Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Josh Marshall And The Sacred Texts

Marshall’s premise is that we are, without a doubt, headed for the “Greatest Depression Ever” if Republicans don’t just capitulate and spend a trillion bucks on whatever it is the Democrats say we should spend it on.

Why?

The discussion of what to do on the Democratic side tracks more or less with textbook macroeconomics, while Republican argument track either with tax cut monomania or rhetorical claptrap intended to confuse. It’s true that macro-economics doesn’t make controlled experiments possible. And economists can’t speak to these issues with certainty. But in most areas of our lives, when faced with dire potential consequences, we put our stock with scientific or professional consensus where it exists, as it does here. Only in cases where it goes against Republican political interests or economic interests of money-backers do we prefer the schemes of yahoos and cranks to people who study the stuff for a living.

The link, if your wondering (or even had to wonder) is to Paul Krugman.

So let’s recap. Only the sacred texts hold the answer. But it’s also true that “macro-economists” can’t conduct “controlled experiments”. And it is also true that economists can’t speak to these issues with certainty.

But, by George, we should listen to them anyway. And certianly not to Republican “cranks” and “yahoos” who only have the interests of “money-backers” at heart and are truly only opposing this for political gain.

No word from Marshall as to why a Senate of 57 Democrats and 2 Independents caucusing with the Dems can’t seem to get this passed, but assuredly the reason is the Republicans and their repudiation of the sacred texts.

And correct me if I’m wrong (speaking of controlled experiments), but the last time we did the Paul Krugman macro thing in the ’30s, the results were less than stellar.

Of course, at some level, why would Republicans be trying to drive the country off a cliff? Well, not pretty to say, but they see it in their political interests. Yes, the DeMints and Coburns just don’t believe in government at all or have genuinely held if crankish economic views. But a successful Stimulus Bill would be devastating politically for the Republican party. And they know it.

Obviously Marshall hasn’t paused long enough in his rant to take a breath and realize that the stimulus package is going to pass in some form. What he’s whining about, and casting aspersions over, is the fact that the Senate Republicans (and the House Republicans as well) refused to bow at the altar of the the newly annointed and take that package of bacon without checking to see if it was spoiled. And besides, if the Republicans only have the interests of “money-backers” at heart, I’d be pleased to hear an argument which logically supports their desire to “driv[e] the country off the cliff” economically.

Yup, doesn’t resonate with me either.

If the GOP successfully bottles this up or kills it with a death of a thousand cuts, Democrats will have a good argument amongst themselves that Republicans were responsible for creating the carnage that followed. But the satisfaction will have to be amongst themselves since as a political matter it will be irrelevant. The public will be entirely within its rights to blame Democrats for any failure of government action that happened while Democrats held the White House and sizable majorities in both houses of Congress.

The public, of course, is showing much more sense than Marshall, with support for this massive mistake dropping to 37% according to Rasmussen.

And, to be clear here, if (and when) the bill does pass (since it is clear that Marshall hasn’t figured that out yet – it isn’t “if” but “when and with what”) then Republicans will be able to hold Democrats responsible for creating the debacle that follows, correct?

So either way – the failure to pass it or the responsibility for the failure that occurs when it passes – rest in the lap of Democrats.

Works for me.

Hope and change.

~McQ

Passage Of The “Stimulus” Bill Will Be A True “Lipstick On A Pig” Moment

As public support for the Democratic version of the “stimulus” package continues to tank, Democratic leaders in the Senate are desperately seeking Republican support.

Before I go on here, two things should be made clear.  A) There are two premises at work here – one says we don’t need this “stimulus” package, but should instead take the ‘pain’ now, get it over with and begin the recovery.  The other  says that government must act to ameliorate the pain and to help jump-start the economy.  B) Senate Republicans have bought into the second premise.

My point?  Like it or not (and I don’t) there’s going to be a stimulus package – just not the one now on the table.

So to the particulars. There aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass the present version so there are a number of alternatives being offered.  One is by John McCain which cuts the package by about one-half to $445 billion.  But that’s unlikely to happen.  Waffle-boy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Some of the Time), says:

Graham said he could back something between the McCain bill and the House bill. Although some Republicans would prefer to shelve the measure temporarily, hoping that spending demand will cool, other GOP lawmakers would prefer to stay on schedule and find common ground. “There’s sort of political chaos right now,” he conceded.

Got that?  This is something which must remain “on schedule” (Feb 13) vs. being well thought out and well targeted. Does it surprise you at all that their priority is an arbitrary date vs. good legislation?

And here’s what should really make you nervous:

The most ambitious effort to cut the bill is being led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), moderates in their parties who share a dislike of the current version. Collins is scheduled to visit Obama at the White House this afternoon. “I’m going to go to him with a list” of suggested deletions, she said.

Nelson said he and Collins have agreed to “tens of billions” in cuts, although he said he is skeptical that the effort will reach Collins’s target of $200 billion in reductions. The pair has counted up to 20 allies in their effort, with more Democrats than Republicans at this point.

Among the items that the Collins-Nelson initiative is targeting: $1.1 billion for comparative medical research, $350 million for Agriculture Department computers, $75 million to discourage smoking, $20 million in Interior Department funding, $400 million for HIV screening and $650 million for wildlife management.

[...]

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said the centrist group led by Nelson and Collins would target programs that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would not spend their funding quickly. He said the list includes a number of proposals that will spend only about 10 percent of their funding in the next 18 months. “These become immediate candidates for review,” Conrad said of the provisions.

Whenever Republicans have Sen. Susan Collins in the lead concerning

"Stimulus Red" is the newest shade

"Stimulus Red" is the newest shade

spending, you can mostly be assured that they won’t get the best deal.

One slightly bright spot in all of this was the portion of the legislation giving Hollywood a specific and very nice tax break was stripped from the bill:

Then, on a 52 to 45 vote, the chamber stripped $246 million in tax breaks for Hollywood production companies, a measure offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the Senate’s self-appointed watchdog on federal spending. Coburn, who almost always loses his quixotic efforts to cut funding, appeared jubilant — if somewhat surprised — by his unexpected victory.

“This is a gift,” he said of the Hollywood provision. “It’s not going to stimulate the economy at all.”

One of the reasons that happened, I’m sure, is the visibility it got when it was discovered. So between now and Feb 13th (yes it’s a Friday the 13th and completely apropos for what is being legislated by Congress) more of these examples of pork and special interest legislation need to be given light.

Success for other stimulus amendments was mixed:

Later, the Senate turned away legislation to reduce the tax rate on multinational corporations that are returning earnings from overseas, as opponents argued that it was a giveaway to industry. But some new spending programs proved too politically attractive to the Senate. In a 71 to 26 vote, the Senate approved a new incentive for car buyers, at an estimated cost of $11 billion over 10 years. According to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the amendment’s sponsor, buyers could deduct the cost of sales tax for new cars purchased between last Nov. 12 and Dec. 31, 2009. Individuals with incomes of up to $125,000 would qualify.

Of course the multinational corporation tax cut on earnings would have stimulated investment here, and that leads to what? Yup, jobs. Notice the language – letting a company keep more of what it has earned is a “giveaway”. Amazing.

Bottom line: this is going to pass in some form or fashion within the next week or so. The only thing left to do, to borrow a phrase, is to decide what shade of lipstick they’re going to put on this pig.

Hope and change.

~McQ

The Rush To Pass Global Warming Legislation

It sounds innocuous enough – at least in the broad language used below. I’m talking about Sen. Boxer’s promised push to move “global warming” legislation through Congress within weeks (or, per Boxer, no later than the end of the year):

Boxer’s principles for global warming legislation aim for a law that would:

— set “certain and enforceable” short and long-term emissions targets;

— ensure state and local entities keep working to address global warming;

— establish a market-based system that cuts carbon emissions;

— use revenues from this carbon market to help consumers make the transition to clean energy and invest in new technology and efficiency measures;

— ensure a level global playing field with incentives for polluting countries to give their share to the international effort to curb climate change.

These goals won quick applause from environmental and conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Environment America and Environmental Defense Fund.

Well of course those groups applauded the list. They’ve been beating the AGW drum for years. And it occurs to me that one of the reasons Boxer is working so hard to move this into the legislative hopper as quickly as possible because the skeptic’s voices are becoming increasingly heard.

Like anything else, there’s a window for legislation and I think Boxer sees that window starting to close. The information countering the AGW nonsense is starting to build momentum. Boxer understands that at some point there will be a tipping point. Already polls have flipped and for the first time more believe the climate change we’re undergoing is the result of natural cycles and not man-made emissions.

If that gap continues to widen, and I believe it will, plus the cost to do what Boxer and the Democrats want to do is given more visibility, the opportunity to pass such legislation will wane (just as we see support for the present stimulus bill withering as more and more information about it becomes available).

Boxer and the Democrats hope to strike while the iron is hot – no pun intended.

Hope and change.

~McQ

Iraq: This Democracy Thing Might Work!

Iraq votes

Iraq votes

It sure has been getting low-key coverage in the MSM, but it appears the election in Iraq went off very well and is producing some surprising and, frankly, good results.

14,400 candidates stood for office.  Unlike 2005, when 200 candidates were killed prior to the election, this time 8 were lost.  14 of the 18 provinces were included (Kurdistan’s provinces are having separate elections) and while turnout was considered to be low (51%), Sunnis participated en mass for the first time. William Shawcross describes the results:

All the Islamic parties lost ground, especially that associated with the so-called “Shia firebrand”, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose share of the vote went down from 11% to 3%. The principal Sunni Islamic party, the Islamic Party of Iraq, was wiped out.

The only Islamic party to gain ground was the Dawa party of the Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki – and even that party dropped the word Islamic from its name. The power of Maliki, who has emerged a stronger leader than expected, is further enhanced by these elections. Now no Islamic parties will be able to control any provinces on their own. The election is thus a big defeat for Iran which had hoped that Shia religious parties would control the south and enable Iran to turn them into a mini Shia republic.

I know this has some of you gasping for breath out there. We were assured by none other than the great Juan Cole and his fellow travelers that Iran was in total control of the Iraqi governmental apparatus and would quickly turn into what Shawcross characterizes as a “mini-Shia republic”.

Yet it appears that the Iraqi public are rejecting the concept of a theocracy in favor of a more secular government. And that, of course is a de facto rejection of Iran.

Obviously Iraq still has a long way to go, but it is hard to deny the amount of progress that has been made. Except for the dead-enders who’ve vested so much into this           being the “worst foreign policy disaster in US history”, it is looking pretty darn good in Iraq.

USMC Maj Gen John F. Kelly gives you an indication of the level of change that has taken place in previously violent Anbar province:

Something didn’t happen in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, today. Once the most violent and most dangerous places on earth, no suicide vest bomber detonated killing dozens of voters. No suicide truck bomber drove into a polling place collapsing the building and killing and injuring over 100. No Marine was in a firefight engaging an Al Qaida terrorist trying to disrupt democracy.

What did happen was Anbar Sunnis came out in their tens of thousands to vote in the first free election of their lives.

[...]

One of the things I’ve always said was that we came here to “give” them democracy. Even in the dark days my only consolation was that it was about freedom and democracy. After what I saw today, and having forgotten our own history and revolution, this was arrogance. People are not given freedom and democracy – they take it for themselves. The Anbaris deserve this credit.

Today I step down as the dictator, albeit benevolent, of Anbar Province. Today the Anbaris took it from me. I am ecstatic. It was a privilege to be part of it, to have somehow in a small way to have helped make it happen.

Shawcross asks:

There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.

Now that’s real hope and change.

~McQ

Pentagon: Drop Nation Building, Fight Taliban

The Pentagon, unsurprisingly, has completed a study in which it concludes that the US should lower its expectations in Afghanistan:

A classified Pentagon report urges President Barack Obama to shift U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, de-emphasizing democracy-building and concentrating more on targeting Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen the report prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it has not yet been presented to the White House, officials said Tuesday. The recommendations are one element of a broad policy reassessment under way along with recommendations to be considered by the White House from the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, and other military leaders.

[...]

[T]he plan calls for a more narrowly focused effort to root out militant strongholds along the Pakistani border and inside the neighboring country, according to officials who confirmed the essence of the report.

In other words, the military is saying “let us do what we’re good at – killing bad guys.”

Taliban with rocket launcher

Taliban with rocket launcher


Let’s face it, nation building requires the intense participation of the State Department in addition to the military, and during the Bush years, State showed no stomach for that sort of work in Iraq. Under the Obama administration – and the Clinton State Department – the desire to participate will be even less.

And while only a fool would argue that the establishment of a democracy in Afghanistan would be the best case for the US (and the world), at this time, it may not be an attainable goal.

So the Pentagon, reading the hand-writing on the wall, is saying let’s go kinetic and forget about trying to establish another democracy – Afghanistan is just not worth the blood and treasure at this time.

British Soldier in Afghanistan

British Soldier in Afghanistan

Interestingly, that’s also the conclusion Michael Yon has reached a similar conclusion (via email):

My humble recommendation is to downgrade all expectations for Afghanistan. Treat the patient as best we can, and concern ourselves with more important matters while striving not to allow Afghanistan to again become a launching pad for international terror. President Obama should not stake our national reputation on the idea that we will achieve our current more ambitious goals. Decrease expectations, and work on more important matters such as the world economy and other more serious military threats. Afghanistan is not worth so much effort when most of NATO has no heart and is virtually worthless. Eventually we’ll likely end up alone, or mostly alone, holding the bag, while Europe goes home to its wine and beer.

Given the lack of progress with nation building and NATO’s intransigence, I’m beginning to think this approach may be the most rational way to proceed in Afghanistan.

~McQ

The Lonliest Guy In D.C. Right Now

That would be Robert Gibbs, Presidential spokesman for the Obama administration. He’s discovering that “just words” aren’t good enough anymore. For instance:

Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, “The bar that we set is the highest that any administration in the country has ever set.”

Here’s a clue, Mr. Gibbs – unless you clear the bar it really doesn’t matter how high you set it. Setting the bar at 10′ but only being able to reach 6′ doesn’t really impress anyone.

Oh, and this is classic:

He also said those experts recognized that Obama would need to make exceptions to his pledge to run an administration free of former lobbyists.

As Maxwell Smart would say, Ah, the old “experts say” ploy. Yeah, that excuses absolute pledges doesn’t it?

It is “put up or shut up” time, Mr. Gibbs. You don’t get to promise anymore. You have to perform. You don’t get to tell us what you’re going to do, now you have to do it.

And in the face of Geithner, Holder, Dashle, Killefer, and all the lobbyists for which the administration has made exceptions, the bar doesn’t look very high from out here in flyover land. And you’re still far from getting over it.

Hope and change.

~McQ

NoKo Prepares To Launch The “Let’s Test The New Guy” Missile

Cult of Personality?

Cult of Personality?

Of course “Dear Leader” and the boys also call the missile the Taepodong-2 and it is supposedly capable of reaching the US (Alaska or Hawaii – and no Sarah Palin can’t see NoKo from Alaska). But as the title indicates, there’s little doubt about why it is to be launched:

The apparent preparations for a launch, which are easily discernible by spy satellites, may be intended by the government as a way of asserting itself as it prepares to resume nuclear disarmament negotiations with the new US government of Barack Obama.

Dear Leader knows all about political brinksmanship and he wants to see how the Obama administration reacts to him and his machinations. This is all a pretty normal course of events in international relations. If there’s a new guy, the usual suspects try to test him to see what they can get away with. And, if he blinks, well, the full court press will be on.

One of the strengths of our American democracy, of course, is we don’t have a “Dear Leader” problem here. Nope, sure don’t. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Hope and change.

~McQ

Daschle and Killefer Withdraw Their Nominations

Far be it for me to advocate anything to do with the travesty of taxation that takes place in this country right now, but it sure is becoming clear why most Democrats have no problem with tax increases.

Tom Daschle, under increasing fire for his tax problems (i.e. not paying them) has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration for HHS Secretary. Take a deep breath America – that’s good news.

Its early so it isn’t clear if he was warned off by Senate colleagues, asked to do so by the Obama administration (although that seems less likely given Obama’s endorsement yesterday) or had a fit of ethical conscience and did it himself. Whatever the reason, I’m happy about it.

Oh, and another Obama appointee has also withdrawn from consideration with tax problems:

Nancy Killefer, the management consultant and former Treasury official who had been picked by President Obama to serve as the country’s chief performance officer, has withdrawn from consideration for the post, White House officials confirmed this morning.

In a two-paragraph resignation letter, Killefer indicated that controversy over failure to pay taxes by two other high-profile nominees of Obama’s had convinced her to decline the new president’s request to join his administration. Shortly after her appointment, the Associated Press reported that Killefer had a tax lien placed on her house by the D.C. government because she had not paid unemployment taxes for her household help.

Killefer at least had the good grace to step aside before it got to the Daschle stage.

That Obama administration vetting process?  Awesome, no?

Hope and change.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]