Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: July 2010

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-31

This, by the way, is what a properly scrubbed rear tire looks like. http://twitpic.com/2aanbr #

They really are lazy animals.And there's two more of them sleeping in here. http://twitpic.com/2aamc3 #

I FINALLY found a replacement for Claq Qui snus. "Nick and Johnny" Strong is very similar, despite the silly name and packaging. Good stuff. #

My review of the Michelin Pilot Road 2 motorcycle tires. They're well worth the money! http://bit.ly/d4DV5N #

I've been working all night to create a new template for my motorcycle blog. http://bit.ly/b3pGcs #

Fox News Poll: 62 Percent Think U.S. Is on the Decline, and headed towards socialism. http://bit.ly/aXL7RV #


Might there be a “second revolution” and if so, what would it look like?

Investor’s Business Daily is asking "Will Washington’s failures lead to a second American revolution?"

Good question. I don’t see it in the offing at the moment, but if the course continues – i.e. governmental overreaching coupled with increasing cost and incompetence – anything is possible.

Says IBD:

People are asking, "Is the government doing us more harm than good? Should we change what it does and the way it does it?"

Sure they’re asking that.  And sure they’re wondering if they should change it.  But that’s really all they’re doing at the moment.  There’s no impetus – other than talk – to make the fundamental change that is necessary to rein in this government.  Not yet anyway.

That’s because most of us are still comfortable enough that we’re not willing to do what is necessary (and destabilizing) to make those changes.  We’d rather complain and threaten politicians.

I’m not saying I’m any better or any more prepared than anyone else – I’m just putting forth an observation.

Nope – unfortunately, things will have to get even worse than they are now before I can imagine a “second revolution”.  And I’d wonder what form it would take.  Peaceful but determined overthrow of the system?  A new “Constitutional Convention” where the “people” again try to limit government to a specific and downsized role in our lives?

Or would it incorporate the enshrinement of certain “entitlements” and various programs that much of the libertarian right find unconstitutional and intrusive?

Who knows?

IBD seems to think Obama is driving us toward such a revolution.  Yet somehow, as unpopular as George Bush was, it didn’t happen then.  Perhaps its the cumulative effect of having two relatively unpopular presidents, one from each side, which will trip the trigger?

Again, I’m not seeing it or feeling it.

I’d love to see a second “Constitutional Convention” if I was assured that its intent would be limiting government.  But in today’s political climate and with the decades of “entitlements”, I have no faith that’s what it would be.  I also have no faith that the outcome of a Constitutional Convention would be acknowledged, much less followed by this government.

It’s a real thought to ponder.  How, short of a bloody revolution – which may or may not come out the way freedom loving people would prefer – do we get government under control?

If there is a 2nd revolution, what form would it take?  What would be the tipping point?  Would we survive it?

Looking out over the political landscape today, I simply don’t know the answers to any of those questions.

~McQ

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Coming down on the side of bigotry

This “Ground Zero” mosque controversy has begun to rankle me. It is my understanding that those who want to build the "ground zero" mosque own the property there.

Secondly, it really isn’t adjacent to the old World Trade Center site, but a few blocks away.

Even if it is adjacent, however, if the first part is true, then it is theirs to build what they wish. I may or may not be happy about it, but they are the property owners and what is built there is their business.

The Anti-Defamation League seems to understand that as well, however, under the guise of "doing what is right" it acknowledges the mosque builder’s rights but then dismisses them in favor of the bigotry of those who oppose them. In a statement they said:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right. So the bigotry expressed in this is "unfair, and wrong", but to hell with rights, we’ll side with the arbitrary and subjective "what is right".

An amazing statement coming from a group which was founded to fight bigotry against Jews.

Thankfully not all Jews feel that way.  They also understand how profoundly wrong headed the ADL’s statement is.  From J-Street:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

Exactly right.  Another way of saying all of this is “grow up”.  You either have religious freedom and ownership rights or you don’t.  It isn’t a “right” if it can be selectively applied under the arbitrary rubric of “what is right” fueled by bigotry.

And, as inevitable as the rising sun, you can count on politicians gearing up for a run for office to grab the populist opportunity to chime in and side with the bigots because it is the popular thing to do.  Newt Gingrich issued this statement:

Throughout its nearly 100 year history, the cause of religious tolerance has had no better friend than the Anti-Defamation League.  The organization’s stand today in opposition to the proposed 13-story Islamic Center near Ground Zero is entirely in keeping with that tradition.  They recognize the provocative nature of the proposal, that its construction will only result in more pain for the families of 9/11 victims and fan the flames of inter-religious strife.  Abe Foxman and the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League deserve praise for taking such a careful look at this issue and arriving at the right conclusion. 

And Gingrich’s spokesman had this to say:

Newt Ginrich’s spokesman told Salon in a phone interview today that building a mosque at Ground Zero "would be like putting a statue of Mussolini or Marx at Arlington National Cemetery."

That’s pure crap unless you want to make the same comparison to, oh I don’t know, a Catholic church in Spain following the Inquisition.

Look, this is manufactured “outrage” and pure and simple bigotry.  We are either a nation of religious tolerance and property rights or we’re not.  There’s no in-between.  It’s like every other right – you may not like all of what it brings, but that’s just the price of freedom.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-30

Hey! Those aren't just turn signals on that Buell 1190. That looks like a license plate holder! More mystery! http://twitpic.com/2a3h44 #

Eric Buell Racing has leaked a picture of their 1190RR race bike. But the bike appears to have turn signals & radiator fans. Mystery! :-) #

Human Events jumps the shark with their "Obama is a Muslim" article. http://bit.ly/agZbAL #

Center for Public Integrity: Haphazard Firefighting Might Have Sunk BP Oil Rig, caused spill. http://bit.ly/bybiXt #

Youtube will now allow videos to run for 15 minutes, instead of 10. Woot! http://bit.ly/bIMvix #

CHP says it will step up traffic enforcement against motorcyclists for speeding, etc. IOW, they're looking for me. http://bit.ly/9vdUR4 #

The University of Michigan index on consumer sentiment dropped to 67.8 from 76.0 in June. http://bit.ly/bEZdG4 #RecoverySummer #

Economic growth slowed to 2.4% rate in second quarter. And consumer spending was only up 1.6%. http://usat.me?39491588 #RecoverySummer #


Atlas Shrugged movie: sounds like the next Starship Troopers to me

As a Halo player, I sometimes think back to the book that started the “armored super soldier” genre, Starship Troopers. Published in 1959, it was ground-breaking, and won a well-deserved Hugo award for Robert Heinlein. I think Heinlein would recognize elements of his story in the Halo series.

I’m happy, though, that he didn’t live to see Paul Verhoeven make a complete mess of the movie based on Starship Troopers, because the only thing he would recognize in that movie are some character names.

Some consider it a decent action flick in its own right, but Verhoeven had about as much understanding of Heinlein’s underlying story and philosophy as our resident imbecilic political science professor has understanding of economics, i.e., none to speak of. Verhoeven just dusted off the traditional Nazi metaphors, gave his soldiers from 200 years in the future the same basic weapons soldiers use today, and added some space ships and sex.

This year’s candidate for the Starship Troopers treatment is Atlas Shrugged.

To forestall a whole lot of redundant comments, let me first say the following about Atlas Shrugged:

1. It’s an important book. In surveys, it often finishes #2 behind the Bible as the book people say was most influential in their lives.

2. It’s got some valid points. If you don’t see parallels between Rand’s characters and situations and much of what we see around us today, I have to question your astuteness.

3. It’s so-so as literature. The characters are mostly cardboard-cutout quality. The heroes are super-human and the villians are pure evil (except for Dr. Stadler, who symbolizes the mushy middle). This gives the story-line a comic book feel. The long diversions into philosophical preaching can be tedious. One sermon by John Galt comes in at over sixty pages, and might as well be a book in it’s own right, though I’m guessing it wouldn’t sell much.

All that said, I respect the book. I’ve read it twice, and actually got more from it the second time around. I do recommend it as required reading if you want to understand the psychology of leftism, as analyzed by someone who was all too aware of it’s ultimate effects in the Soviet Union.

Now, on to the movie version.

You can see the director discuss the movie in this five minute video.

As you can tell, he doesn’t say much. Almost everything he says is generic “You have to cut stuff out of anything this long to make a movie.” Well, yeah. But what you cut and what you leave is what’s important. Not to mention what gets what gets changed, as Starship Troopers demonstrated.

There was a danger sign when he said “I’m still figuring things out as I shoot this.”

I thought it was interesting that John Galt’s face isn’t going to be seen in the movie. The credits at this point list that same director as playing the part of Galt (presumably just giving him a voice).

He does spend a bit of time about the theme of taking responsibility. So maybe I’m just being overly pessimistic, and he’s being coy about where he’s really going with the movie to forestall catcalls from our politically correct media.

However, what I see in the video doesn’t give me much confidence. The book is about hard edges, and black-and-white morality. These characters look soft-edged. Rearden needs a Harrison Ford type, though Ford is way too old. It was long rumored that Angelina Jolie would be Dagny, and while she may also be up against the age barrier, she was in the ballpark for the right type.

These people are supposed to be tough, independent, and prepared to take on the whole world. Maybe that’s what they’re chatting about, but somehow I doubt it. Based on what the Rearden actor said, they’re exploring their “relationship”. Oh, goody.

It is possible to make good books into good movies. Hopscotch, Catch 22, some of the episodes of Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, and some of the better movies from Jane Austen novels would be examples. What these books do well is capture the spirit of the book. Catch 22, for example, has to leave out a lot of stuff because the book is pretty long, but Buck Henry and crew do a great job of capturing the surrealistic spirit of the book.

Based on what I’m hearing from this director, I’m pessimistic that he can do the same for Atlas Shrugged.

Now you could argue that the hard-edged spirit of Atlas Shrugged just doesn’t work for modern audiences. I think that’s silly; I think that’s what audiences are craving in today’s gooey, politically correct world. I’m in serious doubt that we’ll get it in this movie. Here’s hoping I’m wrong about that.


The liberal left just doesn’t get it

I guess today is "stupidity day", for lack of a better phrase. In an piece at the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn laments "The stupidity of liberal apathy".

Afterall:

This seems totally nuts, purely on the merits. Obama and the Democrats passed a major stimulus that cut taxes for the middle class and invested heavily in public works. They saved the auto industry, created a new regulatory framework for the financial industry, and enacted comprehensive health care reform. Compromises watered down each of these initiatives, to say nothing of the ideas (climate change!) that aren’t going to pass. And still this was the most productive liberal presidency in a generation or maybe two.

He, of course, is focused on the “liberal” agenda and what has been accomplished, such that it is.  And he’s somewhat amazed that liberals in general aren’t incredibly impressed and energized by what has gone on these past 18 months.

But, as he admits, much of it has been watered down through compromise and, of course, it is that he sees as the problem that has deflated liberals around the country.

What he doesn’t seem to understand is only he and the liberal community consider what he lists in that paragraph as “accomplishments”.  It’s a matter of perspective and, if the polls are correct, most don’t see the “stimulus” as an investment, but instead a product of pure pork.  They consider it spending money we don’t have in places the government doesn’t need to be spending money. 

And then there’s the car industry.  A majority doesn’t see what was done as “saving” anything.  Again, they see what was done as government in places it doesn’t belong throwing their good money after bad.  They’re also sophisticated enough to understand why it was done – and the word “union” finds its way into those conversations.

Other majorities see the health care bill as a costly abomination unlikely to deliver on its promise of better health care at a lower cost and they also recognize the “financial regulation bill” as just another in a long line of governmental power grabs.

Most are surely sighing in relief that cap-and-trade, aka climate change legislation, failed to find its way into law.

So perhaps the liberals aren’t just in the dumps about the compromises that watered down what was passed.  Perhaps they realize the lie they’ve been telling themselves for years, decades even, that they knew what America wanted badly.  Here is “the most productive liberal presidency in a generation” and over half the country is up in arms about what has been passed into law during his watch.  And as a result, an energized electorate which isn’t friendly toward liberals or those who represent their ideas is gearing up for a November electoral bloodbath for Democrats.

Heck Mr. Cohn – that would depress even the most rabid of liberals.  To finally understand that your views are a minority view and not popular has to be devastating.  And understanding that what you now have is all you’re going to get is equally as devastating.  The stupidity in all of this is to be found in the pretense that if liberals shook of the apathy it would matter.

It won’t.  November is not going to be a month you like.  Apathetic or energized, the liberal day is setting and there aren’t enough of that type to make a difference in the mid-terms.  Independents, finally scared away from the liberal extremists, will make sure of that.

~McQ

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Stupidity is what stupidity writes

E. J. Dionne Jr has an op-ed out entitled, “In American politics, stupidty is the name of the game.”

After reading the piece, I am pretty convinced it should be re-titled “In American punditry, stupidity is the name of the game.”  Dionne spends his 700 words demonstrating how true that title would be.

His premise is framed in a question: “Can a nation remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?”

Probably not – but it isn’t just anyone’s internal politics which he’s questioning – it is an attack on the fiscally conservative.  And, of course he deals with the left’s favorite subject when comes to government, budgets and spending:

Start with taxes. In every other serious democracy, conservative political parties feel at least some obligation to match their tax policies with their spending plans. David Cameron, the new Conservative prime minister in Britain, is a leading example.

He recently offered a rather brutal budget that includes severe cutbacks. I have doubts about some of them, but at least Cameron cared enough about reducing his country’s deficit that alongside the cuts he also proposed an increase in the value-added tax, from 17.5 percent to 20 percent. Imagine: a fiscal conservative who really is a fiscal conservative.

So now, fiscal conservancy is defined as “cutting spending and raising taxes”?  SInce when?  If, for instance, you have a government which is huge, out of control and intruding areas that it shouldn’t be and costing us a bundle while it’s doing so, why is “raising taxes” a remedy?

Why couldn’t a conservative proffer a solution which would cut spending and the size of government alone?  Why isn’t that ever an answer?

Well simply because the left doesn’t believe in smaller or less intrusive government and it has this class hatred thing going on for “the rich”.  

It is their job – through government of course – to take what the rich have and redistribute it.  Ask any of them.  That’s because their basic ideological premise is that the money we all have really doesn’t belong to us – it’s a benefit we accrue for living in this fine land shaped and governed by enlightened leftists who know much better than those who have “earned” their money where and how it should be spent. 

And, of course, that leads us to absolutely stupendous intellectual arguments like this:

The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States — the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years — are undertaxed compared with everyone else.

So there you go – the fact that “everyone else” is suffering under heavier taxation than those here doesn’t have the leftist shouting “ain’t freedom great".  Instead he shouts “make ‘em pay more” because  – and mother’s everywhere are wincing – the other guys make ‘em pay more.

Yeah, and the other guys live in countries which most here wouldn’t trade for this place.  The fact that someone accusing a certain political element of “stupidity” has to resort to the “but others pay more” argument in an attempt to sell the premise is just freakin’ laughable. 

The problem, sir, isn’t that the rich don’t pay enough.  The problem is the government here (and elsewhere, if truth be told) spends more than it has – consistently, increasingly and without an end in sight.

What in the hell is wrong with Dionne that he attempts to run this class warfare swill at us?  Does he honestly believe we’re that dumb?  Is the stupidity he’s banking on that of his readers?

His is a preposterous premise followed by an absurdly simplistic ideological argument which seems to be designed to distract the reader from the real problem – runaway government spending.

Take next year’s budget for example as just announced by the Obama Administration – $1.4 trillion dollars, of which 41% is borrowed.

41%!

That’s not the fault of the rich, Mr. Dionne.  And no matter how much you tax them it never will be.

The rich aren’t the freakin’ problem and hopefully even someone as dull witted as Dionne might eventually figure that out.  But I doubt it.

I mean, read his op-ed and you quickly realize there’s little or no hope of that ever happening.

~McQ

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People who live in glass houses…

When you accuse someone of stupidity, it’s probably wise to avoid saying something stupid yourself while doing so.  Sadly, E.J. Dionne fails to avoid that trap.

Our discussion of the economic stimulus is another symptom of political irrationality. It’s entirely true that the $787 billion recovery package passed last year was not big enough to keep unemployment from rising to over 9 percent.

But this is not actually an argument against the stimulus. On the contrary, studies showing that the stimulus created or saved up to 3 million jobs are very hard to refute. It’s much easier to pretend that all this money was wasted, although the evidence is overwhelming that we should have stimulated more.

Very hard to refute?  That’s nonsense on stilts.  Mr. Dionne may be so smart that rays of light emanate from his brow, but the paragraph above is an extraordinarily foolish position.

First, any statement of any jobs “created or saved” requires that we perform the impossible task of modeling how the economy would have performed in an alternate universe where a different policy mix was applied. We literally have no idea–nor any way to construct a testable hypothesis–that models how the economy would have reacted in the absence of the stimulus.  Even the Congressional Budget Office, while rather supinely delivering a report that ostensibly supported the administrations claims about job creation, was careful to note:

…it is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.

Second, the methodology was extremely suspect.  In making its predictions of post-stimulus recovery, the administration simply plugged in an assumption about the multiplier effect of government spending.  They assumed that X amount in spending would result in Y% increase in aggregate demand, resulting in Z jobs.  What the CBO did in checking up on that prediction, was to plug essentially the same assumptions into their model, which, unsurprisingly, “confirmed” the predictions. Even the CBO seemed a bit embarrassed about that.

But the CBO, to its credit, has been fairly forthcoming about its methods and their limitations. In response to a question at a speech earlier this month, CBO director Doug Elmendorf laid out the CBO’s methodology pretty clearly, describing the his office’s frequent, legally-required stimulus reports as “repeating the same exercises we [aleady] did rather than an independent check on it.” CBO tweaks its models on the input side, he says—adjusting, for example, how much money the government has spent. But the results the CBO reports—like the job creation figures—are simply a function of the inputs it records, not real-world counts.

Following up, the questioner asks for clarification: “If the stimulus bill did not do what it was originally forecast to do, then that would not have been detected by the subsequent analysis, right?” Elmendorf’s response? “That’s right. That’s right.”

In other words, the CBO’s regular, legally-mandated reports, are estimates based on an economic model that doesn’t actually take inputs from the real world. They simply take the same estimates the administration used to create their predictions, then apply them to the monthly spending report, coming up with a number of jobs “created or saved” that is, unspurprisingly, exactly what the administration predicted.

Please note: this has no actual relationship to the number of real-world jobs that exist.  The only thing the CBO reports prove–by its own admission–is that it is possible to replicate the administration’s predictions by  duplicating the assumptions.

So, not only is it untrue, as Mr Dionne asserts, that “studies showing that the stimulus created or saved up to 3 million jobs are very hard to refute,” the CBO director explicitly refutes that notion by agreeing that “[i]f the stimulus bill did not do what it was originally forecast to do, then that would not have been detected by the subsequent analysis.”

But, let us say, arguendo, that Mr. Dionne is right, and the $787 billion did, in fact, create 3 million new jobs.  The price tag then, comes to $262,333.33 for each job created. That seems like a relatively steep price.

Happily, we know more or less precisely how many people are employed in the country, and how the size of the labor force has changed. We know this, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases those figures on a monthly basis, and they are publicly available at the BLS web site.  If we assume March 2009 to be the first month of the stimulus, we see that there were a total of 140,854,000 Americans over the age of 16 employed, including farm employment.  As of Jun, 2010, there were 139,119,000 Americans working. That tells me that there are 1,735,000 fewer Americans working today, than there were when the stimulus was passed.  If we exclude agriculture, and look at only non-farm payrolls, we see that there were 132,070,000 people employed in March, 2009, vice 130,470,00 in June, 2010.  Again, that’s a net loss of 1,600,000 payroll jobs.

I’m not seeing any net job creation there.

In at least one sense, though, Mr. Dionne is quite right.  Since the administration’s claims of 3 million jobs “created or saved” is empirically disprovable, they can tout them as much as they’d like, even in the face of 1.6 million jobs actually disappearing under the stimulus.  After all, they can always say, “There would have been 3 million fewer jobs if we hadn’t acted.  And if you don’t believe me, prove me wrong!”  It is, after all, so comforting to be able to take refuge in an unfalsifiable hypothesis.


Dale’s Observations For 2010-07-29

World’s fairs are designed for people from homogeneous cultures who are still impressed by electricity and foreigners. http://bit.ly/axU49H #

FINALLY! Harley-Davidson provides an OEM stereo kit for their customers who don't ride huge touring bikes. http://bit.ly/9L2qoe #

Amazon unveils 3rd-generation Kindle e-book reader, now with wi-fi! http://usat.me?39468850 #

Mortgage Rates Fall Again; 30-Year Fixed At 4.54%. http://bit.ly/9fYWmO #RecoverySummer #

Jobless claims for the week at 457k, down 11k. Underlying rate is essentially unchanged. http://bit.ly/dhymwM #RecoverySummer #


California’s fiscal crisis provides a stark look at the difference between today’s left and right

The situation in California is critical with government there facing a 19 billion dollar shortfall and the budget yet to be passed. It pits an admittedly "moderate" Republican governor against a Democratically dominated legislature and their differences on how to close that huge budgetary hole.

The lack of a budget is forcing furloughs and the possibility of the state again issuing IOUs instead of payments to vendors, etc.

Until the governor and legislature negotiate that budget, not much will change. And the fight is classic:

Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing spending to balance the state’s books, an approach rejected by Democratic lawmakers. Their leaders in the state Senate and Assembly are trying to draft a joint plan likely to include proposals for tax increases to rival the governor’s budget plan.

There it is. Where the governor sees government as having to yeild and reduce itself, the legislature views government – at the size and scope it now occupies – to be a nonnegotiable necessity and entitled to more taxpayer cash to preserve it as is.

Funny that the "conservative" position in this fight – i.e. the attempt to maintain the status quo – is that of the "progressive" party in California.

However, the cut spending/more taxes fight is, in a nutshell, the difference between the two parties right now.  I used to say there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two (and on many issues that’s still true) but in terms of how to balance a budget, the “reduce government/ reduce spending” approach seems to now be solely owned by the GOP.

Whether or not they’ll actually do that should they again find themselves in the position of power to do so is obviously another question entirely. 

In the case of the Democratic party – they’re now a wholly owned subsidiary of government unions, and their pandering to these unions is both short-sighted and destructive.  The party that used to be able to claim the mantle of the working man’s party is now almost exclusively the government union worker’s party.  And of course that means keeping government large and well funded.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this fight comes out – but even with Schwarzenegger representing the GOP side of things, it is clear which side is the taxpayer’s friend.

~McQ

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