Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Moderate Selection

One couldn’t stray much further off the middle of the path than with the selection of Harold Koh as special legal counsel to Secretary of State. He’s currently Dean of the Yale Law School, which should tell you all you need to know, but there’s much more.

Back in September he was considered a candidate for the Supreme Court. Is he moderate? Compared to whom, Stalin? In that contest, Trotsky might be considered moderate too.

Ed Whelan at NRO identified Mr. Koh as a leading proponent of transnationalism, which Koh himself explains:

“The Supreme Court has now divided into transnationalist and nationalist factions, which hold sharply divergent attitudes toward transnational law. The transnationalist faction—which includes Justices Breyer, Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, and at times, Justice Kennedy—tends to follow an approach suggested by Justice Blackmun in the late 1980s: that U.S. courts must look beyond national interest to the “mutual interests of all nations in a smoothly functioning international legal regime” and must “consider if there is a course that furthers, rather than impedes, the development of an ordered international system.” In contrast, another group of Justices, which includes the new Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, seems committed to a more nationalist course."

You may wonder how people on the highest court of the land, sworn to uphold the United States Constitution, could adapt such an insane position. Apparently if you are a member in good standing of “ The Constitution: Our Living Document” society it just seems right.

Whelan’s article goes on to clarify Koh’s position:

“The reality of Koh’s transnationalism is even worse than this passage reveals. Koh believes that it is “appropriate for the Supreme Court to construe our Constitution in light of foreign and international law” in “at least three situations”: (1) “when American legal rules seem to parallel those of other nations”; (2) when (quoting Breyer) “‘foreign courts have applied standards roughly comparable to our own constitutional standards in roughly comparable circumstances’” and we can draw “empirical light” from their experience; and (3) “when a U.S. constitutional concept, by its own terms, implicitly refers to a community standard”. (Koh, International Law as Part of Our Law, 98 Am. J. Int’l. L. 43, 45-46 (2004) (emphasis added).) As the italicized weasel words indicate, in the hands of a living constitutionalist like Koh, foreign and international legal materials will virtually always be available to a transnational judge to help him reach the result he wants to reach.”

Counsel to the State Department today, Supreme Court Justice tomorrow. Was the New World Order part of the Hope and Change you yearned for? Next time someone says “hold your nose and vote for the Republican,” please give it consideration.

More Brenda Lee Fans

Mark Steyn at NRO gives us an enjoyable brush up on the latest converts to the “I’m sorry” club.

He starts with the RINO (right, in name only) publication The Economist:

The Economist is the latest of the smart guys to notice that President Obama is proving strangely unlike the guy they told us he was back in late October:

“His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.”

The geniuses then go on to explain why this is: first, he hasn't "grappled" with the economy as singlemindedly as he should; second, he hasn't managed his relations with Congress very well. Jennifer Rubin gently explains what the smart guys have missed:

“The Economist had Obama pegged wrong. Yes, there is an element of managerial incompetence, but the real issue is that the Right was correct about Obama: he’s an ultra-liberal at least on domestic policy, not a pragmatic centrist either on policy or in style. His mode of governance — denigrate the opposition, engage in ad hominem attacks, refuse to compromise on substantive policy, disguise radical policy intentions with a haze of meaningless rhetoric — bespeaks someone supremely confident in his ideological views...”

But still, The Economist wants to cling to the illusion that the One is still going to deliver us:

“In an accomplished press conference this week, Mr Obama reminded the world what an impressive politician he can be. He has a capacity to inspire that is unmatched abroad or at home.”

Ah well, it’s hard to admit you’ve been had. Give them another 70 days.

Next, he cites Gail Collins at The New York Times is less capable of suppressing the sarcasm:

National Consensus Update...

Barack Obama — Kinda boring. Did you see the news conference? Same thing over and over again. Not that we mind. In these troubled times, we like stability. Thank God we didn’t elect somebody who was all charisma and exciting speeches...

Amidst the gilt and glitter they failed to notice how comfortably and fluidly the O danced in the left margin: if that even troubled them.

"I'm Sorry."

Monday, March 30, 2009

1 In 50 Children Homeless in America Now!

Did I get your attention? Of course I did. That’s the point.

Here’s another example of why you just can’t be too skeptical. Do you remember this question from Kevin Chappell of Ebony at last week’s presidential press conference?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. A recent report found that, as a result of the economic downturn, 1 in 50 children are now homeless in America. With shelters at full capacity, tent cities are sprouting up across the country.

In passing your stimulus package, you said that help was on the way. But what would you say to these families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges and in tents across the country? [E.A.]

Mickey Kaus at Slate has provided an analysis of this "fact." The depth and breadth of the disinformation used in the report from the National Center on Family Homelessness rivals the agitprop of the former Soviet Union’s Politbureau. James Tarantino’s expose of this expose is required reading.

Advocacy groups that produce reports like this one from the National Center of Family Homelessness have extremely vested interests. Their funding grows geometrically with the number of “homeless” families. Why do we continue to perpetuate these agencies that have no incentive to solve the problem they’ve ostensibly been charged with addressing?






Sunday, March 29, 2009

So Rick, How’s That Bailout Working Out?

The O’s administration has swaggeringly demanded Rick Wagoner’s resignation as CEO of GM as a stipulation for additional bailout funds. What a surprise. This administration, made up of government bureaucrats and functionaries will certainly know how to run an auto company as well as they can run federal regulatory and oversight agencies. Maybe the O can get Bill Ayers, or an otherwise unemployed community organizer to take over for Rick.

But what did Mr. Wagoner expect? When you borrow money from your uncle, it’s going to cost you more than principal plus interest.

At this juncture, GM’s cheapest, quickest and perhaps only viable restructuring option is under chapter 11. If they had proceeded along that course last year when their illiquidity became apparent, the government would not be calling the shots now. And we would not be caught in a rip tide dragging us toward a socialist shore.

What a sorry mess the Autos created. There’s no doubt that much of it was their own fault. But a fair degree of fault can be leveled at the UAW under the leadership of Ron Gettlefinger. The destruction of this once proud industry was achieved through the complicity of the two organizations that had the most at stake, the “Big 3” and the UAW. For their part the UAW presented unyielding demands for unsustainable wages and benefits, and tactically staged crippling strikes that cost GM billions of dollars earlier this decade. This sent a clear and chilling message to Chrysler and Ford management. But it was the Autos' management teams who yielded to demands that they knew were unsustainable and would not serve anyone in the long run. In a game of “pay me now or pay me later” both labor and management chose later, no doubt hoping that later wouldn’t arrive until, well, later.

I think Wagoner should have been fired for agreeing to take bailout money in the first place. Now, not only are GM shareholders, bondholders, employees and unions screwed, but so are the rest of the citizens in this once great country. We will undoubtedly soon become “owners” of auto companies, along with banks, insurance companies and god-knows what else. Welcome to Obama’s promised land.

As an aside, does it concern anyone else that Al Jazeera was all over this story before most of the US media got a hold of it? I take it they feel it is a good sign. Why?

Again, no sleep tonight.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rahmbo: Not Just Another Pretty Face

Evidence that Rahm Emanuel has earned his nickname “Twinkle Toes.” Photo thanks to the devilishly funny Barack Obama's Teleprompter's Blog: check it out. It’s better than drugs.

Watch for the upcoming made-for-TV movie of Rahm’s life starring Ron Reagan Jr. Working title: “The Nutcracker”

He may need to brush up on those dancing skills in order to pirouette around all the thorny issues associated with his tenure on the board of Freddie Mac.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Extortion Along the Potomac

An op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal cites another interesting request from Senator Charles Grassley (R Iowa; yes the same one that previously requested the AIG bonus recipients commit hari-kari):

On November 19, Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, urged all 50 state Attorney Generals to "consider the appropriateness of inquiring whether financial institutions located within your State have violated (or would violate) State law by making certain executive compensation payments to executives and top management." He cited approvingly Mr. Cuomo's probe into AIG perks and bonuses.

This might help explain why the Republicans lost the last election.

It also goes a long way in explaining the extortionist tactics of politicians from both parties. Unlike real mobsters, they don’t take the payoff home in cold hard cash. Their take-away is actually dirtier. What they get in exchange for self-righteous outrage is a temporary bump in the popularity polls. Or at least that’s what their pollsters – along with their in-bred populist reaction - tell them the people want: outrage and public flogging.

How refreshing, then, to find a lone-wolf, J.B. Van Hollen, Attorney General from Wisconsin, (of all places!) who not only went to law school, but actually learned something while attending. He summarizes in the last paragraph of his response to Senator Grassley:

"However, I will not be initiating investigations through press releases, nor will I treat all corporate executive expenditures as presumptively wrongful. Wisconsin law certainly does not. Financial institutions (and other businesses) on the verge of insolvency are ill-advised to make unnecessary expenditures, whether to executives or otherwise. At the same time, contractual obligations are generally to be fulfilled, work should earn compensation, and there is no law in Wisconsin making a contract illegal simply because someone is well compensated. Absent specific information indicating a transaction is fraudulent as opposed to foolish, I will not use my office to threaten litigation in an attempt to micromanage Wisconsin's businesses. Corporate governance is generally a matter for shareholders, not public officeholders."

It makes me rather wistful for the good old days when public service was really about - well - public service, not just a term-long self-aggrandizing campaign commercial.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First They Came For the Jews …

The head of AIG’s Financial Products submitted his resignation letter yesterday. After governmental harassment and extortion by both congress and 2 state Attorney Generals (Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Andrew Cuomo, Richard Blumenthal) who can blame him? I realize there’s little sympathy for someone who has made so much money from a firm that is one of the lynchpins in the global economic meltdown. But there are still limits to what government can do to a private citizen.

Just to lay out few of the facts: the mastermind behind the “great global meltdown” was one Joseph Cassano, head of AIG’s Financial Products unit (AIGFP). In essence he set up a huge, legal –in so far as it wasn’t illegal – gambling hall that created their own chips (credit default swaps) which they then sold to gamblers to play with. Every time they wanted to play, they bought more chips. As we know, gambling is addictive and the endgame inevitable.

If you are looking for a scapegoat, start with Cassano. Unfortunately, he is no longer employed by AIG. Secondly, look to the people he worked for: Hank Greenberg, Martin Sullivan, Robert Willumstad (Greenberg’s successors) and the entire AIG Board of Directors - supposedly responsible for oversight of the company. These idiots let Cassano run his casino without comprehending either the operation or the risk. Therefore there was no way to calculate the exposure. If you’re just looking for villains at AIG, these are your guys.

But our grandstanding politicians – anxious to deflect criticism – have scapegoated and vilified not just Edward Liddy, the guy brought in from outside the company for $1 a year to oversee his predecessors mess, but all the people in the AIGFP unit who are trying to unwind the bets, identify assets tied to the bets, and otherwise squeeze blood from a turnip.

But because the crowd has called for blood, New York Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, threatened to release the names of anyone who wouldn’t give back their bonuses. And he did this even knowing that the angry mob mentality had already resulted in death threats to them and their families (warning, this link is nasty). The grandstanding Barney Frank didn't feel they deserve any confidentiality either. After all, they are criminals aren’t they?(How’s that class war working out so far?).

This sounds like nothing short of extortion; and make no mistake, extortion of a private citizen by the government is the worst kind, as there is no recourse. It is the definition of abuse of governmental power, and cannot be tolerated. I don’t care how you feel about these people – most of whom were not the ones responsible for the creation of the credit default market mess – the government does not have the right to harass its citizens. Every citizen should be outraged by this overreaching authority.

"First they came for the Jews ..."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Did I Mention That None of This is My Fault?

No need to comment on the Presidential Press Conference. It was a yawn wrapped within a snooze surrounded by a nap. But for the Twitters from the correspondents the total show would have been a paradox.

Yes the O looked presidential. But when he tried to answer questions he seemed lost in the fog, and his answers went on and on (and on.) Here’s a quick summary of all issues/questions: you all amuse me, but tonight I’m here to be serious and express my outrage at the greedy capitalist pigs, and to assure you that I’m optimistic about taking your money and putting it to better use than you ever could. And to remind you that Bush and his crew created this dung-heap; did I mention that it takes time to turn a big ship around? heh, heh, let’s not have any of those Titanic jokes tonight, OK? This is serious. Oh, oh, oh - and I want to assure you that you needn’t worry about the reduction in tax deductions for charitable donations. From now on the government will take all of your money and redistribute it as we see fit. Your government is much more reliable than private charities anyway.

One hour, 13 questions. Rule of thumb: There is an inverse relationship between the length of the answer to a question and the speaker’s command of the subject.

Nearly 5 minutes per question: I’m just saying…

Words? Just Words?

First, water boarding is banned. Next, Gitmo is closed (sort of). Then we get the O’s outreach to Iran in the "I-want-to-be-your-friend" Facebook video. Which helps explain Janet Napolitano’s switch-up of “terrorists” to the less threatening term “man-caused disasters” in referring to people who want to kill us.

I get the I-just-want-to-be-loved angle. But come on: a presidential decree that Bush’s hated global war on terror will henceforth be referred to as “Overseas Contingency Operation?” Overseas Contingency Operation? What is that? An alternative medical plan in case our “nationalized health care reform” doesn’t work out? It sounds like the White House ran a “name-that-war” contest and a bureaucrat from Department 2D won.

You’ve got to love those wily Progressives (aka Liberals)! Offensive objects can be turned into gold if you just get the right word. For example, taxpayers will soon be shelling out to buy “legacy assets” (aka toxic assets) that they couldn’t give away last week. And who can take offense at a “contingency operation?” That’s way better than a war.

Next offensive word on deck? Capitalism. From here-on-in it will be known as Socialism.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Together at Last: Rushbo and the O

A week ago Dick Morris concluded that Obama was incompetent when it came to financial policy, economic recovery planning and credit rescue efforts. But upon reflection Dick has determined that Obama is crazy like a fox. He told Sean Hannity last night that he’s thought about it a lot, and has concluded that Obama actually wants his financial plan to fail. – at which point he can claim that he and his administration have tried everything short of seizing control of the banks. A failed financial rescue plan will allow him to nationalize the banks as a crucial step in advancing his socialist agenda, according to Dick.

I thought he might have had a nip to many before the show.But today I think he might have had a fly on the teleprompter as Obama and Geithner discussed toxic assets. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy, according to an administration document....

Nationalization of the entire financial system! That clever fox.

I swear I didn’t think I’d live to see the day when Obama and Rush Limbaugh are on the same page, but apparently now they both want the O to fail.

No sleep again tonight.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Smoke and Mirror Plan For the Rest of Us

Little Timmy Geithner over at Treasury has come up with the mother of all smoke and mirror plans. If it works, it will serve to obfuscate the smoke and mirror plan it is attempting to fix. Didn’t you just know he was a little genius?

He’s finally finagled a way to bail out insolvent banks and Wall Street firms with taxpayer money without a huge public outcry. How? By pitching it as a “public/private” partnership in which private companies ostensibly price the toxic assets, aka toxic waste, at financial institutions and buy them.

Just one little problem: they’re buying them with taxpayer money. Specifically, 97% of what buyers (most likely hedge funds) pay for bad debts will be footed by us, the US taxpayer. And worse, it’s non-recourse debt, so if the hedge funds overbid and end up losing money on the transaction, they lose nothing – the US Treasury (again, you and me) is the only one on the hook. Want to see how it works?

Toxic Assets 101:

Let’s say Bank1 has $100 million in “toxic assets.” They could be in one of three forms:

  1. assets backed by cash i.e. loans and mortgages, probably in default
  2. assets backed by credit default swap (CDS) contracts. These are really synthetic paper, there are no real assets
  3. assets backed by a combination of CDS and cash.

Group one can be valued rather easily based on traditional methods. Groups 2 and 3 are nearly impenetrable – no one can readily identify the assets underlying the CDS portion. They have some value, but someone needs to figure out what the assets are first. In case you’re perplexed as to why AIG would pay retention bonuses to people in the department that created these monsters, it’s because they need them to unwind these crazy, complex transactions in order to recover any value: instruments and transactions so complicated even forensic accountants would have trouble.

So you see the problem of valuation. Bank1 says the assets are worth $60 million. The market says they’re worth $30 million: no deal.

Enter Timmy’s magic dragon: The FDIC will finance 97% of the purchase price in the form of a non-recourse loan (i.e. you can walk away). So Hedge fund 1, who last week would have offered Bank1 less than market value ($30 million) for this risky bet, this week can offer them more than they think the “asset” is worth. So they offer $70 million. They only have to come up with $2.1 million, or 3%, and taxpayers loan them the rest. So Bank1 snaps at the offer, and immediately posts a $10 million gain on their books while simultaneously dumping the toxic debt. Hedge fund1, down the road when true market value is established, might find out that the toxic mess was worth only$ 25 million. They dump it for 25 million, book a profit ($25 million less $2.1 million and accumulated interest) and walk away, leaving Treasury with the loss on the difference.

In short, Treasury is selling toxic waste at inflated prices and sticking the loss squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayer. Heads, banks and hedge funds win. Tails, taxpayers lose. But then, you knew that before I started.

As an aside, Neville at Naked Capitalist posted the following comment:

Does anybody remember that the last people who brought in 3% equity partners to take control of an off-balance sheet hedge fund in a no-loss deal designed solely to absorb toxic assets at inflated prices, were sent to jail by the government for misleading the public? Their names were Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling and a raft of other managers, at Enron.

The goal of their off balance sheet partnerships was to conceal where and when the real losses had occurred and thus who was responsible for them, until some later date when they could either be transferred back onto the public (Enron's shareholders) in a way they would not notice, or at least after the Enron managers had a chance to unload their shares.

Now we have a virtually identical scheme, but this time it's being promoted jointly by the banks and the US Treasury. Once again the effort is to construct a vehicle into which toxic assets can be transferred at inflated prices, positioning the public to take the losses while disguising them in the short term, and giving the managers of our biggest banks a chance to both profit now and then sell out ahead of the public.

Perhaps Lay, Skilling and Fastow should be hailed as innovators in the field of public finance

For another view of how this shell game works, Paul Krugman (of all people) explains here.

But even if it does get the “toxic waste” off the banks balance sheet, does it solve the woes of the economy? Quite possibly not, if you believe Henry Blodgett at Clustercock. He identifies 5 big misconceptions about what’s wrong with the economy:

  1. The trouble with the economy is that the banks aren't lending.
  2. The banks aren't lending because their balance sheets are loaded with "bad assets" that the market has temporarily mispriced.
  3. Bad assets are "bad" because the market doesn't understand how much they are really worth.
  4. Once we get the "bad assets" off bank balance sheets, the banks will start lending again.
  5. Once the banks start lending, the economy will recover.

He explains why none of these 5 are quite true. It might be because he tends to be a glass is half empty guy, but in this case I think the glass has been knocked over.

So why on earth has the market responded so positively today? I don’t know. Maybe it’s spring fever, maybe the housing numbers cheered them, maybe they’ve been sitting on the sidelines so long they were looking for any excuse to get back in the game. My guess is that once the smoke clears the excitement will abate and they won’t be any more excited than they were the last time they were dealt this hand.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Schadenfreude You Can Believe In

Does everyone feel better now? According to the New York Times the O plans to limit executive compensation- and not just on Wall Street either. Congress intends to pass confiscatory taxes on the compensation already paid out to AIG execs, as well as others. We really showed those rich, greedy Wall Street bastards.

But while you’re reveling in your schadenfreude, you might want to consider that we have an avowed socialist ensconced in the White House and a complicit, if brain-dead, congress. The type of governmental meddling and confiscatory taxation in play has us half way down the road to European socialism. You might take delight in the plight of the Wall Street contingent, but this type of governmental oversight and taxation will quickly spiral downward to effect every citizen still inclined to work for a living. Because, as Maggie Thatcher observed, “The problem with Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”

Since the centerpiece of the O’s agenda is the redistribution of wealth, confiscating it through taxes is a good way to start. They’ll also have to redistribute the money that will no longer be paid out to executives, now that there will be a mandated cap. Maybe the O can dictate that it be used to pay higher salaries to all the employees at the bottom of the pyramid. Or maybe congress can assess a special tax on companies that “previously paid exorbitant compensation” to their executives. Then they can allocate more money to ACORN, so they could hold more demonstrations and plan more bus tours to scare the crap out of the rich little kids caught in the cross hairs of carefully fomented class envy.

So thanks O great one; class conflict is much healthier than racial conflict. After all, we know there’s nothing wrong with hating "rich-white-people."




Friday, March 20, 2009


Here’s a partial list of the people/groups that the O and his minions have managed to trash this week:

Victims of terrorists (or anyone who hates terrorists): Janet Napolitano, in an interview in Spiegel, explains why terrorist acts should from this day forth be referred to as “man-caused disasters”. Why? Because that will keep the lines of communication open. Uh, Janet? Terrorists aren’t big on communicating. At least not without explosives. But ok, maybe they’ll Twitter us the next time they plan to fly planes into our buildings and murder our citizens. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try. Ms. Napolitano, you’re definitely in the running for the Jack Derrida deconstructionist-of-the-year award.

BIG Business: Let’s be clear, AIG is simply the current stand in for Wall Street in particular and “big business” in general. The Auto executives filled this roll first, but now the financial monsters are on deck. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to let you take any more! But a Capitalist economy without capitalists won’t work all that well. Yeah, the dog crapped on the floor. Kick him around a little bit if it really makes you feel better. But don’t shoot the dog. Clean up the mess, train the dog and hope it doesn’t happen again any time soon. Besides, we might just want the dog if the wolf comes to the door.

I do think the O got a little carried away with kicking the dogs when he compared them to suicide bombers:

“We had to step in, it was the right thing to do, even though it is infuriating,” Obama said, explaining why the government needed to bail out the troubled banks.

“The same is true with AIG,” he said. “It was the right thing to do to step in. Here’s the problem. It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger.”

Oh I get it! They’re like “man-made disasters.”

US Servicemen and women. Let’s see, here’s a good idea: let’s have soldiers that have been wounded while serving their country and preserving our liberty pay for their own medical treatment. Because they probably have private health insurance right? And we can save, like a lot of money! Yeah… no, I guess that’s not such a good idea after all. Never mind. Did these clowns get out of line when God was handing out brains?

The Disabled: Barry, my man! It’s considered bad form to make fun of the capabilities of the handicapped, even in LA. Did they not cover that in the White House sensitivity training class? Maybe you weren’t in church the week Reverend Wright railed on that shortcoming of America. But surely it was mentioned at Harvard Law School – maybe when you studied the Americans with disabilities act? Never mind, we know you didn’t mean it. Only rich white people have malice in their hearts.

Not bad work for one week! Get some rest, lots of people left to offend next week.





Thursday, March 19, 2009

Prostate Cancer: What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You

The latest in a long line of dubious health studies (reported in the New York Times as well as the Wall Street Journal) concludes that the value of prostate screening may not outweigh the “risk.”  The risk being that you have the cancer treated, even though it might not have killed you even if you had not. They cannot be serious.

What exactly is the agenda here?

The United States portion of the study was conducted by the National Cancer Institute: a division of the National Institute of Health, which is a subset of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is funded by Congress. If you don’t think federally funded entities have agendas, do some more research.

National health care has been on the liberal political agenda since FDR, and threatening to become reality since the Clinton administration. National health care, everywhere it’s been implemented, relies on controlling health care costs through the rationing of services (which in Canada means you wait 3 years or more for a hip replacement).

The gist of this most recent “study” is that screening for prostate cancer identifies many cancers that probably would not cause death to the patient if left untreated. However, once identified,  results in costly treatment that might result in undesirable side effects.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society and head of the National Cancer Institute’s study provided an analysis of the study’s results for CNN.

The American study provided annual screening to more than 36,000 men and observed an equal number who were not to be screened. There is a median of 13 years follow-up. Because some men who were not supposed to get screened did, this is really a comparison of the heavily screened group compared to a less-heavily screened group. It found excessive “unnecessary diagnosis and treatment” with screening with no evidence of a mortality benefit. Therefore their conclusion is that some prostate cancers “do not need to be treated.”

Yeah Doc, but unfortunately, no one seems to be able to tell you whether your prostate cancer is one of those or not. A rather blasé attitude I think. More of a British “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” attitude than an American “better safe than sorry.”  But then, if it’s your prostate cancer and not mine, it’s much easier to cop that attitude. Besides, we all know how great the British Health Care System is.

And then there’s this from the National Institute of Health site itself regarding the study:

“All trials adhere to a common core protocol with mortality from prostate cancer as the primary endpoint. Some core elements are age at recruitment between 55 and 67, collection of baseline characteristics, exclusion of men with previous diagnosis of prostate cancer, individual randomization, information on contamination levels, and evaluation of cost effectiveness.

In the NYT article, Dr. Brawley contends

“For years, the cancer society has urged men to be informed before deciding to have a PSA test. “Now we actually have something to inform them with … We’ve got numbers.”

Yeah, you’ve got numbers. But I’ve got questions. For starters, since more members of the non-screening group wound up being screened than originally envisioned, how did that impact the outcome? And what specific treatment did the men who were diagnosed with cancer have? Did the men in the control “non-screening” group that were diagnosed with cancer have the same therapies as the non-control group? Were the cancers diagnosed in the two groups at the same stage? Dr. Brawley continues:

“The data suggest that we should be less concerned with the scientific question, "Does screening save lives?" We should be asking the question, "Do the quantified harms of screening justify the benefit?"

What the hell does that mean? First of all, “does screening save lives?” is the only pertinent question to ask. The “quantified harms” are only harms if you “assume” that treated prostate cancers were not lethal. And that, apparently, cannot be definitively proved. The data might “suggest” that to you, but it sure as hell doesn’t suggest it to me. Nor does this:

“In the European study, the average man whose disease is diagnosed through screening is 47 times more likely to have a needless diagnosis and treatment than to have his life saved.”

Again, how do you define “needless,” and how in the hell do you conclude this from the reported results? Because other men with the disease haven’t died? That’s a little outside my comfort zone.

In short the reported “results” of these 2 studies tell you essentially nothing. It looks like the real point of the early release of results (the studies will not be complete for another 4 years) is to cut back on 1) the cost of screening –

Dr. Brawley:

“I would be remiss if I did not say that most who encouraged prostate cancer screening were hoping to do good, but some lay and physician advocates encouraged screening and made it into a lucrative business.

and 2), the expense associated with the treatment and care of the diagnosed prostate cancer. Remember, “There are prostate cancers that do not need to be treated.” But again, it doesn’t appear from anything published that they can determine which cancers these would be. The summation of the CNN article is the kicker: “This type of behavior also has implications for spiraling health care costs and health care reform.”

By all means draw your own conclusions. But this is a study without a conclusion as far as I can ascertain, unless you consider “ignorance is bliss” a valid conclusion. As I pointed out in "Skepticism" statistics and epidemiological studies cannot replace real scientific methodology.

Do you really want these people in charge of your health care? Because they will be if Obama’s “health care agenda” gets rammed through Congress the same way the porkulus bill was.




Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who’s Watching the Watcher?

Another embarrassing teleprompter incident at the White House on St. Patrick’s day leaves the O thanking himself for throwing a great party. Even Maureen Dowd takes him to task for needing a teleprompter to feign anger.

Jon Meacham infamously observed that Obama "watches us watching him". Maybe this imperial quirk is not about the creepy detachment of our president channeling John F. Kennedy, but simply a case of a teleprompter junkie looking around for his next fix. (Caution: the link above is a 20 minute clip,with Meacham’s comment 10 minutes in. But if you have time to watch 3 grown men hopelessly fixated on the same love object, it’s a hoot.)

On the other hand, O’s reliance on the teleprompter might be altogether benign. Look at his previous careers: his focus as a community organizer was on preparing himself for public office. As a state senator he spent most of his time running for US senator, and 3 of the 4 years he served as US senator were devoted to running for president. Perhaps he’s now preparing himself for his post-White House career: MSM talking head. He’d be great, and Chris Matthews could enjoy that tingle every night.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More AIG Angst

Yes, everyone everywhere is a twitter (literally in some cases) over this latest outpouring of greed. The more pertinent issue might be bad business judgment, but that’s another post.

The US government bought this pig in a poke over a weekend without doing any due diligence. The contracts were in place then, and enforceable now. The time to negotiate is now over. Even the NYT thinks so.

And to the good Senator from Connecticut who thinks we should draft legislation to tax the bonuses at 98% to get the money back in the government coffers: there is this pesky aspect to the US Constitution (you do remember the constitution don’t you, Senator Dodd?):

Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed.”

“Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligations of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation. ... The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less-informed part of the community.” James Madison, Federalist Number 44, 1788.

For the time being we are still a nation of law. Sheeze, what do they teach in Civics class these days?

Monday, March 16, 2009

…So Sorry

I would add something to Ed Morrissey’s  Hot Air item, but alas, I think he’s pretty much nailed it:

Even Obama supporters worried about White House incompetence

posted at 9:37 am on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

I guess we can officially say that the honeymoon’s over.  The New York Daily News, not exactly a pillar of conservative thought, finds itself wondering aloud about whether Barack Obama and his team have the competence to lead the nation.  The whispers have grown into a chorus:

Not long ago, after a string of especially bad days for the Obama administration, a veteran Democratic pol approached me with a pained look on his face and asked, “Do you think they know what they’re doing?”

The question caught me off guard because the man is a well-known Obama supporter. As we talked, I quickly realized his asking suggested his own considerable doubts.

Yes, it’s early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It’s a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House.

Well, what did people expect?  For the first time in decades and perhaps ever, America chose a President without executive experience in the public or private sectors, and without military command experience.  If people expected smooth performance and cool competence from that kind of resume, then the best that can be said about them is that they indulged in self-delusion on a massive scale.

For the rest of us, this comes as no surprise at all.  The failed appointments have managed to be less embarrassing than the ones that “succeeded”, such as Tim Geithner and Vivek Kundra.  The administration keeps promising plans that never get delivered, and Obama all but abdicated to Nancy Pelosi during the Porkulus debacle.  And that doesn’t even begin to cover Obama’s embarrassing performance during Gordon Brown’s visit, and Hillary Clinton’s shameful “I don’t understand multiparty democracy” tour at the EU.

Obama is in over his head, and so are his closest aides, such as Geithner, Hillary, and the entire team.  The best we can hope is that on-the-job training can work quickly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Social O

For those of you in denial, as well as for those still debating the issue, here’s James Lewis’ definitive call: "Of Course He's a Socialist".

Really, what was that NYT reporter thinking? Asking the O if he was a socialist? The O was so astounded that, after thinking about it, he felt compelled to call the reporter back to reiterate his plausible denial… and to point out that  it was the evil Republican administration before him that started this whole bailout give away.

Maybe so O, but damn, I just love what you’ve done with it!

Pick your “ism” of choice – Progressivism, Socialism, Marxism, Communism – they all place you firmly in  the the embrace of Nancy Pelosi’s bosom. If that doesn’t make you squirm, you might be a socialist.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Those Pesky Mormon Crickets

"Have you seen the little piggies"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

He’s Just Not that Into It

Jennifer Rubin has a great article over at Commentary Magazine re. our President : "He's Just Not That Into Governing". It begins to explain a lot.

He’s not so much into legislation, that’s for Nancy and Harry and the gang over at the Pork Palace. But we knew that. His legislative experience consisted of  voting  “present” when be wasn’t busy campaigning for his next job.

As it turns out, Barack isn’t that much into the economy either. But I guess we knew that too: he has no experience in business, banking or economics. Although he  does play an equities analyst on YouTube, and thinks the Dow Jones is like a political tracking poll. (I worry a bit that he thinks everything is like a political tracking poll.) If he can just get Timothy Geithner to play a Treasury Secretary we could be back in business.

Not that into diplomacy/protocol either. Apparently those skills were considered too bourgeois in Chicago’s community organizing circle. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife  understood that the Prez had  a busy day and was  too tired  for a  press conference and state dinner, but the British press was  quite annoyed (you know how the Brits are). They apparently thought the customary diplomatic gifts given to the Brown’s were thoughtless and tacky as well. But hey, who wouldn't want a gift set of the Obama's favorite movies? And after all, it’s the thought that counts. Well,ok they weren’t that thoughtful, but what the heck: he’ll get the hang of this diplomacy crap. How hard can it be?  W did it.

Maybe foreign affairs is his thing? Nope, that’s Hillary’s forte. But her inaugural tour of the Middle East and Europe resulted in more gaffes than a “Joe Biden on steroids” tour. Although the capper had to be the Mickey Mouse prop and bad translation "gift"  presented to the Russian foreign minister. The stupid red button was supposed to say “reset” in Russian, but instead said “overcharge”. We’ve all been overcharged for gross underperformance. And yes, I would like to “reset. ” To November, 2008. Can we get a do-over?

So, alright. Governing, per se, is not his thing. But we knew that too: he had no executive or leadership experience. So he can be forgiven for not knowing how to pull together a competent team. Or how to establish a manageable agenda. Or how to delegate without relinquishing responsibility. He’ll learn. And meanwhile we have that lovely,soaring rhetoric to lift our spirits. Except that lately all he’s been doing is bumming everyone out with talk of the great depression, and how everything’s going to get worse and worser.  And if he’s not  scaring  us to death he’s insulting us by calling us “shameful” and “selfish”. I already miss W’s endearing malapropisms. At least he was cheerful about it.

In summary then: not so into governing, legislating, economics, diplomacy, protocol, foreign affairs or cheery rhetoric. So what does that leave the messiah to be “into”? It looks like summits (2 down, 1 scheduled), czars (6 and counting) and spending ($1 trillion , but who’s counting).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bait and Switch

Charles Krauthammer calls it the “Great Non Sequitur”. In essence, the argument is thus: we’re in the greatest financial crisis of our life times brought on by the Bush administration’s failure to address education, health care and energy. Therefore, we’re going to fix all of these issues with trillions and trillions of (your tax) dollars.

As Mr. Krauthammer points out, this is nonsense.

“The list is long. But the list of causes of the collapse of the financial system does not include the absence of universal health care, let alone of computerized medical records. Nor the absence of an industry-killing cap-and-trade carbon levy. Nor the lack of college graduates. Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe.”

But it’s apparent that these are the “things” Rahm Emanuel had in mind when he said:

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."

I don’t know about you, but to me government paid health care, education K through baccalaureate and government controlled energy policy through increased carbon taxes and cap and trade (the same thing) sounds like European socialism. Nothing radical here!

But how about fixing the financial crisis before we move on to a Brave New World? Unfortunately – and especially in crisis – people tend to continue to do the things they know how to do. Obama’s band of merry men don’t know how to put together a financial stabilization plan. What they do know is how to spread the wealth around.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

An Earmark We Can Believe In

I vote to keep Tom Harkin’s  $1.8 million swine and manure odor funding in the Obam-nibus porkulus bill: with the stipulation that it be spent exclusively in Washington D.C.. They now officially have more pig farmers there than in Ames Iowa.

If they have any funds left over perhaps they can be used to stifle the odor of the citizen-tourists that Harry Reid finds so offensive.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Buyer’s Remorse, Remorse

Apparently David Brooks has had his buyer’s remorse rescinded. In his NYT's column today he lets the White House staff explain why what he’s said in his previous 3 columns are wrong. Hot Air explains how the White House has put him back on the leash.

Hey David! Grow a pair: you’re an opinion writer, not a mouthpiece!



Many Obama voters are having buyer's remorse

Their historic leader is more transformational doofus than messiah

Some are asking: "Can we get a DO-OVER?"

Watch on YouTube for larger frame

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Buyer’s Remorse

Day 45 of America’s rebirth, and the Obama daily favorability tracking poll closed down another 281 points. That would be 6594 for any of you still counting, less than half of the Dow Jones Industrial’s all time high. The hopeychangey train has left the station, and guess what? You’re not on it!

Buyer’s remorse has begun to burn small holes in the stomach lining of some of the early adaptors. Maybe they’ll invoke the lemon law.

James-meltdown-Cramer, an avowed liberal democrat, is now screaming at the White House instead of poor Erin Burnett (still fun to watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it) .

And over at the New York Times – whose stock is now worth less than a Sunday edition – David Brooks (conservative in sheep’s clothing) is backpedaling so fast he’s catching his own dust. Starting on February 24, continuing on February 27 and March 3. At this rate by the end of the month he’ll be calling for Barry’s impeachment.

Better yet, the always chirpy Maureen Dowd is getting a bit queasy. She even invokes the spirit of Shakespeare to skewer the President’s refusal to tackle the pork in the Obam-nibus bill: She hasn’t whined as much since her traumatized days after 9/11, during which she even knocked off her carping at the “Bushies” for a few weeks. Personal threat seems to evoke a strain of reactionary behavior in Ms. Dowd. I’m guessing her 401-K is looking mighty anemic about now. Since she favors quotes from King Lear this week, I offer her this bit of wisdom from the good king: “Get thee glass eyes, And, like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not.”

And that brings us to Christopher Buckley. Good lord man! Your father was barely in his grave, and you had to act out your repressed rebellion by backing Obama? That’s as close to a complete repudiation of the old man as you can get without going to work for the Huffington Post. Well, apparently Christopher is back on his meds because he appears to have revisited his choice. Either that, or he was growing weary of ghostly visits from his father, droning on and on through the night about the shortcomings of Keynesian economics. Now that Christopher has at least conceded to the potential limitations of the Keynesian model, maybe they can both rest in peace.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Remember how great the 70's were? Yeah, not so much.

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