February 2009

Dollar SignsThere is a fine, fine line between boldness of actions and insanity. I fear President Obama, in what may be the most hubris-filled presidential actions ever witnessed by the American people, may have crossed that line.

It is one thing to try to “rescue” the economy with a “stimulus” package that will likely slide us deeper into the economic abyss. It’s another thing entirely to submit a budget that is the fulfillment of a decade’s long Democratic party wish list. What the heck, they’re gambling the the house’s money, right?

But Obama has been put into the performance crucible with his recent election as president: For a guy who got away with voting “Present” for most of his political career, this is quite a shock to his ingrained sensibilities. So what has he done? He’s reverted to form!! He’s embraced the “you can spend your way out of any crisis” philosophy with vigor and gusto. And he’s never met a Democratic social program or possible government entitlement that he hasn’t warmly embraced. He’s actually slipping from the role as Commander-In-Chief into that of Robin Hood and Santa Claus all wrapped up in one package. Or perhaps he’s just going for President Bling-Bling.

I bet he doesn’t, for one single moment, believe that all this nonsense spending and proposed tax increases on “the wealthy” are going to pull us from the grips of ruin and then cut the federal deficit. He’s counting on the normal economic forces that drive our economy to pull us out. Period. And then he can claim “Victory,” whatever in the heck that will be.

Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has euphemistically called the overtly-larded stimulus plan a “tow truck” and Obama’s new budget “nourishment.” I respectfully beg to disagree! The stimulus does have a chain coming from it to our economy, much like a tow truck. But instead of a wrecker on the other end, there is a HUGE ANCHOR that will weigh our country down, and future generations, for a long, long time. And the new budget is anything but nourishment to our country. Nourishment would imply something that is required to sustain our country, and furthermore do it no harm. However, Obama’s new budget is unashamed Democratic, earmark-laden gluttony: It is a feeding frenzy feast of pork combined with an entitlement food fight that will, again, saddle the American people with a debt that must be paid long after Obama and McGovern have retired from DC with their swank pensions and other perks.

But I guess that’s what happens when you play with the house’s money. You get money for nothing, and your drinks for free! And then the rest of us poor saps get to clean up the mess!!

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

There’s a Hollywood film that comes to my mind when I think about the aims and recent actions of the Congress. It’s the 1988 Steve Martin and Michael Caine vehicle “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” You can pick any of the scenes of obfuscation, chicanery and deception in this film and find parallels to the recent Congressional actions relating to the stimulus bill, HR1.

The behavior of our elected representatives during the passage of HR1 (aka the stimulus bill) is both shameful and contemptible. It also represents a blatant dereliction of duty by the Congress: They shirked their ultimate duty of acting in their citizen’s best interests — you know, being prudent stewards of our affairs. How did they do this, you might ask? At the time that the vote was taken in last night’s Senate session, it was revealed that not a single representative or senator read the 1000+ pages of this bill, nor understood the provisions that they were voting upon. The Congress was so single-minded in passing this wide-reaching legislation as quickly as possible that we, the people, didn’t have a chance to review the text of the bill before they voted to enact it.

This is hardly the new era in Washington politics that Obama promised during his presidential campaign. Unfortunately, it represents a new low for our political process, and it was embraced and abetted by Obama himself. He took this opportunity to speak out of both sides of his mouth — he wanted “bipartisan” support for HR1, but he also wanted this political feather in his cap at any cost. And cost us all it certainly will! But the cost to the reputation and the ethics of the Congress will be far larger than the ultimate cost in dollars for this legislation. How can we trust these people to do what’s right in the future? How can we see anything that the Congress does in the future as being untainted? Simply put…we can’t.

Now, contrary to the claims of President Obama, House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, there was not a single compelling reason to rush this legislation through the process in the manner that it was. Truth be told, not a single of dollar of relief will be distributed nor a single job will be funded for many, many months. Yet we were all told (in fact we were regaled with gloom and doom predictions) that this bill must be enacted with all due speed. Why? Because both Obama and the Congressional leadership knew full well that HR1 was laden with special interest provisions and earmarks. In other words, it was obese with pork. And it also contained provisions, like those relating to healthcare “reform” that will negatively impact each and every American citizen — and certainly in no way related to economic stimulus.

But because we didn’t have the text of the legislation until mere hours before voting took place, we couldn’t possibly know what our representatives were voting on, how these measures would affect us, and then have the chance to voice our opinions.

It’s apparent that our opinions didn’t count. This legislative measure was designed to be rammed through the legislative process under the guise of “helping” us. This was an opportunity for the majority Democrats to giddily enact decades of socialistic measures that they have been (in the past) thwarted in foisting upon the American taxpayer. They were not going to lose this political battle…no way, no how.

Where does this leave us –you know the American citizens who will have to pay for this garbage and who will have to live under the yoke of the bill’s provisions? Well, we won’t know the true impact of HR1 for weeks after the ink on Obama’s signature has dried. And perhaps we’ll never know what the true ramifications of this legislation are. I guarantee you that victory will be claimed regardless if it is a raging success or an abject failure.

And one thing is perfectly clear to me: Unfortunately, any objections or concerns that we may have regarding HR1 will fall upon deaf legislative ears. Obviously, the bill will be law and the die is cast. If we can’t abide by the provisions, tough donuts to us!

I also can’t help think that this whole mess reminds me of the “knighting” ceremony in the 1955 Danny Kaye film “The Court Jester, where Giacomo the Court Jester is put through the process of becoming a knight in order to fight Sir Griswold for the hand of the fair Princess Gwendolyn — a process that normally takes years to accomplish, in a matter of minutes. The reason this was done was to satisfy a  corrupt king and his advisers — but the knighting process was also corrupted and Giacomo was being set up behind his back up to lose, and to be killed. It’s a pretty comical sequence. “Yea, verily, yea!” But it’s a sad reality that this slapstick comedy sequence comes to my mind when I think about the HR1 legislative shenanigans by our Congress.

Yea, verily, yea!

In a Feb. 9th commentary on Bloomberg.com, former New York lieutenant governor and now senior fellow at the Hudson Institute Betsy McCaughey took an in-depth look at one of the more obscure provisions of Obama’s stimulus bill, HR 1 ER. In this commentary, “Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan: Betsy McCaughey“, she teases out the true intentions of the healthcare provisions in the bill:

The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system.

There will be no opportunity to opt-out of this provision. Your concerns about your provacy are trumped by the Federal government’s concerns about cost and health efficacy. As innocent as it may seem at first glance, this provision is Big Brother government at its worst.

One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”

No longer will your doctor be free to proscribe and prescribe treatments to you that are thought to be in your best interests. Rather, a Washington DC bureaucracy will determine the best course of action based on cost and your age. Your doctor will then have to conform to these guidelines, whether it cures you or not.

Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties.  “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541).

Doctors are not allowed to opt-out of the system. If they do, they will suffer unspecified “penalties.”

In his book, Daschle proposed an appointed body with vast powers to make the “tough” decisions elected politicians won’t make.

The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.

Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost- effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council (464).

The Federal Council is modeled after a U.K. board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis.

This is an odious provision in the bill. It virtually allows the government to play God. Your individual needs for treatment will not be paramount, rather your needs will be compared to guidelines — always in a quest for cost effectiveness. This portion of the bill also discourages new medications and treatments, which are most likely to be more expensive. This could have a chilling effect on medical innovation and stunt the medical device and healthcare industry in the US.

The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined (90-92, 174-177, 181).Hiding health legislation in a stimulus bill is intentional.

YOUR healthcare costs will come under close, bureaucratic scrutiny. But the Federal bureaucracy will have a budget larger than the lion’s share of our military. This should frighten people, as this new “system” has all the potential of rivaling Social Security in its cost, scope and complexity. And hasn’t Social Security worked out well?

Daschle supported the Clinton administration’s health-care overhaul in 1994, and attributed its failure to debate and delay. A year ago, Daschle wrote that the next president should act quickly before critics mount an opposition. “If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it,” he said. “The issue is too important to be stalled by Senate protocol.”

This is by far the most insulting and dangerous part of the provision. this is midnight legislating at its finest! Is it the place for our elected representatives to sneak a provision into a stimulus bill that will affect the health and healthcare of every single American citizen, forevermore, without adequate discussion of this matter? How many Americans are even aware of the breadth and scope of this single provision? Are we willing to have these permanent strictures placed on the healthcare that we can obtain as we age?

These are all good questions, but they were apparently never meant to be answered by this session of Congress, controlled by the Democrats. This is not your usual pork pet project that has been slid into a larger piece of legislation. This is a provision that will affect our personal freedom and liberty…and perhaps negatively affect our privacy. Can you imagine the unintended consequences of someone’s very personal medical history becoming very public, let’s say during a political campaign? Or during a job interview? We may be given absolute assurances to the contrary, but computerized data can always be compromised. Just think US nuclear research labs leaks or the credit card data fiascoes with retailers. Now, doesn’t the prospect of having your most private health information computerized and de-centralized seem like a good one?

In the end, this provision, although probably inserted with some good intentions, shows how little our elected representatives care about us as individuals. They really don;t need our opinions on this matter — they know best and we’ll only cloud the matter and prevent “progress”, whatever that is. The way this provision was handled (surreptitiously inserting it into an economic recovery plan) reveals to me a contempt and a politically-driven paternal attitude — after all our elected representatives are supposed to do our bidding and act in our best interests as directed by us. In fact, this healthcare provision reeks of collectivism and a stroll down the path of socialized medicine. Perhaps this is what the intent is all along…to pave the way for an easier transition to full government-controlled, socialized medicine. That thought should scare the devil out of every person who values freedom of choice and personal liberty. Because it’s not that far down the road from telling your doctor how to treat you to telling you who your doctor will be. Your health doesn’t matter as much as the cost of the treatment(s) do. This provision makes you less of an individual and more of a number — a case to be analyzed for statistical information.

So, my question is: “Don’t you feel stimulated?”

In his Monday night (February 9th, 2009) press event, President Obama was long on details about how he thought we got into this financial crisis. He railed about the “last eight years” and failed agendas and failed policies. If you listened solely to him for your historical references of the last eight years, the Bush administration did as much damage to the economy as a massive asteroid strike would do to the Earth.

But inasmuch as Obama was stinging in his blame game rhetoric for the current financial mess, he was short on the truth. See, there were plenty of Democratic politicians, from Bill Clinton all the way down to the lowliest back-bench House member, who also contributed mightily to this disaster. What Obama failed to mention is far more important than what he did. See, the true villains in this screenplay are former Pres. Bill Clinton, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Se. Christopher Dodd (D-CT). These three individuals had some large part in the Community Redevelopment Act (CRA) of 1999 — a probably well-intentioned piece of legislation which sought to increase home ownership in the lower areas of the earning scale and credit rating that had rarely happened in the past.

[The details are too involved for this single post, but suffice to say that this legislation would rely on two quasi-federal, government sponsored enterprises (GSE's), Freddie Mac (FHMC) and Fannie Mae (FNMA), to act as debt sock absorbers. These two entities would "guarantee" the mortgage paper of the sketchy loans that were forced upon lending institutions by the CRA. In hindsight, the problem with the CRA was threefold -- first, the government provided pitifully poor oversight to the lending process and to the "toxicity" of the debt burden held by the two GSE's. Second, there was greed on both sides of the mortgage lending table: Folks who never should have applied (and ultimately gotten) loans were given loans by greedy lending institutions, who cheerfully passed the paper to the GSE's while collecting their loan origination fees. Thirdly, and this is the most important one, the laws of unintended consequences found fertile ground to bloom and wreak havoc in this situation. Home owners who were just barely scraping by by the skin of their teeth in perfect financial times only needed one adverse financial event to throw them into financial chaos and into loan default. This financial event was the soaring oil prices we encountered in 2007-2008.]

So now, here we are, in this financial mess. And ironically we have many of the same folks (like Frank and Dodd) who got us into this mess in the first place are tasked with getting us out! And we have an avowed socialist-redistributionist, Barak Obama clamoring for a bailout bill that I believe he doesn’t fully understand or whose provisions he isn’t fully aware of, as he had no hand in writing this wasteful behemoth. Or, he perhaps understands the provisions quite well and simply chooses to cherry-pick the ones he feels are the most politically beneficial to him. After all, with only three weeks in office, he’s firmly ensconced in his re-election bid.

First Obama touted that the legislation was going to save or create 4.5 million jobs. Then this was throttled down to 3 million jobs in recent weeks. They in his frenzied road trip to gain support in this past week, this figure has risen again to 3.5 million jobs. Regardless of the numbers, this is an awful expensive proposition to save a paltry 3.5 million jobs. I remind you that there are approximately 310 million Americans and this is a, strictly by the numbers, a 1% proposition.

But the big lie comes when we are told what this government spending on steroids will do for our economy. It is supposed to stimulate our economy. It is supposed to replace the natural economic driver for our economy — namely consumer spending. After all, we’re being told by the likes of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) that the government knows best how to spend our money clearly better than we do: “If you put a tax cut into the hands of a business or family, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to invest that or invest it in America.” This is the perverse economic and social thinking that pervades and has gripped Washington DC.

The stimulus spending will make it’s way primarily to dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters: unions, community organizers, welfare recipients and the like. That’s the truth that our new president doesn’t want you to know. He’s a skilled orator, but defending this stimulus has left him wont for words at times. Perhaps he could have used his words and his website to fully lay out the stimulus bill provisions, and how they will affect all Americans. But we all know that there is a zero chance of this occurring.

Nope, it’s more of the same for us. Outright lies, half-truths and evasive speeches will be the rule. The only changes that we’ll see, as was the case with the stimulus bill, are the backroom deals, the midnight legislating and the warp speed consideration of such critical legislation (without adequate dissemination and explanation of information to the public). And rather than acting as a calming influence for the average American, Obama and the Democrats have shrieked that the end of the world is coming if the stimulus plan isn’t passed, and have crowed about the specious and unproven benefits when it is adopted.

How come I get the not-so-subtle feeling that we’re being treated like a group of idiots by a smaller group of morons?!?! And all in the name of political advantage and gainsay!

Now, don’t you feel stimulated?

The political genius Obama, The One, has hitched his wagon to this “stimulus” package. It’s too late for him now to do what he did with the Daschle situation and say “I screwed up.” He’d lose political face and capital and he’d essentially become irrelevant from the git-go. He’s backed himself into a political corner.

Due to his inexperience in business and the private sector (and in any work that involved getting his hands dirty), Obama suffers from a world-class case of “I don’t know” squared. That means he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. Put another way, that’s called ignorance. Ignorance may be bliss, but a simple dose of education/learning/fact-finding can cure it. Obama thinks he knows it all — he thinks now that he’s president that if he says it’s so, then it’s so. He really did start to believe the bromides that he spewed during his campaign hook, line and sinker. He doesn’t want those pesky details such as that a fair piece of the programs and spending in HR1 won’t stimulate anything or create a single job. Perhaps he just doesn’t care.

But, now we have this stimulus package to deal with. It contains everything that the Democrats have wanted in terms of social and socialist programs, big spending programs, since the Reagan administration. They figure that they can dazzle us with footwork while baffling us with BS by putting together this behemoth piece of legislation. And they also figure that they can force this whole mess down our throats because the legislation is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Who wants to be the legislator who nixes the purported salvation of the country? Legislators are forced into the Hobson’s choice of being coerced into voting for something that is against all of their deeply-held principles or voting for this bill in the name of stimulus and accepting all the other bitter consequences. It appears that as time goes by, and Democrats and Republicans alike have a chance to dig into this turkey of a bill, that many legislators don’t see it as it’s being sold to them by Obama, Pelosi and Reid. They’re willing to let their principles rule the day and to shoulder the blistering criticisms.

So, now we’re seeing the blame game starting to unfold — the standard game plan of the Democratic party — as they’re trying to say Republicans lining up to oppose this bill are being partisan, uncooperative and obstructionist. They’re also blaming Republicans (who by the way are trying to get some tax cuts crammed into the bill) for increasing the overall cost to more than $905 billion and counting.

If the Republicans were smart, and I’m not holding too much hope here, they would walk away from this stimulus package and oppose it to a man/woman. Since it looks like several Democratic senators can’t stomach this nasty pork barrel spending either, it will be defeated and a do-over will be necessary.

We will find that it isn’t terribly urgent that this legislation be passed as quickly as Obama desires it to be. He’s just looking for a feather to put in his presidential cap — even though that feather comes from a turkey or dodo bird!

We need a stimulus package that will actually stimulate the economy, rather than one that stimulates the governmental pituitary gland — creating governmental growth that won’t help the private sector economy one whit.

Let’s hope that the Republicans don’t negotiate themselves into a trillion dollar hole in our national budget that can never be properly filled in. I hope they hold the line and oppose this monster on principles.

Then the Congress can roll up its sleeves and do the real business of its citizens.

HR1: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the 2009 Obama Stimulus Plan, is the height of contempt and disrespect by our elected leaders towards, us, American citizens. And by citizens I mean legal, taxpaying American citizens.

This so-called recovery and stimulus legislation has more partisan entitlement candy and rewards for their core constituency than it does actual economic “stimulus.” The simple fact that this legislation was proposed in the first place, straight-faced, by the Democrat leadership indicates either how dumb they think we all are or how much in contempt that they hold us.

The key precept of this legislation was to give the US economy a temporary shot in the arm. It was meant to get infrastructure and government spending into the economy quickly in order to bolster the expected natural recovery cycle of the recession. In short, it was meant to help the ailing economy get the sniffles rather than the full blown flu.

I’m not going to list all the partisan goodies and pork in this recovery legislation (if you want some light, bedtime reading you can peruse it for yourself HERE), but suffice to say that the ratio of immediate spending to longer term spending (of questionable value in aiding the actual recovery) is less than 50:50. That means that 50% (and probably more by some economist’s analyses) is being essentially wasted on programs and spending whose intent is to grow the size of the government and reward Democrat-leaning special interests. When we expect our hard-earned tax dollars to be spend in our best interests — frugally and wisely, meaning benefiting everyone, then this legislation is both an insult and a slap-in-the-face.

What I do know is that this verbose legislation (at well over 400 pages) was intentionally meant to bog down and confuse any person with the initiative to read it through. It was also intended as a vehicle to implement sweeping government programs that are intrusive into the personal privacy and liberty of most US citizens. As such, we citizens expect (or should expect) that measures like theses would be proposed as stand-alone legislation and not as part of a all-or-nothing stimulus bill. Additionally, we citizens should expect that stimulus legislation should only benefit legal US citizens. But this legislation ignores our economic pain and includes “rebates” and giveaways for illegal aliens.

The way in which this legislation was structured was meant to pull the wool over our collective eyes. Our representatives think we’re morons, and by the looks of this “stimulus” bill, we probably are! This legislation is more of a personal and party self-aggrandizement exercise by the Democrats. After all, who could possibly NOT vote for their generous benefactor(s) and government goody givers? Can anyone say quid pro quo?

Even though it passed in the House, I was heartened to see that all the Republicans and 11 Democrats stood on principles in the face of almost withering pressure for “bipartisanship” and “swift action” and voted against this turkey. Rather than being purely partisan opposition, I believe that the Republicans just couldn’t hold their noses long enough to vote for this bill just for the small portion that is actual stimulus. Rather than politics, it was an act of courage by the Republicans opponents (and even more so by the 11 Democrats in their opposition.)

It is unknown if this measure will gain approval in the Senate, even in the face of many controversial provisions being stripped out to make it more palatable for Republicans. However, a vast amount of waste and frivolous spending still resides in this package. I hope that the Senate Republicans and Democrats also see this legislation for what it is, a pork-laden insult to the American taxpayer. Exhortations and coercions by the majority leadership, collegial sentiments and cordial orations cannot make this bill anything but what it is: A travesty unworthy of support from our legislators and a craven power play from a self-proclaimed uncorrupted political party.

I think all Americans will remember all those who supported this legislation, and they will “un-elect” them at the next opportunity that presents itself to voters.