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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cosmic Rays

Sure, “climate change” proponents have experienced many bumps along the way—a major scientific scandal that included doctored data, peer review shenanigans, climate models that do not comport with reality, and the purposeful exclusion of data that do not conform with the researchers (IPCC) notion of the politically correct result. But if you were to believe Al Gore, the vast majority of Left-leaning media, the President, and millions of true believers, anthropogenic global warming (AGW, a.k.a. “climate change”) is caused predominantly by human endeavors, with CO2 being the primary suspect.

Forget that no one—no one!—has been able to indicate precisely what percentage of climate change is due to human activity, the true believers still argue that humans provide a “substantial” component of climate change. But is it 2 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent or more? Even the IPCC doesn’t have the temerity to propose a hard, scientifically verifiable number.

Is there a number at all? Sure, there’s little debate that humans, a part of the ecosystem, contribute to changes in climate, but the contribution is probably quite small. So small, in fact, that draconian measures proposed by true believers would wreck an already weakened global economy while at the same time doing almost nothing to affect the climate.

Why not? It’s the science, stupid.

This month a major scientific paper has been published by scientists at CERN, one of the World’s most respected scientific laboratories, in the prestigious journal, Nature. Lawrence Solomon reports that “The new findings point to cosmic rays and the sun — not human activities — as the dominant controller of climate on Earth.”

I’ve discussed the impact of the Sun and it’s affects on climate in the Blog over the years, and the sun-based climate change theory is not new, but irrefutable proof is. Solomon provides some interesting (and for those of us who respect real science, not the nonsense that Al Gore spews) disturbing background:
The hypothesis that cosmic rays and the sun hold the key to the global warming debate has been Enemy No. 1 to the global warming establishment ever since it was first proposed by two scientists from the Danish Space Research Institute, at a 1996 scientific conference in the U.K. Within one day, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bert Bolin, denounced the theory, saying, “I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naive and irresponsible.” He then set about discrediting the theory, any journalist that gave the theory cre dence, and most of all the Danes presenting the theory — they soon found themselves vilified, marginalized and starved of funding, despite their impeccable scientific credentials.

The mobilization to rally the press against the Danes worked brilliantly, with one notable exception. Nigel Calder, a former editor of The New Scientist who attended that 1996 conference, would not be cowed. Himself a physicist, Mr. Calder became convinced of the merits of the argument and a year later, following a lecture he gave at a CERN conference, so too did Jasper Kirkby, a CERN scientist in attendance. Mr. Kirkby then convinced the CERN bureaucracy of the theory’s importance and developed a plan to create a cloud chamber — he called it CLOUD, for “Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets.”

But Mr. Kirkby made the same tactical error that the Danes had — not realizing how politicized the global warming issue was, he candidly shared his views with the scientific community.

“The theory will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth’s temperature that we have seen in the last century,” Mr. Kirkby told the scientific press in 1998, explaining that global warming may be part of a natural cycle in the Earth’s temperature.

The global warming establishment sprang into action, pressured the Western governments that control CERN, and almost immediately succeeded in suspending CLOUD. It took Mr. Kirkby almost a decade of negotiation with his superiors, and who knows how many compromises and unspoken commitments, to convince the CERN bureaucracy to allow the project to proceed. And years more to create the cloud chamber and convincingly validate the Danes’ groundbreaking theory.

The findings indicate that cosmic rays—a product of the Sun’s magnetic field—are the dominant catalyst of cloud formation. To quote from a supplement of the paper: “cosmic rays promote the formation of clusters of molecules that can then grow and seed clouds in the real atmosphere.”

But even CERN is susceptible to political pressure and pressure from the EU (CERN’s sponsor) on CERN's management was unrelenting. Again Solomon comments:
Weeks ago, CERN formerly decided to muzzle Mr. Kirby and other members of his team to avoid “the highly political arena of the climate change debate,” telling them “to present the results clearly but not interpret them” and to downplay the results by “mak[ing] clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.” The CERN study and press release is written in bureaucratese and the version of Mr. Kirkby’s study that appears in the print edition of Nature censored the most eye-popping graph — only those who know where to look in an online supplement (see bottom of article for .pdf link) will see the striking potency of cosmic rays in creating the conditions for seeding clouds.

If this sounds like the efforts of the church against the findings of Galileo, maybe that's because its a near perfect analogy. “Climate change” has become a religion for many, and when their beliefs are attacked, they respond viciously. That’s why those of us in the Center who might question the hysterical claims of the AGW hypothesis are termed “deniers.”

Oh, well, let’s see if the IPCC or Al Gore, or any other true believer can "deny" the CERN’s findings. But then again, they won’t have to, because CERN's findings will never be seen beyond a small group of readers. The main stream media will make sure of that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


As I watch the media’s hypervenitilating coverage of the run-up to Hurricane Irene’s collision with the Northeastern United States, all I can do was shake my head and turn the TV off. I live in South Florida, a hurricane-prone area of the country, so I know something about these tropical cyclones. Yes, they can be dangerous. Yes, precautions must be made in advance, and yes, a category 1 storm can do significant damage and certainly causes enormous temporary inconvenience (e.g., power outages, gas lines, food shortages). But Cat 1 storms are rarely killers, rarely do anything close to catastrophic damage, and rarely leave long-lasting effects.

But the media’s coverage of Irene borders on hysteria—or at least, it is intended to create hysteria among those who are unable to think critically. Worse, in order to cover themselves politically, politicians play off the media coverage and use “an abundance of caution” and make decisions that are dubious at best (e.g., shutting down the entire NYC transit system hours before the storm will strike).

The media coverage of this event borders on irresponsible. Viewers are given no context, reports that the storm is weakening off the Carolina coast are either not mentioned or are presented with a follow-on the tag-line such as: “… but it could grow in intensity as it moves northward.” Yes, I suppose it could, but meteorological science and NOAA indicate that it probably won’t. In fact, NOAA believes it will probably continue to weaken.

Yet, intrepid reporters stand on windy beaches and tell us that we’re all doomed. Camera crews look for the one old wood pier that the waves smash to smithereens and suggest that the viewer’s house is next. It’s disgraceful, it’s misleading, and yes, it is irresponsible. But it does hold viewers, improve ratings, and increase ad dollars. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Remember back in the heady days of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt. If you believed the media reports, idealistic liberal college students were about to turn a dictatorship into a liberal democracy. That was a time when progressives praised the leadership of President Obama in advocating the overthrow of Hosni Mubarek, and neo-cons celebrated the outbreak of democracy in the Arab world’s biggest country. Sadly, they were both wrong.

Now, as we watch Islamist elements fight with the Egyptian military to determine whether the country becomes a military dictatorship with questionable ties to the US or an Islamic fascist state that hates the US, one wonders exactly what the President is thinking as his administration waxes poetic about events in Libya.

Like Mubarek, Muammar Qaddafi is a thug, a tyrant, and a murderer, but for all of his negatives, he was probably a better option than the tribal thugs who will now battle for supremacy in Libya. While the intrepid ‘Anderson Coopers’ of the MSM report jubilation in the streets of Tripoli, other more sober observers provide a more realistic assessment of Qaddafi’s overthrow.

Margaret Wente comments:
The likelihood of a very bloody fight for Tripoli is high,” writes Middle East expert Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest. “NATO is not in a position on the ground to do anything about it.” The problem, he explains, is cultural. European wars are fought by European rules, where the enemy is given an honourable way out and is therefore not obliged to fight to the last man. Tribal rules are different. The main rule is that the defeated tribe is “politically, socially, economically and, often to some extent, literally decapitated” in order to make sure its ranks will not rise up in revenge. Yet despite the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, Westerners seem oblivious to tribal rules. We still seem to think that with a helping hand from us, Libyans will start behaving the way we want them to.

Have we learned nothing? Evidently not. Just as with Afghanistan, the starry-eyed idealists who are all gung-ho over rescuing Libya have developed a serious case of mission creep. What started as a limited objective (defend the civilians of Benghazi) grew quickly to embrace regime change, and could yet metastasize into nation-building. You’d think we’d know by now that it’s awfully easy to get in – and much harder to get out.

Over the past few years, the reframe "Have we learned nothing?" can be applied to many things. Not the least is the Obama foreign policy in the Middle East. At best it can be called naive. At worst, it is antithetical to the long-term interests of the US, obvious to realities on the ground, and dangerously prone to errors that can result in unintended consequences that will lead to war.

George Jonas sums things up rather well when he writes:
For the West to welcome the replacement of a friendly despot with an unfriendly democrat may show altruism, but welcoming the replacement of a friendly despot with an unfriendly despot shows only naiveté. As for pursuing replacement policies without finding out who is about to replace whom — well, there’s a word for that, too. It’s called negligence.

Nah … it’s simply that the smartest guys in the room see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. They learn nothing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Every week of so, a Right-leaning pundit feels compelled to write an article that lambasts electric vehicles (EVs) in general and the Chevy Volt in particular. Patrick Michaels at is but one of many recent examples. Michaels revels in the Volt's poor early sales and criticizes (correctly, I might add) the government's bailout of GM. He then transitions into a critique of the Obama administration's support for alternative energy. Regular readers of this column know that I differ with the President on many things, but his support for alternative energy tech is not one of them.

I'm amused when I read pundits like Michaels criticize tax credits for EVs or government loans for their manufacturers. It's as if they're completely oblivious to the enormous incentives provided to the oil industry not only today, but for the past half century. They complain about a $7,500 tax credit for purchasers of EVs, but say nothing about tax credits to oil companies that defray as much as 70 to 80 percent of drilling costs for a new well.

I'm astonished that pundits on the right don't seem to recognize that our use of foreign oil is a national security concern of the highest order. It warps our foreign policy, it leads to ridiculous adventures like our current war in Libya. It forces us into unsound relationships with third-world thugocracies that are not our friends, and it subjects our economy to forces beyond our control. We're like a crack addict-- forced to do really bad or really dumb things -- all to maintain our addiction.

But week after week, some on the Right persist in their ill-founded critique of important new EV technologies, looking for every possible aspect of the new technology to criticize. Batteries aren't mature enough (really? Is that why the US military has adopted current EV battery tech for some its combat vehicles); the range is insufficient (really? It's only sufficient for about 60 - 70 percent of all commuters, say 70 million drivers); it's too expensive (yeah, just like the iPhone was too expensive in 2007 and now we have $49 smartphones). The critique: dumb, shortsighted, and just plain wrong.

I'm a strong proponent of smaller government, but that doesn't mean that even a small government can't incent new technology, particularly when it has such a significant upside. Forget green (if you must), EVs can lead to many new American jobs over the next decade, they can and will reduce our dependency of foreign oil, they will help us achieve a more stable foreign policy, and over the long haul, they will provide a more efficient and economically stable form of transportation.

By this time next year, I'll own one of those new-fangled EVs, and every time I drive by a gas station, I'll know just how wrong the pundits really are.

Monday, August 15, 2011


In 2008, those of us in the Center watched in dismay as the Democratic party rejected a moderate Center-Left politician (Hillary Clinton) for an ideologically far-Left candidate. Never mind that that candidate (Barack Obama) had absolutely no executive experience, no private sector experience, some very questionable associations, and few, if any, legislative accomplishments. He did however have charisma!

His empty hope-and-change narrative has done very little to solve the problems this country faces. In fact, many of us in the Center believe he has done much to exacerbate them.

Now, in 2011, we watch as the Republican party considers its candidates to unseat President Obama. We can only hope the Republicans don’t follow in the footsteps of the 2008 Democrats and select an ideologically extreme, inexperienced candidate. The early results are discouraging.

At the moment, we have seen Michele Bachmann gain a temporary advantage in the Iowa straw polls. Bachmann is about as inexperienced as Barack Obama was at the same point in time, and like the President, is ideologically extreme. She would not make a good candidate and would have little appeal for many in the Center. Then again, polls indicate that Barack Obama’s appeal for Centrists is sinking like a stone.

It is, of course, very early in the campaign, but James Taranto comments with his usual pithy humor:
Suppose Bachmann gets the nomination. She will be asking voters, in effect, to take a flier on a politically talented but inexperienced lawmaker with unusual religious views and a history of irresponsible statements. Last time they did that, they ended up with Barack Obama. This time, if they don't do it, they'll end up with Barack Obama.

I, for one, hope that neither result is the one the country has to live with.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deeply Concerned

As all eyes focus on the administration’s irresponsible approach to our domestic economic troubles, the State Department continues its dysfunctional approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In what now has become common practice for the Obama administration, the Israelis have once again been chastised for building apartments (actually approving permits to build apartments) in their capital city. The AP reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration says it is "deeply concerned" by Israeli approval of new housing construction in disputed east Jerusalem.

The State Department says such "unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations" and the spirit of the peace process. In a statement, the department says it has raised its objections with the Israeli government.

Last week, an Israeli planning commission approved 930 new housing units in the Har Homa neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Actual building is at least two years off.

The President remains eerily silent as Hamas imports deadly rockets through the newly Islamicized Egypt (remember the President's moving words about the “Arab spring?”) and as Hezballah breaks myriad UN resolutions by importing weapons from Syria. Nah, those acts don’t warrant direct “concern,” by our state department. But Israeli building permits … oh, the horror! Given a President who seems obsessed with “balance,” this all seems rather odd.

Of late, the President has showed a startling level of incompetence in understanding the cause of our economic problems. He has not developed a solid plan going forward, and has suggested vague “solutions” that are demonstratively ineffective.

At the same time, he has shown a startling level of incompetence in understanding the true nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has developed no workable plan going forward, and has suggested "negotiations" that are demonstratively unworkable.

At least the administration is being consistent in its domestic and foreign incompetence. That’s why we should all be “deeply concerned.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


President Obama often suggests that our anemic economy, our stratospheric unemployment numbers, and our on-going debt crisis are the fault of tea party obstructionists and/or external events beyond his control. He often cites the financial stress in Europe as a drag on our economy.

Robert Samuelson discusses the European connections:
Europe may no longer be able to save itself. Too many countries have too much debt. Its economic growth -- which helps countries service their debts -- is too feeble. And nervous financial markets seem increasingly prone to dump the bonds of vulnerable countries. This is the real risk to the global and U.S. economic recoveries, far overshadowing Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. Treasury debt and Monday's sharp stock market decline.

Europe represents about one-fifth of the world economy and buys about a quarter of American exports. While Europe's debt crisis was confined to a few small countries, they could be rescued; other European countries supplied loans to substitute for the credit denied by private lending markets. In 2010, Greek, Irish and Portuguese government debt totaled about 640 billion euros (about $910 billion), less than 7 percent of the 9.8 trillion euros of debt of all members of the European Union.

With Spain, Italy and possibly France now under financial assault, the situation changes dramatically. There are more debtor nations and more debt at risk.

So the President is correct. Europe represents a major headwind for our recovery. But it fascinates me that the President and his political and media supporters never seem to ask and answer a key question—why? As in: “Why is Europe in such severe financial trouble?”

The reason the question is almost never asked and never answered by he President and his supporters is that the answer is obvious and irrefutable, and worse, it’s an answer that they don’t want to hear.

Over the past 60 years, Europe has become an experiment in big government. European social democracies have provided generous social welfare for all citizens, universal health care, government mandated vacations, government supported early retirement, and thousands of other entitlements. They accomplished this through confiscatory taxation, and as a consequence, suffered very low growth.

It actually worked for decades and became a model for the utopian big government dream of many on the American Left. The problem is that it couldn’t last forever. Stated simply, the money ran out. Growth came to a standstill, and taxes couldn't be raised any further. The result is what we see now in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and soon, in France.

Young engineers are taught to understand the problem before they craft a solution. If the problem isn’t understood or is mischaracterized, there’s no hope of crafting a viable solution.

Barack Obama and many in his party appear to be uniquely uninterested in understanding the problem. Because they don’t ask “why?” and reject the answer when it is provided to them, we may soon add the USA to the list of countries on the critical list. Sad.

Monday, August 08, 2011


I have relatively little respect for the credit rating agencies. S&P, along with Moody’s and Fitch, were prime movers in rating toxic mortgage debt derivatives as triple A, leading the the crash of 2008. Their work at that time was incompetent (some would say criminal).

But last Friday, S&P did nothing more than report the obvious. The Wall Street Journal comments in an editorial:
…is there anything that S&P said on Friday that everyone else doesn't already know? S&P essentially declared that on present trend the U.S. debt burden is unsustainable, and that the American political system seems unable to reverse that trend.

This is not news.

In that context, the Obama Administration's attempt to discredit S&P only makes the U.S. look worse—like the Europeans who also want to blame the raters for noticing the obvious. Treasury officials and chief White House economic adviser Gene Sperling denounced S&P for relying on a Congressional Budget Office scenario that overestimated the U.S. discretionary spending baseline by $300 billion through 2015 and $2 trillion through 2021.

It’s as if you went into a bank for a loan. The banker does a computer check and finds that your average credit scope is 450. He asks why. Rather than being honest about your profligate spending and subsequent debt and promising to radically modify your spending habits, you blame the credit agencies. You think the banker would listen?

One of the most troubling aspects of the administration's response to the S&P downgrade is that they've do what they always seem to do—blame someone else. Their shills—Senator John Kerry comes to mind—labels the action of S&P as the “tea party downgrade” and of course, the administration’s many supporters in the media pick up the sound bite and run with it.

It’s as if 30 years of profligate spending don’t matter a wit. It’s all the tea party’s fault.

The irony, of course, is that the tea party people were the first group to draw a line in the sand. Rather than the administration’s delusional suggestion that more spending will somehow result in reduced debt, the tea party simply said “stop.” And in the eyes of big government proponents, that makes them public enemy number 1.

The term “wake-up call” has been used repeated by those on the Right to characterize the down grade. But the President and the senate majority have taken sleeping pills and dream about massive increases in spending and untouchable entitlements. There dream then morphs into a class warfare theme in which the “rich” are ravaged and the “disadvantaged” are given the "millionaires and billionaires" money and live happily ever after. The S&P downgrade alarm is buzzing at the President's bedside, but in his drugged sleep, the sound goes unanswered. Sweet dreams.

Update (August 8. 2011):

This morning, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club writes darkly about the looming U.S debt crisis: "Like Europe the US seems locked into a course which inertia cannot change and yet which ultimately will lead to ruin. In the history of politics the choice has often been between rationality and ruin. Alas, ruin usually wins."

And the President, his rabid supporters, and many within his party close their eyes, embrace their dreams, and do nothing.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Heads I Win

I visit a variety of media sources that argue the liberal (progressive) economic position. In general, writers at these outlets fervently believe that government can solve our economic woes and at the same time, mitigate the natural “unfairness” in a free and open society.

I’ve noticed that writers at these sites increasingly espouse arguments that might be called the “infallibility of liberal thought.” In other words, if a favorite liberal economic policy is applied and fails, it’s not because the policy is flawed, but rather that it wasn’t applied using enough dollars, with enough enthusiasm to communicate its merits, or in enough areas of the economy to make it work. There just wasn’t enough of it.

James Taranto notes this when he quotes a comment by Jacob Weisberg:
President Obama is trying to push a jobs agenda. But for the federal government to spur growth or create jobs, it has to spend additional money. The antediluvian Republicans who control Congress do not think that demand can be expanded in this way. They believe that the 2009 stimulus bill, which has prevented an even worse economy over the past two years, is actually responsible for the current weakness...

Some of the congressional Republicans who are preventing action to help the economy are simply intellectual primitives who reject modern economics on the same basis that they reject Darwin and climate science.

First it's important to emphasize that when the President crafted his stimulus, the Democrats controlled all of Congress and could have fashioned a stimulus of any size. But never mind. Let's focus on the core of Weisberg's statement.

Weisberg uses a common strategy among those on the left who struggle to present rational, fact-based arguments to support their positions—use ad hominem attacks to denigrate those who disagree. In this case, Weisberg suggests that those who question big government or the efficacy of Keynesian economics readily reject Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. I’m certain some of his readers think that to be very clever. Sadly, it has absolutely nothing to do with his contention that the problem is that we spent too little.

Taranto responds:
Darwin is a red herring here. Although disparaging people for holding harmless religious beliefs as "intellectual primitives" is awfully uncivil, we agree with Weisberg that people who "reject" the theory of natural selection are mistaken.

But the comparison between Keynesian economics and global warmism is on target. Both are liberal dogmas disguised, increasingly thinly, as science. Both are supported by circular logic, and thus lack falsifiability, a necessary characteristic of a scientific theory. If the weather gets warmer, that's because of global warming; if it gets colder, that's "climate change" and proves the theory too. Had unemployment stayed below 8%, as the Obama administration promised it would, that would have proved the "stimulus" worked; since it peaked at 10% and has held steady above 9%, that proves the stimulus wasn't big enough. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Taranto’s comments are on target, but fail to mention two other key facts. (1) The vaunted stimulus used $1 trillion of borrowed money and objectively failed to create jobs to hold unemployment below 8 percent. (2) It did, however, increase the federal deficit noticeably, and that’s an objective fact.

The hubris of the “big government” argument is astounding. As we watch social democracies in Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal struggle to remain economically viable after sixty years of big government programs, you’d think that somebody as smart as Jacob Weisberg might ask himself why these countries are all approaching national bankruptcy.

I’m sure he’d answer that they didn’t spend enough.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Very Small Slice

You’d think that it would be hard to make substantive budget cuts and to modify entitlements so that they don’t bankrupt the country, but in reality, it’s not rocket science. What is hard is for Washington to find the political courage to make the structural modifications that will allow our children and grandchildren to avoid onerous tax increases as we spend irresponsibly and at the same time watch Medicare and Social Security go into default over the next few decades.

What’s also very hard is to combat the predictable demagoguing on any structural change to spending or large entitlements. True political courage and very blunt talk is required. Both are in very short supply in Washington.

As the new “select Senate (super)committee” is impaneled, here are my suggestions for entitlement reform (even though they won’t even broach the subject)and for spending cuts:

Social Security

Raise the retirement age to 72 over the next ten years. Begin right now by raising the age to 68 and continue with increases every two years. When you hear demagogues suggest that people would have to “postpone their retirement dreams” remind them that social security was never intended as a pension plan.

Set far more stringent conditions on “early retirement.” Except for cases in which the person has a severe illness or disability, or has extreme financial problems, early retirees must rely on other sources of income, not social security. You’ve heard people say that 62 is the new 45. No reason to live off the taxpayers if you’re only 45, right?

Eliminate the COLA for all but those who have gross retirement income (all sources including investments) that are less than 1/3 their FICA benefit. For those who argue that you’ll be starving granny, remind them that if granny has other sources of income, those sources should throw off more as the COL rises.

Means test social security benefits. Anyone with gross retirement income (all sources including investments) that are 1.5 times the maximum family FICA benefit (in today’s dollars, that's other income of about $60,000) cannot withdraw more than they paid into the system, plus 5 percent per annum interest for all years the individual paid in. For those who demand the money regardless because “I contributed,” remind them that they get all their money back with interest, but not one cent more. Also remind them that they have other sources of income and therefore, should not be eligible for a government welfare program.

Although I’m not the OMB, making these cuts would save a minimum of $150 billion each year or in Washington speak: $1.5 trillion in 10 years. Helpful to be sure.


Increase medicare premiums (max of, say, 1.5 percent a year) as system costs increase. For demagogues who suggest that grandpa will go without medical care, ask why every other living expense (e.g., car insurance, electric bill) increases over time and whether grandpa goes without a car or electric lights because costs go up. Medical care is a life long expense that you have to pay, except in cases of extreme financial hardship.

Means test all medicare recipients and increase premiums for those with the ability to pay. It is patently ridiculous to pay $600 a month for medical coverage when you’re 64 and then have the taxpayers subsidize even better coverage for $320 per month. If you could afford $600 a month at 64, you can afford it at 65.

Eliminate dollar one coverage for all non-hospital medical visits and procedures. That is, charge a 3 – 5 percent co-pay unless the person can demonstrate extreme financial distress. This would do much to have seniors self-police their medical care and eliminate unnecessary tests and procedures. For example, the doc recommends an $800 MRI for a sore shoulder? If it costs a senior $40, it just might be something that he or she will forgo. In today’s environment, the natural reaction is “why not? It’s free anyway.”

Making the Medicare cuts noted above would result in at least $100 billion each year or in Washington speak: $1 trillion over a 10 year period. By the way, applying analogous cuts to Medicare could easily save more than $30 billion each year.

I know … anyone who could even suggest such changes is “heartless.” After all, there’s no threat of insolvency in these programs. Right? And even if they do become insolvent, we’ll just tax our kids and grandkids mercilessly to make it all right. That seems balanced, doesn’t it?

And for those demagogues who will scream that we’re “balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly or the poor,” consider this: Programs for the elderly and "disadvantaged" account more than half (21% Social Security and about 24% for Medicare alone) of all government expenditures. Since seniors and the disadvantaged are eating more than half of the budget pie, it would seem only reasonable that in times of extreme economic stress, they’d give back a very small slice to their children and grandchildren.

Discretionary Domestic Spending Cuts

Defense. Republican hawks seem to think that the DoD budget is sacrosanct. That’s unmitigated nonsense. There is so much mismanagement, redundancy, and outright waste that a cut of 10 percent would do little to affect our combat readiness. There are some very bright and competent officers in the US military. If tasked with prioritizing needs with 90 percent of current dollars, I’m confident they'd figure out a way to do it, if politicians simply stay out the way. Savings: $70 billion per year.

Pensions. Effective tomorrow, every new federal employee is provided a 401K—not the ridiculously generous federal retirement program. Every civilian federal employee with less than 20 years of service will be provided with a 401K. All pension funds accrued by the employee plus interest will be transferred to the 401K on day one. Savings: at least a trillion dollars long-term.

Foreign Aid. Cut foreign aid across the board by 20 percent. That's a modest saving of about 9 billion a year, but you know what, that’s 9 billion that won’t enrich tin-pot dictators, or worse, fall into the hands of our enemies (a la Iraq and Afghanistan).

There’s a lot more we could cut, but let’s take a quick look at the revenue side. We need to restructure the entire tax system. It is hardly “balanced” (as our President is so fond of saying) to have 47 percent of the public pay no income taxes at all. We need a tax system that broadens the tax base, eliminates tens of thousands of pages of special deductions that benefit only a few, eliminates some major deductions, and therein, raises more revenue.

Impossible? Hardly. But to do it all we need leadership, not ideologically delusional thinking. I guess that’s why it won’t get done.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Done Deal

The debt limit deal is done. A “crisis” manufactured by the White House has passed and a hypothetical “default” has been averted. Whoopee! Not.

In reality, Democrats and Republicans did not get spending under control, did not do anything meaningful to reduce the deficit, did not address the correct deficit problem—entitlements, and did absolutely nothing to restructure a tax system that is so broken that 50 percent of the populace pay no income taxes whatsoever (and yes, “millionaires and billionaires” use unnecessary loopholes to reduce their already significant tax burden).

No wonder the legislation was signed with little fanfare by the President.

But in the background, moral preening has already begun. Liberal commentators like Tom Friedman call tea party participants—the only principled participants in this charade—the “Hezballah factor of the GOP.” Vice President Biden calls them “terrorists” although his office now denies he said that. Another Democratic congressman calls the deal a “Satan sandwich.” The deal "trades people's livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals," stated Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. And the left-leaning MSM? Already they’re running stories of little children who won’t get heart transplants, yadda, yadda, even though they are clearly untrue.

My goodness, the politicians must have cut, really cut, deeply to get that many people that exercised.

The Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) did a little analysis and here’s what they determined:
According to IBD's analysis of available budget numbers, the deal's $2.4 trillion in 10-year cuts amounts to a mere 5% trim off total projected federal spending during that time. It's like a 400-pound man boasting that he plans to drop 20 pounds over a decade, while his doctors warn about the risks of losing weight so fast.

Even calling these "cuts" is a bit of a stretch, since spending will continue to increase, just at a slightly slower pace. (See charts below.) By 2021, federal spending would still equal 22% of the nation's economy, above the post-World War II average of 20%. Not really a cut, is it?

Plus, in the short term, these "deep," "sharp," "slashing" cuts would still leave the federal government spending roughly 4% more in 2012 than it did in 2010, and 20% more than it did in 2008.

Shorn of all the hyperbole, what this agreement really demonstrates is why it's so hard to get federal spending under control. Both sides routinely use budget gimmicks to exaggerate spending cuts, while armies of special interests swarm Washington to make sure their pet programs don't get touched.

Can you imagine what the reaction would be if we actually made substantive cuts, not small reductions in the increase of spending?

Sadly, you won’t have to.

Because in 3 or 5 or 10 years, Washington's irresponsible inaction on spending and the deficit will come back to haunt us all. Then the cuts will be real. Then there will be pain. And then, every supporter of the status quo will get a convenient case of amnesia and rail against the heartless politicians who will be left with no more choices. It’s gonna happen, and it won’t be pretty.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Real Pain

Now that debt limit legislation has finally been proposed by the Senate and approved by the President, the extreme right and left end of the political spectrum are both upset. On the Right, there is the justifiable feeling that approving still more debt is not the way to reduce debt and that “cuts” are really nothing more than postponed reductions in the increase in spending. It is on the far Left, however, where heads are ready to explode.

Those on the far-Left, like Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker are upset with the President because he agreed to a compromise. He simply wasn’t ideological enough for their taste. The meme recurs in other liberal media outlets (e.g., Salon, The New York Times, MSNBC)

Peter Wehner comments on this reaction:
This is sheer nonsense, of course. But Hertzberg’s comments are instructive. Rather than take into account the economic (and empirical) failure of Obama’s Keynesian approach, those who take a dogmatic, faith-based approach to American politics engage in intellectual contortions in order to try to innoculate their ideology from damage. People like Hertzberg begin from what is, for them, an unassailable proposition: liberalism is right because it is right and so it can never be wrong. And what happens when, by any objective standard, liberal policies fail? The problem is, they weren’t sufficiently liberal.

There are certain advantages to this approach. Those whose minds are obdurate and canonical –regardless of the philosophy they hold — don’t need to grapple with inconvenient facts. They have a reflexive response to every set of facts that challenges their worldview: ignore the facts. This doesn’t help one ascertain the truth. But it does avoid the hard work of facing up to the false assumptions on which their intellectual structure rests. Call it the comforting life of an ideological fanatic.

That’s why Nancy Pelosi suggests that spending cuts will “end life on our planet as we know it.” That’s why Barack Obama keeps insisting that taxing millionaires and billionaires will somehow reduce our indebtedness in a meaningful way (It. Will. Not.)

The only solution is to implement real and significant spending cuts. The current legislation doesn’t really do that, but it is a modest start—and yet, those on the far Left are apoplectic.

They choose to “ignore the facts” which are stark and growing worse. We cannot sustain our rate of domestic discretionary and entitlement spending—not even if we confiscate the entire net worth of “millionaires and billionaires.” Not even if we double the corporate tax rate. We can’t do it. It’s math. But those on the Left seem mathematically challenged and prefer to “engage in intellectual contortions in order to try to innoculate their ideology from damage.”

When backed to the wall, Leftists suggest that heartless “extremist” tea partiers driven by a demonical Grover Norquist want to starve children, push grandma off a cliff, and balance the budget on the backs of those who are least fortunate. They seem unable to conceive of concepts like means testing for government entitlements, or the establishment of spending priorities that would insulate the most vulnerable while significantly reducing spending overall.

If we don’t act now, we’ll be forced to act in 3 or 5 or 7 years. And when that time comes, all the moral preening in the world won’t protect the most vulnerable from draconian cuts in taxpayer support.

It’s ironic that by acting irresponsibly now, by suggesting that we can spend without limit, it is the Left who truly are heartless “extremists.” Because if the Left wins this debate, that victory sets the stage for real pain among the constituency they purport to care so much about.