Archive for July, 2011

Are these new fuel economy standards a good thing? Really?

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by The Center Shot

Yesterday was a perfect example of what’s wrong in Washington and why we need a “cap” on spending and a balance budget amendment. President Obama announced a new fuel economy standard that US auto makers reluctantly agreed to- 54mpg average (between all vehicles sold in the US) by 2026. Sounds like a good thing, right?  It’s not.

First of all, consider that last year, in spite of their fuel economy and the high price of fuel, hybrid vehicles only accounted for 2% of the vehicles sold in the US last year. Ford sold TWICE as many F150 trucks as they did all of their hybrid models COMBINED! Auto makers argued, this is clear evidence that Americans are not interested in these high-priced vehicles, regardless of their fuel economy.

Secondly, car makers warned that raising the fuel economy standard as high as the president wanted could lead to job losses. Auto prices are already at record highs with some pickups costing in excess of $70,000. In order to meet the proposed new standards (which call for an average mpg rating), vehicles will have to be developed that far exceed 50mpg; and the investment required to develop the new technologies will drive vehicle prices much higher. With consumers already balking at vehicle prices, especially on hybrids, market analysts warn that increased prices will lead to a slump in auto sales which will result in a loss of jobs in the auto industry and among small businesses that supply components to the auto makers.

In spite of these sensible economic objections, auto makers were convinced by the President to sign on to these new fuel economy standards. How, you may ask? Did the car companies have some sort of awakening? No. The President ‘sweetened’ the deal by offering tax credits to auto makers and including a policy review in 2017! What does this mean? It means that the American taxpayer will, essentially, subsidize the development of fuel economy vehicles that Americans won’t be able to afford and have already shown a reluctance to buy; and which will, inevitably, cost jobs. The analogy has been made, by economists, that this is like dealing with obesity by forcing clothing companies to produce nothing but small sizes.

The Administration and it’s supporters have spent the last 2.5 years blaming government subsidies, loopholes and tax credits to corporations and favoritism to special interest groups for a significant portion of the debt and the current budget crisis. Now, at the height of the nation’s biggest fiscal crisis EVER, the President engages in yet another spending spree to advance an environmental policy that he personally likes and that his political base likes. A policy that Americans doesn’t want, can’t afford and will cost American jobs.

Political analysts say that this an effort by the administration to mitigate damage among liberal Democrats that are angry with the President over his apparent willingness to negotiate on entitlement reform.  Business as usual in Washington- at it’s worst.

Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, are suffering from the “I don’t mind cutting as long as it doesn’t effect me” disease! Unfortunately, the President seems to suffering from it even worse than many others. It would be one thing if this move had a trade-off of significant job creation or would have a positive economic effect for the average American, that would outweigh the cost. Unfortunately, the BEST Americans can hope for is more expensive vehicles that are unlikely to provide fuel cost savings that outweigh the additional cost of the vehicle and that will be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. The WORST case is the same result in addition to a massive loss of jobs when auto sales slump because vehicles are too expensive to afford!

In addition, previous fuel economy standards have led to decreases in vehicle safety, increases in automobile related deaths and questionable reductions in overall emissions. Studies by groups like the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, The Brookings Institute and the National Academy for Science have found that similar fuel economy standards (CAFE standards) led to reductions in vehicle safety and led to between 41,600 and 124,800 deaths, depending on the study. Additionally, the studies found that CAFE standards led to between 352,000 and 624,000 additional serious injuries in traffic accidents.

Whether or not government-imposed fuel efficiency standards actually reduces emissions is hotly debated. For every study that claims emissions will be reduced, there is another that shows they won’t. Studies that claim emissions will reduced ASSUME that (and rely on) people will not change their driving habits when presented with a more fuel efficient vehicle. Unfortunately, studies into this particular question show the opposite. As people acquire more efficient vehicles, they drive more; which often leads to a net increase in emissions as compared to their previous habits in their old car.

Additionally, there are many indications that the prices that auto makers will be forced to charge for these high fuel efficiency vehicle will be more that most consumers can afford. Even today, with the high price of fuel, sales of current hybrids and electric cars are extremely slow, to say the least. They are, frankly, out of reach of most Americans and many just don’t see how they can recoup the enormous cost of these vehicles through the increased mileage they offer. Don’t forget that on top of the vehicle sticker price, most buyers will pay interest charges that total thousands of dollars before the vehicle is paid off.  It takes a LOT of driving just to save $1000 off fuel economy.   and a HIGHER cost to the consumer, rather than the promised savings.

Remember, the new standard requires that the average mpg rating  of all the vehicles an auto maker SELLS (not produces) meets a particular standard. So, if a particular car maker sells work trucks (i.e. Dodge 2500 pickup, Ford F350 pickup, etc.) that only get mileage in the 20’s, they are required to sell enough vehicles that exceed the 54mpg requirement so that that the average of all sales is 54mpg.  If they don’t there are penalties. With current sales of hybrids and alternative fuel vehicle only accounting for a tiny fraction of the market, and all the issues already discussed, its reasonable to assume they will only account for a small percentage of sales when the guidelines go into effect.  Who will incur the penalties when these standards aren’t met?  The consumer.  The car makers may, initially, pay the ticket but they will pass those costs on to the consumer eventually; further raising the costs of vehicles.

With all these negatives and the fiscal crisis, it’s hard to imagine any reason, other than a political one, why the President would press this issue right now. It’s actually hard to understand why such a proposal would be put forth period, at any time, were it not for political concerns. One thing is for sure, this announcement smacks of the hypocrisy, poor timing and influence of special interest groups (particularly environmentalists) that have plagued Washington and led to much of the current debt and budget problems. The only way to begin to curtail this reckless type of favoritism and spending is to impose some sort of “check” or “cap” on spending; and the only way to permanently limit it is to implement a balanced budget  amendment to the constitution. If politicians are only given a a specific amount they can spend to get EVERYTHING done, instead of the power to borrow as much as they want, they will have to consider what they spend money on. Just like we do. IF a balanced budget amendment were in place and they want to implement a new program, they would have to find they money within the budget instead of simply borrowing it or printing it like they do now.

If you want to do some more reading on fuel economy standards and their real effects, check out this article from the Institute for Energy Research

Joe Trippi and Laura Ingraham agree on Tea Party advice?

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by The Center Shot

I was just watching Laura Ingraham interview Joe Trippi, Democratic strategist that managed the Howard Dean (2004) presidential campaign, and I actually agreed with him! So did Laura Ingraham. Or, was he agreeing with us?

Trippi advised the Tea Party to vote for the Boehner plan tonight and then, “5 minutes later,” hold a press conference and announce that they stood up for principles as long as they could without causing a financial catastrophe; and that if people want them to be able to effect even more change, then they should elect more Tea Party members to congress. Pretty much what I advocated in my article yesterday.

Trippi also slammed the Obama administration for it’s mishandling of the debt crisis and blamed them for causing much of the problem through its out-of-control and ineffective spending policies.

When a staunch liberal like Joe Trippi is agreeing with a conservative like Laura Ingraham, people really need to sit up and take notice.  Especially the Tea Party!

Tea Party – Don’t be the cure that’s worse than the disease!

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by The Center Shot

I want to make it clear, up front, that I’m a huge supporter of most of the ideals behind the Tea Party movement and have participated in Tea Party events since the earliest ones in Texas. That said. I think that members of the House Tea Party Caucus are entirely missing the point.

We sent you to Washington to show our disapproval of the status quo, to shake things up and to begin the process of change in the way ‘business is done’ in the Capital. We did NOT send you to Washington to be ‘spoilers’ or to act like spoiled, stubborn children. You have stood your ground and your principles longer than anyone expected and have had a dramatic effect on Washington politics and on the American people. Business is no longer “as usual” in Washington and there’s a new hope in America that things can be changed. But it’s time to begin working with other Republicans and those on the left to come to some sort of compromise. If you don’t, all the hard work you have done will be overshadowed and lost by the repercussions of a failure to arrive at a passable bill to raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending.

A war can’t often be won with a single battle and the effect of trying to will be devastating, in this case. Unfortunately, just being “right” isn’t enough. Just as important is the ability to access the realities of a situation, all aspects of it, and to have the willingness and courage to work within those realities. The reality, today, is that America is not prepared to suffer the consequences that will result if a deal is not struck on a deficit reduction plan and a increase in the debt ceiling- no matter how much they agree, in general, with the Tea Party’s goal of reducing spending and waste instead of increasing taxes. If you continue to hold up the bargaining process, you will be blamed for those consequences. No, this is NOT right; but it is the reality. If this comes to pass, you may claim victory over the battle but you will have lost the war. The cause of fiscal responsibility will, then, be set back significantly.

Perception is everything. If you don’t wake up to this fact and use it to your advantage, rather than being a victim of it, all your efforts will be for nought. Instead of being hailed as saviors of America, you will be vilified as the group that brought on an additional and unnecessary financial tragedy. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t responsible for the current situation or that you are advocating the best and most sensible way out of this mess; you will be blamed for it anyway. This is the reality of America today. Ugly or not, you can’t wish this reality away. In order to effect change, you have to win the public relations war in addition to being right. While you may be advocating policies that a majority of Americans tend to agree with, you have not (yet) won the war of public relations. This particular battle that you have engaged in has the potential for consequences that will only alienate the public. Is your rigid adherence to fiscal responsibility, and your stance on this particular battle, worth handing the federal government over to the extreme left so that they can drive us off a financial cliff?

I would argue that it would be better to “give” enough to get a deal done that the Senate will pass and the President will sign and to be happy with knowledge that you have effected more change than anyone ever expected. In return, you will garner the respect and support of many Republicans and independents, that previously dismissed you, in future battles. Be satisfied that you have altered the path and very fabric of Washington; and survive to fight another day, in battles that will truly put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. We are proud of your record and steadfastness and we will not be disappointed in you for giving a little to make a deal! In fact, we will be more proud of you if you recognize the right time to begin bending to facilitate a deal. One that, while it may be distasteful and not what we would want in a perfect world, is better than we would have otherwise had and one that will save us from a financial tragedy. Please don’t be the cure that is worse for America than it’s financial disease!

 

Celebrities like Bill Maher are disingenuous and deceptive – they have no business talking politics

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2011 by The Center Shot

I’m so sick of watching Hollywood actors, musicians, professional athletes and other celebrities talk about the economy, the debt ceiling and other issues that they know so little about and which don’t have any real effect on them anyway! Have you ever noticed how sympathetic they are, supposedly, to “the poor” and how antagonistic they are (in general) to the “wealthy?” Have you ever noticed how their (public) animosity is directed at corporate America and the conservative viewpoint and politics?

I just finished watching Bill Maher (host of Politically Incorrect on HBO) on the Piers Morgan Show on CNN. As usual, Maher’s comments were decidedly left-wing; deriding conservative (and most economist’s) beliefs that jobs are created by successful people and that when you increase taxes on those who own or invest in companies (thus cutting their available investment capital), the result is fewer jobs. Time and time again, Maher’s crass commentary hammered on everything conservative and corporate and espoused only the furthest left-wing beliefs. He even referred to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman as “MILFs.” This is nothing but naked personal hatred and ‘shock talk’ that is rude and totally inappropriate for any serious and substantive discussion. It’s not funny and is not something that should be said about ANYONE. It was a derogatory comment that was only designed to engender the further support of other ‘haters’ that identify with Maher’s extremist views and inflammatory rhetoric. Maher can’t abide or respect others’ right to their own (opposing) beliefs and he regularly ridicules people for their beliefs- in direct contradiction to the very “tolerance” that he pretends to advocate.

I just don’t get it. Why is anyone even listening to this guy or ANY of these other people who’s sole qualification for getting air time is being a celebrity? Are we really living in a world where any “celebrity” can become a political or social pundit simply because of their fame? Wouldn’t it make more sense to, at least, listen to people who’s professional expertise has SOME relevance to the subject? What makes someone like Bill Maher’s opinion about political issues any more sensible or valid than yours or mine or anyone else? I submit that Maher’s, and most other celebrities’ (like many of his guests), opinions and views have EVEN LESS validity than yours or mine. Think about  it- celebrities like Bill Mar are extremely wealthy and are paid outrageous salaries for very little of what most of us would consider “work;” and very few of them have spent any significant time in the general workforce. I don’t begrudge them their talent and good fortune but I DO have a problem with them: 

A. pretending that they are “in touch” with the average American. They aren’t. In fact, if you really think about it, the bubble they live in likely makes them LESS “in touch” than even the politicians in Washington! 

B. acting like, because they are a celebrity or a member of the Hollywood elite, they are somehow qualified to speak about political and social issues outside their expertise and personal experience; and that they are somehow smarter than the rest of us. They aren’t. 

C. acting like they really care about the lives of the poor and of average Americans. They don’t.

D. acting like, somehow, their celebrity status makes them privy to information that the rest of us aren’t. They’re not.

If these people are really as concerned about the poor as they claim, why don’t they do more to help them? Let’s take Bill Maher, for example. His net worth is somewhere around $23 million. If he was REALLY as socialistic as he claims, why not give away $10-15 million directly to some poor families to get them homes and job training and get them self-sufficient? Since Maher believes that families making $250,000 a year are rich, SURELY the remaining $3-8 million would be more than enough for him to comfortably live on! I’m sure he does donate to plenty of charities but I’m also willing to bet that the amount he donates is determined by his accountant that makes the most of these donations (as deductions) on his tax forms; and I’ll bet he takes advantage of EVERY loophole in the tax code that’s available to him. There’s ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with doing this; but there IS something wrong with doing it and then espousing socialist beliefs and acting like you’re on the side of poor and middle class Americans- it’s just plain dishonest. All this is nothing more than a ploy to make people like them more which increases the popularity of their shows/projects; which, in turn, puts more money in their pockets and in the pockets of the corporations that produce their shows, projects, events, books, etc.! Have you ever heard any of these folks (or anyone on the left) attack the corporations that produce entertainment (film, professional sports, music, etc) that earn HUNDREDS of millions, and even billions, of dollars annually? How about the outrageous salaries that are paid to movie stars, professional athletes and recording artists that are all made directly off the backs of “average” and poor Americans? Celebrities on the left, and the left in general, love to harp on corporations like oil companies for their “outrageous” profits while their OWN industry makes enormous profits off the poorest Americans seeking an ‘escape’ and while paying entertainers and their own executives salaries that exceed most corporate salaries in the very industries they decry! I’m not saying THEY don’t believe their own hype – I’m sure many of them do and are sincere on some level – but they are deluding themselves and their fans into a belief that they don’t, themselves, live by; and which is basically nothing more than a sales tactic of telling people what they WANT to hear in order to increase their popularity and fan base which, inevitably, lines their own pockets.

Think about it. If these entertainers are SO concerned about the poor, why don’t they donate more of their MULTI million dollar salaries? Do they really need TENS of millions of dollars a year to live comfortably? If they are SO outraged by corporate salaries and bonuses, why do they work so hard to negotiate movie deals, record deals and salaries in the TENS, and sometimes HUNDREDS, of millions of dollars? Where is the public’s outrage at these excessive incomes? I just don’t understand people. Compare a CEO of a oil company that works 16-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week running a company that employs tens of thousands of people all over the globe and invests billions of dollars in research and exploration with someone who ACTS and looks good in front of a camera; or with someone who runs around a field for an hour a week and works out in a gym all week. WHO WORKS MORE and CONTRIBUTES MORE to society? The CEO gets called a “fat cat” while the actors, musicians and athletes get called “celebrities.” Don’t you see the hypocrisy? Where is the public outrage at celebrity incomes that have gotten completely ridiculous? People complain about a $3.50 gallon of gas like the world is coming to an end and the oil companies are run by Satan himself; but they don’t say a word about the $15 price of a movie ticket and the $20 price tag of a soda, bucket of popcorn and a hot dog inside the theater! THEN, these same people tune in to watch their favorite celebrity ‘school’ them on political issues and social debates.  That’s just crazy.

 We’re facing crisis’ in this country that may well determine whether we continue to be the greatest nation on earth. The decisions we make, as a nation, will determine our’s, our children and grandchildren’s future. We simply can’t afford to remain complacent and lazy (as we have been for generations) and expect things to work out “ok” simply because they always have, until now. The fact that entertainers have found a voice in the political and social debates of our time is a “symptom” of our problem- they’re not the disease. WE have allowed “news” and “entertainment” to merge through our laziness and complacency; and we’ve hidden it behind phrases like “frustration with the status quo,” “my vote doesn’t count” and “I can’t do anything about it.” We USED to get the straight news from real journalists that simply told us what ‘was’ instead of injecting opinion and analysis into everything; and WE (as a nation) made a decision on what to do about it. And we usually made pretty good decisions.  Since we can’t get plain old straight news any more, it’s INCUMBENT on US to each do our due diligence and research BOTH sides of each issue impartially; and to make the HARD decisions, ON OUR OWN, to get our country back on track – even if it’s not the decision we WANT to make or that we LIKE. It’s time we stopped “looking out for #1” and only for, “those we love” and start making decisions for the nation as a WHOLE – even if it hurts us individually or some of those we love or care about. As painful as this will be for all of us, it’s our only hope. Politicians’ pandering to our “wants” and desires instead of only what we “need” (and can ACTUALLY afford) is how we got into this mess. We don’t have that luxury any more if we want to continue to be the great nation we’ve been, despite what the “celebrities” will tell you. What do THEY care, really? They have enough money that they never have to worry about THEIR future, no matter what happens to this country or to the rest of US.

Come on America, WAKE UP! Please stop listening to and watching entertainers who engage in trying to convince you of a particular political or social viewpoint. START doing some OBJECTIVE research of BOTH sides of issues/debates to come up with YOUR OWN position. They may have a clever and humorous way of phrasing something, and they may be nice to look at or admirable in their athletic prowess, but their knowledge, understanding and information about political and social issues is NO more valid than the average American. Getting information from celebrities, or using them as a news source to help you formulate your own stance on an important issue, is like asking a stock boy for investment advice. Sure, you may get lucky once in a while but, if you bet your financial future on it, odds are you’ll end up broke!

If you’re going to hate the rich, then AT LEAST be consistent and focus an equal portion of your hatred at celebrities who actually get paid more FOR LESS than anyone. If you’re going to advocate regulation of corporate salaries, bonuses, profits and pricing for oil companies (and other industries) then also advocate for the same regulation of the entertainment industries! If you do, and these “entertainers” start seeing their own “fat” wallets getting targeted, watch how fast they change their ‘tunes.’ Personally, I’d LOVE to be able to go enjoy a movie for $5 again- like when I was a kid!