Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

What if the Republicans win the US Senate?

October 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

With the polls predicting that the Republicans (GOP) will take control of the Senate but without a super majority (win 60 seats or more), what are the scenarios for US federal politics post the mid-term elections? The Economist has published an opinion piece speculating on the possible strategies (registration required).

Currently Barack Obama can rely on the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with his obstructionist leadership style to jettison proposals by the House of Representatives and shutdown debate in the Senate. But if his party loses the Senate then Obama will have to either veto or sign every bill the GOP led Congress passes. There are two potential scenarios according to The Economist.

Pessimists sigh that the parties are too polarised to agree on anything. Plenty of Republicans think Mr Obama is a menace whom patriots must thwart and resist. Many Democrats believe there is no point in trying to cut deals with Republicans. Instead, they want Mr Obama to spend his last two years in office ignoring Congress and using executive orders and federal regulations to pursue progressive goals, such as curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, shielding illegal migrants from deportation (and even closing the Guantánamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects, if press reports are true).

What this means is no significant legislation gets passed before the 2016 presidential election.

Optimists retort that once Republicans control both arms of Congress, they cannot just snarl from the sidelines. Unless they show they have a positive agenda, they risk a drubbing in 2016. And if Mr Obama wants a legacy, he will have to work with them. Some of the bigwigs interviewed for this article believe that several constructive, growth-friendly policies already enjoy enough bipartisan support to pass in the Senate.

I agree that the GOP have been too negative. The conservative wing of the Republican Party tend to be ultra pessimists when it comes to working with Obama. They simply don’t want to say anything good about his presidency which does them no credit.

Hardliners have essentially given up on working with Mr Obama—unless he surrenders completely and lets them dismantle Obamacare. Some urge their party to ignore its own pragmatic wing and channel the voters’ rage instead. Michael Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, a conservative campaign outfit, denies that the 2013 shutdown hurt Republicans, insisting that it sparked a valuable debate about Obamacare.

Surely Republican presidential candidates will want to be seen as positive agents of change in a post 2014 Washington DC? So what are the issues at stake and the possible scenarios for Republicans if the GOP takes control of the Senate?

GOP_scenarios
Source: The Economist

Co-operation – Mitt Romney and his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan have suggested the GOP 1) pass some bills through the Congress that Obama may well sign but 2) also send some bills that cover populist policies such as the Keystone XL pipeline that Obama may veto. This is very much a two pronged strategy balancing attempting to govern by passing legislation but also trying putting the heat on Obama. Re the Keystone pipeline, if Obama for example vetoed it he could be accused of not supporting job creation.

Budget – Shutting down the government again isn’t going to help the GOP with the 2016 elections on the horizon. Obama and the Democrats would then probably hold the whip hand if the Republicans play hard ball by making them appear negative. They could though attempt to work with Obama on some modest taxation reform for example. Also the GOP will almost certainly pass Paul Ryan’s budget plan through Congress. Politically a good reason to pass a budget would be to put a bullet point on Harry Reid’s obstructionism. Also the debt ceiling is going to have to be raised again if defaults are to be avoided, so there will have to be horse trading between Congress and Obama.

Energy – The Keystone pipeline has already been mentioned. But Republicans are against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their plans to reduce the carbon footprint. Republican Governors have also expressed their concerns and if pessimists inside the GOP hold sway then a Republican led Congress could step in and take action on the EPA’s spending. No real room for deal making between GOP and Democrats in regards to the EPA it seems.

Trade – With the lobby groups being powerful the pessimistic scenario may well rule. To add to this pessimism there are lots of Democrats who oppose giving Obama deal making authority. There is a full rundown of the politics of this issue here (registration required).

Immigration – The Republicans want significant reform of border security, visa tracking systems, employment verification and much more. This is already a hot topic with many so if Obama is perceived as to be too liberal/progressive on this one some the GOP will probably go ape and want to turn immigration into an even bigger 2016 election issue. Especially those who want to be the GOP presidential nominee.

Conclusion

So if the Senate changes hands then this means that the Republicans will control the purse strings and attempt to rein in federal spending and the bureaucracy. But on the other hand Obama and the White House will still be in charge of foreign policy and defence. He will also still have significant influence on how regulations are implemented. A key player in all this may well be Mitch McConnell who looks like becoming the Senate Majority Leader if the Republicans win the Senate. Is he willing to reach across the aisle and work with moderate Senate Democrats or will he be negative and obstructionist like Harry Reid? It is fashionable amongst Republicans to blame the gridlock all on Obama but the they are also part of the problem.

Barack Obama will have to decide what does he want his legacy to be? With his approval rating falling this will certainly be a pressing issue for him. His legacy would be enhanced were he to provide leadership and reach out to Republicans and attempt to heal old wounds. It that happens the GOP needs to be ready with a positive response.

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Obama Appoints a New Czar

October 18th, 2014 at 3:54 pm by Lindsay Addie

Today Barack Obama appointed a ‘czar’ to oversee the Ebola ‘crisis’ in the USA. His name is Ron Klain who is in fact a long time Democrat operative who has previously worked with Al Gore (remember him?) and Joe Biden. Ron Fournier from the National Journal makes 14 comments about Obama’s foray into czarist politics. My favourites are:

1. We shouldn’t need an Ebola czar.

2. We already put somebody in charge of corralling federal bureaucracies and coordinating local responses to national emergencies. His name is Barack Obama.

3. He has a chief of staff, the nation’s chief operating officer, Denis McDonough; a homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco; a national security adviser, Susan Rice; a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and a Cabinet full of secretaries.

Fournier is right about not needing an Ebola czar but Obama is a big government guy as are many others in Washington DC.

11. The choice makes sense if Obama’s main concern is a) the incompetence of his team, or; b) midterm politics. My strong hunch is it’s “b”. The Obama White House is not self-aware. It is nakedly political. The uneven response to Ebola threatens to be a toxic issue for Democrats, and the president is under pressure from his party’s desperate candidates to do something.

Charles Krauthammer on Fox News earlier today stated that White House reason for choosing Klain was ‘messaging’. That also strongly implies that the choice is political. Also how much is Klain’s salary going to be to do ‘messaging’?

12. Klain will report to Rice and Monaco. That makes no sense. Even if you think a czar is needed, and believe that the czar should be a Democratic operative steeped in White House politics, this reporting structure is a mistake. He should report directly to Obama.

13. Klain can’t be a disruptively productive force without autonomy. I have to ask: How many senior White House officials, including the president, have ever created an organization chart? Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of management would know that you don’t untangle a chain of command by injecting a new figure haphazardly into it. The answer is to put somebody atop it. Which brings me back to my first sentence, and the real problem here.

None of this is really all that surprising and is typical of the Obama White House. This is all just good old big US government progressive politics at work. Create more bureaucracy and make it look like you’re actually taking positive action.

14. We shouldn’t need an Ebola czar. The president needs to do his job better.

Cannot disagree with this either. Unfortunately Obama comes across as somewhat indecisive when big decisions have to be made. That is one the biggest problems he has.

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US Mid-Term Elections: Senate Races Update

October 15th, 2014 at 10:03 pm by Lindsay Addie

The main interest in the mid-terms is still the fierce battle for the US Senate with the Democrats desperately trying to preserve some of their 55 to 45 lead (helped by two independents who caucus with them). So with the Republicans needing to make a net gain of at least 6 seats to gain control the polling in the key battleground states is like this:

Senate-Polling1

The GOP will win Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia very easily. They need to win three more seats to gain control of the Senate but are in a dog fight in Kansas against an independent. They look likely to pickup Alaska and Arkansas bringing them to 49 if Kansas does fall. They will still need a couple of seats to get over line. Here is a summary in no particular order of the more interesting contests. Quoted comments are from Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard.

Alaska

 In Alaska, Republican Dan Sullivan has broken open a lead against Democrat Mark Begich. Recent polls show the Democrat down by about 5 points and stuck at an anemic 42 percent of the vote. Alaska is a tricky state to poll, so you never know until the votes are counted, but the GOP should feel good about its position on the Last Frontier.

Colorado

In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner has withstood months of attacks from Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, focused mainly on abortion and birth control. A month ago, the conventional wisdom was that Gardner was fading, but he has shown strength of late, and the polling averages show a tied race. Like Iowa, Colorado is a true swing state, and with Obama unpopular, Gardner has at least even odds of pulling out the win. Again, Democrats cannot be pleased that Udall, who dominated the airwaves through the summer, is stuck around 45 percent—in the danger zone for an incumbent seeking reelection.

Louisiana

In Louisiana, Republican Bill Cassidy has mostly held a lead over Democrat Mary Landrieu this year. That lead appears to have widened, and the polls show Cassidy nearing the critical 50 percent mark. That is especially important because Louisiana’s election occurs in two stages: a jungle primary, in which candidates from all parties battle one another, and a runoff between the top vote-getters. This race is widely expected to go to a runoff, in which Cassidy would be the favourite.

Iowa

Republican Joni Ernst charged out of no-where early this year to capture the attention of the party establishment and grassroots activists. She cruised to victory in the primary and has taken what appears to be a clear lead over Democrat Bruce Braley. This is the reverse of what Beltway wags expected a year ago. It seemed then that the Democrats had scored a coup in recruiting Braley, a House member, while the GOP field was unimpressive. Now it is Ernst who is the star and Braley the gaffe-prone dud.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader for the GOP and has been made to work by Alison Lundgren Grimes. Grimes though has been under merciless attack because of her voting record in support of Obama.

Kansas – Pat Roberts is the GOP incumbent but is in a real dogfight with Greg Orman an Independent. This is just too close to call currently.

North Carolina – Kay Hagan the incumbent Democrat has been holding on to a lead for a while now but  Republican Thom Tillis is making Hagan work and is closing the gap.

So it’s currently looking better for the Republicans than the Democrats but bear in mind that during the 2012 presidential election the Democrats had a great ground game that enabled them identify where the key votes were and then get them to the polling booths.

A final comment, New Zealand’s MMP elections from the perspective of a political junkie are rather bland compared to the intense one-on-one contests that are a feature of US elections.

 

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US Federal Government Spending

October 12th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

This post draws mostly on material from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) who conduct independent non-partisan analysis of budget and economic issues for the US Congress. All dollar amounts are in US currency.

Categories of federal spending
The National Priorities Project defines the categories as follows:

Within total federal spending, there are three distinct ways our public dollars are spent: discretionary spending, which is determined by Congress during the annual appropriations process; mandatory spending, which is determined through eligibility rules and benefit levels already in existing legislation; and paying interest on the federal debt.

For example entitlements are mandatory spending whereas money spent on the US military is discretionary.

Why is the federal government debt of concern?
The inability of the US Federal Government and lawmakers to find a long term solution to its debt problem has made it a political hot potato for many years. The only President who has had any real success in modern times in bringing deficits under control was Bill Clinton. By working with like minded Republicans he managed to achieve surpluses.

Deficits_Surpluses

The CBO has estimated that between 2014 and 2024 the annual deficits will be between $500-$960 billion adding $7 trillion dollars to the debt (assuming no change in policies). That would be in addition to the current accumulated debt of $17.8 trillion which is 72% of GDP and by 2038 will reach 100% of GDP if current policies remain in place.

The CBO when discussing mandatory spending expresses concern about the ongoing cost of entitlements:

CBO’s projections for total mandatory spending mask diverging trends for different components of such spending. CBO projects that, under current law, spending for Social Security and the major health care programs, notably Medicare and Medicaid, would grow from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2014 to 11.2 percent by 2023, driven largely by the aging of the population, rising health care costs per person, and an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance.

It is these entitlements which are clearly in the most need of reform as the next graphic shows.

Federal spending in the 2014 financial year

federal spending 2014

So out of $3,78 trillion in total spending $2.28 trillion was spent on Medicare and health plus Social Security and unemployment etc. That is 62% of all spending is on entitlements. No wonder the GOP don’t like the President’s progressive agenda! Also bear in mind  the CBO in its Long-Term Budget Outlook have calculated that entitlement spending and interest on the public debt based on the current law and policies will contribute to spending rising by 26% by 2039 .

Obama’s debt-reduction plan
In 2011 Obama released details of his plan which included proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy, eliminating loopholes and deductions. He also proposed modest changes to Medicare and Medicaid but none to Social Security. Finally there were also cuts in military spending.

Paul Ryan’s 2015 path to prosperity
Ryan who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 has released his own plan. The main features are:

  • Seeks to balance the budget within 10 years.
  • Cut spending by $5.1 trillion (over 10 years).
  • Taxation reform.
  • Repeal Obamacare (saving $2 trillion).
  • Reform Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Keep a cap on discretionary spending.
  • Reduce the public debt from 73% of GDP in 2015 to 56% by 2024.

Comment
So the battle lines have been drawn between Obama’s somewhat cautious approach to debt-reduction and Ryan’s much more comprehensive and bold approach. The Democrats of course will claim that Ryan’s budget plan will hurt those who need assistance the most and try to portray the Republicans as cold and unfeeling. The GOP argue that under current policies aren’t lean government and enough is enough. What they currently lack is someone who can effectively espouse their political philosophies.

The reality is that time isn’t on the US Federal Governments side when it comes to getting public debt under control. The longer the debt problem it is not tackled the harder the issue will be to solve. One thing is clear if the GOP control both houses of Congress after the mid-term elections they will put debt-reduction on the political agenda and pass Ryan’s plan. It will then be up to Barack Obama to decide his next move. Perhaps he could seek the counsel of Bill Clinton for tips on how to work with Republicans?

Sources
CBO: The 2014 Long-Term Budget Outlook
CBO: Options for Reducing the Deficit
Paul Ryan: The Path to Prosperity: Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Resolution

[UPDATE]: I forgot to make it clear that there are two classifications for US federal government debt.

The Debt Held by the Public is all federal debt held by individuals, corporations, state or local governments, Federal Reserve Banks, foreign governments, and other entities outside the United States Government less Federal Financing Bank securities. Types of securities held by the public include, but are not limited to, Treasury Bills, Notes, Bonds, TIPS, United States Savings Bonds, and State and Local Government Series securities.

Intragovernmental Holdings are Government Account Series securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank securities. A small amount of marketable securities are held by government accounts.

The CBO uses the debt held by the public figure which is currently just under $13 trillion when calculating accumulated debt and the what the amount of GDP this is (72%). Intragovernmental Holdings is essentially the US government borrowing money from itself.

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Dirty Politics Texas Style

October 12th, 2014 at 9:36 am by Lindsay Addie

The Texas Governor’s race between Wendy Davis (Democrat) and Greg Abbott (Republican) has taken what many call a nasty turn with Davis attacking Abbott in a controversial ad by mentioning that Abbot is a paraplegic.

Alex Pappas from The Daily Caller explains.

The campaign of Greg Abbott, a paraplegic running for governor of Texas as a Republican, is decrying the Democrat’s “disgusting” new television ad that uses his wheelchair against him.

Davis’ new ad, Justice, references the 1984 accident that paralyzed Abbott, while showing a photo of a wheelchair. “A tree fell on Greg Abbott,” the narrator says. “He sued and got millions.”

The ad then cites legal cases Abbott was involved in. “Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims,” the narrator says.

Here is the ad:

 

By the way Davis is 13% behind Abbott in the polls and has little or no chance of winning. So is this legitimate political discourse or dirty politics on steroids? I must add it does make dirty politics in New Zealand look rather tame.

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Bill O’Reilly interviews Leon Panetta

October 9th, 2014 at 11:43 am by Lindsay Addie

Yesterday on Foxnews Bill O’Reilly interviewed former US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta. Now let me say I find O’Reilly anything from annoying to showing great intelligence. In this interview he asks some hard questions and is excellent.

Panetta’s comments on Obama are fascinating including those criticising the Obama administration for intelligence and policy failures. He also hints that Obama is indecisive and needs to improve his decision making. Panetta comes across as a man of great insight and straight shooter who also chooses his words carefully. Panetta also adds the Obama is an intelligent man.

Panetta is of course getting flogged by the Democrats for releasing his book right in the middle of the mid-term elections!

 

 

 

 

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Monday Motivator – Oak Creek Canyon

October 6th, 2014 at 10:40 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 34

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, USA

Oak Creek Canyon is an amazing river gorge set among wonderful crimson sandstone formations in northern Arizona.

I found this particular viewpoint just outside of Sedona and shot this image in the late afternoon when there was plenty of light bouncing all around. A very tranquil part of the world that I look forward to getting back to some time soon.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.

Cheers

Richard [richardhume.com]

YouTube: Timeless – A Panoramic Journey

 

 

 

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US Midterm Elections

October 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

This is my first post as a contributor at Kiwiblog. The topic I will be writing about is US politics.

With the Republicans (GOP) looking certain to keep control of the House of Representatives the critical factor in the 2014 midterm elections is who will control the Senate. Currently the Democrats have 55 seats (including 2 independents who caucus with them) whilst the Republicans have 45. There are 36 seats up for grabs. Real Clear Politics are currently predicting that the GOP will gain 7 seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. But they are likely to lose Kansas to an independent candidate.

The table below shows some of the closest Senate contests.

USSenate2014

The chance of the leader winning percentage in the last column is from Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog. Pollsters estimate that the GOP have a 60-70% chance or better of taking the Senate. The reasons for the Democrats looking likely to lose ground in the Senate is that in some seats long standing incumbents are retiring or the party is being dragged down by Obama’s poll numbers and the perceptions regarding his performance. Alaska, Colorado and Iowa are very close. The polls do not currently predict that the Democrats will win any seats from the Republicans.

Key Issues
The latest Fox News poll asked voters what they consider to be the key issues.

Call it the ISIS effect: equal numbers of voters now say terrorism is the most important issue to their vote as say the economy: 41 percent say each will be “extremely” important in their decision. Four years ago, 57 percent said the economy would be “extremely” important, while 41 percent said terrorism (September 2010).

Today 36 percent say government spending and 35 percent say health care will be “extremely” important to their vote for Congress, followed by immigration (32 percent), foreign policy (29 percent) and abortion (23 percent).

None of these issues are surprising. Reducing government spending has been a victim of the political gridlock.

Voter Cynicism
An interesting underlying factor is the deep cynicism amongst voters about Washington being thought of as dysfunctional. An example of this issue is best exemplified by the fact that the last time the Democrat led Senate passed a budget was in April 2009! For years both parties haven’t bent over backwards to work together with the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid being very obstructionist. The GOP leaders aren’t much better and Obama has either been unable and/or is not interested in reaching across the aisle as both Reagan and Clinton did when in the White House.

The Obama Factor
But the overriding issue of the campaign may well turn out to be Obama’s competence. Writing in the Washington Post Ed Rogers comments in the PostPartisan blog include some common criticisms of the President.

After mistakes are revealed, the White House will first deny anything is wrong, then proclaim the problem is being fixed, next say everything is fine and finally deflect any blame from the president by blaming President George W. Bush or crying about partisanship in Washington. In addition, the White House will claim that Obama didn’t know anything until he saw it in the newspaper, and then it will move on to the next crisis in short order.

The president was right to say that his policies are on the ballot; whether it was wise to do so depends on your perspective. I’m sure that his partners in governance — a.k.a. the Democrats on the ballot in November — are not happy about it, but voters have every reason to make this election a referendum on how the president and his party have performed over the past six years and whether more of the same is desirable.

These perceptions of Obama are allowing the GOP to get away with not campaigning on serious policy issues and hide their own internal divisions. An example is tax reform, they want it but cannot agree amongst themselves how to go about it.

If the Senate does fall to the Republicans it will be fascinating to observe if both the GOP and Obama are willing to work together or carry on with the current political gamesmanship.

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Cato praises NZ patent law

September 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Eli Dourado at Cato writes:

Libertarians intuitively understand the case for patents: just as other property rights internalize the social benefits of improvements to land, automobile maintenance, or business investment, patents incentivize the creation of new inventions, which might otherwise be undersupplied.

So far, so good. But it is important to recognize that the laws that govern property, intellectual or otherwise, do not arise out of thin air. Rather, our political institutions, with all their virtues and foibles, determine the contours of property—the exact bundle of rights that property holders possess, their extent, and their limitations.

Intellectual property rights are very important, but they are a balance between rewarding innovation and allowing further innovation.

In defining the limits of patent rights, our political institutions have gotten an analogous question badly wrong. A single, politically captured circuit court with exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals has consistently expanded the scope of patentable subject matter. This expansion has resulted in an explosion of both patents and patent litigation, with destructive consequences. …

In patent politics, the romance has been gone for at least three decades. Here’s why. In most areas of law, the loser in a federal trial appeals to the circuit court corresponding to the federal judicial district in which the trial was held. But in 1982, at the urging of the patent bar, Congress consolidated appellate review of all patent cases in a newly created Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

And get this – the Federal Circuit Court basically is a law to itself, and ignores the Supreme Court.

Observers on all sides widely recognize that the Federal Circuit routinely undermines Supreme Court precedent. …

Supreme Court justices also recognize the Federal Circuit’s insubordination. In oral arguments inCarlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio (2009), Chief Justice John Roberts joked openly about it:

Mr. Rhodes: I can’t suggest what the Court might finally decide other than to say that—that, again, the circuit courts of appeal have uniformly applied this. They seem to be—

Chief Justice Roberts: Well, they don’t have a choice, right? They can’t say, I don’t like the Supreme Court rule so I’m not going to apply it, other than the Federal Circuit.

So what can be done?

Another helpful reform would be for Congress to limit the scope of patentable subject matter via statute. New Zealand has done just that, declaring that software is “not an invention” to get around WTO obligations to respect intellectual property. Congress should do the same with respect to both software and business methods.

Nice to see our law held up as a model.

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US trust in media hits new low

September 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A Gallup poll has found:

  • Only 40% of Americans trust the mass media, a new low
  • 54% of Democrats trust the mass media, 38% of Independents and 27% of Republicans
  • 44% say media too liberal, 34% about right and 19% too conservative
  • Among Independents, 42% say media too liberal and 21% too conservative
  • Even with Democrats 20% say too liberal and 24% too conservative
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Cash for Clunkers

September 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

John Sununu at the Boston Globe writes:

POLITICIANS HAVE difficulty learning from their mistakes; it’s tough enough to just acknowledge them. Admitting mistakes leaves elected officials feeling exposed and vulnerable. And why bother, when the partisan divide encourages both sides to endlessly litigate the rights and wrongs of past legislative choices?

Cash for Clunkers should be the exception. Enacted in 2009, the $3 billion program was intended to stimulate the economy by offering $4,500 credits for trading older vehicles for newer, more fuel-efficient cars. 

I recall the hoopla around that. People said it was visionary. I think some parties even pushed for such a programme in NZ. Yes, here is the Green Party pushing for it.

It was a spectacular failure, at least according to two comprehensive studies. The first was completed last year by the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank. Another, conducted by Texas A&M researchers, was released recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Here’s some conclusions from Brookings:

Using Li, Linn, and Spiller’s (2012) long-term jobs estimate for the CARS program, the program created 0.7 jobs for each million dollars of program cost, resulting in a cost of $1.4 million per job created.

This is presumably what the Greens mean by Green jobs!

Li, Linn, and Spiller’s (2012) estimated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions (including the co-benefit reduction in carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and exhaust particulates) amounts to a cost per ton of carbon dioxide of $91 to $301 stemming from
the program.

The usual cost for a ton of carbon is no more than $25. This was a huge waste of money in an environmental sense.

So why did the programme get accepted and then fail?

First, get caught up in the hoopla. Clunkers produced the type of headlines that politicians dream of: helping people buy cars, better fuel efficiency, the promise of job creation, and the word “cash” in the title. (Spelled with a $, if you please.) It was full of the kind of vague simplicity that has great political appeal, but begins to disintegrate as soon as it comes into contact with the real world.

Second, ignore the reality and complexity of human behavior. Proponents never seriously considered that subsidies would appeal most to consumers who were already considering replacing their vehicles. Both studies showed conclusively that the short-term spike in sales simply represented transactions that were pulled forward in time. Legislators’ belief that a temporary $4,500 rebate would result in sustainable sales growth was wrong from the start.

Lawmakers also failed to consider that the owners of “gas guzzlers” and those able to act quickly on a new car purchase tended to be higher income families. In fact, Brookings’ analysis showed that recipients of the credit were wealthier and better educated than the population at large.

Third, set aside basic economics, including the fundamentals of supply and demand. To justify the fuel savings promised under the program, the clunkers returned to dealers were destroyed, rather than resold as used vehicles. A year later, the resulting shortage of used cars pushed prices up an average of 10 percent.

The emphasis on smaller, fuel efficient vehicles also meant that the cars sold were less expensive than would otherwise have been the case. Consequently, automobile dealers — who actively promoted the bill and lobbied for its passage — saw lower revenues, and less profit, per car. Whether out of desperation or ignorance, they failed to consider the effects of this substitution.

Finally, use the wrong measurement for success. Ironically, early assessments asserted that the program was successful because it was popular. That’s a natural way for politicians to think, but completely meaningless where economics are concerned. (Throwing money in the street might make you popular, but it’s still a terrible idea.) Brookings and the Texas A&M researchers both concluded that across meaningful measures of success — economic growth, job creation, and emissions reductions — performance was abysmal. It was a costly error: by mistaking demand for success, legislators were convinced to throw away $2 billion more on top of the initial $1 billion program.

Many many government initiatives fail, like this one, because they never predict the unforeseen consequences.

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Dowd lashes Obama

August 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Maureen Dowd writes in the NY Times:

As he has grown weary of Washington, Barack Obama has shed parts of his presidency, like drying petals falling off a rose.

He left the explaining and selling of his signature health care legislation to Bill Clinton. He outsourced Congress to Rahm Emanuel in the first term, and now doesn’t bother to source it at all. He left schmoozing, as well as a spiraling Iraq, to Joe Biden. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, comes across as more than a messagemeister. As the president floats in the empyrean, Rhodes seems to make foreign policy even as he’s spinning it.

But the one thing it was impossible to imagine, back in the giddy days of the 2009 inauguration, as Americans basked in their open-mindedness and pluralism, was that the first African-American president would outsource race.

He saved his candidacy in 2008 after the “pastor disaster” with Jeremiah Wright by giving a daring speech asserting that racial reconciliation could never be achieved until racial anger, on both sides, was acknowledged. Half black, half white, a son of Kansas and Africa, he searchingly and sensitively explored America’s ebony-ivory divide.

He dealt boldly and candidly with race in his memoirs, “Dreams From My Father.” “In many parts of the South,” he wrote, “my father could have been strung up from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way; in the most sophisticated of Northern cities, the hostile stares, the whispers, might have driven a woman in my mother’s predicament into a back-alley abortion — or at the very least to a distant convent that could arrange for adoption. Their very image together would have been considered lurid and perverse.”

Now the professor in the Oval Office has spurned a crucial teachable moment.

He dispatched Eric Holder to Ferguson, and deputized Al Sharpton, detaching himself at the very moment when he could have helped move the country forward on an issue close to his heart. It’s another perverse reflection of his ambivalent relationship to power.

He was willing to lasso the moon when his candidacy was on the line, so why not do the same at a pivotal moment for his presidency and race relations? Instead, he anoints a self-promoting TV pundit with an incendiary record as “the White House’s civil rights leader of choice,” asThe Times put it, vaulting Sharpton into “the country’s most prominent voice on race relations.” It seems oddly retrogressive to make Sharpton the official go-between with Ferguson’s black community, given that his history has been one of fomenting racial divides, while Obama’s has been one of soothing them.

Dowd is one of the most prominent liberal writers at the NY Times. When she is savaging Obama, you know things are bad for him.

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The problem with teacher tenure in the US

August 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Fran Bruni writes in the NY Times:

Mike Johnston’s mother was a public-school teacher. So were her mother and father. And his godfather taught in both public and private schools.

So when he expresses the concern that we’re not getting the best teachers into classrooms or weeding out the worst performers, it’s not as someone who sees the profession from a cold, cynical distance.

What I hear in his voice when he talks about teaching is reverence, along with something else that public education could use more of: optimism.

He rightly calls teachers “the single most transformative force in education.”

But the current system doesn’t enable as many of them as possible to rise to that role, he says. And a prime culprit is tenure, at least as it still exists in most states.

“It provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice,” he told me last week. “It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’ It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.”

I sat down with Johnston, a Democrat who represents a racially diverse chunk of this city in the State Senate, because he was the leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado. To earn what is now called “non-probationary status,” a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

Sounds wonderful. What will be interesting to assess over the years is how states that passed laws like this compare to states that do not, in terms of student achievement?

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GOP still favoured to win the Senate

August 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post writes:

The decision by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) not to seek election in November in the wake of a plagiarism scandal is the latest piece of good news for Republicans as they strive to take control of the Senate in less than three months.

Walsh’s departure from the race came in the same week that two Republican senators — Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee — defeated tea party challengers in primary fights, ensuring that every GOP senator seeking reelection would be the party’s nominee.

These past seven days typified the fates of the two parties this election cycle. Democrats have been hit by retirements in tough states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, Iowa — and Republicans haven’t nominated the sort of extreme candidates who lack broader appeal in a general election.

Those realities — along with a national playing field in which a handful of incumbent Democrats are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular — have made a GOP takeovera better-than-50/50 proposition.

Nate Silver agrees:

The problem for Democrats is that this year’s Senate races aren’t being fought in neutral territory. Instead, the Class II senators on the ballot this year come from states that gave Obama an average of just 46 percent of the vote in 2012.1

Democrats hold the majority of Class II seats now, but that’s because they were last contested in 2008, one of the best Democratic years of the past half-century. That year, Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House by almost 11 percentage points. Imagine if 2008 had been a neutral partisan environment instead. We can approximate this by applying a uniform swingof 11 percentage points toward Republicans in each Senate race. In that case, Democrats would have lost the races in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon — and Republicans would already hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that we continue to see Republicans as slightly more likely than not to win a net of six seats this November and control of the Senate. 

Harry Reid may come to regret effectively abolishing the filbuster. If the Democrats go into the minority, they will have sacrificed the tool that could require the majority to work with them.

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Yet another study on the effectiveness of charter schools

July 26th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Phys.org reports:

A first-ever report released July 22 by the University of Arkansas, which ties charter school funding to achievement, finds that public charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools in all 28 states included in analyses of cost-effectiveness and return on investment.

All 28 states!

The national report, titled “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools,” found that  deliver on average an additional 17 points in math and 16 points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam taken by students for every $1,000 invested. These differences amount to charter schools being 40 percent more cost-effective in math and 41 percent more cost-effective in reading, compared to traditional .

So when unions (falsely) claim charter schools do better because they get extra funding, remember this study.

The cost-effectiveness analysis of the report found that charter schools in 13 states were found to be more cost-effective in reading because they had higher student achievement results despite receiving less funding than traditional public schools. Charter schools in 11 states were more cost-effective in math for the same reason. The remaining states produced equal or slightly lower achievement with significantly lower funding.

Better results off less funding. Do you get some idea of why the NZ unions are terrified by the trial of charter schools. Think if they produced the same results here!

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Teacher unions at war with Obama

July 17th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hill reports:

Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration, creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.

The largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association (NEA), called for Duncan to resign at its convention on July 4, arguing his policies on testing have failed the nation’s schools.

Tensions between Duncan and the unions had been building for some time.

The administration’s Race to the Top program, which has provided $4.35 billion to states, incentivized changes that unions strongly oppose. One of the most controversial policies backed by Duncan is using students’ improvement on standardized tests to help evaluate teachers and make pay and tenure decisions.

“Our members are frustrated and angry,” said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “Number one is the toxic testing. There is too much.”

An added spark came on June 10, when a California judge ruled the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional because they keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and deprive poor and minority students of their right to an equal education.

Teachers unions, which are strong defenders of tenure, expressed outrage when Duncan said the plaintiffs in the case were just some of millions of students disadvantaged by tenure laws. He called the decision “a mandate to fix these problems.”

Heh if Chris Christie becomes President, then they’ll really have something to complain about.

According to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, at the beginning of the administration, in 2009, no states had clear policies that ineffective teaching was grounds for dismissal. By 2013, 29 states did. 

You can’t sack teachers for incompetence. That’s heresy.

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Germany says nein to US

July 12th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Germany has told the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country in a dramatic display of anger from Chancellor Angela Merkel at the behaviour of a close ally after officials unearthed two suspected US spies.

The scandal has chilled relations with Washington to levels not seen since Merkel’s predecessor opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It follows allegations that Merkel herself, who grew up in Stasi-ridden East Germany, was among thousands of Germans whose mobile phones have been bugged by American agents.

“Spying on allies … is a waste of energy,” the chancellor said in her most pointed public remarks yet on the issue. “We have so many problems, we should focus on the important things.” …

US government sources said the official – whom neither side named – was Berlin station chief for the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. A German source said the man would face possible forcible expulsion if he did not leave voluntarily.

This is an unprecedented fall out between allies. I can’t say I blame the Germans. Spying on your opponents and enemies, but not your allies.

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Kiwis most satisfied with freedoms

July 11th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Gallup reports:

 Fewer Americans are satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives compared with seven years ago — dropping 12 percentage points from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. In that same period, the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled, from 9% to 21%.

The rise of big Government.

And how about other countries:

Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide.

So who is top:

gallup

That’s a good table to top.

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Americans say Obama worst President since WWII

July 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

ABC News reports:

President Obama is considered to be the worst president since World War II, narrowly beating out George W. Bush, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Obama was the choice of 33 percent of those polled for the selection of worst president, the largest percentage of any of the 12 presidents since 1945 when the war ended.

The poll asked people to name both the best and worst presidents. The results are quite interesting.

Best Presidents

  • Overall 35% Reagan, 18% Clinton, 15% JFK, 8% Obama, 55 Eisenhower
  • Republicans – 66% Reagan, 6% George HW Bush, 6% JFK – Reagan is the undisputed Republican hero
  • Democrats – 34% Clinton, 18% JFK, 18% Obama, 6% Reagan, 6% Johnson – no one stand out candidate but Clinton well ahead
  • Independents – 36% Reagan, 17% JFK, 16% Clinton, 8% Eisenhower, 6% Truman, 4% George HW Bush, 2% Obama – Obama not rated by independents

Worst Presidents

  • Overall 33% Obama, 28% George W Bush, 13% Nixon, 85 Carter
  • Republicans – 63% Obama, 14% Carter, 5% Nixon, 5% George W Bush – Obama probably suffers a bit from being the incumbent. I’d rate Carter as far worse.
  • Democrats – 54% George W Bush, 20% Nixon, 6% Reagan, 4% Obama
  • Independents – 36% Obama, 23% Bush, 14% Nixon, 9% Carter

 

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A school that doesn’t accept failure

June 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Charlene Reid is what you might call a rockstar among teachers.

It’s not what she would call herself.

She is just getting on with it at what used to be an ordinary school in the Bronx district of New York where she is Head of School.

But she is being noticed for the results being achieved there.

It’s a charter school, privately run but publicly funded, and fees cannot be charged to the parents. …

In state-wide testing, it was ranked the highest K-8 charter school in New York state and fourth among all.

The other top five were schools for gifted and talented or specialty schools that can choose their students. At BCSE they don’t. Anyone from the local area gets precedence. If there are 60 applicants from the area, they get automatic entry; if there is more, there is a ballot. About 10 per cent of the students have special needs.

Isn’t that a stunning result. Up in the top five with schools restricted to gifted students, and they’re in the Bronx and have 10% special needs students.

Having high expectations, said Reid, was a big feature of her school’s success.

“Expectation, confidence and attitude that you can deliver. I don’t think any teacher goes into the classroom saying they want a kid to fail. I think what happens is that you don’t know how to get a child to learn, then it is very difficult to look at yourself and say ‘I’m the reason why’.

“What we’ve done here at BCSE is we have pointed the finger at ourselves and said if it is not working, it’s our fault. It’s nobody else’s fault. We took this job on. We are educators.

“We are going to figure it out. We are adults. There is no way you should blame a child who has only been on this Earth 60 months if they can’t read or they can’t write or that they’re poor or their parents were educated or they live in a particular environment.

This is what I find so appalling by the apologists for poor performance on the left. Their worldview is that poor achievement is all about the family’s income, and that you shouldn’t expect students from poor backgrounds to be able to achieve at the highest level. The bigotry of low expectations.

This principal shows what you can achieve when you don’t buy into that.

 

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Labour and the US republicans

June 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Liam Hehir at the Manawatu Standard compares NZ Labour to the US Republicans on four grounds:

  1. It is in thrall to party activists
  2.  It appears to be in denial about polling
  3. It is banking on turning out the base
  4. Its weakness is temporary

I could add a 5th one on. Both parties are leaderless!

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Internet news now more trusted in US than TV news

June 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Gallup reports:

Confidence in newspapers has declined by more than half since its 1979 peak of 51%, while TV news has seen confidence ebb from its high of 46% in 1993, the first year that Gallup asked this question. Gallup’s only previous measure of Internet news was in 1999, when confidence was 21%, little different from today.

And there is a political difference:

Slightly less than one-fifth of self-identified conservatives (15%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, tied with the 10-year low. In the past decade, the percentage of conservatives expressing a strong degree of confidence in newspapers has fallen by nearly half. Liberals are far more likely than conservatives — or than the adult population in general — to be confident in newspapers (34%). Nearly a quarter of moderates (24%), meanwhile, have confidence in newspapers.

Most of the US media has a huge liberal bias, and people have revolted against it. We’re lucky things are not so bad in NZ.

 

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US economy shrinks 2.9%

June 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

The U.S. economy turned in its worst quarter in five years during the first three months of 2014, shrinking more sharply than previously estimated.

The nation’s gross domestic product in the first quarter fell at a 2.9% annual rate vs. the 1% contraction previously believed, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 1.8% drop in output.

The decline was the sharpest since growth tumbled 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 during the Great Recession. The last time the economy shrank was in the first quarter of 2011, slipping 1.3%.

The more dramatic drop was largely the result of weaker household consumption. Consumer spending increased just 1%, vs. the 3.1% gain previously estimated as health care spending dipped slightly. The government previously said that medical expenditures contributed substantially to growth as the Affordable Care Act began to cover more Americans.

Also, exports declined 8.9%, vs. the 6% drop previously estimated. And businesses replenished their stocks even more slowly than believed after aggressively adding to inventories late last year.

Quite a contrast to the NZ economy, as we have exports booming, and a strongly growing economy. Once upon a time the US economy contracting would seriously damage NZ’s economic growth also. But we’re less tied than we used to be.

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Female participation in the labour force

June 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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This graph from ANZ Bank shows the participation rate in the labour force for women in NZ and te US. We’ve gone from 4% lower to almost 8% higher.

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The cost of a bad teacher

June 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Eric Hanushek in the NY Times writes:

A small percentage of teachers inflicts disproportionate harm on children. Each year a grossly ineffective teacher continues in the classroom reduces the future earnings of the class by thousands of dollars by dramatically lowering the college chances and employment opportunities of students. 

There is also a national impact. The future economic well being of the United States is entirely dependent on the skills of our population. Replacing the poorest performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher would, by my calculations, yield improved productivity and growth that amounts to trillions of dollars. 

Protecting bad teachers has a massive impact on students. and through them the country. we should pay our best teachers more, and move on those teachers who are not skilled in connecting with students/

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