"I happen to believe in the people and believe that the people are supposed to be dominant in our society. That they, not government, are to have control of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible with an orderly society." - Ronald Reagan

Cut. It. Out.

Posted: July 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

I hate to comment further on the Gates arrest. Even before the “beer summit” it was clear opinions were entrenched and opinions were at least reflective of attitudes toward race and authority as of the facts.

However I do have to take a moment to ask my fellow conservatives to not flog the idea this somehow proves Obama is a racist. It may be fair say the president exhibited a lack of judgment in his comments, or that his treatment of the incident was needlessly focused on race. To say the president “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” is just asinine, though, and the talk of how “Obama’s mask slipped” are reminiscent of the hysterical accusations of “coded racism” that are targeted at Republicans.

If anything this incident was tragic precisely because Obama has largely avoided identity politics in his career; there are exceptions, but they are notable largely for their infrequency. He has also repeatedly spoken hard truths to the black communities about personal and familial responsibility. No one should be in such a rush to judge and label that they lose sight of virtue.

No need to insure people you don’t employ.

Posted: July 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The recent accusations of “exaggerating costs and underestimating savings” levied on the Congressional Budget Office by White House Budget Director Peter Orszag are only the most recent salvo of an ongoing attack on the credibility of the the agency. A chorus of voices, including President Obama and many ranking Democrats in the legislature have consistently laid the charge in recent months that the CBO “always give you the worst case scenario on one initiative and never … any credit for anything that happens if you have early intervention, health care” in the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Any projection will have flaws and oversights, and it is entirely possible that the preliminary analysis underestimates some savings, though it clearly does include them. The other possibility is that assumptions about revenue and participation are woefully optimistic and the deficit impact will be even greater than indicated.

In a letter ironically hailed by some late critics of the agency, the CBO laid out their expectations of the effects of the proposed legislation on private insurance enrolment, private sector premiums and the labor market, among other topics. Their projections are relatively supportive of the narrative advanced by the president and other Democratic leaders; certainly more so than those by private firms, such as the Lewin Group. However the letter, like previous communications and testimony, points out the difficulties and uncertainties inherent in the process.

One key factor are that may be underestimated is the impact on the labor market. Though the analysis does acknowledge that fees on employers not offering insurance “would tend to reduce the hiring of workers at or near the minimum wage, because their wages might not be able to decline by the full amount of the fee” they are dismissive of the potential impact, citing studies suggesting that moderate increases in minimum wage have little impact on employment. The relationship between minimum wage and employment is not wholly uncontroversial, though, and the compound effect of wage increases and health care tax stretch any credible definition of moderate. The nominal cost of employment will have increased by 51% over a 2007 baseline.

It doesn’t take much imagination to invent mechanisms by which small businesses might reduce their payroll in order to reduce or eliminate their obligation under the proposed legislation. Direct employees could be displaced by independent contractors or outsourcing contracts. Chains could be reorganized as independent franchise operations. Increased automation, such as self checkout machines, could eliminate positions entirely.

The extent may be arguable, but losses are certain, and the casualties will entry level.

A teachable moment.

Posted: July 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

Our president spoke recently about the arrest and controversy surrounding the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.:

My hope is is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called a teachable moment, where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.

Setting aside his unfortunate initial remarks, which themselves served to pump up the volume by flinging accusations, the president is right, though perhaps not in the sense he intended.

Reading Professor Gates’ account establishes several things – that his house had been vacant for some period of time; that he and his driver had been fiddling with the door and eventually forced their way in; that he admits refusing to cooperate several times; that he admits make accusations toward the officers.

More telling than retelling of the events, though, is his interpretation of them. We are told the emergency dispatch report is “the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life”. We are told that he several times “realized that [he] was in danger”. We are told that the officer clearly “had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered”.

Whether the arrest was justified is arguable, and it was possibly not wise even if justified. However the responding officer acted according to protocol, even by Mr. Gates’ account. As a single officer responding to report of an break in progress involving two men, it would appropriately cautious for Sgt. Crowley to establish identity before entering the premises. That he entered the premises without backup likely indicates he believed Mr. Gates was the lawful resident and simply wanted to confirm that fact.

There are lessons here about the danger of treating peace officers as adversaries and about the poisoning effects of presumed racism. Unfortunately those lessons are likely to be lost.

Fun with numbers.

Posted: July 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | 1 Comment »


Our budget had a 10-year projection — and I just want everybody to be clear about this: If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made in our budget, you’d have a $9.3 trillion deficit over the next 10 years. Because of the changes we’ve made it’s going to be $7.1 trillion. Now, that’s not good, but it’s $2.2 trillion less than it would have been if we had the same policies in place when we came in.

The Congressional Budget Office

From 2010 to 2019, the cumulative deficit under the President’s proposals would total $9.3 trillion, more than double the cumulative deficit projected under the current-law assumptions embodied in CBO’s baseline.

It appears likely the president persists in the tactic of including a perpetual “overseas contingency operation” (i.e. the Iraq war) as part of the baseline projection. His numbers have changed slightly since his budget projection was published, but his dishonesty hasn’t.

Taxes have consequences.

Posted: July 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

One of the more enduring fictions in politics is that particular groups can be taxed with impunity. Businesses are a font of unending profits that can be curtailed and individual effort remains constant in spite of diminishing returns. It’s an alluring but dangerous idea.

The truth is that businesses have limited revenues and every tax has a consequence. Jobs and compensation may be cut; prices may be raised; dividends may be reduced or eliminated; growth and innovation may stagnate. Like any other cost, taxes must be offset.

Nor is it reasonable to expect that individuals will endure increasingly punitive taxation without reaction. The extent to which a particular tax rate depresses initiative is arguable, but common sense tells us the smaller the carrot the less enthusiastic the donkey.

The health care legislation being debated turns a blind eye to these realities. It relies on the idea that de facto tax increases in the form of mandates won’t result in layoffs and wage reductions. It stands to exacerbate the shortage of health care professionals by reducing compensation and taxing the bejesus out of what’s left. Perhaps a different approach is called for.

Coup coup ga joob.

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: International | 1 Comment »

Interesting headlines this weekend, at least in Spanish: “Several computers containing the results of the referendum Zelaya wanted to conduct are seized at the Presidential Palace”.

As reported in the Catalan paper Europa Press a number of computers have been seized from the Presidential Palace in Hondurus. Additional articles in the Honduran news service La Tribuna and in Nicaragua Hoy.

Meanwhile the English language press reports only on Zelaya’s ultimatum threatening to take “other measures” if the interim government refuses to reinstate him. It should be interesting to see how international opinion shifts in light of the new allegations, and whether suggestions of destroyed evidence will be seen to justify the shift and drastic action by the Honduran courts and military.

Too much.

Posted: July 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

Even the best of sometimes succumb to impulse to treat those we disagree with less charitably than those we consider allies. As such, I try my best to restrain both my judgement and my comments.

Then there are times it just gets to be too much. From today’s presidential address:

This is what the debate in Congress is all about: Whether we’ll keep talking and tinkering and letting this problem fester as more families and businesses go under, and more Americans lose their coverage, or whether we’ll seize this opportunity – one we might not have again for generations – and finally pass health insurance reform this year, in 2009.

False urgency seems to be a hallmark of this administration. There is absolutely nothing restraining the legislature from introducing a new bill tomorrow or the next year or the next year of the next. One might posit that unified and overwhelming control of both chambers of congress presents a unique opportunity for reform, that neither explains nor justifies passing another omnibus bill without due deliberation.

Have we learned nothing from the so-called stimulus package, which we are now being told was never designed to have a profound short term effect?

The address contains a number of other questionable statements and arguments:

Now we know there are those who will oppose reform no matter what.

This rhetorical gem seems to be a favourite of the president. Throughout his campaign he presented himself as the only alternative to the status quo. During the stimulus debate, every detractor wanted to “sit by and do nothing.” In the budget debate, every opposing voice was in favour of “the very same policies that have led us to
a narrow prosperity and massive debt.”

Other people have ideas, Mr. President. Try listening to them.

First, the same folks who controlled the White House and Congress for the past eight years as we ran up record deficits will argue – believe it or not – that health reform will lead to record deficits.

Is it that difficult to believe? The official budget already projects record deficits and the initial analysis of H.R. 3200 concludes an additional $239 billion shortfall.

Under our proposals, if you like your doctor, you keep your doctor. If you like your current insurance, you keep that insurance. Period, end of story.

The bill establishes criteria for “qualified” plans. Unless your coverage meets the criteria, it doesn’t matter how much you like it. Non-qualified plans will be allowed to operate for a limited time but are barred from new enrolments or changes.

I don’t believe that government can or should run health care.

The statement seems incompatible with the inclusion of a government option for insurance, unless one takes it to mean exclusive operation. However, his own website states that “Obama Has Consistently Said That If We Were Starting From Scratch, He Would Support A Single Payer System, But Now We Need To Build On The System We Have.”

His web site is right. He has consistently and unequivocally stated that government can and should run health care, but “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off.”

The opponents of health insurance reform would have us do nothing. But think about what doing nothing, in the face of ever increasing costs, will do to you and your family.

Again with the “do nothing” canard. The opponents of this health insurance reform have consistently explored and offered alternative proposals for health care reform. They even introduced alternate legislation months before the current bill came to floor.

I would appreciate leaders willing to address ideas on their merits instead of acting as if they don’t exist.

Reduce, reuse, recycle?

Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Buffalo | No Comments »

Approximately one in five properties in this city is vacant, or about eighteen thousand homes going to waste and often to ruin. Walk through the city and you will pass through a sobering number of neighbourhoods strewn with trash, neglect and apathy.

It is with some curiosity, then, that I regard the news that the non-profit organization Heart of the City Neighborhoods has won a $1.5 million development grant from New York’s Housing Trust Fund Corporation for the construction of eight new rental units in the heart of a city. That comes to $187,500 per unit.

Consider that the median sale price of a home in the region is less than a hundred thousand and that prices in the city are lower still. Homes with no fundamental problems can be found for as little as twenty or thirty thousand at city auctions and in distress sales from mortgage holders.

Construction costs only reflect a portion of the ultimate costs. Project development will be done in conjunction with several government agencies including the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation, the Urban Renewal Agency. Securing the grant was a five year process, which doubtless represents countless hours of time spend by the organization, the housing trust and district assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who is said to have championed the project.

In the end who really profits from a housing project the city doesn’t need and the residents don’t want? Politicians, bureaucrats and builders.

With apologies to Tim Rice.

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

Listening to the ongoing speculation surrounding Sarah Palin, I can’t help but re-imagine the opening exchange between Molokov and the Russian in the musical Chess:

The woman’s utterly mad –
we’re watching a lunatic.

That’s the problem — she’s a brilliant lunatic.
You can’t tell which way she’ll jump.
Like her game, she’s impossible to analyze –
you can’t dissect her, predict her –
which of course means she’s not a lunatic at all.

What we’ve just seen’s a pathetic display
Of a woman beginning to crack.

She’s afraid!
She knows she isn’t the player she was –
And she won’t get it back.

Why do the pundits always want to believe
third-rate propaganda?

At this point I’m not staking myself to any firm predictions about her future, but I do believe she stands to have a profound influence in the next election. Regardless of the uncertainty evident in polls since her announcement, she has considerable sway among party adherents. Her participation in campaign events in key districts could deliver much needed funding and break the pervasive enervation often characteristic of mid-term elections.

Science without reason, reason without humility.

Posted: July 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

Acting on faith and conjecture can be dangerous. Acting on incomplete facts can be too.

Climate change is real. It was real before man walked the earth and, if the planet outlives the species, it will be real long after we have taken our final step. An anthropogenic impact on the environment is likewise indisputable. We have a demonstratively real capacity for poisoning our air and water and soil.

There however remain serious questions about our broader understanding of global trends. Existing models have thus far failed to accurately model past trends or predict emerging ones. Puzzling temperature maps published by the Goddard Institute of Space Studies last year uncovered significant errors in their dataset, calling into question diligence exercised in vetting data from a broad net of reporting sources. Many of the proposed positive feedback mechanisms that account for large temperature shifts lack any empirical grounding.

This is what passes for “settled science”. Paul Krugman of the New York Times spoke of “the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial” and accused those arguing against Waxman-Markey of “a form of treason”. Proponents of the anthropogenic global warming, such as Al Gore and David Miliband, often equivocate those that question their conclusions with flat-earthers, moon landing sceptics and occasionally holocaust deniers.

Perhaps most chilling in recent news was the leaked mail correspondence regarding an internal report expressing “concerns and reservations… significantly important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA before any attempt is made to reach conclusions on the subject [of endangerment analysis]“. Al MacGartland, director of the National Center for Environmental Economics urged the authors to cease any external communication and concluded the comments would have “a very negative impact on [their] office.”

The rightful place of science is as a tool, not a religion. Numbers and graphs and models provide only the illusion of precision and certainty. Before we, as a nation, take drastic measures that will impact the lives of millions, create vast federal bureaucracies, handicap us in a global market and strong arm our trading partners with de facto protectionist measures we should demands answers. Critical analysis of the IPCC report. Investigation into the politicization of the EPA. Science bridled by reason, and reason concious of our limitations.