It certainly seems like it. Reason magazine finds the current way the US is addressing the economic crises to be pretty familiar:
The scenario was eerily familiar. A long real estate bubble that had expanded extra rapidly for the previous five years suddenly burst, and asset prices came crashing back down to earth. Banks and financial institutions were left holding piles of worthless paper, and the economy soon headed south. The national government responded to the crisis by encouraging more lending and spending previously unfathomable amounts of money on public works projects in an effort to stimulate consumer spending and restart growth.
Of course that’s where we are now and what that led too in Japan has come to be known as the “lost decade” (now three decades old).
One of the things we’ve pointed out is there is an element within this model that both Japan and now the US has used that is focused on “pain avoidance” (GM and Chrysler are prefect examples of that). Part of that is driven by the belief by those in power that the government can address problems within markets and lessen the impact. The second part of that, of course, is by convincing the public that’s the case, they then have to try to do what they claim they can do. But the law of unintended consequences has a bad habit of pushing its way into such situations and turning them sour:
The Japanese experience shows that when the government is an active participant in the market, many firms would rather accept state support than initiate the inevitable financial reckoning. Such a status quo does not provide a sustainable foundation for the economy. Instead, it restricts economic growth and creates a cycle of stagnation.
A friend, talking about the recession and eventual recovery, said that we’ll come out of it “okay” because “Americans are neurotically productive”. True. But so are the Japanese. While we have a fantastic workforce which is among the most productive in the world, even they won’t be able to overcome restricted economic growth caused by the government’s deep intrusion into various markets.
Comparing Japan’s reaction to the US reaction in similar circumstances is instructive:
When a recession began to set in after the 1990 stock market crash, Japan responded by reversing its tight money policy, cutting rates to 4.5 percent in 1991, 3.25 percent in 1992, 1.75 percent from 1993 to 1994, 0.5 percent from 1995 to 2000, and as low as 0.1 percent in September 2001.
A similar pattern took place in the United States. From 2000 to 2002, the Federal Reserve slashed the target discount rate from 6 percent to 0.75 percent. Fearing irrational exuberance, to borrow Alan Greenspan’s famous phrase, the Fed then raised the rate as high as 6.25 percent in June 2006. But now that the bubble has burst and the economy contracted, the Fed has cut the discount rate 12 times, lowering it to the current 0.5 percent. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly stated that he sees interest rate cuts as a way to “support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks.”
In both the Japanese and the American cases, post-bubble policy makers believed that lowering interest rates would make credit easier to obtain, thus recreating the environment that had spurred economic growth to begin with. But this meant that the supposed cure for a bubble created by easy credit was to extend even more easy credit.
These rate cuts only perpetuated the distortion of economic decisions and prevented savings, investment, and consumption from realigning with true preferences, as opposed to the illusory ones created by easy credit and artificially low interest rates. The lesson is that when monetary policy is used to “smooth” or “tweak” the market, it inevitably causes unintended consequences that in some cases can be very damaging to long-term economic growth.
Of course it is hard to say what future growth might be had the US government not done what it has done. But again, using Japan of that era vs. the US of that era, the difference is between 1.3% growth on average vs. 3.5% growth here. In economic terms that is a huge difference.
Reason also does a nice job of dismantling the “failure of regulation” argument. As they point out, what must be examined is how the regulatory environment then in place spawned the crisis vs. the claim that not enough regulation was in place.
For instance, government housing policy of the era:
The push to expand homeownership had two big effects. First, it greatly increased the number of buyers, driving up housing prices. Second, it provided mortgages to a large number of people who had a high risk of default.
That policy was further enabled by the capital reserve requirements which, in effect, encouraged heavy lending and an insensitivity to risk. Instead of admitting that and understanding that such policies are dangerous, the reaction has mostly been to ignore that and shift the blame to the private sector with calls for “more regulation”.
And then, going back to the “pain avoidance” point (justified as “too big to fail” by the government), what has happened is, as in the case of GM and Chrysler before the bankruptcies, government propping up failed businesses:
The Bank of Japan tried to ease economic pain by loaning large amounts to businesses. But the attempts to recapitalize the market ignored underlying management problems in the dying firms. It was a costly mistake. Intense lobbying from special-interest groups representing various sectors of the Japanese economy perpetuated the ill-fated loans and funneled government money to zombie businesses.
The United States has already begun to copy this policy, lending billions of dollars to financial institutions and auto companies and buying up billions more in bank equity in an effort to recapitalize the marketplace. The effect has been to keep poorly managed firms alive with taxpayer money.
Had they been allowed to fail and go through the reorganization process, those problems would have at least been addressed. They haven’t, at this point, in most of the financial sector and in the auto sector, it remains to be seen.
Of course the government’s deep involvement in these sectors and businesses sets up a natural conflict of interests. While a business is market oriented, and takes signals from consumers, governments are agenda driven and politically oriented. And it then comes down to a matter of incentives. In the first case the incentive of a business is to serve its consumer base. But that’s not the case with politicians necessarily, is it?
Lawmakers’ incentives are to serve their constituencies or their own political careers. This can put them at odds with the businesses they are suddenly attempting to manage. The more the government is involved in directing business activity, the less likely those firms will succeed in maintaining long-term growth, and the more likely they will turn into Japanese-style zombies.
While we’d like to believe that lawmaker’s constituencies consist of the people in their state or district, in reality they consist of special interests who help keep them in office. The ability to deliver to those special interests and keep their support and dollars flowing is just to much to resist for most.
Studies from Okimoto’s center and the Bank of Japan concluded that data revealing the scope of the economic malaise were suppressed and that regulations were developed with governmental interests in mind.
Given how the discussion has been driven here by the likes of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, there’s little doubt that regulations will be “developed with governmental interests in mind”.
In reality it all comes down to power, or the illusion of power, and politics. Short-term politics with no real eye on the future impact of actions taken today. And these actions are based in a false premise that the market is not self-correcting and that it must be both controlled and tweaked by government.
Japan bought into that premise, and so has the US:
The principle of creative destruction—the economic mutation that continuously breaks down old forms and creates newer, more productive and efficient ones—was ignored in the hope that legacy corporations could somehow save Japan. From Wall Street to Detroit, under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the American government has been equally unwilling to let once-formidable companies fail.
And that, in my opinion, will see us repeat the Japanese experience, despite the small glimmers of hope we’ve been seeing in the reports in recent days. This isn’t about short term increases in home sales and construction spending. This is about the long term economic health of our economy.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not seeing moves by the government that work toward the most positive outcome in that regard.
Martin Feldstein, a professor of economics at Harvard University, president emeritus of the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984 has concluded that the Waxman/Markey cap-and-trade legislation is a bad idea. He comes to that conclusion for a number of reasons.
First, his understanding of the legislation and its economic impact:
The leading legislative proposal, the Waxman-Markey bill that was recently passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would reduce allowable CO2 emissions to 83 percent of the 2005 level by 2020, then gradually decrease the amount further. Under the cap-and-trade system, the federal government would limit the total volume of CO2 that U.S. companies can emit each year and would issue permits that companies would be required to have for each ton of CO2 emitted. Once issued, these permits would be tradable and could be bought and sold, establishing a market price reflecting the targeted CO2 reduction, with a tougher CO2 standard and fewer available permits leading to higher prices.
Companies would buy permits from each other as long as it is cheaper to do that than to make the technological changes needed to eliminate an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions. Companies would also pass along the cost of the permits in their prices, pushing up the relative price of CO2-intensive goods and services such as gasoline, electricity and a range of industrial products. Consumers would respond by cutting back on consumption of CO2-intensive products in favor of other goods and services. This pass-through of the permit cost in higher consumer prices is the primary way the cap-and-trade system would reduce the production of CO2 in the United States.
Note that he doesn’t play any games when talking about where the cost of such permits will end up – passed through to consumers. He prefers the CBO’s lower estimate of the impact per family of about $1,600 per “typical” family to some of the higher estimates in the $3,000 t0 $4,000. But they’re all estimates and they all say, even at the low end, that the impact is going to be significant.
Feldstein then looks at the possible payoff and challenges Americans to ask a very pertinent question. He also calls the plan exactly what it is – a tax:
Americans should ask themselves whether this annual tax of $1,600-plus per family is justified by the very small resulting decline in global CO2. Since the U.S. share of global CO2 production is now less than 25 percent (and is projected to decline as China and other developing nations grow), a 15 percent fall in U.S. CO2 output would lower global CO2 output by less than 4 percent. Its impact on global warming would be virtually unnoticeable.
But its impact on the American economy? Well, you don’t have to be a Harvard economist to figure that out. And a quick glance at Europe and how quickly most of the countries there figured out a way to ignore Kyoto should tell you the rest of the story.
Feldstein may or may not believe the theory that says CO2 is a pollutant and the cause of “global climate change”. But what is clear is he certainly doesn’t believe our seeming desire to strap ourselves economically without the big emitters (China and India) doing the same is a) worth it economically and b) make a bit of difference in real terms. Doing it without those two and all others included is about as smart as committing to unilateral nuclear disarmarment.
Feldstein goes on to attack the pending cap-and-trade legislation for other reasons as well – mostly on a revenue and impact basis (and how revenue can soften the impact – yeah, subsidy – at the “payee” end – i.e. consumers. Of course, only a certain class of consumers would most likely be eligable and it will be up to the more well-to-do to pay their “fair share”). But the two big points of his criticism are the most important in my thinking.
1. It will, regardless of how it is structured, have a negative economic impact on every American household and thus our economy.
2. It won’t make a bit of real difference unless everyone is involved in such reductions. Exclusion of the big emitters makes our “economic sacrifice” literally worthless in terms of the supposed overall goal of cutting CO2 worldwide.
Because of those two points alone, we should demand that such legislation be voted down. I think the focus on CO2 is a load of unscientific nonsense, but politically that has no legs at this time. But what does have legs is the argument summed up in those two points and opponents of cap-and-trade should use them (and Feldstein’s name) to make the argument against the pending legislation.
Yet another statistical analysis of the Chrysler dealership closings has been conducted, although this one appears to be both much more thorough (albeit preliminary) and concentrated on the correct data (my emphasis):
To start with, we pulled raw donor data from The Center for Responsive Politics / OpenSecrets.org for the 2008 election cycle and extracted ~865 megabytes of 2008 individual contribution (“IC”) cycle table entries.
… this particular output is the widest available dataset on contributions. We matched this data against two Chrysler dealer lists:
First, Docket #797 “Document #3″ “Schedule of Designated Domestic Dealer Agreements and Cure Costs Related Thereto” (a list of dealers expected to survive).
Second, the famous “Exhibit A” document of dealers to be closed.
We ran binary logistic regressions across the variables. The results are interesting but the most dramatic was saved dealers v. donations by candidate and/or party.
The results of the analysis suggest that donors to Hillary Clinton in the recent presidential race received some preferential treatment. That does not mean that anyone has proven anything, nor that the statistical analysis makes any sort of unassailable case. It merely raises a concern that, given the probabilities, Clinton donors appear to have survived the dealership closings surprisingly well.
This puzzled us. Why would there be an
significantnoticeable (we have rightly been called out for using significant here) and highly positive correlation between dealer survival and Clinton donors? Granted, that P-Value (0.125) isn’t enough to reject the null hypothesis at 95% confidence intervals (our null hypothesis being that the effect is due to random chance), but a 12.5% chance of a Type I error in rejecting a null hypothesis (false rejection of a true hypothesis) is at least eyebrow raising. Most statistians would not call this a “find” as 95% confidence intervals are the gold standard for this sort of work. Nevertheless, it seems clear that something is going on here. Specifically, the somewhat low probability that the Clinton data showing higher survivability of Clinton donors could result just from pure chance. But why not better significance with any of the other variables? Why this stand out?
Then we got to thinking. Steven Rattner, the Car Czar, is married to Maureen White, one-time national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What does Maureen do now? From her website:
Maureen White is currently Chairman of the Board of Overseers of The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a member of the North American Advisory Board for the London School of Economics, and a National Finance Chair of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign. (emphasis ours)
That website looks dated, but you get the idea.
Again, we want to point out that our findings are preliminary and subject to change. But whatever the result, the Administration has made themselves very vulnerable by taking charge of the dealership closing decisions.
I’m still not sure if there’s anything to the allegations, but there seems to be more than enough anomalies to warrant some questions being asked of the Obama administration. It should be noted that the theory regarding potential shenanigans has morphed from Obama creating a Republican hit list with the closings, to Obama benefiting Democrat donors by allowing their dealerships to survive (and thrive), to Obama’s “Car Czar” rewarding donors to his wife’s favorite political candidate (Hillary Clinton). When the theory moves that much, often it’s a sign that one is fishing for a villain. And despite the evidence amassed in this case showing that an unusual number of Democrat donors are set to prosper from the closing decisions, that may be the case here.
However this all turns out, one thing is certain: by involving itself so deeply in the fate of Chrysler (and GM), the Obama administration invited scrutiny concerning its decision-making processes. Furthermore, in being so opaque about how the government is picking winners and losers (not to mention that it is making these decisions at all), the Obama administration has left itself open to attacks of favoritism. That has nothing to do with Obama or partisanship in particular, but with the fact that unaccountable power rightfully raises fears and suspicions of favoritism. If Chrysler had been left to fend for itself in bankruptcy, none of these questions would have been raised.
The government arrogated to itself tremendous amounts of power over what would normally be private business decisions. In the process, the Obama administration blatantly used its power and influence to reward a favored constituent group (the UAW). Now that statistical evidence suggests more favoritism may have been in play, it’s a little late to cry “conspiracy theory.” Instead, the Obama administration should start opening the books and answering questions.
Whether or not the decisions to close certain Chrysler dealerships was political motivated is still an open question, and based mostly on anecdotal evidence as well as an incomplete analysis data. Regardless, the evidence available thusfar, when viewed in light of the Obama administration’s previously demonstrated willingness to meddle for partisan gain (UAW anyone?), suggests that in the very least more investigation is warranted.
As the investigation unfolds (the yeoman’s work of which is being done by Doug Ross and Joey Smith), there are couple of things to keep in mind. Although many people have referred to the closing list of dealerships as a “hit list” it makes much more sense to concentrate on the dealerships remaining open and regarding it as a potential “friends Obama supports” list. By way of example, the evidence unearthed by Joey Smith regarding the RLJ-McLarty-Landers enterprise reveals that big time Democrat donors and partisans are reaping enormous benefits from the Chrysler plan in the form of all its competition being wiped out. So who owns this luckiest of dealerships?:
In my analysis of the Chrysler dealers that will remain open, I came across one dealer group that stood out to me.
The company is called RLJ-McLarty-Landers, and it operates six Chrysler dealerships throughout the South. All six dealerships are safe from closing.
The interesting part is who the three main owners of the company are. The owners are Steve Landers (long-time car dealer, 4th-generation dealer), Thomas “Mack” McLarty (former Chief of Staff for President Clinton), and Robert Johnson (founder of Black Entertainment Television and co-owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats). Landers has given money to Republicans in the past, but McLarty campaigned for Obama in 2008, and Johnson has given countless amounts of money to Democrats over the years.
Smith has found a similar fortune for Lithia Motors, whose CEO Sidney Deboer is a Democratic donor (although he’s also given to Republicans) and has come out publicly in favor of the Obama administration.
Of course, all of this is still anecdotal, but the planned closings look awfully fishy when the list of canceled dealerships is so totally dominated by Republican donors, and the list of survivors features prominent Democrat supporters.
Regardless of the above, Nate Silver has provided the excuse for Obama supporters to safely ignore this story by declaring the percentage of Republican car dealers to be so high in comparison to Democrats, that there should be little to no surprise when the closing list is so chock full of GOP partisans:
There is just one problem with this theory. Nobody has bothered to look up data for the control group: the list of dealerships which aren’t being closed. It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats — not just those who are having their doors closed.
Overall, 88 percent of the contributions from car dealers went to Republican candidates and just 12 percent to Democratic candidates. By comparison, the list of dealers on Doug Ross’s list (which I haven’t vetted, but I assume is fine) gave 92 percent of their money to Republicans — not really a significant difference.
There’s no conspiracy here, folks — just some bad math.
Despite what Silver asserts (i.e. that the control group of non-closing dealerships should be examined), he does no such thing. Instead, he researches the Huffington Post’s Fundrace database for donations from car dealers to arrive at his decision that such occupation gives to the GOP at the tune of 8-1. However, Open Secrets arrives at a much different conclusion, especially over the long term, in which dealers only gave to the GOP at approximately a 3.5-1 clip. At those numbers, one would expect to find somewhere around a quarter of the closings to affect Democrat donors, instead of the 2.36% found thus far:
In fact, I have thus far found only a single Obama donor ($200 from Jeffrey Hunter of Waco, Texas) on the closing list.
Another review of all 789 closing dealerships, by WND, found $450,000 donated to GOP presidential candidates; $7,970 to Sen. Hillary Clinton; $2,200 to John Edwards and $450 to Barack Obama.
Of course, it’s important to remember that statistics do not prove the existence of anything, just its likelihood of existing. Nevertheless, the details uncovered so far suggest that partisanship may have indeed played a role in deciding which franchises remained open.
According to The Hill’s Blog, the Republican National Committee has already screwed up their opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination:
Whoops. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has apparently inadvertently released its list of talking points on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
Included on the released list were a few hundred influential Republicans who were the intended recipients of the talking points. Unfortunately for the RNC, so were members of the media.
Yikes! Sounds bad doesn’t it? There must be some mention of Sotomayor being an “especially dangerous” candidate because of her Hispanic ethnicity or something. Well, let’s have a look-see:
o President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is an important decision that will have an impact on the United States long after his administration.
o Republicans are committed to a fair confirmation process and will reserve judgment until more is known about Judge Sotomayor’s legal views, judicial record and qualifications.
o Until we have a full view of the facts and comprehensive understanding of Judge Sotomayor’s record, Republicans will avoid partisanship and knee-jerk judgments – which is in stark contrast to how the Democrats responded to the Judge Roberts and Alito nominations.
o To be clear, Republicans do not view this nomination without concern. Judge Sotomayor has received praise and high ratings from liberal special interest groups. Judge Sotomayor has also said that policy is made on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
o Republicans believe that the confirmation process is the most responsible way to learn more about her views on a number of important issues.
o The confirmation process will help Republicans, and all Americans, understand more about judge Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.
o Republicans are the minority party, but our belief that judges should interpret rather than make law is shared by a majority of Americans.
o Republicans look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor’s legal views and to determining whether her views reflect the values of mainstream America.
Wow. That’s devastating. Republicans want a “fair confirmation process” devoid of “knee-jerk judgments” so that they can take the time to study Sotomayor’s record. Actually that sounds about right. Maybe this is one of those communiques that require a special liberal decoder ring to reveal the “code words” and their obviously racists message.
Pressing on with points about Obama’s motivations in picking a nominee:
o Liberal ideology, not legal qualification, is likely to guide the president’s choice of judicial nominees.
o Obama has said his criterion for nominating judges would be their “heart” and “empathy.”
o Obama said he believes Supreme Court justices should understand the Court’s role “to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process.”
o Obama has declared: “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old-and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges.”
For sure, quoting the President in your talking points is a sneaky way to get around the racist message that must be lurking in there … I sure could use that decoder ring.
o Justice Souter’s retirement could move the Court to the left and provide a critical fifth vote for:
o Further eroding the rights of the unborn and property owners;
o Imposing a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage;
o Stripping “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance and completely secularizing the public square;
o Abolishing the death penalty;
o Judicial micromanagement of the government’s war powers.
Ummm … so that’s it? Talking points that reiterate what the GOP has been saying for years? I’m missing where the RNC “fumbled” anything. Instead, it looks like The Hill got pwned.
Sure sounds like it to me:
A transcript of a secretly recorded phone call between the brother of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Roland Burris was released in federal court today, a call in which Burris, then seeking the Senate seat, was recorded offering the Blagojevich campaign a campaign check.
“I know I could give him a check,” Burris said. “Myself.”
But in the same call, Burris tells Robert Blagojevich he is concerned he and Rod Blagojevich will “catch hell.”
“And if I do get appointed that means I bought it,” Burris said.
“And, and God knows number one, I, I wanna help Rod,” Burris says later in the call. “Number two, I also wanna, you know, hope I get a consideration to get that appointment.”
The culture of corruption on steroids – or as a friend says, “the ususal Chicago politics”. Of course Burris would never voluntarily give up the seat and would most likely have to be dragged from the Senate kicking and screaming.
Any chance the Democrats will clean their own house?
Yeah, that’s a joke.
I watched this story percolate throughout the day, wondering if there was anything of substance to it. Even now I’m not entirely sure how much is pure speculation and how much can be decisively proven. If any of it turns out to be true, however, then the repercussions could prove politically fatal. Doug Ross has the scoop:
A tipster alerted me to an interesting assertion. A cursory review by that person showed that many of the Chrysler dealers on the closing list were heavy Republican donors.
To quickly review the situation, I took all dealer owners whose names appeared more than once in the list. And, of those who contributed to political campaigns, every single one had donated almost exclusively to GOP candidates. While this isn’t an exhaustive review, it does have some ominous implications if it can be verified.
However, I also found additional research online at Scribd (author unknown), which also appears to point to a highly partisan decision-making process.
I have thus far found only a single Obama donor (and a minor one at that: $200 from Jeffrey Hunter of Waco, Texas) on the closing list.
Chrysler claimed that its formula for determining whether a dealership should close or not included “sales volume, customer service scores, local market share and average household income in the immediate area.”
In fact, there may have been other criteria involved: politics may have played a part. If this data can be validated, it would appear to be further proof that the Obama administration is willing to step over any line to advance its agenda.
Doug notes some anecdotal evidence to back up his theory, and reading through the various personal accounts from dealerships who claim to be successful, and yet who are being shut down, lends some credibility to the idea. As does the fact that the closing list is reportedly populated almost exclusively with Republican donors and/or those who gave money to Obama’s Democratic rivals. But the real test is in a comparison of the lists of dealerships staying open and those that are closing against a campaign donor database (which I haven’t done, but feel free to scrutinize them for yourself).
Nevertheless, the following bit of research from Red State strikes an ominous chord:
Eric Dondero recognizes some of the dealers’ names on the hit list:
“Vern Buchanan is a Republican Congressman from the Tampa Bay area. Robert Archer is the son of former Republican Congressman Bill Archer. John Culberson, a libertarian-leaning Conservative, is now the Congressman for that West Houston District. He was heavily supported in his election efforts by the Archers Family.”
“Additionally, James Crowley, owner of a Chrysler Dealership in Escondido, California is on the list to be closed. Crowley is a big backer of libertarian-leaning Republican Cong. John Campbell of Orange County.”
The list is heavy with influential Republicans and libertarians. Another name on the list is Ray Huffines, who owns a large dealerhsip in the Metro-Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The Huffines family have been major contributors to Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) over the years.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this, but at first blush it certainly looks like the decisions to close dealerships may have been influenced by the political affiliations of the dealers. Under regular circumstances that would elicit a big shrug, but when Chrysler’s decisions are basically being made for them, well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish (via Reliapundit):
A lawyer for Chrysler dealers facing closure as part of the automaker’s bankruptcy reorganization said on Tuesday he believes Chrysler executives do not support a plan to eliminate a quarter of its retail outlets.
Lawyer Leonard Bellavia, of Bellavia Gentile & Associates, who represents some of the terminated dealers, said he deposed Chrysler President Jim Press on Tuesday and came away with the impression that Press did not support the plan.
“It became clear to us that Chrysler does not see the wisdom of terminating 25 percent of its dealers,” Bellavia said. “It really wasn’t Chrysler’s decision. They are under enormous pressure from the President’s automotive task force.”
Given the other sorts of thuggery that have been alleged in these Chrysler proceedings, this should come as no shock. But the fact that these closings will have to be approved by the creditors in the bankruptcy case lends a certain bit of intrigue to this case and raises a lot questions in my mind.
Assuming that the closings are motivated by political payback from Obama, how will that plan affect the stakeholders in the new company? If there really are profitable dealerships being shutdown just because they gave money to the wrong candidates, then it stands to reason that the remaining dealers will be something less than the cream of the crop, and therefore the new Chrysler will have a less than optimal distribution chain for its products. It’s not entirely clear why shutting down dealerships helps Chrysler anyway, since they are essentially the real customers of the carmaker, but it seems to me that those who plan to profit from the new venture would have something to say about the plan in the bankruptcy case. Presumably, they will want to protect their investment by challenging any plan for closings that does not maximize their return. If and when they do, it could get very interesting for Obama (again, assuming that any of this is true).
It should be noted that until some further confirmation surfaces, this story should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. Indeed, if it weren’t for the rather dictatorial way the Obama administration has dealt with the entire automaker bailout fiasco, these allegations of political payback would ring pretty hollow. Yet, considering the past bullying, the story definitely merits further consideration, so keep your eyes and ears open for more.
As a surprise to almost no one, Obama went with the candidate who fills the most quotas for his first Supreme Court pick. Since I’ve already covered what sort of Justice I think she’d be, I’ll just note that I think Obama picked the least qualified and most political of the three top contenders (Kagan and Wood being the others). Other than that, I don’t think her nomination will make much difference in the grand scheme of things.
Ilya Somin arrives at basically the same conclusion, and along the way takes special exception a particular statement from Sotomayor (my emphasis):
I am not yet sure what position to take on President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor. My general sense is that she is very liberal, and thus likely to take what I consider to be mistaken positions on many major constitutional law issues. I am also not favorably impressed with her notorious statement that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Not only is it objectionable in and of itself, it also suggests that Sotomayor is a committed believer in the identity politics school of left-wing thought. Worse, it implies that she believes that it is legitimate for judges to base decisions in part on their ethnic or racial origins.
Expect to see that quote get much airtime as Republicans seek some ground from which to undermine Sotomayor’s nomination.
As for whether or not the Republicans should go to the mat on this, it seems to me like a bad idea. I think there are certainly some troubling aspects to Sotomator’s candidacy (such as her quote above), but there is also almost zero possibility that she will not be confirmed. With 59 Democrats in the Senate, there is also little hope of fillibustering the nomination. Accordingly, if Republicans choose this particular hill to die upon, they spend political capital for no gain, and risk losing the ability to generate opposition to any subsequent nominees who may have more substantive influence on the direction of the Court (e.g. a replacement for Kennedy or Scalia).
Since it appears that taking on Sotomayor’s nomination is rife with bad consequences for the GOP, I think it is a very safe bet that they will pull out all the stops in order to oppose her. This will prove once again that, sometimes, it takes great effort to earn minority party status. In that endeavor, expect the Republicans to leave no stone unturned.
A very interesting piece in the LA Times about some European muslims who failed at the job of “holy warrior – or did they?
Pakistan is discovering that their unwelcome guests in the Swat Valley are harder to get rid of than cockroaches.
Apparently Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the outspoken Democratic chairman of the Agriculture panel, isn’t happy with the Waxman/Markey Cap-and-Trade bill and is promising trouble.
It seems even the NY Times is catching on to the Obama rhetorical devices. Helene Cooper points out that some of Obama’s “enemies” are “straw men” and Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that many of Obama’s “nuanced” positions would be flip-flops if it was anyone else. Of course both articles were published in the Saturday NY Times, so its not like they’re really calling Obama to task.
The Washington Post, examining Venezuela strong man Hugo Chavez’s latest attempt to destroy any domestic opposition, wonders if the Obama administration’s silence on the matter constitutes sanction by silence. Well if that’s the case, what does Nancy Peolsi’s silence about the use of waterboarding constitute?
A porn star is considering a run for the US Senate from Louisiana. Given the fact that she’s only worked in a different type of porn than what goes on in the US Senate, she ought to fit right in.
The NY “bomb plot” has apparently degenerated into an “aspirational” one.
And finally, it looks like Brits are finally fed up. According to reports, a big “vote the bums out” movement is taking shape in the UK. We should be so lucky.
Yesterday Jon Henke challenged the Right to come up with policies that are popular, viable, workable, transformational and sustainable. (Follow the link to see what he means by each of those.) I’ve previously suggested a broad-based agenda that I thought could be sold as an alternative to the Democrats’ agenda, but I think a few of the specific policies are particularly strong, and they stick to a consistent theme.
Libertarian paternalism — which means that certain initial decisions are made for you, but you are left a way to opt out — can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the status quo. If the status quo is freedom, I’d just as soon not add in an element of paternalism in virtually any case. But if the status quo is paternalism, then libertarian paternalism is a step in the right direction. Fortunately, giving people more options is much more popular than changing their status quo decision.
I propose that the Right should target existing paternalism and offer as many opportunities to opt out as we can devise. My main two examples are education and entitlements.
I consider education to be any political coalition’s #1 long-term priority. If your opponents control education, chances are you will eventually lose on everything else. So, what policies should the Right pursue on education?
Vouchers aren’t a new idea, but we on the Right could be pursuing them in much more creative ways than we are now, to build a broad working alternative to state schools. With variable-cost vouchers and pilot programs that target the “victim classes”, the Right can play full court press on vouchers in every school district.
In every school district across the country, we should have vouchers at least equal to the variable cost of sending one extra child to public school. Democrats have argued for a long time that we need more spending per student to give kids smaller class sizes and better materials such as textbooks, and have used that to justify countless bond measures and tax increases to increase public school funding.
If a voucher just covers the variable cost of an extra student, then a voucher helps create smaller class sizes and increases the amount of money the public school can spend on each student.
You can see how a voucher for variable costs puts the Left in a Catch-22: Every extra dollar they want to spend per student is an argument for a bigger voucher, and an opportunity for the private sector to spend the dollar more efficiently than the public sector.
Make Friends in Low Places
We can do even better: pilot voucher programs should very openly target kids who are performing worst in the current system, in part because proposing vouchers for them undercuts the argument that vouchers just skim the cream of the crop.
Voucher proponents have already focused on several low-income and minority populations, using needs-based criteria and simple geography; the Right should be pushing this smart strategy much more aggressively – it undercuts Democrats’ arguments against vouchers beautifully, and makes a direct play for the Left’s base. The apparent success of the DC voucher system has made attempts to cut the program very embarrassing for Democrats; we need more of that.
Moreover, the Right should propose vouchers that help children who score on the bottom half of the test-score distribution. The research I’ve read indicates that these children show the greatest gains from voucher programs. For the same reason, target kids with histories of disciplinary problems and special-needs children (paging Sarah Palin).
It would be a bridge too far for the Democrats to argue that these kids enhance the performance of public schools after using the opposite argument to fight vouchers for so long.
And finally, the Right should propose voucher programs to target the many minors who have already dropped out of school. Kids who have outright given up on the public school system, or who rarely show up, aren’t doing anything to improve the performance of those schools. If Democrats want to keep up the pretense that they care about these kids, they shouldn’t have any problem with helping these kids become part of a new private education market.
Those are just a small number of ways we can turn the Left’s most popular arguments against them and start to build a real market in education. In the meantime, the Right would be demonstrating that markets can work better than state-administered programs, and help the “little guy” who’s been screwed by the public system.
Where necessary to make the policy viable, the Right could be flexible on the matter of vouchers for church-founded schools (like Catholic schools); the first priority is building a broad education market outside of the state.
Here’s another place where reform would be truly transformational. The Right should push for an opt-out for the major entitlements – Medicare and Social Security. A reform doesn’t have to be a full privatization to accomplish a great deal of good.
Many people are currently collecting benefits from Medicare and SocSec, and we can assume that they will turn out to vote against anything that takes away those benefits. The Right can start making progress on reducing our crushing long-term obligations by (once more for effect) giving everyone as many opportunities to opt out as possible.
Why not allow people to adjust their expected benefits, with higher or lower individual taxes to compensate for the change from the “standard” level? The SSA could set a minimum level of contributions to guarantee its promised benefits, so that the legislation becomes non-threatening to beneficiaries, and thus politically viable. To get the greatest tax cut, you opt out of all retirement benefits; you can change your mind later, but your benefit and/or tax level must be adjusted appropriately. And the more people who opt out, the lower the minimum tax rate can go; that rate could be adjusted at periodic intervals, perhaps once a year.
Similarly, why not allow people to adjust their expected retirement age, again paying higher or lower taxes to compensate?
Both of these adjustments would introduce flexibility along with a price mechanism.
Yes, this means that some people might choose to pay the minimum tax and find themselves at age 67 regretting their earlier decisions, but everyone would know that they made a conscious choice to change from the status quo. And in the meantime, those who opt out don’t feel like such direct stakeholders.
Medicare and other state medical benefits
To get more people off the rolls, allow them to opt out of Medicare eligibility and other state medical benefits in exchange for some mix of:
- lower payroll taxes
- tax-free health savings accounts
- a tax cut on their individual health insurance
- vouchers for private insurance and private disability coverage
… as long as the total cost of the mix is lower than the expected cost of Medicare benefits. This way, the Right can not only cut into the massive expected costs on the near horizon, but also get fewer people to feel like stakeholders in the future of the state-administered system.
The most effective arguments against reform are allegations that people will lose the benefits they have now. Psychologically, we regret losing a dollar more than we regret not acquiring that dollar in the first place. That’s a big part of how the Right beat universal health care under Clinton: by telling the American people that they would lose their current insurance, with which most of them were satisfied.
Whether we like it or not, it is stupid to do a frontal assault on a hardened position. Instead, we should apply libertarian paternalism to divide and conquer by giving our opponents as many chances to defect as possible.