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31 March 2010

Consequences II

The new health insurance reform law, the one that was designed to cover more people and reduce the cost of health insurance is going to do neither. Oh more people may be insured because they will be forced to buy health insurance whether they want it or not because our beatified, beneficent, bureaucratic federal overlords know what is best for everyone. Or a working parents children will be covered until the children are 26 (note the operative word in the sentence).
More than anything, though, what tells us that congress and the president haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about when it comes to prices, costs and accounting is summed up exquisitely here by Megan McArdle. It seems the people with their hands on the tap of the federal fisc wouldn't pass Accounting I:


Here's the story: one of the provisions in the new health care law forces companies to treat the current subsidies for retiree health benefits as taxable income. This strikes me as dumb policy; there's not much point in giving someone a subsidy, and then taxing it back, unless you just like doing extra paperwork. And since the total cost of the subsidy, and any implied tax subsidy, is still less than we pay for an average Medicare Part D beneficiary, we may simply be encouraging companies to dump their retiree benefits and put everyone into Part D, costing us taxpayers extra money.
But this is neither here nor there, because Congress already did it. And now a bunch of companies with generous retiree drug benefits have announced that they are taking large charges to reflect the cost of the change in the tax law.
Henry Waxman thinks that's mean, and he's summoning the heads of those companies to Washington to explain themselves. It's not clear what they're supposed to explain. What they did is required by GAAP. And I've watched congressional hearings. There's no chance that four CEO's are going to explain the accounting code to the fine folks in Congress; explaining how to boil water would challenge the format.


Related: Don Boudreaux over at Cafe Hayek has a wager he'd like to make with some muckety-mucks over the actual cost of the stuff they've been shoveling.

Public v Private & the Yoke of Unions

I had lunch today with a builder who is a client of ours. We were discussing the current state of affairs apropos the recession, healthcare and "stimulus" spending. He let me in on something I didn't know. The new health insurance reform law requires firms with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance. Bad idea, but fine, what the hell, that part I knew.
What I didn't know was that if you are a construction firm and you have more than five employees, you must offer them health insurance benefits. Which is just a terrible idea.
We were also discussing that any stimulus finds going to public works (those shovel ready jobs you've heard about), workers must be paid "prevailing wage." (See here and here). Which basically means that the work must go to union labor. Which inflates wages, slows development, reduces productivity and keeps unemployment higher than it otherwise would be if the work went through competitive bidding (not that that is apolitical or without problems, but it's better). I will post later why unemployment hasn't improved appreciably.
But the thrust of this post is the following clip I caught on reason.tv:



So while the federal, state and local government are hemorrhaging money, they are: increasing their staffs; increasing payrolls and associated expenses; increasing debt and future obligations; increasing the current and future cost of borrowing; crowding out further private investment and real economic growth. Good job, fellas.

30 March 2010

Santorum Redux

For all of you who thought you'd never experience the thrill of watching Rick Santorum lose another election I have good news.

The idiot is pondering a run for president.

Watching someone get his ass kicked in a primary certainly isn't as much fun as in a general, but for the sheer schadenfreude, I'll take what I can get.

28 March 2010

Worst Movies Ever

I was watching a perfectly fine documentary on History International about April 1865 and the close of the American Civil War when, during a commercial I flip around and end up on one of the worst movies ever made, right during the scene that hurtles the movie from improbably imbecilic down towards the depths rancidity. I mean, of course, Live Free or Die Hard and the scene featuring perpetually cursed hero cop John McClane, a tractor trailer, a section of highway and a Harrier Jump Jet. I can't find the scene on youtube (I guess because they have to draw the line somewhere) and words just can't do it justice but its horribleness must be seen to be believed. I just can't in good faith recommend anyone to see it.
So this got me thinking of some of my favorite worst movies, and in no particular order...

Big Trouble in Little China--a favorite on VHS when I was 13 or 14. I saw this again not so long ago. I knew it was bad when I was a kid, but I had no idea it was this awful. Kurt Russell at least seems to know he's in a terrible movie and appears just to have fun with it. Mr. Russell will show up again.

Rambo movies--First Blood kind of kicked ass. No sequels should ever have been made. I haven't actually seen any of the sequels in their entirety, but I think I'm on solid ground here. We will see Mr. Stallone some more.

Rocky III, IV, V and Rocky Balboa--OK, so I haven't seen Rocky Balboa, but I did see the others. The first Rocky is an all-timer, and the second doesn't suck. The rest do. I can't see there being any appreciable improvement.

Red Dawn--I absolutely loved this movie when I saw it on Prism as a kid. Then I hadn't seen it for over twenty years. Again, through the magic of cable and programmers desperately needing to fill time, I saw this again recently. One of the ways to stick your landing on this list is for the movie to laugh haughtily as it zooms past improbability. Like John McClane facing down a Marine in a jet with a truck. The US is invaded by a consortium of rogue states including Cuba(!). These ne'er do wells infiltrate all the way into Michigan(!) and then get thwarted by earnest, pubescent, poorly acted patriots. NORAD failed us, but the senior class held us together.

Roadhouse--Yes, there is a network of bouncers who, like the A-Team, can be called to rescue your bar from summer-toothed local goons who act at the behest of an improbably wealthy overlord who likes breaking things. The bouncers call themselves "coolers." This movie has all of the senseless fighting of a Clint Eastwood orangutan movie, but without the nuance. My brother loved it because Dalton was a philosophy major. I bet you didn't know there was a sequel (straight to video, of course).

Smokin' Aces--I've always liked Jeremy Piven. Take PCU as the period piece it's meant to be and he's an OK actor. He has truly come into his own as Ari Gold on Entourage. It was on the heels of my enjoying that show that I looked forward to Smokin' Aces. About a year ago it was on HBO. Ryan Reynolds is today's Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Patrick Swayze rolled into one, but without the pecs. In the penultimate scene which takes place in a hotel hallway he reads some lines. A slightly better dramatic effect would have been to have a production assisstant read directly from the script, it was so terribly done. Ray Liotta really doesn't seem to care at all about the fact that he's in a movie. The best part is the use of a .50 caliber rifle in a hit attempt--a .50 caliber rifle that, at times, has no recoil. Andy Garcia is in this movie. Sometimes he has an accent, sometimes he doesn't, but it doesn't matter because he's Andy Garcia. Jeremy Piven is in the movie, but plays a strung-out magician turned FBI informant against the mob. Just let that last clause marinate in your head for a bit.

Tango and Cash--Just. Fucking. Awful. Even at the time I first saw it (yes there was a second viewing, to verify the awfulness) I knew it was terrible. Teri Hatcher was kind of cute when this movie was made, and it didn't help. Laughable Improbability Moment: Stallone plays the smart cop.

This Movie--I think it's called Deadly Prey, I don't know because I'm dumber for having watched it. I haven't seen it. I won't see it. I've only recently seen the trailer. It's odd that I've never seen or heard of this movie before--one of my buddies growing up had a sick movie collection. His dad rented everything and copied it (two VCRs with 2X2 cables). His dad rented and copied stuff he never had any intention of watching, but we watched just about all of it. Never heard of this one. You just have to love the guy hitting another guy with his own arm after it's cut off.

This is a spur of the moment list and certainly not exhaustive or complete. I know I've missed some doozies and I retain the right to add to it from time to time. Thoughts, comments, additions &c are welcome.

Also, sequels have never been made to Caddyshack or the Blues Brothers. Period.

26 March 2010

Threats

Regarding obnoxious behavior, if you threaten an elected official with anything other that not voting for him in the next election, you're an asshole.

This One's Not My Fault

I'm really trying to leave Paul Krugman behind me. I really am.

But then he goes and writes something beyond the pale, even for him:

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

As Greg Pollowitz writes at National Review, just google "Kill George Bush" and see what you come up with.

Also, I stumbled upon this article recently. It appears the little Paul is more like John with his own little Yoko pulling his strings (or a Jonah Goldberg put it: "It seems fair to say that in the battle for Paul Krugman's brain, his wife is winning.") And the names they gave their cats. Yeeesh.

All right. That's it. I'm really hoping this is it. I almost don't think he could write anything dumber than what he wrote, and I seriously doubt there could be anything more preening and yet explanatory of his thinking, behavior and distortions all at the same time.

25 March 2010

That Noise You Hear is Me Banging My Head...

The only thing I like less than Bill O'Reilly is walking into my garage, taking my shoes off and pounding my toes with a hammer.
And that's a close race.
Anywho, I saw this:



And I kind of actually like Congressman Weiner. I disagree with him politically, but he debates well and honestly (usually). But he's wrong on this one and the horse's ass is correct. If you refuse to buy your own insurance you will be subject to sanction by the IRS. The actual penalties will be laid out by administrative action--hell, most of the nuts and bolts of this and most other modern legislation is meted out administratively.

If you were to disregard the law you would probably open yourself up to wage garnishment or liens against real property, but it will be the IRS who will be in charge and Conressman Weiner should have admitted as much.

What the

So I was watching the Oscars...well, it was on while I was doing something else. Anyway, the Oscars were on and they did their In Memoriam bit and they did a special bit for the great John Hughes. Now, I'm about as far from an expert on movies as you can get. I like what I like and I don't really care about critical praise. Of course I love some critically acclaimed movies and hate some others; I love some movies that would probably give most critics the dry heaves. I guess most people are like that.
Regardless, Hughes was great in capturing a hell of a lot of what youth was like in the 80s. So most of us didn't grow up in monochromatic Illinois suburbs with friends whose pops had a Ferrari, but that's not what I mean. He was able to show the vicissitudes and anxieties of teenagers without being condescending or (overly) trite.
And dammit they were funny.
But during the montage they showed something that has bothered me since 1986 when Andie asked Blane, "What about Prom?"
We're missing something here, no?
What prom? Who's prom? Which prom? Is it a specific prom? I know Andie shouldn't say, "What about my Prom," because, well, it isn't just hers.
And I know that Prom is short for Promenade, which can be both a noun and a verb, and verbs only get modified by adverbs, but "Prom" in this sense is obviously a noun, and a proper one at that. So Andie needs to be more specific.
I first noticed this when I saw this movie (and it annoyed me then), but I've noticed it more and more over the years. I think it must be a mid-westernism, because I haven't really ever noticed this usage in my neck of the woods (mid-Atlantic region). But it seems to be spreading.
Regardless of where it came from it's wrong. So the next time your next to some toe-headed, slightly bovine cornhusker or sooner talking about how thrilled she is about going to Prom with her boyfriend, smack her.
It'll make me feel better.

24 March 2010

Consequences

Fewer firms will provide health insurance benefits to employees--but employees won't get wage increases to match the loss of benefits because the employer will either be taxed or the employer will have no incentive to offer the difference in efficiency wages. And smaller firms will drop benefit plans as soon as they can. I've already heard from our accountant that that is what we have to do. See here, here and here.
And larger firms are already planning on trimming the benefits offered to employees.

All of these shifts will result in less coverage for people who were otherwise perfectly happy with what they had last week and more people being covered by plans subsidized by the federal government. And it will not be funded solely by taxes on people making more than $200k/year.

22 March 2010

Greg Mankiw

has a very good breakdown here.

19 March 2010

Last Bit

Well, it's probably inevitable that our dear leaders will vote to reform the administration of health insurance over the weekend.

My initial reaction is to try the Dylan Thomas routine and not go gently, to decry the willingness of my fellow citizens to fold in the comforting embrace of government, to bemoan the marching (further) down the road to serfdom.

But nope. This pooch has been screwed for some time now and it looks like my card will be punched before the actual 1984 rolls around, at least I hope so anyway. But I just want to clarify a few things.


I've said this before, but...just because you think this bill is a bad idea, that Medicare and Medicaid are a bad idea, that Social Security is a bad idea, doesn't mean that you don't like people, or that you like big businesses making big profits more than you like people, or that you enjoy watching people suffer. I am just as human as anyone else, and hearing stories of companies reneging on promises (whether contractually obligated or implied) makes me mad. My heart bleeds no less than anyone else's at the thought of someone suffering and dying from a treatable condition or curable disease.


And just because I think the federal government is overstepping it's clearly defined bounds and I distrust government intervention in everyday life as a general matter doesn't mean I hate government. I've spent too much time reading, studying, discussing, bitching and learning about it to hate it. I love how humans developed civilization. I respect the idea that, left to his own devices, man can be savage indeed. That coming together benefits everyone far more than going alone. I also believe that the coming together should be voluntary, or else it loses something. Something essential.


I also believe that if you treat people like chattel, or convince people that they don't know enough to take care of themselves, or aren't smart enough to live by their own devices then eventually you will end up with chattel who can't take care of themselves and aren't very bright. Evolution isn't necessarily a one way street and the Whig Theory of History could be very wrong--which, I think, it is.


There were people who were rightfully enraged at the agglomeration of executive power during the Bush administration. But remember, when the people in the Bush Administration did wiretapping without warrants and other such encroachments they didn't do it for giggles; they did it in the name of protecting the people. As misguided and misanthropic as it may seem, that's what they were getting at; it was for our own good. Can't you see? You need us to keep you safe!

But the people who were so infuriated then are now not only silent, but enthused about the diminution of liberty currently underway, they just don't see it in the same light. We're not simply encroaching on your liberty or taking more of your money. This is for your own good, for the good of everyone around you. Can't you see? You need us to keep you safe!

The fact that Democrats and Republicans speak out of both sides of their mouths and engage almost exclusively in ad hominem and to quoque arguments doesn't mean they are both not equally at fault. The expansion of power beyond constitutionally defined parameters, regardless of whether you think it will keep us safe from would-be terrorists or dastardly capitalists, is never acceptable. And we are the poorer for so willingly giving up our liberty.

One last point, anyone who thinks that this legislation will "reduce the deficit by $138 billion in its first decade and half of 1 percent of G.D.P., amounting to around $1.2 trillion, in its second decade," is simply delusional. The CBO report is chock full of caveats, specifically saying that CBO has not "thoroughly examined the reconciliation proposal to verify its consistency with the previous draft."

Well, I will try to avoid this subject forevermore. I think I'd rather watch basketball instead. G'Night.

05 March 2010

What Education Costs

Outside of Teachers' Unions, has there been a good argument against school vouchers? Are we not doing it solely because politicians are afraid of teachers? If there are any good arguments I would love to hear/read/see them.

04 March 2010

Speaking of Congress

And our milquetoast congresscritters, here is the letter I wrote to the damnable fool I'm presently stuck with as my voice in congress:

Congressman Murphy,
Mere words cannot express how bad an idea it is for the government to get further involved in health insurance. Why can't we strip the incentives for people to obtain insurance through work (which started because of federal interference in wages); allow for the cost of health insurance premiums to be deductible and allow people to buy insurance wherever they would prefer?
The "race to the bottom" argument against such allowances is laughable, because it would merely prove that individuals and firms prefer to conduct business with as few regulations as possible. Doing otherwise because people will choose cheap insurance or choose poorly is paternalistic, condescending and beyond the purview of congress' enumerated powers.
Further, requiring people to buy insurance or be faced with sanction, property confiscation and (ultimately) imprisonment strikes me as a diminution of liberty without due process. Notwithstanding the lack of authority granted to congress by the people (the sovereign, remember?) even to provide, much less mandate, health insurance in the enumerated powers. Since you've passed the bar I'm going to assume you've at least read Article I, Section 8 of the constitution.
Representative Pelosi's stance that the interstate commerce clause allows such action is also laughable. The commerce clause was intended to insure the free flow of commerce between the states; not for congress to use as a cudgel or to shape the country into some Utopia.
This is misguided and beyond what congress is allowed to do. You represent yourself as a "blue-dog" democrat. How can you, in good faith, vote in favor of this legislation when you must know that this will cause the federal deficit to expand far beyond where it already is? You know very well that the CBO scores are couched in language that says the bill will only be deficit neutral given certain rosy projections based on numbers supplied by congress and not by an independent, third-party auditor and on promises made by the current congress that future congresses will not be beholden or held to.
Please, realize that you and your brethren are acting with extraordinary hubris and extra-constitutionally; stand up and vote against this bill. If not, then at least meet with your constituents; face their questions in open fora; explain yourself.

Sincerely,
Me