June 18, 2006

This Is “Energized”?

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 3:44 pm

Near the end of this Washington Post AP-fed writeup (“Sheehan Supports U.S. Deserters in Canada”) of Cindy Sheehan’s appearance with soldiers who deserted to Canada, there’s this rewrite of history:

Sheehan, who energized the anti-war movement last summer with her monthlong protest outside President Bush’s Texas ranch, said she has spent time with many of the resisters.

Soooooo energized that she needs to be in Canada now to get attention. But how much attention?

The soldiers thanked Canadians for their hospitality and were cheered by about 100 in an audience that included Iraq veterans opposed to the war and Vietnam-era resisters who sought refuge in Canada decades earlier.

“About 100″?

The AP wasted almost 500 words and a few hours of a reporter’s time on ….. “about 100″ people? And the Washington Post carried it?

(IMO, “About 100″ is a nice way of saying “it was less than 100 but we’re going to round it up to make it look bigger.”)

In analogous business news, Procter & Gamble shares closed at “about $100” on Friday. So did Apple Computer.

Cindy Sheehan has been a media-driven creation who never caught on with ANYONE outside of the moonbat fringe and its media enablers. So I’ll stop spending time on her, right now.

That means I won’t take comments, except for trackbacks, at this post.

Weekend Question 3: What’s with This Discussion of “Means-Testing” Government Benefit Programs? (College Aid)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 1:59 pm

Part 1 of 3: Social Security
Part 2 of 3: Medicare
Part 3 of 3: College Financial Aid (this post)

A TCS Daily article by Jeffrey Alan Miron identifies five ideas for reducing federal spending and the budget deficit that he believes liberals as well as conservatives should support.

Two of them, cutting agricultural subsidies and reducing earmarks, make plenty of sense. The other three involve “means-testing” government programs, under the implicit assumption that they somehow give benefits to the well-off to which they really shouldn’t be entitled and which they can “afford” to pay for on their own.

There’s only one problem: All three of the programs mentioned (Social Security, Medicare, and federal financial aid) already have significant means-testing built into them, and, if anything, need less means testing, not more.

This post covers how federal college financial aid is already means-tested to a severe degree. The calculations are horribly complex, but the following overview will give you enough of an idea of how things work to make the point.

First, as I’m sure you would expect, the higher your income, the more you are expected to be able to pay towards your child’s education.

Second, the more you have saved for your child’s education that is in your name, the more you are expected to pay.

Third, the more your child earns, including money from summer jobs and part-time work, the more your family is assumed to be able to afford to pay (talk about a disincentive for teens to work).

Fourth, the more you have saved for your child’s education that is in your child’s name, the more you are expected to pay.

Fifth, most federal grants programs (as opposed to the student loan programs) are limited to families with very low incomes, while middle- and upper-middle income families usually end up borrowing heavily to pay for college if they don’t have their own resources available to pay.

Had enough? Believe me, there’s a lot more, almost all of which is designed to limit need-based aid to middle- and upper-class families, but I’ll spare you.

The college aid system is means-tested to such an extreme degree that a Tulane University president once bragged to Forbes Magazine that it represents, in essence, income redistribution at its finest (I couldn’t find a source for this on the web, but I distinctly remember reading it in Forbes in the mid-1990s; if you can find a link, e-mail me).

One of Mr. Miron’s ideas for means-testing college costs is to take away “discounted” in-state tuition rates from state residents with high incomes. In light of how the college-aid system works and how middle- and upper-income families are expected to pay so much more already, that is not only objectively unfair, but also an incentive to not save, and not work.

Weekend Question 2: Why Are We Discussing “Means Testing” Government Benefit Programs? (Medicare)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 12:00 pm

Part 1 of 3: Social Security
Part 2 of 3: Medicare (this post)
Part 3 of 3: College Financial Aid

A TCS Daily article by Jeffrey Alan Miron identifies five ideas for reducing federal spending and the budget deficit that he believes liberals as well as conservatives should support.

Two of them, cutting agricultural subsidies and reducing earmarks, make plenty of sense. The other three involve “means-testing” government programs, under the implicit assumption that they somehow give benefits to the well-off to which they really shouldn’t be entitled and which they can “afford” to pay for on their own.

There’s only one problem: All three of the programs mentioned (Social Security, Medicare, and federal financial aid) already have significant means-testing built into them, and, if anything, need less means testing, not more.

This post notes how Medicare is already means-tested, and to a very extreme degree.

Starting in 1993 with the Clinton Administration’s tax increase, 2.9% of a every single dollar a person earns (1.45% paid by the employer, 1.45% by the employee) is paid into the pay-as-you-go Medicare system. Every American is promised the same thing from Medicare, namely a certain level of medical care in retirement, regardless of what their income was while they worked.

This means that a person making a million a dollars a year, who is paying 20 times as much into they system, gets the same benefit as someone making $50,000 a year. In raw dollars, and assuming no inflation, over a 35-year working career, the $1,000,000 earner will pay over $1,015,000 into Medicare with (typically) almost no chance of getting anywhere near that amount of covered medical services during retirement (if that person dies shortly after retiring, as far as he or she is concerned, that $1.015 million went right down the drain). By contrast, the $50,000 earner will have kicked in just $50,750, and in a normal 15-20 year retirement life span, is very likely to receive more in medical services than what he or she paid in.

In the context of how the Medicare system really works, subsequently denying a well-to-do person in retirement the benefits they overpaid for while they were working, or even making them pay more in the form of higher deductibles and copays, is in my opinion an unconscionable case of piling on.

Saturday Evening’s Best Line

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:01 am

A Lucianne.com commenter (number 7; entries at Lucianne usually disappear within 48 hours), reacting to the poor-quality of officiating in yesterday’s USA-Italy World Cup soccer match that ended in a 1-1 tie:

This should prove to anyone why we can’t be subservient to an international court.

Positivity: Daughter’s tenacity gets WWII vet his medals

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:01 am

A great Father’s Day story from Sullivan, Wisconsin:

….. a daughter’s tenacity has yielded a heartfelt gift for her 85-year-old dad, a World War II veteran who saw fighting at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, as well as other storied European sites.

When Donna Burns of Watertown learned her father, Leon Zimdars, 85, of Sullivan, was nominated for the Army’s Bronze Star and never received it, she took aggressive action. This resulted in Zimdars receiving the even more prestigious Silver Star and other medals, as well. The task of obtaining the awards for her father, however, was more difficult than Burns had imagined.

….. “My dad had received a phone call from an Army buddy who asked if he had ever received his Bronze Star, for which this fellow had nominated him. My dad’s Bronze Star kept coming up in conversation with him after that, so I knew it was something important to him, so I started researching it.”

Burns contacted military officials and learned many WWII veterans did not receive their medals until well after the conclusion of the war, if at all. This was due, in part, to metal production being diverted to the war effort. She said there was another more vexing concern for her father. His last name started with the letter “Z,” which meant his military records were among those destroyed in a fire at a St. Louis government repository some years back.

“So I was on the phone and e-mailing, trying to track things down for him,” Burns said. “He almost had his head shot off and they are telling me they lost his records?”

Burns said she received help from the Jefferson County Veterans Service Office and luckily her father had long ago registered his discharge papers with the Jefferson County Register of Deeds.

Burns said she did more detective work toward validating her father’s Silver Star by contacting a 92-year-old former commanding officer of her father who lived in Winter Spring, Fla. Another connection was made with a commanding officer in South Dakota and the ball started rolling more promisingly for Burns. These efforts resulted in a signed affidavit from one of the commanders, who vouched for Zimdars’ meritorious service – a huge step toward Zimdars receiving his medal.

“One thing I will say is no one hung up on me, even though they might have thought I was crazy,” Burns said of the phone calls she said were sometimes random to small towns in the U.S. where she suspected her dad’s comrades might still reside.

“This was a two-year escapade,” she said, adding no one she ever dealt with from the military or civilian realms was ever rude to her.

After this lengthy investigation, the medals were finally delivered by military personnel to Burns’ home on a Saturday morning this spring. She immediately had the awards matted and framed.

Burns said the Bronze Star was awarded to 112 servicemen in Zimdars’ battalion. He was, however, one of only nine who received the higher honor of a Silver Star Medal for his efforts with the 30th Infantry, 531st Battalion. The Silver Star was awarded to Zimdars for gallantry and service in Normandy, France, and other battlegrounds. It was there that he provided transportation for personnel and helped move supplies, weapons and injured soldiers while under fire.

It has been noted by the U.S. Army that less than 10 percent of soldiers participated in all five European Theatre of Operation Campaign battles, as did Zimdars.

In addition, Zimdars received an NCO Professional Driver/Mechanic Award; Marksman Award for Machine Gun/Rifle/Bayonet; WWII Victory Medal; Army Distinguished Service Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; Honorable Discharge “Ruptured Duck” Award; Presidential Citation for the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944; Army Meritorious Unit Citation for Battle of the Bulge and breaking through German Nazi lines at Mortain; American Campaign Award with one oak leaf attachment for service on American soil and the European/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Award with five service stars for battles at Normandy, the Ardennes and Central Europe.

Zimdars’ time in the Army ran from November of 1942 to October of 1945 and he recalled he was sent home from Europe before his military records could even catch up with him. This made receiving the medals difficult.

“It was just a matter of fact that, when it came time for me to get out, the Army wanted to get rid of us as fast as possible. They said, ‘Have a good day and goodbye,’” Zimdars said this week with a laugh.

Modestly calling them “ancient history,” Zimdars said he appreciates finally being recognized with the honors for gallantry and service.

He said soldiers had to apply for their medals and that, to him, it seemed the Army “didn’t really care” whether they got them or not. He said the Army may not have bargained for meeting his daughter.

“My daughter saw my discharge papers,” Zimdars said, “and telling my daughter that something can’t be done is like talking to a wall. She dug and dug, and the Army prioritized her request because she hassled them so much.”

Zimdars admitted this week he never thought he’d see the medals he earned and appreciates his daughter’s never-say-die attitude.

“No, it really was ancient history as far as I was concerned,” he said, adding the military gave him “the whole nine yards” during his service. “We were chasing Hitler all over the place.”

Zimdars was honored, but also amused that his medals were delivered more than 60 years late by a uniformed delegation from Camp Douglas.

“It was probably the same bunch that comes to tell people you died,” he said. “It is quite interesting,” he added of his assemblage of awards.

Miraculously also, Zimdars never earned a Purple Heart because he was never hit by enemy fire, although buddies riding in a jeep with him were shot.

“I was never hit, but I had the daylights scared out of me several times,” he said.

Burns said with her dad reaching age 85 recently, she did not like to hear it might take the Army four years to issue the medals after she worked hard and fast to see results.

“I wanted to do this while he was still alive, so I asked them what they could do to facilitate this being rushed,” Burns said. “It took from my completion of paperwork in October until this spring to get the medals to my dad.”

She said when she saw the medals arrive she was relieved and thrilled. She said a side benefit of her research comes when her father is able to step back into his own history with the perspective of more than six decades on an event that shaped today’s world more than any other.

“I’ve got ringed binders of stuff I pulled and my father reads this,” Burns said of her accrued research material. She added she was able to have contact with an Army historian and the result of her study is that her father “is re-fighting all his battles in the last three weeks” while going through all the information.

Burns said although her father has kept some of his war experiences to himself over the years, she can see he is very proud of his service and she said his eyes grew teary when he was presented with his medals.

“It was emotional,” she said. “And what has been funny is that, since I started researching, dad has made comments that he didn’t realize the total picture of what he was doing at times in the war. He said sometimes he was doing his own thing in one position or spot and he never realized the scope of the battles. This has put a complete picture together and brought it full circle for him.”

The Los Angeles Times Doesn’t Mind Ridiculous and Unacceptable Levels of Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse

This will warm your wallet this morning.

It comes from a Los Angeles Times Saturday editorial (may require registration) about widespread Katrina fraud. The Times not only doesn’t think it was so bad, but is also unfazed by unacceptable levels of waste and fraud in established government programs:

Bad spending decisions are an unfortunate side effect of a clever and responsive policy.

The 16% of improper expenditures is indeed high for a federal aid program — food stamps and unemployment insurance, by comparison, had respective rates of 5.9% and 10.1% last fiscal year. But these are established programs, not on-the-fly responses that had to process a sudden rush of 2.6 million claims. Unlike a permanent safety net, disaster relief’s top priority is to help as many people as fast as possible, which comes at the price of reduced efficiency.

But just because FEMA faced a daunting task does not mean it should be given a pass for its sloppy oversight. The GAO cited several quick fixes that should be put into effect immediately, most notably simple tests for misrepresentation when citizens register for federal disaster assistance. FEMA’s response thus far — cutting expedited payments to $500 — misses the point and will undercut relief efforts in future catastrophes.

It’s easy, and necessary, to criticize FEMA’s across-the-board incompetence in responding to the largest displacement of Americans since the Civil War. But obsessing about the spending habits of refugees comes perilously close to blaming the victim.

The Times’ nonchalance about the inappropriate use of 1 of every 17 dollars spent in the Food Stamp program, 1 of every 10 dollars spent on unemployment compensation, and 1 of every 6 dollars spent on FEMA’s Katrina relief gives away the game — as long as the feds are in control of things, no matter how ineffectively or incompetently, it’s better than having it under the supervision of the (“evil”) private sector. The fact is that in many lines of work, a private company that is losing even 2% of revenues to waste, fraud, and abuse would be in danger of going under. But too many in the government simply don’t care about installing adequate controls, because they know if they run short that they’ll usually be able to raise taxes or print more money to cover up the problems.

As to FEMA and Katrina, what in the world is “clever and responsive” about putting a bunch of money on a piece of plastic and saying, “Here it is. Do whatever you want with it”? As I’ve noted several times in the past, this is the direct opposite of effective and compassionate charity (go to second half of post for principles of effective charity).

And there’s that word “refugees” again. Arghhhh — This post disposed of that term. Nobody is being prevented from returning to the Katrina-affected areas. Those who are staying away are doing so by choice. True refugees can’t go back without a regime change or are being kept away for some other reason.
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UPDATE: Sister Toldjah calls out The Times for assigning no blame to the creeps and crooks who abused their aid: “So victims of a hurricane should be given a free pass on misusing the money they were supposed to be using on essentials just because FEMA didn’t catch what they were doing? Yes, FEMA deserves some criticism for falling down on the job but does SOME blame not fall on the people who received the money for spending it the way they did in the first place?”

UPDATE 2: Irish Trojan agrees with Sis“L.A. Times endorses the death of personal responsibility”

UPDATE 3: Ed Lasky at American Thinker calls the editorial a “sop-ed.”

UPDATE 4: This will make you feel a little better (HT Cam Edwards) — “The Hooters restaurant chain is looking for FEMA’s address. Company Chairman Bob Brooks said Thursday that he wants to reimburse the agency for the $200 bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne that was purchased with a government credit card issued to Hurricane Katrina victims.”

UPDATE 5: With junky editorials like this that betray a “Who cares?” mindset about massive waste, fraud, and abuse involving our tax dollars, we shouldn’t be too surprised that Moody’s just reduced the credit rating of LA Times parent The Tribune Company to “junk” (HT Newsbusters commenter “jdhawk” at this post).
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