Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: June 2012


MSNBC and “Wawa-gate”

As anyone who follows politics knows, MSNBC “leans forward” or, has all but publically announced it is the liberal news network.

Fine.  I have no problem with that.  In fact, I’m comfortable with it because it allows me to put into context anything they say or report.

However, a disturbing trend has emerged with the network.  It’s one thing to have a particular bias to your reporting.  It is another thing to report things dishonestly.  And MSNBC has been caught red handed doing that at least twice here fairly recently.  Ed Shultz edited a tape of Rick Perry in such a way as to make what he said sound like a racial slur.   Then there was the edited George Zimmerman tape.

Now we have the “Wawa” tape.  In it, Mitt Romney is made to appear “amazed” by some technology in the store with the obvious intent of recreating the George H. W. Bush grocery store scanner moment.  The point, of course, was to make Romney look like Bush who, the left contended, was so out of touch that he hadn’t been in a grocery store in so long he was unaware they used scanners.

Of course, as with most things, context is key.  In the case of Bush, he indeed hadn’t been in a grocery store and was indeed amazed by the scanner.  The “out-of-touch” claim had some validity.  And, politically, it also hurt him.

That last sentence is key.  And the MSNBC logic seems elementary as well as obviously transparent.  If that hurt Bush, let’s gin this up to hurt Romney.

But there were multiple problems with MSNBC’s attempt to smear the presumptive GOP presidential candidate.  First and foremost, what they were trying to portray wasn’t true.   Secondly, they seem to have forgotten that there are an army of watchdogs in the new media that inspect everything they say or do.  Third, they seem unaware they aren’t the only organization with video of the event in question.  And finally, they’re arrogant and believe they can pull off crap like this despite one through three.

So how did it go down?  Well, in a short clip shown by MSNBC, Romney, who had visited a convenience store named Wawa, talked about ordering a sandwich:

“It’s amazing," Romney said, as the Pennsylvania crowd appeared to laugh. Then viewers saw Romney say, "You have a touchtone keypad, and you touch that, touch this, go pay the cashier, there’s your sandwich.”

It was presented as a Bush moment with both Andrea Mitchell and Chris Cillizza laughing at how out-of-touch Romney was.  And, as expected:

Mitchell invoked an old perceived campaign stumble by George Bush, who supposedly marveled at a supermarket scanner at a grocers’ convention during his failed 1992 re-election bid.

But that wasn’t at all the context for Romney’s remark.  Here’s what he said prior to that line:

What viewers didn’t see or hear was nearly three minutes of Romney discussing the nightmare of paperwork faced by an optometrist he’d talked to in trying to get the post office to change his address. He expressed mock amazement at Wawa’s efficiency to underscore how the private sector often runs circles around the clumsy bureaucracy.

"We went to Wawas and it was instructive to me, because I saw the difference between the private sector and the governmental sector. People who work in government are good people and I respect what they do, but you see, the challenge with government is that it doesn’t have competition,” Romney said in a portion edited out of the segment.

Wow … that sort of context seems pretty important to the story if you’re actually a reporter and not a hack.

And that’s sort of the point of all this.  MSNBC continues to damage itself (self- inflicted wounds) to the point that no one is going to take them as a credible news source anymore (many of us already dismiss what they say unless vetted by a more reliable source).  Instead, they’ll be considered a propaganda outlet.  What they did with the Romney and Perry tapes certainly seem to be attempts at propaganda vs. news.

By the way, it’s not like other cable networks don’t have their own credibility issues (the left views Fox as the right views MSNBC).  But MSNBC seems to be the worst of the lot, at least at this point.   But, as someone recently said, as their viewership shrinks in the wake of these scandals, the only demographic that may be increasing for them is conservative and GOP viewers.  MSNBC has become an entertainment channel for them.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Economic Statistics for 19 Jun 12

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

Housing starts declined in May by 4.8%, at a below-expected pace of 0.708 million. That is up 28.5% on a year-ago basis, however. Housing permits rose a better-than-expected 7.9%, to an annual rate of 0.780 million units. That mixes up the picture a bit, and hits at improvements over the next month in the housing sector.

Redbook’s same-store index shows a 2.4% sales increase. That’s up 0.4% from the prior week, but still soft. ICSC-Goldman Store Sales are also soft, with sales unchanged from last week. The year-on-year increase is 3.6%, the highest since mid-May, but the 4-week average is  3.1%, a 3-month low.

~
Dale Franks
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Government debt is a drag on the GDP? D’oh, who knew?

Well, we did.  We’ve been telling you that for quite some time.  And so have other economists (that, of course, wouldn’t include Paul Krugman).

Yesterday, this came out (and, most surprisingly, on Ezra Klein’s blog, although not by Ezra Klein):

What’s the real harm of a massive government deficit? Carmen Reinhart, Vincent Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff find that high public debt is associated with a significantly lower level of GDP in the long run.

In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, the researchers examined the historical incidence of high government debt levels in advanced economies since 1800, examining 26 different “debt overhang episodes” when public debt levels were above 90 percent for at least five years.

And what do you suppose they found?

The debt episodes included everything from Netherlands’ Napoleonic War debts and the Japan banking crisis of the 1990s to Greece’s current fiscal crisis. On average, the researchers found that growth during these periods of high debt were 1.2 percent lower on average, consistent with Reinhart and Rogoff’s findings in 2010. What they also found, however, was these episodes of high debt and lower growth were quite lengthy, averaging 23 years. And the accompanying long-term drag on GDP was substantial. “By the end of the median episode, the level of output is nearly a quarter below that predicted by the trend in lower-debt periods,” they explain.

Japan’s “lost decade” has lasted much more than a decade, hasn’t it?

And the policies being pursued by this president seem to be offering up an attempt to see if this country can’t move that average beyond 23 years.

Need a picture?

 

Debt to GDP

 

We’re at 101% of debt/GDP so, according to these folks, we’ll actually perform below the red line.

But hey, more spending please.  Because, you know, we need more government jobs (the private sector is doing fine).

Forward (into economic oblivion)!

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Government, wasteful spending and crony capitalism – whatta surprise

Are you wearing a cotton shirt? Undies?  Neal Boortz is wondering:

Now while you’re sitting there surrounded by all that cottony comfort, I thought you might like to hear about the $20 million dollars that was spent last year by the Cotton Council International.  Spent where?  Spent in India, that’s where.  Spent on what?  Well …how about a reality show?  Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?  $20 million for an Indian reality show.

Not much right?  But here’s the point.  This is something repeated over and over and over again through unnecessary programs such as this using your tax dollars.  Crony capitalism.  The Cotton Council International needs your tax money like you need a hole in your head.  They have members, let them finance the Cotton Council International.  My bet is you wouldn’t see money spent like that.

Want to cut waste?  Here’s a perfect example of where to begin cutting.  As Boortz emphasizes:

Oh … and the $20 million? That came from YOU. It’s taxpayer money. Part of the Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program.

Now just remember that $20 million. That $20 million represents the entire federal income tax liability of about 2000 American families. That money is money taken from these families that could have been used to pay some past-due bills, get a home out of foreclosure, pay for a family vacation, or put that new roof on the house. But those families didn’t have that money to spend. They didn’t have it because some sharp lobbyist for the Cotton Council managed to talk some political types to seize that money instead and send it to India to swath some Indian babes in brightly colored sarongs for an Indian TV reality show.

Then there’s this little beauty for you to consider.

Amtrak, the heavily government subsidized and controlled passenger rail system, sent out this email to its customers:

 

NARP

 

Yes, it says exactly what you think it says.  If you join a lobbying group that works to increase Amtrak subsidies, you will get a discount.  Those who don’t join the lobbying group will pay full fare (such that it is).  Or as the recipient of this email says:

Whatever you think of government funding for train travel in the United States, is it problematic that a government corporation will give people discounts if they pay to join an organization that will lobby the government for more subsidies?

Put another way, Americans who pay to support more subsidies get charged less to travel on subsidized trains than those who oppose the subsidies. Two classes of citizens, based on political beliefs, when riding the train?

Apparently that’s fine.

But remember, any cuts we make in spending will lay off police, teachers and fireman.  Because everything else that’s being spent right now is both critical and necessary.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


The left: It’s not the message that’s the problem …

Robert Redford again makes the point that the left simply won’t accept the fact that it is their message that most of the country rejects.  Instead, it is believed that the problem is the means, the messaging, the way they present their message, that’s the problem:

“It’s about storytelling,” Redford tells Abe Streep. “The Democratic Party has a good story to tell, but they don’t know how to tell it. And the other side has no story to tell and they tell it loud and clear. People listen to the loud barking dog more than the mewing cat. But one of the advantages of the GOP debate — I’m speaking personally now — as horrible as it is to watch, as horrible as it is to see, at least people who have any sense at all can see, ‘This is what we’re getting? This is what we’re going to get if we elect somebody from that mob? Whoa—’”

The left has a story to tell but doesn’t know how to tell it while the right has no story but somehow tells “it” loud and clear?

Brilliant. Keep on believing that, brother.

Sounds like a sound bite you might hear from, oh I don’t know, Joe Biden?

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Obama campaign: “Insular and arrogant?”

I don’t know if you got to hear David Plouffe tell the world yesterday that there was nothing political about President Obama’s decision to refuse to deport certain illegal aliens.

I assume he must have thought most people would buy that explanation.  I also assume he had no idea or didn’t care how lame that had to sound.

Albert Hunt has an article in Bloomberg where he takes a look at the Obama campaign as it exists right now.

Private conversations with a half-dozen of the smartest Democratic political thinkers — all of whom have played at the highest levels of national campaigns, are genuine Obama backers, and almost never are consulted by the campaign — reveal a consensus of advice for the president: Stop trying to tell voters they’re doing better, offer an optimistic sense of how, if re-elected, you would lead America to more prosperous times, and challenge Republicans with specifics.

But, they’re not listening as is obvious.  They continue to try to pretend the country is better off since they’ve been in charge (meanwhile seeming to hedge that by blaming current conditions on, well, you name it, from tsunamis to ATMs, to Bush to Europe).

However they seem blind to the reality that the majority of the country just doesn’t see it the way they’re trying to spin it.  And they’re getting tired of the repeated attempts:

“I just want to see specifics and quit the trash talk,” the 31-year-old web designer and construction worker says in the session conducted by the pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “Just get down to business and figure this thing out.”

That’s a 31 year old telling the President of the United States and his campaign to grow up, quit the divisive nonsense and, instead of trying to set a record for fundraisers, actually do the work you were hired to do.

One Democratic pollster says:

“The challenge for the president is not the current conditions, but the huge expectations he set that have not been met,” said Hart, a leading Democratic pollster. “There is no road map, no program, no conviction of where the president wants to lead the country.”

I disagree with one aspect of what Hart says – the current conditions are indeed a challenge for the president which is why he keeps trying to change the subject and/or blame others.    And yes, the huge expectations are tied to these conditions.  His challenge is to somehow convince the electorate he’s done a good enough job to warrant re-election.  And he’s failing miserably at that.

Too often, it’s felt that Obama is playing political small ball or tactical games. Party critics note the fumbled response to the president’s much-criticized statement earlier this month that the “private sector is doing fine.”

That’s exactly right.  Because, as Hart says “there is no road map, no program, no conviction of where the president wants to lead the country.”  When sailing in fair winds and prevailing seas, he (like just about anyone else) can handle it fine.  But when faced with headwinds and and stormy seas his lack of leadership becomes obvious.  The man has no idea how to lead, isn’t that good of a politician and really hasn’t the experience to know how to turn this mess around.

But he thinks he does.  And he thinks that he and his campaign have it all under control:

The campaign has an almost mystical confidence in sophisticated technology and in its organization, assets that only matter in a razor-tight race. Further, these other strategists say, the Obama camp is no more justified in its belief that this campaign is like a rerun — with the uniforms changed — of 2004, when a shakily popular Republican president won re-election, than it would be to believe that 2012 is a reprise of 1980, when an incumbent president was thrown out for non-performance.

Absolutely correct.  That belief within the Obama campaign has led to this:

The central challenge, the other Democratic consultants say, is a compelling narrative from the president and campaign, which they describe as unusually insular and arrogant.

The campaign however (see Cleveland speech) thinks it does have “a compelling narrative” which then makes both the president and campaign increasingly “insular and arrogant” … a sure formula for defeat.

But look at the options.  He has a record that is abysmal, he’s increasingly seen as incompetent or just not interested or engaged (or all three) and his campaign to blame others and “trash talk” as the PA voters noted, is falling flat.

How does he then change course and put a “compelling narrative” together that somehow, in the ruins of this economy, convinces the country he should be the choice for 4 more years?

I don’t know, nor does he or his campaign apparently, but the consultants are right – that’s his challenge. 

At the moment, given the economy and the circumstances, it is a challenge that appears to be beyond him.  And I think the fraying around the edges we’re all witnessing shows that and is the beginning of the great unraveling.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Meanwhile in Egypt, meet the new boss, same as the old boss

So much for the “Twitter Revolution”, aka Arab Spring in Egypt.  Seems we’re back to square one:

Egypt’s military leaders issued a constitutional decree Sunday that gave the armed forces sweeping powers and degraded the presidency to a subservient role, as the Muslim Brotherhood declared that its candidate had won the country’s presidential runoff election.

The bold assertion of power by the ruling generals followed months in which they had promised to cede authority to a new civilian government by the end of June. Instead, activists and political analysts said, the generals’ move marked the start of a military dictatorship, a sharp reversal from the promise of Egypt’s popular revolt last year.

The court dissolved Parliament and the committee drafting the new Constitution.  As for the fact that a member of the Muslim Brotherhood has declared victory in the presidential race?  Meh.

The declaration, published in the state gazette, had been expected, but its details indicate that the military has asserted far greater authority than observers had anticipated. Under the order, the president will have no control over the military’s budget or leadership and will not be authorized to declare war without the consent of the ruling generals.

But not to worry, a new, new Constitution is in the offing:

The document said the military would soon name a group of Egyptians to draft a new constitution, which will be subject to a public referendum within three months. Once a new charter is in place, a parliamentary election will be held to replace the Islamist-dominated lower house that was dissolved Thursday after the country’s high court ruled that one-third of the chamber’s members had been elected unlawfully.

So, other than the ouster of Mubarak, not much has changed, has it:

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist. “This is worse than our worst fears.”

Question:  Now that this has become fait accompli, how does the Obama administration react to this outcome given its support of the revolutionaries?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Hints about how the Supreme Court will rule on ObamaCare?

File this under speculation, because that’s essentially what it is (but you have to do a little of it every now and then, and besides, it’s a sport when talking about pending SCOTUS decisions), but still speculation with some possibility of being accurate.

It seems, according to  Avik Roy, that June 25th is most likely the day we will learn the fate of ObamaCare from the Supreme Court.

“Setting aside the ACA cases,” he notes, “the Court essentially has twelve other decisions to hand down.” In addition, “in recent Terms, the Court has handed down opinions on Wednesdays or Thursdays of both of the last two weeks of the Term, in addition to the regularly scheduled Mondays. And the Court has already announced that it will issue one or more opinions next Thursday, June 21.” Worth also noting, he writes, “the Court almost never issues more than four or five opinions on the same day.”

Hence, if the court issues four or five opinions each on Monday, June 18 and Thursday, June 21, that would leave between two and four opinions for the last scheduled day for reading opinions: Monday, June 25.

And how will the ruling go?  Well, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has said previously that there are some “sharp divides” among the justices.

But, again according too Roy, Ginsberg may have also hinted she’s on the “dissenting” side, meaning that she’s on the minority side of the decision.  The basis for that claim?

In her ACS remarks, Ginsburg suggested that she might be on the dissenting side of the case. “I have spoken on more than one occasion about the utility of dissenting opinions, noting in particular that they can reach audiences outside the court and can propel legislative or executive change,” said Ginsburg, in the context of a 2007 pay discrimination case.

Or that may signal nothing at all (she may simply have been speaking academically about “dissenting opinions”).  The key, if we accept the premise that she’s on the dissenting side of this particular ruling is what that means.

Roy mentions that the divide may not be associated with killing the mandate – there may be more than 5-4 agreement on that subject (he suggests it is almost a given that Kennedy will join the conservatives on the court to kill the mandate).   The divide may be with what to do with the law if the mandate is killed:

The key question is: how much of the rest of the law should be struck down along with it?

Ginsburg wittily put it this way: “If the individual mandate, requiring the purchase of insurance or the payment of a penalty, if that is unconstitutional, must the entire act fall? Or, may the mandate be chopped, like a head of broccoli, from the rest of the act?”

My understanding—again, from third-hand sources—is that this question of severability is the subject of intense debate among the justices, even now. It’s entirely unclear whether the Court will strike down the mandate and two related provisions—what I’ve called the “strike three” scenario; or take down the entirety of Title I, where the law’s restructuring of the private insurance market resides; or overturn the whole law. Indeed, it is probable that the Court has not yet decided how it will rule on this question.

As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see the entire law struck down.  However, I’m now wondering whether or not that will play out. 

Roy also mentions Antonin Scalia’s recent book and asserts that it hints that Scalia is on the side of dumping the mandate and the law in its entirety.  He wonders if Scalia, given his writing about the scale of the Commerce Clauses expansion and Scalia’s unhappiness with that, has chosen ObamaCare as the case he’s chosen for judicial pushback. 

So, again, based on this speculation, one might surmise that the court has found the individual mandate to be unconstitutional, but is struggling with how much or how little of the law to strike down.

Of course, the individual mandate is the heart and soul of the bill.   It is the payment mechanism that undergirds the entire ponzi scheme program.   No mandate, no money, no expanded risk pool, not much of anything if it goes.

So perhaps even if the court leaves much of ObamaCare standing, it will end up being a Pyrrhic victory for its supporters as the law will then be unsustainable as it exists (minus the mandate).

I guess we’ll see on or around the 25th.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 17 Jun 12

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Niel Munro interrupting the president, and the Greek elections.

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.