Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: November 2010


On Veteran’s Day–thank you, America

Forty some odd years ago, as a new lieutenant, I was in charge of a detachment sent to honor a soldier killed in Vietnam at his funeral. We practiced our routine, folding the flag and its presentation for hours the day before. We traveled the next day in civilian cars and clothes. The Army felt we shouldn’t travel in uniform or in government vehicles for fear of an “incident” which were all too common then.

We arrived, changed and reported in to the funeral director. We didn’t know that the young widow hadn’t requested our presence, but instead the funeral home had done so as it routinely did when a service member died or was killed.

We were either roundly ignored or endured hostile stares as we sat in the back of the chapel. At the conclusion of the ceremony, and under intensely cloudy skies, we followed a few cars to the cemetery a short distance away to do our duty. As we approached the burial site, the heavens opened up.

There was no funeral home tent over the grave and, as it turned out, only my detachment got out of our cars and went graveside. There, in the pouring rain, we rendered honors to our fallen comrade.

After receiving the folded flag from the NCOIC of the detachment, I turned toward the car that I knew contained the widow and approached the back window on the side she was sitting. She was staring straight ahead and it seemed I was left to stand there forever. Finally, the driver from the funeral home must have said something because she turned toward me with a sullen stare, rolled the window down part way and snatched the flag from my hands before I could even begin to say what my duty compelled me to say to her. Without another look, she ordered the driver to depart and I was left rendering a hand salute to the tail lights of the few cars that had bothered to attend the service.

That was the Army and nation with which I began my service. It was literally and figuratively one of the blackest days of my time in the military.

But somewhere between then and now a wonderful and miraculous thing happened. A nation that at that time shunned its warriors has since come to embrace them. And I couldn’t be more proud of my country than I am today. Since that awful era, America has come to recognize an important truth – the military is the last organization in this country that wants to fight a war, because they will bear the terrible burden of loss. It has discovered that being in the military is among the most challenging and honorable professions available. And they’ve become proud of not only our military’s accomplishments, but the bravery, sacrifice and compassion of its members.

Where once those in uniform were shunned they now receive standing ovations. Where once protesters stood outside the gates of military establishment with signs calling soldiers “baby killers”, strangers now thank soldiers for their service. Where once few showed up to honor the fallen, now entire towns show up to give them their solemn due.

This hasn’t been the result of some concerted effort on the part of anyone in particular. It is a result of the people of a wonderful country examining their past actions and concluding they were wrong to act the way they did – and doing something about it. It has been as spontaneous and as profound a grass-roots movement as any I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

I was worried, as we turned to an all volunteer force that America would lose further touch with the military and the gulf separating America from its warriors would widen and worsen. But it hasn’t just been the military that has tried to bridge that gulf – it has been the American people.

Never before – except perhaps WWII – has there been such massive support of our fighting men and women. If it is for the troops, people unhesitatingly give. Random acts of love – anonymous acts in many cases – are routine. I spoke with one soldier in an airport who had been travelling for two days heading home on mid-tour leave from Afghanistan. He said he hadn’t bought his own meal yet and he’d been upgraded to 1st class on every flight he’d taken. Sometimes that upgrade consisted of someone voluntarily giving up their seat for him. A common and wonderful occurrence.

We’ve been at war now for 10 years, longer than any war in American history and the love and support from the American people has never once waivered.

So … as America today says “thank you” to its veterans, this is one vet who wants to say thank you to America. From that dark day 40 years ago to today, you have done what it takes to make me proud of the service I was honored to perform for our country. With the love and support you shower on our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, you have proven to everyone in the military, to include those from my era, that what you say and do is genuine, heartfelt and driven by pride.

God bless you America – and thank you.


Science bows to politics in Obama administration

You may remember this line from President Obama’s inaugural speech: " We will restore science to its rightful place … "?

The implication, of course, is that science had been held hostage to politics and that was no longer going to be tolerated.

Well, until it was necessary to skew it to support Obama’s political agenda, that is:

The White House rewrote crucial sections of an Interior Department report to suggest an independent group of scientists and engineers supported a six-month ban on offshore oil drilling, the Interior inspector general says in a new report. In the wee hours of the morning of May 27, a staff member to White House energy adviser Carol Browner sent two edited versions of the department report’s executive summary back to Interior. The language had been changed to insinuate the seven-member panel of outside experts – who reviewed a draft of various safety recommendations – endorsed the moratorium, according to the IG report obtained by POLITICO.

Of course the usual suspects claim no intention of mislead exists. That it was just part of the "normal editing process".

But:

“At 2:13 a.m. on May 27, 2010, Browner’s staff member sent an e-mail back to Black that contained two versions of the executive summary,” the IG report states. “Both versions sent by the staff member contained significant edits to DOI’s draft executive summary but were very similar to each other.

“Both versions, however, revised and re-ordered the executive summary, placing the peer review language immediately following the moratorium recommendation causing the distinction between the secretary’s moratorium recommendation – which had not been peer-reviewed – and the recommendations contained in the 30-Day Report – which had been peer-reviewed – to become effectively lost.” [emphasis mine]

Unless you’re a totally inept editor and not able to read for comprehension, this should have been obvious to everyone involved. The IG figured it out. Why didn’t Browner and Salazar?

Because, most likely, it said what they wanted said (implications included) exactly as they wanted it said so they could support the position they had already decided was necessary. 

But the denial, as absurd as it is, continues:

Black said he didn’t have any issues with the White House edit; he and his staffer both told the IG it never occurred to them that an objective reader would conclude that peer reviewers had supported the six-month moratorium.

Really? Seriously? Well what about the "objective" readers on the panel:

Nevertheless, Interior apologized to the peer reviewers in early June after some of them complained they were used to support the controversial ban. Salazar also held a conference call with the peer reviewers and met personally with some of them.

Obviously their "objective" reading of the executive summary caused them to conclude otherwise, didn’t it?

Glad to see science is back in the position the president promised it would be under his administration.

Change – a wonderful thing to behold, huh?

~McQ


Pelosi’s propaganda piece

If you’ve ever wondered what pure “spin” looks like, you have as your most current example an article under Nancy Pelosi’s name in USA Today.  It is a marvel of context free and, frankly, fact free verbiage designed to do nothing more than paint an alternate picture of reality.  It is an attempt to effect how history will be written.  And it is laughable on its face.

Essentially what Pelosi does is provide a list of discredited Democrat talking points in essay form, never once acknowledging that most if not all have been debunked, shown to be untrue or simply a figment of very fertile imaginations.

My favorite part is where the soon to be minority leader, if that, finally lays out the welcome mat for Republicans – after 6 years of all but shutting them out of the Congressional process.

And, in the running for the most appalling lie among many is this line included after Pelosi lists the “accomplishments” of the 111th Congress:

And we did all of this while restoring fiscal discipline to the Congress by making the pay-as-you-go rules the law of the land.

Good lord.  An estimated 6 trillion in further debt heaped upon the country during her watch and she has the audacity to play the PAYGO card?  This and the previous Congress under Democratic rule have been the most profligate in our history.  And Ms. Pelosi attempts to say everything has been paid for?  

Democrats – if you keep this person in your leadership after her 4 years as the Speaker what little is left of your tattered credibility is as good as gone.  She is divisive, extreme, partisan to a fault and the perfect leader to ensure you don’t see a majority in the House again for a decade or so.  She is the gift that keeps on giving for the GOP.

~McQ


Rand Paul back-peddling on “no-pork” pledge?

One of the unstated questions many of us who have observed the Tea Party ask is how long before it become co-opted by one of the major parties. Because it is mostly a leaderless movement, that may end up being a very unlikely thing. But what about the candidates it backed? We’re told that 5 Senators and about 30 or so representatives were backed by local and regional Tea Parties and won their elections.

One of those was Rand Paul who, as the son of Ron Paul, came off as particularly libertarian in his approach to his job as a Senator from Kentucky. In fact, during his campaign, he made what his campaign web site labeled "Rand’s no-pork pledge":

Rand Paul appreciates Republican Senator Jim DeMint introducing today a one-year ban on earmark spending and a balanced-budget amendment. Rand strongly supports both initiatives and has made them centerpieces of his campaign for limited government, including his signing of the Citizens Against Government Waste “No pork pledge.”

“The Tea Party movement is an effort to get government under control,” Rand said. “I’m running to represent Kentuckians and to dismantle the culture of professional politicians in Washington. Leadership isn’t photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks. That kind of thinking is bankrupting our nation. Senator DeMint understands that and has taken action to stop it.”

It was that pledge along with other such promises that saw Paul ride a wave to electoral victory.

However, and it seems in politics today, there’s always a "however", it seems that even before taking office, Paul is having second thoughts about his pledge. Veronique de Rugy at the Corner points us to a quote in a Wall Street Journal article about Rand Paul which is, well, disappointing, to be kind about it:

In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad “symbol” of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it’s doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests,” he says.

Of course there are plenty of ways to "advocate for Kentucky’s interests" without breaking a pledge. That, of course, requires a politician with imagination and the courage of his convictions.

If the quote is accurate, then I have no doubt that Rand Paul will rationalize and justify his way into becoming just another establishment Republican Senator who sells out (in this case, almost immediately) to the “system” in DC.  Another in a long line of  “go-along-to get-along-old-boy-network” that is within virtual inches of destroying this country.

I have to wonder how the Tea Party movement, which spent so much time, effort and money to get this guy elected feels about this quote?  I’ll be interested to hear Paul’s explanation concerning what the WSJ says he said.

But frankly, and assuming he wasn’t misquoted,  it’s another indication that much of our political class is a collection of opportunists whose only real quest is the accumulation of personal power.  They’ll say whatever it takes to win with no intention of sticking with the principles they claim.   While, as Paul says, earmarks are indeed more symbolic that significant, they were significant enough when he was seeking office to take a pledge not to seek them.  A pledge voluntarily taken by someone who, as usual, styled himself as “different” and an “outsider” who was going to change the way we do business.

Instead, at the first opportunity, he back-peddles and attempts to rationalize breaking his pledge to “advocate for Kentucky’s interests”.

I hope it’s not true but in reality it appears to be business as usual.

~McQ


Irony: AARP blames ObamaCare for increased cost of employee health coverage

You remember the organization that became one of the biggest shills for the impending health care legislation now known as "Obamacare"? Reason brings us the story that AARP is now notifying its employees that thanks to their support for this monstrosity they have the privilege of paying 8 to 13% higher health care premiums next year:

In an e-mail to employees, AARP says health care premiums will increase by 8 percent to 13 percent next year because of rapidly rising medical costs.

And AARP adds that it’s changing copayments and deductibles to avoid a 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans that takes effect in 2018 under the law. Aerospace giant Boeing also has cited the tax in asking its workers to pay more. Shifting costs to employees lowers the value of a health care plan and acts like an escape hatch from the tax.

AARP said that its support of the law was based in the fact that “health care costs are growing too fast for everyone.”  Now AARP’s employees will have the opportunity to experience that first hand – after the law the group supported to prevent such cost growth is in effect.

~McQ


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

I suppose I should be surprised at this, but I’m not. Mitch McConnell seems now to believe that earmarks are a hallowed legislative prerogative, and Rep. Jerry Lewis is keen to retake the gavel of the Appropriations Committee.

Basically, the deal is this: After talking a good game about fiscal conservatism for months, the GOP is going to take its cues in the Senate from a guy who basically doesn’t give that much of a crap, and very likely empower a guy in the House whose top priorities have previously included money pit swimming pools into which he likes to dump massive, great, heaping piles of your hard-earned cash because, hey, he’s in charge here, dammit.

I don’t like it; you don’t like it. Let’s hope that by some miracle, folks calling the shots up on the Hill might possibly be paying attention to what everyone from the Tea Partiers to me, your local candy-ass RINO, thinks: Quit with the earmarks, and let’s not just empower the people who pursued them with zeal last time the GOP was in charge, because well screw it, we won… kind of…

So, is that the deal? Head fake to the right on spending for the Tea Party during the election, but back to business as usual after winning? Are the 2006 Republicans back?

If so, it’s gonna be a long two years, and 2012 is gonna be a nightmare.


Irony: Biofuels may be 167% more polluting than fossil fuels

Even more irony – the groups lining up against the EU’s energy targets mandating the use of biofuels are not who you would expect:

Energy targets for 23 of the EU’s 27 members suggest 9.5 percent of the bloc’s transportation energy will come from biofuels by 2020, said the groups, which include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and ActionAid. The crops may need an area twice the size of Belgium, and clearing the necessary land could make the fuels 167 percent more polluting for the climate than sticking with gasoline and diesel, they said.

The proponents naturally say that’s all nonsense:

The EU aims to get 10 percent of its energy for transportation from biofuels, hydrogen and renewable power by 2020. The target is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

EU energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said the targets require less land than the study suggests and that EU guidelines prevent the use of deforested land.

“The Renewable Directive says very clearly that it is not allowed to chop down forests to produce biofuels,” Holzner said in an e-mail. “The same goes for drained peatland, wetland or highly biodiverse areas.”

Well of course it says that’s not allowed. Whether or not that’s actually followed is another matter entirely. But here’s the point – the directive’s implementation means that existing land that can be used to reach the targets must be converted from growing whatever it is growing now (food?) to being dedicated to biofuel production. Either way a large area (twice the size of Belgium?) is going to have to be dedicated to such production to make the 10 percent target viable. So where does "food production" go? Looking for new land, that’s where. Or, the EU learns to live with the reduction in agricultural products and the resultant increase in prices required to turn the existing land into biofuel production.

The bureaucrats wave away the concern:

The 10 percent target would require 2 million to 5 million hectares of land, and there is enough unused terrain in the EU that was previously used for crop production to cover its needs, Holzner said.

This is classic government intrusion into markets and the beginning of the inevitable market distortions that brings along with the law of unintended consequences.  Biofuels have to be grown somewhere.  Government is going to subsidize that at a rate higher than growing food.  That means, at some point, food growth is going to be displaced.   Holzner, with an airy wave of the hand says “hey, the land is available – problem solved”. 

Of such are man-made disasters cluelessly formulated and executed.

~McQ


The GOP’s new state level clout may mean a winner in 2016

Lost in the news of the drubbing Democrats took in the House is the state level progress the GOP made on November 2nd.

The GOP now has 690 new seats in state legislatures, five new governors, and currently controls the legislatures and governor’s offices of more than 20 states.

That means two very important things for the GOP. 

1. State budgets.  Republicans at state level in a majority of states will control the budget, taxes and spending.   With the stimulus funds about to dry up, they’re going to have to put together austerity programs that work toward balancing the budget – a requirement in many states.

2. Reapportionment and redistricting.  2010 is a census year.  That means that reapportionment and redistricting House seats will be a priority.   In most states Governors are intimately involved in this process.  With almost 30 governors the GOP is poised to set itself up rather well as the House reapportions state representatives and the states redistrict as a result.  Ohio and Florida are two examples of states which have gone GOP and will be committed to both reapportionment and redistricting.

It also means that somewhere out there is a fiscally conservative member of the GOP who will be gaining important experience with austerity budgeting, governing and attempting to bring down unemployment in his or her state.    While it may be too early for 2012, those that are most successful at doing what is necessary to put their state back on firm fiscal footing and increasing employment in their state should be considered for 2016.  It is not too early for the GOP to begin watching, monitoring and grooming the right people for that particular race.   And yes – resumes with accomplishments will count heavily.

~McQ

 


Now he’s done it…

It has become an article of faith in modern economics that the gold standard just isn’t suitable for modern economies.  Since the Great Depression started the movement away from the gold standard, we have moved towards a system of freely convertible fiat currencies whose values are, in the main determined by the ability of central banks to maintain control of inflation.  Any talk of returning to the gold standard, therefore, is derided as some sort of fanatical return to a failed past.

Now, to be sure, there are problems with gold as money. Some of them are perceived problems, others are real.

Ultimately, gold, as a currency, tends to be deflationary. A country’s money supply is limited by the amount of gold on hand. Absent an increase in the amount of gold, any increase in real output must cause prices to decline.

Also, any balance of payments deficit reduces the country’s gold supply. For instance, during the Depression, England had a horrific balance of payments problem. The country was paying out so much money in foreign payments, that it was literally draining all the gold out of Britain.  The only real remedy to this was to massively deflate British prices…in the midst of an already deflationary recession.

Monetary shocks are easily transmitted from one country to another via gold. Since countries who participate in the gold standard have fixed links,  inflation or depression in one country can be quickly transmitted to another.  For instance, the discovery of a large gold mine increases the supply of gold, without affecting real output.  That inflationary effect is quickly felt throughout all the countries who share the standard.

But–and this is a big “but”–the change from a gold standard to freely convertible fiat currencies has solved those old problems by introducing entirely new ones.  Governments and central banks have embarked on massive programs of public indebtedness, the inflationary–and sometimes hyperinflationary–printing of fiat currencies, and the wholesale selling of sovereign debt to foreign countries who may not have, as their primary interest, recouping the money on their investments, but rather the manipulation of an enemy’s economy, should it become necessary.

These problems bring us to Robert Zoellick, the head of the World Bank. In an Op/Ed in the Financial Times addressing our current economic woes, he suggests something that will no doubt be much discussed. In a discussion of how to create a monetary regime to succeed the clearly dying Bretton Woods II paradigm in which we’ve operated since 1971, he suggests, among other things:

This new system is likely to need to involve the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound and a renminbi that moves towards internationalisation and then an open capital account.

The system should also consider employing gold as an international reference point of market expectations about inflation, deflation and future currency values. Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today.

If I’m not mistaken, the head of the World bank just called for the creation of a new gold standard for international trade.

This should be interesting.


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 07 Nov 10

In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss Tuesday’s midterm elections, and Friday’s unemployment report.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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