Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

If Nothing Else, You Have To Love The Irony

The New York Times engaged in union busting:

The New York Times Company has threatened to close The Boston Globe unless labor unions agree to concessions like pay cuts and the cessation of pension contributions, according to a person briefed on the talks.

What a strange and different world we find ourselves in today. Of course I guess that’s really no different than Rosie O’Donnell railing against guns while her armed body guards stood next to her.

Cap-And-Trade And Health Care

Some relatively good news and some bad news. The good news has to do with “cap-and-tax” as the WSJ article cited refers to “cap-and-trade”:

Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander called it “the biggest vote of the year” so far, and he’s right. This means Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t jam cap and tax through as part of this year’s budget resolution with a bare majority of 50 Senators. More broadly, it’s a signal that California and East Coast Democrats won’t be able to sock it to coal and manufacturing-heavy Midwestern states without a fight. Senators voting in favor of the 60-vote rule included liberals from Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia. Now look for Team Obama to attempt to impose cap and tax the non-democratic way, via regulation that hits business and local governments with such heavy costs that they beg Congress for a less-harmful version.

I say relatively good news because the author is right – if the Obama administration can’t get it through Congress, there’s little doubt they’ll look for an administrative way to impose cap-and-trade through the executive branch. One route may be through the EPA.

Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that one of the Democratic Senators who is presently against limiting the filibuster will be pressured into changing his mind. And then there are always the RINOs.

But the possibliity remains that the cap-and-trade economy killer may be defeated in Congress, or at least delayed for a while. If passed, you could rest assured we’d not be seeing an economic recovery anytime soon.

However, cap-and-trade isn’t the only problem on the horizon. The health care push will be coming up soon as well, now that Congress has passed the Obama budget blueprint with no Republican support.

The most important remaining fight this year is over health care. Democrats seem intent on trying to plow that monumental change through with only 50 votes, even as they negotiate to bring along some Republicans. We hope these Republicans understand that a new health-care “public option” — a form of Medicare for all Americans — guarantees that the 17% of GDP represented by the health-care industry will be entirely government-run within a few years. This is precisely Mr. Obama’s long-term goal, though he doesn’t want to say it publicly.

It is a back-door means of claiming the reforms are “market” oriented while setting up the system to be quietly shifted to government control. And this at a time when more and more doctors are leaving the Medicare system because of low payment.

In the case of health care, the use of “reconciliation” appears to be a possiblity.  That means, as an exception to the rule which now requires 60 votes for cloture on all measures of law, the Senate could require a mere majority (51 votes) to pass this monstrosity and see the government devour another 17% of GDP.

The game plan is fairly evident. Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, said in an interview:

“We really have a pretty good idea of the outline of the plan they are going to be proposing,” she said. They’ll want to “require everyone to have health insurance and require all employers to pay.”

Since some companies and individuals may not be able to afford that, the taxpayers will be told they are making up the difference, she warned.

The real danger, she suggested, is that with a government-run program, private insurance soon will start disappearing.

“If you expand access to government programs, more and more will drop private coverage,” she said. “A lot of this is going to be, I fear, replacing the private coverage with taxpayer supported coverage.”

That will just raise the costs even higher, and be the first step to what she expects eventually will be “a monopoly player.”

Routed through the government bureaucracy, the same inefficiencies that every government run health care service will emerge. And as with any system in which unlimited demand meets finite supply, some sort of rationing will take place. Since government will be the monopoly player, as Turner calls it, that rationing won’t be by price, as it now works, but instead by denial of service:

Already, she said, $1.1 billion is being allocated for “comparative effectiveness studies.”

That will be “what treatments are good and bad, what’s going to be available to us or not. That’s the first step toward rationing,” she said.

That $600 billion dollar “downpayment”, as Obama calls it, will eventually morph into a deficit of trillions. Why? Because the promise is low-cost universal health care. And there is no such animal that is worth a tinker’s dam.

~McQ

NATO Says No To Obama’s Afgan Plea

Reality intruded on President Obama’s magical mystery tour in Europe today as NATO ministers turned a deaf ear to his plea for more troops in Afghanistan:

Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.

Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.

Of course this had all been predicted by those who’ve been watching NATO and Europe for years (which would include us here at QandO). Western Europe, which forms the bulk of NATO, for the most part has no stomach for the war in Afghanistan, heck, they barely have a stomach for their own defense. Instead of the thousands troops, Obama was sure he’d be able to charm from them he’ll see 547 to 747 more troops, most from the UK, while the US sends 21,000.

While the school girls and press may be enamored with the charm and glamor of Obama, one of the major reasons for his trip turns out to be an unsurprising failure.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

Reports are out that Obama had this to say at a meeting of CEOs of major banks last week in the White House:

As first reported by Politico’s Eamon Javers, and confirmed by ABC News with industry sources, some bankers gave explanations for the industry’s high salaries, such as “competing for talent on an international market.”

But, President Obama cut them off.

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” the president told them.

The gall of that statement is staggering. Imagine the sheriff inciting a crowd against the businesses of a town and then running to the business owners and telling them, “I’m the only thing between you and the pitchforks”.

Obama’s fingerprints are all over those pitchforks.

~McQ

Russia’s New Found “Comrade”

A couple of paragraphs from a story about Obama and Russia’s Medvedev which seem pretty telling to me:

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.

The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Of course many on the right are making a big, if sarcastic, deal about Medvedev calling Obama “comrade”. To many that seems more than appropriate. However, there’s a lot of diplospeak in this which seems key.

First, although not much of substance was accomplished, note the Medvedev says that unlike Bush, Obama “can listen”. In diplospeak, that means he thinks he can roll Obama, while Bush, not so much.

Note too that it appears that Obama has caved on the missile defense. In his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles, he’s given up something which our allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic were keen for in order to see warheads dropped from 2,200 to 1,500. That’s a laughably cheap price for Russia to pay to kill the missile defense they opposed so adamantly.

Yup, after a capitulation like that, I’d be clapping Obama on the back and hailing him as my comrade too, if I were Medvedev.

Nothing, apparently was mentioned about Russia’s plan to rearm its military, its pending sale of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran or it’s bluntly worded warning about Georgia:

Russia sent a strong warning to the United States Thursday about supporting Georgia in the U.S. ally’s efforts to rebuild its military following last year’s war.

The Foreign Ministry said helping arm Georgia would be “extremely dangerous” and would amount to “nothing but the encouragement of the aggressor.” 

Nope, apparently Obama just listened. That’s a comrade any Russian could love.

~McQ

Obama’s Budget Blueprint Passes In Congress

Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re tired of “budget talk”. Well too bad – this is extremely important stuff. It’s not just about the amount of money, which is monstrous, but the agenda it puts into place:

Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly embraced President Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda for the nation yesterday, endorsing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that sets the stage for the president to pursue his most far-reaching priorities.

Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama’s spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama’s presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.

These are the paving stones for the road to hell and they’ve now been authorized by the Congress. Of course this is just the blueprint. The authorization of the funds will come in separate appropriation bills. And you had better believe Democrats are going to try to use every procedural trick in the book to ease their passage.

Just to leave you with the appropriate chill up your back, I leave you with an example of what is to come:

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) called cap-and-trade “the most significant revenue-generating proposal of our time,” and said it would be difficult to pass without reconciliation because Democrats would be forced to accommodate a handful of Republicans as they did in the debate over the president’s stimulus package.

And when it comes to “revenue-generating”, the Democrats want nothing standing in their way, especially a few Republicans.  The third wave of liberalism (New Deal, Great Society and now the Raw Deal) is afoot.

~McQ

The Republican Alternative Budget

It can be summed up in one sentence: They still don’t get it.

Tax cuts are great, but they’re not real tax cuts unless there’s a commensurate cut in spending. If there’s no cut in spending, they’re simply taxes which are being deferred. And that is precisely what the Republicans offer in their alternative. Long on tax cuts and long on spending. Their only claim to fame is they don’t spend as much as the Obama budget. Well, you’d have to be insane to spend as much as the Obama budget, but claiming that your plan is better because you spend less isn’t much of a recommendation.

For instance:

Discretionary Spending. The budget gives priority to the Federal Government’s most important obligations, national defense and veterans’ benefits. All other appropriated spending is level-funded for fiscal years 2010-14, and then increased at a moderate rate through 2019. The final allocation of these and other amounts will be determined by the Committee on Appropriations.

As long as we’re running a deficit, we can’t afford “increased spending” even at a “moderate rate”. What part of that can’t these people seem to get through their heads? Of course, that means they have to bring the bad news to the people that spending for government provided goodies isn’t going to go up, and, in fact, may go down. And the people haven’t exactly been kind to those who do so. Talking about it is one thing, but unfortunately actually doing it is detrimental to a politician’s career. So their cowardice is understandable if still unacceptable (given their rhetoric)

Mandatory Spending. Total mandatory spending increases by an average of 3.9 percent per year for the next 10 years. This is slightly slower growth than projected in the Congressional Budget Office baseline and the Obama/Democratic budget. It provides for a sustainable growth rate to assure the viability of these programs in the future.

Here is the budget killer – mandatory spending. And what to the Republicans propose? Growing it at almost 4% a year. The inflation rate is what? Well, even now, it certainly isn’t 4%. And while it may rise, you can’t assume that. So this does precisely what they claim their budget does:

To Control the Nation’s Debts. It halts the borrow-and-spend philosophy that brought about today’s economic problems, and puts a stop to heaping ever-growing debts on future generations.

It does not end the “borrow-and-spend philosophy” at all. It merely slows the rate of borrow-and-spend. The claim is nonsense on a stick.

And to cap it all off, they buy into the premise of some sort of universal or nationalized health care.

To Fulfill the Mission of Health and Retirement Security. The budget reforms the health care marketplace by making quality coverage affordable and accessible for every American regardless of pre-existing health conditions. It reinforces the decision-making of patients and their doctors, not government bureaucrats; and it reforms Medicare and Medicaid to make them sustainable. The budget also advances the cause of strengthening Social Security.

So instead of buttressing and supporting the concept of private health care and less government intrusion, the Republicans again commit to the concept of government involvement, but just not at the level of the Democrats. And they also want us to believe this isn’t going to cost much as well.

Disappointing is a mild word for what I see in their proposals. They’re again Democrat lite, buying into all the programs just claiming theirs doesn’t spend as much, and again proposing tax deferral as “tax cuts”, completely ignoring the need to cut spending to make those deferrals actual and permanent cuts.

No wonder they put it out on April 1st.

~McQ

[My latest Examiner.com article]

Stiglitz Calls Geithner Plan “Ersatz Capitalism”

A number of economists, including Paul Krugman, have panned Timothy Geithner’s plan to recapitalize banks by buying toxic assets in a complex and highly leveraged way that puts the taxpayer’s dollars at risk.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has piled on. In fact, his is probably the most damning opinion I’ve seen. Stiglitz says that first of all, Geithner has analyzed the problem incorrectly. Geithner keeps telling us it is a “liquidity” problem. Stiglitz says “poppycock”:

The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced.

What he means is their “capital”, or assets are in worthless loans. Yes that’s right – worthless. So, as he points out, paying “fair market value” for these assets won’t work, will it? They’re worthless.

So what does Geithner propose?

Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time.

Stiglitz explains the proposed process very well, demonstrating it fairly simple and straightforward examples how the taxpayer takes the majority of the risk, and, given the nature off the “assets”, will absorb the majority of the losses.

But Americans are likely to lose even more than these calculations suggest, because of an effect called adverse selection. The banks get to choose the loans and securities that they want to sell. They will want to sell the worst assets, and especially the assets that they think the market overestimates (and thus is willing to pay too much for).

But the market is likely to recognize this, which will drive down the price that it is willing to pay. Only the government’s picking up enough of the losses overcomes this “adverse selection” effect. With the government absorbing the losses, the market doesn’t care if the banks are “cheating” them by selling their lousiest assets, because the government bears the cost.

That is a process driven problem. The Geithner process guarantees the outcome because that is the most likely outcome, banks not being stupid and with the government bearing the cost.

Bottom line – taxpayers are going to get hosed and hosed good.

Stiglitz provides an interesting alternative which gives you an idea of how poorly he regards Geithner’s plan:

Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well.

Given only those two option, I’d say Stiglitz has a point.

Of course, the argument we’ve made since day one is we ought to let them go bust, get it over with and begin the recovery. That’s the same argument we made concerning GM and Chrysler.

Instead we’ve gotten these insane plans driven by the administration which has thrown literally trillions of good dollars after bad – and to no apparent avail.

This madness has got to stop.

~McQ

China Toughens Stance On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

China has stated it won’t be left holding the financial bag in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Calling itself a “poorer” nation, China wants the 7 most developed countries to spend 1% of GDP on helping them and others.

China raised the price of its co-operation in the world’s climate change talks yesterday by calling for developed countries to spend 1 per cent of their domestic product helping poorer nations cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding – amounting to more than $300bn (£190bn, €240bn) based on Group of Seven countries – would be spent largely on the transfer of “green” technologies, such as renewable energy, to poorer countries.

Gao Guangsheng, head of the climate change office at the National Reform and Development Commission, the Chinese government’s main planning body, said that even such large funds “might not be enough”.

China’s toughened stance comes weeks ahead of United Nations talks in Poland aimed at forging a successor to the Kyoto protocol, whose main provisions expire in 2012.

China also suggests that to this point, emissions reduction has been mostly talk:

“Climate change policies need a lot of money to be invested, however developed countries have not made any substantive promises about how much they are going to spend on,” said Mr Gao. “And they did not fulfil some of the promises they made in the past very well either.”

Of course a number of reasons relate to why those previous promises haven’t been fulfilled. Most of them relate to economics and the realization that their promises are potentially crippling to their economies. That’s effecting the G20 meeting as we speak:

Fears are mounting that environmental issues could be almost entirely sidelined at tomorrow’s G20 summit in London as leaders of the world’s largest economies resist calls to make clear green commitments as part of the meeting’s closing communiqué.

According to Guardian reports, UK officials are leading a last-ditch effort to have clear environmental commitments incorporated into the global economic recovery package that will back up politicians’ repeated calls for a ” green new deal”.

Gordon Brown has said that the inclusion of a commitment on the environment would be one of the tests of the summit’s success, but he admitted that the negotiations were likely to be tough.

The draft version of the communiqué leaked at the weekend made only a passing reference to climate change and it is thought some nations are resisting more detailed commitments to dedicate a proportion of the global stimulus package to green projects that they fear could provide an excuse for protectionist measures.

There is also reluctance to incorporate climate change commitments that could be seen to step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations, which are continuing this week at a separate conference in Bonn, Germany.

This, of course, is good news. Why?

“Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything that suggests green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda.”

That’s because that is the priority – not that anyone should expect the G20 to get any of financial part of it right either. However, the priority does keep them from making commitments that would cripple economic growth. And they, of course, know that – which is why they’re avoiding it and spinning it as a desire not to “step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations”.

But back to China – you’ll enjoy this. It is called “having your cake and eating it too”:

[China’s climate ambassador Yu Qingtai]… said that China was willing to make a “due contribution” to curbing emissions, but warned that the country would not see its citizens “left in the dark” as a result of binding emission targets and was within its rights to continue to invest in coal power that allows its economy to grow.

Gotta love the Chinese – they make some of our spin merchants seem like rookies. China will decide what its “due contribution” will be while it builds thousands of coal fired plants. In the meantime, per China, it is up to the rest of the world to do what is necessary to curb emissions because, you know, the poorer nations just aren’t up to it. Su Wei, Chinese delegation chief to the UN climate change talks in Bonn:

Su said the success of the Copenhagen summit lies in whether or not the developed countries would make “substantial arrangements” for transferring climate-friendly technologies to and providing funds for developing countries.

Su noted the establishment of three international “mechanisms” is very important among the “substantial arrangements.”

“The first is to set up an international mechanism on climate-friendly technology development and transfer, to eliminate barriers hindering technology transfer, so that developing countries can get access to such technologies,” he said.

“Secondly, we should set up an effective financing mechanism to ensure the developed countries provide adequate funds for developing countries in their bid to cut emissions and fight climate change,” he added.

Thirdly, Su said an “effective supervision mechanism” should beset up to monitor the above-mentioned technology transfer and funding.

Nice. Known as the “you pay, we take” program, this pretty much excuses China (and the rest of the poorer BRIC nations) from doing much of anything. As long as China is convinced that a) enough technology hasn’t been transfered, or b) there hasn’t been enough “effective financing” of the effort, it can c) exempt itself from any cuts while insisting the rest of the developed world stick by its commitments.

Now that is how a master loots your wallet.

~McQ