Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: June 2011


In the midst of terrible economic times, let’s raise energy prices dramatically and lay people off …

“Never let the reality of the situation stand in the way of a political agenda”, ought to be the slogan of the Obama reelection campaign.

In the midst of the worst economic downturn the executive branch of the Federal Government (the Obama administration), under the guise of the EPA is ratcheting up standards that will shut down many coal fired plants and their jobs as well as cost billions for utilities to keep other coal plants open.  Result:

Consumers could see their electricity bills jump an estimated 40 to 60 percent in the next few years.

The reason: Pending environmental regulations will make coal-fired generating plants, which produce about half the nation’s electricity, more expensive to operate. Many are expected to be shuttered.

Of course the timing of the increase is predictable:

The increases are expected to begin to appear in 2014, and policymakers already are scrambling to find cheap and reliable alternative power sources. If they are unsuccessful, consumers can expect further increases as ore expensive forms of generation take on a greater share of the electricity load.

Yup, safely reelected (he hopes), Mr. Obama will smile benignly as he watches more of you hard earned money go for what should be cheap and plentiful energy based on incredibly abundant coal.  Instead we’ll be chasing “reliable alternate power sources”.   One would like to believe we’d go to natural gas, but then those abundant finds are also being slow walked through the red tape of the government approval process.

More than 8,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity has been retired in the U.S. since 2005, according to data from industrial software company Ventyx. Generators have announced they plan to retire another 21,000 megawatts in the near future, and some industry consultant studies estimate 60,000 megawatts of power, enough for 60 million homes, will be taken offline by 2017.

This in the midst of projected energy shortages as demand increases while we shut down power generation assets.

Certainly we may want to, at some time in the future, shut down all coal fired plants.  We may collectively wish to see other energy sources used as well.  But that would require a coherent transition plan, viable alternatives, phasing and a little common sense (or essentially being in touch with the reality that one finds around them).

This is  a agenda driven, safely-after-the-election, regulatory fiat that will cost workers their jobs and consumers a higher portion of their earned income in poor economic times.

Another, among a myriad of reasons why the man in the White House needs to be in his own house come 2014.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 12 May 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Weinergate, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Sorry about the lack of posting

But I’m getting used to a new toy – and I usually do that through total emersion. I’ve gotten my first Apple product, a gift for my recent birthday from my wife. She is a geek at heart and what this means is she wants one too.

Anyway, the product is an Ipad. I bought a wireless keyboard to go with it (I and virtual keyboards don’t get along – even ones with pretty big keys like the Ipad’s).

To say I’m in love would be an understatement. What a marvelous product. And the more I learn the more I recognize its power.

Look, I’ve been around computers since the ’80s. I remember buying my first computer with a hard drive – 10 whole megabytes – and wondering what I’d do with all that storage space.

I’m sure I’ll find things I don’t like or aren’t particuarly well done, but I haven’t foiund them yet. This is an elegant, well thought out product that has almost unlimited potential in all sorts of areas. As for applications – well, you could probably spend your waking hours pouring through all the apps for this thing and still have years to go to get through them all.

Anyway, I hope to be back to semi-normal by tomorrow. This is being done on the WP app for Ipad (I got the 16gig WiFi model).

The Ipad is one of those products that I feel, within a few months, will have me wondering how I lived without. Until tomorrow, you’ll have to excuse me while I play and enjoy. See you then.

~McQ

Twitter: McQandO


Whatever happened to “shame”?

I suppose, as with most people, you’ve been at least peripherally following what has become known as “Wienergate”.  I’ve avoided it like the plague here – I just don’t particularly care to push those sorts of stories.

But as it has evolved – risqué picture, claim of a criminal act, modified to claim of a prank and then finally admitted that all was a lie – I’ve figured at some point Anthony Wiener would feel shame and resign.  Especially when he finally admitted to sending the picture and it was revealed he had a pattern of doing so with young women.

Had that been a Republican we all know that feeding frenzy the fairly silent women’s rights movement would be involved in.  We also know we’d see the Democratic women in Congress up in arms ala Bob Packwood, right?

Weiner?  And yes, I’ve watched and enjoyed the many times juvenile plays on his name, but I can’t imagine him staying in office.  Or can I?

What finally compelled me to write about this shameful fiasco was this:

In the poll, 56% of registered voters in Weiner’s NY-9 district think he should remain in office, while only a third (33%) think he should resign. That result comes as further salacious details about the Twitter scandal have come to light.

Really?  So conduct in office that would be condemned in the corporate world, an rightly so, is okay in the political world?  Because that’s what Weiner’s constituents are saying. 

It’s easy to say “that’s none of my business” and  ignore his actions while he was supposed to be representing you.  But ignoring this means or saying he should stay, if he’s your Congressman, is saying you have absolutely no standards of moral conduct you expect from elected officials or those standards are so low that almost anything is acceptable.

In this case, if I lived in NY-9, I’d be ashamed to have Weiner as my rep.  And I’d be even more ashamed of the 56% who claim he should stay on regardless of his shameful conduct.

Whatever happened to shame in this country?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Tennessee heads down the proverbial slippery slope

When you see someplace begin to try to legislate feelings and intentions, well you’re looking at a place that is headed toward more and more authoritarian government.   Tennessee recently passed a law which make it a crime to post images which cause “emotional distress” without a “legitimate purpose”.

One has no idea what constitutes “emotional distress” or how one decides if the “purpose” is “legitimate”, but it certainly suggests someone will and that someone will be the state.

(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally:

(4) Communicates with another person or transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim by [by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication] without legitimate purpose:

(A) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or

(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and

(B) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.

When you see language like you see in this law, the extent to which it can be abused and used to, ironically, “frighten, intimidate or emotionally distress” someone supposedly in violation of it are evident.

Eugene Volokh finds it to be “clearly” unconstitutional.  Here are his comments:

  1. If you’re posting a picture of someone in an embarrassing situation — not at all limited to, say, sexually themed pictures or illegally taken pictures — you’re likely a criminal unless the prosecutor, judge, or jury concludes that you had a “legitimate purpose.”
  2. Likewise, if you post an image intended to distress some religious, political, ethnic, racial, etc. group, you too can be sent to jail if governments decision maker thinks your purpose wasn’t “legitimate.” Nothing in the law requires that the picture be of the “victim,” only that it be distressing to the “victim.”
  3. The same is true even if you didn’t intend to distress those people, but reasonably should have known that the material — say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group — would “cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities.”
  4. And of course the same would apply if a newspaper or TV station posts embarrassing pictures or blasphemous images on its site.

This is clearly the end-game of this pernicious trend that supports this pseudo-right we have to not be offended.  Obviously, you have no such right.  But when the state gets into this sort of territory, it is not headed toward the slippery slope, it’s bobsledding down the slope.  

This is clearly a law designed to stifle what any person of “reasonable sensibilities” would call free speech.  What most who understand the right emphasize is that its strength is in the fact that we don’t penalize those who say things we don’t like, but protect their right to do so even while we denounce what they say.

This is another of those freedoms that is constantly under assault by the authoritarians among us who, for whatever reason, think it is their job to control every aspect of our lives, to include what we can and can’t say.   So, as in the case of Tennessee, they criminalized behavior which might “frighten, intimidate or emotionally disturb”.

Really – I can think of any number of movies which do precisely that for any number of people – is Tennessee going to ban them?  Books?  Political writing (that is intended to “frighten, intimidate or emotionally disturb” readers?   If you’re from another state and you have a bumper sticker that “frightens, intimidates or emotionally distresses” someone (say an abortion sticker or one that denounces Islamists) am I subject to Tennessee’s liberty destroying law?

And how does this law coexist with our right, codified in the First Amendment, that claims we can speak freely without considering any of those concerns?

Busybody lawmakers with an authoritarian streak make bad law and shred our basic rights.  I’m sure they’d explain it as an attempt to ensure others aren’t offended.  I, on the other hand, find that sort of nonsense un-American and unconstitutional.  Repeal the law, Tennessee.  Rejoin the rest of the union and quit being so afraid of free speech.  Most of all, grow up and quit worrying about others  being offended.  That’s their problem – not the state’s.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Unemployment: The real numbers and the real problem

Not only the real numbers, but the real reason:

Labor-force participation, the share of Americans who are working or looking for jobs, has fallen to its lowest percentage since the mid-1980s. That’s partly because people have grown discouraged about their ability to find jobs and have given up looking. With those workers on the sidelines, the unemployment rate has been lower than it otherwise would be.

The official unemployment rate hit 9.1% in May. Including all of those who had part-time jobs but wanted to work full-time as well as those who want to work but had given up searching, the rate was 15.8%.

Of course Dale has been saying that for some time with his own calculations.   Discouraged workers, however, may also have taken another option – retirement – since it is the age of Baby Boomer retirement.   So it’s not clear yet how many of those who were workers and lost their jobs are “discouraged” workers or retired workers.  Bottom line, though – a lot of people have seen their lives drastically changed.

Here’s the inherent problem in long-term unemployment:

[T]he odds of finding a job steadily decreased the longer someone was out of work. Some 30% of Americans who had been out of work for less than five weeks found new jobs last year.

Those odds deteriorated for the long-term unemployed. Of those who had been unemployed for more than six months, slightly more than 10% found new jobs. Nearly 19% dropped out of the workforce.

The problem endures this year: As of May, 6.2 million had been out of work for more than six months and more than 4 million haven’t work in more than a year.

And the outlook, at least at the moment, doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.

This is Obama’s political Achilles heel.  This is what gets incumbent presidents an early retirement.  I’m not hoping that this persists through the 2012 election, I’m suggesting that there is nothing to indicate it won’t.  

That is Obama’s challenge.  And it is also the GOP’s attack line.  This is Obama’s record – something he has to run on for the very first time.  Time to begin pointing it out now.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Is ObamaCare doomed?

Ihe 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, opened its session examining the federal healthcare law recently passed by Congress and derisively known as ObamaCare with these words from its Chief Judge Joel Dubina:

"I can’t find any case like this," Dubina said. "If we uphold this, are there any limits" on the power of the federal government?

That was followed by:

Judge Stanley Marcus chimed in: "I can’t find any case" in the past, he said, where the courts upheld "telling a private person they are compelled to purchase a product in the open market…. Is there anything that suggests Congress can do this?"

Now frankly, I think some people expected a much more receptive audience among the judges since two of the three are Clinton appointees.  Dubina is a George H.W. Bush appointee. What both Dubina and Marcus make clear is this is a case – or at least certain aspects of it are – without precedence.

And we all know how federal justices rely on precedence to guide their rulings.  I’m encouraged by those opening remarks.  The third judge on the e judge panel repeatedly asked the lawyers about the possible effect of striking down the mandate while upholding the rest of the law.

The administration, represented by U.S. Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal argued the following about the individual mandate:

Katyal argued that healthcare was unique and unlike the purchase of other products, like vegetables in a grocery store.
"You can walk out of this courtroom and be hit by a bus," he said, and if an ill or injured person has no insurance, a hospital and the taxpayers will have to pay the costs of his emergency care.

Katyal argued that Congress could reasonably decide that because everyone will probably need medical care at some time in their lives, everyone who can afford it should pay part of the cost. And he said the courts should uphold the law under Congress’ broad power to regulate commerce in this country.

Congress could clearly require that a person who shows up at a hospital without insurance buy it on the spot, he said, and requiring the purchase in advance should not be the decisive difference.

What, of course, is not reasonable is Congress deciding how one must “pay part of the cost” or compelling them to do so under the auspices of the government.  It is the individual’s responsibility to pay such debt as in all other areas of life.  But, argues the administration:

Parts of the overall law should still survive, said government lawyer Katyal, but he warned the judges they’d make a "deep, deep mistake" if the insurance requirement were found to be unconstitutional. He said Congress had the right to regulate what uninsured Americans must buy because they shift $43 billion each year in medical costs to other taxpayers.

So, the case boils down to $43 billion a year being the reason for a gigantic intrusion in the market by the government which claims it will do a better job of holding down costs via mandating coverage.  This is the same government which suffers $60 billion a year in Medicare and Medicaid fraud (I’d call that some serious “shift[ing]” of costs to other taxpayers, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, back to the story – POLITICO is the only news organization that seemed to find some hope for the administration:

The judges’ questions were mixed enough to give encouragement to both sides in the oral arguments in the multistate lawsuit, the most significant of the legal challenges against Obama’s health care overhaul.

But then, immediately said:

But supporters of the health law cringed as the judges spent a significant amount of time questioning both sides over how much of the law they would have to void if they struck down the most controversial provision at the center of the suit: the requirement to buy insurance.

And that brings us back to our old friend, “severability”:

“The government would obviously be somewhat troubled by the questions about severability, which is something that the court only reaches if it were to invalidate one of the provisions,” said Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general who wrote a brief defending the law for Democratic members of Congress.

This particular case of the many pending is probably the highest profile case as it was brought by a collection of 26 states.

Regardless of how this turns out, however, I think it is pretty clear this one is headed to SCOTUS for final disposition.  However, the rulings of the judges involved will indeed be scrutinized by the justices in Washington DC when the time comes.   If they find against the administration, I think on has to consider such a ruling, if founded on good legal ground, may create the precedent that SCOTUS needs to follow suit and throw the individual mandate (and thus the law for all intents and purposes) out the window.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Top 10 cities with the most pink slips and the 5 worst states to do business in

What do they have in common?  Well, you tell me (but my guess is onerous taxation, over-regulation and an anti-business climate).  Here are the cities that have lost the most jobs recently according to the Daily Mail?

  1. Los Angeles, California, 17,393 workers
  2. New York, New York, 14,312
  3. Chicago, Illinois, 7,835
  4. San Francisco, California, 5,117
  5. Riverside, California, 4,852
  6. San Diego, California, 4,382
  7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2,747
  8. Seattle, Washington, 2,601
  9. Sacramento, California, 2,467
  10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2,205

OK, you say, LA has a lot more jobs to lose than say, Montgomery AL.   True and understood.  But, there’s more.  Take a look at the states in which you find the job losses.  Now peruse the list of the “best/worst states to do business in”.

Bottom 5?

46 Michigan

47 New Jersey

48 Illinois

49 New York

50 California

All deep blue states.  If you’re wondering, PA comes in at 39th just ahead of OH, WV, HI, CT and MA and behind MS.  Yeah, that’s right, MS.  Everyone’s 50th state in most every other comparison.  WA was 34th.

Contrast that with the top 5 states  – TX, NC, FL, TN and GA.  All red, all right to work states, all southern states.  Draw your own conclusions.  By the way, the ratings of the “best/worst states” came from a group of people who ought to know and be able to make such a determination as it relates to business.  The rankings are the product of surveying 550 CEOs.

And, as they indicate, it isn’t rocket science needed to attract and keep businesses in a state:

Business leaders graded the states on a variety of categories grouped under taxation and regulation, workforce quality and living environment. “Do not overtax business,” offered one CEO. “Make sure your tax scheme does not drive business to another state. Have a regulatory environment and regulators that encourage good business—not one that punishes businesses for minor infractions. Good employment laws help too. Let companies decide what benefits and terms will attract and keep the quality of employee they need. Rules that make it hard, if not impossible, to separate from a non-productive employee make companies fearful to hire or locate in a state.”

That, in my estimation, is the primary difference between Texas and California, and why Texas is booming and California is drowning.

Food for thought.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


If freedom is choice, what’s the light bulb ban?

It is a restriction of your freedom to choose.  It is government assuming the role of deciding what is best for you instead of allowing market and consumers the freedom of making that decision and choice.

The greens and the Obama Administration assert that the new light bulbs are good for the lumpen bourgeoisie because they will cut electricity use and save the average household $50 a year. Mr. Obama’s Energy Department told Congress recently that to repeal the ban would "detrimentally affect the nation’s economy, energy security, and environmental imperatives." Yes, and cause the seas to rise to swamp Miami and New York too.

If you catch the sarcasm in the WSJ column cited, I believe it is well deserved.   You see, if the average household found it worth $50 a year to make such a change, they’d do so based on their priorities, not government’s.  That’s freedom.  Instead we have the government forcing that decision on households whether they like it or not.  And the reasoning?  Well it has become almost cliché to cite Orwell when talking about many things modern government does, but in this case, and after the reading the following, tell me if you don’t agree it is entirely appropriate:

In classic doublespeak, the Department of Energy explains that outlawing incandescent bulbs will "empower consumers with lighting choices." Unless your choice is to buy the light bulb the government doesn’t like.

Indeed.  There is no “choice” involved here at all, except to refuse to buy CFLs and sit in the dark.  

When government can reach down to the level of deciding what you can and can’t buy for lighting your house, then you have seen your freedom diminished.  And it can be for all sorts of good intentions – but it doesn’t change the simple fact that your freedom to choose is less today than yesterday.  In fact, we need to update an old saying.  The road to serfdom is paved with freedom killing laws based on good but collectivist intentions.  Yeah, it’s not really very snappy but you get the idea.

Our freedom is slowly bleeding away, suffering a death by a thousand cuts.  And we’re as much to blame as the government.

The question an (allegedly) free society should ask is if CFL bulbs are so clearly superior, why does the government have to force people to buy them?

Because it can.  And we let it.

Insist Congress repeal the ban.  Meanwhile – stock up on incandescent bulbs.  I am.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Revisiting the Obama administration’s unemployment promise

The folks at e21 remind us of something that should be at the forefront of every person’s memory as they consider what this administration has and hasn’t accomplished in its promise to “stimulate” the economy and create jobs.   I call it the “big promise”.  I don’t call it a “lie” since I use the traditional definition of a lie (a known falsehood) vs. the more modern one in use today by activists on both sides (being wrong about something).  But that’s fodder for a future post. 

In this one I want to issue a reminder of what was promised and what has been delivered.  Promise:

Back in January 2009, Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein produced a report estimating future unemployment rates with and without a stimulus plan. Their estimates, which were widely circulated, projected that unemployment would approach 9% without a stimulus, but would never exceed 8% with the plan.

They got their “stimulus” – $800 plus billion in mostly borrowed money with which they were to stem the tide of unemployment then rising and keep it under 8% as promised.

Result?

updated unemployment stimulus graph

 

The result wasn’t even close.  In fact, other than two months of this year, the unemployment rate has stayed above 9%.  By this time, according to the administrations plan, we were told we’d be at about 6.5%.

So it is clear that the “plan” was a total and unmitigated but costly failure.

What’s their explanation for such a huge miscalculation? 

Romer and Bernstein defend their estimates with the argument that the economic situation turned out worse than they had anticipated; and so the economy would have done even worse without a stimulus.

Is that so?  Then, as e21 says, they owe us a much deeper explanation of why that was so and why they considered their solution at the time to be the proper thing to do.  Because it is seeming more and more like a very expensive boondoggle at the moment:

The recession “officially” ended two years ago, yet the first quarter of 2011 only saw 1.8% growth. The Administration and Congress should have a more robust discussion about their self-proclaimed “2010 Recovery Summer” – if for no other reason than to better inform the public about the recovery challenges the U.S. still faces in 2011.

For example, there is new research that suggests that the stimulus may actually have resulted in a net loss of jobs. Regardless of the exact number of jobs lost or created, however, the fact that some economists are even arguing that it had a negative impact tells you that the stimulus may very well have been a wash overall.

Larry Lindsey offered his own review of the stimulus this week, arguing that it failed what’s colloquially known as the Sharp Pencil Test. As he explains, “if you sit down and do a back of the envelope calculation of the [stimulus] program’s costs and benefits, there is no way to conjure up numbers that allow it to make sense.”

Lindsey went on to offer this analysis:

[E]ven if you buy the White House’s argument that the $800 billion package created 3 million jobs, that works out to $266,000 per job. Taxing or borrowing $266,000 from the private sector to create a single job is simply not a cost effective way of putting America back to work. The long-term debt burden of that $266,000 swamps any benefit that the single job created might provide.

The 3 million claim is dubious at best  with no mention of the type, quality or sector these jobs were supposed “saved or created” (the stimulus propped up a lot of state budgets which helped delay layoffs to government workers).  And as Lindsey points out, the cost of what can only be a temporary “save” are way out of whack with the benefit.  Instead, it appears the stimulus was a giant waste of money that did little if anything to create jobs in the private sector and mostly benefited government at a huge cost per job.

I’m not sure how anyone could economically justify such an outcome.  But I sure would like to hear them try.   I think they owe us some answers on this.   And I’d like to see the GOP begin asking those questions.   This is one part of the Obama record they need to pound on – starting now.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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