Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Have we reached the point where it's no longer far-fetched to propose dismantling the IRS?

It's clearly an agency out of control:

More than 2,800 Internal Revenue Service employees who recently had been disciplined received performance bonuses totaling more than $2.8 million between Oct. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2012, a government audit found.
The misconduct ranged from failure to pay taxes to misuse of government travel cards, violation of official-conduct standards and fraud, according to the report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The discipline included written reprimands, suspensions and even removal. The oversight agency said some of the conduct issues might have occurred after an employee earned a bonus.
While the IRS doesn't prohibit bonuses, "providing awards to employees with conduct issues, especially the failure to pay taxes owed to the federal government, appears to be in conflict with the IRS's charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration," the report said.
For fiscal 2012, the IRS gave bonuses to about two-thirds of its 98,000 employees. Some lawmakers have been critical of the practice.
The report identified nearly 1,200 employees with tax issues or official-conduct violations during the period who received a total of $1.1 million in monetary bonuses, and about 11,000 hours of time off. One employee who was suspended for 10 days in September 2011 received a $1,300 performance award in August 2012, the report said.
The IRS generally doesn't consider conduct issues when administering bonuses, officials told the watchdog office.
For employees represented by the IRS union, the contract specifically states that disciplinary investigations or actions generally won't preclude a performance bonus.
Did you get that?  The damn thing is unionized, and its union protects its members from having "conduct issues" considered "when administering bonuses."

Has there ever been an emptier suit than the H-Word Creature?

There's been another one of those situations in which a respondent is unable to answer the simple question, "What of substance has she ever done?"

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pushed State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to name one “tangible achievement” from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review before fibnally giving up in frustration when Psaki couldn't name even one.

“Off the top of your head, can you just identify one tangible achievement that the last QDDR resulted in?” Lee asked the spokeswoman.
“Well, Matt, obviously it’s an extensive, expansive topic“ 
“So, no,” Lee interrupted.
Lee persisted to no avail, never receiving an adequate answer.
Finally, said Psaki, “I am certain that those who were here at the time who worked hard on that effort could point out one.”

Ah, but what difference does it make? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

"Let's make more capitalists"

Look for nauseating praise for French economist Thomas Picketty's new book Capitalism in the 21st Century from any quarters in your life where you know Freedom-Haters lurk.  All the predictable founts of FHer punditry are swooning over it.

Cato Institute scholar Michael Tanner, writing at NRO, has a great counter-proposal to Picketty's redistributive prescription for the nagging aspect of the human condition known as inequality:

Piketty takes the evilness of inequality as a given, ignoring the broader question of whether the same conditions that lead to growing wealth at the top of the pyramid also improve material well-being for those at the bottom. In other words, does it matter if some people become super-rich as long as we reduce poverty along the way? Which matters more, equality or prosperity?
To cite just one example, Piketty devotes considerable effort to criticizing the rise of inequality in China over the past three decades as it has adopted market-oriented policies. But he largely glosses over the way those policies have lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty.
Piketty’s proposed “solutions” are equally problematic. He seems to believe that “confiscatory taxes” (his term) can be imposed without changing incentives or discouraging innovation and wealth creation. Piketty’s solutions would undoubtedly yield a more equal society, but also one that was remarkably poorer.
Still, Piketty makes some important points. In particular, he notes correctly that returns on capital nearly always exceed the return on labor. With capital held by a relatively narrow group, therefore, rising inequality is inevitable. Moreover, with the wealthy able to pass capital on to their heirs, that inequality will be perpetuated and even extended over generations.
One wonders why, then, Piketty’s fans ignore the obvious answer to this problem. Instead of attacking capital and capitalism, why not expand the number of people who participate in the benefits of having capital? In other words, let’s make more capitalists.

Tanner goes on to cite FHer Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose problem with privately-owned 401(k)s is that they're subject to the ups and downs of the stock market.  Tanner points out that what she fails to include in her argument is that, as the Chilean example demonstrates, enabling ordinary citizens to participate in the ownership of a nation's ever-froward-looking use of capital has a hell of a higher rate of return than a play-like investment program like Social Security.

Of course, FHers have no control in a scenario in which smart, free grownups are in charge of their own destinies.

A good SCOTUS ruling, but lacking the finality it should have established

The majority of the justices did the right thing in upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action, but it would have been nice to see a resolute quashing of the notion that race still has some role to play in public policy.  As John Podhoretz observes in the New York Post today:

And yet the court’s majority (in various configurations) continues to say there are increasingly vague and undefined circumstances in which race can and should “play a factor,” circumstances that prevent it from declaring the entire kit and caboodle of affirmative action unconstitutional.
In 2003, in another ruling on the University of Michigan, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor declared that affirmative action should have an end date — say, 25 years from 2003. In doing so, she implicitly acknowledged that the policy offends elementary fairness — else why end it at all?

And the dissenting opinion of Sotomayor makes it clear why electing Freedom-Hater presidents is a bad idea.  You get Supreme Court justices who go in for that Progressive view of the Constitution, in which it must be interpreted in subjective ways that reflect sociocultural conditions in a given moment of the nation's life:

While the Constitution “does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “it does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process. It guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently.”

 Actually the Constitution doesn't say a thing about "minority groups."  The whole struggle of originalists (count me in) has been to perfect the actual practice of the Constitutional principle of equality of anyone and everyone before the law.

Then there are the stats on the harm done to those who are inadequately prepared for the level of academic rigor at certain schools but are admitted anyway - but that's a subject for another day.

This one was about two things: the above-mentioned absence of race-consciousness in the Constitution as established by the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, and the rights of states to decide matters fraught with sociocultural considerations - without federal interference.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The fruits of patty-cake - today's edition

Iran, emboldened by years of being appeased by its sworn enemy the West, is refusing to pull its choice for UN ambassador, former terrorist Hamid Aboutalebi.  

Oh, sheesh, look who else has been disinvited from speaking at a university

Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, from speaking at Azusa Pacific University.

An email from your president, Jon Wallace, to my employer, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said “Given the lateness of the semester and the full record of Dr. Murray’s scholarship, I realized we needed more time to prepare for a visit and postponed Wednesday’s conversation.” This, about an appearance that has been planned for months. I also understand from another faculty member that he and the provost were afraid of “hurting our faculty and students of color.”
You’re at college, right? Being at college is supposed to mean thinking for yourselves, right? Okay, then do it. Don’t be satisfied with links to websites that specialize in libeling people. Lose the secondary sources. Explore for yourself the “full range” of my scholarship and find out what it is that I’ve written or said that would hurt your faculty or students of color. It’s not hard. In fact, you can do it without moving from your chair if you’re in front of your computer.
You don’t have to buy my books. Instead, go to my web page at AEI. There you will find the full texts of dozens of articles I’ve written for the last quarter-century. Browse through them. Will you find anything that is controversial? That people disagree with? Yes, because (hang on to your hats) scholarship usually means writing about things on which people disagree.

The jackbooted grievance mongers will not tolerate any campus speakers who aren't "sensitive."

The Sovereignty-Haters burrow deep into our national security apparatus

I questioned the wisdom of setting up a new bureaucracy - DHS - after 9/11 (the original one, not the one in Libya eleven years later).  It seemed to me that we had plenty of agencies and departments that could be given the task of protecting the homeland against jihadists.

Hell, DHS can't won't even protect us against having our borders routinely violated:

Tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but don't have serious criminal records could be shielded from deportation under a policy change being weighed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Even entering the US illegally multiple times under the new policy would not be considered deportation-worthy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More on the supposedly robust state of Freedom-Hater-care

California tax preparers are getting paid a bounty by the regime to sign people up, and

the state's enrollees are having a hell of a time finding doctors.

Pretty much confirms that Rand Paul is not my 2016 prez candidate

Whenever discussion has turned to Rand Paul here or elsewhere, I've maintained that I wanted to be assured of daylight between his foreign-policy views and those of his father.

Alas, as Quin Hillyer shows in his piece at NRO today, there isn't an appreciable degree of such.  Rand has on various occasions demonstrated ideological kinship with the likes of Pat Buchanan and Cindy Sheehan.  Called Dick Cheney a war profiteer.  Attempted to equate advocacy for defense budgets sufficient for projecting global power as we have since 1945 as a zeal for preemption.  Is on record as saying a nuclear Iran could be contained.  "[A]ctually compared the remarkably humane American facility for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to the American mistreatment of blacks and Japanese."  Pooh-pooed the idea that jihadists were inside the US plotting terror.

He's another one of those frustrating libertarians who is so spot-on when it comes to economics and completely out to lunch on world-affairs issues.  He even hews fairly traditional on "social issues." (I'm not real fond of that term.)  

And so let's keep him where he is, where his Senate votes will further the cause of economic freedom but aren't likely to affect America's global role.

Just remember this when you hear some Freedom-Hater crow about FHer-care enrollment numbers

I've said here before that I wish I'd taken economics courses in college.  At the time, I was a stringy-haired, barefoot beatnik English major and thought I could learn all I needed to about econ by osmosis. But the older I get, the more the subject has moved front and center among my subjects of interests.

And I've also said that, given my formal academic background, tempered and improved upon by my reading some actual works by great economists, I've come up with my own first law of economics: The money has to come from somewhere.

It is the point that Charles Blahous of George Mason University's Mercatus Center is driving home in his piece about the costs of FHer-care:

Let’s walk through the salient features of this unfolding fiscal disaster:
An Expansion of Spending Commitments Comparable to Enacting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid: Our biggest fiscal problems today stem from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs rising well beyond original projections. The ACA was enacted even though these longstanding financing challenges have still not been met, and represents an additional expansion of federal commitments comparable to these other programs’ creations. CBO now estimates that the gross costs of the ACA’s coverage expansion will be $92 billion in FY2015, or about 0.5% of our total GDP of roughly $18 trillion. This far exceeds, even relative to today’s larger economy, the initial costs associated with the entirety of Social Security and Medicaid, and is comparable to the startup costs for all original parts of Medicare combined. Consider this: just five years after enactment the ACA will absorb more of our total economic output than Social Security did fully sixteen years after it was enacted.
Of course, after these initial rollouts, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs grew far faster than originally envisioned, sometimes due to subsequent legislation, sometimes due to unanticipated healthcare cost growth. It wouldn’t be surprising for either factor to affect the ACA, which would be even more problematic for reasons given below.
A Worse Fiscal Environment: The ACA was enacted when legislators knew, or should have known, that they inhabited a fiscal environment in which such extravagance was unaffordable. Deficits (and debt) are far higher today than when the other major entitlement programs were created; millions of baby boomer retirements are swelling expenditures arising from previously-enacted Social Security and Medicare law. Someday historians will puzzle over the thinking that induced legislators to embark on a vast new spending program at the very moment it could least be afforded.
Unraveling Finances: Where will the money come from to finance the ACA’s health exchange subsidies and Medicaid expansion? No one knows. We do know that the ACA’s financing mechanisms are already falling apart. The ACA’s much-reported website glitches and enrollment shortfalls had actually suggested an upside; if enrollment continued to fall short of previous projections, it was possible that some of the fiscal damage could be contained. But if enrollment has picked up as the law’s financing mechanisms disintegrate, the fiscal damage will be worse than anticipated. Consider the following:
CLASS: The ACA’s “CLASS” long-term care provisions were originally projected to generate $37 billion in net premiums through 2015 ($86 billion over ten years). CLASS was later suspended due to its long-term financial unworkability, meaning these revenues have not materialized and will not.
Employer/individual mandate penalties: These were supposed to have brought in $12 billion through 2015, $101 billion over the first ten years. Because the Obama Administration has repeatedly delayed their enforcement, to date they haven’t brought in much of anything. Some ACA advocates are even beginning to downplay the significance of possibly ditching these mandates altogether, though they were central to the law’s financing scheme.
Medicare Advantage: The ACA was supposed to be financed in part by cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA) totaling $31 billion through FY2015, $128 billion over the first ten years. The White House recently announced that planned MA cuts will not go into effect after all
Other controversial provisions: The ACA’s most controversial savings provisions – among them its ambitious Medicare provider payment reductions, the tax on so-called “Cadillac” health plans, and cost-saving decisions of the Independent Payment Advisory Board– have yet to be tested. Given that less-controversial provisions have failed to meet their savings targets, there is little basis for confidence that these more controversial ones will do so.  
Some may consider it gauche to mention these unpleasantries, but they loom nonetheless.

Sweet indeed!

The UAW withdraws its appeal of the VW Chattanooga plant vote.

Post-America's decline on the world stage is palpable

Edward Luce at speaks of how post-America's relations with each of the major emerging powers - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - have deteriorated during the Most Equal Comrade's rule.  He cites specifics in each case and then moves to his overall conclusion:

Each of these deteriorating relationships has specific narratives. But there are two larger themes linking them together. First, the world is adjusting to declining US power. America retains by far the world’s largest military force. But it gets a little less so each year. China’s defence budget continues to grow by double digits while that of the US is falling in real terms. The US miscalculated badly in its 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Mr Obama’s latest defence budget would preclude another Iraq-style invasion. That, of course, is a good thing. But other observers, including those who are beginning to resist American power around the world, are adjusting their behaviour. They see a US that is increasingly unwilling to project global force – except using remote control. Meanwhile, the Brics’ economic growth rates are slowing. But they are still growing faster than the US, and are likely to continue to do so. The economic centre of gravity will continue to shift their way.

Less and less relevant. Just as the MEC has planned all along.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Billy Jeff the Zipper had misgivings about the H-Word Creature's health-care plan

Per documents from the Billy Jeff era released yesterday, it seems he was concerned about the very thing that the Most Equal Comrade later thought it was fine to lie about:

In one series of memos discussing Hillarycare, Bill was clearly worried that his wife's scheme was a nonstarter with voters. "A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it," he said, presciently echoing the debate Americans are currently having over Obamacare.
These documents show that Democrats not only knew as far back as 2008 that a massive overhaul of health care would cause millions of Americans to lose their insurance, but they knew all the way back in 1993 that it would happen.

I always thought she was the more radical of the two.  His main motive for a career in politics was to meet girls.

Best articulation of why FHer-care is horrible that I've seen in some time

From Jeffrey H. Anderson at The Weekly Standard:

Obamacare isn’t bad because it didn’t hit 9 million in Obamacare-compliant exchange purchases, nor because it didn’t include 39 percent young adults among its purchasers.  It’s bad—horrible, actually—because it requires private citizens to buy a product of the federal government’s choosing for the first time in our nation’s entire history; because it funnels unprecedented amounts of power and money to Washington, D.C. and away from everyday Americans; because it incentivizes employers not to hire people and to cut hours for millions of people they’ve already employed; because it bans millions of people’s health insurance policies (except when Obama lawlessly un-bans them); because it causes people who like their doctors not to be able to keep their doctors; because it raises health costs; because it requires young people to subsidize maternity coverage and pediatric dental care for 60-year-olds who have no need or desire for such coverage; because it effectively bans doctors from expanding existing doctor-owned hospitals or building new ones, makes it difficult for doctors to stay in private practice, and tries to corral them into hospitals where they can more easily be controlled; because it will raise federal spending by a projected $2 trillion over its real first decade; because it will cut projected Medicare funding by a whopping 10 percent over that same decade, siphoning that money out of Medicare to (partially) pay for Obamacare; because it particularly goes after Medicare Advantage funding; because it stifles medical innovation; because it disrespects religious freedom; and because it mandates communal funding of abortion.
In short, it’s bad because it raises health costs, undermines liberty, costs jobs, and seeks to put American medicine under the control of the same folks who brought you
It might seem surprising, therefore, that Obama would have chosen to declare victory yesterday, imperiously proclaiming that “the repeal debate is and should be over.”  In reality, however, his words might actually be true—just not in the way he intended.  The American people hated Obamacare even before the Democrats willfully passed it, they hate it now, and they never stopped hating it in between.  There’s strong evidence that the debate is, indeed, over—and that Obama and his allies have lost.
According to Real Clear Politics, since July 4, 2009, 458 polls have been taken on Obamacare.  Twenty have shown Americans liking it, five have shown ties, and 433 (95 percent) have shown them disliking it.  Perhaps even more strikingly, 299 (65 percent)—including the five most recent polls—have shown Americans opposing Obamacare by double-digits. 
So the Most Equal Comrade and all his snot-nosed devotees are wrong about their ultimate point:  This monstrosity is by no means a done deal.

A signal as to where Putin is coming from

We've always known him to be a wily sort, a highly disciplined, hard-headed ex-KGB agent with a strong patriotic bent and an autocratic governing style.  Lately, he's been exhibiting expansionist behavior as well.

Still, much about him remains an enigma.  Just what motivates him ultimately?

Perhaps Russia's new culture policy (What a concept; What kind of populace willingly accepts a government-imposed "culture policy?")  affords us some indication:

Russians not only have their own "cultural code," he said, they also have a unique moral outlook -- unlike Westerners, Russians are selfless and prone to self-sacrifice.
"These are the deep roots of our patriotism," Putin said.
Tapping into perceived "traditional cultural values" of Russian civilisation, the culture ministry is drawing up a government strategy that observers say has all the trappings of a new state ideology, echoing Soviet legacy.
The authors preparing the document, who are kept secret, believe that such a policy must be based on the thesis that "Russia is not Europe" and generously quote from Putin's speeches.

An early version of the document has been leaked to the press and is currently being examined by a Kremlin working group chaired by one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies, chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB agent recently blacklisted by the United States.The policy states Russia is at a historical crossroads and must make a choice between cultural extinction or the preservation of its unique "moral and spiritual foundations," which can only be done with a "state culture policy."
"Russia is an ancient, independent, distinctive civilisation," culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said at a press conference Wednesday.
It seems that Putin and those in top echelons of influence have some idea that the West is trying to dilute the essence of Russia's identity.  But then, it looks like an assumption that each of the world's cultures are trying to subsume one another is an intrinsic part of the Russian worldview, and has found its ultimate embodiment in the country's current leader.