The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Educational Decisions

School System A spends 50 to 75 percent more per student than school system B. Why is it then, that educational outcomes for School System A are often worse and sometimes much worse that School System B? The reason is that monetary expenditures are NOT the only predictor of educational success—the quality of teachers plays a very important role, class size, the interest that each student's family has in educational outcomes, overall discipline, and many other factors come into play. There is, of course, still another elephant in the classroom, but political correctness does not allow us to mention it ... so I won't.

The Trump administration's Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, wants to allow low income families to have the ability to choose the school their children attend—in essence, to have all schools, public and private, compete based on their quality and the educational outcomes for their students. Needless to say, because this approach puts more control in the hands of citizens and less in the hands of a large and often ineffective government bureaucracy, progressives and the Democratic politicians they support are against it.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal comment:
Betsy DeVos must be doing something right. Why else would Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, devote a speech late last week to blasting the Education Secretary for using the word “choice”—and then tying it to racism?

Sounding like Hillary Clinton in full deplorable mode, Ms. Weingarten says the movement to give parents more say over where their kids go to school has its roots in “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and homophobia.” Adapting the theology of the climate-change censors who seek to shut down debate, she goes on to call Mrs. DeVos a “public-school denier.”

What really frosts the AFT president is that she recognizes that the public-school monopoly her union backs is now under siege, morally and politically, for its failure to educate children, especially minority children.
Why is it that denizens of the left, rather than providing a cogent argument to justify their position, instead rely on name calling—“racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia?” That approach is getting so old, so cliched, it's actually laughable.

In my view, DeVos would do the nation a favor by taking a different approach. The federal government has no need for a Department of Education—it should be downsized considerably or even eliminated. Educational decisions should be left to the states and even more importantly to the cities and towns in which children actually learn. The closer such decisions are to the families that are effected by them, the better education will become. And please, spare me the notion that the bad old days of segregation and bias will return with a vengeance. Times are different. Besides the Feds have failed miserably in their attempt to make the education of our children more agile, more focused, and simply better. Like most federal government departments, the DoE is bloated, inefficient, and ineffective. I would shed no tears if it simply disappeared.

Who better to make major educational decisions than the communities that are affected by them? The closer any government decision is to the people who are directly affected, the better it will be.

And if Randi Weingarten truly thinks that because of my position I'm "racist, sexist, classist, xenophobic, and homophobic and a public school denier”, I'll respond in kind—Randy Weingarten is an idiot! Ooooooo ... this name calling stuff is really fun.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Like Hell

The resignation of Sean Spicer gives the main stream media still more fodder for their on-going war against Donald Trump. Spicer's resignation is not surprising. Trump undercuts his communication team, making their lives miserable and difficult at every turn. But it is also true that every day, the President's spokesperson faces a vitriolic game of 'gotcha' that is indicative of a media that has lost its collective mind.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the main stream media has become a vocal and nationally recognized third party that aligns with the Democrats on virtually everything, but claims to represent an independent voice. Sure, it's not on the ballot, but the third party works overtime to be ensure that one political party is ceaselessly demonized. And if the demonized party still wins, the third party works even harder to defeat it.

But here's the thing. Across large swaths of the American public, the third party is reviled. People vote against the media by voting against the party they shill for. At least in part, that's why Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. A vote for Trump was a giant F.U. for the main stream media.

John Nolte provides an angry diatribe that has more truth in it than the trained hamsters of the main stream media want to hear:
The very same media that shrugged when Hillary Clinton set up a secret server, deleted 33,000 government emails, BleachBit'd whatever remained and then literally took a hammer to the devices — the media that set that precedent now wants us to get all worked up over Trump's tweets?

The very same media that buried Bill Clinton's perjury and his numerous victims of sexual abuse — the media that set those precedents now wants us to consider an Access Hollywood video a disqualifier for the presidency? Now wants us to freak out over an awkward handshake?

The very same media that gushed over Barack Obama's magical ability to "slow-walk the truth" — the media that set that precedent now wants us to impeach Trump over how the details of his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer have been released?

The very same media that joined Obama in pointing and laughing at Mitt Romney's concern over Russia, the very same media that told us Obama's serial-appeasement of Russia (refusing Poland missile defense, "more flexibility after the election") was in reality an extraordinary form of statesmanship — the media that set those precedents now wants us to toss Trump out on his ear because he's hoping to work with Putin?

The very same media that covered up the fact that Democrats and Team Hillary worked with the foreign government of Ukraine in the hopes of digging up dirt on Trump, the media that itself has used opposition research from the Russian government (the Golden Showers dossier) in the hopes of destroying Trump — the media that set those precedents now want us to turn on Trump because his son hoped for the same?

The very same media that again and again used "Republican overreach" as a tactic to damage the GOP whenever a Democrat scandal rose up — the media that set that precedent now wants us to side with them when the Trump administration chooses to communicate directly through social media?

The very same media that asked 23 follow-up questions of Trump and none of Hillary [during the Presidential Debates] — the media that set that precedent now wants us to side with them when the White House limits the press briefings they can peacock in?

The very same media that said nothing when Obama hired a 9-11 Truther as a Czar (and later hired him as one of their own) — the media that set that precedent wants us to be upset over Ivanka and Jared?

The very same media that showed absolutely no interest in recovering even one of Hillary's 33,000 illegally deleted emails — the media that set that precedent, now wants us to share their outrage over the fact that Don Jr. tried to recover them in a 20-minute meeting?

And now — now! — this very same media (with the help of #NeverTrump's forever-preening moral narcissists) is using the spear of Muh Principles to demand that those of us on the political right agree to destroy ourselves in their corrupt crusade, that we acquiesce like second-class citizens to their separate sets of rules?

Like hell.
Yeah ... like hell.

And by the way, whether you're on the Right, the Left, or in the center, every person should agree that the repeated and blatant application two sets of rules have damaged the media so badly that it is no longer to be considered trustworthy or "professional." Rather, the media should be perceived for what they are—a third political party that shills for the Democrats.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Down in Flames

The GOP's attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare went down in flames. Part of the problem is that GOP senators have differing opinions on what federal intervention into healthcare should look like (they didn't act with the hive mind of Democrats in 2009-2010). As I've noted, the GOP failure to repeal and replace is bad in the political short term, but over the mid-term, it will highlight the reality that Obamacare is collapsing before our eyes. Since the Democrats don't want to participate in any realistic fixes to the failing program, it might be better to allow it to fail—putting pressure on everyone in Washington to do something.

Then again, with the Dems dishonestly suggesting that any changes to Obamacare (by the GOP) will result in the "deaths of millions" and their stated objective of resisting Donald Trump in every way possible, it's pretty hard to see an effective bi-partisan bill emerging.

The Obamacare debate is emblematic of most in Washington—an honest attempt to reduce costs and improve effectiveness, followed by demagoguery and fear mongering at any attempt to reduce costs and improve effectiveness. It is fed by inaccurate and misleading claims about coverage and costs.

Shikha Dalmia writes:
Medicaid provides health care to 75 million Americans. [In other words, about 1/4 of the population gets "free" medical coverage paid for by the rest of us]. It's also a hideously expensive program that is at the center of the raging health-care debate in Washington. Republicans want to scale back the program, and Democrats warn that doing so will cause nothing short of mass death.

But that is not a credible—or responsible—claim.

ObamaCare extended Medicaid eligibility to able-bodied adults at up to 138 percent of the poverty level. To do this, the federal government promised to pick up 100 percent of the tab for the first three years, and then 90 percent in perpetuity in participating states. Republicans want to trim back Medicaid eligibility to the pre-ObamaCare days, when "only" the poor, children, the disabled, the elderly, and pregnant women qualified.

Conservatives also want to take the opportunity to fundamentally reform the program, which consumed half of most state budgets and a tenth of the federal budget even before the ObamaCare expansion. To this end, Republicans want Uncle Sam to stop handing states on average 50 cents for every Medicaid dollar they spend and instead give them a fixed lump sum on a per-patient basis and tie its growth to general inflation.
But GOP attempts at reform shift power from Big Intrusive Government (B.I.G.) to the states. That is anathema for almost all Democrats.

But ... but ... but, it's much better for poor people and others to have coverage under medicaid because—they don't die! The implication of this gross exaggeration is that health outcomes are better under Obamacare/Medicaid. But they aren't. Again from Dalmia:
Medicaid is perhaps the civilized world's worst program. It costs just as much as private plans—about $7,000 per patient—but produces worse outcomes, including higher mortality, than private coverage. So given that one of ObamaCare's dirty little secrets is that many of its Medicaid enrollees are folks kicked off their private plans due to the Medicaid expansion, the law may have actually cost—rather than saved—lives in this cohort.

But what about the uninsured? Extending Medicaid to these people improved their health and diminished mortality, right? Wrong. Plenty of reputable studies [links to studies in original] suggest that this might not be the case:
  • A 2010 study by the University of Virginia of 893,658 patients in the university hospital found that individuals on Medicaid had the worst post-surgery survival rate of any patients, including the uninsured, after controlling for age, health status, income, and other relevant factors.
  • A 2011 Journal of Heart and Lung study found that of 11,385 patients undergoing lung transplants, Medicaid patients were 8.1 percent less likely to survive than the uninsured after 10 years. They also found Medicaid insurance was a significant predictor of death within three years, after controlling for other clinical factors.
  • And then there is the famous 2013 Oregon study — the closest thing to a lab experiment in the real world — co-authored by ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber. It contrasted uninsured patients who were randomly assigned to Medicaid with those who remained uninsured and found that the Medicaid patients did not have significantly better outcomes for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even mortality.
... even if Medicaid's mortality outcomes were somewhat better for the uninsured, it would still not necessarily follow that extending the program would save lives on balance—or that eliminating the program would do the reverse. In a world with finite resources, one also has to consider the opportunity costs or other ways of spending that may potentially save more lives.

Indeed, a 2016 study in the journal Health Affairs found that states that spent a smaller portion of their budgets on Medicaid and Medicare than on social programs such as housing, nutrition, and even public transportation, showed "significant" gains on a myriad of health factors, including mortality, over states that did the reverse. It is possible that this is purely coincidental. But it may also be the case that these programs improved general quality of life and lowered stress levels, thus bettering baseline health and preventing people from falling prey to life-sapping illnesses in the first place.

And what holds true for state-level spending might be doubly true for individuals spending out-of-pocket.
But all of this requires critical thinking and that appears to be in very short supply among most Dems and more than a few in the GOP. The studies are dismissed because they don't conform to the narrative. Any attempt to reduce federal influence in medical care is dismissed because—B.I.G. is a holy writ among progressives and apparently, is accepted as a constant by too many in the GOP.

P.J. O’Rourk once said:  “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

POSTSCRIPT:
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I'll be on vacation for the next week. See you when I return.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Klaus Eberwein

I'd wager that you don't know who Klaus Eberwein is. You've never heard him mentioned by the mainstream media even though the hamsters are always looking for conspiracies to uncover (as long as those conspiracies fit the approved Democratic narrative). Here's how Mac Slavo describes him:
Eberwein was a fierce critic of the Clinton Foundation’s activities in the Caribbean island [Haiti], where he served as director general of the government’s economic development agency, Fonds d’assistance économique et social, for three years. “The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals, they are thieves, they are liars, they are a disgrace,” Eberwein said at a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan last year. Eberwein was due to appear on Tuesday before the Haitian Senate Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission where he was widely expected to testify that the Clinton Foundation misappropriated Haiti earthquake donations from international donors.
Boy, that testimony would be interesting and certainly embarrassing for the Dems, who have condemned anyone with the temerity to suggest that the Clinton foundation wasn't on the side of the angels.

But there's a problem.

Eberwein, age 50, was found dead in Miami with a gunshot wound to the head. Slavo provides a few details:
The circumstances surrounding Eberwein’s death are also nothing less than unpalatable. According to Miami-Dade’s medical examiner records supervisor, the official cause of death is “gunshot to the head.“ Eberwein’s death has been registered as “suicide” by the government. But not long before his death, he acknowledged that his life was in danger because he was outspoken on the criminal activities of the Clinton Foundation ...

Eberwein was only 50-years-old and reportedly told acquaintances he feared for his life because of his fierce criticism of the Clinton Foundation. His close friends and business partners were taken aback by the idea he may have committed suicide. “It’s really shocking,” said friend Gilbert Bailly. “We grew up together; he was like family.”

During and after his government tenure, Eberwein faced allegations of fraud and corruption on how the agency he headed administered funds. Among the issues was FAES’ oversight of the shoddy construction of several schools built after Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. But, according to Eberwein, it was the Clinton Foundation who was deeply in the wrong – and he intended to testify and prove it on Tuesday.
According to Eberwein, a paltry 0.6 percent of donations granted by international donors to the Clinton Foundation with the express purpose of directly assisting Haitians actually ended up in the hands of Haitian organizations. A further 9.6 percent ended up with the Haitian government. The remaining 89.8 percent – or $5.4 billion – was funneled to non-Haitian organizations. –WND
Eberwein was expected to testify against the Clinton Foundation in court and ends up committing suicide shortly before. Where have we heard this before?
Of course, the trained hamsters and their Democrat overlords dismiss all of this as crazy right-wing conspiracy stuff, just like the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, the guy alleged to have leaked the DNC emails, was crazy right-wing conspiracy stuff.

It is odd, don't you think, that there are so many "suicides," and other unexplained and untimely deaths that somehow befall people who know things that might threaten the Clintons and/or the Dems. But that's crazy talk, right? It's just coincidental, right? It's not worth a look, right?

It's understandable, though, that the main stream media is silent on all of this. After all, they're dedicating all of the "journalistic" resources, 24-7, to crazy left-wing conspiracy stuff. They would never, ever consider a string of unusual deaths of people connected to the Clintons or the Democrats. Never! It's at least as crazy as suggesting that the current POTUS colluded with the Russians to defeat a Clinton. The trained hamsters and the Dems would never promulgate that kind of crazy thinking, would they?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Starving

As Democrat politicians crow about the GOP failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, they offer big intrusive government (B.I.G.) solutions for the problem. Since the Democrat's effort to insert government into healthcare has resulted in higher prices, higher deductibles and (with the exception of the "free" coverage provided to newly qualified Medicaid recipients) poorer coverage and options, the Democrats double down. What we need, they argue, is "universal health care." After all, B.I.G. did such a great job with Obamacare, it would definitely, positively, irrefutably do an even greater job with universal coverage.

But there's an even bigger issue here. It seems, as the years pass, that the Democrats are now wedded to the notion that B.I.G. is the solution to every problem, every inequity, and every need. In a way, it's a genius political strategy—give as much "free" stuff to as many people as you can, raise taxes (mostly on those who don't get the free stuff) to pay for the free stuff, disregard the deleterious economic effects (and anyway, as people struggle, it provides an opening for even more "free stuff" from B.I.G.), and finally, scream bloody murder when anyone suggests that maybe some of that free stuff is unnecessary and should be discontinued or paired back. The Dem strategy works—in the short term.

As an example, consider the Obamacare and its repeal efforts. Andrew Clark comments:
There's a common political maxim that, once passed, an entitlement can never be repealed because the resistance of those dependent on it would be too deep. Republicans' ObamaCare repeal effort is challenging this unwritten rule head-on. As they should - conservatives' timeless goals of reforming the welfare state to promote work, reigning in the budget, and limiting government, will require it.

So far, it's proving very difficult.

Left-wing activists, echoed by sympathizers in the media, are pulling out all the stops, operating a scare machine fueled by reports of people dying, of Medicaid being destroyed, of people having their insurance taken away, and anything else that makes the repeal effort sound akin to the apocalypse.

Never mind that many of these hyperbolic claims are exaggerations, downright lies, or mischaracterizations.

Also, never mind that Democrats were the ones who single-handedly foisted the unpopular ObamaCare mess on the United States in the first place, creating unstable markets with few (if any) affordable products and abusing Medicaid, which was designed as a safety net for the truly poor and disabled, by turning it into a cost-inflating vehicle for permanent universal coverage.
Obamacare is simply the latest example of a B.I.G entitlement that costs much more than promised, works more poorly than expected, and has had more negative effects on small businesses and the economy than envisioned.

In the longer term, even the most loyal Democrat should (but doesn't) recognize that as the number of entitlements grows and their costs increase, you eventually run out of other people's money. Illinois, CT, Puerto Rico and other blue states are approaching that point. But none of that matters—free stuff generated by bigger and bigger government trumps all.

A commenter ("Norbert G. Buttguster, Jr") at The Belmont Club addresses the economy, government, and their interaction this way:
Here is the analogy: Consider an island economy of fishers, farmers, artisans. One person works for the king: in the morning this worker goes to work, digs a hole, breaks for lunch, fills the hole back in that afternoon, picks up his paycheck from the King and spends it for fish, food, and shoes. The fishers, farmers, artisans, note the easy life style of the King's employee and petition the king to employ them similarly. Pretty soon the last of the fishers, farmers and artisans quits what they were doing and goes to work digging holes for King. Everybody is rich, has a good pay check, but, because no one is producing anything, they all starve to death ...
Well, at least "income inequality" would be eliminated and a "living wage" would be had by all. Too bad everyone ends up starving in the process.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Russian Dressing

Russian hysteria has risen to such heights that I'm beginning to worry.

I recently had stuffed cabbage and my wife ate some borscht. Does that make us somehow sympathetic to Vladimir Putin and his minions? What if you dine in a Russian Restaurant and speak with a waiter whose cousin still resides in Russian and has friend who works for Russian government intelligence? Would a Democratic heavyweight like Tim Kane be justified in calling you a "traitor?' What if you're foolish enough to purchase a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. The fact that they're nesting dolls implies that there's something hidden. What are you hiding? Is it okay for your daughter to attend a gymnastics school run by an ex-Olympian who happens to be Russian and—horror of horrors—voted for Donald Trump? Is the school tainted? is your daughter? Is a congressional investigation imminent?

Why hasn't the NYT or WaPo published page one "investigative" articles that describe leaks about, say, Russian dressing being served at a White House dinner? After all, that's almost sedition, isn't it?

Silly? Sure. But no more ridiculous than the current Russian collusion meme that's all the vogue. It's all nonsense be promulgated by the four constituencies who'd like nothing better than keeping the current administration off balance.

The irony is that the same hypocrites that wail about Russia interference in our political process have accomplished what Putin could not. They have roiled our politics and impeded our domestic and foreign policy. Then again, that's exactly the objective, not only of Putin, but of the four constituencies as well.

UPDATE:
-------------------

Holman Jenkins comments on the Donald Trump Jr. story—the latest installment of Russiamania:
... after the first flush of hysteria, Don Jr. may be only half a rube for not being more sensitive to the Russian connection, which would explode in Hindenburg fashion only with the DNC email hack a few days later.

Bloomberg News suggests that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya wasn’t bringing secrets gleaned from Russia’s “crown prosecutor,” but news she read in the Russian press. Not the Russians but a Russian was trying to peddle this info to Trump Tower, as a pretext to lobby on behalf of a wealthy Russian client.

And it wasn’t any Russian but a tubby British music publicist who babbled fourth-hand, or perhaps was apple polishing all on his own, in claiming “Russian government support” for the Trump effort.

The farcical element continues to predominate in Russiagate, including with the mostly ignored Russian influence on FBI chief James Comey’s actions.

But real trouble can flow even from a farce. Thinkers for whom Russia was just one problem in a world full of problems, who previously did not identify Moscow as the No. 1 enemy, now do so, vociferously, for fear of being lumped in with Mr. Trump as a traitor to America or some such.

A mob is a machine for mass-producing cowards and bullies. That’s where we are now. Just turn on cable TV.
The "mob"—a.k.a. the four constituencies—would be laughable in its actions, if it wasn't so dangerous. There is no problem with criticizing a sitting president, but this goes fat beyond critique. It is an attempt at a slow motion coup, and it is despicable for its intent, its hypocrisy, and its dishonesty.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pensions

Those of us who have been self-employed or run small businesses cannot rely on pension plans offered by someone else. Our retirement security is in our hands. If we're responsible, we establish a 401-K, Keogh plan, SEP-IRA, or even a simple IRA, fund it regularly with relatively small amounts, and over time, build up a retirement nest egg. But if we act irresponsibly, if we don't "fund" any of those plans ourselves, we're left with a few uncomfortable options: (1) continue working until we drop; (2) live on meager social security income, or (3) rely on savings and/or other assets that may be inadequate. The decision is ours, and the benefits or problems are defined by what we do.

In the corporate sector, there are stringent laws the define how pension plans are created and funded. A company MUST show proof that it is adequately funding it retirement plans. When it negotiates plans with a union, it has an incentive to balance fairness with cost, because it will have to bear that cost long term.

And now we come to government. Everything changes. Politicians negotiate with public sector unions (you know, the people whose votes they need to get re-elected). They invariably offer exceedingly generous pension plans. They then avoid fully funding those plans (it's legal to do so if you're government), hoping that the bill will come due on someone else's watch.

Consider Illinois, a blue state with pension liabilities of somewhere between $150 and $230 billion that is only 38 percent funded. That's trouble ... big, big trouble. When a few responsible IL politicians tried to moderate pension benefits, the state Supreme Court (appointed by progressives) said no, they must be paid out as is. The court didn't provide guidance as to how that might be done.

The editors of USA Today comment:
... in many ways Illinois is simply the poster child for what is wrong with states. They are supposedly the providers of education, roads, parks, mass transit and public safety, among other services to their residents. But their real purpose in many instances has been to appease militant public sector labor unions.

Unions representing public workers have managed to persuade state agencies to reward them with gold-plated pension plans, and in some cases, retiree health care. These plans have been agreed to with little or no public input, or understanding by bureaucrats and lawmakers who know they will not around when the bills come due.

The most generous states are Alaska, California, Colorado and Nevada, where the average career worker pulls in more than $60,000 annually and many take in six figures. Those in the worst fiscal shape are Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, Alaska and Kansas.

What is most inexplicable about all of this is that progressive groups and progressive voters continue to support public sector unions even as make off with the family jewels.

The vast sums states are forced to throw into pension systems erode their ability to provide good public education, safe streets and livable communities — all goals deeply cherished by progressives.

Roughly a quarter of the entire Illinois budget in recent years has gone to funding pensions. And yet,all this money has done is slow the rate of decline of its financial outlook.

It is time for Americans to recognize the troubling fiscal plight in many states. Perhaps when Illinois or other states like it finally hit a fiscal wall, voters will wake up to the calamity that awaits them.
The irony in all of this is that the taxpayers, who will be squeezed to fund pension payouts on a day to day basis, have only one way to alleviate their burden—leave. And they're doing that in increasing numbers—the term "tax refugees" come to mind.

What IL and CT, CA and AK, KY and KS face is a fiscal calamity, brought on by irresponsible politicians, greedy unions that put their own workers in serious jeopardy, and laws that don't hold the government to the same standards as the rest of us. Pathetic.