Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Really? An "oil recovery czar"?

This is the plan?

President Barack Obama, in his televised speech to the nation Tuesday, will announce the creation of an oil recovery “czar” to oversee progress in siphoning crude from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his chief spokesman said.

Speaking on ABC television’s “Good Morning America” program, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the position is envisioned as “somebody that will be in charge of a recovery plan, putting a recovery plan together…when we get past the cleanup and response phase of this disaster.”

Well let’s see – we’ve had a commission appointed. We’ve seen the administration explore criminal charges against BP. And now, the administration that has been on top of this thing since “day one” is going to appoint “somebody that will be in charge of a recovery plan” and “putting a recovery plan together” 55 freakin’ days in to this!?

Now he’s going to put someone in charge and put a plan together?

Too bad we don’t have a method of voting “no confidence” in this country and calling for new elections. I think this guy would be gone in a New York minute.

~McQ

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Media gets low ratings from public

Rasmussen has a poll out about the public’s perception of the media. The media in question is the old media, both print and broadcast I assume. Many of the numbers don’t come as a particular suprise. For instance, 66% of those surveyed expressed some anger at the media, with 33% saying they were “very angry”.

Only 9% felt no anger at all, a part of the 31% that said they felt little or no anger at the press.

The primary reason for the anger was two-fold. One they felt there was a liberal bias (51%), but more importantly, they felt reporters (who a slight majority believe to be biased) will write stories that help their candidate of choice and (54%) even hide things which might hurt that candidate.

In other words, the majority of the public believes it can’t get unbiased coverage of campaigns.

Nothing particularly new there. But something which did catch my eye was the 55% who think media bias is a bigger problem than campaign contributions.

And this:

Unhappiness with the media comes at a time when many government policies are unpopular with a majority of voters and two-thirds (67%) think the news media has too much influence over the actions of government. Sixty-two percent (62%) say what the media thinks is more important to the average member of Congress than what voters think.

I think the pubic may have a point here. The media’s influence is outsized, especially when compared to what impact it has vs. public opinion. How else does one explain health care reform? If you remember, it was only after the bill was passed that we began to see the analysis emerge from mainstream news orgainzations that began framing the consequences of the bill in a negative light.

Like politicians, the media has dug it’s own hole in the perceptions of the public. I think one of the reasons for the rise of the political blog is the public can get a different slant on the news, and, given most blogs proudly announce their biases, weigh the news with the given bias in mind.

Most blogs don’t play at being objective and many times that can be a refreshing difference, since you can then go to blogs which identify with each ideological side and get their versions of the same policy, event or speech. I think this access and availability to diverse but biased opinion has helped shape the recurring perception that the old media is biased. It sort of points itself out when you read an old media article and see the same sort of reporting on a politically biased blog site while finding another explanation (and sometimes other facts) on an opposing blog.

As has been said many times, perception is reality, and the reality is that most of the public isn’t buying the old media’s claims of objective reporting – and for a good reason.

~McQ

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Remember who has been in charge from "day one"

It is important to note because that’s the claim made by the president and this is the reality of the situation:

From the beginning, the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result, officials and experts say, the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively.

Also don’t forget that in addition to claiming to be in charge from “day one”, it was claimed that BP was doing what the government told it to do as it pertains to clean up, containment, even “plug[ging] the damn hole”.

And yet the New York Times calls the effort “chaotic”.

The other day, President Obama called the spill an echo of 9/11. Of course that’s preposterous. But it certainly is giving off more than a faint whiff of Katrina smell. At least as it pertains to the preception that the federal response then was slow and fell short of expectations.

We’re almost 60 days into this and the quoted paragraph is describing the scene today. Obama is visiting the Gulf region again and will address the nation on Wednesday night from the Oval office.

My only question is how much blame-shifting and scape-goating with the one in charge from “day one” engage in that night?

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-14

AT&T IS BLAMING TUE iPad security leak on "malicious" hackers. As oppposed the helpful hackers we're all so used to. http://bit.ly/9inHEx #

BP has a outlines a plan to contain the oil spill. Well. That's, uh, reassuring. "Milord, I have a cunning plan!" http://bit.ly/9KryyQ #

Seriously, what's the deal with the Japanese and whaling? They LOVE it! It's just…creepy. http://bit.ly/9vvEvt #

Why the EU is ultimately doomed to failure: if Belgium is on the verge of dissolution, how do you unify a continent? http://bit.ly/ddfAVm #

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The muse is not with me today

I have no idea why, but I have little desire to write about politics today. Perhaps because it all seems so absurdly screwed up. Maybe because I think we may have crossed some imaginary line and I wasn’t aware of it and this is never going to find its way back to where our founders started it.

I mean, for goodness sake, you have book publishing companies putting warning labels on publications of the Constitution claiming it is a product of its time and doesn’t reflect present values. Really?

Maybe. I mean does anyone think the government we have today and its size, scope and depth of intrusion are anything like the “values” reflected by those who wrote the document? Does anyone think today’s “values” are better than those the publishing company thinks you should discuss with your kids?

There’s a certain level of frustration in tracking this, talking about it and seeing nothing change, and, in fact, watch everything go even further south.

And now we have this legislator for a president who just hasn’t the foggiest idea of what it means to be an executive and a leader. If you’ve been an observer of politics as long as I have, you can see the dark clouds forming on the horizon.

Internationally, it is the usual flash points, but you can see the trouble building and you get the idea that the troublemakers are sensing a weak horse here.

Domestically they’re already here I suppose. We just don’t know if it’s going to be a bad thunderstorm, a torrential rain storm or a freaking tornado. The other day I reported that well over half of all companies – and that’s the conservative number – will most likely be required by law to either change their insurance plans or drop them and pay a fine.

What kind of foolishness is that? Well it is exactly the kind of foolishness that poor legislation, rushed through to satisfy an agenda item instead of the people these politicians serve gets you. And now they’re catching flak and they don’t like it.

We had another melt down by a legislator last week. Bob Ethridge fires at a bunch of students asking him questions on the street. It is unseemly, ungentlemanly and frankly, unacceptable. These “public servants” display more of the arrogance of an aristocracy than they do the humbleness of someone serving the public interest.

And that’s across the board, local to federal, left and right.

There’s an anger festering the likes of which I’ve not seen in a long time. People are angry. Not just the activist right or even the activist left. Good old fly-over country middle America has had enough. Enough of being treated like they’re too dumb to understand. Enough of being characterized as racist or biggoted when they disagree about policy and politics. They are freaking tired of being ignored. The Tea Party movement is only one indicator of this deep resentment that is growing toward government in general and what it takes from them and what it delivers in return. I see the Tea Party as sort of like the statistic for talk radio. Only about 1% of those who listen call a talk radio show. My guess is only about 1% of those who feel like the Tea Partiers show up for their events.

I think this current administration is going to accomplish one thing, and that is bring this all to a head. The federal response to the oil spill has been pitiful. The President and Congress continually ignored the public and rammed this terrible mess of a health care bill through over their objections. The mismanagement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may end up costing taxpayers as much as a trillion dollars and they’re focused on Wall Street. Congress won’t pass a budget until after the November election – even though it is their job – because it may adversely effect the chances of some members to win re-election.

Well, there’s a real easy way to solve that problem.

Politics has triumphed over good government. Agendas have replaced common sense. On both sides, party seems more important than “the people”. As Glenn Reynolds once described them, we’ve been inflicted with the worst political class in the history of this country. And it is painfully obvious.

Anyway, there’s about 700 words about why I’m not in the mood to write today. These thing come and go and I usually let them run their course. Heck, it may be over in a couple of hours as something jumps off the page at me. But until then, I think there’s plenty in this minor rant to talk about.

~McQ

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About That Climate Change Consensus …

What was always suspected, yet never proved, has now been exposed:

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming, according to Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist and IPCC insider. The actual number of scientists who backed that claim was “only a few dozen experts,” he states in a paper for Progress in Physical Geography, co-authored with student Martin Mahony.

“Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous,” the paper states unambiguously, adding that they rendered “the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism.”

You’re shocked I’m sure. But just who is Mike Hulme that he’d have any credibility to make such a bold claim? As it turns out, he’s not only a professor at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (yes, that one), and the founding Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, he also was a co-ordinating lead author on a portion of the IPCC

Not exactly a climate-denialist. But you do have to wonder why he’s making this claim now? Why didn’t he expose the consensus fraud while in the middle of his work on the IPCC?

Actually, if you read the paper (pdf) in which his statement appears, it seems that Hulme wasn’t so much making an accusation as he was simply making an offhand comment:

Since its origins, the IPCC has been open and explicit about seeking to generate a ‘scientific consensus’ around climate change and especially about the role of humans in climate change. Yet this has been a source of both strength and vulnerability for the IPCC. Understanding consensus as a process of ‘truth creation’ (or the more nuanced ‘knowledge production’) which marginalises dissenting voices – as has frequently been portrayed by some of the IPCC’s critics (see Edwards & Schneider, 2001; Petersen, 2010) – does not do justice to the process.

Consensus-building in fact serves several different goals. As Horst and Irwin (2010) have explained, seeking consensus can be as much about building a community identity – what Haas (1992) refers to as an epistemic community – as it is about seeking the ‘truth’. Equally, as Yearley (2009) explains, IPCC consensus-making is an exercise in collective judgement about subjective (or Bayesian) likelihoods in areas of uncertain knowledge. Consensus-making in the IPCC has been largely driven by the desire to communicate climate science coherently to a wide spectrum of policy users – ‘to construct knowledge’ (Weingart, 1999) – but in so doing communicating uncertainties have been down-played (van der Sluijs, 1998). As Oppenheimer et al. (2007: 1506) remark: “The establishment of consensus by the IPCC is no longer as critical to governments as [is] a full exploration of uncertainty.”

Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. But consensus-making can also lead to criticism for being too conservative, as Hansen (2007) has most visibly argued. Was the IPCC AR4 too conservative in reaching its consensus about future sea-level rise? Many glaciologists and oceanographers think they were (Kerr, 2007; Rahmstorf, 2010), leading to what Hansen attacks as ‘scientific reticence’. Solomon et al. (2008) offer a robust defence, stating that far from reaching a premature consensus, the AR4 report stated that in fact no consensus could be reached on the magnitude of the possible fast ice-sheet melt processes that some fear could lead to 1 or 2 metres of sea-level rise this century. Hence these processes were not included in the quantitative estimates.

Incredibly, Hulme’s point here is that making completely false claims, such as that a consensus on AGW has been reached by “2,500 of the world’s leading scientists” (or maybe it’s 4,000!), is merely the aggressive flip-side to being too conservative in failing to make unsupported claims on which no one agrees. At least, he compares these two “criticisms” of the IPCC efforts to build consensus as if they were two ends of a spectrum. Sadly, when it comes to climate “science” this is exactly where the problem lies.

Instead of dealing in actual science (where hypotheses are proposed, experiments and data-collection ensue, and actual results inform us as to what is happening), we instead are offered catastrophic theories unsupported by little if any actual data but that, by golly gee, sure do have a whole lot of “consensus” behind them. After all, who are we peons to doubt the “experts”? It’s not as if a group of people has ever been persuaded to … ahem, “adjust” their arguments in order to acquire sweeping political power. One wonders if the word “cabal” exists in any dictionaries in the University of East Anglia’s libraries.

If anyone working on the IPCC wants to know why their reputation is in the tank, perhaps they’d better take a look at what the public “consensus” is regarding fraudulent claims designed to increase the fraudsters’ power. And then maybe they should reacquaint themselves with actual science.

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The growing power of government unions

The Arkansas Democratic Senate primary race pitting incumbent and Obama choice Blanche Lincoln vs. labor’s candidate, the sitting Lt. Governor Bill Halter did a lot more than point out a riff between labor and the White House. It demonstrated how powerful labor is and what sorts of money it can throw into the political arena to try to influence the outcome of specific elections.

But there is more to the story than that. Conn Carroll at the Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell points out that for the first time in the history of the United States, there are more government union workers than there are private union workers. 52% of all union members now on the rolls of a union are “public servants” in some capacity or another.

And, as Governor Chris Christie of NJ has experienced, they’re a force to be reckoned with when trying to reform government.

The irony, of course, is that the institution that helped force changes within the private sector to the point that union membership is declining precipitously, is now the number one union shop in America. In the private sector regulation, cultural changes and competition driven compensation and benefit packages all but rendered unions moot. But within the government that helped force this change, unions flourish. And they don’t seem shy in wielding their power to further feather their own nest.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called government unions “the new privileged class in America.” Per Daniels government workers are now, on average, better paid than their private sector counterparts. And, of course, the sole purpose of unions is to protect jobs and secure better compensation and benefits.

That puts government unions at cross-purposes with any attempts to rein in the cost and scope of government at every level:

In Maine, the Maine Municipal Association, the SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Maine Education Association collectively spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign against a ballot initiative that would have prevented government spending from growing faster than the combined rate of inflation and population growth. In Illinois, AFSCME Council 31 ran television and radio ads pushing for tax increases in their “Fair Budget Illinois” campaign. In Oregon, government unions provided 90 percent of the $4 million spent advocating two ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes by $733 million.

Given the size and power of government unions, and the fact that that member dues are essentially paid by the taxpayer via member salaries, the argument could be made that taxpayers are subsidizing union activities which run counter to the tax payer’s best interest.

Don’t be fooled by the little spat in Arkansas between the White House and the unions. They’re joined at the hip and both know that the relationship they share is critical to the unions maintaining their grip on power, and the Democrats doing the same.

~McQ

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Observations: The Qando Podcast for 13 Jun 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss whether President Obama’s “Jimmy Carter Moment” is approacjing as a result of the BP Oil spill, and his proposal to eliminate the mortgage interest rate deduction.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

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

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BlogTalk Radio – Tonight 8pm (EST)

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s):

The oil spill and leadership – this isn’t about the gusher anymore, at least as far as the federal response goes.

Ethics – Congress is ready to throw them over again.

Mortgage deduction – keep it or pitch it?

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Like your health insurance? Too bad …

Because internal White House documents estimate that 51% of employers are likely to have to give up their current health care coverage due to ObamaCare. And that’s the conservative estimate. Worst case, the percentage goes to 69% of all employers and 80% of smaller firms.

Why? Well, ObamaCare states that existing insurance plans will be “granfathered in” (i.e. you can “keep your plan”) if they meet certain criteria. Main among them is employers may not make any changes to their existing insurance plan after March 23rd of this year until the ObamaCare implementation of this provision on Jan. 1st, 2014. Those changes an employer might make that would bar it from being grandfathered in include:

• It eliminates benefits related to diagnosis or treatment of a particular condition.

• It increases the percentage of a cost-sharing requirement (such as co-insurance) above its level as of March 23, 2010.

• It increases the fixed amount of cost-sharing such as deductibles or out-of-pocket limits by a total percentage measured from March 23, 2010, that is more than the sum of medical inflation plus 15 percentage points.

• It increases co-payments from March 23, 2010, by an amount that is the greater of: medical inflation plus 15 percentage points or medical inflation plus $5.

• The employer’s share of the premium decreases more than 5 percentage points below what the share was on March 23, 2010.

Most of us who have and have had insurance for any amount of time know that those are fairly routine changes driven by cost increases, benefit changes, and the like. However, any of those puts the plan outside the “grandfathered” status and the ObamaCare law requires the firm to either adopot a new plan or drop coverage and pay a penalty.

How likely is it employers won’t make those sorts of changes in the next 3 years? Not very:

Analyzing data on employer-provided plans from 2008 and 2009, the report stated: “Many employers who made changes between 2008 and 2009 that would have caused them to relinquish grandfather status did so based on exceeding one of the cost-sharing limits.”

In total, 66% of small businesses and 47% of large businesses made a change in their health care plans last year that would have forfeited their grandfathered status.

. Essentially government has taken away the ability of employers to manage their plans and will, by force of law, force any of them that do so within the criteria above to drop that plan for another or drop coverage altogether and pay a penalty.

The document in which this information was found is a draft HHS, Labor and IRS joint study of the impact of the bill. When asked about it, a White House spokesman said:

“This is a draft document, and we will be releasing the final regulation when it is complete. The president made a promise to the American people that if they liked their health care plan, they can keep it. The regulation, when finalized, will uphold that promise.”

That, of course, is the official talking point position, aka spin, or if you prefer, smoke and mirrors. The same official then conceded:

“It is difficult to predict how plans and employers will behave in the coming years, but if plans make changes that negatively impact consumers, then they will lose their grandfather status.”

That is the unspun or “it’s exactly as you said it” version. And of course the government will waste no time blaming the loss of the insurance “you like” on your employer.

Because, as we’ve witnessed for 16 months – that’s what this administration does best – blame-shifting. Simple fact: no law, no loss of the “insurance you like”.

End of story.

~McQ

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