Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eight Republicans Vote For Democrats’ “Insane” Massive Energy Tax Bill; Illinois Republican Mark Kirk Takes Heat

Last Friday, June 26, the US House passed the Democrat Waxman-Markey energy tax bill, often referred to as “cap and trade.” The way Democrats rammed the bill through, with massive changes made at the last minute just as the voting began, is almost as outrageous as the substance of it, although, since no one read the bill before it was passed, no one can be quite sure exactly what’s in it (link, link).

But this is just a bill, not a law, as the Senate has not voted yet, and many commentators think passage of this bill in anything like its House version is unlikely. Nevertheless, the substance of the bill and the way it was passed stinks all the same. Iain Murray wrote (link) at The Corner blog at National Review Online that “this is a gross abuse of the Parliamentary process and represents nothing less than contempt for the people of the United States of America.”

As for the substance, it’s a massive new tax on energy in the middle of a recession. Charles Krauthammer’s take (link):

This bill is so bad it's almost indescribable…. In principle, it's a carbon tax. And to do it — which is probably the largest tax in American history — in the middle of a recession is quite insane.

But secondly, even if you accept that we have to do a carbon tax because there is an emergency in the climate …. [the bill] involves so many concessions to constituencies, to coal companies in states, to all kinds of favorite constituencies, that it's a mess, and it undermines the idea of a cap and trade, a system in which the market will regulate carbon emissions. As a result, in the final analysis, it gives money and carbon credits to utility companies on the condition that [they do] not raise rates on people's electricity. But if that is the case, then it undermines the entire argument in favor of this, which is to induce the reduction in the use of energy. If there are no rises in rates, there's no incentive to reduce emissions, and the whole purpose of the bill is undermined.

The bill passed by a margin of 7 votes, with 44 Democrats voting against it and 8 Republicans voting for it. Congressman Mark Kirk, from Illinois’ liberal North Shore, which extends from Chicago’s northern suburbs to the Wisconsin border, was one of the eight Republicans (link), and, according to one commentator, was the only one of the eight not from either the east or west coast.

Why did Kirk vote for this bill, which, along with every other Congressman, he didn’t even read? Greg Hinz at Crain’s Chicago Business writes (link):

Congressman Mark Kirk is strongly defending his vote …. [He] said he tied his vote to national security, … that raising the price of energy somewhat will reduce American reliance on "Middle Eastern dictatorships." "I would have preferred a bill that focused more on energy independence," the Highland Park Republican said, … [but said that] the version put to a vote by Democratic leaders will force the United States to diversify American energy production.

Well, yes, achieving energy independence is an urgent national matter, but if utility energy prices are prevented from rising and we don’t reverse the Democratic freeze on developing new supplies of oil, gas, and nuclear power and using more coal, won’t we still use about as much foreign oil?

This bill amounts to a massive new tax by Democrats underneath the ruse of environmental protection and energy independence, the additional revenues from which would only help fuel their destructive spending orgy.

There was a rally at Kirk’s office today to protest his vote. Illinois bloggers John Ruberry of Marathon Pundit (link) and Anne Leary of Backyard Conservative (link) were there and cover it at their blogs.

Sensible big-tent Republicans understand that Republican legislators will not always vote in lock-step on every issue, especially if they represent liberal-leaning districts. But sometimes Republicans in such districts feel intimidated, lose nerve, and vote with Democrats rather than educate voters on the merits of their position. But when even 44 Democrats couldn’t vote for this bill, Kirk’s vote is hard to understand, and very disappointing.

John M Greco

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remembering Errol Flynn, at 100

Errol Flynn, one of the great movie stars of all time, was born 100 years ago today. He defined the classic movie action hero -- daring and dashing, a leader of men; honorable and purposeful, but devil-may-care and quick to laugh. His roles may not have been unduly complex, but they were bold and heroic. His pictures were often run and much watched, years ago, before movie heroes changed forever.

His signature “swashbucklers” defined the genre and are, at least to this fan, his greatest roles: Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Sea Hawk. All were directed by Michael Curtiz and featured rousing theme music by Erich Korngold. Flynn’s co-star in the first two, and in six other of his movies, was the great Oliva de Havilland, and character actor pal Alan Hale had roles in 11 of Flynn’s movies by my count. Captain Blood, as good as any he made, was his first lead and his break out film.

Another favorite of mine, and of one of my sons, is the WWII action picture Objective Burma. Same character type – a bold, determined leader with an important mission. He made many other films, of course, including many Westerns, most notably They Died with Their Boots On and Virginia City. He was a great actor, but remarkably, though perhaps not inexplicably for Hollywood given its pseudo-sophistication borne of a collective intellectual inferiority complex and its love of self-absorbed drama, he was never nominated for an Academy Award. Flynn would be much more appreciated today by the Hollywood intelligentsia if he had played notably unheroic self-destructive substance abusers on the screen instead of just becoming one in later life.

Flynn was born of Irish and British descent in Tasmania, of all places, where his father was a professor of biology. Expelled from a number of schools for rowdy behavior and perhaps also for inappropriate romantic adventures, after some failed ventures he eventually turned to acting, where his natural charm, good looks, and athleticism led to quick success. He was quite the womanizer, apparently, whose exploits led to the quip “In Like Flynn.” The fast living and drinking prematurely aged him, and his career slowed down. In his later years he lived in Jamaica, and died at age 50 in Vancouver while traveling on personal business. His autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, was published shortly after his death.

The lasting image – Flynn standing on his ship’s gunwale amidst the clamor and confusion of a great sea battle, one hand on the rigging and one brandishing a sword, shouting “Over the side men, follow me.”

His daughter Rory Flynn maintains an interesting website dedicated to memories of his career (link).

Richard Balsamo

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chance for Sensible Health Care Reform Improves as Ultra-Liberal Proposals Start to Implode

Americans need health care reform, but what we do not need is a monolithic health care system owned and operated by the federal government and its ant hill of bureaucrats. Our medical advances and treatments lead the world. We need reforms to our current system that preserve the strengths but address problems with medical costs, affordability of insurance, portability of insurance to eliminate “job lock,” and inconsistent quality of care. We need a reform plan that keeps control in the hands of individuals and their doctors, not give it to bureaucrats in the federal government. One such plan is already on the table -- the Patients’ Choice Act (link; link; link; link).

As for the uninsured – take out those that already qualify for federal programs but haven’t signed up, non-citizens, and those who can afford medical insurance but feel healthy so risk going without it, and what’s left is only a fraction of the 46 million count that gets bandied about. I've seen estimates of 10-15 million (here's a well-documented analysis concluding the number is about 11 million). Tweaks to existing federal programs can address those truly in need, who, incidentally, usually can obtain care when they want it at emergency rooms, free clinics, and some doctors’ offices. Not ideal, not optimal, and in need of reform, but medical care is currently available, subsidized by hospitals and doctors from the income they receive from private insurers. No need to rush the overhaul of our entire system to deal with the uninsured problem. Why not take a few months rather than a few weeks?

So why the bum’s rush by Democrats? Why, of course, because the more time people have to examine and think about their proposals the less likely they will be to support them.

The good news – the first wave of cost estimates of some of the Democrat-proposed reform plans have been astronomical, and growing public and stakeholder concern over Obama bailouts, massive spending, unimaginable debt, and political rush jobs has the linchpin of schemes for a nationalized system – the government-run so-called “public plan” option (link)– in serious doubt (link). Even health-care-guy former Senator Tom Daschle, one of many Democrats disgraced recently by admissions of major tax evasion, dropped the public plan from his own health care reform proposal released this past week (link).

There are currently many proposals in various degrees of detail:

• From Senate Democrats on the Finance Committee (Baucus)
• From Senate Democrats on the Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (Kennedy/Dodd)
• From an independent group of Senate and House Republicans (the Patients’ Choice Act)
• From House Democrats, release pending
• From former Democrat Senator Daschle (with Republican props Dole and Baker)

A half-way decent overview of developments with most of these proposals is here from the Associated Press, which, however, true to its ultra-liberal bias, omits to mention at all the most advanced and, to the liberals, threatening Republican reform proposal – the Patients’ Choice Act.

And, as shocking as the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates have been, an editorial (link) in today’s Wall Street Journal warns that in the past such cost estimates usually have turned out to have been too low:
Useful to emphasize … is that CBO's number-crunching is almost always off --
predicting too much spending for market-based policies and far too little for
new public programs, especially on health care. The CBO score [read “cost
estimate”] for a new entitlement is only the teaser rate, given that the costs
will inevitably balloon as the years pass and more people mob "free" or
subsidized insurance.

John M Greco

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama Dissembles On His Plans For Health Care

A friend says to me -- Unlike our current president, for all his shortcomings, former President G.W. Bush at least was not a narcissistic liar. That about sums it up. It is clear to all with open eyes that President Obama is a man of the left, if one pays any attention to his actions and associations, past and present, rather than to his words. But he fools the foolable with his verbal misdirections and falsehoods. He soothingly and earnestly assures us that he is not leading America to the left as he carefully and methodically does just that. For the left, the end has always justified the means.

Obama, strongly pitching his “public option” government-run health plan that he knows is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for nationalized, government-run health care, said this (link) today to a gathering of leaders of the American Medical Association:

"What are not legitimate concerns are those being put forward claiming a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system," he said. "I'll be honest. There are countries where a single-payer system may be working. But I believe — and I've even taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief — that it is important for us to build on our traditions here in the United States. So, when you hear the naysayers claim that I'm trying to bring about government-run health care, know this — they are not telling the truth."
Small lies might not convince, but the big ones ….

JM Greco

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Key Fight in Health Care Reform Is On a “Public Plan" Option, & Prospects Still Uncertain. Will Republicans Hold?

Some observers, including me, believe that many leading Democrats would ultimately prefer to have a straight up national health insurance plan in the US, akin to that of Britain or even Canada, but realize that political support for such a radical switch is insufficient. So their tactic at the moment is to introduce the seed for national health insurance, thinking that once in place the move to truly national health insurance would be inexorable. The plan is to introduce in health care “reform” what will ultimately become national health insurance through the Trojan Horse of a “public plan” option that the federal government would run in competition with private health care plans.

The theory behind a public plan option is good. As President Obama recently wrote, it could give Americans “a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.” But reality is different. The problem is that private insurers, which must navigate through and comply with 50 sets of state insurance regulations and must negotiate reimbursement rates with providers, could never compete with a government run plan that did not have to operate at a profit and that could dictate reimbursement to providers. Democrats would make sure that premiums for a government run plan would be far cheaper than those of private plans, and so private plans would soon be extinct. Private plans are far from perfect, and many reform proposals can improve things, but government run national health insurance, like that of Britain or Canada, would undoubtedly mean rationing of care through government-imposed cost-driven medical protocols, poorer service, and stifling of medical innovation.

The public plan option is where the important fight is. Can Republicans hold firm as a group to refuse support for any reform plan that includes it? And if so, will Democrats want to pass on a party line vote, which they could do, a reform plan that would be one of the most sweeping and consequential laws in American history, and be wholly responsible when things go sour with the scheme, as would happen eventually? Or if Republicans hold firm, will Democrats blink and drop the public plan option? We’ll all see.

The latest update I’ve seen is an Associated Press report from two days ago titled “GOP Senators Say Bipartisan Health Deal in Jeopardy -- President Obama's declared support for a public insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers, is opposed by nearly all Republicans” (link):
President Obama's hopes for a bipartisan health deal seemed in jeopardy Thursday [June 4] as GOP senators protested his renewed support for a new public health insurance plan, and a key Democratic chairman declared that such a plan would likely be in the Senate's bill…. A public plan that would compete with private insurers is opposed by nearly all Republicans.
Congress might be able to pass a health overhaul bill with little, if any, GOP support. But Obama and Democrats including Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus have said repeatedly they want to avoid that outcome because such a measure would be less widely supported and less sustainable over time…. There appears to be little room for compromise, with Republicans contending that no matter how a public plan is designed, it would inevitably balloon and crush the private market…. Many Democrats, meanwhile, insist that a final bill must contain a public plan.

John M Greco