What's in a Brand?

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People often complain that the tea partiers confuse socialism, fascism, and communism.  These people argue that the three have distinct definitions and different ideologies.

Well, Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac are not the same car. They are, however, different nameplates on similar products, with many parts manufactured by the same people.  They'll all take you to the same place, though some will do it faster.




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The Mother of All Unintended Consequences

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A number of unanticipated consequences of Obamacare have appeared, even before the major provisions take effect.

Thousands of elderly people have lost their Medicare Advantage plans, insurance companies have been forced to jack up their rates to cover the myriad of new mandates, many insurance companies have eliminated child-only policies, and over a hundred companies and unions — many of them supporters of the Obama administration — have been given waivers from the disastrous bill by the selfsame administration that inflicted it upon the nation.

But the mother of all unintended consequences of Obamacare may be coming down the pike in 2014. That is the year when the healthcare plan dumps 16 million people (and even more, if illegal aliens aren’t excluded) on Medicaid. Medicaid is the program that already covers at least 62 million poorer Americans.

Medicaid is partly funded by the federal government, but almost half the costs are paid by the states. It is a heavy burden on them even in the best of times, and some of them now border on insolvency.

Rick Perry of Texas was the first governor to talk about withdrawing from Medicaid and substituting a less expensive alternative devised by Texans, following the tastes of Texans. But now similar ideas are being discussed by officials in Nevada, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming.

Will this group of free thinkers regarding Medicaid swell as we get closer to 2014, the Year of the Great Dump? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “You betcha!”




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Wait ’Til Next Year

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John Maynard Keynes is the Chicago Cubs of economics. In both cases, repeated failure has been rewarded with undying fanatical devotion.

Meanwhile, I am weary of watching our "brilliant” president blame his predecessor for the economic woes the nation still suffers. True genius confronts adversity. Thomas Edison never once blamed the darkness.




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Stimulate This

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As stories pile up about how the money from Obama’s massive stimulus bill was spent, it is becoming clear why the money stimulated few jobs. Two recent stories illustrate this.

First is the report from Randolph, Massachusetts, on how that city spent $4.6 million in scarce taxpayer dollars from the stimulus funds.

The lucky district took its windfall cash and repaired — a horse bridge! Yes, the horseshit project connected two parts of the 238-acre “Blue Hills Reservation,” making it easier for horseback riders and pedestrians to wander freely therein.

An owner of a local equestrian center was of course delighted at this pork project: “I was psyched. I thought, Whoo-hoo, new bridge!” Her defense — standard for anyone who has never read Bastiat — was, “How many other misappropriations have been given through the state for financial funding?” In other words, it benefits me, and the state has approved other senseless projects, so what’s the big deal?

A local bureaucrat, one Wendy Fox, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, said that the bridge was popular and often used, though she couldn’t give any numbers. The horses on the farm on one side of the bridge total 30, and those on the other side total 20  — which averages about $92,000 per horse to build the bridge.

Then there is the happy news that nearly 90,000 people who got “stimulus payments” were either prisoners or . . . corpses. The thinking must have been that the cash would go beyond stimulation and into the realm of resurrection.

Yes, 72,000 stimulus checks (each for $250 of loot stolen from taxpayers) went to deceased people, in anticipation of one last blast. Seventeen thousand more payments were sent to prison inmates. And only about half the money has been returned.

Your tax dollars at work.




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Congress' Last Good Deed

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Inspired by a zeal for liberty, and by some very large political contributions, Congress has finally voted to stop the military’s harassment of gays. It would be churlish not to congratulate our legislators for doing this. Therefore, congratulations, legislators.

While burning this incense, I would like to recall some other good thing that the 111th Congress has done. I don’t mean a good thing with a lot of bad things attached, such as temporarily maintaining lower tax rates for people who are actually paying taxes, while increasing the amount of tax money diverted to people who aren’t. And I don’t mean failing, from sheer incompetence, to do a bad thing, such as passing out billions of dollars in gifts to congressmen’s friends, hidden in an “omnibus spending bill.”

I just mean something good.

Something that lets people live their own lives.

Something that lets people plan their own futures.

Something that lets people spend at least one day of their existence not worrying about what the government may do to them.

I’d like to think of something good like that, something that this Congress has done.

Well. I’m trying.

Still trying.

Can you think of anything?




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Bush's Revenge

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I have always felt somewhat better about George Bush than many libertarians apparently do. Two recent events have reinforced my feelings.

The first is the very recent ruling against Obamacare in the U.S. District Court. When pressed for things I think Dubya did right, I have had two quick replies: “Sam Alito” and “John Roberts.” He should be proud of his two appointees to the Supreme Court; they have been superb. Without them, it is doubtful we would have an explicitly recognized individual right to keep and bear arms. But I now have a third quick reply: “Henry Hudson.”

U.S. District Court Judge Hudson was the one who ruled that Obamacare’s key provision, requiring all people not covered by health insurance to purchase it (called the “Minimum Essential Coverage Provision”), exceeds the commerce clause of the Constitution. He was placed on the court in 2002 by Bush.

As Hudson put it, “The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers. At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”

If Obamacare is ruled unconstitutional, it will be largely because the judges Bush put on the Supreme Court uphold the ruling of one of the judges he put on the district court.

This just seems obvious. It is one thing to regulate interstate commerce, it is quite another to mandate it universally, i.e., to require individuals to engage in commerce (here, buying insurance) if they don’t want to. The argument given by proponents of the bill, that people who don’t buy health insurance wind up requiring the public’s support when they get sick and have to go to the emergency room, is very feeble. Hospitals can and often do bill people without insurance directly. And if Congress had been worried about those who can’t afford health insurance, it could have passed a voucher scheme for healthcare. In that way, anyone who wanted to participate could accept the voucher and go buy at least minimal health insurance, and anyone who didn’t could just refuse the voucher.

Moreover, if you take the pro-Obamacare argument seriously, there is no end to what it would sanction the feds to force us to buy. If I refuse to purchase a car, I will have to use public transportation, so doesn’t that mean that the government can make me buy an American car? No doubt Obama, who nationalized GM and Chrysler to pay back his financial supporters in the UAW, would love that idea. But it is sheer moonshine.

It now seems likelier than not that this issue will make it to the Supreme Court. And it is quite possible that the Court will side with Judge Hudson on the mandate issue. Considering that the wise solons who passed Obamacare forgot to include a severability clause, it is even possible that the Supreme Court could declare the whole bill unconstitutional. If that happens, it will be largely because the judges Bush put on the Supreme Court uphold the ruling of one of the judges he put on the district court.

The second area in which Dubya’s ghost haunts Obama is tax policy. During the present lame-duck session of Congress, Obama reached a surprising last-minute compromise with the Republicans — a compromise that renews Bush’s tax rates for two years. Obama had spent more than two years bashing Bush’s tax cuts “for the obscenely wealthy” and blaming the cuts for our lingering economic difficulties, but he was finally forced to compromise.

He did so very ungracefully, claiming that the Evil Republicans were holding middle class tax cuts hostage, and that while he normally wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, he had to save the hostage. This was as ludicrous as it was infantile. What was held hostage was the rest of Obama’s presidency, which would have been annihilated had the rates gone up, tumbling the economy back into recession. Obama had to pitch his leftist supporters and his congressional myrmidons on the merits of tax cuts as a way to stimulate the economy, after denying that claim all through his presidency.

But perhaps the most farcical turn came when Obama had to call in Bill Clinton to lead a news conference justifying the compromise to outraged congressional Democrats. Farce devolved into pure camp as the ex-prez, who had jacked up the tax rates to begin with, endorsed the compromise that would preserve the lower rates his successor managed to enact. Dubya must have laughed at that one.




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Pen and Paper

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I love reflecting on stories that seem to confirm my admittedly quirky personal preferences. It’s the egoist in me, I suppose.

One such quirk is that I don’t feel I am writing unless I actually put a pen to paper. Yes, I will use a word processor to put the final version in order, but there is something about seeing words on paper that enhances my composition skills — which, Lord knows, need all the enhancing they can get.

A report in the Wall Street Journal by Gwendolyn Bounds, “How Handwriting Boosts the Brain,” discusses some new research by cognitive scientists using MRI technology and other tools. There is rapidly growing evidence that teaching children handwriting helps them not just to learn letters and shapes and develop motor skills but also to improve their ability to compose and express their thoughts.

One study tested children in the second, fourth, and sixth grades and found that they wrote more quickly, using more vocabulary, and conveyed more ideas when writing by hand than when word processing their essays. Adults who learn new symbols (such as Chinese characters) by writing them by hand seem to master the recognition of these symbols more quickly. Some doctors now recommend handwriting for aging patients as a way to ward off dementia.

Prof. Virginia Berninger (an educational psychologist) notes that when writing by hand, people have to execute “sequential strokes” in forming letters, as opposed to selecting whole letters by pushing keys on a keyboard. In so doing they activate large areas of the brain associated with thinking, language, and working memory.

But there is bad news for me in this flurry of research. One ed psych researcher notes that “people judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.” Beautifully scripted letters are presumed to convey beautiful thoughts. As someone who was unceremoniously ejected from parochial school by angry penguins for both bad handwriting and impiety (the two failings thought to reinforce each other, I suspect), I must confess that to this day my penmanship is virtually indecipherable.




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Climate Change — from Slagle's Slant

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Climate is always changing, but telling us how much of the change is attributable to human activity is one spot where science is woefully inept. By extension, there is no way to predict what effect climate change legislation will have on the climate.

To date there has been no legislation proven effective in mitigating climate change. If such legislation were labeled medicine, the FDA would never approve it, nor would any legitimate scientist endorse it. Yet there is a great clamor inside the scientific community to get it passed. Power, like any other seductive influence, renders most mortals incapable of rational thought.

 

Representative John Shimkus recently created a stir by saying that he's not worried about global warming, because God promised Noah he would never flood the earth again.

I don't share Shimkus’ faith, but I understand his intention. Some people believe that God has a plan for us all; others believe in a fable about a big boat and pairs of animals; others simply believe that the earth is too enormous for mortals to destroy. These are all different versions of the same basic idea, one with which I agree.

People who believed in the literal version of the fable ran this nation for the better part of the past 234 years, and I don't see it doing any harm now. Atheists had the chance to demonstrate their superior governing abilities during the last century, and it really didn't work out so well.

 

According to Reuters, Al Gore recently admitted he was mistaken in his support for ethanol subsidies. He explained that he supported the original program because of his political ambitions.

Great. How many other things did he support for such reasons? Did he lie about the effects of global warming because of his ambition to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize?

Vanity is a sin that is rarely committed only once.

 

Are environmentalists considering the depletion of forests and the production of toxic ink involved in manufacturing all the money required to keep Green Energy subsidized?

/p




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Very Green, But Not So Jolly

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Several recent stories indicate anew just how green the Obama administration is, and how much harm it is prepared to inflict on the country to further its environmentalist agenda.

First is the report that the administration is yet again reversing course on offshore drilling. Back in March, weeks before the BP oil spill, Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the administration would finally open the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic coast (in particular, the coast of Virginia) to oil and gas exploration. This marked a change of position for Obama. While campaigning for the presidency he said he would allow expanded coastal exploration and development (this as McCain was getting traction in the polls with “drill, baby, drill!”); but once elected, he reversed his position and refused to allow it.

So now we are back to no new offshore drilling (and a continuing moratorium on deepwater drilling). Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put the situation aptly: “The Administration is sending a message to America’s oil and gas industry: take your capital, technology, and jobs somewhere else.”

The absurdity of this policy is underscored by the fact that gasoline nationwide is edging back toward $3 a gallon, and by the news that unemployment just went up to 9.8% nationwide, marking the longest period of over 9% unemployment since the Great Depression.

The second story is a study in contrast. It’s a report that China plans to spend over $500 billion to build 245 new nuclear power plants. This would mean adding nearly two and a half times as many as the U.S. has in total. As Zhao Chengkun, vice-president of the China Nuclear Energy Association, put it, “Developing clean, low-carbon energy is an international priority. Nuclear is recognized as the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale to achieve this.” While our administration dithers about constructing just one new reactor, the Chinese barrel ahead.

A third story concerns the ever-frisky EPA. It has just announced a dramatic increase in regulations on energy industries aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Among the new EPA diktats is the requirement that the maximum allowable ground-level ozone level be dropped by up to 20%. Hundreds of American municipalities are struggling to comply with the existing maximum level, so tightening the standards still further will just bury those places financially. The Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI estimates that this new EPA regulation will cost America on the order of 7.3 million jobs and about a trillion dollars in regulatory costs within a decade.

It is doubtful whether this reduction in ambient ozone would result in any measurable gain in public health, much less in a gain big enough to justify the huge economic and human costs. But the Obama administration is full of green ideologues for whom such considerations matter little.

To be green means that you worship all life forms — except human beings.




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Terror at 30,000 Feet

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The old joke about the statistician who drowned in a lake with an average depth of one foot is a reminder that while the mathematics of probability theory are rock solid (er, within a certain range of error), the questions that the numbers attempt to illuminate are a bit more slippery. To put this in another way, a statistic is only as valid as the manner in which the question it tries to answer is framed. And there’s the rub: a question can be spun in such a way that the answer will confirm any sophistry.

This insight was recently brought home to me by Tyler Cowen’s wonderful Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting and Motivate Your Dentist. But even libertarian economists can fall prey to their inner biases. (I haven’t discovered whether Cowen calls himself a libertarian or not, but following Rush Limbaugh’s opinion that all economists worth their salt are libertarian, I suspect he is.)

At one point, Cowen briefly discusses fear of flying, citing various statistics that “prove” that flying is, hands down, much safer than driving a car. When one compares mortality rates per mile traveled and per passengers involved, the conventional figures decisively prove their point.

So why am I not scared of driving? As Ayn Rand famously stated, “Check your premises!”

Having taken flying lessons (and having had to land a single-engine plane that lost power), I have a slightly different take on the matter. A Cessna 150 with a perfectly centered dead engine practically lands itself, slowly gliding down at the proper angle, needing only a steady hand to keep it from diving into a stall. By comparison, a multi-engine jet with the reduced glide ratio that results from swept-back wings, and the out-of-balance weight and thrust from an off-center, suddenly faulty engine, almost requires a miracle to land safely.

Cowen, along with many others, believes that fear of flying is irrational. Now, I consider myself a rational empiricist, but when facing a flight, I gird my loins and make sure my affairs are in order. And I don’t think my fear is irrational. Yet I had never really tried to work out the problem until I read Tyler Cowen, who skewers popular fallacies as only a libertarian economist can. My conclusion is that he may have embraced a popular fallacy himself.

A stalled car engine is an inconvenience for, perhaps, half a dozen people at the most, while a stalled jet engine is a likely death sentence for hundreds of passengers. Having a pigeon fly into a car’s grille is startling, but it has far from the same consequences as having a pigeon fly into the cowling of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine.

The questions I would pose to determine the safety of flying vs. driving would be: What percentage of mechanical malfunctions in cars result in fatalities? And how many fatalities? But what percentage in planes? I’m willing to bet that mechanical malfunctions (or operator errors) in an airplane cause way more fatalities than the same problems in a car. Different premise, different conclusion.




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