Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Let's Give The Government A Big Thanks - NOT!

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
45 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Trustees for the government's two biggest benefit programs warned Tuesday that Social Security and Medicare are facing "enormous challenges" with the threat to Medicare's solvency far more severe.

The trustees, issuing a once-a-year analysis of the government's two biggest benefit programs, said the resources in the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041. The reserves in the Medicare trust fund that pays hospital benefits were projected to be wiped out by 2019.

Both those dates were the same as in last year's report. But the trustees warned that financial pressures will begin much sooner when the programs begin paying out more in benefits each year than they collect in payroll taxes. For Medicare, that threshhold is projected to be reached this year and for Social Security it is projected to occur in 2017.

The first year that payments will exceed income for Social Security will occur in 2017, just nine years from now, reflecting growing demands from the retirement of 78 million baby boomers. Medicare is projected to pay out more than it receives in income starting this year.

"The financial difficulties facing Social Security and Medicare pose enormous challenges," the trustees said in their report. "The sooner these challenges are addressed, the more varied and less disruptive their solutions can be."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the trustees, warned that the country was facing a fiscal train wreck unless something is done.

"Without change, rising costs will drive government spending to unprecedented levels, consume nearly all projected federal revenues and threaten America's future prosperity," Paulson said in releasing the new report. "Our nation needs a bipartisan effort to strengthen both programs for future retirees."

President Bush, who wanted to make overhauling Social Security his top domestic priority in his second term, tapped Paulson to lead that effort. However, Paulson has been unable to forge a consensus with Democrats, who took control of Congress in 2006.

Democrats contend that Bush lost valuable time after his 2004 re-election pushing a plan to allow younger workers to direct their payroll tax contributions into private accounts, an idea that went nowhere in Congress.

While the Social Security trust fund will have resources until 2041, the more critical date in terms of government revenues will occur in 2017. That is the date that Social Security will have to pay out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. At present, Social Security is running large surpluses that are going to fund the rest of government.

However, in 2017, the situation will be reversed and the government will have to start filling the gap between what Social Security will be collecting in payroll taxes and what it must pay out. Technically, it will do that by redeeming the non-marketable Treasury securities that are held in the trust fund. However, those bonds are simply government IOUs.

To get the money to pay the benefits, the government will have to borrow or close the gap in other ways such as cutting benefits or raising taxes

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

The Washington Post has awarded Hilliary Clinton with four Pinocchios for her lastest whopper — Bogus in Bosnia.

I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” –Hillary Clinton, speech at George Washington University, March 17, 2008.

Hillary Clinton has been regaling supporters on the campaign trail with hair-raising tales of a trip she made to Bosnia in March 1996. In her retelling, she was sent to places that her husband, President Clinton, could not go because they were “too dangerous.” When her account was challenged by one of her traveling companions, the comedian Sinbad, she upped the ante and injected even more drama into the story. In a speech earlier this week, she talked about “landing under sniper fire” and running for safety with “our heads down.”

There are numerous problems with Clinton’s version of events.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama's Credibility At Issue

From Dick Polman - Philadelphia Inquirer

Millions of Americans, and certainly the media commentariat, were bedazzled by Barack Obama's eloquent and gutsy plea for racial reconciliation. Forty-eight hours later, however, it's time to return to the nuts and bolts world of practical politics - as distasteful as this exercise may be - and ask whether his speech has erased the questions voters might have concerning his relationship with the Rev. Jerimiah Wright. Is he in the clear, or not?
Not. Ideally, from Obama's perspective, his speech would be read in its entirety by one and all, thereby magically transforming our civic dialogue and human nature itself. Americans of all racial and ideological persuasions would suddenly rise above their basest petty suspicions and march together on the high road. Our politicians would travel that path as well, aiming their messages at the intellect, not the gut. But here in the real world, where the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once ruminated about the "nasty, brutish" nature of our species; a world where journalists are expected to probe rather than swoon; a world where many voters will always be guided by their visceral instincts, certain nagging questions about the Obama-Wright connection still remain:
1. Why did Obama wait until his speech to admit that, yes, he had indeed heard Wright utter incendiary remarks during church sermons - after previously claiming that he had not heard anything of the sort? Why is he now characterizing certain Wright remarks as inflammatory and even ignorant, whereas, in Ohio earlier this month, he said that "I don't think my church is actually particularly controversial"? These questions go to the issue of credibility.
2. What specific incendiary remarks did he personally listen to, and did he ever make it clear to Wright or other church leaders that those remarks were inappropriate or worse? What provocative comments, uttered when he was not in attendance, did he nevertheless learn about, and did he lodge any private protests against them? As an influential Illinois political leader, did he ever share any concerns with fellow congregants?
These questions go to the issues of character, judgment, and leadership. Obama did explain, at some length in his speech the other day, that Wright's rhetorical excesses should be viewed in a broader context, as the bitter utterances of an African American who grew to manhood at a time when whites were systematically relegating blacks to second-class status. It was a worthy argument. However, a lot of white working-class voters will not embrace that argument; fairly or not, a lot of them don't want to hear anymore about how blacks were suppressed in the past.
Obama's argument may play well with highly-educated white liberals in the Philadelphia suburbs - but not with lunch-bucket whites in northeast Philadelphia and in the downtrodden towns that are the swing battlegrounds in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. That's just reality. His full speech text was an appeal to the intellect, but the short-hand version of this affair packs a visceral punch. Some voters will simply reduce it all to a few sentences:
Why didn't Obama, upon hearing something vile or hateful, simply get up and walk out? How could Obama stick by a reverend who stands in the pulpit and says "God damn America?"(Dick Morris, the ex-Clinton pollster, suggested the other day that Obama stuck with Wright for old fashioned earthbound political reasons: "Because he's a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can't say that.") Anyway, I suspect that these questions will also be a concern for many Jewish voters, particularly those who are strong supporters of Israel and who are now aware that Wright once accused Israel of practicing "state terrorism against the Palestianians." Jewish voters may not be particularly numerous - just three or four percent of the national electorate - but they are highly concentrated in the big electoral states, and they are loyal Democratic donors. They will also vote heavily in Philadelphia and its suburbs on April 22 - the region where Obama needs overwhelming support. Obviously, they're not all obsessed with Israel. My point is that, if Obama has any hopes of winning Pennsylvania, or blunting Hillary Clinton's victory margin, he can ill afford any erosion in the populous southeastern corner of the state. And it's worth noting that, according to the exit polls thus far, Clinton has bested Obama among Jewish voters, 52 to 46 percent.
William Galston, a longtime Democratic activist/scholar who likes Obama, nevertheless addressed Jewish concerns in an online commentary the other day: "I attend a small synagogue in Washington D.C. When my rabbi says something controversial, the entire congregation quickly learns about it. Members who are offended do not remain silent. They often reprove him. Some threaten to leave unless he apologizes and changes course. A few have left to join other congregations...Successful leaders must know when to draw lines and say no. They must accept that, as they do so, they will leave some people out and make enemies...I do not believe Senator Obama yet understands how questionable (his refusal to reject Wright) appears to many Americans..."All told, Galston wrote, these nagging concerns "present a window on his character and help us judge what kind of president he would be." And the problem for Obama is that there are few other windows available. He is so new to the national scene, and still such a blank slate to so many low-information voters, that an issue this visceral becomes all the more magnified. His words on Tuesday were magnificient, but one speech can't remake the world.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

From the Nation -

What is the proper word for the claim by Hillary Clinton and the more factually disinclined supporters of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination -- made in speeches, briefings and interviews (including one by this reporter with the candidate) -- that she has always been a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement?
Now that we know from the 11,000 pages of Clinton White House documents released this week that former First Lady was an ardent advocate for NAFTA; now that we know she held at least five meetings to strategize about how to win congressional approval of the deal; now that we know she was in the thick of the manuevering to block the efforts of labor, farm, environmental and human rights groups to get a better agreement. Now that we know all of this, how should we assess the claim that Hillary's heart has always beaten to a fair-trade rhythm?
Now that we know from official records of her time as First Lady that Clinton was the featured speaker at a closed-door session where 120 women opinion leaders were hectored to pressure their congressional representatives to approve NAFTA; now that we know from ABC News reporting on the session that "her remarks were totally pro-NAFTA" and that "there was no equivocation for her support for NAFTA at the time;" now that we have these details confirmed, what should we make of Clinton's campaign claim that she was never comfortable with the militant free-trade agenda that has cost the United States hundreds of thousands of union jobs, that has idled entire industries, that has saddled this country with record trade deficits, undermined the security of working families in the US and abroad, and has forced Mexican farmers off their land into an economic refugee status that ultimately forces them to cross the Rio Grande River in search of work?
As she campaigns now, Clinton says, "I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning."
But the White House records confirm that this is not true.
Her statement is, to be precise, a lie.
When it comes to the essential test of the trade debate, Clinton has been identified as a liar -- a put-in-boldface-type "L-I-A-R" liar.
Those of us who covered the 1993 NAFTA debate have frequently expressed doubts about the former First Lady's recent statements. We never heard anything at the time about her dissenting from the Clinton Administration line on trade policy. And we knew that she had defended NAFTA in the years following its enactment. But fairness required that we at least entertain that notion--promoted by the lamentable David Gergen, himself a champion of free-trade policies while working in the Clinton White House--that Hillary Clinton had been a behind-the-scenes critic. We had to at least consider the possibility that, at the very least, Clinton had been worried that advancing NAFTA would trip up her advocacy for health care reform, that she had made her concerns known and that she had absented herself from pro-NAFTA lobbying.
This was certainly the impression that Clinton and her supporters sought to create as she campaigned in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana--states where worried workers want to know exactly where the candidates have stood and currently stand with regard to trade issues.
But that impression was a deliberate deception.
And we must all now recognize that when Hillary Clinton speaks about trade policy, she begins with a lie so blatant--that she's been "a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning"--that everything else she says must be viewed as suspect.

Obama's Attempt to Put Race To Bed

March 20, 2008
Is the Race Discussion Over?By Susan Estrich
LOS ANGELES — Did he do it?

That was the question my friend, herself an old friend of Barack and Michelle Obama, asked me in the wake of the Illinois Senator’s powerful and eloquent speech on race this this week.
Did he put the issue of race to rest?
The short answer is no.

The long version is more complicated, like the race question itself, like Barack Obama the candidate. Complicated and sometimes contradictory.
It’s clear, reading the coverage of the speech, that if you were an Obama supporter going in, you were even more convinced coming out.
I know many Obama supporters who were deeply troubled by what they’ve been reading and seeing of the rants of his former pastor. It’s ugly stuff.
The pictures of the pastor and Minister Farrakhan, making nice with people who aren’t, are already showing up, and there will be more. It’s the kind of stuff that you know is out there, but you’d like to think of as being at the fringe, outside the realm of where decent people travel, confined to the margins of the blogosphere instead of the pulpit of a large and powerful Chicago church.
Obama did what he had to do to reassure those folks, the people who started as his supporters and wanted to be reassured that supporting Obama didn’t mean supporting the divisive message of his former pastor.
Don’t ask them if they’d feel the same way about a white candidate who compared his grandmother to a member of the Klu Klux Klan. That’s not how they see it.
What they heard Obama say is that he doesn’t buy the divisive message, that his campaign is not about mining the racial divide but about transcending it, that he isn’t choosing black against white in a zero sum fight for the crumbs of a shrinking pie.
Obama supporters describe themselves as being moved and touched, and their candidate as being brave and nuanced and forthright. They breathed a sigh of relief this week, convinced, more than ever, that America needs Barack Obama to be President.
Talk to Obama critics and you wonder, for a minute, if they heard the same speech. It reminds me of nothing so much as the days of the O.J. Simpson trial, when we – black and white parents, who were sending our children to school together - discovered we simply couldn’t talk about the case, so different was what we saw and heard as to leave all of us shaking our heads in wonder and disbelief that our friends, with whom we agreed on so many things, could see this thing so differently.
What the critics are saying, sometimes out loud but also in quiet whispers, is that they don’t understand how a man who gives speeches about moving past the racial divide would choose a racist minister to be a member of his family, about why, with all the churches in Chicago, Obama not only picked this one but remained true to it, about how he could not have known what others knew, could not have heard what others did.
The critics will tell you that blaming white America for spreading AIDS to blacks is not the same as an elderly white woman admitting that she is afraid of black men, and that there is a difference between standing by the grandmother who raised you and standing by a religious leader who preaches hate.
Even Jesse Jackson admitted a few years ago to the sad truth that he was afraid of young black men. Most young black men don’t commit crime, but a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by the minority who do.
Being afraid of black men is, unfortunately, rational even if it is also racist, in the sense that it involves judging people negatively for no reason other than the color of their skin. Blaming white America for spreading AIDS to the black community is not only racist, but hateful, precisely because it lacks any rational basis.
It’s because he doesn’t want to lose the black vote, one longtime Democrat told me this morning, explaining that Obama’s speech had convinced her to vote for McCain if Hillary Clinton is not the nominee.
Has the candidate who only months ago was being judged by some as “not black enough” become “too black” even for some longtime Democrats, who worry about a double standard that they ascribe to Obama’s unwillingness to risk offending the black voters who have become his most loyal supporters?
Would they abandon him if he denounced his preacher, I wonder out loud. And if they would, is that because such hate is more widespread than we white Americans would like to believe, because the racial divide really is much bigger, and much angrier, than we would ever admit? And is that, ultimately, an argument against Obama, or for him?
I’ve been accused of being a racist more times during this campaign than in all the rest of my political life, combined. I wrote a book supporting Hillary Clinton for President long before Obama got in the race, and count the Clintons as longtime friends.
I have tried, not always perfectly I am sure, to be fair and respectful towards Barack Obama. I have tried to keep my focus on issues and qualifications. You can say I’m wrong – I’m certainly used to saying that - but racist?
I believe that Barack Obama, in running for President, really is trying to transcend the racial divide. He may or may not succeed.
But what his candidacy, particuarly this week, has revealed, yet again, is just how wide and powerful that divide still is, even if this time it is defined more by the candidate that you support than by the color of your skin.
Is the race discussion over? Clearly not. It has just begun.
The more honest everyone can be, the more we can resist calling each other names instead of engaging each other on the merits, the better it will go.

Obama On Pastor Wright

The following is an excerpt from Barack Obama's speech on March 18, 2008

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

It was a fine speech but I have a problem with the above comments. My most recent pastor, my pastor of seven years had strong social views which I disagreed with. Those views centered around liberal politics and his liberal, tolerant views on homosexuality. But he never uttered those things from the pulpit. If he had I would have not returned and I know many of the parishioners would have left the congregation. There are some things that you just keep out of the pulpit. There are some things you just don't tolerate from your pastor. Obama should have left the congregation and worshipped at another church.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Cult Of Obama

COSTELLO: Many political observers say they’ve never seen anything like it. Thousands wait in line to see him, and it seems with every speech, they always latch onto Obama’s three favorite words.
OBAMA: Yes, we can.

COSTELLO: Obama supporters wildly respond, chanting enthusiastically along with their candidate. But it’s a scene some increasingly find not inspirational but “creepy.”
L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein is cited, calling it “Obamaphilia. Then two of the very serious people sect have their opinions presented, Conservative columnist David Brooks in the NY Times, through his alter-ego Dr. Retail:

Meanwhile, Obama’s people are so taken with their messiah that soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There’s a “Yes We Can” video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn’t creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

Or Joe Klein in Time magazine, in a piece called Inspiration vs Substance. None too subtle is Joe. Klein also introduced the descriptor “creepy” to Obama-mania.
“There was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism … [T]he message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

And although not mentioned in the CNN piece, the truly creepy conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer gets into the act yesterday with this Washington Post column The Audacity of Selling Hope.
Interestingly, Obama has been able to win these electoral victories and dazzle crowds in one new jurisdiction after another, even as his mesmeric power has begun to arouse skepticism and misgivings among the mainstream media.
ABC’s Jake Tapper notes the “Helter-Skelter cultish qualities” of “Obama worshipers,” what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls “the Cult of Obama.” Obama’s Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience — to such rhetorical nonsense as “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek.”
Krauthammer compares it to what he experienced as a young man growing up in Montreal, in what became known as Trudeaumania. The more obvious example to many Americans who remember the spring of 1968 is with Robert Kennedy. It would seem the traditional media’s reaction to inspirational political figures has not improved in the intervening 40 years. If anything it’s only gotten worse.
Or as Will Bunch succinctly put it:
But the real takeaway here is that passion + politics = cult.
God — the real one — save our political discourse.
video

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Global Warming?

Br-r-r! Where did global warming go? By Jeff Jacoby
Globe Columnist / January 6, 2008

THE STARK headline appeared just over a year ago. "2007 to be 'warmest on record,' " BBC News reported on Jan. 4, 2007. Citing experts in the British government's Meteorological Office, the story announced that "the world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007," surpassing the all-time high reached in 1998.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the planetary hot flash: Much of the planet grew bitterly cold.
In South America, for example, the start of winter last year was one of the coldest ever observed. According to Eugenio Hackbart, chief meteorologist of the MetSul Weather Center in Brazil, "a brutal cold wave brought record low temperatures, widespread frost, snow, and major energy disruption." In Buenos Aires, it snowed for the first time in 89 years, while in Peru the cold was so intense that hundreds of people died and the government declared a state of emergency in 14 of the country's 24 provinces. In August, Chile's agriculture minister lamented "the toughest winter we have seen in the past 50 years," which caused losses of at least $200 million in destroyed crops and livestock.
Latin Americans weren't the only ones shivering.
University of Oklahoma geophysicist David Deming, a specialist in temperature and heat flow, notes in the Washington Times that "unexpected bitter cold swept the entire Southern Hemisphere in 2007." Johannesburg experienced its first significant snowfall in a quarter-century. Australia had its coldest ever June. New Zealand's vineyards lost much of their 2007 harvest when spring temperatures dropped to record lows.
Closer to home, 44.5 inches of snow fell in New Hampshire last month, breaking the previous record of 43 inches, set in 1876. And the Canadian government is forecasting the coldest winter in 15 years.
Now all of these may be short-lived weather anomalies, mere blips in the path of the global climatic warming that Al Gore and a host of alarmists proclaim the deadliest threat we face. But what if the frigid conditions that have caused so much distress in recent months signal an impending era of global cooling?
"Stock up on fur coats and felt boots!" advises Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and senior scientist at Moscow's Shirshov Institute of Oceanography. "The latest data . . . say that earth has passed the peak of its warmer period, and a fairly cold spell will set in quite soon, by 2012."
Sorokhtin dismisses the conventional global warming theory that greenhouse gases, especially human-emitted carbon dioxide, is causing the earth to grow hotter. Like a number of other scientists, he points to solar activity - sunspots and solar flares, which wax and wane over time - as having the greatest effect on climate.
"Carbon dioxide is not to blame for global climate change," Sorokhtin writes in an essay for Novosti. "Solar activity is many times more powerful than the energy produced by the whole of humankind." In a recent paper for the Danish National Space Center, physicists Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen concur: "The sun . . . appears to be the main forcing agent in global climate change," they write.
Given the number of worldwide cold events, it is no surprise that 2007 didn't turn out to be the warmest ever. In fact, 2007's global temperature was essentially the same as that in 2006 - and 2005, and 2004, and every year back to 2001. The record set in 1998 has not been surpassed. For nearly a decade now, there has been no global warming. Even though atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to accumulate - it's up about 4 percent since 1998 - the global mean temperature has remained flat. That raises some obvious questions about the theory that CO2 is the cause of climate change.
Yet so relentlessly has the alarmist scenario been hyped, and so disdainfully have dissenting views been dismissed, that millions of people assume Gore must be right when he insists: "The debate in the scientific community is over."
But it isn't. Just last month, more than 100 scientists signed a strongly worded open letter pointing out that climate change is a well-known natural phenomenon, and that adapting to it is far more sensible than attempting to prevent it. Because slashing carbon dioxide emissions means retarding economic development, they warned, "the current UN approach of CO2 reduction is likely to increase human suffering from future climate change rather than to decrease it."
Climate science isn't a religion, and those who dispute its leading theory are not heretics. Much remains to be learned about how and why climate changes, and there is neither virtue nor wisdom in an emotional rush to counter global warming - especially if what's coming is a global Big Chill.

Global Cooling

From the Washington Times -

Al Gore says global warming is a planetary emergency. It is difficult to see how this can be so when record low temperatures are being set all over the world. In 2007, hundreds of people died, not from global warming, but from cold weather hazards.
Since the mid-19th century, the mean global temperature has increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius. This slight warming is not unusual, and lies well within the range of natural variation. Carbon dioxide continues to build in the atmosphere, but the mean planetary temperature hasn't increased significantly for nearly nine years. Antarctica is getting colder. Neither the intensity nor the frequency of hurricanes has increased. The 2007 season was the third-quietest since 1966. In 2006 not a single hurricane made landfall in the U.S.
South America this year experienced one of its coldest winters in decades. In Buenos Aires, snow fell for the first time since the year 1918. Dozens of homeless people died from exposure. In Peru, 200 people died from the cold and thousands more became infected with respiratory diseases. Crops failed, livestock perished, and the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency.
Unexpected bitter cold swept the entire Southern Hemisphere in 2007. Johannesburg, South Africa, had the first significant snowfall in 26 years. Australia experienced the coldest June ever. In northeastern Australia, the city of Townsville underwent the longest period of continuously cold weather since 1941. In New Zealand, the weather turned so cold that vineyards were endangered.
Last January, $1.42 billion worth of California produce was lost to a devastating five-day freeze. Thousands of agricultural employees were thrown out of work. At the supermarket, citrus prices soared. In the wake of the freeze, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked President Bush to issue a disaster declaration for affected counties. A few months earlier, Mr. Schwarzenegger had enthusiastically signed the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, a law designed to cool the climate. California Sen. Barbara Boxer continues to push for similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.
In April, a killing freeze destroyed 95 percent of South Carolina's peach crop, and 90 percent of North Carolina's apple harvest. At Charlotte, N.C., a record low temperature of 21 degrees Fahrenheit on April 8 was the coldest ever recorded for April, breaking a record set in 1923. On June 8, Denver recorded a new low of 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Denver's temperature records extend back to 1872.
Recent weeks have seen the return of unusually cold conditions to the Northern Hemisphere. On Dec. 7, St. Cloud, Minn., set a new record low of minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. On the same date, record low temperatures were also recorded in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Extreme cold weather is occurring worldwide. On Dec. 4, in Seoul, Korea, the temperature was a record minus 5 degrees Celsius. Nov. 24, in Meacham, Ore., the minimum temperature was 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the previous record low set in 1952. The Canadian government warns that this winter is likely to be the coldest in 15 years.
Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are just emerging from a destructive ice storm that left at least 36 people dead and a million without electric power. People worldwide are being reminded of what used to be common sense: Cold temperatures are inimical to human welfare and warm weather is beneficial. Left in the dark and cold, Oklahomans rushed out to buy electric generators powered by gasoline, not solar cells. No one seemed particularly concerned about the welfare of polar bears, penguins or walruses. Fossil fuels don't seem so awful when you're in the cold and dark.
If you think any of the preceding facts can falsify global warming, you're hopelessly naive. Nothing creates cognitive dissonance in the mind of a true believer. In 2005, a Canadian Greenpeace representative explained “global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter.” In other words, all weather variations are evidence for global warming. I can't make this stuff up.
Global warming has long since passed from scientific hypothesis to the realm of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo.
David Deming is a geophysicist, an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis, and associate professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama's Radical Pastor

Obama's Jeremiad
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Posted Friday, March 14, 2008 4:20 PM PT

Election 2008: Imagine the uproar if John McCain's pastor used the "N"-word and asked God to "damn" blacks. Yet Barack Obama's pastor condemns whites, and liberal pundits bite their lip.

This newspaper was the first to draw attention to Obama's hate-mongering preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, and his black segregationist church in Chicago.

Our January 2007 editorial, "Obama's Real Faith," exposed their preaching of a militantly anti-white and socialist doctrine called the "Black Value System," triggering a major story in the Chicago Tribune, which led to other stories.

Now comes the leaking of recently videotaped sermons by Wright angrily condemning whites as racists and America as evil. If you close your eyes, you'd swear you were listening to the hateful rantings of uber-bigot Louis Farrakhan.

Like the Nation of Islam minister, Wright feeds his 8,500-member flock, including Obama and his family, legends about whites keeping blacks down by getting them hooked on crack and then locking them up. He even claims whites invented AIDS to destroy blacks.

Obama is not immune to such myths. Until recently, when he was informed it wasn't true, he repeated a favorite Wright line that "we've got more black men in prison than there are in college."

"The government gives (black men) drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," Wright thundered in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

Locked in a Jim Crow time warp, he claims America — which he affectionately calls "the US-KKK-A" — is "controlled by and run by rich white people." Never mind that institutionalized racism is a distant memory. Or that the most popular candidate in the country right now, according to some polls, is his top acolyte.

In 2006, Wright said from the pulpit: "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God. And. And-and! God! Has got! To be sick! Of this sh*t!"

Wright believes all white men are responsible for the oppression of the past, and until they make atonement, there will be no forgiveness. He takes a sick joy in 9/11 as a much-deserved punishment for America supporting Israel, which he thinks should be targeted for a divestment campaign.

In a sermon to his congregation just five days after the attacks, Wright bellowed: "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

Lest anyone mistake who he felt was to blame for 9/11 and deserved punishment, Wright elaborated in 2005: "White America got a wake-up call after 9/11. White America and the Western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just disappeared as the great white West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns."

That Obama's preacher would sound like Farrakhan is no coincidence. The two are old pals. In the '80s they traveled to Libya together to pay homage to terrorist Muammar Qaddafi. Last November, Wright honored Farrakhan with a "lifetime achievement" award and featured him on the cover of his church magazine, Trumpet.

Obama has never directly repudiated his pastor's praise for Farrakhan: "I assume that Trumpet magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders."

This is disingenuous by half. The magazine is produced by Wright's church and published by his daughters. Second, the article never mentions Farrakhan's work with ex-cons.

Obama's campaign also issued a lukewarm denunciation of Wright's leaked sermons, saying only that "there are things he says with which Sen. Obama deeply disagrees." Like what? We don't know. Has he ever walked out of a sermon in disgust? We don't know. But we need to know, and voters deserve to know. Now.

Canada's Health System Is Sick

Promise Of Choice
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2008 4:20 PM PT

Socialized Medicine: Quebec's former health minister is tacitly admitting that the system he helped create is not sustainable. It has, as Claude Castonguay has succinctly noted, reached "a crisis point."

Actually, when 40% of the province's $60 billion budget is spent on health care, or when public health care costs in Canada are growing at twice the rate of the economy as a whole, we'd say the crisis point was reached long ago.

But better late than never. And Castonguay, known as the father of the Quebec public health care system that was copied by the rest of Canada, should be commended for acknowledging that the province's health care costs are unbearable.

He should also be applauded for proposing further privatization. A report issued last week recommends that Quebec move toward a mixed-delivery system that includes more private care.

The report, "Getting Our Money's Worth," also calls for user and access fees that will cut the incentives to make those "free" doctor visits for minor ailments that have clogged the system and sent costs soaring. It also suggests eliminating the rule that prevents doctors from practicing in both the public and private sectors.

These are mere details, though. Of greater significance is the admission that state health care doesn't work. Perhaps most revealing is Castonguay's statement that "patients, instead of being seen as an expenditure for the hospital, become a source of revenue."

In nations that have the blessing of a liberalized economy, people are looked upon as sources of revenue in every facet of life. It's a formula that works well for both seller and consumer.

Even the poor in this nation, where we allegedly have a crisis of the uninsured, benefit from the arrangement: They have color TVs, microwave ovens, cell phones, multiple cars, VCRs and DVD players, air conditioning and plenty of food, enough for obesity to be among the top health problems for those below the poverty line.

"People can choose what car they want to buy, what suit they want to wear, what house they want to live in," Castonguay says. "But when it comes to their health, they don't have a choice. That's what I'm against. We are proposing to give a greater role to the private sector so that people can exercise a freedom of choice."

Too bad Castonguay failed to recognize this in the 1970s, when he was putting together Quebec's socialist health care system and stripping Canadians of their choice. He wouldn't now be forced to unravel the mess while trying to maintain the fiction that the public health care system that "has become a symbol that's very valuable in people's minds" will not be significantly changed.

Larry Elder On Obama

Can Obama bring us together? Yes, he can!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Posted: March 13, 2008
1:00 am Eastern

© 2008

Critics dismiss Barack Obama's plans to bring the "two Americas" together. But, his plans may just work.

Taxes: Barack Obama's America blasts the Bush tax cuts for "unfairly" benefiting the rich. They intend to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, with resulting higher taxes on income, capital gains and dividends.

The other America believes in limited government, low taxes, fewer regulations. They believe that individuals, rather than government, know how best to spend, save or invest their own money. This part of America feels that the Kennedy, Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts actually benefited the economy by placing more capital in the hands of private actors, resulting in more jobs, greater productivity and higher net worth.

Obama's solution: Shared sacrifice. If your last name begins with A through E, Obama will continue the Bush tax cuts. If your last name begins with F through L, Obama will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. If your last name begins with M through Z, Obama will raise your taxes. Now the following fiscal year, those with last names beginning A through E face a tax increase. The F through L's get the Bush tax cuts. And the L through Z's will have their tax cuts expire. The next fiscal year, Obama will rearrange the cuts, depending, of course, on your last name, and will continue this rotation every year of his administration.

The Iraq war: Obama's America considers the war a failure, a war that "never should have been authorized, and never should have been waged." They feel the Iraq war makes Americans less safe, causes us to take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, infuriates our allies and uses funds better spent elsewhere.

The other America feels that, however we got into Iraq, leaving precipitously emboldens our enemies, creates a safe haven for terrorism and gives Iran – an avowed enemy of America and a country pursuing nuclear weapons – a dangerous and destabilizing influence over oil-rich Iraq. This part of America believes we cannot in good conscience leave without ensuring Iraq's stability because that would endanger our own. This part of America agrees with former Secretary of State James Baker, "[I]f we picked up and left right now, you would see the biggest civil war you've ever seen. Every neighboring country would be involved in there, doing its own thing, Turkey, Iran, Syria, you name it, and even our friends in the Gulf."

Obama's solution: Withdraw all troops by the year 2009. Then send them back in 2010, followed by their return to America in 2011, with another redeployment to Iraq in 2012. These on/off, every-other-year rotations would continue throughout his presidency. This satisfies those who want the troops home immediately. But it also appeases those who consider our national security dependent upon a military presence in Iraq. This policy also confuses our enemy, since they never know whether we are coming or going.

Health care: Obama's America considers health care a right, not a privilege. They want a government-run universal health care system. They consider it a national disgrace that 47 million people (many here illegally) live in a country without health insurance.

The other America agrees with Claude Castonguay, the father of the Quebec universal health care system, later adopted by the whole of Canada. Castonguay recently pronounced his country's system a failure, and now urges American-style competition and pushes for a greater role by the private sector.

Obama's solution: Provide universal health insurance to those without it. Allow those happy with their current health-care policies to retain them. Who pays for the uninsured 47 million? Tax Canada.

Global warming: Obama's America considers global warming a dire threat to our planet. As with Al Gore of the Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth," they consider drastic action necessary to avoid catastrophe.

The other America agrees with General Motors' vice-chairman, Bob Lutz, who recently called global warming a "total crock of s---." They support an analysis in the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle," which aired in England on the UK's private channel 4. This America questions the extent to which man-made activity causes increased temperatures. They question whether the Kyoto Protocol – mandating large expenses on industry to control greenhouse gases – actually harms more than helps. Other climatologists/skeptics argue that many factors account for the slight rise in world temperature over the last hundred years, including, but not limited to, solar activity.

Obama's solution: Force Lutz to square off on pay-per-view against Al Gore in an Ultimate Fighting Championship no-holds-barred death match. The winner gets to decide America's policy on climate change.

Hopefully this comforts the naysayers who doubt whether Barack Obama can, indeed, bring us together.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Here's To Your Health

Why McCain has the best health-care plan
His is the only one of the candidate proposals that has a chance of getting medical costs under control. An argument for some free-market sanity.
By Shawn Tully, editor-at-large
McCain's health-care proposal would push more decision-making power into the hands of consumers.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Fellow Americans, choose your revolution. One way or another, we're getting a new health-care system. The old one is obviously broken. The U.S. now has 47 million uninsured, and costs are out of control. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts that if things continue as they are, health spending will almost double by 2017 to $4.3 trillion, or one-fifth of GDP, vs. 16% today.
The crisis has gotten so severe that fixing the system is no longer a partisan issue. Everyone understands that something has to change, and fast. In this presidential race, both sides are proposing radical fixes that would totally transform the way health care is delivered and paid for in America. Both the Democrats and the Republicans embrace the same goals: John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton are all putting forth ways of making health care affordable for every American and stopping a disastrous escalation in costs. Both sides also envision a world where employers play a much smaller role in medical benefits. The differences, of course, are in the way each candidate intends to reach those laudable goals. In essence, McCain wants to create a kind of national insurance market that shoves more decision-making power into the hands of consumers; the Democrats are aiming for a Medicare-like federal superprogram. (We'll stick with the "Democrat" label in this story. The nominee status was still unclear at presstime, and, intraparty sniping notwithstanding, the Clinton and Obama plans are extremely similar.)
So far, the press and public haven't paid much attention to the implications of these dueling visions. This stuff is complicated, and the most revolutionary provisions are buried deep in jargon-filled position papers. But parsing the plans is worth the work: This issue is crucial to America's economic future, and the differences between McCain and the Democrats are profound.
Who has the best plan? Both have huge flaws, but on balance McCain's is better.
McCain's main pillar is the elimination of a tax break that employees receive if their employer provides their health care. That may not sound like a shocker, but it is. The exclusion dates from World War II, when the federal government imposed controls on wages, but allowed companies to compete for workers by offering tax-free health benefits in lieu of pay. The law is largely responsible for the nightmarish patchwork of corporate-provided medical plans we enjoy so much today. Employees and their unions demanded richer and richer packages, and employers complied, since they could buy far more benefits for their employees than workers could buy with after-tax dollars on their own. Americans have paid a steep price, however, by sacrificing their raises as corporate insurance bills exploded, never more so than now.
McCain suggests that we junk all that. Say you're earning $100,000 a year and your company provides about $9,000 toward your $12,000 family premium, which is about average. Today you're taxed only on the $100,000. Under McCain's plan, you'd also pay on the $9,000. That could mean an extra $3,000 or so in federal taxes alone. To compensate for the extra levy, McCain would provide a $2,500 federal tax rebate for individuals and $5,000 per family, meaning a family would simply subtract $5,000 from its tax bill, the equivalent of a big cash payment.
Here's where it gets interesting. Employers would no longer be able to buy more health care with $9,000 of their employees' money than the workers could buy on their own. The raison d'ĂȘtre for corporate health benefits would vanish. Employers have another compelling reason to pass the ball to the employee: While wages are rising around 3% ayear, their health-care costs are growing at three times that rate. "I predict that most companies would stop paying for health care in three to four years," says Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works with corporate benefits managers. Hence, an employer that pays $9,000 for your benefits would simply pack an extra $9,000 a year into your paycheck. (Why? Because in a competitive labor market, companies would have to hand over that cash to employees or risk losing them.) So you'd have $6,000 after tax, plus the $5,000 family credit, to buy insurance. That's $11,000 in new cash that employees can set aside for health care.
So what types of policies would they buy? Employees (and their families) with corporate plans - about 150 million Americans - would probably rush toward high-deductible, low-premium insurance, and use what's left over to pay cash for routine procedures. They would couple those high-deductible policies with Health Savings Accounts, which allow families to put away up to $5,800 ayear, before taxes, for medical expenses. Those plans cost about $10,000. That's not a huge saving from the typical $12,000 corporate plan, but it's a start. More than four million Americans already have HSAs, and the McCain plan would make portable, high-deductible plans the product of choice for a new generation of healthcare consumers.
Besides eliminating the employer exclusion, McCain's plan boasts another nice feature. It would allow consumers to choose an insurance plan that suits their stage of life. If you're young and healthy, for example, you probably want the cheapest plan you can get. If you're 45 and have four dependents, maybe you want something a bit more expensive and generous. Nine states, including New York, California, and Texas already require that as many as 50 benefits be covered, a list that ranges from in vitro fertilization to mental health services to prescription drugs. These requirements increase the cost of insurance; they're a major reason young people have dropped their coverage. Under the McCain plan, insurers in any state would be free to offer the plans with a vast variety of deductibles, co-pays and benefits. UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans already provide a menu of packages tailored to groups as varied as Gen Xers and retirees.
The problem with McCain's approach - and it is a huge problem - is that McCain ventures so far toward total laissez-faire liberty that he risks leaving the poor and sick behind. Here's why. Perhaps his most drastic proposal is allowing the same insurance products to be sold across state lines. That seems to make sense, and maybe it does: Look what interstate banking has done for pricing and choice in financial services. But in health care, the upheaval would be so brutal that it scares even the most ardent free-marketer. Many states have some form of what policy wonks call "community rating." Under pure community rating, insurers must charge all customers the same premium no matter whether they're 20 or 55, or whether they have cancer or are models of good health. McCain is targeting community rating for good reason. It forces the young and healthy to pay far more than their actual cost by making them subsidize the elderly and sick. Like the mandated benefits, it's pushed millions of Americans in their 20s to drop their health insurance.
But under the McCain plan, states with no restrictions - Pennsylvania, for example - could sell policies for 25-year-olds that cost around $1,200 a year, one-third the price in New York. Young New Yorkers would drop their plans in favor of Pennsylvania providers, forcing New York insurers to jack up premiums for people in their 50s or early 60s, who need those rich, community-rated plans that cover as many procedures as possible - but who no longer benefit from the excessive premiums paid by the youngsters. It gets worse. Anyone with cancer, diabetes, or other pre-existing conditions will see their premiums multiply too.
To his credit, McCain does have a plan for relatively young, low-income Americans who can't afford insurance. "We would increase the tax credit according to income so that poor families could buy insurance," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's policy director. But McCain sorely lacks a plan for people in their 50s without corporate benefits, and Americans with pre-existing conditions, who would be brutally stripped of coverage if insurance crosses state lines. "For his plan to work, McCain has to tell us how he would deal with the old and sick," says Jon Gruber, an MIT economist. "If McCain doesn't tax the healthy to pay for pre-existing conditions, as happens under community rating, he has to tax the taxpayer. That means his plan will require huge subsidies he's not talking about."
NOW FOR THE DEMOCRATS. The core of their plan is a "pay or play" option for employers. Large companies would have the choice of either providing benefits for workers or dropping their coverage. If they chose the latter, they would pay a mandatory payroll tax to support a new government-administered system. That system would have two parts: a Medicare-like public program, and a menu of private options similar to the generous plans available to U.S. government employees today. Workers who are self-employed or lack insurance would go straight into one of these two options. Low-income Americans would receive federal subsidies to purchase the premiums.
In practice, the system would quickly swell the ranks of Americans with government-paid health care. Remember, health-care costs are rising far faster than wages, so companies have a strong incentive to pay the tax and erase that rapidly growing burden from the books. It's also likely that the government plan will offer better benefits than many, or perhaps most, corporate plans. In fact, the Democrats call for rich standard benefits packages based on the plan offered to federal employees. Those packages would have deductibles of just $300 and offer prescription drugs, mental health benefits, and "spinal manipulations" (i.e., chiropractic services), among a cornucopia of other benefits. As a result, the federal plan, potentially packed with new benefits pushed for by lobbyists for various medical specialties, will quickly cause an exodus from employer plans.
The standard benefits package isn't just a bad idea because it will substantially raise the cost to taxpayers. It will also make it virtually impossible for Americans to buy insurance tailored to their needs. Suppose you're one of those 25-year-olds. You probably don't want to spring for a full-blown plan that covers old-age diseases like Alzheimer's and would rather save some money and go with a low-premium, high-deductible plan. But the Democrat approach requires that any competing plans be "actuarily equivalent" (Clinton's term) to the federal employee plan - which translates as a generous minimum standard for health insurance. "With that mandate, you rule out high-deductible plans," says Gruber. "It would make it very difficult to design one that would qualify."
The Democrat proposals have some additional drawbacks. First, the Dems want to heavily regulate the insurance industry by limiting everything from profits to marketing expenses. If the earning power of insurers is determined by federal regulators, their pricing will be too, and thus they will evolve into the equivalent of public utilities. Would you rather have medical prices set by fiat or by nationwide market competition?
Second, the Democrat plan exacerbates the fundamental problem in the American health-care system, which is that no one has any incentive to care about price. (How much is that MRI center charging for your ankle scan? Who cares? Just hand over the $50 co-pay and never you mind.) Creating a huge new medical superstructure would shift far more spending to third-party providers, chiefly the federal government, giving consumers even less incentive to concern themselves with the price of an MRI - or any other service, from an elective wart-removal procedure to a life-saving heart bypass. "The Clinton and Obama plans would enormously increase total health-care spending, but disguise the extra costs by shifting them to taxpayers," says John Sheils of the Lewin Group, a research firm that does statistical modeling for health-care plans.
Despite all that, the Democrats' plan probably beats McCain's if you're scoring on political viability. Their program doesn't involve anything that smacks of a cut in benefits, and it's just easier to win with largesse.
But on economic merits, McCain wins. For all its problems, at least it puts the consumer in charge. Would that create a world where we're forced to dicker with heart surgeons? No. It will create a world where health care is treated as the precious resource that it is, rather than a costless entitlement; where nationwide competition pushes down the price of catastrophic care and consumers focus their attention and budgets on what's really crucial to their health. That's an important first step. The price of health care is never going to get under control until patients get what they deserve: the right to be customers too.
REPORTER ASSOCIATE Christopher Tkaczyk contributed to this article.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Obama's Stumble On NAFTA

No matter what your opinion of NAFTA is Barack Obama made a major mis-step in bad mouthing NAFTA in Ohio and then giving a wink-wink to Canada that he really didn't mean it. See the article below.

Obama says Canada ‘misreported’ NAFTA meeting with campaign adviser
Sheldon Alberts and Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, March 06, 2008WASHINGTON - Barack Obama insisted yesterday that Canadian officials “misreported” details of a meeting with his senior economic adviser now being cited as a key reason he lost Ohio’s Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton. Obama maintained his campaign was not at fault in the “NAFTA-gate” controversy and insisted he had no plans to fire economist Austan Goolsbee for his role in the affair.

In a memo leaked to the media last weekend, Canadian diplomats reported Goolsbee said Obama’s tough talk on NAFTA should be viewed more as “political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” Media reports last night implicated Harper’s own chief of staff, saying he was the original source of the leak. Clinton seized on the reports and accused Obama of employing a “wink-wink” strategy — saying one thing about Nafta to voters in economically depressed Ohio, and another to foreign governments. Exit polls showed a sharp swing of support to Clinton in the final three days before voting, at the height of the publicity surrounding the controversy. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the leak of the Canadian memo was “blatantly unfair” to the Illinois senator’s White House bid. Harper also pledged a full investigation into how an account of the conversation between Goolsbee and Rioux became public on the eve of the Ohio primary. “We will take every step necessary to get to the bottom of this,” Harper told the House of Commons. “The way the leak was executed was blatantly unfair to Senator Obama and his campaign.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So What Is The Middle Class

We hear politicians on both sides talk about what they can do for the middle class. But exactly who are the middle class? Is middle class defined by income, by assets, or is it a state of mind? Read below.

By John W. Schoen
Senior Producer
MSNBC

When politicians, economists, academics and journalists try to assess the current economic status of the "American middle class," the debate often begins with a question that some concede is all but impossible to answer: Who, exactly, is middle class in America today?
One way to find out is to ask Jerry Orzechowicz, a salesman in the hospitality industry, who lives in Merrillville, Ind., population 30,000, tucked in the northwest corner of the state, about 35 miles outside Chicago. "I'm about as middle class as you can get," he said.
Orzechowicz and his wife, who also works, earn a combined annual income of between $70,000 and $90,000 and have two kids, one of whom is still in college. They own their own home, four cars and four TVs — including a high-definition widescreen model with surround sound.

Orzechowicz says just about anyone living on $50,000 a year can enjoy a middle-class existence in his neighborhood, which is why he says he’s puzzled when he hears that it’s getting harder to maintain that lifestyle in America.
“You can have a house and pay the bills and put food on the table and save a little and take a little vacation once a year," he said. "To me, that’s maybe lower end of the middle class, but it’s better than 98 percent of the people in the world.”
Despite income of $100,000, ‘We are squeezed tight’But many Americans who consider themselves middle class told msnbc.com they do feel financially squeezed. One of them is Kathy McClain, a wife and mother of three teenagers in Westbrook, Maine.
McClain and her husband have a combined income of $100,000 a year, which leaves about $80,000 after paying income and property taxes. They have no credit card debt, don’t take expensive vacations, and she drives a 9-year-old car. Tuition for their oldest child, now at the state university, costs another $16,000. The family makes too much for her to qualify for work-study.
“I can tell you quite honestly that we are squeezed tight,” she said in a recent e-mail. “We live paycheck to paycheck. Yet, by all standards, we are doing well.”
The varied experiences of Americans who consider themselves middle class aren't really surprising. As economic and social forces buffet families chasing the American Dream, there’s disagreement among the experts who crunch the numbers about how just well or poorly this group is faring — or even who they are. There is near-universal agreement that the gap in wealth between the richest American and the poorest is widening to levels not seen in nearly a century. But that doesn't tell you much about how those in the middle are faring.
Data aside, being “middle class” in America today appears to be mostly a state of mind. And there are very real sources of anxiety for those who aspire to a comfortable middle-class life in America.

Congress to the rescue?With the campaign season gearing up, there’s a great deal of talk about the need for government to take a greater interest in this key demographic group. In theory, that's where the bulk of American voters are. So earlier this year, Congress asked its research service to come up with a definition of middle class.
The researchers started by looking at income levels. Based on 2005 Census Bureau reports, some 40 percent of the nearly 115 million households in the U.S. earned less than $36,000 a year. That represented just 12 percent of all income. The 40 percent on the next rung up the economic ladder took in between $36,000 and $91,705 — or about 37.6 percent of all income. The top 20 percent, who made $91,705 or more, collected half of all income.
But those numbers don’t adequately reflect the state of mind of those who consider themselves middle class. Surveys have shown that, while people consider $40,000 a year to be the low end of what it takes to buy a middle-class life, some people who make as much as $200,000 a year still consider themselves middle class, the researchers said.

In the end, they wrote, “There is no consensus definition of ‘middle class’; neither is there an official government definition. What constitutes the middle class is relative, subjective and not easily defined.”
For one thing, the report noted, there's little agreement on how many households above or below the midpoint should be included in the standard definition of the middle class.
Neighbor's paycheck as important as your own?But it turns out that the size of your neighbor's paycheck may be as important as your own in determining how you view your place on the economic ladder. You may feel comfortably middle class — with two cars in the driveway and a big screen TV — until the guy across the street pulls up in his third car to install a second widescreen TV. (The researchers call this the "relative income hypothesis.")
"Being well above the bottom is a source of satisfaction," the CBO report concludes. "But when those at the upper end of the distribution fare better than (you) do, it is a source of consternation."
And with the upper end of that distribution rising further and faster than in the past, it's easier for those in the middle to feel like they're falling behind.
Another reason for middle class "consternation" is that income tells only part of the story: the cost of maintaining a middle-class lifestyle depends heavily on where you live. A family in Wichita, Kansas, where the median price for an existing home is about $110,000, has a much better shot at a comfortable middle-class life than a family in San Francisco where — housing slump or no housing slump — the median home price is $846,800.
The link between housing costs and schoolsAs the biggest single line in the typical household budget, the cost of housing has played another important role in the financial squeeze reported by many families in the middle. One of the key aspirations of middle-class families is to provide their children with the good education they’ll need to maintain — or exceed — their standard of living when they enter the work force. With local schools funded largely through property taxes, living in a nice neighborhood has come to mean more than having a nice house, according to Robert Frank, a Cornell economist and author of “Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class.”
“You can say, 'Well, I don’t care about having a big house, I’d rather live within my budget and feel secure financially,'” he said. “If I go that route, my kids go to schools where they’ve got metal detectors, and they don’t do well in school.”
The financial security of middle-class Americans has also been strained by the rising cost of higher education, which has risen faster than overall inflation for much of the past decade.
Health care costs also have outstripped inflation; the cost of a catastrophic illness can quickly knock a middle-class household into another, better-defined economic category: poverty. And while many middle-class Americans a generation ago relied on their employers to fund their retirement, that burden has now shifted heavily to the wage-earners themselves.

The paradox behind the dataDespite these added burdens, there’s a paradox that doesn’t show up in the numbers. Though middle-class life in America isn’t what it used to be, in many ways it’s much better.
Health care may be more expensive, but modern medicine can do much more: Americans are living longer and healthier lives. Our houses, on average, are bigger (over 2,300 square feet, up 40 percent since 1980) with more cars in the driveway. Those cars are safer, last longer and are loaded with technology and features once available exclusively to the wealthiest buyers of luxury cars — from antilock brakes to GPS navigation systems. Modern conveniences that were unimaginable a generation ago, from wireless phones to the Internet to hundreds of channels of home entertainment, are available to most Americans. The modern global supply chain brings a cornucopia of basic, affordable products — from year-round fruit shipped from both hemispheres to cheap textiles made in low-wage, developing countries.
“A middle class person today lives better than the wealthiest individual who lived 100 years ago,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Economy.com.

Americans also have more to spend. Census data show that the median income has risen steadily, with temporary setbacks, over the past 60 years as "the real reward for an hour of work has more than tripled," according to a February speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. In 1947, median family income, in 2004 dollars, stood at just $22,500, according to the Census. By 1973, that figure had doubled, and continued to rise to $57,500 by the year 2000.
Upward march of income stallsThose advances began to stall at the turn of the millennium, for reasons that are the subject of much speculation among economists. There’s some evidence that the decline may be caused by the lingering effects of the 2001 recession. Every major recession since World War II has been followed by a drop in median income from which it has taken between three and seven years to recover. But others suggest the lull in income growth could be the result of a more fundamental shift in the economy.
One trend that is all but universally accepted is the widening wealth disparity between those at the very top and bottom. Even as incomes in the middle have gone up, the gap between richest and poorest has gotten wider — both in America and around the world. That means that those at every level see more wealth flowing to people in income groups above them. And that could help explain why, even as everyone’s standard of living is going up, many of those in the middle feel like they’re falling behind.
Though middle class status may be largely a state of mind for many Americans, some have clearly lost ground due to specific, harsh economic circumstances that have sent them falling abruptly down the ladder. The decline of unionized labor in the past several decades has given employers more flexibility to increase productivity and adapt to rapid technological change and increased competition. But it has also devastated those workers who have been displaced from high-wage jobs and don’t have the skills they need to find a new one with comparable pay and benefits.
Now globalization poses a similar threat to the financial security of American workers whose jobs are “outsourced” to lower-wage, developing countries. Much of the credit for the current strength in the global economy goes to the elimination of trade barriers and the increased interdependence of producing and consuming countries. But if the economic benefits of that global growth flow only to a smaller and smaller group at the top, the backlash from those left behind could threaten the continued expansion of global trade, according to Zandi.
“Globalization is a fabulous thing. It raises everyone’s standard of living — it’s a net benefit to the global economy,” he said. “But there are losers. And if we don’t take care of the losers — if we don’t allow their standard of living to remain within some striking distance of the winners — then they could very well short-circuit the entire process.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Medicare - The Issue No One Is Talking About

The $34 trillion problem
Medicare is poised to wreak havoc on the economy. And our presidential candidates are avoiding the issue.
By Geoff Colvin, senior editor at large
Twice I have asked Alan Greenspan what he considers the greatest threat to the U.S. economy, and both times he has answered immediately with a single word: Medicare. He isn't so worried about the trade deficit and the housing crash; he figures market forces will sort them out. But Medicare is something else - a multitrillion-dollar problem that's about to get dramatically worse, and one that nobody wants to talk about. You'd think that the greatest threat to America's economy would be Topic A for the presidential candidates. But it's actually a topic they hate to touch.
Especially now. An analysis of their speeches shows that last year Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama would occasionally mention the Medicare mess. But recently, with the economy slowing and voters feeling insecure, all three candidates have turned more populist: Their economic talking points are about feel-good reassurances, not about facing hard realities.
Unfortunately the day of reckoning is imminent. Sometime in the next President's first term, Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) will go cash-flow-negative, and it's all downhill from there. Medicare provides a wide range of services and subsidies to more than 40 million old and disabled Americans. As the country ages, Medicare and Medicaid (for those of any age with low incomes) will devour growing chunks of U.S. economic output. So will Social Security, but its cut of GDP should stop increasing around 2030. The federal budget has averaged about 18% of GDP over the past several decades. If that average holds and if the rules of our social insurance programs don't change, then by 2070, when today's kids are retiring, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will consume the entire federal budget, with Medicare taking by far the largest share. No Army, no Navy, no Education Department - just those three programs.
But wait - the situation is actually much worse. Those estimates, reported in the latest Financial Report of the U.S. Government, assume that Medicare payments to doctors will be slashed drastically, by some 41% over the next nine years, as required by current law. It won't happen. Every year for the past five years, Congress has overridden the mandatory cuts. As for future cuts, the Financial Report says drily, "Reductions of this magnitude are not feasible and are very unlikely to occur fully in practice." So in reality, Medicare will go into the hole even faster than official projections reflect. And they show that if Medicare had to be accounted for like a company pension fund, it would be underfunded by $34 trillion.
Obviously those long-term scenarios won't happen, because they can't happen - we won't be shutting down the Army, Navy, and so on. But it's easy to see why the candidates don't want to discuss it. As you listen to them, keep three points in mind:
Pain-free remedies won't do the job. All three major candidates, on those rare occasions when they mention Medicare's finances, stress how they'll make the system more efficient, eliminate errors, and improve incentives. That's all wonderful, but it won't be nearly enough. Only John McCain has hinted at what else will be required, including means-testing and limits on benefits. Give him major points, but it's unlikely we'll hear much more on that theme.
Any mention of trust funds is bogus. They're too complicated to explain here, but the bottom line is that no piles of money are socked away to cover future Medicare expenses. Any money the government needs to pay out this year, it needs to take in this year, and every year.
Tax and spending plans must Include Medicare. We'll hear plenty of budget proposals over the next eight months. But without changes to Medicare, they're meaningless. Medicare will eventually overwhelm everything else in the budget, except for the interest on the mushrooming debt to pay for it.
If this is the greatest threat to the U.S. economy and the candidates haven't told us what they'd do about it, they haven't told us a thing.

Good For Your Health

Shadegg Introduces Health Care Choice Act

Washington, Dec 12, 2007 -
Shadegg Introduces Health Care Choice Act
Legislation will lower cost, make insurance more affordable for the uninsured
WASHINGTON, DC – In the era of eBay and Amazon.com, there should be a better way to shop for health insurance. Today, Congressman John Shadegg (R, AZ-3) introduced an innovative bill that empowers consumers to use the Internet and other means to find affordable health insurance policies.
The Health Care Choice Act, which has forty co-sponsors, harnesses the power of the marketplace to allow Americans to compare insurance policies from across the country and pick one that best meets their needs. It would provide every American with more and better health insurance choices. The legislation would also reduce the number of Americans who have been unable to find affordable coverage.
“People should be able to get the health insurance that best suits their needs,” Shadegg said. “Offering people choices in a nation-wide market will reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans, including the roughly 47 million uninsured.”
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, a 25-year-old male in good health could purchase a policy for $960 a year in Kentucky. A similar policy would cost about $5,880 in New Jersey.
Shadegg concluded, “Rather than going through fifty different regulatory processes, this bill will allow an insurance company to go through one process and sell to people in all fifty states. We can help people, not by setting up a massive new government bureaucracy, but by empowering individuals to make the best choice for themselves and their families.” The following members are original co-sponsors of the Health Care Choice Act: Dan Burton (IN-5), Wally Herger (CA-2), Ron Paul (TX-14), Roscoe Bartlett (MD-6), Pete Hoekstra (MI-2), Jack Kingston (GA-1), Barbara Cubin (WY), Dan Lungren (CA-3), Mark Souder (IN-3), Zach Wamp (TN-3), Dave Weldon (FL-15), Chris Cannon (UT-3), Joe Pitts (PA-16), Pete Sessions (TX-32), Paul Ryan (WI-1), Todd Akin (MO-2), Henry Brown (SC-1), Jeff Flake (AZ-6), Darrell Issa (CA-49), Jeff Miller (FL-1), Mike Pence (IN-6), Todd Platts (PA-19), Adam Putnam (FL-12), Joe Wilson (SC-2), Marsha Blackburn (TN-7), Tom Feeney (FL-24), Trent Franks (AZ-2), Phil Gingrey (GA-11), Jeb Hensarling (TX-5), Marilyn Musgrave (CO-4), Rick Renzi (AZ-1), Charles Boustany (LA-7), John Campbell (CA-48), Virginia Foxx (NC-5), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5), Kenny Marchant (TX-24), Tom Price (NC-4), Michele Bachman (MN-6), David Davis (TN-1), Mary Fallin (OK-5), Luis Fortuno (PR), and Adrian Smith (NE-3).

Market Based Health Care

Congress can redeem itself with a simple and cost-free cure rather than an elaborate and expensive complication. The Health Care Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), would let American consumers purchase health insurance across state lines, just as they now may shop coast to coast for mortgages.
Shadegg-DeMint would let insurers licensed in one state sell to individuals in the other 49. As such, Congress would use its constitutionally enumerated powers to liberate interstate commerce and transform 50 separate, closed markets for medical coverage into one open, national market for health insurance.
“Two-thirds of the uninsured have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and most cite unaffordability as the top reason for why they are uninsured,” said Shadegg, who hopes to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay as House majority leader. “Until consumers can purchase their health care like their auto, homeowners, or life insurance, we won’t reform health care; we will only re-regulate it.”
“Just as Delaware became a magnet for banking, some states will become magnets for health insurance,” predicts Dr. David Gratzer, a physician and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, and one of this idea’s earliest proponents. “People seem to understand intuitively that it doesn’t matter whether their checks come from Delaware or New York or California. Likewise, the issues around health insurance are cost and availability rather than state of origin.”
Location matters. A health policy for a single Pennsylvanian costs roughly $1,500 annually. Cross the Delaware into New Jersey, as George Washington did in 1776, and a similar health plan costs about $4,000, thanks to government regulations.
“When doctors worsen a patient’s condition, we call it an iatrogenic ailment,” Dr. Gratzer notes. “We lack an equivalent term for when politicians aggravate a problem.”
By mandating benefits, legislators have swelled the standing army of the uninsured. As Victoria Craig Bunce and J. P. Wieske explained in their January 2005 report for the Council for Affordable Health Insurance: “Mandating benefits is like saying to someone in the market for a new car, if you can’t afford a Lexus loaded with options, you have to walk.” Making every health policy cover acupuncturists, marriage therapists, or in vitro fertilization, as some states do, looks less compassionate when such adornments drive the humble from the market. CAHI estimates that state mandates can hike insurance prices 20 to 45 percent.
“Guaranteed issue” rules, which let people wait until they ail to purchase coverage, also boost prices. Ditto “community rating.” It slaps the same government-controlled price on insurance for everyone — young or old, fit or fat — in a given jurisdiction. This is as idiotic as charging 16-year-old boys and 60-year-old widows the same amount for auto insurance.
Economics aside, Dr. Gratzer praises Shadegg-DeMint’s clinical potential. “The more people who are covered the better,” he says. “That means fewer people hesitate to get tests or follow up with physicians. Eventually, that will lead to a healthier population.”
Critics argue that letting consumers shop for health insurance will launch a dreaded “race to the bottom” as Americans buy inexpensive plans from unscrupulous insurers in unregulated states. But which states, precisely, let health insurers operate like numbers rackets? Of course, consumers could avoid questionable plans in clueless jurisdictions by patronizing reputable, sensibly supervised providers.
So, what will this cost? Nothing. Unlike nearly every action by this Republican Congress, this legislation expends no tax dollars. Your wallet is safe. For now.
Democrats routinely complain that 45 million Americans lack health insurance. Many are between jobs, young, or more prosperous, and decide to forgo insurance. Still, Democrats correctly call this a serious concern for many Americans. The Shadegg-DeMint proposal could be a key solution to this problem. Democrats should embrace this Republican idea. If they rather would deny the uninsured an expanding array of lower-cost health-coverage options, let them stand up this election year and say so.

— Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.

Small Business Health Care Solution

More than 44 million Americans are uninsured, with nearly 60% of those employed by small businesses. As health care costs continue to rise, fewer employers and working families will be able to afford coverage, and the number of uninsured Americans will inevitably rise.
To make health care more affordable and accessible for small businesses, the Chamber promotes passage of legislation that would create federally regulated small business heath plans (SBHPs), also known as association health plans (AHPs). Allowing small businesses to arrange their health benefits through associations will make coverage more affordable by spreading risk among a much larger group, strengthening negotiating power with plans and providers, offering insurance across state lines, and reducing administrative costs. To appeal to their broad membership bases, associations will need to offer comprehensive benefit packages that meet a broad array of health needs and preferences.
Small Business Health Plan legislation (previously known as Association Health Plans) - has been introduced again this Congress. The House has once again passed its version of the bill. The focus is now on the Senate.
109th Congressional Action
Small business health plans (SBHPs) would make health care more affordable and accessible for small businesses. The House of Representatives has passed this legislation seven times, and President Bush has made the enactment of SBHPs a central feature of his second term health care agenda. This legislation has remained stalled in the United States Senate, for over a decade. However, the Senate did bring the legislation up for debate in May 2006.
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R.-WY), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced new legislation, S. 1955, the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, in November 2005, to address the concerns of SBHP opponents and to reach compromise on the issue. The Senate HELP committee passed this legislation on March 15. During Health Week (May 9-12), the Senate brought S. 1955 up for debate.
Unfortunately, May 11, we did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster on Small Business Health Plan (SBHP) legislation (S. 1955, the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act). While it is uncertain whether the Senate will consider this legislation again this year, the response from the business community was overwhelming and you are to thank for getting the bill this far. A vote on the Senate floor is unprecedented! But SBHP legislation does not end here. Senator Enzi (WY), who proposed the legislation, will attempt to re-work the bill to attract the support necessary to win a future vote.
It is imperative to note that this is the first time in 11 years that small business health plan legislation was debated on the U.S. Senate floor. That is tremendous progress and it would not have happened without the support of small business like yours. The vote to end debate and avoid filibuster was 55 - 43. We were only five votes short of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster and move to a final vote.
The outcome is disappointing, but support like yours got this issue to the floor with a majority supporting it. This is the highest member response we have ever seen and you should be proud of the work you did. The stage is set for Small Business Health Plans to come up again and fare even better!

Health Coverage For All

No matter who becomes our next president, health care will be a major. If you're in favor of some kind of universal coverage maybe the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) is one of the options the next president should consider. It's intent was to cover those that made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but made too little to afford health insurance. The plan does not cover everything, it's a basic plan. See the following link to see the details. http://dhsforms.hr.state.or.us/Forms/Served/HE9035.pdf

One of the problems with the OHP is there are not enough funds to fully fund it, Therefore, a lottery is held when openings exist. But it might be a viable solution if we decide upon universal coverage for those who can't afford health care. For those of us who can afford it or are covered by an employer plan, well let's look at improving health insurance through reductions in cost and market based plans.

What Is The OHP?

Beginning in 1987, a group of Oregonians, appointed by Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, including health care providers and consumers, business, labor, insurers and lawmakers, agreed on a common objective — keep Oregonians healthy. They developed a political strategy to attain their objective, answering three main questions about Oregon's health plan: who is covered, what is covered, how is it financed and delivered. They agreed that:
• All citizens should have universal access to a basic level of care• Society is responsible for financing care for poor people• There must be a process to define a “basic” level of care• The process must be based on criteria that are publicly debated, reflect a consensus of social values, and consider the good of society as a whole• The health care delivery system must encourage use of services and procedures which are effective and appropriate, and discourage over-treatment• Health care is one important factor affecting health; funding for health care must be balanced with other programs which also affect health• Funding must be explicit and economically sustainable• There must be clear accountability for allocating resources and for the human consequences of funding decisionsThe result of this debate: From 1989-1993, the Oregon Legislature passed a series of laws known collectively as the Oregon Health Plan.Senate Bill 27 (1989) extended Medicaid coverage to Oregonians with income below the federal poverty level and established a set of benefits based on a prioritized list of health services. This expansion required waivers of federal law from the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), now known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).SB27 also created the Oregon Health Services Commission to rank medical services from most to least important to the entire population. The Legislature defines the OHP Standard and OHP Plus benefit packages from this list. The prioritized list is maintained by the Health Services Commission.The Health Services Commission, following many hours of public hearings around the state, established a prioritized list of more than 700 physical health, dental, chemical dependency and mental health services. The Legislature sets the funding level to cover a certain number of services on the list, but cannot rearrange the list.

The Oregon Health Plan

Oregon holds health insurance lottery
By SARAH SKIDMORE

Oregon is conducting a one-of-a-kind lottery, and the prize is health insurance.
The state will start drawing names this week for the chance to enroll in a health care program designed for people not poor enough for Medicaid but too cash-strapped to buy their own insurance.
More than 80,000 people have signed up since registration for the lottery opened in January. Only a few thousand will be chosen for the program.
"It's better than nothing, it's at least a hope," said Shirley Krueger, 61, who signed up the first day.
It's been more than six months since she could afford to take insulin regularly for her diabetes. That puts her at higher risk for a number of complications, such as kidney failure, heart disease and blindness.
Her part-time job leaves her ineligible for her employer's insurance plan and with too little income to buy her own.
"I'm worried about it. I know it's a death sentence," Krueger said.
An estimated 600,000 people in Oregon are uninsured, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Those selected in the lottery will be eligible for a standard benefit program, which was once a heralded highlight of the Oregon Health Plan.
At its peak in 1995, the program covered 132,000 Oregonians. State budget cuts forced the program to close to newcomers by 2004, but it now has several thousand openings.
The program covers their most basic health services, medications and limited dental, hospital and vision services at little or no cost.
The health insurance lottery winners will be chosen in a series of drawings that could take a few months.
"This is such a wonderful opportunity," said Ellen Pinney, director of the Oregon Health Action Campaign. "We've heard absolutely no complaints, just a lot of hope that they are the ones who will be selected."
Advocates for the uninsured say the demand for the program underscores the state's need for health coverage.
"We have pretty much returned as a state, in terms the percentage of uninsured, to where we were in the late '80s when we created (the Oregon Health Plan standard benefit)," said Barney Speight, director of the Oregon Health Fund Board.
The board is supposed to come up with a plan to address health care access and coverage for Oregonians for consideration in the 2009 legislative session.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski considers the Oregon Health Plan a basis to build on, said Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for his office. The plan has been able to maintain its benefit package for people who are aged, blind, disabled, under 19, pregnant or receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
But providing coverage for a larger population is a goal that could take much longer to reach.
"It's a huge challenge for one session -- it's probably going to be a sequential process," Richter Taylor said.