Monday, December 23, 2013

Cruising the Web

There are some non-PC statements that seem to be acceptable to the popular culture and those that aren't. We've all seen what has happened over Phil Robertson's comments in GQ and the brouhaha that has resulted. In the midst of that cultural firestorm comes the news that Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens is going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is a man who has supported Hamas and Khomeini's fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie. As Robert Spencer documents, he stills sings about how he prays to Allah for victory over the unbelievers. Quite a change from calling us all to get aboard the Peace Train.

I really have no duck in this fight since I've never seen Duck Dynasty and I'm not Christian and am not offended by either gays or the Robertsons. In fact, I found his oblivious remarks about the races when he was growing up in the Jim Crow South much more offensive than anything else he said. And I wish everyone would stop throwing around terms like "freedom of speech" and the "First Amendment." None of that is involved here when we're dealing with a private company, not the government, and a family they have contracted with. I did own Cat Stevens' albums when I was in high school and enjoyed them very much. But why is the expression of Yusuf Islam's religious beliefs even when they call for the death of an author he feels has insulted Mohammed acceptable and no bar to his getting a tribute from Rock and Rollers, while Phil Robertson's expression of what St. Paul wrote against sinners a statement of what must be banned from television? And I bet no GQ reporter would go asking any prominent Muslim what his or her religion felt about gay people. The standards on the outrage meter are quite a puzzlement.

Even a Democratic senator acknowledges that Obama's failure to build relationships with those on Capitol Hill is going to hurt his hopes for getting anything else done with Congress. Future presidents will look back to Obama's administration as a primer on what not to do.

So I guess we'll be ending up right where the Republicans were demanding during the government shut down. Effectively, Obamacare will be postponed for a year. With the administration allowing some people to opt out of the mandate for a year under a newly-discovered hardship provision that indicates that Obamacare is indeed a hardship, how long before everyone else will qualify for that same exemption? And those exemptions will join his postponement of both the employer mandate and the small-business exchanges. And we'll probably still end up with more people who have lost insurance under Obamacare than who have received it.

As James Capretta writes, Obamacare is falling apart before our very eyes.
The upshot is that the administration has voluntarily opened another very big escape route out of Obamacare, and the most likely escapees will be young and healthy Americans who don’t want to pay high premiums for Obamacare’s expensive benefit plans. Even before yesterday it was clear that the risk pools in the exchanges were going to be unbalanced, with too little enrollment by the young and healthy relative to the old and sick. Now, there’s more reason than ever to expect the exchanges to resemble slightly enlarged versions of high-risk pools that have been in existence for years in the states....

The administration also announced yesterday that those with canceled policies could elect to enroll in the catastrophic insurance options offered on the Obamacare exchanges. These were supposed to be reserved for enrollees age 30 and younger, and were priced accordingly. Now the administration has opened up these policies, at least theoretically, to some people over age 30, which means the products are undoubtedly underpriced (as of now, the exchange websites only allow shoppers 30 and younger to see the catastrophic coverage options, and it’s not clear how fast this feature could be changed). Of course, in the first three years, when the insurers lose money on Obamacare coverage, it’s the taxpayers who pick up the tab in the form of “risk-sharing” provisions. But the insurers should not be complacent. As these “bailout” features of Obamacare become more widely understood, they will not sit well with taxpayers, and therefore are politically vulnerable too.

Matthew Continetti notesc all the millionaires involved in the inequality business and what their true goal is.
What the income inequality debate is about is not social justice but social rule. It is about power, about who wields it and to what purposes, and the slogans and statistics that appear in the papers are the weapons by which a caste of liberals organizes its political coalition and vanquishes its opposites.

Robert Grady explains how the date used for determining the extent of inequality ignore some important data.
Virtually all of the data cited by the left to decry the supposed explosion of income inequality, as Lee Ohanian and Kip Hagopian point out in their seminal paper, "The Mismeasure of Inequality" (Policy Review, 2011), use a Census Bureau definition of "money income" that excludes taxes, transfer payments like Medicaid, Medicare, nutrition assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and even costly employee benefits such as health insurance.

Thus the data that is conventionally used to calculate the so-called Gini coefficient—the most commonly used measure of income inequality—ignore America's highly progressive income tax system and the panoply of benefits and transfer payments. According to Messrs. Ohanian and Hagopian, once the effect of taxes and transfer payments is taken into account, "inequality actually declined 1.8% during the 16-year period between 1993 and 2009, when the Gini coefficient dropped from .395 to .388."
A CBO study found the same outcome. What the data really show is, not a problem with inequality, but a problem with stagnant economic growth. And that is not what President Obama has been concerned with.
The point is this: If the goal is to deliver higher incomes and a better standard of living for the majority of Americans, then generating economic growth—not income inequality or the redistribution of wealth—is the defining challenge of our time.

Regarding growth, Mr. Obama claimed in his speech that we should use some money "to create good jobs rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports, and all the infrastructure our businesses need." Yet a recent analysis by BCA Research shows a sharp drop in real spending by the government on nondefense infrastructure since the president took office. When a Democratic Congress passed the president's massive $800 billion stimulus bill, seven-eighths of the total went to transfer payments like Medicaid, food stamps and sending a check to millions of Americans who do not pay income taxes.

The president claims to be concerned about spurring private investment. But investors at home and abroad can readily see that his steadfast refusal to reform the country's entitlement programs threatens spending on physical infrastructure, education, university research and other items that will contribute to the future productivity of the United States. That same unrestrained entitlement growth, and the debt that comes with it, will ultimately compromise the value of dollar-denominated assets. Public companies have trillions of dollars of cash to invest sitting on their balance sheets, but the Obama economy's growth record is weak, and insufficient to attract capital investment.

Straining credulity, Mr. Obama also pointed in his income inequality speech to the Affordable Care Act as one of his initiatives to improve the economy, despite clear evidence that the law's employer mandate is discouraging full-time employment. For most of this year, the overwhelming majority of jobs added to the U.S. economy have been part-time, not full-time. Gallup's payroll-to-population ratio, the proportion of the American population working full time, has dropped almost two full percentage points in the last year, to 43.8%.

Mr. Obama said in his speech that "making sure our economy works for every working American" is what "drives everything I do in this office." Accomplishing this worthy goal requires growth, not redistribution.
Megan McArdle echoes the judgment that the actions the administration took last week have initiated "the self-destruct sequence." And then she looks to what these changes say about what the administration is seeing in their internal data. And it's not pretty.
I’d ask this: What do you do for an encore? Will the administration force these folks to buy insurance next year? Or will they keep allowing special exceptions rather than take the political heat for changing health insurance that people liked?

I’m not sure the administration is thinking that far ahead. The White House is focused on winning the news cycle, day by day, not the kind of detached technocratic policymaking that they, and the law’s other supporters, hoped this law would embody. Does your fix create problems later, cause costs to spiral or people to drop out of the insurance market, or lead to political pressure to expand the fixes in ways that critically undermine the law? Well, that’s preferable to sudden death right now.

However incoherent these fixes may seem, they send two messages, loud and clear. The first is that although liberal pundits may think that the law is a done deal, impossible to repeal, the administration does not believe that. The willingness to take large risks with the program’s stability indicates that the administration thinks it has a huge amount to lose -- that the White House is in a battle for the program’s very existence, not a few marginal House and Senate seats.

And the second is that enrollment probably isn’t what the administration was hoping. I don’t know that we’ll start Jan. 1 with fewer people insured than we had a year ago, but this certainly shouldn’t make us optimistic. It’s not like people who lost their insurance due to Obamacare, and now can’t afford to replace their policy, are going to be happy that they’re exempted from the mandate; they’re still going to be pretty mad. This is at best, damage control. Which suggests that the administration is expecting a fair amount of damage.
The Affordable Care Act was slapped together by a combination of interest groups and politicians inserting provisions to buy off the necessary number of votes. Now it's being changed by an administration that is haphazardly responding to each crisis caused by this tremendously poorly-designed law. Is any of this any surprise, considering how the law was designed?

The NYT notices that people are getting a mite bit confused about signing up for Obamacare. It's getting pretty difficult to tell who has been exempted and whose plan has been discontinued or gotten an extension. In Oregon they've just resorted to saying, you know, if you haven't heard from us by Monday, just forget about Oregon's exchange and go find health insurance on your own. That's a big help.

Oh, and the middle class? The NYT is also noticing that they're getting the shaft from Obamacare.
An analysis by The New York Times shows the cost of premiums for people who just miss qualifying for subsidies varies widely across the country and rises rapidly for people in their 50s and 60s. In some places, prices can quickly approach 20 percent of a person’s income.

Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income. By that measure, a 50-year-old making $50,000 a year, or just above the qualifying limit for assistance, would find the cheapest available plan to be unaffordable in more than 170 counties around the country, ranging from Anchorage to Jackson, Miss.
That's a fact that President Obama somehow missed covering when he was doing his happy-talk about Obamacare during Friday's press conference.

If you want to know how well government-run health care works, check out the VA system.

Victor Davis Hanson despairs at what he calls "Pajama Boy nation."
There is a growing tiredness with Pajama Boy nation. Millions are sick of being lectured, caricatured, and slandered for their supposed pathologies by the Sandra Flukes of the age and those in their pajamas who still grasp with two hands their hot chocolate. Add all their annoying Stalinist efforts up — to selectively going after Chick-fil-A or the Washington Redskins or Duck Dynasty — and the public is becoming tired of the shrill nerdocracy.
Jonah Goldberg is fatigued with the faux outrage over what one of the pet rednecks in a reality show expresses his honest opinions.
And what I find absolutely ridiculous is the feigned shock that an avatar of the redneck renaissance might actually have politically incorrect or just plain religiously orthodox views on homosexuality. Seriously, who called for the fainting couch when they read his interview in GQ?

Duck Dynasty has been a huge ratings success, receiving fawning coverage from the elite media. Much of the coverage has also been incredibly condescending, like aristocrats in Victorian London having a grand time inviting a Zulu tribesman to dinner. Everyone says, “Look at the funny rednecks,” until Robertson says something that you would absolutely expect to hear from a guy who plays a redneck on TV. Then suddenly everyone is scandalized? Please. Isn’t the whole point of these shows to demonstrate that there are lots of different kinds of people out there? Isn’t that a good thing? Lord knows, there’s no lack of reality shows about gays.

Maybe the best way to avoid such problems in the future is to demand that all reality-show casts be made up of professional actors. That way, reality will never disappoint us.

You can watch the documentary that Bret Baier did on the life of Charles Krauthammer. I found him particularly graceful in discussing the accident that paralyzed him. And his determination to finish graduating from Harvard Medical School even when he was paralyzed in his bed is particularly awe-inspiring.

Here is the history of how we went from pledging allegiance to the flag with our right arms extended in what was called the Bellamy Salute to placing our hand over our hearts.