Irene: The Man-Made Disaster

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I am a victim of Hurricane Irene.

My friend and I were visiting New York when Irene “struck” early today — Sunday, August 28. We had plane reservations to leave the city on Saturday, August 27. Delta Airlines canceled our reservations on Friday afternoon. It, like all the other airlines, abandoned traffic to New York more than 24 hours before any hurricane could possibly have caused trouble at the airports. Because of these cancellations, travel throughout the nation was convulsed.

None of this was necessary, or wise, or profitable to anyone. It was the result of a panic induced by government and media, and willingly indulged by the kind of corporations that have acquired the worst characteristics of both &‐ arbitrary power and a zest for misinformation. When our reservations were zeroed out, we were emailed, almost a day after the fact, “Your flight has been cancelled” (no apology, no explanation); then we were told that “we have rebooked you on another flight” — two days later. Notice the transition between the passive mood, which people in power reserve for the bad things they do, and the active mood, which they choose for the good things they don’t do. Our flight wasn’t rebooked by the airline; it was rebooked by us, after we pestered the airline and they eventually returned our call, and after we were unable to rebook it on the airline’s website, which wasn’t working. The woman who finally assisted us acted as if it was an amazing idea that we should be reimbursed for the downgrade of our tickets from first class to coach.

But let me report a few highlights of this ridiculous exercise in misinformation and authoritarianism, by which all America was damaged by a minor storm.

On Wednesday, ABC reported that the hurricane, then reputedly a category 3, or maybe 2, “could be category 4 by Thursday.” Other media, including the Weather Channel, suggested that it would be. When the hurricane came ashore in North Carolina on Saturday, it was barely a category 1, something that the media geniuses never believed could happen to their darling, “the hurricane of a lifetime,” although normal people easily guessed it. By Saturday evening, Irene was visibly disintegrating, had lost its eye, and was about to become a mere tropical storm, and not an especially strong one. Yet at that time, the mayor of New York was strongly advising all people to stay at home between 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday, had closed all mass transit at noon on Saturday, had sent his goons out to advise people living in 30-story buildings that they ought to evacuate, because the park next door might flood, and was telling workers to plan on mass transit still being shut down during their Monday morning commute. He seemed to enjoy himself, decreeing fates like that.

Businesses were closing everywhere in Manhattan, because of the mass transit shutdown, but my friend and I found a restaurant, “Da Marino,” that promised to be open on Saturday evening, and on Sunday evening if possible. To deal with the transit problem, the management had rented rooms for their employees in a hotel next door. So on Saturday night we enjoyed a good meal and listened while people accurately identified Bloomberg as the man who was causing the mess. But most merchants had shut down on Saturday afternoon, or failed to open that day at all. All Starbucks stores shut down. Pastry shops that cater to the local hotel business shut down, even though they had a captive mob of customers. Madame Tussaud’s shut down. Even churches canceled their Sunday services. Leaving Da Marino after an excellent dinner, served to customers reported to be more numerous than at any time in the restaurant’s history, my friend and I looked down Broadway from 49th Street to Times Square. The lights were on, but there was no crowd, no life, no business. A few people drifted across the street, in posses of two or three. Official vehicles could be seen in the distance, idling and flashing their lights. A faint drizzle of rain came down. That was the Great White Way on Saturday evening, August 27.

And why? Because the official class decreed that there should be a disaster.

Back in our hotel, we turned on the disaster reports on TV. Local news was enthusiastic about a picture of Grand Central Station standing empty except for cops who were there to fend normal people off. “No reason why you should go there anyway,” the news anchor said. A young newsperson, standing on location amid a few drips of water, predicted that soon, very soon, the neighborhood in which he stood would be hopelessly flooded. Anchorpeople advertised the fact that 4,000 people were now without electricity in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, not stating how many of the millions who live in those areas are without energy at any normal time. The electric company, prompted by the mayor, threatened to cut off energy “preemptively” to large areas of New York City, allegedly to protect its equipment against flooding. And to make matters worse, yet another of Bloomberg’s constant news conferences was threatened.

My friend and I fell asleep. When we awoke at 10 on Sunday morning, the rain had gone; the sun was shining; and people were walking the streets, sans umbrellas, hunting for places to eat. Places to enjoy. Places to honor with their business. Places that had survived the onslaught of paternalism.

Soon we will hear how many billions of dollars Hurricane Irene cost the nation. But remember: the hurricane itself was responsible for virtually none of those losses. This was a manmade disaster.




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More on Government Motors

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Earlier this year, President Obama went on one of his gloating tours, touting the wisdom of his nationalization of General Motors and Chrysler. Theirs was a corrupt bankruptcy that strongly rewarded the UAW, one of Obama’s major financial contributors. The new GM then posted a few months of improved sales, leading to much crowing by all the corrupt cocks.

But lately, the road for what is derisively termed “Government Motors” has become rather bumpy, as illustrated in a recent story. The report is about how the New GM is trying desperately to get a dismissal of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 400,000 Chevy Impala owners.

The suit, filed by one Donna Truska, argues that the Impalas — made between 2007 and 2008 — had defective rear spindle rods, leading to rapid tire wear. The plaintiff claims that GM has breached its warranty, and demands that GM fix the cars.

But the new GM argues that since the cars were made by the Old GM, it is not liable for the repairs, and the 400,000 Impala owners should therefore go to hell. Of course, the New GM was only too happy to take over the losses of the Old GM so it could stiff other taxpayers out of future taxes on the New GM, but it doesn’t want to assume any liabilities.

And of course, back in March of 2009, as GM headed toward bankruptcy, Obama promised that in any action he took to “save” GM, consumers would have their warranties honored. As he trumpeted at the time, “Let me say this as plainly as I can. If you buy a car from Chrysler or General Motors, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired just like [sic] always. In fact, it will be safer than it has ever been. Because starting today, the United States will stand behind your warranty!”

Another Obama lie, of course. He stood behind GM warranties about as much as he has stood behind the American dollar . . .

Meanwhile, shares of the New GM hit a new low of $22 a share.




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No, Really — Why Does He Do That?

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Have you ever noticed that President Obama runs whenever he sees a set of stairs?

He always (check this out, and you’ll find I am right) runs up and down the steps to his plane. If there are steps to the platform where he’s going to speak, he runs up and down those steps. I mean, even when he’s speaking in the White House, where he lives, he thinks he needs to run the two steps to his podium.

Now he’s touring the Midwest on a gargantuan bus that is supposed to make him look like a normal Midwesterner. Good luck. But the vehicle has the usual three steps between the ground and the body of the thing. So after every speaking engagement, Obama hauls off and runs up the steps of the bus. He runs up three steps.

I don’t mean that he walks fast. I mean that he runs like a junior high school kid doing his first competitive sprints. And he doesn’t just run the steps, he takes off from ten feet away, as if he needed to win third place at the Kalamazoo County JV meet and knew that you’ve gotta show your hustle if you wanta win. His arms are pumping, his legs are striving to please the coach, and his demeanor is like, “I can do it! I can run up these steps.”

For God’s sake, what kind of person is this?




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Global Warming Updates

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Two recent stories concerning the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) caught my eye and are worth noting.

The first is the news from Forbes that a recent study of NASA satellite data from the last decade (2000–2010) shows that far more heat is escaping the earth’s atmosphere than has been predicted by AGW computer models. This in turn means that there will be far less global warming than predicted by those models, which were used by the UN climate science panel which took a dire view of the planet’s “warming.”

As the study’s co-author, Dr. Roy Spencer — a climate scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on board NASA’s Aqua satellite — put it, there is a huge discrepancy” between the empirical, observational data coming from NASA’s Terra satellite and what has been predicted by the climate warming crowd.

If you still have the quaint and antiquated notion that scientific theories ought to comport with observed data, this gap is, to say the least, disconcerting.

But the Terra satellite data are consistent with earlier data from another NASA satellite (the ERBS satellite) from an earlier period (1985 to 1999), which showed that vastly more long-wave radiation (therefore heat) escaped the atmosphere than was predicted by the global warming models. We now have a quarter of a century of data from two different satellites, pretty much saying the same thing.

The problem for the computer models seems to be that they predict that the increase in CO2 will cause an increase in atmospheric humidity and cirrus cloud cover, which in turn will trap heat, but the data seem at variance with the prediction. Curious, no?

The second story is about the scientist — one Charles Monnett, to be precise — who published an influential article in the journal Polar Biology in 2006 urging the claim that polar bears were drowning in the Arctic Ocean, presumably because the ice had melted from global warming. The article was based on Monnett’s observations, and this “peer-reviewed” article became an instant hit in the world of environmental activists. The article helped bring the polar bear to the forefront of the worldwide enviro movement. For example, the allegedly beleaguered animal figured into Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which showed sad polar bears — oh, so cute and cuddly! — swimming desperately in search of ice.

That research was then cited in 2008 when the Department of the Interior decided to put the polar bear on the endangered species list. And it is frequentlyused as part of the evidence that global warming is an imminent threat to animal life, so we need massive policy changes, with potential costs in the trillions.

Now, this particular bit of “science” should have aroused some scrutiny before, because it reeks of tendentious incompetence at work. The observational base of the study allegedlyconsisted of four (count ’em, four) polar bear carcasses floating in the ocean, observed from a plane flying at an altitude of 1,500 feet, on a research expedition studying — whales! No autopsy was done on the bears to see if they had drowned; their drowning was just “inferred.”

Note: the internal “peer review” panel included Monnett’s wife! “Yeah, Honey, your paper looks super! Please pass the pasta . . .”

Monnett is now under investigation for scientific misconduct by the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General’s Office, and has been placed on administrative leave from “the federal agency where he works.”Researchers are talking to him and his research partner about their work. Monnett’s career may wind up looking like . . . well . . . a dead polar bear from 1,500 feet up.




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The Huddled Masses Leaving En Masse

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As it happens, business brings me to my favorite American travel destination, New York City. As an L.A. dude, I like Los Angeles’ great weather and more laid-back attitude. But Manhattan is something L.A. can never be, namely, a walker’s paradise. Happily ensconced in a very modest hotel in Midtown, I can take off in any direction and just walk, seeing the sites and working up my appetite, which can be sated at any number of superb (if somewhat spendy) restaurants.

So I couldn’t help noticing a Wall Street Journal piece about the exodus of New Yorkers from the state in general and the Big Apple in particular.

The US Census data show that over the last decade, about 1.6 million New Yorkers moved out of the state. The biggest chunk of these émigrés was from the city itself: 70% of New Yorkers moving out of state were from NYC, and another 10% were from Westchester and Nassau Counties, which are essentially suburbs of NYC.

These losses were offset in part by an influx of 900,000 foreign immigrants. But there was still a net loss of nearly 700,000 residents, and the number of foreign immigrants was the lowest in about four decades.

The three most popular destinations for fleeing New Yorkers are Arizona, Florida, and Nevada. This suggests that the desire for warmer weather may be a factor in peoples’ decisions to move. But two of those states have no state income taxes, which suggests that NewYork’s notoriously high taxes may be a powerful reason as well.




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A Call to Repentance

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Are there libertarians who still regard President Obama with affection?

I understand that some people voted for him because they wanted to punish Bush and his fellow Republicans. The Republicans were warlike, and they were spendthrifts.

Well, if punishment is on the agenda, I want to be first in line to give some. Plenty, in fact. I’ll never get over George Bush’s ability to lie, lie, and keep on lying. But did you expect something better from Obama, you who supported him?

You did. I know you did. I heard you — at length.

As you said, Bush went to war, twice. But Obama continues running both wars, and he started a third one, the marvelously useless war in Libya. If he doesn’t get us involved in Somalia or Haiti, it will be a wonder.

As you said, Bush spent too much money. But Obama started off by spending a trillion dollars on a feckless economic program. He instituted a healthcare scheme that, basically, nobody wanted, which will cost at least half a trillion more and will give us notably less effective healthcare.

On August 8, Obama addressed the nation’s economic problems by demanding higher taxes and accusing those who don’t (such as you) of having caused the present economic distress. While he was talking, the stock market dropped like a rock. It lost 634 points that day.

But perhaps those who expected something libertarian out of Obama were right in one respect. His presidency has been wonderful for the gold market.




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The Perfect Ending

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After an agonizingly protracted battle, congressional leaders and the president reached an agreement to raise the debt limit, with some minor cuts in spending now and supposedly more cuts in the future, cuts that will be determined by a bipartisan panel.

There has been considerable rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth on both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum. But really, the agreement probably captures the mood of the majority of Americans.

As I have noted before, people are only just beginning to see the entitlement spending iceberg towards which the nation’s economy has been sailing for decades. But polls show that the public — including self-described Tea Party members — still strongly support the major culprits in the fiscal follies with which the country is beset: the entitlement programs, especially Social Security and Medicare.

In sum, the public is beginning to see the problem, but remains clueless — or, to wax Nietzschean for a moment, deliberately blind — to the real cause of the problem.

The agreement had immediate effects; though not ones, I daresay, that were comprehended by the supercilious solons who spawned it. And I’m not talking about the Standard & Poor’s downgrade.

First, as the US Treasury reported, the national debt immediately shot up $238 billion to a grand total of $14.58 trillion, officially hitting the mark of 100% of GDP. We as a nation have hit that mark only once before, right after World War II, the biggest foreign war we ever fought. We are now there again, in a time of comparative peace. As the report drily notes, this debt level puts us in the league of countries such as Italy and Belgium.

The second effect was not a stock market rally created by the exuberant joy of investors, relieved that disaster had been averted, but instead a massive sell-off, caused at least in part by the recognition that disaster looms.

All this brings to mind the old adage: a country gets the government it deserves.




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Investment Opportunities

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Walking in the downtown area of the small city where I live, I came upon a raggedy man engaged in a heated conversation with a man and woman sitting in a slightly less raggedy sedan. The man alternated between leaning into the car to hear what the man or woman was saying and then standing up to yell what he had to say — so that everyone in the vicinity (which meant just me, at that moment) could hear his end of it.

“This is fuckin’ ridiculous. It’s such an easy thing. Such a fuckin’ little thing.”

He was thin, in a sickly way. His face was flushed and deeply lined; his teeth, few and gray. He moved and sounded like a junkie. The downtown area is full of them: men, mostly, who in previous generations would have worked in the timber business, displaced by the Endangered Species Act and warped by years of unemployment and welfare into Gollums of entitlement. Crystal meth is usually their drug of choice . . . but marijuana or cheap booze will do.

“I can’t believe you’re doin’ this to me. Settin’ me up like this. Settin’ me up to fail. Fuck.”

The sedan and the junkie were idling in front of a bank. It was pretty clear that the “this” the people in the car were doing — or not doing — involved money.

I tried to get a clear look at the people in the car. They were older than the junkie but it was hard to tell how much. Junkies age badly; and, even when they aren’t junkies, working-class people in the Pacific Northwest don’t age well. The people in the car might have been his parents. Or a sibling and spouse. Something about the junkie’s sense of indignation suggested a family connection.

“I mean, look. It’s a fuckin’ investment. Investment. That’s what it is.”

And so language is ground into oblivion.

In our state, people on the dole usually have to sit through various educational meetings or sessions as a part of getting benefits. My guess: on his stumble down the socioeconomic ladder, the junkie had waited impatiently while many, many government employees repeated threadbare lines about their agencies’ “investment” in job training or cheap housing or troubled people. He’d retained it as a powerful word, a money word.

But he had no sense of what “investment” actually means. No sense of the return that investors expect on their money. No sense of the responsibility that comes with accepting investment. To him, “investment” was just a fancy word for handout — and he used it in the same way that a deadbeat asks for “loans” that he doesn’t intend to repay.

Many observers, from George Orwell to Liberty’s own Stephen Cox, have noted that collectivists use euphemisms in an effort to strip actions of meaning. And, particularly, to strip bad actions of their badness. It’s a pernicious process that robs people of moral agency.

Many of the same goodie-giving government agencies that talk about welfare as “investment” describe welfare recipients as “clients.” The misuse of each word has similar effect. The word “client” usually refers to the paying customer of some kind of professional service. Someone receiving a good or service for free is not a client; but, if he hears himself called a “client” often enough, he may lose the ability to make that distinction. And expect to be treated like a client wherever he goes.

I went into the bank to do some business and, when I came out a few minutes later, the junkie was leaning near the window of the raggedy sedan. He wasn’t saying anything. Neither of the people in the car was saying anything, either. They were all just staring at each other. Unmoored from meaning, frozen in their indignation.




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A Big Fish May Slip the Net

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Last year, Illinois bucked the national trend and voted for a very leftist governor — Pat Quinn, who had assumed the governorship in 2009 after Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

Despite winning by only a narrow margin, Quinn has governed as any devout leftist would. He has pushed wind and solar initiatives, signed a law eliminating the death penalty, and increased taxes like crazy. In the face of a $15 billion budget deficit, he raised the personal income tax from 3% to 5%, and increased corporate taxes from 4.8% to 7%. He also instituted a sales tax on internet sales (the “Amazon tax”). Businesses let it be known that they would consider leaving the state if his tax increases passed, but he went ahead anyway, laughing in their faces.

Now businesses may get the last laugh. They are indeed beginning to leave. Especially illustrative is the recent announcement by the CME Group that it is "evaluating” whether to move some operations to other states. It is currently in talks with Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. What do these states have in common? Hmm . . . let me think. Wait . . . Oh, I know. They don’t have state income taxes, and they are notoriously pro-business.

CME is a pretty big fish. It is the parent company of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the New York Mercantile Exchange (which includes COMEX, the New York Commodity Exchange). With 2,300 employees and revenues of between $2 and $3 billion, CME would be a real loss to Illinois’ economy if it departed. But Illinois would, quite frankly, deserve it.

As for Quinn, he probably doesn't care. He probably expects that if Obama passes another “stimulus” bill, money will be shoveled Chicago’s way — in the Chicago way.




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End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End?

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After much huffing and puffing, the barons on Capitol Hill have reached a deal that prevents the US government from defaulting on its debt. At the same time they staved off, for the time being at least, a downgrade in America’s credit rating. The president, our Othello, was offstage as the deal was struck, and now finds himself a diminished actor, even as he prepares for his most challenging role as a candidate for reelection.

What in fact has occurred? The United States government has been pulled, kicking and screaming, into taking its first baby step toward fiscal responsibility. Elections, we find, do matter. For, love them or hate them, it is the Tea Party Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 who compelled Uncle Sam to stand up and walk. They and they alone managed to force the issue over the debt ceiling. Of course, they got nothing like the deficit reduction they were looking for. But they have both changed the debate in Washington and achieved a modest first step toward fiscal sanity.

The squeals of distress emitted by Democrats and their supporters in the media (most notably the New York Times) make plain just how much the tide has turned in Washington and, perhaps, the country at large. The consequences of spending beyond one’s means were brought home for the average American in the Panic of 2008. As a result of that financial meltdown, it became common wisdom that out-of-control government spending must, at some point, lead to disaster. It was this realization, as much as opposition to “Obamacare,” that led to the Tea Party sweep in 2010.

Nevertheless, great dangers remain for the Republicans. The second round of spending cuts mandated under the just-passed legislation amounts to a drop in the ocean of American debt. We are still looking at trillions of new debt being added over the coming years — an unsustainable level of deficit spending and borrowing. To solve this problem, revenues must indeed be on the table. The Republicans should come out strongly for real tax reform, with a lowering of both personal and corporate rates tied to the elimination of loopholes and other steps to broaden the tax base. If the Republican Party’s plan is to allow General Electric, for example, to continue to reap billions of dollars in profits without paying any federal tax, they will be signing their own political death warrant.

Additionally, some Republicans are clearly opposed to major cuts in the defense budget. That the people will accept austerity except in defense is an illusion. The United States is not seriously threatened militarily by any power on earth. We currently spend about the same amount of money on defense as the rest of the world combined. The global commitments of the United States must shrink. When Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, as he emerged from the Senate vote on the debt ceiling, that America must finance Egypt’s transition to democracy, he revealed himself as doubly out of touch, for it is equally absurd to believe either that American dollars can create democracy in the Arab world, or that the average citizen is willing to throw away his hard-earned money on such a will-o’-the-wisp.

Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, are acting as if they have solved the deficit-debt problem, and are talking about moving on “to what Washington does best — creating jobs and opportunity for Americans.” If this is what they truly believe (and it certainly appears that many of them do think this way), then they too are barreling down the road to self-destruction.

The president is talking about a balanced approach, but does he mean it? He ignored the opportunity to move toward a balanced budget in the wake of the Bowles-Simpson commission’s report and the mandate for fiscal responsibility given to Congress by the voters in 2010. And even if he is serious, does it matter? He overreached himself in pushing for revenues in his one-on-one negotiations with Speaker John Boehner, and was then reduced almost to a cypher as Congressional leaders forged a deal largely on their own. His poll numbers are down and his political relevance is in question. The mediocrity of the Republican presidential field is his one comfort.

There is, of course, a dirty secret out there, unspoken but quietly acknowledged by many thoughtful people. It is that nothing the politicians can do will prevent another serious economic crisis, one perhaps much worse than 2008. The debt and deficit issues are not resolvable without draconian cuts and revenue increases, which taken together must derail any prospects for sustainable economic growth and job creation. Resorting to the printing press, as in 2008, is impossible given the level of government indebtedness. In any case it would only postpone the day of reckoning. A Keynesian jobs program was tried in 2009 and largely failed, at a cost of nearly a trillion dollars. Vast numbers of people lacking the education or skills needed in an economy that has been transformed by globalization will be left with nowhere to turn. The private sector cannot use them; the public sector will no longer be able to support them. Therefore we face . . . what? We certainly seem fated to live in “interesting times.”




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