Friday, May 22, 2009

A little data dropout at the Cliche Cafe

At the age of 27 I emerged from the money-free world of graduate school into a land of regular employment with a paycheck that looked huge and bright, shiny credit cards. I proceeded fairly quickly to get myself in way over my head financially. Once I realized I was spending a more than trivial amount of time fretting over bills, I took myself off to a financial counselor who assigned me homework: write down everything I’d spent over the last year and then everything I was obligated to spend currently. Unusually for me, I actually did my homework - clear proof of how truly worried I was - and reported back that it had been an eye-opening experience.

The counselor smiled and told me that for most of his clients the exercise of having to face in black and white exactly what their financial situation really was often sufficed to set them on the path to economic righteousness. It certainly did for me. I took the counselor’s advice to recast my car loan; it meant exchanging lower monthly payments for a longer term and therefore more interest paid in the end, but was still an excellent deal since the money I saved each month on that payment could now go to pay down the much more expensive credit card debt I owed. I took a second weekend job and put every penny from that job and every penny I could squeeze out of my regular paycheck toward my credit card debt.

Within a year I was debt-free and able to quit my weekend job. As I got a credit card paid off, I cancelled it and for years after that experience the only credit card I carried was American Express - because that I had to pay off every month. I cannot tell you how many free credit card offers I have torn up, how many times I have turned down the offer of a department store credit card. (“Sign up now and get 10, 15, 25% off your current purchase.”) I found that if a particular saleslady was especially insistent I could simply explain that I found too many credit cards too great a temptation and almost always receive an “I gotcha” in response.

I know it is this piece of my history that colored much of my initial reaction to Edmund Andrews’ story of taking on truly massive debt. The contempt I felt for him and his story stemmed from the fact that he had taken on so incredibly much debt without stopping to think about what he was doing and stop doing it and - most of all - from the fact that he had put assorted children at financial risk through his greed and stupidity. Nonetheless, I could understand both the greed and the stupidity. I got into trouble when I moved from a graduate school world of bare minimum money to a gainfully employed world that looked filled with financial excess. In Andrews’ case, it was the world that moved. As Andrews puts it, “this was unlike any other time in history”; “the money was there”. Like me, Andrews found himself in a new world of financial excess and was unable or unwilling to resist the shiny goodies that now seemed within his reach.

So I could relate to the core of his story if not to the sheer excess or to his willingness to drag his and his new wife’s children over the edge with him. Andrews’ story was a small version of the great tragedies: we relate to Othello because we understand jealousy; to Macbeth because we understand ambition; to Romeo and Juliet because we have felt “I’ll die if I can’t have you” love. We would never go so far as murder, serial murder, or suicide but we understand the impulse behind them. I never went - would never have gone - as far as Andrews down the road to financial ruin but I could understand the basic impulse, the response to that unexplored realm of materialist plenty.

There’s just one problem. It looks like Andrews’ story was not a classic tragedy for our time but the oldest cliche in the book: a mid-life romance with the least suitable person he could find. According to Megan McArdle, Andrews’ “brainy, regal, sexy, fiery and eclectic” new wife Patty is a repeat bankrupt. She filed for bankruptcy in 1998 along with her first husband. Almost as soon as her eight-year waiting period was up, in 2007, she filed again. At this time she was already married to Andrews and although she attempted to file separately, his income was added to the filing at the insistence of a creditor.

Patty’s bankruptcy filings were not mentioned in Andrews’ New York Times article and according to McArdle are not mentioned in his book either. This is like Shakespeare forgetting to mention Iago, Lady Macbeth and the witches, and those two other guys who killed themselves over Juliet. Andrews is not a kid in the brand new candy store of financial excess: he’s a sane, sober economics writer who kicked over the traces just before his 50th birthday by marrying a woman who thrives on not just financial excess but financial chaos. He’s the pushing-50 bank manager who falls for an embezzler; the pushing-50 cop who is infatuated with the crook; the pushing-50 Baptist minister who marries the alcoholic. He’s sad and trite and because of the kids he’s even tragic. But he is not a cautionary tale about subprime mortgages, easy credit, predatory lending, or too many credit cards. He's not even a cautionary tale about greed. He’s just a guy who makes us yearn for the days when he would have gotten his hormonal rebellion out of his system by spending a little too much on a red convertible and hair plugs.

I have far less desire to read Andrews’ book than I did before I knew about Patty’s bankruptcies and if I do read it, I’ll be mostly looking for the things in the book that don’t quite make sense unless you know about his data dropout. I also no longer have any desire to hear Patty’s version of the story. I don’t consider her the villainess of the piece - she is what she is and always has been - but I no longer feel she came off badly in Andrews’ version. Besides she is as much of a cliche as he is.

However, I would still like to hear Patty’s former husband’s version of their economic adventures and, boy, would I love to hear what Andrews’ former wife has to say about their financial life together.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Into thin air

On May 14, The New York Times printed Edmund Andrews’ article about embracing massive debt. I have six thoughts on this.

First, I don’t see how anyone can claim this is a story about predatory lending. To me, predatory lending assumes a certain lack of sophistication, intelligence, and/or education on the part of the borrower and a certain amount of misleading on the part of the lender. Andrews is an economics reporter for The New York Times and as Conor Clarke points out certainly seemed to understand the costs of borrowing more money than you can afford in order to buy a home. As for the lender (Bob), he didn’t mislead Andrews in any way. Although Andrews skims over the process, it seems clear to me he wound up talking to Bob because Andrews and his real estate agent both knew he’d never qualify for a “normal” mortgage. Once contacted, Bob made it clear that obtaining a mortgage would require withholding pertinent information (emphasis mine):

But given my actual income after alimony and child support, I couldn’t possibly have qualified for a standard mortgage. Bob’s plan was to write a “stated-income loan,” or “liar’s loan”,” so that I wouldn’t have to give the game away by producing paychecks or tax returns.

When Bob’s first attempt at this type of loan failed, Bob explained exactly why this had happened: the underwriters determined Andrews was carrying too much debt. Instead Bob got him a loan which allowed him to withhold even more pertinent information. There was a higher interest rate but Bob reassured him that his home’s value would go up and he could refinance.

Bob was right. After a year and a half the house had gone up enough in value to allow Andrews to take out a home equity loan which Bob told him up front would be “really ugly”. Why did Andrews need this home equity loan? Because he’d buried himself in credit card debt. So instead of thanking the mortgage gods that he could buy the house at all, cutting expenses to the bone, preserving his good credit score, and being able to refinance the house at a good rate when its value went up, Andrews spent money like it was water and relied on the increased value of his house to cover his credit cards.

There is no doubt this was stupid on Andrews’ part but he knew and understood exactly what he was doing. No one can believably claim otherwise. As for Bob, he did not mislead Andrews at any point. Do I think Andrews should have been able to get the loans he did? No. I believe the law should require that buyers put 20% down on a mortgage and that the monthly payments on their mortgage should not exceed more than 25% of their income. Home equity loans shouldn’t change those figures. So it should be illegal for Andrews to borrow and Bob to lend the way they did. But it’s not. It is in fact perfectly legal and everyone went into this situation with their eyes wide open.

Second, the article reminds me very much of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a book about a lot of people who should have known better trying to climb Mount Everest under the auspices of a lot of guides who should have know better. The book is a horrifying tale of people endangering themselves and others to feed their greed. The climbers’ greed was for glory, for bragging rights, for achieving something they had not earned. How different is that from Andrews’ greed for a nice home, a beach house, dinners out? Not very. And Bob the mortgage guy is not so different from the Everest guides who did nothing illegal and were totally upfront about the fact that there was risk involved but must have known they were putting their clients in a terribly dangerous position.

Similarly, I found Into Thin Air un-put-downable but I hold the author in contempt as a human being. Although not as strong - Andrews’ little adventure didn’t actually kill people - my reaction to his story and him are the same. As Althouse put it:

It was a readable article. I'll give him that. But I wanted to smack him.

Third, I won’t buy the book Andrews has written, for which his NYT article is just a teaser. I’ll read the book, just as I read and reread Into Thin Air but I won’t contribute to bailing Andrews out of debt by paying for it. Althouse says she “felt aggressively hostile to giving Andrews any attention.” I feel aggressively hostile to giving him any money.

Fourth, I’d like to know how Andrews is doing in five years. I’m assuming he’s counting on the book to get his head above financial water. It will be interesting to see if it does so or if he continues to see every hope of increased income as a reason to run up still more debt.

Fifth, when people make the argument that getting married, staying married, and having kids in a stable marriage is the best way to avoid poverty, I tend to think they’re talking about the poor, uneducated, and disadvantaged finding it easier to escape poverty by following this advice. Based on Megan McArdle’s thoughts after reading Andrews’ book, though, it’s pretty clear Andrews’ slide into financial hell began when he divorced his wife; his inamorata, Patty, divorced her husband; Andrews and Patty got married; and “Andrews took on the obligation to support two adult women and, by [McArdle’s] count, six children.“ Clearly a messy personal life is not just a recipe for staying poor; it’s also a good way to get poor.

Sixth, I’d really like to hear some other versions of this story. Andrews’ first wife and Patty’s former husband would provide an interesting look at what their financial lives looked like prior to breaking up and reforming the families.

As for Patty, she comes off pretty badly in the article. I’d love to hear her view of what was going on as they spent more and more and had less and less. Maybe if Andrews’ book isn’t enough to get them out of debt, Patty can give it a try.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Health care: Insuring the uninsured

[Updated, August 17, 2009: See this post for some further thoughts and an idea for funding.]

{Updated about 10 minutes after I posted. See Footnote **.}

Amidst all the current talk (see “Reading” below) about how we’re going to reform health care/insurance in the United States, I thought
a commenter at neoneocon had one of the most perceptive lines I’ve read on this issue:

You don’t put in place a system for 300+ million people when you only need a solution for 40+ million.

Experts claim that 45.7 million Americans are uninsured. At the same time, most Americans are satisfied with their own health care and their own coverage. Why on earth is the government going to mess around with plans most people are happy with in order to accommodate a minority who need help? I’m going to suggest a way to cover the uninsured that doesn’t require redoing health insurance for the whole country but first let’s look at that 45.7 million uninsured number.

Based on how Keith Hennessey breaks down the 45.7 million, I eliminate 10.7 million uninsured who are either actually already covered by or are eligible for Medicaid and/or SCHIP. I also eliminate his estimated 4.65 million illegal aliens. That leaves us with 30.3 million people I consider the uninsured we have to accommodate. Of those, 10.1 million make what should be enough money to afford health insurance (over 300% of poverty) leaving us with 20.2 million uninsured who need government help to afford health insurance.*

How about letting those 30.3 million uninsured buy into The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHP)? This was Bill Bradley’s old plan although he blurred it with a lot of other ideas. I would keep this simple:

- anyone who can’t get health insurance through an employer or a government program could enroll in FEHP
- each person could pick his own plan just as the employees do
- there would be a one-year restriction on coverage for pre-existing conditions (you can’t really have a voluntary health insurance system without this)
- the non-employees would pay a higher premium than the employees to account for administrative costs and for the probability that some of the new enrollees will be sicker than Federal employees

The 2009 monthly premiums for FEHP’s Individual Fee For Service plans run from about $300 to about $550.* (HMO rates vary by State.) So let’s take a worst case scenario and see what that will cost.

1) Assume all 30.3 million uninsured want into FEHP and they all buy individual policies.

2) Assume they all choose the most expensive: $550 per month. That makes each person’s annual premium $6,600.

3) Charge the non-employees a 25% higher premium than the employees. That makes each new enrollee’s annual premium $8,250.

4) We’ve seen that 10.1 million of the new enrollees should be able to afford their own insurance. Assume all 20.2 million of the rest are so poor they cannot contribute anything to their premium and will require for a 100% subsidy of their insurance costs. Worst case, the Federal government will pay $166.65 Billion per year in insurance premiums.

Sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? Well, the Obama plan estimates it will cost $125 billion to $150 billion a year to cover the uninsured so the worst case scenario of my plan is right in the ballpark.**

We’d need to watch how this works out very carefully. We don’t want the entrance of non-Federal employees to drive up premiums for the employees. Presumably the additional premium will keep that from happening but the participating insurance companies will have to keep two sets of books to see what the new enrollees are doing to the plans’ costs. Furthermore, whatever mechanism decides which plans get included should remain as is; the non-employees would be “guests”, allowed to share the plan but having no control over how it is structured or managed. Finally, it will be very interesting to see just how many people actually sign up for health insurance once it’s available and affordable. If participation is high, great. If not, we’ll have to talk about whether we are ready to start forcing people to buy health insurance. We’ll have to balance the cost to the country of the uninsured against the idea that for some people not buying health insurance is a perfectly rational decision.

On the positive side, if this does seem to be working we can think about transitioning Medicaid enrollees to the same program. (This was also apparently one of Bradley’s ideas.) If this works really, really well, we could even think about transitioning Medicare to the same plan. Private insurance companies would be providing the insurance, people could pick and choose, and the government’s role would be limited to subsidizing those who cannot afford coverage. Finally, if this works really, really, really well we could open the plan up to everyone. Those who can get insurance through their employers could stay with those plans or join this one. It’s possible that somewhere down the road we might end up with only one health insurance “plan” but all insurance companies would be able to complete within that plan. On the other hand, if allowing non-employees to particiapte in FEHP turns out to be a disastrous mistake we can discontinue the plan far more easily than we could a huge, new government program.

So why not try this to start with? It gets the uninsured covered by private insurance companies in a structure that already exists. The government’s ongoing involvement would be limited to deciding who gets subsidized by how much for the coverage. This may not be a perfect solution to the problem of the uninsured and it may not be the system we want in the end but surely it’s better to try something relatively easy to implement, see how it goes for a few years, and tweak as necessary than it is to try to reinvent the wheel and end up creating something that we’ll find very hard to get rid of however badly it’s working.


* There some imprecision in here. Some of the 10.1 million who make enough to afford health insurance and don’t have it may not be able to get it because of existing health conditions or age. To offset that, though, some of the 4.65 million legal immigrants who don’t have health insurance may be able to afford it.

** If we want to look at the cost to the country as a whole - treating government payments for health insurance and individual payments for health insurance as part of the same big pool - the cost to cover the uninsured looks less horrendous. According to Time magazine, quoting a study by the liberal Center for American Progress:

... individuals [pay as much as] $410 extra in healthcare premiums each year in order to cover the cost of treatment to uninsured patients who cannot afford to pay their bills.

According to Keith Hennessey, 253.4 million Americans have health care. If each of them pays $410 more than they have to in premiums because of the uninsured, the total cost is $103.894 Billion. Assume that 13% (about $13.5 Billion) is for treating illegal aliens who will not be eligible for the FEHP. That still leave a little over $90 Billion we would save as a nation if the uninsured became insured. That means the added cost of subsidizing 20.2 million new enrollees in FEHP would be $76.65 Billion.

{Right after I posted this, I read this Wall Street Journal article which says:

As for the argument that the uninsured shift costs, [CBO director Douglas W.] Elmendorf was quite direct dispelling this myth in his testimony before Mr. Baucus's committee. "Overall," he said, "the effect of uncompensated care on private-sector payment rates appears to be limited."

So it looks like the $166.65 Billion per year number is the safest one to use when coming up with a worst case cost for my plan.}


Reading: - From The Corner at NRO. If you wonder where the four levels of service idea in here came from, you can see its origins in the different levels of service enshrined in FEHP.

Medicare is going to bankrupt us, which is why we need universal health care

The Structure of Comparative Effectiveness Revolutions

Obama's Magical Mystery Tour of Health Care Savings

I could go on and on with McArdle links but you get the idea.

CBO to Health Care Reformers: Naive Policy Makers Need Not Apply

For the Obama Administration Health Care Reform Will Require Tough Cost Containment

A few nice words about the US health system

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spinning soda into gold

They’re talking about taxing sodas again. TigerHawk doesn’t sound happy; Conor Clarke asks what the big deal is. To me, the big deal is that I hate all sales and consumption taxes - actually all individual taxes except the income tax. If I assume, however, that the government is bound and determined to levy some kind of tax on “unhealthy” food and drink then what becomes important to me is making sure we understand what we should be taxing and why we’re taxing it.

Clarke has up an interesting chart that shows the results of asking people who and what they would be willing to tax “to help pay for health care reform and provide coverage for more of the uninsured.” Soda and soft drinks were a less popular target than (in order of popularity) cigarettes; families making more than $250,000 a year; wine and beer; and unhealthy snack foods. Clarke is puzzled about the unpopularity of taxing soda. I’m not.

It does seem illogical to support taxes - higher taxes - on cigarettes, wine, and beer while not also supporting taxes on “unhealthy snack foods” and “soda and soft drinks”. But it’s not surprising: relatively few people smoke and I suspect that relatively few people drink enough to make raising taxes on wine and beer an issue. (Plus we can all just start drinking bourbon instead. Although I like mine with Coke so I may be out of luck anyway.) An awful lot of people, however, like a cold Coke on a hot day at least occasionally. And since the survey didn’t specify only non-diet sodas, it’s not just those of us who are addicted to the real thing who are going to resist a soda tax.

Also, people are aware that cigarettes, beer, and wine are already subject to significant taxes so the idea that’s it’s “normal” to tax those products is firmly implanted in most people’s brains. Similarly, cigarettes and alcohol are firmly filed under “Vice” while snack foods and sodas are equally firmly filed under “Treat”. Finally, while people may agree with Clarke that soda isn’t good for people’s health, I don’t think most people think of soda as being bad for you in the same way that cigarettes are and alcohol can be.

One issue that Clarke gives weight to is where to draw the line in defining what is and is not a “soda and soft drink” and he bemoans the lack of a bright line to distinguish what would and would not be taxed. On that score, I have a suggestion. Well, two suggestions, actually.

Let’s start by looking at the rationale behind taxing sodas: sodas cause obesity and obesity is a big health problem so if we tax sodas we will improve health by reducing consumption and raise money for other health-related improvements. Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal article cited by both TigerHawk and Clarke does not provide any links to any evidence of the causal relationship between sodas and obesity. The WSJ article does identify The Center for Science in the Public Interest as the moving force behind the idea of taxing sodas to pay for health care reform so I checked their Website and found a one-page memo proposing the soda tax. The memo states - without hyperlink, citation, or footnote - that:

More bad news comes from researchers who are finding that soft drinks are especially good at making people gain weight. In fact, soft drinks are the only beverage or food that has been linked to a greater risk of obesity.

Perplexed but undaunted, I did a quick Google search for “soda causes obesity” and found the top hits dated from 2006 or earlier. An article in The San Diego Union-Tribune seems to sum up the state of play pretty fully. It presents four arguments advanced to support the causal link between soda and obesity.

Argument 1: While soft drink consumption was rising between 1977 and 1997 so was obesity. Somewhat haphazardly lumped into the same argument is a reference to two studies that found obesity increased in schoolchildren and nurses when they consumed more sodas.

The first part of this argument presents correlation but not causation. The second part is somewhat tautological: as students and nurses consumed more calories they gained weight. None of this answers the really important questions: Why did soft drink consumption rise and why does soda consumption apparently occur on top of existing calorie consumption rather than replacing it? In other words, when the students and nurses drank more soda why didn’t they cut back on calories from other sources? Answers to those questions are contained in the second argument.

Argument 2: Soda is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which does not act the same way other carbohydrates do to reduce appetite. Thus while consuming “real food” causes the body and brain to figure out that they’ve eaten, consuming HFCS does not. (This is a remarkably sloppy section. It begins by talking about HFCS then cites evidence from a study of “caloric beverages”. One is left to assume without evidence that the caloric beverages were sweetened with HFCS.)

Unfortunately, Argument 2 is presented in such a way as to only address the question about why people who consume soda don’t reduce calories from other sources. A little thought, however, reveals that the problems with HFCS can shed even more light on Argument 1. If high fructose corn syrup doesn’t produce feelings of satiety, perhaps that’s why soda consumption rose from 1977 to 1997 - a period that matches up nicely with the introduction of HFCS into sodas:

HFCS was rapidly introduced to many processed foods and soft drinks in the U.S. from about 1975 to 1985.

In other words, this suggests that the causal relation is not between soda and obesity but between HFCS and obesity. Soda may be an intermediary - HFCS in soda causes increased soda consumption which causes obesity - but since HFCS is found in so many foods I'm not even convinced we can say that. Take away people's sodas and they will still be consuming a lot of HFCS. So if HFCS is the problem, people deprived of soda may simply increase calorie consumption from other sources in a continuing vain attempt to achieve satiety.

Argument 3: People who consume soda are more likely to eat less healthily across the board. There is absolutely no evidence - none, zip, zilch, nada - that consuming soda causes people to eat more fast food and fewer vegetables. It makes just as much sense to say that people who eat fast food are more likely to consume soda simply because it’s the most readily available beverage at fast food places. Or that people who are careful to eat healthily are more likely to avoid high-calorie beverages. Or that rich people eat vegetables and drink water while poor people go to McDonalds a lot.

Argument 4: I don’t even know how to describe this argument. The article says:

Many different types of studies link sugary drinks and weight gain or obesity. Some even show a “dose-response” relationship – as consumption rises, so does weight.

There’s that tautology again: as people consume more calories their weight goes up. And there’s that question again: why does soda consumption apparently occur on top of existing calorie consumption rather than replacing it? And notice the sloppy use of the word "sugary" when what's almost certainly meant is "HFCS-y". Argument 4 is just a restatement of Argument 1 with the addition of the words “[m]any different”.

As I said above, what I derive from this review of the evidence is not that soda causes obesity but that if there is any causal relationship at all it’s between high fructose corn syrup and obesity. So here’s my first suggestion. If the government is going to go ahead with this tax, don’t levy it on soda (or “unhealthy snack foods”): levy it on high fructose corn syrup. And since we don’t know whether HFCS’ bastard child, crystalline fructose, is any better, let’s tax that also. Think of the benefits. First, HFCS is in everything; the government will make a fortune in revenue. Second, since a HFCS Tax will advantage manufacturers who use real sugar in their products we can expect fewer items with HFCS and more items with real sugar. This will result in a real-life field test of the idea that HFCS is messing with our appestats and making us all fat.

My second suggestion is that the government tax artificial sweeteners also. There is research linking the consumption of diet sodas to obesity so if the goal is to reduce weight as well as raise revenue, there’s no logical reason not to tax artificial sweeteners right along with HFCS. People who cannot eat sugar, like diabetics, can submit their receipts for the purchase of artificially sweetened items along with a form signed by their doctor and get their taxes refunded.

And there you are. Tax high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, and artificial sweeteners. Americans will become slender and thus healthy and the government will make a fortune in revenue. Er, or not. Actually you can only have one of those two outcomes. In order for people to become thin, they will have to eliminate the taxed items from their diet. But in order for the government to rake in the dough, people will have to continue to eat the taxed items. You can’t have it both ways. Which means that when The Center for Science in the Public Interest says:

The Obama administration needs to mount a comprehensive anti-obesity campaign, and slashing non-diet-soda consumption should be front and center. We need to get soda out of schools, install millions of water fountains across the country, require warning labels on soda containers, and sponsor a media campaign to counter the soda industry’s billion-dollar-a-year effort to maximize sales.

As it turns out, the quickest, most effective way to put a lid on soda sales would also give the government the money to do all that and more: slap a tax on carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks.

what they really mean is either “We’re incapable of logical thinking” or “We don’t care about improving people’s health. We just want the government to have more money.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My heart bleeds purple peanut butter

{May 13, 2009: I changed the title. The old one - "It's not Miss California who need a heart transplant" - was way too boring.}

The dust-up over Carrie Prejean’s views on same-sex marriage seems to be dying down but one comment that was made continues to irritate me. Gloria Feldt, of whom I have never heard but who claims to be a feminist, said (emphasis mine):

I think what perhaps Ms. Prejean needs is a heart transplant, rather than the breast implants she had paid for by the Pageant.

This is a recurring motif when the Left talks about the Right: conservatives are just so mean. Positions based on religion or tradition, on the rule of law, on equality before the law are invalid; all that matters is being “nice”.

Oppose same-sex marriage? It can’t be because of your religion or your traditions or your concerns about making unprecedented changes to an ancient institution; you’re just so mean. Oppose blanket amnesty for illegal aliens? It can’t be because you think laws should be obeyed or you believe a nation should decide who it wants to welcome to its shores or because you’re worried about American jobs and American pay scales; you’re just so mean. Prefer a Supreme Court Justice who will put more emphasis on what the Constitution says and what the lawmakers meant than on which party to a dispute can appear more pitiful? It can’t be because you think the law must be the same for all; you’re just so mean.

I swear, when they get going with this stuff, liberals sound like 14-year-old girls whose mothers just told them, no, you cannot get a cool dragon tattoo at Mongol’s Biker Bar and Body Art Emporium: “OMG, Mom. You’re just so mean.”

You want mean? I’ll give you mean. President Obama, the Democratic Congress, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan killing off the Washington, DC, school voucher program. That’s mean.* I can only hope that Megan McArdle’s view of the afterlife is correct:

... I think that there is probably a special place in hell reserved for politicians who betray our nation's most helpless children for the benefit of a sullen and recalcitrant teacher's union. There they spend all eternity explaining to their victims why they couldn't possibly have risked their precious babies' future in the public school system, yet felt perfectly free to fling other peoples' children into it by the thousands.


*Obama’s actions in this regard are also cowardly. He requested continuing funding for students already in the program but not for any new students - not even those who had previously been approved for the upcoming school year. Obama thus grandfathers in the children going to school with his daughters. If I thought he had a conscience, I’d figure he did it so the names and faces of the children he threw back into the DC school system wouldn’t haunt him. Since I’ve seen no indication that he possesses that inconvenient faculty, I imagine he did it so he, his wife, and his girls wouldn’t have to face the disapproval of those who had grown attached to the Sidwell voucher children, would notice if they left, and would know just who to blame.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Canadian Bacon: The Sequel

Homeland* Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is increasing security along the US-Canadian border. Although I loved Mark Steyn’s crack about the Derby Line/Stansted library, I don’t find her actions quite as ridiculous as he does, for two reasons. First, I’ve heard via a family connection that Washington and Oregon are gearing up for possible trouble during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and this stepped-up security could be part of the mobilization for that. (Although that doesn’t explain the build-up along the eastern end of the border.) Second, I’m hoping Napolitano is smarter and more devious than she appears. How so, you ask. Here’s how.

There’s no doubt Napolitano’s explanation for the increased security along the Canadian border is idiotic:

"One of the things that we need to be sensitive to is the very real feeling among southern border states and in Mexico that if things are being done on the Mexican border, they should also be done on the Canadian border," Napolitano told a conference in Washington.

This is like saying that since Iraq and Israel are both in the Mideast, we should be fighting the same war in Israel that we are in Iraq. Consider, however, that such lunatic political correctness may simply be a fig leaf for concerns about:

the "undisputed presence in Canada of known terrorist affiliate and extremist groups," including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria.

After all, it would be political suicide for a member of the Obama Administration - less than a month before the President’s Egyptian address to Muslims - to come right out and say, “We’re beefing up patrols on our northern border because there are Muslim extremists in Canada”. So perhaps Napolitano is using the facade of political correctness to conceal the reality of impolitic incorrectness. At any rate, I certainly hope so.

What I found most interesting in the story though was this (emphasis mine):

In an interview on "The National," Canada's main evening TV news show, Napolitano said April 20 that "to the extent that terrorists have come into our country ... it's been across the Canadian border."

Asked if she was talking about the Sept. 11 perpetrators, she replied, "Not just those, but others as well."

Ressam is the only known example of a suspected terrorist trying to cross the border. None of the 19 skyjackers came through Canada, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Napolitano later said that she knew of other cases that had not been made public "due to security reasons."

That sounds an awful lot like what we heard during the Bush Administration: all their actions would make perfect sense to everyone if only the public knew the whole story which, sadly, it couldn’t because of - that’s right - national security concerns.

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with that logic as long as it’s not overused. However, in Napolitano’s case I do hope someone else who is privy to the “other cases” is double-checking her work. You know - just to be sure she isn’t confusing Canada with Maine again.


*I hate the word “homeland”. I don’t have a homeland. I have a country. I have a nation. I have a state. Most of all, I have a Constitution. I do not have a homeland.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where's Tessie when you need her?

So I saw a crawl on CNN or Fox News claiming that Obama was going to give a speech or talk or proposal or something tomorrow, May 11. Perhaps Obama should take a tip from Tessie the Tassel Twirler:

[Y]ou've got to leave 'em hungry for more. You don't just dump the whole roast on the platter.

Much more of this and I’m not really going to care about the politics of the next President. I’ll vote for whoever promises to give an Inaugural Address in January of 2013 and then not be seen or heard from again until it’s time for the State of the Union address in January of 2014.

Pretty in pink

I really like Major League Baseball’s Mother’s Day celebration. It’s nice that they honor mothers and even nicer that they raise money for and awareness of breast cancer. Plus it’s sweet seeing all those tough athletes with pink bats, pink ribbons, pink wristbands, pink necklaces (!), even a few pink shoes. (Yes, I know they call them “spikes” but really - pink spikes? I don’t think so.)

What made my day today though was one of the WGN announcers for the Cubs-Milwaukee game explaining a batter's difficulties by saying he was trying to “lift and separate”.

I love baseball.