April 19 2012

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John Fund explains how Obama got the individual mandate so wrong.

President Obama insists that the public would rise up in anger should the Supreme Court strike down all or part of his health-care law. James Carville, a former strategist for Bill and Hillary Clinton, claims a death sentence for Obamacare would benefit Democrats.

Such arguments border on fantasy. The reaction to the closely watched Supreme Court oral arguments on Obamacare shows that the law lost ground with the public the more the public followed the issue. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll pegs support for the overall law at 39 percent, the lowest level of backing since this poll first began tracking the issue in 2009. Only about half of Democrats want the entire law upheld.

In contrast, approval of the Supreme Court has increased following the roughing up it gave Obamacare. A new Rasmussen Reports survey found that the percentage of likely voters who rate the court as good or excellent went up 13 points in a month, to 41 percent. A full 42 percent of independents and unaffiliated voters rank the court highly, up from 26 percent only a month ago.

Even some liberals acknowledge that when it comes to public opinion, the law resembles the dead parrot in that old Monty Python skit. When the Daily Beast asked media and policy experts how the law could be better marketed, the general sense was that it was too late. “Medicare was marketable because it was understandable,” says Lawrence O’Donnell, the liberal MSNBC host who was staff director of the Senate Finance Committee when it debated Hillarycare in the 1990s. “I have never met anyone, outside of the government, who can describe what the new health-care law is. You cannot market something that is indescribable.” …


April 12th Pickings ended with a story about a left coast whale watch tour operator, Nancy Black, who is facing prison for inadvertently “bothering” whales. A Real Clear Markets blogger compares her predicament to Jon Corzine who will most likely get away with being a party to stealing hundreds of millions from his customers.

Justice may be blind, but who works overtime to make it deaf, dumb, and stupid?

Which would you imagine might attract more aggressive enforcement from the Justice Department: the theft of $1.2 billion from supposedly segregated customer brokerage funds, or lying about an alleged incident of whistling to attract the attention of a whale so that whale watchers could get a better peep? If you said the latter, then you appreciate the extent to which federal law enforcement priorities have run off the rails.

We know for a fact that enormous sums of money legally off limits have disappeared into the maw of disgraced Senator John Corzine’s gambling counterparties, all of whom seem to have taken the oath of omerta. We know that Corzine personally asked employees at MF Global, the financial firm he headed until recently, to transfer the funds. We know that his underlings balked at signing false statements attesting the transfers to be legal. So how is it that the man ultimately responsible for this brazen theft and spectacular bankruptcy gets away with performing a perfunctory Sergeant Schultz “I know nothing” routine in front of his old Senate buddies, after which he is left free to walk out the door without handcuffs?

Meanwhile, marine biologist and whale watching ship captain Nancy Black faces 20 years in prison, not for “harassing” whales (which believe it or not is a crime), but because she has been charged with lying to Justice Department prosecutors investing allegations that some of her crew members whistled at a whale to keep it hanging around their boats.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Title 18, Section 1001 of the United States Code is the successor to the False Claims Act of 1863, originally intended to punish crooked Civil War contractors. It has since metastasized into an all-purpose bludgeon that federal prosecutors routinely use to squeeze fines and plea bargains out of anyone unfortunate enough to become ensnared in one of the hundreds of thousands of regulations that govern everything from selling goldfish to the volume of your toilet flush.

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg characterizes it, Section 1001 has conferred “extraordinary authority” for prosecutors to “manufacture crimes.” …


Reuters says the green jobs have been slow to sprout.

Three weeks ago, President Barack Obama stood in front of a sea of gleaming solar panels in Boulder City, Nevada, to celebrate his administration’s efforts to promote “green energy.”

Stretching row upon row into the desert, the Copper Mountain Solar Project not far from Las Vegas provided an impressive backdrop for the president.

Built on public land, the facility is the largest of its kind in the United States. Its 1 million solar panels provide enough energy to power 17,000 homes.

And it employs just 10 people. 

Three years after Obama launched a push to build a job-creating “green” economy, the White House can say that more than 1 million drafty homes have been retrofitted to lower heating and cooling costs, while energy generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar has nearly doubled since 2008.

But the millions of “green jobs” Obama promised have been slow to sprout, disappointing many who had hoped that the $90 billion earmarked for clean-energy efforts in the recession-fighting federal stimulus package would ease unemployment – still above 8 percent in March.

Supporters say the administration over-promised on the jobs front and worry that a backlash could undermine support for clean-energy policies in general. …


In April 16th Pickings we had an item by Neal Boortz suggesting Scott Walker was going to do well in Wisconsin. Jonathan Tobin has some polls to the same effect.

The decision by Democrats and their union allies to try and defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker via recall is increasingly looking like a bad bet. The latest poll numbers out of the Badger State show that Walker leads all possible Democratic challengers in the vote that is scheduled for June 5.  The best showing of the four Democrats in the race was from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who trailed Walker 50-45 percent. Walker bests Kathleen Falk by seven points and both Doug La Follette and Kathleen Vinehout by ten points. The Public Policy Polling survey conducted for the Daily Kos also showed that while Wisconsin voters are nearly evenly split about Walker’s job performance, 51 percent approve of him.

By bowing to the dictates of an angry labor union movement and pushing for a recall, Democrats gambled that they could knock off Walker and set the stage for a reversal of the 2010 Republican tidal wave that swept the governor and a GOP legislative majority into office. But if they fail in June, it will not only encourage Republicans to think they might steal the state from President Obama in November, they will have immeasurably strengthened Walker.


In the last two months, Ford sold exactly none of the electric Focus. None. Story from Detroit News.

Electric vehicle sales have been slow out of the box, despite marketing hype, government incentives and the hopes of green car advocates.

Total sales last year were 17,425, which is less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. car and light truck market.

Nonetheless, automakers show no signs of pulling back their multibillion-dollar bets: They need electric cars to meet tough new fuel-efficiency standards. About a dozen new plug-ins and fully electric cars will go on sale in the next year. …


WSJ article tells the real cost of batteries for electric cars.

One of the auto industry’s most closely guarded secrets—the enormous cost of batteries for electric cars—has spilled out.

Speaking at a forum on green technology on Monday, Ford Motor Co. F -1.01%Chief Executive Alan Mulally indicated battery packs for the company’s Focus electric car costs between $12,000 and $15,000 apiece.

“When you move into an all-electric vehicle, the battery size moves up to around 23 kilowatt hours, [and] it weighs around 600 to 700 pounds,” Mr. Mulally said at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Green conference in California.

“They’re around $12,000 to $15,000 [a battery]” for a type of car that normally sells for about $22,000, he continued, referring to the price of a gasoline-powered Focus. “So, you can see why the economics are what they are.”  …


A good start to the humor section is having David Harsanyi finding Barney Frank quoting Frederick Hayek. It is out of context of course, but it is still The Road to Serfdom in Barney’s hands; wish he would read it and could understand.

… It’s nice, if not a bit odd, that Frank just happens to have a copy of Road to Serfdom within reach and that he just happens to open it to the page that features an out-of-context position that caters so neatly to his imaginary analysis of Tea Party conservatives. Hayek is good for “these purposes” — as in the purpose of reinforcing perceptions that New York readers have about these progress-impeding bible thumpers in far off lands.

Well, here’s a bit more of that Hayek’s quote: “In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing. An effective competitive system needs an intelligently designed and continuously adjusted legal framework as much as any other.”

One could argue that much of the legislation Frank has backed is neither intelligently designed nor continuously adjusting — as much as it is continually growing and deliberately interfering. I’m no Hayek scholar, of course, but in this quote, the (in)famous Austrian economist seems to be talking about a legal framework that allows for peaceful trade, not an assertive government that creates fabricated marketplaces, restricts trade so environmentalists can feel good about themselves, uses taxation as a tool of “fairness,” etc …

And as Brian Doherty points out, “Yes, F.A. Hayek is not an anarchist.”

But here’s Frank’s (and Obama’s and Krugman’s and …) formulation: cutting a dollar from the federal budget is unfairly enriching the wealthy, deregulation is unfairly enriching the wealthy, opposition to regulation that does not yet even exist means you’re unfairly enriching the wealthy and doing nothing at the same time. …

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