Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Charles Freeman And The Obama Administration – What Is Going On? (UPDATE)

What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control?  Who, exactly, is in charge there?

Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster.  But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”.  Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House.  That means Freeman has never been formally vetted.  Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?

More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job?   A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush,  to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored.    Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.

But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation.  This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card.  After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.

Then there is the Congressional side of the question.  Jennifer Rubin asks:

Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.

And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”

Given what we know, I’d say no.  However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.  

This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.

~McQ

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The American W-4 Party

Brad Warbiany at The Liberty Papers took note of my post about the “tea parties” and “going Galt”, specifically this passage:

I’d be more impressed if they fired a shot across the bow and coordinated a national day for cranking up their withholding allowances, just as high as they can.  They’re planning their next party on Tax Day, right?  One might think they’d be interested in ceasing to lend their earnings interest-free to the government.  They might take some satisfaction in doing something that actually shows up on the government’s ledger.

Not knowing any accountants or tax professionals, I didn’t know just how far you could take that.  But Brad decided it was worthwhile to find out.  He did the legwork, consulted a tax preparer, and wrote up simple instructions for pushing it as far as you can without having to worry about incurring fees or other penalties.

And he has some suggestions for Tax Day:

So here’s my suggestion. April 15th, go to your HR department and change your W-4 claimed exemptions. Go with the maximum exemptions that you calculate will keep you from over-withholding, but small enough to avoid penalties. Budget (save or invest) the difference, so that you can pay the necessary tax next April, and don’t dare postmark the check to them before April 14, 2010.

It’s not a big difference. But if enough people do this, it will be big enough to be noticed. The federal government is expecting to spend your money as soon as it comes in; they’re not expecting to wait until next April to get your money. In fact, if they have to wait, they’re likely to get angry. That’s more money they have to borrow today. That’s more of a functional deficit on their books. In short, if you want to get noticed, a far more effective way than getting some friends together for a group protest is to hit them where it hurts: the balance sheet.

Fellow Americans, it’s time to stop being doormats. If you really want to show the government that you’re angry, it’s far better to show them than to tell them.

Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your blog readers, tell your coworkers. April 15th is the American W-4 Party.

For the full instructions, read the whole thing.

I like it.  I especially like it because of the clarity of the message.  If you email this around to all your relatives and peers, or post it on your blog for your readers, you’re not asking them to embrace the prisons or fire anyone that they employ.  They don’t even have to take the day off of work, which should be a relief to anyone who needs the work to support themselves and their families.

For the price of filling out a W-4 form and turning it in on a Wednesday, they can keep more of their money out of the government’s hands for the next year.  They can invest or save it, saying effectively, “I trust that I can handle my money better than the government would.”

It’s not a revolt.  It’s just telling the government in terms they understand that we’re paying attention and we don’t want to lend them our wealth if they’re going to treat it like they have been lately.  It’s a reminder of where their power comes from.  And the more people who participate, the clearer the message.

36 days ’til April 15.  In the age of social networking, I wonder how many people could get involved in this?

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Honduras And The Effects Of Raising The Minimum Wage

Honduras is going through a rather large spike in kidnappings. From 5 in 2005 to 121 in 2008. In an attempt to understand this rise in kidnappings, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State, was sure that economic conditions had most likely driven the spike. But what specifically was likely to have caused it? Apparently an increase in the minimum wage:

In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.

Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.

Of course everytime increases are argued against here, those in favor of them tend to wave off the point that raising the wage will cause unemployment among those who can least afford it. Obviously I’m not contending that if we do so here, those laid off will take up kidnapping, but to pretend such rises in minimum wage don’t have any detrimental effect is simply not true – and Honduras provides the case study.

~McQ

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Duh!

Warren Buffet on the economy and the effort of the government to “stimulate” it:

While praising efforts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others to stimulate the economy, he said the economy “can’t turn around on a dime” and that their efforts could trigger higher inflation once demand rebounds.

“We are certainly doing things that could lead to a lot of inflation,” he said. “In economics there is no free lunch.”

Funny how, when someone like Warren Buffet – who has been a supporter of Obama – says things like ‘trigger inflation’ and ‘no free lunch’, people who were previously playing the denial game (massive spending is necessary and good) suddenly figure there may be a problem.  Meanwhile the laws of economics have continued to function despite the denial.

For the most part the press has ignored Buffet’s words and they’ve been downplayed by the administration.  But perhaps if those who’ve been in denial are willing to consider Buffet’s warnings, they’ll be open to listening to others.  Such as warnings about the double talk that’s been coming out of the Obama administration the past few weeks.  For instance:

Confidence (too little) and uncertainty (too much) define this crisis. Obama’s double talk reduces the first and raises the second. He says he’s focused on reviving the economy, but he’s also using the crisis to advance an ambitious long-term agenda. The two sometimes collide. The $787 billion “stimulus” is weaker than necessary, because almost $200 billion for extended projects (high-speed rail, computerized medical records) take effect after 2010. When Congress debates Obama’s sweeping health care and energy proposals, industries, regions and governmental philosophies will clash. Will this improve confidence? Reduce uncertainty?

A prudent president would have made a “tough choice” — concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda.

Instead he’s decided he’s not going to let a “good crisis” go to waste and pursue his very expensive agenda which has nothing to do with the economic crisis (or alleviating it). All the while he preaches about crisis, catastrophe, sacrifice, tightening belts and doing with less even as he plans to expand government beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

It is an amazing performance.

~McQ

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SCOTUS turns down New York gun lawsuit

The Supreme Court smacked down New York City and Mike Bloomberg:

New York City on Monday failed before the U.S. Supreme Court to revive a lawsuit it filed against the gun industry.

New York sued several gun manufacturers in 2000, arguing the companies violated a state public nuisance law with their marketing and distribution of the firearms products they sell. Among the companies sued were Beretta USA Corp., Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (SWHC), Colt’s Manufacturing Co. LLC, Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) and Glock GmbH.

A federal law enacted in 2005 sought to shield gun makers from lawsuits like the one New York filed, prompting a federal judge to throw the case out. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in April 2008 upheld that ruling by a 2-1 vote.

New York, in a court brief, said the 2005 law violates state rights under the U.S. Constitution. “This congressional effort to control how states make law raises important questions about the Tenth Amendment’s protections of state sovereignty,” New York said.

The gun manufacturers, in a joint legal brief, said the federal appeals court correctly applied the 2005 statute and argued the law does not violate the Constitution. “This case does not qualify for Supreme Court review,” the gun makers said.

Does anyone else get New York’s argument in this case? Talk about non-sense.

H/T: Of Arms and the Law

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Intellectually Incurious

Yesterday on the podcast, we talked about Pres. Obama’s attitude towards certain aspects of his presidential responsibilities.  Apropos of that discussion, he is receiving some criticism for his indifference to the markets.

Some Wall Street economists think President Obama could have voiced some sympathy about the plight of frightened shareholders when he compared the stock market’s plunge to an election tracking poll that “bobs up and down, day to day.”

They worry that the president is underestimating the important role the stock market plays in the economy’s performance, and that the markets’ precipitous slide is actually a vote of no confidence in the administration’s handling of the economy. There’s also a suspicion that Mr. Obama and his advisers think only wealthy people own stocks.

“There is some of that feeling that rich people are the ones who have stocks. He does have somewhat of that feeling. But you’ve got to remember that most people who own stocks aren’t rich,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, the influential Wall Street financial research and forecasting firm…

…Mr. Wyss and some of his colleagues on Wall Street – where investors have lost trillions of dollars in savings and the market is not so much bobbing as dropping straight down – think Mr. Obama could have shown more concern for the markets, which represent the economy and signal its future direction.

During Mr. Bush’s tenure, there was constant criticism that he was “intellectually incurious”, e.g., he showed a lack of interest in the portions of his job he wasn’t required to be engaged in on a regular basis.  I wouldn’t dispute those criticisms, of course, but it seems to be a trait that Pres. Obama shares with his predecessor.

Pres. Obama appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.At the moment, we’re in the midst of an economic crisis–and I use the word intentionally–that stems from a credit bubble collapse.  The stock market is a predictor of future earnings and profitability for private sector firms.  As such, it tells you things about the expectations investors (which at this point includes more than half of the population) have about the future income that their investments will produce.  What the collapse in the stock market tells us is that investors are voting with their money that future earnings will be substantially lower, meaning that firms all across the country will be less profitable.

What happens on a day-to-day basis, of course, may be subject to a variety of market whims and fancies, but long-term trends do indicate the direction of the economy.  The market is a leading indicator.  So when there are several straight weeks of decline in stock prices, the market is telling us something.

This seems not to be a reality that the president comprehends.

Instead, the president’s main focus seems to be on health care, green jobs, more policemen and prosecutors, and the like.  All of which may be wonderful things, and none of which will happen if the economy implodes. To the extent the current crisis forces him to concentrate on economic policy, he appears to resent it.

Similarly, the president has made missteps in foreign policy this week.  The Obama Administration apparently attempted to sell our Eastern European allies down the river by offering to shut them out of missile defense if the Russians cooperate on nuclear non-proliferation in Iran–until they got caught out on it.  That was a  major misstep.It was quickly followed by two minor missteps.

First was Sec. Clinton presenting the Russian foreign minister with a button which was supposed to say, in Russian, “Reset”, to symbolize the new engagement with the world the Obama Administration was supposed to bring about.  What the button actually said was “overcharge” in Russian.  On top of this, it’s generally a bad idea, symbolically, to present the Russians with a button to push of any sort, considering that the major foreign policy goal of the last half of the 20th century was to prevent the Russians from pushing “the button”.

Second was the treatment of Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the UK, during his visit.  Rather than pulling out all the stops to showcase the visit of the head of government of what, by nearly any measure, is the United States’ most important ally, Mr. Obama treated it as if the Deputy Agriculture Minister of Azerbaijan had showed up on the White House’s doorstep.  In what may be a first in my lifetime, the various press organs in Britain, from the commies at The Spectator Observer, to the staid tories of The Times of London all agreed that Pres. Obama’s treatment of Mr. Brown amounted to an egregious snub of the United Kingdom.

In addition to the above, one has to note the retention of Sec. gates at the DoD, along with the retention of the great majority of the Bush Administration’s positions on executive privilege and the prosecution of the Global War on Terror.

What all of these things add up to is a picture of a president who is essentially uninterested in military policy, or foreign policy, or, really, economic policy, and who in effect simply ignores them to the extent he is able, and delegates their operation to his subordinates.  What he cares about is government, and its ability to intervene in the marketplace, and to provide goods and services.  It is in those areas where his interest and attention actually lie, and the remainder of the executive branch can, as far as he’s concerned, operate on auto-pilot.

Take all of the above together, and it appears to present an emerging picture of a man who is truly intellectually incurious, and who wishes to ignore, to the extent possible, those aspects of the president’s job that he doesn’t find personally appealing.

Sadly, he appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.

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Cap-And-Trade – The Impact And The Politics

It is time to get real about what the promised cap-and-trade tax means to the average American.

Politicians love cap and trade because they can claim to be taxing “polluters,” not workers. Hardly. Once the government creates a scarce new commodity — in this case the right to emit carbon — and then mandates that businesses buy it, the costs would inevitably be passed on to all consumers in the form of higher prices. Stating the obvious, Peter Orszag — now Mr. Obama’s budget director — told Congress last year that “Those price increases are essential to the success of a cap-and-trade program.”

Essentially Congress will be creating a new commodity literally out of thin air. It will only create a certain amount of that commodity and so create instant scarcity. As we all know, scarcity drives up prices. The next year, the plan is to remove a portion of the created commodity from the market creating even more scarcity and driving prices for the commodity even higher.

Imagine steel as the commodity. Imagine steel prices going through the roof. Do you suppose they might effect the price of, say, automobiles? Metal buildings? The price of building a bridge or sky scraper?

So who, in the final analysis, is going to end up paying for this increase in steel prices? Why the final consumer, of course. Naturally, with steel, in some cases you can choose to consume (buy a new car, rent an office or approve the bridge) or not consume. However, with the CO2 tax on all industry, to include manufacturing, service, transportation and energy, you have little choice in the matter of consumption. You will be picking up the tab for this.

That brings us full circle to the promised tax cut for 95% of America and my promise that what government gives with one hand it takes with another, making the tax cut illusory at best:

Hit hardest would be the “95% of working families” Mr. Obama keeps mentioning, usually omitting that his no-new-taxes pledge comes with the caveat “unless you use energy.” Putting a price on carbon is regressive by definition because poor and middle-income households spend more of their paychecks on things like gas to drive to work, groceries or home heating.

After all the caterwalling the left does about “progressive taxation” they are about to implement the most regressive tax I can imagine. And as I’ve pointed out, the tax is pervasive, touching just about all aspects of life. Food prices will rise. Energy prices will go through the roof.

The Congressional Budget Office — Mr. Orszag’s former roost — estimates that the price hikes from a 15% cut in emissions would cost the average household in the bottom-income quintile about 3.3% of its after-tax income every year. That’s about $680, not including the costs of reduced employment and output. The three middle quintiles would see their paychecks cut between $880 and $1,500, or 2.9% to 2.7% of income. The rich would pay 1.7%. Cap and trade is the ideal policy for every Beltway analyst who thinks the tax code is too progressive (all five of them).

Of course there is talk of subsidizing those at the lower end of the economic ladder so the impact of rising prices is lessened. Naturally that also negates the impact of the cap-and-trade system. In the end, your tax dollars subsidze the system while increased prices are passed along by so-called polluters. As the price of permits rise over the years, permit holders pay the increasing cost, pass it along and you again subsidize it. The rich can afford it, the poor will be subsidized, so who will get squeezed? Why that middle class that Obama and Biden are so concerned with.

Economically, estimates are that we’re going to have a miserable year in ’09 and possibly ’10. But we may begin to see a recovery really start to take hold in ’11, just in time for the 2012 presidential election. The smart politicians in Washington plan to delay cap-and-trade implementation until 2012. The reason should be obvious. If cap-and-trade has the expected impact on the economy, we could very well see the recovery stall and head back into recession. But politically the timing would be perfect. The mirage of recovery would be just enough to keep the current administration in power for another 4 years, before the economy wrecker of cap-and-trade begins to do its work.

~McQ

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Ending the “I Want Obama To Fail” Kerfuffle

Patterico does it by producing a 2006 poll:

poll-should-bush-succeed

The difference, of course, is instead of 51% of Democrats telling a polling company they wanted Bush to fail, an influential conservative came right out and said it about Obama.

The point for the left? You can quite pretending you’re witnessing something never seen before and climb on down from the throne of self-righteousness to your usual seat on the stool of hypocrisy (dissent no longer being the “highest form of patriotism).

~McQ

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Podcast for 08 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the indications the provide into the President’s apparent intellectual incuriosity.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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