Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Questions and Observations #7

Lots to comment on, little time in which to do it (it is a holiday weekend after all).  But here are some stories that caught my eye that I may do a more extensive commentary on at a future date.

Thomas Friedman pens a column in which he explores what it will mean if America is no longer the superpower of the world.  Quoting Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert, he makes the case that our debt and the subsequent frugality it will require is essentially going to make us retrench and probably withdraw much of our foreign aid (not just money, but troops and fleets, etc., which have helped keep the peace over the years).  He notes that when Great Britain gave up its “global governance role”, the US stepped in.  The question is, when the US pulls back and creates the expected power vacuum, what country will try to fill the role? 

After all, Europe is rich but wimpy. China is rich nationally but still dirt poor on a per capita basis and, therefore, will be compelled to remain focused inwardly and regionally. Russia, drunk on oil, can cause trouble but not project power. “Therefore, the world will be a more disorderly and dangerous place,” Mandelbaum predicts.

Cast your eyes toward a the Middle East.  While Turkey and Iran don’t have what it takes to step into the shoes the US has filled, each certainly feel that the withdrawal of us influence presages a much greater leadership role for them in their respective region.   China may feel the same thing about the Far East. Friedman concludes:

An America in hock will have no hawks — or at least none that anyone will take seriously.

That’s true, I believe – at least while a Democrat is in the White House or Democrats control Congress – not because they’re suddenly frugal, but because they’d prefer to spend the money on other things.

But this is my favorite paragraph:

America is about to learn a very hard lesson: You can borrow your way to prosperity over the short run but not to geopolitical power over the long run. That requires a real and growing economic engine. And, for us, the short run is now over. There was a time when thinking seriously about American foreign policy did not require thinking seriously about economic policy. That time is also over.

Some of us Americans have know this was a probable result for years. Welcome on board, Mr. Friedman. It’s about freakin’ time.

————

If you read no other column today, read George Will’s about the global warming industry.

A sample:

The collapsing crusade for legislation to combat climate change raises a question: Has ever a political movement made so little of so many advantages? Its implosion has continued since "the Cluster of Copenhagen, when world leaders assembled for the single most unproductive and chaotic global gathering ever held." So says Walter Russell Mead, who has an explanation: Bambi became Godzilla.

In essence, it’s analogous to something else we discussed not to long ago, the UAW is now "management". Will’s point is the former "skeptics" – environmentalists – are now the establishment. Funny how that works.

———

According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders are in the middle of doing what can only be characterized as “political triage” concerning the upcoming House mid-term elections.  Reality, as they say, has finally penetrated the happy talk and leaders are taking a brutal look at the chances of all their House members:

In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.

My guess is the Blue Dog contingent is about to be cut loose.  The leadership probably figures that losing those seat isn’t as big a problem as losing seats in which automatic votes for whatever the leadership puts forward are assured.  That would be members of the Progressive caucus and the Congressional Black caucus for instance.  The good news for Democrats is most of them are found in what are considered “safe” districts.  So they’ll go in the “will live with minimal treatment” category. 

The Blue Dogs will most likely go into the “mortal” category and receive little money or backing.  They’ll simply let them die, politically  It is those in the big middle, in perhaps marginal districts that could go either way or those who’ve survived tight races previously in districts that may lean slightly to the Democratic side which will get the money.  These “critical but can be saved” members will get the lion’s share of the money and support allocated for the mid-terms. 

Whether they can save enough of them to avoid the magic 39 seats the GOP needs, however, remains to be seen.  My guess is it would require a miracle – and possibly that would require some of the Blue Dogs to squeak out a victory.  But if those patients are left to pass quietly away when some might have been saved, the Dems may rue the day they decided to pitch them outside the tent and leave them to be brutalized by the political elements.  Or said another way – the Dems may outsmart themselves, this strategy could easily blow up badly in their faces and it may be they that assure the 39th seat by not fighting for all of them.

~McQ

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Ezra Klein’s rather silly defense of the 17th Amendment (updates)

Ezra Klein seems to be bragging somewhat about something that frankly makes him look foolish.  Apparently he appeared on C-SPAN with Heritage’s Brian Darling.  Darling made the point that the Senate, by design, was supposed to be a voice of the states.  Klein disputes that, I assume, because he apparently doesn’t know his history. 

Responding to a questioner, [Brian Darling] went so far as to say he’d consider repeal of the 17th amendment, which would mean that senators would again be elected by state legislatures rather than voters.

I’ve never understood this sort of thing, and said so in the panel. The Founders didn’t wisely orient the Senate around states. They pragmatically oriented the Senate around states. But now that we’ve been the United States of America for a while and none of the states seem likely to secede, the fact that California has 69 times more people than Wyoming but the same representation in the Senate is an offensive anachronism, at least to Californians.

Secession?  Where did that come from?

It is certainly true, given that remark, that he doesn’t understand  Darling’s argument. Here’s Klein’s argument at the link in the cite:

In Philadelphia in 1787, the smaller states favored the New Jersey Plan — one chamber with equal representation per state — while James Madison argued for two chambers, both apportioned by population, which would benefit his Virginia.

The delegates finally settled on the Connecticut Compromise, or the Great Compromise. Seats in the lower chamber would be apportioned by population (with some residents counting more than others, of course) while seats in the upper chamber would be awarded two per state.

The idea was to safeguard states’ rights at a time when the former colonies were still trying to get used to this new country of theirs. But the big/small divide was nothing like what we have today. Virginia, the biggest of the original 13 states, had 538,000 people in 1780, or 12 times as many people as the smallest state, Delaware.

That version, I assume, is one he’s cobbled together to support his view that it was all a  pragmatic compromise.  But, of course, it wasn’t.  It was instead, a very carefully designed system of government.  And he misrepresents Madison’s view on the subject completely. 

How do I know? Because I’ve read Madison’s writing on the subject in the Federalist papers.

The debate at the time, the concern I should say, was transitioning from the Articles of Confederation to government under the Constitution.  All knew it meant a more powerful government at a national level and all were quite wary of that. Remember, those writing the Constitution were state delegations.  THAT was the great concern of theirs given the oppressive yoke of imperial England they had just removed from their necks.  All, while they may have differed on the structure – and that’s where the arguments took place – wanted a a more FEDERAL government than a NATIONAL government.

After outlining what a republican form of government is, Madison notes the concerns of those who think the Constitution will make it a NATIONAL government vs a FEDERAL government by outlining the differences between the national and federal types.  Here’s Madison in Federalist 39:

"But it was not sufficient," say the adversaries of the proposed Constitution, "for the convention to adhere to the republican form. They ought, with equal care, to have preserved the FEDERAL form, which regards the Union as a CONFEDERACY of sovereign states; instead of which, they have framed a NATIONAL government, which regards the Union as a CONSOLIDATION of the States."

So there, in the hand of the man who drafted the Constitution, are the working definitions of the two terms as they understood them.  Note how the FEDERAL form is defined.  As you read through the rest of Federalist 39, you’ll find Madison discussing both the NATIONAL model and the FEDERAL model and pointing out some of both are necessary.  They had a purely FEDERAL form under the Articles of Confederation.  It didn’t work well.  They knew that had to put some national powers into the hands of the new government, but they feared such a type of government, so they wanted to limit the scope of that power.  He specifically addresses the Congress and how it was purposely designed to limit the power of a national government while importantly preserving some federalism:

The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not NATIONAL.

That one paragraph, in its simplicity, points out for those who will take the time to read and understand it – something Klein may wish to do – that the Constitution wasn’t some “pragmatic” compromise.  Klein seems unable to understand that the purpose of the Senate is to provide coequal political representation to the states.  That representation was to act as a brake on both the national government and the people (another “national” entity) who were represented in the House.  The equal representation of the states in the Senate was also meant to prevent the larger states from running roughshod over the smaller states, something which happens quite frequently in the House.  What Klein seems to want is another House in the Senate.  He seems totally unfamiliar with why the Senate was designed as it was.  Just read his thoughts on how he’d structure it and you’ll see what I mean.

Madison considered the final product to be a necessary mix, not a pragmatic compromise, of federal and national power conferred on the government in order to make it work properly but keep the national power in check.  The mix of both was designed to give the government the necessary powers it lacked under the Articles of Confederation while also, and this is critical to the success of that design, preserving the rights and power of the states.  

The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.

The 17th Amendment destroyed that design and balance. Look at the mess that has wrought.  Repealing the 17th Amendment would begin to walk the national government back to this mix of government designed by the founders.  Since the amendment’s passage, the government has shifted to a wholly national government and states have essentially lost their sovereignty and their rights.  We have paid the price and suffer the consequences.

There are certainly other contributors to that situation, but the 17th Amendment is one of the biggest contributors.  Klein needs to acquaint himself with the actual design of the Constitutional government built by the founders like James Madison.  There’s an entire book that will do that for him – “The Federalist Papers”.  If he’d read them, he might not look quite so foolish the next time he attempts to pontificate on what the founders thought.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike, I suppose – Brian Darling’s rebuttal (replete with Federalist 39 reference).

UPDATE II: James Joyner and Steven Taylor join the fray. I’d only say to Dr. Taylor’s assertion that Madison’s writings in Fed.39 were a "post-hoc rationalization", that they could just as easily represent a "post-hoc realization" that they had in fact designed a very good model for government and thus the "eloquent" argument. Personally I’ve never been able to argue eloquently for anything in which I didn’t believe in passionately.

~McQ

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20 months after taking office, Obama considers tax breaks to stimulate economic growth

All sorts of things to talk about under that title.  So that calls for a bit of a ramble.

First and foremost, the title tells the story.  Why is it we’re 20 months into this administration and we’re just now considering tax breaks to stimulate the economy?  Note the word – considering.  According to POLITICO, there’s been no decision at all made on doing such a thing – if you thought the administration dithered about its strategy change in Afghanistan, this makes that look like a snap decision.

Let’s review:

Last November, Obama announced that he would turn his attention to unemployment, calling it "one of the great challenges that remains in our economy." He declared the same intent two months later, telling House Democrats he would focus relentlessly on job creation "over the next several months." Senior aides went on television pledging that the mantra would become "jobs, jobs, jobs."

But other matters – health care, the BP oil spill – continually stole the limelight, creating the impression, some Democrats complain, that the president was barely focused on the economy at all.

And now, “suddenly”, two months before an election, he’s “focused like a laser beam”.  A soft weak lit laser that sort of doesn’t do much but emit, well, words a bit of light.

I mean, read this explanation and tell me those who offered this as proof of his attention to the economy aren’t both tone deaf and just plain politically stupid:

His advisers described his attentiveness – noting, for example, that he discussed the economy with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) for 15 minutes before golfing – but got little traction.

Really? What in the freaking world has NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg got to do with anything to do with the economy. I mean, oh, goodie, he spent 15 minutes being "attentive" before they hit the links. That’ll fix everything. Oh, and what “traction” was he seeking?

In reality what happened was Obama was sold a bill of goods by his economic advisors about the effect of government stimulus.  Congress got a hold of the idea and larded it up with pork.  Result: spectacular FAIL.

They’re reduced to justifying the stimulus like this:

Many economists say Obama’s policies have been reasonably effective at pulling the nation back from recession. Last year’s stimulus package – now estimated to cost $814 billion – protected as many as 3.3 million jobs, according the independent Congressional Budget Office.

“Many” economists say his policies have been “reasonably effective” because some computer model says it may have “protected” – note the new word – “3.3 million jobs”?  Really?

Back to the “this ain’t rocket science” theme, but even if that’s true (and it’s very suspect) that’s about $250,000 deficit funded dollars per job.  And most of those, if I were to guess (oh, wait – “according to my model”) would be found in the non-productive government sector.  Result?  9.6% unemployment, no growth and no jobs.

So why, you ask at this late juncture, is he and his economic staff finally considering tax cuts?

Well, common sense says that the way to immediately impact spending and consumption is to give consumers more money with which to consume.  Make sense?  Yeah, it made sense 20 months ago too.  And there’s another reason that finally has seemed to penetrate their thinking:

All the talk about taxes—whether to raise them to address the deficit or cut them to stimulate the economy—may be having its own effect on growth. Allan Meltzer, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said the economy wouldn’t fully revive until Washington resolved uncertainty surrounding business costs, including taxes.

"Companies are cutting their expenditures and not hiring because they’re very uncertain" about these costs, he said.

Precisely.  Why in the world – as we’ve been saying for months here – would any business hire and expand in the face of this government made market uncertainty?

Meanwhile the political battle rages with the expected blame-game in full swing:

"Obviously it’s going to be hard to get anything done before the election, but it’s really important for him to try, and to make the case to the American people that he’s trying to do something and the Republicans aren’t letting him," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist. "We are at the final moments here."

What the GOP isn’t “letting” them do is wildly throw another huge amount of money we don’t have at the problem.

David Axelrod piles on:

"We’ll continue to do everything we can, understanding that recovery will require persistent effort. There are no silver bullets," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said in an interview Thursday. "At the same time, we have to make clear our ideas and theirs, and the fact that the Washington Republicans, having helped create this recession, have attempted to block our every effort to deal with it."

Yet the bar to passing any of this may not be “Washington Republicans”.  POLITICO reports:

But the administration will have a tough time selling nearly any package to some Democrats who increasingly blame the president and his ambitious legislative agenda for their own dismal prospects this November. And further states:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly said the administration would go small-ball with any plans to boost the economy — and that the Democrat-controlled Congress had no appetite for costly, sweeping measures two months before what promises to be a difficult election cycle for the party. >

Emphasis mine, but you get the picture.  Democrats aren’t sure they want anything but if they do, whatever it is it has to work and work quickly.  Reality, however, is much more stark for the Democrats:

"Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing," said the Brookings Institution’s William Galston, who was a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Indeed.  As I continue to watch the economic three-ring circus this administration has created, I’m reminded of the words of one of my favorite funny men, Oliver Hardy: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten [us] into."

Next up, the Three Stooges do ObamaCare.

~McQ

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A phone call to Republican Air Conditioner Service Company

“Hello, Republican Air Conditioner Service. How can I help you?”

“Hey, my air conditioner is almost completely gone. It uses ridiculous amounts of electricity, hardly cools at all, has long pipes running through the yard to neighbor’s houses, and it sounds like it’s about to blow up. I need you to fix it.”

“Do you have a current repair company you’ve been working with?”

“Yeah. The incompetent boobs at Democratic Air Conditioner Repair. I called them two years ago and they promised to fix it. It was pretty bad off then because it’s been getting progressively worse for a long time. After paying them to fix it, and watching them scramble around doing stuff for two years, it’s worse.”

“Fine, just accept us as your repair company, and we’ll get right on it.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve heard that before. What exactly are you going to do to fix it?”

“Well, we’ll clean it up. It will be nice and shiny.”

“I don’t care about that. I want it to work.”

“Ah, but we are specialists in cleaning out a Culture of Corrosion. We think a nice, shiny air conditioner makes everyone feel better about how it’s working.”

“Listen, I don’t care. What are you going to do to make it work?”

“We’ll replace the other guys. You’ll see all new trucks in your driveway.”

“You’re not getting the point. What are you going to do to fix my air conditioner?”

“Well, that will take a lot of study. We might have to increase the power consumption so it works better.”

“What?!? The power consumption is already more than I can afford! And I don’t see how more power is going to keep it from blowing up. In fact, I think feeding in more power is more likely to make it blow up!”

“Yes, well, you are simply not acquainted with the rules of Keynesian electrical power consumption. Trust me, we’ve been doing this for decades.”

“Yeah, I know. My air conditioner has been getting worse the whole time. Why can’t you just work off the basic laws of electrical physics?”

“That’s way too complex to discuss. Besides, all the best people in the air conditioner industry have agreed that Keynesian electrical power consumption principles really work, so you don’t need to bother your head about it. The real issue is that you need to switch to us to take care of your air conditioner. After all, you certainly don’t want those other guys, after what you’ve been through, do you?”

“No. But I want somebody who’s going to fix my air conditioner. And there are no other repair companies in the whole state.”

“Of course not. Why would you need more than two? That gives you a choice. Isn’t that enough?”

“Not when neither choice can get the job done!”

“Oh, trust us. We should definitely be your air conditioner company. Are you ready to switch to us?”

“Will be you be sending the same people that came the last time I used your company?”

“Sure. They’re trained air conditioner repair people. You want experienced people, don’t you?”

“No! I want competent people! I want people who will fix the problem!”

“Well, that’s us!”

“You didn’t fix it the last time I called you. I gave you years to do it, and you just made it worse. You didn’t fix anything, but you did add on more pipes to neighbors’ houses and an air-filter thingy I didn’t want and don’t need. That’s why I switched to the other guys, hoping they could do something about the stuff you messed up.”

“And see what that got you! Those guys are just awful. They’re out of touch, and they’ll never be able to fix anything. Why, I hear they added a stereo and a set of speakers to your air conditioner. Don’t they deserve to be thrown out in favor of us?”

“Wait, I thought you guys were good pals. Don’t you play golf with them all the time?”

“Sure. They’re our colleagues. Plus, we often take over repair jobs from them, and we even use them for subcontracting sometimes. So we have to stay on good terms with them. Besides, we’ve known them a long time. We went to air conditioner school with them. Of course, they chose to go with the company that distributes Left of Left of Center Air Conditioners, while we distribute Right of Left of Center Air Conditioners.”

“Yeah, well what exactly did you learn in air conditioner school?”

“Oh, the usual. Telephone sales techniques, like I’m using with you right now. How to select the best polish to make the air conditioner shiny. Fundamentals of Keynesian electrical power. How to drive the truck that we use to get to your house.”

“But did you take any courses on HOW TO FIX AIR CONDITIONERS?!?”

“We took courses on how to WORK ON air conditioners. And how to keep working on them forever. Because they need constant tinkering you know.”

“No, they don’t! They just need to work!”

“You clearly don’t understand the purpose of air conditioners.”

“I though they were to keep my house cool.”

“Well, nominally, yes, but that’s a small part of their purpose. They’re supposed to do lots of other things too, such as pump cool air through long, uninsulated pipes to neighbors who can’t afford the electricity to cool their houses.”

“That’s going to be me soon! Assuming this thing doesn’t blow up before then and kill me in the process!”

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Voters “for” GOP or “against” Democrats?

If Gallup is right about this poll, the GOP needs to understand much of the basis of its so-called” support, because it will be critical to their success in the next 2 years:

The Republicans’ lead in the congressional generic ballot over the past month may be due as much to voters’ rejecting the Democrats as embracing the Republicans. Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is "more a vote against the Democratic candidate," while 48% say it is "more a vote for the Republican candidate."

This is very important to understand, because, in my estimation, this is precisely the scenario that played out when Democrats took a majority in both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Then the vote wasn’t so much a validation of the Democrats and their agenda as it was a rejection of all things Republican.  The majority of the nation was sick of Republicans and their agenda as much as anything.

In politics the pendulum swings.  Democrats were given a chance because the populace was unimpressed with what the GOP had done with its chance.  And, given the way the two parties have essentially ensured no real competition from a third party can ever really upset their chances, the only viable choice was Democrats.

It is one reason you see these “purges” within the parties going on influenced by the more radical elements of their movement – such as the Kossaks and “progressives” on the left, and the Tea Party on the right. 

In both cases, each movement has taken what is available and attempted to shape it in its own image (and focused on its own agenda).  This is a natural polarization driven by dissatisfaction with the status quo on both sides, obviously. 

As we’ve seen in the last 20 months, the “progressive” agenda has failed spectacularly.  Not in the amount and type of legislation they’ve managed to pass – when you have majorities like they had, it’s no surprise at all.  But in how the public has received those laws.  That’s because the left misread the election of 2008 as a mandate given by an electorate that they thought had embraced their “progressive” agenda.  As the polls tell us now, that wasn’t at all the case.  The proof of that is the mass movement of independents away from the Democrats and the rise of the Tea Parties.

The GOP faces the same dilemma.  It is going to win in November, but what is it going to win?  A mandate?  For what?  Answering those questions is akin to stepping through a minefield blindfolded.  What are Americans looking for in the coming Republican legislative wave?

If Republicans don’t have answers to that question and don’t realize that they’re getting as much the “anti-Democrat” vote as the “we want Republicans” vote, they’re in for a short tenure as a majority in the House.

Let me lay out a few things that I don’t think the people want:

1.  They don’t want endless partisan “investigations”.  I’ve seen reports that claim that one of the GOP priorities in the House will be all manner of these.  There are certainly instances where certain things should and must be investigated – but such investigations should be limited and also obviously issues in need of investigation.

2.  They don’t want just “no” as an answer to everything.  Look, there are definitely principled stands that must be taken concerning fiscal matter where the appropriate and only answer is “no”.  But there are plenty of things which need a “yes”.  Standing up and saying “no” to everything the administration advances only hands the Democrats a tool to use against the GOP in 2012.  The GOP must advance some sort of legislative agenda that is clear, limited and founded within the principles the party espouses about cutting spending, limiting government and being fiscally conservative.  Anything that the administration advances that fits these principles should be embraced.

3.  They don’t want endless politics.  I.e. the political theater.  My goodness, some of these people get more camera time than many Hollywood stars.  They need to shut up, do their job, and effectively tell their story at the appropriate time and in effective and generally understandable way.  They don’t have to have an opinion about everything everyday.  The more time they spend in front of a camera the more time they have to say something foolish and have that become the story of the day vs. discussions of issues that are actually important.  Take a break – enforce a little self-discipline – and stick with topics in which you may have some actual expertise.

If I read what I’m hearing and seeing out there, there is a sense among the general population that government – not just Democrats – has been headed in the wrong direction for quite some time.  If you follow the trends of the “is the country on the right track” polling, you know it hasn’t changed significantly since Democrats have taken power from the Republicans.

The conventional wisdom was that once the Democrats swept into power, all would be fine and we’d be on the right track.  That CW was, of course, pundit and media driven.  However the majority of Americans blew that out of the water fairly quickly.  But that finding supports the polling Gallup has above.  Republicans are going to get another chance because they’re the only viable choice left after voters kick out the Democrats – not because the voters are significantly in love with or necessarily excited about the GOP.

So, fair warning to Republicans – don’t misinterpret this coming vote as did Democrats in 2008.  It’s no mandate, it’s a “lesser of two evils” vote – unfortunately a common vote in all elections anymore.  Understand that and understand that the GOP is a getting another 2 year trial to see if they’ve learned their lessons.  Voters are angry, fearful and unsatisfied with the direction of the country.  Much of that is wrapped up in the size, scope and cost of government.  They understand that if they ran their household as the government runs its business, they’d be bankrupt, homeless and in the street.  They’re looking for some common sense in DC, a dial-back of the size and scope of government and budgets that reflect sanity, reduce the deficit and help unshackle their grandchildren from the financial slavery this present bunch is selling them into.

Do that and Republicans may get an extension in 2012 to continue their work.

~McQ

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The folly of green protectionism

Here’s a formula for you to study:

Green groups want less forestry in the developing world. Industry wants green protectionism to cut the volume of competitive imports. Unions want green protectionism to stop imports to ensure they can keep workers in high-paying jobs.

So using the environment as an excuse, we have these three groups colluding to further their own agendas. Call it “green protectionism”.

In a recent case it has been to keep toilet paper made in foreign countries out of Australia.

That’s right, toilet paper.

Can anyone now figure, based on that formula, what the missing part of the equation might be? The part that is necessary to make such collusion pay off?

Yes, government. Certainly green groups can want less forestry in the developing world, and industry can wish for a way to cut the volume of competitive imports. And unions always hope to ensure high paying jobs.

But only one entity can actually make all those wishes, wants and hopes come true. If government becomes involved it has the power to fulfill the wishes and hopes of these three disparate special interest groups.

That’s what happened in 2008 when two Australian toilet paper manufacturers, Kimberly Clark Australia and SCA Hygiene as well as the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the World Wildlife Fund essentially colluded to keep foreign manufactured toilet paper, primarily from Indonesia and China out of the country. Their ostensible complaint was those countries were “dumping” their product in Australia.

For a short time they succeeded in getting imports restricted by the Australian Customs Service, until, it seems, the ACS did a study to determine the validity of the complaint. Their findings were significant. The Australian Customs Service report calculated that the potential downward pressure of imports could be as high as 42 percent of the price.

In other words, the collusion would cost consumers in Australia 42% more because the competitive pressure that kept prices low would have been removed. In addition, a recent report commissioned by the Australian government found that “illegally logged material” – one of the prime reasons these groups claimed Australia should ban imports of foreign wood products – only comprised 0.32 percent of the materials coming into Australia. In other words, the threat was insignificant.

That’s Australia, but what about here? Well, we’re hearing the same sorts of rumblings concerning “green protectionism”.

Sadly these campaigns appear to be part of a spreading green protectionist disease, where industry, unions and green groups work together. In the United States the disease was brought to life by the Lacey Act, which imposes extra regulation on imported wood and wood products to certify their origin and make them less competitive.

The Lacey Act is actually an update of a 1900 law that banned the import of illegally caught wildlife. It now includes wood products (2008). And that means, since extra steps and cost are incurred by foreign manufacturers, that consumers are stuck with the increased cost.

While the reasons for protectionism may sound good on the surface – save the forests, higher wages, less competition to ensure jobs – it isn’t a good thing. If freedom is defined by the variety of choices, what protectionism does is limit those choices and impose an unofficial tax on consumers. They end up paying the cost of collusive action between government and special interests.

So, each time your government announces that it is doing you the favor of limiting the imports of this commodity or that, based on “green” concerns, hold on to your wallet. Whatever the government is protecting you from, you can rest assured that the price of the domestic variety is headed up, since the other product of government intrusion is limiting competition. Rule of thumb: restricting free trade is rarely a good thing. And the only entity that can do so is government. “Green” is just the newest color in an old and costly game – protectionism.

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Sen. Boxer’s Rebellion

[This post originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on August 30, 2010.]

If there is one thing that Congress has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that spending other people’s money is easy. What makes it even easier is when they spend it on favored constituents in order to buy votes, even where the product purchased by the government isn’t wanted or needed.

Take the example of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a cargo transport aircraft, which is manufactured in Long Beach, California. While the plane is one of the military’s best workhorses (especially for forward deployments), the Air Force insists that it has plenty, more than enough in fact, and would really rather not purchase any more. Sen. Barbara Boxer, however, has other plans:

Locked in a tough re-election campaign, Sen. Barbara Boxer dropped by Boeing’s C-17 plant Friday [August 20, 2010] to pledge continued federal support for one of California’s largest manufacturers.

A crowd of cheering workers greeted Boxer at the site next to Long Beach Airport, where more than 5,000 design, build, market and sell the $250 million jet.

Boxer has remained one of the C-17 Globemaster’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill since production began in the early 1990s, voting for all of the 223 jets so far ordered for the U.S. Air Force.

[…]

Before departing, Boxer promised the roughly 250 C-17 workers in attendance she would continue supporting the jet in Congress.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am that we have surpassed 200 planes, and that this magnificent aircraft is being built right here in California by American workers,” she said. “The only place the C-17 should ever be built is in California.”

To borrow a certain, infamous turn-of-phrase, they told me if I voted for John McCain I would be supporting the Military Industrial Complex, and they were right!

Well, that’s not entirely fair since, in reality, the Obama administration has been quite adamant that they’ve had quite enough C-17’s, thank you very much, and really don’t want anymore.

[In the end of June], the Obama Administration C-17 Challengers, led by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, continued to land blow after blow in the annual boxing match over the fate of the C-17 and the 5,000 Long Beach workers who assemble the big jets. The Obama Administration wants to end production after the 223 which are already in service or in the pipeline. Boeing, its friends in congress and everywhere else are doing everything they can to continue building the profitable four engine advanced airlifters.

In order to force the sale on the Air Force, Congress is threatening to include provisions ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the appropriation bill, forcing a painful veto decision on the White House. That does not seem to be changing the administration’s mind, however:

On Sunday [June 20, 2010], Gates was asked about the C-17 in an interview on Fox News by CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR. Here are the relevant excerpts:

WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also included repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the president and the administration want.

WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of social policy?

GATES: Well, I think the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would also just say that I don’t go way out on a limb without looking back to make sure nobody’s back there with a saw.

WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: I think so.

The Obama administration has repeated its promise to veto any bill purchasing more C-17’s since then. Nevertheless, Sen. Boxer keeps pushing for the purchase despite the fact that, according to a defense industry insider, the Air Force already has more of the aircraft than it needs (223 purchased vs. 205 or less required, which is backed up by this 2008 GAO report), and may have a cheaper alternative in modernization of the complementary C-5 Galaxy aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Whatever the merits of the C-5 vs. the C-17, the Air Force and Department of Defense have been quite clear that they no longer want purchase the C-17, and the GAO concluded in 2008 that the C-17 program would have to end in the near term (slated to being next month), regardless of what some in Congress wanted.

The real story here is that leaders such as Sen. Boxer continue to be oblivious to what their duties actually are. She and her congressional colleagues persist in using taxpayer money to fund projects intended to keep them in power, but which add nothing to general welfare of the country. Will purchasing more C-17’s save jobs in Long Beach? Yes, but only for a little while, and only at the expense of more productive uses of the workers’ time (i.e. creating something that is actually wanted and needed). Meanwhile the appropriation costs taxpayers plenty and they get no benefit from it.

So long as our leaders in Washington continue to spend our money for their own benefit, and that of their friends, we will have ballooning deficits and a decreasingly productive economy. judging from the growing clamor of voices, such as in the Tea Party movement, the electorate gets that. Our tax dollars are not for keeping the already powerful entrenched. The real question is, when will Sen. Boxer and her friends in Washington finally figure it out?

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Damn violent right – eco-terrorism at the Discovery Channel

In this summer of heated political debate, Tea Party gatherings and Beck rallies, all with a background of the left tossing out warnings about possible right-wing violence, does it strike anyone as ironic that a militant lefty eco-whacko commits violence to further his cause?

James J. Lee, a long time protester outside the Discovery Channel building who’d been arrested and sentenced to 6 months supervised parole for an incident in March 2008, was shot by police after taking 3 hostages in the building.  He was carrying weapons and some allegedly homemade explosive devices.  It is reported one of the explosive devices detonated when he was shot.  The hostages escaped unharmed.

How far out there was this guy?  Well, human filth – because that’s what he thought of you – you may want to familiarize yourself with his demands.  Some samples:

1. The Discovery Channel and it’s affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn’s "My Ishmael" pages 207-212 where solutions to save the planet would be done in the same way as the Industrial Revolution was done, by people building on each other’s inventive ideas. Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. Do both. Do all until something WORKS and the natural world starts improving and human civilization building STOPS and is reversed! MAKE IT INTERESTING SO PEOPLE WATCH AND APPLY SOLUTIONS!!!!

2. All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs’ places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed. All former pro-birth programs must now push in the direction of stopping human birth, not encouraging it.

So when you go home and hug your filthy and parasitic human children tonight, remember that Mr. Lee would as soon bury them as anything. After all, it’s all about the "wildlife".

Lee on civilization and morality:

4. Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn’t, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they?? Apparently no good at all. Notice the implication of violence unless "the pollution on the planet is reversed". It’s your moral obligation.

The man holding hostages at gunpoint and threatening them with harm is spouting off about “moral obligations”?  A bit like the Obama’s calling for shared sacrifice over a lobster dinner while vacationing on Martha’s Vinyard.

As for immigration, Mr. Lee advances a new name for "anchor babies" – "pollution babies", because, you know, that’s all babies do – pollute:

5. Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)

And "global warming"?

6. Find solutions for Global Warming, Automotive pollution, International Trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy. Find ways so that people don’t build more housing pollution which destroys the environment to make way for more human filth! Find solutions so that people stop breeding as well as stopping using Oil in order to REVERSE Global warming and the destruction of the planet!

Lee wanted the Discovery Channel to air programs that supported his agenda. In a nutshell, it was eliminate humans via dismantling their economies and discouraging birth of more "filth". Strangely he opposed war which has successfully removed many humans over the last century or so. He apparently prefered disease and famine do the job.

Because:

Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture. For every human born, ACRES of wildlife forests must be turned into farmland in order to feed that new addition over the course of 60 to 100 YEARS of that new human’s lifespan! THIS IS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE FOREST CREATURES!!!! All human procreation and farming must cease! It is the responsiblity of everyone to preserve the planet they live on by not breeding any more children who will continue their filthy practices.

Children represent FUTURE catastrophic pollution whereas their parents are current pollution. NO MORE BABIES! Population growth is a real crisis. Even one child born in the US will use 30 to a thousand times more resources than a Third World child. It’s like a couple are having 30 babies even though it’s just one! If the US goes in this direction maybe other countries will too!

There you go – I looked, but couldn’t find anything that blamed Bush, but I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. Instead, the blame belongs to another:

Lee said at the time that he experienced an ‘‘awakening” when he watched former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental documentary ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth.”

Another in a long line of lefty whack jobs who haven’t figured out that humans too are a natural part of this earth.

No one questions the need for good stewardship of the earth and its resources. However, eco-terrorists like this don’t find our attempts sufficient or worthy. In fact many don’t find us – human beings – worthy of further survival. It’s hard to imagine where they think they would fit in this brave new world (other than ridding it of the rest of us).

This isn’t something new, just something that has risen high enough to catch our attention for a day or two. Eco-terrorism has been an ongoing problem for quite some time.  At the extremes of the eco movement are any number of James J. Lees who would, if given the opportunity and the power, remove all humans and their “filthy children” from this earth.

And it is my contention that they’re a bigger threat for violence than any “right-wing militia” out there.  I wonder what the Southern Poverty Law Center and Janet Napolitano will have to say about this?

~McQ

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The bigger story about the Murkowski defeat

You remember Ned Lamont, don’t you?

You don’t?  Well Ned was the posterboy for the Kos Kids effort to change the dynamic within the Democratic party.  They wanted “progressive” candidates and Joe Lieberman of CT just didn’t fit the bill.  So the Kossaks and others like FireDogLake, backed their candidate, raised money and did their best to oust old Joe.  And they had some limited success.  I say limited in that they beat Joe in the Democratic primary, but then independent Joe whipped Ned’s rear in the general election.

Now, it’s not clear that will happen in Alaska.  Rumor has it that Murkowski, sensing defeat to the Tea Party backed Joe Miller, reached out to the Libertarian Party of Alaska, wondering if they’d be willing to adopt her as a candidate.  The libertarians said, “no way, no how, Lisa”.  She might be a viable candidate, but she’s no libertarian.  But that caused some to believe she’ll run now as an independent.

And, in Florida, you see the same sort of scenario being played out with Charlie Crist and the TP backed Marco Rubio.  Crist, the establishment GOP choice has been reduced to running as an independent – and he is.

The whole point of course is getting establishment candidates ousted in a primary is only Step 1.  As Ned Lamont and the Kossaks learned, the important step is Step 2.

If the Tea Party is to be taken seriously as a force for making the GOP more fiscally conservative and Constitutionally aware, it has to win the Step 2 contests as well.

~McQ

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The Iraq speech (update)

Let’s just say I was “underwhelmed”.  As a friend ask in an email, “where did the great speech maker go?”  I can only contend that this speech was like a task you know you have to do, but really don’t want to do.  And the results are usually along the lines of what you saw or heard last night.

The big questions were would he acknowledge success, victory or George Bush?

While he didn’t come right out and acknowledge success with that word, his “turn the page” comment implied success.  Victory?  No way, no how does that enter into the speech.  And his acknowledgement of George Bush explains why:

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

How does one who so adamantly opposed a war he ended up in charge of characterize it as anything but a mistake that somehow, in general, turned out well?  After all he was a “patriot who opposed it”.  And please, let’s turn the page.

No acknowledgment of the fact that the surge worked when all – to include our “patriot who opposed it” said it wouldn’t.  And even though he and his staff are now trying to rewrite history, it’s clear he was against the surge and claimed it wouldn’t work.

“I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” – Senator Barrak Obama in response to the PSOTUS. (January 10, 2007 on MSNBC)

Of course, they had precisely the opposite effect.  Why this is so difficult to acknowledge even when there’s video of him saying it remains a mystery.

And, of course, even with the acknowledgment of Bush, Obama couldn’t resist a shot as well:

Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

That “trillion dollars” for war is not what has put us in the financial shape we’re in today.  And anyone following the news knows that. That canard has been laid to rest.  However, if you read the paragraph carefully, you find the usual lefty talking points firmly embedded in the substance of the message.  Government is the answer and is the entity which should be making “tough decisions” about everything “from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform”. Of course not acknowledged in the paragraph is its previous decisions about those areas has given us what we have today.  A pure mess.

Even in a speech about ending the combat mission in Iraq, Obama seems unable to avoid politicizing it.  And, as usual, the blame Bush card – not as blatant as usual – is played.

Acknowledging the role of the military and the sacrifice of the troops, as well as the herculean job they did in filling roles outside their job description, was a good and appreciated part of the speech by all, I’m sure.

The rest – eh.  The usual boilerplate, wordy finger-pointing delivered in an uninspired and flat speech.  You can always tell when someone doesn’t have their heart in something.  My guess is he’s not over his vacation-lag yet. 

Perhaps – after that arduous night’s work, it’s time for another one.

UPDATE: And finally, Joe Biden is heard from on the subject:

Vice President Biden said the day after President Obama’s Oval Office address that the debate over who deserves credit for removing troops from Iraq isn’t “worth arguing about.”

And why is that Mr. Biden? Oh, yeah:

“At the end of the last administration, the transition was in place.”

Yes it was – which is another explanation for the lackluster speech marking the end of the combat mission in Iraq.

~McQ

 

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