Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

You Know They’re Reaching …

When this is the best they can do (and they think what they’ve done is funny).

And for some reason, linking to the actual post they cite seems a little beyond them (read the comments – the commenters are no brighter than the blogger – they’re all talking about the garage sale post). I think that may have something to do with the grade level of the “humor”.

BTW, in case you’re in the dark, the guy pictured with me there is Kevin Whalen (the pic was taken at the ’07 Milbloggers Conference). That actually makes the title somewhat funny, but ironically the Sadly, No! kids appear unaware of that (be sure to read the explanation of the “joke” to be found in the title – uh, yeah).

It’s pretty sad when a site supposedly known for its biting humor bites it that badly.

Here’s hoping they don’t “wee-wee” up their next attempt as badly as they did this one.


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I got a call yesterday at about 3pm from Keesler Air Force Base, home of the Hurricane Hunters.

“Hey, can you get to Andrews AFB by Sunday morning? If so we’ll fly you through Hurricane Bill!”

Heck yeah. So I go about doing all the things you have to do to get ready for such an adventure and at about 10am this morning I take off toward DC. About 30 min into the drive, my Airforce PAO contact on the scene calls me to makes sure I’ve got the mission time and we talk about what to take on the flight. She’s talking a flight of 11 to 14 hours. I’m pretty much covered on all the gear I need, but she suggests I pick up some food to take with me since there will be no in-flight meals. OK, I can handle that.

So I continue on toward Andrews when I get a second call.

“I hate to have to call and tell you this, but the National Hurricane Center has canceled tomorrow’s tasking and the mission is scrubbed”.

Ah well, Bill was just a Cat 2 storm and apparently losing a little bit of steam. I made ’em promise me they’d keep me at the top of the list for the next storm. I definitely still want to join that rather exclusive club of people who’ve flown through the eye of a hurricane – on purpose.


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Obama Says 95% Won’t See Taxes Go Up. 68% Don’t Believe Him

Yeah, it’s a provocative title, but it is certainly a way to interpret what the latest Gallup poll indicates:

A new Gallup Poll finds that 68% of Americans believe their federal income taxes will be higher by the time Barack Obama’s first term as president ends. This includes 35% who say their taxes will be “a lot higher.”

It is also another indication of why Obama’s job approval numbers are tanking and why Americans, using the only real outlet available to some of them, i.e. townhalls, appear angry.

They simply don’t trust a thing this administration and the Congress is putting out there. The irony, of course, is that the Democrats and Obama thought that circumstance had handed them the perfect political storm with which to pass huge social programs liberals had dreamed of for decades. They had a crisis and, as Rahm Emanuel said, they weren’t going to let it go to waste.

But it has doubled back on them in a fairly quick and dramatic way. Suddenly, in the crisis fever they whipped up, people who were normally uninterested in politics started paying attention. And what they saw didn’t please them. They saw the federal government pumping unheard of amounts of borrowed money into various black holes, taking over whole industries and parts of others and planning on taking over even more, such as health care. That, all while telling us what we knew was intuitively and historically false – they’d run them more efficiently and effectively than the private side could.

It was a huge wake-up call for the American public, formerly known as the slowly and quiescently boiling frog. That level of activity, money and government intervention in a short 6 to 8 month period grabbed the public’s attention and, even in short attention span America, has kept it.

Democrats and the administration reacted badly. And they continue to do so. Falsely believing they had some sort of mandate to act as they wished, they’ve completely blown the health care debate. As Greg Lyons notes at Salon – Salon for heaven sake – “you won’t win the healthcare debate by calling people stupid racists”. But that seems to be the Dem game plan. And again we’re treated to the delicious irony of Democrats calling for “civil debate” while characterizing Americans who disagree with them as “political terrorists”, “brownshirts” and “un-American.”

Yes, this has turned into a perfect storm alright, but not at all the one the Democrats and administration thought they were going to get to exploit. And I can’t say I’m displeased about that in the least.


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The Garage Sale Police

What is more quintessentially American than the garage sale?

Americans have held them for decades and, in fact, attending them is a pleasant passtime for many each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But Big Brother has decided that such Americana is a menace to our children.

Yes, friends, the “Garage Sale Police” are coming.

If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Now I don’t know about you, but when children outgrow toys, parents usually store them away, give them away or, eventually, sell them at a garage sale. What parents don’t do is keep up with which toys have been recalled by their manufacturers.

But that’s precisely what you must do now if you want to sell the kid’s old toys at your garage sale:

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army say they do that anyway. But Ma and Pa cleaning out the attic – yeah, not so much.

But in this brave new world, you must be aware that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.

“We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.”

Now you can take that any way you wish to take it, but denying on the one hand that they’ll be dispatching inspectors to garage sales and saying “but we’re still going to enforce” on the other sends a very mixed message. Their method of enforcement will be fairly easy – they’re hoping that garage sale buyers will turn in garage sale sellers breaking this odious law.

Well, I’ve got a fairly simple and straight forward message for the feds – butt out. We’ve been raising our children safely since the dawn of humanity without you and we don’t your garage sale police to keep them safe – thank you very much.

And politicians wonder why people are seemingly angrier and angrier about what they see coming out of Washington?


[HT: The Liberty Papers]

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Protest Songs – They Ain’t What They Used To Be

How bad is it? Watch this and cringe. This is a take off on the Peter, Paul and Mary (well, actually a Bob Dylan song, but PPM made it famous) song, “Blowing in the Wind”. At the end of this they all seem quite pleased with themselves – well, except for the guy on the right who appears to want to quietly back out of the picture.

As Reason’s Nick Gillespie says:

Remember the old line about how the left won the ’60s culture war because “they had better songs”?

Well, if the music matters in public policy debates, then this song is the ultimate weapon for opponents of single-payer health care. And folk music. And quite possibly, humanity itself.

Heh … Indeed.


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Krugman, Obama and “Progressive Revolt”

Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.

Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.

Says Krugman:

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.

While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.

Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.

But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.

The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.

Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.

Krugman concludes:

So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.

Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.

Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.

So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.


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Stimulus? Try Offshore Drilling

During the last days of the Bush administration, there was a small flurry of hope among proponents of drilling for oil and gas which is off our coast. The president lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling and Congress, understanding the politics of the moment, let their ban expire. As the Washington Examiner explains, that leaves only one obstacle to the US finally going after what is thought to be about 3 billion barrels of oil and 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas:

So the only thing keeping U.S. firms from drilling off our own continental shelf is President Barack Obama and his secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, who is slow-walking the approval process that must be cleared before the work can begin.

However, President Obama has managed to break 2 billion of your dollars loose to loan to Brazil to help bankroll their offshore drilling in the Atlantic. One assumes that will give Brazil a savings which will allow them pursue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well, since they are one of a number of nations pursuing oil and gas there:

Brazil, China, India, Norway, Spain and Russia have all signed agreements with Cuba and the Bahamas to initiate exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico within the next two years. So the prospect of seeing Russian oil rigs 45 miles off the Florida Keys — where American oil companies are now forbidden to drill — is a very real possibility.

That “very real possibility” would see us buying oil from the Gulf from foreign oil producers when it was just as readily available to us and our own companies.

And who would you rather produced it – US companies who have proven over the years that they have the ability to recover both oil and gas safely and in an environmentally sensitive way or foreign companies 45 miles off your coast who could give a good rip one way or the other how environmentally safe their methods were?

Then there’s the recession, jobs and the government’s hunt for revenue. This seems like a natural “shovel ready” industry that wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a nickle to crank up but would benefit the economy and the tax base:

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the development of America’s coastal oil and gas resources would generate more than $1.3 trillion in new government revenue and 160,000 high-paying jobs over the next two decades.

Instead of going full bore and trying to get this program off the ground – or in this case, in the water, we’re still piddling around trying to pass legislation:

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., are bipartisan co-sponsors of a bill that provides coastal states such as Florida their fair share of revenues produced by off-shore drilling and production. The same thing should be done for states on the East and West coasts. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s lawmakers hope to tap deposits off Santa Barbara to generate billions in royalties, and Virginia’s front-running gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has made drilling 50 miles off that state’s coast a key component of his energy plan.

Meanwhile foreign nations are moving to exploit resources we should have been exploiting for decades.

We have a huge looming energy gap. We’re behind the curve as it stands right now. While all the politics is focused on health care reform, this need isn’t going away and only becomes worse. Instead of “slow-walking” this, Barack Obama and Ken Salazar should be fast-tracking it and getting us out in those offshore areas to grab the most productive regions first. If we don’t, we’ll be moaning about how the percentage of oil and gas we import has gone up again.

And, as usual, that will be our own negligent fault.


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Obama – It’s Just August

Whistling past the graveyard, the White House is trying to write off its recent troubles in selling health care reform to it being nothing more than the problem of – August?


Because, you know, everyone understands that August just isn’t Obama’s month.

Obama on a recent conference call with the DNCC discussing health care:

“There’s something about August going into September where everyone in Washington gets all ‘wee-weed’ up,” the president said.

He pointed to last August’s selection of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to join the Republican ticket as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee.

“‘Obama’s lost his mojo,'” the president said the media were saying after Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign received a short-lived bump from palin.

“You remember all that?” Obama added.

I remember it. Of course this isn’t just about “Washington” getting “all ‘wee-weed’ up” . Trying to compare an election in which people stand to be sort of obliquely effected in their everyday life by the eventual winner to the passage of legislation which would directly effect their daily life, health and liberty is the first mistake. In an election a candidate is, at most, a possible threat. In the present situation what is being proposed is a direct threat and is being considered as such.

Last August, Barack Obama was an articulate and attractive unknown. Since his inauguration, he’s anything but unknown. Trying to pretend this August is at all similar to last August and Obama will get his “mojo” back because he did so previously is foolish at best.

He’s fond of saying “this isn’t about me”. In this case he’s exactly right – and that’s why his most recent forays into the heartland to sell this “reform” have had little effect. That’s also why this August and the months that follow will be nothing like those last year.


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Health Care Reform Now A Moral Obligation

Once again the reasoning in support of a federal overhaul (and takeover) of national health care has shifted. It started out as a fiscal imperative with Pres. Obama claiming that our money woes were caused by the rising costs of health care. We were told that only government can contain administrative costs and deliver efficient, effective care. Later is was the need to control greedy insurance companies who treat their clients shoddily by denying coverage. Government run care would make sure that nobody was denied insurance, and that we would all pay basically the same rates. Of course, the infamous public option was touted as the primary tool for accomplishing this goal, carefully eliding past the “fiscal sanity” reasons for reform, which option has apparently been set out to pasture after facing fierce public resistance.

Yet, despite a full-court press on the issue, including unapologetic assistance from the media, the government’s plan(s) to change health care have grown steadily less popular.

So now the reasoning shifts again. As it turns out, you all are just bad, immoral people if you don’t approve of the government taking your money and running your health care.

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.

“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.

Well, the President would know about bearing false witness, now wouldn’t he.

In any event, Obama’s attempt to turn this into a moral debate is not only a naked act of desperation to save his pet cause, it is also the closest to the true reason why health reform is so important to him, and the left in general, in the first place. Supporters of government-run health care are convinced that the presence of a profit motive in the delivery of health services is a bad thing and that wringing every last ounce of market incentive from the process will lead to wonderful new outcomes. And the way they are prepared to sell it is by pushing the idea that health care is a civil right.

Interestingly enough, Jonathan Alter started the ball rolling on this score just a few days before the President (it’s almost as if they are reading from the same playbook or something!):

The main reason that the bill isn’t sold as civil rights is that most Americans don’t believe there’s a “right” to health care. They see their rights as inalienable, and thus free, which health care isn’t. Serious illness is an abstraction (thankfully) for younger Americans. It’s something that happens to someone else, and if that someone else is older than 65, we know that Medicare will take care of it. Polls show that the 87 percent of Americans who have health insurance aren’t much interested in giving any new rights and entitlements to “them”—the uninsured.

But how about if you or someone you know loses a job and the them becomes “us”? The recession, which is thought to be harming the cause of reform, could be aiding it if the story were told with the proper sense of drama and fright. Since all versions of the pending bill ban discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, that provision isn’t controversial. Which means it gets little attention. Which means that the deep moral wrong that passage of this bill would remedy is somehow missing from the debate.


The only thing that should be unbreakable in a piece of legislation is the principle behind it. In the case of Social Security, it was the security and peace of mind that came with the knowledge of a guaranteed old-age benefit. (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush got slam-dunked when they tried to mess with that.) In the civil-rights bills, the principle was no discrimination on the basis of an unavoidable, preexisting “condition” like race.

The core principle behind health-care reform is—or should be—a combination of Social Security insurance and civil rights. Passage would end the shameful era in our nation’s history when we discriminated against people for no other reason than that they were sick. A decade from now, we will look back in wonder that we once lived in a country where half of all personal bankruptcies were caused by illness, where Americans lacked the basic security of knowing that if they lost their jobs they wouldn’t have to sell the house to pay for the medical treatments to keep them alive. We’ll look back in wonder—that is, if we pass the bill.

Just to focus the argument, Alter is suggesting that it is a violation of individual civil rights, akin to discriminating against someone on the basis of race (wow, didn’t see that coming), to deny one insurance because one is sick. This is ludicrous on a number of levels, but that it fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of insurance is one of its worst features. Insurance is meant to protect against the expense of unknown outcomes by paying a small premium based on the statistical probability that one will suffer such an outcome. However, if one of the outcomes already exists then the insurance premium would simply be equal to the cost of treatment since the probability of payment is 1:1. In Alter’s world,and that of too many government health care supporters, insurance isn’t a risk management tool, it’s a medical discount and income redistribution tool. Which leads to the primary failure of his argument.

In briefest terms, health care cannot be a “right” because it is entirely dependent on someone else providing it to you. “Rights” do not ever involve taking from someone and giving to someone else. In order to believe otherwise, one would have to believe that doctors are actually slaves who can legally be commanded to fulfill one’s “right” to health care or suffer the consequences. The very idea is preposterous, which is why, as Alter notes, Americans have not kenned to the idea of there being a “right” to health care.

And yet, this is apparently the ground, this moral Waterloo, upon which Obama will choose to support his cause. The offensive will depend on the idea that a government health care plan is a moral obligation, and a protection of civil rights. Naturally, some imbecilic politician will assert that opposition to the plan is an immoral position, seeking to demonize (yet again) those naysayers who aren’t too keen on more government interference in their lives. After all, why not? They’ve already accused us of being, alternately, well-dressed plants for the insurance lobby and ignorant, racist hicks who just can’t stand having a black man in the White House, and look what those lines of argument achieved. I predict that this latest attack will be equally as effective.

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The Left Turns Against Afghan War

This, at least in my mind, has never been a matter of “if”, but instead a matter of “when”. According to the Washington Post, the “when”, has occurred and according to their poll the majority of Americans are now against the war in Afghanistan.

Popularly known, even by Barack Obama, as the “good war” or the “necessary war”, the Washington Post is now saying popular sentiment has turned against it:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.


Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).

This change of perception has been driven by the left, who previously claimed that Afghanistan was indeed the only proper war to be fighting:

Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.

Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Among the right, the war there is still seen as worth fighting and winning:

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).

Interestingly, as the article states, this is a “rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies”. And it pits both Obama and the GOP against the left and, I would guess, a Congress which will eventually reflect the constituency reflected in the numbers above. There’s a reason for that.

Congress is on a “dollar hunt” right now to pay for their favorite domestic agenda items. Afghanistan (and Iraq) are places where some dollars can be stolen. Popular support and money should be more than enough impetus to begin the “cut and run” mantra in earnest.

Apparently for the left, since it is no longer a blunt rhetorical instrument with which to beat George Bush over the head, Afghanistan is no longer the “good and necessary war”.


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