Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


Smoot-Hawley Fiasco Averted.

Bruce wrote earlier that the stimulus bill, in it’s current form, invites a Trade War with the rest of the world.  Naturally, the protectionist elements of the bill had many of our trading partners both worried and miffed.

The EU, for example, has been struggling with the issue over there, and began tossing off warnings of a trade war. The EU Ambassador to the united States, John Bruton, expressed those warnings frankly.

The EU warnings came in letters to US political leaders in Congress, Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. Mr Bruton urged them to respect the decision taken by the G20, the world’s leading economic nations, in Washington last November to resist protectionism as a defence against the crisis. They are expected to meet again in London in April.

“Failing this risks entering into a spiral of protectionist measures around the globe that can only hurt our economies further,” he wrote.

“Open markets remain the essential precondition for a rapid recovery from the crisis, and history has shown us where measures taken contrary to this principle can lead us.”

Maybe someone in the White House has been reading up on this.

Maybe someone in the White House has been reading up on this.

Back in Europe proper, the language was bit less guarded and diplomatic.

The European Commission’s powerful trade department, a bastion of open markets formerly headed by Lord Mandelson, said yesterday that the “Buy American” clause was “the worst possible signal” that could be sent to world trade.

A spokesman said: “We are particularly concerned about the signal that these measures could send to the world at a time when all countries are facing difficulties. Where America leads, many others tend to follow.”

In responding to those concerns, Pres. obama seems to have backed down a bit.

Last night Mr Obama gave a strong signal that he would remove the most provocative passages from the Bill.

“I agree that we can’t send a protectionist message,” he said in an interview with Fox TV. “I want to see what kind of language we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake, though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.”

Congratulations to Pres. Obama for realizing the toxic effect that outright protectionism would have on world trade, and economic recovery.

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The Lonliest Guy In D.C. Right Now

That would be Robert Gibbs, Presidential spokesman for the Obama administration. He’s discovering that “just words” aren’t good enough anymore. For instance:

Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, “The bar that we set is the highest that any administration in the country has ever set.”

Here’s a clue, Mr. Gibbs – unless you clear the bar it really doesn’t matter how high you set it. Setting the bar at 10′ but only being able to reach 6′ doesn’t really impress anyone.

Oh, and this is classic:

He also said those experts recognized that Obama would need to make exceptions to his pledge to run an administration free of former lobbyists.

As Maxwell Smart would say, Ah, the old “experts say” ploy. Yeah, that excuses absolute pledges doesn’t it?

It is “put up or shut up” time, Mr. Gibbs. You don’t get to promise anymore. You have to perform. You don’t get to tell us what you’re going to do, now you have to do it.

And in the face of Geithner, Holder, Dashle, Killefer, and all the lobbyists for which the administration has made exceptions, the bar doesn’t look very high from out here in flyover land. And you’re still far from getting over it.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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NoKo Prepares To Launch The “Let’s Test The New Guy” Missile

Cult of Personality?

Cult of Personality?

Of course “Dear Leader” and the boys also call the missile the Taepodong-2 and it is supposedly capable of reaching the US (Alaska or Hawaii – and no Sarah Palin can’t see NoKo from Alaska). But as the title indicates, there’s little doubt about why it is to be launched:

The apparent preparations for a launch, which are easily discernible by spy satellites, may be intended by the government as a way of asserting itself as it prepares to resume nuclear disarmament negotiations with the new US government of Barack Obama.

Dear Leader knows all about political brinksmanship and he wants to see how the Obama administration reacts to him and his machinations. This is all a pretty normal course of events in international relations. If there’s a new guy, the usual suspects try to test him to see what they can get away with. And, if he blinks, well, the full court press will be on.

One of the strengths of our American democracy, of course, is we don’t have a “Dear Leader” problem here. Nope, sure don’t. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Daschle and Killefer Withdraw Their Nominations

Far be it for me to advocate anything to do with the travesty of taxation that takes place in this country right now, but it sure is becoming clear why most Democrats have no problem with tax increases.

Tom Daschle, under increasing fire for his tax problems (i.e. not paying them) has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration for HHS Secretary. Take a deep breath America – that’s good news.

Its early so it isn’t clear if he was warned off by Senate colleagues, asked to do so by the Obama administration (although that seems less likely given Obama’s endorsement yesterday) or had a fit of ethical conscience and did it himself. Whatever the reason, I’m happy about it.

Oh, and another Obama appointee has also withdrawn from consideration with tax problems:

Nancy Killefer, the management consultant and former Treasury official who had been picked by President Obama to serve as the country’s chief performance officer, has withdrawn from consideration for the post, White House officials confirmed this morning.

In a two-paragraph resignation letter, Killefer indicated that controversy over failure to pay taxes by two other high-profile nominees of Obama’s had convinced her to decline the new president’s request to join his administration. Shortly after her appointment, the Associated Press reported that Killefer had a tax lien placed on her house by the D.C. government because she had not paid unemployment taxes for her household help.

Killefer at least had the good grace to step aside before it got to the Daschle stage.

That Obama administration vetting process?  Awesome, no?

Hope and change.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

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Ethics? Oh, That Was Just Campaign Rhetoric …

You have got to love the tip-toeing the NYT’s Peter Baker does as he “gently” chastises and then excuses the Obama administration’s ethical lapses:

During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a “new era of responsibility.” What he did not talk much about were the asterisks. The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.

17 now ensconsed in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

17 now ensconced in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

In fact, as India Daily tells us, the count is 17 lobbyists who’ve needed exceptions to serve, to include the number 2 in the Treasury Department.

But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.

Compromise? This isn’t compromise, this is capitulation. And it is sounding more and more like a – dare I say it – lie. Some will try to excuse all of this as naiveté. Really? Is that what you want to be saying about a politician in the most powerful office in the world? That he’s naive? Just who you need in office when staring very complicated foreign policy in the face, isn’t it? I would assume that these decisions about who Mr. Obama would name to his administration began well before he was elected. One also assumes, like the number 2 at Defense, that the names and background of those he planned on choosing were known. So you then have to conclude that he may had no intention of living up to the promises he was making. Thankfully, there are some who will continue to call his hand on this, even if the MSM wont:

And so in these opening days of the administration, the Obama team finds itself being criticized by bloggers on the left and the right, mocked by television comics and questioned by reporters about whether Mr. Obama is really changing the way Washington works or just changing which political party works it.

Obviously it is the latter. For heaven sake, this is the Clinton administration reborn and ethics wasn’t what it was known for at all. Because Obama set the bar so high and because he claimed that his rhetoric wasn’t ‘just words’, the expectation that he’s a “different” politician who would change the way Washington does business remains a very imporant part of his appeal. But so far, not so good:

“This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual.”

And so far, other than a few bones to supporters, this administration is shaping up as a “business as usual” administration. One thing Obama could do to help save the day is something he was quite good at doing on the campaign trail – throw Daschle under the bus. I don’t think that will happen, and the fact that it most likely won’t is perhaps the most telling thing of all.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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AGW Update

Newmark’s Door tells us that J. Scott Armstrong, a noted professor of marketing at Wharton, has taken a look at the “global warming models” and come to some conclusions:

We have concluded that the forecasting process reported on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lacks a scientific basis.

1. No scientific forecasts of the changes in the Earth’s climate. Currently, the only forecasts are those based on the opinions of some scientists. Computer modeling was used to create scenarios (i.e., stories) to represent the scientists’ opinions about what might happen. The models were not intended as forecasting models (Trenberth 2007) and they have not been validated for that purpose. Since the publication of our paper, no one has provided evidence to refute our claim that there are no scientific forecasts to support global warming.

We conducted an audit of the procedures described in the IPCC report and found that they clearly violated 72 scientific principles of forecasting (Green and Armstrong 2008). (No justification was provided for any of these violations.) For important forecasts, we can see no reason why any principle should be violated. We draw analogies to flying an aircraft or building a bridge or performing heart surgery—given the potential cost of errors, it is not permissible to violate principles.

2. Improper peer review process. To our knowledge, papers claiming to forecast global warming have not been subject to peer review by experts in scientific forecasting. . . .

5. Forecasts are needed of the costs and benefits of alternative actions that might be taken to combat climate change. Assuming that climate change could be accurately forecast, it would be necessary to forecast the costs and benefits of actions taken to reduce harmful effects, and to compare the net benefit with other feasible policies including taking no action. Here again we have been unable to find any scientific forecasts despite our appeals for such studies.

Speaking of the peer review process, Warren Meyer at the ever readable Coyote Blog reminds us that, in fact, “peer review” has a fairly narrow function, and not the power most would like to give it.

Jennifer Marohasy posts:

Last Friday there was an article in one of the most read science journals, Science, entitled “Galloping Glaciers of Greenland have Reined Themselves In” by Richard A. Kerr.

Yes, as the title suggests, the article explains that a wide-ranging survey of glacier conditions across south eastern Greenland, indicates that glacier melt has slowed significantly and that it would be wrong to attribute the higher rates of melt prior to 2005 to global warming or to extrapolate the higher melt rates of a few years ago into the future.

She further reports that for some reason, the MSM just hasn’t managed to pick up on this story.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who has followed the AGW issue from its beginning. The MSM has been one of its chief enablers. And it appears that the BBC has given up all semblance of impartiality in its coverage of AGW:

Londoners might have been startled last Monday to see a giant mock-up of a polar bear on an iceberg, floating on the Thames outside the Palace of Westminster. They might not have been so surprised to learn, first, that this was a global warming propaganda stunt and, second, that the television company behind it is part-owned by the BBC.

And finally, Czech President Vaclav Klaus fired at Al Gore again:

“I don’t think that there is any global warming,” said the 67-year-old liberal, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. “I don’t see the statistical data for that.”

Referring to the former US vice president, who attended Davos this year, he added: “I’m very sorry that some people like Al Gore are not ready to listen to the competing theories. I do listen to them.

“Environmentalism and the global warming alarmism is challenging our freedom. Al Gore is an important person in this movement.”

Klaus was speaking at the World Economic Forum and said that he was more concerned about the planned actions to combat the so-called problem than the consequences.

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The “Stimulus” As Written Means Increased Welfare And Protectionism

The key phrase is “as written”.

The NY Post notes:

Turning back the clock.

Turning back the clock.

Buried deep inside the massive spending orgy that Democrats jammed through the House this week lie five words that could drastically undo two decades of welfare reforms.

The very heart of the widely applauded Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is a cap on the amount of federal cash that can be sent to states each year for welfare payments.

But, thanks to the simple phrase slipped into the legislation, the new “stimulus” bill abolishes the limits on the amount of federal money for the so-called Emergency Fund, which ships welfare cash to states.

“Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, there are appropriated such sums as are necessary for payment to the Emergency Fund,” Democrats wrote in Section 2101 on Page 354 of the $819 billion bill. In other words, the only limit on welfare payments would be the Treasury itself.

“This re-establishes the welfare state and creates dependency all over the place,” said one startled budget analyst after reading the line.

So the limits on welfare payments, written into law when welfare was reformed, would be lifted. Welfare reform, widely panned when it was first passed, has been very successful in cutting dependency on tax payer dollars. Now, without any need evident, Democrats are attempting to reinstate welfare as we once knew and hated it.

And that means the obvious – more dependency and more government to administer it. It also will mean more taxes.

Then there’s the “Buy American” clause in the stimulus bill. It would require government to be restricted to goods and services produced by US companies.

We can't afford a trade war.

We can't afford a trade war.

Of course that sounds just peachy keen when you first hear it. Our government should buy from American firms if it can. But only if they provide the best services/products at the best price.

But that’s not what is being required. And to the rest of the world, that means protectionism. We don’t take very kindly to protectionism when others do it, so we shouldn’t be particularly surprised when they aren’t any more happy about it than we are.

So the obvious reaction by the rest of the world would most likely be to reciprocate in kind. We would see the same sorts of provisions pop up in countries we trade with.

And not as obvious is the fact that it will end up making the American goods the government is required to buy even more expensive than now.

Protectionism imposes large-scale structural sectoral dislocation, as exporters are ejected from their foreign markets and domestic producers that depend on cheap imported imports suddenly find themselves to no longer be competitive, on top of the global effective demand failure we are already suffering from.

This isn’t progress “as written”. For such a “progressive” administration, it is a return to the 20th century, and in the case of trade, the 19th century.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Venezuela: Headed For A Hugoless Future?

I think my guy Hugo is beginning to see the handwriting on the wall and realizes that if he doesn’t manage to fool the population into making him president for life now, he’ll have to seek other means.

You see, the situation in Venezuela is not getting better nor the future brighter for our favorite socialist:

Treasury reserves are dwindling, electricity blackouts are becoming commonplace, public security is deteriorating, and the finances of the state-owned oil monopoly, PdVSA, are in apparent disarray. There is little reason to think that the decline will be reversed any time soon.

If Mr. Chávez hopes to continue governing under the guise of democracy after 2013, when his term expires, he must get the constitution changed now.

The last time he tried this, even with almost total control of the voting apparatus, he was unable to concoct a win. He apparently tried for days, but apparently the loss was such that even he couldn’t fudge it.

So now the newest attempt. Interestingly, the latest attempt includes open-ended terms for nearly every elected official in Venezuela, not just the presidency. I’d suggest that actually works against Chavez and not for him. Those that marginally favor Chavez may not want the local mayor, legislator or governor in office indefinitely. It is an even bet then that they will not be inclined to vote for such a constitutional amendment. They, as well as anyone, know the hazards of entrenched power.

You have to wonder then, given the great possibility that the amendment will go down in flames on Feb. 15th what Hugo’s next move will be. My guess is it will have nothing to do with supporting and defending the constitution of Venezuela.

~McQ

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Have Another Snort, Mr. Ridley.

The drink of 'true Americans'

The drink of 'true Americans'

Sometimes essentially intelligent people get wrapped up in the moment and say things which, upon reflection, they’d most likely think were stupid.

Of course that’s not necessarily true – face it, some people never reflect on anything.

But if I read this after I had sobered up written it, I might be a bit ashamed.  Then again, I might just have another shot of the Kool Aid:

Every president to hold office has espoused some version of Americanism; the truths that we hold self-evident, even when those truths are not always in evidence. But for all their grand rhetoric and mostly good deeds, none was able to seal the deal on the trifecta of equality, plurality and socioeconomic ascendancy. Obama has. Obama is the more perfect union. He is a house united. Obama is the New Generation and the hot light of a dawn that goes way beyond clever talk of morning in America.

Quite simply, quite plainly, just by virtue his being, Obama is America. The first true American to lead our nation.

George Washington, call your agent.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Old QandO

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