Free Markets, Free People

Politics

Questions And Observations

Some conversation starters:

  • For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.
  • I’m constantly amused by the anecdotal evidence I gather while on the road that says if you’re over 65 you have to drive a Buick.
  • One thing to keep in mind as you listen to all of these proponents tell you that government can do health care better than the private sector – The private sector is a net producer of wealth. The government sector is a net consumer of wealth. That’s why the more of the economy a government takes over the less wealth is produced and thus available within the economy.
  • Interesting chart showing the level of spending in the last 12 months compared to the spending over the last 206 years in inflation adjusted dollars.  How do people believe that such a massive increase in spending doesnt have to be paid for at some point?
  • Is Obama’s honeymoon over?  Is enough resistance building to derail some of these economy killing policies and programs now on the table?
  • Former President Bush speaks out, apparently tired of a president 150 days into his own administration continuing to blame the previous administration. Appropriate or should he remain silent? And interestingly, since the left excused Jimmy Carter’s criticism of the Bush administration, does that mean they’re fine with Bush speaking out?
  • Is it “IGgate”? What’s up with this story about the Americorps IG and are there more IGs with whom the administration has messed? Wasn’t this the administration which was going to “return” us to the “rule of law”? Why aren’t they following it?

~McQ

Krugman: The “Nipponisation” of the World

After a lot of partisan “happy talk” about how the Obama administration is handling the economic crisis here, Paul Krugman goes on record saying the world is doomed to suffer Japan’s lost economic decade on a global scale.

The thing about Japan, as with all of these cases, is how much people claim to know what happened, without having any evidence. What we do know is that recessions normally end everywhere because the monetary authority cuts interest rates a lot, and that gets things moving. And what we know in Japan was that eventually they cut their interest rates to zero and that wasn’t enough. And, so far, although we made the cuts faster than they did and cut them all the way to zero, it isn’t enough. We’ve hit that lower bound the same as they did. Now, everything after that is more or less speculation.

For example, were the problems with the Japanese banks the core problem? There are some stories about credit rationing, but they are not overwhelming. Certainly, when we look at the Japanese recovery, there was not a great surge of business investment. There was primarily a surge of exports. But was fixing the banks central to export growth?

In their case, the problems had a lot to do with demography. That made them a natural capital exporter, from older savers, and also made it harder for them to have enough demand. They also had one hell of a bubble in the 1980s and the wreckage left behind by that bubble – in their case a highly leveraged corporate sector – was and is a drag on the economy.

The size of the shock to our systems is going to be much bigger than what happened to Japan in the 1990s. They never had a freefall in their economy – a period when GDP declined by 3%, 4%. It is by no means clear that the underlying differences in the structure of the situation are significant. What we do know is that the zero bound is real. We know that there are situations in which ordinary monetary policy loses all traction. And we know that we’re in one now.

Shorter Krugman, “we’re in new territory in terms of the size of the problem, but it is all eerily similar to what happened to Japan”. Unfortunately our reaction has been eerily similar to what Japan did as well.

Krugman’s bottom line:

WH: So, one way to think about it is that self-reinforcing financial crises rooted in overstretched, overborrowed companies and governments in less developed countries – like those in Argentina and Indonesia, which were amazingly destructive in the 1990s and 2000s, but localised – are now playing out in the developed world?

PK: There are really two stories. One is the Japan-type story where you run out of room to cut interest rates. And the other is the Indonesia- and Argentina-type story where everything falls apart because of balance-sheet problems.

WH: So in a nutshell your story is …

PK: The “Nipponisation” of the world economy with a bunch of “Argentinafications” playing a role in the acute crisis. But even after those are over, we have the Nipponisation of the world economy. And that’s really something.

And of course, implicit in the “Nipponisation” of the world economy is the “Nipponisation” of the US economy – something we’ve been talking about for some time. Now, add “cap and trade” and “health care reform” into the mix.

What will we be wishing we were suffering when that all kicks in, should it pass? Nipponisation, of course. As bad as lost decade or two might be, it would be heaven compared to the economic carnage those big tax and spend programs will inflict on a very weak economy here in the US. And that, of course, will ensure the “Nipponisation” of the world economy.

~McQ

Embracing Paygo

Republicans and some allies are criticizing President Obama’s proposal for “pay as you go” rules that only cover new and expanded entitlement spending. They rightly point out that legislators can get around these new rules with budgetary tricks like relabeling spending so that “PAYGO” rules don’t apply.

But some on the Right have also warned that paygo will just lead Democrats to pass higher taxes. I’m not convinced that that’s a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like taxes. But deficit spending is taxation — deferred taxation, with interest. If the government is going to spend a bunch of our wealth on things other than emergencies, enlightened fiscal conservatives should want the American people to see the price tag, the sooner the better.

Otherwise we’re going to continue this business of borrowing from our children to pay for our reckless spending today – that’s what a lot of those tea partiers were protesting against, wasn’t it?

So fiscal conservatives should propose even more comprehensive and stringent paygo legislation than the Democrats have. Force the Democrats to put it all on the table – lock in tax hikes or spending cuts, now.

We’re going to have to do pay the piper at some point, so how does it help to wait until a real fiscal emergency is upon us?

The longer we wait to pay for it through direct taxation, the more time we give the spenders to come up with clever ways to conceal the cost – whether through inflation, or carefully targeted taxes designed to create as little political backlash as possible. Paygo creates forced errors.

If the Democrats decide to cover the gap with tax increases, that’s an issue for 2010 and beyond. Every new big spending plan, like the Obama health care plan, comes with a surefire tax increase in the near future. And as Californians recently showed the country, even Lefty voters don’t like the prospect of actually paying for all those neat programs for which they voted.

Sure, it’s self-serving for Republicans who engaged in no small amount of deficit spending themselves to suddenly find religion on the need for a balanced budget.

But there are good reasons to suspect that this level of deficit spending (and the necessary money-printing that has followed) is going to hit us in all kinds of unpleasant ways. If we don’t commit now to eventually paying off these debts, the problems will get even worse.

So let’s do something about it – or turn the heat up on the Democrats until they do something about it. Let’s give them all the paygo and fiscal discipline they can handle, and then some.

Was Von Brunn An Equal Opportunity Hater?

It appears that could be the case. Kathy Shaidle:

The anti-semitism of von Brunn is the first thing one notices when visiting these bizarre websites. However, like those of most “white supremacists”, many of von Brunn’s political views track “Left” rather than “Right.” Clearly, a re-evaluation of these obsolete definitions is long overdue.

For example, he unleashed his hatred of both Presidents Bush and other “neo-conservatives” in online essays. As even some “progressives” such as the influential Adbusters magazine publicly admit, “neoconservative” is often used as a derogatory code word for “Jews”. As well, even a cursory glance at “white supremacist” writings reveals a hatred of, say, big corporations that is virtually indistinguishable from that of anti-globalization activists.

Shaidle’s point is valid (as is her point about the “obsolete definitons”). This guy wasn’t a product of “right-wing” or “left-wing” views, this guy was a hater of all things that even hinted of Jews, right or left. He was an anti-semite to the core and, frankly, a nut.

Trying to score political points with this tragedy seems badly strained at best and truly an example of how low our political discourse has fallen. Instead of talking about the tragedy of the loss of the security guard to a lunatic, the first thing some want to do is play politics, point fingers and stereotype. That says more about them (you know, the tolerant and non-judgmental types?) than those to whom they’re pointing.

~McQ

Prepare To Be Smeared

Stephen Tyrone Johns lost his life today at the hands of a deranged man who terrorized the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC:

A Holocaust Museum guard died after being shot Wednesday in the crowded attraction and a gunman was seriously wounded in return fire, authorities said. The incident left panic-stricken visitors dashing for exits, witnesses said.

“Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns died heroically in the line of duty today,” a late-afternoon museum statement said. “There are no words to express our grief and shock over these events.

“He served on the museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’ family.”

If you are of the type to be deemed “right wing” by anyone who considers themselves not to be right-wing, then after saying a prayer for Mr. Johns and his family prepare yourself for the onslaught of comparisons that will be made between you and Mr. James Wenneker von Brunn:

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier believes the suspect was acting alone when he entered the museum just before 1 p.m., raised his rifle and began shooting. The suspect started shooting before going through metal detectors, Lanier says.

Von Brunn is said to be affiliated with white supremacist web sites.

Federal law enforcement sources tell WTOP Von Brunn is a convicted felon. He had been convicted of bringing weapons into the Federal Reserve and served time in a federal penitentiary.

A Web site apparently linked to Von Brunn contains Anti-Semitic and racist writings and promotes a book written by Von Brunn. The biography section of the Web site says Von Brunn was born in 1920, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves and a captain of a patrol torpedo boat during World War II and received four battle stars.

After a career in New York City as a copywriter and art director, Von Brunn now lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he is an artist, according to the Web site.

Because Mr. von Brunn was associated with anti-semitic and neo-nazi hate groups he will automatically be deemed “right wing” just like you. Nevermind that he also seems to have supported other, not-so-right-wing causes as well, or that just today a famous anti-semitic buddy of the President’s resurfaced with a timely quote. As someone labeled “right wing” you will now be forced to carry the von Brunn albatross around your neck.

Moreover, Gaia help you if you squawked about being lumped in with such extremist nutjobs when that DHS report came out, because that only proves their point that you, too, are a right-wing hater who approves of all such vicious murders. And no, there is nothing ironic about the fact that the non-right-wingers are now doing the same thing to you that the DHS report did because you complained about the DHS report doing it. Nothing wrong with that at all, nosiree.

So be prepared, because the caterwauling is coming. Indeed, as Legal Insurrection notes, it didn’t take very long at all for this meme to start up:

Although the shooting is only hours old, numerous blogs already are attempting to tie the act of violence to conservatives and criticism of the Obama administration’s overly broad definition of those who are “extremists.” Posts such as “this looks like the latest episode in what is looking like the spate of right-wing violence we’ve been predicting” or “the right wing has lost whatever restraint it had” or “perhaps it’ll be time to revisit all that criticism of the DHS report” are highly irresponsible attempts to take political advantage of this apparently lone-wolf tragedy.

Ed Morrissey takes on the DHS angle:

Yet again, we have a despicable attack based on hatred and political extremism, the third such attack in two weeks to result in fatalities. Doubtless many people will try to find ways to score political points, like the e-mailer who waited a whole 20 minutes to blame conservatives for dismissing the DHS report on right-wing extremism for this tragedy. To that, I’d respond that our criticism was that the DHS report didn’t focus on known, specific threats, instead making generalized threats about abortion opponents and other vague and broad generalizations about conservative issues. In fact, it never mentioned Holocaust denial at all, nor did it mention anti-semitism at all, either; those terms don’t appear at all in the report. [ed. – my emphasis] And despite being well-known as a threat since the 1980s, the DHS never bothered to identify von Brunn or his organization as a specific threat in the report — which, again, was the heart of our criticism.

To be fair, I have come across one sane “non-right-winger” who seems to understand that a nut is a nut (internal links omitted):

The suspect, James Von Brunn, appears to be a neo-Nazi/white supremacist. This is not an extension of the Republican Party’s, or religious rights’, ideology. There is no question that Tiller’s suspected murderer, Roeder, had direct connections to rightwing propaganda — I drew those connections in this post.

Von Brunn is different. This kook is a neo-Nazi conspiracy theoriest with no connection to the mainstream right. As evidence, here’s his Internet paper trail: an archive of his website “holywesternempire.org”. (The reference to the Germanic Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages should be obvious.) Explore his website if you want (I’m not wasting my time), but keep two questions in mind: Do you see links to mainstream rightwing sites? And did any mainstream rightwing websites pay attention to him. Perhaps I need to do more research before answering these questions, but after a cursory look at Von Brunn’s website — as well as trolling rightwing blogs for ages — I think the answers to these questions are no and no.

Tensions are running high and it’s easy to try making a connection between the GOP and people like Von Brunn, but that connection just isn’t logical. Neo-Nazis stand apart from the rest. Let’s not confuse the two.

Despite the reasonableness above, the insanity is already gathering a good deal of speed. By tomorrow night I expect there to be major news reports about the life of von Brunn, how he was connected to neo-nazi groups, how he hated Obama, as well as deep probing questions about how we stop the rising tide of right-wing hate. I would also venture to guess that there will be speculation about whether Dr. Tiller’s murder, von Brunn and that guy from Pittsburgh knew each other, or whether they were in any way affiliated. Their guilt would be further extended to anyone who possibly uttered a conservative idea that sounds vaguely like one expressed by one of the nutjobs, especially if it has a general anti-government flair. In fact, don’t be surprised if Tea Parties are somehow made to blame for all of it.

All because two mentally challenged individuals killed two people. I guess the old Michael Moore-ish pooh-poohing of the fight against terrorism because there is so little chance of your actually dying from it has gone out the window. Of course, if the “non-right-wingers” getting on their collective high horse now had shown even an inkling of the same interest in fighting terrorism as they are exhibiting in their zeal to combat right-wing extremism, then the chances of being killed by a terrorist might be too small to measure.

Nevertheless, extremists have killed and you will be blamed. Consider yourself warned.

UPDATE: As of June 11, 2009 at 12:30 AM ET, Memeorandum has the Rev. Wright story as the lead post to the entire discussion of the Holocaust Museum murder. Hmmmmmm …

* Correction: Originally, the post identified the victim by the last name of Jones. It has been corrected to show the victim’s last name as Johns.

Health Care – “The Public Plan”

Ezra Klein discusses what has commonly become known as the “public plan” in the emerging “health care reform” legislation. Put simply it is “public insurance” which is supposed to compete with the private insurance industry and, as Paul Krugman claims, keep them “honest”.

Klein lays out the various flavors being floated out there concerning this option:

• The “Trigger” Plan: Olympia Snowe is pushing this compromise, as are some conservative Democrats. The basic idea is that the public plan would act as an invisible threat: It would be “triggered” into existence if the private insurance market was unable to offer, say, enough options in a particular region, or enough cost control. In addition, the public plan would only come into existence in this or that region, or this or that state. It would be effectively useless as an insurer. It could potentially have some competitive effect in that private insurers would still work to avoid its existence. Some have argued, however, that the conditions being mentioned in the “trigger” proposals have already been met.

• The Weak Public Plan: This is what people are talking about when they refer to a “level-playing field.” This incarnation of the public plan — first proposed by Len Nichols at the New America Foundation and later echoed by Peter Harbage and Karen Davenport at the Center for American Progress — would have no special advantages over private insurers. It couldn’t use the low rates that Medicare sets or access taxpayer subsidies. It couldn’t force its way into networks. It would simply be another insurer, albeit with different incentives than traditional insurers.

• The Strong Public Plan: This would be like Medicare for the rest of us. It could throw the federal government’s weight around. It could negotiate deep discounts with providers. It could muscle its way into networks. Outside groups like the Commonwealth Fund estimate that it would save the average consumer 20 percent to 30 percent. That would give it a massive competitive advantage over private insurers, and would probably result in tens of millions of Americans dropping their current coverage and entering the public plan to save money. A variant of this was in the draft of Ted Kennedy’s bill that was leaked last week.

While Blue Dog Democrats have come out in favor of the “trigger” option, liberals such as Klein and Krugman prefer the “Strong Public Plan” for the reasons stated (massive dropping of private insurance for “public” (i.e. government) insurance). And there’s a reason they both prefer that – they see it as a backdoor way to move health insurance to a single payer system.

And that is a distinct possibility with both the “strong public plan”. In fact it is a design feature. The “competition” touted would most likely be in name only as Greg Mankiw explains (quoting Krugman to set up his explanation):

What’s still not settled, however, is whether regulation will be supplemented by competition, in the form of a public plan that Americans can buy into as an alternative to private insurance.Now nobody is proposing that Americans be forced to get their insurance from the government. The “public option,” if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans “a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.”

It seems to me that this passage, like most discussion of the issue, leaves out the answer to the key question: Would the public plan have access to taxpayer funds unavailable to private plans?

If the answer is yes, then the public plan would not offer honest competition to private plans. The taxpayer subsidies would tilt the playing field in favor of the public plan. In this case, the whole idea of a public option seems to be a disingenuous route toward a single-payer system, which many on the left favor but recognize is a political nonstarter.

If the answer is no, then the public plan would need to stand on its own financially and, in essence, would be a private nonprofit plan. But then what’s the point? If advocates of a public plan want to start a nonprofit company offering health insurance on better terms than existing insurance companies, nothing is stopping them from doing so right now. There is free entry into the market for health insurance. If a public plan without taxpayer support would succeed, so would a nonprofit insurance company. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

The bottom line: If the goal is honest competition in the provision of health insurance, the public option cannot do much good but can potentially do much harm.

That is a critical point in this debate – there isn’t an insurer out there that has as deep pockets as the US Treasury. If there is public money backing the public option, then the talk of “competition” is a sham. It is being used to placate and fool those who oppose a government takeover of insurance, the result which would surely happen if what Mankiw’s concerns are true. And if you follow the reasoning process that Mankiw has laid out above, it should be pretty darn obvious what the intent of this “public plan” really is, all the happy talk Klein and Krugman throw out there notwithstanding.

Last, but not least, while the “strong public plan” is an obvious short-cut to single-payer government run health care, the other two plans simply delay that same eventual outcome for a while. While there are certainly reforms that could be made in the insurance industry and health care generally, anyone who believes that government can do it a) better and b) more efficiently has simply not been paying attention to the shape government finances are in right now or how large the deficit has grown as it has mismanaged its entitlement empire to this point.

~McQ

SCOTUS Temporarily Halts Chrysler Sale To Fiat

And Ruth Bader Ginsberg granted the halt (I wonder if she issued the stay on empathetic grounds or legal grounds?).

The “greedy speculators” who requested the stay were somewhat happy:

Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock said the ruling was a small victory for Indiana pensioners, who brought the request for an injunction for fear of losing their stake.

But, like I said, this is a very temporary stay:

In order for the stay to have a more lasting effect, five justices need to sign on it. That has not happened, or at least not yet. The court may yet deny the emergency request or grant it and await arguments about why it should actually hear an appeal.

However, that should be more than enough time for the usual suspects to demonize the firemen, police officers, teachers and blue collar workers greedy speculators and their desire to destroy the UAW auto industry for their pension funds 20 pieces of silver.

In fact, it has already begun:

Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., whose congressional district is home to Chrysler world headquarters, said the state of Indiana pension funds’ attempt to stop the sale is an effort to prevent a swift emergence from bankruptcy in the name of a small sum.

Indiana’s pension funds would lose $4.8 million if Chrysler is allowed to emerge from bankruptcy, Peters said, while the state will lose more than $20.7 million in tax revenue if Chrysler is liquidated, as well as incur tens of millions in lost revenue, expenses and new unemployment claims.

“Other stakeholders, including other secured lenders and Chrysler’s autoworkers, accepted shared sacrifice because they recognized their interest was better served keeping Chrysler alive rather than forcing liquidation. Why the officials who decided to take their objections all the way to the Supreme Court can’t recognize this is beyond me,” Peters said.

IOW, Michigan’s greed is much more acceptable than is Indiana’s. And besides, the powers to be have already made up their mind that the “greedy speculators” in Indiana should just shut up and accept the rape of their pension funds because the interests of others are “better served” if they get screwed vs. Michigan.

Nice.

~McQ

Throwing the BS Flag (Update)

The usual suspects have blamed the usual suspects in the GM bailout:

Austan Goolsbee, a senior economic adviser to President Obama, said the administration’s options were sharply limited by President Bush’s handling of the auto industry, and accused the prior administration of running out the clock.

“They shook up the can. They opened the can and handed [it] to us in our laps,” Goolsbee said on Fox News Sunday.

“When George Bush put money into General Motors, almost explicitly with the purpose — how many dollars do they need to stay alive until January 20th, 2009, there was no commitment to restructuring, to making these viable enterprises of any kind,” said Goolsbee, who serves as staff director and chief economist of the Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

All of that is probably true, but the BS flag is thrown at the implication that the Bush administration left them with few options such that it had to funnel more and more bailout money into GM.

There was a clear second option – back off, tell GM that bankruptcy and restructuring are the best option and let the system take care of it. But they didn’t. They made the case that GM was “too big to fail” and that the “downstream impact” in terms of unemployment was unacceptable.

The continued bailout had two outcomes that the Obama administration wanted but won’t admit. One – they got a majority equity stake in the company. And they manipulated the bankruptcy proceedings to preserve that majority.

Secondly, it saved the jobs of a favored special interest group, the UAW, until such a time they too could be handed an equity stake in the “new” company through the manipulated process.

Without the Bush administration’s bailout, none of that would have been possible. And, of course, previous to taking office, Obama had lauded the handling of the GM problem.

So the Goolsbee blame shifting is more than nonsense, it’s nonsense on stilts.

UPDATE: Keith Hennesy, a member of the Bush administration who dealt directly with this subject and the incoming Obama administration throws a very detailed BS flag of his own.  [HT: Rick Caird]

~McQ

Short-sighted Partisan Politics Makes For Bad Decisions

And nothing could make that point better than this:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.

Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.

Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!

Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.

Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.

Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.

Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?

Why now?

Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.

Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.

Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).

That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.

~McQ

There Is A Solution

Although many people don’t want to hear it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on the situation in California:

“People come up to me all the time, pleading ‘governor, please don’t cut my program,'” he said. “They tell me how the cuts will affect them and their loved ones. I see the pain in their eyes and hear the fear in their voice. It’s an awful feeling. But we have no choice.

“Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up.”

Then. Cut. Spending.

For real this time.

~McQ