Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Law Of Unintended Consequences Meets “Cash For Clunkers”

Or in the words of almost any economist who knows his business – “I told you so.”

Essentially what has happened is precisely what most of them said would happen – the program, Cash For Clunkers, did nothing more than steal from future sales.

To paraphrase the Reverend Wright – the clunkers are coming home to roost:

Edmunds.com reports that “September’s light-vehicle sales rate will fall to 8.8 million units . . . the lowest rate in nearly 28 years, tying the worst demand on record. After the cash-for-clunkers program boosted August sales to their first year-over-year increase since October 2007, demand has plunged. In at least the last 33 years, the U.S. seasonally adjusted annual rate has only dropped as low as 8.8 million units once — in December 1981 — with records stretching back to January 1976.”

But fear not – Washington has learned its lesson:

Now NHTSA says that, despite burdening manufacturers with $60 billion in new costs, its new 35.5 mpg fuel mandate will stimulate the economy by boosting auto sales by 65,480 vehicles through 2016 because Washington “expects stronger consumer demand for fuel-efficient models.”

Yup, DC knows economics and it certainly knows the consumer’s mind doesn’t it? Centralized planning has always driven demand. Yessireee. That’s why the Soviet Union is such an economic powerhouse today.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

Hillary Clinton, now Secretary of State and once First Lady who championed a failed attempt at government run health care, on the present effort at “reform”:

“It’s interesting that what we are proposing is fundamentally so conservative compared with so many of our friends and allies around the world who do a much better job than we do in covering everybody and in keeping costs down and yet some of the political opposition is so overheated.”

So what can we learn from that? First, the talking about about the opposition being “overheated” has reached all corners of the left. It again proves that if this is “overheated” then history began January 20th, 2009.

More importantly though, it makes the point that whatever is passed by Democrats and called “health care reform” (and something will be passed), it will only be the beginning of deep government intrusion in that segment of the economy. If this is “conservative” you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

~McQ

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Media Matters Compares Political Atmosphere With Dallas, 1963

Eric Boehlert destroys whatever shred of credibility he might have ever had in two quick paragraphs:

I’ve been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I’ve watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled. As Americans yank their kids of class in order to save them from being exposed to the President of the United States who only wanted to urge them to excel in the classroom. And as unvarnished hate and name-calling passed for health care ‘debate’ this summer.

If Boehlert had spent some time in class actually studying about the Kennedy assassination, he might have learned that the guy who is believed to have shot Kennedy was a communist. But of course that’s not important – this is about establishing an assassination scenario in the mind of the reader, who he hopes, is as witless as he is.

He then fully jumps the shark:

The radical right, aided by a GOP Noise Machine that positively dwarfs what existed in 1963, has turned demonizing Obama–making him into a vile object of disgust–into a crusade. It’s a demented national jihad, the likes of which this country has not seen in modern times.

Where in the world was this blowhard the past 8 years? Did he just emerge from a hermetically sealed chamber and a total news blackout?

The absurdity of the original premise is stunning. His apparent ignorance, willing or otherwise, of the history of the past 8 years is appalling. Why would anyone anywhere ever take anything this goof or the organization he works for seriously again?

[HT: Hot Air]

~McQ

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Visualizing The Exploding Debt

Or, as predicted, taking the rocket sled to debt hell:

This is what America is protesting – at least those with an inkling of what’s going on. The “isn’t he dreamy crowd” – they haven’t a clue or, if they do, just don’t care. They’re the same bunch that call themselves the “reality based community” even while apparently always believing money does indeed grow on trees.

HT: Brown

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

Lech Wałęsa, former President of Poland had this to say about the Obama announcement that the US was pulling the anti-missile defense system from Poland:

“Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example,” Mr Walesa told TVN24. “[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business,” he added.

“I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates,” the former president added. “I simply don’t like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated,” he concluded.

Another foreign policy coup. Treating our allies shabbily while sucking up to the Putins and Chavezs of the world.

~McQ

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Iran, Nukes and Anti-Missile Shields

The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?

• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”

• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”

• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.

Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”

And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.

Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.

So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.

The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.

The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.

Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”

Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?

Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.

Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.

Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.

In a word: nonsense!

Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.

It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.

What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:

During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.

Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.

Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:

That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.

~McQ

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And The Polls Say …

That there was no bounce from the president’s speech and a majority of Americans still oppose the health care reform being offered by the Democrats:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters nationwide now oppose the health care reform proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That’s the highest level of opposition yet measured and includes 44% who are Strongly Opposed.

Just 43% now favor the proposal, including 24% who Strongly Favor it.

Of course that being said, it is still not precisely clear what all the Democrats are offering. However if it is a collection of what they’ve offered in the 4 bills now circulating, they need to start over. When you have 44% “strongly opposed”, then politically it is time to start rethinking what’s going on.

In fact, what is being offered by Democrats is so bad that a plurality would rather keep what they have than have what is being offered imposed on them per a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll:

More Americans would rather Congress do nothing than pass Obama’s plan: 46 percent to 37 percent of people polled say they prefer the current health care system to the one the president has proposed.

Similarly, more people oppose — 48 percent — the health care reform legislation being considered right now than favor it — 38 percent. While most Democrats — 65 percent — favor the reforms, majorities of Republicans — 79 percent — and independents (55 percent) oppose them.

That tracks very well with the Rasmussen poll cited above. Additionally, the response to this question was telling:

By more than three-to-one, Americans say if they were sick they would rather be covered by a privately-run health insurance plan (62 percent) than a government-run plan (20 percent).

It should be clear by now, even to Democrats, that the majority of Americans do not want a government run monstrosity. Although they do believe that health care needs some reforms, they obviously don’t agree those being proffered are the ones needed.

Time to drop the present mess and start over, looking at reforms which actually do introduce real choice and competition. Neither of those will be found in any choices which increase government control and intrusion. That is the message these polls are sending.

~McQ

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Should House districts cross state lines?

That’s the solution that came to my mind when I read this piece in the New York Times.

I don’t think my suggestion would violate the important aspects of our constitutional design.

As attractive as the idea of having fewer constituents represented by each Representative may be, increasing the number of seats to around 1,000 would make the House unwieldy.  Dunbar’s number reflects the difficulty of becoming familiar with large numbers of other people, so in very large bodies, it becomes difficult for one “side” to get to know the other.  That increases the tendency toward misunderstanding and factionalism, with negotiations handled entirely by a relatively small number of leaders, whips, and committee chairs.

Then there are logistical issues involved with more than doubling the size of the House (where will they all sit?), and — this might be a minor issue, but — do we want to pay 1,000 Congressmen and their staffs?  Do we expect that Congress will produce better legislation with 1100 members than it does with 538?

But the status quo does seem flawed.  The Senate may be designed to give some people more representation than others, but that’s because the Senate traditionally was supposed to be the great protector of the states.  The House was intended from the start to represent the people directly rather than the people as represented by their states, so for one legislator to represent 958,000 people (Montana) while another represents 527,000 (Rhode Island) doesn’t seem quite right.

There are a number of places where it strikes me as natural that a House district would cross state lines, because the people on either side of the border have more in common with each other than they do with other people in their state.

If an agreeable method of choosing where those lines are drawn can be devised, I see only one major difficulty with this idea.  That is: how to treat electors for the Electoral College.  If a district straddles two states that vote differently for president, the solution I see is this:

  • Each state delivers its 2 base electoral votes to whoever wins the state.
  • Any district which doesn’t cross a state border delivers its elector to whoever won the state.
  • If a district straddles a state border where the states voted differently, its elector votes for whoever won the district.

That might actually improve the Electoral College.

But perhaps I’m missing some other important snag here.  Your thoughts?

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White House Defends Czars

Pressure on the White House to justify its use of “czars” in administering policy has ramped up recently, most obviously after the dismissal/resignation of Van Jones. It’s become intense enough that the Obama administration decided to deliver some push back via its whitehouse.gov blog:

Last week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: “We will call you out.” So consider this one of those calls.

Given the lessons from Joey Wilson’s War, that qualifies as hate speech.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of “czars” by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy. This is, of course, ridiculous. Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration. Many of the officials cited by conservative commentators have been confirmed by the Senate. Many hold policy jobs that have existed in previous Administrations. And some hold jobs that involved coordinating the work of agencies on President Obama’s key policy priorities: health insurance reform, energy and green jobs, and building a new foundation for long-lasting economic growth

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of “czars”, had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of “czars”. Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint “czars” to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges. What is clear is that all of this energy going into these attacks could be used to have a constructive conversation about bringing this country together to address our challenges moving forward – and it doesn’t take a “czar” to bring that about! Just some folks willing to act in good faith.

So, if you didn’t complain about czars before, then you can’t do so now? This is the change a lot of (foolish) people voted for? And is the White House really suggesting that there has not been a notable expansion of “czars” under this administration?

Also, keep this statement in mind, because we’ll come back to it: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration.” If in fact the Obama administration does refer to these people as “czars” wouldn’t that make this statement a blatant, unmitigated — dare I say it — lie?

Moving on, the White House does its best attempt at a “fact check”:

Rhetoric: Critics have claimed the Obama Administration is filled with new and unchecked czars.

Glenn Beck Claimed There Were 32 “Czars” In The Obama Administration. “The Brainroom counts 32 czars in the Obama administration, based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar.” [Glenn Beck Website, 8/21/09]

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sen. Hutchison Claimed There Were An “Unprecedented 32 Czar Posts.” “A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as “czars.’ They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a ‘car czar,’ a ‘pay czar’ and an ‘information czar.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/09]

Reality: Many of the arbitrarily labeled “czars” on Beck’s list are Senate-confirmed appointees or advisory roles carried over from previous administrations. Others are advisors to the President’s Cabinet Secretaries. Beck himself says on his own website, “Since czar isn’t an official job title, the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.”

Missing from this “reality” is any claim that there are fewer than 32 czars, nor any explanation of how many the White House thinks there are. Virtually all of the push back from Obama is simply a tu quoque argument that exasperatingly waves its hands at Fox News and Republicans for not opposing, and some cases encouraging, Bush’s use of czars. Again, is this the change promised during the election? And how is this any justification for expanding the use of czars now?

The best defense offered is a listing of the czars who went through Senate confirmation:

Of the 32 “czars” on Beck’s list, nine were confirmed by the Senate:

Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes (“California Water Czar”)
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske (“Drug Czar”)
OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients (“Government Performance Czar”)
Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair (“Intelligence Czar”)
OMB Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein (“Regulatory Czar”)
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and OSTP Director John Holdren (“Science Czar”)
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison (“TARP Czar”)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter (“Weapons Czar”)
OSTP Associate Director Aneesh Chopra (“Technology Czar”)

Strangely, each one of the names listed above is hotlinked by the White House blog, and all but one them are self-referential links to the post above (i.e. the links link to themselves).

In any case, it’s not made explicit, but it seems that the White House is claiming that these individuals are being classified as czars when in fact they hold legitimately created policy posts. Dave Weigel made the same argument last week:

Here’s the problem: Some of the people whom conservatives and mainstream media voices alike have labeled “czars” have been confirmed by the Senate. Some of them, and others, hold jobs that were created by previous presidents.

Take a look at Politico’s list of 31 “czars,” which shrinks to 30 without Van Jones. Republican strategists like Ed Rollins have used that “31″ number to allege that there’s a problem here. But perhaps the most controversial people labeled “czars” by Beck and by reporters have gone through Senate confirmations. Cass Sunstein, whom Politico labels the “regulatory czar,” is waiting for the end of a Republican filibuster so he can lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office created in 1980. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was confirmed by the Senate, unanimously, six months ago. But none of that seems to matter to their critics. Michelle Malkin, whom, again, Politico credited for making this an issue, relentlessly refers to Holdren as the “Science Czar” as if it was his actual title.

Weigel goes on to point out several czar positions that were created by previous administrations (the tu quoque argument again), five of which have been confirmed (according to the White House post). He alos lists several new positions created by Obama:

New jobs held by eminent people or people previously confirmed by the Senate:

“Afghanistan Czar” – Actually the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the man holding that job, Richard Holbrooke went through a Senate confirmation hearing in 1999 when he became Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador.

“Economic Czar” – Actually the President’s Economic Recovery Board, chaired by Paul Volcker, the deeply uncontroversial former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“Energy and Environment Czar” – This is Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1993 to run the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.

“Guantanamo Closure Czar” – Actually the Special Envoy to Guantanamo, Daniel Fried, who was the final Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration.

Apparently Weigel thinks it’s just fine for unconfirmed appointees to hold these positions if they were confirmed for another post during some prior administration, or they are just very important people. He chalks all the controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s use of czars up to whining by Republicans and the conservative critics who, once again, are being terribly hypocritical.

Left unanswered, by either the White House or Weigel, is how many of those confirmed appointees are filling positions created by Congress. I haven’t checked, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say somewhere close to all of them were. It would be unusual (and probably unconstitutional) for Congress to give away the power to confirm officials placed in the offices it created. Accordingly, those congressmen lambasted for opposing the use of czars now, while encouraging the creation of them earlier, should be able to take refuge in the fact that the positions they advocated earlier would have likely required confirmation. Again, I haven’t checked, but since the argument is over the large number of unconfirmed appointees to czar positions, then accusations of hypocrisy don’t make much sense if those being called out only supported czars who would be subject to the confirmation process.

Also left unanswered are the following questions and concerns from a prominent Senator made in a letter to Pres. Obama:

As you know, there has been much discussion about your decisions to create and assign apparently significant policy-making responsibilities to White House and other executive positions; many of the persons filling these positions have come to be referred to in the media and even within your administration as policy “czars.” I heard firsthand about this issue on several occasions from my constituents in recent town hall meetings in Wisconsin.

So is this Senator actually calling the administration a bunch of liars for stating: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration”?

The Constitution gives the Senate the duty to oversee the appointment of Executive officers through the Appointments Clause in Article II, section 2. The Appointments Clause states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise proved for, and which shall be established by law.” This clause is an important part of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, empowering the Senate to weigh in on the appropriateness of significant appointments and assisting in its oversight of the Executive Branch.

As a member of the Senate with the duty to oversee executive appointments and as the Chairman of the Senate Constitution Subcommittee, I respectfully urge you to disclose as much information as you can about these policy advisors and “czars.” Specifically, I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and provide the judgment(s) of your legal advisors as to whether and how these positions are consistent with the Appointments Clause. I hope that this information will help address some of the concerns that have been raised about new positions in the White House and elsewhere in the Executive Branch, and will inform any hearing that the Subcommittee holds on this topic.

After all the hyperventilating from the White House and its defenders about a partisan witch hunt regarding the czars, you’re probably wondering which Republican hypocrite wrote this letter?

Sincerely,

Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

So, the concerns aren’t just partisan in nature then?

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the president requesting the White House release information regarding the “roles and responsibilities” of the “czars.” The Senate Judiciary Committee member also requested that the president’s legal advisers prepare a “judgment” on the “czars'” constitutionality.

Feingold’s letter represents one of the first examples of Democratic scrutiny of the president’s “czars,” who are not required to be confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been absent from the Senate since experiencing health issues, also expressed skepticism of Obama’s use of policy “czars” in February.

Well, now that we know this is a bi-partisan concern, surely the White House will take it more seriously:

At today’s White House briefing, Robert Gibbs was asked about a letter raising constitutional concerns about the czar system not from a Republican, but from Obama’s former caucus-mate, Sen. Russ Feingold. The press secretary said he hadn’t seen the letter, but proceeded to echo many of the DNC’s points in a heated response.

“I’m struck by a little of the politics in this,” Gibbs said. He noted that “somebody referred to in the Bush administration as the abstinence czar was on the D.C. madam’s list,” and asked hypothetically: “Did that violate the Constitution or simply offend our sensibilities?”

Nope. Not even a little bit.

The fact remains that the Obama administration is avoiding the confirmation process and installing people into positions of power without any regard to the Constitution or the citizens of the United States. Van Jones was no accident. He is symptomatic of this administration’s determination to remake America in it’s own, nanny-state, progressive, social-justice image. Whether we want to or not.

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