Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Quote of the day – tone-deaf in Tehran edition

Talk about chutzpah, check this out from our favorite little Holocaust denying, "wipe-Israel-from-the-map", "no gays in Iran", protest busting, protester murdering, election stealing, nuclear bomb building popinjay, er, "President" of Iran:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday urged Middle East leaders to listen to the voices of citizens who have taken to the streets in masses to demand a change in government — though such protests in his own country have been crushed with brute force.

Ahmadinejad "strongly recommended such leaders to let their peoples express their opinions," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"He further urged those leaders of regional countries who respond to the demands of their nations and their revolutionary uprisings with hot bullets to join their peoples’ movements instead of creating blood baths."

What’s next – a lecture from Fidel on individual rights?  Hugo Chavez waxing poetic on the virtues of capitalism?

 

~McQ

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Commerce clause idiocy– deciding not to act same as acting, thus can be regulated and action mandated (ObamaCare ruling)

Another federal judge has found for the Constitutionality of the individual mandate. But if ever you’ve wondered what tortured logic looks like (made in an effort to justify something that just doesn’t fit) then you’ll be amazed to read the following from the ruling:

As previous Commerce Clause cases have all involved physical activity, as opposed to mental activity, i.e. decision-making, there is little judicial guidance on whether the latter falls within Congress’s power….However, this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not “acting,” especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality. [emphasis added]

William Jacobson boils it down for you:

Our thoughts are now actions. There literally is nothing the federal government cannot regulate provided there is even a hypothetical connection to the economy, even if the connection at most is in the future.

Excuse me while I sit down and ponder all of that for a moment. Anytime you make a choice not to act you are "acting".  Therefore, the court has now decided, any decision to not to act (related to commerce) is an act and you can be therefore required to do what the government says you must do.

Or, more succinctly, you have no real choice regardless of what you decide, so sayeth the court.

If I decide not to buy a car, I’m acting, and if the government wanted to require me to buy a car, under this ruling, it could.

Good lord.

That’s just absurd (but Government Motors will most likely be putting together a heck of a lobbying effort to carry this ruling out to its logical end).

Oh and borrowing again from Jacobson, a little reminder of where all this “legal thought” is supposedly grounded:

The Congress shall have power…. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

~McQ

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Judge Kessler: Mandate Constitutional Because of “Free Riders”

There is a new opinion from U.S. District (DC) Judge Kessler ruling that the individual mandate imposed by ObamaCare is constitutional. The primary importance of the ruling is that it is squarely at odds with the Judge Vinson opinion from the District of Florida on one key issue: that deciding not to purchase something is an “activity” that can be regulated under the Commerce Clause. I’m still going through it, and will have more to say, but a few things really leaped out at me.

(1) Kessler places a lot of emphasis on the “free riders” who consume medical services but don’t pay for them. According to the judge, these free rider problems are illuminated by the congressional findings found in the Affordable Care Act (at pp. 39-40):

The findings on this subject could not be clearer: the great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured consume medical services they cannot pay for, often resulting in personal bankruptcy. In fact, the ACA’s findings state that “62% of all personal bankruptcies are caused in part by medical expenses.” ACA § 1501(a)(2)(G), as amended by § 10106. Of even greater significance to the national economy is the fact that these uninsured individuals are, in fact, shifting the uncompensated costs of those services–which totaled $43 billion in 2008–onto other health care market participants, as well as federal and state governments and American taxpayers. See ACA §§ 1501(a)(2)(F), (G),as amended by § 10106; Thomas More Law Ctr., 720 F.Supp.2d at 894.

Because of this cost-shifting effect, the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage. According to Congress, the uncompensated costs of caring for the uninsured are passed on by health care providers to private insurers, which in turn pass on the cost to purchasers of health insurance. “This cost shifting increases family premiums by on average over $1,000 a year.” ACA §1501(a)(2)(F), as amended by § 10106. Thus, the aggregate effect on interstate commerce of the decisions of individuals to forgo insurance is very substantial.

There are many problems with these “findings” chief among which is an innumeracy problem. According to the first two quoted sentences, we are supposed to infer that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are made up of those “who remain uninsured” and “consume medical services they cannot pay for.” Indeed, according to Kessler’s understanding of the findings, the foregoing population is the “great majority of Americans who remain uninsured.” The only problem is, even if we assume that the 62% statistic is correct (which is a stretch), the number of personal bankruptcies every year does not even reach 2 million. Indeed, 2009 saw personal bankruptcies soar by 32% … to 1.41 million. Sixty-two percent of that is just 874,200, which is far, far fewer people than the “great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured.”

(2) Another glaring issue is that the “cost-shifting” complained of is entirely the fault of the federal government, not “free riders,” thanks to Congress passing EMTALA in 1986, pursuant to which practically every hospital in the nation was forced to accept any and every patient who requested “emergency services.” In short, Congress created the free riders with this legislation.

Now let’s follow the logic here: (a) hospitals refuse to treat patients who can’t afford their medical services, therefore Congress must force hospitals to treat regardless of ability to pay (i.e. costs shifted to hospitals); (b) Patients who can’t afford the medical services, but who hospitals must treat, raise costs of medical services, which are mostly paid by insurers who raise their rates and pass them on to paying patients (i.e costs shifted to service-providers, then insurers, then paying patients); (c) insurance costs are entirely too high because uninsured patients, who can’t afford insurance or medical services, but whom hospitals must treat anyway, which drives up the costs of services and therefore the costs of insurance, and therefore Congress must force everyone to buy insurance (i.e. costs shifted from paying patients to those who can’t afford services or insurance); (d) because some people can’t afford insurance, they must be subsidized in their mandated purchase of insurance by taxpayers (i.e. costs re-shifted back to paying patients).

Putting it all together, according to Kessler’s opinion, Congress must be able to force individuals to purchase insurance because individuals who can’t afford insurance, but still consume health services (thanks to Congress), are causing the health insurance market to become distorted. (Oh, and by the way, those who can afford insurance are going to have to subsidize those who can’t and are therefore responsible for this whole mess in the first place.) Does that make any sense?

(3) The one other thing that really struck me as worrisome is Kessler’s emphasis on the infamous Wickard v. Filburn case (at p. 40):

In this case, the link [between the activity and the market being regulated] is strikingly similar to that described in Wickard: individuals are actively choosing to remain outside of a market for a particular commodity, and, as a result, Congress’s efforts to stabilize prices for that commodity are thwarted. As Wickard demonstrates, the effects of such market-distorting behavior are sufficiently related to interstate commerce to justify Congress’s efforts to stabilize the price of a commodity through its Commerce Clause power.

This is the reasoning underpinning Kessler’s holding (at p. 38) that “[b]oth the decision to purchase health insurance and its flip side–the decision not to purchase health insurance–therefore relate to the consumption of a commodity: a health insurance policy.” In this view, any decision made about an arguably economic subject, even the decision not to participate in a market concerning that economic subject, is subject to regulation by Congress.

Accordingly, should Congress decide to regulate the market for U.S automobiles, your decision to not purchase a vehicle can be regulated and even penalized by federal law. In fact, if Kessler’s view of the Constitution is correct, then Congress could require that you purchase a GM or Chrysler vehicle in order to stabilize the price of that commodity. Or perhaps, because of free rider problems, you can be penalized for choosing not to have children who would grow up, enter the labor force and pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes necessary to support you in your older years. If Kessler is correct, then the only limit on Congressional power is the inability to conjure up a market to be regulated, since any decision (participate/not participate) will have a substantial effect on that market when considered in the aggregate.

I would submit that this cannot be the correct view. The Commerce Clause power has already been distended far beyond what was intended when it written. If the Supreme Court adopts this decision, or something similar, the Congress would effectively have carte blanche to regulate whatever it desires.

In any event, those three things stood out to me. I’ll try to have some more on the opinion itself by tonight.

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Climate scientist concludes “hide the decline” done to dishonestly hide data that didn’t support AGW conclusion

You may not know who Judith Curry is, but in my estimation she’s someone to be listened too in the world of climate change.   She’s a professor and the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

She’s written a piece that’s been posted on the Climate Depot entitled “Hiding the Decline” which is a must read for anyone who has been following “Climate-gate” and especially for those ready to brush off the criticism that has been leveled at the warmists who were, in fact, engaged in hiding some data.

The question I am asking myself is what is my role as a scientist in challenging misuses of science (as per Beddington’s challenge)?  Why or why not should I personally get involved in this?   Is hiding the decline dishonest and/or bad science?

She concludes, after working through her questions, that it is both dishonest and bad science.

It is obvious that there has been deletion of adverse data in figures shown IPCC AR3 and AR4, and the 1999 WMO document.  Not only is this misleading, but it is dishonest (I agree with Muller on this one).  The authors defend themselves by stating that there has been no attempt to hide the divergence problem in the literature, and that the relevant paper was referenced.  I infer then that there is something in the IPCC process or the authors’ interpretation of the IPCC process  (i.e. don’t dilute the message) that corrupted the scientists into deleting the adverse data in these diagrams.

[Steve] McIntyre’s analysis is sufficiently well documented that it is difficult to imagine that his analysis is incorrect in any significant way.  If his analysis is incorrect, it should be refuted.  I would like to know what the heck Mann, Briffa, Jones et al. were thinking when they did this and why they did this, and how they can defend this, although the emails provide pretty strong clues.  Does the IPCC regard this as acceptable?  I sure don’t.

Can anyone defend “hide the decline”?  I would much prefer to be wrong in my interpretation, but I fear that I am not.

That’s a pretty definitive conclusion.  Take the time to read the whole thing … her reasoning and logic are solid and they support her conclusions.   They also point out what many of us concluded some time ago – at least that group of “climate scientists” appear to have fudged data, hidden data or simply left it out to better use what was left to support their preconceived conclusions.  In anyone’s book that should be a scandal.

Curry invites comment and rebuttal and while there’s plenty of commentary there’s very little in the way of reasonable or scientifically based rebuttal in the portion of the commentary I scanned.  

Her piece, at least for me, puts the final nail in the “hide the decline” bunch’s coffin.  The case she makes points to an obvious attempt to deceive.   And that is not what science is or should be about.  Make sure you read the whole thing.

~McQ

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Dems start Super PAC. So much for the uproar over campaign finance reform and Citizen’s United

Remember all the hand wringing by Democrats about the overturning of campaign finance reform by the Supreme Court in the Citizen’s United case?   Remember the rebuke President Obama delivered during his State of the Union address which was met by a standing ovation from Congressional Democrats and a wince by Supreme Court justice Sam Alito?

Remember the harsh words thrown around like "fascism" and the attack on corporations which claimed they’d buy elections in the wake of that decision.  And, to complete our trip down memory lane, remember the DISCLOSE act Democrats came up with which they claimed would ensure corporations acted in a way Democrats approved and weren’t able to pump unlimited anonymous money into campaigns?

Well forget all that – Democrats didn’t really mean it and besides, they now have … Majority PAC.  POLITICO reports:

Top Democratic operatives are quietly building an aggressive campaign machine to battle huge Republican third-party spending and sway critical Senate races in 2012.

The strategists, including pros like longtime advisers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are putting the finishing touches on a group called the Majority PAC, a “super PAC” that can raise unlimited money to attack or support candidates. It is modeled on the third-party operation, Patriot Majority PAC, which ran bruising TV ads against tea party candidates like Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, last year and mocked one of his prospective challengers, Sue Lowden, for suggesting she would be open to bartering chickens for health care.

The Majority PAC’s emergence comes at a pivotal time for Senate Democrats. Not only do they need to defend 23 seats to Republicans’ 10 this cycle, they also must woo Democratic donors alongside President Barack Obama, who is preparing for his own reelection bid in 2012.

The all-star team, already mapping out prospective targets, could emerge as the key attacker of Republicans in Democrats’ battle to hang onto the Senate in 2012.

While the Majority PAC will be required to disclose its donors, it will be affiliated with an organization that isn’t. So at least some of the money could hail from anonymous donors, a tactic Democrats bitterly decried last year.

Principles are lovely things except when they get in the way of politics.  Corporations are evil things, unless you want their money to win in politics.  And anonymous donors and unlimited money – well let’s just say that maybe opposition to Citizen’s United was a little over wrought -  now that Dems have had time to rethink this.

Hypocrisy?  Perish the thought, and revisit the point about principles.

~McQ

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Heading to the exits– more Democrats flee their duties

Apparently “elections have consequences” only works when Democrats win.  Otherwise the try to take their ball and go home  – or to another state in the case of Wisconsin and now Indiana:

House Democrats are leaving the state rather than vote on anti-union legislation, The Indianapolis Star has learned.

A source said Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky. They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.

I’m amazed at the number of people on the left, who were so happy to remind the right about the consequences of elections now support this sort of childish nonsense as a good response to the other side carrying out its agenda as they did theirs.

Today’s fight was triggered by Republicans pushing a bill that would bar unions and companies from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to kick-in fees for representation. It’s become the latest in what is becoming a national fight over Republican attempts to eliminate or limit collective bargaining.

Imagine that – Republicans attempting to stop the extortion of fees required just to do a job contract.  How freaking dictatorial is that!  Why I imagine the mustachioed visage of the governor will show up on home made signs any second.

And, of course, there’s always a “Baghdad Bob” to be found to spin the unspinnable and somehow do it with a straight face.  Rep Teri Austin (D- Anderson) told the Indiana House speaker that the missing Democrats “continue to be in caucus” and are discussing potential amendments to several bills.  Additionally:

Austin told reporters that “it doesn’t matter where they (Democrats) are at this point. What matters is that they’re trying to figure out a way to save the state from this radical agenda.”

Asked if they were in the state, Austin said only: “They’re working hard.”

Uh, huh … with some in Illinois and some in Kentucky.  Sure they are.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this:

The last time a prolonged walk-out happened in the Indiana legislature was in the mid-1990s, when Republicans were in control and tried to draw new legislative district maps, eliminating a district that likely would have been a Democrat one, in the middle of the decade. Democrats won that standoff, staying away several days until Republicans dropped the plan.

How desperate are Democrats to protect their new constituency – public sector unions?

Yeah, this isn’t the 1990’s. Different era, different problem and, most likely, different outcome.  Keep helping yourselves like this Democrats – please.

~McQ

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So what’s happening in N Africa and the ME?

All sorts of fun stuff … but has anyone noticed how the coverage of Egypt had all but ceased?  What’s up with that?

Uncovered by most of the media has been the return from exile of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has, for years, hosted one of the most watched talks shows on Al Jazeera. 

And this:

Some of the young activists who launched the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak say they are skeptical about the military’s pledges to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

They also warned Western diplomats in Cairo Monday that the remnants of Mubarak’s regime that still hold positions of power could overturn the uprising’s gains.

Nah … that can’t be true can it?  And who do those who ran through the streets denouncing Mubarak, Israel and the US want to help ensure the military keeps its word?

The seven activists – representatives of a broad coalition of youth groups – also called on the international community to support Egypt’s transition toward democracy, and asked for help in tracking down Mubarak’s assets – rumored to be in the billions of dollars.

The activists spoke as senior U.S. and European officials, including British Prime minister David Cameron, were to arrive in Cairo for talks with the country’s military leaders.

Why us, of course.

Meanwhile in Gadaffi land, things have gone from bad to worse.  The old boy has managed to get a fatwa issued against him.

‘Whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot a bullet at Mr Gaddafi should do so,’ Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric who is usually based in Qatar, told Al-Jazeera television.

Qaradawi also told the Libyan army not to fire on protestors.  And there are reports in some areas of Libya that those instructions are being followed.

Probably most interesting about the collapse going on in Libya are the words of Gadaffi’s son about what may follow:

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is composed of clans and tribes. There are alliances. Libya does not have a civil society with political parties. No, Libya is composed of clans and tribes. […]

"There will be civil war in Libya. We will return to the civil war of 1936. We will kill one another in the streets. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya has oil, and that is what united the country. An American oil company played a pivotal role in the unification of Libya.

"We have a single source of income – oil. It is found in central Libya – not in the east or the west. It is in central and south Libya. That is what all five million Libyans live off. If secession takes place – who will give us food and water? Who will control the oil wells? Who is capable of managing the oil sector in Libya? […]

"We will be forced to emigrate from Libya, because we will not be able to divide the oil between us. There will be war, and all of Libya will be destroyed. We will need 40 years to reach an agreement on how to run the country, because today, everyone will want to be president, or Emir, and everybody will want to run the country.

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt."

Interesting points about Libyan society (lack of political parties meaning lack of democratic institutions/tribes and clans – Afghanistan in N. Africa, except it has oil.) Of course he also said:

"There is no alternative other than to adopt a firm stand. I tell you that the army will play a central role in this, and the Libyan army is not like the army of Tunisia or of Egypt.

"Our army will support Libya and Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi to the last moment, and it will be victorious, Allah willing. Matters will be set straight. We will destroy all the dens of strife. […]

"In any event, our morale is high. The leader Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is here in Tripoli, leading the campaign. We stand by him, and the armed forces stand by him. Tens of thousands of people are on their way to Tripoli. We will not sell Libya short. We will fight to our very last man, woman, and bullet. Under no circumstances will we leave our country.

"Let Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, and the BBC laugh at us. Let those bullies and those traitors, who live abroad, laugh at us, and say that we are destroying our country, but we will not leave it." […]

And he’s considered the “reasonable” one in the Gadaffi family.  My guess is our State Department has no clue about the societal implications and probable outcome of this particular revolution – so I expect sunny, moon-pony pronouncements about “democracy advancing” in Libya to be their stock answer to everything.

Morocco, Bahrain and Yemen are also undergoing disturbances and protests in some form or fashion  – and some of those are being met with violent government crackdowns.

Meanwhile in Iran:

Antigovernment protesters gathered throughout parts of Iran on Sunday, most concentrated in the capital Tehran, to mark the deaths of two men killed during demonstrations last Monday. The government mounted a stultifying security presence in the capital, with the police making arrests and using tear gas to try to prevent the unrest from escalating.

[…]

The security forces seemed prepared for them, and in some locations, witnesses reported that police officers and baton-holding mercenaries outnumbered the protesters. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although those could not be confirmed, because most foreign journalists were not allowed to report in Iran.

Opposition Web sites and witnesses said that ambulances were driven into the crowds. Security forces, including riot-control units on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds in several places, including near Valiasr Square and Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said.

Business as usual.  And if not busy enough at home, Iran has decided now was a good time to provoke Israel by sending two warships through the Suez canal for “exercises” with Syria – the first time in 30 years Iranian warships have transited the canal.

Finally, something else to keep an eye on:

BEIJING—Chinese authorities detained dozens of political activists after an anonymous online call for people to start a "Jasmine Revolution" in China by protesting in 13 cities—just a day after President Hu Jintao called for tighter Internet controls to help prevent social unrest.

Only a handful of people appeared to have responded to the call to protest in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities at 2 p.m. Sunday, a call first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com and circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Yeah, probably not happening — yet.

Not a good week for authoritarians it appears.  Of course be careful what you wish for – while we may see one crop of authoritarians shunted to the side, there is no indication that anything other than a different type of authoritarian regime would replace it in many of these places.  Change is definitely in the air.  But whether that’s finally a “good thing” remains to be seen.

~McQ

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NYT: Blogs “wane” as young set moves to sites like Twitter

In another example of how little the NYT knows about blogging (but fervently wishes for the day they’d just go away and the Times could get back to the good old days of deciding what is news or just flat making it up), it reports today that blogs are on the “wane”.  Check out this paragraph:

Like any aspiring filmmaker, Michael McDonald, a high school senior, used a blog to show off his videos. But discouraged by how few people bothered to visit, he instead started posting his clips on Facebook, where his friends were sure to see and comment on his editing skills.

“I don’t use my blog anymore,” said Mr. McDonald, who lives in San Francisco. “All the people I’m trying to reach are on Facebook.”

This is the lead for the story.  It is clueless.

Some 17 year old who likes to make videos doesn’t use his blog to show them off anymore, but instead uses Facebook – and that sounds the death knell of blogs?

What this youngster wanted to do was show his vids off to a few (tens? hundreds?) friends at most.  Facebook is a much better venue for that.  In fact, it’s an even better venue than YouTube because your friends have to go to YouTube to find your vids vs. having them delivered to their Facebook page via your posting.  It. Makes. Perfect. Sense. 

But … it says more about the misapplication of blogging (for what the young man wanted to accomplish) than the demise of blogging.

Twitter – same thing.  For some things it’s perfect.  For others, a blog is perfect.   Depends on what you want to do.   Like say anything  that takes more than 142 characters. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are all networking tools that provide an application that helps accomplish what the user wants to accomplish.

The case the NYT is trying to make is blogs will die out as the younger demographic moves to different venues:

The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.

Well here’s a news flash – I don’t read “children” or their blogs and they most likely don’t read mine.  But note the next demo – 18-to-33 year olds – suffered a whole 2% decline from two years earlier.

As of Feb. 16th, 2011, according to Wikipedia, there were 156 million blogs in existence.  A two percent drop in two years is simply statistically insignificant.  And, blogs aren’t just for “social networking” as the Times would like you to believe.  Nor do they require writing “lengthy posts” unless you want too. 

Blogs went largely unchallenged until Facebook reshaped consumer behavior with its all-purpose hub for posting everything social. Twitter, which allows messages of no longer than 140 characters, also contributed to the upheaval.

No longer did Internet users need a blog to connect with the world. They could instead post quick updates to complain about the weather, link to articles that infuriated them, comment on news events, share photos or promote some cause — all the things a blog was intended to do.

Phenomenal – I never had to blog to “connect with the world”. Nor was any blog I was a part of “intended” for comments on the weather or to just share photos. 

I hadn’t waited on blogs to “connect with the world” – that had been available for years via email, first through bulletin board systems, then through Usenet and Google Groups.  Blogs are just another method of doing so and may someday be supplanted by something else.  But on the wane because of Facebook and Twitter? 

All I can say is if Twitter is now the first choice of someone who was once blogging, they were never a serious blogger to begin with.  And, if Facebook is now the choice of a blogger, they’ve greatly narrowed their outreach to only those who subscribe to them.  The fact that they’re on Facebook, even with an open page, doesn’t mean anyone is going to read them any more than when they had a blog.

Obviously things are going to change and evolve in the online media and social networking world, but as much as the NYT would love to declare the blog dead and gone, it’s not even close.

And a little note for the editors and publishers of the Times – when blogs have finally gone the way of the dodo bird, the NYT will most likely have predeceased them by a substantial amount of time.  My guess is Hot Air has as many or more readers than the Times does.    HuffPo just went for 300 plus million to AOL.  Point me toward the last major newspaper that sold for that much.

~McQ

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Who is winning the public relations fight in Wisconsin?

Rasmussen says it’s Republican governor Scott Walker:

A sizable number of voters are following new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s showdown with unionized public employees in his state, and nearly half side with the governor.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers. Thirty-eight percent (38%) agree more with the unionized public employees, while 14% are undecided.

Additionally:

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of voters think teachers, firemen and policemen should be allowed to go on strike, but 49% disagree and believe they should not have that right. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure.

And finally:

Public employee unions have long been strong supporters, financially and otherwise, of Democratic Party candidates, so it’s no surprise that 68% of Democrats support the union workers in the Wisconsin dispute. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans and 56% of voters not affiliated with either of the major political parties side with the governor.  [emphasis mine]

The bold line is key.  I find nothing particularly surprising about either of the percentages from Democrats polled or Republicans.  But again this indicates that the Democrats have lost the independent vote and lost it significantly.  Public opinion, based on this poll, is definitely with the Governor.

What is playing out in Wisconsin has been recognized by unions as a hill they must die on or suffer the probably irreversible consequences of losing political power.   They also understand the potential reaches far outside Wisconsin.  If Wisconsin goes, others could follow:

“Some of the labor people are saying, ‘It’s the beginning of the fight back,’” said a top labor official. “But if the labor movement rallies and gets run over in Wisconsin, it opens [the gates] in every state” for governors to start pushing harder to curtail labor rights.

“Not every state’s going to roll back collective bargaining,” the official — who, like many, spoke off the record to avoid undermining the protests — added, but said it could open the gates for union losses on various fronts, like benefits.

Don’t be fooled – this isn’t just about “benefits”.  It is about power, politics and money.  The mix of those three have given public sector unions a synergy that has allowed them, in many places, to hand pick Democratic representatives, have them elected and then have them do the union’s business.  It is a pernicious and non-competitive arrangement that is finally, because of the financial downturn, coming to light.

But the unions have a problem.  They haven’t been able to sell the emotional argument (benefits) and they certainly aren’t about to try to explain the real reason they’re fighting this (power and money).   So what they’re having to deal with the the public’s perception, formed over many years in Wisconsin, that the public sector costs too much, has to be cut and that includes public sector employee benefits as well:

But this fight isn’t at the time or place of the unions’ choosing. Hostility to public-sector workers, including teachers, is at an all-time high amid a recession and a new national mania for curbing the tide of fiscal red ink. Walker appears to have a firm legislative majority on his side.

And labor is struggling to explain — and convince a voting public that has inched away from the concept of unions as a bedrock American institution over the years — that while it’s willing to be flexible on Walker’s demands for cost control, his attempts to change the rules governing public unions are a matter of institutional life and death and union principle. Labor hopes the public will see Walker’s attempt to use a budget gap to reshape labor-management relations as an overreach. But for many people watching from afar, the details of what Walker wants to accomplish have gotten lost, and the fight is playing out as yet another in a long string of recent state-based brawls over the high cost of the public sector.

So public sector unions have a heck of a PR problem not only in Wisconsin, but if the Rasmussen poll is to be believed, throughout the US.  Nationally that could mean this:

Bradley Tusk, a former Illinois deputy governor and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign manager, said that if Walker succeeds in the fight, “this will be portrayed as a major change toward fiscal sanity and protecting taxpayers.”

“The average voter will never feel any pain from it,” he added, “so the high ground shifts away from labor. That puts Obama and other Democrats in the position of being forced further to the left, or moving more toward the GOP position and risking losing support from labor. … This almost creates some of the problems that a primary forces on the challenger.”

And the union’s “winning strategy” to counter that?

As a broader issue, in other states, national union officials think they’ve found a winning strategy in shifting the fight off government and slamming Wall Street, armed with repeated polls that show anti-financial industry sentiment at an all-time high.

Apparently, however, union officials don’t understand that it isn’t an “either/or” situation.  The public blames both for different reasons.  But more importantly, the public realizes “what is, is” and you deal with it.  Whether they believe (or not) that Wall Street is to blame, that doesn’t change the fact that the problem (budget deficit) has to be confronted and solved and part of the solution has to be borne by public sector employees.

Norman Adler, a longtime lobbyist for public sector labor unions in New York, says the unions have to fight – that this is not something they can walk away from.  And, if they lose in Wisconsin, they “have to reconfigure their tactics and move on.”  But, he says:

“Labor pretty much lost the PR fight a number of years ago,” he said, suggesting the true targets of opportunity at the moment are state lawmakers who are “on the fence,” and can be swayed because they’re worried about getting elected back home. “And I think their position is that they have to show political muscle here.”

Translation: this could get even nastier.

Watch for it.

~McQ

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WI Republicans – snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Why is it that in almost every scenario imaginable, where a stiff spine, adherence to principle and with public support behind them ensures political victory, there always seems to emerge a group willing to compromise (unnecessarily) before the fight is over?

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker maintaining a hard line on his budget bill and Democratic senators refusing to return to Madison to vote, attention is turning to a group of moderate Republican senators to negotiate a compromise to the stalemate that has drawn thousands of protesters to the state capital for a sixth straight day.

The proposal, written by Sen. Dale Schultz and first floated in the Republican caucus early last week, calls for most collective bargaining rights of public employee unions to be eliminated – per Mr. Walker’s bill – but then reinstated in 2013, said Mr. Schultzs’s chief of staff Todd Allbaugh.

"Dale is committed to find a way to preserve collective bargaining in the future," said Mr. Allbaugh in a telephone interview.

Really? Why?  Because one of the major reasons the state is having to rescind the sweetheart deals made to state workers is the result of the so-called “collective bargaining” done in the past.

Consider this – in the private sector, corporations compete against other corporations for market share.  The demands of competitiveness help keep union demands in check as both sides in a negotiation understand that going to far will cripple the corporation in terms of its competition and may cost everyone their job.   So  private sector union members have been paying a higher portion of their wages toward their own pension and health care than public union members.

There’s also an healthy adversarial relationship between labor and management that lends to checking the benefits allowed.

There is no competitive atmosphere within the public sector nor is there much of any adversarial relationship present.   In short, there are none of the checks on those unions that a competitive atmosphere puts on private sector unions. 

Secondly, the public sector unions have become huge players in state and national politics.   What happens is the guy they help elect is the guy with whom they often end up sitting across the negotiations table.  What do you think the union extracts as promises from politicians they support for election?  Well of course, sweetheart deals like those enjoyed by the unions members in Wisconsin where the taxpayer is dunned for their pension and health care benefits instead of the union member.

The bill in question is an important one.  It would also remove the requirement that state employees must join the union to hold a job in state government.  That, of course, scares the living daylights out of the union leadership.  Why?

Because it breaks their monopoly control on government employees, it removes their ability to use the state to require and collect union dues for them and it threatens their ability to fund political activities and further extend their power. 

And then there’s the accountability “problem” they’ll suddenly face.  The Wisconsin bill would require the union to hold a yearly recertification vote by secret ballot.  Until now, with mandated membership and the state collecting dues for the union (via payroll deduction), the union has had no need or requirement to be accountable to its members.  Members have had no choice but to join the union regardless of whether they wanted to or agreed with the union’s direction.    With the passage of this bill the union would suddenly have an accountability requirement.  As you might imagine, they want nothing to do with that.

With all of the liberty enhancing aspects of this bill as they pertain to the Wisconsin public service unions, why in the world are some “moderate” Republicans getting wobbly in the knees (thankfully Gov. Walker is standing his ground)?  They have a strong case, they have a voter mandate, they have public opinion on their side, union members are acting like spoiled children and their political opponents have shut down state government.

But with Democratic senators indicating they are willing to remain away from the capital indefinitely, state government remains shut down with no end in sight.

That’s bad on them.   So why is Dale Schultz trying to entice them back to the table with an absurdity like suspending collective bargaining rights for only 2 years?  It shouldn’t be their side that is showing signs of giving in, it should be the Democrats who’ve run off to another state to avoid doing their job.  Let public pressure work on them.

It is to the advantage of the state GOP to let the Democrats carry out this travesty for as long as they wish.  Let the so-called public servants stay off the job and throw their selfish tantrums in the capitol.  It doesn’t reflect well on them and the public will finally tire of it. 

But if the GOP there capitulates and compromises it will most likely turn the public opinion tables on them and encourage the unions and Democrats there and elsewhere to duplicate the tactics that forced the compromise.

For once, I’d like to see the GOP stand its ground – firmly – and invite the opposition to give it their best shot.  I think Democrats have badly misread this situation and are in the middle of hurting themselves.  What’s the old political axiom: when your opponent is in the middle of self-destruction, get out of their way and let the process continue – or something like that.   WI “moderate” Republicans need to grow a pair and stand their ground.  What they’re proposing is in the best interest of the state and its citizens, and that is what they were elected to concern themselves with.

~McQ

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