The Locker Room

December 29, 2009

Another Progressive finds problems in the health care bill

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 3:58 PM

Bob Herbert has discovered that the so-called Cadillac Tax, which Jonathan Gruber refuses to even acknowledge is a tax (it only removes a tax exemption after all), will hit the middle class.

Proponents of the tax use arguments that sound a lot like the pro-market ideas they oppose. Herbert summarizes their claim: "If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful — that is to say, more reluctant — to access health services." The Joint Commission on Taxation expects most of the money, "82 percent of it, will come from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is incredulous that employers would offer higher pay to their workers. If the JCT argues that all of the forgone insurance premiums will translate dollar for dollar into higher pay, that claim does defy credulity. Companies would likely convert some of the savings into lower prices for customers or another valuable purpose - not simply to higher profits as union bosses claim.

Herbert, who has long criticized the president's focus on health care instead of jobs, is right when he states, "The tax on health benefits is being sold to the public dishonestly as something that will affect only the rich, and it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it. Those who believe this is a good idea should at least have the courage to be straight about it with the American people."

Instead of an honest, open debate, we got a Senate bill at the last minute that was drafted to get votes even if one part of the bill conflicts with another part. The conference bill will be crafted in the West Wing of the White House, though still with no cameras and likely no more sense of what is in it until months or years later as it takes effect.

Better ideas are still available if either chamber of Congress comes to its senses soon enough. Kay Hagan could still live up to the moderate and fiscal conservative labels she has unjustifiably claimed if she is part of that reawakening.

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Mainstream journalism is in trouble: Reason #2,578

Posted by Rick Henderson at 1:11 PM

My friend and former boss Virginia Postrel points out an underreported reason you're likely to be increasingly disappointed with the offerings from Big Media: Major outlets, bound by archaic "ethics" rules, are using fewer freelancers with real expertise.

Last summer, she was asked to write a freelance column for The New York Times about innovation in the business world — a topic she's well-qualified to cover.

She said no, notwithstanding the terrific exposure she would receive.

Why? For one thing, she says, the Times pays lousy rates to freelancers and doesn't compensate writers for research expenses, including travel. More important are the Times' hidebound ethics guidelines, which

now prohibit freelancers from taking honoraria or even travel expenses from anyone who might, in some theoretical future state of the world, be a source. In October, "Critical Shopper" columnist Mike Albo, a freelancer, was canned for taking a travel junket that had nothing to do with his NYT gig.

Meaning? The only people the Times are likely to find for freelance work are people who currently make healthy salaries (so they won't command big fees), have free access to major research libraries, and aren't likely to have frequent contacts in the commercial sectors they might be reporting about.

In other words: tenured academics!

Postrel's advice to the Times, and other journalistic outlets trying to get by on the cheap and by relying on deteriorating brand recognition:

Instead of focusing on inputs, the Times should focus its quality control on outputs: what actually appears in the paper. Drop the absurd ethics guidelines, hire freelancers who know their subjects and how to write about them, and disclose any potential conflicts so readers can make up their own minds. Think about delivering value to the reader rather than ritualistically adhering to journalistic guild customs. Alternatively, the Times could shrink the paper to include only that reporting whose costs it can cover out of its own budget and stop trying to free ride.

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Oh the irony

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 12:56 AM

These folks were protesting against global warming a couple weeks back in Copenhagan. Do they look concerned about the heat?


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Legislative travel spending down

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 11:28 AM

The General Assembly spent substantially less money on legislative travel in 2009 than in 2007, as "Under the Dome" reports here.

Midway through this edition of Carolina Journal Radio, you'll hear an interesting discussion of a proposed trip to Louisiana for a legislative study group working on offshore energy issues. The group scuttled the field trip after determining that it might generate too much bad publicity. 

In the words of committee co-chairman and former UNC-Wilmington Chancellor James Leutze:

I think we want to be like Caesar's wife on this. We want to not only be pure, but we want to appear pure. And we don't want there to be any room for misunderstanding that this is some kind of junket that we're taking or something else. ... I am sorry it has not worked out the way we all wanted it to, but we do have to realize the exigencies of the state's budget situation, as well as the sensitivity to public comment.

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Little miss sunshine

Posted by David N. Bass at 10:59 AM

Has Nancy Pelosi run the most transparent Congress in history, like she promised she would?

Click here to see why the new transparency is just like the old transparency — only worse.

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Explaining something we've seen a lot of here recently

Posted by Jon Sanders at 10:36 AM

Noemie Emery at the Weekly Standard decries the Angry Left's perfection of "secondhand hate":

The left, which invented first "hate speech" (opinions they didn't like) and then "hate crimes" (crimes judged less on the criminal's actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is "hate" defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. "Hate" is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.

Emery's first example cites Maureen Dowd, whose rote thoughtlessness was seized with gusto by local self-appointed mind readers.

Since then we have witnessed an explosion of secondhand hate as the local Angry Left have failed spectacularly to understand what led to the Wake County School Board revolution. The local newspaper has undertaken a crusade of late to infer racism (since it can't be found and therefore stated outright, and passive aggression means never having to say you're sorry, because hey, you never really said anything), the local Angry Left bought opinion is required to continue to parrot a "resegregation" theme when not actually making up news stories chock-full of the racism that isn't there, angry leftists from other counties write local newspapers to compare the new school board majority to the Ku Klux Klan, and local angry teachers' union presidents write barely literate marching orders about the need to, um, have plant our flag in the sand and make sure they hear form us load and clear.

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Dave Barry's year in review: 2009

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 09:20 AM

Barry's "year in review" is particularly well done, not to mention hilarious. Here is an excerpt:

It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result Washington, rejecting ``business as usual,'' finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.

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Pens and swords

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 09:01 AM

You'll likely think of the old saying about the pen being mightier than the sword if you choose to read John V. Fleming's recent book, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War.

Fleming offers relatively brief descriptions of each book (Arthur Koestler's Darkness At Noon, Jan Valtin's Out of the Night, Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom, and Whittaker Chambers' Witness), but he spends much more time examining the response those books generated in the United States and Europe.

A recurring theme involves intellectuals' unwillingness to confront the facts of the Soviet Union's failures. In the chapter on Kravchenko's book, Fleming discusses a lawsuit the author filed in 1948 against a left-wing French publication:

To understand the importance of the action brought by Kravchenko it is necessary to encounter the invincible ignorance on the part of a large section of the Western intelligentsia with regard to the state of civil liberties in Stalin's Russia. The theory of Soviet Marxism demanded the most draconian abolition of the most fundamental of human rights: economic freedom. It insisted that all individual aspirations of entrepreneurship and all local concerns for self-betterment or family prosperity were simply "bourgeois" markers socially constructed by the junked capitalist system. It was perfectly correct to destroy people with bourgeois attitudes and to create people with proletarian attitudes. The phrases "class war" and "building socialism" were not mere metaphors. Both the destruction and the construction were vehement and coercive.

Under these circumstances Western leftists, had they had the inclination to criticize the Soviet Union, could have had plenty of grounds for doing so. But in general all the minor tyrranies of which they disapproved — suppression of the freedoms of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religious practice, and so on — could be forgiven or at least tolerated on account of the huge economic tyrrany of which they approved. Thus Harold Laski, for instance, was well aware of the absence of most civil rights, the want of habeas corpus, the system of administrative justice, and other essential features of the Soviet system. He wrote about them, but he was able to regard them as venial and transient flaws that did nothing to vitiate the desirability of the "workers' state."

Readers interested in learning more about Western intellectuals' admiration of "economic tyrrany" will find a thorough discussion of the topic in Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man.

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Bolton on Obama

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:17 AM

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton offers Commentary his assessment of President Obama's foreign-policy priorities.

Bolton contends the president's policies are based on the following factors: a disinterest in foreign and national-security policy, no sense that the rest of the world is dangerous or threatening to America, and a vision "embedded in a carapace of naive internationalism."

These factors lead Bolton to conclude that Obama's foreign-policy agenda will features arms reduction, an international global-warming pact, and an increased emphasis on "global governance" and "international law."

Barack Obama's blueprint for the United States spells trouble for American autonomy, self-governance, and defense, all key elements of national sovereignty. His undisguised indifference to repeated diminutions of that sovereignty is entirely consistent with the views of his European admirers, who, at their level, would like to see their nation-states dissolve into the European Union. In the end, however, the United States is exceptional and will not melt into any larger or global union; it will simply become less able to protect itself and its constitutional decision-making system. That is clearly where our first post-American president's policies will take us.

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If you're contemplating your holiday debt ...

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:05 AM

... here's some cheery news for you, courtesy of David M. Smick's article in the latest Commentary (not yet posted online). An impending "public-debt crisis" is likely to put the United States in some dubious company:

Take a look at the Congressional Budget Office's most recent projections. Within a decade, the CBO says, the U.S. government will be borrowing $722 billion just to service its debt. And that doesn't include the likely borrowing needed for shortfalls in Social Security and other entitlement programs. The U.S. is about to enter a fiscal trap, chasing its tail just to pay off its creditors. That is an experience heretofore confined to Third World regimes. Their currencies lose all credibility, and they suffer from high and crushing interest rates, only to end up wards of the International Monetary Fund.

Indeed, the debt itself may be a reason for continued weak consumption and the long-term underperformance of the U.S. economy. This, of course, is the logic that buttressed the 19th-century economist David Ricardo's idea that a mere fear of rising debt can inhibit consumer confidence. People anticipate future tax hikes to pay for the debt, or inflation and higher interest rates to finance the debt, or all of the above.

Public-opinion polls tell the tale. Americans are experiencing deep feelings of anxiety, and not solely because of short-term concerns about recession, double-digit unemployment rates, or lack of health care. They are worried about a pending national fiscal nightmare that could doom the U.S. economy to slow growth and second-rate status. Our public debt already amounts to nearly $40,000 for every living American, or $160,000 per family. And the burden is quickly rising.

Happy new year!

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:17 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Jenna Ashley Robinson's report on the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy's efforts to study the UNC system's finances. 

John Hood's Daily Journal explores the likely outcomes of the haggling over ObamaCare.

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