December 30, 2010

Ezra Klein, Leftist Tool

Ezra Klein on the proposed reading of the Constitution on the House floor:



Let's watch him palm that card and not-so-subtly shift the subject to the leftist worldview of the infinitely malleable Constitution. Money quote in whole, with no Dowdification:
"Yes, it's[1] a gimmick. I mean, you can say two things about it[2]. One is that it[2] has no binding power on anything. And two, the issue of the Constitution is not that people don't read the text and think they're following, the issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it[2] was written more than a hundred years ago, and what people believe it[2] says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done, so I wouldn't expect too much coming out of this[1]."

It's odd how the language of the Constitution only becomes all that terribly confusing and incomprehensible when people try to read into it things that aren't there. For the things that are certainly there, it's not nearly as ambiguous as Klein would like it to be.

[1]: The reading aloud of the Constitution on the House floor. It's a "gimmick" only in the vague sense of the first noun defn., while Klein obviously means to present it as the second noun defn., namely as a devious trick.

[2]: "It" in this case being the Constitution itself, not the reading aloud of same.


Update: Have I mentioned lately that I ♥ IowaHawk? Here's why!

More Update: Don Surber nails it:
Ezra Klein made the biggest mistake that can be made by a liberal — progressive — socialist — communist — no labelist — whatever the heck they call themselves on the 31st of the month.

He was being honest.

He does not believe in the Constitution.

He is cynical about it and he projects that same cynicism onto those who disagree with him.

December 25, 2010

I ♥ Iowahawk

...in a non-gay admire & respect sort of way.

Best. Unemployment. Advisor. EVAH.

The hits just keep on comin'. I look forward to the inevitable Best Of anthology.

December 21, 2010

A Present For you!



Why? Because I'm evil.

November 21, 2010

Whoda Thunk It?

The New York Times discovers the Law of Unintended Consequences:

Consumer Risks Feared as Health Law Spurs Mergers
When Congress passed the health care law, it envisioned doctors and hospitals joining forces, coordinating care and holding down costs, with the prospect of earning government bonuses for controlling costs ...

... Consumer advocates fear that the health care law could worsen some of the very problems it was meant to solve — by reducing competition, driving up costs and creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to stint on care, in order to retain their cost-saving bonuses.

Yeah, nobody could have seen that coming ... except, you know, pretty much everyone who declined to buy into the Sparkly Flying Unicorn Rainbow Farts School of Magic Wand Waving. This falls squarely under the "perverse results" category of unintended consquences, and not the "unexpected" categories.

Not unexpected, that is, unless you're the New York Times, in which case you're completely flabbergasted at this "unexpected" turn of events.

November 13, 2010

Everything Looks Like A Hammer!

Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz almost but not quite notices Tully's Corollary in action:
The Keynesian idea of stimulus has no empirical basis, but the only active tool the government has in a time of economic downturn is its ability to borrow and spend. Surprise, surprise: during the Great Depression, governments fell all over themselves to embrace Keynes’s idea of borrowing and spending to “stimulate” the economy. They did so not because it was proven to work (then or since) but because it justified the one action that would make the government larger and more powerful and the political class larger and more powerful as well.

The Fed is now doing the same thing with inflation “Quantitative Easing”. There is no particular reason to believe that inflating the money supply will produce more real economic activity, indeed the history of the 20th century proves exactly the opposite. However, it is all the Fed can do right now so it is going to grab a convenient theory to justify inflating the currency.

The nail is growth-driven employment. Tully's Corollary applies because their first tool didn't work despite enthusiastic application, so they've moved on to another tool. First they tried using the drill press of borrow-and-spend, now it's the blowtorch of quantitative easing.

One hopes they find that hammer soon, but in the meantime they've screwed up both the nail and the receiving surface with the drill press and the blowtorch.

November 03, 2010

Election Reflections

My initial predictions for Congress over the last few weeks were GOP gains of 62-68 seats in the House and 6-8 seats in the Senate. As I write this, known GOP gains are 61 seats in the House with 12 seats still unreported, and 6 seats in the Senate with 3 still unreported.

One of those unreported Senate seats (Alaska) is somewhat problematic from the "GOP gain" standpoint, as it's down to Republican nominee Joe Miller versus incumbent GOP senator Lisa Murkowski running as an independent write-in. If Murkowski should win as an independent, no one is quite sure how she would caucus. I would suspect that she would continue to fall along the Snowe/Collins/Brown GOP moderate axis unless the GOP picked up both WA and CO, which would give the Dems incentive to offer heavy rewards to bring her into the fold.

WA and CO are both still out. In CO, the unreported precincts are in Arapahoe and Boulder counties, which to me would indicate a solid-if-slim Bennet (D) win when the dust settles. But there are a huge number of provisional ballots still to be counted, and if the margin is close we can expect that to drag on for a while, even head into court contests. Buck was definitely hurt by his constant veering from moderate-Republican-in-public to red-meat-rightie-in-private, as well-documented by a Bennet-friendly media. (Hey Buck? You do your re-positioning BEFORE the race, not DURING. Word.) This race drew the most outside money of any Senate race this year.

In WA, Murray slightly leads Rossi on the strength of the (somewhat infamous) King County vote, with nearly a million votes still to be counted. Roughly a third of those uncounted ballots are from King County. Once again, if the margin stays close, expect litigation. In any case, Rossi finds himself once again fighting uphill within the "margin of cheat." If I had to bet, I'd bet on Murray keeping her seat, though I would not offer odds on doing so without a recount at this point.

Among the other Senate races, it's somewhat notable that (enormously popular) Democratic Governor Joe Manchin saved the Robert Byrd Memorial Seat for the Democrats in West Virginia for two more years by running on his strong center-right track record as Governor and his late reversal on ObamaCare ("I wuz tricked!" ). Raese's well-publicized missteps and Manchin's long-standing social conservatism carried Manchin through the rough spots for a solid win. Liberals rejoicing at a Manchin win for sheerly partisan purposes should be aware that this was actually a strengthening of the centrist faction in the Senate. And the GOP should note that the Dems managed to not throw away a seat by insisting on ideological purity. (Mike Castle, anyone?) Lesson: All other things being equal, fit the candidate to the constituency.

I'll skip the individual House races still unresolved, save to note that my months-ago wager on the "over" of GOP +38 was well-covered, and my 62-68 predictive spread looks pretty darn safe. I didn't wager on the Senate -- IMHO it looked entirely too uncertain for wagering, and events seem to have borne that out. My 6-8 spread is valid at 6 for the moment, but if CO and WA stay Dem (highly likely) a Murkowski flip to the Dem caucus would leave the technical seat gain at 5, with a new spread of 54-46 (counting indies by caucus). Even without a Murkowski defection, a 53-47 balance would not be close enough to strongly encourage Dem defections to the GOP at this point. Either balance still gives extra weight to the indie caucus and the party moderates on both sides, regardless of the outcome in Alaska. In any case, if I end up hitting that prediction, it's only by a micron or two.

In other results, the people of California voted to remove one of their most effective checks on taxation, passing Prop 25. In a state already plagued with capital flight (both human and business), massive debt, high taxes, high cost of living, and absolutely enormous unfunded pension liabilities, this does not bode well.

I spent the evening at an election watch party for some local Democratic candidates, and probably saw as much joy as was possible for any such party in my (very red) area. Some good "D" state legislators held onto their seats, a few others didn't, and those D's running uphill against the Tea Party wave seeking previously-"R" seats were disappointed.

[Subnote: Barack baby? Even though you got my phone number at that party you threw a coupla years back, there was no action and absolutely no magnetism, and we were never destined to make out. It ain't happenin', guy. You're pretty and all, but you're definitely not my type. SO QUIT CALLING AND TEXTING AND EMAILING ME. Nine texts yesterday on my cell phone alone, and God knows how many calls I didn't answer and emails caught by my filters. Double Cheezus on a stalker-burger! Do I have to get a restraining order?]

October 20, 2010

The People Are Revolting!

They certainly are.



French strike to save 'birthright' of privileges
"We want to stop working at 60 because it's something our parents, our grandparents and even our great-grandparents fought for," says Gilly, 50, a union representative at Saint-Pierre Cemetery, the largest in this bustling Mediterranean port city.

"And over the years ... you can see that we're losing everything they fought for. And that's unacceptable."

You know, once upon a time a Frenchman* stood (figuratively) knee-deep in de Nile, and could see the pyramids from where he stood ... that didn't end well for him.

[*--Yes, yes, I know he was really an upstart Corsican. It's an allegory, dammit!]

October 19, 2010

Geithner's Kevin Bacon Moment

Geithner vows U.S. will not devalue dollar

"It is not going to happen in this country." Geithner told Silicon Valley business leaders of devaluing the dollar...

...On Friday, the dollar index hit a 10-month low against a basket of major currencies, while the greenback has been plumbing fresh 15-year lows against Japan's yen.




Do not buy a used car from this man.

September 03, 2010

Good News, Everyone!



OK, I couldn't resist the title & pic combo. But it IS nice to finally see a small suggestion of a bright spot in the employment situation. Below is a chart from the Mercatus Center at George Mason U. regarding temp staffing contrasted with payroll employment.



While the short text implies the fall in temp staffing is a bad sign, I have a somewhat different take seeing the two stats together*. The fall-off in temps staffing coincides with a positive uptick in payroll hiring, which strongly suggests that an equilibrium is being reached in payroll staffing. To wit, it suggests that employers have reached a point where they have quit downsizing and insuring against further decline, and for the moment are feeling comfortable with fully staffing at their current levels of production.

That's a far cry from actual growth, mind you, but given the very expensive mandates already shoved down their throats (ObamaCare, new taxes and regs), the threat of more to come (more tax hikes and even more burdensome regs), the weak economy and ongoing workout of bad assets from the real estate and fnancial bubble-bursts, amd the enormous uncertainties associated with all of the above, it's a positive indicator of equilibrial stabilization, perhaps due to watchful waiting ahead of the elections. Which beats the hell out of further decline and IMHO is a positive indicator of reduced "double-dip" potentials.

If the "watchful waiting" hypothesis is correct, evidence of it will be found in market trends tracking the polls the closer we get to the elections, and in the election-reaction market movements the first week of November, as election results are confirmed.

[*--Pay attention to the somewhat different scales so as to not get the two levels confused as being the same. Also, for those not used to reading such things, please note that positive/negative is where the lines cross their respective 0.0% lines, not where the trend direction changes. Payroll jobs did not start upticking in early-'09, for example, that's where the rate of losses started reducing. But increases in payroll employment do not begin until the 0.0% point was reached in the uptick of the trend, roughly May '10. And temp staffing did not hit 0.0% until July '10.]

August 31, 2010

The More Things Change...

... the more they stay the same, or why I am bored with the hyperbolic squabbling over the Ground Zero Mosque.

Namely, because despite the hysteria and demagoguery and posturing, the same arguments in slightly different forms are the same ones heard all the bloody time in every city in America. It's a land use flap over a by right usage, and I've heard it all countless times before.

Hells' bells, you (literally) don't have to go farther than the morning news to see this same dynamic at work all over the nation. From today's headline feed, out of the first dozen stories I find ...

Casino proposed near battlefield splits Gettysburg

Proposed pot farm on countryside angers residents

If you want to build something and some people don't like it, they will throw everything they can think of at it. Tully's Corollary™ to Kaplan's Law of the Instrument states:

"When you really want to drive a nail, everything starts to look like a hammer." It doesn't matter if it's a rock or a wrench, a blender or a board or a baguette. If you really really want to drive that nail, everything suddenly looks like a hammer.

At no time is this more evident than during election season.

Here's a couple of useful acronyms for such situations: "CAVE people" and "BANANAs." Citizens Against Virtually Everything" and "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything."

July 17, 2010

Public Service Announcement



Personally, I believe that anyone who has more than a couple of bumper stickers of any kind on their vehicle is likely to be somewhat deranged. Experience has to date supported this view.

June 22, 2010

If Ignorance is Bliss, William Greider is Ecstatic...

...and he insists on sharing his joy with us in The Nation.

Goodbye Keynes, Hello Hoover
The first fundamental failure of Keynesian economics occurred forty years ago during the Vietnam War when the economy was overheating but the political system failed to take the corrective steps that would restrain price inflation—that is, raise taxes and reduce federal spending. The decade of economic stagnation that followed became a central factor in discrediting both liberalism and the Democratic Party.

Wrong. Despite popular mythology, Keynesian economics actually first failed during Keynes' own lifetime, back in the Great Depression. More accurately, the rather selectively-interpreted and extremely cherry-picked tactics scalpeled out of Keynes' theoretical work failed, in large part because of that selective interpretation and cherry-picking. And among the first to say so was Keynes himself, who noted that his prescription was for short-term ameliorative action, not long-term doctrine. But I digress...back to Greider:
We are now witnessing a second great failure of the doctrine John Maynard Keynes devised for managing a healthy economy. This time, Washington faces the opposite problem—a starkly underperforming economy in which 10 percent of the workforce are without jobs and income. Yet the President and Democratic Congress, spooked by the swollen federal deficits, are unwilling to do what Keynes prescribed in these circumstances—pump up federal spending enormously and run even larger budget deficits in order to force-feed a stronger recovery.

One can gain a solid grasp of Greider's own political stance simply by noting what he (along with most other liberals) leaves out of the classic Keynesian prescription for recession -- cutting taxes. Yet Greider and his ideological cohorts have no problem whatsoever remembering the "raise taxes" part of the Keynesian price inflation prescription.

Keynesian theory has many empirically demonstrable flaws and it's not my intent to begin a long dissection of them*. My point here is highlighting the willful selective ignorance of those socialist/statist ideologues who want more government and more more spending and (at root) more more MORE state control over individuals with the concomittant loss of freedom that implies, and use Keynes as their crutch. Even dedicated Keynesian Paul Krugman (who really is a brilliant economist when he's not being a complete political-media whore for "progressivism") has had some things to say about Greider's utter lack of critical-thinking skills, at least in the field of economics.

So when you hear ideologues tossing derogatory sneers at "Keynesianism" and "Monetarism" and "Libertarianism" and such, keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of them, like Greider, haven't got the intellectual foundation to know WTF they're talking about. Or even the ability to grasp that they don't have that foundation.

[*--For a much more balanced and empirical rather than ideological view of the current state of our economic situation and the failed applications of Keynesian theory thereto, N. Gregory Mankiw's recent article in National Affairs provides an excellent start for the intelligent layperson. Pay particular attention to his thoughts on the disparities between theoretical models and observed reality -- they have major applications in other areas, such as climate "science."]

June 06, 2010

How's That Stimulus Coming?

About as I predicted.

Stimulus aside, we're not seeing increase in jobs
The economy will kick into gear again when the private sector begins adding jobs. Investors were spooked Friday because it isn't doing that yet. Of the 413,000 jobs added in May, just 41,000 of them were in the private sector, barely a fifth of what economists expected, and many of those jobs were temporary ones. Speaking of which, virtually all the public-sector job increases were the result of temporary workers hired by the U.S. Census Bureau...

...The Keynesians who advocate for bigger stimulus spending to avoid a double-dip recession are beginning to bump up against the limits of their argument that deficit spending can lead the economy back to a growth cycle. The stimulus spending has to show some private-sector results. We can't keep pointing to the census workers, teachers and other public-sector jobs that have been "kept" thanks to stimulus money.

This really isn't rocket science or brain surgery. The "stimulus" bill was, as I repeatedly said, mostly aimed at shoring up government and union (and public-sector union) jobs, NOT at "stimulating" the private economy that actually generates the wealth that pays for all that government. While private-sector employment crumbled, government employment barely budged at state and local levels, and actually grew at the federal level.

Shoring up government at the expense of the private sector is not stimulus. It's an attempt to permanently expand government. And it won't boost the economy. Quite the opposite. It suppresses growth, as we're seeing. When we do begin to see positive recovery in the private sector, it won't be because of government "stimulus," but in spite of it.

June 03, 2010

Miss W? Hell, I miss Jimmy!

Well, I tried to warn you. No need to elaborate, the headlines of ongoing corruption and incompetence already tell the tale. I just wanted to say I told you so.

Since I'm too busy to post much if any for the near future, I'd urge all five of my regular readers to avail themselves of the blogroll on the left sidebar to feed their blog jones. And if you're inclined, you can visit my minimalist CafePress store for appropriate bumper stickers. T-shirts to come!

April 26, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

As campaign season starts to really gear up, we are once again entering the fact-free zone where the only factor most people pay attention to is how appealingly snarky their own side can manufacture sound-bite insults to lob at the other, or how emotionally appealing their own policies can be framed, regardless of how abysmal said policies perform in any truly objective context -- especially that of the history of such policies. Once again, I am hearing the old, tired refrain I used to (and still do) hear endlessly from Markists: "The only reason our policies don't work very well is that the right people haven't applied them yet!" Yep, Utopian policies often fail when they depend on human beings to act as hive insects pursuing only the good of The All. Oddly enough, the Utopians themselves seem subject to this constraint.

Since I'm busy and tired of arguing with the endlessly ignorant vox populi who have mistaken freedom of speech and the egalitarianism of opinion as providing them with, you know, actual knowledge or expertise of certain fields (namely, almost all of them) and therefore think that their ill-informed and uninformed opinions are the equivalent of objective reality if only they click their heels often enough and worship the shiny promised Utopia, I offer a reality check that comes complete with automatic scorekeeping.

Namely, poker. Poker is a game of skill that combines statistics, probability, and psychology. Any fool can luck their way through one game and come out ahead, but to consistently come out ahead requires not just a knowledge of the mechanics of the particular game being played, but a clear basic understanding of the three areas mentioned above.

There's a new variant being played (well, new to most of us Westerners) that is wide open for the quick study. It's called Badugi, and it's a four-card-hand variation of lowball draw. Mind you, *I* don't understand it well enough yet to play it for actual money, but I find it presents interesting possibilities and many traps for tradtional poker players, lowball and otherwise. A quick video intro can be found at "How to Play Badugi".

If you see me at the play money badugi tables making a botch of it, try not to laugh too hard. And don't mistake my ineptitude at it as extending to other real-money poker games. Or do -- being underestimated is always good for enhancing profits.

For those who want to work up their skills in a broader variety of poker games, there are mixed-game tournaments. One of my favorites is the 8-game mix, which consists of alternating rounds of Limit 2-7 Triple Draw, Limit Hold’em, Limit Omaha Eight or Better (Hi/Lo), Razz, Limit Seven Card Stud, Limit Stud Eight or Better (Hi/Lo), No Limit Hold’em, and Pot Limit Omaha. A similarly brief intro video about 8 can be found Game Mix can be found at (surprise!) "How to Play 8 Game Mix".

If nothing else, playing in freeroll 8-Game tourneys can give you a feel for the varying strategies required for different games, especially for games that on the surface appear similar but require different strategies to play well, such as Limit Holdem versus No-Limit Holdem. It also encourages verstaility in thinking and strategy, which is always a good thing.

April 16, 2010

Poor Carpentry

Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast indulges in some Lakoffian framing to "explain" how the Tea Party movement isn't "populist." All he has to do to get there is redefine populism and by implication recast the federal government under the current administration as being the little guy. Seriously! Here, let's watch him stack the deck...
In American history, populism has a specific meaning: It’s our non-Marxist way of talking about class. Being a populist means standing up for the little guy against ruling elites.

Such vague claptrap is what Beinart deploys as a definition of populism for exclusionary purposes. And it fails on the face of it. In modern poli-sci terms populism is best defined as "an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice." [1]

This is a clear definition of populism that fits well the assorted populist movements in American history, including the current Tea Party movement. Beinart doesn't want to employ it because it specifically negates the rhetorical pretzel logic he has conspicuously constructed to steer the definition back into the fallacious trap of using "populism" as a mere sneering pejorative when describing any popular non-leftist movement. In Beinart's world, ONLY leftist movements employing identity politics can truly be "populist."

Beinart has substituted "little guy" into the equation to exclude anyone falling outside the heroic leftist totem of "the oppressed" from being capable of being "populist." In Beinart's world, only "the oppressed" can be "populists," and in leftist terms that automatically excludes anyone not favored by, well, leftists. It's simply a new polish on the old "victimhood" routine, one intended to deny victim status to anyone not of Beinart's tribe. One is either a victim or an oppressor, and by defining populism in terms of class struggle (while claiming he's being "non-Marxist" in doing so) Beinart seeks to automatically and categorically label the Tea Party people as elitist oppresssors. Thus anyone they are opposed to must categorically be the oppressed.

Now let's watch the second part of the framing attempt, in which Beinart casts the Obama administration in the role of the oppressed, since those opposed to the oppressed by Beinart's definition cannot be populists:
The Tea Partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up to the little guy. We’ve long known that their leaders, like Sarah Palin, opposed against real regulation of Wall Street. Now we learn that what the Tea Partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich. According to the Times, Tea Partiers are more likely than other Americans to think Barack Obama’s policies favor the poor, and they’re mad as heck about it.

Yeah, right. This is merely an attempt by Beinart to cast anyone opposed to the actions of the administration as being part of a privileged racist/elitist mob. Beinart is asserting here that being opposed to the massive growth of federal government and economy-crushing spending by same somehow automatically makes Tea Party people privileged elitists oppressing the "little guy." The "little guy" in this case being the federal government as personified by Barack Obama! (Try oppressing the IRS next time you're summoned for an audit. You'll quickly find out who the "little guy" really is.)

Pretty disingenuous stuff coming from a left-wing elitist Ivy League product of exclusive private schools, Yale, and Oxford. Perhaps Mr. Beinart has mistaken his own wealth of elitist privilege as being an acceptable substitute for intelligence, when even the most cursory examination of his premises makes clear that his ham-handed rhetorical framing is pretty poor carpentry indeed.

As George Orwell once famously remarked, "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool."

UPDATE: Right on cue, here comes reliable tool and left-wing elitist Ivy League product of exclusive private schools, Harvard, and Oxford E.J.Dionne promoting the narrative. Why, you'd almost think it was a coordinated effort on the part of left-wing elitist Ivy League products of exclusive private schools, Harvard/Yale, and Oxford to shape the narrative. Is having had a Rhodes scholarship one of the required credentials for this club? Elsewhere, Glenn Reynolds notes his own powers of prognostication.

UPDATE AGAIN: James Taranto at WSJ's Best of the Web takes notice with "Populism of the Privileged." Heh. Remember that we were there first.

[1] Albertazzi, Daniele and Duncan McDonnell, 2008, Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.3

April 06, 2010

Econ 301: Data and Doubt

If like me you have a solid background in advanced real-world empirical economics, you're probably getting rather annoyed by now with the creatively optimistic interpretations of every stat release that comes out. This is generally a manifestation of confirmation bias, the tendency on the part of somewhat naive ideologues to see everything as evidence of their own wishes manifesting rather than as data points for objective assessment in a coherent empirical framework. Pointing out to same that they don't really know what they're talking about is somewhat futile -- ideologues follow pre-dispositions, not evidence and objective analysis, and the attempt will probably just get you called names. Especially as they tend to be certain they ARE being objective, despite the contrary evidence and their own lack of expertise in the field.

For those more interested in what's actually going on than in simply cheerleading their own fantasy scenarios, David Rosenberg of Gluskin-Sheff has a handy and concise list of some of the most mis-represented stats currently being used to cheerlead (and claim admin credit for) a "recovery" that at best looks to be somewhat slow and anemic at this point. A sample:
The ISM index came out before the payroll numbers did and injected a big round of enthusiasm into the pro-cyclical camp. The index did shoot up in March, to 59.6 from 56.5, and while many of the components were up, the prime reason for the increase was the eight-point surge in the inventory component, to 55.3. Moreover, the orders-to-inventories ratio slid to a level suggesting that we could be in for a big pullback in the next few months. Meanwhile, very little attention has been made to the construction spending data, which sagged 1.3% MoM in February with broad-based declines across sectors — and January’s 0.6% drop was revised to -1.4% (the fourth slippage in a row).

Go read the whole thing at the link. It's a good quick-and-dirty capsule check on why the institutional investors are not nearly as sanguine about the current condition of the national economy as the administration mouthpieces and partisan cheerleaders are.

UPDATE: Some related thoughts on the unemployment figures.

April 01, 2010

Why We Don't Trust Congress



Georgia's 4th Congressional District must be so proud of him! I admire the admiral's forbearance. The really scary thing is that Johnson is a major improvement over the previous member to hold that seat. Even scarier, while he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the odds are excellent that he's not the dullest either.

March 29, 2010

"Unforeseen" Consequences

The Law of Unintended Consequences never sleeps, but to call the following real-world consequences "unintended" or "unforeseen" when those of us who live in the REAL WORLD have spent the best part of a decade pointing them out as inevitable results of certain actions ... well, there's good reason those words are in quotation marks. I TOLD YOU SO. Repeatedly.

Let's start off with what happens when you impose new overhead costs on industry ...

The ObamaCare Writedowns
The corporate damage rolls in, and Democrats are shocked!

Turning over every couch cushion to make their new entitlement look affordable under Beltway accounting rules, Democrats decided to raise taxes on companies that do the public service of offering prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare. We and others warned this would lead to AT&T-like results, but like so many other ObamaCare objections Democrats waved them off as self-serving or "political."

...On top of AT&T's $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

This is just the beginning of the damage done to American businesses by the massive cost mandates imposed by Obamacare. The sad thing is that we could have accomplished a LOT more in the way of real reform by simply extending full health insurance deductibility to individuals and reporting premiums paid by their employers as income to be netted against said deductions, while IMPROVING corporate viability. Naturally, Obamacare minions in Congress are doing their best to blame business for doing exactly what Congress has just ordered them to do:
Meanwhile, Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs."

In other words, shoot the messenger. Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don't like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

Even if they succeed in further demonizing and silencing corporate America, it won't stop the economic damage in the slightest. Reality 1, Fairy Dust 0.

Then, of course, there's the obvious real-world response to legislation doomed to explode government deficit spending at a time when our finances are already strained:

Sell-off in US Treasuries raises sovereign debt fears
The yield on 10-year Treasuries – the benchmark price of global capital – surged 30 basis points in just two days last week to over 3.9pc, the highest level since the Lehman crisis. Alan Greenspan, ex-head of the US Federal Reserve, said the abrupt move may be "the canary in the coal mine", a warning to Washington that it can no longer borrow with impunity. He said there is a "huge overhang of federal debt, which we have never seen before".

This is a considerable worsening of Treasury-sale prospects since the already-alarming December report. Gee, I wonder what happened between now and then to boost fears of unmanageable US sovereign debt? Oh yeah. Reality 2, Magic Wand 0.

Lastly, some further inevitability that I have pointed out over and over and over again over the last several years:

Health overhaul likely to strain doctor shortage
Primary care physicians already are in short supply in parts of the country, and the landmark health overhaul that will bring them millions more newly insured patients in the next few years promises extra strain.

The new law goes beyond offering coverage to the uninsured, with steps to improve the quality of care for the average person and help keep us well instead of today's seek-care-after-you're-sick culture. To benefit, you'll need a regular health provider.

Yet recently published reports predict a shortfall of roughly 40,000 primary care doctors over the next decade, a field losing out to the better pay, better hours and higher profile of many other specialties.

Well, DUH! Ya think? When you start out with a shortage, one largely caused by major structural disincentives such as doctors leaving medical school with six-figure student loan debt and having to choose between low-paying primary-care and high-paying specialties, it's gonna take more to fix than a few tossed scraps and boiled-out bones. But that's all that's offered as primary-care inducements, a few scraps, such as a 10% boost to PCP's in Medicare reimbursements. Reimbursement rates that are already largely "non-profit." We've seen this show before, in Massachussets:
Massachusetts offers a snapshot of how giving more people insurance naturally drives demand. The Massachusetts Medical Society last fall reported just over half of internists and 40 percent of family and general practitioners weren't accepting new patients, an increase in recent years as the state implemented nearly universal coverage.

That's for new patients period. Acceptance rates for Medicare/Medicaid patients are far lower. Reality 3, Flying Unicorn Sparkly Rainbow Farts 0.

Watching this predictable and predicted train wreck of authoritarian central planning is like watching someone on the short stack in the SCOOP poker tournament play increasingly lousy hands in a desparate attempt to Win the Big One. A miracle salvation is possible, but the odds are so long against that "miracle salvation" is the precisely appropriate phrase. Far more likely is a bust-out, and sooner rather than later, long before the final table.

This is just Week One of Obamacare. Hang on, it's gonna be a long ride.

March 26, 2010

An Honest Politician?

It is said that an honest politician is one who keeps his promises, and who stays bought.

After health care vote, Stupak 11 request billions in earmarks
A day after Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and ten other House members compromised on their pro-life position to deliver the necessary yes-votes to pass health care reform, the "Stupak 11" released their fiscal year 2011 earmark requests, which total more than $4.7 billion--an average of $429 million worth of earmark requests for each lawmaker.

Sounds like someone made some promises, and bought on credit.

March 19, 2010

More Transparency!

Federal Reserve Must Disclose Bank Bailout Records
The Federal Reserve Board must disclose documents identifying financial firms that might have collapsed without the largest U.S. government bailout ever, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled today that the Fed must release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched primarily after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The ruling upholds a decision of a lower-court judge, who in August ordered that the information be released.

Because the Obamites naturally assume we have no right to know exactly what they did with $2 TRILLION of our money.

February 24, 2010

Know When To Fold 'Em

Many have likened politics to a high-stakes poker game. The analogy pervades the popular culture, as do many poker analogies.
Politics and Poker, Politics and Poker
shuffle up the cards and find the joker
Neither game's for children
Either game is rough
Decisions, decisions, like:
who to pick
how to play
what to bet
when to call a bluff!*

The ability to properly read the cards, the board, and the other players is what makes or breaks a poker player in the long run. A poor player can have amazing streaks of good luck in the flop/draw in the short run, the best player can be out-flopped and outdrawn by "chasers" in the short run, but in the long run a player who knows the odds, knows how to play the pot odds, and can "read" the betting patterns of the other players will be a consistent winner. Which is why playing poker is clearly a game of skill.**

But those aren't the only skills required to be a good poker player. Also important is the ability to alter one's play, to recognize the context of the game you're playing in, and to vary your tactics and play accordingly. This is the long-run goal-oriented game, the ability to adjust one's play to changing circumstances in varied conditions. The mindset needed to show a consistent profit in a "friendly" low-limit game is not the same as that required to consistently place well in multi-table no-limit tournaments ... as President Obama is discovering. They involve different goals, and require different strategies.

As a state senator, Obama was a regular at the local low-limit "friendly" statehouse game. Reports are that he was pretty good at it, playing what sounds like a classic tight-passive game, showing a consistent if modest profit. And in a low-limit "friendly" game with players rotating in and out, tight-passive can indeed be a good money-making strategy. And that tight-passive strategy was echoed in his legislative record, which showed no real risk-taking, just consistent cashing of "gimme" opportunities. He carried that same pattern of play with him into the U.S. Senate.

Then he reached the White House, and his playing style changed. Apparently convinced of his invulnerability by his own press and emboldened by an early victory with the stimulus bill, being the chipleader and holding the legislative equivalent of Big Slick with both House and Senate overwhelmingly in Dem hands, he changed up from tight-passive to loose-aggressive. He decided to bet big pre-flop on health care, got called, and discovered post-flop that he didn't have the nuts after all.

This is the point where a tourney player has to think twice and very carefully read the board -- and the other players -- before making their next move. Obama bet big again, and got called again, and the turn brought him nothing while improving the board. So Obama is thinking about going all-in, chasing a weak draw in hopes of sucking out on the river.

Long-time tourney players have seen this pattern of behavior many times. The neophyte player who steps 'way up in level and goes into the finals with the Big Stack and a sense of destiny, starts playing loose-agressive rather than tight-passive or tight-aggressive, and discovers in a crucial big-money hand that the other players can also read the board, know the odds better than he does, and don't bluff that easily. Especially when they're already pot-committed.

Obama has the remaining advantage -- for the moment -- of the Big Stack considering an all-in bet. His going all-in will not wipe him out. If he loses the hand on the river from chasing the suckout, he'll still have some chips left. But he'll definitely be on the shortstack, and he should remember that before betting big into the river.

But even if he hits the suckout and wins, he will have damaged himself. Every player in town will know of his tendency to bluff and chase, rather than playing tight. And it's still a LONG way to the final table. A top-level player knows that even if you've invested heavily in the pot there are times the smart thing to do is to give up the chase and fold 'em, not push in against a made hand. Maybe Obama should try listening to some of that redneck Bitter Clinger music, because Kenny Rogers has some advice for him. As does Sheldon Harnick.
Poker
and politics
Brother,
you've gotta have
That slippery
hap-hazardous
commodity
You've gotta have
the cards!
*

* -- Politics and Poker, from the immensely underappreciated Pulitzer-winning 1959 Broadway musical Fiorello!, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.

** -- Linkage to the PokerStars web site does not constitute an endorsement of same, and I am NOT responsible for any losses incurred should you go there and choose to play in real-money games. PokerStars has numerous non-money freeroll tournaments and play-money games where you can enjoy yourself immensely and learn the fundamentals without risking a dime. WARNING: The Sturgeon General has determined that playing real-money poker without a sound grasp of the fundamentals is hazardous to your finances, though those so doing are extremely welcome in real-money play by players who DO grasp said fundamentals.

February 15, 2010

More or Less

To hear the panicked left tell it in their best Alinskyite echoes, the Tea Party Movement (TPM) is just the latest lemming-rush of evil crazed Republican right-wingers, driven into a frenzied angst by the ascendancy of the One True Faith in Washington.

Certainly the GOP would love to rope the TPM in and harness them to the party wheel, but the leftist view just ain't so. With very few exceptions, the TPM people are keeping a notable distance from the GOP establishment. Nor is there any true central organization of the TPM to be co-opted, despite some concerted efforts on the part of the GOP to create and insert one for roping/branding purposes. The TPM remains a decentralized conglomeration of independent organizations.

A good starting place is Glenn Reynolds' recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Ever to the point, Reynolds opens with:
There were promises of transparency and of a new kind of collaborative politics where establishment figures listened to ordinary Americans. We were going to see net spending cuts, tax cuts for nearly all Americans, an end to earmarks, legislation posted online for the public to review before it is signed into law, and a line-by-line review of the federal budget to remove wasteful programs.

These weren't the tea-party platforms I heard discussed in Nashville last weekend. They were the campaign promises of Barack Obama in 2008.

Mr. Obama made those promises because the ideas they represented were popular with average Americans. So popular, it turns out, that average Americans are organizing themselves in pursuit of the kind of good government Mr. Obama promised, but has not delivered. And that, in a nutshell, was the feel of the National Tea Party Convention. The political elites have failed, and citizens are stepping in to pick up the slack.

Indeed. Being naturaly curious, I have over the last year attended a few TPM events. What I found did not fit neatly into stereotypes. The attendees ranged from disillusioned Democrats who felt they got "took" in 2008 to dedicated Libertarians, with the usual presence of fringe nutburgers always found in large gatherings. Birthers and Truthers were both to be found, but not in quantity, and they were oft-scoffed at and avoided by most of the crowd.

So what do the Tea Partiers really want? That was my focus. What I found can be summed up in a single word. Less.

Less borrowing. Less spending. Less taxes. Less regulation. Less corruption. Less extreme partisanship. Less "social engineering" -- from EITHER side of the aisle. Less power-grabbing for special interests. And, most especially, less government intrusion into every single aspect of our lives.

LESS.

It seems that despite the generational de-emphasis of civics in American education, once you leave the extremes of the American polity, those in between still grasp the basics of the American system as expressed in the Constitution. And they want it back from the Frankensteinian behemoth that it has become. They want less.

January 29, 2010

Signs of Intelligent Life?

Obama Said to Seek $54 Billion in Nuclear-Power Loans
President Barack Obama, acting on a pledge to support nuclear power, will propose tripling U.S. loan guarantees for new reactors to more than $54 billion, an administration official said.

I'll believe it when I see it. But it would be a start.

January 25, 2010

LESS

Lamar Alexander has an intelligent take on the problems of biting off more than you can chew:

Step by Step
Incremental improvements are better than comprehensive reforms

The Democrats’ comprehensive immigration, climate-change, and health-care bills have been well-intended, but the first two collapsed under their own weight, and health care, if it doesn’t do the same, will be a historic mistake for the country and a political kamikaze mission for Democrats.

What has united most Republicans against these three bills has been not only ideology, but also that they were comprehensive. As George Will might write: The. Congress. Does. Not. Do. Comprehensive. Well.

That's not a surprise, as almost no one does comprehensive well. Lamar traces the over-reach urge to the fact that "... the president and most of his advisers have been trained at elite universities to govern by launching “a host of enormous initiatives all at once . . . formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems — and indeed society itself — more rational and coherent forms and functions."

In other words, they're so self-assuredly brilliant that they already have all the answers, if only they can just dictate the forms and shapes of society itself! The problem there being, of course, that such thinking totally ignores two things: That citizens in a free nation resist such social engineering even when done "for their own good," and that the bigger the changes, the more subject they are to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

As Alexander elucidates, the incremental approach is not only less likely to produce catastrophic unintended consequences, but is more amenable to being reversed if found destructive. Comprehensive "reforms" tend to be very difficult to reverse, even when they go spectacularly wrong.

There is much more to fear in the hubris of the self-proclaimed elites than there is in the intentionally-hobbled structure of our system, and collectively we seem to grasp that. Maybe the backlash to the most recent attempts to absorb our fortunes, liberties, and even our lives into the statist visions of those elites will give them pause. It should, and not just on the Democratic side of the aisle. The Tea Party movement, that the GOP would so dearly love to harness exclusively for themselves, is not one that will fit well into the social agendas of the religious right. It is instead a populist outcry that can be summed up in one word: LESS. Not just less spending and less taxes, but less interference in our lives in ALL areas.

LESS is the new Big Tent, and pols should pay heed.

Ross Douthat has some related thoughts in today's New York Times.

January 24, 2010

Excuse me?

Obama endorses deficit commission plan
Trying to win the votes of fiscal moderates, President Barack Obama formally endorsed legislation Saturday creating an independent commission with the power to force Congress to vote on major deficit reduction steps this year, after the November elections.

Excuse me? Can anyone point me to that section of the Constitution that permits Presidents to issue executive orders to force Congress to do anything? I can understand why some Congresscritters might be in favor of abdicating to such a dictatorial politburo -- they don't want to do THEIR JOBS. But that doesn't make it legal.

January 22, 2010

DUH! Also, water is wet....

Given the apparently unlimited reality-denial capacity of wingers on both ends of the political spectrum, it's refreshing to see some common sense in the political blogosphere. (Not that Megan McArdle is a winger!) I've been pointing this out for years, and getting the predictable responses from True Believers.

Taking the Ball and Going Home
Here's the thing that Democrats just learned in Massachusetts: the base can't save you. In the bluest of blue states, if you run with a progressive agenda and alienate moderates, those alienated moderates will join with the conservatives to kick you out of office. Catering to the base is a losing strategy.

...You might also consider that the voters you're asking them to ignore are their constituents. You know, the majority of the people in their district. The people they ostensibly represent. The people who consistently poll against the various health care plans on the table.

Megan gets it. Pols are supposed to be working on behalf of ALL their constituents, not just the national party base. Those who forget that little detail show a much-enhanced tendency to become ex-pols.

In some safe districts pols have a lot more leeway, but as the Massachussets election shows, it's not unlimited. And in swing districts the candidate who best reflects the majority views of the overall electorate tend to kick ass on wingers who ignore same. This is how Scott Brown reached the Senate, and how Mitt Romney and Kathleen Sebelius became governors.

January 20, 2010

Ass-Backwards!

It's really tough to get more DENSE than this. Obama today in an exclusive interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous (EMPHASIS mine):
"If there's one thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly TO the American people about what THEIR core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values," Obama told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview at the White House.

That's right. He's oh-so-humbly willing to take the blame, and proclaim that it's all his fault for failing to tell us what our values are! How can we vote properly without pols telling us what our values are?

January 14, 2010

The Numbers Racket

An excellent short piece from Michael J. Boskin in WSJ:
Don't Like the Numbers? Change 'Em
Politicians and scientists who don't like what their data show lately have simply taken to changing the numbers. They believe that their end—socialism, global climate regulation, health-care legislation, repudiating debt commitments, la gloire fran├žaise—justifies throwing out even minimum standards of accuracy. It appears that no numbers are immune: not GDP, not inflation, not budget, not job or cost estimates, and certainly not temperature. A CEO or CFO issuing such massaged numbers would land in jail.

...Even more blatant is the numbers game being used to justify health-insurance reform legislation, which claims to greatly expand coverage, decrease health-insurance costs, and reduce the deficit. That magic flows easily from counting 10 years of dubious Medicare "savings" and tax hikes, but only six years of spending; assuming large cuts in doctor reimbursements that later will be cancelled; and making the states (other than Sen. Ben Nelson's Nebraska) pay a big share of the cost by expanding Medicaid eligibility. The Medicare "savings" and payroll tax hikes are counted twice—first to help pay for expanded coverage, and then to claim to extend the life of Medicare.

Seriously, read the whole thing. Great brief on why those of us who trained in empirical economics don't believe a damn thing we hear coming from the mouths of pols and activists until we've reviewed the base assumptions and modeling construction. Because so much of it is complete bullshit.

January 12, 2010

HopenChange Cracks

Kim R. Holmes has some on-target Reality Check going on here:
When he promises an America in which “no one will die because they don’t have health care” or no one is poor, he is invoking an image of a world that simply cannot exist. But this matters little because in the world of imagination, anything is possible, and truth and reality spoil the mood.

...But “real” idealists are not utopians.

All good people hope the world will be and can be made a better place in which to live. But not all people believe it is possible for the U.S. government to guarantee that no one will die because they don’t have health care, or that every rogue nuclear state will give up its weapons, or that poverty can be eliminated by government fiat. The difference in these two propositions is more than that between the idealist and the realist.

It is rather between imagination and the truth.

Go over there and read the whole thing.

January 08, 2010

REALLY ouch!

Stewart Rips Obama's Broken Promises, Especially C-SPAN
STEWART: Oh, yeah we're going TO DO IT ON MOTHERF**KING C-SPAN. I got my 3-d glasses. I got my snacks. By the way, I always buy my popcorn at the movie theater and sneak it home because it tastes so much better when it's ridiculously expensive. Alright, let's turn on the C-SPAN and watch some healthcare negotiations. Alright, it's not on C-SPAN 1 there. Or, let's try again. Okay it's not on C-SPAN 2. Maybe it's on C-SPAN Classic. [...]

STEWART: Well, I've checked all the C-SPANs, even the ones I made up. What gives? [...]

I'm thinking the honeymoon is over.

That Time of Year

January 07, 2010

OUCH!

That's gotta sting. Especially considering the source.

The New Marriage Penalty

I had meant to write about this this week, but the Wall Street Journal beat me to it.

Married Couples Pay More Than Unmarried Under Health Bill
The built-in "marriage penalty" in both House and Senate healthcare bills has received scant attention. But for scores of low-income and middle-income couples, it could mean a hike of $2,000 or more in annual insurance premiums the moment they say "I do."

It's not just the premiums, it's the subsidies, and it gets even worse when you factor children into it. There would be a multi-thousand-dollar annual incentive for two-earner couples with kids to get divorced and live together, with the lower-earning spouse having custody.

Why do all Democratic proposals to raise taxes "for our own good" seem to penalize marriage and productivity, and boost incentives to be poor?

January 05, 2010

PANTS. ON. FIRE.

Democratic Leaders Plan Secret Health Reform Deliberations

Compare with:





No comment necessary.

Not comment really, just update:

Pelosi tells C-SPAN: 'There has never been a more open process'
C-SPAN wrote a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday asking that TV cameras be allowed to film negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of healthcare reform legislation.

But Pelosi said Congress has already been transparent throughout the process.

"There has never been a more open process for any legislation," Pelosi said at a press conference.

You can't make this stuff up. More update: BREITBART-TV has compiled EIGHT separate clips of Obama promising that ALL the health care negotiations would be carried on C-SPAN.

More, from the CEO of C-SPAN:

C-SPAN CEO: White House Has Allowed Only ‘One Hour’ of Health Care Coverage
"...which was kind of a show-horse type of thing."

I like to think of them as ponies promised...that never get delivered.