Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Health Care – The Meltdown On The Left

You have to admit, if nothing else it has been entertaining watching all the factions among Democrats go to war over this health care fiasco.  You have the Liberal caucus in the House saying no vote without a public option.  Then there are the Blue Dogs saying no vote with a public option.  You have pro-life Dems refusing to support the bill without language like the Stupak amendment and the pro-abortion crew saying they won’t support it without abortion provisions.  In the Senate, no one but Harry Reid has seen the newest super secret version of the bill he’s going to try to force them to vote on before Christmas, yet Sen. Ben Nelson is a definite “no” on it as it stands now.  Howard Dean says “kill the bill”.  Bill Clinton and Paul Krugman are saying “pass  the bill”. Michael Moore is boycotting Connecticut, Keith Olberman is saying he’ll go to jail before he’ll give into the insurance mandate and Ed Schultz has discovered the White House is acting like a bunch of thugs on the subject. The latest polls show 61% of Americans oppose the legislation.

And the powerless Republicans who couldnt stop a single piece of legislation with a bloc vote of “no”?  They’re left on the sidelines watching this all with bemusement.

What a circus. And of course, there is this:

David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, began the day by calling in to MSNBC to urge the party to hold together, warning of a “tragic outcome” if Democrats failed to pass a bill that the White House says would expand health coverage while reining in costs.

If ever Hillary Clinton’s words warning about “suspending disbelief” could be applied this is it – Axelrod makes the claim that simply defies rationality: “…expand health coverage while reigning in costs“. Really? How so? How does one expand coverage and cut costs except by sharply cutting services or rationing? Especially with the insurance mandates the fed and states like to heap on any coverage they permit?

Two realizations are setting in for the public – first that this isn’t really an attempt at “reform”  anything but instead a naked power grab by the federal government. And two, the federal government is trying to base the necessity of that power grab on an irrational argument – you can expand coverage and cut costs.

Of course that really has little to do with the war on the left. For some, the bill isn’t progressive enough, meaning its not a single payer – that’s why Howard Dean wants to kill it. For others, like the Blue Dogs, it is too much. And as party leaders are finding, trying to reach consensus in one chamber of Congress, much less between the House and Senate, is an extremely difficult job – thank goodness. And, as the House Whip, James Clyburn said, the House will not rubber stamp the Senate version, whatever that may turn out to be.

Some on the left are trying, now, to make this cat fight among lefties into a “good thing”. It’s healthy to have this debate, they claim. Uh, yeah – overwhelming majorities in Congress and they own the White House and suddenly they’re having “healthy debates” over their signature agenda items.

Got it. Healthy.

Well, I for one hope they keep up this “healthy debate” for months to come and then, for different reasons than those of Howard Dean, but in complete agreement with him, they “kill the bill”.

~McQ

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China Sees No Agreement Forthcoming In Copenhagen

And that’s the good news:

With just two days remaining in historic and contentious climate talks here, China signaled overnight that it sees virtually no possibility that the nearly 200 nations gathered would find agreement by Friday.

A participant in the talks said that China would agree only to a brief political declaration that left unresolved virtually all the major issues.

The conference has deadlocked over emissions cuts by, and financing for, developing nations, including China, who say they will bear the brunt of a planetary problem they did little to create. Leaders had hoped to conclude an interim agreement on the major issues that would have “immediate operational effect.” The Chinese, it appears, are not willing to go that far at this meeting.

The New York Times goes on to wonder if this is just a bit of political brinksmanship on the eve of world leaders arriving. Obviously the NYT thinks this is about a negotiating position. One can only assume they make that assessment based on the supposed promise Obama said he extracted from the Chinese during his visit there.

If that’s the case, I’d say that both Obama and the NYT most likely have it wrong. China has made it clear for years that it exempts itself from hard emissions cuts because it considers itself a “developing country”. After years of preparing that position and presenting it to the world, it’s a little naive to believe a single visit by a new president would be likely to change it. China wants its cut of the loot. It’s not seeing that happen. It isn’t establishing a “negotiating position” in front of the arrival of world leaders, it is stating a fact – China foresees little if anything coming out of Copenhagen. While other countries and world leaders may feel intense pressure to make something happen, China doesn’t. If Copenhagen falls flat on its face, as it appears it will, nothing changes for China in terms of limiting emissions. It will simply patiently wait for the next international conference, where the pressure on industrialized nations will be even higher, to again make its demands.

Why am I making that assertion? Buried further on in the story is this paragraph:

China has been a natural godfather to many of the Group of 77 countries because its government has extensive investments in Africa and Latin America, often involving lucrative deals to bring oil and minerals home.

China is emerging as a leader among the 130 nations that make up the misnamed Group of 77. While Hugo Chavez may be the court jester, the real power of that group lays with China. And China sees a developing power vacuum with the diminished role of the US – partially due to the financial crisis and partially due to a young and inexperienced president. Again, they’re not staking out a negotiating position, they’re telling the rest of the powers the way the table is set. Demands will follow later.

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in town flashing your cash as an incentive for “poorer” nations to cooperate and collect:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Copenhagen overnight, announced on Thursday that the United States would participate in a $100 billion fund to help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and build more energy efficient economies. She cautioned, however, that American participation in the fund was contingent on reaching a firm agreement this week.

It was the first time the Obama administration had made a commitment to a medium-term financing effort and a clear effort to unblock a negotiation that has been stalled. She said the money would be a mix of public and private funds, including “alternative sources of finance,” which she did not specify.

Nor did she say what the American share of the fund would be, although typically in such multilateral financial efforts the United States contributes about 20 percent.

Of course 100 billion isn’t anywhere near what the “poorer” nations want. In fact, a group of Central America nations want somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 billion alone.

The circus reaches crescendo tomorrow as the remaining world leaders, including President Obama arrive. Given the way this is shaping up, it appears it may be another “Olympic event” for the president.

~McQ

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Fumbling Gitmo

I think perhaps the promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – a supposed symbol of American shame – and the subsequent inability to do so is symbolic of how inept, to this point, this administration has been.  President Obama, while a candidate, had a guaranteed applause line each time he promised to close the facility.  The left had so thoroughly demonized it that it was prime red-meat for every campaign rally.  And, in fact, Obama signed an executive order on his first day in office ordering it closed.

And here we are, a year later, with the facility still open and the administration still dithering about what to do with the inmates.  In the meantime, the American public has come to realize that it is the inmates that are the problem, not where the inmates are incarcerated.  Closing Gitmo doesn’t solve a thing.   In fact, the public realizes, it forces some very unappetizing choices – like housing those we deem to dangerous to our country to release not in some isolated prison on a island far away, but in the heartland of America.

That realization has sparked some pretty heavy push-back from the public as it has come to realize those truths:

Americans remain opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and moving some of the terrorist suspects being held there to U.S. prisons: 30% favor such actions, while 64% do not. These attitudes could present a significant roadblock for President Obama at a time when he seeks congressional approval to move terrorist suspects from Guantanamo to a converted state prison in northwestern Illinois.

You see, hollering about how we had to close Gitmo during the campaign and then making it a priority on his first day of office then ran up against the “then what” question. And, as is obvious, they – the campaign and Obama- hadn’t considered the “then what” question. They had no plan. It is indicative of how poorly prepared they were to assume office (they apparently thought that the “King” would sign a “proclamation” and the “serfs” would make it so) and how little they understood of how things really work. Closing Guantanamo Bay has gone from being a symbol of “hope and change” to being an albatross around the administration’s neck. No matter what they do now, it is most likely to be unfavorably received by a majority of Americans and provide campaign fodder for a future Republican opponent.

Gitmo, in a nutshell, characterizes this administration in so many ways. Naive, unprepared, leaderless and yet arrogant. That is not a good combination for a successful presidency and unsurprisingly, so far, it hasn’t been one.

~McQ

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UK Climate Scientists Accused Of Manipulating Russian Temperature Data

Things just got a worse for the “consensus science” of the AGW crowd. Russia has accused the Hadley Center for Climate Change in the UK’s Met Office of cherry picking Russian temperature data. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, with Copenhagen underway.

The Russian business daily Kommersant reports:

On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change based at the headquarters of the British Meteorological Office in Exeter (Devon, England) had probably tampered with Russian-climate data.

The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory. Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.

The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature UK (HadCRUT) survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century.

The HadCRUT database includes specific stations providing incomplete data and highlighting the global-warming process, rather than stations facilitating uninterrupted observations.

In anyone’s world, that’s “fudging the numbers”. And this is a different crew than that at the University of East Anglia’s CRU. In fact, as you recall, the UK’s Met announced quite recently that in light of the CRU emails, it was going to do a 3 year study of all the temperature data from the last 160 years. You have to wonder if, in fact, they’d already internally uncovered this charge by the Russians (or knew it was coming) when they made that announcement.

To put this in perspective, Climategate just got a whole lot bigger. And again, we’re talking about fundamental data here – the basis for all of the AGW claims can be found in the data of these two institutions.

Fudging numbers isn’t all that has been done in this scandal. The message has been mightily manipulated as well. Here’s an example.

Graph one (via Wolf Howling) – the AGW claim that human beings are responsible for heating up the planet:

GL Graph 1 1400-2000

This is how the AGW argument has been presented. The data has been conveniently graphed from 1400 till now.

But what if we expand that a bit?

Graph 2:
GL Graph 2 - 800-1900

But if you take it back to the year 900, the beginning of the Medieval Warm period, suddenly the hockey stick looks like a toothpick.

And to really stress the point, let’s take it back a few thousand years.

Graph 3:

GL Graph 3 2500 bc to present

Suddenly the horror of AGW, in perspective and sans any possible influence by man in the past temperature increases, looks so puny as to be insignificant – even if the data wasn’t fudged!

This is the state of the scandal called “AGW science”. Fudged, manipulated and more and more discredited every day. And they’re still trying to use it to redistribute wealth in Copenhagen.

~McQ

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The Plan: Compromise Anything To Pass Health Care Reform

Something to consider.

Rhetoric:

During the presidential election campaign, candidate Obama said, about re-importing drugs from foreign lands that cost less:

“We’ll tell the pharmaceutical companies ‘thanks, but no, thanks’ for the overpriced drugs—drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada,”

Reality?

Democratic senators got a bit closer to passing health care reform last night, but not without first voting down a controversial proposal that would have allowed for the direct importation of prescription drugs, a cause many of them once pushed for.

[…]

Supporting the measure might have broken a deal the White House made with drugmakers—they’d support the overhaul efforts if the administration didn’t push them to give up more than $80 billion in revenue—and yesterday Obama pushed Democratic senators not to let small issues get in the way of passing the health care legislation.

So. As progressives will be glad to point out, “Big Pharma” wins. Well, yes and no. Essentially what happened is the status quo was left intact here in exchange for Pharma not dumping billions in opposition to health care. It’s a bribe. And something libertarians and the right need to understand is big business has no qualms or problems whatsoever going into cahoots with big government if they can help write the legislation to protect themselves or hurt their competition. In this case, it was a matter of self protection. And, unsurprisingly, Obama went along with it despite his promise not too. I only point out the fact that he completely flipped on the subject as a matter of record, not that it is particularly surprising or unexpected.

More disturbing is the highlighted sentence. That’s the quarterback calling an audible at the line. Pass anything, we’ll add to it or fix it later, but get something passed into law immediately.

Which brings us to the point of the ‘rhetoric v. reality’ part of this. The rhetoric will say “we’re dropping the Medicare buy-in and the public option”. Reality –and history (see SCHIP)- says that passing something called health care without them only means that they’ll do so to get a law on the books, and then you can count on them attempting again to pass both a further Medicare buy-in and the public option.

Their aim is a single payer system – by any means necessary.

~McQ

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The Debacle In Copenhagen

If I were at all amenable to the climate change arguments and felt there was a need to reach an agreement concerning greenhouse gas emissions, I’d still be embarrassed by what is going on in Copenhagen right now. According to the Politico, it appears to be “to be imploding from within and exploding from without on Wednesday.” Protests are turning violent outside and rhetoric is heating up inside (I wonder how much CO2 they’re contributing with their tantrums and tirades?).

But of course, the spin is there are “green shoots” in the talks:

Despite the gloom, U.S. officials told POLITICO they made incremental progress in a variety of areas during marathon sessions Tuesday night and cautioned that all previous climate conferences have experienced similar turbulence. And late Tuesday, negotiators announced a major breakthrough on a deal to preserve wetlands and forests.

Translation: They come to an agreement on how to take your property rights away in the name of “saving the planet”.

Of course that’s not the purpose of the conference, is it (although “progressives” will be happy with just about any collectivist control they can manage out of this, I’m sure)?

On Tuesday, Hedegaard made an emotional appeal for countries to put aside their differences to finalize a deal — after the G-77 bloc of developing nations accused her of trying to ram through an agreement amenable to the U.S. and other big industrialized nations.

But no sooner had Rasmussen assumed the presidency than those tensions burst out in the open again, with China, India, Bolivia, South Africa and Sudan saying they would block attempts by the Danish delegation to produce a draft text favored by most Western countries.

Minutes after taking the gavel, Rasmussen angrily denounced developing countries for seeking to delay consideration of the text, accusing them of focusing on “procedure, procedure, procedure.”

He was immediately rebuked by a representative of China, a member of the G-77 bloc, who said moving forward too quickly was tantamount to “obstructionism” and a bullying attempt by the West.

“I think the matter isn’t ‘procedure, procedure, procedure.’… You can’t just put forth some text from the sky,” the representative said.

Someone should caution the representative from China that using such language isn’t wise – it might remind others that since the “science” is “from the sky” there’s no reason that the language can’t also be from there.
Anyway, as you can tell, Politico’s characterization of “chaos in Copenhagen” isn’t far from the mark. The “developing world” isn’t seeing the type of long term cash pay-off developing as they’d like and the industrialized nations, assuming they learned from Kyoto, aren’t really amenable to hard target emission reductions. And the result is – well the UN displaced to Copenhagen. Sound and fury, but little to show for it. And we still have the circus of world leaders showing up for the final grip and grin to go.

Just lovely.

~McQ

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Obama: Lack Of Leadership And Accomplishment Beginning To Take Their Toll

An ABC News/Washington Post poll has some poll numbers which has to have the Obama White House concerned:

Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president’s work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.

Such numbers aren’t unexpected; Ronald Reagan, in similar economic straits, dropped to 52 percent overall approval at this point in his presidency. But it’s not just the economy: Fifty-three percent also disapprove of Obama’s work on health care, and the public by 51-44 percent now opposes the reform package in Congress – both more than half for the first time in ABC/Post polls.

Despite the attempt to temper the plunge in approval by claiming that Ronald Regan had similar numbers in overall approval, this doesn’t feel like the Ronald Regan era. In fact, it feels more like Regan’s predecessor’s era of governance – leaderless. If Obama shows up on TV in a sweater telling us to turn down the thermostat, you’ll know precisely who I’m talking about.

But consider that in just a month in which he made his Afghanistan speech (which supposedly gave him a small bounce) and accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, he managed to lose 6 points in approval. The approval rating speaks to an overall feeling of satisfaction with his performance. And, as has been asked ad nauseum, he can give a pretty speech, but what has he really done?

Now this is a double edged sword. Frankly I don’t want him to do what he’s said he wants to do so technically I should be approving of his job performance. As long as he stays ineffective and impotent, I “approve”. Which means, some of his disapproval comes from those who want to push the aggressive “progressive” agenda they believe he’s behind and are disapproving of the fact that nothing has been done in almost a year of complete power in Congress and the White House.

The point, of course, is to note that his “disapproval” rating is just as soft as his “approval” rating and could change in a heartbeat. But this is an interesting snap shot that I think says more about his leadership, or lack thereof, than anything.

Economically, the numbers may be a little harder than the overall approval rating. You don’t have to be a PhD to know that economically things aren’t good and despite all the happy talk, really aren’t getting much better. So 52% disapproval isn’t unexpected. But, with the dip in his personal approval rating, it indicates that the public is beginning to hold him responsible for the condition of the economy. The drop in approval and the majority disapproval on the economy signal that Democrats and Obama no longer have George Bush as a convenient fall guy.

Another reason for that is found in the “deficit” number, where 56% disapprove. That number is strictly and obviously a product of Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration. 787 billion “stimulus”. 1+ trillion omnibus spending bill. Raising the debt ceiling by 1.8 trillion. All Democrats, all the time.

His lack of leadership has also had an effect legislatively (although obviously the in-fighting among Democrats hasn’t helped their case either) where a majority oppose Obama’s overall health care effort and the specific health care legislation Democrats are trying desperately to push through Congress as we speak.

This could all change within a few weeks or months. But I just don’t see it happening. Some people know how to lead. Others know how to build coalitions. And others know how to charm their way into positions of power. Essentially Barack Obama is a charmer who recognized a once in a life time opportunity where the stars lined up for someone like him to grab for the brass ring of the presidency without having to have any other qualification than meeting the age requirement in the Constitution. He took it and he won. And that says something about both him and the celebrity worshiping public that elected him, which is a subject for another post.

As someone who has been in leadership positions all my life and has professionally assessed leaders for over 20 years, I can say without equivocation, that Barack Obama is not a leader. At best he’s a coalition builder and he’s been rather poor at that as well. However he’s a man who has always reached for the next rung in the ladder and obviously enjoys the trappings and perks of the offices he holds. But again, looking back on his life, what has he really done? What has he really ever accomplished? What has he led?

To some, I’m sure, these numbers come as a surprise. I’m not sure how. They are, to me, a portrait of the person those of us who kept noting his lack of experience and accomplishment painted before the election. I expect the numbers to go down even more. He’s not a leader and I don’t expect one to emerge while he’s in office. I certainly hope the nation wakes up and recognized that “hope and change” were really “hoax and change” and make the man a one-term president. We can’t afford him, in many ways, for 8 years.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

From Lord Monckton, as he takes apart climate alarmists:

The fact is, they’re crooks. That’s what they really are. I call them the traffic light tendency. They call themselves green because they’re too yellow to admit they’re really Reds.

It’s at about 8:25 in the video. But watch the whole thing, even though it’s about half an hour. It’s worth it if you want a no-holds-barred slamming of the climate Cassandras. Charts and graphs included, no extra charge.

(Via Samizdata.net.)

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An Inconvenient Mess

Copenhagen has settled into what can only be characterized as an embarrassment for those who had hoped to see a historic treaty limiting greenhouse gases signed.

World leaders — with Gordon Brown arriving tonight in the vanguard — are facing the humiliating prospect of having little of substance to sign on Friday, when they are supposed to be clinching an historic deal.

Yesterday, a bloc of third world nations walked out of the negotiations in a squabble about the lack of legally binding emissions targets for the richer countries. And, of course, the squabble about how much of the wealth to transfer to the developing countries continues to be a contentious subject.

Last night key elements of the proposed deal were unravelling. British officials said they were no longer confident that it would contain specific commitments from individual countries on payments to a global fund to help poor nations to adapt to climate change while the draft text on protecting rainforests has also been weakened.

Even the long-term target of ending net deforestation by 2030 has been placed in square brackets, meaning that the date could be deferred. An international monitoring system to identify illegal logging is now described in the text as optional, where before it was compulsory. Negotiators are also unable to agree on a date for a global peak in greenhouse emissions.

Meanwhile, Al Gore managed to embarrass himself in Copenhagen as well:

Mr Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, stated the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.

In his speech, Mr Gore told the conference: “These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr [Wieslav] Maslowski that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years.”

However, the climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast.

“It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,” Dr Maslowski said. “I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.”

Mr Gore’s office later admitted that the 75 per cent figure was one used by Dr Maslowksi as a “ballpark figure” several years ago in a conversation with Mr Gore.

Or, in common parlance, what Mr. Gore used was a SWAG (a “Scientific” Wild-Assed Guess). In fact, given the CRU scandal, much of AGW “science” is now considered a SWAG.

The good news is Copenhagen is shaping up to be a “disaster.” I put disaster is scare quotes because for those of us who’ve fought this nonsense for so long, “disaster” is a good thing.

Instead of the American public being thrown under the bus, it looks like the wheels are coming off the bus. You have to wonder what will meet Obama when he shows up on the 18th.

~McQ

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Inflation: The Lurking Beast

Despite all the happy talk from the Fed about its ability to manage the money supply and wring the excess out of the economy at the proper time, avoiding inflation, when and if the economy ever takes off, is going to be a lot tougher than advertised. And we’re beginning to see rumblings that inflation is trying to find it’s footing:

Inflation at the wholesale level surged in November, reflecting price jumps in energy and other products.

The bigger-than-expected increase is certain to get the attention of Federal Reserve policymakers beginning a two-day meeting on interest rates.

The Fed has been able to keep interest rates at record-lows to bolster the shaky recovery, but if inflation pressures begin to mount, the central bank could be forced to start raising rates sooner than expected to cool the economy and keep prices in check.

That’s the trade-off: raise interest rates to hold off inflation. The tricky part is knowing how much to raise them to do that without killing the recovery. And, with the massive amounts of cash pumped into the system, I’m not sure that’s possible. Which means it is probable, at some point, that the Fed is simply going to have to make a choice – inflation or high recovery killing interest rates. My guess is they’ll choose the latter (while the politicians holler foul and try to spend more money). That’s why many don’t see economic recovery in the cards any time soon despite the “green shoots” so many politicians continue to spot among the economic ruin of the present economy.

~McQ

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