Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain


How Do You Spell “Chutzpa” in Korean?

Because the Secretary General has it – and demonstrates again why we ought to let the Third World Debating Club on the Hudson find a new home:

A day after his White House meeting with President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the United States a “deadbeat” donor to the world body while making the made the rounds on Capitol Hill.

[...]

“He used the word ‘deadbeat’ when it came to characterizing the United States. I take great umbrage (over) that,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the panel’s senior Republican, said after an hour-long, closed-door meeting. “We certainly contribute a whole lot of U.S. taxpayer dollars to that organization. We do not deserve such a phrase.

Interviewed after the session, Ban said he had wanted to draw attention to the fact that the U.S. agrees to pay 22 percent of the U.N.’s $4.86 billion operating budget, but is perennially late with its dues — and now is about $1 billion behind on its payments.
That figure is “soon to be $1.6 billion,” Ban emphasized. Asked if he’d used the word ‘deadbeat’ during the meeting, he replied, “Yes, I did — I did,” then laughed mischievously.

The ultimate deadbeat institution which can, unsurprisingly, find more ways to waste money than the US government, calls the country that pays 22% of its cost and host to the parasites that represent their backwater potentates the “deadbeat” ?

Ban certainly demonstrates a lot of respect for the country and the new administration doesn’t he?  So far this new relationship with the world is going swimmingly, as the UK can attest.

But there’s a glimmer of hope apparently. Ban has given Obama some budget advice:

Obama seeks a 9.5 percent increase in international affairs spending, which Yeo said would be enough to cover not only next year’s U.S. dues to the U.N., but also $1 billion in arrears.

Amazing. And we’ll end up handing it all over, just watch.

~McQ


Looking At The First 50 Days – A Lack Of Leadership (UPDATE)

Both Camille Paglia and Howard Fineman give an assessement (although not presented as a 50 day assessment).

Paglia says, “free Obama from his advisors“:

Yes, free the president from his flacks, fixers and goons — his posse of smirky smart alecks and provincial rubes, who were shrewd enough to beat the slow, pompous Clintons in the mano-a-mano primaries but who seem like dazed lost lambs in the brave new world of federal legislation and global statesmanship.

Heads should be rolling at the White House for the embarrassing series of flubs that have overshadowed President Obama’s first seven weeks in office and given the scattered, demoralized Republicans a huge boost toward regrouping and resurrection.

The advice he has received certainly hasn’t been the best, and Paglia makes the point eloquently. She primarily goes off on two things that have hurt the administration’s reputation – the “stimulus” bill and the mishandling of the Gordon Brown visit. Both poorly done. And she’s not at all impressed with, nor does she think anyone else has confidence in what she calls “a shrill duo of slick geeks (Timothy Geithner and Peter Orszag) as the administration’s weirdly adolescent spokesmen on economics” .

President Obama — in whom I still have great hope and confidence — has been ill-served by his advisors and staff. Yes, they have all been blindsided and overwhelmed by the crushing demands of the presidency. But I continue to believe in citizen presidents, who must learn by doing, even in a perilous age of terrorism. Though every novice administration makes blunders and bloopers, its modus operandi should not be a conspiratorial reflex cynicism.

Notice another assessment that uses “overwhelmed”. Paglia charitably tries to write it off as something “every novice administrations” goes though. But is it really?

Paglia interestingly uses the Limbaugh kerfuffle as the ultimate case in point of how his staff has let him down. But she notes he wasn’t particularly smart about it either:

This entire fracas was set off by the president himself, who lowered his office by targeting a private citizen by name. Limbaugh had every right to counterattack, which he did with gusto. Why have so many Democrats abandoned the hallowed principle of free speech? Limbaugh, like our own liberal culture hero Lenny Bruce, is a professional commentator who can be as rude and crude as he wants.

Another bit of grumbling is being heard from Howard Fineman.  In an article entitled “The Turning Tide“, Fineman notes “Obama still has the approval of the people, but the establishment is beginning to mumble that the president may not have what it takes.”

Not just the establishment -many in the big mushy middle who became enthralled with the cult of Obama without understanding the Obama agenda are now displaying a little buyer’s remorse.

But Fineman’s critique has to do with how the “establishment”, which he contends still holds enormous power, views the Obama presidency to this point. As with most of the elite media, he waves off the popular sentiment which is, for the most part favorable, and essentially claims it is the “establishment” which will make or break this president. By that, of course, he means the elite media, the money men and politicos. However, that said, his assessment is interesting:

They have some reasons to be concerned. I trace them to a central trait of the president’s character: he’s not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards—and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush—Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He’d have made a fine judge. But we don’t need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.

For all his rhetorical skill, that’s something Obama can’t pull off. He comes off as preachy, and with his lack of experience, no one with any sense would accept him as a coach who’s been there, done that and is now helping the rest of us achieve certain results. He just doesn’t have the authority of experience to sell that. And what is going on around him, such as the poorly handled nomination process, makes any attempt by him to assume that role even less authoritative. Even those he does have on board, such as the “shrill duo of slick geeks” as Paglia calls them, do more to hurt his image than help it.

Fineman goes on implicitly giving credibility to the belief that Obama may not be up to the job:

Obama may be mistaking motion for progress, calling signals for a game plan. A busy, industrious overachiever, he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can’t wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.

In the meantime events pop up and multiply, issues expand and reality barrels on. And the “establishment” is getting antsy. Because what the establishment isn’t seeing from their chosen son is something he’s never had reason or cause to display – leadership. What Fineman dances around with this “beau ideal of Harvard Law” and “blunt coach” characterizations is Obama doesn’t seem to understand the basic tenets of leadership. It has nothing to do with jetting around the country on the perpetual campaign, or excellent but basically empty speeches. It means taking charge of the process and spending less time in Columbus, OH and more time leading Congress and his cabinet heads in the direction he wants to see things go.

Instead he’s essentially turned foreign policy over to Hillary Clinton and his domestic agenda over to a Congress which simply cannot control itself while he and his staff pick rhetorical fights with talk-show hosts.

Fineman lays out a list of things to this point which aren’t playing particularly well among the “establishment”. Again, these are Fineman’s list:

-The $787 billion stimulus, gargantuan as it was, was in fact too small and not aimed clearly enough at only immediate job-creation.
-The $275 billion home-mortgage-refinancing plan, assembled by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, is too complex and indirect.
-The president gave up the moral high ground on spending not so much with the “stim” but with the $400 billion supplemental spending bill, larded as it was with 9,000 earmarks.
-The administration is throwing good money after bad in at least two cases—the sinkhole that is Citigroup (there are many healthy banks) and General Motors (they deserve what they get).
-The failure to call for genuine sacrifice on the part of all Americans, despite the rhetorical claim that everyone would have to “give up” something.
-A willingness to give too much leeway to Congress to handle crucial details, from the stim to the vague promise to “reform” medical care without stating what costs could be cut.
-A 2010 budget that tries to do far too much, with way too rosy predictions on future revenues and growth of the economy. This led those who fear we are about to go over Niagara Falls to deride Obama as a paddler who’d rather redesign the canoe.
-A treasury secretary who has been ridiculed on “Saturday Night Live” and compared to Doogie Howser, Barney Fife and Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone”—and those are the nice ones.
-A seeming paralysis in the face of the banking crisis: unwilling to nationalize banks, yet unable to figure out how to handle toxic assets in another way—by, say, setting up a “bad bank” catch basin.
-A seeming reluctance to seek punishing prosecutions of the malefactors of the last 15 years—and even considering a plea bargain for Bernie Madoff, the poster thief who stole from charities and Nobel laureates and all the grandparents of Boca. Yes, prosecutors are in charge, but the president is entitled—some would say required—to demand harsh justice.
-The president, known for his eloquence and attention to detail, seemingly unwilling or unable to patiently, carefully explain how the world works—or more important, how it failed. Using FDR’s fireside chats as a model, Obama needs to explain the banking system in laymen’s terms. An ongoing seminar would be great.
-Obama is no socialist, but critics argue that now is not the time for costly, upfront spending on social engineering in health care, energy or education.

Of course on the other side of these points are those that argue that the stimulus bill was poorly designed and will do nothing to stimulate the economy while ballooning the debt and inviting hyper-inflation as a result. They’d also argue that $275 home-mortgage-bailout rewards bad behavior and that when Obama claimed the pork laden, 9,000 earmark omnibus spending bill was the “last administration’s business” he gave up any hope of being in the same county as the “moral high ground”. Etc., etc.

In essence, the first fifty days can be summed up fairly easily in three words: lack of leadership. And leadership ability isn’t something the tooth fairy delivers one night along with the quarter for your tooth. That is what has the “establishment” mumbling in their martinis.

I had to laugh, however, at how Fineman ended his piece:

Other than all that, in the eyes of the big shots, he is doing fine. The American people remain on his side, but he has to be careful that the gathering judgment of the Bigs doesn’t trickle down to the rest of us.

Talk about “side-steppin’” and damning with faint praise.

But I have to wonder if Fineman’s title, “The Turning Tide” isn’t somewhat of a threat to the Obama administration if it doesn’t get its act together and do so quickly. As in-the-tank as the media was for Obama, they’re now realizing that it was their credibility they sold short if he isn’t successful. But there is only so much, in this era of the new media, they can do to spin what is happening positively. Fineman is issuing a warning of sorts – we can do this for a little while longer, but at some point it is going to turn, and it won’t be pretty.

The narrative that is now building is one of an administration overwhelmed, still in a campaign mode and rudderless. It began with the UK’s Telegraph last week and it seems to be gaining momentum.  Unless Obama and the administration can do some pretty fancy work over the next 50 days, he may emerge from his first 100 days with that being the conventional wisdom.  If so, he’s going to have a long 4 years ahead of him.

UPDATE: Interesting Gallup Poll – totally average:

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~McQ


Charles Freeman And The Obama Administration – What Is Going On? (UPDATE)

What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control?  Who, exactly, is in charge there?

Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster.  But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”.  Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House.  That means Freeman has never been formally vetted.  Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?

More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job?   A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush,  to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored.    Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.

But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation.  This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card.  After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.

Then there is the Congressional side of the question.  Jennifer Rubin asks:

Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.

And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”

Given what we know, I’d say no.  However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.  

This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.

~McQ


Honduras And The Effects Of Raising The Minimum Wage

Honduras is going through a rather large spike in kidnappings. From 5 in 2005 to 121 in 2008. In an attempt to understand this rise in kidnappings, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State, was sure that economic conditions had most likely driven the spike. But what specifically was likely to have caused it? Apparently an increase in the minimum wage:

In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.

Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.

Of course everytime increases are argued against here, those in favor of them tend to wave off the point that raising the wage will cause unemployment among those who can least afford it. Obviously I’m not contending that if we do so here, those laid off will take up kidnapping, but to pretend such rises in minimum wage don’t have any detrimental effect is simply not true – and Honduras provides the case study.

~McQ


Duh!

Warren Buffet on the economy and the effort of the government to “stimulate” it:

While praising efforts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others to stimulate the economy, he said the economy “can’t turn around on a dime” and that their efforts could trigger higher inflation once demand rebounds.

“We are certainly doing things that could lead to a lot of inflation,” he said. “In economics there is no free lunch.”

Funny how, when someone like Warren Buffet – who has been a supporter of Obama – says things like ‘trigger inflation’ and ‘no free lunch’, people who were previously playing the denial game (massive spending is necessary and good) suddenly figure there may be a problem.  Meanwhile the laws of economics have continued to function despite the denial.

For the most part the press has ignored Buffet’s words and they’ve been downplayed by the administration.  But perhaps if those who’ve been in denial are willing to consider Buffet’s warnings, they’ll be open to listening to others.  Such as warnings about the double talk that’s been coming out of the Obama administration the past few weeks.  For instance:

Confidence (too little) and uncertainty (too much) define this crisis. Obama’s double talk reduces the first and raises the second. He says he’s focused on reviving the economy, but he’s also using the crisis to advance an ambitious long-term agenda. The two sometimes collide. The $787 billion “stimulus” is weaker than necessary, because almost $200 billion for extended projects (high-speed rail, computerized medical records) take effect after 2010. When Congress debates Obama’s sweeping health care and energy proposals, industries, regions and governmental philosophies will clash. Will this improve confidence? Reduce uncertainty?

A prudent president would have made a “tough choice” — concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda.

Instead he’s decided he’s not going to let a “good crisis” go to waste and pursue his very expensive agenda which has nothing to do with the economic crisis (or alleviating it). All the while he preaches about crisis, catastrophe, sacrifice, tightening belts and doing with less even as he plans to expand government beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

It is an amazing performance.

~McQ


Cap-And-Trade – The Impact And The Politics

It is time to get real about what the promised cap-and-trade tax means to the average American.

Politicians love cap and trade because they can claim to be taxing “polluters,” not workers. Hardly. Once the government creates a scarce new commodity — in this case the right to emit carbon — and then mandates that businesses buy it, the costs would inevitably be passed on to all consumers in the form of higher prices. Stating the obvious, Peter Orszag — now Mr. Obama’s budget director — told Congress last year that “Those price increases are essential to the success of a cap-and-trade program.”

Essentially Congress will be creating a new commodity literally out of thin air. It will only create a certain amount of that commodity and so create instant scarcity. As we all know, scarcity drives up prices. The next year, the plan is to remove a portion of the created commodity from the market creating even more scarcity and driving prices for the commodity even higher.

Imagine steel as the commodity. Imagine steel prices going through the roof. Do you suppose they might effect the price of, say, automobiles? Metal buildings? The price of building a bridge or sky scraper?

So who, in the final analysis, is going to end up paying for this increase in steel prices? Why the final consumer, of course. Naturally, with steel, in some cases you can choose to consume (buy a new car, rent an office or approve the bridge) or not consume. However, with the CO2 tax on all industry, to include manufacturing, service, transportation and energy, you have little choice in the matter of consumption. You will be picking up the tab for this.

That brings us full circle to the promised tax cut for 95% of America and my promise that what government gives with one hand it takes with another, making the tax cut illusory at best:

Hit hardest would be the “95% of working families” Mr. Obama keeps mentioning, usually omitting that his no-new-taxes pledge comes with the caveat “unless you use energy.” Putting a price on carbon is regressive by definition because poor and middle-income households spend more of their paychecks on things like gas to drive to work, groceries or home heating.

After all the caterwalling the left does about “progressive taxation” they are about to implement the most regressive tax I can imagine. And as I’ve pointed out, the tax is pervasive, touching just about all aspects of life. Food prices will rise. Energy prices will go through the roof.

The Congressional Budget Office — Mr. Orszag’s former roost — estimates that the price hikes from a 15% cut in emissions would cost the average household in the bottom-income quintile about 3.3% of its after-tax income every year. That’s about $680, not including the costs of reduced employment and output. The three middle quintiles would see their paychecks cut between $880 and $1,500, or 2.9% to 2.7% of income. The rich would pay 1.7%. Cap and trade is the ideal policy for every Beltway analyst who thinks the tax code is too progressive (all five of them).

Of course there is talk of subsidizing those at the lower end of the economic ladder so the impact of rising prices is lessened. Naturally that also negates the impact of the cap-and-trade system. In the end, your tax dollars subsidze the system while increased prices are passed along by so-called polluters. As the price of permits rise over the years, permit holders pay the increasing cost, pass it along and you again subsidize it. The rich can afford it, the poor will be subsidized, so who will get squeezed? Why that middle class that Obama and Biden are so concerned with.

Economically, estimates are that we’re going to have a miserable year in ’09 and possibly ’10. But we may begin to see a recovery really start to take hold in ’11, just in time for the 2012 presidential election. The smart politicians in Washington plan to delay cap-and-trade implementation until 2012. The reason should be obvious. If cap-and-trade has the expected impact on the economy, we could very well see the recovery stall and head back into recession. But politically the timing would be perfect. The mirage of recovery would be just enough to keep the current administration in power for another 4 years, before the economy wrecker of cap-and-trade begins to do its work.

~McQ


Ending the “I Want Obama To Fail” Kerfuffle

Patterico does it by producing a 2006 poll:

poll-should-bush-succeed

The difference, of course, is instead of 51% of Democrats telling a polling company they wanted Bush to fail, an influential conservative came right out and said it about Obama.

The point for the left? You can quite pretending you’re witnessing something never seen before and climb on down from the throne of self-righteousness to your usual seat on the stool of hypocrisy (dissent no longer being the “highest form of patriotism).

~McQ


Podcast for 08 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the indications the provide into the President’s apparent intellectual incuriosity.

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.


Speaking Truth To Cluelessness

Heh … I love it when this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough.

The saccharine conventions of showbusiness were thrown out of the window last week, when the Hollywood actress Maria Conchita Alonso was collared by paparazzi and asked if she was pleased about her former co-star Sean Penn’s recent Oscar victory.

“He’s an amazing actor. I can’t take that away from him,” she said of Penn, who worked with her on the 1988 cop film Colors. “It’s just that he has no clue at all what’s going on in Venezuela. He’s been praising Hugo Chavez, who is a dictator and a killer. He should shut up about what he doesn’t know.” Alonso, who was raised in Venezuela, was apparently upset by a glowing article that Penn had written for The Nation magazine about her homeland’s charismatic but increasingly dictatorial left-wing President.

Of course Penn’s not the only one from Hollywood in the thrall of Chavez:

Other Hollywood liberals face public criticism, most notably Oliver Stone, currently filming an adulatory authorised biopic of Mr Chavez. Stone could be joined in the pillory by Danny Glover, who was given $18m by Mr Chavez in 2006 to make a left-leaning film about Haiti’s 19th-century leader, Toussaint Louverture. Harry Belafonte sparked outrage two years ago when he appeared on a platform with Mr Chavez to call George Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world”.

The term “useful idiots” describes them well.

~McQ

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