Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

Obama’s Transparency

President Obama went after Washington lobbyists in a big way last night, blaming them for what ails America in a major portion of his State of the Union speech.

In his State of the Union on Wednesday, Obama once again targeted K Street: “We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap, we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.”

But that was yesterday. Today his administration reached out to those same lobbyists to help pass Obama’s agenda:

A day after bashing lobbyists, President Barack Obama’s administration has invited K Street insiders to join private briefings on a range of topics addressed in Wednesday’s State of the Union.

The Treasury Department on Thursday morning invited selected individuals to “a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.” …

The invitation stated, “The White House is encouraging you to participate in these calls and will have a question and answer session at the end of each call. As a reminder, these calls are not intended for press purposes.”

Like a secret mistress, K-Streeters are not exactly thrilled with Obama demonizing them in public and then requesting their expertise behind closed doors:

Some lobbyists say they are extremely frustrated with the White House for criticizing them and then seeking their feedback. Others note that Democrats on Capitol Hill constantly urge them to make political donations.

One lobbyist said, “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers.”


Lobbyists say the Obama White House has held many off-the-record teleconferences over the past year.

For example, lobbyists and others were invited to a teleconference with “senior Obama administration officials” on Monday to discuss the administration’s plan to improve the lives of middle-class families.

The invitation, which is addressed to “Friends,” emphasizes in bold and italics that “this call is for background information only and not intended for press purposes.” It advises callers to tell the operator “you’re joining the ‘White House Briefing Call.’ ”

Another lobbyist said these types of teleconferences occur “all the time.”

And that is why many on K Street are exasperated with Obama’s use of lobbyists as a punching bag. Some have said they understood why he used strong rhetoric on the campaign trail but are irritated the White House solicits their opinions while Obama’s friends in Congress badger them for political donations.

That politicians court special interests is nothing new, nor is their blatant prevarication and hypocrisy when it comes to claiming to “work for the people.” Yet publicly targeting specific groups for opprobrium in order to drum up public support, and then immediately running to that very same group for their help, is a whole special class of slimy. Who is it, exactly, that Obama thinks he’s backstabbing? The electorate? The lobbyists? Indeed, why should anyone trust him at all? And all of this in the name of transparency.

Judging by his actions, Obama thinks “transparency” means “clearly lying”.

Magical Thinking

The progressive base is having conniptions over the failure of President Obama to get his agenda through Congress despite having supermajorities. Now that Obama is making token gestures (however feeble [via:HA]) towards fiscal sanity, they are experiencing political apoplexy:

As noted in quick hits by BDB and rayj, [UPDATE] and by David in a diary that just caused me to push back this diary’s publication time, Obama has now gone off the deep end. After passing a stimulus that most economists (not just liberal ones) said was too small, and that was made even more inadequate by being heavily tilted toward poor-performing tax-cuts, Obama is now intentionally recreating FDR’s mistake of 1937, when he prematurely cut back spending to try to balance the budget, and sent the country into a new recession.


Specifically: He’s going to announce a spending freeze on domestic programs (but not, of course, on the military) that is “projected to save $250 billion.” The rationale is that he wants to appease folks worried about runaway deficits. Which is just what FDR was worried about in 1937.

This is Bush-style idiocy. There is no other word for it.

The cause of this consternation is magical thinking on the part of the author, Paul Rosenberg.

Here, to remind you, is the chart I put together during the stimulus debate, showing, among other things, the relative ineffectiveness of tax cuts vs. spending in generating jobs, which is the key to getting the nation out of this recession–the only way that we can rationally hope to start bringing down the deficits:

While some tax cuts are much better than the real stinkers, it’s virtually a given that once Obama starts talking about tax cuts, the GOP is going to start demanding that Bush’s tax cuts be made permanent. Not only–as you can see from the chart–are these about the least helpful tax cuts of all, they are also heavily skewed toward helping the rich and the super-rich.

If you look closely at the chart you will be unsurprised to find that government spending is calculated to provide substantially more “bang for the buck” in creating wealth and jobs. That’s unsurprising because this chart is intended to support a progressive prescription for the economy. Of course it will show government as the answer.

Without arguing the statistical or modeling specifics behind the chart, there is one glaring item that reveals how much magical thinking went into its creation. By far the most “stimulating” actions set forth are “Temporary Increase in Food Stamps”(calculated to create 9,803,333 jobs), “Extending Unemployment Insurance” (9,236,667 jobs), and “Increased infrastructure Spending” (9,010,000 jobs). The closest tax-cutting measure, according to this analysis, in job creation is a “Payroll Tax Holiday” which is estimated to create 7,253,333 jobs. Do you see the problem?

How, exactly, do food stamps and unemployment benefits create jobs? Arguably, spending on infrastructure could create construction jobs on a temporary basis, although that hasn’t proven to be the case with the stimulus bill that was passed. But there is simply no logic to the idea that providing government benefits to the poor and unemployed will serve to create jobs, much less 9 to 10 million of them. That’s just magical thinking.

Rosenberg provides this explanation for the employment fairy (from Mark Zandi of Moody’s

Income support

The House stimulus plan includes some $100 billion over two years in income support for those households under significant financial pressure. This includes extra benefits for workers who exhaust their regular 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits; expanded food stamp payments; and help meeting COBRA payments for unemployed workers trying to hold onto their health insurance.

Increased income support has been part of the federal response to most recessions, and for good reason: It is the most efficient way to prime the economy’s pump. Simulations of the Moody’s macroeconomic model show that every dollar spent on UI benefits generates an estimated $1.63 in near-term GDP.x Boosting food stamp payments by $1 increases GDP by $1.73 (see Table 2). People who receive these benefits are hard pressed and will spend any financial aid they receive very quickly.

Another advantage is that these programs are already operating and can quickly deliver a benefit increase to recipients. The virtue of extending UI benefits goes beyond simply providing aid for the jobless to more broadly shoring up household confidence. Nothing is more psychologically debilitating, even to those still employed, than watching unemployed friends and relatives lose their sources of support.xi Increasing food stamp benefits has the added virtue of helping people ineligible for UI such as part-time workers.

Whatever the virtues of income support, and even if that support will be quickly spent in the economy, there is no justification for concluding that it will expand the economy. At best, it can stabilize a downturn by maintaining some level of consumer spending. But that does not expand the economy in any way, shape or form, and it certainly doesn’t create jobs an unprecedented level as suggested by Rosenberg.

Indeed, in order to give money to the poor and jobless, the government has to take money fr0m someplace else. Since it doesn’t create anything, the government will either (i) tax those who are working and creating wealth at higher rates, (ii) borrow money, or (iii) print money. Again, these are not wealth producing actions, but instead wealth destroying ones. It is true that, assuming such income support shortens a downturn, tax receipts will eventually outpace the costs of funding those supports. What is not true is that the government benefits will create jobs.

On the one hand, of course, I don’t want to discourage the left from turning on Obama (enemy of my enemy and all that). It just pains me to see it done based on such absurd premises.


Podcast for 24 Jan 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the special election in Massachussetts, the dangers of hyperinflation, and Haiti.  The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Dogs, Cats, Studio Apartment … Some Assembly Required

My blogging credentials (such as they are) run back to 2002, and I can remember when Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs site was just a blip on the blogospheric map. After Rathergate, of course, that blip turned into a giant shining beacon. As you might expect, that sort of attention led to plenty of caterwauling from the lefties, and some pretty unfair accusations. At one point, I brilliantly defended Johnson from completely unjustified attacks by none other than everyone’s favorite harlequin, GreenSox Glennwald (seriously, go read this one just for the comments where I get into it with everyone’s favorite sycophant Mona; good stuff). Johnson was the king of the anti-anti-war right at that time, and the left’s long knives were emblazoned with his name.

Since the election of Barack Obama, however, Johnson has had an … er, falling out with his former brethren. For whatever reason, he’s taken to sniping at his former comrades in arms and resorted to that favorite tactic of the left in calling everyone a racist who doesn’t agree with him.

Such is life. Coalitions rarely last for very long, and divorces are typically nasty affairs where rude epithets are common. That Charles no longer wants to associate with those whom he once treated as his band of blogo-brothers is sad, but not terribly important in the grand scheme of things. Strange bedfellows abound in times of perceived danger.

Nevertheless, there was a time (called the “Bush Presidency”) when Johnson was the posterchild for all that was deemed wrong with the political right, especially the left’s fervent fantasies about racism run amuck. To be fair, such accusations typically found their quarry ruminating around LGF’s prodigious comment sections, but that was enough for the lords of tolerance to tar all non-statists as racist, warmongering, dead-enders with no sense of compassion or grace. That is, until Johnson decided to part ways with his former comrades.

Considering LGF’s place amongst the pantheon of the left’s most hated sites on Earth, you can imagine my surprise upon reading a paean to Charles Johnson in, of all places, the New York Times:

Charles Johnson has been writing a blog for almost as long as the word “blog” has existed. A bearish, gentle-voiced, ponytailed man who for three decades enjoyed a successful career as a jazz guitarist accompanying the likes of Al Jarreau and Stanley Clarke, Johnson has always had a geek’s penchant for self-education, and in that spirit he cultivated a side interest, and ultimately an expertise, in writing computer code. His Web log, which he named “Little Green Footballs” (a private joke whose derivation he has always refused to divulge), was begun in February 2001 mostly as a way to share advice and information with fellow code jockeys — his approach was similar in outlook, if vastly larger in its reach, to the guiding spirit in the days of ham radio. His final post on Sept. 10, 2001, was titled “Placement of Web Page Elements.” It read, in its entirety: “Here’s a well-executed academic study of where users expect things to be on a typical Web page.” It linked to, well, exactly what it said. The post attracted one comment, which read, in its entirety, “Fantastic article.”

He’s cute! He’s cuddly! He’s just a code monkey who likes Tab and Mountain Dew! Nothing to fear here!

By virtue of his willingness to do and share research, his personal embrace of a hawkish, populist anger and his extraordinary Web savvy, Johnson quickly turned Little Green Footballs (or L.G.F., as it is commonly known) into one of the most popular personal sites on the Web, and himself — the very model of a Los Angeles bohemian — into an avatar of the American right wing. With a daily audience in the hundreds of thousands, the career sideman had moved to the center of the stage.

Now it is eight years later, and Johnson, who is 56, sits in the ashes of an epic flame war that has destroyed his relationships with nearly every one of his old right-wing allies. People who have pledged their lives to fighting Islamic extremism, when asked about Charles Johnson now, unsheathe a word they do not throw around lightly: “evil.” Glenn Beck has taken the time to denounce him on air and at length. Johnson himself (Mad King Charles is one of his most frequent, and most printable, Web nicknames) has used his technical know-how to block thousands of his former readers not just from commenting on his site but even, in many cases, from viewing its home page. He recently moved into a gated community, partly out of fear, he said, that the venom directed at him in cyberspace might jump its boundaries and lead someone to do him physical harm. He has turned forcefully against Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, nearly every conservative icon you can name. And answering the question of what, or who, got to Charles Johnson has itself become a kind of boom genre on the Internet.

“It’s just so illogical,” Geller told me heatedly not long ago. “I loved him. I respected him. But the way he went after people was like a mental illness. There’s an evil to that, a maliciousness. He’s a traitor, a turncoat, a plant. We may not know for years what actually happened. You think he changed his mind?”

Poor code monkey. So lonely and misunderstood. How awful those righties are for abandoning such a crafty, neo-hippie (who finally found his way back home to his “bohemian” roots). It really is a shame that the right is so horribly intolerant that they call Johnson bad names like “evil” and “traitor”. What’s wrong with those jerks anyway?

You can read the rest for yourself. Suffice it to say, the irony of that bastion of MSM groupthink called the New York Times writing a glowing 1,000+ word article in defense of Charles Johnson and LGF is so thick I could feed off it for weeks. Recall that LGF was one the prime agents in exposing the fraud of MSM-mainstay Dan Rather and you might just string that irony-stew out for a couple of months.


“100,000 pesky votes in Massachusetts”

That’s what the Democrats think about the voters of Massachusett(e)s who voted for Scott Brown and against HCR. And that’s why, per their brain trust, they’re going the reconciliation route. Screw-the-proles politics at its finest (via HotAir):

Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, tells National Review Online that House Democrats are planning to use of the budget-reconciliation process in order to pass Obamacare. “They’re meeting with each other this weekend to pursue it,” says Ryan. “I’ve spoken with many Democrats and the message is this: They’re not ready to give up. They’ve waited their entire adult lives for this moment and they aren’t ready to let 100,000 pesky votes in Massachusetts get in the way of fulfilling their destiny. They’ll look at every option and spend the next four or five days figuring it out.”

If the Democrats pass a health-care bill through reconciliation, it means they would need only 51 votes in the Senate for final passage. To start the process, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) would need to bring a new health-care bill to the House budget committee with reconciliation instructions, with the Senate doing the same. “They’d have to go back to the beginning of the process,” says Ryan. “They’d need to affix reconciliation instructions to a new bill.” Doing so, he says, wouldn’t be too hard. “There’s nothing we can do to stop this from a technical standpoint, since all they need is a simple majority vote and our ratio on the committee is terrible. What we can do in the budget committee is pass resolutions for the Rules committee to insist on certain changes in the bill and create a ‘vote-a-rama’ atmosphere.”

Got that? Your votes don’t matter. Your voice has not been heard. You are merely an impediment to Democrats bound for history, who have no interest in what you want. Say it with me: they only care about what they want you to want.

Just remember: this ain’t over, it’s just the beginning.


Cognitive Dissonance

Few will disagree that Scott Brown’s solid victory last night was meant to send an important message to Washington. Sure, there will be some whistling past the graveyard, but for the most part the political punditry and policy-makers will understand that something needs to change, and fast. Like dog whistles and Irish brogues, however, not everyone will hear the same thing.

It will not escape those who are truly paying attention that the Senate health care bill currently residing in the House was a huge catalyst behind Brown’s come-from-nowhere win. Brown’s potential cloture-busting vote looms large in a debate where Washington elites have tuned out those whom they mean to rule. It looms so large, and its power to lure slightly more than half the registered voters to the polls on a snowy day for a special election with nothing else on the ballot sends such a strong statement, that even Barney Frank seemed to get the message:

I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican Senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb said much the same thing last night:

In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.

Yet, somehow, even while recognizing that Democrats playing a legislative game of keepaway with the bill before the House (that was drafted behind closed doors, it should be noted) will only serve to undermine public confidence in the law (and Congress), progressives like Jane Hamsher still think that’s what’s called for now:

In the wake of Martha Coakley’s defeat, both Representative Barney Frank and Senator Jim Webb have said that jamming a health care bill through before Scott Brown can be seated is not the right thing to do.

They’re right. Health care legislation would be viewed — with some justification — as illegitimate.

But many on the Hill tonight are saying that the Massachusetts defeat also means that health care reform is dead, fearful that what happened to Martha Coakley will happen to them, too, in 2010.

That’s about as feasible as Wile E. Coyote trying to turn around and run back across the bridge that is crumbling behind him. There’s only one way to go.


The non-budgetary “fixes” like banning the exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions have already passed the Senate. A public option — or an expansion of Medicare — can be added through reconciliation, which takes 51 votes. The Republicans certainly had no fear of using reconciliation when George Bush was in office. And the Democrats are going to need to do so in order to make good on their promise to fix the excise tax to benefit of the middle class, which will cost roughly $60 billion. But their options for doing that are limited by the process itself: they can pay for it by the savings from a government program like a public option or an expansion of Medicare. Or, they can piss everyone off and raise taxes.

That looks to be where Gerald Nadler and Anthony Weiner are headed tonight. They indicate that “the only way they could sign on to the Senate bill is if it was accompanied immediately, or even preceded by, a separate bill, making a number of major preemptive changes to what they regard as an inferior package,” per Brian Beutler.

It’s called sidecar reconciliation. And the 65 members of the House who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a public option should be looking into it seriously tonight.

Got that? Passing a bill that circumvents Brown’s vote will be viewed “with some justification” as illegitimate, so let’s go ahead and do just that! Do these people even listen to themselves? Using the reconciliation process (“sidecar” or otherwise) to shove health care legislation down Americans’ throats simply eschews the very legislative process that Barney Frank and Jim Webb cited as the reason to forgo further action on health care until Brown is seated. Yet, Hamsher and her cohorts advocate for legislative legerdemain anyway. Cognitive dissonance in action.

The reason, of course, is that passing health care legislation is such a fundamental issue for progressives that they have thrown all sense (such as was possessed) to the wind. It has nothing to do with what people want, but instead with what progressives want people to want. Apparently it doesn’t even matter that the rosy economic projections upon which these health care bills are based have little to no basis in reality. I guess, since the ultimate goal is a utopian fantasy, employing imaginary thinking is the only way to get there.

If nothing else, the reaction of progressives to the Massachusetts race reveals how dangerous they are when wielding power. Inconvenient facts are dismissed, and constituents are ignored, because what the progressive lacks in having any grasp of reality is more than made up for by resounding confidence and self-righteousness. Fortunately for us, the electorate does not appear to be willing to indulge their fantasies anymore.


Podcast for 17 Jan 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the special election in Massachussetts, the dangers of hyperinflation, and Haiti.  The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


An Arrogancy of Jurisdiction

Suppose I told you that there is an organization which claims to have worldwide jurisdiction (literally, “where the law speaks”) over all matters of criminal law and justice, regardless of who a person is? No I’m not referring to the ICC, but instead to the Obama administration.

The Obama administration is considering a criminal trial in Washington for the Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of masterminding the bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people, a plan that would bring one of the world’s most notorious terrorism suspects just steps from the U.S. Capitol, The Associated Press has learned.

Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, was allegedly Osama bin Laden’s point man in Indonesia and, until his capture in August 2003, was believed to be the main link between al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, the terror group blamed for the 2002 bombing on the island of Bali.

It’s not readily apparent what charges would be brought against Hambali, but a real question exists as to exactly what power our civil judicial system would have over him. In order to pass judgment on anyone, a court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, which essentially means that he has some nexus with the place where his trial takes place. With respect to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, there is at least a good argument that his alleged activities with respect to the 9/11 attacks and the World Trade Center bombings creates a connection with the court of record in New York City. In contrast, Hambali does not, as far as anyone has alleged, have any connection whatsoever with the District of Columbia, nor with anywhere else in the United States. So on what basis can a DC court claim to have any power over his person?

Yet that’s just what the Obama administration proposes to do. It is considering trying Hambali in a federal civil court, supposedly for his terrorist actions (which are legion, to be sure) elsewhere in the world. Most famously, Hambali is thought to be the mastermind behind the devastating bombings in Bali back in 2002. But Bali is in Indonesia, not the United States. Indeed, Jemaah Islamiya, of which Hambali is known to be the operations coordinator and chief liason to al Qaeda regarding its Southeast Asia conquests, has not been alleged to be involved in any actions in America or her protectorates. All of which should lead to the inexorable conclusion that our federal courts have no jurisdiction over Hambali.

Perhaps no real harm would come from a court reaching such a decision. It wouldn’t lead to a release of the prisoner, necessarily, since the question of guilt or innocence would never be addressed. But what if, instead, a ruling is made that there is personal jurisdiction over Hambali? Stranger things have happened — witness the vast expansion of judicial power created in Boumediene v. Bush, where the Supreme Court found that its jurisdiction for habeas corpus purposes extended to any person within America’s exclusive control. Should a DC court find it does have personal jurisdiction over a person who has no connection to America except for being captured by her soldiers, that would be paramount to declaring American law and jurisprudence the law of every land. In other words, we would be claiming that our laws “speak” everywhere and for everyone, whether you like it or not.

If you are inclined to believe that holding enemy combatants at GITMO directly aids al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts, how do you think the terrorist organization and her adherents will take to our claim that they, and everyone else in the world, are subject to our civil laws? How will the rest of the world view such an arrogant statement? Beyond satisfying some petty political aims, by taking such a misguided step as this the Obama administration is not doing the U.S. any favors, and is likely damaging our interests.

Podcast for 10 Jan 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the Crotch bomber security Failures, the Met’s removal of Mohammed images, and the surge in Afghanistan.  The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Podcast for 03 Jan 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the top stories of the past week.  And, with a shiny new Studio PC , I’m back in the podcast recording business!

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.