Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lowered Unexpectations

Finally, some "expected" economic news?
After accelerating at its fastest pace in 1-1/2 years at the end of 2011, the U.S. economy is expected slow in early 2012.
....

The data frustrated expectations for an increase after sharp gains in consumer confidence in November and December.

"We are braced for a more bumpy picture over the next few months. A lot of expectations probably ran away or got a little too lofty coming into the end of the year," said Sean Incremona, economist at 4Cast Ltd in New York.

"We are still in a very modest recovery, and we do see consumption slowing this quarter, and data like this supports that picture."

Some improving housing data in late 2011 had raised hopes the recovery was finding its footing. But weaker numbers this month have underscored how lengthy the healing process will be.

"I'm absolutely of the opinion we've bottomed out. The debate now is whether the recovery begins, and I'm not sure that recovery is earnestly underway," said Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management in Toronto.
Have we been at rock bottom so long that we don't know when we're out of it?

Bloggin' In The Years: 1979

Milton Friedman versus Phil Donahue on capitalism:

Cloudy With A Chance Of Propaganda

The Cult must not be challenged:
Concerned that too many “deniers” are in the meteorology business, global warming activists this month launched a campaign to recruit local weathermen to hop aboard the alarmism bandwagon and expose those who are not fully convinced that the world is facing man-made doom.

The Forecast the Facts campaign — led by 350.org, the League of Conservation Voters and the Citizen Engagement Lab — is pushing for more of a focus on global warming in weather forecasts, and is highlighting the many meteorologists who do not share their beliefs.

“Our goal is nothing short of changing how the entire profession of meteorology tackles the issue of climate change,” the group explains on their website. “We’ll empower everyday people to make sure meteorologists understand that their viewers are counting on them to get this story right, and that those who continue to shirk their professional responsibility will be held accountable.”

According to the Washington Post, the reason for the campaign can be found in a 2010 George Mason University surveys, which found that 63% of television weathermen think that global warming is a product of natural causes, while 31% believe it is from human activity.

So far, the campaign has identified 55 “deniers” in the meteorologist community and are looking for more. They define “deniers” as “anyone who expressly refutes the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change: that it is real, largely caused by humans, and already having profound impacts on our world.”

“We track the views of meteorologists through their on-air statements, blog posts, social media activity, public appearances, interviews, and interactions with viewers,” the campaign explains.
The nonbelievers must be cast out, after all...

Community Organization

Why government and community aren't necessarily the same:
When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.
Give government an inch, and it takes the neighborhood...

He'll Be In Touch

Obama, the employer?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Decline And Fall Of The Union Empire

The future doesn't look good for traditional rank and file unions:
The most significant number in the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics release on unionization is probably this: Only 6.9 percent of private sector workers are in unions. That’s the same percent as last year. In the middle of the 20th century, it was 35%. … The number is significant because it suggests that labor’s much-publicized private sector organizing drives have failed. They appeared to be meeting with some success a few years ago–the private sector rate actually rose from 7.4% to 7.6% between 2006 and 2008. Those union gains have now apparently been lost, and the private sector unionization rate again asymptotically approaches zero.
Maybe this explains why public sector unions seem so desperate these days...

No Debt Line On The Horizon

Remember the debt? Neither, apparently, does amyone else:
If America doesn’t tackle its debt problem, everything else is at risk: economic growth, the safety net for the poor, investment in research and roads. Over the past two years, Obama and congressional Republicans have squandered one chance after another to get serious about fiscal reform. A better political moment is always just over the horizon.

Now the horizon is the November election, and the moment is supposedly the lame-duck session afterward or the beginning of the next administration.
The issue won't go away just because nobody wants to talk about it anymore...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Record

Marco Rubio on what's strangely missing from Obama's reelection campaign:
The Florida Republican, considered one of the GOP’s brightest rising stars, said that while Obama inherited a high national debt and a troubled economy when he took office, he had exacerbated both crises.

“This president didn’t talk about his record for one simple reason; he doesn’t want you to know about it. But you do know about it, because you feel the failure of his leadership every single day of your life,” Rubio said.

“The bottom line is this president inherited a country with serious problems. He asked the Congress to give him the stimulus and Obamacare to fix it. The Democrats in Congress gave it to him. And not only did it not work, it made everything worse.”
Some disagree, of course, but that doesn't mean that Rubio isn't right.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Plugged In

We'll see how well this works out:
California air regulators passed sweeping emission standards Friday that will require one in seven of the new cars sold in the state in 2025 be an electric or other zero-emission vehicle.

The policy adopted unanimously by the California Air Resources Board mandates a 75 percent reduction in smog-forming pollutants by 2025, and a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from today’s standards.
....

Car dealers, however, expressed concern that the state is overestimating the demand for such vehicles.

“It’s hard to legislate or mandate what people want to drive or to need to drive,” said Lance Roberts, spokesman for the New Car Dealers Association of San Diego County.

“Certainly our dealers understand the need to continue to advance clean technology. By the same token, people have different needs. Dealers are caught in the middle.”
You will drive what the government tells you to drive...

The Revolution Won't Be Tweeted?

Has Twitter turned?
...in what many view as an about-face, Twitter now says it has the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government legally requires it to do so, triggering outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries.

Dissidents and activists there fear the new policy will stifle free speech and thousands of users are threatening to boycott Twitter.

"Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?" asked Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem
....

Twitter insists that it remains fully committed to free speech. It used to be that if Twitter removed a tweet, it vanished from the Web. Now a tweet that violates the law in one country will still be visible in the rest of the world.

Twitter will post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed, similar to what Google does. It will share the removal requests on the Chilling Effects website, which advocates for Internet freedom and tracks take-down notices.

Twitter said it would not remove any tweets unless it is legally required to do so, and then only after an internal review.
I suppose it's good to know that they still care...

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Little People

Wealthy liberals have never liked the poor:
The elites who denounce poverty despise the poor. Their every high-minded, right-thinking “poverty program” proves this detestation—from the bulldozing of vibrant tenement communities to the drug law policing policies that send poor kids to prison and rich kids to rehab to the humiliation of food stamps and free school lunches to the loathsome inner-city public schools where those free lunches are slopped onto cafeteria trays.

The federal government has some 50 different “poverty programs.” Nearly half a trillion dollars is spent on them each year. That’s about $11,000 per man, woman, and child under the poverty line, enough to lift each and every one of them out of poverty. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 poverty guideline for a family of three: $18,530.) We call them “poverty programs” for a reason. If ordinary people with down-to-earth common sense were spending that half trillion, we’d call them “modest prosperity programs.”
It's really just another way of keeping out the riff raff they claim to want to help...

The Welfare Age

Obama says it's not his fault. However:
While it's true that the country has been headed in this direction for many years — with the explosion in entitlements since the 1960s and the aging of the population — Obama has, in fact, greatly accelerated the trend. Examples:

Direct payments. The amount of money the federal government hands out in direct payments to individuals steadily increased over the past four decades, but shot up under Obama, climbing by almost $600 billion — a 32% increase — in his first three years. And Obama's last budget called for these payments to climb another $500 billion by 2016, at which point they would account for fully two-thirds of all federal spending.

People getting benefits. According to the Census Bureau 49% now live in homes where at least one person gets a federal benefit — Social Security, workers comp, unemployment, subsidized housing, and the like. That's up from 44% the year before Obama took office, and way up from 1983, when fewer than a third were government beneficiaries.

Food stamps. This year, more than 46 million (15% of all Americans) will get food stamps. That's 45% higher than when Obama took office, and twice as high as the average for the previous 40 years. This surge was driven in part by the recession, but also because Obama boosted the benefit amount as part of his stimulus plan.

Disability. The number of people on Social Security disability has steadily climbed since the 1970s, thanks mainly to easier eligibility rules. But their numbers jumped 10% in Obama's first two years in office, according to the Social Security Administration. That sharp rise was due largely to meager job prospects since the recession ended in 2009. When employment opportunities are scarce, experts note, many who could otherwise work sign up for disability benefits instead.

Health care. The government's role in health care has grown over the past decades, with 45% of all health spending now coming from the federal government, up from 32% in 1990. But this trend will dramatically accelerate should ObamaCare remain the law of the land. In eight years, ObamaCare will add 16 million people to Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and another 24 million will be getting coverage through heavily subsidized government-run insurance exchanges, with the cost of those subsidies running $130 billion a year.

Corporate welfare. Prior to Obama, the federal government was already dishing out $92 billion in corporate welfare programs — in the form of subsidized loans, special tax breaks, bailouts and the like — the Cato Institute found. Obama added tremendously to this largesse. Federal grants to the energy sector, for example, quadrupled to over $18 billion in 2009, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Subsidyscope.

While each of these and other federal benefit programs may be designed with good intentions, their combined weight is already overwhelming the budget.

In just nine years, entitlement spending is on track to eat up 61% of the federal budget, according to the CBO. And unless these programs are cut back, they will soon consume all federal taxes, one CBO budget scenario predicts.
The Frankenstein no longer needs its enablers...

Conservatives Is Dumb

We've seen this sort of thing before, from supposedly educated people:
People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience.

“Prejudice is extremely complex and multifaceted, making it critical that any factors contributing to bias are uncovered and understood,” he said.
Some more here. Needless to say, ignorance and prejudice aren't limited to the right...

Nature's Warming

When global warming is a good thing:
Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.
Better crop growing through climate change?

Gas Man

While Obama opposes the Keystone pipeline, it seems someone else would get big bucks from his own energy plan:
George Soros, a billionaire investor and major backer of President Obama, stands to reap a windfall from legislation promoting natural gas-powered vehicles. The White House unveiled a proposal on Thursday that would do just that.

The proposal would offer incentives for companies to buy and use trucks powered by natural gas. Obama announced the effort at a UPS facility in Las Vegas that received stimulus funding to buy natural gas vehicles and build a fueling station for them.
....

Soros has given $384,090 to the Democratic Party, Democratic PACs, and Democratic Candidates in the three election cycles beginning in 2008, including $4,400 to Obama himself, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He describes himself as “an early supporter of Barack Obama, first in his Senate campaign in Illinois and later when he ran for President. Soros supported Obama in his presidential bid because he believed he could provide the transformational leadership the country needed.”
And now, Obama would like to thank him for his support...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Green Kiss Of Death

Wow, that was quick:
An Indiana-based energy storage company that received a $118.5 million stimulus-law grant from the Energy Department filed for bankruptcy Thursday.

Ener1 is asking a federal bankruptcy court in New York to approve a plan to restructure the company’s debt and infuse $81 million in equity funding.


The Energy Department, in 2009, approved a $118.5 million stimulus-law grant for EnerDel, a subsidiary of the company that develops lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. The grant was part of a broader program aimed at promoting the development of electric-vehicle battery technology.

President Obama touted the program in his State of the Union address this year.

“In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries,” he said.
The "Partnership" doesn't seem to be working out so well, does it?

The Young And The Independent

Are college students becoming more libertarian?
The latest iteration of The American Freshman: National Norms, published annually by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, also found that as students who entered four-year colleges in fall 2011 are increasingly concerned about finances, they’re also more academically oriented in high school, studying more and partying less.

Politics and Student Opinion

Even though on an issue-by-issue basis the opinions of incoming freshmen are becoming less conservative, the number of liberal students per se is not necessarily on the rise.

As students over the past couple of years have become more likely to self-identify politically as “middle of the road” (47.4 percent in 2011, up three percentage points since 2009), the percentage who consider themselves “liberal” has actually declined more than that of those who say they’re “conservative.”
Fewer people overall seem to want to self-identify as liberals these days. Hope and Change!

Egyptian Lockdown

So how's that Egyptian revolution working out?
Six Americans working for publicly funded U.S. organizations promoting democracy in Egypt have been barred from leaving the country, provoking angry demands in Washington that Cairo's new military rulers stop "endangering American lives".

Among those hit by travel bans - one of those targeted called it "de facto detention" - is a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as well as other foreign staffers of the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, officials at the two organizations said on Thursday.

The United States said Egypt should reverse them: "We are urging the government of Egypt to lift these restrictions immediately and allow these folks to come home as soon as possible," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
It remains to be seen if this turns into Obama's hostage crisis, but so far it doesn't look good.

Stalling, Stalling

Hope and change, delayed yet again:
The Federal Reserve, declaring that the economy would need help for years to come, said Wednesday it would extend by 18 months the period that it plans to hold down interest rates in an effort to spur growth.

The Fed said that it now planned to keep short-term interest rates near zero until late 2014, continuing the transformation of a policy that began as shock therapy in the winter of 2008 into a six-year campaign to increase spending by rewarding borrowers and punishing savers.

The economy expanded “moderately” in recent weeks, the Fed said in a statement released after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee, but jobs were still scarce, the housing sector remained deeply depressed and Europe’s flirtation with crisis could undermine the nascent domestic recovery.
All "Unexpectedly," of course...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Photo Fakery

It seems that Team Bloomberg may have a photogate scandal on its hands:
A blunt new poster from the Bloomberg administration shows an overweight man on a stool, his right leg missing below the knee. A pair of crutches leans against a wall beside him. The advertisement, being placed throughout the subway system, warns that ever-growing portions of fast food and sodas could cause diabetes, which could lead to amputations.

But it turns out that the person shown in the advertisement did not need crutches because his legs were intact. The health department confirmed on Tuesday that its advertising agency had removed the lower half of the man’s leg from the picture to make its point: the headline over the image reads “Portions have grown. So has Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to amputations.”

When city officials announced the campaign on Jan. 9, they did not let on that the man shown — whose photo came from a company that supplies stock images to advertising firms and others — was not an amputee and may not have had diabetes. The city did not identify the man, and efforts to reach the agency that supplied the photo were unsuccessful. The photographer who took the picture, Morten Smidt, said he did not know the man’s name.

Mr. Smidt said on Tuesday that he had not seen the advertisement. In response to a description of it, he said, “Well, it is an illustration now, clearly not the picture I did.”
One man's lie is another's creative ad campaign...

Bullet Boondoggle

California's bullet train-which was highly touted by President Obama in the past-may be in serious trouble:
The financing plan for California’s nearly $100-billion bullet train project has become “increasingly risky,” the state auditor warned Tuesday.

In the latest in a series of cautionary reports by outside agencies and groups, the auditor's report finds that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has made some progress in addressing planning and fiscal concerns but still has important work to do to ensure that the project can be built as promised.

“The program’s overall financial situation has become increasingly risky, in part because the authority has not provided viable funding alternatives in the event its planned funding does not materialize,” the auditor's report says.
....

Moreover, concerns have been raised about ridership projections that form the basis of the state financial plan for the system, including by a group of experts hand-picked by the head of the rail authority, the auditor’s report says.

The concerns expressed in the report generally echo or amplify on issues previously raised by the state auditor, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, an expert review panel created by state law and others.
California is still car country, it seems. And flying costs less. Darn that free market, again...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Professionals

Entrepreneurship is alive and well:
As increasing numbers of Black women enter the professional world, they are beginning to close the the earnings gap between themselves and their white peers. And the good news goes beyond the monetary: the survey finds Black women to be more ambitious, more religious, and more optimistic about their future than many other groups, with a strong understanding of the value of hard work and achievement.

Condoleezza Rice, in other words, is not alone.

One very interesting finding: more and more Black women are setting up as entrepreneurs. According to census bureau figures, 900,000 businesses are owned by Black women, a sharp expansion in recent years. Moving from bureaucracy to business is necessary to success in the 21st century; that so many Black women have figured this out and are acting accordingly is excellent news.
Except, perhaps, for Democrats...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stimulus Secrets Revealed

It turns out that Team Obama knew that the stimulus couldn't be paid for:
Your campaign proposals add about $100 billion per year to the deficit largely because rescoring indicates that some of your revenue raisers do not raise as much as the campaign assumed and some of your proposals cost more than the campaign assumed. … Treasury estimates that repealing the tax cuts above $250,000 would raise about $40 billion less than the campaign assumed. … The health plan is about $10 billion more costly than the campaign estimated and the health savings are about $25 billion lower than the campaign estimated.
...

As noted above, it is not possible to spend out much more than $225 billion in the next two years with high-priority investments and protections for the most vulnerable. This total, however, falls well short of what economists believe is needed for the economy, both in total and especially in 2009. As a result, to achieve our macroeconomic objectives—minimally the 2.5 million job goal—will require other sources of stimulus including state fiscal relief, tax cuts for individuals, or tax cuts for businesses...To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions—which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.
There's much more in what amounts to a lengthy smoking gun of warnings about the stimulus. It's just too bad that they weren't heeded...

PIPA Poop

Why Republicans have suddenly found a cause in opposing PIPA:
At least 16 Republican Senators—more than a third of all GOP members in the body—declared their opposition to PIPA for the first time on Wednesday. In contrast, as far as we can tell, only three Democrats jumped off the bandwagon that day.

Why were Republicans so quick to abandon PIPA? For an inside perspective, Ars talked to two conservative operatives who have long opposed Hollywood’s campaign for ever-more draconian copyright laws. Reihan Salam is a blogger at National Review and a policy advisor at Economics 21, a conservative think tank. And Patrick Ruffini is a conservative political strategist and founder of the PR firm Engage.

Salam and Ruffini told Ars on Thursday that the differing reactions to the online protests reflects structural and philosophical differences between the two parties. They said Democrats have deep ties to Hollywood and to labor unions who staff Hollywood productions, which makes it hard for them to buck these interests and vote against PIPA. In contrast, they said, Republicans have few ties to groups that support PIPA, and they have a Tea Party faction that has grown increasingly invested in Internet freedom as it has become more reliant on the web for its own organization.
Sometimes it helps not to have your political fortunes tied to Hollywood...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reform Or Bust

It's time once again for another round of "Reform":
Economic and political elites meeting this week at the Swiss resort of Davos will be asked to urgently find ways to reform a capitalist system that has been described as "outdated and crumbling."

"We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations," said Klaus Schwab, host and founder of the annual World Economic Forum.

"Solving problems in the context of outdated and crumbling models will only dig us deeper into the hole.

"We are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business-as-usual," the 73-year-old said, adding that "capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us."
Funny how these reformers always choose resorts-which were presumably built with capitalist money-to tout their grand ideas...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The White House Wagon Squad

Remember when reporters actually asked the White House questions? Neither do they:
Journalists like to claim they speak truth to power. But when Barack Obama wields that power, they're all too willing to do his bidding, even if it means attacking one of their own. Just ask Jodi Kantor.

Kantor's book, "The Obamas," is hardly some right-wing hit piece. She's a New York Times correspondent who spent years interviewing hundreds of Obama staffers and associates to compile a book focused on Michelle and Barack's relationship and the inner workings of the White House.

But Kantor did manage to unearth some less than flattering tidbits, such as the Halloween extravaganza the Obamas threw themselves in 2009 — when unemployment was 10% — and then hushed up; or the strife between Michelle and former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; or the fact that former press secretary Robert Gibbs "had a tense relationship" with the first lady.

There's nothing particularly earth-shattering in any of this, but it was enough to set the White House at Defcon 1, launching an "early and often" attack on the book that culminated with Michelle's complaint that it made her look like "an angry black woman."

And that was enough to get Obama's media goon squad to start attacking Kantor.
...

David Gregory's belligerent questions during the Bush years won him a coveted spot as host of "Meet the Press. And Couric temporarily salvaged her dying career as CBS News anchor with a perfectly executed slam job of then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

For most reporters, none of this is a problem. Despite endless protestations of fairness and balance, they're so liberal and agenda-driven that their only abiding interest is in digging up dirt on all those evil, miscreant, Neanderthal Republicans.
But if they weren't hypocrites, they wouldn't be doing their jobs...

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Super Agency

I'm all for anything that makes government more efficient, but I don't think Obama has quite gotten the hang of it:
President Barack Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, and his first idea is merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies whose overlapping programs can be baffling to businesses, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

Obama will call on Congress to give him a type of reorganizational power last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. The Obama version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers. The deal would entitle him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.

It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to first grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.
In other words, if it doesn't get done, it's their fault-as he himself insinuated several times. But hey, he knows where his remaining voters are.

Vanishing Act

You could call it the case of the invisible workers:
In the 30 months since the recession officially ended, nearly 1 million people have dropped out of the labor force — they aren't working, and they aren't looking — according to data from Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the past two months, the labor force shrank by 170,000.

This is virtually unprecedented in past economic recoveries, at least since the BLS has kept detailed records. In the past nine recoveries, the labor force had climbed an average 3.5 million by this point, according to an IBD analysis of the BLS data.

"Given weak job prospects, many would-be workers dropped out of (or never entered) the labor force," noted Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute in her analysis of the BLS jobs report issued last Friday. "That reduces the measured unemployment rate but does not represent real improvement."
For a recession that's "Officially" over, it seems to keep having a lot of "Unexpected" effects...