Friday, August 28, 2009

The US Constitution: Does It Matter?

We find ourselves in an era of unprecedented expansion of Government power. Not that it hasn't been going on for a long time, but the last several months have alarmed even some who generally are comfortable with pervasive Government in the name of "the common good."

Many, including this correspondent, have lately increased their study of the American founding and the principles at its core, and are sorely concerned that we are losing our "great experiment." And it is happening at such a frenetic pace that keeping up with it and responding seems virtually impossible for those of us at the grass roots level. We despair that the damage being done is irreversible, and that the outcome is unavoidable.

Our current President is on the record saying that he views the Constitution as a constraint on Government action, as embodying primarily "negative rights." It's clear he sees it as an impediment to his agenda. He is an Ivy educated lawyer, and a former "professor" of Constitutional Law. That he could hold such a view with his background is frightening and goes to the very heart of why all civilizations eventually fall.

With all due respect, Mr. President, that is exactly why we have a Constitution: to establish and constrain a system of governance. As someone said, laws constrain people, constitutions constrain government. Laws and government derive their moral authority from the Constitution; if we hold the latter to be irrelevant and malleable, then the former have no foundation and are without meaning.

When you come right down to it, the Constitution is the only tangible framework we have to define our system of Government. Without it, there is no America and no foundation for everything we consider unique to our way of life.

If it is not held sacred and inviolate, than we have a free-for-all subject to public whims. All elected and appointed officials take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend this Constitution, yet it is obvious to all but the most gullible that their oaths have lost their meaning, and that it is a rare official who understands the document in the most profound sense.

The very essence of the Constitution is that we established a limited government with enumerated powers. That is, the Government has only those powers specifically granted to it by the Constitution, and nothing more. Adhering to such a design requires two things: officials who take their oath and the Constitution seriously, and a "watchdog" process that enforces both.

At this point, we appear to have neither. Our elected representatives, always intent on doing good and preserving their jobs, have turned the founding principles on their head. They tacitly assume that government has unlimited powers, they ignore the concept of enumeration, and they dare us to stop them from establishing authority they were never intended to have. They compel us to pay for their creations by force of law. Doing "good" and working in the "helping field" becomes the end all be all justification for everything.

On the judicial front, "strict construction" of the Constitution is derided as a mean-spirited and archaic point of view. The enlightened claim the Constitution is a living document, that it embodies various penumbras, and that our understanding of it should be informed by decisions in other countries.

They argue that we need "moderate" Justices on the Supreme Court, rather than hide-bound ones who dig their heels in when pushed to ignore Constitutional limits.

Justice Antonin Scalia addressed this when he said:

[Y]ou hear in the discourse on this subject, people talking about moderate, we want moderate judges. What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean? There is no such thing as a moderate interpretation of the text. Would you ask a lawyer, “Draw me a moderate contract?” The only way the word has any meaning is if you are looking for someone to write a law, to write a constitution, rather than to interpret one.

In recent months, the concept of an ethnic minority woman reaching wiser decisions because of the "richness of her experience" has been front and center in the debate over the relevance of our Constitution in the modern era. This is a perfect example of how we allow "nuance" and other subjective factors to intrude on an objective subject.

"Excuse me professor; I have a question."

"Yes, Poppy, what is it?"

"Well, isn't the Constitution that the current fashion finds restrictive, irrelevant, dated, living, and malleable the same one that defines and grants the powers of office that these individuals occupy? Don't our President, our Senators, our Representatives, and Justices have their power and authority only by virtue of the same Document that they wish to shape to their own desires?"

"Yes, Poppy, I suppose it is. What is your point?"

"It's very simple, Professor. If we aren't obligated to hold sacred and inviolate the framework embodied in our Constitution, why should we respect and honor their offices, cede them authority over us, and feel compelled to obey their laws and comply with their policies?"

"When you put it that way, Poppy, I don't know how to answer."

"Well, Professor, you could always say, as our politicians are wont to do, 'that's not the issue.' Even though it is."

"And then you could say that you'll get back to me on that after you've had a chance to let your staff look at it."

"You're a regular smart-ass aren't you Poppy? Class dismissed."

Lincoln's Wisdom - Updated

"You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

- Abraham Lincoln

"You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool enough of the people most of the time."

- P. C. Poppycock

Pingree Afterthoughts

One more thing; until the next thing, that is.

The session with Pingree reminds me that too many of our permanent governing class, our putative "public servants," don't consider free enterprise, the private sector, and capitalism to be the engine of prosperity for the multitudes. Or as an expression of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Instead, they see them strictly as unprincipled and reckless generators of wealth to be consumed by government for its programs, and they tolerate them only until such time as they find another source to fuel the government engine.

Printing currency may be government's "cold fusion," but in reality, it's just the free lunch theory taken to incredibly destructive lengths. Too many have been getting too fat on those lunches for too long, and look where it's gotten us.

Bloating is a national crisis, and then there's all the overweight people.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Other Side Brings a Consultant on Board

Let me set the stage. Do you know how much you paid in Maine State Income Tax last year?

You probably have a rough idea, but may not remember the exact number. I’m guessing if you had ten minutes to dig through your files, though, you could find the specific amount.

OK, good job; now the next question. Do you know how much you paid in Maine State Sales Tax last year? If you’re like most of us, you don’t have a clue. $1.18 here, $18.00 there, and 30 cents for a Starbucks coffee; it’s all so easy to forget, and terribly inconvenient to keep track of. And sure as shooting, if I gave you a week to figure it out, you couldn’t come up with an answer. If you could, though, I bet you’d be damn surprised by how high the number is.

Hopefully this gives you some context for the “tax reform” legislation recently enacted by our benevolent State Government. Devoted as this act was to easing our pain, there are still those who doubt the true motivation behind the law, and so a citizens' veto drive is under way.

The Times Record editorialized on this very subject yesterday (Wednesday, August 26th.) I’ve often suspected that the paper runs editorials composed in the State Capitol by majority staff, and this item fits the profile, if there is such a thing. It is one of their finer examples of smarmy and condescending rhetoric, in which they reveal their disdain for us, and infer that we should know our place. Lapdog vs. watchdog, take your pick. I know where I line up.

Here are some of the best lines from the editorial:

”Critics of Maine’s new tax reform law betray the poverty of their ideas when they bad-mouth the statewide roadshow that Maine Revenue Services begins on Monday to explain the law to taxpayers.”
“Far easier to just keep repeating the slogan “Still fed up with taxes ” and call for a veto without offering any alternative.”

If that doesn’t sound like it was scripted in the Majority staff offices in Augusta, nothing does.

And I would respond as follows. “Supporters of Maine’s new tax reform law betray their naiveté in comprehending the real tax issue, and their inability to report objectively in the best interest of their readers.” And so the outlook for the old media continues to decline, just as the outlook for Maine does, and the two are intertwined.

Further, any journalist worthy of the title, and even more so an “editor,” would understand enough about the balance of power in Augusta to know that the ability to offer “alternatives” is non-existent. The committees squelch any minority offerings before they see the light of day, and the captive lap-dog media is not going to provide any coverage even if the alternatives made sense.

I’m obviously very biased about this subject, and unlike the Times Record, I decided to do something about it to maintain your respect. The surprising growth in Side readership, and the financial returns that accompany it, put us in a position to bring in a recognized consultant to provide expertise and objectivity.

And so it is with great delight that I introduce Side readers to Mr. O’Seau ObVeeous. Mr. ObVeeous is of French extraction, and is a Credentialed Captain and Master Mariner, with years of experience at guiding ships safely through the cesspools and swamps of government waters.

I present now the transcript of an interview I conducted with Mr. ObVeeous today.

Side: Welcome, Mr. ObVeeous. Thank you for your interest in helping our readers get the ‘rest of the story.’ Do you mind if I call you O’Seau?

ObVeeous: Actually, I’d prefer that you call me Captain ObVeeous. I worked very hard to reach this position, and I want you to address me by my official title.

Side: I apologize Captain. Have you had a chance to read and digest the editorial page I gave you, and if so, what is your initial reaction?

ObVeeous: Yes I have, and before I get more specific, can I keep the page? I caught some fish today, and I need something to wrap them in.

Side: Of course you can, Captain Sir. And your thoughts?

ObVeeous: Thanks. And let me be blunt: anyone who thinks that the ruling majority in Augusta is going to do anything, anything at all, to intentionally reduce state revenues and ease the burden on taxpayers is a few keys shy of a full keyboard, and shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Side: That seems a bit harsh, even for a Times Record editorial. Excuse me….I think I hear some music coming from your coat pocket; what is that?

ObVeeous: Not harsh at all. Anyone worth his salt, if you’ll pardon the mariner’s pun, knows that Maine’s so called tax reform is a cynical attempt to rig the rankings put out by those national taxpayer watchdog groups. In other words, make your state look better without giving up a damn thing.

Side: And the music, Captain Sir?

ObVeeous: Oh….that’s the musical Chicago playing on my MePod. I just love it. I don’t know if there is a real Billy Flynn in the Maine legislature, but there might as well be. Just listen to these words from “Razzle Dazzle.” They fit the situation perfectly.

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

Side: Wow! That’s pretty catchy stuff. But why do you think it fits the bill here?

ObVeeous: Well, to begin with, they even pulled the wool over the eyes of the Wall Street Journal, which should have known better. Instead, they became putty in the hands of the reigning Democrat majority and their propaganda machine, the same way the jury became putty in Billy’s hands at Roxie’s trial.

Side: Hmmm….good points, Captain Sir. Can you elaborate?

ObVeeous: You bet your dinghy I can, you squid. Sure, they lowered the income tax rate, but they also eliminated the deductions for property taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable donations. How many of your readers know that? Some bean counters I know calculated the effect overall, and while on its face the tax rate was lowered by 2%, the effective tax rate for most Mainers will dip only a skosh. And with all the new stuff covered by the sales tax, and the increased rates on so-called tourist items, your friends can figure on paying more in total taxes, even if they can’t figure out how and why. I bet they don’t even know Maine residents pay about two-thirds of the so called “tourist taxes” the politicians claim they’re exporting.

Side: Well, you’re certainly earning your fees today, Captain Sir! I hope our readers appreciate your expertise and insights.

ObVeeous: That’s what I’m here for matey. And did I tell you that anyone who thinks that the ruling majority in Augusta is going to do anything, anything at all, to intentionally reduce state revenues and ease the burden on taxpayers is a few keys shy of a full keyboard, and shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Let alone write editorials on the subject. While I’ve got your ear, why don’t we just listen to the rest of Billy’s act. It says more about the “tax reform” show than any editorial ever could, and it fits perfectly with the old soft shoe act practiced in the halls of the state house.

Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll never catch wise!

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle 'em

Give 'em a show that's so splendiferous
Row after row will crow vociferous

Give 'em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture 'em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?
Throw 'em a fake and a finagle
They'll never know you're just a bagel,
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll beg you for more!

Give 'em the old double whammy
Daze and dizzy 'em
Back since the days of old Methuselah
Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler

Give 'em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger 'em
When you're in trouble, go into your dance

Though you are stiffer than a girder
They'll let you get away with murder
Razzle dazzle 'em
And you've got a romance

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle 'em
Show 'em the first rate sorceror you are
Long as you keep 'em way off balance
How can they spot you've got no talent
Razzle Dazzle 'em

Poppy, my boy, if that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.

You don’t suppose any of those folks up in the state house wear pink feather boas and carry sequined fans, do you?

Side: Not that I’ve ever seen, Captain Sir. But who knows what they do in those cactus meetings they have.

ObVeeous: “Cactus meetings?” What the hell are those?

Side: That’s something better left for another time, Captain Sir. Do you have anything else to say in closing?

ObVeeous: Yes I do. Tell that editor guy I’m gonna pay for his membership in Krugman’s KKK. And tell that Senator Peter Mills the same thing. He probably deserves a charter membership.

Side: I wish you hadn’t mentioned that, Captain Sir. That column is still in draft form, and I’m not sure when it will be published.

ObVeeous: Sorry, Poppy, but look at it this way. At least your readers have something to look forward to. It won’t match what I had to say, but what could? Am I the best money you ever spent or what?

"Other Side" Heroes

Readers know I raved about recent commentaries by Marsha Hinton and Scott Ruppert, and designated both of them as "heroes" for their efforts.

I have contacted both to let them know, and am pleased to report that Scott has a very fine blog that makes this one look like the kindergarten effort it is. You'll find his listed in the "sites I follow" gadget on the right, but in case you didn't you can find "Basicman" here.

Report: Pingree Meeting at Brunswick Library

Pardon mois. It occurred to me as I was outside romping with Boo-boo and Sweety Bitch that I had not paid due homage to the subject of this post, nor would the broad national and international audience this blog reaches know who was being discussed.

So, as a point of order, it is appropriate to note that First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, (D) Maine, appeared in Brunswick today to meet with her subjects, check that, constituents. Pingree ran for the US Senate against Susan Collins some years ago, and lost. Her daughter Hannah is Speaker of the House in the Maine Legislature, so a dynasty may be a-building.

Now the report:

I attended this session today, arriving in town early to "beat the rush." I was expecting some entertainment from various public shenanigans, if nothing else.

What a major disappointment. Very low turn out....not quite enough to fill all the chairs. Nobody demonstrating, no signs, pretty much ho-hum.

The only group reaction was before Pingree arrived, and the MC for the meeting said that the session was arranged to discuss issues relevant to the Brunswick Downtown business situation. He said that if we came to discuss the health care issue, we "should find another meeting." This was not a popular announcement, and resulted in several cat calls, with people saying "I'm out of here." I don't know if any actually left or not, but someone pointed out that health-care is important to Brunswick Downtown business.

In particular, the gent sitting behind me, who had a complete copy of the house bill, had traveled down from Winthrop for the session. A retired attorney, he was not happy with the opening.

There were some very general questions and comments related to health care, but overall, the meeting was about a 9.3 on the snoozer scale. Lots of local pols around, but very low key.

I recorded the whole thing on a cheesy little voice recorder. The quality is not great; some distortion, but if you listen, you can pretty much make out most, if not all, of the discussion. If you would like me to send the audio file to you, either email me at, or contact me via comment or other means.

There was nothing I heard that was worthy of writing down. I will summarize at a higher level:

1) Pingree believes the health care situation in Maine and everything that has transpired result from public servants trying to make things right for the people, and that insurance companies have left the state because they don't like being told how to run their business.

2) Pingree and the rest have a horizon that doesn't extend much beyond the next election. Her comments on the economy, deficits, etc, which were very general, telegraphed an almost total lack of concern for the state of our Government's finances. Almost like it's monopoly money, and not much else. She seemed inclined to blame the deficits on the economy not growing fast enough, not spending growing well beyond the projected GDP growth. If she's at all troubled by this, she hid her anxieties well.

3) Similarly, I don't think she and her associates spend anytime thinking about the consequences of the policies they propose and enact. In the tax world, they lean towards static analysis, assuming that people don't change their behavior to account for tax policy changes. They seem to look at health care reform the same way, and that's how they argue that you can keep your plans, because they delude themselves into believing that nothing else would change with new federal policy.

Funny how if you flush an old style toilet, or drive a car that gets less than 100 miles a gallon, you're sure to cause the earth to die, but where Government policy is concerned, it's "don't worry, be happy." Nothing will change.

4) Both explicitly and implicitly, they consider the insurance industry to be villains.

5) She tried the "how many of you are on medicare" ploy to encourage support of Government operated health care. I later responded that I was on Medicare, and that it was a direct consequence of government policy enacting the program.

Before Medicare came to pass, my employer provided health care coverage for retiring employees. Once Medicare was enacted, that coverage ceased at age 65, and why wouldn't it? I retired at 56 and was on my employers plan until I reached 65, at which point I no longer had that option.

She responded by saying "there are still lots of companies that provide health care for their retired employees."

We know Government employees, especially teachers, get it for life. Beyond that, I'd be surprised if any private companies offer/provide group policy access beyond age 65. Why would they do such a thing?

6) It was clear to me that Pingree lives in a world where Government is viewed as one giant social program. Every time she mentioned hearing from people, you could file it under those people looking for Government to give them something they want. Either housing help, or health care help, or help with this and help with that.

This has been obvious for some time...the view that Government is a giant sugar daddy. But it's always useful to hear the comments of one of your elected benefactors to remind you just how pervasive this reality has become. I don't think they're a bit concerned about managing the enterprise, as I think of it. They're only interested in shoveling money and benefits around to those they deem worthy.

In conclusion, you missed nothing. Unless you like having your suspicions confirmed on a regular basis. I'm reminded of the Grover Norquist book of a few years back called "Leave Us Alone: : Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives." In it, the author divides the country into two broad coalitions - the takings coalition, and the leave us alone coalition.

Your correspondent is in the latter group; sadly, it is abundantly clear that our "public servants" in Government are fully engaged catering to the former group. And almost no-one in office wants to face the reality that such an arrangement is doomed to collapse.

The only question is when. From my little perch in the yum-yum tree, it looks like when is much sooner than anyone will talk about.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Geese, Government, and Ganders

I don’t know the exact figures, but for sake of argument, let’s say that Medicare and Medicaid reimburse medical service providers at something like 60 cents on the dollar.

This is ostensibly because they are purchasing services in the “common good,” and because they represent the single largest pool of service users, and therefore can “negotiate” favorable reimbursement rates. If you consider fiat negotiation.

And because those providers are serving government.

“Fair” enough, you might think.

If this ends up causing “cost shifting” elsewhere, so what – it’s for the common good, even if such shifting is another tax levy through the back door.

OK, let’s adopt that sense of fairness.

I demand that effective immediately, taxpayers be allowed to pay all federal, state, and local taxes due at a 60 cents on the dollar basis. Why? Because our taxes purchase services in the “common good,” and because we are the single largest pool of service users, and therefore should merit favorable reimbursement rates.

And besides, government exists to serve us, not the other way around. At least that's what I read somewhere once.

How could anything be fairer?

I’ll tell you how. In spite of the very low reimbursement rate, Maine State Government still owes service provides more than $400 million in back payments, and shows no signs of interest or ability to pay off such debt.

So to be even fairer, we should collectively tell the state that while we will be “reimbursing” them for services rendered with our taxes at 60 cents on the dollar, we will be withholding the first $400 million of those payments.

Let’s see how they hold up under this scenario! Let’s see where the “cost shifting” shows up. My guess is it will be at the currency printing presses, with a good dose of “toxic” financial instruments thrown in.

They decided to be the geese; it’s time we become the ganders. As our first assignment, why don’t we all fly in to the State House lawn, fertilize it real good, and squawk like hell.

This could be fun. Squawk, squawk!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Know your place, you rabble-rousers!

Sometimes reading our local paper makes you feel unwashed. It often reminds us how we little people can forget our proper places and get all uppity. I guess that’s because we don’t get reminded often enough just what our role is. That, and our poor upbringing.

Blowback from the “leaders” involved in various “Town Hall” meetings around the country has reminded us that we are “uninformed,” that “we don’t know what’s good for us,” and has otherwise attempted to push us back into our boxes, where we are supposed to shut up and obey. Because we have the anointed, the aristocracy, the beautiful people, the elites to look after us.

And we need look no further than the pages of the Times Record for assurance.

Just yesterday, this statement appeared in an item by Richard Chapin, a former assistant dean of the Harvard Business School and president of Emerson College in Boston.

“The increase in the enrollment of independents is especially remarkable because it is happening with virtually no leadership. Traditionally, independent enrollment has been drawn mainly from intellectuals, people less willing to follow and who are not dependent on leadership. Here lies a great opportunity to challenge the incumbent president.”

Lest we mistake Chapin's inclinations, he adds:

"To be a force on the national scene, however, an out-of-office party must find a new inspiring leadership and a program that is more flexible, open-minded and progressive..."

Did I mention that Chapin is a former assistant dean of the Harvard Business School and president of Emerson College in Boston? I take from this that he’s an “intellectual,” “less willing to follow,” and “not dependent on leadership.” Even if his household did give $4300 to “Obama for America.” Hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?

Jeez, I miss Spiro Agnew.

We have others who remind us that having Government take over healthcare, after already taking over the auto and financial sectors, should not cause us worry.

“It is nonsense to suggest that health care or health insurance reform that gives government a role will make us a socialist country.”

Then there are those who kindly step up to make my point about using words like justice and equality to trump opposing arguments.

“I would like to see my state of Maine come into the future! It is time for all persons living in Maine to have the equality that has been promised to all Americans.”

“The God I know also supports justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”

I triple dog dare any of you to challenge those writers!

On the other hand, equity sounds like fun. How about if we each pay the same in property taxes? That sounds pretty just, fair, and compassionate to me.

I can’t close without mentioning the other “intellectuals” we are fortunate to have residing and opining in our midst.

Who can forget Harvard Law graduate and Boston law firm principle Weld Henshaw? In case you did forget him, he’s the one who said he’d never shop at Hannaford’s again after they put up that shameful flagpole, and added insult to injury by flying an American Flag on it for all to see. Jingoistic, he said.

And more recently, he reminded us that he is a peer and intimate of America’s (sorry for the jingoism, Weld) finest jurists, one of whom, if it was up to him, would be chosen instead of Sonja Sotomayor. Because he was there to shape and mold their perfection.

Did I mention he’s a Harvard Law graduate, and a onetime principle in a major Boston legal firm?

These displays of intellectual independence must make it tough for R. Bruce Stedman, a Harvard graduate and retired Assistant Secretary of the United Nations, to maintain his self-esteem. Stedman has written frequently of a “one world” solution to all our problems, which would be masterfully governed by the independent intellectual elites at Turtle Bay. What educated person could question the wisdom of that?

By the way, did I mention that Stedman is a Harvard graduate?

Let me close by reminding you all to stay where you belong; don’t you worry your little heads about what’s going on. That’s what I’m here for.

And thank goodness that those of us who aren’t qualified to purchase the New York Times have the poor man’s version readily available to us, Krugman and all.

How lucky can one guy get?

Cynics: "An Ancient School"

Your humble correspondent, widely considered a cynic, has always taken solace in thoughts like this:

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
-George Bernard Shaw

And from what a friend said many years ago: “judgment built on experience, which allows one person to size up a situation rather quickly, while another less experienced person cannot, is what the latter mislabel cynicism.

I agree with that, even though it sounds a bit self-serving. None-the-less, there is much to be said for been there, seen that. This is pretty basic stuff.

So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I recently read a review of “Cynics,” by William Desmond in the Weekly Standard.

It begins thus:

“The third-century B.C. philosopher Diogenes the Cynic was, arguably, Western civilization's first Marx Brother. He is known not for metaphysical treatises but for wisecracks and pranks.”

Who’d have guessed a formal branch of philosophy would be devoted to such things?

I was entranced. Herewith other amusing quotes:

“There were also literary Cynics, since the movement bred a robust satirical tradition. The great second-century Syrian-born satirist Lucian, who scorned the itinerant Cynic philosophers of his own day as idlers and leeches, praised Diogenes and carried on his mission of puncturing pomposity and complacency and conventional belief with playful, absurdist wit.”

“He does take up Nietzsche, who bluntly said that Diogenes was superior to Alexander the Great and that Cynicism is "the highest one can reach on earth."”

“…far from Diogenes' populist, earthy, slapstick streak.”

So while I lack Bowdoin credentials, and other similarly lofty bona fides of the anointed, please make sure you treat me with the respect due a Cynic with a capital C the next time we meet.

Or at least buy me a Frosty’s donut so I don’t starve.

Urgent: Pingree Town Hall Thursday in Brunswick

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree will be at the Morrell Room of the Curtis Library in Brunswick this Thursday, August 27th, from 1:15-2:15, to answer questions.

RSVP to, or call them at 729-4439.

Should be interesting to see how the event is run.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maine: No Miracle Cure

Several days ago I commented on the complete lack of critical thought by Doug Rooks and so many other pundits as they shill for "health care reform." I listed a number of points here that document the role our elected officials have played in making our "system" what it is, which first and foremost, is a cause undeniable for them to ride to our rescue with solutions. The organization of the essay was not my best; I simply tired of editing it.

Our "leaders'" fervent promises to rescue us from our living hell prove the merit of Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski's Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, which suggests that for any given doctrine one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.

Lest you mistake me for a well-read scholar in the "liberal arts," let's get right back to reality. I write here to tell you of a recent Wall Street Journal piece that addresses Maine's flirtation with universal health care, which you can find here.

It won't take you but five minutes or less to read it, and it's like being hit up side the head with a 2 x 4. Too bad such such strokes have no effect on Rooks and others.

It must be because their heads are like baloons, full of hot air, that simply bounce around a bit when hit with a punch. Until such time as they burst and simply disappear.

The whole piece is a great expose on the silliness we've been sold here where life is "the way it should be." Let me leave you with one winning paragraph:

The program flew off track fast. At its peak in 2006, only about 15,000 people had enrolled in the DirigoChoice program. That number has dropped to below 10,000, according to the state's own reporting. About two-thirds of those who enrolled already had insurance, which they dropped in favor of the public option and its subsidies. Instead of 128,000 uninsured in the program today, the actual number is just 3,400. Despite the giant expansions in Maine's Medicaid program and the new, subsidized public choice option, the number of uninsured in the state today is only slightly lower that in 2004 when the program began.

I suppose the results are what we should have expected from the junior varsity players in state government. Surely the results will be much better once the superstars on the A-Team in Washington are on the job.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This and That: The Weekend Edition, 23 August 2009

Here, for your reading pleasure, amusement, and edification are a collection of odd bits.

The Klash of the K Kouncilors

“Midnight, not a sound from the pavement…..” I never really “got” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, but that memorable passage from perhaps its best song is an apt description of day-to-day Brunswick (except for the DUI’s caught by our trusty police force.)

That said, “sounds from the pavement” should be increasing between now and November, at least in the political sense. Karen Klatt has decided to challenge Joanne King for her at large seat on the Brunswick Council. These two “K-ladies” on our Council will be going at it in a local edition of “Survivor – The Town Council Version.” (By the way….what’s the chances a Town Council of 9 would include 3 ladies whose last name begins with K?)

This should be an interesting “skirmish” and make for great viewing over the next few months. Previews have been running on Cable 3 for the past few years, and unless there’s some gimmick I’m unfamiliar with, the next Council will be absent one of the two, meaning that the run-up to the election will be the finale for the duo’s act.

Maybe someone should hide the catnip.

Bursting My Poor Little Bubble

It’s not as if I didn’t know this would happen. When I wrote here wondering if a change was in the wind, I made an unwarranted excursion on the imaginary axis.

I got over it real quick – as soon as I picked up the next day’s paper, in which the op-ed page read like a triple dose of the usual, as if to atone for the editorial gaffe of the prior day. If you look here before about noon Monday you’ll see what I mean. So much for hope and change, at least as it regards our local opinion page.

I did miss out on a real opportunity when I wrote, however. Ms. Hinton and Mr. Ruppert both exemplify what I had in mind when I began this blog. As such, they are personal heroes to me. They are “Other Siders” in the best tradition.

I’m going to think about an award to give to such rare individuals. I’d be happy to have your suggestions.

30% Deficit Growth; Crank Up The Printing Presses!

A document entitled: “Updated Summary Tables,” issued in May of this year by OMB, provides useful info on the FY 2010 Federal Budget. I reported on this document earlier. You can download the document here.

If you do, be sure to ‘earmark’ the file “for historical reference only.” Table S-1 on Page 3 shows the Federal Deficit over the next ten years totaling $7.1 TRILLION, or $7,100,000,000,000,000,000.00. Give or take.

That figure is already hideously obsolete. We learned on Friday that the deficit total should be revised upward to more than $9 TRILLION.

That’s an increase of 30% in just 3 months! And they say that health insurance premiums are increasing at unaffordable rates???

(As an aside, the US annual GDP is about $14 TRILLION. That's the size of our entire economy, so you get some sense of scale as to what the deficit is.)

If I were you, I wouldn’t take that $9 TRILLION figure too seriously either. It doesn’t include the estimated $1.6 TRILLION cost of the proposed health care reform legislation, and we all know how good the Government is at ‘estimating’ things, especially when they’re selling an idea. It assumes (another favorite) ‘revenues’ in FY 2019 more than double those in FY 2009, which were down by about 15% over the prior year. But hey, as anyone who has been watching the news knows, government revenue is up everywhere. It is, isn’t it?

Why worry. The really fun part about being in Washington is that if there isn’t enough money to do what you want, you can always print more.

Stella, make a note to call my broker tomorrow, and ask her to find out who makes the ink they use to print money. I want in on the action before anyone else finds out.

MEA Scores for Brunswick: Same Old, Same Old

There was an item in this week’s Forecaster that described Maine Educational Assessment results for our local area.

These words about Brunswick’s results caught my attention:

"Our comparison at every grade level, grades three through eight, it's up one point or down one point," Bartlett said. "And so, it's not statistically significant unless you get four, five or six points up or four, five or six points down ... We're at or above the state average. I say that every year, and it doesn't seem to change."

So, while per student costs in Brunswick are up by about 40% in the last four years or so, and teachers’ contracts continue to guarantee generous raises in advance, with no performance or accountability measures, our students continue to tread water in the pool of mediocrity.

Maybe closing two schools, building a new one, and restructuring when and where elementary students move around will prove to be the secret answer for finally improving results.

Yeah, that’s it. It must be. That’s why we’re doing it, right???

Elite Lawyer’s Club

File this one under “I’d like to be a fly on the wall at these meetings!”

One of those little “On the Move” entries in the Sunday Portland Paper included the item below. I suppose the irony might be a bit too obscure for many, but it’s what tickled me.

Terry Garmey, a partner at Smith Elliott Smith & Garmey, was admitted into the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group, limited to 100 lawyers of excellent character and integrity. To qualify, members must have tried at least 50 personal-injury jury trials and won at least three verdicts in excess of $1 million or one verdict in excess of $3 million.

And in related thoughts, one wonders whether F. Lee Bailey will stop by on one of his many trips to our area, and recommend that they rename the group “John Edwards Inner Circle.” Maybe he could arrange as well for the Obama administration to send a guest speaker to discuss lowering the cost of health care and how tort reform doesn’t play a part in the discussion.

Follow-up Fiscal Sanity Tour Info

When I wrote here on Wednesday about the event I attended, I promised to provide links to the presentation material once I got them. Ever the faithful correspondent, I am reporting in to do so.

You can find Mr. Bixby’s presentation here.

And Mr. Walker’s presentation here.

I commend both items to you.

Waxman-Markley Cap and Trade Effects

I’m probably wearing out my welcome when it comes to providing detailed information, but for those of you who wonder what the effect of the proposed “Cap and Trade” legislation will be on us, there is some information readily available. The Heritage Foundation has issued a two page summary of the effects specifically for us here in Maine.

It’s only two pages, and you can find it here. Be sure to click on the “print this page” link at the top of the page.

See you soon, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. (At the moment, the creek thing seems pretty iffy, but we'll see.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

For Data "Junkies"

For those of you who love to have information to pore over, I'm here to help.

Here's a link to "Updated Summary Tables", dated May 2009, for the 2010 Federal Budget, issued by the OMB. Be sure to peruse it, and in particular, the increases projected in personal and corporate income taxes, and the deficits that result regardless of the increases. Then ask yourself whether in this economic climate you see the income tax revenue increasing like that all by itself.

And remember what you've been reading about Maine state revenues decreasing even more than they were projected.

BOHICA, friends. If you take the time, you will see the crime.

I found the link in this interesting little report recently published by The Maine Heritage Policy Center: Crisis To Cure Issue Four: Maine Taxpayers Will Face Higher Income Taxes Than Those in Canada, France and Italy With Proposed Federal Health Care Surtax.

You'll have to go to their web site to look it up until I find another way. I now have the link: Crisis to Cure Issue Four.

An Itsy Bitsy Change in the Wind??

I had occasion to meet Richard Connor, the new owner of Portland's largest paper, on the way out of the MHPC Fiscal Reality Tour event yesterday. We chatted for a few minutes in the hot sun.

Connor had a lengthy commentary in the Sunday Insight Section in which he scolded those who have been speaking out fervently at the "town hall" sessions around the country, and suggested that "Some civility would be quite healthy."

I read the item and thought that he might be missing a larger point, and made a mental note to write to him about it. No need, though, as I had the chance to make my point in person. He seems like a fine man, by the way.

I told him that focusing on the health care debate might be ignoring the much larger elephant romping about before us. I suggested that the health care reform topic could simply be the proxy of the moment for a much more profound unrest: reaching the breaking point on the behavior of the permanent ruling aristocracy and their disdain for any sort of fundamental principles other than grow government, spend more.

As fate would have it, when I got home and read the local paper, I found what might be a first - at least in my memory. Two, count 'em, two commentaries on the same day, both expressing much the same point.

I want to publicly laud the authors of each, and I plan to call them personally. The first column is by Marsha Hinton of West Bath, titled "Americans finding their voice?" It contains this passage:
I guess that is why with the latest round of “town meetings” I am encouraged. Not based on whether or not I agree but that Americans are showing up, standing up and speaking up. That is what a town meeting is all about. It isn’t a lecture by a politician that the listeners are expected to nod their heads in response to. Or if in disagreement with the comments being made at the most the attendee will display a very silent pensive scowl.
The second column is by Scott Ruppert of Harpswell, titled "
Town halls, tea parties and tolerance." It contains this passage:
It’s really not about taxes, health care, debt or deficits. While they all weigh into the equation, the picture is bigger than that. At the center of the picture are rival perspectives of what made this country great and what some feel the need to apologize for, American individualism versus village collectivism, class and identity warfare, and bickering political factions that seem more willing to pander, obfuscate and redefine than they are willing to listen and represent the ones they work for.

The epicenter of this earthquake may be in D.C. but the national fallout is happening in the heartland.

This didn’t happen overnight and Barack Obama is not solely to blame. One person or political party can’t be blamed for this but rather a bipartisan political class that has systematically snubbed their constituents and the constitutional rule book for the last 50 years.
I know neither of the writers; if you know either please compliment them for their effort. And please read both. By the way, in my experience, the editors come up with the printed title used.

It did my heart good, for once, to see the op-ed page dominated by voices standing up for us, and so in contrast with the normal party line that appears on these pages.

Inquiring minds wonder; is this just an abberation that proves the rule, or is a change really coming over us, even if only by one little teeny step at a time?

Did the editors decide for their own purposes to run a token page that opposes the usual Krugman, Goodman, Rooks left wing, big government spew? Or has their inbox actually showed a marked change in the number and nature of submissions?

There's no way to know for sure. Many of us have had very telling experiences with the editors of opinion pages in this and other papers that cause us to question their objectivity, at least as we understand that word. And it goes without saying that said editorial pages virtually never live up to their self-image as "watchdogs of government," unless they are after a conservative. The case could easily be made that they are more like the RCA dog "Nipper," entranced by "his master's voice," where the masters are liberal politicians and pundits.

None-the-less, one needs to take hope where one finds it, even when it's in the most unlikely of places both editorially and geographically.

Social Security: Spousal Benefits

The Social Security Program has a little publicized aspect called "Spousal Benefit."

I only found out this by chance; the best I can tell, the SSA folks will not voluntarily tell you about it. The idea is that the benefit for the Spouse with the lesser accrued benefit should be no less than 50% of the benefit for the higher earning spouse.

Here's how it worked for the Poppycocks. The Mrs is a bit older than I, and she signed up to collect her benefits at the same time she began coverage on Medicare - at age 65.

Her benefits began to be paid. About a year later, your self-absorbed correspondent went through the same enrollment process for Medicare, and chose to take Social Security payments beginning at age 65 as well. At that point, the Mrs' monthly payment was about 40% of what I would receive.

I immediately filed for "spousal benefit" for her, and her monthly stipend was adjusted upward to equal 50% of mine. This was a significant increase. The only restriction was that she could not qualify for the spousal benefit until I actually started collecting.

The annual increases for CPI also apply against this 50% baseline, so it is a benefit you don't want to miss.

Maybe those of you who read this already knew about this and were right on top of it. If not, look into your circumstances immediately if you are both collecting, and file for the benefit if possible.

If not yet collecting, make sure you file this for future reference.

Side would appreciate a comment on this item if this was news to you, and especially if it qualifies you for an additional sum.

That's it; another free and valuable service, the kind you can only find here.

And other places.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bits and Pieces: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lake Basebegone

Has anyone else noticed how Jim Horowitz, CEO of Oxford Aviation, continues to avoid the public view? I’m hoping I’m not the only one who wonders why. There’s probably a lot more here than meets the eye, but hey, I’m genetically curious.

Sibelius on Government Run Health Care Reform

Those who follow Side know I’ve written on this issue more than once. But I’ve got to tell you what I heard today.

Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, was on the air claiming that “nothing had changed” in their proposal over the weekend. While this stretches credulity beyond reason, it is not the point I want to address.

She continued on, insisting that “choice and competition” are the primary objectives in the administration plan to improve health care “for all of us.”

Excuse me? This is the same ideological governing wing that has systematically eliminated choice and competition in health care in Maine, where Dirigo is the highest form of the polar opposite, and the poster child for how destructive political control of health care is. Yet Sibelius and friends are committed to taking control nationwide because they know better.

This is the same ideological wing that is so committed to “choice and competition” that they will do anything, and I mean anything, to see that government schools controlled by the teachers’ unions maintain their monopoly on our children’s learning. They will do whatever it takes to stop school choice from becoming a positive force in our education system.

And they’ll do anything to make sure that the cost burden of tort law on our health care providers is ignored and placed in the “not open for discussion” locker. Again, I wonder why.

Important Reads

I came across two especially insightful columns in the last day or two, and I want to recommend them to you.

The first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on the 17th. It’s by Andrew Klavan, and it’s titled “The Panel –What death by bureaucratic fiat might look like.” You can find it here.

It is definitely worth your attention. Most importantly, I want to invite your attention to this passage, because it is profoundly relevant to our present circumstances:

“Free people can treat each other justly, but they can't make life fair. To get rid of the unfairness among individuals, you have to exercise power over them. The more fairness you want, the more power you need. Thus, all dreams of fairness become dreams of tyranny in the end.

Think of this passage as elaborating on prior ramblings on ‘the common good.’ And as forethought to a future treatise on "fairness.”

The second column to tell you about is by Thomas Sowell, a revered scholar of economics and our founding principles. It’s actually Part II of an earlier column. You can find Part I here.

These words are amongst its most insightful:

“As for a "death panel," no politician would ever use that phrase when trying to get a piece of legislation passed. "End of life" care under the "guidance" of "some independent group" sounds so much nicer — and these are the terms President Obama used in an interview with the New York Times back on April 14th.”

“He said, "the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out there." He added: "It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. That is why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance." “

“But when you select people like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel to give "independent" guidance, you have already chosen a policy through your choice of advisors, who simply provide political cover. The net result can be exactly the same as if those providing that guidance were openly called "death panels." “

Look up Part II here.

I especially want to commend this passage to you:

Barack Obama has talked about the high costs of taking care of elderly or chronically ill patients in terms of "society making those decisions." But a world in which individuals make their own trade-offs with their own money is fundamentally different from a world where third parties take those decisions out of their hands and impose their own notions of what is best for "society."

Calling these arbitrary notions "ethics" doesn't change anything, however effective it may be as political spin.

More is at stake than the outcomes of medical decisions, extremely important as those are. What is also at stake is freedom and the dignity of individuals who do not live their lives as supplicants of puffed-up power holders who are spending the money taken from them in taxes.

The State of the Union’s Finances

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, of which I am an enthusiastic member, hosted a special event in Portland today. It was labeled a stop on the “Fiscal Sanity Tour,” and featured two national figures speaking on the state of our Government’s finances. I’m pleased to report that other concerned residents of Brunswick also attended.

The more senior of the two speakers, the Honorable David M. Walker, retired last year from his post as Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) from 1998 to 2008. He served under both Democrat and Republican administrations. His knowledge of the subject is second to none, and his credentials as a non-partisan are a matter of record.

The information presented was beyond troubling. Our Government is so completely overextended in obligations and so deeply in debt that it is almost impossible to see a way out. In fact, total financial collapse seems the most likely outcome. And this is independent of current plans for expansion of Government, which will only take an impossible situation to heights unknown. The worst part, of course, is that the burden falls on our children, grandchildren, and all those who will inherit our future.

As Mr. Walker said, we all know that politicians are addicted to spending OPM (Other People’s Money), and they find it especially convenient to spend the money of those not yet old enough to vote, and even more, those not yet even born. We are truly sailing towards an iceberg of unimaginable proportions. We will not correct our course without monumental changes in established entitlement programs and a consensus that we simply cannot continue as we are.

A pamphlet was handed out that summarizes our challenges. You can find a pdf version of it here.

I’m expecting MHPC to post the slides from today’s presentations on their web site, and when they do, I will post the links for you.

Let me close by saying that we are at the precipice; “sensitive” columns by big government pundits only serve to delay the inevitable. Do yourself a favor and look up the material I’ve cited. And if you have any problem with the content, you are free to enlighten the rest of us here with your commentary.

I am truly, truly concerned. And you should be as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rooks and Health Care Reform: Ignoring Cause and Effect

Let’s just stipulate up front that I find Doug Rooks to be a thoroughly annoying big government propagandist (or worse) who specializes in shallow and uncritical thinking. It only makes it worse that our local “watchdog of government” free press pays him for his efforts, and prints them with that innocent and kindly little photo to disarm readers.

Rooks wrote recently about “effective reform” of health care reform.

This time around, I won’t parse the details of his effort and respond. Mostly because Rooks’ regular intake of Kool-Aid has caused him to completely miss the larger issue.

Caring liberals like Rooks don’t recognize the relationship between causes and effects in public policy. Effects are where the emotional capital is; that’s why we often see ‘special guests’ at various political events who have a terribly sympathetic story about how they were affected by some perceived wrong.

At the same time, we never see politicians rolled out who were the cause of so many of our problems. Instead, we find politicians, and often the ones who caused some “problem,” touting how they have the solution for it, if only we’d give them more money.

Linking cause and effect is typically denounced as “fixing the blame” when we need to “fix the problem.” Well, if they don’t understand the cause of the effect, their attempts to fix it fall into the “do something, do anything” category of blunt instrument legislating, calculated mostly to generate much public praise.

In Maine, especially, the dominant challenges in health care coverage that cause hair to spontaneously combust have been caused almost entirely by government intervention and policy. And the worse the problems get, the more those who caused them insist that we must let them solve them. In doing so, they exhibit the first signs of a sort of collective dementia, where they can’t seem to remember leaving the oven on, but they insist that we buy them air conditioning to cool the kitchen down.

I’m going to explain by making a half dozen or so assertions about the underlying causes. I invite any and all to challenge these points.

1) The governing majority in Maine over the last 30 or more years has actively driven up the cost of health insurance by enacting regulations such as guaranteed issue, community rating, and a rich list of mandated coverage for all buyers, regardless of their needs and desires. The net results are that buying coverage in Maine can cost nearly twice what it does in New Hampshire, and that the private insurance market finds operating in Maine to be unattractive. Most have left, and the notion of free market forces and “competition” is virtually non-existent.

2) To make things even better, the ruling majority has made sure we can’t buy insurance available from companies in other states, like we do with our auto and homeowner’s insurance. Result: buyers trapped in a tightly restricted market with the highest possible prices.

3) Maine is the oldest state in the nation, increasing overall demands on the health care system. At the same time, average incomes are very low. Result: with the high prices described in the previous points, we end up with the perfect storm of high utilization, high insurance prices, and inadequate income to pay for it.

4) Maine’s overall economic policy, especially taxation and business friendliness, virtually guarantees that the median age will continue to increase, and that the younger entrepreneurial demographic needed to pay for public services will continue to leave and/or avoid the state. Bluntly speaking, the state is in a demographic winter leading to a death spiral, and “quality of place” is not enough to turn it around. Pundits like Rooks either can’t understand, or avoid the truth because they simply can’t accept it. They’re in the denial stage, and won’t move on to more productive discussions.

5) In other words, we find ourselves with a broken and unsustainable “system.” We have more demand for health care services, an increasingly unaffordable insurance product, and an income base that is hopelessly tilted towards poverty levels.

6) Consequently, more and more people exit the private market and enter the public programs. Maine’s Medicaid enrollment figures are the highest in the nation, and we continue to relax eligibility rules.

7) It’s clear that state government is virtually totally responsible for the increases in private insurance premiums because of excessive regulation and mandates, coupled with driving out competition and cost shifting to cover the gross underpayment public programs make to health care providers.

8) Government claims that private program premiums are skyrocketing and generating huge profits while shamelessly masking the clear unsustainability of public programs. If costs of public programs were stated in the form of annual premiums, the government programs would be increasing in cost more quickly than the private programs.

9) At least if real costs were addressed; but they are not. Government “reimburses” at most 60-80% of actual costs of public care. Result: “real costs” get shifted to the private insurance market, further exacerbating the cost of that product.

10) To add insult to injury, the state does not even pay the bills it incurs at those artificially low reimbursement levels. Maine currently owes $400 million plus to health care providers, and there is no reason to believe the state is committed to pay off that balance. Why? Because they can, and it’s virtually impossible to collect – they are the government, and no one will take them on.

Add all these factors together, and you have a “system” that is destroying itself. Inputs, feedback loops and controls are inadequate to the need. Simply changing how the bills are paid will not correct the fundamental weaknesses in the overall economic climate.

And we owe it all to government. And it's clear that further government involvement will only lead to more problems.

But I guess that’s OK for some. The more problems government causes, the more political careers that can be advanced by proposing to fix them. It should be fun to watch when the private sector providers are completely eliminated, and the only thing left to demonize and blame is government itself. There'll be no option left except a circular firing squad.

"Quid Pro Quo;" Not a chance, right?

Recent news reports from a variety of sources provide an interesting juxtaposition of major political issues being considered by the politicians formerly known as public servants in Washington.

First, a story with this headline in the Forecaster: "No-cost transfers of Brunswick Naval Air Station property now in hands of congressional leaders, Obama"

It contains these words:
BRUNSWICK — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe joined 12 other senators in urging President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to add a provision in the Defense Authorization Act that could help speed the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

To make a long story short, the Maine delegation wants legislation in the bill that would allow a no cost transfer of BNAS property to the MRRA, instead of requiring that the military receive fair market value for certain portions of the base. Resolving the issue

will fall upon a conference committee made up of the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committees, and ultimately, Obama.
On a separate subject of great interest in Washington at the moment, we read this:

However, few issues have ever been as politically charged as health care reform, and few members of Congress are having as much direct say in its probable outcome than Snowe.

She is a member of the Senate Finance Committee's "gang of six" — three Republicans and three Democrats hand-picked by and including committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa.

Now we all know that our Senators are above reproach when it comes to trading votes, but it is still of academic interest to ponder the interplay between Obama's health care goals and the Senators' implicit interest in helping us out on the local redevelopment front.

One can't help buy wonder in the high stakes games they play in Washington, what kind of trades might suddenly present themselves. Would a member of a state delegation be so interested in something of great interest to their constituents that they might be willing to offer something in return to one in power who has a higher interest?

Nahhh....that couldn't happen, at least not with our girls. I don't believe for a minute that they would shackle the country with huge deficits and government controlled health care just to bring a few million dollars in benefits to the Brunswick area.

Why don't I think they would ever do that? Because earmarks and trading favors and IOU's and pork barrel politics never happen with OUR delegation; they are the best and they are the exception. That only takes place amongst those unprincipled sons o' bitches in other states.

Right? We can all pretty much agree that those bozos and rascals elsewhere around the country need to be thrown out for their shocking and self-preserving behavior. Just like we can agree that OUR wonderful representatives are far too principled and humble to ever do such a thing.


How the Government Saves Us Money

Just a quote from my working years:
"The Government always wants to save money, and they'll spend whatever it takes to do it."
- authors unknown

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm here to help you: really, I am.

As far back as I can remember, the Poppycocks have been known for a chronic affliction with EDD, or Empathy Deficit Disorder. Great Grampappy Poppycock, Grampapa Poppycock, and Daddy Poppycock all exhibited, shall we say, an infectious optimism that they wished upon everyone else.

And so it is that your reporter, a full blooded Poppycock, has been labeled by judgmental cynics far and wide as a “poster child” for EDD. Destined as I am to carry on the family genetic legacy, I must share something personal with you. And I trust that you will keep this to yourself.

Here it is: afflicted as I am, every now and then, a wholly unexpected altruistic urge rises up within my breast, grabs me by the esophagus, and demands that I give it outward expression. And so I am complelled to write to you today.

It is when this urge threatens to squeeze the very breath from me that I realize perhaps I was called to be a public servant, but steadfastly denied the summons. And then today, I recognized that this blog is a vital public service, and that I, as its creator, am a public servant in the finest tradition of that term.

Many of you are facing financial challenges. Some have lost their ass and don’t know where to turn. (For the latter, American ingenuity has devised a remedy: a riding mower with no seat and no steering wheel.)

Renewed and inspired, I write today to help you all. Grab pencil and paper so you can take notes. Here’s my plan.

Send me the complete details of your personal identity, your financial accounts, and your personal property holdings. Please include full disclosure on any and all children and grandchildren you may have.

Once I receive the information, I’ll take out a loan in your name but with the loan proceeds directed to me personally (see note 1).

To alleviate your financial distress, I will immediately send you $700 in a onetime fiscal stimulus payment for each $1,000 borrowed in your name. The more borrowed, the greater the fiscal stimulus you’ll receive. So if you’re only in a slight bit of trouble, perhaps the loan value will be only $1,000, yielding you the $700 cash payment. For those in moderate distress, I suggest a loan of $5,000 in your name, with a stimulus payment of $3500 in real cash money.

And if you’re really strapped, I’m prepared to arrange a loan as high as $20,000 in your name. Imagine getting a check for $14,000 to help you pay all those nagging bills, and help you pay down on your credit card balances. It just doesn’t get any easier or better than this, right?

By now, you’re probably being swept up in the same wave of empathy that is propelling me. So I’m sure you’ll understand why there is one more important provision in my fiscal stimulus plan. I reserve the freedom, once loan proceeds have been deposited in my account, to make cash payments not to you, but to others I consider more deserving than you. I’ll make such decisions based on standards I consider appropriate in such matters (see Note 2.) And you can comfort yourself in being a better person than my forebears were.

There are some pesky details associated with the loan process, but you needn’t worry your pretty little heads about them. You can trust me, because I’m not like all the others. But if you really are interested, see Note 3.

And one more thing; Note 4 provides a philosophical justification for this public service.

No thanks are necessary, but don’t forget to get that personal information to me so we can get your stimulus going as quickly as possible! And remember that when you needed help, I was here for you.


1. Loan is to be secured by your personal property, including your home, bank accounts, or any other real assets necessary.

2. Pursuant to national security regulations, I am prohibited from disclosing the standards used to make such decisions.

3. Loans are to be secured with real property assets and personal financial accounts, as well as liens upon the future earnings of your children and future heirs. Failure to make timely loan payments will result in immediate seizure of these assets, and there will be no recourse to return them to you.

4. What the hell are you complaining about? This is exactly what the leaders you elected are doing!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Property Taxes: 60% Higher????

As we are fire-hosed with all the "jibber-jabber" about health care reform, my attention strayed to the fiscal illusions and game playing that underlie the health care house of cards as it currently exists. The business model and the equations that should apply have become so distorted and artificial as to make understanding futile and rational and intelligent recommendations impossible.

It's as if a law was passed that said when it comes to the government paying its bills, 2 + 2 = 3, and all the rest of us stand around arguing whether 2 +2 is really 5 or really 6. And then I recalled writing about the delusions of revenue sharing last month.

We all know that the Maine State Government is in economic meltdown. The recent budget was only balanced by making substantial cuts and then applying hundreds of millions in one time money. Since then, revenue figures have been coming in well below projections made, foretelling an even greater crisis ahead, and without the benefit of one time cash infusions.

One way of looking at state expenditures is in terms of spending on actual state programs, and funds transferred to local governments for their programs. The first type funds things like the various health and human services programs, where the second type helps municipal government pay for their programs.

Think of the latter as "discretionary." In your personal finances, you have to pay for the basic costs of living: housing, food, utilities, cars, etc. And then, if you have children, you may give them an allowance to pay for things they like to do. When things get tight, you still have to pay the bills, but you have no real obligation to pay allowance, or for that matter, to go to the movies or out to dinner.

Revenue sharing is like that; it does not pay state bills, but instead, it sends an "allowance" to the towns. As such, when the State gets squeezed, as it is now, and is about to be even worse, legislators will look to cutting our allowance as an easy way to reduce expenses. Local officials will bear the brunt of public outrage because of steep increases in property taxes.

We're already seeing the first warning shots on exactly this phenomenon. An article today includes these words:
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who also serves on the budget-writing committee, said the eventual cuts would affect many Mainers.

"As the state cuts back, those needs that people have remain," she said. "Sometimes you end up cost-shifting back to the local government with the state cuts."

This seems like a good time to examine the effect of revenue sharing on our property taxes in Brunswick. I'll use round numbers in what follows.

The town budget for the 09/10 fiscal year is about $54.3 million. Property taxes pay for about $29.3 million of that amount.

There are a variety of other revenue sources that make up the difference. The key amounts in "intergovernmental transfers" are about $14 million from the state for General Purpose Aid to education; $2 million from the state in revenue sharing; and another $1 million or so from the Feds. We are also expecting $1 million plus annually from the state to reimburse us for the debt payments on the new elementary school.

Given the condition of Federal and State budgets, it's fair to say that these amounts are, in essence, borrowed, and that they are at great risk.

Were these amounts to disappear, property taxes would have to pay for about $48 million in town expenses, or a 60% increase. What does this mean?

Well, if you currently pay $2,000 a year in property taxes, you can figure another $100 a month to cover the increase. If you pay $4,000 a year now, you'll be paying $6,400, or $200 a month more. If you now pay $6,000, you'll be staring at a nearly $10,000 tax bill, and you'll need another $300 a month to give the town.

None of these figures account for future budget increases (virtually guaranteed) and future revenue decreases (virtually guaranteed as well) which will only make matters worse. The truth is that you are already paying these larger sums, but just not from the same pocket as you pay your property taxes.

Instead, you're paying the difference to the State and the Feds, and it's going in to their "free money" accounts. In the popular understanding, that process causes the money to lose its identity as having come from you, and instead it becomes a handy-dandy prop for use by our elected officials to demonstrate how much they care for us.

A neat trick that. And for those who appreciate such gestures, please feel free to send me a check for $100 or more, and chalk it up to "paying your fair share." Once I cash your check, I'll send you 75% of the amount as fiscal stimulus.

Once the program gets rolling, I'll write a post about how good it made me feel to "give something back" to the community. If enough of you do as I suggest, I might even get some sort of civic award.

"Guaranteed Issue" and the consequences

Amongst the most frequent reasons we're given that the government simply must reform (take over, really) our "health care" system are that the premiums are going through the roof and becoming more and more out of reach for 'working people,' and that we have way too many people who are uninsured.

Maine is a guaranteed issue state on health care insurance. That means you can wait until you are sick and need insurance before you purchase it, and you can't be denied. That all sounds very caring and compassionate.

So let's try that fine idea in some other areas. Suppose we were guaranteed issue on auto insurance as well, and you could get away without it until you have an accident. Then, as you ride in the tow truck taking your vehicle to the body shop, you call an insurance agent on your cell phone to purchase insurance, and he can't turn you down, even for "pre-existing" conditions.

Do you think that would increase the number of folks who find it's in their best interests to stay out of the auto insurance market until they are in need of it? What would that do to the number of "uninsured?" And for the rest of us silly gooses who follow the old custom of buying insurance as a matter of course, do you think our premiums would suddenly start escalating at outrageous rates? How could they not, when an increasing number of drivers are not contributing to the insurance "pool," but are simply emptying it?

Suppose that same person could drop his insurance after his car is fixed and paid for by his mandatory issue insurance? How would that work out for the rest of us?

Now let's look at Homeowner's Insurance. Suppose the legislature enforced guaranteed issue on that as well. Then you could save all the money you are now spending on such coverage, and wait until your house burns down, if ever. If and when it does, simply call your local agent and get the guaranteed issue covering "pre-existing conditions" before you contact a builder to get your place repaired or replaced. And then you can drop the coverage again after your builder gets paid.

How do you suppose that would effect the number of "uninsured homes," and what would be the effect on the premiums for those saps who think your home should be covered all the time as a matter of peace of mind? And "fairness?"

Now go back and think about the complaints about health care that I began this discussion with...too many uninsured, and premiums way too high and getting higher.

Then ask yourself who caused the problems leading to these complaints. And more important, ask yourself WHY they did it. Until you can answer that question, you can't fully grasp what's going on now.

And you might think about Pogo while you're at it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Picture is worth a thousand words.....

Every now and then, you stumble upon something that says it all.

"Afterthoughts II: Thursday, August 13th"

The Brunswick paper is out with their coverage of last night's meeting, and it only adds to the luster of the entire process, while further describing how various councilors have distinguished themselves along the way.

I don't find much worthy of comment, other than this little gem:
Council vice chairman Benet Pols, who voted for Brown, refuted e-mail “rumors” circulating in the past week and said he was elected to make an informed decision. If constituents are “unsatisfied with me, they can throw me out — should I ever run again,” he said.

Previous councils often made decisions by “bloc voting,” Pols said, and a new “perhaps less conservative, more progressive” bloc has formed in this council, one to which he said he has been assigned.
I don't know where "center" is on Pols' scale of political inclinations, but I'm real sure it isn't where mine is. I'm reminded of Doug Rooks recent comment about Republicans shifting ever rightward under the Bush administration.

The word that's come to mind least often in thinking about the town council in my years of watching is "conservative." But it appears that the cognoscenti are sliding the entire spectrum westward as days pass. What used to pass for "moderate" is now considered "increasingly right leaning."

And to be considered moderate on the new scale, you have to be a cinch vote for big government liberal programs, even if it takes a visit to the White House to push you over. The proof is right here in Maine.


I've heard that short, pithy titles draw the greatest attention, so I thought I'd give it a try. This one stands for:

Beware Oliver, Happenstance Is Coming Again

(Oliver is an imaginary friend who is trying out for a regular spot on Side.)

Any way, it's axiomatic amongst career politicians that voters have very short memories. (And it's widely known that servings of pork can accelerate the memory loss.)

Fortunately, I still have a pretty vivid memory of something that happened in the run-up to approval of the new school. Let's see if you remember.

We were told that the new school would include Municipal meeting facilities to replace the Town Council "chambers" lost by demolition of the old high school. But somewhere along the line, we were told that was no longer true, and that the town would have to look elsewhere (IE, "build," in government parlance) for a place to meet.

I took exception to that announcement, claiming that we were misled in order to discourage opposition to the school plan. Then Councilor now Council Chair Hallie Daughtry dismissed my assertion by claiming "it was all a misunderstanding." Not on your life, ma'am.

What this little episode exposed is the ability to goad the public along by claiming to have control of school cost, as long as we gave them the freedom to remove items from the plan if they began to get in trouble. At the time, I pointed out that removing features that were promised was as unprincipled as raising cost after a vote was taken. Considering that the advertised cost for the school went from $13 million to $18 million to $28.5 million in a matter of months, deep concern over such behavior is entirely warranted.

I was reminded of this little episode when I heard Senator Arlen Specter state the other day that he would not vote for a health care reform bill "that raises the deficit." Lovely ambiguity, there, Senator. All it takes is language in the bill that raises taxes enough to cover the cost of the bill, and no matter how absurdly large the cost is, you could claim you "did not vote to raise the deficit" while strapping taxpayers with a huge new burden. Thanks for your help.

It may seem that I'm rambling, but I assure you I'm not. As I read through a stack of papers recently, I ran across an article in which Lyndon Keck, the lead Architect for the new school, was quoted at some length. I just dug through my stack, and I can't find it; maybe one of you can and will at least direct me to a link on the web.

But no problem. I remember enough to make my point. When I attended the large public briefing on the final school plans (the one where they assured us of council meeting space), I specifically asked how we in the public could be assured that the plans being briefed were what would be built, and that it would cost no more than the number advertised (roughly $28.5 million.)

Mr. Keck gave a lovely answer whose essence escaped me, but which succeeded in quelling any concerns my question might have raised with the throng of voters who would support building the school if it comes in at twice the cost and our enrollment drops in half before it opens. Never mess with the schoolies as Side has warned before. And since it was a "one question per customer" event, I could not follow-up.

In that recent article I can't find, Keck spoke about how well the demolition phase is going, and stated that the bids for the construction phase are not yet in hand. He assured us that the demolition phase is probably going to stay within cost targets, but said the possibility existed that the construction bids would come in over the plan. No problem, though, because he already has a list of things that can be taken out of the plan to drive the cost back into its box.

Which leads to two immediate questions. First, if these items are expendable wants instead of mandatory needs, why are they in the plan to begin with? Shouldn't prudence have eliminated them in the first place? Second, doesn't changing the baseline presented to the public for a vote, with a stated price tag, seriously breach the public trust and border on a violation of ethics?

In the event this occurs, which given Murphy's 13th law of government projects is virtually inevitable, should we call this bait and switch tactics, or should we simply consider it another one of those "unfortunate misunderstandings?"

And just to make you feel better, remember the whole enchilada is based on "free money" from a State government that is buried in fiscal chaos and is likely approaching bankruptcy. One of the pressure relief valves Augusta has is reneging on the "promise" it made to reimburse us for school loan payments. (Recall that school debt will be taken out by the town, not the state.) The same way the state will assuredly retreat on GPA and other "revenue sharing" to the town.

Once again, Beware Oliver, Here It Comes Again.

"Afterthoughts" - Thursday, August 13th

On choosing a new Town Manager for Brunswick

Readers know I've written on this more than once, and most recently, yesterday.

Town Councilors held court on the issue last night. The Forecaster, which is the best source for in depth coverage of Brunswick town governance, has it covered.

Steve Mistler of the Forecaster posted a pithy column on the meeting on their web site. It includes words like "bizarre" (one of my favorites) and this passage:

That suggestion was openly refuted by Councilor Karen Klatt, who noted that Daughtry called Brown on Aug. 5 to offer him the job and that he accepted it.

Daughtry responded that the council's action was not final. She also disputed her own comments to the press about the call to Brown, saying she couldn't "control what's written in the newspaper."

Nothing like a little dispute with yourself, which falls within the larger category of talking to yourself, one would think.

It will be interesting to compare how the Brunswick paper covers the meeting.

HeALthanol and the Common Good

These two subjects juxtaposed themselves in my thinking. Here in our lovely state, Baldacci led the ruling Majority as they enacted Dirigo Health Care in 2003, and it is widely recognized as an abysmal failure. But so what; elected officials have steadfastly resisted putting themselves and state employees on the plan, instead preferring that they drive a Cadillac while the unwashed try to keep a beater truck operating. Such officials, who like to call themselves "public servants," have a "bizarre" interpretation of the common good. Perhaps one day they'll clarify it for us.

Not to be outdone in pursuit of the common good, Federal "public servants" are similarly exempting themselves and their vast army of bureaucratic functionaries from the grasp of the massive reform of health care. Here, however, the rationale is a bit more obvious.

To begin with, if Congress were to subject itself to the "End of Life" provisions of the proposed government health care regime, the Senate would probably find its membership shrinking quickly over the months. In effect, they'd be exposed to a new form of "term limits."

No telling how severely the House membership would decline, but there are more than enough to keep a sizable team of EOL counselors busy; that's for sure.

As I wrote before, "what else do you need to know?"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On the “Common Good”

In the interest of the common good, I’d like to discuss the use of words and phrases such as “the common good.” Others that come to mind are “fair,” “equality,” “social justice,” and “economic justice.”

These are favorites of demagogues, and are most often used as trump “cards” to bludgeon opponents into quiet retreat. “You mean you don’t support the common good?” “You oppose equality?” “How could you be against social and economic justice?” “Your ideas are so unfair.”

The first thing to notice is that these terms are absolutely and unequivocally subjective. Try asking the person who uses them to say what they mean, and you’ll likely endure two minutes of hemming and hawing and stuttering, followed by the classic “you know what I’m talking about,” or “how could you not understand?” I did so to an author who was quoted in a Times Record story some years back, and she flatly denied ever using the terms. When I responded with a direct quote from her published works, she went AWOL.

As Thomas Sowell, the brilliant economist, author, and columnist said:
"Fairness" here, as in so many other contexts, means nothing more and nothing less than the exercise of arbitrary power by third parties, since everyone has a different definition of what "fairness" means.

On a petty personal level, a former legendary Brunswick Town Councilor, who often took issue with my positions and comments, loved to say she “supported fair taxation.” Try pinning her down on that one; I did, and the results were predictably futile.

The second thing is that use of such terms is a clear admission that the user is playing the emotion card, and this virtually always occurs because the speaker is completely absent an objective case for the merits of his proposal. Alarm bells should go off and red flags should go up whenever you read or hear such abuse of precise discourse.

What got me stirred up on this subject is repeated recent exposure to the ploy. The Forecaster’s paid regular opinion writer (see “A MoonBeem, A MoonBeem”) is prone to resort to his love of the common good when confronted with logical arguments that challenge the wisdom and cogence of his posturing, as if it excuses lapses in rational thought.

Charles Lawton, who writes a weekly column in the business section of the Sunday paper from our biggest town, and who wanders all over the political landscape, invoked the common good in his most recent offering addressing the role of government.

And Brunswick’s revered Bowdoin College has a service oriented program for its students focused on the common good.

Great…as I said a few paragraphs ago, how can you possibly be against anything that advances the “common good?”

Very easily, it seems to me, depending on what the specifics are. Here are some illuminating examples:

• Some think it’s in the common good for Congress to spend whatever taxpayer money they want on luxury business jets to schlep them all over the world, no matter how deep in red ink the government is.
• Some think it’s in the common good to have taxpayers fund the creation and exhibition of “The Piss Christ” – an ‘artwork’ consisting of a Crucifix in a jar of urine.
• Some think it’s in the common good to completely eliminate all aspects of the military, including the Navy ships built by BIW, in order to advance world peace.
• Some think it’s in the common good to have 10% of the populace pay for the entire cost of all levels of government, while the other 90% enjoy the benefits and “services” provided by said governments.
• Some think that in the name of the common good we should disestablish the Sovereign United States to join a “one world” global new order.
• And then there are folks like me who think it’s in the common good to return to the limited government principles of our founding, and to elevate the concept of individual liberty and responsibility to its former stature, where it ranked higher than identity group interests.

The foregoing argues for abolishing the useless emotional free for all that attaches to the terminology I began this essay with: the common good, fair, equality, and social and economic justice.

As an alternative, I offer the following.

1. If we are to have any semblance of a workable and lasting society, we need certain inviolate foundations to define it. I suggest the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the finest examples of founding principles ever developed.

2. We accept that ordered liberty is in “the common good,” and that core elements of government including law enforcement and public health and safety are necessary to establish and protect it.

3. We further accept that there are other vital functions necessary to a desirable existence for which no viable alternatives exist other than for government to provide them. Examples include national defense and the infrastructure required for the effective conduct of our daily lives.

At the moment, I assert that “the common good” as it invokes government of the people, for the people, and by the people goes no further. We’re fond of saying that government education is in the common good, but it is arguable that government has completely botched it, and we know that non-government alternatives are available and are quite successful, thank you very much.

And now the punch line…the reason I began this excursion. I assert that other than the items briefly outlined above, the notion that it is in the common good to forcibly compel one group to provide for another group that which they provide for themselves is tyranny to put it simply, and when you get right down to it, a form of indentured servitude.

Some will interpret this as an argument against any and all forms of governance and any and all forms of taxation. Those who do so need to carefully read all of the foregoing, and if calmly doing so doesn’t settle them down, they should aim a fire extinguisher at whatever hair they have left.

What I was attempting to explain was not “if” government and taxes should be part of our lives, but “what” government and taxes should rationally pertain to.

In this era, the concept of “limited government” has been turned on its ear, and as a result we are on a course that is predictably suicidal. Instead of a firm grasp of the rightful limits of government as a constraint on accumulation of power and deliberation of policy and law, we find ourselves in the completely opposite circumstances.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we have evolved to where constraints as a matter of principle are non-existent, and the only limits are those that a shrinking and feeble opposition can find a way to impose on an otherwise unfettered permanent governing class.