Free Markets, Free People

Government

Constitution? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Constitution!

As the Senate takes up its version of the violation of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, also known as the bill to tax the hell out of the AIG bonuses, one note of sanity sounds through. Sen. John Kyl:

“I don’t believe that Congress should rush to pass yet another piece of hastily crafted legislation in this very toxic atmosphere, at least without understanding the facts and the potential unintended consequences,” he said.

“Frankly, I think that’s how we got into the current mess,” he added.

Heh … ya think?

Not that it matters – this will most likely pass the Senate as well and be signed into law by “Constitutional Law Professor” and President Barack Obama, but when it ends up in court and is declared unconstitutional, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Constitution always takes a back seat to populism and CYA.

~McQ

Rudderless and Sinking

Here’s about as succinct a summary of the Obama administration to date that I’ve seen:

President Obama still enjoys the popularity that comes with not being George Bush, especially in a city top-heavy with Democrats. But his initial response to the global calamity that he found on entering the Oval Office has not inspired popularity’s more sober elder brother, confidence. Large constituencies, notably business, are voicing their scepticism openly. The President’s much-vaunted $787 billion stimulus package is being widely interpreted, even by some of those (such as Warren Buffett, America’s second-richest man) who openly supported Mr Obama for the presidency, as a serious failure.

And I don’t foresee it getting much better. Of course the summary comes to us via the British press (Simon Heffer) who have the luxury of being once removed from the situation and therefore have the ability to be somewhat more objective than much of our own media.

For instance, the much more perceptive analysis of the AIG mess:

Conscious that he has made mistakes, and conscious especially of the increasing perception that he is simply throwing cash at unreformed institutions in the hope that something will happen, Mr Obama is trying to raise his game. He had a soft target two days ago, when he joined in America’s outrage at the paying of bonuses to executives of AIG, the sinking insurance giant now buoyed by public money. This provoked further attacks on him from the Right. Why was he using US taxpayers’ money to bail out a company whose main investors were French, German, Swiss and British banks? And wasn’t he merely jumping on the bandwagon of attacking the bonuses to distract attention from his own policy failings – creating a bogeyman in the same way that Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman did with Sir Fred Goodwin last month?

And of course, we’re witnessing how poorly that’s turning out (you know there’s a political problem when the CEO of AIG comes off as a more sympathetic figure than Barney Frank and Chris Dodd).

Heffer says that instead of concentrating on what ails us financially, Obama has another much broader agenda:

Instead he has been trying, on a broad front, to fulfil the reformist ideal that informed his election campaign. Rather like a would-be government in Britain that talked of “sharing the proceeds of growth”, the candidate who wanted to redistribute wealth now, as President, has no wealth to redistribute. A $3.6 trillion budget showed little sign of addressing the problem of stimulating demand. Both big corporations and small businesses feel overtaxed, their competitiveness hampered, and incapable of creating jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. Mr Obama’s green agenda, which was also a significant part of his election promises, entailed higher taxation that will retard the economy just when it needs to grow. His greatest ambition – of starting a national health service – seems impossible in the present climate. As he seeks to move forward on this broad front Warren Buffett himself has attacked him, saying that his first three priorities should all be the economy. Paralysed by inexperience and a Blairish desire to be liked, and hampered by inadequate senior staff, he is now finding that even some of his own party in Congress feel he has gone too far in the socialist experiment. Mrs Pelosi admitted at the weekend that a second stimulus package – which leftist Democrats are calling for, to the horror of much of the rest of America – was not yet on the cards.

Dead on right. The line “paralyzed by inexperience and a Blairish desire to be liked, and hampered by inadequate senior staff”, strikes home. It is a particularly lethal political combination which we’re seeing displayed in spades. It is no longer a comedy show, it has become a horror show. And with the move by the Fed to buy back long-term bonds, the horror is only deepening.

And we’re stuck looking to Timothy Geithner, Barack Obama and Chris Dodd for salvation? Lord help us all.

~McQ

[HT: Joel C.]

Some Bonuses Less Outrageous Than Others

If you are inclined to accept without question that the bonuses paid to AIG employees deserve unmitigated moral indignation, as Pres. Obama and the Democrats seem to, then shouldn’t that opprobrium cut across the board? Well, I guess some animals are more equal than others:

At least four Fannie Mae executives are slated to receive more than $400,000 in bonuses each this year as a result of the company’s government-approved retention program, The Post’s Zach Goldfarb reports.

The executives include chief operating officer Michael Williams ($611,000), deputy chief financial officer David Hisey ($517,000), and executive vice presidents Thomas Lund ($470,000) and Kenneth Bacon ($470,000).

Each of these executives earned about $200,000 in retention payments last year and salaries ranging from $385,000 to $676,000.

According to the report, such bonuses are doled out depending on how integral the employee is to the companies, as approved by the FHFA:

Fannie Mae, which suffered $59 billion in losses last year, has requested $15 billion in taxpayer assistance, and has said it expects to need plenty more.

All major compensation decisions are authorized by Fannie Mae’s federal regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which created a retention program when the company was seized last September to hold on to key employees.

Under the program, employees are eligible to receive up to 150 percent of their salary in bonuses this year, but many will receive far less than that, and some might receive zero, depending on how central they are deemed to the company’s task.

pigs-in-the-house

Congressman Barney Frank, one of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s biggest supporters, and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee which oversees the institutions, was reached for comment and had this to say about whether paying retention bonuses was really necessary:

That’s nonsensical. It’s clear they made a lot of mistakes and we need to undo what they did. If they really understood what they did in the first place, seriously, they probably wouldn’t have done much of it. Secondly, when you are trying to undo something, it is often not the case that the people who did it are the ones to put in place. People are sometimes committed to not admitting mistakes. … So that argument I think is in fact almost counter, because the argument that you take the people who made the mistake and put them in charge of undoing the mistake goes against the human impulse not to admit a mistake.

Oops! Sorry, about that. The foregoing statement was from Barney Frank, but he was referring to AIG bonuses.

This morning, ThinkProgress sat down with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee and has called for the firing of AIG executives. When asked to respond to Sorkin’s claim that only AIG employees can navigate the economy out of the mess they created, Frank dismissed it as “nonsensical”

Pigs in the House indeed.

Newspeak: Pelosi Style

Up is down. In is out. Billions in earmarks are no big deal, but millions in “bonuses” merit extreme outrage. And now, per Speaker Nancy Pelosi, illegal aliens represent the height of patriotism, but enforcing American laws is “un-American”:

No I can't!

No I can't!

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently told a group of both legal and illegal immigrants and their families that enforcement of existing immigration laws, as currently practiced, is “un-American.”

The speaker, condemning raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, referred to the immigrants she was addressing as “very, very patriotic.”

“Who in this country would not want to change a policy of kicking in doors in the middle of the night and sending a parent away from their families?” Pelosi told a mostly Hispanic gathering at St. Anthony’s Church in San Francisco.

As some might say, that’s muy estúpido. But the Speaker wasn’t done:

Referring to work site enforcement actions by ICE agents, Pelosi said, “We have to have a change in policy and practice and again … I can’t say enough, the raids must end. The raids must end.

“You are special people. You’re here on a Saturday night to take responsibility for our country’s future. That makes you very, very patriotic.”

Our country? Perhaps Pelosi is unclear on the concept of illegal immigrants? Do you think she realizes that they are not part of our country?

And the idea that enforcing our immigration laws is somehow “un-American” is beyond ludicrous. Although, when you consider this is coming from the party that seems to think paying taxes is a only a patriotic duty if you aren’t working for the Democrats, then I suppose it makes sense.

In the spirit of Pelosi’s newspeak, may I just say that the Madam Speaker is clearly a thoughtful and intelligent lawmaker who is doing a fine job at her post.

[HT: HotAir HL]

Barely Legal

surf-beaver

Talk about the government getting all up in someone’s business:

Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.

The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.

[...]

New Jersey statutes allow waxing of the face, neck, arms, legs and abdomen, but officials say that genital waxing has always been illegal, although not spelled out.

Regardless, almost every salon in South Jersey, from Atlantic City casinos to suburban strip malls, has been breaking the law for years by ridding women, and some men, of their pubic hair for $50 to $60 a session.

Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, said that the proposal would specifically ban genital waxing, and was prompted by complaints to the board from two women who were injured and hospitalized. One of them sued. Lamm said that the state only investigates infractions if consumers complain.

beachbeaver2
What happened to “keep your hands off my body”? If the government can dictate the size and shape of the drapes, what’s to stop it from taking over the whole womb room? It’s not as if the rights of the unshorn are at risk here. In addition, there is a legitimate concern for where women will turn if they lose the right to freely control their bare necessities:

Cherry Hill salon owner Linda Orsuto said that women would “go ballistic” if the proposal passed. She said that some women would resort to waxing themselves, visiting unlicensed salons or traveling to other states, including Pennsylvania, in a quest to remain bare down there.

“The clients are going to freak,” said Orsuto, who owns 800 West Salon & Spa, on Route 70. “It’s a hot issue, and we’re going to have to do something.”

Scary. If the government camel insists on sticking its nose under Jersey girls’ skirts, can back-alley bush removal with rusty razors be far behind? beach-beaver

Now, I understand that some aficionados of adult entertainment from the 70’s might be excited about the return of a tufted tarts and piliferous punani. But that sort of hirsute protectionism treads dangerously upon our most cherished freedoms, and will potentially lead to messy entanglements from which we will find it hard to extricate ourselves (think “velcro”).

Accordingly, I stand firmly behind the women of New Jersey and fully support their rights to depilate as they see fit, with the advice and counsel of their salon professional. So say it loud, ladies, in all your glabrous glory: “We’re bare! Down there! And we’re proud!”

Governmental 3 Card Monte

A week or so ago, I highlighted a story about the possibility that Democrats were going to tax your employee health care benefits (after all, those among the 95% who are getting a tax cut have to have something to spend it on) and I was assured this particular plan comes up all the time and never gets out of committee. Well it appears those assurances of nothing to worry about were premature. The idea may not only get out of committee this time, but be signed into law as well:

The Obama administration is signaling to Congress that the president could support taxing some employee health benefits, as several influential lawmakers and many economists favor, to help pay for overhauling the health care system.

So you’ll pay taxes on your private health benefits to pay for health benefits for others, while government tells you how expensive your private coverage is and how they can run it much more cheaply and efficiently if only you’ll pitch in and pay for it.

Question: If taxes on your health care benefits are going to pay for a governmental health care system overhaul, and one assumes the purpose of the overhaul is to bring more and more of the health care system under governmental control, how will government “pay” for all of this in the future when you no longer have private health care benefits to tax?

Read the whole article.  It doesn’t even take a double digit IQ to spot the law of unintended consequences laying in the weeds just salivating over this one.

~McQ

“The Brokest Generation” – something that every under-30-year-old ought to read

There are plenty of good writers around, but there are only a few who cause me to pause during reading and think “Oh, how I wish I could write like that.”

Mark Steyn is in that group. Just about anything he writes is worth reading, and he is the best in the business at being funny and thought-provoking at the same time.

Occasionally, though, he captures the essence of an issue in a way no other current writer can. His current article at National Review, “The Brokest Generation“, is in that category. Go read it yourself, and then pass it along to the folks who are going to be paying for the folly of the Obama years (and the somewhat-lesser follies of the administrations that preceeded him).

It’s true irony that the chanting, swaying kids in the creepy Obama videos will be the ones who pay the highest price for Obama’s fumbling foolishness. Per Mark:

As Lord Keynes observed, “In the long run we’re all dead.” Well, most of us will be. But not you youngsters, not for a while. So we’ve figured it out: You’re the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!

The Bailout and the TARP and the Stimulus and the Multi-Trillion Budget and TARP 2 and Stimulus 2 and TARP And Stimulus Meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are like the old Saturday-morning cliffhanger serials your grandpa used to enjoy. But now he doesn’t have to grab his walker and totter down to the Rialto, because he can just switch on the news and every week there’s his plucky little hero Big Government facing the same old crisis: Why, there’s yet another exciting spending bill with twelve zeroes on the end, but unfortunately there seems to be some question about whether they have the votes to pass it. Oh, no! And then, just as the fate of another gazillion dollars of pork and waste hangs in the balance, Arlen Specter or one of those lady-senators from Maine dashes to the cliff edge and gives a helping hand, and phew, this week’s spendapalooza sails through. But don’t worry, there’ll be another exciting episode of Trillion-Buck Rogers of the 21st Century next week!

This is a connection we need to be making over and over again: when the mountain of federal debt finally collapses of its own weight, the younger generation will be hurt the worst. Most of the people who fomented the crisis will have long since passed on, or be comfortable in their retirement because of the assets they were able to accrue at taxpayer and lobbyist expense. They will have gotten what they wanted: time in the sun, running things, letting others pay them obeisance, getting respect they don’t really deserve. Either they are too stupid to realize what they are doing to the next couple of generations, or they are too mendacious to care. The sooner the younger generations learn the con job that has been perpetrated on them, the better.

Understatement of the Week

China expresses some … um … “concern” about whether or not it will ever see its money back:

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, expressed unusually blunt concern on Friday about the safety of China’s $1 trillion investment in American government debt, the world’s largest such holding, and urged the Obama administration to provide assurances that the securities would maintain their value in the face of a global financial crisis.

"How much chance China get repaid?"

How much chance China get repaid?\


Speaking ahead of a meeting of finance ministers and bankers this weekend in London to lay the groundwork for next month’s G20 summit, Mr. Wen said he was “worried” about China’s holdings of United States Treasury bonds and other debt, and that China was watching economic developments in the United States closely.

“President Obama and his new government have adopted a series of measures to deal with the financial crisis. We have expectations as to the effects of these measures,” Mr. Wen said. “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.”

Just a little? There’s an old saying to the effect of “if you owe the bank $1 Million, then the bank owns you; if you owe the bank $1 Trillion, then you own the bank.” China’s feeling pretty nervous because it knows it can’t sell its holdings except at a tremendous loss — both from the normal discount expected, and from the fact that it is by far the largest mover in the market (e.g. what do you think would happen to Microsoft stock if Bill Gates started selling off?) — and it doesn’t see a whole lot coming out of Washington to instill confidence.

But there’s no need to fret PM Jiabao! Unnamed economists are here to save the day:

While economists dismissed the possibility of the United States defaulting on its obligations, they said China could face steep losses in the event of a sharp rise in United States interest rates or a plunge in the value of the dollar.

Whew! That was close. Nothing but a little market risk to worry about there, Jiabao. Default? Pffft … never gonna happen.

Back in the land called “reality” however, default is plays a bigger part since, aside from reneging on the debt, there are only three other ways for the government to pay for its spending binge: higher taxes, printing more money, or borrowing. Higher taxes impedes growth and leads to less revenue. Printing money leads to hyper-inflation. So, even though those two choices will be used to a certain extent, further borrowing is the only viable alternative to default. But who’s going to lend to us?

Maybe China?

The bulk of China’s investment in the United States consists of bonds issued by the Treasury and government-sponsored enterprises and purchased by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which is part of the People’s Bank of China … much of the Treasury debt China purchased in recent years carries a low interest rate, and would plunge in value if interest rates were to rise sharply in the United States. Some financial experts have warned that measures taken to combat the financial crisis — running large budget deficits and expanding the money supply — may eventually create price inflation, which would lead to higher interest rates.

This puts the Chinese government in a difficult position. The smaller the United States stimulus, the less its borrowing, which could help prevent interest rates from rising. But less government spending in the United States could also mean a slower recovery for the American economy and reduced American demand for Chinese goods.

It may just be the case that China’s best option is to support its investment by propping up its best customer with yet more loans. Unfortunately, that means that Washington will have little incentive to slow down spending (since it owns the bank). The nasty little cycle of borrowing > spending > inflation > rising interest rates > falling dollar, will continue necessitating even more borrowing. China, in turn, will have serious questions about the value of its investment, and the US will start having serious discussions about declaring a default.

In short, China’s not just “worried” about the current fiscal mess. It’s crapping its collectivist shorts.

House Praises Irrational Number

No, I’m not referring to any stimulus bill, or deficit spending figures. This was no celebration of a CBO report or Obama budget figures. Instead, the House of Representatives decided that it needed to spend some time lauding that most infamous of all irrational numbers:

With the world swirling about it, the House took a moment Thursday to honor pi, the Greek letter symbolizing that great constant in mathematics representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

[...]

Rounded off, pi equates to 3.14, hence the designation of March 14 as Pi Day under the resolution. Informal celebrations have been held around the country for at least 20 years, but Thursday’s 391-10 vote is the first time Congress has joined the party.

“I’m kind of geeked up about it,” Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) told POLITICO. “It’s crazy, but I’m a whole lot more excited about that than congratulating the winner of last year’s Rose Bowl.

Well that’s reassuring. As long as the peoples’ representatives are happy, then we must all be happy, eh?

“It makes you realize how consequential you really are,” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said with a smile.

By “you” Delahunt meant himself (“consequential” being defined as “self-important”). Unless, of course, he meant to say “inconsequential” in which case he was referring to the voters, and he was exactly right.
pi-pie

“We were never good at math in my family,” said Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). “I thought I was voting for p-i-e.”

Or reading and/or spelling? Hey, wait. Does Sara Lee have a factory in Murtha’s district?

That’s your congress-critters for you. only slightly less useful than Chia pets.

UPDATE: In the comments, Shark finds the silver lining: “It’s the least destructive thing they’ve done this year.”

Hayek, Greenspan And The Designs Of Men

Alan Greenspan has a piece in the Wall Street Journal today which essentially casts him as the Pontius Pilate of the financial crisis.  Or, to sum it up rather sucinctly, “it wasn’t my fault”.  You’re welcome to read through it and agree or disagree.  However, the imporant point I think that should be taken from the Greenspan piece are the last two paragraphs:

Any new regulations should improve the ability of financial institutions to effectively direct a nation’s savings into the most productive capital investments. Much regulation fails that test, and is often costly and counterproductive. Adequate capital and collateral requirements can address the weaknesses that the crisis has unearthed. Such requirements will not be overly intrusive, and thus will not interfere unduly in private-sector business decisions. 

If we are to retain a dynamic world economy capable of producing prosperity and future sustainable growth, we cannot rely on governments to intermediate saving and investment flows. Our challenge in the months ahead will be to install a regulatory regime that will ensure responsible risk management on the part of financial institutions, while encouraging them to continue taking the risks necessary and inherent in any successful market economy.

Those words reminded me of the quote I saw in business columnist Tom Oliver’s piece today in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: 

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” — F.A. Hayek

Any columnist who starts with a Hayek quote is guaranteed to get my attention. And I’ve come to enjoy Oliver’s columns. However, reviewing Greenspan’s advice and admonitions in those two paragraphs, juxtaposed against the simple and elegant truth of Hayek’s statement you find yourself back in the outback watching that big red kangaroo headed for a collision with the car. It is inevitable, there’s nothing you can do about it, they can’t or won’t hear your warnings and all you can do is watch – and cringe.

Frankly, as we watch the machinations of government and listen to their declarations, we have begun to understand that for the most part, those in charge of all of this haven’t a clue. As Oliver states:

Far from demonstrating the demise of free enterprise, this long-running, deepening recession is revealing the limitations of government.

Government, in its various yet powerful incarnations, has been offering one fix after another since August 2007.

The more the Fed and Treasury have tried, the less sure they seem and the more nervous the money makers have become.

It’s understandable that folks would look to the new administration for new ideas. So it’s harder than usual to acknowledge that the ideas are in fact pretty old and, having been tried, found wanting.

Whatever one may think about the so-called stimulus, it’s too easily deconstructed as pork and policy initiatives.

And if it’s still debatable whether to nationalize the financial industry, the move to nationalize health care, education and energy can hardly be disguised as economic recovery programs.

It is understandable that those who derive their power from government would use this recession as an excuse to further government’s reach. But they act as if government has been absent — as if they’ve been absent — from the role of regulator and legislator.

He’s precisely right – it wasn’t a problem with lack of regulation or lack of legislation. It was a lack of proper regulatory oversight and a willful decision by legislators to ignore the building crisis coupled with government distorting the market and actually incentivizing risk taking far beyond that which is prudent that led us here. And now that they have us in this position, all of them, Greenspan included, are engaged in a flurry of finger-pointing and name calling at every one but the right ones. This wasn’t a crisis which happened in just the last 6 months or 8 years. This one has been building for a while.

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” — F.A. Hayek

We had Democrats in charge and then we had Republicans. Again and again.

Both endorsed and encouraged the subprime sleight-of-hand. Both appointed heads of the regulatory agencies that could’ve stopped the poison seeping through our banks’ balance sheets. Both allowed gamblers to hedge and swap derivatives on top of derivatives that no one can explain and that are proving far more debilitating than the debacle they were insuring against.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae became toxic assets of the government while doing the bidding of congressmen who now act like the piano players in a brothel.

The Federal Reserve proved to be anything but reserved, instead stoking a fire that burned us all.

These were not the result of idle hands of government, but rather deliberate deeds that created false markets with inflated credit while turning a blind eye to those who finance election results.

Oliver’s characterizations are dead on – and he’s nailed both the fed and the Congress. The most irritating thing to me about this whole mess, other than the obvious huge loss of wealth, is the success those who were responsible for writing the rules, laying out the playing field and calling the game are escaping both blame and punishment for what they’ve brought about. That toad Barney Frank having the chutzpa to talk about prosecuting those who were guilty of getting us in this mess still astounds me. If anyone should be undergoing such prosecution right now, it is he and numerous other congressmen and women, both past and present.

Oliver concludes as follows and I can’t help but say a hearty “amen” to what he has to say:

We periodically recoil in horror at government’s failure to protect foster children or care for veterans or the mentally ill. But then we turn around and assume government will perform better in areas more complicated.

Why does the failure of government so often lead so many to believe we need more government?

Like the hair of the dog for the alcoholic, it may calm the trembling hands for a moment but it inevitably leads to another spree and another hangover.

Or worse.

We’re headed into a “or worse” moment. No one in government is going to listen to Alan Greenspan’s admonitions or believe Tom Oliver’s brief accounting of the history of this crisis. Instead we’re going to see precisely the opposite happen – more regulation, more strings, more intrusion, more control. And, as Hayek said, we’ll again see “how little [men] really know about what they imagine they can design.”

~McQ