Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

A new pleasure (Updated)

So, yesterday Verizon notified me that I was eligible for a new phone upgrade. I popped ’round to the phone store, and after much hemming and hawing, “settled” for a Motorola Droid.

Itbseems to have a nice application market, one of whose products is the app I’m using to write this post.

Yep. I’m phone-blogging.

It’s really amazing where the march of mobile technology is taking us. Yesterday, I came across an old news video from 1981, which talked about how some newspapers were starting to put out electronic versions–text only, of course–onto computers. Subscribers with computers could log on via modem and download the whole paper. It only took two hours to download, at a cost of $10 per download–the equivalent of $23 in 2010 dollars.

And today, I can instantly publish to the whole world via my phone, for free.

We’ve now advanced to the point where we have phones whose least valuable feature is the ability to make telephone calls.

UPDATE: Sorry about the multiple posts. I kept getting a bad gateway error, so I kept republishing…without looking to see if it published. My bad, not the phone’s.

So far the phone just rocks.

GM’s claimed debt repayment

You may have seen the announcement yesterday by GM’s CEO that it was paying back a portion of the money it had been loaned by the taxpayers (who borrowed it to loan it) to keep the company from going under and providing it the room for the government to own 61%.

The White House was exultant:

No one was cheering louder than the White House about General Motors’ repayment of $6.7 billion in loans from the federal government.

 First thing this morning, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs alerted his 56,000 followers on Twitter of “BIG NEWS.”:”GM pays back US $6.7 billion used to save jobs,” Gibbs exulted. But he had more.

 “BIGGER NEWS,” he trumpeted. “Payment was 5 years ahead of schedule.”

Uh, not so fast.  If you were skeptical, you had a right to be.

Jamie Dupree brings us the rest of the story:

The issue came up yesterday at a hearing with the special watchdog on the Wall Street Bailout, Neil Barofsky, who was asked several times about the GM repayment by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who was looking for answers on how much money the feds might make from the controversial Wall Street Bailout.

“It’s good news in that they’re reducing their debt,” Barofsky said of the accelerated GM payments, “but they’re doing it by taking other available TARP money.”

In other words, GM is taking money from the Wall Street Bailout – the TARP money – and using that to pay off their loans ahead of schedule.

“It sounds like it’s kind of like taking money out of one pocket and putting in the other,” said Carper, who got a nod of agreement from Barofsky.

“The way that payment is going to be made is by drawing down on an equity facility of other TARP money.”

Translated – they are using bailout funds from the feds to pay off their loans.

Somehow this exchange never made it to other media outlets.

With this administration, question everything.  Heck, with any administration, question everything – but it seems it is an especially important thing to do with this one.  And when it comes to politics take nothing the press says at face value – ever.


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The Lindsey Graham smear

There are times when I’ve thought Sen. Lindsey Graham was dead right.  And others, to include his stand on immigration, are wrong.  I’ve also criticized him for waffling on things while at other times he’s been pretty solid on issues I support.   And I’ve been outspoken in my criticism of him when I think he’s on the wrong track.

But for those on the right this is totally unnecessary and should be unwelcome:

Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., is jabbing GOP Senate rival J.D. Hayworth for not severing his ties to ALIPAC, a conservative anti-illegal immigration group whose president issued a press release on Tuesday alleging that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is gay and that his homosexuality is being used to blackmail him into cooperating with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform.

Graham’s office declined to respond directly to ALIPAC on Tuesday and Wednesday. Instead, a Graham spokesman is referring news organizations to a 2006 story in GQ magazine and a 2001 story in The State newspaper in which Graham, who is single, indicated that he is not gay and that he would like to one day find a wife and have children.

Who the hell cares what Lindsey Graham is or isn’t sexually?  Why is that even an issue?  Why would I even care?

This has been thrown out there by a one-issue idiot who isn’t seeing what he wants from a key legislator.  So he starts this sort of nonsense in what – an effort to change Graham’s mind?  Yeah, that’ll do it.  Or to publicly air his theory as to why Graham off the reservation on immigration so that Graham can admit he’s gay and kill the blackmail attempt?  Bet that works too.

When is the right going to quit using homosexuality the way the left uses race?  This is gaybaiting at its worst.

There is much to dislike in day to day politics, but this type of stupidity probably angers me more than most.  Who someone loves is none of my business or concern.  Who they love doesn’t effect a single right of mine.  Who they love shouldn’t ever be a matter of politics.  Those who try to make it a part of politics should be roundly condemned.  And ALIPAC’s president deserves nothing less than that for engaging in gaybaiting.


Senate seeks to have federal government control private health care premiums

Apparently the fear of increased premiums in reaction to the new Health Care Reform law recently passed by Congress is prompting Senate Democrats to propose a bill that would
give the federal government the power to regulate health insurance premiums.

Of course, you never saw this coming, right?

It appears our overlords simply do not trust those greedy insurance companies to not raise their premiums in reaction to the new law.  Or as Sen Tom Harkin explains it:

“Rate review authority is needed to protect consumers from insurance companies’ jacking up premiums simply because they can. Protections must be in place to ensure that companies do not take advantage of current market conditions before health reform fundamentally changes the way they do business in 2014.”

You have to laugh (or throw up a little) at the economic naiveté and pure hypocrisy contained in that statement.  Naive because it totally discounts the market and opts for central (and populist) top-down control (and we know how well that works) and hypocritical because the federal government is presently raising taxes before 2014 to “pay” for the health care monstrosity they’ve foisted upon us. 

Care for a little more sanctimonious drivel intended to justify this power grab? Diane Feinstein:

“Water and power are essential for life,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “So they are heavily regulated, and rate increases must be approved. Health insurance is also vital for life. It too should be strictly regulated so that people can afford this basic need.”

Really? Is that why it has to be “strictly regulated”? Or is it because if the market actually begins to react  properly to the artificial pressure brought by the legislation Democrats passed it will be shown up for the fiscal black hole and legislative piece of garbage it is?

Sen. Lamar Alexander brings a little context to the debate:

“Health insurance companies’ profits for one year equal about two days of health care spending in the United States. So even if we were to take away all the profits of the so-called greedy insurance companies, that would still leave 363 days a year when health care costs are expanding at a rate our country cannot afford.”

Let’s also remember that the 4 major health insurance companies in Massachusetts – all non-profit organizations – requested over 200 premium increases and were denied all but a few. Was it greed that drove them to request those increases?

Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a research center that advocates free-market health policies, said the Democrats’ proposal was unlikely to succeed in lowering insurance costs.

“Capping premiums without recognizing the forces that are driving up costs would be like tightening the lid on a pressure cooker while the heat is being turned up,” Mrs. Turner said.

Instead, it gives single-payer types (like Harkin and Feinstein) a way to hurry along the failure of the private health insurance market and eventually, by fiat, usher in government health care.

Mr. Harkin praised a bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would give the secretary of health and human services the power to review premiums and block “any rate increase found to be unreasonable.” Under the bill, the federal government could regulate rates in states where state officials did not have “sufficient authority and capability” to do so.

Arbitrary, capricious and, if passed, eventually deadly. Just hide and watch.


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Kyrgystan/Honduras – I have to ask the obvious question…

First though, the background:

Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev insisted Wednesday that he was still the rightful leader of his country, breaking several days of silence after his flight into exile.

“I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community,” he said, speaking to reporters in Belarus where he took refuge earlier this week.

“I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me,” Bakiyev said in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

After the fit the Obama administration threw about Honduras enforcing its Constitution by deposing their president who had violated it, I’m sure we’re being consistent with Kyrgyzstan.  After all, we insisted (and still insist) that the former president of Honduras – the the “duly elected president” - must be returned to power before relations with Honduras will normalize.  I assume the Obama administration is insisting the same thing happen in Kyrgyzstan, right?

The interim Kyrgyz government that took power in a violent revolt last week has been officially recognized by the United States, the US ambassador to the country announced Sunday.




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UN: Haiti mission money spent mostly on staff

If, like millions of Americans, you’ve been moved by the plight of the poor Haitians in the wake of the recent and terrible killer earthquake, and want to contribute to their relief, may I make a suggestion?  Don’t send your hard earned money to the UN.  It would most likely not be used to help the Haitians.  Instead, you’ll probably help pay for some UN staffer’s catered lunch.

Yes friends, as usual, the UN’s Haiti mission is redefining “bureaucratic efficiency”.  Charged with relief and “peacekeeping” duties, most of the budget is being spent – on themselves.

The United Nations has quietly upped this year’s peacekeeping budget for earthquake-shattered Haiti to $732.4 million, with two-thirds of that amount going for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel, not residents of the devastated island.

The world organization plans to spend the money on an expanded force of some 12,675 soldiers and police, plus some 479 international staffers, 669 international contract personnel, and 1,300 local workers, just for the 12 months ending June 30, 2010.

Some $495.8 million goes for salaries, benefits, hazard pay, mandatory allowances and upkeep for the peacekeepers and their international staff support. Only about $33.9 million, or 4.6 percent, of that salary total is going to what the U.N. calls “national staff” attached to the peacekeeping effort.

Presumably, the budget also includes at least part of some $10 million that the U.N. has spent on renting two passenger vessels, the Sea Voyager (known to some U.N. staffers as the “Love Boat“) and the Ola Esmeralda, for a minimum of 90 days each, as highly subsidized housing for some of its peacekeepers and humanitarian staff. The tab for the two vessels, which offer catered food, linen service and comfortable staterooms and lounges, is about $112,500 per day.

So in essence, about $235 million of that $732 million dollar budget is actually going to Haitian relief. Certainly everyone recognizes it costs money to put relief workers and peacekeeping troops in to a situation such as that, but imagine, if you will, the outcry if a private charity was found to be only using 22% of its money to actually do the job for which it was donated, and, instead had spent the bulk on the things the UN seems to think take priority over relief for Haitians.

Then remember that in the total scheme of UN things, the US pays 27% of its budget. That means, if we break it down by shares, that the US taxpayer – that’s you – has “contributed” almost $199 million to the UN Haitian boondoggle with $133 million going to the Love boat, et al.

Tell me again why we continue to sponsor this wretched third world debating club?


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New Jersey, Tea Parties and real “change”

I mentioned a few days ago that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey correctly identified the source of the voter’s anger in that state, ran on it, managed to get elected and now is in the middle of a very interesting and effective campaign to reign in government and government spending.  I also mentioned that he’d probably get only as far as the public was willing to tolerate cuts to services. 

Well, so far, it seems the public is still engaged and supporting him.  Take yesterday’s elections addressing school district budgets:

Thirty-four of 39 school budgets in the county were defeated.

School districts spending plans were massacred at the polls during the annual school elections Tuesday as voters used the ballot box to vent their frustrations about higher taxes.

According to unofficial results at press time, only five of 39 school district budgets were passed, a 12 percent approval rate, the lowest this decade and possibly longer.

The only other time this decade that fewer than half the budgets failed was in 2006 when only 17 of 39 budgets won approval.

As the article notes, it was a “massacre”.

The Governor has pitted himself against a very powerful (and arrogant) teacher’s union which has, in the past and with Democrats in power, pretty much gotten its way.   But because Christie has laid out the options and the reality of the situation faced by the taxpayers of the state (NJ has the highest taxes in the nation), the union isn’t in quite the powerful position it once enjoyed.  Voters are letting it be known that, even if they don’t entirely support the Governor’s plan, they at least give it more support than that of the teacher’s union.

Interestingly, the turnout was not typical for these types of elections:

Unlike most elections, this year’s featured heavy turnout as voters appeared to come out in droves to weigh in on spending plans.

That’s an engaged and active electorate taking the opportunity, as the article notes, to “weigh in” on how their tax dollars are spent.  And, for the majority of the budgets, they did not like what they saw (there’s a whole process that follows this that may see those budgets passed anyway, but if that happens it will only further inflame the situation).

Now I keep turning to New Jersey, a deeply blue state in most elections, to point to it  as an indicator.  Like the Tea Parties, what is going on in NJ is an indicator of the level of anger and frustration the electorate (to include Democrats) has with government at all levels today.  The election of Scott Brown in deeply blue MA was another indicator.  The Tea Parties a third indicator.

All of them are fair warning to politicians of all parties that this mid-term coming up isn’t going to be your normal election.  I’m beginning to think sea-change.  And I’m also beginning to think that if the newly elected group doesn’t work out, sea-change number 2 will follow in two years.  I think the people are serious about changing the culture of government at every level, I think they’re more engaged than they’ve been in decades, and I think they’re going to stay engaged.

Pundits and politicians continue to whistle past this political graveyard saying that the American people will forget all of this by November, espeically if we see some light at the end of the  “economic improvement” tunnel.  That the public can’t sustain this anger for that long and it will wither away.  While I admit that’s certainly been the case at times in the past, I think they’re fooling themselves if they think that’s going to happen this time.

So watch New Jersey during the run up to November.  Watch what happens there.  See if the people of NJ begin to turn on Christie and his program.  See if his support begins to wane.  I’m guessing it won’t – at least not before November.  And if it doesn’t, I think the word “bloodbath” to describe the results of the midterms may end up being considered an understatement.


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Transparency? Not this White House

Ben Smith at Politico reports that Police chased off reporters yesterday during a protest of DADT by gay service members, in uniform who chained themselve to the fence.  As you might expect, the press was not at all happy:

Police chased reporters away from the White House and closed Lafayette Park today in response to a gay rights protest in which several service members in full uniform handcuffed themselves to the White House gate to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

People who have covered the White House for years tell me that’s an extremely unusual thing to do in an area that regularly features protests.

Smith has a video up showing this happening. Some might think that Smith is making too much of a isolated incident, but apparently there is some real discontent within the White House press corps specificially and the Washington media in general.  This is just another incident that further deepens that discontent.

Jamie Dupree points out that every White House eventually comes into conflict with the WH press corps and the press in general – there a natural friction there.  The press wants unlimited access and the WH simply can’t grant that.  However, Ed Chen, the head of the White House Correspondent’s Association says this particular White House seems even worse than others:

Chen’s quote to Politico is very interesting, saying that in his over 10 years at the White House, “rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.”

In other words, reporters feel like this administration is not being very open on a number of fronts.

At issue is how the Obama White House has limited press access to events, using its own photographer for example to take pictures, and not allowing photo opportunities and/or questions for Presidential meetings with other world leaders.

Now you may say, “big deal, so the press is whining”.  And I’m not one to normally stick up for the press.  But they do have a job to perform. And as all of us know, especially when the news might be damaging to political opponents, Democrats love to wave “the people’s right to know” around like a flag.

However, the thing to be reminded of here is the promise – the most transparant administration ever (right up there with the Pelosi promise of “the most ethical Congress ever”). This strong-arming of the press to keep them away from covering some “dissenters” is just another in a long line of examples of what you get when you buy a pig in a poke and don’t do the due dilligence of examining the character and background of the person making all the grand promises.

The discovery process – which the very same press should have been an intimate part of prior to Obama’s election – is now yielding much less than was hoped for (yes, I use the word “hope” in place of “expected” because expectation is usually based in actions of the past). Perhaps that’s why Obama’s popularity polls continue to fall.

Meanwhile the press is reaping what it helped sow.


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First they took the salt …

Interesting how the Washington Post chooses to begin this article:

The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

Anyone care to guess why the FDA hadn’t planned an “unprecedented effort” before? 

Because until a month or so ago, we could all claim it was none of the government’s business couldn’t we?  But now that they’ve invested themselves with the power to save healthcare in this country by cutting costs – and doing so with “preventive medicine” – where do you suppose this “unprecedented effort” is founded?

If you don’t believe me, read the article.

But for the past 30 years, health officials have grown increasingly alarmed as salt intake has increased with the explosion in processed foods and restaurant meals. Most adults consume about twice the government’s daily recommended limit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Until now, the government has pushed the food industry to voluntarily reduce salt and tried to educate consumers about the dangers of excessive sodium. But in a study to be released Wednesday, an expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine concludes that those measures have failed. The panel will recommend that the government take action, according to sources familiar with the findings.

Wow … for you that have been paying attention I sarcastically ask, “are you surprised?” Is this not the next logical step in taking over every aspect of your life.

You see, a panel of experts have determined that too much sodium is bad for you. They have tried to play this freedom game with you and have you voluntarily cut your consumption, but you didn’t. So to hell with the charade – since you don’t know what’s good for you and won’t do what is necessary to comply with the experts, they’ll just recommend you be forced to do so.

Are salt rationing cards far behind?

Ironically (and unsurprisingly) much like AGW, the science is not at all settled concerning the harm salt does.

High-salt diets may not increase the risk of death, contrary to long-held medical beliefs, according to investigators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

They reached their conclusion after examining dietary intake among a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S. The Einstein researchers actually observed a significantly increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with lower sodium diets.

Not that the FDA will pause and consider that. In fact, when it says unprecedented, it means unprecedented concerning the level of intrusion it now plans:

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

Yes free people, the government will now decide how much salt can be in a receipe and, they promise, they’ll reduce it so gradually you won’t even notice.  Why?

“We can’t just rely on the individual to do something,” said Cheryl Anderson, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who served on the Institute of Medicine committee. “Food manufacturers have to reduce the amount of sodium in foods.”

You people just aren’t reliable enough to do what the experts expect you to do so … so they’ll just take the choice away.

How do you like them apples, boys and girls?  Now, be a good little prole and shuffle along.  Nothing to see here, nothing to see …


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SCOTUS strikes down ban on animal cruelty videos

And it wasn’t even close – 8-1.  The court finding is based in the First Amendment right of free speech.

So – who do you suppose the lone dissenter was?  I would almost bet you won’t guess correctly.  I didn’t.

Anyway, the court found that the law was overly broad and while aimed at outlawing some dispicable videos known as “crush videos” (as an aside, when you read what a crush video is, you will indeed understand that there are some very sick people in this world).  However, the law could also be used to prosecute hunting videos as well. 

The government had argued that “certain categories of speech deserve constitutional protection depends on balancing the value of the speech against its societal costs”.

Writing for the majority Chief Justice John Roberts explains why the court rejected that argument:

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits,” Roberts wrote. “The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

Or said another way, the court refused to allow the government to institute arbitrary or “ad hoc” standards that “balance relative social costs and benefits”.  One can, or should be able to see the very slippery slope to where that sort of reasoning leads – and it certainly could lead to serious restrictions of the right to free speech depending on how government deicides to “balance” those costs and benefits in the future.  Remember – the First Amendment is a restriction on government, not the people.  And the court enforced that.

The lone dissenter?  Sam Alito who wrote:

“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes.”

The prosecute the criminal for the crime he has filmed for you.  I can think of nothing that stops the law from doing that.  And that has nothing to do with restricting the First Amendment.


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