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Archive for December, 2011

Paul Krugman has told us that awful stories about government-run healthcare in Britain “are false.”

I guess this means that the media must be dominated by conservative liars, since we keep getting reports about substandard care and needless deaths (see herehereherehereherehereherehere, here and here).

And the Boston Globe and Associated Press must be part of this vast right-wing conspiracy, because the Globe just ran an AP report exposing more problems in England. Here is an excerpt.

When David Evans needed a hernia operation, the 69-year-old farmer became so alarmed by the long wait that he used an ultrasound machine for pregnant sheep on himself, to make sure he wasn’t getting worse. It was only after repeated calls from himself, his doctor and his local member of parliament that the hospital performed the surgery, nearly a year after it was first requested. Under government guidelines, he should have started getting treatment within 18 weeks. “I was in quite a lot of pain,’’ Evans said of his ordeal in Cornwall, southwest England. “It really restricted what I could do around the farm since I couldn’t lift anything heavy.’’ Across Britain, an increasing number of patients like Evans are facing more pain and longer waits.

The deep flaws in the British system, by the way, do not imply that the American system is ideal. As I’ve explained, the U.S. system also is heavily dominated by government, causing a massive third-party payer problem.

(h/t: Reason)

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Yes, the Christmas season is over, but somebody just sent me this cartoon and it’s worth sharing because it captures the hate-and-envy mentality of the parasite class in Washington.

And I probably like it because it is sort of similar to the riding-the-wagon-pulling-the-wagon cartoon drawn by a former Cato intern.

And if you like cartoons about class warfare, click here and here for some amusing portrayals of Obama’s divisiveness.

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I’ve written many times about politicians and bureaucrats screwing taxpayers with lavish compensation packages, but this story from Philadelphia is jaw dropping.

Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco is retiring Friday, but only so she can collect a $478,057 pension check and return to work Monday, when she will be sworn in for her seventh term. Tasco was one of six Council members to enroll in the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, better known as DROP. She did not immediately return a request for comment. …When DROP was introduced during the Rendell administration, it was thought that it would cost little or nothing. But a study by the administration of Mayor Nutter said DROP had cost the city $258 million over 10 years.

Remember stories like this every time ones of these reprehensible politicians claim that spending has been cut to the bone and taxes have to be raised.

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Because of his semi-frontrunner status in Iowa, Ron Paul is now attracting some negative attention, including the fact that he received a $500 campaign contribution from an avowed racist.

Very few people think Paul is biased, but read this article by Steve Horwitz, my grad school classmate. Since I’ve written both supportive and critical posts about Paul, I think I have some credibility in saying that it is a fair summary of the issues.

Not surprisingly, other GOP presidential campaigns would like voters to disqualify Paul on the basis of unsavory associations, and I certainly agree that Paul showed very bad judgment. Normally it’s a good thing that he’s not a typical politician, but this is one of those cases where it undermines the case for freedom – as Steve explains in the article linked above.

But if sauce for the goose is supposed to be sauce for the gander, shouldn’t we also be upset that the head of the Communist Party in the United States has – for all intents and purposes – endorsed Barack Obama? Here’s some of what Sam Webb, an apologist for totalitarian mass murder, wrote earlier this year.

Communists don’t agree with either one of these views. In our view, the differences between the two parties of capitalism are of consequence to class and democratic struggles. Neither party is anti-capitalist, but they aren’t identical either. Differences exist at the levels of policy and social composition. And despite the many frustrations of the past two years, the election of Barack Obama was historic and gave space to struggle for a people’s agenda. …We don’t have any illusions about the Democratic Party, but we don’t have any illusions about the Republican Party either. Furthermore, we are also aware of the undeniable fact that no other party besides the Democratic Party stands a chance of beating the GOP next year.

It goes without saying that these unwelcome expressions of support should not be used as evidence that Barack Obama is a communist or that Ron Paul is a racist. It’s not the fault of politicians that they sometimes receive support from nutjobs and morons.

My only complaint is that there’s not a level playing field. There’s lot of coverage of a loathsome person who supported Ron Paul, but I’m not aware of anybody paying attention to Sam Webb’s expressions of support for Barack Obama.

Yes, racism is evil, and we should be suspicious of people who get support from racists. But communists have butchered tens of millions of people. Shouldn’t we be equally skeptical of politicians who attract support from these evil people as well?

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Kevin Williamson of National Review is always worth reading, whether he’s kicking Paul Krugman’s behind in a discussion about the Texas economy, explaining supply-side economics, or even when he’s writing misguided things about taxation.

But I’m tempted to say that anything he’s written to date pales into insignificance compared to his analysis of the corrupt relationship between big government and Wall Street. Here are some excerpts, but read the entire article.

He starts out with a strong claim about the Obama Administration being in the back pocket of Wall Street.

…it’s no big deal to buy a president, which is precisely what Wall Street did in 2008 when, led by investment giant Goldman Sachs, it closed the deal on Barack Obama. For a few measly millions, Wall Street not only bought itself a president, but got the start-up firm of B. H. Obama & Co. LLC to throw a cabinet into the deal, too — on remarkably generous terms. …the real bonus turned out to be Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who came up through the ranks as part of the bipartisan Robert Rubin–Hank Paulson–Citigroup–Goldman Sachs cabal. Geithner, a government-and-academe man from way back, never really worked on Wall Street, though he once was offered a gig as CEO of Citigroup, which apparently thought he did an outstanding job as chairman of the New York Fed, where one of his main tasks was regulating Citigroup — until it collapsed into the yawning suckhole of its own cavernous ineptitude, at which point Geithner’s main job became shoveling tens of billions of federal dollars into Citigroup, in an ingeniously structured investment that allowed the government to buy a 27 percent share in the bank, for which it paid more than the entire market value of the bank. If you can’t figure out why you’d pay 100-plus percent of a bank’s value for 27 percent of it, then you just don’t understand high finance or high politics.

Since I’ve compared Tim Geithner to Forest Gump, I’m not going to argue with this assessment.

Later in the article, Kevin makes a case that politicians are engaging in widespread insider trading.

Nancy Pelosi and her husband were parties to a dozen or so IPOs, many of which were effectively off limits to all but the biggest institutional investors and their favored clients. One of those was a 2008 investment of between $1 million and $5 million in Visa, an opportunity the average investor could not have bought, begged, or borrowed his way into — one that made the Pelosis a 50 percent profit in two days. Visa, of course, had business before Speaker Pelosi, who was helping to shape credit-card-reform legislation at the time. Visa got what it wanted. The Pelosis have also made some very fortunate investments in gasand energy firms that have benefited from Representative Pelosi’s legislative actions. The Pelosis made a million bucks off a single deal involving OnDisplay, the IPO of which was underwritten by investment banker William Hambrecht, a major Pelosi campaign contributor. …Besting Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D., N.Y.) got in on the pre-IPO action, without putting up so much as one rapidly depreciating U.S. dollar of his own assets, when a political supporter — who just happened to be the biggest shareholder of the firm in question — lent him $14,000 to buy shares in the private company, which he then sold for more than a hundred grand after the firm went public. There wasn’t so much as a written loan agreement. On and on and on it goes: Sen. John Kerry invested aggressively in health-care companies while shaping health-care legislation. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R. Ala.) was a remarkably apt options trader during the days when he had a front-row seat to Congress’s deliberations on the unfolding financial crisis.

I wish I had known these details when I went on TV to discuss congressional corruption earlier this year.

Kevin also explained how Warren Buffett made a boatload of money thanks to insider knowledge about bailouts.

…during the financial crisis, a big piece of Goldman Sachs was bought by Warren Buffett, who stacked up a lot of cash when the government poured money into that struggling investment bank with the support of Barack Obama. When the federal government bought into Goldman Sachs, it negotiated for itself a 5 percent dividend. Warren Buffett got 10 percent — on top of the benefit of having Washington inundate his investment with great rippling streams of taxpayers’ money.

No wonder Buffett’s willing to lie in order to help his buddies in Washington raise taxes.

There’s a lot more in the article, but here’s a final excerpt that sums up Kevin’s article.

Wall Street can do math, and the math looks like this: Wall Street + Washington = Wild Profitability. Free enterprise? Entrepreneurship? Starting a business making and selling stuff behind some grimy little storefront? You’d have to be a fool. Better to invest in political favors. …hedge-fund titans, i-bankers, congressional nabobs, committee chairmen, senators, swindlers, run-of-the-mill politicos, and a few outright thieves (these categories are not necessarily exclusive) all feeding at the same trough, and most of them betting that Mitt Romney won’t do anything more to stop it than Barack Obama did. …Free-market, limited-government conservatives should be none too eager to welcome them back, nor should we let our natural sympathy with the profit motive blind us to the fact that a great many of them do not belong in the conservative movement, and that more than a few of them belong in prison.

All of this underscores why TARP was such an unmitigated disaster – and why we should be suspicious of politicians like Romney and Gingrich who supported the bailouts.

Remember, capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell.

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The statists are making a big issue out of income inequality, hoping to convince ordinary Americans that redistribution is their only hope for a better life.

I’ve explained with a pizza analogy that this is horribly misguided because it falsely assumes the economy is a fixed pie.

Simply stated, it doesn’t make sense – or help anybody – if inequality is reduced by policies that hurt everyone, but happen to hurt upper-income people more than lower-income people.

Moreover, redistribution tends to create a “poverty trap” as people get seduced by dependency.

That’s why I’ve argued that economic growth is the best way of helping the less fortunate.

But I have to admit that Margaret Thatcher does a much better job of eviscerating the left’s agenda on this issue.

While it’s inspiring to watch Thatcher in action, it’s also painful to realize that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates seems generally incapable of making similar arguments. Can you imagine, for instance, Mitt Romney making these remarks?

Last but not least, Thatcher’s remarks remind me about Churchill’s famous quote, which is very appropriate for this discussion.

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

And if you want real-world examples, look at this chart comparing North Korea and South Korea, or this chart comparing Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela. Now ask yourself a simple question: Which societies have generated more prosperity and higher living standards for ordinary people?

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Mark Twain famously observed that, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

That’s a generalization, of course, but one that makes a lot of sense. Especially since I’ve written about the sleazy practice of swapping earmarks for campaign cash and also about the revolving door between Capitol Hill and the lobbying community.

Indeed, the culture of legal corruption in Washington is so pervasive that even the New York Times had to give credit to Sarah Palin for making it an issue.

Another sign of sleaze in DC is the degree to which politicians manage to get wealthier while in office.

In other words, how is it that some politicians come to Washington with modest amounts of wealth and somehow become multimillionaires? Especially when they are getting richer while the rest of the nation is treading water – even though we know they are some of the nation’s least competent people?

Here’s part of what the Washington Examiner has to say about this phenomenon.

According to an analysis by the Washington Post of congressional financial disclosure data for the period of 1984 to 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House of Representatives, excluding home equity, more than doubled. Over the same period, according to the Post, the wealth of an average American family declined slightly. The Post paints the growing wealth gap between Congress and average Americans as reflecting rising income inequality more generally. But that’s a tough sell in view of other data released yesterday. The New York Times reported that while the median net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat from 2004 through 2010, the median net worth of members of Congress rose by 15 percent over that same period. …Why are members of Congress not getting rich? Hoover Institution Fellow Peter Schweizer addressed this question in his recent book, “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”. It’s not rising congressional pay because congressional pay has actually fallen in inflation-adjusted dollars over the last 25 years. Members of Congress are getting richer because so many of them are masterful manipulators of their perks and positions in government. For many, that means making lucrative stock deals based on insider information or participation in special Initial Public Offerings. Or it can mean securing an earmark to build a road that doubles the value of a recently purchased piece of property. In short, wealth can come from having the inside connections, specialized information and privileged access that only comes with being a senator or representative.

There are two conclusions to draw from this analysis. The obvious lesson is that big government breeds corruption and illegitimate wealth. Simply stated, politicians wouldn’t be able to accumulate so much unearned riches if government didn’t have so much power and control over the economy.

The second lesson is less obvious, but perhaps more important. As I’ve noted before, perhaps one of the reasons why politicians despise “the rich” and favor confiscatory taxes is that they generalize from their own experiences (as well as from their relationships with powerful special interests) and assume all wealth is obtained immorally.

Indeed, I’ve been mulling this over and think I need to augment Mitchell’s Law and Mitchell’s Golden Rule with something like Mitchell’s Inverse Corollary of Taxation and Illegitimate Wealth. But that’s too wordy, so I’ll have to keep thinking about it.

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I’ve written a few times about the importance of self defense.

And I’m definitely a fan of self reliance.

So kudos to Mr. Mothershead, a true American.

I especially love his quote: “If he wants money, get a job. Work, like everybody else in this world.”

In the spirit of fairness, though, we should say something nice about the crook.

Maybe Mr. Hendy is an efficient liberal who wanted to take something that didn’t belong to him, but figured there was no need to use the government as middleman.

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I’ve written before about whether California is the Greece of America, in part because of crazy policies such as overpaid bureaucrats and expensive forms of political correctness,

And we all know that California has one of the nation’s greediest governments, imposing confiscatory tax rates on a shrinking pool of productive citizens.

So it is hardly surprising that the Golden State is falling behind, losing jobs and investment to more sensible states such as Texas.

But not everybody is learning the right lessons from California’s fiscal and economic mess.

There’s a group of crazies who want to increase the top tax rate by five percentage points, an increase of about 50 percent. And they have made Kim Kardashian the poster child for their proposed ballot initiative.

I’m relatively clueless about popular culture, but even I’m aware that there is a group of people know as the Kardashian sisters. I don’t know who they are or what they do, but I gather they are famous in sort of the same way Paris Hilton was briefly famous.

And they have cashed in on their popularity, which may not reflect well on the tastes of the American people, but it’s not my job to tell other people how to spend their money.

But not everybody share this live-and-let-live attitude, which is why the pro-tax crowd in California produced this video.

I suppose I could criticize the petty dishonesty of the proponents, since they deliberately blurred of the difference between “tax rates” and “taxes paid.”

Or I could expose their economic illiteracy by pointing out that higher tax rates would accelerate the emigration of investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other rich taxpayers to zero-tax states such as Nevada.

But I won’t do those things. Instead, like the Nevada Realtors Association and Arizona Business Relocation Department, I’m going to support this ballot initiative.

Not because I overdid the rum and eggnog at Christmas, but because it’s good to have negative role models, whether they are countries like Greece, cities such as Detroit, or states like California.

So here’s my challenge to the looters and moochers of the Golden State. Don’t just boost the top tax rate by five-percentage points. That’s not nearly enough. Go for a 20 percent top tax rate. Or 25 percent. After all, think of all the special interests that could use the money more than Ms. Kardashian.

And if somebody tells you that she will move to South Beach or Las Vegas, or that the other rich people will move to Texas, Wyoming, or Tennessee, just ignore them. Remember, it’s good intentions that count.

In closing, I apologize to the dwindling crowd of productive people in California. It’s rather unfortunate that you’re part of this statist experiment. But you know what they say about eggs and omelets.

By the way, here’s some humor about the Golden State, including a joke about the bloated bureaucracy and a comparison with Texas.

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Welcome Instapundit readers. If you want to know why rich liberals are not just hypocrites, but also wrong, read this post that tries to teach President Obama about the Laffer Curve.

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I’ve written before about how some leftists have a masochistic desire to pay higher taxes.

I’ve also exposed Warren Buffett’s dishonest math, which is part of his campaign for bigger government.

And I’ve even debated rich statists on TV, telling them not to make the rest of us victims of their neurotic guilt feelings.

So it was with considerable amusement that I saw this video clip from the Daily Caller, exposing the utter hypocrisy of rich leftists.

By the way, you may recognize Michelle Fields because she narrated this video on how bad government policies such as the New Deal made the Great Depression worse.

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Here’s my politically correct Christmas greeting from last year, and here’s the PC version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas that I posted this year.

But what about politically incorrect humor?

Okay, even though Christmas already has passed, you’ve twisted my arm.

We’ll start with some Christmas music from Achmed the Dead Terrorist.

And here’s Larry the Cable Guy, with some more Christmas carols.

But if you prefer to be PC rather than un-PC, here’s a great Jay Leno joke about terrorism during the Christmas holiday season.

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Chuck Asay is a superb cartoonist, and he produced one of my all-time favorites, capturing the negative impact of big government.

But this one is quite appropriate for today.

And if you like that cartoon, you may want to check out this one and these two.

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Overseas Americans are not exactly happy that federal law is making their lives so miserable, so I’m not surprised that they seem to be the ones who put together this great parody.

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U.S. Federal agents arrested Santa Claus earlier today at the North Pole.

Composite Sketch of Suspect

The United States Department of Fish and Wildlife has arrested Santa Claus, an elusive figure with many aliases (e.g., St. Nicholas).  On the morning of 24 December, 150 heavily armed Fish and Wildlife special agents raided Claus’ North Pole compound, seized several tons of exotic woods forbidden by the Lacey Act, arrested Santa Claus and a female accomplice identified only as Mrs. Claus, and liberated thousands of diminutive slave labourers known only as “Elves”.

Claus has been charged with multiple counts of money laundering, illegal exportation of currency, illegally importing into the United States toys made of contraband–rare woods, ivory and other banned substances.  He has also been charged with violations of slave labor and child labor laws, hundreds of patent and trademark violations, and illegally entering and exiting the United States.

Indeed, Fish and Wildlife agents also seized an unidentified aircraft called a “sleigh” which had numerous secret compartments holding the contraband.   Fish and Wildlife agents charged Mr. Claus with animal cruelty with regard to the caribou that he used to launch this “sleigh”.

Agent Smith

Special Agent Hugo Smith said, “We arrived just in the nick of time.  A moment later, and the caribou would have launched the sleigh and Claus would have escaped with the illegal materials.  By now, he would be in the United States, breaking into people’s houses and selling this stuff.”

The United States Department of Immigration and the Internal Revenue Service have also had their eyes on Mr. Claus.  An immigration official who also attended the raid said that they were able to obtain several dozen passports.  He said, “It seems that this Santa Claus character has a different name in every country–his EU passport says, ‘Father Christmas’ and his Canadian passport says, ‘Père Noël’.  We have, however, determined with certainty that Santa Claus is a United States citizen.”

Apparently Claus worked in Hollywood during the 1940s and 50s making autobiographical films, such as Miracle on 34th Street.  During that time he applied for and received  U.S. citizenship.

Douglas Shulman, Commissioner of the IRS, has released the following statement:

IRS Commissioner

At long last, the notorious tax cheat, Santa Claus, has been apprehended.  He has been living in a foreign country for the last 50 years and during that time he has not filed his US taxes even once.  It has become clear, however, that he has run a lucrative business at the North Pole and has never reported any of the income.  In addition to criminal tax evasion, we intend to charge Santa Claus with 190 counts of criminal failure to file Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBAR), as we found evidence in his papers that he is operating or has signing authority on bank accounts in 190 different countries.  It is our contention that the fines alone could help us bring billions in revenue into the United States government.

Pleased to Nab a Tax Cheat

According to United States law, all United States Citizens are required to pay taxes to the IRS and to report any foreign bank accounts.  Failure to obey these filing requirements may result in civil and criminal penalties including imprisonment.

The Obama administration declared that they were very pleased with the news..  ”It is about time,” Obama said from his Hawaiian retreat, “that the United States returned those who have fled the country just because they don’t feel like paying their fair share anymore.”

The Republican candidate for president, Ron Paul criticized the raid, “The United States has neither the authority nor the right to go into another country and enforce its laws.  Santa Claus is a citizen of the North Pole and it is overreach for us to go there and arrest him.”

Also running for president, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich responded to Paul, “The United States must reserve the right to arrest terrorists and to violate the rule of law in order to provide safety for the People of the United States.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada said that his government did everything that they could to help the United States, even to the point of allowing the use of Canadian air space.  ”We are cooperating with the good faith efforts of the United States to eliminate terrorists in order to maintain the safety and security of all Canadians.”

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Kudos for whoever put this together, but remember that there is a big component of truth in this satirical piece. More than anyone else, overseas Americans suffer because of bad U.S. laws.

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I’ve written before about Christmas and political correctness, but I think a humorous approach would be good today.

Here’s Larry the Cable Guy reading a modernized version of a Christmas tale.

Speaking of which, here’s a more elaborate version.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and Santa’s a wreck…
How to live in a world that’s politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to “Elves,”
“Vertically Challenged” they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the north pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur-trimmed red suit was called “Unenlightened.”

And to show you the strangeness of life’s ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she’d enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he’d ne’er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that’s war-like or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets…they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football…someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you’ve got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere…even you.

So here is that gift, its price beyond worth…
“May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth.”

(c) Harvey Ehrlich, 1992

And since we’re enjoying some Christmas humor, here’s some correspondence about an office Christmas Holiday Party.

Subject: The Office Party FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director TO: Everyone RE: Christmas Party DATE: December 1

I’m happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23, starting at noon in the banquet room at Luigi’s Open Pit Barbecue. No-host bar, but plenty of eggnog! We’ll have a small band playing traditional carols…feel free to sing along. And don’t Be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus!


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director DATE: December 2 RE: Christmas Party

In no way was yesterday’s memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Hanukkah is an important holiday which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on we’re calling it our “Holiday Party.” The same policy applies to employees who are celebrating Kwanzaa at this time. Happy now?


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director DATE: December 3 RE: Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table … you didn’t sign your name. I’m happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads “AA Only” you wouldn’t be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody?


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director DATE: December 7 RE: Holiday Party

What a diverse company we are! I had no idea that December 2 begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating, drinking and sex during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees’ beliefs. Perhaps Luigi’s can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party – the days are so short this time of year – or else package everything for take-home in little foil swans. Will that work? Meanwhile, I’ve arranged for members of Overeaters Anonymous to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms. Did I miss anything?


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director DATE: December 8 RE: Holiday Party

So December 22 marks the Winter Solstice…what do you expect me to do, a tap-dance on your heads? Fire regulations at Luigi’s prohibit the burning of sage by our “earth-based Goddess-worshipping” employees, but we’ll try to accommodate your shamanic drumming circle during the band’s breaks. Okay???


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director Date: December 9 RE: Holiday Party

People, people, nothing sinister was intended by having our CEO dress up like Santa Claus! Even if the anagram of “Santa” does happen to be “Satan,” there is no evil connotation to our own “little man in a red suit.” It’s a tradition, folks, like sugar shock at Halloween or family feuds over the Thanksgiving turkey or broken hearts on Valentine’s Day. Could we lighten up?


FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director DATE: December 10 RE: Holiday Party

Vegetarians!?!?!? I’ve had it with you people!!! We’re going to keep this party at Luigi’s Open Pit Barbecue whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the “grill of death,” as you so quaintly put it, and you’ll get your freaking salad bar, including hydroponic tomatoes. But you know, they have feelings too. Tomatoes scream when you slice them. I’ve heard them scream. I’m hearing them scream right now!


FROM: Teri Bishops, Acting Human Resources Director DATE: December 14 RE: Pat Lewis and Holiday Party

I’m sure I speak for all of us in wishing Pat Lewis a speedy recovery from her stress-related illness and I’ll continue to forward Your cards to her at the sanatorium.

In the meantime, management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay.

We hope that this change does not offend anyone.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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There’s been a lot of discussion about Mitt Romney’s appeal – or lack thereof – among supporters of limited government.

To put it mildly, many libertarians and conservatives are underwhelmed by his less-than-stellar record on healthcare, his weakness on Social Security reform, his anemic list of proposed budget savings, and his reprehensible support for ethanol subsidies.

Notwithstanding this dismal track record, some advocates of free markets argue that anybody would be better than Obama.

But that’s not necessarily the case. Economic history shows that the burden of government often expands the most under Republicans, with Nixon and Bush (either one) being obvious examples.

On the other hand, even a skeptic like me has admitted that Romney’s record in Massachusetts is difficult to assess because he was governor of a very left-wing state and he had to deal with a state legislature with heavy Democratic majorities.

That being said, there’s a new development that suggests Romney may be an unacceptable alternative to Obama. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he basically said he is willing to consider a value-added tax for the United States. Here’s the relevant passage.

He says he doesn’t “like the idea” of layering a VAT onto the current income tax system. But he adds that, philosophically speaking, a VAT might work as a replacement for some part of the tax code, “particularly at the corporate level,” as Paul Ryan proposed several years ago. What he doesn’t do is rule a VAT out.

For those who are not familiar with a VAT, it is a version of a national sales tax, but imposed at every stage in the production process and embedded in the price of goods and services. Perhaps more important, it is despised by everyone who wants to limit the size of government. This video explains how it works and why it is a money machine for big government.

Simply stated, this is an awful tax. If it ever gets implemented in the United States, the battle will be over. America will descend to European-style stagnation, eventually leading to fiscal crisis.

Any politician that supports a VAT (or even hints at supporting a VAT) should not be allowed anywhere near the White House. That applies to Mitt Romney. And it should be the rule for Paul Ryan as well.

But what about Barack Obama, you may be asking. Hasn’t he said nice things about a VAT?

Not surprisingly, he has been sympathetic, appointing VAT sympathizers to high office and remarking that a VAT is “something that has worked for other countries.”

But there’s no way a VAT will happen if Obama gets reelected. Republicans will be overwhelmingly opposed, even if only for shallow reasons of partisanship.

But if Romney wins and decides to push a VAT, many Republicans will say yes because of loyalty (much as many GOPers went along with Bush’s statist agenda) and many Democrats will say yes in order to get a new source of revenue to expand government.

The consequences, as explained here, would be disastrous.

P.S. For a humorous – but accurate – perspective on the VAT, take a look at these clever cartoons (here, here, and here).

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I’m not a big fan of the European bureaucracy. Indeed, I was semi-serious when I stated that Brussels was the “most statist place on the planet.”

Which is why I greatly enjoyed this speech by the head of Ryan Air, who ripped the bureaucrats a new you-know-what while speaking at an event sponsored by the European Union.

All the good stuff – including a great Reagan quote – is in the first 3:35, so don’t be put off by the video’s length.

And if you want examples to help you understand why folks like Mr. O’Leary are so critical of the European Commission, just click here, here, and here.

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I’ve commented many times about wasteful government spending, including Social Security bureaucrats spending $700 thousand to party at a luxury resort, HUD bureaucrats giving huge subsidies for welfare recipients to live in upscale neighborhoods, rampant fraud in the unemployment insurance program, and tax dollars being used to subsidize a grown man wearing diapers and living as an “adult baby.”

Those are depressing examples, but here are three additional stories that may be even worse. They all show how entitlement programs squander other people’s money.

1. A local news outlet in Oregon revealed that recipients can use food stamps to buy luxury products:

Oregon Trail Cards — which are part of the state’s food stamp program — can be used to purchase luxury coffee concoctions at Starbucks counters inside grocery stores, investigators from Fox 12 in Oregon have discovered. …According to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, people cannot buy foods that will be eaten in the store or hot foods. However, luxury items that are allowed include soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, even bakery cakes and energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label.

2. Benjamin Domenech of the Heartland Institute reports that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on penis pumps:

According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare has spent more than $240 million of taxpayer money on penis pumps for elderly men over the past decade, and will surpass a quarter of a billion dollars this year for costs since 2001. The cost to taxpayers for the pumps more than quadrupled during that period… And these represent only the costs for external devices, technically classified as “Male Vacuum Erection Systems,” not implantable devices or oral drugs such as Viagra.”

3. A Seattle TV station has an expose about a woman receiving various forms of welfare even though she lives in a million-dollar home.

Search warrant documents unsealed Friday in federal court reveal that she received more than $1,200 a month in public housing vouchers, plus monthly cash from the federal and state government for a disability, as well as food stamps. Property records show the woman lives in a 2,500 square-foot home, with gardens and a boat dock, that is valued at $1.2 million. Records show she has received welfare benefits while living in the plush home since 2003. Records also show she truthfully provided her address when she applied for benefits.

These are the stories that I keep in mind every time I hear some politician whining that “spending has been cut to the bone” and higher taxes are needed.

P.S. I’m happy to report that American taxpayers were not victimized by the all-time record for the most absurd example of government waste, which took place when British taxpayers financed sex trips to Amsterdam for welfare recipients.

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I’ve posted some serious videos about the Second Amendment (herehere, and here), and I even got to appear on NRA News to talk about the importance of firearms ownership.

But this video should win the marketing prize.

By the way, if you’re looking for something more substantive, this powerpoint presentation makes a very strong case for the right to keep and bear arms.

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This is the time of year when it’s good to post some holiday-themed political humor.

In prior years, I’ve shared IRS Christmas gifts and presents from Ben Bernanke.

But now we have a video.

And if you like that video, you’ll probably want to watch Santa complain about intrusive government.

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Remember the TSA hokey-pokey song?

Well, now the folks at Reason TV have a new song to celebrate the bureaucrats clogging our airports.

Here’s another version of the song with even better lyrics (and there’s also another bonus Christmas TSA song at the link).

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I have many frustrations in my life, and near the top of the list is the conservative fixation about balancing the budget.

This view is very misguided. Red ink isn’t good, but the fiscal problem in America (as well as Europe, Japan, etc) is that the public sector is too big. Milton Friedman was right when he wrote, “I would rather have government spend one trillion dollars with a deficit of a half a trillion dollars than have government spend two trillion dollars with no deficit.”

To put it in simple terms, government spending is the disease and deficits and debt are the symptoms.

But even that analogy is inadequate. When politicians focus on borrowing rather than spending, it opens a door allowing the left to argue that tax increases are a solution.

Yet we know from historical experience that higher taxes encourage more spending and slow economic growth, and the combination of those two factors leads to more red ink.

Consider, for example, the experience in Europe. Beginning about 20 years ago with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, all members of the European Union agreed to limit annual budget deficits to 3 percent of GDP and total national debt to 60 percent of GDP.

And what happened after these rules were instituted? Well, according to data from the OECD, government got bigger, the tax burden rose, and there was more red ink.

Heck, the Europeans are in the middle of a fiscal crisis, so their rules to limit deficits and debt obviously haven’t been very successful.

Seems like maybe it’s time for them to realize that the problem is too much spending. But, no, that would make too much sense.

Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the Europeans now want to double-down on their failed policies by imposing, as part of a new fiscal pact, even more rules to supposedly control deficits and debt.

The EU Observer reports that: “Countries must introduce a ‘debt brake’ into their constitutions or at an “equivalent” legal level, requiring balanced budgets, which are defined as not exceeding deficits of 0.5 percent of GDP.” Furthermore, another EU Observer report says that “rules will have to include automatic correction mechanisms.” Knowing the mindset of the Euro-crats, this probably means automatic tax increases.

The obvious problem, of course, is that the Europeans have adopted the wrong measuring stick. When they talk about a “golden rule,” they mean limits on deficits and debt. Instead, they should be following Mitchell’s Golden Rule, which requires that government spending grow slower than the private economy.

This video is less than six minutes, but it provides all the key arguments about why the goal should be smaller government rather than fiscal balance.

Last but not least, it’s worth noting that Europe’s new fiscal agreement (assuming it ever gets implemented) is bound to fail. In part, this is because they are targeting red ink, which is the wrong variable.

But it’s also because the supposed enforcement mechanisms won’t work. The tentative pact assumes that European Commission bureaucrats in Brussels somehow will impose fiscal discipline.

To be more specific, a report in the EU Observer says: “The European Commission will carry a big stick: it will look at national budgets before national MPs and make demands.” Does anyone believe this will have any impact on Italian politicians?

And another story in the EU Observer notes: “Under the proposals, almost all fiscal policy-making would be taken out of the hands of national assemblies and delivered up to European civil servants.” Good luck with that. Does anyone think Spanish parliamentarians will cede budget authority to Brussels?

This is why I stand by my original arguments that bailouts won’t work and that a tough-love policy of benign neglect is the only feasible solution.

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I haven’t said much about the losses/scandal at MF Global.

If Jon Corzine or any of his people committed crimes, I hope they spend the rest of their lives in jail, hopefully with big burly biker cellmates.

And if this was just a case of bad investments, then I’m glad there was no bailout. Maybe the morons in Washington have learned something from the TARP fiasco.

But if Corzine is charged with a crime, he does have a very plausible defense, as shown in this Mike Ramirez cartoon.

And if you like Ramirez cartoons, you can see some of my favorites here, here, here, and here.

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I’ve written several times about the foolish War on Drugs, which has been about as misguided and ineffective as the government’s War on Poverty.

So when I saw a news report about a couple of Swedes getting busted for smuggling 200-plus kilos of contraband into Norway, and then another story about a Russian getting caught trying to sneak 90 kilos of an illicit substance into the country, I wondered whether these were reports about cocaine or marijuana. Or perhaps heroin or crystal meth.

Hardly. Norway’s law enforcement community was protecting people from the horrible scourge of illegal butter.

Sounds absurd, but there’s been an increase in the demand for butter and high import taxes have created a huge incentive for black market butter sales. Here’s a video on this latest example of government stupidity.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you outlaw butter, only outlaws will have butter. Or perhaps butter is the gateway drug leading to whole milk consumption, red meat, salt, and other dietary sins. Surely Mayor Bloomberg will want to investigate.

By the way, the United States is not immune from foolish policies that line the pockets of criminals. Here’s a video from the Mackinac Center revealing how punitive tobacco taxes facilitate organized crime.

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One hopes that the dictator of North Korea suffered greatly before he died. After all, his totalitarian and communist (pardon the redundancy) policies caused untold death and misery.

But let’s try to learn an economics lesson. In a previous post, I compared  long-term growth in Hong Kong and Argentina to show the difference between capitalism and cronyism.

But for a much more dramatic comparison, look at the difference between North Korea and South Korea. Hmmm…, I wonder if we can conclude that markets are better than statism?

And if you like these types of comparisons, here’s a post showing how Singapore has caught up with the United States. And here’s another comparing what’s happened in the past 30 years in Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela.

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The tax code is punitive and corrupt, but the economic damage caused by a bad revenue system is just part of the problem.

Thanks to a punitive “worldwide” approach to taxation, we have needless conflicts with other nations, leading the United States to side with high-tax governments and persecute low-tax nations.

But the impact on civil liberties and constitutional rights may be how the internal revenue code does the greatest damage to America.

In part, this involves the loss of basic rights. Our Constitution, for instances, guarantees the presumption of innocence. But that fundamental freedom has been thrown out the window to help the IRS enforce a bad tax system. If the IRS decides you’ve done something wrong or not coughed up enough cash, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

Now there’s a new – and very disturbing – development. A reckless federal judge has decided to let the IRS go on a fishing expedition of California real estate records because it is theoretically possible that some people haven’t reported information on their tax returns. Here are some details from a report at Forbes.

A federal district court  judge has given the Internal Revenue Service permission to serve a “John Doe” summons on the California State Board of Equalization demanding the names of residents who transferred property to their children or grandchildren for little or no money, from 2005 to 2010. The IRS wants those names as part of a crackdown on what it believes is the widespread failure to file required tax returns when real property is passed between family members. …officials of California’s BOE said state law prohibited them from disclosing the information without a court approved summons. …With a normal summons, the IRS seeks information about a specific taxpayer whose identity it knows.  A John Does summons, by contrast, allows the IRS to get the names of all taxpayers who are members of a certain group.

To put this in context and to understand how sinister this is, imagine if some agency of government decided that to comb through the records of all African-Americans because some blacks commit crime? Or they decided to investigate all Occupy Wall Street protesters because of the crimes committed by some of the campers? Or how about snooping on the private lives of all tea partiers simply because the government doesn’t like dissent?

We would all agree (hopefully!) that these steps would represent unjustified fishing expeditions. And if there is any justice left in our system, the courts would stop the government from infringing our rights.

But, for some reason, the Constitution gets thrown under the bus when it comes to taxation.

The answer, as you hopefully agree, is to rip up the entire tax code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax. This video explains.

America already has a tax code that ranks in the bottom half of the “tax oppression index.” If we don’t fix the IRS soon, don’t be surprised if we wind up in last place at this rate.

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I’ve written a couple of serious posts about the European fiscal crisis, including an explanation of how the problem could be solved and one about the importance of gun ownership in case the pessimists are right and civil society collapses.

But something funny would make this day better and this Hitler parody is the best summary of the situation on the other side of the Atlantic.

The only thing more amusing than this video, if you like unintentionally dark humor, is the flailing incompetence of Europe’s political elite.

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At my wedding

Very sad news from Vermont.

My dad passed away last night.

He lived a full life and good life, died peacefully, and was surrounded by his wife and seven of his kids at the end.

All things considered, a decent way for a bad thing to happen.

Although he didn’t seem very interested in politics and public policy as I was growing up, he was involved in the founding of the Conservative Party of New York.

So he must have given me some good genes. No wonder I don’t like RINOs.

And he definitely passed along being a Yankees fan. Some of my best memories include going to games at the old Yankee Stadium as a kid.

Many thanks to those who already have expressed condolences, as well as to those who will.

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Newt Gingrich seems to get the most abuse in these jokes, which doesn’t distress me for obvious reasons.

Jay Leno:

If there is a shutdown, 800,000 nonessential federal employees will be suspended. You know, maybe that’s our budget problem right there. We have 800,000 nonessential federal employees.

A new poll shows that, for the very first time, voters that view President Obama unfavorably outnumber those who view him favorably. In fact, if he gets any more unpopular, legally, he might have to run as a Republican.

Rick Perry has made so many gaffes lately, it is hard to tell if he’s running against President Obama or Joe Biden.

Ron Paul is in favor of letting states legalize marijuana, prostitution, and cocaine. So even if he doesn’t win, that’s going to be one heck of an election night party.

Iran is now in possession of an American drone. When I heard that I thought, “Oh, my god, they captured Joe Biden?”

While speaking to a prominent group of Jewish Republicans, Newt Gingrich promised to support Israel, not give in to the Palestinians, and even promised his next wife would be Jewish.

I’m not sure Rick Perry got it. Like when they asked him what he’d do about the West Bank, he said he’d bring back free checking.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years in prison. This is the most disgraceful thing to happen to an Illinois governor since their last governor.

To save money, the U.S. Postal Service announced the end of next-day service. That’s a good way to get people to come back, isn’t it? Make your service even slower than it already is.

I was in the supermarket today, and I saw some Occupy Wall Street protesters in the dairy department. They were protesting the 1 percent milk.

David Letterman:

Here’s why American voters are turning to Ron Paul. A team of doctors has determined that Ron Paul is physically incapable of having a sex scandal.

A campaign staffer on the Newt Gingrich campaign was fired because he was making negative comments about Mormons. I thought, “Wait a minute, isn’t Newt in favor of multiple wives?”

Conan:

On the campaign trail, Ron Paul said he does not like his milk homogenized. After this, Rick Perry said, “I am also not a fan of gay milk.”

Newt Gingrich released a statement promising he would not cheat on his wife. Even better, he said he wouldn’t cheat on his next wife either, or the one after that.

Jimmy Kimmel:

Now that he’s back home, Cain has a huge to-do list for himself, such as cleaning out the garage and living in it.

Cain blames a conspiracy by powerful Democrats who are intent on destroying him for these various allegations. I don’t think you can blame the Democrats. I’m pretty sure they were rooting for him in this particular case.

Jimmy Fallon:

Everybody’s talking about the presidential election. And this is big: Two days after stepping down, there are rumors that Herman Cain is endorsing his former rival, Newt Gingrich. Not to be president, but to be his new wingman.

Even though Herman Cain is suspending his campaign, he’s launching a new website called TheCainSolution.com. Yeah, it’s the only political website that makes you click an “I’m Over 18” button to enter.

It is the holiday season over at the White House. The theme for this year’s Christmas is “Shine, Give, Share.” While rumor is, the theme of next year’s White House Christmas will be “Clean, Pack, Move.”

That’s right, Obama bought eight books for Sasha and Malia. Yeah, I was reading all about it on China’s credit card statement.

Over the weekend, President Obama took his daughters to a bookstore. Barack bought Malia “The Phantom Tollbooth,” while Malia bought Barack “Economics for Dummies.”

Since these posts tend to be popular with a lot of readers, you can read more of them hereherehere,here, here, here, here, and here.

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I wrote last week about how the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based international bureaucracy, has launched a new campaign to promote class-warfare tax policy.

I’ve since learned that the OECD’s effort is even more objectionable than I first reported. For instance, the bureaucrats earlier this month organized a fancy three-day conference in India to promote the agenda of class warfare and redistribution.

Most of the speakers were from European welfare states and various international bureaucracies, but there was also a senior appointee from the Obama Administration (gee, what a surprise). The panels, as you might suspect, looked at various ways of imposing high tax rates, but there was also some political correctness, including a panel that looked at issues such as “the impacts of taxes on gender inequality” and “Incentives to alleviate gender pay differentials.”

And our tax dollars paid for a big chunk of that nonsense.

This is why, in today’s New York Post, I argued that it is foolish to subsidize this statist bureaucracy. Here’s some of what I wrote.

Support by Europeans for Obama’s efforts to Europeanize America is no surprise. But the OECD shouldn’t be using American tax dollars to promote Obama’s class-warfare agenda – especially since OECD bureaucrats get tax-free salaries. Actually, the real issue is whether it makes sense for American taxpayers to subsidize the OECD. OK, $100 million may not sound like much money when the federal budget imposes a $4 trillion-a-year burden on the economy. But when you look at how the OECD spends money, it quickly becomes apparent that sending US tax dollars to this Paris-based bureaucracy may be the most destructive on a per-dollar basis. For lawmakers looking for ways to save tax dollars, eliminating the OECD’s subsidy would be a good place to start.

Actually, what I wrote is too timid. The OECD is a parasitical collection of bureaucrats who are pushing policies that would undermine American competitiveness and they are doing it with money from American taxpayers.

If the GOP can’t zero out this item in the budget, they should resign in shame.

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