October 26, 2009

Unlike Predecessor, Obama As Golfer Gets Mostly Favorable Drops from the Press

This wouldn’t be particularly important if not for the fact that the press made a point of criticizing our previous president for overindulging in exercise and recreation and supposedly “vacationing” too often at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

But they did, so a Tweet from CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller is worth noting:

KnollerTweetOnObamaGolf1009

Politico’s Click blog picked up the story and put this twist on the tweet: “President Obama Ties George W. Bush on Golf.”

Meanwhile, an unbylined Associated Press piece gave Obama backhanded props for finally including a woman in his golf foursome, but failed to mention the new First Linkster’s fore-play frequency Knoller had cited earlier in the day:

Obama has been criticized for playing basketball with men and no women, most recently in Sunday’s New York Times.

Whoever said that the Times never goes after the president obviously missed this hard-hitting critique. Actually, some women’s groups are apparently annoyed that the President engages in recreational sports almost exclusively with men. Imagine that.

The AP felt the gender inclusion angle to be so important that it produced a TV clip just for the occasion.

At the Politico item, you’ll notice a picture, with this caption: “President Obama has already hit the links as much as President Bush did in over two years.”

Hmm. Since when does “two years and 10 months” not get rounded up to “almost three years?” Maybe it’s because giving readers the incorrect impression that Obama has played golf more than twice as much as Bush (2 years vs. 9 months) is a little more palatable than the idea that he’s actually played almost four times as much (34 months for Bushs’s 24 rounds vs. 9 months for Obama’s two dozen).

Bush 43 gave up golf after that 24th round in 2003 because he didn’t think it was right to be playing during wartime.

Now there’s the real news. Obama’s love of the links may be the real reason why the term “War on Terror” is no longer used by the White House, instead being replaced by “overseas contingency operation.”

Having defined the problem Bush cited away, Obama is now able to hit the links with a supposedly clean, dithering conscience.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Post of the Day: On Afghanistan, from Blackfive’s Deebow

Filed under: Taxes & Government,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 12:15 pm

The title is “My Open Letter to the President.”

I post it without commentary, as none is really needed:

Soldiers see things in very definable terms. Words like “good” and “evil,” “victory” and “defeat” have concrete and definable meanings to us. Things in our world are fairly cut and dried. This is because the nature of our business has a great deal of finality to it and because we, the men and women in the fight write the check for the indicated price of victory. We are glad to do it without asking for a bargain on the cost. We are the first to see the cost of defeat in comrades wounded or killed. The price of freedom is etched in the faces and hearts of my brothers and sisters as they salute the flag draped casket of the friend who might have only moments before imparted some nugget of wisdom, told a funny joke, shared their fears and when the going was tough, stood with them shoulder to shoulder on the field of battle.

You dishonor the memories of the fallen and disrespect the families of those who continue to fight on by your continued excuse-making and endless consultation that serves no other purpose than to appear as if you are doing something, while searching in vain for what you perceive to be a better answer.

Mr. President, deciding to do nothing is still a decision.

I demand, decency demands, Americans who believe in victory demand, and most importantly, the American families with family members in the fight, who certainly have the most invested and unquestionably the most to lose demand that the politics, excuse making and dithering end and that you give the necessary support to the men and women who are bearing the battle and taking the fight to our enemies. I am not asking, I am telling you to listen to those with the knowledge and skills that can turn the tide of this rapidly resurgent enemy we face and to give them the resources they ask for.

As an American, I demand that if the leaders that I freely elect are going to commit blood and treasure to the defeat of our enemies, then we do not go about it in vacillating half measures following incoherent policies that lead to indefinable outcomes spread over generations.

We fight to win, or we don’t fight at all.

If you are unwilling or you are unable to fulfill your role as Commander in Chief, then you should tender your resignation.

Lucid Links (102609, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 9:50 am

Who owns the deficit? It’s Pelosi Stupid — Well yes, but the president sets the tone as to what he’ll accept without a fight, and this president has hardly fought a thing. It must also never be forgotten that given who he chose as his Treasury Secretary, he owns TARP from its inception as much as anyone.

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Something to watch when third-quarter growth comes out later this week — What would it have been without government expansion? The answer in the second quarter, as you can see from this table, is 2.0%. That’s because while the whole economy contracted by 0.7%, the contribution to that result from government at all levels was +1.3%. A continuation of this trend would go a long way towards explaining why unemployment is expected to stay high.

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The economy needs a break, and Windows 7 might provide it — Vista, as I feared shortly before it appeared, became a drag on the economy. The only probably unquantifiable question is how much, but I have lots of personally observed and discussed reasons to believe that it’s significant.

First, there were the release delays. Once it was out in early 2007, there were incompatibilities, excessive system overhead, and a host of other problems. Once the negative buzz built, lots of consumers delayed new PC purchases as long as they could, or sought out machines with XP, the previous version of Windows. Those same problems on the business side caused many companies to stick with their XP-based applications and to avoid potentially productivity-enhancing custom application upgrades. Yes, Apple increased its market share with its envelope-pushing OSX upgrades, but not by enough to make any kind of meaningful difference in either business or the economy as a whole.

If Windows 7 really does “push a tech refresh in 2010,” that will be a very welcome change of pace. The fact that Microsoft got it into the stores well ahead of Christmas this year vs. missing the 2006 holiday season with Vista also bodes well.

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Teeth-grinder of the day (HT Kaus via Instapundit):

But from the outset, I’ve believed that the interventions were simply efforts to delay liquidation rather than to avert it altogether, to provide a breathing space in which managers could find homes for valuable assets (other companies) and find chumps to absorb the losses from bad decisions (that would be the taxpayers).

The quote is in a paragraph discussing the government’s bailouts of financial institutions, General Motors, and Chrysler, but is clearly more relevant to the car companies.

If what Newsweek columnist Daniel Gross claims is really true, the government shouldn’t have given (not “lent,” given; that’s right, given) money to GM and Chrysler in the first place. Failing that, it should have forced them into liquidation after the December 2008 – March 2009 gifts proved insufficient to save them.

By not doing that extending the misery, far more taxpayer money will be gobbled up for the sole purpose, at least in Gross’s opinion, of delaying the inevitable.

Somewhat related, something has not seemed right about Roger Penske’s withdrawal from his proposed purchase of GM’s Saturn, which supposedly occurred because he couldn’t find acceptable contract manufacturers to make new models a couple of years from now. One obvious unsettling factor is there were reportedly 15 other bidders when Penske reached what looked to be a virtually done deal with GM in June. Okay, where were they three months later when the deal tanked?

I have come across some information supporting that my instinct. If anyone has other information or links to articles with alternative explanations as to why Mr. Penske really pulled the plug, I’d like to see it or talk about it.

Update: Further teeth-grinding material comes from former car czar Steve Rattner at CNNMoney.com, on his illegal treatment of Chrysler’s secured non-TARP lenders. Here’s the worst from an article Kaus describes as “almost unreadably self-serving”:

Finally, we noted the golden rule of Wall Street: He who has the gold makes the rules. Or as my father used to say to his unruly children, “He who eats my bread sings my song.”

No sir, it’s “he who has the unlimited power of the federal government dictates the terms with no legal constraints” — which is why they should never have been allowed to get involved in the first place.

AP’s Woodward Fact-Checks Health Insurance Company Profits, Finds Them ‘Anemic’

APlogo0409It would appear that the Associated Press has nominated Calvin Woodward to be their go-to guy for “Fact Check” pieces that blow up political arguments and assertions by the White House and partisan Democrats.

In late April (covered at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), Woodward, in an item headlined “Obama disowns deficit he helped shape,” blistered Barack Obama and his administration for its attempt to pin the blame for this exploding federal deficits and national debt on his predecessor. This of course didn’t prevent the administration from continuing to blame Bush 43 for most of this past fiscal year’s deficit of $1.417 trillion; it also didn’t prevent Woodward’s AP colleagues from mostly parroting a White House claim he had long since debunked.

In today’s Fact Check (“Health insurer profits not so fat”), the AP writer ripped into what has seemingly been a mandatory talking point any time a Democrat brings up health care: the supposedly excessive profits of health insurance providers.

Woodward found that the Democrats’ claim doesn’t survive even cursory scrutiny:

Quick quiz: What do these enterprises have in common? Farm and construction machinery, Tupperware, the railroads, Hershey sweets, Yum food brands and Yahoo? Answer: They’re all more profitable than the health insurance industry.

In the health care debate, Democrats and their allies have gone after insurance companies as rapacious profiteers making “immoral” and “obscene” returns while “the bodies pile up.”

Ledgers tell a different reality. Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a point or two. That’s anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Profits barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. This partly explains why the credit ratings of some of the largest insurers were downgraded to negative from stable heading into this year, as investors were warned of a stagnant if not shrinking market for private plans.

Insurers are an expedient target for leaders who want a government-run plan in the marketplace. Such a public option would force private insurers to trim profits and restrain premiums to compete, the argument goes. This would “keep insurance companies honest,” says President Barack Obama.

…. Health insurers posted a 2.2 percent profit margin last year, placing them 35th on the Fortune 500 list of top industries. As is typical, other health sectors did much better – drugs and medical products and services were both in the top 10.

…. were the Bush years golden ones for health insurers?

Not judging by profit margins, profit growth or returns to shareholders. The industry’s overall profits grew only 8.8 percent from 2003 to 2008, and its margins year to year, from 2005 forward, never cracked 8 percent.

Woodward, along with many others in the blogosphere commenting on his work, misses one important point, namely that what matters to investors isn’t profit margin itself as much as return on invested capital. Grocery chains, for example, typically earn very small margins. As seen in these financials from the past four years, The Kroger Company, usually seen as well-managed, has had a profit margin (net income divided by revenues) of well under 2%.

Nevertheless, Woodward’s point that taking every penny of profit out of the health insurance industry would do little to lower premiums stands, while Democrats continue to cynically exploit public ignorance about the size of profit margins achieved at companies in general and in the insurance industry in particular.

The next line of leftist argument is that the government would somehow achieve lower savings by trimming administrative costs in comparison to levels seen in the private sector. The experience with Medicare refutes that argument. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Book showed back in late June (HT Patterico) that Medicare’s administrative costs per beneficiary is actually higher, despite myriad obvious advantages (much larger patient pool, not having to pay income and other taxes, etc.) than that of private insurers. The feisty Book deliciously ripped into New York Times columnist Paul Krugman when the New York Times columnist launched a substance-free attack on his work.

Another claim of statist health care fans is that the government won’t heartlessly reject claims like insurance companies do. Oops: As noted in early October (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the American Medical Association found that that Medicare’s claim denial rate is higher than that of any other private insurer, and almost 70% higher overall than the private insurers’ average denial rate.

There’s one other problem with Woodward’s Fact Check, expressed succinctly by Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey. It’s a big one, though not quite as big as it would have been before the Internet came along: “The AP finally got around to it today … on a Sunday, where it’s likely to be buried.”

It only stays buried if news consumers who care allow it to happen.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.