Friday, August 31, 2012

The left's response to Clint: true colors revealed

The jokes--from the left, right, and center--were rampant on social media and in twitter. Hell, they still are. And some of them are damn funny. I heard about this tweet on a messageboard:
The Eastwood speech is a perfect representation of the current republican party. A confused old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama.
And in all honesty, it made me laugh. I know it's not true, but I also know that many people think it is, and in that regard it's a well-delivered quip. Quite clever. The left-leaning World of Punditry is all over Eastwood like white on rice, as well. Witness the byline to the ramblings of noted propagandist Michael Moore at the Daily Beast:
The Hollywood legend growling at an empty chair will live on in infamy as the moment when a crazy old man hijacked a national party’s most important gathering to tell off the president. Michael Moore on the creepiness of crazy Clint.
"Crazy old man." Got that? About an iconic Hollywood figure on a major media source, the Newsweek-backed Daily Beast. Here's a piece from Talking Points Memo by Benjy Sarlin (who used to work for the Daily Beast, oddly enough). Note carefully the terminology being employed:
Clint Eastwood opened up the primetime portion of the Republican convention with a rambling, mumbling and often incoherent address next to an empty chair that was meant to represent President Obama. 
A creaky Eastwood began by defending Hollywood’s notorious liberal reputation to the crowd, claiming that there were in fact many independents and Republicans in show business.
"Rambling," "mumbling," "incoherent," and "creaky." And a side note to Mr. Sarlin: "primetime" starts at 8:00, not 10:00, so Eastwood hardly "opened up the primetime portion." One would think a working journalist would know such things, as would editors at a major online publication. But I digress. The point here is that TPM did not call Eastwood a "crazy old man." Instead, it opted for the above terminology. Now, if I were to simply list those adjectives, what's the first type of person that comes to mind? Be honest, you know what it is. An old guy or gal, right? How about if I said "inarticulate, dirty, and nappy-headed"?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rice, Poland, and the end of Obama's amateur hour

The first night, it was Chris Christie and Ann Romney. Then last night, the nation was treated to another "adults only" speech at the Republican National Convention, this one by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Paul Ryan followed her with a typical VP nomination acceptance speech, running the gamut form personal anecdotes to all-out attacks on the current Administration. It was fine, a plate of red meat for the base to enjoy and pundits to tear apart. But Rice's speech was the grand moment of the night, thoughtful, inspired, and politically astute.

Speaking on the issue of foreign policy, Rice says the following:
Our friends and allies must be able to trust us. From Israel to Poland to the Philippines to Colombia and across the world — they must know that we are reliable and consistent and determined. And our adversaries must have no reason to doubt our resolve — because peace really does come through strength. Our military capability and technological advantage will be safe in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s hands.
This is far from simple rhetoric. Yes, it appeals to those who worry about a weakening America, who believe in the need for a strong military and a dominant position in world politics. But it also specifically singles out other nations who have felt ignored--if not betrayed--by the current Administration (and make no mistake, Hillary Clinton knows this too, has likely been complaining in private to Obama and his posse for a while now). The Poles, for instance, had been unhappy with the current Administration, long before Obama's foolish "Polish death camp" gaffe. They were less then thrilled when Obama decided to scrap the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, nor were they happy about Obama's decision to go golfing, instead of attending the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski (to be fair, air travel was closed down over the Atlantic, so Obama couldn't have made the funeral, but he didn't have to hit the links on the same day).

And the unhappiness in Poland with Obama stems from a reality: the willingness of Poland to stand side by side with the United States in the War on Terror, to commit troops to Iraq and Afghanistan from the get-go. In one of the debates between Bush and Kerry in 2004, Kerry complained that only three countries--the U.S., England, and Australia--where initially involved in the Iraq Invasion. And Bush immediately pointed out that Kerry had "forgott[en] Poland." Some were apt to mock Bush's correction of Kerry's statement. But it wasn't a laughing matter--indeed, it still isn't--to Poles. Their special forces carried out vital and dangerous operations in Iraq. And again, they were on board all along. Yet, their participation is minimized or ignored by people like Kerry and Obama, by Democrats as a whole.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

M.C. Escher revisited

In Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid mathematician and physicist Douglas Hofstadter delves deeply into the idea of recursion and self-referencing, with respect to number theory, language, music, and imagery. The goal of his exploration is to--ultimately--understand the foundations of intelligence, of thinking, with regard to the possibility of arriving at true artificial intelligence. Hofstadter weaves the works of the three masters in the book's title into his narrative, though admittedly it is Gödel's ideas and theories that are most critical to the end game.

It's one of my all time favorite books; I've read it at least ten times, from cover to cover. Thus, the ancillary parts--of which there are many--are very much ingrained in my mind. With all of the talk over the role of government, as regards the economy, now being front and center in the public discourse it occurred to me that there was a lesson here, that some of the things Hofstadter investigates provide a great framework for understanding why the narrative from the Obama Administration and it's neo-Keynesian supporters is just so wrong.

The fundamental belief informing their views is that government activity or spending is, by definition, a catalyst for economic growth, that the government can stimulate the economy via such spending. The more the government spends, the greater the resulting stimulus. This theory is backed by (faulty) analysis, wherein there is a multiplier effect on the overall economy: the government spends x dollars, overall economic output goes up (magically) not by x, but by x times some number greater than 1. The Administration's economic team seems to think the latter is something like 1.5 (once upon a time they said it was 4.0, I kid you not). Robert J. Barro explained all of this several years ago:
If the multiplier is greater than 1.0, as is apparently assumed by Team Obama, the process is even more wonderful. In this case, real GDP rises by more than the increase in government purchases. Thus, in addition to the free airplane or bridge, we also have more goods and services left over to raise private consumption or investment. In this scenario, the added government spending is a good idea even if the bridge goes to nowhere, or if public employees are just filling useless holes. Of course, if this mechanism is genuine, one might ask why the government should stop with only $1 trillion of added purchases.  
What's the flaw? The theory (a simple Keynesian macroeconomic model) implicitly assumes that the government is better than the private market at marshaling idle resources to produce useful stuff. Unemployed labor and capital can be utilized at essentially zero social cost, but the private market is somehow unable to figure any of this out. In other words, there is something wrong with the price system.
Thus, the theory assumes perfect knowledge and "frictionless" results, with regard to government spending. No waste, no corruption, no mistakes. Barro's analysis was before all the evidence was in from Obama's Stimulus spending. But he's been proven correct by the results. Arthur Laffer (of Laffer Curve fame) summed  up the evidence earlier this month, noting the following (my boldface):
Often as not, the qualification for receiving stimulus funds is the absence of work or income—such as banks and companies that fail, solar energy companies that can't make it on their own, unemployment benefits and the like. Quite simply, government taxing people more who work and then giving more money to people who don't work is a surefire recipe for less work, less output and more unemployment.

Yet the notion that additional spending is a "stimulus" and less spending is "austerity" is the norm just about everywhere. Without ever thinking where the money comes from, politicians and many economists believe additional government spending adds to aggregate demand. You'd think that single-entry accounting were the God's truth and that, for the government at least, every check written has no offsetting debit.

Well, the truth is that government spending does come with debits. For every additional government dollar spent there is an additional private dollar taken. All the stimulus to the spending recipients is matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis every minute of every day by a depressant placed on the people who pay for these transfers. Or as a student of the dismal science might say, the total income effects of additional government spending always sum to zero.
There is mathematical certainty in Laffer's two claims that I highlighted, yet these are truths that many people--who are otherwise intelligent--seem unable to process. It is here that I think Hofstader's analysis can be introduced.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Altar of Economic Ignorance

After the financial meltdown of 2007-2009, spurred on by the huge losses incurred by financial institutions from mortgage-backed securities, one of the immediate and most predictable consequences was a search for the "why" behind it all. Needless to say, this resulted in a good number of books written by various people, all attempting to explain this "why," sometimes in general and sometimes with regard to very specific situations that may or may not have been trigger events for the collapse. And, as can be expected, some of the books are better--and more authoritative--than others.

For those interested, I'd recommend two books to read, with regard to the big picture, the general "why" behind it all. First, there is Thomas Sowell's very readable volume The Housing Boom and Bust: Revised Edition. Then, there is Johan Norberg's Financial Fiasco: How America's Infatuation with Home Ownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis. Far more detailed--and difficult--than Sowell's, Nordberg 's book digs deep into the specific mechanisms and policies that created the crisis. With regard to a more limited perspective about a distinct and vitally important situation, there is William D. Cohan's House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, which details the fall of Bear Stearns in relation to the overall crisis.

Those familiar with these authors--especially the first two--might suppose my favoring of them is reflective of my own ideology. And that's fair, because it's more or less true. However, note the bonafides of these men:

Sowell is a published economist with a BA from Harvard, an MA from Columbia, and a doctorate from the University of Chicago, one of the top universities in the world for economic studies. He is currently the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution and is a syndicated columnist.

Norberg was educated in Sweden and has worked for various think tanks, currently serving as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. In the field of economics, he has received a number of awards. His published works--of which he has quite a few, despite his young age--are academic in nature and have all been lauded for their depth.

Cohan, though less of an academic than the other two, still has impressive credentials, with degrees from Duke and Columbia. He has worked as an investigative reporter, on the financial industry, and has been recognized for his expertise in the field. And the book I've cited here is an investigative one, not one about theory or general idea. Plus, he's actually worked in the filed, having been an executive at both JP Morgan and GE Capital. Thus, this is exactly the kind of thing at which Cohan should excel.

The point of all this? When looking for understanding from others, background matters. Economics and Finance are not simple things, especially when looked at through the prism of government policy. This carries through to those thousands of pieces by journalists, pundits, and politicians that appear in various media sources. How do we know who to believe and who not to believe? Who really has the right of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rand Paul identifies the core

Rand Paul was tapped by the GOP to deliver its weekly address and he did so with a typical Pauline floursish, focusing less on the specifics of policy and more on core issues and principles, with regard to the role of government:


Here is a full transcript of the speech.

Paul pulls no punches and--possibly to the dismay of some GOP leaders--does not target Obama and the Democrats, alone. Instead, he questions the whole of government, himself included, surmising that those in power are--as a group--ignoring the constraints of the Constitution and the Law:
The enemy is not Barack Obama or the Democrats. And though the media may not like this, the enemy is not gridlock. The enemy is the looting of the Treasury and 20 years of deficit spending. The enemy is an out of control, unaccountable Federal Reserve and it’s devaluation of our currency. The enemy is our lack of being bound by the restraints of the Constitution.

The court has ruled that Obamacare is a tax and that taxes are not limited by the powers enumerated in the Constitution. This notion would offend Madison and all others who believe that the Constitution limits the powers of the Federal Government.

Whether or not government’s powers are limited is a significant question. Not simply for those who believe in maximizing individual liberty but also for those who fear the mounting trillion dollar deficits that come from unlimited government.
Paul is mostly right, in my opinion. Some people--many of them Republicans currently in office--are quick to forget the out-of-control spending that went on under George Bush in the domestic arena. The tea party movement, after all, was borne in opposition to such spending, before Barack Obama ever took office. And some of those who feign membership in that group--for the purpose of holding on to power--happily spent money when their party was fully in control, never mind the consequences. That said, the foolhardiness of such spending is now apparent, for anyone willing to look at the facts. So in that respect the current enemies are those who would recklessly continue on this path, on the road to serfdom. And right now, that group is led by the current President, Democrats in Congress, and their willing dupes in the media.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What I learned from Hurricane Andrew

Yesterday was the twenty year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew's landfall in South Florida. On August 24th, 1992 at around 5:00 am, Andrew came ashore centered on Homestead, a little north of Key Largo and a little south of Miami proper. The storm devastated the area, flattening house and buildings--including an entire shopping mall--uprooting trees, overturning cars, and knocking down power lines. The storm surge from Andrew was over ten feet in some coastal areas, like that of my mother-in-law whose house played host to a wall of mud and seawater that blew through every door and window, scattering everything in the house down the street in front of it.

Thousands and thousands of homes were destroyed, either by the storm surge or--in most case--Andrew's ferocious winds. Public buildings--especially in the Homestead, Florida City, and Cutler Ridge/Perrine areas--shared similar fates. Schools and hospitals were so severely damaged as to be rendered unusable, as were many private businesses. But it's not like anyone was going back to work or school the next day. Power was out all over South Florida. And it stayed that way--by and large--for quite some time; trees and debris impeded attempts by Florida Power and Light to fix things and a number of its stations were also unusable, along with a fair amount of its equipment.

To this day, Andrew ranks as the third costliest hurricane or tropical storm to make landfall on the U.S. mainland. And it's the only one in the top ten to have hit before 2001. If Andrew hit today, I'm quite certain the damage total in dollars would be much, much larger. Katrina, of course, was the costliest. But it was a much bigger storm and a very wet one. Andrew was unusual in a number of ways. It was compact, fast-moving, and relatively dry. And it was, in its own way, a thing of beauty:


Perfectly formed, the eyewall of Andrew hit square on Elliott Key. Andrew's top windspeed at landfall of 145 knots remains a record for all storms since 1983, when the speeds could be accurately recorded. Its central pressure of 922 mb at landfall was shockingly low, as well. But during its actual passage, there was little time to admire all of this.

Everybody wants to be an iPhone

Yesterday, a jury in San Jose handed down the mother of all lawsuit decisions: it found in favor of Apple over Samsung on a number of copyright/patent infringement claims and awarded Apple $1 billion in damages. And there's a possibility that the damages could even be trebled to $3 billion, along with a massive recall of various Samsung phones that use the features developed by Apple.

There's been a lot of back and forth between the two--Apple and Samsung--for quite a while now. But the unique and innovative design of the iPhone was clearly copied by Samsung, with regard to the look and feel of the iPhone and with regard to the operating system. The iPhone's operating system is a proprietary one, while Samsung jumped into Android as a platform for its offerings, modeling the open source system with features clearly intended--once again--to mimic the iPhone. As the Economist notes, Steve Jobs was particularly enraged by this:
Before his death last year, Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, told his biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Android had stolen important features from Apple’s iOS operating system and said he would wage “thermonuclear war” on it.
Apple has carried the torch forward with this victory in court. But Samsung has vowed to fight on, arguing that the things Apple claimed to have patented were in reality ideas already in the general market, concepts other companies had developed first, or ones Apple had even stolen. Needless to say, the jury was unmoved by these arguments, mostly because Apple does indeed own the patents and copyrights in question.

Samsung's argument really came down to this: "but people want the things we are making, therefore we should get to make them." And there are many people in the tech world on Samsung's side here. The past market dominance of Microsoft and now of Apple in popular consumer products is and always has been a kind of economic tyranny in the minds of many.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why "jobs created" is Obama's favorite metric

Short answer: because it's the only one available that can have a positive spin put on it.

I've detailed extensively how this metric--jobs created--is being misused by the Obama Administration, how it's being presented incorrectly by insisting a) that it is sufficient to show economic growth and b) that the President's policies are somehow directly responsible for every job "created." And it's used in place of the more traditional unemployment rate, since the latter--even with BLS manipulations--just can't be made to look good, given that its never dipped below 8% under Obama and is once again on the raise.

There's another metric sometimes cited by the left-leaning pundits as well, pundits who pretend to understand the economy: the gini coefficient or wealth inequality. That's increasing too, though this is supposedly a bad thing.  Through a bit of sleight-of-hand, however, the responsibility for increases here are not borne by Obama and his policies. Somehow, the gini coefficient has increased despite the excellent actions by the President. But this doesn't translate well as a talking point for Obama, as a reason for him to be reelected, so it's being ignored right now.

What of the other metrics out there? GDP doesn't work. Even though overall GDP is increasing, the growth rate is very low and going in the wrong direction. That won't fly, at all. What else? There's not much left. In fact, some of the remaining stuff is downright scary. A new analysis by Sentier Research is one big pile of bad news for the Obama economy. Bloomberg captures some of the highlights (lowlights?):
American incomes declined more in the three-year expansion that started in June 2009 than during the longest recession since the Great Depression, according an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Sentier Research LLC.

“Almost every group is worse off than it was three years ago, and some groups had very large declines in income,” Green, who previously directed work on the Census Bureau’s income and poverty statistics program, said in a phone interview today. “We’re in an unprecedented period of economic stagnation.”
Got that? Every group is worse off now than it was when Obama assumed control of the economy. Yet, he's out there talking about how the private sector is "doing fine" and his spokesmodels are trumpeting the millions of jobs he has supposedly created. Looking at all the metrics together, one can really see just how stupid the latter really is. Incomes are down, unemployment remains high, GDP growth is negligible, and income inequality is growing. Yet somehow, all of that doesn't matter because a bunch of jobs have been "created," no doubt with a wave of Obama's magic wand.

Hearing the Administration try to sell this is becoming painful. It's actually fucking embarrassing, pardon my French. And it's made even worse by the fact that supposedly intelligent people are buying the argument.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I retract my previous statement

Back in July, I used Kevin Drum from Mother Jones as an example to display just how obvious the left-wing bias was in the media. I examined two stories by Drum--one about Republicans taking Obama out of context and one about Democrats taking Romney out of context--in order to show the double standard that exists in punditry-world. At the end of the piece, I said the following:
Drum is--by and large--a decent writer. I think he's smart and more or less honest. That puts him near the top of the class, as far as the mainstream media goes.
I hereby retract the above in full. Because based on his latest piece, it's clear that he has become a babbling idiot. Like most pundits, he's still fixated on the nothing-story of Todd Akin. In this article, Drum uses Akin as a springboard to talk about how the GOP has "no love for budget wonkery," arguing that the Ryan selection says nothing in this regard:
Conservatives are excited about Ryan because he's a true believer, not because they've developed a sudden love of budget wonkery. They would have been equally ecstatic about Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio, and they're breathing a sigh of relief that Romney didn't pick Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty, both of whom are plenty serious policy wonks but don't have quite the right-wing fire in their eyes that the other guys do.
I don't think Drum actually knows many conservatives, aside from those few that live inside his bubble-world. Because if he did, he'd know that the perceived serious and intellectual nature of Paul Ryan is exactly why so many are happy about the pick. In fact, the top saliva-inducing future event in the conservative world right now is the Biden-Ryan VP debate. DVRs are already being set, stills are working overtime.

And as if to confirm my contention that he knows nothing about conservatives, Drum finishes with this:
I suspect that a lot of conservatives are also suffering from the Newt Gingrich delusion here. Remember the Gingrich boomlet during the primaries? And do you remember that one of the things that got everyone excited about him was the idea that he was such a brilliant speaker that he'd mop up the debate floor with Barack Obama? Conservatives were really taken with the idea that Obama's smarts were just an illusion manufactured by the liberal media, and Gingrich was the guy who could rip away away the facade and leave Obama a quivering husk. I think they have the same delusion about Ryan.
What the hell is a "boomlet," anyway? Note to Kevin: using obscure words doesn't demonstrate intelligence, especially when you misuse them. Sure, Gingrich enjoyed some initial success, mostly because he was well known and had been a public critic of the Administration for quite a while, often appearing on various cable news shows. But the shine disappeared quickly, mostly because Gingrich is a royal ass. But also because he destroyed his own credibility as a conservative by attacking Bain Capital like he was on the Obama Campaign's payroll.

Hurricane Romney

Disclaimer: Hurricanes are serious business. When one is coming, caution and preparedness are absolute necessities. Having been through Hurricane Andrew in Miami--almost twenty years ago to the day--I can attest first hand to the danger they bring and the damage they cause.
————————————————————

With the GOP Convention scheduled to be held in Tampa from August 27th through August 30th, there is now some concern that Tropical Storm Isaac--currently several hundred miles to the Southeast of Puerto Rico with sustained winds of 40 mph--might threaten the Tampa area, potentially as a Hurricane. The five-day "cone of uncertainty" from NOAA suggests a possible landfall in the area early Tuesday morning, the second day of the Convention:


Analysis does suggest it would likely be a minor Hurricane at that point, though a Hurricane nonetheless. Such a scenario would need to be dealt with, since travel to and from the area could be both dangerous and restricted. The Convention could be postponed or even moved, though the latter seems very unlikely.

But I say, barring a major Hurricane, bring it on! Hold the Convention with the winds whipping around outside, with the dark clouds everywhere and sheets of driving rain. The Obama Campaign and the DNC have grown so fearful of the possibility of losing the General Election--something they had long though was an impossibilty--that they are abandoning precedent, ignoring decorum, and scheduling major events during the GOP Convention:
Bucking protocol, President Obama and the Democrats are planning a full-scale assault on Republicans next week during their convention.

Presidential candidates have traditionally kept a low profile during their opponent's nominating celebration, but Democrats are throwing those rules out the window in an attempt to spoil Mitt Romney’s coronation as the GOP nominee.

President Obama, Vice President Biden and leading congressional Democrats have all scheduled high-profile events next week to counter-program the Republican gathering in Tampa.
Democrat strategists and the usual suspects in the media are excusing these tactics, arguing that it's all a result of a polarization and coarsening oft politics for which they, of course, are not responsible. But that's fear talking, nothing else.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When will Obama reap what he has sown?

Joan Walsh--whom I've dissected before--has a new piece at Salon entitled "The GOP reaps what it sowed," with the subheading:
The GOP sold its soul to the extremist Christian right. So why do its leaders act surprised by their Todd Akins?
I don't need to read it to know what's in it. I'm sure it's a bunch of pseudo-analysis about how the GOP has been catering to the so-called "fringe right" or "religious right" for decades now, so when someone like Akin sticks his foot in his mouth, the GOP should deservedly catch heat for it, should fairly be held responsible for the silly ideas from Akins and others of his ilk. Blah, blah, blah.

And Akins is all every pundit and his or her brother can talk about right now. There's rampant speculation about how the Akin situation might affect Romney, about how it might even cost him the general election. In the grand scheme of things, it's such a nothing issue. We're still in the midst of a non-recovery, yet most pundits and analysts throughout the land categorically refuse to credit the President for this dismal economy. Indeed, they happily lap up the nonsensical "evidence" offered by the Administration and buy into the phony metric of job creation.

With so much of the media talking and writing heads in the tank for Obama, the Campaign is sticking to its guns on this. Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter--of "Romney may be a felon" fame--said the following yesterday on MSNBC:
Well, I think that worker probably has a good understanding of what's happened over the past four years in terms of the president coming in and seeing 800,000 jobs lost on the day that the president was being sworn in, and seeing the president moving pretty quickly to stem the losses, to turn the economy around, and over the past, you know, 27 months we've created 4.5 million private sector jobs. That's more jobs than in the Bush recovery, in the Reagan recovery, there's obviously more we need to do, and as I said to Mika at the at beginning of the program, I think that unemployed worker probably sees one person in this race trying to move the country forward and that's the president.
As I've previously noted, these numbers are actually not good at all, since--right now--it takes from 100,000 to 150,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with population growth. What that means in actual numbers:
So, if we figure this in to Obama's impressive number of 4.3 million jobs created (assuming it's accurate), what do we have? Estimates vary on this, but generally it is assumed that somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs are needed each month to keep pace with population growth. Thus, on the low end we have (for Obama's cited 27 months) 2.7 million of those jobs amounting to, well, nothing. On the high end? 4.1 million of the jobs serving only to keep pace with population growth.  
At best, Obama can tout some 1.6 million jobs that have had a meaningful impact on unemployment, that represent new growth. That works out to under 60,000 jobs per month. At worst, 200,000 jobs...or less than 7,500 per month.
Though I do have to wonder where the extra 200,000 jobs came from (4.5 now vs. 4.3 in the past, for the same 27 months). Oh, I know! Perhaps the higher number reflects "corrections" by the BLS, which--as we know--basically manufactures some numbers to make things look better than they really are. But even BLS fudging can't obscure the reality of employment, or lack thereof. Cutter wants to compare the Obama Recovery to the Reagan Recovery, does she? Chew on this, Ms. Cutter:
At at this point in Reagan's first term, the unemployment rate was 7.8%, down from a peak of 10.8%. He ultimately was elected when unemployment was 7.2%.
What else is there to say? That stat was from back in May. The unemployment rate under Obama in May was 8.2%. Two months later, it sits at 8.3%, headed in the wrong direction. And that's with massive cuts by the BLS to the labor participation rate. Let's look at Tyler Durden's chart from February once again:



The red line is the unemployment rate minus BLS fudging. In reality, there's been minimal growth in employment. This bares out the reality of the job creation numbers being touted by Cutter: looked at through the lens of reality, they are pathetic. But again, even with the fudging the unemployment rate has little chance of dropping to 7.2% by election day. The idea that--somehow--Obama has managed a downturn more effectively than did Reagan is laughable.

And yet, pundits willingly buy the argument advanced by Cutter. I get why Cutter is being disingenuous: politics, nothing more. But the self-styled media elites? They feign intelligence and understanding greater than that of the common man, but when it comes right down to it they're either being manipulated or they are openly obfuscating. I have to wonder what they would rather be: idiots or liars. Though I guess they could be both. Either way, it now seems clear that Obama will never reap what he has sown, will never be held responsible for the failures of his economic vision.

Cheers, all.

The Obama Imperial Presidency

With November fast approaching, the rhetoric is heating up as both the President and the soon-to-be-official challenger Mitt Romney are trying to define why each is different than the "other guy." A. Barton Hinkle--writing at Reason--offers a tongue in cheek piece, with regard to how far such attempts extend, how vital each side sees them:
My Side has produced a visionary program that will get the economy moving, put the American People back to work, strengthen national security, return fiscal integrity to Washington, and restore our standing in the international community. What does the Other Side have to offer? Nothing but the same old disproven, discredited policies that got us into our current mess in the first place.

Don’t take my word for it, though. I recently read about an analysis by an independent, nonpartisan organization that supports My Side. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything I have been saying about the Other Side was true all along. Of course, the Other Side refuses to acknowledge any of this. It is too busy cranking out so-called studies by so-called experts who are actually nothing but partisan hacks. This just shows you that the Other Side lives in its own little echo chamber and refuses to listen to anyone who has not already drunk its Kool-Aid.
Sound familiar? Such rhetoric could easily come from someone at either campaign. The non-partisan org part is particularly on point. Who says a given org, group, or person is non-partisan? Well, they may say it about themselves, but anyone can do that. Who else? Why, the person citing them for political advantage, of course. And witless media dupes. Hinkle continues with the mocking:
Besides, it’s clear that the people on the Other Side are driven by mindless anger – unlike My Side, which is filled with passionate idealism and righteous indignation. That indignation, I hasten to add, is entirely justified. I have read several articles in publications that support My Side that expose what a truly dangerous group the Other Side is, and how thoroughly committed it is to imposing its radical, failed agenda on the rest of us.
It's an effective, funny piece in my opinion. There is much truth here. But we need to be careful, because there is a growing body of evidence that suggests one of the current two sides actually is dangerous and radical, at least to those of us who still believe in liberty and individualism. That side is, of course, the one currently in power: Obama and his Administration.

In the 1960's and 1970's, the term "Imperial Presidency" became more and more common as a means of criticizing the "other side" when it was in power, but actually referenced a more general concern about the growth of Presidential power. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. even wrote a book entitled The Imperial Presidency in 1973 that described how such power had grown and evolved from Washington to Nixon, though Schlesinger updated it in 1989 and again in 2004, thus it now runs from Washington to George W. Bush.

And if we think back to the Bush years, the "Imperial Presidency of George Bush" was a common criticism, mostly from his opponents. There was a great deal of effort put in to criticizing the "unitary executive theory" that informed the Bush Presidency, particularly as regards Signing Statements, one of those things Obama once criticized but now exploits. Of course, the entire premise of such criticism has always been grossly misinformed and/or exaggerated:
Still, the Signing Statement controversies are largely manufactured. Aside from the statements having no legal authority, there is another matter: laws stay on the books until repealed or overridden by new laws. Not so for Signing Statements. They pass into history as quickly as the President that made them. Future Presidents and administrations are not constrained in any way by the Signing Statements of previous Presidents. The statements are footnotes, nothing more.
However, there was also the Bush Administration's supposed approval of torture, Gitmo, and some sort of assassination program. Consistent with Schlesinger's overall analysis, all of these things were effectively continued after Bush left office by the Obama Administration, thus appearing to demonstrate Schlesinger's argument: the Presidency is steadily growing in power.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tomorrow should be yesterday

I have three kids, aged five, twelve, and fourteen. All of them are enrolled in the public school system--elementary, middle, and high school respectively--because, frankly, I believe public education is a good thing and is more than adequate, as long as parents are doing their part in the process. That means insisting on the importance of education, making sure their children are keeping up, are doing their homework, and are attending school with a proper attitude (which includes a healthy respect for authority).

Forgetting the whole nature versus nurture debate, I can proudly say my children are smart. The older two have managed to bring home report cards with A's and B's, have passed all State-mandated tests (FCATs), and have been singled out for membership in organizations like the National Junior Honor Society. The youngest is just starting kindergarten, but can read, do basic addition, and understands that school is important. I have little doubt she will follow in her siblings' footsteps, academically speaking.

The older two also happen to be enrolled in magnet schools. The eldest is in an International Baccalaureate program (really, it's a pre-IB program, since the IB-specific courses begin in two years), while the other is in a drama program. In middle school, the eldest was in a dance program at the same magnet school her brother still attends for drama. The magnet programs have been good to us; both kids have definitely benefited from the structure and the limited nature of the programs. Inside of a large school--even a magnet one--the individual programs seem like separate, smaller schools.

All that said, states and counties are going overboard with magnet schools. Terribly so. For instance, a local middle school here is being "phased out" so it can become a magnet high school. But we don't need another high school, magnet or otherwise. The kids who would attend this middle school will be spread around to other non-magnet or semi-magnet middle schools, most of which are already overcrowded. Thanks to other new magnet schools, the elementary school my youngest attends (not a magnet school, but an "A" school) has seen a growth in enrollment the past several years of over four hundred children, most of whom are now bused in.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Larry Summers and the tragedy of too much education

By all accounts, Lawrence (Larry) Summers is a smart guy. He carries degrees from Harvard and MIT, he served as Treasury Secretary under Clinton, headed the Economic Council for Obama until the end of 2010, and was President of Harvard, as well. A helluva pedigree. Noted Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said this about Summers:
Larry’s extremely smart—ask him and he’ll tell you.
High praise from a man known for the consistency of his own opinions. Interestingly enough, Summers--while President of Harvard--helped push the University into investing in various derivatives and swaps, those "financial weapons of mass destruction" that were a consequence of the artificial housing bubble Krugman was pushing for back in 2001. As Krugman said then:
To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.
Summers, taking over at Harvard on 2001, basically went "all in" with some $3.5 billion of the school's money, most of it bet--through swaps--on the supposition that interest rates would rise, not fall. Ultimately, Harvard lost over $1 billion on these investments after the housing bubble popped and--conveniently--after Summers had stepped down.

It's an interesting pattern: Summers takes over at Harvard, pushes for a course of action, then leaves before the foolhardiness of his recommendations become apparent. And then, Summers heads up the Obama Stimulus program, sees it forced down the nation's throat, then steps down before the abysmal consequences are fully realized. If one's goal is destroy a company, school, or nation via bankruptcy, it would seem that Summers is the man for the job.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Yeah, but you're still a rude SOB

Six months ago I offered my first installment on cell-phones, the Semiannual Cell-Phone Bitch Session. In it, I talked a little about my own personal history with regard to cell-phones, my family's usage of the same, and the apparent necessity of cell-phones in the modern world, before getting to the actual bitch session. This time, I'm going to jump right in with a call to arms:

IF YOU ARE IN LINE AT A STORE AND THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU IS YAPPING ON A CELL-PHONE WHILE TRYING TO ORDER SOMETHING, SMACK THEM IN THE BACK OF THEIR FAT HEAD.

I can't make it any simpler than that. Ever been in line at a Starbucks or the like talking to someone on your cell-phone? When it was your turn to order, what did you do? Be honest. Did you tell the person on the other end of the line that you would call them back? Did you just end the call with a simple "goodbye" or "talk to you later"? Did you tell them to hold for a minute, while you made your order? Did you actually place them on hold (that can actually still be done with a cell-phone, by the way)? OR...did you continue on with the conversation and try to place your order at the same time? Well?

If you opted for the last, I have news for you: your actions qualify as rude behavior, as ill-mannered behavior, as obnoxious behavior. Don't take my word for it, ask someone that works such a job, behind the counter at a Starbucks or any other retail/fast-food kind of store. I guarantee they'll agree with me. But in the moment, they'll say "no problem" or simply ignore the rudeness. They can't say anything, particularly if they work for a large company. Why? Because they know that they'll get dressed down--or even fired--for being rude to a customer, by their supervisor, manager, district supervisor, or what not. The customer--after all--is always right, even when the customer is an obnoxious jerk.

I've talked about this with various people across the years, now. It's something of a pet peeve for me. One of the most common attempts to justify such rude behavior is something along the lines of "times have changed and people have grown up with cell-phones; they don't see the problem." That would--if true--possibly excuse the behavior of younger folks, though I'd say it was just something they needed to learn, but I don't think it is true. My own personal observations on the matter suggest otherwise, for it is not young people that I see behaving this way. It's people from my generation--I'm forty-six--or thereabouts, people who did not grow up with cell-phones, who should know better. And in that regard, they're setting terrible examples for the children and other young people when they show a complaint lack of manners when it comes to cell-phone usage.

I have nothing against cell-phones, I really don't. They're supremely useful. But the world isn't going to end if you have to put someone on hold or cut a conversation short for a few moments.

Cheers, all.

Zombie Campaign spam update

Previously, I discussed the Obama Campaign's fundraising tactics, especially with regard to the "enter for a chance to win a date with the President" kinds of contests:
Obviously, the point is to solicit donations. But come one! "Enter for a chance to win a dinner with Obama"? How unseemly is this for a President? He's actually holding a contest for a chance to meet his holiness? And I have little doubt the contest will be successful. Even now, I can hear the Obama zombies salivating at the prospect of winning the grand prize (second prize is probably having a beer with Biden). Yet, it's just so low rent, so commercial, it saddens me greatly to think of how many of my fellow citizens will fall for this. After all the hubbub over the Citizens United decision and the complaints about money in elections, we have a sitting President publicly pimping himself out for cash.
In the interest of fairness, I need to point out that the Romney Campaign followed suit, in a manner of speaking. It ran it's own contest, the "Believe in America Bus Tour" wherein a couple of lucky winners would get to spend the day with Romney on the campaign trail. To the best of my knowledge, however, Romney's contest is now over. The one from Obama continues on. Relentlessly.

I signed up for both contests, but without donating any money (both had the legal disclaimer insisting that there was "no purchase necessary to win"). But what I didn't realize in the beginning was that the Obama "contest" was not a single contest at all. Apparently, there are prize winners for just about every fundraising dinner Obama has. But you have to re-enter for each one (and hopefully re-donate). Since I submitted the initial entry form online, I have been bombarded with Obama spam on a weekly basis, with each piece touting another event  to which I could win a trip and asking for more money. The spam comes from a variety of different people on Team Obama, including various celebrities. I give you the most recent pieces, now linked to the Democratic National Convention:

Friday, August 17, 2012

When does that stop-loss order kick in, anyway?

Currently, the Federal Government is holding 500,000,000 (yes, that's 500 million) shares of General Motors Corporation stock. As of today, the stock is trading at a price of around $22/share, up substantially in volume--for some reason--and in price, as compared to a month ago when it was just under $20/share. For the Feds, that's a gain of over 10%, representing one billion dollars. Yes, you're also reading that correctly: the value of the GM stock held by the Feds has gone up by $1 billion in only one month. Pop the champagne, let's celebrate!

But there's a problem here. GM--you may recall--was bailed out using TARP funds (something that may have been illegal) and the Federal Government assisted the Chapter 11 process for GM by floating it additional monies, ultimately resulting in the government coming to own some 61% of the company. On  November 17, 2010 GM went public with a new IPO at a price of $33/share; the government's ownership stake was reduced to about 26%, leaving it with the 500 million shares it still holds. At that moment in time, the GM bailout was heralded as a huge success, as evidence of effective--and necessary--actions by the Federal Government to save a large company from failure.

Of course, the reality is that GM still filed for Chapter 11 and still sold off a number its brands and assets, things that would have happened without the Federal Government interjecting itself into the process with billions and billions of dollars. The UAW and other unions might not have fared quite so well in this latter scenario, but I digress. The point is that in November of 2010, there was much rejoicing over GM in the Administration, in Congress, and in the media. Witness the gushing in this piece from the New York Times:
American taxpayers’ ownership of General Motors was halved on Wednesday, and billions of dollars in bailout money was returned to the federal government, as a result one of the nation’s largest initial stock offerings ever... 
Still, now that General Motors has shown that it can be profitable, a complete exit by the government could happen even within the next two years. With the offering, G.M. is shedding its ties to the government faster than expected, cutting the Treasury Department’s ownership stake to 26 percent, from nearly 61 percent. 
The offering, President Obama said on Wednesday, continues “our disciplined commitment to exit this investment while protecting the American taxpayer”... 
There are reasons for both company and government officials to be confident. G.M., freed from much of its debt and overhead costs, became profitable this year and has earned $4.2 billion through the first three quarters. And although it jettisoned four of its eight brands in bankruptcy, the company managed to stabilize its United States market share at 19 percent and continue to invest in new vehicles.
Fast forward to the present time. From that initial offering price pegging at $33, GM stock rose to almost $40 a share in January of 2011--a nice gain for two months, and a result of all the aforementioned rejoicing, no doubt--then began to tumble, dropping to a low of under $20 a share last month.


GM's market share now sits at 18% and it's new offerings for 2013 hold little promise, as Louis Woodhill at Forbes details:
Acknowledging the importance of the D-Segment to the company’s future, GM’s CEO, Dan Akerson, ordered that the introduction of the redesigned 2013 Chevy Malibu be advanced by six months, from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2012.

In their March 2012 issue, Car and Driver published another D-Segment comparison test, pitting the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco against five competing vehicles. This time, the Malibu came in dead last.

Not only was the 2013 Malibu (183 points) crushed by the winning 2012 Volkswagen Passat (211 points), it was soundly beaten by the 2012 Honda Accord (198 points), a 5-model-year-old design due for replacement this fall. Worst of all, the 2013 Malibu scored (and placed) lower than the 2008 Malibu would have in the same test.

Uh-oh.
Indeed, Woodhill goes as far as to predict another bankruptcy for GM in the not-so-distant future, based on its loss of market share (make no mistake, a 1% drop in market share in a soft economy is bad news), its inability to offer competitive D-Segment cars, and its topsy-turvy upper management. Given the current stake of the Federal Government in GM, another bankruptcy likely means another bailout.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Money still talks, losers still walk

Dana Milbank's latest piece at WaPo ends with this cynically tantalizing conclusion:
Eight years ago, Cutter was a staffer on the Kerry campaign when the candidate was undone by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on his war record. Cutter, like other Democrats, learned a hard truth back then: Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.
The body of the piece is largely about how the current campaign is beset with a great deal of faux outrage, how candidates--actually, just Romney--are complaining about how negative the other guy--in this case Obama--is being. But Milbank--unlike the Obama-shill Peter Boehlert--supposes that this is indeed new ground for the Democrats, that in previous elections Democrat candidates were victims of negative campaigning, nothing more. What Boehlert said:
One media hook for its endless commentary about negativity is the claim that Obama has renounced his 2008 theme of "Hope and Change," and that he's a hypocrite for attacking his opponent because he once pledged to change the tone of politics in America. But an examination of four years ago reveals that Obama's run was anchored by ads that routinely attacked his opponent, which is how White House campaigns have unfolded for decades now.
See that? According to Boehlert, there's nothing new here. Milbank disagrees profoundly:
What’s different this time is that the Democrats are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success. They have ceased their traditional response of assuming the fetal position when attacked, and Obama’s campaign is giving as good as it gets — and then some.
Is there any truth to be found in these contradictory claims? Of course there is. The problem with both is a false dichotomy, a refusal to see degrees. It's either "totally negative" or "not negative at all," when is comes to Democratic campaigns. Both writers go too far: the Obama Campaign in 2008 ran negative ads and played the character assassination game, but it also did a lot more bragging about Obama, about his vision and the change he would bring. Now--in 2012--the Campaign is all about attacking Romney (and now Ryan) at every turn, from both personal and professional angles. And that's out of necessity, since Obama can hardly run on his record.

Now Milbank--in yet another rewriting of history by a clueless pundit--would have us believe that in presidential campaigns prior to this one, the Democrat meekly took it on the chin, suffering in silence as personal attack after personal attack was launched by the other side. Moreover, he would also have us believe that the Democrats--as a whole--only recently learned that attacking one's opponent can be an effective strategy. It's such a stupid proposition, I feel silly rebutting it. George W. Bush, after all, was eviscerated for being stupid, a cowboy, a coke-head, a coward (que Dan Rather), and so on in 2000 and again in 2004.

Milbank hangs his entire argument on the "swiftboating" of Kerry, supposing that this alone cost Kerry the election. And in that regard, he draws the conclusion that elections are won by "ruthlessness," thereby justifying every accusation made by the Obama Campaign.

But we--thinking people--all know the truth, don't we? Attacking your opponent isn't what wins elections. Milbank, in fact, proves his own conclusion wrong in the body of the piece, since he point to the "ruthlessness" of the attacks on Obama in 2008. Pardon Mr. Milbank, but didn't Obama win that election. Oops. And that election is itself evidence for what we all know: if there is one single thing that wins elections, it is...money.

This is not something new or earth-shattering. OpenSecrets.org takes it as a given:
The historic election of 2008 re-confirmed one truism about American democracy: Money wins elections. From the top of the ticket, where Barack Obama declined public financing for the first time since the system's creation and went on to amass a nearly two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain, to congressional races throughout the nation, the candidate with the most money going into Election Day emerged victorious in nearly every contest. 
In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning, according to a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
We need to be careful here, however. These numbers don't mean just about every election is just bought and paid for. Because there are reasons why some candidates out-raise--and therefore out-spend--their opponents. Oftentimes, it is simply because more people support them and/or their platform and are willing to contribute to their campaigns. And such was the case for Obama in 2008. In fact, as I just noted in a previous piece, it was this reality that led Obama to drop public financing.

But the end result is the same: the more money one can raise, the more likely one is to win. It's fun to imagine the race hinges on something like "ruthlessness," but it's ultimately just a bunch of nonsense.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Of standards and history

Recently, I tackled the issue of Presidential candidates and their tax returns, noting how those demanding that Romney release more of his had created a phony narrative wherein it was "standard practice" for candidates to release ten or so years of returns. Looking at the actual numbers--going back to 1968--I showed that there is no such standard in evidence:
Out of eighteen candidates, seven--including Romney--released zero, one, or two years of returns, while also seven released ten or more years of returns. Percentage wise, 39% released two or fewer years, 39% released ten or more, and 22%--including Obama--released three to nine.
This reality hasn't stopped the repetition of the claim. To make it appear true, pundits and various Democrats have created an artificial barrier to define "recent": thirty years. No particular reason for this limit is ever given because no particular reason exists. It just serves to make the phony narrative appear to be true.

But it occurs to me that there is another issue wherein a standard did, in fact, exist. And it was completely ignored by President Obama in 2008. The issue: the Presidential Public Financing System. Remember back in 2008, when McCain and Obama both pledged to use the system, but then Obama reneged and went with wholly private funding? Even pundits on the left were forced to allow that Obama was breaking a promise he did indeed make. The reasoning? The Obama Campaign then tried to argue that it was necessary step to combat McCain's fundraising, something that just wasn't true in the least:
Obama announced he would become the first presidential candidate since 1972 to rely totally on private donations for his general election campaign, opting out of the system of public financing and spending limits that was put in place after the Watergate scandal.

One reason, he said, is that "John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs."

We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts.
The reality of the matter was simple: the Obama Campaign was raising too much money; it was on a record pace in this regard and did not want to surrender a clear advantage over the McCain Campaign in funding. In the end, the Obama Campaign raised over $750 million. The McCain campaign raised $238 million, including matching public funds. If the Obama Campaign had gone with public financing, he would have been limited to around $252 million, thus giving up some $500 million in additional funds. If the goal is to win an election, it was kind of a no-brainer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dark figures under bright lights

Voter identification laws, they're all the rage now. On the Left, they're likened to poll taxes, tools to suppress the minority vote, to disenfranchise millions of Americans:
The new voter ID laws are, of course, not exactly the same as the old poll taxes. History provides few examples of exact replicas. But the new laws and the historic poll tax do share three significant points: 
First, a voter restriction is like a poll tax when its authors use voting fraud as a pretext for legislation that has little to do with voting fraud. 
Second, it is like a poll tax when it creates only a small nuisance to some voters, but for other groups it erects serious barriers to the ballot. 
Third, it is like a poll tax when it has crude partisan advantage as its most immediate aim.
Harsh stuff, especially considering the first point, since voter fraud is the absolute most-cited reason by people on the Right, when it comes to justifying voter ID laws. The current battleground for this issue is the State of Pennsylvania, whose recently-enacted voter ID laws were recently challenged in court. The trial has now ended and the two sides--and the nation--are awaiting the decision. Here's a decidedly left-wing analysis of "what we learned" from the trial. Much of what was learned concerns numbers, statistics about the impact of voter ID laws and about the prevalence--or lack thereof--of voter fraud.

With regard to the first--the impact of voter ID laws on voter turnout--much of the discussion is centered on a report from the Brennan Center for Justice. In the Pennsylvania trial, this was the principle evidence for those opposed to the law. Indeed, it is the principal piece of evidence being cited by the Left, as a whole. But the issue is just not that cut and dried. Here is another study from the Brennan Center, from back in 2009, that concludes the following (my boldface):
In this article, we argue that voter-ID laws should have little to no effect on aggregate or individual-level turnout, particularly after considering political motivations for voting. This is not to claim that voter-ID laws will not have an impact on future voting nor are we arguing no one is impacted by voter-ID laws, rather we suggest that these laws have not had a significant impact on voting thus far. Moreover, given the get-outthe-vote initiatives and grassroots programs designed to increase civic engagement and inform voters, we expect that members of the electorate who are interested in voting are more likely to do so regardless of the state laws requiring various forms of identification.  
While there are many examples of anecdotal evidence in the debate over disenfranchisement and voter-identification laws, like the one with which we open this article, we chose to put the question of the impact of voter-ID laws to an empirical test. Using multiple data sources, we explored whether strict voter-identification laws affect voter turnout at both the aggregate (state) and individual level. We find that voter identification laws do not affect voter turnout, and as a result we fail to reject the null hypothesis of no effects.
This, of course, flies in the face of the current claims about voter ID laws, how they will lead to the disenfranchisement of millions of voters, how they are like poll taxes, how they represent a return to the Jim Crow era, etc. For my part, I think there is simply insufficient evidence to draw an overall conclusion, one way or the other. And this is not 1912, regardless.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Target-rich Environments

Remember the months after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting? Remember all of the talk--mostly from the left--about getting rid of violent political rhetoric, the attempts by many to lay the blame for the shooting at the feet of Sarah Palin for her cross-hair map?

Previously, I discussed the issue of "violent rhetoric" with reference to MediaMatters, how it called for an end to such rhetoric but continued to engage in the same. Typical hypocrisy, right? And I also noted how Wasserman-Schultz made a point of blaming the tea party for an increase in such language, though I also showed her claims to be completely false; such rhetoric has always been a feature of politics and always will.

Still, it's a talking point that the Left simply cannot let go. Here's a recent article at TPM listing various "transgressions" by Republicans and tea party folks in this regard. It quotes Kathleen Jamieson from the Annenberg Center (the people that run FactCheck.org) on the matter and draws the expected conclusion (my boldface):
“After the Gabby Giffords shooting,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies campaign rhetoric. “The notion that you would use a bulls-eye or a gun in any way as a symbolism or an ad was marked as completely and totally inappropriate.” 
Jamieson said she is surprised to see examples of violent language re-emerging, especially given the risk that such language entails post-shooting. “I think it’s a politically inept choice,” she said. With gun imagery, for example, a candidate might appeal to partisans, but “at the cost of alienating moderates and independents and in particular alienating women.” 
As the nation as a whole embarks on the first election cycle since the shooting, the jury is still out on whether things have really changed. Either way, Jamieson said, “capacity right now of our news structure to magnify it and hence to normalize it is much greater than it ever was in the past.” Though both sides are guilty of using violent rhetoric, gun imagery is more common on the right, where the base strongly objects to gun regulations.
The article doesn't offer an evidence to prove the assertion, of course, just a series of examples, again culled wholly from the Right. But maybe it is true, maybe there is more from the Right. Of course, we have--as an example from the Left--President Obama and his "bring a knife to a gunfight" remark. Note how the good people at FactCheck attempt to excuse the statement. But regardless, one could say that was then--before Giffords--this is now.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan a fine choice, ignore the ignorant Left

There's no denying that Paul Ryan is a smart, serious-minded Representative. Would that the rest of the House--not to mention the Senate--bore more resemblance to Ryan (or Jeff Flake) and less to Nancy Pelosi. Moreover, Paul Ryan is also personable and an effective speaker. Yet, there's a lot of pseudo-joy flowing from the orifices of progressives and liberals over the selection: they'd like everyone to believe they're happy about it. But don't buy into it.

I guess some on the Left might honestly be happy about Ryan being Romney's VP pick, but that's probably because they're largely ignorant of reality, both with regard to Ryan and elections in general. For instance, many progressives and liberals are pointing to the victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul in a Republican district as evidence that the Ryan pick will not only fail to help Romney, but will also help the Dems win back all kinds of House seats.

For those unfamiliar with Hochul, she won a special election victory in NY 26 last year after scandal forced Representative Chris Lee to step down. And her platform consisted largely of being opposed to Ryan's budget. The District had been solidly Republican since 2000, having gone with Bush twice and McCain in 2008. The simplistic conclusion drawn from this race: running against the Ryan Budget is a winner because it galvanizes voters against Republicans who support the Ryan budget, especially older voters.

But a simple look at the actual numbers in the 2011 Special Election tells a different tale: there was no turnout in the election. Only 111,000 people voted in it, as opposed to 205,000 in 2010 and 270,000 in 2008. There was no huge movement of support towards Hochul. She received less than 53,000 total votes. In the 2010 election for NY 26, the Democratic challenger to Lee received just over 54,00 votes (Lee received over 150,000). In 2008, the Democrat Alice Kryzan received over 109,000 votes, but lost to Lee's 148,000 votes. Despite increased spending by Republicans in the 2011 special election, their candidate--Jane Corwin--didn't move anyone. Hochul beat her, not Paul Ryan. In a Presdential Election year Hochul's seat is now in jeopardy. It's foolish to believe otherwise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Solyndra was a good bet? Really?

Michael Grunwald--senior national correspondent at Time Magazine--has a new piece out wherein he argues that Solyndra's collapse and the loss of some $500 million in taxpayer funds was not only scandal-free, but actually not a bad thing at all. That's not to say that Grunwald applauds the loss of money, but that he thinks there was nothing particularly wrong with the DOE loan to Solyndra:
The federal clean-energy loan program that the infamous solar-panel maker was a part of was designed to finance risky ventures, and Solyndra was a reasonable risk: an innovative manufacturer with huge private backing and an opportunity to transform the industry.
But what is Grunwald's assumption--that the loan to Solyndra "was a reasonable risk"--actually based on? He fails to actually make that case, to supply any evidence showing why the risk was reasonable. Instead, he opts for a phony narrative:
But the industry transformed itself first. Silicon prices plunged, Solyndra’s advantages vanished, and the firm went bust. It happens. The Bush and Obama Administrations both selected Solyndra from 143 applicants for the program’s first loan, and investigators found no evidence that political interference made that happen.
First, note that Solyndra never had an advantage. This is exactly why it came looking for funds from the Feds, because private investment wasn't sufficient, owing to the fact that people in the venture capital game had come to realize that the numbers were no longer in Solyndra's favor, that Chinese companies not only had better technology, but would also undercut Solyndra's prices by a country mile.

Second, while it is true that Solyndra applied for a loan under the Bush Administration, the loan was never approved. Why? Because people at the DOE and OMB had doubts about the loan, about whether or not the risk was reasonable. The loan application was still open when Obama took office and as I noted previously, it was the Obama Administration that pushed the application forward, ignoring red flags and concerns opined by people in the know at the OMB. Heading up that push was one Steven Spinner, put in charge of overseeing the DOE loan program by President Obama.

And finally, with regard to there being no "political interference" involved, Spinner is also evidence that this was not the case, either. As the ABC story which broke the Spinner angle notes:
Many of the emails [pushing the OMB to sign off on the loan] were written just days after Spinner accepted a three-page ethics agreement in which he pledged he would "not participate in any discussion regarding any application involving [his wife's law firm] Wilson [Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati]."
As I'm sure everyone can guess, his wife's law firm was handling the loan application on behalf of Solyndra. Spinner was himself a major campaign bundler for Obama and in some of his e-mails, he singled out other big-time Obama supporters--like George Kaiser--who were invested in Solyndra. And as we all know, the DOE ultimately allowed the loan to be subordinated, thus guaranteeing these big time donors first crack at recouping their investments--above and beyond taxpayers--when Solyndra went belly-up.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The end of intelligence in the media

Let's be clear about one thing, right up front: E.J. Dionne is not a deep thinker, is not a critical thinker. Yet, he is a working member of the professional media with a regular column at the Washington Post. I delved into one of his columns previously. In that piece, Dionne demonstrates a total lack of understanding with regard to the concept of hypocrisy. But as bad as that column was, his latest is even worse.

Entitled "Romney and His Fictional Obama," the piece begins with a challenge, of sorts:
Here's a chance for all who think Obamacare is a socialist Big Government scheme to put their money where their ideology is: If you truly hate the Affordable Care Act, you must send back any of those rebate checks you receive from your insurance companies thanks to the new law.
Bam! There it is! What do you say to that, you right-wing dumbasses? Of course, the problem is that Dionne's big dare is six ways stupid. It doesn't make any sense. True, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contains a provision--the Medical Loss Ratio provision--that requires most companies to spend 80% of collected premiums on actual medical care and this has resulted in rebate checks being issued to an estimated 12.8 million Americans. And?

In Dionne-land, accepting that money somehow represents a tacit acceptance of Obamacare, as a whole. As I said, six ways stupid:
  1. It's just one provision of the Act and hardly the one most are up in arms about.
  2. The money wouldn't go to the Federal Government if it was sent back. Contrast this with challenges laid at the feet of people like Buffet, who don't think they pay enough in taxes. They're free to actually send more money to the Feds, but they don't.
  3. Regardless, it can't be sent back. Insurance companies are required to send out the checks by law; send it back and they'll just re-send it. 
  4. The average rebate has been estimated to be about $151 dollars. Real money, true, but hardly a small fortune. It'll be gone in the wink of an eye. And really, who turns down rebates?
  5. Almost no one is jumping up and down praising Obama for the rebate checks because most realize that the long term costs of Obamacare make these checks insignificant.  
  6. Additionally, not everyone opposed to Obamacare is a big fan of health insurance companies, to begin with. Many of us want them out of healthcare decisions, altogether (along with the government). Rebate check or no rebate check, Obamacare isn't making that happen. It's only making things worse.  
And that was Dionne's big lead-in for the reminder of the piece, which unfortunately doesn't get any better. He closes by musing on whether or not Romney got a rebate check and on whether or not Romney plans on returning it. Dionne actually thinks he's being brilliant and clever, that he's scoring big points. It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The new narrative: Obama's negative campaign is not new

Name-calling. Unsupported accusations. Relentless demands for personal information. A refusal to condemn the outrageous actions of fellow Democrats. This is the Obama Campaign, the 2012 Edition.

On October 27, 2008--one week before the election--Obama made a speech in Canton, Ohio. In it, he talked about the things that differentiated his vision from that of Senator John McCain. But he also talked about the nature of leadership, the kind of politics he would champion. Some highlights:
In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope...

But as I've said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new politics - a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another...

In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe.
Striking, isn't it? Candidate Obama is basically criticizing the entire election playbook of President Obama. All of the things Obama promised to change are now a part of his modus operandi. Such is the way of politics, though. At the end of the day, gaining or holding on to power tends to trump everything else. The attack-dog mentality of the Obama Campaign shouldn't surprise us, we should have expected it always. Still, it represents an all-too-obvious descent from the high-minded rhetoric we have been treated to for the past four-plus years (going back to when Obama began his campaign in 2007).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tax returns and re-imagining history

Like Obama's "you didn't build that" gaffe, the issue of Romney's tax returns just won't go away. The latter is all the pundits on the Left want to talk about, while the former remains the primary issue for pundits on the Right.

But with regard to Romney's tax returns, there's a meme running through the media that goes something like this: "Romney's decision to release only two (or one, depending on the pundit) years of tax returns flies in the face of tradition; candidates typically release many more years." Bill Clinton--now an "elder statesman," of sorts--weighed in on the issue as well, some three weeks ago:
I am a little surprised he only released a year's worth of tax returns. That kind of perplexed me, because this is the first time in, I don't know, more than 30 years that anybody running for president has only done that. you know, it's typical we all release 10, 11 years.
That's kind of been the standard operating line for the left: it's usual for candidates to release ten or so years of tax returns. But is it? Here's FactCheck on the issue, based on Romeny's claim that two years was an established precedent:
Mitt Romney says he is following the “precedent” set by John McCain in releasing just two years of tax returns. That’s accurate. But McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, bucked the trend of other recent presidential candidates.  
In more than three decades, no other nominees for either party have released fewer than five years’ worth of returns. Romney’s own father released a dozen years’ worth when he ran for the GOP nomination in 1968.
Okay. So what is the standard, what is the precedent? And why is three decades--Bill Clinton's thirty years--meaningful? Thirty years takes us back to 1982. What happened before that and why doesn't it matter? We can guess: prior to 1982, the Democratic candidates may not have appeared particularly forthcoming. Because it was actually in 1984 that a Democrat first released more than one year of returns. FactCheck even provides a couple of handy charts, but fails to make use of them:



In total, there are eighteen Presidential candidates on these charts, nine Republicans and nine Democrats. The charts go back to 1968, thus giving us forty-four years to consider. And there's no reason I can think of to not consider forty-four years, to limit the analysis to the last thirty years, so I won't.

So, what do the numbers tell us? Out of eighteen candidates, seven--including Romney--released zero, one, or two years of returns, while also seven released ten or more years of returns. Percentage wise, 39% released two or fewer years, 39% released ten or more, and 22%--including Obama--released three to nine.

We can spin the numbers, it is true, and say 61% released more than two years. But we can just as easily say 61% released fewer than ten years (a group that would include both Romney and Obama). The reality is that there is no standard here. Claiming that it is usual for candidates to releases ten years of returns is an untruth, a lie. Yet, that's what is being sold in the media, by and large, what is being claimed by the Obama Campaign and it's Democratic supporters like Pelosi, Reid, and Wasserman-Schultz.

What troubles me the most about all of this is how easily the public appears to be buying into these kinds of fabrications, how willing it is to accept a phony version of history, when it comes to Presidential races.

Cheers, all.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Stay the course, ignore the hole in the boat

Dan Mitchell at Cato took the opportunity the other day--following another mediocre jobs report and an increase in unemployment--to recycle the classic chart showing the Obama Administration's projected unemployment levels following the Stimulus Bill and the actual unemployment numbers:


Oddly enough, the slope of the curve is not that far off--just much, much higher--until the last several months, where it appears a new trend of increasing unemployment is developing (look at the trend line from 2007 to the second quarter of 2008). It's a powerful statement in graphic form. Indeed, Mitchell  suggests Romney would be well-served to use it as much as possible:
I never watch TV, so I’m not in a position to know for sure, but I haven’t seen any articles indicating that the Romney campaign is using this data in commercials to criticize Obama. That seems like a missed opportunity.
He makes a fair point, especially when the Democrats in power seem to think the above chart is a positive. Wasserman-Schultz makes this exact case on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" (my boldface):
That's the choice we have got in this election. Do we want to continue moving in the direction that President Obama has taken? 29 straight months of job growth in the private sector, a president who wants a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Asked folks to pay a little bit more who can, so that we can make sure we can make those investments in education and the economy. 
We're all in this together. This election should not be about defeating Barack Obama. It should be about getting the economy turned around, and that's what Barack Obama is committed to.
Look at the chart again and the "direction" Obama is taking the country, with regard to jobs. As I've noted before, job growth or job creation is "quite possibly the dumbest metric to ever enter discussions on the economy." Aside from the number of "created" jobs being mostly a guesstimate and subject to manipulation via "corrections," it's terribly misleading, since somewhere between 100,000 jobs and 150,000 jobs are needed each month, just to keep pace with population growth.