Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: March 2009


The Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award Goes To …

John Murtha! Yes, “that John Murtha” … seriously:

In one of his last moves before leaving office March 13, then-Navy Secretary Donald Winter quietly awarded 19-term Democratic congressman John Murtha (Pa.) with the service’s highest civilian honor.

Citing Murtha’s “courageous leadership, vision, and loyalty to the men and women of the Department of the Navy,” Winter presented the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel with the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award, an honor bestowed in “those extraordinary cases where individuals have demonstrated exceptionally outstanding service of substantial and long term benefit to the Navy, Marine Corps, or the Department of the Navy as a whole,” a Murtha release stated.

As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with some in the military. Seems they don’t appreciate seeing elected officials who condemn their comrades in arms as “murderers” being awarded medals:

The primary reason for their ire stems from the congressman’s statements in May, 2006, that a squad of Marines who responded to an IED ambush and short firefight in Haditha, Iraq, rampaged through the village, murdering civilians “in cold blood.”

Murtha made those comments in the heat of the 2006 congressional mid-term election campaign, in a move some political analysts saw as an attempt to stoke the anti-war vote for a Democratic takeover of the House. The former Marine and distinguished Vietnam veteran continued his accusations in follow-up media appearances before an official Pentagon and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation had been completed.

When the dust settled more than two years later, six of the eight Marines and Sailors accused of crimes in the Haditha incident had their cases dismissed, one was found not guilty and the last has been continued indefinitely.

[...]

Murtha has refused to recant his accusations or apologize to the Marines he accused of war crimes. When asked by Military.com in late 2007 whether he regretted his initial statements and owed the exonerated Marines and Sailor an apology, Murtha refused to comment, saying the cases were still being adjudicated.

Well, I can understand why he wouldn’t apologize. After all, it’s quite well known that Murtha is an officious liar, and no one should believe a word he says.

As for some actual soldier reaction, Deebow at Blackfive queries “Are You F’ing Serious?!

I was immediately a little suspicious about what kind of award Mr. Murtha could have received, knowing that he hasn’t done anything honorable lately, at least that I can remember. So I checked the Way Back Machine event tabulator I had next to my oatmeal and it says Representative Jack Murtha was an unindicted co-conspirator in the ABSCAM investigation done by the FBI, blatantly called his constituents racists and backwoods red-necks and, most recently, called United States Marines engaged in combat “Cold Blooded Killers” for their actions during a firefight in Haditha, Iraq.

WOW! Now that is one honorable Congressman…

[snip part where Deebow reads about the honor bestowed upon Murtha]

REALLY??? The former SECNAV thought that Rep. Murtha was someone who had “loyalty” to the men and women of the Department of the Navy? He really believed that Rep. Murtha had rendered “exceptionally outstanding service?”

Apparently he did. But, even if Deebow wasn’t impressed, the Congressman himself sure was!

“I’m proud of the service and sacrifices our troops are making, and I’m honored to receive this distinguished award from the Navy,” commented Murtha. “We have an obligation to ensure that our cold-blooded murderers men and women in uniform have the most modern equipment, effective training, first-class medical care, and family advocacy resources.”

Erm … there may be some mistranslation in there somewhere.

More reactions:

But one influential veterans group has reacted strongly against the award, crafting a petition to lobby the Navy to rescind it.

Vets for Freedom, a group that generally supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, called Murtha’s award “appalling” and his accusations against the Haditha Marines “vile and despicable.”

“Congressman John Murtha should apologize for slandering the Marines of [3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment], and for undermining the efforts of those servicemen and women who fought in Iraq,” the online petition states. “If he does not, the Secretary of the Navy should rescind this award as a sign of his unwavering support for those who served in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

So far more than 35,000 supporters have signed the online petition.

If you tend to side with Deebow rather than Rep. Murtha, then you can sign too by going to this link.


Quote Of The Day

From Jim Harper of CATO speaking of the Obama on-line “Townhall meeting” yesterday:

President Obama promised to make his administration the most open and transparent in history, and taking questions from the public kind of looks like that. But it also kind of looks like gimmicky, a canned publicity stunt, rather than true openness in government.

Real transparency would include fulfilling his campaign promise to post bills online for five days before signing them. The President has now signed ten bills into law and not subjected any of them to that five-day public review.

Ten bills.  That’s zero for ten in the transparancy department.

Yup, we’re just in too much of a hurry to really be transparent, apparently.  And the press is doing such a great job of keeping Mr. Transparancy’s feet to the fire, isn’t it?

~McQ


The Geithner Plan And Why It Isn’t What It Is Reported To Be

That is, why it isn’t the solution it is touted to be. Jeffrey Sachs of the Financial Times:

The Geithner-Summers plan, officially called the public/private investment programme, is a thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks, by buying toxic assets from the banks at far above their market value. It is dressed up as a market transaction but that is a fig-leaf, since the government will put in 90 per cent or more of the funds and the “price discovery” process is not genuine. It is no surprise that stock market capitalisation of the banks has risen about 50 per cent from the lows of two weeks ago. Taxpayers are the losers, even as they stand on the sidelines cheering the rise of the stock market. It is their money fuelling the rally, yet the banks are the beneficiaries.

If you’ve been wondering why the stock market had a short rally upon its announcement, there’s your explanation. You need to read the whole thing as Sachs uses a simple example to explain his point. He concludes with:

Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, and Lawrence Summers, director of the White House national economic council, suspect that they cannot go back to Congress to fund their plan and so are raiding the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the remaining Tarp funds, hoping that there will be little public understanding and little or no congressional scrutiny. This is an inappropriate institutional use of the Fed, the FDIC and the Tarp. Mr Geithner and Mr Summers should at the very least explain the true risks of large losses by the government under their plan. Then, a properly informed Congress and public could decide whether to adopt this plan or some better alternative.

But, of course, we’re just in too big of a hurry and the situation is too dire to actually discuss and debate the situation or do it properly through Congressional action. Instead we’ve been sold a bill of goods which, disguised as a way out, is simply a rip off of the taxpayer – again. As Jennifer Rubin notes:

So to avoid the overwhelming popular objection to perpetual bailouts and expenditures, the Obama administration will do this all “off budget” and with no hearings, Congressional debates, or votes. Not very transparent and quite imperious, when you get right down to it.

Yeah, not very “hopey changey” is it?

I’m warming more and more to my suggestion that government officials be compensated the same way they think CEOs should be compensated. If this ends up being a big loss to the taxpayer, Geithner and Summers should receive zero compensation for the outcome. And that would also go for anyone else in the administration or Congress who had a hand in implementing this plan.

~McQ


The Silence Is Deafening (update)

Doug Heye points out something of which I’m sure few people are aware:

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has apparently decided to keep $100K in contributions from Bernie Madoff, who faces up to 150 years in prison for swindling billions from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Elie Wiesel, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick in a massive Ponzi scheme.

In campaigns, one side often calls on the other to return money for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s valid, sometimes not. Regardless, it’s Campaign 101. But when the contributor in question is the single biggest financial criminal in history, there can be no question that those illicit funds should not remain in campaign coffers.

[...]

Given the economic uncertainty our nation faces and that Madoff not only fleeced the rich and famous but major corporations such as HSBC — in other words, Madoff swindled all of us — the DSCC’s decision is shockingly tone-deaf.

No kidding. People all over have been fleeced by this guy, they’re looking all over for assets with which to recover some of the funds and pay back the investors and the DSCC is keeping the funds he sent them. Shocking.

What isn’t shocking, however, is what Heye notes next:

However, what’s almost equally surprising is the virtual silence from the media. During the Enron scandal, returning campaign money was a daily drumbeat, as were the news stories discussing Enron’s purported ties to President Bush. Now, when the Democratic Senate campaign vehicle makes the conscious decision to keep $100K in Madoff money, stolen just as if it came from a bank holdup, there’s little to no outrage.

Heye seems surprised and asks “why” this is receiving no coverage.

Most of the rest of us are just shaking our heads knowingly and are not at all surprised by that fact.

UPDATE: Commenter Linda Morgan provides a link from the Washington Times, apparently the only MSM outlet which carried the story, with some positive results:

One day after The Washington Times reported that a key Democratic fundraising group was holding onto $100,000 from disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee decided to donate the money to his victims.

“We’re reviewing this internally, and decided to give the money to the trustee for distribution to the victims,” DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz told Roll Call on Thursday.

Given the fact the Madoff scandal is old enough that he’s been to trial, plead guilty and is awaiting sentencing, you have to wonder why it has taken this long for the DSCC to “review this internally”.

~McQ


Is There Anything These Boobs Won’t Try To Legislate Or Intrude Upon?

And yes, it’s another Republican:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may be a skinny guy with a high voice. But he’s angrily setting out to tackle the biggest powers in college football, vowing to pound them until they reform the Bowl Championship Series.

He called them out Wednesday, as he and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc. — respectively the top Republican and Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust — released a list of topics that panel plans to consider this year.

A bit buried on Page 4 of an eight-page list, amid somewhat sleep-inducing reading on oil and railroad antitrust, is a nifty paragraph about the BCS.

“The BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year,” their joint statement says.

Then it drops its first unexpected bomb: “The subcommittee will hold hearings to investigate these issues.”

That is followed by a second: “Sen. Hatch will introduce legislation to rectify this situation.”

Hatch’s office did not comment about exactly what may be in the yet-to-be-written bill — including whether it might attempt to mandate a playoff system similar to that in college basketball, or simply mandate that all colleges be given a fair shot to play their way into a national championship.

no one is particularly happy with the BCS and how they rank colleges or the method of “playoff” they’ve come up with. However let me be very clear here. This is none of Congress’s business. None. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Sorry if BSU was 13-0 and wasn’t crowned national champs. But that’s life and the system that’s in place. Get over it and worry about the things which are important – like shrinking government instead of making it more intrusive.

I’m coming to the conclusion we should hold Congress to the same standard as concerns their pay as we held AIG about the bonuses.

If we did that, most of these yahoos would be flat broke or owning the Treasury money at the end of the year. That’s certainly one way to cut spending.

~McQ

 

[HT: Liberty Papers]


Proposed Taxes On Oil Producers Will Be Paid At The Pump

This is such a basic lesson I’m surprised it has to be repeated so often.  

The background:

Under pressure to narrow projected deficits, President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget proposal calls for raising more than $31 billion over the next decade by eliminating the oil and gas industry’s eligibility for various tax breaks.

When you’re thowing around 3.6 trillion dollar figures for budgets, someone is going to ask, “how are you going to pay for it?” A 3.6 trillion dollar budget certainly doesn’t answer, “by cutting spending” does it? So new sources of revenue have to be found. But in a consumer society who is the ultimate source of all revenue? If you answered, “the consumer” you get a gold star.

So revenue is the purported reason for the focus on oil companies. Additionally, they’re easy to demonize which makes for easy political pickings. That seems to be the modus operandi of this administration.
changing-hands-1
The propsoal:

The plan would slap companies with a new excise tax on production in the Gulf of Mexico worth $5.3 billion between 2010 and 2019, and repeal the industry’s eligibility for a manufacturing tax credit worth $13.3 billion in that period.

In an era in which the word “trillions” is uttered with abandonment, billions suddenly don’t seem like much do they? Unless of course you’re a middle or lower income family. Then trillions and billions are meaningless. It’s how far can you stretch the thousands of dollars you earn each year?

Well that $13 a week tax cut you’re contemplating will quickly disappear at the gas pump if Congress and the adminstration get their way. Fuel prices will rise at the pump and may rise rather dramatically. That’s because that approximately 20 billion you see above will most likely morph into about 400 billion cost to the oil companies during that period:

The industry says the final cost of Mr. Obama’s proposals on petroleum production could top $400 billion, once his plan to put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions is factored in.

The lie:

The Obama administration has generally justified its proposals by arguing that taxpayers deserve a better deal.

Yeah, I know, “lie” is a strong word. I’ve always considered it to be the knowing telling of a falsehood. And that’s precisely what this “justification” is. The “taxpayer” being talked about isn’t you in this scenario. It’s the government. You will be paying the passed through tax at the pump which the oil companies will then send to DC.209546302_54daa93f9b

For the seeming millionth time, corporations don’t pay taxes, they collect them and pass them on. Individuals pay taxes.

Last but not least – Raising taxes in recessionary times (not matter how indirect) is a recipe for economic disaster. Additionally such taxes in recessionary times may have the effect of driving jobs offshore where taxes and restrictions are less onerous and seeing oil companies produce less oil and natural gas domestically in a time when there is a growing and increasingly worrisome energy gap.

Not a very bright policy.

~McQ


If The Alternative Energy Types Think It Will Be Easy …

It won’t be. There’s nothing “sacred” about wind and solar, certainly nothing which is going to see environmentalists back off of their opposition to anything with despoils the vision they hold of how mother earth should be:

As David Myers scans the rocky slopes of this desert canyon, looking vainly past clumps of brittlebush for bighorn sheep, he imagines an enemy advancing across the crags.

That specter is of an army of mirrors, generators and transmission towers transforming Mojave Desert vistas like this one. While Whitewater Canyon is privately owned and protected, others that Mr. Myers, as head of the Wildlands Conservancy, has fought to preserve are not.

To his chagrin, some of Mr. Myers’s fellow environmentalists are helping power companies pinpoint the best sites for solar-power technology. The goal of his former allies is to combat climate change by harnessing the desert’s solar-rich terrain, reducing the region’s reliance on carbon-emitting fuels.

Mr. Myers is indignant. “How can you say you’re going to blade off hundreds of thousands of acres of earth to preserve the Earth?” he said.

As I’ve said before, if you think that these groups are going to let anyone carpet the Mojave Desert with solar panels and endanger its eco system, you haven’t been paying attention to what has been going on here for the last 50 years.

Terry Frewin, a local Sierra Club representative, said he had tough questions for state regulators. “Deserts don’t need to be sacrificed so that people in L.A. can keep heating their swimming pools,” Mr. Frewin said.

But that’s precisely what it will take for solar to make any appreciable difference, given the technology available today. The ironic thing is the movement to plus up solar is being driven by a Democratic administration and putting it into direct conflict with one of its more loyal constituencies.

It is also causing dissent within environmental organizations as well:

“It’s not enough to say no to things anymore,” said Carl Zichella, a Sierra Club expert on renewable power. “We have to say yes to the right thing.”

We’ll see who wins in the end and what the eventual political cost will be – but you can rest assured, there’ll be nothing easy about implementing solar and wind if environmentalists have any say.

~McQ


Federal Drug Warriors Double Down On The Drug War (UPDATE)

New administration, same lame approach:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mexico in its violent struggle against drug cartels, and acknowledged the U.S. shares blame because of its demand for drugs and supply of weapons.

She said the United States shares responsibility with Mexico for dealing with violence now spilling across the border and promised cooperation to improve security on both sides.

And it’s your fault:

“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility,” Clinton told reporters, adding: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Of course, if we had control of our borders and drugs weren’t “illegal”, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the slaughter on the border now, would we?

Look, I know, as does everyone who reads this blog, that the sudden realization that it is the prohibition that drives all of this violence and not the demand, isn’t going to suddenly dawn on the politicians. The lessons of 1920′s prohibition have apparently been lost on them. The lawlessness, the gun violence, the flouting of the law by a majority of the population – all were essentially eliminated with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

I’m not going to make the argument that drugs are good for you, harmless or something I’d want my grandkids to do. But I understand, despite all of that, that our approach – prohibition – is an abject failure and the war on the border is simply a manifestation of that failure.

The key to winning this war is to take the profit motive for criminals out of the equation. For most observers that seems self-evident. No profit, no war. No war, no need for guns and killing.
drugwar1
Yet governments seem to resist that obvious point. Instead they wage “war” on the producers, suppliers and users. But the profits, propped up by the government prohibition, are so obscene that the replacement of producers and suppliers taken out of the “business” is almost instant. And the size of the user population is such that only low single digit percentages of them are ever caught and prosecuted.  It is, relatively speaking, a low risk business with very high rewards for the producers.

In reality, a criminal business is motivated by the very same things as is a legal business. It responds to the same sorts of market incentives as a legal business. The market, however, isn’t created by natural demand and regulated by competition. Instead, the market is one created by government prohibition. No prohibition, no “illegal” demand. No illegal demand, no possibility of the obscene profits enjoyed and no real appeal to a criminal enterprise or syndicate.

So calling for more of the same in terms of addressing this problem seems insane. As long as the prohibition remains in place the profit motive for the criminal gangs remains in place as well. And as long as the profits are large enough to more than offset the losses incurred in the distribution process (and the fight with governments and police), they will continue in their “business” until such a profit motive disappears.  And as long as the price of drugs remains reasonably low and readily available (and the enjoyment remains high), and the population wanting them remains large, demand will remain pretty constant.

As has been demonstrated for decades, governmental efforts to stem both supply and demand through prohibition has been a pitiful failure. Yet here we are, getting ready to double down on this horribly failed policy.

In reality, this is again a manifestation of the nanny state. It is a determination by government that something it has decided is detrimental to individuals should be denied them. Instead of approaching the issue as it did with alcohol, our government has eschewed the lessons learned and the success of that effort in favor of the approach it is now taking.

To most rational people such an approach seems absurdly irrational. Yet there is no serious debate within government circles about the failure of the present approach or discussion of alternatives. And that’s in the face of evidence that drugs are now being used to finance terror organizations.

Something has got to change. And it needs to change quickly, or what you see on the border now will only grow worse. We’ve talked about how governments can distort markets. What you see now is a classic example of the results of such a distortion.

UPDATE: New York is trying something different in terms of combatting drugs.  Although still not signed into law, the Governor and legislature have agreed to legislation which would dismantle much of the ’70s era “mandatory sentencing” laws and put more of an emphasis on treatment:

The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.

New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.

“To me, that is the restoration of justice.”

To me, it’s a start.

~McQ