Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain


Reaping, Sowing, etc.

Glad they finally noticed:

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

Of course the greatest stoker of this populist backlash has been the Obama administration. I’ll be the first to agree that some of the financial institutions, such as AIG recently, have played into the populist condemnation by the administration, but instead of being specific about the AIGs of the world, they have instead gone after an entire industry to the point that “banks and Wall Street” are synonymous with crooks, swindlers and liars. Having established that narrative, seemingly purposely, there’s now a huge backlash building which may, in fact, cripple the administration’s efforts pertaining to both.

“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.”

“This has been welling up for a long time,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s aides said any surge of such a sentiment could complicate efforts to win Congressional approval for the additional bailout packages that Mr. Obama has signaled will be necessary to stabilize the banking system.

As it is, there have already been moves in Congress to limit compensation to executives at banks and Wall Street firms that are receiving government help to survive.

Beyond that, a shifting political mood challenges Mr. Obama’s political skills, as he seeks to acknowledge the anger without becoming a target of it. A central question for Mr. Obama is whether his cool style — “in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger,” he said in his address to Congress last month — will prove effective when the country may be feeling more emotional.

And the country is feeling emotional because the administration has been making emotional arguments targeting the industry it wants to help. Not very smart politics. And they’ve now finally realized that.

“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”

The “culprit” has been identified. In their desire to escape blame, government officials in Congress and elsewhere have almost unanimously used their access to the media to vilify banks and Wall Street while pretending they had no hand whatsoever in this debacle. Unfortunately they’ve been quite successful in the scapegoating. However, having established the narrative, they now have to attempt to reverse it because the public rage they’ve helped stoke may prevent them from doing what they think they need to do to turn the financial industry around.

The entire problem that the administration is now recognizing is one of their own making and another indication of their inexperience and lack of foresight. It’s one thing to demonize such industries when campaigning, it is, as they’re learning, an entirely different thing when you do it as the President of the United States. The administration now has to figure out how to reverse a narrative they helped build and establish. That should be interesting to watch.

~McQ


Podcast for 15 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the state of modern journalism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Bombers and “Bombers”

Daniel Larison is trying to smack Ed Morrisey around over a particular story:

There is a non-story making the rounds that the Russian military might base bombers in Venezuela and Cuba, provided that the Kremlin wanted to do this. In the same story that is being circulated, the Kremlin ruled out the idea as hypothetical speculation. Naturally, this had no effect whatever on wild accusations of Obama’s foreign policy failure.

As you can tell, Larison is sure there is no smoke or fire with this particular story, but refuses to let an opportunity go by to blame Bush for something, which he proceeds to do. However it seems Larison’s research into the story must have omitted this CNN version. The lede:

Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

I put them in bold so they might catch Larison’s eye. You see, when most people see the words “Russia expressed interest” they interpret them to mean the state of Russia – you know, the country?- is interested enough in something to actually express that interest outloud to where a news agency heard it and reported it. And the words “Cuban airfields” usually mean, well, you know, airfields in Cuba – the object of the Russian interest. The thing airplanes fly off of. The fact that a Russian news agency reported the story about Russia’s interest and Cuba’s airfields, while also mentioning strategic bombers, kind of ties it all together and gives the statement some credibility over and above Larison’s hand-wave of dismissal. It certainly makes it more than a “non-story”.

In fact, Russia has obviously done more than just “think” about it.  Here’s the scoop on Venezuela:

Zhikharev also told Interfax that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered a military airfield on La Orchila island as a temporary base for Russian strategic bombers.

“If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible,” he said, according to Interfax. Zhikharev said he visited La Orchila in 2008 and can confirm that with minor reconstruction, the airfield owned by a local naval base can accept fully-loaded Russian strategic bombers.

Offer made by Venezuelan head of state. Enough interest to host a visit by Zhikharev (Chief of Staff of Russian Air Force).  Further interested enough to scope out the construction necessary to make it suitable for strategic bombers.

Yup – non-story. [/sarc]

But hey, never let the opportunity for a rant get slowed by facts, huh?

~McQ


Governmental 3 Card Monte

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

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

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

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

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

~McQ


Years of Math

From an email.

Why? Because I think it is funny. And yes, I understand that we are still capable of and do teach math well.

But as I chuckled about it, this bit of humor is more about our priorities and some cultural issues than math.

1959-2009 (in the USA )

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $ 2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters , but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? 

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20.  What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok.)

6. Teaching Math In 2009

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

~McQ


The False Premise of “Properly” Spent “Stimulus” Money

President Obama and VP Biden are going to be watching you:

Obama and Biden both gave stern warnings yesterday about misuse of stimulus funds. “If we see money being misspent, we’re going to put a stop to it,” Obama told a gathering of state officials at the White House. How? Obama says “we will call it out and we will publicize it.” Biden, meanwhile, scolded: “If we don’t get this right, folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince Congress that anything should go to the states.”

Of course, these were words spoken to representatives of states getting “stimulus” money.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that there is no one to shout “BS” to the whole scheme and declare it all “misspent” money. A $787 billion dollar social spending scheme isn’t money “misspent?” Hah!

But other than that, I think Earl Devaney provides us with the ground truth about this upcoming spending debacle:

The chief watchdog for spending from the $787 billion stimulus package says it’s guaranteed there will be waste and fraud.

Earl Devaney, tapped by President Obama to track the giant spending plan, also said it will be at least a year before the government gets recovery.gov, the Web site the administration has touted as a key part of its transparency, up and running properly.

“I’m afraid that there may be a naive impression that given the amount of transparency and accountability called for by this act, no or little fraud will occur.

A “naive impression?”

Heh … nah, you don’t say?

The word “naive” seems to describe a lot of what is going on right now with the Obama administration.

~McQ


One Man’s “Terrorist” Is Another’s “Law Enforcement Problem”

Is homegrown terrorism the next problem? That’s the question being asked by some:

There is an increasing threat of homegrown terror stemming from segments of a deeply isolated and alienated Somali-American community, a U.S. Senate committee hearing concluded Wednesday.

The hearing, conducted by the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, focused on the attempted recruitment of young Somali-American men by al-Shabaab, “a violent and brutal extremist (Somali) group” with significant ties to al Qaeda, according to the U.S. State Department.

“Over the last two years, individuals from the Somali community in the United States, including American citizens, have left for Somalia to support and in some cases fight on behalf of al-Shabaab,” noted the committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut.

Al-Shabaab — also known as the Mujahedeen Youth Movement — was officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in March 2008.

If you’ve been following this, Somali youths from all over the US have been “disappearing” to end up half-way around the world engaged in war in Afghanistan. This is pretty much the same model as has affected the UK (although their particular group consists mostly of Pakistanis). The obvious next step is, instead of radicalizing them and exporting them to far off places, to do what was done with the 7/7 bombers in the UK and do it here.

The recruitment is made easier by the apparent isolation of the Somali community. The extremists pick off clusters of dissatisfied youth and radicalize them. The apparent distance between the Somali culture and the American culture are so vast that some simply cannot overcome that – or so the theory goes.

This is a situation which bears very close watching (and, hopefully some remedial effects brought on by positive intervention) – this is where AQ could put together a group that could travel thorough America with little difficulty and help foment an attack or attacks.

On another terrorist front, we already have home-grown terrorists (besides William Ayers) operating here:

The recent fire-bombing of a university professor’s car here appears to be part of a trend of animal-rights activists targeting the personal lives of researchers, rather than just the labs or companies where they work. The idea is to scare the scientists into reconsidering using animals in their research work.

Despite tightening laws, California saw an uptick in attacks last year with 21 reported incidents – of 36 nationwide – ranging from vandalism to firebombs, mostly targeting University of California researchers, according to data compiled by the Foundation for Biomedical Research. By contrast, the state saw just four or five such incidents the previous two years.

“The tactics [of animal-rights activists] have changed. They’ve gotten very personal,” says Frankie Trull of the National Association for Biomedical Research, an organization that advocates for the responsible use of animals in research.

The latest incident occurred early last Saturday outside the Westwood residence of Dr. David Jentsch, a neuroscientist at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The professor’s vehicle was engulfed in flames and destroyed, though no one was hurt.

If terrorism is “the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear”, these acts fit.

So while we may have an international brand of terrorism on the rise, we already have our own domestic terrorists at work on the West Coast. My guess is, though, they’re considered a “law enforcement” problem, not one of terrorism.

~McQ


Put The Race Card Away, Please

Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, said this the other day about the possible effects of all of the spending the Obama administration was doing and planning:

“What you’re doing is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don’t have, send it to different states — we’ll create jobs,” Sanford said. “If that’s the case, why isn’t Zimbabwe a rich place?… Why isn’t Zimbabwe just an incredibly prosperous place. ‘Cause they’re printing money they don’t have and sending it around to their different — I don’t know the towns in Zimbabwe but that same logic is being applied there with little effect.”

A little oversimplistic, but this is “sound bite nation” so you have to condense. In effect his point is true to the extent it goes, and the example is a good and valid one, since Zimbabwe is printing money as fast as it can add zeroes to its demonimations. By now, the hyper-inflation it is undergoing from doing so should be well known to people versed in current affairs.

Unless, of course, you want to make a racial thing out of it. Rep. James Clyburn, Democratic Majority Whip, reacts to Sanford’s lesson and example of Zimbabwe:

“For him to compare the president of this country to Mugabe. … It’s just beyond the pale,” said Clyburn, who has sparred with Sanford over the Republican’s refusal to accept all the state’s stimulus funding.

[...]

“I’m sure he would not say that, but how did he get to Zimbabwe? What took the man to Zimbabwe? Someone should ask him if that’s really the best comparison. … How can he compare this country’s situation to Zimbabwe?”

Of course the “how” is fairly simple – if what is being touted as a solution here and was touted as a solution there, then Zimbabwe should be in great economic shape right now. But Clyburn would rather make a racial thing out of it. Obviously Sanford could have used Wiemar Germany of the ’30s, but it isn’t as relevant today as the case of Zimbabwe. And, he could have also used Venezuela. But Venezuela isn’t quite the basket case Zimbabwe is. Nope, in terms of a current example of what might happen, in terms of hyper-inflation from artificially pumping up he money supply, Zimbabwe is as good as it gets.

And besides:

“Rep. Clyburn always plays the race card,” shot back Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer, who said his boss has also compared the stimulus to failed government policies in Germany and Argentina. “This policy will result in hyper-infaltion. … [Clyburn] is ripping off the people he purports to represent.”

Round 2 to follow.

~McQ


This Is Why Veterans And The Military Don’t Trust Democrats

Or perhaps a better way to say that is this is a typical reason Democrats aren’t well thought of, for the most part, by the military community:

Several veterans groups “are lashing out” at the Obama administration over a policy proposal they say would “dramatically alter” how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles health insurance claims for veterans, The Hill reports. Under the policy, which is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, VA would bill health insurers for treatment of injuries and conditions sustained as a result of veterans’ military service. Currently, VA covers those costs and bills health insurers only for treatment for conditions unrelated to veterans’ military service.

The “you got it, you pay for it” method of saving money on the back of wounded vets. This after all the rhetoric and promises about taking better care of our veterans than ever before because they’ve “earned it”?

Remember?

Of course, as soon as this trial balloon is discovered, the mealy mouth nonsense begins:

According to OMB spokesperson Tom Gavin, although concerns about policy changes in coverage are understandable, no official proposal is on the table. He said, “The details of the VA budget are being worked out right now and the details won’t be available until April,” adding, “The administration is committed to providing the VA with substantial resources to provide for our veterans” (Tiron, The Hill, 3/9).

And, of course, with the federal government spending money on social issues disguised as “stimulus”, followed by a porked up spending bill and now an almost 4 trillion dollar budget, where is the one place that they decide they should try and save money?

On the backs of wounded vets.

Sorry, but that cost was prepaid by the terms of their service and wounds. But obviously, more interested in social issues within the military than keeping promises, the administration begins the ground work for backing out on another of its promises (to their credit, some Democrats, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), have declared such a proposal would be “dead on arrival” should it make it into the budget – a tip of the hat to her).

~McQ


Economists Flunk Obama and Geithner

A group of economists asked to assess the efforts of both Obama and Geithner were none too impressed:

U.S. President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received failing grades for their efforts to revive the economy from participants in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey.

The economists’ assessment stands in stark contrast with Mr. Obama’s popularity with the public, with a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll giving him a 60% approval rating. A majority of the 49 economists polled said they were dissatisfied with the administration’s economic policies.

On average, they gave the president a grade of 59 out of 100, and although there was a broad range of marks, 42% of respondents rated Mr. Obama below 60. Mr. Geithner received an average grade of 51. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke scored better, with an average 71.

The big criticism has to do with “overpromising and underdelivering”:

[E]conomists’ main criticism of the Obama team centered on delays in enacting key parts of plans to rescue banks. “They overpromised and underdelivered,” said Stephen Stanley of RBS Greenwich Capital. “Secretary Geithner scheduled a big speech and came out with just a vague blueprint. The uncertainty is hanging over everyone’s head.”

The Hill reports that lack of progress is starting to really concern some Democrats in Congress:

Members of Congress and old political hands say [Obama] needs to show substantial progress reviving the economy soon.

Some Democrats have started to worry that voters don’t and won’t understand the link between economic revival and Obama’s huge agenda, which includes saving the banking industry, ending home foreclosures, reforming healthcare and developing a national energy policy, among much else.

While lawmakers debate controversial proposals contained in the new president’s debut budget — cutting farm subsidies, raising taxes on charitable contributions, etc. — there is a growing sense that time is running out faster than expected.

Democrats from states racked by recession say Obama needs to produce an uptick by August or face unpleasant consequences. Others say that there is more time, but that voters need to see improvement by the middle of next year.

The most optimistic say Obama and Democrats in Congress will face a political backlash unless the economy improves by Election Day 2010.

Of course, as mentioned previously, it becomes increasingly clear that he, Geithner and others really don’t know what to do about all of this. And careful and objective analysis of the money promised in both the bailout and stimulus see the former not accomplishing the bailout hoped for and the latter not being at all properly targeted to stimulate the job creating, wealth producing private sector.

And Democrats are right – the sausage making legislative process is of little interest to most Americans, especially those in trouble. They want results and they want them now. He promised to  fix it and now they are going to expect results. There was no reality in his promises so it is rather difficult to understand why the American public which elected him should suddenly understand the reality of the situation. He promised, they took him up on it, now he has to deliver.

That’s the downside of actually winning after making a raft of promises that reality won’t let you keep.

~McQ

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