding shortfall is treated. Republicans intended, and apparently intend for the upcoming debt limit vote, to prioritize spending in the event of an impasse.

Thus, debt and interest payments would be made, and military personnel would be paid. But other discretionary programs would probably see a cessation of activity.

This is where rock ribbed conservatives like Sean Hannity part company with some independents. Like it or not, who will be blamed for a funding shortfall is far from clear. And, despite my own feelings, I think I agree that it's risky for Boehner's Republicans to be seen as childish or short-sighted by blocking a budget over something like Planned Parenthood spending.

That said, again, liberals are lying about this program. Especially Wonderboy. To hear him and his minions tell it, Republicans want to 'kill women' by ending funding for the program. They attempt a diversion by alleging that what's really being cut are mammograms and women's choice. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly rather cleverly provided a counterpoint to a clutch of Hollywood actresses bemoaning the program's cuts by noting that if women really wanted to exercise control over their lives and reproductive choices, they wouldn't be relying on government funding in the first place.

To understand the real underlying ugliness of PP, watch Glenn Beck's programs detailing founder Margaret Sanger's and Woodrow Wilson's views on the subject. The program was devised to sterilize the poor and mentally deficient. It's a program designed to usurp reproductive choice, now clothed in seemingly-benign medical services.

That said, it may be enough for now that liberals had a warning shot across their bow regarding this program, and the coming ethos concerning what spending is really necessary by the federal government. O'Reilly suggested this is a program that should be funded by private contributions, not the federal purse.

Stepping back, though, there's no denying that liberal Democrats are, at last, solidly on the defensive. They realize that independents have left them. Even Wonderboy and his acolytes are trying to appear tougher on spending, anticipating another shock wave to hit Democrats in the 2012 elections. But they are still determined to insist that taxes are not yet high enough. That concepts like mortgage interest deductions or IRAs are 'tax expenditures,' as if they belong to the IRS unless and until Congress benevolently chooses to give it back to taxpayers.

Great. With Paul Ryan's 2012 budget unveiling, about which I'll write in another post, government philosophies and values have once again been fused together with spending choices. Failure to acknowledge that slow job growth, flat average wage growth, and rising gasoline and food prices are combining to cause real pain to America's lower and middle socioeconomic classes is probably going to result in a Republican Senate in 2013, and perhaps a new president, as well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Continuing Turmoil In Wisconsin

In the weeks since the initial hooplah over Wisconsin's legislation limiting teachers' unions' powers, a more interesting drama has unfolded.

The unions are promising recall efforts against the Republican legislators who voted for the legislation, while a key state Supreme Court election has become another battleground. The public unions are also coercing businesses to post union-supporting signs in their windows, or face boycotts. Reports are that the unions made it clear that 'neutral' means 'boycott.'

The court election has gone back and forth, with initial results favoring the liberal Democrat and friend of the state Supreme Court's chief justice, then back to the incumbent when several thousand votes were found.

To me, the outcomes of these union-backed efforts matter less than the simple fact that they are occurring. We are seeing the full panoply of democratic institutions employed to try to bend laws to various parties' wills. And while public unions have the right to fight for the ability to continue to extort lavish contract terms and compensation from taxpayers/voters, what interests me is the result if they succeed.

To hear governor Walker explain things, the state must cut spending and have more flexibility to roll back expensive work rules and the ability of teachers to bargain collectively on such rules, as well as, importantly, having the state collect union dues.

So with the judicial elections, recall efforts, and union boycotts, we'll soon see just what Wisconsin voters really want, and how much they are willing to pay for it.

Since Wisconsin was the most public of the states engaging in measures to curb public union excesses, with Ohio and Indiana also active in this area, it's sort of the stage on which this newly-important battle is playing out.

If voters yield to public unions and stymie governor Walker's efforts, the state's next few years will tell a tale of fiscal choices. Higher taxes? Continued spending on teachers?

I'm actually somewhat more excited by the ongoing, multi-pronged struggle between newly-empowered conservatives in Wisconsin and the increasingly-desperate public unions than I would have been had the legislators and Walker simply won the issue by passage of the legislation that started the fight.

This way, we'll really get to see how voters weigh the options they have, as public unions use several channels to try to stop the state government from regaining control over spending on their services. And we'll see the consequqnces of those choices.

If the Wisconsin situation is truly a foreshadowing of the 2012 Congressional, presidential and state election issues, then its resolution may tell us a lot about how much more pain and suffering we are all going to endure before sanity prevails and public unions are finally confronted, and, themselves, forced to confront the reality of spending limits and undeliverable pension promises.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Donald Trump & The Birthers

I'm personally enjoying the spectacle of Donald Trump weighing in on the side of the birthers, demanding to see Wonderboy's birth certificate.

On one hand, I agree with Republicans that they simply can't dwell on the issue. Politically, in terms of the important issues facing America, it's a sideshow.

But on the other hand, don't you want to see it? After all the fuss and trouble Wonderboy has gone through to not show it, well, it makes you wonder why? What's so special about it?

The beauty of Trump tackling this issue is that he's not really a serious candidate. Yes, I know, like my one reader who commented, a lot of people think they want to vote for him. His extreme candor and blowhard-ness attracts some part of many of us who just ache for a non-politician type to tell the truth.

Although, on that point, I'd suggest that Paul Ryan now meets those criteria.

But since Trump isn't a mainstream GOP candidate, and not truly expected to last long, should he decide to run as a Republican, he is the ideal person to flog the birth certificate issue. It's now out there, hanging, blanketing the political media, outside of the budget, funding and debt limit issues.

In a sense, the GOP couldn't ask for a better setup. A non-candidate candidate who is not really sanctioned by the party is nipping at Wonderboy's odd inconsistencies. Attacking and insulting him with a candor that many wish they could voice, and would be heard.

Yet, at the same time, you have Trump promising things like taking Iraqi oil, demanding payment for US forces sent to rescue countries, etc.

In short, across a broad spectrum, he's tremendously impolitic. But a wonderful stalking horse for the time being.