Random thoughts, 13 July 2009

2009/07/13

To start off, the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor have started today, though the proceedings today consist primarily of opening remarks (read: statements of position); the excerpted comments appear to indicat as much. [1] It is, of course, interesting to me just how obviously partisan in nature the various comments are, though I suppose it should not come as much of a surprise. It is also interesting to note how it appears that these same partisans are already indicating how they intend to vote – and this, before the confirmation hearings have even begun. I suppose that if this is generally the case, then the “confirmation” hearings are basically just a farce, as the Democrats already control an insurmountable majority in the Senate.

Meanwhile, there are new rumors regarding former Vice President Cheney and whether or not he ordered the CIA to intentionally mislead Congress about the extent of the former’s covert operations. [2] Wait, Cheney doing something subversive? That don’t sound right at all! Okay, seriously, Congress and the CIA both need to get their stories right; I’m not even sure who has the more compelling argument at this point. On a related note, the President has ordered an investigation into the slayings of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, with the implication that Bush II’s administration may have been complicit in the slayings. [3] As I have mentioned previously, investigations of this type always concern me just a little, as it is a short step from this sort of inquiry to politically-motivated reprisals that would be highly damaging to the civility of our Republic. Certainly, discovering the truth is a noble pursuit, but there is also an inherent danger in “pulling up the rug” (so to speak), specifically that of what to do if such an investigation turns up information that implies (but does not prove) a specific connection (i.e., that Bush II or his administration members ordered the killings)? How far do we go to investigate such matters? Should they be taken to trial, and under whose jurisdiction should such a trial take place? What if another nation demands the right to try said individual(s); should we try them here in our courts, or turn over our own citizens to a foreign power who may not be as unbiased as they claim to be? Should we hold the former President himself accountable for the actions of his subordinates, and what happens if a foreign power demands the right to bring our President himself to trial in their courts? What if it turns out that the warlord in question acted independently of our advice; should our President still be held liable, simply for supporting the former? I fear that such matters may generate more concerns than they solve. As much as I prefer to know the truth about matters, some matters may be best left in the dark.

In further domestic news, the President and his advisors now predict that the ARRA ’09 stimulus will have its full effect by the end of 2010, but it is still working as planned. [4] I continue to find this interesting, given that the original marketing surrounding the passage of the bill indicated that without swift action, the economy would implode, the sun would darken, the stars would fall from the sky, etc., and that the bill would save or create millions of jobs before the end of this year. Of course, the President continues to beat the dead horse that is his blaming the entire situation on the previous administration and those evil Republicans, in general, but I suspect that people will eventually get tired of hearing these excuses. There are already some indications that this is the case; in the past few months, perception of the President as a person has remained overwhelmingly high, [5] but approval of his policies has been dropping. [6] The latter is also interesting to note, in that while the drop in his popularity among Republicans is understandable, the drop in his popularity among Independents is probably more telling. Naturally, his approval among Democrats should remain high, but if he continues to slip among Independents, the Democrats in general may find themselves in hot water come the midterm elections in 2010. It should also be noted that his drop in popularity among Independents is not insubstantial, either: almost ten points in just under six months. We shall see how this turns out, of course; results such as these tend to undermine the claims that the Democrats are “ruling from the middle.” Then again, ARRA and the massive spending initiatives for Green™ energy and universal health care are not exactly centrist policies, either.

And speaking of health care, it appears that there is dissention in the Democratic ranks. [7] Again, given the scale of the expenditure involved, it is not surprising that the moderate Blue Dogs are not happy about it. Meanwhile, Congress has released a a new proposal that will supposedly cost only 611 billion USD over ten years, as opposed to the so-called Kennedy Plan that the CBO projected to cost 1.6 trillion USD over the same period; unfortunately, this is a little misleading, in that the new proposal does not account for proposed increases in Medicaid over the same period of time. [8] Just as Democrats were quick to distance themselves from Kennedy’s “incomplete” plan, perhaps they should refrain from touting their “superior” plan, until their own details are worked out. On the other hand, with support for massive government health care expenditures eroding as time goes on, I suppose they need to promote any “successes” they have, just to keep public fervor at a high pitch.

Regarding the costs of these proposals, even the revised estimates provide a still-sobering picture of the costs involved for such programs. Just for some perspective on these numbers, here is a little (very, very rough) idea of the implications for these plans. Based on the tax statistics for 2006, there were a total of 138,394,754 returns, with 8,121,515 of those representing taxable income above 250,000 USD per year. [9] One of the popular arguments on the Democratic side is that they will only raise taxes on these such individuals; fair enough, but what will this mean in terms of additional costs for the same? Based on the same IRS statistics, these such individuals make up 5.86% of the total taxable population (8,121,515 / 138,394,754 = 0.0586; 0.0586 x 100 = 5.86%). Taking the total cost of the proposals into consideration, as well as the common 10-year timeframe for each, the results are as follows: for the Kennedy Plan, the results yield an annual cost of 19,700 USD for each of these 4 million individuals; the revised proposal yields an annual cost of 7,523 USD per year for the same. Leaving aside, for the moment, whether or not it is fair to demand that these 8 million individuals pay for the entire costs needed for 46 million uninsured individuals, can the Democrats seriously demand such additional costs, on top of the tax burden that these individuals already pay? Granted, of course, these individuals do make much more money than the other 95% of the population, but is it any less “socialist” to demand such wealth redistribution only from the rich? What happens if the definition of “rich” gets revised as time goes on? After all, unless you’re at the absolute low end of the scale, you’ll always be richer than someone.

Now, were the Democrats to propose that the costs be spread about equally between all taxpayers, this yields the following results: 441.50 USD per year for 10 years for the revised plan; 1,156.11 USD per year for 10 years for the Kennedy plan. [10] Given that the Kennedy Plan was considered incomplete but unfairly high (I’m not convinced that the cost estimate was entirely inaccurate, but the CBO acknowledged that its analysis was preliminary, at best), and that the revised plan is still incomplete, it is possible that a reasonable estimate could be in the neighborhood of 1 trillion USD over ten years (the President and his sycophants have implied that this could be the case), so this cost over ten years yields an annual cost of 722.60 USD per year. [11] Of course, this is not entirely accurate, since a substantial segment of the taxpaying population is, in fact, not actually taxed, since the individuals in this segment make less than the threshold value per year at which the IRS does not collect taxes (or refunds said taxes if they were withheld by said individuals’ employers). This has the effect of increasing the unit cost per individual, potentially above 1,000 USD per year. This latter point is particularly ironic, considering that one of the arguments employed by the President and his allies in support of a public plan is that the current health care system effectively costs individuals over 1,000 USD per year to defray the expenses involved in the treatment of uninsured individuals. [12] If this is the case, and if it becomes necessary to increase taxes for all taxpayers across the board (something I consider likely, as it seems unrealistically optimistic to assume that the entire cost of these such programs can be defrayed by increasing taxes only on the uber-rich and *somehow* finding ways of making other Fedgov programs more “efficient”), is this truly an improvement? Would it not be more worthwhile to find other ways to lower costs, rather than creating yet another Fedgov agency to administer a public program?

Additionally, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that public plans such as the Canadian health care system, which has been touted as a success story of such public programs, may not be quite as ideal as the propaganda machine would have us believe. [13] Granted, this is mostly anecdotal evidence, at best, but still, it is something to consider for all supporters of a government-administered program of any kind, not just health care. Of course, the concern with health care is that timing is far more critical than it is with, say, building a road or an office building; people’s lives could be at stake when health care decisions are concerned. Again, of course, the President and his allies are quick to argue that their plans do not involve bureaucrats meddling in health care decisions, but at some point, the bureaucracy will be involved in the decision-making process, and this will, invariably, lead to inefficiencies and delays. Unless, of course, one disregards the notion that historical performance is indicative of future performance. History is such a useless subject anyways, right?

Finally, for today’s WTF?!? moment, Sarah Palin is back in the news. [14] It appears that many of her detractors these days are from the GOP itself, and not even from the other side of the aisle. Funny that. On the other hand, there was certainly a segment within the GOP that believed she was the Second Coming (figuratively speaking, of course), so it is only natural that this same segment is now annoyed at her “inexplicable” decisions, I suppose. Honestly, though, I really don’t care what she’s up to; it was painfully obvious why she was selected as VP for McCain (seriously, she’s young, she’s a woman, she has a photogenic family, etc.; do I need to spell it out for you?), but I never had any confidence in her ability to do, well, anything. Of course, given who we got as President, I suppose this would not have been the worst thing that could have happened. And the circus continues…

Notes:

[1]: Associated Press article, 13 July 2009.

[2]: Reuters article, 12 July 2009.

[3]: CNN article, 13 July 2009.

[4]: Associated Press article, 13 July 2009.

[5]: Gallup poll, 08 June 2009.

[6]: Gallup poll, 10 July 2009.

[7]: CNN article, 10 July 2009.

[8]: CNN article, 02 July 2009.

[9]: Information available from the IRS website.

[10]: Calculations are as follows:

  • Revised plan: 611,000,000,000 USD / 138,394,754 = 4,414.91 USD; 4,414.91 USD / 10 years = 441.50 USD per year
  • Kennedy Plan: 1,600,000,000,000 USD / 138,394,754 = 11,561.13 USD; 11,561.13 USD / 10 years = 1,156.11 USD per year

[11]: 1,000,000,000,000 USD / 138,394,754 = 7,225.70 USD; 7,225.70 USD / 10 years = 722.57 USD per year

[12]: See here for an analysis of the President’s (and others’) claims regarding this figure, from FactCheck.org, 18 June 2009.

[13]: CNN article, 06 July 2009.

[14]: Los Angeles Times article, 13 July 2009.

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