Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Good News

New home sales rise 4.7 percent in February

Durable goods orders rise unexpectedly in February

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Obama's Withdrawal Problems

President Obama (brief operational pause to add "Obama" to the customized Firefox dictionary) has a slight problem in his budding presidency...I don't know how else to describe it, except to say he's going through withdrawal.

Annette Nazareth, Treasury Department Deputy, withdrawn.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Surgeon General, withdrawn.

Tom Daschle, Health & Human Services secretary, withdrawn.

Gov. Bill Richardson, Commerce Secretary, withdrawn.

Sen. Judd Gregg, Commerce Secretary, withdrawn.

Nancy Killefer, Chief Performance Officer, withdrawn.

Charles Freeman, National Intelligence Council chair, withdrawn.

Jon Cannon, Deputy Administrator for the EPA, withdrawn.

This list doesn't include the should-have-withdrawns, including Hilda Solis (current Secretary of Labor) and Tim Geithner (Secretary of the Treasury), both of whom had issues with paying taxes.

The power of appointments is one of the President's most important powers. These are the leaders who will shape public policy, and many of whom will have the President's ear for the next four years. Why then is there so much trouble finding clean candidates for these key posts, and why does the common theme of being accurate and timely with taxes run so clearly? Can you imagine the uproar if Bush had nominated so many would-be crooks?

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Holy Good News, Batman!

There's been some interesting bits of good news about the economy lately:

January Retail Sales Higher Than Expected

February Retail Sales Hold Steady, Despite Expectations

New-home construction logs unexpected gain

Stocks record 5th gain in six sessions

New jobless claims fall more than expected to 646K

This leads to an interesting question with various schools of thought.

The question: When and how much of it is Barack Obama's fault, and at what point can he fully take responsibility (credit AND blame) for the economy without claiming the mistakes of his predecessor?

Many rank-and-file Republicans are doing exactly what the Democrats did with Bush; hoping the economy doesn't do well, talking down positive reports, hyping negative ones. They would say that much economic woe (like the stock market fall, which can't be hailed as Bush's fault, as it responds to short-term stimuli) is Obama's fault, while any economic gain can't be to Obama's credit because his policies haven't had anything other than token effect on morale.

Democrats, naturally, want every success to be Obama's, and failure to be Bush's.

To me, it makes sense that a lot of long-term factors can't yet be Obama's fault (for example, he can't claim credit for January retail sales) and the stock market is short-term enough to blame/credit him. I don't have an answer to the question, but it can go either way, depending on how the economy progresses.

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Obama's Cold Awakening

President Obama and his friends on the left are suddenly finding out that mass consolidation of power is no easy task in a country where its leaders still rule by the just consent of the governed. So far, the President has had to backpedal on several issues, and has even come to part with his own party on some issues.

For starters, the Department of Defense backtracked on an attempt to curtail ammunition by tightening restrictions on recycled brass.

The President's pick for Attorney-General made good on his intent to reintroduce the phony "assault weapons ban" and found opposition from 65 House Democrats and some in the Senate.

Then the President was contemplating charging veterans for their own healthcare. Public outcry forced a U-turn on that move as well.

The President may not even have Democrats on his side for his budget

This bonus fracas is another example, but slightly different. The President and rank Democrats feigned outrage when they claimed to just be finding out that bailed out banking institution AIG was issuing large bonuses to their executives. This orchestrated fury despite explicit language that allowed unrestricted bonuses. But now, even more truths coming to light are making this administration look bad. Michelle Malkin notes that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner reported the bonuses to Congress long before they claimed to.

Senator Chris Dodd, the architect of the bonus protection clause, now states that officials in the Obama administration specifically asked that provision to go in!

Despite all this, rank Democrats have cobbled together a bill that would tax the bonuses away from the executives.

There's a slight problem with this. Actually, a HUGE problem with this, and it's likely the reason why the president asked the bonus protection to remain in there. By creating outrage, the president and Congress can have public support to tax away the bonus money from these "greedy" executives. The unsuspecting public cannot help but agree that the pilots of a bank that had to come calling for public assistance don't deserve millions of dollars in bonuses. The problem is that this sets up even more power for the government.

In the rush to demand government do the "right thing", there's a little technicality that most people overlook - to the delight of politicians. It's the question of whether or not the power was ever the government's to begin with. People lack the long-term vision to see that if you give the government the power to do the "right" thing (TAX those bonuses away from those abominable fat cats and give them to starving children on the street - and make haste!) that they forget they've just given the government the discretionary power of arbitrary taxation of private individuals. That, my friends, is a power far too great for any government to wield. Oh, it may not be Barack Obama. But ten, twelve, fifteen years down the road, we install a more radical president who has other plans about the direction this country should go. Yet he has the tools of vast power granted him by precedent because the American people agreed with Obama that the "right" thing needed to be done.

I am reminded of the "First they came" poem, and with your permission, will adapt it to this situation:

First, they taxed away the bloated paychecks of corporate executives. I said nothing - I was not an executive.

Then they came after rich investors, but I said nothing, because I was not a rich investor.

Next they taxed the comfortable salaries of doctors and lawyers. I was neither, so I said nothing.

When they decided to tax me...there was no one else left to speak out for me.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama's Economy Blitz

You'll recall I predicted the economy would recover this year, 2009, likely by late spring/early summer. Now, more qualified voices than mine are adding limited agreement; Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a rare interview, states that the recession will probably end this year.

Meanwhile, the President is putting forth a PR full-court press on the economy. After two months of talking down the economy, and stating that we were nearing days as dire as the Great Depression, President Obama told business leaders that the economy is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

In fact, echoing words that were jeered when first asserted by his opponent John McCain, Obama's economic advisor Christina Romer affirmed that "of course" the fundamentals of the US economy were "sound."

Meanwhile, the President's approval numbers are holding relatively steady at about 60%; but his disapproval numbers have been steadily creeping upwards.

When asked about that dip below 60%, the President noted that these numbers were like the stock market, and vary from week to week.

Perhaps this is an appropriate analogy; consider the chart of the DOW Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) with appropriate labels added by myself:

Now, many have argued correctly that the President cannot immediately be assigned blame for the fledgling economy. Yet, there are long-term and short-term indicators, and at some point, Obama must take both credit and blame. (Does anyone doubt he would be taking credit now if the stock market was soaring?) No, the market is affected by just one day's events. The President has been in office for eight weeks now. At some point, he has to own this market. Given that there's been a 2,000+ point drop since he took power that wasn't clearly indicated by the data -- and that includes his promised plan of salvation via the stimulus -- clearly investors are not comfortable with Obama's current performance.

However, as I told Republicans when Bush was president, don't hitch your wagon to the market; if you take credit when she's up, you'd better be prepared to take blame when she's down.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bogus Study Claims More Conserv Pervs

From ABC News: Porn in the USA: Conservatives Are Biggest Consumers

This study, published in its original form here, originates from Ben Edelman, an assistant professor of business at Harvard Business School. His credentials look to be impeccable, but certain conclusions from the study are bunk, and others didn't take a PhD from Harvard to figure it out.

First, Edelman's research indicates that urban areas show the most paid subscriptions to pornography websites. Is that any big revelation? Young singles and people with greater disposable income are much more likely to live in urban areas.

Second, Edleman notices marriage decreases porn subscription purchases significantly - again, no surprise there. Why buy a menu when you can go to the restaurant?

Edelman then notes that in regions reporting the highest number of church attendances, subscription rates do not decrease. According to the paper, however, "a statistically significantly smaller proportion of subscriptions begin on Sundays, compared with other regions." Well, duh. A community that reports the most church-goers -- even assuming these church-goers are the same ones buying subscriptions -- will not have as many purchases on a Sunday. Activities are different, and if anything else, guilt and facade of righteousness will keep subscribers at bay for the day.

It is certainly possible that the subjects of this survey are actually self-described "Christians" (nothing in the survey confirms it) but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of research from the Barna group knows that few people claiming Christianity actually profess any strong values or ethics consistent with the teachings of Christ.

Edelman's final analysis is where it gets most interesting. Writes he:

Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality.
Doesn't it make sense that in a court system where the vast majority of decisions are reactive rather than proactive, it naturally follows that such laws would exist where pornography is already a problem? Edelman fails to differentiate between "problem" (cause) and "solution" (effect), and concludes that the states are just as "bad" as other states because they've shown a greater propensity to restrict access to pornography, when in fact the opposite is true.
In the 27 states where “defense of marriage” amendments have been adopted (making same-sex marriage, and/or civil unions unconstitutional), subscriptions to this adult entertainment service are weakly more prevalent than in other states.
Regardless of his results about pornography, no distinction is made between heterosexual-themed and homosexual-themed content - this could easily reflect negative attitudes towards homosexuals by either hypocritical/struggling religious persons, or by secularists who see no problem with pornography but still oppose homosexuality. Subscribing to porn sites says nothing about positions on homosexuality.
[S]ubscriptions are also more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.
It is here that Edelman makes his biggest error. By applying the characteristics of his sample to the characteristics of all members of the state, he commits a grave logical error (known as "composition") which may seem easy in statistics, but is seldom warranted unless there is great uniformity between data sets being compared. (Edelman uses Pew research for his population statistics.) His point is supposed to be that conservatives are just as likely to buy porn subscriptions as liberals.

Even more galling, Edelman tells ABC that "some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by." This statement is utterly devoid of evidence, and presumably not backed up by either statistical or anecdotal evidence within the paper, since he presents none. This is his normative opinion of the way things are.

Now, granted, I will allow that his claim may in fact be quite true. Christians still struggle against the sinful flesh. But when one is presenting one's self as the author of a study that used scientific methods and statistical research, one cannot use it as a platform to tout intuitive or normative views of society.

Edelmon's methods for determining religiosity are expressed as follows:
In states where more people agree that “Even today miracles are performed by the power of God” and “I never doubt the existence of God,” there are more subscriptions to this service. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where more people agree that “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” and “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”

None of these are an indication of religious devotion, conviction or ongoing practice of an individual's faith.

Edelman concludes:
"On the whole, these adult entertainment subscription patterns show a remarkable consistency: all but eleven states have between two and three subscribers to this service per thousand broadband households, and all but four have between 1.5 and 3.5. With interest in online adult entertainment relatively constant across regions, there’s little sign of a major divide."

Again, the good professor demonstrates an appalling discrepancy in his reasoning by assuming that because perverts exist equally in states known to be "red states" (IE, having more religious values, or voted for a conservative candidate) the conservative individuals within those states must themselves be partakers of pornography.

Edelman's methodology itself is questionable. He worked off of multiple data sets, but primarily Pew (for state demographic information) and information from a consulting firm, which gave him an anonymous list of credit card information that included zip codes. There is a hideous error lurking here; Edleman's data pool is already polluted. He was not conducting a purely random study of persons in given regions to determine their propensity towards pay-to-play sin online. He was working from a pool where involvement with pornography was a foregone conclusion. Does it surprise him that perverts are equally distributed across the continental United States? Can the fact that lustful citizens have equal representation in most states really take anyone by surprise? This study says absolutely nothing about the likelihood of "red staters" or "blue staters" to buy porn. ABC News' jubilant conclusion (in brief, "conservs are pervs too!") is once again pure media bias oozing through.

Another site made other more polarized observations about the article (I do not advise clicking on the link as the author seems to be under the impression that pixelating a pornographic image makes it okay), noting:
[T]he study tracked only paid porn services and completely overlooked the vast quantity of free porn consumed online. That decision, it seems to us, immediately throws all the survey’s results into question. ... While we think it’s quite possible that conservatives buy more porn, we’re also think it’s quite possible that liberals actually consume more porn. The difference, we think, is that conservatives pay for it, but liberals don’t. After all, why would anyone think that the same people who want free healthcare, free welfare and free mortgages wouldn’t also want free porn.


According to Edelman’s study, some of the factors that influence porn purchases include age (people over 65 consume less, people 15-24 consume more), education (those with college educations tend to consume more porn), and location (urban residents consume more porn).

Every demographic study shows that Democrat voters skew younger than Republicans. Shouldn’t we then assume that Democrats consume more porn?

We’re always told that Democrats are more educated than Republicans. Shouldn’t we then assume that Democrats consume more porn?

Democrats dominate urban areas and Republicans dominate everywhere else. Shouldn’t we then assume that Democrats consume more porn?

In conclusion, it's ironic to see once again that to secular progressives, the exclusive cardinal sin in a world of relativism is hypocrisy. If you consulted Prof. Edelman's opinion on the subject of porn, I'm sure he would be unwilling to describe it as sinful or harmful, and hasten to add that he only viewed it as the subject of research for his study. (Scientists just love to claim objective research -- and probably tax deductions -- on "research" like this.) Still further, isn't it ironic that Edelman and the left as a whole have been pushing this so-called sexual "liberation" for decades? Starting with the so-called "sexual revolution" of the 1970's, standards have declined, pornography has become mainstream, boundaries on public content have been increasingly loosened...all of the lasciviousness and prurience the left has wanted. (With it has come a new wave of fathers abandoning responsibility, increased diseases, teen pregnancy and abortion, but that's beside the point.) Why, as tolerance continually conforms to liberal standards, do liberals then mock their opponents for falling prey? Should they not embrace the "enlightenment" of their would-be enemies? Or do they, like the devil, enjoy beating their enemies over the head with their own standards?

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