Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain


Foreclosure Imminent? Call ACORN

Of course part of the huge and porky “stimulus” bill was billions to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program. Of the the past beneficiaries of that program has been our old buddies at ACORN. But, you say, the election is over – ACORN can’t collect taxpayer money for fraudulent voter registration anymore.

Never fear, ACORN has found itself a new line of work. Civil disobedience:

The community organizing group Acorn unveiled the campaign with a spirited rally on Friday at a Brooklyn church and will roll it out in at least 22 other cities in the coming weeks. Through phone trees, Web pages and text-messaging networks, the effort will connect families facing eviction with volunteers who will stand at their side as officers arrive, even if it means risking arrest.

“You want to haul us out to jail? Fine. Let the world see how government has been ineffective,” Bertha Lewis, Acorn’s chief organizer, said in an interview. “Politicians have helped banks, but they haven’t helped families in the way that it’s needed, and these families are now saying, enough is enough.”

Yes friends, your hard earned money (or that which has been borrowed from the Chinese or printed on that nifty little printing press the government has) is now going to fund ACORN’s civil disobedience shenanigans.

While no one likes to see anyone lose their home, if you’re a believer in private property, then you understand the concept that you have to pay for someone else’s property or they have recourse. ACORN, dealing on emotion and your money, have unilaterally decided that’s just wrong and intends to demonstrate that by attempting to disrupt lawful procedures to foreclose homes. Instead of using the money to help the family that is losing the home to find other accomodations and by doing so ameliorate the trauma, ACORN has decided to add to the trauma instead.

Acorn’s strategy is modeled on a movement the group led in the 1980s, when squatters occupied and set out to renovate thousands of abandoned city-owned buildings in New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, among other cities. The motivation was to solve what Ms. Lewis has called “the working family’s housing crisis.”

In cities like Orlando, Fla., which has one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates — and Boston, Houston, Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz. — Acorn organizers have been creating networks to alert a homeowner’s neighbors when an eviction has been scheduled or deputies are on the way. Some volunteers will summon friends and relatives to converge at the home, while others will be in charge of notifying the news media. Organizers are also recruiting lawyers willing to defend for no fee those who are arrested.

The campaign, called Home Defenders, enlisted about 500 participants during meetings held Friday and Saturday in New York and five other cities. Ms. Lewis and other organizers said that they believed the number will reach into the tens of thousands within weeks.

Yessiree, just what we need – a taxpayer funded organization with obvious socialist roots attempting to deny the proper property owner’s rights while a sympathetic press looks on. ACORN’s model isn’t even a righteous model. As noted, the buildings in question in the ’80s were abandoned. The foreclosed houses aren’t abandoned, just empty. The quickest way to get in one, beside taking it unlawfully, is to buy it or rent it.

ACORN, however, would much rather spend its funds making a splash than a difference. But I’m not sure what else you’d expect from a bunch of marxist community organizers.

~McQ


Why Government Intervention In Recession Won’t Work

Well, the “stimulus” monstrosity has been signed and all the words of praise it doesn’t deserve have been said.  Now, here’s why it won’t work all in a succinct four paragraphs:

Most economists agree that America has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, based primarily on excessive debt. Thus, any healthy correction would necessarily involve serious deleveraging and a severe recession. After a lot of pain, the economy would rebuild with healthier fundamentals. Infrastructure improvement would aid, but not cause, the eventual recovery.

Recession is the natural cure for the politically inspired profligacy that America has enjoyed for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, the side effects of this medicine, namely the rapid reallocation of labor resources and deflationary damage to debtors, are still unpalatable to pandering politicians.

The Washington regime, particularly members of the Democrat persuasion, leans towards a socialist solution of avoiding recession at any cost. After all, the bills are paid by others, such as taxpayers and holders of US dollars. This results in an increasing amount of other people’s money being spent on “public” works that would in other times carry the label “pork barrel”.

Washington is choosing to pursue the policy of continued and ever-increasing false prosperity, financed eventually by hyper-taxation, hyper-debt and hyper-inflation accompanied by a gradually eroded standard of living. The jobs created by the bill are by and large non-productive and will divert resources from the private sector and rob consumers of their power to make free choices in the marketplace.

Pain avoidance drove the call for stimulus.  Politicians are naturally for that because it ensures their future.  But in reality it isn’t pain avoidance at all, but simply a form of pain management.  And since that management will be spread over many years, those who will lose under it will be less likely to notice that loss over the years than they would if that loss happened all at once.  But there’s a price for that, and it will become apparent eventually.  That gradual loss won’t allow the recovery to the previous standard of living because government will have supplanted much of the private sector and many of those options (and resources) for regaining that level are no longer available.

Of course, the good news for the present crop of politicians is that realization of loss won’t happen on their watch.  And as far as the political class is concerned, that’s all that matters.

Let the good times roll!

~McQ


The Fight In Kansas

While California’s budget debacle seems to be catching most of the MSM coverage, there’s an interesting drama in Kansas going on as well.  Kansas pits a Democratic governor against a Republican legislature.

The situation:

Income tax refunds and state employee paychecks could be late after Republican leaders and the Democratic governor clashed Monday over how to solve a cash-flow problem.

Payments to Medicaid providers and schools also could be delayed.

“We are out of cash, in essence,” state budget director Duane Goossen said.

The move places state taxpayers, workers and schoolchildren in the middle of a political battle over budget cuts.

Before we move on, note how the situation is framed. Clearly, at least to me, the bias leans toward what? Averting pain. In essence the state should do what is necessary – even if illegal and counterproductive – to avoid any pain.

The fight then, is about pain avoidance or, said another way, facing up to what excessive spending and poor budgeting has brought to the state of Kansas.

Why? Well what happens to politicians when pain is visited on voters? So it’s a very natural thing for politicians who enjoy the perks and power of office and harbor hopes of even higher office to want to avoid pain and the possiblity of losing that power and those perks.

That is essentially what is going on in KS where the governor wants to rob one fund which is healthy to pay out in other areas and the legislature is saying a) that’s illegal and b) we insist instead that we take a hard look at the situation and do things which will actually remedy it while, unfortunately, causing some pain.

The fight:

Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers, blocked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ proposal to borrow $225 million from healthy state funds to cover shortages in accounts used to meet the state’s payroll and issue tax refunds.

GOP leaders said they won’t approve the IOUs until Sebelius either cuts the current budget herself or signs the bill they passed last week slashing $326 million — including $32 million for education — to balance the budget.

Republican leaders said they had no choice, that by law the state can’t borrow any more money from itself.

Sebelius and Democrats disagree and accuse the GOP of playing politics with people’s paychecks.

“Through their refusal to act today, the Republican legislative leadership is jeopardizing our citizens’ pocketbooks for no other reason than to play political games — games in which the only ones set to lose are Kansas families, workers and schools,” Sebelius said in a written statement.

Replied House Speaker Mike O’Neal: “While we all can agree that these are trying times for Kansas families, seniors and business owners, the Kansas House of Representatives respectfully disagrees with breaking the law in order to gain political capital.”

Notice the Governor and Democrats come back – the GOP is “playing politics with people’s paychecks”. But what is the Governor trying to “play” with:

The Governor is asking the Legislature to be complicit in breaking the law by approving certificates of indebtedness outside of the parameters set in statute. Kansas law requires the Director of the Budget to certify that money will be present at the end of the year to pay off certificates of indebtedness, and there is no evidence that will be the case. There is no reason to believe that under the current budget such money will be available. It is irresponsible and illegal to act as if the money will be available when all economic indicators show that we may see even less.

So, in fact, it appears that the GOP isn’t “playing” with anything to include the law, while the Governor wants to waive it so she doesn’t have to face the music and make the cuts necessary to bring the budget of Kansas back into balance.

Given that, which then is the “reality based” group in Kansas? And, after adapting to the new reality, to include the pain it will bring, do you think Kansas will be on the road to recovery faster than some state where pain avoidance is being practiced? Last, but not least – want to bet Governor Sebelius delays signing the bill which would require such cuts hoping the “stimulus” bill to be signed today by Obama will rescue her and help keep her from having to make that difficult decision (and avoid the pain)?

Pain avoidance for political purposes or rule of law?  Screw the law, opt for pain avoidance, even if illegal.

That’s exactly the type person I want as my governor.  [/sarc]

~McQ


Can Someone Explain This To Me?

Supposedly, this video explains what took place behind closed doors with Hank Paulson and members of Congress to include Rep Kanjorski which caused them to throw $700 billion at Paulson.


At 2 minutes, 20 seconds into this C-Span video clip, Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania explains how the Federal Reserve told Congress members about a “tremendous draw-down of money market accounts in the United States, to the tune of $550 billion dollars.” According to Kanjorski, this electronic transfer occurred over the period of an hour or two.

Has anyone heard this story previously?  If so, has there been any explanation of the “tremendous draw-down” offered?

If true, this seems like it may have been something other than a “bubble” which precipitated this crisis. I’m not normally a conspiracy buff, but this seems more than a little odd.

~McQ


Rules For Thee, Not Me – Paterson’s Secret Raises

While not amazed when I see blatant hypocrisy like this, the audacity is still a little stunning. You have to wonder how in the world Gov. David Paterson of NY thought he could keep this quiet:

Gov. Paterson has secretly granted raises of as much as 46 percent to more than a dozen staffers at a time when he has asked 130,000 state workers to give up 3 percent pay hikes because of the state’s fiscal crisis, The Post has learned.

The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor’s “emergency” declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a “hard” hiring freeze.

One raise was approved as recently as last month – when Paterson claimed the budget deficit had reached an unprecedented $15.5 billion.

The story is that the individuals in question all were promoted so the pay raises are those that go with the promotion. But a little digging revealed that 14 of the 16 raises went to people who remained in the same position they held prior to the granting of the raise.

This is the sort of thing that people find most offensive when it comes to government – the arbitrariness, the lack of principle, the belief that it can create exceptions for the favored among its constituency. This is the sort of favoritism that gets politicians fired. Some smart pol contemplating a run should be marking this sordid little episode down in his or her opposition research book for the next election.

~McQ


Beef Consumption – The Hummer Of Food

Nice biased environmentalist metaphor, isn’t it?

You know we see these sorts of stories all the time, and because they’re just people using causes to attempt to change our behavior, we don’t pay them the attention they deserve. But, if any of the things associated with what you’re about to read were to become law, suddenly choices and amounts of beef could easily be rationed to “save the planet”. Add a little health care legislation and it’s a lock.

When it comes to global warming, hamburgers are the Hummers of food, scientists say.

Simply switching from steak to salad could cut as much carbon as leaving the car at home a couple days a week.

The "Hummer" of food

The "Hummer" of food

That’s because beef is such an incredibly inefficient food to produce and cows release so much harmful methane into the atmosphere, said Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Canada.

Pelletier is one of a growing number of scientists studying the environmental costs of food from field to plate.

By looking at everything from how much grain a cow eats before it is ready for slaughter to the emissions released by manure, they are getting a clearer idea of the true costs of food.

The livestock sector is estimated to account for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and beef is the biggest culprit.

Even though beef only accounts for 30 percent of meat consumption in the developed world it’s responsible for 78 percent of the emissions, Pelletier said Sunday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That’s because a single kilogram of beef produces 16 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent emissions: four times higher than pork and more than ten times as much as a kilogram of poultry, Pelletier said.

If people were to simply switch from beef to chicken, emissions would be cut by 70 percent, Pelletier said.

Another part of the problem is people are eating far more meat than they need to.

“Meat once was a luxury in our diet,” Pelletier said. “We used to eat it once a week. Now we eat it every day.”

If meat consumption in the developed world was cut from the current level of about 90 kilograms a year to the recommended level of 53 kilograms a year, livestock related emissions would fall by 44 percent.

The way things are going it wouldn’t surprise me one day to see PSAs like the Chik-fil-A commercials saying, “Eat More Chikin” and cut emissions by 70% – it’s the law!

~McQ


Redefining “Fascist”

So public speaking classes aren’t so much about how you argue a point but what point you argue?

A college student has filed a lawsuit saying a public speaking professor berated him in class for making a speech opposing same-sex marriage.

In the federal court suit filed last week, student Jonathan Lopez said that midway through his speech, when he quoted a dictionary definition of marriage and recited a pair of Bible verses, professor John Matteson cut him off and would not allow him to finish. He said Matteson also called him a “fascist bastard.”

A student evaluation form included with the lawsuit lacks a score for Lopez’s speech, and reads “ask God what your grade is.”

Exceptional levels of tolerance in academia, these days, no? A tremendous diversity of opinion is apparently welcomed and encouraged. Good to know, eh?

“Basically, colleges and universities should give Christian students the same rights to free expression as other students,” David J. Hacker, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization that is representing Lopez, told the Los Angeles Times.

Amazing such a thing even needs to be said in this day and time. You have to wonder if Professor Matteson even knows what “fascist” means, much less that it was he who was acting like one.

~McQ


The Farce Of A “Free Market”

We here at QandO are big fans of the free market.  But there are lots of enemies of the free market and they’re not just ideologies or governments.  Sometimes – no, many times – corporations or associations go into cahoots with government to use the power of government to limit competition.  Here’s an example of that:

A lot of focus has been directed toward the destruction of the world’s forests during the past few decades.  The truth is that deforestation is happening with alarming frequency.  Millions of acres of forest land are harvested illegally throughout the world every year, which contributes significantly to global warming and the destruction of wildlife habitat.  Because this activity adversely affects our environment, the National Wood Flooring Association worked diligently with several key organizations to promote the illegal logging ban with Congress. The ban was passed this past summer as an amendment to the US Lacey Act, which originally was mandated more than 100 years ago to prohibit the illegal trafficking of wildlife.  This new amendment has expanded the Lacey Act to include wood and wood products.  Specifically, the ban prohibits the import, sale or trade in the US of wood and other forest products that are harvested through illegal means.

This legislation is significant for a number of reasons.  First, and most importantly, it protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat.  Second, it protects lumber buyers who verify the origin of lumber when importing wood into the United States from other countries.  Third, it eliminates the influx into the US of low-cost, low-quality wood flooring produced from illegally harvested forests.

The penalties for noncompliance with this new legislation are severe.  Penalties can include the forfeiture of the illegally harvested material, fines of up to $500,000, and jail time of up to five years.  From a consumer’s perspective, however, the ban helps you have confidence that the wood you are buying is not depleting our world’s forests.

This is classic stuff. Let’s look at their three “benefits”, shall we? First this ban no more “protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat” than a gun ban keeps guns out of the hands of criminals. That’s because those who do actually engage in what this association would label “illegal logging” will simply sell to someone else. It’s not like wood isn’t in huge demand throughout the world or something.

The second “benefit” is a “join our club or pay the price” benefit at best. The obvious implication is if buyers don’t “verify the origin” to the satisfaction of the association (and the law), they’re open to accusations that what they’re bringing in are “illegal” whether true or not.

And, of course, in reality it all boils down to the last “benefit”. In fact it is a benefit only for the industry at the heart of writing this legislation. You the consumer, on the other hand, won’t get what the NWFA considers to be “low-cost, low-quality wood flooring” because, well, they’ve decided it just isn’t a decision which should be left up to you.

This is what passes for a “free market” these days. In this case, restricting the flow of goods to you in the name of a greater good, when, in fact, the greater good is just an excuse not to have to compete in the market place. It places the consumer’s right of access to such goods in second place to the association’s desire to “benefit” from special legislation which restricts that right.

When the price of that flooring you have been planning to buy goes through the roof, you’ll now know why.

~McQ


Iran And “Negotiating 101″

As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:

Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.

So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?

As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.

That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:

Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.

Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.

The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.

The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.

“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.

Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.

“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:

“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”

Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?

How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?

Well consider the internal politics of the country.  You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate.  You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either.  Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.

Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US.  It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions.  He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change.  The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.

And in the real world, results speak for themselves.

Result?

More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East.  All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.

Go figure.

~McQ

[HT: Gateway Pundit]


WaPo Offers Obama A Three Week Grade

While it was clear they wanted to write a gushing approval of his first days in office, even WaPo couldn’t quite bring themselves to “suspend disbelief” enough to do that.

I started chuckling at the second sentence:

But the presidency does not come with a magic wand; nor, we have learned, is Mr. Obama, however talented, a wizard.

They’re just “learning” that? My goodness, how in the tank were they?

Second discovery by WaPo:

The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.

Campaign rhetoric, most remember, which was steadfastly supported (and apparently believed) by the Washington Post. As most of us understood, but WaPo is now discovering, inexperience in national politics has its price.

The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment. And if it was this hard for Mr. Obama to lure Republican votes to spend money, how will he manage to entice Republican support to deal with even more contentious issues, such as climate change or health care?

Grand promises of transparancy that were additionally unfulfilled on two pieces of legislation which weren’t rushed – the equal pay and S-CHIP legislation. Neither were delayed the 5 days his campaign had promised voters for them to review the bills prior to signing. Neither required the rush they received. The stimulus bill is just the worst of the bunch.

And while it isn’t necessary to entice Republican support on the more contentious issues in order to pass the bills, such support provides invaluable political cover. Given how badly both Democratic Congressional leaders and Obama handled the bi-partisan effort on the stimulus bill, there’s nothing that says they’ll ever change enough to entice Republicans.

Then there is Timothy Geithner:

The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, “chastening” is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. The president promised that his treasury secretary would offer “very clear and specific plans,” after which Mr. Geithner laid out a blueprint only. The result was to undermine both Mr. Geithner, who is abler than he seemed at the rollout, and the plan, which is more promising than its reception would suggest.

Geithner, the man who was so important to the bailout effort that his tax cheating had to be ignored, has been less than impressive. Perhaps that will change, but to this point, he has done little to inspire confidence either among voters or the financial sector. The WaPo’s declaration that Geithner is “abler than he seemed” has yet to be proved.

WaPo then leavens its criticism with some faint praise, overstating the importance of the first two bills signed. They were simply retreads of bills Democrats had tried to pass during the Bush administration. Unlike what the Post tries to imply, there was no real leadership exercised by Obama or his administration in their passage.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama and the nation, the current economic situation does not allow for the usual margin of error; fairly or not, he will not be measured against normal historical standards. Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.

Sooner is much preferable to later. Part of the problem we’re experiencing today is the alarmism being spread from the nation’s premier bully pulpit. “Catastrophe” is a word to be used sparingly from that platform and should be reserved for actual catastrophe. After calling for swift action and passage of the bill on Friday and claiming the nation couldn’t wait another hour, we understand now he won’t be signing the bill until Tuesday, a weekend Valentine get-away taking priority. That’s not leadership, and it certainly will cause critics to discount any such future warnings as more fear-mongering.

WaPo then contradicts itself:

Fortunately for the nation, while Mr. Obama has an experience deficit, he possesses a surfeit of smarts and steadiness.

He certainly has an experience deficit, and that is becoming increasingly apparent. However, given his recent penchant for alarmism as discussed in the article, it seems rather contradictory to then laud him for his “smarts and steadiness”. Smart and steady people don’t resort to fear-mongering to drive their agenda. However the unsure and inexperienced do.

WaPo then concludes that things will straighten out, and the nation’s optimism in Obama will be rewarded and, now that he has lowered expectations (through his alarmism), will patiently wait the years, not months, necessary to see the recession through. I find that to be mostly wishful thinking.

All totaled, the Washington Post, to use a phrase that has become rather trite in the last year, is trying to put lipstick on a pig. Following a WaPo article touting the passage of the massive pork laden spending bill as a “victory of historic proportion“, it stands to reason they’d try to double down on their presidential bet, hoping it all works out as they’ve imagined it will. But by their own words, the dream isn’t off to a good start.

~McQ