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Froma Harrop - The Magic Kingdom of 'dynamic scoring'

While most citizens were distracted by the holidays, the enlarged Republican majority in Congress was laying golden pavers for its magical kingdom — a fabulous place where taxes are cut, military spending is not and budgets balance effortlessly. The coat of arms reads, "Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves."

And to think the rubble has hardly been cleared from the ruins of the most recent magical kingdom, that ruled by George W. Bush. Not only did the Bush tax cuts not pay for themselves but tax revenue as a share of the economy today isn't even close to what it was in 2000.

So how can Republican leaders restore the realm? For starters, they've launched a campaign to replace Doug Elmendorf, the economist overseeing the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is the nonpartisan agency that estimates the cost of legislation.

Let it be noted that prominent conservative economists — among them Gregory Mankiw, chairman of W.'s Council of Economic Advisers — have called for Elmendorf's reappointment. Elmendorf "is a superb economist and, over the past six years as CBO director, has shown himself to be scrupulously nonpartisan," Mankiw said.

But nonpartisan may not be partisan enough for tax cut activists. They want the bean counters to make the numbers work for them through the powers of "dynamic scoring."

The idea that reducing taxes could unleash new economic activity, generating new tax revenues, is not without merit. Dynamic scoring factors in those revenues. Count them, Republicans insist, and the burden of finding painful ways to pay for tax cuts is lightened. That makes tax cutting easier.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, calls dynamic scoring "reality-based scoring."

The problem is the ease with which politicians can make their own reality. Dynamic scoring is a dark art, producing wildly different estimates, depending on the choice of economic model and other assumptions. For example, some kinds of tax cuts raise more revenues than other kinds.
Another nonpartisan office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, did apply dynamic scoring to the tax reform plan submitted by retiring House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. The result was eight scenarios, some considerably rosier than others. At the low end, the Camp plan would raise only $50 billion in additional revenue over 10 years. The high-end estimate was $700 billion — 14 times the low one.

Furthermore, the optimistic $700 billion figure included deficit reductions that future Congresses might make. Some of the assumed policy changes weren't even mentioned in the Camp plan.

Bruce Bartlett, an economist in the Reagan and George H.W. administrations, points to another flaw in the Republicans' approach: the highly selective use of dynamic scoring on some elements of their proposals but not others.

"Republicans want to use dynamic scoring only for tax cuts," Bartlett wrote me in an email. "They refuse to acknowledge that spending, such as public works spending, also has dynamic effects. They should either do it for spending and taxes or not at all."

Bartlett added that "spending cuts can have negative dynamic effects that Republicans also never acknowledge."

The Joint Committee on Taxation's models are themselves problematic, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For example, they count the economic benefits of investments in new machinery but not investments in worker training. Human capital doesn't get much attention.

But even when score-makers do their darnedest, they're working with numbers pulled from air. So Republicans can use butterfly nets to catch those guesses that produce the conclusions they want. Bear in mind, the last time they performed their tax cut magic trick, things didn't work out too well.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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E. Scott Cracraft - The Christmas Tree

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. By December, 1914, long before the U.S. became involved in WWI, the "War to End All Wars" and the "War to Make the World Safe for Democracy" had become a ghastly bloodbath as well as a stalemate.
The war had only started that previous August and everyone was expecting a very short war and was sure that all the troops would be home by Christmas. Little did these soldiers know that "The Great War" would last over four years and turn out to be one of the deadliest wars in history and one that would cause major changes in the world of the 20th Century.
On Christmas, 2014, soldiers on both the British and German sides declared a "Christmas Truce." Such informal truces, such as those declared while soldiers were eating or for trade, were not uncommon in an era when war was a still considered at least something of a "gentleman's game." For instance, during the American Civil War, Union and Confederate troops traded with each other. The South grew tobacco but could not get coffee because of the Union blockade. The Union troops wanted tobacco and the Confederates wanted coffee.
The WWI ceasefire happened spontaneously among the enlisted soldiers and NCOs and involved at least 100,000 British and German soldiers in the trenches across the Western Front. Most were young men who were homesick at Christmas. As one might imagine, the generals and other high-ranking officers did not at all like the idea.
The soldiers had been through heavy fighting. They had suffered machine gun fire and artillery shells. They also suffered from the cold and from disease and injury brought on by the wet and unsanitary conditions in the trenches and the vermin that multiplied there. Between the trenches, in "No Man's Land," there were the unburied bodies of the fallen.
The story is well-known and sometimes has the ring of legend. On Christmas Eve, German soldiers lit candles in the trenches and put some on Christmas trees, an old German custom. Then, they began singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing back to the Germans. Soon, they were yelling "Merry Christmas" at each other. Afterwards, soldiers from both sides were venturing out of the trenches, over the barbed wire, and into "No Man's Land."
The Germans and the British shook hands and shared food items, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes. Even the sergeants participated. Some traded buttons and even pieces of military equipment. Each side allowed the other to claim their unburied comrades and either buried them on the spot or took them back behind their own lines for internment. The highlights of that Christmas Day were the soccer matches between German and British soldiers. In fact, a soccer ball has become one of the symbols of the Christmas Truce.
In some areas of the Western Front, the truce only lasted though Christmas Day but in other areas, it lasted through the 1915 New Year. There were similar incidents on the Eastern Front.
The military "brass" was horrified. During the truce, some shot at those participating in this "fraternization with the enemy." Afterward, strict orders were issued which promised strict punishment for any soldier participating in future events of this kind on charges of "collaborating with the enemy," a very serious military offense. Although there were future attempts during WWI, they never reached the level of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Of course, that war did not end wars. In fact, it created conditions for future conflicts. Perhaps warfare is a part of the human condition. On the other hand, we humans can also be very good and intelligent and realize that we share a common humanity in spite of our differences. At the darkest time of the year, perhaps we can reach out to others, even our enemies. Perhaps this is the message of the Christmas Truce.

(Scott is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 12:25

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Dennis Gaudet - N.H. medical community profiteering off Workers Comp cases

Let's say you are playing with your family in the front yard and while throwing a ball, you get a terrible pain in your shoulder. The doctor discovers a torn rotator cuff and schedules you for surgery. The average cost: about $2,000.
Now, let's say you suffer the same injury, only you do it while you are at work. Same shoulder injury, same diagnosis, same operation. However, because it's a worker's compensation claim, the operation will now cost on average more than $10,000.
This isn't a hypothetical. These are actual numbers from the New Hampshire Department of Insurance report comparing group health medical costs versus worker's compensation medical costs. On average, the shoulder surgery was five times more expensive because it was a worker's compensation claim.
Recently, the Insurance Department compared identical services filed in workers comp to group health claims. The findings are eye-popping:
Surgeons in New Hampshire charge 2 1/2 times more for workers comp surgeries
Ambulatory surgery centers charge 3 1/2 times more in workers comp
Radiology charges are 2 times higher in workers comp

As a business owner, this is appalling. This is either a massive tax on businesses or a hidden fee to benefit health providers. Either way, New Hampshire inexplicably holds the dubious honor of having the highest worker's compensation costs in the region, and among the highest in the U.S.

The Department of Insurance report shows our comp costs are a whopping 58 percent higher than neighboring states. Surgeries, like the rotator cuff example, are 100 percent more expensive in New Hampshire than anywhere in New England.

I applaud Governor Maggie Hassan for recognizing this problem. It is a crippling cost for small business owners. The governor created a special commission this year and told members to recommend ways to lower worker's compensation costs in New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, as the commission wraps up its work this month, all we get is a split decision. We have two separate reports from the commission, because the group can't agree on the size and scope of the problem.

The majority report recommends the state create a database to track workers comp medical costs. Unfortunately there are several problems with this: the data is already available to the state, the database would cost the state and employers money to create, it would take years to develop and doesn't even address the problem at hand. This approach protects the medical community, but it does nothing to help business owners like me.

A minority report from the commission may have an answer. It offers a solution that's in place around the country and is also N.H. specific. We could create a cost containment schedule that ties workers comp claim payments to general health care payments. Sometimes, worker's comp cases are more burdensome to providers; where that occurs, an additional payment amount should be added.

The Insurance Department collects group health payment info in its Comprehensive Health Care Information System (CHIS). The CHIS database could act as the reimbursement rate benchmark for workers comp payments. Even Roger Sevigny, the Department of Insurance Commissioner stated a fee schedule would indeed reduce costs and encouraged the use of the CHIS database
A cost containment schedule is fair and transparent and not difficult or expensive to implement as it uses the CHIS database.

We also need to remember that worker's comp is only about 3 percent of the medical community business. The other 97 percent is general health care — not comp. If the medical community already accepts general health payments for non-work related injuries, why require businesses to pay upwards of 200 percent or 300 percent more for the same treatment? The focus needs to be on mending N.H.'s workers, not milking the system.

Employee access to doctors or hospitals will not be affected since the reimbursement will be based on existing N.H. general health costs which represent 97% of all medical costs.
Let's get these costs under control and fix our worker's compensation system. Stop adding insult to every employee's injury.

(Dennis Gaudet is CEO of AutoServ of Tilton. He chairs the N.H. Auto Dealers Workers Comp Trust.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 06:50

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Pat Buchanan - What the war on cops has wrought

"NYPD, KKK, How many kids did you kill today?"

That was one of the chants of anti-police protesters in New York City. Another was, "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!"

Well, the marchers got their wish Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant when Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, firing into a patrol car, murdered NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

The two were executed by this criminal who had just shot his girlfriend outside Baltimore and used social media to say he was going to Brooklyn to take revenge for Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

"There's blood on many hands tonight," said Patrick Lynch of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, "That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor."

Echoed Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, "The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio."

Ex-Governor George Pataki called the murders "a predictable outcome of the divisive anti-cop rhetoric" of Bill de Blasio and Eric Holder.

When de Blasio arrived at Woodhull Hospital where Ramos and Liu had been taken, scores of cops turned their backs.

Rudy Giuliani dissents. "The blood is not on his hands. ... That's an incorrect and incendiary charge." But, adds Rudy, "The protesters should not have been allowed to take over streets the way they did."

Indeed, they should not. And here is where the moral culpability of de Blasio, Holder, Al Sharpton and President Obama lies. They gave aid and comfort to the cop-haters and cop-baiters.

When did any of these four speak up or speak out to denounce the blocking of squares, highways, bridges, tunnels, shops and stores, from New York to the Mall of America?

When did they denounce the protesters for their hateful anti-police rhetoric? When did they demand that these mobs go home and respect the rule of law and decisions of the grand jury, even if they disagreed?

When a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, the mayor did not urge the city to accept it calmly, but expressed astonishment, called it a "very painful day for so many New Yorkers," and said he had warned his biracial son to be especially careful dealing with cops.

De Blasio was feeding the myth that cops, especially white cops, are what young black males should fear most.
That myth is a big lie.
After the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, Holder flew to St. Louis, decried racism, which had nothing to do with the shooting, ordered the FBI to conduct it's own investigation, and declared, "I am the Attorney General ... but I am also a black man."

When a St. Louis County grand jury concluded no crime had been committed in Ferguson, that Wilson acted in self-defense, Holder said his department would look at charging Wilson with violating Brown's civil rights.

In an increasingly ugly national clash between police and black communities, Holder did not stand squarely for the rule of law; he and the president took sides against the cops and stood with their own.

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," said Obama, flashing a signal of racial solidarity in a blazing issue dividing his country and in which his allies, Revs. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, were stirring up crowds with incendiary rhetoric.

The Wall Street Journal writes today, "Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day." Others say that the thin blue line stands between us and anarchy.

True. But what does it say about our country that, if the police took a week off, our cities would descend into mayhem. What does it say about the character of the people upon whom our democracy depends? Would the America of the Founding Fathers have descended into mayhem or anarchy if police were not a huge and visible presence? Would the America of the 1940s or 1950s?

In D.C. last week, an exasperated Police Chief Cathy Lanier said: "All of these protests that are blocking traffic, it's pulling police officers out of the neighborhoods that need the police the most. ... So how do I prevent homicides and shootings and violent crimes and robberies and burglaries right before the holidays if all my cops are directing traffic around 30 guys that want to be out there at 11 o'clock at night laying in the middle of Chinatown?"

Consider the chief's statement. Is it police brutality or police violence that worries her? Are cops committing those homicides, shootings, violent crimes, robberies and burglaries? Or does that crime come out of the poor neighborhoods the cops are trying to protect?

That's the real D.C. That's the real America. Unfortunately, de Blasio, Sharpton, Holder and Obama are either too blind to see it or will not concede it because they fear speaking truth to their followers. "To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men."

(Syndicated columnist Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book "The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.")

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 06:42

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Bob Meade - Ho, ho, ho. . .

Christmas . . . the season when hope is accentuated.

It all started when a young Jewish girl named Mary, a virgin, was asked if she would be the mother of the hoped for Christ child. She agreed, and Christmas is the time when we celebrate His birth.

The birth of the Christ child brought hope for peace in the world. While some defy the hoped for peace, most people continue to hope and pray that it will come. As strange as it may sound, many have fought and died in an effort to rid the world of tyranny and to achieve peace in the world.

As people shop in hope of getting that perfect gift for a friend or loved one, we remember that God gave us the perfect gift . . . the gift of forgiveness and the hope of life everlasting . . . when the Christ child paid for the sins of humankind.

Today, children hope that Santa will overlook their misdeeds and remember only the pleasure they brought to others. Of course they also hope that that Santa will remember to put that hoped for toy or toys under the Christmas tree.

Mom and Dad hope that the kids will be pleased with their gifts, and hope their day will be filled with joy.

There is hope too, that those who believe the universe and all life forms are simply because of a series of coincidences, will have their road to Damascus moment. The hope is that they become enlightened so that they may share in the hope and happiness enjoyed by those who believe.

During the Christmas season, as hopes and prayers for peace abound, charity of spirit towards others just seems to become easier to do. We hope that charity of spirit will ease the racial tensions that have been recently heightened.

As we see the Salvation Army kettles, we have multiple hopes that cross our mind . . . we hope that those in need can have their prayers answered . . . we hope that the joy of Christmas will give them comfort and bring them hope . . . and we hope the families will find their way to better days . . . and we give thanks for those in the Salvation Army who devote their lives to bringing hope to those less fortunate.

We read the signs in from of St. Vincent de Paul telling us how many families need help in filling their larder so that they can have a festive meal, and we hope as those families do, that the joy of the season will cause people to share in their bounty. And we are thankful for all those at St. Vincent de Paul who work to make that happen.

We are thankful too, for all those individuals and organizations that work and contribute their time, effort, and money, to hopefully ease the burden of those in need.

And, we hope that our military serving in locations across the globe will be safe as they work to bring peace where there is conflict. And we give them our grateful thanks and hope and pray they will return home safely to their family, friends, and loved ones.

We hope too, that those who are in harm's way will have their peaceful moments as they, hopefully, enjoy a phone or Skype call and share their love with their families so far away.

And we hope that carolers will bring the spirit of Christmas to those in nursing homes and to neighborhoods so all can feel the joy of the season.

We hope that our Churches are full as children present the nativity scene and, as the play ends, the lights are dimmed as each member of the congregation holds their lighted candle and reverently sing all the verses of "Silent Night".

On that eve of Christmas, we hope that there is no one who is homeless, that a room at the inn has been found for everyone.

As we head off to bed, we hope that we will wake to see that Santa Claus and his reindeer remembered the address to our house. We hope too, that he drank the milk and ate the cookies we left for him . . . and, of course, we really, really hope that he got our Christmas letter telling him the things we wished for.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

And, by the way, Ho-Ho-Ho is short for Hope-Hope-Hope.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 22 December 2014 08:57

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