Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Catholic Bishops: Congress Has a ‘Moral Obligation’ to Protect the ‘Life & Dignity’ of the Unemployed

The bishops are for once being loyal to church doctrine. What they say is in accord with encyclicals from "De rerum novarum" to "Centesimus annus" -- both of which take a middle way between capitalism and socialism.

But it is the old welfare controversy all over again. Britain has welfare payments of unlimited duration for all and has ended up with a large population segment that is simply unwilling to work. In some families no-one has worked for generations. British employers constantly complain that they have to hire immigrants as no locals are interested in taking the jobs on offer. So the GOP are right to be very hesitant about falling into that trap

A new letter that was released on Tuesday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on Congress to extend unemployment insurance, while seemingly claiming that such protection falls under the “right to life and subsistence.”

The letter, which was sent through Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the Conference’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, says that it is Congress’s “moral obligation” to protect the “life and dignity” of the unemployed. In a press release, the USCCB writes:
Bishop Blaire wrote that the current “pervasive economic pain” includes a median length of joblessness of 10 months, and over four job seekers for every opening. He wrote that Pope John Paul II called such conditions in “a real social disaster” and that the pope said the “obligation to provide unemployment benefits” to workers and their families is a fundamental principle of “the right to life and subsistence.”

The timing of the letter, as Commonwealth notes, is going to make it that much more contentious. House Republicans are hesitant to extend unemployment benefits, as some feel that doing to encourages people not to go out and look for employment.

A current measure under consideration that was introduced by House GOP leaders last week would reduce unemployment eligibility from 99 weeks to 59 weeks. The Hill has more regarding how some Democrats are reacting to the proposal:
At a procedural committee hearing on Monday night, Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) warned his GOP colleagues that Democrats were furious about provisions in the must-pass measure to extend the current payroll tax rate holiday and extend and reform unemployment benefits.

“We’re headed for a confrontation on the Floor tomorrow,” Levin said in response to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp’s (R-Mich.) statement on the 369-page bill up for consideration.

The veteran lawmaker pulled no punches in a preview of Tuesday’s 90-minute floor debate, calling the provisions related to phasing back the current 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits a “heartless, and I think mindless and reckless way to proceed.”

This most recent letter from the Bishops follows a back and forth between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a Catholic, and the Bishops back in May. Paul had apparently written a letter to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan expressing his desire to provide facts about his budget to the faith leader (his note was in allegedly in response to a previous critique from Bishop Blaire). “We believe human dignity is undermined when citizens become passive clients living on redistributions from government bureaucracies,” Ryan wrote.

Dolan’s response to Ryan didn’t take an official stance on the House budget. “A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burdens upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people,” Dolan wrote.



Internet piracy bill: A free speech 'kill switch'

What began as an attempt to restrain foreign piracy on the Internet has morphed into a domestic “kill switch” on First Amendment freedom in the fastest-growing corner of the marketplace of ideas.

Proposed federal legislation purporting to protect online intellectual property would also impose sweeping new government mandates on internet service providers – a positively Orwellian power grab that would permit the U.S. Justice Department to shut down any internet site it doesn’t like (and cut off its sources of income) on nothing more than a whim.

Under the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) the federal government – which is prohibited constitutionally from abridging free speech or depriving its citizens of their property without due process – would engage in both practices on an unprecedented scale. And in establishing the precursor to a taxpayer-funded “thought police,” it would dramatically curtail technology investment and innovation – wreaking havoc on our economy.

Consider this: Under the proposed legislation all that’s required for government to shutdown a specific website is the mere accusation that the site unlawfully featured copyrighted content. Such an accusation need not be proven – or even accompanied by probable cause. All that an accuser (or competitor) needs to do in order to obtain injunctive relief is point the finger at a website.

Additionally, SOPA would grant regulators the ability to choke off revenue to the owners of these newly classified “rogue” websites by accusing their online advertisers and payment providers as co-conspirators in the alleged “piracy.” Again, no finding of fact would be required – the mere allegation of impropriety is all that’s needed to cut the website’s purse strings.

Who’s vulnerable to this legislation?

“Any website that features user-generated content or that enables cloud-based data storage could end up in its crosshairs,” writes David Sohn, senior policy council at the Center on Democracy and Technology. “(Internet Service Providers) would face new and open-ended obligations to monitor and police user behavior. Payment processors and ad networks would be required to cut off business with any website that rights-holders allege hasn't done enough to police infringement.”



America's parasitical political class

Two stellar books have been published this year examining the "Political Class," that group of people which includes politicians and bureaucrats, but also and the businesses and labor unions that enable and benefit from them. They are Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You by Iain Murray and Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison by Peter Schweizer. They make excellent books for Christmas even though they are far more likely to generate outrage than good cheer.

Murray's book focuses largely on the bureaucracy and why they have become an increasing threat to our freedom and our pocketbooks. Bureaucrats have a huge incentive to increase costs. In government, a bureaucrat's success -- his pay raises and promotions -- is determined not by solving problems but by finding more problems to justify ever larger budgets and staff.

Murray, a Brit by birth, saw this first hand when he went to work for the Department of Transport. "In government, performance is judged by increases in funding. The cost-cutting boss is viewed with suspicion, even outright hostility, by his peers, as letting his side down," Murray, who works at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writes.

The success that the political class has had is evidenced by the fact that the wealthiest Congressional District in America is not in Manhattan or Beverly Hills, but in Northern Virginia. It is Virginia's 11th District, a suburb of Washington, D.C. that is home to many top-level federal workers. The district has a median household income of $80,397, nearly double the national average of almost $42,000.

Bureaucrats are now paid, on average, more than the private sector, have top-notch health and retirement benefits, and virtually iron-clad job security. The justification for this is that such people are in "public service" and good wages and benefits are needed to attract good people. But it is a myth that so-called public servants are any less self-interested than anyone else. Indeed, they often serve themselves at the expense of the public.

Murray provides numerous examples, from the federal down to the local level. One agency that looks like a disaster waiting to happen is the Transportation Safety Administration. "TSA is a reactive security operation, always fighting the last battle. Yet it doesn't even fight those battles particularly well," Murray writes. Post 9/11, TSA failed to detect Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Umar Farouk, the underwear bomber, both of whom were fortunately subdued by passengers on their planes. But TSA's failure means more inconvenience for passengers, as we now have to take off our shoes and go through either body-scan machines or pat downs on our private areas. Despite this, testing has found that TSA screeners may miss up to 60%-75% of simulated explosives. Testing at airports that employ private security companies perform much better, with a failure rate of 20 percent. The reason is that screeners from private companies "know they will be picked on with constant covert tests and are therefore 'more suspicious.'"

TSA has grown into a 67,000-employee bureaucracy, and in February of this year the Obama administration gave TSA the right to unionize. A unionized TSA could mean even more headaches for travelers as unionized government employees are nearly impossible to fire and union contracts tend to favor pay scales based on seniority rather than performance. Some members of Congress have urged airports to take their "opt-out" option and hire private security firms. But that requires TSA approval, and like any bureaucracy protecting its turf, the agency has declared that "unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future, the requests will be denied." TSA Administrator John Pistole has said that he doesn't think there's any advantage to private security firms.

On the local level, there is no better example in Murray's book of the lengths to which a union will go to get its way than the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association in New York City. A major blizzard hit New York in December 2010. Wanting to send a message to the mayor about staff cutbacks and reduction in the ranks of supervisors, union heads told snow crews go slow in snow cleanup. Several neighborhoods such as Borough Park and Middle Village were targeted for poor snow removal since the residents there are wealthier and have more influence with their politicians. This may have led to the death of one three-year-old boy as the ambulance could not get to him in time. However, priority cleanup was given to the neighborhoods of agency heads and other city bigwigs.

Schweizer looks at another part of the political class: politicians and crony capitalists. Schweitzer, who works for the Hoover Institution, dubs this group "the Government Rich" for whom "insider deals, insider trading, and taxpayer money have become a pathway to wealth. They get to walk this exclusive pathway because they get to operate by a different set of rules from the rest of us. And they get to do this while they are working for us, in the name of the 'public service.'"

Members of Congress are often privy to private information, such as the likelihood that a bill that impacts a particular industry will pass, or that the SEC will approve a merger, or which private companies are in trouble. They can turn this information into lucrative stock transactions. Studies have shown, for example, that members of Congress increased their net worth by 84 percent from 2004-2006, while the rest of America averaged about 20 percent. Another study found that the average hedge fund beats the market by 7-8 percent a year, while the average Senator beats it by 12 percent.

The two examples of this behavior that have received the most press attention upon the release of Throw Them All Out are Republican Spencer Bachus, now chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader. During 2008, Bachus was ranking member of the Committee. Since all of the bailout legislation had to pass through his committee, he was intricately involved in discussions regarding which financial institutions were in trouble and the likely impact on the economy. According to Schweizer, Bachus used his inside information to make thousands on stock options, betting that stocks would go up or down at various times.

A good reason to read Throw Them All Out is to arm yourself against the distortions about the book promulgated by various media outlets. To his credit, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reported on Schweizer's finding that in 2008 Pelosi was able to buy VISA stock at its initial public offering (IPO) while credit card legislation that was troublesome to VISA was making its way to the House floor. Pelosi delayed the legislation so that it would not come up for a vote on the House floor in 2008.



Obama’s math works only in BizzaroEcon World

Last night on “60 Minutes” (HT IndianaJim) President Obama said to interviewer Steve Croft about tax cuts: "Steve, the math is the math. You can’t lower rates and raise revenue, unless you’re getting revenue from someplace else."

This answer reveals a deplorable understanding of either economics or math or both.

Revenues are the product of the “price” per unit (for example, the tax rate on a dollar of income) multiplied by the number of units for which that price is paid. If the percentage cut in the price per unit is smaller than a corresponding percentage increase in the number of units for which the now-lower price is paid, revenues don’t fall; they rise. The math, indeed, is the math.

Obama’s math works only in a bizzaro economic world – a world where changes in prices have no, or never more than a de minimis, effect on people’s behavior.

In that bizzaro world producers would never lower prices. (Why do so if lowering prices won’t result in a larger sales volume and higher revenues?) In that bizzaro world McDonald’s would charge $1,000 for each Big Mac. (Why not, if prices don’t affect people’s consumption choices?) In that bizzaro world no one would propose taxing cigarettes to discourage smoking. (Why do so if higher prices don’t affect behavior?) And in that bizzaro world no one would ever call for higher tariffs to protect domestic producers from foreign competition. (Why do so if raising tariffs does not reduce the number of imports that people buy?)

It’s one thing to question a claim’s empirical relevance; it’s quite another to dismiss it categorically as being an alleged violation of the laws of mathematics.

What sorry testimony about the “reality-based” political community that the current President of the United States believes it to be simply a matter of “math” that lower tax rates necessarily result in lower tax revenues.




Cheney calls for air strike on Iran over captured drone: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney said on Monday that President Barack Obama should have ordered an 'air strike' on Iran after they recently captured a U.S. drone. Earlier on Monday, President Barack Obama had explained that U.S. officials asked Iran to return the RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. 'The right response to that would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it,' Cheney told CNN’s Erin Burnett."

US Congress freezes $700 million in Pakistan aid: "A US Congressional panel has frozen $700m (£450m) in aid to Pakistan until it gives assurances it is tackling the spread of homemade bombs in the region. ... the freeze in aid -- part of a defence bill that is expected to be passed by Congress later this week -- could presage even greater cuts, correspondents say."

Big government scares more Americans: "Gallup just released a poll asking Americans who they fear most: big government, big business or big labor. Government terrifies more Americans than the other two combined, by a two-to-one margin."

Getting to medical freedom: "To improve medicine in the United States, we’ll first need to explain that we are far from a free market in healthcare."

Medicare Whac-A-Mole: "It is often said that you can’t put a price on health. But for decades that is exactly what the federal government has attempted. Since the birth of the entitlement, a parade of legislators and bureaucrats has been playing billion- and trillion-dollar games of Whac-A-Mole with Medicare, knocking down spending with an elaborately constructed set of technocratic payment schemes in one area only to see it rise back up in some other part of the system. Obama is merely proposing to try it one more time."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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