Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: July 2011


Debt ceiling plan? What plan?

Apparently the responsibility to save the Republic’s financial ship has fallen to the First Mate, not the Captain.   It appears that he and only he is required to come up with plans (this one Boehner is talking about now is the second after “Cap, Tax and Balance” was rejected by the Democratic Senate) so the Democrats and White House can reject them.

With Speaker Boehner lining up his second attempt (and this isn’t about whether or not the attempt is worthwhile, it’s about the narrative and reality) Sen. Democrats have again decided they’ll scuttle any plan he puts forward:

Fifty-three Democratic senators have signed a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner saying they intend to vote against his plan for an increase in the debt ceiling, virtually assuring its defeat in the Senate even as the speaker lines up Republican votes to pass it in the House on Thursday.

Votes are not final until they are cast. But if the Democrats hold to their promise in the letter, Mr. Boehner’s plan for a six-month increase in borrowing authority will not make it to President Obama’s desk.

“We heard that in your caucus you said the Senate will support your bill,” the senators say in the letter. “We are writing to tell you that we will not support it, and give you the reasons why.”

In the letter, the senators argue that a short-term extension of the debt ceiling would “put America at risk” and “could be nearly as disastrous as a default.”

The Senate Democrats, like the president, have offered nothing in terms of a plan (heck, why would they offer a plan when they’ve never even acted on a budget for two years).  Instead we get this – who again is the party who won’t say “yes”?   And, as is obvious, the primary reason, hidden in this rhetoric, is not that a “short-term extension” of the debt ceiling would put “America at risk”, but that it would put Obama and the Democrats at risk politically since they’d have to act again prior to the 2012 election.   The compromise they’re seeking here has nothing to do with the debt ceiling.  It is mainly to have any extension of the debt ceiling at least fall on the other side of November 2012.

That said, again it should be emphasized that the only group among the players in this political theater who’ve actually offered anything of substance that can actually be scored by the CBO is the GOP.

That brings us to an interesting exchange between Ed Henry of Fox News and that huckster the White House uses as a front man, Jay Carney.  This one followed a similar exchange the day before between NBC’s Chuck Todd and Carney:

Henry asked at the briefing when Obama’s plan might be submitted to the Congressional Budget Office.

"Ed, I understand, we can do this again, OK?" Carney said. "Has the speaker of the House shown you the positions he took in detail in the negotiations that were designed actually to achieve a compromise, as opposed to having a show vote?"

"We put forward a budget, we put forward a framework," Carney said.

Questions about Obama’s plan — where is it, what’s on it — are proving tricky for the White House, because the omission is suddenly getting traction. 
"Both leaders, the senior-most Republican in the land, third in line, OK? A powerful figure with great authority sat on a room with the president of the United States and worked out a detailed compromise," Carney said.

"It is the nature of these kinds of difficult things that you do that in a way so that you agree on the tough choices, you come out together and announce them, and you begin to make the argument," he said. "A hard argument from each person to his party, that this is what we need to do for the sake of the country."

Carney’s explanation was once again that these deals have to be worked out in secret. But Henry pressed on — why not have a senator take up Obama’s detailed plan and introduce it as a bill?

"We are six days away," Henry said.

"Chuck — I mean Ed, you know, the speaker walked away from this deal," Carney said.

"You say it’s a great deal so put it out there," Henry said. "Let the American people – "

"I think I’ve answered the question," Carney said. "I mean, I know you’re creating a thing here for Fox…"

Henry, who hardly pulled punches when he sat a few seats over for CNN, chided Carney, "That’s not what I’m doing. You know better than that."

Note the final attempt to distract from the main point that there is no White House plan.  Also note that Carney tries to lecture Henry about how the process works (apparently in secret with the WH offering only “frameworks”) and Henry rebutting with how it really works (a Senator takes the “framework” one supposes, puts it in writing and introduces it).   Carney is reduced to taking a shot at Fox as a distraction from the fact that the White House still has not offered a plan.

Meanwhile the president is again seen as a spectator in the process:

Having already deployed the heavy weapons from the presidential arsenal, including a national address on Monday night and a veto threat, Mr. Obama is in danger of seeming a spectator at one of the most critical moments of his presidency. Having been unable to get the grand bargain he wanted — a debt limit increase and up to $4 trillion in debt-reduction through spending cuts and taxes — Mr. Obama’s challenge now is to reassert himself in a way that produces the next-best outcome, or at least one that does no harm to his re-election hopes.

Of course the New York Times piece claims that Obama’s “plan” is much more popular among the public than the Boehner plan.  But again, there is no plan.

What the Times talks about is Obama’s $4 Trillion dollar “Grand Bargain” in which he essentially stated he’d trade some entitlement cuts for about $2 trillion in increased taxes.   In the middle of a recession.  And that’s popular?   Only among the elite media and members of the public that don’t really know the details of his offer.   The public has not endorsed raising taxes that I know of and certainly not to the extent Obama wanted.

So here we sit, six days away, the Speaker already on notice from Senate Dems that his bill will be DOA there, Harry Reid’s attempt yet to find its way to paper and Jay Carney trying to divert attention from the fact that there really is no White House plan and that’s not really as important as the supposed intransigence of Republicans and Fox trying to “create a thing”.

We’re being led by idiots folks.   Well, that’s not true – the president isn’t leading at all.  Never has and I think after almost 3 years it should be obvious we shouldn’t expect leadership from him (btw, the White House comms folks should pass along that petulant pressers where he whines about his inability to reach a compromise and speeches in which he attempts to shift the blame do not impress people that he’s much of a leader).

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Dear Nannies — Stay out of my dining room (and every other room!)

Freedom is truly an unwanted chore for some people. Unfortunately they not only want to limit their own freedom, but yours too:

Some public health advocates are pushing cities and states to tax fattening, non-nutritious foods, like sugary soda, french fries, and donuts.

Opponents say Americans should have the right to eat what they want without being unfairly taxed for their choices, and that poor people would end up paying too much.

For the nation that created cheap, fast food, we’re paying quite a hefty toll, CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller reported on "The Early Show."

When it comes to what we eat, many Americans are making bad choices.

Back to my basic freedom definition:   “Freedom is choice.”  Corollary:  Freedom also includes the right to make bad choices.  That’s right – as long as my choices don’t harm others or violate their basic rights, I should be free to make them.   And that, of course, means making choices others conclude are bad choices about what I eat.

But the nannies don’t see it that way.  And they somehow think they’ve been empowered by … whatever … to lobby government to make laws or enact punitive taxes in an attempt to limit your choices.   In a free country taxes are tolerated at best and are collected only to fund the legitimate functions of government.   That would not include limiting choices of what you can or can’t eat.   And it certainly wouldn’t use a tax as a social engineering tool, vs. a revenue tool for funding government.

Of course we’ve already done that once, haven’t we?   And that has opened the floodgates for the do-gooders.   It is also very enticing for governments starved for revenue, isn’t it?

Mark Bittman, author and food columnist, said, "We ought to start discouraging the consumption of junk food, soda, and hyper-processed foods the [same] way we discourage smoking."

Some industry experts, including Bittman, think soda and junk food should be taxed – just as cigarettes are.

Bittman said, "The way we discouraged smoking and continue to discourage smoking is we tax cigarettes – a lot in some states – and we force the tobacco companies to contribute money to anti-smoking programs.

"Now, if we taxed soda and junk food similarly, and began a huge public health campaign that said, ‘This is the way we ought to eat,’ we might see similar results."

Translation: “We’ve been telling people this for years and they’ve essentially ignored us.  Time to take their choices away.”  I.e. let’s limit their choices by taxing them so heavily they’d do what we want because they can’t afford to do what they’re doing anymore.

Oh, but don’t worry, the nannies are doing it for the poor:

Miller reported the aim is to institute a "junk food" tax and "whole food" subsidy – to raise the price of foods high in fat, calories and preservatives, and drop the cost of fresh vegetables, fruits and other organic perishables.

Yessiree – taxes and subsidies, how refreshingly new and innovative, no?   And as usual, that would involve government up to its armpits in the process, wouldn’t it?  And, of course, we’ve never witnessed bureaucratic creep before, have we?  When they get those taxes and subsides in place and you still ignore their desires for you, what’s the next step?  Restrictions on food companies?  Withholding health care?  None of that’s beyond the pale by any stretch.

This is pretty basic Freedom 101 stuff.   We’re not talking about anything particularly philosophically complex.   Freedom means the ability and right to make decisions on your own without interference from others (again, with the standard caveat that your choice does no harm to others or violate their rights).

As more and more choices are limited or denied us, we become less and less free.   We’re right in the middle of that now, as all should at least vaguely understand.   With each new tax designed to socially engineer our behavior into some elitist view of proper conformity, another piece of our freedom goes with it.

This may seem to be a trivial thing, but it is not.  It is another among many of those pernicious attempts by elitists who have a problem with free people making decisions they disagree with and having no problem enlisting the power of government to accomplish their goal.

It should be resisted utterly and completely with no compromise or quarter.  

This country was not founded to be a nanny.  It was founded to be the home of a free people.

[HT: Dan K.]

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Debt limit talks — DC Math and political theater mask the lack of seriousness concerning out-of-control spending

Speaker of the House Boehner’s plan for deficit and debt reduction was shown to be an exercise in “DC Math”.   The CBO scored the proposal and determined that the 1.2 trillion “savings” over 10 years actually cut only $1 billion in actual spending next year.

The first installment of $900 billion is contingent on enacting 10 year caps on annual appropriations which the leadership had hoped would save well over $1 trillion. But CBO late Tuesday came back with a report showing the legislation would reduce deficits by $850 billion when measured against the agency’s most current projections for spending.

Yeah, I think we want significantly deeper cuts in spending than that.  And of course, keep in mind most Democrats were even opposed to that.

But at least Boehner actually had a plan CBO could score.  From Jim Geraghty’s  “Morning Jolt” we learn of this conversation in the White House press room (Weekly Standard):

[Chuck] Todd asked Carney about the White House’s reluctance to release its plan to deal with the national debt and raising the debt ceiling. Carney acknowledged the White House was playing games. "We’re showing a lot of leg," he said. When Todd pressed for details — "Why not just release it?" — Carney seemed surprised. "You need it written down?"

What a difference two years makes. In the spring of 2009, with Republicans in the minority in the House of Representatives, the White House and its Democratic allies were demanding specifics. The House GOP had to produce an alternative budget, the White House demanded, in order to show that they were serious about governing.

Geraghty also points to a wonderful rant by Guy Benson over at Townhall concerning the demand for an actual plan:

Yes, actually, we do need "something printed." Since his unmitigated failure of a budget was unanimously defeated in the Senate, this president has refused to offer a specific plan of his own on virtually anything at all. Instead, he talks about "visions" and "contours" and "frameworks" — and tries to blame his opponents when his poor leadership is exposed. Over the last five days, the president has (a)undermined a bargain with John Boehner by introducing an unacceptable eleventh-hour condition, (b) rejected "out of hand" a bipartisan compromise that he found to be politically unpalatable, and (c) delivered a speech that painted his opponents as the intractable extremists. In light of this behavior, it’s entirely reasonable for Americans to wonder what, precisely, Barack Obama’s proposed solution might be. Today, the White House dismissively waived off that question as a GOP talking point and condescendingly inquired if the journalist who dared to ask it was capable of taking notes.

I’ll close with an unsolicited word of advice, and a friendly reminder from the CBO director. The advice: When you’re already plumbing new depths of unpopularity, dialing up your arrogance isn’t a winning strategy. Even David Brooks finds it unseemly.

By the way, Harry Reid’s plan is purported to show about $2 trillion plus in savings by assuming the wars we’re involved in will cost hundreds of billions a year for 10 years, knowing full well that those wars are wrapping up and wrapping up soon (well except for Libya which seems to have shifted from “weeks not months” to “months not years” at this point).

In other words the usual nonsense from Washington DC.  Math tricks which say to anyone who is on to them, “these guys aren’t serious”.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


“Fast and Furious” – “The perfect storm of idiocy”

The Washington Times, one of the few media outlets covering this story, tells us:

The Obama administration sought to intimidate witnesses into not testifying to Congress on Tuesday about whether ATF knowingly allowed weapons, including assault rifles, to be “walked” into Mexico, the chairman of a House committee investigating the program said in an interview Monday.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, said at least two scheduled witnesses expected to be asked about a controversial weapons investigation known as “Fast and Furious”received warning letters from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to limit their testimony.

Good grief … I can only imagine the reaction of the NY Times and Washington Post if this had been a mere 4 years ago.  But I state the obvious.  Intimidating witnesses?  Is this the “hope and change” we were all promised? 

Revelations like that have caused this story to stink so badly, that even a reluctant media is finally beginning to turn their attention to the hearings.

Here’s CBS with a piece about the controversy and  what one of the scheduled witnesses today will be telling the committee:

In advance of a hearing later today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report containing new testimony and allegations in the ATF gunwalker case. According to the report, Carlos Canino, Acting ATF Attache in Mexico, calls the strategy his agency employed: "The perfect storm of idiocy."

"We armed the [Sinaloa] cartel," Canino told investigators. "It is disgusting." Canino will be a key witness at the hearing.

[Joint Committee report: Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence (pdf)]

But it’s not just the Sinaloa cartel. Documents obtained by Congressional investigators show weapons – sold under ATF’s watch in Operation Fast and Furious out of the Phoenix office – have been used by at least three Mexican drug cartels: Sinaloa, El Teo and La Familia.

In other words, Congressional investigators say the very agency charged with preventing weapons from falling into the hands of violent cartels south of the border … instead facilitated it.

Doh!  You can read the report at the link in the cite.  Issa also had some strong words for AG Eric Holder:

“How is it that the No. 2, 3, 4 at Justice all knew about this program, but the No. 1 didn’t?,” Mr. Issa said. “Is it because he said ‘don’t tell me’? Is it because they knew what they were doing is wrong, and they were protecting their boss? Or is it that Eric Holder is just so disconnected … ?

“Whichever it is — he knew and he’s lied to Congress, or he didn’t know, and he’s so detached that he wasn’t doing his job — that really probably is for the administration to make a decision on, sooner not later,” Mr. Issa said.

Just another case of how ill-served we are with this clown as our chief law enforcement officer.   He’s either a liar or clueless.  Great choices, no?  Hopefully this story will gain enough visibility that we’ll see Obama come out and tell the White House press corps that he has “full faith” in Eric and is “behind him 100%”.  That of course means that within a week or two Holder would announce he was resigning from the AG’s office to “spend more time with my family”.

Frankly, we’d be better off with the office vacant than with this bunch in there.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Are you better off today than you were in January 2009?

Obama is prone to liken himself to Ronald Reagan at times (and Abe Lincoln at others).   If you remember the Reagan/Carter race, the question in the title is a paraphrase of the question Reagan rhetorically  ask of voters during the campaign.  Obama is definitely on the wrong side of that Reagan question.  You can expect a resurrection of that question (if the GOP has any sense at all) in the 2012 election.

The answer to the question manifests itself in a recent poll and it is not very encouraging for the incumbent president.  An NBC/Washington Post poll just released gives the latest “atmospherics”:

Despite those hundreds of billions of blown stimulus dollars and almost as many upturn promises from Joe Biden, 82% of Americans still say their job market is struggling. Ninety percent rate the economy negatively, including half who give it the worst rating of "poor."

A slim 15% claim to be "getting ahead financially," half what it was in 2006. Fully 27% say they’re falling behind financially. That’s up 6 points since February.

A significant majority (54%) says they’ve been forced to change their lifestyle significantly as a result of the economic times — and 60% of them are angry, up from 44%.

So, you say, doesn’t it depend on who voters blame as to who this poll negatively effects?  Well, yes, of course.  And here’s an indicator of who that might be:

Strong support among liberal Democrats for Obama’s jobs record has plummeted 22 points from 53% down below a third. African Americans who believe the president’s measures helped the economy have plunged from 77% to barely half.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the fact that independents have been deserting Obama for quite some time.  We just had a Pew poll that said many whites that previously supported him have left him.   And it gets worse for Obama:

Obama’s overall job approval on the economy has slid below 40% for the first time, with 57% disapproving. And strong disapprovers outnumber approvers by better than two-to-one.

That prompted Bernie Sanders, Socialist – Vermont, to exclaim the other day:

"I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition."

He’s not the first to float that heretical idea either.   And that sort of talk is a sure sign of crumbling support within one’s political base.   When even the “homers” aren’t happy (and the reason really doesn’t matter) then you can be assured most of the rest of the voters aren’t happy either.    Obama is trying desperately to run to the center and all he’s really accomplishing by that run is to lose base support.   It doesn’t appear the big middle is warming to his attempts to woo them as support for him in all areas continues to drop.

Standard disclaimer applies – in political terms it is still light years to November 2012.  That said, these are trends we’re talking about here.   They’ve been developing over quite some time.   Looking into the future, and given the economic reports we’re seeing, it’s hard to see how this all improves enough for Obama to offset the high negativity that is building right now.

And despite continued efforts to push this off on Bush, this is now considered to be Obama’s economy, whether he likes it or not.  The excuse was good for a year or so as many were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that.   However, now it’s considered whining.  Obama ran for the job, got it and is now expected to perform up to the standards or expectations he established in his campaign.   On all fronts, he’s falling woefully short and most people have no patience for the continued attempts to pass his failure off on someone else.

So …. are you better off than you were in January, 2009?

Very few Americans find themselves able to answer “yes”, at least at this point.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


The only acceptable “compromise” and “balance” involves spending cuts

I tend to agree with Charles Krauthammer’s immediate reaction after Obama’s speech last night:

 

   

Krauthammer astutely picked up on Obama’s use of the poll tested word “balanced” and it’s appeal to the middle.   Unless you haven’t been following these negotiations at all, it might have had some effect.   But his explanation or how he defined “balanced” is pretty political.  First his claim is you can only define balanced one way – his way.  Secondly, you can only achieve balance one way – again, his way.  Of course neither is true.   However, assuming you buy into his “my way or the highway” definition, he then tells you why the Republicans – the only group who have actually offered and voted on a plan ironically called “cut, cap and balance” – are working for the corporate jet owners (anyone tired of that line yet?).

Obama specifically calls for “compromise” yet then tells us he won’t accept a short term increase in the debt ceiling.   He calls it “kicking the can down the road”.  What it would actually mean is kicking this can into next year – an election year.   So he obviously doesn’t feel inclined to “compromise” on what would obviously hurt him politically.

What I’d have also like to have heard is why Obama voted against a debt ceiling increase when he had a chance and now that Republicans are against it it’s the wrong thing to do.  Some have said that he ought to have admitted he was wrong and the GOP is wrong now.   I’m sorry, but I don’t think he was wrong then and I do think he’s wrong now. 

Moving on, here’s a bit of misdirection in the Obama speech:

We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -– things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.

But?  But that’s not what we’re talking about is it?   This is the usual political spin – talk about what the public will lose that the politician is sure the public finds valuable – at a local level it is usually firefighters, police and teachers.   Never talk about reducing bureaucracy, or the costly and wasteful redundancy, inefficiency or pure bloat found in government.  Nope, pretend it takes government of this size to inspect food.  And pretend only government has any hand in “medical research” and without that we’re all going to be left to die from preventable conditions.

And of course, the “compromise” being sought, the “balance” desired is really aimed at the ideological agenda item Democrats have been attempting for years – tax the rich:

And keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98 percent of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all.  None.  In fact, I want to extend the payroll tax cut for working families.  What we’re talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade – millionaires and billionaires – to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make.

I won’t bore you again with the percentage the “rich” contribute now as their ‘share’ contributes to the profligacy that Obama would like to extend.  But they already carry the lion’s share of the income tax burden.   Obama want’s more because he claims they can afford it.   Here’s a newsflash for the politicians – you don’t get to decide who can afford what, instead you need to find a way to live within the means provided by the present revenue stream, not claim you should have more.  Obviously giving politicians “more”  always ends up in the same place – “more” debt. 

“Balance” has nothing to do with the approach, it has to do with the result.   And that should include massive spending cuts.  If any “sacrifice” is to be made, it should be made by government, not the people.  Even Obama admits that there is only one class of citizen responsible for this mess:

Because neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, both parties have a responsibility to solve it.

That’s right.  The only totally true statement in the entire speech.   Note it wasn’t the “corporate jet owners” who got us in this condition, it was the politicians.   So the only "sacrifice” I see necessary is politicians sacrificing their spending, not the public.  It’s time both parties realize the spending spree is over.   At least one of them seems to have gotten that message. They’re actually offering solutions that concentrate in the necessary area – spending cuts. 

This is a problem of and by politicians.   It’s fairly simple to understand – they’ve used their powers to ignore spending limits and now they’ve found themselves in deep, deep trouble.  One side’s solution is to cut back on the spending and balance future spending to revenue and paying down the horrendous debt they’ve piled up.    The other’s solution is to continue to try to put a claim on the earnings of others so they don’t have to cut as much and, frankly, can continue to spend on programs we can’t afford.   Obama has been very clear on this saying on at least two occasions that savings in defense spending could be spent on other programs – such as food stamps.

Compromise?  The reason we’re in this position now is we’ve compromised for decades and run up a debt that is now threatening our very well-being.   This hasn’t been done by the “rich”.  It hasn’t been done by the “corporate jet owners”.  It hasn’t been done by anyone but compromising politicians eager to use their power to spend to buy votes.

While we may survive this particular crisis, the problem remains systemic and only promises repeats unless someone or some party actually takes a stand, says “enough” and actually enacts enforceable laws which won’t allow this to happen again. 

“Balance” and “compromise” are two poll tested words that Obama is sure will appeal to the big middle and, he hopes, will sway them to his class warfare agenda and tax increases which will enable Obama to push this past his re-election attempt in 2012.   He is the consummate can kicker – he just wants to kick the can further down the road than does the GOP (who also has political motives behind their “short term debt limit increase” plan).

Bottom line – stipulated there are all sorts of politics being played here, but … the GOP needs to stand firm on its principle that this crisis isn’t a problem created by too little revenue, but instead one created by profligate spending, none more profligate than that in which this particular administration has engaged.   Therefore, the solution – the balanced solution – is to reduce spending (and that includes debt service) to revenue levels, not the other way around.

That’s the only “compromise” I’m interested in seeing.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Shocking news–public sees media as biased

I know, I know, you’re asking “how in the world can that be”?

Uh, where were you during the last presidential election cycle?

Seriously, I think, as I mentioned in a recent post, that’s when it became obvious to even the most unaware.  And it hasn’t gotten any better if you’ve been following any of the recent political debate/theater:

Likely voters hold a dismal view of the news media, generally regarding reporters as biased, unethical and too close to the politicians they purport to cover, according to a new poll for The Hill.

A full 68 percent of voters consider the news media biased, the poll found. Most, 46 percent, believe the media generally favor Democrats, while 22 percent said they believe Republicans are favored, with 28 percent saying the media is reasonably balanced.

“Dismal view”.  Pretty descriptive, no?  The only thing the numbers in the cite make you wonder is where the 28% who think it is reasonably balanced get their news.

The share of voters who believe the media are too friendly with politicians is almost twice as large as those who find their coverage of politicians appropriate. Forty-four percent of voters assert the former; only 24 percent believe the latter.

I think those who believe the media are too friendly with politicians is absolutely correct.   It’s hard to maintain objectivity and ask hard questions when a reporter who does so suddenly finds access more and more limited.   The “go along to get along” syndrome is certainly at work.   After all, no access, no job.  

More importantly though:

The picture is not much brighter on the general question of ethics. Fifty-seven percent of voters think of the news media as either somewhat or very unethical, while only 39 percent see them as somewhat or very ethical.

This comes from all sorts of things the media has done over the years.  From fraudulent stories to flat ignoring them.  Puff pieces and the refusal to hold different politicians to the same standard have taken their toll.  For instance is there anything we don’t know about Sarah Palin v. asking what do we really know about the President of the US?  Certainly not his college grades or much else about his academic accomplishments.  Yet the press descended on Alaska like a swarm of locust when Palin’s emails as governor were released. 

Given the results of the poll it’s clear the public thinks the media has earned this reputation.  And while I expect the media to reject the poll as an example of public ignorance (after all you can’t be a “journalist” until you go to J-school.  So how could you understand the intricacies of journalism ignorant peasant?).

Anyway, some other interesting trends emerge from this poll:

Self-described centrists and liberals, for example, tend to hold a less unremittingly harsh view than conservatives.

The proportion of moderates who believe the news media generally report on politicians in an appropriate way is, at 33 percent, almost twice as large as the 17 percent of conservatives who take the same view.

At the same time, however, centrists tend to think the news media favor one side in their reporting. Thirty-nine percent of centrists endorse the idea that the media favor Democrats while 19 percent think they favor Republicans.

There is some evidence of a gender divide in terms of the media’s overall stance toward politicians. Men are significantly more likely than women to see the news media as too friendly with politicians. Fifty percent of men think the media are too friendly; 38 percent of women take the same view. Twenty-two percent of women think the news media are too hostile toward politicians — a view that is shared by only 12 percent of men.

I’m sure none of those particular numbers would surprise most observers.   They track pretty much as I’d figure they would.   The media needs to pay attention.   More and more people are turning to other sources, especially in the new media, to try to get the real story on incidents.   The establishment media continues to try to ignore that.  They do so at their own peril.  It is obvious that the public wants objective news reporting.  It is going to continue to seek sources for that.   In the area of opinion, they’ll seek those whose opinions they respect.  But what they don’t want, as this poll seems to indicate, is opinion disguised as news or some lackey posing as a reporter lobbing softball questions at a politician while ignoring the hard ones.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


The economy–between a rock and a hard place

The latest reports on the economy is due out this week and it doesn’t appear they will contain much good news:

Economists have been insisting for months that the economy is poised to lift off into a self-sustaining orbit, only to be forced to scrub the launch date several times.

Thus the repeated “unexpected”. 

The way the economy works is that it takes growth higher than a 3% rate before good things, like a sustained decline in unemployment, even start to happen. Anything in the 2.5%-to-3% range is just treading water.

Growth has averaged 2.8% over the past seven quarters. And at this point, economists would welcome a 2.5% growth rate.

Economists polled by MarketWatch now expect growth to actually decelerate to a 1.6% annual rate in the second quarter from a tepid 1.9% rate in the first quarter.

Those are some pretty shocking numbers when you consider all the political hype that’s been flying around lately about the “vastly improved” economy.   I’ve put in bold type the numbers you need to know to be able to analyze the numbers thrown around as these reports come out.   As you can tell, we’ve been in the treading water stage for quite some time.

We’ve covered many of the reasons.   One is the administration’s war on carbon-based fuels – an sector that could be creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, revenue and growth if not essentially shut down by bureaucratic foot-dragging and stifling regulation.  ObamaCare is another reason we see blamed because it has thrown thousands of new regulations about health care at businesses.

Those and other factors have led to extraordinary caution on the part of business about expansion and hiring.  So where are the profits these companies are enjoying coming from? 

The sluggish pace of hiring may be hobbling the US economy, but it’s not been holding back big US companies’ profits thanks to growth overseas and cost controls at home. And that’s bad news for the more than 14 million Americans without jobs.

Big businesses would normally be desperate for surging job growth as it would feed into domestic demand but these aren’t normal times. Massive growth opportunities overseas, especially in China and other buoyant Asian economies, have some of the largest American companies on track for record profits, even if they’re businesses are mostly treading water in the US.

The message last week from the chief financial officer of one of the nation’s industrial giants couldn’t be clearer.

"We’ve driven all this cost out. Sales have come back, but people have not," said Greg Haynes, chief financial officer at United Technologies Corp. "It’s the structural cost reductions that we have done over the past few years that have allowed us to see strong bottom-line results."

The company, the world’s largest maker of air conditioners and elevators, said second-quarter profit rose 19 percent, and it is doing most of its hiring in emerging markets where demand for its products is growing fastest. It isn’t alone in seeing profits climb in the current earnings reporting season.

They’ve learned to do more with less, thus their cost cutting measures in the really bad times are now beginning to pay off.  The easiest and quickest way to cut costs, of course, is reduced headcount.  They’ve also identified new markets that aren’t as onerous or unsettled to do business in – so their hiring – what hiring they’re doing – is overseas.  And given all that, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon:

Employers added fewer jobs in June than at any time in the past nine months, and the jobless rate rose to 9.2 percent, higher than when the recession ended in early 2009.

"We’ve never seen the kind of shedding of jobs that we saw in this recession. America’s corporations have never been running so efficiently," said Ellen Zentner, senior US economist at Nomura Securities in New York.

An example of that is the car industry:

With the economy still struggling to regain momentum after the financial crisis of 2007-09 and 14 million Americans out of work, the planners at GM and a host of corporations across America are in no rush to make big new investments to ramp up output and hiring.

The world’s second-biggest carmaker has not re-opened its idled plants or built new ones as Americans rein in spending.

Like many US manufacturers, it is squeezing more from existing factories and using time-honoured efficiency boosts such as adding to overtime and eliminating plant bottlenecks.

‘Our manufacturing folks have been tremendous at squeaking out extra units through improving line rates, adding on extra shifts,’ GM’s US sales chief Don Johnson said.

That, of course, means a long recovery period for employment.   Here’s a rather startling “did you know” fact for you:

Has anyone in Washington noticed that 20% of American men are not working? That’s right. One out of five men in this country are collecting unemployment, in prison, on disability, operating in the underground economy, or getting by on the paychecks of wives or girlfriends or parents. The equivalent number in 1970, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, was 7%.

That’s neither a good cultural or economic trend and certainly not a trend that we want to see continued into the future.  It has a tendency to have a negative effect that can be profound.  It also tends to see incidents of criminal activity rise. 

So what is government to do?   Follow policies that will encourage businesses to expand and hire.   Exploit those sectors that have low hanging fruit like the carbon-based energy sector.

Instead, what do we get?  Thousands of pages of new regulations and laws.   More and more government intrusion.   A further and artificial stifling of the economy.

Result?

Well read those bold numbers again and ask yourself if that’s what you’re willing to live with – because as it is going now, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, it is that with which this administration seems to be content to live.

And that is unacceptable – or should be.  

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 24 Jul 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the fight over the debt limit again.

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 2009 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


And now for something completely different–PC’s and embryos

A couple of topics of interest.  Reuters carries a story entitled “Aging PC giants see writing on the wall”.   Seems funny to call the personal computer industry an “aging” industry, but I think the thrust of the article is right – at least regarding the “desktop” computer:

Silicon Valley’s old guard is waking up to the fact that the era of consumer PC may be in its twilight, accelerating the need to invest and adapt to rapidly changing tastes.

This week’s earnings from the giants of technology had one thing in common: they underscored yet again how consumers are increasingly shunning desktop PCs and going mobile.

Intel, which had argued that pessimistic expectations about the market were out of whack, reduced its 2011 PC forecast. Microsoft Windows sales, that reliable indicator of PC market strength, fell short of expectations for the third straight quarter.

And Apple Inc, which single-handedly showed with its iPad that many consumers are more than happy with an unladen, light and mobile computer, obliterated all estimates by selling a whopping 9 million tablets.

"The desktop, at least for consumers, probably doesn’t have a great future, and the iPad and similar tablets can deliver a lot of the functionality of a laptop," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management.

Using only my own experience as a guide, I rarely use my desktop computer anymore.  In fact, I think of it as a legacy computer.   Just about everything I do now is on a laptop.   As for the iPad, I use it extensively as well, but not primarily.  In the type work I do, to include blogging, it is more of a supplementary tool.  But I can see that could easily change.   Given the paucity of good apps for blogging that presently exist – especially Word Press -  I’m on the laptop instead.   However, should that change, the iPad could easily become dominant (especially with the bluetooth keyboard).

On the business side of things, I can see the desktop being around for a while longer.   However, again, my experience working for a company in the field had me only operating off of laptops.   I could see beefed up tablets taking that bit of the market – i.e. that part of the business market that relies on laptops.  So yeah, I’d say the “aging giants” are right.  The desktop is likely headed for the museum.  Laptops probably have a longer (leaner and lighter) future.  At some point, I imagine the tablet and laptop will merge and dominate.

Topic two, from the UK:

Scientists have created more than 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in British laboratories.

The hybrids have been produced secretively over the past three years by researchers looking into possible cures for a wide range of diseases.

The revelation comes just a day after a committee of scientists warned of a nightmare ‘Planet of the Apes’ scenario in which work on human-animal creations goes too far.

This is a plot right out of a bad mad scientist SciFi movie.  The question of course is “why”?

That question was asked by this committee of scientists and the answer was apparently less than satisfying:

Last night he said: ‘I argued in Parliament against the creation of human- animal hybrids as a matter of principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any justification in terms of treatment.

‘Ethically it can never be justifiable – it discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque.

‘At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail.

But:

‘Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones.
‘On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too.’

And:

All have now stopped creating hybrid embryos due to a lack of funding, but scientists believe that there will be more such work in the future.

To recap – they promise wondrous cures in an area where none have been produced and the marketplace has obviously turned its nose up on the effort of producing embryonic stem cells because funding has dried up one suspects to be placed in the area where there is promise and that’s adult stem cells.   So there’s no apparent market or reason to make embryonic hybrids.

Much discussion in the article about the “ethics” of the effort.  Is it indeed “dabbling in the grotesque”?  Is it “never … justifiable?” 

Your thoughts.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO