Posts tagged ‘abc’

KlearGear Sucks

I don't have a lot to add about this story.  A company called KlearGear trying to fine customers for writing a bad review about it (based on some BS prior restraint on criticism buried in their terms and conditions) and then hounding the customers' credit rating through debt collection agencies.  But I am all for the Streisand effect bringing karmic retribution to such folks, so here is my contribution to Google.

By the way, I found their current header warning to be odd:

notice-tues

Anyone ever heard of a "business hour" before?  Since most customers would not really freak at a 48 hour or 2-day order processing time, anyone want to bet that this means 6 business days (6x8 hours) or over a week, but is meant to fool folks into thinking only two days?  I would ask them directly but there is no way to send them an email without registering first as a customer.  Since by registering, I apparently cede my ability to ever criticize them, I won't be able to write them for clarification.

Our business gets mostly positive reviews, but we get bad ones from time to time.  Every bad review is both a pain in the butt (as they hang around forever on the Internet) but also an opportunity for me to learn and identify problems in the business.  On a couple of occasions I have identified personnel problems through online reviews that let me fix a real problem before something much worse happened.

Update:  The bottom of their home page says "As seen on ABC's Good Morning America".  Yup.  LOL

 

She Had Just the Resume They Were Looking For

Via ABC

The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

What Obama most needed in the IRS ACA office was someone willing to ignore the clear language of the PPACA legislation and ram through IRS tax subsidies for insurance policies in the Federal (vs. state) exchanges -- subsidies that were purposefully and explicitly denied in the plain language of the law.

You Are In the Best of Hands

Rampant theft at the TSA

A former Transportation Security Administration agent who spent three years in jail for stealing from passenger luggage told ABC News that the practice “was very commonplace.” Pythias Brown, who worked at Newark International Airport, said he stole more than $800,000 worth of goods from luggage and security checkpoints. He was finally caught when he tried to sell a stolen CNN camera on eBay but forgot to take off all the stickers that tied the camera to the news network.

"It became so easy, I got complacent," Brown said. Almost 400 TSA officers have been fired for stealing from passengers over the past decade.

My assumption is that if they caught 400 with enough evidence to survive civil service grievance procedures, at least 4000 must be stealing. It's like Goodfella's II.

Summer of the Shark, Toyota Edition

A couple of weeks ago I discussed media coverage of summer temperatures in the US in the context of the crazy 2001 "summer of the shark" panic, where the media took a below-average year for shark attacks and played it up with constant coverage into the work shark attack year ever.

In 2010 we had another summer of the shark, this time with the fears over Toyota sudden accelerations.  We even were treated with an OJ-White-Bronco-like real-time video of some moron in a Prius who supposedly couldn't find the brake peddle for scores of miles on an LA freeway.  I expressed skepticism immediately that there was really a hardware / electronics problem behind the accelerations, and wondered whether the US government's ownership of Toyotas competitors might not have something to do with all the Senate hearings and government attention.  Eventually, the NHTSA and other government agencies determined there was no flaw with the Toyotas, that the sudden acceleration was merely due to operator error (ie jamming a foot on the wrong peddle).  This happens a lot, as it turns out, and I remember Walter Olson once found a stat that a huge percentage of sudden acceleration cases that make it to court seem to involved people over 70 or under 20.

ABC led the parade on this particular shark attack.  They used "safety experts" who were actually in the pay of plaintiff's lawyers, without disclosing this conflict of interest.  They actually tampered with their tested Toyotas and claimed they replicated the "spontaneous" acceleration:

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove – and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

So, given some time and reflection, eventually the rest of the journalistic community has brought some accountability to ABC by publicly shaming them for this shoddy journalism.  Ha ha, just kidding.  They just gave ABC and its reporter one of their highest awards for the story

Congratulations to Brian Ross, America's Wrongest Reporter, for winning a coveted Edward R. Murrow Award honoring his coverage of the Toyota unintended acceleration story. The award, oddly, is for "Video Continuing Coverage" rather than "Fostering Global Panic Based on Bullshit Story." Still, a Murrow is a Murrow, right? Let's go to tape.

Ross, you will recall, was one of the driving forces behind the Runaway Toyota Panic of '10, which was later determined by NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have been largely the result of idiots stepping on the accelerator when they intended to step on the brake, and of other idiots talking about it on TV. Ross was one of those idiots. For some reason, ABC News submitted four of Ross' Toyota reports to the Radio Television Digital News Association for award consideration.

One report they didn't submit was the one where Gawker caught Ross staging footage to make it seem like a Toyota was accelerating out of control when it was in fact parked with the emergency brake on, doors open, and someone stepping on the gas. We're told by an ABC News insider that, even though it didn't nominate that segment, the network "acknowledged and owned that mistake" in its awards submission. Good for them! Now let's see them acknowledge and own these mistakes from the segments it did submit. For instance:

In two of the winning reports, Ross quoted safety expert Sean Kane criticizing Toyota and insisting that there were cases of unintended acceleration that "couldn't be explained by floormats," which Toyota had recalled in 2009 after some mats became stuck under gas pedals. What he didn't report was that Kane was being paid by plaintiff's attorneys who were suing Toyota over unintended acceleration cases, and so had a financial incentive to argue that there was more to the Runaway Toyota scare than just floormats. Indeed, in other ABC News segments that the network didn't nominate, Ross showed Kane saying—again without disclosing his relationship to plaintiff's attorneys—"We clearly think that Toyota has a larger problem on their hands that involves the electronics with these vehicles." That position—that electronics were involved—was later eviscerated by the NASA/NHTSA report, which found "no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents."

Warning: Crimes Against Humanity May Be Found Here

According not to some random weird dude found on a campus in California, but to the head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, I am guilty of crimes against humanity for questioning whether the world's climate system is really dominated by strong positive feedback

One of the world’s most widely respected climatologists, James Hansen, director of NASA-GISS, which focuses on the study of earth’s climate for the space agency, testified to Congress in 2008 that the CEOs of fossil fuel companies (who, according to various professional reporting have been promoting this and other misleading messages about global warming in conjunction with ideological groups trying to prevent government regulation) “knew what they were doing” and, as stated in his written testimony to Congress in 2008, were guilty of “high crimes against humanity and nature.”

Hansen tells ABC News — in a phone call from the U.K. where he’s been traveling — that he used that highly charged phrase, crime against humanity, “not only for dramatic effect, but also because it is accurate, given the enormous scale of the consequences to humanity” if manmade global warming is not somehow stopped and reversed.

“It wasn’t only aimed at the fossil fuel CEOs,” Hansen added on the phone. “This also applies to politicians who pretend the global warming is not manmade.”....

“Crimes Against Humanity” is a category of culpability that found currency in the last century as a label for such atrocities as genocide, including the Nazi Holocaust.

This is a grave accusation, laden with great emotion, but it has not been made lightly — rather with extensive study and forethought.

You have been warned.

WOW. Our Countries Leaders Sure Have Come A Long Way

From ABC News via Q&O

At a million-dollar San Francisco fundraiser today, President Obama warned his recession-battered supporters that if he loses the 2012 election it could herald a new, painful era of self-reliance in America.

“The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, ‘you are on your own,’” Obama told a crowd of 200 donors over lunch at the W Hotel.

At least he is making the choice clear.

Coyote on TV

I flew to New York to go in studio on the Stossel show today.  I did a brief bit on the minimum wage, a reprise from my earlier cameo on Stossel special.  It will be on tomorrow, Thursday at 9PM Eastern on Fox Business  (not Fox News, Fox Business).

The whole experience was new to me, which made me virtually unique as I was surrounded by policy wonks who do this kind of talking head thing all the time.   By the way, there was no sharing of questions or his plan in advance -- I think they want you cold.  So answers are all in real time.

Please, please, please do not write me or post comments such as "you should have said ____."  It will just depress me.  Believe me, 5 minutes after walking out I thought of 9 things I should have said.  Which is in fact why I blog rather than engage much any more in real time argument.

Anyway, I think his show will be pretty good -- he has Michael Cannon on health care and segments after mine on cash for clunkers and alpaca subsidies.  I shared the green room with an alpaca, which will probably just go to prove the old saying about always getting upstaged by kids and animals.

By the way, I think Stossel must set a different tone for his staff than is normal on TV.  I was talking to one of his producers, a guy that had come with Stossel from ABC, and I asked him if he had studied something relevant to this job in college.  I expected him to say "yes, theater" or "yes, television production."  But he said "yes, economics at George Mason."  I loved that answer.

God Forbid, Arpaio Running for Governor

Via Valley Fever:

There is a report circulating right now, which -- if true -- confirms what many Arizona residents have been dreading for years: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will run for governor of the state of Arizona.

ABC 15 is reporting that Arpaio already has made the decision to take the plunge and will announce his candidacy on Monday.

According to "several high-ranking sources within the Sheriff's Department," all the necessary paperwork "has been filled out and is ready to file."

Unfortunately, he may well win.  There are two things an outsider needs to know about people in Arizona

  1. They have an insane, irrational fear of Mexican immigrants, who they see as disproportionately made up of gang lords who make Tony Soprano look like a pansy.  Of course, no one seems to have any actual personal experience with such violence or to be an actual victim, but they heard that the lady who put her cat in the microwave was threatened.
  2. They believe that only Joe Arpaio has been standing between them and total annihilation at the hands of the brown-skinned hordes.

Yes, Arpaio is not only liked here, he is freaking beloved by a near majority of the population.  He is the single most potent Republican name in the state -- one only has to look at the number of candidates seeking his endorsement.  For example, we have people running for the US Congress in this state who tout Arpaio's endorsement on their every poster.  Think of that -- US Congressmen running around seeking a sheriff's endorsement.

Just check this out.  A local Republican privately thinks Arpaio is a dangerous idiot, but he still seeks his backing in the election

Bill Montgomery, the candidate for Maricopa County Attorney backed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, strongly questions Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mental fitness and leadership ability in a secret tape made by county officials....

To Stapley [one of the county officials at the taped meeting], the Republican candidate made himself out to be a real Arpaio critic.

But, as we learned, Montgomery later teamed up with Arpaio in hopes of giving a boost to his campaign. Montgomery mailed a letter from Arpaio to the sheriff's supporters a couple of weeks ago, in which Arpaio praises the candidate and pledges to help him get elected.

We sort of feel bad for Montgomery in this situation -- no one likes to have a private conversation recorded without their knowledge. Yet getting beyond the ethics (and politics) of why the tape was made, Montgomery does come off looking fairly two-faced.

He's willing to take every cent Arpaio can raise for him, yet described the sheriff to Stapley as kind of a dottering old fool.

He also said he's not thrilled with Thomas' monolithic focus on illegal immigration. Yet that focus, of course, is shared by Arpaio.

Fellow Arpaio-haters will love this:

Montgomery related how he'd been talking about serious issues during a meeting with Arpaio when the conversation suddenly turned to "stories about his family, past Valentine's Days, that sort of thing."

An aide popped in to prompt the sheriff out of his daydreaming, and "it was a little bit like -- I don't want to disparage him -- but a little bit like someone coming into a nursing home and saying visiting hours are over now."

Somebody Should Write About This...

Years ago, I wrote a novel (still available at Amazon!) wherein a key plot point was a conspiracy between a Senator, a law firm, and a media company to create a high-profile tort case out of thin air.

Today, we may be seeing something similar with the Toyota sudden acceleration case.  In this case, we have the Senate calling stooges of the plaintiff's bar as "expert witnesses" with the whole thing getting a third of the air time on nightly news programs.   In my book, the whole thing was kicked off by a media company afraid of a new competitor - in this case it was kicked off by the US government, which controls GM, trying to sit on a competitor.

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove - and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

Henry Payne has more.

Fannie & Freddie Officially Declared Bottomless Pits. GMAC Not Far Behind

While private banks are paying back their TARP money, Fannie and Freddie have been given a new blank check:

It's a favorite government trick to announce bad news on a Friday afternoon, so it appears in Saturday's paper, the least likely edition to be read. By Sunday and Monday, it's old news. The Obama Treasury just went one better, announcing on Christmas Eve that they were uncapping the amount they believe will have to be invested in Fannie and Freddie. The Bush Treasury first estimated the government-sponsored enterprises' (GSEs) losses at $100 billion each. The Obama administration, which has been using the GSEs to stabilize the housing market by reducing their underwriting standards, upped the ante to $200 billion each. Now the administration has thrown in the towel completely, and dropped a large lump of coal in each taxpayer's stocking"”it won't even try to estimate the total losses of Fannie and Freddie.

For extra special bonus style points, Fannie and Freddie executives will apparently receive multi-million dollar pay packages that the pay czar will be denying to many private banks.

But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009.

In other news, the Feds are also propping up another quasi-governmental agency with more cash

GMAC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors, is set to receive around $3.5 billion in government aid, ABC News has learned. The funds would be the third infusion of federal support for the troubled lender.

The latest government aid would bring the total federal assistance for GMAC to $16 billion when combined with the $12.5 billion that the lender has already received dating back to December 2008. Due to its prior cash infusions, the government already owns 35 percent of GMAC.

GMAC continues to lose money because every time it gets more taxpayer money, it starts offering zero percent financing deals.

Immediately after GMAC became eligible for TARP money, GM reduced to zero the interest rate"¦ on certain models. This, of course, penalizes GM competitors, including Toyota, Honda and other "transplants" whose cars are made in America by Americans for Americans, and Ford, which does not have the freedom of maneuver conferred by TARP money because Ford is not taking any"¦

GMAC has begun making loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 621, a significant relaxation of the 700 minimum score the company adopted just three months ago as it struggled to survive. America's median credit score is 723"¦

This perhaps might explain why GM, unlike other banks with low stress-test scores, was unable to get any private capital.   Because lenders know GMAC will just hand the money over to car buyers with little prospect for getting any value back in return.  Incentives for GMAC to take losses to sell cars, always an issue under GM's private management, will only increase as the Administration looks to create some evidence - any evidence - that their GM investment isn't a total dog.  Witness $3 billion in cash for clunkers funds that went to buy $1 billion of used vehicles.

Postscript: Related news, the 10 most ridiculous uses of stimulus funds. Seems like there would be a lot of competition for this award.

The Gods Must be Crazy

I hardly know what to do with this.  When this is a pressing enough gender issue to demand NOW's attention, perhaps it is time to declare victory and move on to weightier topics.

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama had members of his cabinet, as well as members of congress, including Flake, over to the White House for a game of hoops.

They were all men.

Sounds like the boys had some fun but If you ask the "Debby Downers" from women advocacy groups like the National Organization for Women, the games lack of estrogen is unacceptable.

"Relationships get built in those more informal settings," NOW President Terry O'Neill told ABC News, "and the relationships have a huge impact on the influence an individual has. We know what happens when we segregated whether it by race or whether it by gender -- you end up with 1st class citizens and you end up with 2nd class citizens."

Fortunately we have moved beyond quotas.  Not.

"It's extremely important, now especially, for the president to have as many women as men in his closest circle of advisors. ... If women had been at the heads of the companies on Wall Street instead of these masters of the universe then we might not be in the predicament that we're in today," O'Neill says. "[The ratio of women to men] needs to be 50/50. Women are 52 percent of the voting public so obviously there needs to be 50/50 of any Cabinet."

I will be counting the men at the next baby shower.

More Liquor License Woes

Apparently after 20 months of effort, I am within spitting distance of getting one of two liquor licenses I am applying for in Ventura County, California (the other had to be completely restarted due to some paperwork mistakes).

I had to just laugh at the last remaining hurdle.  A part of the licensing process is to post a public notice at the site.  The ABC called me and said they are holding my application until they get my affidavit of posting -- this is a one page form with my signature stating on what date the facility was posted.

But here is the funny part -- the ABC representative who is calling me actually posted the site herself.  She visited the facility as part of a mandated inspection and then posted the site.  The only way I knew what date the site was posted was by asking her.  So ABC is requiring that I submit a form to tell them what day they themselves posted the site, a date I had to get from them before I could put it on the form to send back to them.

Coming soon:  The Affidavit of Elevated Body Temperature and/or Vomiting that must be submitted before obtaining a doctor's appointment.

Liquor License Hell

A while back I challenged anyone who doubted the burden of regulation to go try to get  a California liquor license.  Today, John Stossel echos the same theme in this post.

"The authority's 26-page "on-premises" application requires owners' detailed financial information, prior employment experience, proof of citizenship and floor-plan details, and it also entails fingerprinting and background investigations. It asks whether music will be played (and if so, what kind) and whether dancing is planned"¦ Such was the complexity of the application process that "I visited the office so many times, it got to the point where the guards stopped asking me for identification," Steve Chahalis said.

I can concur with this experience. In every state I have gotten licenses, I have encountered a bureaucracy that has pretty much forgotten even why it exists or what it is trying to achieve. The Department of Labor can be a pain in the butt, but it at least it has a mission (protect workers from depredations by "the man"), even if that mission is sometimes misguided. But it is impossible to even figure out what problem state liquor boards are trying to protect us from with some of the detailed questionnaires and picayune attention to detailed responses**.

Yet the Times and the bureaucrats have the nerve to blame the businesses: "Restaurant and bar owners are to blame for some of the delays" says the reporter, quoting a state bureaucrat who says: "Ninety percent of the applications are incomplete when submitted."

LOL. Let me give you one example. I had to cancel my entire application, on which I had spent over a year, resubmit a new application, and pay an additional $200 in fees all because on one form (out of scores) there was a typo that showed the address on "Lake Pire Rd" rather than "Lake Piru Rd."   So was this my fault, having a typo in thousands of words of application responses, or the fault of the state liquor board's for not just hand annotating the typo and moving on? If you told me that the main guiding principle of ABC operations was to find a way to reject and send back every single application for even the most trivial of reasons, I could not muster any evidence to disagree with you.

I always complete the applications myself, but I may finally give in on the next California application. In California, the state is full of consultants who will fly your application through the process. Anyone want to guess who these consultants are? If you guessed "retired government alcoholic beverage commission employees," you win. This is the retirement plan they have created for themselves -- make the process so onerous for individuals trying to navigate it that they are forced to use a retired ABC employee as a consultant, after which the process magically goes smoothly.
By the way, this is also another good example of how large corporations are benefited by regulation vs. smaller competitors.  TGIFridays, for example, has a whole department of people who just do liquor licenses.

**Postscript:  Part of the problem is that states are trying to protect us from Al Capone -- thus all the fingerprinting and background checks.  But that problem was solved with legalization.

More on the Health Care Bills

The NY Post has a very good editorial on the health care bills (HT:  Q&O).  Too much good stuff to excerpt, it includes even more crazy provisions in the House and Senate bills I had not seen yet (its like a scavenger hunt as people go through the 1000 pages, or maybe more like searching for landmines).

But since the bill doesn't even start taking effect until 2013 (except for the higher taxes, which come earlier, of course), we have to really really rush and make sure its approved before the August recess (and before critics are able to actually read the thing - no chance those in Congress will read it, ever).  Also, its such a burning problem, it just must be solved now, as evidenced by...

The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll (June 21) finds that 83 percent of Americans are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the quality of their health care, and 81 percent are similarly satisfied with their health insurance.

They have good reason to be. If you're diagnosed with cancer, you have a better chance of surviving it in the United States than anywhere else, according to the Concord Five Continent Study. And the World Health Organization ranked the United States No. 1 out of 191 countries for being responsive to patients' needs, including providing timely treatments and a choice of doctors.

I have written a number of times, the fact that we spend more on health care is not a bug, its a feature.  We are the wealthiest nation on earth, and there is only so much we can spend on food, clothing, shelter, plasma TV's and other necessities.  We choose to spend a lot of that extra money on our health and longevity.  Why is that a bad decision?

A Challenge to Defenders of the Regulatory State

To all those who think that corporations are whiny b*tches when complaining about the burden of regulations, I have a challenge -- Go out and obtain an on-sale alcohol license from the state of California.  I dare you.  And no using retired ABC employees as paid consultants, that is cheating.  You have to do it yourself.

You Better Shop Around

This is from Tori Barnett on John Stossel's blog (Stossel being yet another member of the powerful Princeton Tower Club libertarian blogging set):

As we approach ABC's Wednesday White House Health Care town meeting, I'm thinking more about how health insurance"”private or government run"”destroys the individual's incentive to shop around. People spending their own money and dealing directly with doctors is the only thing that honors individuals' different preferences and controls costs.  How can we hold costs down at all if the market isn't allowed to work?

But few people are talking about that.

The pundits write about the popularity of Medicare.  Of course it's popular.  People love getting free stuff.  But Medicare is on an unsustainable path. It is more than 30 trillion dollars in the red!

As I wrote previously:

Take purchasing a car.  When I need a new car, who determines what car I end up with?   Why, I do.  And who pays for the car and shops around for a price that makes sense in the context of the perceived value of the car?  Why, I do again.  The person who uses the car, the person who chooses the type and quality of the car, and the person who pays for the car are all the same person.

This clever procurement model of integrating the payer, the shopper, and the user all into a single individual is one we use for, well, just about every product and service we buy.  Milk, Internet service, DVD's, house painting, airline tickets "” all the same model.

OK, lets consider a model that does not work this way.  Let's say someone just rear-ended your car and, miracle of miracles, they actually have a good, solid insurance policy that owes you for your car repairs.  In this case, you will be consuming the repair services, and have the incentive to find the absolute best, cost-no-object body shop you can find to do the best, most fabulous job fixing your car, because someone else (ie the insurance company) is paying.  The insurance company has a different incentive.  They want to get off with as small a loss as possible, to protect their profitability as well as keeping prices low for future policy-holders.  They are going to want you car fixed cheap, particularly since you are probably not even their customer.  They are going to try to deliver the minimum.

No surprisingly, people tend to get ticked off in these situations, as they grind against the opposing incentives of the insurance company.  It's one reason that the insurance field is highly regulated (because nowadays people complain to their Congressman whenever they get irritated).  It's also a measure of how ineffective regulation is in really managing this friction, since despite zillions of government rules people still get pissed off.  The reason is that there is simply no good solution.   Both parties want a solution at the extreme end of a cost-value scale, neither have much of an incentive to compromise, and neither will be happy with a solution in the middle of these extreme incentives, and no amount of government fiddling with the tradeoff point is going to change this.

OK, but in this example, at the end of the day, it is just a car, and probably this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  What if we replace "car" with "baby daughter" or "grandmother" or "your life?"  Now, as Bill Murray says, the kidding around is pretty much over.  It is a recipe for an incendiary disaster.  Which is exactly what we have in health care.

If we take these three roles - user, service quality specifyer, and payer/price shopper - there are very few places in medicine today where these three roles are united.  Further, despite the fact that the vast majority of the problems in US health care are demonstrably from this role separation, none of the plans currently being considered by Obama or Congress unify these three parties.

With my high deductible medical policy, I am actually one of the few middle/upper class folks who actually shops for health care.  And I can tell I am in the minority by the reaction I get from doctors and medical services companies, that look at me like I am from Mars when I ask for detailed pricing, or when I order less than the full and complete battery of potential tests and services based on my own judgment and price/value trade offs.  Folks in the medical profession are used to people saying "whatever, the insurance company is paying for it."

The post went on to show data for medical care expenses NOT generally covered by insurance, so that they are paid out of pocket.  Not surprisingly, these expenses are the only part of health care seeing actual real price drops:

medical-2

And a Pony

Jack Tapper of ABC list all of the goodies promised by Obama in just one stump speech.  The list is really staggering, even more so than the usual political BS.  It is way to long to excerpt here.  There are so many outrageous ones, its hard for me to even pick a favorite.  But here are a few good ones:

"eliminate the oil we import from the Middle East in 10 years"

Uh, right.  We are going to completely eliminate half the fuel coming into the economy in 10 years.

"lower premiums" for those who already have health insurance;... "end discrimination by insurance companies to the sick and those who need care the most";

Perfect.  We are going to prevent insurance companies from dong any risk management, we are going to pile on even more "must cover" rules for all kinds of crap from acupuncture to mental health, and by doing so we are going to lower premiums.

This may be my favorite, though:

"reopen old factories, old plants, to build solar panels, and wind turbines"

LOL.  Barack is going to open some of those old GM plants in Flint, Michigan and build solar panels.  Seriously, is this a rhetorical flourish or does he really believe that factories are generic production facilities that can make anything, kind of like those little buildings you make in an RTS?

Update: And if you think that voters just discount all this stuff, don't miss this video of Obama supporters talking about the free gas and house she is going to get.

By the way, none of this will push me to vote for McCain.  McCain promises all kinds of crazy stuff too, its just less compelling stuff to voters.   He is not losing because he is promising less -- I think he is losing because Obama has a better grasp of what expensive shit people want to be promised than does McCain.

The Worst Thing I have Seen From a Major Media Company in Quite a While

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) web site has an absolutely horrible kid's game called "Planet Slayer."  In this game, kids answer lifestyle questions and the program tells them when they should die because they have used up their "fair share" of the world's resources.  The less politically correct kids are, or the wealthier they are, the sooner they are told they should die.  Accepting the default, average choices in the games tells kids they should die when they are 9 years old.

Yeah, I know you think I am exaggerating.  Because this is likely to get pulled down soon, I will show you a series of screenshots from it.  Whether it gets pulled down or not, a major media company (with all of its famed multiple levels of editorial control) thought this was a good game for kids.  I actually delayed publishing this, because I wanted to make sure this was not some kind of hack or joke site.  But you can get there right from the ABC home page by clicking "science" in the top menu and clicking on the planet slayer game icon at the bottom of the science page.  I still wonder whether it's a put on - it's that bad.

Here is the landing page (click on any page to increase the size):

One

Yep, that little sign does indeed say "find out when you should die."  Here the game is explained:

Two

Here is the first question:

Three

With each question, if you choose any answer that might not indicate that you are a subsistence farmer in Africa living on a $1 a day, your pig gets fatter.  I really encourage you to check out the whole thing.  It is one politically correct litmus test after another.  My pig got slightly fatter, until I got to this one:

Four

Answering that you spend any more than $10,000 AUS (about a 1:1 conversion with US dollars), your pig will get really fat.  The wealthier you are, the more evil you are in a direct relationship.  It is a point I have made for a while:  global warming alarmists consider their preferred solution to environmental issues to be universal poverty. 

Five

There is me, really evil, because I earn a good living.  And, as we can see with this question, since I spend my money on ordinary stuff that I actually want, rather than where the authors would like me to spend it, I really suck.  When you hit the final button, you pig is actually exploded in a bloody mess  (yes, the red is blood).  As it turns out, I should have been strangled at birth:

Six

Hat tip to Watts Up With That.  Really, in some ways this is an awesome game.   Never have I seen such a pure combination of Marxist-style zero-sum economics with science-challenged warming alarmism.

I don't think I need to bother refuting any of this.  If you are new to the site, you can find a basic refutation of zero-sum economics here and a series of resources on global warming, from a book to free Youtube videos, here.

I'm Not Sure the Data Means What You Think It Means

Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a recent claim by ABC that year-to-date tornado frequency has nearly doubled vs. 2007, and that this is because of global warming.  I will take their word for it that tornado frequency is up, but there is one tiny problem:  The US in Jan-Apr of this year was almost a full degree cooler than last year.  So if tornado frequency is up, and ABC is correct that yearly changes in this metric are due to changes in global temperature, then it can only mean that global warming reduces, rather than increases, tornadoes.

Extrapolating From One Data Point

I had a friend in the consulting business that used to joke that he preferred to only have one data point when he had a point he wanted to make.  "If you only have one data point, you are free to slam a line through it in any direction and at any slope you want.  Once you have two, you are more constrained."

I am reminded of that story reading Trevor Butterworth's fabulous take down of typically bad media "science" scare story, this one on fireproofing materials in mattresses.  He has a lengthy fisking, but concludes:

What CBS produced is an advertorial for ABC Carpets and Homes, more
suited to a shopping channel. By failing to test any of the claims for
a risk against the science, by using a sample of one self-diagnosed
couple, by testing nothing, and not even bothering to interview someone
from the CPSC, let alone an independent toxicologist, the viewer is
left with the message: buy a bed at ABC if you want to be safe.

I think you're a vandal and extremely costly to our society

Apparently, we taxpayers gaurantee $645 billion in flood insurance so wealthy folks can build second homes on the beech, and have them wash away every few years at taxpayer expense.  USAToday, breaking from general habit, actually criticized a government giveaway in this article.  But I think that the John Stossel article linked by Q&O is better  (Memo to ABC web guys -- your articles stay online for years so it might be nice to add a year to that date in the byline).  Stossel points out that the tab for flood insurance understates the beachfront subsidy:  Costs for FEMA, disaster relief, Corps of Engineers projects, beech erosion abatement, etc. all are also government subsidies for living in dangerous locations.

But the outrage is that federal flood insurance exists at all. There is
a quarter-million-dollar limit on each payment, and as long as I build
my house in accordance with zoning laws and ordinances, there is no
limit on how many times the government will pay if a house keeps
washing away

If You Want To Watch A Documentary on 9/11

I don't know much about the ABC 9/11 special everyone is arguing about, except to say that I am always suspicious of dramatic reenactments.  If you want a quick answer to whose fault the attacks were, I will give it to you and save you time:  The terrorists.  And if you want to to know which party's president ignored terrorism the most, I will answer that as well:  It's a tie.  Clinton ignored it for longer**, while Bush ignored it closer to the event.  To be fair, no one really expected the type of attack on September 11, so the blame game is kind of silly.

If you want to watch a great documentary that focuses on the terrorists and their victims, and not the politicians, the National Geographic special Inside 9/11, in two 2-hour parts, is being replayed tonight.  It is fabulous.

** By the way, Clinton supporters could defend their man and his attentiveness to terrorism by pointing out that most of the Patriot Act was actually proposed by Clinton in the mid-1990's.   Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I haven't heard many Democrats making this particular argument.

The Skeptical Middle Ground on Warming

I did not see the ABC special the other night on climate, but I am told that as a skeptic of the extreme global warming scenarios, I was compared to both a holocaust denier and a tobacco executiveBoy, you gotta love free scientific inquiry!

One of the tricks of all debaters, not just climate folks, is to create a straw man opponent who is easy to knock down.  Now apparently this show did not even bother to interview a skeptic at all, but they chose as their straw man "people paid off by the oil companies who believe man has no effect on climate."

Well, gee, I certainly can see how with current state of knowledge it is getting tougher to credibly sell the "no impact at all" argument, but I would say that with climate and all its vagaries its still a position that a person can stake out and not be a wacko

There is, though, a middle ground of skepticism that falls somewhere between "man has no effect" and "temperatures will rise ten degrees and the world will end unless we make Al Gore our economic dictator."

One of the things they never explain on shows like ABC's is that most
climate scientists agree that when other variables are held constant
(more in a minute), increases in CO2 will only increase global
temperatures by 1-2 degrees, some of which we have already seen.  It is
seldom mentioned in the press that there is a strong diminishing return
relationship between CO2 levels in the atmosphere and warming (leaving
everything else equal for a moment).  So, the next doubling in CO2
concentrations will have substantially less impact on global
temperatures than the last doubling.  This is something that most
reputable climate scientists will agree with.

So, how do climate researchers get 6-8 degress of additional warming or
more in their models?  They get it from positive feedbacks.  Most of
Nature's processes are negative feedbacks -- push a pendulum one way,
nature tries to bring it back to the center.  Positive feedback is like
a rock balanced on the top of a mountain -- one little push and it
starts rolling faster and faster.

Climate scientists posit (but as yet have not observed and can't prove)
a number of feedback processes that might tend to amplify or dampen the
effect of increase atmospheric CO2 on global temperatures.  The easiest
to understand is the effect of water.  As temperatures rise due to CO2
concentrations, one might expect clear air humidity to go up worldwide
(as higher temperatures vaporize more water) and you might expect cloud
cover to increase (for the same reason).  If water vapor goes mostly to
humidity, then global warming is accelerated as water vapor in clear
air is a strong greenhouse gas.  One to Two degrees of warming from
increased CO2 might then become four or six or eight.  If instead vaporized water mostly
goes to cloudcover, the effect of CO2 is instead dampened since more
clouds will reflect more sunlight back into space.

Generally, one can make two observations about how most of the climate models
that make the news treat these positive and negative feedback loops:

  • Climate scientists tend to include a lot of positive feedback
    loops and downplay the negative feedback loops in their models.  Some
    skeptics argue that the funding process for climate studies tends to
    reward researchers who are most agressive in including these
    acclerating effects.
  • The science of these accelerating and decelerating effects is
    still equivocal, and their is not much good evidence either way between
    positive and negative feedback.  We do know that current models with
    heavy positive feedback loops grossly overestimate historic warming.
    In other words, when applied to the past, these positive-feedback-heavy
    models say we should be hotter today than we actually are.

My much longer article on the same topic is here, where I also address other things that may be happening in the climate and reasons why a poorer but colder world may be worse than a warmer and richer world.  I recommend to your attention this article, which is the best statement I can find of the skeptical middle ground. 

Anecdotal Science

ABCNews is asking viewers to submit stories of evidence they have found for Global Warming in their back yard.

Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life?

ABC News wants to hear from you. We're currently producing a report on the increasing changes in our physical environment, and are looking for interesting examples of people coping with the differences in their daily lives. Has your life been directly affected by global warming?

We want to hear and see your stories. Have you noticed changes in your own backyard or hometown? The differences can be large or small--altered blooming schedules, unusual animals that have arrived in your community, higher water levels encroaching on your property.

Show us what you've seen.

So I submitted my story:

I can remember that just five years ago, the summers at my house used to be relatively cool and very wet.  Our summer temperatures never got much above 80 degrees, and it would rain every few days, at least.

The last couple of summers, temperatures have soared as high as 112 degrees at my house, and we have at times gone whole months without rain.

I am terrified at these effects of global warming.  Several of my "friends" have said they think this change has more to do with my move from Seattle to Phoenix, but they are clearly in the pay of the oil companies.

I have explained to them that ABC News and their climate reporting have educated me that small anecdotal blips in the local weather are scientifically valid proof of long-term global climate changes.

For example, my Exxon-butt-kissing friends tried to claim that for over a century, hurricane activity has followed a 20-40 year cycle, and that the recent upsurge in hurricane activity is due to the return of the "busy" end of the cycle.  I know from ABC that in fact our two-hundred years of burning fossil fuels have cause CO2 to build up and lurk in the atmosphere, ready to jump out and increase hurricane activity suddenly in 2005.

Its great to see that ABC has adopted the same lofty levels of scientific proof that are used by the rest of the environmental community.

What a Jerk

Via ABC News, comes this story of Congressman Randall Cunningham:

Prosecutors call it a corruption case with no parallel in the long
history of the U.S. Congress. And it keeps getting worse. Convicted
Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham actually priced the illegal services he
provided.

Prices came in the form of a "bribe menu" that detailed how much it
would cost contractors to essentially order multimillion-dollar
government contracts, according to documents submitted by federal
prosecutors for Cunningham's sentencing hearing this Friday....

The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000
and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each
additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.

The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.