March 15, 2010

AP Formally Notes Arrival of a Social Security Tipping Point — On Selection Sunday

SocSecBrokeCard0309

The Associated Press’s timing couldn’t have been better for those who still want to pretend that Social Security is really not in serious trouble. Stephen Ohlemacher’s item (“Social Security to start cashing Uncle Sam’s IOUs”) originally appeared on Sunday, in the midst of most of the major college basketball conference tournament championships, then followed by the evening’s announcement of the selections for the NCAA Division I Men’s basketball tournament. (The AP has issued minor revisions several times since its original appearance, up to and including today.)

The wire service’s timing, while convenient for the Washington establishment, as it minimizes the possibility of distractions from its statist health care obsession, couldn’t have been worse for those of us who wish the American people would get a grip on the gravity of the situation — which is why I saved this post for today.

What is about to occur is the event that as little as a year ago, according to the Social Security Trustees’ 2009 Report, wasn’t expected to arrive until 2016. Ohlemacher tells us that it’s right here, right now, and gets it right until his seventh paragraph (bolds are mine):

Social Security to start cashing Uncle Sam’s IOUs

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The retirement nest egg of an entire generation is stashed away in this small town along the Ohio River: $2.5 trillion in IOUs from the federal government, payable to the Social Security Administration.

It’s time to start cashing them in.

For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.

Not anymore. This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.

Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg’s municipal offices.

Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn’t be worse. he government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come.

Social Security’s shortfall will not affect current benefits. As long as the IOUs last, benefits will keep flowing.

Despite the air of certainty, the last bolded sentence is not provably true. “Benefits will keep flowing” only as long as the government can continue to do what Ohlemacher mentioned in his previous paragraph, i.e., “borrow even more money” to redeem those IOUs. When even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes off-message and acknowledges that the nation’s debt load has turned into a national security issue (i.e., we’re hoping against hope that China and others won’t use their leverage as creditors against us), it is clear that government’s ability to keep going to the borrowing well is by no means certain. If it can’t, something will have to give, and one of the “somethings” might have to be the current level of Social Security benefits.

Now the government that gave us a multitrillion-dollar Social Security obligation, an accompanying Medicare obligation that is almost five times higher, while compromising our national security, wants to micromanage all of the nation’s health care. Only in the Beltway wonderland would such an idea even resemble making sense.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Bishop Chaput Makes It Clear: Believing Catholics Cannot Support ObamaCare

NoObamaCare0809In his archdiocesan column carried at First Things (HT Catholic News Agency), the Denver archbishop reaches the only available conclusion, while clarifying who gets to speak for Catholics (bolds are mine throughout):

As I write this column on March 14, the Senate bill remains gravely flawed. It does not meet minimum moral standards in at least three important areas: the exclusion of abortion funding and services; adequate conscience protections for health care professionals and institutions; and the inclusion of immigrants.

Groups, trade associations, and publications describing themselves as “Catholic” or “prolife” that endorse the Senate version—whatever their intentions—are doing a serious disservice to the nation and to the Church, undermining the witness of the Catholic community and ensuring the failure of genuine, ethical health care reform. By their public actions, they create confusion at exactly the moment Catholics need to think clearly about the remaining issues in the health care debate. They also provide the illusion of moral cover for an unethical piece of legislation.

Note that “Catholic” and “prolife” are in quotes. The archbishop is telling us that anyone supporting the Senate version of ObamaCare is objectively neither. He is of course correct.

He also lays it all on the line in his final paragraph:

Do not be misled. The Senate version of health care reform currently being pushed ahead by congressional leaders and the White House—despite public resistance and numerous moral concerns—is bad law; and not simply bad, but dangerous. It does not deserve, nor does it have, the support of the Catholic bishops in our country, who speak for the believing Catholic community. In its current content, the Senate version of health care legislation is not “reform.” Catholics and other persons of good will concerned about the foundations of human dignity should oppose it.

It would have been even better if the archbishop had recognized the inevitability of what we have seen in virtually every instance of statist health care, up to and including RomneyCare in Massachusetts: large-scale rationing of care. Ultimately, this leads negatively incentivized bureaucrats and medical officials to make human dignity-compromising decisions as to who can get treated and live, and who can’t and will therefore die (i.e., “death panels”). When such things begin to happen in a statist health care regime, it will be difficult if not impossible to stop.

That makes attempting prevention, and contacting Senators and Congresspersons with the objective of doing that, a moral imperative.

The full text of the archbishop’s column follows. Click on “more” if you are on the home page.
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Jobs: False ‘Improvement,’ Proposed Destruction

unemploymentThe Labor Department’s March 5 report was worse than it appeared; the latest health care wrinkle would damage things further.

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Note: This column originally appeared at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Saturday.

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Remember when our president was telling us that his number one focus would be Joe Biden’s favorite three-letter word (“J-O-B-S, jobs!”)? It’s hard to believe, but it was only six weeks ago (“Obama to recast agenda to focus on jobs, deficit”) at the State of the Union address.

True to his word (not), it’s been virtually all health care, all the time since, including a new wrinkle that would seriously cripple the employment market.

The president’s reaction to more bad employment-related news on March 5 was to resort to happy talk, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid instead chose crazy talk:

Today was a big day in America. Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good.

In addition to falsely characterizing the nature of the result, Reid betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what Uncle Sam’s monthly Employment Situation Report really tells us. It is a knowledge gap apparently shared by the press, most politicians, and a large percentage of the country’s population. It’s something I also explained here 18 months ago, apparently to little avail.

The following charts illustrate the problem:

BLSjobsSAandNSA0210

The first chart — Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) — shows us how many net jobs the economy actually picked up or lost each month going back to January 2004. It tells us that 473,000 more people were working during February than were working during January.

The second chart — Seasonally Adjusted (SA) — reframes the actual results by adjusting them for seasonal trends like Christmas hiring and summer jobs. In this case, those machinations resulted in 36,000 jobs lost. There’s nothing wrong with this exercise; it’s a legitimate form of statistical smoothing designed to make month-to-month results more readily comparable. But it does not — repeat, does not — tell us what actually happened in America’s factories, job sites, and offices in any given month, as the vast majority of media reports and political announcements would lead one to believe.

Harry Reid could have tried to tell us how great February’s NSA 473,000-job pickup was. But, in context, it wasn’t that great at all. In fact, as you can see above, it came in lower than February 2008, when the people at the National Bureau of Economic Research say we were in the third month of an economic recession as they define it (as normal people define it, the recession didn’t begin until the third quarter of 2008). Moreover, it was 241,000 jobs lower than the February 2004-2008 average. If the employment situation were really in recovery in February, that difference would have been almost zero. Beyond that, February’s actual result using this metric was far worse than January’s, when the result only trailed the January 2004-2008 average by 72,000.

This isn’t an improvement; it’s a serious deterioration.

The only reason the February’s SA number of -36,000 came in as low as it did (but still worse than January’s) is that the SA calculation took 2009′s free-fall result into account, making it one of those statistically correct results that serves to confuse more than enlighten. Further evidence supporting that point is that the SA result for February 2010 is actually better than February 2008, which as already shown based on what really happened, is simply not correct.

If Obama and Reid really wanted to do something to seriously improve the employment situation, they would immediately call off their post-State of the Union obsession with imposing statist health care on a nation that doesn’t want it, and is fiercely resisting it. Besides the federal government itself, the health care industry has been one of the few areas where employment has risen in the otherwise dismal POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) economy America has endured since about June of 2008. Since then, the sector has actually added 313,000 jobs (386,000 after seasonal adjustment). Once statist health care’s inevitable rationing and cost controls kick in, health care employment would at best stagnate, and more than likely shrink.

A press report earlier this week about a possible new wrinkle in ObamaCare demonstrates that the Democratic Party’s alleged interest in job creation is feigned at best and hostile at worst. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a new iteration of the bill pushed by House Democrats “would require businesses to count part-time workers when calculating penalties for failing to provide health coverage for employees. Smaller businesses would be exempt. The Senate bill would count only full-time workers in applying the penalties, but under the change, described by a Democratic aide, two part-time workers would count as one full-time worker.”

Since the vast majority of companies do not make health coverage available to part-timers, this proposal is best seen as a direct payroll tax on companies who rely heavily on them. In the fantasy world of Washington, this appears to be an attempt to force companies to hire more people to work full-time or to extend coverage to part-timers on their own. If it ever arrives in the real world, what it will really do is raise prices, increase unemployment, impede economic growth, and put thousands of companies out of business. It will also virtually destroy the part-time employment market, shutting the door on students, homemakers, and others who can’t possibly commit to working full-time, and shouldn’t be required to.

But that’s how it goes with this out-of-touch bunch. They think they’re so smart, when 75 years of their “brilliant” ideas have led us to the verge of national bankruptcy.

Once again, one is forced to wonder if they’re trashing things accidentally or deliberately.

Positivity: Tennessee Catholics help homeless families through bike ride

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:20 am

From Memphis:

Mar 13, 2010 / 01:52 pm

On March 27, local participants will be riding for homeless families in Memphis, Tennessee for the Dorothy Day Family Fun Ride. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, a transitional housing ministry that allows homeless families to stay together as a family while they rebuild their lives, is hosting this first annual fundraising event.

“The Dorothy Day Family Fun Ride is a chance for families to have fun together, riding their bikes with other families and/or individual participants at Overton Park, while raising money for this important ministry” said Michael Synk, ride director.

The event will be held on March 27, and will begin at the Levitt Shell, with check in from 9-10 a.m. Riders who register by March 20 will receive a t-shirt and gift bag commemorating the event.

The Peddler Bike Shop will be conducting free safety inspections of bikes and Little Caesars will be providing pizza for the lunch. Other sponsors include Knowledge Tree, Senior Risk, @ Home Computers, Blue Sky Couriers, Fulmer Companies, Strategic Resource Management, master-IT, Boyle Insurance, Corporate IQ, and Mangiante Photography.

“The goal of the bike ride is to raise funds and awareness for this important ministry” said Sister Maureen Griner O.S.U., co-director of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. “We’ve been able to help 13 families stay together and get back on their feet in the past few years. The money raised in this event helps us serve families and keep the lights on.” …

Go here for the rest of the story.

AP Headline Falsely Asserts ‘Rebuttal’ of Those Questioning Cal. ‘Runaway Prius’ Driver (UPDATE: AP Responds?)

The Associated Press’s 10:33 p.m. rendition of its coverage of the ongoing James Sikes “Runaway Prius” saga begins with the following headline and opening pair of paragraphs:

APonJamesSikesToyota031410at1033pm

The problem is that the AP report’s complete content, in combination with properly understood English and the relevant definitions at the always-handy dictionary.com, make it clear that Sikes’s lawyer hasn’t “rebutted” anything.

Here are the alternative definitions of “rebuttal” found at the web site:

Rebuttal

The definitions and verbal treatments at Merriam-Webster.com are consistent.

But using “rebut,” the AP’s headline writer clearly wants readers, particularly those who only see the headline, to believe that Sikes’s lawyer has put the matter to bed and that his client has been vindicated. The problem is that the very first sentence of Elliot Spagat’s and Ken Thomas’s story, by using the word “dismissed,” actually, uh, “rebuts” the headline writer. Also, note that because “rebut” has an object in the headline (“doubts”), the wire service’s headline writer can’t lean on the weakest definition of the three above, because that meaning can be inferred only when there is no object.

Sikes’s lawyer John Gomez can “dismiss” the evidence disputing his client’s account all he wants, but he doesn’t have the final say, and the article presents no new evidence in Sikes’s favor that bears any semblance to a “rebuttal.” In fact, Gomez wants us to believe that investigators’ failure to replicate the problem doesn’t matter:

A Toyota official who was at the inspection explained that an electric motor would “completely seize” if a system to shut off the gas when the brake is pressed fails, and there was no evidence to support that happened, according to the (congressional investigators’) memo.

“In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time,” according to the report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for the committee’s top Republican, Darrell Issa of California, said Sunday that the findings “certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events” reported by Sikes.

John Gomez, Sikes’ attorney, said the findings fail to undermine his client’s story.

… “It’s not surprising they couldn’t replicate it. They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration. Mr. Sikes never had a problem in the three years he owned this vehicle.”

Brian Pennings, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said his agency’s view that there is no evidence of a hoax is unchanged. The CHP does not plan to investigate the incident because there were no injuries or property damage.

“Unless they can completely disprove Mr. Sikes, we’re done,” Pennings said. “It doesn’t sound like they can do that.”

Though CHP’s claim that there is “no evidence” is highly dubious, its stance that it won’t go further actually makes sense. Their concern would be whether or not a crime was committed. For a district attorney to prosecute such a matter, he or she would have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Sikes committed a hoax. That would seem to be a tough standard to meet in the circumstances.

If Sikes were to pursue a civil suit, his standard of proof would be a less stringent showing that a preponderance of the evidence supports his claim. His stated intent not to sue would seem to indicate that he and Gomez can’t get there, or anywhere near it.

Yesterday, I noted (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) that Michael Fumento, in a column at Forbes, raised huge doubts about the Sikes’s rendition of events, including this one:

His claim that he’d tried to yank up the accelerator could be falsified, with his help, in half a minute.

… I tried to imitate Sikes’ alleged effort in a 2008 Prius.

… it required squashing my face against the radio and completely removing my eyes from the road. (this is something Sikes says he never did — Ed.)

Further, in terms of the California man’s claim that he tried to stop the car by pressing the brake pedal with all his might, Spagat’s and Thomas’s AP report tells us that “the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the wear was not consistent with the brakes being applied at full force for a long period, citing three people familiar with the probe, whom it did not name.”

In other words: Rebuttal, reschmuttal — no matter what the AP’s headline writer wants us to believe.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE, 8:10 a.m., March 15: Interesting — In its 7:40 a.m. version, AP has comprehensively reworked the story, even though it seems unlikely that any new developments occurred in the wee hours of a Monday morning:

APonJamesSikesToyota740amOn031510

No one can prove it and they would probably never admit it even if true, but one has to wonder if the AP’s rewrite was in response to this post’s critique.

Also note that the title of the wire service’s related video still asserts the existence of the non-existent “rebuttal.”