April 15th, 2014

Deficit reduced…

according to the CBO.

I freely admit that a true understanding of the deficit and the real reasons (as opposed to stated reasons) for its rise and/or fall has thus far evaded me. So I leave it up to you to discuss it in the comments section.

I have a few question, though:

Do you believe anything the CBO says any more? Do you believe some things, and if so, which? I, for one, tend to be particularly skeptical of projections for the future, but I’m skeptical in general too. And that’s true whether the news is good or bad, and whatever party is in charge of government.

Why do people tend to blame or credit a rising or falling deficit on a president rather than on Congress? Wouldn’t it seem that Congress would be more heavily involved, as a rule?

Couldn’t a lower deficit expressed as percentage of GDP have at least as much to do with possible rises in GDP as it would have to do with budget cuts?

Then there’s this:

Deficits will rise sharply after next year, CBO said. Cuts to discretionary spending on programs such as military defense and national parks will be more than offset by a rise in health care and Social Security costs, as the baby boomer generation ages into retirement, as well as higher interest payments on the national debt.

“If current laws do not change, the period of shrinking deficits will soon come to an end,” CBO said.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

April 15th, 2014

Fun tax facts

Eight of ‘em.

I especially like numbers one and and three. Here’s the first:

It will take you 111 days this year just to pay off the government.

That’s an average, of course. But something called the Tax Foundation would have us celebrate Tax Freedom Day, “the day on which the money you earn effectively belongs to you rather than America’s governmental bureaucracy,” on April 21. Pretty sobering.

Here’s number three:

You probably pay more in Medicare and Social Security taxes than you do in income taxes.

That’s certainly the case with me, as a self-employed person with an income that isn’t high (keep using that Amazon portal, folks!). And it makes sense that it’s the case with most people, since Medicare and Social Security account for a huge chunk of federal expenditures (different percentages depending on how you figure it, but all those percentages are sizable).

Today’s posts: brought to you by the word “taxing.” Definition: “demanding, onerous, and wearing; wearingly burdensome.”

April 15th, 2014

Revamp of annual census questions about health insurance coverage…

will make it hard to evaluate the effect of Obamacare.

How very convenient:

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

It’s worth reading the whole article, which sheds light on how the questions used to be asked versus how they will be asked in the future. The gist of it is that the older method encouraged overestimate of the number of uninsured, while the newer method will be more accurate. That is, the older method bolstered the liberal argument that way too many people were uninsured and that we desperately needed health insurance reform of a major sort to rectify the problems, whereas the new method will tend to yield figures that would support the idea that Obamacare has been very successful in reducing the ranks of the uninsured, which can be used (and no doubt will be used) to justify the passage of the ACA.

Kind of neat, isn’t it? And a complete coincidence, of course:

Another Census Bureau paper said “it is coincidental and unfortunate timing” that the survey was overhauled just before major provisions of the health care law took effect. “Ideally,” it said, “the redesign would have had at least a few years to gather base line and trend data.”

But I guess they had no control over that. And yes, I’m being very sarcastic—although come to think of it, knowing the ponderous way government and its agencies work, it’s actually possible they didn’t.

April 15th, 2014

Thoughts on tax day

[NOTE: This is an edited version of an essay of mine from the past.]

Today is April 15th.

Ah, paying taxes. What fun! Along with close to 100% of Americans, I hate the process. It’s an attitude that unites us like almost nothing else. This year, it’s even worse than usual, because the IRS has proven itself to be beneath contempt.

But to go back in time—tax day always reminds me of my father. He was both a lawyer and a certified public accountant, but it’s the latter profession that conjures up the April memories for me. He was not the Taxman (see video above) but the Taxmiddleman, the one who prepared tax forms—often of a very complex nature—and did it all by hand back in those pre-computer, pre-calculator days. Actually, I suppose there were calculators back then—clunky mechanical ones, much like the calculator our neighbors had in their house to use for their business. But my father disdained and distrusted calculators, preferring to rely on his lightening-fast abilities with pencil and paper.

Every year starting around February—when my parents always went away to warmer climes for about ten days, in preparation for the long hard slog to come—until April 15th my father would come home from work every night, eat dinner, and go immediately to a small table in our living room. There he’d set up shop until bedtime, around 11:30 or midnight, and then repeat the entire process the next day. Weekends it started earlier. No TV for him, and almost no relaxation, just this quiet sitting in a chair, bending over papers and fiddling with small figures.

For those months, we kids were instructed to tiptoe around in the evenings and not disturb him. This was a tense time. We could see it in his exhausted face and bloodshot eyes.

And so in our house April 15 was a very happy day. That’s probably true for all the Taxmiddlemen/women.

April 15th, 2014

Good summary of the Bundy ranch situation

Here.

April 14th, 2014

Did you know there is an entire genre…

…of videos on YouTube that can be reached by searching for “dog eating with human hands”?

Yes, human ingenuity is just that awesome.

I do find them perversely amusing. For example:

Although it’s blatantly obvious how it was done (the “why” it was done remains something of a mystery, although I suppose umpteen million YouTube views is probably sufficient reason), apparently enough people were puzzled as to the mechanism that it prompted this explanatory video:

Often imitated, never duplicated. But the human’s laughter in this one makes up for a certain lack of finesse. Reminds me a wee bit of myself, late at night, with a spoon…:

Not to be outdone, cats get into the act. But the scale is completely off, which makes it an unsuccessful effort:

April 14th, 2014

Irony of ironies…

all is irony.

The author focuses on irony and lack of seriousness in art. But the hegemony of irony is certainly something I’ve noticed getting more and more widespread in recent years. It seems to be the default position of most millennials, for example, at least in their public personae.

I haven’t quoted Milan Kundera for a while, but the ironic stance towards life seems to be a subset of what he calls “lightness” versus heaviness in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being [emphasis mine]:

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously the image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

But belief (in religion, for example) can lend both heaviness and lightness to life. Belief in God—especially one with standards who makes judgments—can mean that each act has weight on a scale larger than our individual identities and lifespans. But at the same time, belief in redemption and grace can mean that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Many people seem to crave heaviness and significance. If it’s absent (through lack of faith, the rise of moral and cultural relativism, or the prevalence of relative ease in terms of basic survival), they will tend to seek it out in other circumscribed areas of their lives. Thus we have a very serious attitude indeed on the part of the young, especially towards racism (imagined or otherwise), sexism, homophobia, and anthropomorphic climate change, to name a few. Heaviness can’t be banished; it sneaks in the back door.

Is the left aware of this? You betcha, and more.

[ADDENDUM: From commenter "Mac," this article on Letterman's ironic influence. I don't quite agree that Letterman did it practically single-handedly, but he certainly had a lot more than a bit part in the spread of irony as the default position.]

April 14th, 2014

Is there “significant” voter fraud?

[NOTE: This post is an expanded version of a comment of mine on a thread yesterday about voter ID and fraud.]

The left likes to argue that there’s no significant amount of voter fraud, so there’s no need for voter ID laws and those who support them are inherently racist.

But as far as I’m concerned, even one case of voter fraud is an abomination. And voter ID is a very reasonable way to deal with the phenomenon, for all the reasons that common sense would dictate.

But seeing that this is the left we’re talking about, I’m not even sure they believe their own arguments about the lack of voter fraud (even if they’re not the ones perpetrating the fraud, which we could—and no doubt will—argue about in the comments section); my guess is that the argument about insignificant voter fraud just appeals to them strategically. But it’s also illogical on its face, a sort of “what we see is all there is” assertion that makes no sense. It reminds me of people who say, “I always can tell when a guy’s wearing a hairpiece.” Maybe yes and maybe no, but how would they know? The really good, undetectable hairpieces would be like, really good and undetectable, wouldn’t they? The same with voter fraud.

However, the number of cases of voter fraud that have been found and prosecuted are certainly more than one or two. And there’s little question that those cases are certainly not anywhere near 100% of the ones that have occurred; a 100% prosecution rate would make them unique in the annals of crime.

It’s not hard to come up with links to documented voter fraud cases, such as this, this, this, and this. Not all of them are of the type that would have been prevented by voter ID laws, but many of them are.

Here’s another, and here’s one of my personal favorites:

The 2004 Washington State gubernatorial election was decided by 133 votes while 1,678 illegal votes, mostly by felons, were cast. The election was upheld because there was no accurate way to determine which candidate was the recipient of the illegal votes.

This reasoning ought to make sense to anyone not blinded by partisanship and demagoguery [emphasis mine]:

But the push for voter ID laws is not all about preventing fraud, said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who sponsored his state’s voter ID law.

“The driving factor is common sense,” Metcalfe told ABC News. “It only makes sense that when you show up to vote, to exercise that very important right and responsibility, that you prove you are who you claim.”

Metcalfe said the number of voter fraud cases that are prosecuted are only a sliver of the fraud taking place because there is no system in place to detect fraud. His voter ID law aims to do just that.

Voter fraud is hard to prove in the absence of ID laws, and adds to the paucity of cases. So the argument against voter ID laws is a form of circular reasoning. Lack of ID laws and difficulty of conviction makes voter fraud hard to prove, and the relatively low number of convictions is then used by people to argue against implementing voter ID laws. The following quote refers to Wisconsin, but it or something similar is true in many other states as well:

Because prosecution of election fraud falls on the shoulders of county district attorneys already strapped for resources, Bernier said such cases are rarely investigated, and hardly ever prosecuted. D.A.’s also must consider the high threshold of proving election fraud, weighing against the demands of other higher profile cases.

There are cases of voter fraud such as this one, where over a hundred people were convicted but the actual number of violations was thought to be in the thousands (there was a book written about that fraud and others perpetrated in the 2008 election of Al Franken and probably contributing to his close win, which was certainly “significant” since it was instrumental in giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate).

Of course, no matter how many cases one could come up with, the left won’t be considering those frauds “significant” enough—”significant” no doubt being defined as more than whatever the evidence might show.

Then there’s this, about how easy it is (and how likely it is) that illegal aliens vote in rather large numbers in certain states, and how hard it is to prove.

As for whether voter ID laws actually act to suppress black votes, see this for some evidence that they do not.

April 12th, 2014

This is…

…the story of my life.

And I don’t even have an accent, so what’s my excuse?

I’ve noticed that, in general, voice recognition systems don’t like me. Back when my arm injuries were very bad, I tried to use Dragon Dictate, and it had a dreadful time understanding my voice. And yet actual people seem to have no problem comprehending me, and when I hear a recording of myself speaking I don’t hear any lack of ability to articulate properly. What gives?

April 12th, 2014

Obamacare: first data on prescription costs

Now that Obamacare has been in operation for a while, and even though the government can’t seem to manage to tell us the demographics of the enrollees, some relevant data is nevertheless starting to roll in. So far the news on prescriptions is not good:

Express Scripts, a large Pharmacy Benefit Management company that, so far as I know, has no axe to grind either in favor or opposition to the ACA, has published a report indicating that, at least so far, costs per member on the Exchanges are 35% higher than they are for commercial policies off the Exchanges. The study is based on a national sample of more than 650,000 pharmacy claims (423,000 covered lives) for the first two months of 2014 for patients enrolled in an Exchange policy with with pharmacy benefit coverage administered by Express Scripts. The analysis compared these pharmacy claims to those from commercial health plans, with pharmacy coverage administered by Express Scripts, during the same time period.

According to data from the government’s own Actuarial Value Calculator, pharmaceutical expenses comprise about 21% of total healthcare expenses. Having to pay 35% more for such expenses is thus significant in and of itself. But peer-reviewed scholarly research such as that summarized and extended here indicates that pharmaceutical claims correlate positively with overall healthcare expenses. The higher pharmaceutical claims may just be the tip of the iceberg.

It makes sense. Of course, perhaps the initial enrollees were the people who just couldn’t wait for Obamacare, and what we’re seeing is their pent-up demand unleashed. Perhaps later enrollees will be healthier. But meanwhile, a 35% increase represents quite a chunk of change.

April 12th, 2014

Obama to GOP: stop pretending there’s a problem with voting fraud

Our demagogue of a race-baiting community-organizer president has this to say about Republican efforts at promoting voter ID [emphasis mine]:

President Barack Obama struck hard at restrictive voting rights laws Friday, calling them a Republican political tactic conceived to address a made-up problem.

Pretending that there’s widespread impropriety, he said, is just about keeping Democrats from winning.

“The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” Obama said, in a speech to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York — an organization that he said should serve as a national model for organizing people around voting, led by a man who deserved “a big round of applause.”

The voting rights argument is a key element of the White House’s strategy to have the president focus on boosting base turnout for the midterms, especially among core Obama voters.

“There are well-organized and well-funded efforts to undo [the] gains” of the civil rights movement, Obama told the largely African-American crowd. “Just as inequality feeds on justice, opportunity requires justice, and justice requires the right to vote.”

Not content to argue the merits of whether there’s enough voter fraud to warrant efforts at voter ID laws, or whether voter ID laws actually constitute enough of a stumbling block to hamper a significant number of voters, minority or otherwise, Obama is willing—nay, eager—to couch the issue in the most divisive and partisan way.

What he’s actually saying is that the Republicans are lying. Not only lying, but lying in order to disinfranchise black people and reverse the gains of the civil rights movement. Put that way, it’s almost breath-taking in its divisive demonizing of the opposition, divisive in a way that I cannot recall any other president, Democrat or Republican, approaching.

Oh, and a corollary of what Obama is saying is that Al Sharpton (race-baiter and proven liar extraordinaire), is a man who deserves a big round of applause.

Another thing on which to meditate—this is the same Barack Obama who first made his name on the national level by saying at the Democratic Convention of 2004:

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.

That’s the same Barack Obama who sat for twenty years in the racist and anti-American church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and saw no evil, heard no evil.

As for voter fraud, who on earth doesn’t think it exists? We can argue about its extent, but there is no question that the phenomenon occurs, and that documented cases represent some fraction of the whole (see also this and this), whether it’s the tip of a large iceberg or of something far smaller. There is also little question that, in this day and age, requiring some sort of voter ID is not an especially onerous burden, and that the vast majority of the American people understand that and support it.

April 12th, 2014

Did Flight 370 co-pilot try to make a phone call from the air?

Although the article is somewhat murky, it appears to be saying that Flight 370′s co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid switched his cell phone on and tried to make a call as the plane was flying low and off-course, moments before it disappeared from radar, and that authorities know to whom it was made:

It is understood that the aircraft…was flying at an altitude low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up his phone’s signal.

His call, however, ended abruptly, but not before contact was established with a telecommunications sub-station in the state.

However, the NST is unable to ascertain who Fariq was trying to call as sources chose not to divulge details of the investigation. The links that police are trying to establish are also unclear.

They think it was cut off because the plane moved away from the tower.

So we have the following questions: As with all reports connected with Flight 370, the first question is whether the report is accurate. The second is what authorities know that they’re not telling us. The third is what it all signifies. And the fourth is whether we’ll ever know much more about what happened on Flight 370.

I think the answer to that last one is “Yes, but it probably will take years.”

[Hat tip: John Hinderaker at Powerline.]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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