Random thoughts, 09 June 2009

2009/06/09

Ah yes, the random thoughts are back – and there is so very much to consider.

First of all, there is a whole slew of news related to the economy and its recovery (or lack thereof). The President is now claiming that the Stimulus Bill (otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) will “create” 600,000 new jobs by the end of the summer – quite ambitious for three months. [1] The reason I think this is ambitious (at best) and hopelessly optimistic (at worst) is twofold: first, it is no more practical than his claims that the AR&RA ’09 will “save or create” 3.5 million jobs, a claim that I always felt to be overly optimistic, given the indirect effect Presidential (and Congressional) actions generally have on the economy at large. Second, and more importantly, thus far, AR&RA ’09 has (at best) saved only around 150,000 jobs thus far – after being in effect for a little under four months. [2] Of course, any number of jobs saved is no laughing matter, but given the unemployment statistics since February (when AR&RA ’09 was passed), it is quite literally the proverbial drop in the bucket. [3] Specifically, since February, we have lost 1,842,000 jobs, while AR&RA ’09 is believed to have saved 150,000; you don’t need to be a mathematical genius to figure out that the latter is less than 10% of the total number of jobs lost in the intervening period (in point of fact, it is only 8.14% of the former). [4]

This situation, of course, has led to claims that AR&RA ’09 has “failed;” predictably, most such charges are being leveled from sources on the Right. [5] Though I clearly enjoy jabbing at the President over his claims and shortcomings, I find it a little difficult to whole-heartedly embrace these claims. Part of this, of course, has to do with the glacial pace with which the AR&RA funds are being distributed. On the other hand, because of this failure, it is difficult to argue that the AR&RA has been particularly successful, either. Considering that it was enacted to provide swift and decisive action in the face of the dire economic outlook, the fact that its funds are taking so long to distribute, and that the total number of jobs saved is so pitiful, compared to the total number of jobs lost during the same amount of time as the act was in effect, indicates that it is a failure in some fundamental regards. It is also interesting to note the plethora of voices parroting these claims from the Right – yet more evidence that the GOP really does not have any clue who their spokesperson really is, or, for that matter, who they want for the role. [6]

Meanwhile, there are dueling arguments over whose party represents the voice of fiscal discipline and responsibility in Washington. The President is set to pitch his vision of “Pay-as-you-G0” (or by a rather insipid contraction, PayGo); [7] on the Right, RNC Chairman Michael Steele is urging his GOP cohorts to keep up the economic criticisms of the President, while highlighting their love of fiscal discipline (somewhat less dramatic, given the last decade of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the GOP and Bush II). [8] While the President has been quick to claim that this is a move towards fiscal responsibility, note that the whole “PayGo” scheme sounds somewhat similar to the Left’s earlier, oft-criticized payment scheme known as Tax and Spend. At least this time, the President is claiming that such spending initiatives should be paid for by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, and not just through tax increases. Of course, it is not immediately clear which funding practice he prefers. As for Steele’s comments, it is hard to see these as more than just rhetoric, at this point; while the GOP really should stand for fiscal responsibility and restraint, they are still notably silent on the matter of alternative plans, apart from their previously issued alternative 2010 budget plan. I suppose one could argue that simply refusing to support the various Democrat spending initiatives is enough, one could also legitimately argue that the GOP needs to do a better job of explaining why and how their efforts constitute fiscal responsibility, and are not simply political posturing.

On a related note, the Democrats are set to unveil their massive initiative for comprehensive nationalized health care. [9] Of course, this is a massive discussion in and of itself, but I will simply re-iterate my previous statements that any expansion of the Federal government into managing a health care program of their own will mean additional expansions of The Bureaucracy. Even if the Federal plan does effect some lowering of the cost of health care across the board, I wonder if these savings will be partially (or even wholly) offset by the additional tax burden that will be required to support the expanded Bureaucracy. Remember Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy – it doesn’t go away, just because we want it to (or ignore it). [10]

Additionally, up to 10 banks, who were recipients of TARP funds, will be paying back their loans in the near future. [11] While this may be a good sign for the economy, it is probably more of a mixed blessing, at best. While many banks were initially quick to scoop up TARP funds, it is also true that many are now finding the restrictions and additional regulations associated with said funds to be somewhat stifling. One wonders whether these banks are returning the funds because they truly do not need them or because they would rather go it alone, but unbound by the TARP regulations and restrictions. I suppose that, in any event, it is a good sign that they believe they can go it alone – perhaps, this means that their financial position is better than the gloomy prospects they had initially foreseen.

In world news, the North Koreans are set to imprison the two American journalists that were previously convicted of espionage. [12] Of course, analysts have been quick to point out that this is (most likely) a bargaining tool, (probably) aimed at improving their negotiating position with our government. It is interesting to note how similar these events are to those in Iran, minus the nuclear weapons tests, of course. Seriously, look at the incidents: supposed nuclear ambitions (and pursuing the same in defiance of the UN), test-launching long-range missiles, and manipulating legal circumstances surrounding Western nationals on their soil. Its almost as though Kim-Il Jong and Ahmadinejad were reading from the same playbook; anyone care to place bets on that? Maybe they’re secretly BFFs, and share their most closely-held secrets, hopes, and fears! Wouldn’t that be fun?

In other world news, the Influenza A H1N1 strain continues to plague us with its, well, mildly annoying existence. [13] Based on statistics from the World Health Organization, the overall mortality rate currently stands at 0.55%; [14] when I last mentioned statistics nearly a month ago, the overall mortality rate was 1.395%. Obviously, the situation is not getting much worse than it once was. Of course, given that there have been 21,848 additional cases between May 10 and today (or almost 7 times the original number from May 10), this is no small escalation, either. Still, given that the mortality statistics are actually improving, it is clearly not a sufficient reason to panic, etiher.

Finally, while reading Jerry Pournelle’s blog a few days back, I encountered an interview with Freeman Dyson, who has been an outspoken critic of the significance anthropogenic global warming (AGW). [15] While Dyson himself is not a climatologist, he may know a little something about science and such. Its worth reading, if for no other reason than that Dyson points out some of the notable shortcomings of modern climate models, not to mention the notable lack of understanding regarding just how complex and unpredictable climate modeling actually is. It is no coincidence that one of the prime examples of the intricacies of chaos theory is weather prediction. One should also note that to be a viable scientific fact (as the AGW true believers claim), a scientific theory must not only explain observed phenomena, it must also produce verifiable, i.e. predictable, results in settings other than already-observed situations. It is in this latter regard that most climate models fall short, or, at the very least, have not yet been validated. Pournelle himself is also notably not fond of AGW theories, and this has also been a common complaint of his. Honestly, unless a particular climate model can both explain previously observed conditions and predict (with reasonable accuracy) future changes in said conditions, it is really not fair to argue that such models constitute “fact.”

Notes:

[1]: Orlando Business Journal article, 09 June 2009.

[2]: Talk Radio News Service article, 09 June 2009. And yeah, before you point it out: I am aware of the common claims that talk radio is generally dominated by right-leaning and far-right commentators. Hey, at least its not a Fox News article, right? Fair and Balanced – heh.

[3]: Unemployment statistics available here, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Note that the statistics for April and May are only preliminary, but are somewhat encouraging – not for AR&RA, though, as it appears that these “gains” are not really gains, but lowered loss figures, and the reduction in losses does not correlate with the President’s claims for jobs saved. [*]

[*]: If one assumes that job losses would remain fairly constant at an average of 600,000 losses as indicated in the BLS statistics for November through February, then one could argue that the economy “saved” roughly 355,000 jobs in April and May.

[4]: I arrived at the figure of 1,842,000 by adding the figures for March, April, and May, along with half the figure for February. Since AR&RA ’09 was enacted in mid-February, it cannot have had any direct effect on job losses for earlier in the month. Of course, this is an abstract way of interpreting the data, but then, my entire analysis is relatively abstract.

[5]: New York Daily News article, 09 June 2009.

[6]: Part of me wonders if they shouldn’t just put Sarah Palin front and center, so long as she promises not to say anything (seriously, we all know why she was really chosen for the VP slot). Such a promise should not be difficult, so long as the GOP promises to stop blaming her for losing the ’08 election…

[7]: Washington Post article, 09 June 2009.

[8]: CNN Political Ticker article, 09 June 2009.

[9]: CNN Political Ticker article, 09 June 2009.

[10]: See here, from Jerry Pournelle’s blog, 03 April 2006.

[11]: CNN Money article, 09 June 2009.

[12]: Associated Press article, 09 June 2009.

[13]: BBC News article, 09 June 2009.

[14]: Full text of Influenza A H1N1 Update 45 available here, from the WHO website; Last updated 08 June 2009.

[15]: Yale Environment 360 interview, from the Yale University website, 04 June 2009.

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