Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nah, Obamacare is not about socialism

Or perhaps it is a little slip of the tongue from Max Baucus now that "health care reform" has already been passed.

After the Senate passed a "fix-it" bill Thursday to make changes to the new health care law, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the influential Finance Committee, said the overhaul was an "income shift" to help the poor.

"Too often, much of late, the last couple three years, the mal-distribution of income in American is gone up way too much, the wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy and the middle income class is left behind," he said. "Wages have not kept up with increased income of the highest income in America. This legislation will have the effect of addressing that mal-distribution of income in America."

So our benevolent keepers in Washington have decided that they and they alone are the arbiters of how much one person can earn, what is too much and what is too little. As I have said before, this monstrosity was never about health care. It has always been about controlling the American people by seizing private wealth and making as many ill-informed voters dependent on the Federal government as possible.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What health care “reform” means for America

I think most observers, on the left and the right, recognize that the recently (more or less) passed health care “reform” bill is not at its heart about health care at all. It is about what sort of country we are going to be in the future. This whole struggle has been just the latest battle in a war for the very character of our nation. Are we going to be an individualistic, entrepreneurial nation or are we going to be a nation that is focused on economic security? All of the massive governmental programs we have come to expect are part of this. Take Social Security for example. Social Security is basically the government making people do what they should be doing anyway: saving for retirement. If they stopped collecting social security, we should expect that people would set aside money on their own to pay for life in retirement. We all know that is not the case. Instead of saving, most people would be consuming the funds that used to go to Social Security. So the benevolent nanny state seizes a percentage of our pay and saves it for us, although that same benevolent nanny state has been using the money in the Social Security cookie jar to fund other pet projects for years.

Daniel Henninger, writing for the Wall Street Journal, sums it up nicely…

The U.S. has produced generations of upward strivers and competitors. Since 1950 til now, 82 of 150 Nobel laureates in medicine have been from the U.S. With enactment of this law, the U.S. will throttle down. Rather than spend our energies this century competing straight up with rising Asia for economic primacy, we'll work to pay for the fat but happy social-welfare state of the last century.

In the future it will be Asia that leads the world. At one time Europe was the world’s powerhouse, with the greatest military and economic forces. At one time it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire that spanned the globe from a small island. Today, Europe is a shell of its former self. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that all of Europe’s militaries combined couldn’t go toe to toe with America. Economically Europe appears most interested in doing as little as possible to support the secure, comfy state run economy. That is not an environment that promotes innovation, risk taking or reward. It is an environment of the status quo. The problem with the status quo is that in business and commerce and science, things are constantly moving forward. Maintaining your position means getting left behind which is precisely where Europe finds itself. Coupled with plunging birth rates, European nations find themselves importing cheap foreign labor and that influx of foreign workers is irreversibly changing the cultural landscape of Europe.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding the health care “reform” debate has seemed overheated but careful observers know that this was about far more than health insurance coverage. It was and is a debate over the very nature of the United States and who we want to be as a nation and a people. The only glimmer of hope is that this whole thing has been so clumsily handled, so clear jammed down our throats and so expensive that the American people will rebel in November and elect a more conservative majority that can overturn this fiasco before it takes effect. Liberals were guilty of a classic overreach and it may cost them. Of course that assumes that Americans will exhibit a longer attention span than normal, something I am not at all confident in.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leave it to Rahm

Sometimes the most accurate quotes come from those who don’t know how to filter what they say. This from Rahm “Never let a good crisis go to waste” Emanuel on the passage of the “reform” bill:

"There's a dawning recognition of the significance of this, both on policy and political grounds," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said. "At a certain point, winning is winning."

That is really it, isn’t it? This is a bad bill, no one has read it, it is full of flaws. Everyone knows it. That doesn’t matter because Obama put his prestige on the line with this thing and come what may we must pass this bill. Catastrophe for the economy, higher taxes, lower quality of care are all irrelevant because nothing is more important than Obama being perceived as “winning”.

At least Rahm Emanuel is honest, if a little creepy with the whole naked confrontation thing. This bill is not about health care. It is obviously not about reform. It is not about what is best for America or the American people. It is all about Obama, accomplishing what Clinton didn’t. The health care "reform" bill is a trillion dollar trophy for Obama to put on his shelf.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maybe I am being unfair to Benedict Arnold

I am thinking now that the comparison between Benedict Arnold and Bart Stupak may not be fair. At least Arnold got a commission in the British army and a fairly large sum of money in return for his betrayal. Stupak got nothing but an empty gesture. I think a different betrayal, one closer to home in Michigan might be more accurate.

A better correlation to the Stupak capitulation might be more recent (relatively speaking). In a fairly unknown event (the surrender of Fort Detroit) in a fairly unknown war (The War of 1812), General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to the British on August 16, 1812. I am somewhat familiar with this event because Hull is a family name on my mom’s side and I have always found the War of 1812 to be interesting because unlike the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, a lot of the action in the War of 1812 happened in Northwest Ohio near where I grew up. Anyway, through a combination of subterfuge and incompetence, General Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to the British after only token resistance. In fact he was court-martialed and could have faced a firing squad. Would he eventually have lost the fort anyway? Probably but the fact that in the face of a tough fight he chose to surrender at the end before the real fighting began speaks volumes. So I think that while “Benedict Bart” Stupak sounds better, perhaps a more apt comparison might be General William Hull. Of course, Hull’s surrender probably saved lives. Stupak’s surrender is going to cost lives.

The lesson here is one we should all have learned a long time ago. Politicians have as their first priority their own political protection. That is why party loyalty will trump principle every time. Putting our faith in politicians will invariably lead to disappointment, no matter which party they belong to.

How a (horrible) bill becomes a law (in 2010)

If you have a strong stomach, check out this article from Kimberley Strassel on the wrangling, threats and capitulations that led to the passage of "health care reform" (just wondering: how one can inevitably lower quality and increase costs and call it reform?). The plain truth is that votes last night were bought, pure and simple, and no one is even really trying to hide it.

At the center of the maelstrom will be Bart Stupak who up until a few days ago was playing the part of principled pro-life Democrat and today is recognized (at least by me) as "Benedict Bart". Apparently someone shouted "baby killer" from the Republican side of the House, aimed at him. Rightly so. It is time that this faux-friend of life gets run out of Congress by Northern Michiganders. He is either too dense to realize that he was sold a pig-in-a-poke with the toothless "executive order" or he knows it full well and doesn't care. Either way, he has no business representing Northern Michigan.

Let's hope that the voters in this country run every one of these people out of our House in November so we the people can get started on the hard work of undoing this giant step toward socialized medicine. We have let these clowns run wild with our money and our country for too long. No more.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Isn't this our country?

The way President Obama responds to questions, he apparently thinks we should just shut up and do what our betters tell us. His recent interview with Brett Baier apparently came across like he was irate to be questioned about a shady, perhaps unconstitutional end-around to shove through a trillion dollar health care “reform” measure that will cause unimaginable economic catastrophe. I guess we aren’t allowed to question what he is doing. Wrong. As Peggy Noonan wrote this morning, he seems to misunderstand the relationship between the President and the American people…

The president—every president—works for us. We don't work for him. We sometimes lose track of this, or rather get the balance wrong. Respect is due and must be palpable, but now and then you have to press, to either force them to be forthcoming or force them to reveal that they won't be. Either way it's revealing.

We don’t answer to him, he answer to us.

For all of his supposed brilliance, President Obama exhibits some troubling personality traits, traits that would be seen as mental illness by the media in President Bush but by and large seen by that same media as admirable qualities in President Obama. President Obama is willing to destroy the enormous majority his party enjoys in Congress in order to pass a monstrosity that he admits he hasn’t read all the details of and in doing so writes the campaign slogan for every GOP candidate this fall. The whole thing doesn’t go into effect until 2013 and you can be sure that the GOP will do everything in its power to undo this bill if it passes.

How can someone who is supposedly so smart be so incredibly self-delusional?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The state of education

A couple of interesting articles on education today. The first is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal dealing with the latest iteration of “education reform”, a windmill that every President feels obliged to Quixotically tilt and that our current President is embracing down to newborns. The hard numbers give us an ugly picture:

Yet few doubt that public schools today are troubled, as the president noted on Saturday. What the president left out is that the performance of American high school students has hardly budged over the past 40 years, while the per-pupil cost of operating the schools they attend has increased threefold in real dollar terms.

In real dollars (i.e. inflation adjusted), we are spending three times as much for the same product. That is what happens when you assume that only one model of school works, you surrender to the teachers unions and the government does everything in it’s power to quash real competition. What we get is exactly the product we should expect: mediocre at best, inefficient in the extreme and grossly expensive.

The other comes from USA Today and asks if too many kids are going to college (my answer: yes!). The article is titled What if a college education just isn't for everyone? and is chock full of good information.

The case is compelling: As good jobs increasingly require more education, college is widely seen as the ticket to personal economic security and to global competitiveness. And the message has gotten through: The percentage of students who went on to college or trade school within a year of high school climbed from 47% in 1973 to 67% in 2007, Census data show.

Two out of three high schoolers are going on to some sort of post-secondary education. That is great! Isn’t it? Well, actually it is not…

Federal data show that fewer than 60% of new students graduate from four-year colleges in six years, and just one in three community college students earn a degree. More than 350,000 students who borrowed for college in 1995 had no degree six years later, according to a 2005 study for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

In other words, forty percent of students at four year schools walk away with nothing and two thirds of community college kids get the same thing ("I almost have an associate’s degree" is not going to carry much weight on a resume). I recall orientation freshman at Ohio State when the speaker said “look to your left and to your right, one of the three of you will not finish your degree at OSU”. That is a grim statistic and it was real. I transferred to a smaller school to finish my degree. Many students left and never finished.

Does it really make sense for that many kids to go to college? When I went in the early 90’s, there were frankly a lot of kids who were in over their heads. Unable to write coherently or even spell, these kids were trudging along in college because they were just expected to do so. The problem is even more pronounced among minorities. Are we helping kids from “underprivileged” backgrounds by sending them off to fail at college instead of seeing them gain skills that will actually help in the workplace?

What a lot of this is leading to are kids with degrees they don’t need, a cheapening of college into an extension of high school and an enormous amount of government backed student loan debt, coming from ample available credit which has fueled a boom in college costs very similar to the housing bubble that just burst. When the government intervenes as it has in the credit markets for social engineering purposes, it undercuts the foundation of those very markets. In housing we see the results of “loan at any cost” in the form of inflated home values that collapsed, leaving a lot of home owners holding the bag like a giant game of musical chairs. In education we see even less underwriting oversight. If you are in college and not a criminal, you can get a seemingly infinite number of student loans. Lenders are quite willing to keep forking over the money because Uncle Sam is co-signing the loan (that is an oversimplification but you get the gist). Kids borrow and borrow because “you have to go to college” which in turns makes it quite easy for universities and colleges to raise tuition at a far faster pace than inflation. Little wonder colleges keep springing up and advocacy groups push for more kids in college. It is a great scheme. You keep raising rates and keep pushing fear of not having a degree but you do so knowing full well that the Federal government will pay the bills. It is brilliant but it is destructive to the very people it is supposed to benefit.

What we are left with is a false economic system where way more people are getting very expensive college degrees (or at least lots of college debt). We are doing a poor job of preparing the next generation of high school graduates for jobs that are not “college degree” jobs. I like this quote at the end of the article:

"College preparation for everyone is a very nice ideal, but we have a very high failure rate," says Northwestern University professor James Rosenbaum, author of Beyond College for All: Career Paths for the Forgotten Half.

"If we don't start letting counselors be candid, we're not going to fix this system."

Like so much of what government touts, it sounds grand on the surface but the truth of it is a lie. Our public schools are a disaster. They can’t even prepare kids to graduate from high school and yet we expect them to prep kids for college, a college degree that many kids don’t need, that is going to land them in debt right out of the gate and many of them will never complete in the first place. That is just about the opposite of education and what we really have is a full employment scheme for people with graduate degrees who don’t want to get real jobs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Today’s Lesson: Reality 101

Great editorial in the Wall Street Journal today on the rising cost of college education in California.

Hundreds of University of California students rallied against a 32% tuition hike last week. Let's hope their future employers get a better work product. With just a little research, the students could have discovered that compensation packages won from the state by unions were a big reason for the hike.

Last year, the state cut funding to the 10-campus system to $2.6 billion from $3.25 billion. To make up for the reduction in state funding, the UC Board of Regents increased tuition to $10,300, about triple 1999's cost.

The news has been filled with reports of college students across the country pitching a fit because they are being asked to pay more for their own college education, an education that is going to benefit them in the long run in the form of higher wages but that apparently is their sacred right to receive cheaply and our solemn duty as tax payers to subsidize at a level they find acceptable. The brazen arrogance of these students is breathtaking. They are the ones who will benefit but not the ones who will pay, yet they are demanding that the taxpayers of the state pony up more money so that they can take Anthropology 101 at a sharp discount.

The irony here is that the “progressive” college students in California are the ones who are being hurt the most by the liberal policies of their state. By making hugely expensive promises with no way of funding them, California’s legislature has backed itself into a corner. Either they vote to slash benefits for unionized state employees/retiress (which is not going to happen) or they cut services. Combined with the incredibly anti-business policies of the state that is driving employers and tax-payers out of the state, California is in a world of hurt. They are the worst but they aren’t the only state in that situation.

The ugly reality? States are cash strapped. Revenues are way down (having huge unemployment numbers will do that). Costs have exploded for college education. The unfunded liabilities in states are crippling and getting far worse by the day. No one wants to pay more or have their services reduced but if something isn’t done at both the Federal and state level we are going to careen headlong into bankruptcy. We are all going to have to swallow hard and give up our pet programs. We cannot operate our governments at the same level of taxation and services indefinitely. Joe and Suzie might have to go to community colleges or get their degrees online instead of paying $100,000 for a degree from the University of California. The taxpayers are not mom and dad and you can’t keep going back looking for more money.