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Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category

CPAC is not my cup of tea, or coffee. Yet there were at least two highlights this year. We already touched on McCobin’s moment, and here’s George Will talking about the flaws and contradictions inside the conservative ideology.

The retreat of the State has been abruptly reversed, to the point where we are blurring to the point of erasure the distinction between the public and private sector …

We have now something like State Capitalism, in which capital, credit, the lifeblood of our economy is increasingly treated as a public utility, to be priced and regulated by political forces. Inevitably this makes capital a slush fund, and inevitably it funds crony capitalism. Much of this we must face, ladies and gentleman, began under a Republican administration. For example with Detroit. We pioneered the lemon socialism of subsidizing failure.    . . .

Today we have an administration that can envision world without the internal combustion engine, but not a world without the Chrysler Corporation.

There’s plenty more goodness in the video. About 20 minutes. Conservatives need more solid reminders that their only claim to political legitimacy is to give more than lip service to small government.

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Via Joe Henchman:

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Tea Partiers are taking on that bastion of big-government tax-and-spend policy, *record scratch* Dr. Ron Paul.

This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Haven’t we see this movie before, when the Club for Growth took on incumbents? The results are mixed. While getting rid of big-government “conservatives” like Arlen Specter is good for the brand of fiscal conservatism, wouldn’t it be better if small-government, low-tax politicians got involved in lower profile government roles? Why are three people from Paul’s district challenging an incumbent who is the epitome of small-government?

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At least Matt Yglesias does. Via his twitter feed, he writes:

It’s a bit strange that a majority of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, seeing as he’s so unpopular and all

He’s referring to this Gallup poll, which shows the President with a slim nine-point advantage in overall job approval. Twitter is certainly the place for snarky one-liners, but Matt’s being disingenuous.

First, as polling goes, this question is pretty ridiculously broad. The sample is “adults”, and the question is whether they “approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president.”

Rasmussen gets unfairly slammed as being partisan, but their results are amazingly accurate. Their more detailed Daily Presidential Tracking Poll uses much different method, but asks a similar question. The main differences are that Rasmussen targets only ‘likely voters’ and not the general population, and that Rasmussen only compares those groups with strong feelings either for or against the president. The differences are significant. Rasmussen pegs approval at -7 (as of today), although he’s recently hit a low of -19. The distance between +9 and -7 is vast.

So which view is correct? I think Matt is guilty of seeing what he wants to see. Would he argue that Bush was “popular” in 2005? I doubt it. But that’s the last time he polled a similarly positive number from Gallup, in March.

The most damning criticism from Obama isn’t generalized, it’s specific. CBS has him pulling a -18 on health care. On Cap and Trade, a joint NBC/WSJ poll reported in October that the bill was rapidly losing steam, and the Journal cited other polls from The Atlantic on how confused the public was. I’ve seen nothing to alleviate any of those problems; the old adage is that a confused mind says ‘no’. On safety (which I think is a misguided goal, but certainly one that weighs heavily in the minds of many voters), only 36% believe the country is “safer” than pre-9/11. Finally, and most problematic, only 26% think the nation is “headed in the right direction”.

Some of my liberal acquaintances have argued that polling only likely voters skews the numbers. However, this seems to conflict with the other liberal claim, made often on this blog by frequent commenter Tom, that the majority of the masses are stupid, and we shouldn’t pay attention to them. It seems disingenuous to discount the majority of the public when they disagree with you, and cherry pick popular sentiment when it’s handy.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m seeing what I want. I certainly agree that we’re on a bad path, and I agree with most of the policies referenced above are wasteful, arbitrary, prone to corruption and graft, and generally bad ideas. But I’ve examined the methodology of the polls, and looked at my suppositions. My bias is for results, not ideological harmony. I agree we could discount those unlikely to vote, in all cases. As mentioned, I am in the minority on some of these issues.

I don’t know how Rasmussen determines ‘likely voters’, but so far the firm is vindicated by results. It will be interesting to see if they can continue this track record, given that Obama’s supporters in the last election are traditionally apathetic in election cycles (minorities and young people have the lowest turnout rates, and those were two core Obama support groups).

That’s why I think Matt is seeing what he wants to see.

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Can you renounce your state citizenship? (more…)

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Paul Hollander writes an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the momentous events of November 1989.  Hollander escaped the communist hegemony in 1956, and he writes about the oppression and murder committed by the statist regimes of the last century.

While greatly concerned with communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans — hostile or sympathetic — actually knew little about communism, and little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire. The media’s fleeting attention to the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s matched their earlier indifference to communist systems. There is little public awareness of the large-scale atrocities, killings and human rights violations that occurred in communist states, especially compared with awareness of the Holocaust and Nazism (which led to to far fewer deaths). The number of documentaries, feature films or television programs about communist societies is minuscule compared with those on Nazi Germany and/or the Holocaust, and few universities offer courses on the remaining or former communist states. For most Americans, communism and its various incarnations remained an abstraction.

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures.

In the New York review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash breaks down the chronology of the mass liberation of Eastern Europe. (more…)

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I’m officially blogging at the Mercatus Center’s Neighborhood Effects blog.  My first post is about Maine’s TABOR bill.  At this point, it seems unlikely to pass, although I’ve crossed my fingers and sent in my absentee ballot.

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There’s a reason a big-ass lie is called a “whopper”.  Someone’s going to try to convince you this is a good deal.

The CBO reported late today, in a letter to Senator Bauccus, the CBO spelled out the news.

That net cost itself reflects a gross total of $829 billion in credits and subsidies provided through the exchanges, increased net outlays for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and tax credits for small employers; those costs are partly offset by $201 billion in revenues from the excise tax on high-premium insurance plans and $110 billion in net savings from other sources. The net cost of the coverage expansions would be more than offset by the
combination of other spending changes that CBO estimates would save $404 billion over the 10 years and other provisions that JCT and CBO
estimate would increase federal revenues by $196 billion over the same period.1 In subsequent years, the collective effect of those provisions would
probably be continued reductions in federal budget deficits. Those estimates are all subject to substantial uncertainty.

But let’s run with that substantial uncertainty, all the way to the bank.  Obama’s “this is not a tax” rhetoric is busted, as if there were any doubt.  And even judging by a liberals’ analysis, this doesn’t really change the costs at all.  In fact, the mandate penalties are reduced by $16 Billion.  To my mind, that makes it less likely that people will join, meaning the other numbers will skew.

Anyway, those are my initial impressions.  Would you trust $196 Billion in ‘savings’ marked “other”?  I don’t, and won’t, and some very smart people think you shouldn’t either.  From The Tax Foundation’s Joe Henchman:

Other $196 billion

NET CHANGE TO 10-YEAR DEFICIT: +$81 billion

As the non-economist, I should note that when Medicare was passed in 1965, it was estimated to to cost $3 billion in 1990, the equivalent of $12 billion after adjusting for inflation. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion. And my earlier blog post on the argument that entitlement programs paying for themselves is worth relinking to.

Give me a hamburger today, and I shall gladly pay you $196 Billion on Friday.

UPDATE: Now that a day or so has gone by, here’s some excellent number crunching and deeper analysis from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  Upshot: Total cost is closer to 2 trillion.  Remember when a billion seemed like a big number?

UPDATE II: via Marginal Revolution

Jim Capretta looks at the Baucus healthcare bill and concludes that, because the subsidies phase out as income rises, it imposes an effective marginal tax rate on income of about 30 percent for many families. Add that figure to the income tax, the payroll tax, and the phase-out of the EITC and “the effective, implicit tax rate for workers between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty line would quickly approach 70 percent — not even counting food stamps and housing vouchers.”

Link here.  I await further updates on these estimates…

So much for a ‘sock-the-rich’ mentality most lefties I know where hoping for.

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California is collapsing.  The Guardian has an outsider’s perspective on the downfall of the world’s eighth largest economy.  The Golden State is fading.

California has a special place in the American psyche. It is the Golden State: a playground of the rich and famous with perfect weather. It symbolises a lifestyle of sunshine, swimming pools and the Hollywood dream factory.

But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kevin Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: “California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America.”

California is screwed.  It’s a disaster, and it’s easy to point to a few reasons why.  The legislature has been staunchly Democratic since 1970, with one brief interlude of Republican control.  The state is the absolute paragon of liberalism, the fullest flower of the public-service/welfare state apparatus.  Republicans are a minority in every single voting district in the entire state, at all levels of government.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read some of the left’s critical analysis of California’s plight.

(more…)

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There’s good news in the Journal this morning, as Senator Durbin expressed he might be willing to grant the D.C. voucher program a second life.

This is great news.  Durbin was the one who originally scheduled the program for cuts, despite it’s massive popularity and success.

Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

That’s significantly underselling the support the program has in this town.   The program almost exclusively benefits lower-class urban students, rescuing them from schools that are among the worst in the country.  This program should be a shining light of education reform, and instead congress, with Arne Duncan and President Obama’s tacit approval, have been planning to cut it for a long time.

It’s frustrating to watch the administration, the congress, and D.C.’s own Mayor talk tough about education reform and turn around to kill the one good thing to happen to education in this city in ages.  Especially when the Obama’s and Mayor Fenty either send their children to private schools, or pull rank but won’t extend the same opportunity to those less privileged.  The political class motto as always, kiddies: do as I say, not as I do.

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The Journal has an interesting article on a new study that adds fuel to the education reform fire.   The study, which the journal calls the most comprehensive to date, found that:

New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.

Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. “On average,” the report concludes, “a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English.”

This shoots holes in the ridiculous argument that charter schools, and freedom in general, benefits only the rich.  I’ve heard that theory vehemently advanced by people whose intellect I otherwise respect, but it doesn’t make any sense at all.

The rich, the privileged, already have access to all kinds of opportunity.  That’s why they’re called “privileged”.  The poor, or the “disadvantaged” do not, almost by definition. Increasing the amount of choice or liberty in education doesn’t further disadvantage the disadvantaged.

True, this scheme probably does benefit the rich students as well, but the marginal impact on those already free to choose is significantly  less important than the drastic increases that accrue to the poor students.  Arguments to the contrary strike me as just petty vindictiveness directed at the upper crusts.  “You already have some choice, why should you get more?”

The real question is “why should we continue to prevent those without options from improving their lot?”

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