Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: May 2012


Quote of the day: About those self-styled “elite” edition

The quote comes from Walter Russell Mead and is pretty self-explanatory needing little in the way of explanation or exposition from me.  Needless to say, I agree:

There was a time — as recently as early 2010 — when the Great and the Good, the Champions of the Conventional Wisdom and the Oracles of the Davoisie identified the UN’s forlorn climate change negotiations as the wave of the future and the last best hope of man. Let the futility and failure to which all this led be a reminder to us and to them: those who guide the world’s destiny aren’t nearly as discerning as they think they are. Between the American housing bubble, the European meltdown and the climate policy disaster, it almost begins to look as if the Establishment consists mostly of overpaid, egotistical blowhards.

Amen.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Economic Statistics for 29 May 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

The Dallas Fed Mfg Survey’s Business activity index fell to -5.1 from -3.4. The production index fell to 5.5. from 5.6.

The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose 0.1% in March; however, it’s still -2.6% lower than March 2011.

The Consumer Confidence Index fell 4 points to 64.9.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index fell a bit more than a point to 86.4.

~
Dale Franks
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Circling the drain

The NY Times has an article out saying that extended unemployment benefits are beginning to wind down.  Of course that’s in the face of at least 5 million still unemployed.   And while it obviously has to happen, i.e. the cut-off of extended unemployment benefits,  my guess is that Democrats are less likely to want it to happen than Republicans.

In case you haven’t heard there’s an election soon.

But, that said, it does take us to a number that should concern everyone:

49.1%: Percent of the population that lives in a household where at least one member received some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2011.

Cutting government spending is no easy task, and it’s made more complicated by recent Census Bureau data showing that nearly half of the people in the U.S. live in a household that receives at least one government benefit, and many likely received more than one.

Yes, that number.  49.1%.  Why should we be concerned about it?  Well if I have to explain, you most likely won’t get it anyway.  Make this comparison:

The 49.1% of the population in a household that gets benefits is up from 30% in the early 1980s and 44.4% as recently as the third quarter of 2008.

That’s a very large increase from 1984.  It speaks, at least to me, of dependence.  Now I know the recession has somewhat skewed the numbers.  Got it.  And, as the unemployment benefits wind down, the number will probably drop.

But in reality it points to a trend in which more and more people depend on less and less working people to help pay their way (CBO says food stamp rolls will continue to grow through 2014).  What this points too is increased government spending (no matter how you slice it – those drawing money from the government is up and that means government is spending more) in an era we can’t afford it.

With increased government spending comes the need to pay for it, and if taxes aren’t going to increase that means deficits. Nearly three-quarters of Americans blame the U.S. budget deficit on spending too much money on federal programs, according to a Gallup poll last year, but when the conversation turns to which programs to cut, the majorities are harder to find. For example, 56% of respondents oppose making significant changes to Social Security or Medicare.

Why do you suppose that is? Why would 56% oppose making significant changes to Social Security or Medicare?

Because they have a vested financial interest in the two programs.  Government has, for decades, taken money out of their pay check, spent it on other things and over promised the benefits.  Or to simplify it for you, they’ve grossly mismanaged the two programs to the point that anyone in the private sector would be in jail.

And yet, the number of Americans getting benefits from government continues to trend upward.

Can you not spot the big red kangaroo here?

Why is it obvious to everyone but our politicians (yeah, that’s a rhetorical question for those wondering)?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


R2P, Syria and “dumb wars”

Remember the war in Libya?  Remember how the doctrine Responsibility To Protect (R2P) was invoked as the reason to intervene? 

Libya was somehow chosen as a country in which R2P must be exercised and quickly.  Of course NATO airpower and arms shipments to the rebels did the job of overthrowing Gadaffi, and what has since established itself in Libya is as bad if not worse than what the people of the country suffered under the dictator.

But more important than where the doctrine was exercised is where it hasn’t been exercised.  Syria … no R2P for you!

The U.N. said Tuesday that entire families were shot in their homes during a massacre in Syria last week that killed more than 100 people, including children. Most of the victims were shot at close range, the U.N. said.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the conclusions were based on accounts gathered by U.N. monitors and corroborated by other sources. He said U.N. monitors found that fewer than 20 of the 108 people killed in the west-central area of Houla were killed by artillery fire.

"Most of the rest of the victims were summarily executed in two separate incidents," Colville told reporters in Geneva. "At this point it looks like entire families were shot in their houses."

He said witnesses blamed pro-government thugs known as shabiha for the attacks, noting that they sometimes operate "in concert" with government forces.

I recall the justification for intervention in Libya quite well – “we” had to protect civilians who were being killed by their government.

Ahem.  Question for the decision makers – why did Libya qualify and Syria doesn’t?

Daniel Larison figured out the reason months ago:

Paradoxically, the Libyan war and its aftermath have had the unintended consequence of undermining the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" (R2P) that was originally used to justify the intervention. Many advocates of intervention believed Western involvement would strengthen the norm that sovereignty may be limited to protect a civilian population from large-scale loss of life. Instead, the Libyan intervention helped discredit that idea.

A key requirement of the "responsibility to protect" is that intervening governments assume the "responsibility to rebuild" in the wake of military action, but this was a responsibility that the intervening governments never wanted and haven’t accepted. All of this has proven to skeptical governments, including emerging democratic powers such as Brazil and India, that the doctrine can and will be abused to legitimize military intervention while ignoring its other requirements. The Libyan experience has soured many major governments around the world on R2P, and without their support in the future, it will become little more than a façade for the preferred policies of Western governments.

One of those “dumb wars” Obama condemned as a Senator.  Meanwhile our Prez said yesterday, when speaking of war:

"I can promise you I will never do so unless it’s absolutely necessary, and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation."

“Absolutely necessary?”

You mean like Libya?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Summary of election reporting by legacy media for the next seven months

I’m very busy these days*, so I doubt that I’ll have much time this summer to weigh in on the election. But I don’t think it matters much. We’ve seen enough of these elections, and we now have the measure of the legacy media. It’s not that hard to predict a trajectory in advance.

Insert usual disclaimers here: future is uncertain, who knows what will happen, blah, blah, blah – hey, if any of us could predict the future in detail, we’d be on the beach enjoying all the money we made in the stock market.

With those caveats, here, then, is my expected approximate trajectory of reporting, straight from my patented combination of cracked crystal ball, Ouija board, and leaky 8-ball. It includes short summaries of legacy media narratives at various points from roughly a month ago up until past the election. Along about December, we can see how close I came.

(April) Obama is almost certain to be re-elected. How could anyone think otherwise? Plus, did you know Romney has a weird religion and carries dogs on the top of his car?

(early May) Obama is very likely to be re-elected. Though he has challenges to meet as a result of the problems he inherited from Bush. Plus challenges from wingnuts who take things out of context from his books. Which we are absolutely not going to talk about, especially any stuff about eating dog meat.

(mid May) Romney is a strong candidate because he has so much money, but Obama has the hearts and minds of the people, so he’ll win. The economy is showing signs of improvement, which will help Obama.

(June) Romney’s well-funded right-wing henchmen are going all out, and according to polls this will be a close race, but Obama has the advantage because of his committed base. The economy is improving slowly, despite some negative indicators, and will probably peak just as Obama needs it to.

(early July) Romney’s rich buddies have spent millions to make this a toss up, but Obama’s incumbency and natural connection to voters still make him the likely winner. A lot depends on the continued improvement in the economy. By the way, doesn’t Obama look presidential at this 4th of July event?

(late July) The continuous unfair attacks on Obama have put him somewhat behind in the polls, but there’s still plenty of time for him to catch up as the voters realize who is behind the negative campaigning, and as hoped-for economic improvements kick in.

(early August) Obama seems to be losing his mojo, probably because he’s tired from fighting those nasty right-wing partisans who distort everything he says and denigrate his record by blaming him for things that were Bush’s fault. In other unrelated news, unemployment continues to be high because of the Bush recession and financial markets are jittery because of events in Europe, China, and the Middle East.

(mid-August) Obama has lost his mojo because he’s distracted with important matters of governance and frustrations of unfair right-wing attacks. Yes, we know it’s late summer and Congress is out. There are still important matters of governance. (Shift to tone of the guys at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark claiming “top men” were investigating the ark.) Important. Matters.

(late August) Polls show Romney ahead. Obama is fighting for his political life against great odds, as unscrupulous racist opponents level unceasing unfair attacks and as he continues to fight the Bush recession. By the way, did you know Romney believes in a weird, cult-like religion?

(end of August) Romney’s choice for VP at the GOP convention shows just how far right he is. Choosing such a far-right partisan for VP will benefit Obama. Voters will finally realize just how beholden Romney is to rich conservatives who own yachts. Pay no attention to the polls showing Romney with a large lead. It’s just a post-convention bounce.

(early Sept, after a mediocre speech done by Obama at the Democratic National Convention after a couple of days rest, in which he sounds a little like he did in 2008:) Obama has regained his mojo and is surging in the polls according to left-wing polling organization X, and a post-convention bounce has nothing to do with it. By the way, we have an exclusive, documented report that GOP VP candidate X once threw a candy wrapper out on the highway, and is therefore unfit to be vice president.

(late Sept) Obama has pulled almost even again or maybe a little ahead according to internal polls and has momentum that will eventually give him the edge. Due to the rapidly approaching election, we don’t have time to report anything about the economy. But here’s some more negative stuff about GOP VP candidate X.

(early Oct) Romney is a mean rich guy who hates dogs, with an uncaring wife who spends her money on expensive horses, and a VP candidate who is a litterer. We don’t understand how anyone with a brain could vote for him. Look at this thing we just dug up about him which is totally legit and makes him look really bad. Meanwhile, noble Obama is struggling with troubles in Europe and the Middle East, and continued economic problems inherited from Bush, and sure is doing a great job of acting presidential. The race is still very much in doubt. The polls suggesting that Romney has a large and growing lead don’t mean anything.

(late Oct) Obama has mismanaged his campaign by not attacking Romney strongly enough and exposing the fact that he’s a mean, rich guy from a weird cult who throws people out of work. As a result, he might lose the election, though it’s still a toss up according to some small-sample polls who over-sampled urban Democrats by thirty percent.

(early Nov) With voters going to the polls in 48 hours, Obama is embarking on a marathon with twenty speeches a day to remind voters of how wonderful he is. The limited time for planning is the reason the venues are not full to overflowing. Photos of half empty auditoriums are distortions taken while the stage was setting up. Pay no attention to the ones in which Obama is actually speaking to a half-empty auditorium. Those are not from an official media photographer, and are probably Photoshopped.

(election day) As voters go to the polls today, Obama’s campaign staff are quietly confident that the marathon campaigning has turned the tide, and he’s back in the race. Nasty right-wing partisans who will stop at nothing are trying to block him with voter suppression efforts in key states that are probably illegal. Pay no attention to the noble Obama minions at polls bravely fighting back against the wingnuts, even though some get a bit over-enthusiastic and hold billy clubs while standing outside polling doors.

(election day plus two) Obama looks like he has lost a close election, though recounts in several states could still win it for him. Republicans are trying to block all recounts, probably to cover up their own illegal election tampering.

(election day plus seven) Obama is pinning his final hopes on recounts in large state X, where he is 100,000 votes behind, but his staff has expressed confidence that they know about missing ballots that will close that gap.

(election day plus nine) Some of the missing ballots put forth by Democrats turn out to be shredded newspapers in cardboard boxes, but Democratic election officials deny any attempts to manipulate election results.

(election day plus ten) Obama has conceded to Romney. As we long predicted, Romney’s money and right-wing meanness were enough to dupe the electorate into electing him over the noble Obama. Though some doubts remain as to whether the election really should gone the other way and was only decided by throwing out Obama votes that were slightly irregular but clearly indicated voters’ intent, and were certainly not votes from dead people and illegal aliens no matter what those right-wing hacks at Fox say.

(late Nov) Romney is now choosing his cabinet. We can only hope that Romney chooses wise and moderate Republicans who will reach across the aisle to the Democratic minority to craft bipartisan legislation to fix our financial crisis which is still left over from the Bush years, and exacerbated by problems in Europe and China, and definitely was not Obama’s fault. Obama and Michelle have been gracious during the transition, and rumors of broken vases in the White House after Obama’s concession speech are just more right-wing rumor-mongering. Michelle has been working so hard with Ann Romney that she hasn’t been seen in public in weeks.

(early Dec) Romney has chosen a cabinet of right-wing partisans, and is off to a bad start. With a questionable election behind him, instead of healing the nation, Romney chose hard-line GOP insiders like Mitch Daniels and Lamar Alexander as advisors. He’s probably going to be worse than Bush.

 

(*) If you’re a software developer and want to see what I’ve been up to lately, my first video training course for online training company Pluralsight went up a couple of weeks ago. More info here. The course is basically me droning on for four hours about user experience design principles, so I doubt that very many of you would be interested, but perhaps a few would be.


The new fossil fuel reality

Myth: The US has only 2% of the world’s proven reserves.

Reality:

From Canada to Colombia to Brazil, oil and gas production in the Western Hemisphere is booming, with the United States emerging less dependent on supplies from an unstable Middle East. Central to the new energy equation is the United States itself, which has ramped up production and is now churning out 1.7 million more barrels of oil and liquid fuel per day than in 2005.

“There are new players and drivers in the world,” said Ruben Etcheverry, chief executive of Gas and Oil of Neuquen, a state-owned energy firm that is positioning itself to develop oil and gas fields here in Patagonia. “There is a new geopolitical shift, and those countries that never provided oil and gas can now do so. For the United States, there is a glimmer of the possibility of self-sufficiency.”

Or, as the article from which those two paragraphs are taken is entitled, “Center of gravity in oil world shifts to America”.

And, given recent finds, there’s more than a “glimmer of the possibility of self-sufficiency for the United States” there is a real possibility for self-sufficiency if a coherent energy policy is put together that exploits the reserves we have.

Currently the US imports 45% of its petroleum needs.  29% of all imports comes from Canada, 8% from Mexico.  Saudi Arabia supplies 14% Nigeria 10% and Venezuela 11%, with lesser suppliers picking up the rest.

Canada’s supplies of crude oil are going to continue to rise, from a current base of 4.3 million barrels a day to 6.6 million a day in 2035.  But the US is projected to see a big an increase as well.  From the current 10 million barrels of oil a day to 12.8 million in 2035.

But that’s the case only if we tap into it or are allowed to tap into it, much being found under land controlled by the federal government who has been anything but friendly to the idea here recently.

Production has risen strikingly fast in places such as the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and the “tight” rock formations of North Dakota and Texas — basins with resources so hard to refine or reach that they were not considered economically viable until recently

Technology has made the recovery of these resources economically viable and they promise a abundant energy future.

Then, of course, there’s natural gas, something the US is blessed with in huge quantities as well.  It is a distinct possibility that the use of natural gas will increase markedly over the next few decades as it is applied to more and more uses traditionally the realm of other energy sources.  Part of that may come among auto and truck fleets.  If so, then it is more than a “glimmer of a possibility of self-sufficiency” we’re beginning to see.

It is a real possibility.

But only if we use it.  And, only if the government and radical environmentalists get out of the way.

One of those two problems can be helped this November.

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 27 May 12

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the Obama Campaign, the press, and new media.

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.


Memorial Day 2012

No image portrays the true meaning of Memorial Day like the following image.    I posted it last year, and I’ll probably post it every year I draw breath.  It best encapsulates the day’s meaning for me.

 

Memorial day

 

Freedom isn’t free.  And it doesn’t come without a horrendous cost.  God bless the fallen.  And God comfort their families.

[In memory of SP4 Stuart Lee Barnett, KIA 8/26/70, Republic of Vietnam]

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Senate Dems: Loud, but clueless

If you were a group pushing legislation called the “Paycheck Fairness Act” that demanded gender equity in pay and benefits for working women (i.e. women being paid the same as men) and were beating up the other side and accusing them of making “war on women”, do you suppose before you did either you’d ensure your skirts were clean (no pun intended)?

Would you ensure you were paying women in your employ equally before trotting out your bombastic accusations?

Well most smart folks would, but we’re talking about Democratic Senators here.  Five female Democratic Senators held a press conference yesterday in which they did exactly that – demanded equal pay for women and beat up Republicans.  But:

Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.

Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 35.2 percent.

That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide.

Its not just the Democratic women in the Senate though:

The pay differential is quite striking in some cases, especially among leading Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who runs the Senate Democratic messaging operation, paid men $19,454 more on average, a 36 percent difference.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) paid men $13,063 more, a difference of 23 percent.

Other notable Senators whose “gender pay gap” was larger than 23 percent:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.)—47.6 percent
  • Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.)—40 percent
  • Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.)—34.2 percent
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.)—31.5 percent
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.)—30.4 percent
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)–29.7 percent
  • Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.)–29.2 percent
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.)—26.5 percent
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore)—26.4 percent
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa)—23.2 percent

By the way, you do recall that one of the first pieces of legislation passed in the Obama administration was something called the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” which supposedly “solved” the gender pay disparity issue?  Hey, it’s in all of Obama’s campaign literature.

“We passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—the first bill I signed—so that equal pay for equal work is a reality all across this country,” he said in June 2009.

And you can see how well it “solved” the disparities that exist among Democratic Senatorial staffs, can’t you?

Forward!

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO