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POP!

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…go your freedoms!

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The debt ceiling deal framework released by the Speaker’s office (in powerpoint form) does a great job of spinning a troubling bill.  Now to be clear, I am a debt-ceiling raise proponent, and I supported both bills that passed the House.  I support the goal of cutting spending in two tranches, and I support automatic cuts that enforce discipline on the political actors to reduce spending commensurate with the debt limit increase.

But the “triggers” that are intended to create incentives for all parties to achieve a solution by Thanksgiving create a no-win scenario for Republicans in November. To wit:

  • The Medicare cuts that would go into effect if the Joint Committee’s (“JC”) recommended cuts are not enacted are supposed to scare Democrats into accept the JC’s proposal.  Not so.  The cuts to Medicare don’t reduce benefits — they reduce reimbursements to doctors and hospitals.  So rather than require seniors to pay something for their health care and thereby make better decisions, the Medicare cuts would drive more health care providers away from serving Medicare patients, making health care less available for seniors.  No cost-reductions there – seniors will still get care, but they’ll have to drive farther and wait longer to get it.  That’s rationing by a thousand cuts.  So if Republicans fail to accept the JC proposal, they will give Democrats another talking point in their Mediscare campaign (Tea Party radicals, not Obamacare = health care rationing for seniors) without saving a dime in actual health care costs.
  • Despite representing around 20% of the federal budget, defense will comprise 50 cents of every dollar in the “trigger” cuts that occur if the JC’s recommendations are not passed by Congress.   If ever there was a sign that the Democratic Party has abandoned national security as a political issue, this is it.  Prominent figures across the center-right, from Allen West to John Bolton to Joe Lieberman, have sounded the alarm against these cuts, which would not come with any fundamental restructuring of our vision of defense policy.  We’d still be in Iraq (and losing ground).  We’d still be in Afghanistan (but leaving too soon).  We’d still be in Libya (for some unknown reason).  And we’d still be defending Europe from a superpower that we helped vanquish two decades ago.  But we’d be doing all of these tasks, which no other military in the world could handle simultaneously, with less armor, less ammunition, fewer soldiers, and less high-tech weaponry.  Think we’ve got a peace dividend to cash?  Consider the following graph.

h/t Heritage Foundation

And then consider that Democrats have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to strike a $750 billion hole in defense and blame it on the Tea Party, merely by refusing to make further cuts in spending.  Is there anything easier for a Democrat than refusing to cut the national budget?

Why in the world, then, would Democrats ever be serious in trying to achieve a consensus for spending cuts in November?  The alternative to military and Medicare cuts are domestic programs, precisely the things they refused to cut all summer in the face of debt default.  The automatic cuts are great for them politically, and the Medicare cuts can be undone once Democrats regain control over the budgetary process (to cheers from the Left and seniors, who will come back “home” to the Democrats).  The defense cuts, however, will be permanent — they will enrage the Right, starve our military of resources, and all but demand a pullback from “overseas contingency operations” that Obama can now say he is forced to end due to budgetary concerns.

This deal is a blueprint for Democratic political revival over the next 15 months.  Do not throw the Democrats into that briar patch, Republicans.  Admiral Ackbar knows best.

You knew it was coming.

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One thing we’ve learned in the past several cycles is that Democrats truly believe they can only lose elections when they are stolen from them.  Democrats should rightly win all elections.  Republicans only win when secret money is deployed from overseas, dimwitted citizens are scared out of their minds, and nefarious special interests get stealth candidates to attack real public servants.

Of course, with evil forces such as these on the march,what right-thinking liberals shouldn’t use any means necessary to defeat them?  Today’s sampling of such means includes:

Of course, such efforts don’t always turn out as intended.  A group called the Illinois Democratic Coordinated Campaign sought to solicit hundreds of thousands of Democrats to use Chicago’s new “vote by mail” system, but glitches with the paperwork appear to have thrown a hitch into the scheme.  Unless voting officials can sort it all out in a week, the affected voters could either lose their opportunity vote or at least be so confused by it all that they don’t bother.  Call it a little karma coming back around Alexi Giannoulias’ way — his bank failed its customers, and now his turnout machine is failing him.

Now every election year, there are new reports of voter fraud and manipulation that crop up in the hothouse atmosphere that is a political campaign.  Most turn out to be false, or at least unproven.  Others turn out to be very true, but go unpunished.  And still others are told as wistful memories by union officials:

So don’t believe everything you hear.  But don’t tell me it doesn’t happen.  I’ve watched union thugs take down signs five times in two hours on a road outside a precinct.  I’ve responded to a complaint by a voter who said she could only be given Democrat ballots in her union hall precinct (and this was the 2004 general election), only to be told with a smirk that the voter (a 48-year old doctor) must have misunderstood.  Be vigilant out there, folks.  We’re too close to allow shenanigans to get in the way.

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Many of my more liberal friends profess to be outraged by the incipient racism behind the Arizona immigration law.  Setting aside the question of whether the law actually promotes racial profiling (there are many other, better places to find good information on that question), whether such profiling is a public good is a different matter entirely.  I don’t disagree that the idea of making law enforcement decisions solely on the basis of race is fraught with peril, if not outright unconstitutional.  But consider the following scenarios and see how you might react:

  • You are a tourist in Costa Rica.  You paid several hundred dollars for a room and bus travel to several exotic locales while in country.  Costa Rica has a lot of illegal immigration from Honduras, due to the high disparity in standards of living, employment, and political freedom between the countries.  Costa Rican police have set up checkpoints all over the countryside, where they inspect the paperwork of those traveling the roads.  When your bus arrives at a checkpoint, you realize you forgot your passport at the hotel.  The policeman, realizing that the resort bus is full of tourist gringos, never gets on board and allows it to pass without checking anyone’s documentation.  Should you, as a fair-minded liberal, be outraged that the driver of the car behind the bus (a Latino woman) was asked for her papers, and you were not arrested for failing to travel with yours?
  • Your daughter has been raped.  Based on her statements, a black man with what she believed was an African accent was the perpetrator.  She didn’t see her attacker’s face.  Responding to the APB, a policeman stops a man driving a Toyota with a Kenyan flag bumper sticker because he is driving 10 miles over the speed limit.  During the traffic stop, the policeman realizes the driver has a foreign accent he doesn’t recognize.  He asks for the man’s immigration paperwork, and he cannot produce it, saying he has been in the country for years.  Asked if he is a citizen, the man says no.  Lacking probable cause for a search on the basis of the rape, the policeman arrests the man for failing to carry his green card.  Subsequent investigation of his car and home on the immigration charge lead the police to evidence that prove he committed the rape.  Should you, as a fair-minded liberal, feel uncomfortable that your child’s rapist was detained and investigated on the basis of his immigration status (a question that was only raised because of a sticker on his car and his foreign accent), rather than on any evidence that he raped your daughter?
  • There is a bomb in the airport.  Security footage shows that a young woman in a pantsuit placed the bomb behind a trash can.  You have been detained, along with everyone who was on Concourse C at the time the bomb was found.  They are questioning everyone in alphabetical order.  You are an 72-year-old Asian man named Wang with diabetes who needs to check his insulin level.  You are prohibited from accessing your luggage until security has finished questioning everyone.  Your wife, who was walking back from the bathroom on Concourse B at the time of the incident, has been waiting with your test kit outside the interview room for five hours.  You are starting to feel lightheaded.  You’ve asked for medical attention, and they are calling for it now.  But as a fair-minded liberal, are you glad that your government is consistently applying the law by holding you for questioning?
  • You just took a new job, and you have been randomly selected for an audit of your I-9 form.  Although you presented a copy of your Social Security Card and birth certificate to your employer during orientation, you are now required to present them — along with five other forms of identification — to a federal agent two weeks after you start your job.  You also have to provide the names of seven references who can vouch for your citizenship.   A week later, you learn that one form of I.D. you presented was found to be inadmissible (the bureaucrat issuing the document spelled your middle name as “Jeffrey,” not “Jeffery,” although you’d never noticed before).  You are expected to present a replacement form of I.D. within 24 hours to the federal agent.  You aren’t sure where you’re going to get that, and it will require you to miss the day of work.  Having been at your job less than 30 days, you don’t have any paid vacation.  Your boss wonders why you’re being investigated by the federal government, but he begrudgingly offers unpaid time off to take care of it.  Two of your friends you used as references call and ask why they were asked if they knew where you had been born (they didn’t know — was that a problem?) by a U.S. Marshal.  You know that your great-grandparents arrived in this country in 1911 on a boat from Finland, and you’ve never left the country but once on a family vacation to Jamaica when you were 12.  You get your backup I.D. to the Federal Building one hour before the office closes, and you return to a pile of extra work from your skeptical boss the next day.  Are you, a fair-minded liberal, edified through this process that the Department of Homeland Security is wisely employing its resources to ensure that illegal immigration in this country is being curbed?

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You'll never catch him.

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Item: Vice President of the United States Joe Biden says the former dean of Harvard Law school was right to punish the United States military for the United States Congress’s “very bad policy” of “don’t ask, don’t tell” by refusing to allow recruiters access to the school’s career services center.

In other truthy news:

Vice President Joe Biden pleaded with environmentalists on Tuesday to begin picketing the U.S. EPA for failing to institute a greenhouse gas “cap and trade” regime to combat global warming.  When asked why Biden would wish his own government’s agency be protested, Biden thundered that “climate change is a serious threat to the security of our country, and it’s very bad policy for EPA to postpone implementation of a cap and trade system.”  When reporters pointed out that Congress had not passed legislation authorizing EPA to implement cap and trade, Biden mumbled something about “sticklers for democracy” and left the podium.

At a recent photo op at a Peoria, Ill. bike manufacturer, reporters asked Vice President Biden what other government policies, if any, demand direct action by the public.  Biden replied that “those tax people need to be taught a lesson.  They don’t take enough from the rich!  If you’re middle class in America, just hold onto your tax check until you see all those rich oil executives pay their fair share.  That will get the IRS’s attention.”  It is unclear whether any Americans have taken the Vice President up on his suggestion, or if the IRS is responding to his direction.

This follows on an earlier incident in which Biden, while touring a Pennsylvania coal mine, was shocked to learn that coal was still being burned in power plants across the U.S.  “That’s outrageous!” Biden was heard to say.  “What crazy agency allowed that to happen?  Don’t they know that coal is dirty?  Dirty, dirty, dirty!  This has to stop.”  The mine supervisor who was leading the tour politely informed the Vice President that coal was a valuable natural resource, and that technology and regulation had corrected many of the problems coal-fired power plants had experienced in earlier decades.  Biden was not to be deterred, however, saying that the miners should walk off the job to protest the “very bad policy” that had allowed such dirty energy to be produced.  Bewildered miners took an hourlong break out of respect, but went back to work when the Vice President’s motorcade left the area.

Vice President Biden had earlier called for a general boycott of the Postal Service in November 2009 to protest the U.S. government’s failure to provide universal health care to all Americans.  Biden claimed that it was a “national tragedy” that a country as rich as the United States would fail to provide health care to everyone, and when he noticed that the Postal Service had issued a stamp series called “Miracles of Modern Medicine,” he considered the federal government’s “very bad policy” to be “so hypocritical as to demand immediate, nonviolent action against the government.”  Postal Service revenues plunged during the critical Christmas season, prompting an emergency rate hike.  When Biden learned that his comments had largely been blamed for the increase in postage rates, which made the medical stamps insufficient postage,  he told reporters that he “was proud to have ended that hypocritical stamp mess.  Now we’ve just got to fix the health care thing.”

As has previously been reported, when Congress passed health care reform legislation, Biden was recorded as saying “this is a big f–ing deal.” Sources have since learned that Biden made this comment after noting that it was his boycott of the Postal Service that had caused Congress to reform health care.  It is unknown if this result has led the Vice President to demand that Americans protest other federal policies that do not fit his progressive ideology.

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The FDA has decided that your diet is far too savory.  It’s disappointed that you haven’t realized this on your own.  It’s understandable, of course, since salt has been a staple of the human diet since, oh, long before it was a form of currency.  But since you can’t be trusted to fix things yourself, the FDA will do you a favor and fix your food for you.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

There is presently no statute that justifies the regulation of salt content in food.  No rule has ever set a “safe” amount of salt in any given food product.  To date, FDA has only required full sodium disclosure, allowing the consumer to make an informed decision about how she will regulate her salt content.  But we’re living in a world where EPA has decided that an biologically-benign, indeed botanically-necessary, atmospheric gas is a pollutant requiring massive regulation.  It’s not a very far step to prevent Americans from obtaining unlimited amounts of a naturally-occurring mineral that we all need to perform “basic biological functions.”

Although such a justification was not expressly made for this action, the FDA’s agenda here is an early example of how once the government pays for your health care, it makes everything you do the government’s business.  If you read the Washington Post article linked above, you may be saying, “Hey, Obamacare isn’t even mentioned in this article!”  And you would be right.  But the embedded logic of this move by the FDA will be used time and again to authorize the government to make decisions about your diet, your exercise routine, even your sexual habits.  That’s because, once the government is paying, it has virtually unlimited authority to condition its payments in ways that would be unconstitutionally coercive in other contexts.

Longstanding Supreme Court precedents, beginning in the New Deal era, have imposed only the flimsiest of boundaries on coercive requirements predicated on the receipt of federal funds.  A classic example is the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Dole, upholding Congress’ refusal to give states federal transportation funds until they raised their drinking age to 21.  Justice Rehnquist, no less, held that the federal government’s interest in “safe interstate travel” was a sufficiently “reasonable relation” between drinking laws and roadbuilding funds to justify such a condition.

If it makes constitutional sense to parcel out road funds to states on the basis of when their legal adults can drink, how easy will it be for the Feds to justify the regulation of your salt content?  With its new mix of subsidies, tax breaks, mandates, and health care “marketplaces,” the federal government now has a monetary interest in how healthy you are.  If you are sick — or even if you’re not as healthy as you could be — that’s a matter of public concern.  We need to reduce the deficit — how better to do that than by reducing your salt content, making it less likely that the Treasury has to finance your heart transplant?  Far more inherently-risky activities — unprotected sex, smoking, drinking, even rock-climbing — could easily be outlawed on the basis of their threat to the government’s balance sheet.

That’s the dirty secret behind government health care — while it’s been sold as a response to the outrage of insurers’ heartless use of America’s preexisting conditions as a basis for higher rates, everyone knows that the only way to reduce health care costs is to change Americans’ behaviors.  Insurers try to do that with a mixture of carrot (rate reductions for gym memberships) and stick (higher premiums for type 2 diabetes patients), but in the end, it’s our choice.  Not so with government, which can perform the same task by using its regulatory power to prevent you from making those unhealthy decisions altogether – or else.

Of course, the government might decide that it’s cheaper to let you eat all the salt you want — and then refuse you that transplant.  Who is cheaper to care for, after all — a healthy person or a dead one?

The Enemy

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