Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: March 10, 2009

Of Course, You Can’t Believe A Thing The Senate Republicans Say

They yelled, they screamed, they hopped up and down on one leg and told us how bad this 410 billion dollar spending bill was and how it was “business as usual’ (something they should certainly know about) that increased the spending level 8% and was full of 9,000 earmarks. And they condemned the Democrats and said they were spending the country into bankruptcy. They claimed that the best way to continue the spending was to keep it at this year’s level and that would save 250 billion dollars.

In the end, 8 Republican senators voted for the bill. That’s right, 8. Specter and Snowe were consistent – they’ve never seen an outlandish and wasteful, pork packed, deficit-funded spending bill they didn’t like.

Who else joined them? Why Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker; Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby; Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander; Missouri Sen. Kit Bond and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The cloture vote passed handily even with three Democratic senators voting against it.

So what do we get for the debt?

All kinds of goodies:

$1.8 million for “Swine Odor and Manure Management Research.”
$200,000 for “Tattoo Removal Violence Prevention Outreach Program” to get rid of gang tattoos.
$75,000 for the “Totally Teen Zone” that encourages teenagers to play Wii and X-Box, listen to a DJ, and eat at a snack booth.
$473,000 National Council of LaRaza.
$400,000 “to combat bullying.”
$50,000 for midnight basketball through the “At the Park After Dark” program in Los Angeles.
$5.8 Million for the “Ted Kennedy Institute for the Senate… for the planning and design of a building and an endowment.”
$1.762 Million for “Honey Bee lab” research.
$215,000 for PhD’s to learn to write press releases. It funds a program at “Stony Brook University to teach scientists how to communicate with press.”
$1.5 Million for the scandal-ridden Alaska Sea Life Center to study seals.
$250,000 for Maine Lobster research earmarks.
$2 million for “the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii.”
Senator Reid earmark to make “Nevada eligible for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.”
$4.4 million for “Center for Grape Genetics” & “Center for Advanced Viticulture and Tree Crop Research”
$657,000 for “Brown Tree Snake Management in Guam”
$480,000 for “Urban Horticulture”
$1.75 million for “Mammoth Springs National Fish Hatchery, complete visitor center.”

Per the Heritage Foundation, when combined with the trillion dollar stimulus bill, Congress has just increased discretionary spending by 80% in one year.

And they advise us that more trillion dollar deficits and possibly more stimulus is on the way.

But don’t worry about inflation, they have everything under control.

Don’t worry about transparency either. Mr. “The Public Will Have 5 Days To Look At The Bill Online” Obama plans on signing the bill tomorrow. The man who dishonestly characterized this bill as “the last administration’s business” as an excuse to duck his campaign promise of no earmarks, will again duck his campaign promise of legislative transparency.

Best government ever.

~McQ

Brooks On Capitalism

David Brooks had started down the road to Damascus when he was called back into the fold by Dear Leader. His Op-Ed in today’s NYT is the result.

Most of Brooks’ offering is a rather transparent attempt to shame congressional Republicans into supporting Pres. Obama’s agenda:

The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.

The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.

There are myriad problems with Brooks’ line of reasoning, including many in just to two foregoing paragraphs (e.g. How much input did Republicans have into the recent legislation? By “adopted a posture” is he referring to “not having control of either the House or the Senate”?), but I wanted to focus in on a couple of points in particular.

After some platitudinous admonitions, Brooks launches into his prescription for Republicans to save capitalism:

Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.

I really don’t know what point Brooks thought he was making, but he failed miserably on any score. First of all, “exogenous forces” cannot be “weaknesses” and/or “shortcomings” with capitalism since, by definition, they come from outside that system. At best, examining such forces can be used to understand better ways of protecting capitalism from them. In the context of the entire Op-Ed piece, however, it appears that Brooks is pitching the tired line that capitalism must be reigned in so that people don’t get hurt. That’s like diagnosing the problem with house, finding termites, and then thinking of ways to protect the termites from the house.

Furthermore, Brooks cites a “flood of easy money” (which, of course, is caused by government) as an example of an exogenous force, and then lists the following “shortcomings” of capitalism: “higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.” What do any of those things have to do with capitalism? If anything, these are once again a failure of government skewing incentives.

In fact, when the government does its darnedest to make the cost of borrowing money historically low, people would be really stupid not to take advantage of that. We all know that rates fluctuate, and that the cost of money will be more expensive when they go back up. Logically therefore, it only makes sense to borrow when the Fed turns the money spigot on and then to find some sort of an asset to grow that money in. That, of course, is what leads to bubbles as everyone has barrels of money but not as many clear ideas of what makes a good investment. Instead of taking the time to really investigate what opportunities are available, and which ones fit a particular person’s portfolio, the herd mentality takes over and we all tend to keep up with the Jones and Smiths whether that means buying tulip bulbs or a run-down house we intend to flip.

The bottom line, however, is that these sorts of scenarios start with government intervention into the market place. In addition to turning on the money spigot, the federal government was also encouraging lenders to make high-risk loans, and for the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to buy them up, securitize them and sell them into the derivatives market. Again, that’s all fine and dandy (until it it all goes to hell), but it has nothing to do with “weaknesses” and “shortcomings” of capitalism, and everything to do with government sticking its big fat honker where it doesn’t belong.

More Brooks:

If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them.

The “free market party”? Who does he think he’s kidding here? The Republicans haven’t acted like a free market party since … well … it’s been so long I can’t remember.

Moreover, I simply can’t fathom how Brooks thinks a “free market party” would ever be able to reconcile itself to joining hands with Obama on his completely anti-capitalist agenda.

Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.

Earth to Brooks: that’s already happened. Look who the president is for crying out loud, or take the time to read your own newspaper. Each and every day we hear about how the excesses of capitalism caused this crisis, and how the “libertarian” policies of Bush (HA!) have landed us in this awful spot. Capitalism didn’t get a trial, Mr. Brooks, it was rounded up, convicted and summarily shot as soon as the latest grand experiment in government do-goodism failed (again).

Charles Freeman And The Obama Administration – What Is Going On? (UPDATE)

What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control?  Who, exactly, is in charge there?

Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster.  But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”.  Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House.  That means Freeman has never been formally vetted.  Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?

More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job?   A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush,  to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored.    Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.

But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation.  This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card.  After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.

Then there is the Congressional side of the question.  Jennifer Rubin asks:

Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.

And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”

Given what we know, I’d say no.  However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.  

This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.

~McQ

The American W-4 Party

Brad Warbiany at The Liberty Papers took note of my post about the “tea parties” and “going Galt”, specifically this passage:

I’d be more impressed if they fired a shot across the bow and coordinated a national day for cranking up their withholding allowances, just as high as they can.  They’re planning their next party on Tax Day, right?  One might think they’d be interested in ceasing to lend their earnings interest-free to the government.  They might take some satisfaction in doing something that actually shows up on the government’s ledger.

Not knowing any accountants or tax professionals, I didn’t know just how far you could take that.  But Brad decided it was worthwhile to find out.  He did the legwork, consulted a tax preparer, and wrote up simple instructions for pushing it as far as you can without having to worry about incurring fees or other penalties.

And he has some suggestions for Tax Day:

So here’s my suggestion. April 15th, go to your HR department and change your W-4 claimed exemptions. Go with the maximum exemptions that you calculate will keep you from over-withholding, but small enough to avoid penalties. Budget (save or invest) the difference, so that you can pay the necessary tax next April, and don’t dare postmark the check to them before April 14, 2010.

It’s not a big difference. But if enough people do this, it will be big enough to be noticed. The federal government is expecting to spend your money as soon as it comes in; they’re not expecting to wait until next April to get your money. In fact, if they have to wait, they’re likely to get angry. That’s more money they have to borrow today. That’s more of a functional deficit on their books. In short, if you want to get noticed, a far more effective way than getting some friends together for a group protest is to hit them where it hurts: the balance sheet.

Fellow Americans, it’s time to stop being doormats. If you really want to show the government that you’re angry, it’s far better to show them than to tell them.

Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your blog readers, tell your coworkers. April 15th is the American W-4 Party.

For the full instructions, read the whole thing.

I like it.  I especially like it because of the clarity of the message.  If you email this around to all your relatives and peers, or post it on your blog for your readers, you’re not asking them to embrace the prisons or fire anyone that they employ.  They don’t even have to take the day off of work, which should be a relief to anyone who needs the work to support themselves and their families.

For the price of filling out a W-4 form and turning it in on a Wednesday, they can keep more of their money out of the government’s hands for the next year.  They can invest or save it, saying effectively, “I trust that I can handle my money better than the government would.”

It’s not a revolt.  It’s just telling the government in terms they understand that we’re paying attention and we don’t want to lend them our wealth if they’re going to treat it like they have been lately.  It’s a reminder of where their power comes from.  And the more people who participate, the clearer the message.

36 days ’til April 15.  In the age of social networking, I wonder how many people could get involved in this?

Honduras And The Effects Of Raising The Minimum Wage

Honduras is going through a rather large spike in kidnappings. From 5 in 2005 to 121 in 2008. In an attempt to understand this rise in kidnappings, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State, was sure that economic conditions had most likely driven the spike. But what specifically was likely to have caused it? Apparently an increase in the minimum wage:

In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.

Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.

Of course everytime increases are argued against here, those in favor of them tend to wave off the point that raising the wage will cause unemployment among those who can least afford it. Obviously I’m not contending that if we do so here, those laid off will take up kidnapping, but to pretend such rises in minimum wage don’t have any detrimental effect is simply not true – and Honduras provides the case study.

~McQ

Duh!

Warren Buffet on the economy and the effort of the government to “stimulate” it:

While praising efforts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others to stimulate the economy, he said the economy “can’t turn around on a dime” and that their efforts could trigger higher inflation once demand rebounds.

“We are certainly doing things that could lead to a lot of inflation,” he said. “In economics there is no free lunch.”

Funny how, when someone like Warren Buffet – who has been a supporter of Obama – says things like ‘trigger inflation’ and ‘no free lunch’, people who were previously playing the denial game (massive spending is necessary and good) suddenly figure there may be a problem.  Meanwhile the laws of economics have continued to function despite the denial.

For the most part the press has ignored Buffet’s words and they’ve been downplayed by the administration.  But perhaps if those who’ve been in denial are willing to consider Buffet’s warnings, they’ll be open to listening to others.  Such as warnings about the double talk that’s been coming out of the Obama administration the past few weeks.  For instance:

Confidence (too little) and uncertainty (too much) define this crisis. Obama’s double talk reduces the first and raises the second. He says he’s focused on reviving the economy, but he’s also using the crisis to advance an ambitious long-term agenda. The two sometimes collide. The $787 billion “stimulus” is weaker than necessary, because almost $200 billion for extended projects (high-speed rail, computerized medical records) take effect after 2010. When Congress debates Obama’s sweeping health care and energy proposals, industries, regions and governmental philosophies will clash. Will this improve confidence? Reduce uncertainty?

A prudent president would have made a “tough choice” — concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda.

Instead he’s decided he’s not going to let a “good crisis” go to waste and pursue his very expensive agenda which has nothing to do with the economic crisis (or alleviating it). All the while he preaches about crisis, catastrophe, sacrifice, tightening belts and doing with less even as he plans to expand government beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

It is an amazing performance.

~McQ