Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Rangel to Be Cleared?

Given the vaunted status of tax cheats amongst the Democrats, you’re all shocked, I’m sure:

Charles Rangel in "Scold Finger II: The Speaker Who Loved Me"

Charles Rangel in Scold Finger II: The Speaker Who Loved Me

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel predicted, on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program that aired Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, that his multitude of ethics woes would soon disappear. “I think that next Tuesday you will see a break in this and as soon as the Ethics Committee organizes they ought to be able to dismiss this,” National Journal’s CongressDaily quoted the Rangel as saying.

If so, it’s hard to imagine that the Select Committee on Ethics will have devoted anything more than a cursory glance at the various issues raised. Consider just one aspect, for which documents are in the public record: Rangel’s financial disclosure forms. We took a look at his filings going all the way back to 1978, the first year members were required to disclose information on their personal finances, and found 28 instances in which he failed to report acquiring, owning or disposing of assets. Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appear or disappear with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as the operative House rules at the time required.

This is all according to Charlie, of course. Much like the Obama team clearing itself of any inappropriate behavior in the Blagojevich troubles, taking Charlie’s word here would not be advisable. However, he seems to know that something is coming, and considering that Speaker Pelosi made little to no effort to support the investigation, we shouldn’t be surprised if Rangel walks away from this with his Chairmanship still intact.

Most ethical Congress ever!

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Passage Of The “Stimulus” Bill Will Be A True “Lipstick On A Pig” Moment

As public support for the Democratic version of the “stimulus” package continues to tank, Democratic leaders in the Senate are desperately seeking Republican support.

Before I go on here, two things should be made clear.  A) There are two premises at work here – one says we don’t need this “stimulus” package, but should instead take the ‘pain’ now, get it over with and begin the recovery.  The other  says that government must act to ameliorate the pain and to help jump-start the economy.  B) Senate Republicans have bought into the second premise.

My point?  Like it or not (and I don’t) there’s going to be a stimulus package – just not the one now on the table.

So to the particulars. There aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass the present version so there are a number of alternatives being offered.  One is by John McCain which cuts the package by about one-half to $445 billion.  But that’s unlikely to happen.  Waffle-boy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Some of the Time), says:

Graham said he could back something between the McCain bill and the House bill. Although some Republicans would prefer to shelve the measure temporarily, hoping that spending demand will cool, other GOP lawmakers would prefer to stay on schedule and find common ground. “There’s sort of political chaos right now,” he conceded.

Got that?  This is something which must remain “on schedule” (Feb 13) vs. being well thought out and well targeted. Does it surprise you at all that their priority is an arbitrary date vs. good legislation?

And here’s what should really make you nervous:

The most ambitious effort to cut the bill is being led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), moderates in their parties who share a dislike of the current version. Collins is scheduled to visit Obama at the White House this afternoon. “I’m going to go to him with a list” of suggested deletions, she said.

Nelson said he and Collins have agreed to “tens of billions” in cuts, although he said he is skeptical that the effort will reach Collins’s target of $200 billion in reductions. The pair has counted up to 20 allies in their effort, with more Democrats than Republicans at this point.

Among the items that the Collins-Nelson initiative is targeting: $1.1 billion for comparative medical research, $350 million for Agriculture Department computers, $75 million to discourage smoking, $20 million in Interior Department funding, $400 million for HIV screening and $650 million for wildlife management.

[...]

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said the centrist group led by Nelson and Collins would target programs that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would not spend their funding quickly. He said the list includes a number of proposals that will spend only about 10 percent of their funding in the next 18 months. “These become immediate candidates for review,” Conrad said of the provisions.

Whenever Republicans have Sen. Susan Collins in the lead concerning

"Stimulus Red" is the newest shade

"Stimulus Red" is the newest shade

spending, you can mostly be assured that they won’t get the best deal.

One slightly bright spot in all of this was the portion of the legislation giving Hollywood a specific and very nice tax break was stripped from the bill:

Then, on a 52 to 45 vote, the chamber stripped $246 million in tax breaks for Hollywood production companies, a measure offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the Senate’s self-appointed watchdog on federal spending. Coburn, who almost always loses his quixotic efforts to cut funding, appeared jubilant — if somewhat surprised — by his unexpected victory.

“This is a gift,” he said of the Hollywood provision. “It’s not going to stimulate the economy at all.”

One of the reasons that happened, I’m sure, is the visibility it got when it was discovered. So between now and Feb 13th (yes it’s a Friday the 13th and completely apropos for what is being legislated by Congress) more of these examples of pork and special interest legislation need to be given light.

Success for other stimulus amendments was mixed:

Later, the Senate turned away legislation to reduce the tax rate on multinational corporations that are returning earnings from overseas, as opponents argued that it was a giveaway to industry. But some new spending programs proved too politically attractive to the Senate. In a 71 to 26 vote, the Senate approved a new incentive for car buyers, at an estimated cost of $11 billion over 10 years. According to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the amendment’s sponsor, buyers could deduct the cost of sales tax for new cars purchased between last Nov. 12 and Dec. 31, 2009. Individuals with incomes of up to $125,000 would qualify.

Of course the multinational corporation tax cut on earnings would have stimulated investment here, and that leads to what? Yup, jobs. Notice the language – letting a company keep more of what it has earned is a “giveaway”. Amazing.

Bottom line: this is going to pass in some form or fashion within the next week or so. The only thing left to do, to borrow a phrase, is to decide what shade of lipstick they’re going to put on this pig.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Pushing the AGW Agenda

Despite the increasing amount of skepticism about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) openly expressed by climate scientists, apparently nothing is going to dissuade the Obama administration from its alarmism on the topic:

California’s farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Tuesday.

In his first interview since taking office last month, the Nobel-prize-winning physicist offered some of the starkest comments yet on how seriously President Obama’s cabinet views the threat of climate change, along with a detailed assessment of the administration’s plans to combat it.

Steven Chu as "Scold Finger"

Steven Chu as "Scold Finger"

Chu warned of water shortages plaguing the West and Upper Midwest and particularly dire consequences for California, his home state, the nation’s leading agricultural producer.

In a worst case, Chu said, up to 90% of the Sierra snowpack could disappear, all but eliminating a natural storage system for water vital to agriculture.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” he said. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” And, he added, “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going” either.

What the Obama team has not gripped yet is that there is no scientific proof (much less a “consensus”) that humans have anything beyond a negligible effect on the climate. As McQ alerted us to yesterday, there is not even a scientific basis for the claims being made by Chu:

We [Keston C. Green and J. Scott Armstrong] have concluded that the forecasting process reported on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lacks a scientific basis….

Since the publication of our paper, no one has provided evidence to refute our claim that there are no scientific forecasts to support global warming.

The lack of any scientific foundation isn’t about to stop political maneuvering, however:

He stressed the threat of climate change in his Senate confirmation hearings and in a video clip posted on Obama’s transition website, but not as bluntly, nor in as dire terms, as he did Tuesday.

In the course of a half-hour interview, Chu made clear that he sees public education as a key part of the administration’s strategy to fight global warming — along with billions of dollars for alternative energy research and infrastructure, a national standard for electricity from renewable sources and cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the threat of warming is keeping policymakers focused on alternatives to fossil fuel, even though gasoline prices have fallen over the last six months from historic highs. But he said public awareness needs to catch up. He compared the situation to a family buying an old house and being told by an inspector that it must pay a hefty sum to rewire it or risk an electrical fire that could burn everything down.

“I’m hoping that the American people will wake up,” Chu said, and pay the cost of rewiring.

Chu, who is not a climate scientist, seems to working from the same playbook as our (former) car mechanic. He too was hoping we’d pay him the cost of some expensive repairs that could potentially cause serious problems if left untended. And just like with the AGW scare, a second opinion revealed that there wasn’t anything actually broken. Unfortunately, while we opted not to pay for the unnecessary repairs to our car, when it comes to the federal government we don’t get that choice. Chu’s “hoping” for us to pay for the Obama administration’s alarmism is pretty much the same thing as telling us the bill is in the mail.

Note also that while the L.A. Times story managed to find studies supporting Chu’s theories, and to quote parties in favor of his prescriptions, no mention was made of skeptics until the last paragraph, and that was reserved for a politician:

Global warming skeptics were not swayed. “I am hopeful Secretary Chu will take note of the real-world data, new studies and the growing chorus of international scientists that question his climate claims,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Computer model predictions of the year 2100 are simply not evidence of a looming climate catastrophe.”

It’s a shame that the best the LAT could do for a view contrary to that of Chu and AGW scientists was to get a quote from a statement put out to the public by Sen. Inhofe. Maybe if they had had some basic research skills, they could have located and quoted from the publicly available Green & Armstrong Report. Or perhaps, they might have employed their vaunted J-School talents such as picking up a phone and calling a source.

The funny thing is, I distinctly recall being told over and over again how the Bush administration had politicized science, much to the detriment of us all. Why even the LAT reported such grave concerns. Whatever happened to that concern anyway?

Plus ça (hope and) change, plus c’est la même chose.

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The Rush To Pass Global Warming Legislation

It sounds innocuous enough – at least in the broad language used below. I’m talking about Sen. Boxer’s promised push to move “global warming” legislation through Congress within weeks (or, per Boxer, no later than the end of the year):

Boxer’s principles for global warming legislation aim for a law that would:

— set “certain and enforceable” short and long-term emissions targets;

— ensure state and local entities keep working to address global warming;

— establish a market-based system that cuts carbon emissions;

— use revenues from this carbon market to help consumers make the transition to clean energy and invest in new technology and efficiency measures;

— ensure a level global playing field with incentives for polluting countries to give their share to the international effort to curb climate change.

These goals won quick applause from environmental and conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Environment America and Environmental Defense Fund.

Well of course those groups applauded the list. They’ve been beating the AGW drum for years. And it occurs to me that one of the reasons Boxer is working so hard to move this into the legislative hopper as quickly as possible because the skeptic’s voices are becoming increasingly heard.

Like anything else, there’s a window for legislation and I think Boxer sees that window starting to close. The information countering the AGW nonsense is starting to build momentum. Boxer understands that at some point there will be a tipping point. Already polls have flipped and for the first time more believe the climate change we’re undergoing is the result of natural cycles and not man-made emissions.

If that gap continues to widen, and I believe it will, plus the cost to do what Boxer and the Democrats want to do is given more visibility, the opportunity to pass such legislation will wane (just as we see support for the present stimulus bill withering as more and more information about it becomes available).

Boxer and the Democrats hope to strike while the iron is hot – no pun intended.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Iraq: This Democracy Thing Might Work!

Iraq votes

Iraq votes

It sure has been getting low-key coverage in the MSM, but it appears the election in Iraq went off very well and is producing some surprising and, frankly, good results.

14,400 candidates stood for office.  Unlike 2005, when 200 candidates were killed prior to the election, this time 8 were lost.  14 of the 18 provinces were included (Kurdistan’s provinces are having separate elections) and while turnout was considered to be low (51%), Sunnis participated en mass for the first time. William Shawcross describes the results:

All the Islamic parties lost ground, especially that associated with the so-called “Shia firebrand”, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose share of the vote went down from 11% to 3%. The principal Sunni Islamic party, the Islamic Party of Iraq, was wiped out.

The only Islamic party to gain ground was the Dawa party of the Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki – and even that party dropped the word Islamic from its name. The power of Maliki, who has emerged a stronger leader than expected, is further enhanced by these elections. Now no Islamic parties will be able to control any provinces on their own. The election is thus a big defeat for Iran which had hoped that Shia religious parties would control the south and enable Iran to turn them into a mini Shia republic.

I know this has some of you gasping for breath out there. We were assured by none other than the great Juan Cole and his fellow travelers that Iran was in total control of the Iraqi governmental apparatus and would quickly turn into what Shawcross characterizes as a “mini-Shia republic”.

Yet it appears that the Iraqi public are rejecting the concept of a theocracy in favor of a more secular government. And that, of course is a de facto rejection of Iran.

Obviously Iraq still has a long way to go, but it is hard to deny the amount of progress that has been made. Except for the dead-enders who’ve vested so much into this           being the “worst foreign policy disaster in US history”, it is looking pretty darn good in Iraq.

USMC Maj Gen John F. Kelly gives you an indication of the level of change that has taken place in previously violent Anbar province:

Something didn’t happen in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, today. Once the most violent and most dangerous places on earth, no suicide vest bomber detonated killing dozens of voters. No suicide truck bomber drove into a polling place collapsing the building and killing and injuring over 100. No Marine was in a firefight engaging an Al Qaida terrorist trying to disrupt democracy.

What did happen was Anbar Sunnis came out in their tens of thousands to vote in the first free election of their lives.

[...]

One of the things I’ve always said was that we came here to “give” them democracy. Even in the dark days my only consolation was that it was about freedom and democracy. After what I saw today, and having forgotten our own history and revolution, this was arrogance. People are not given freedom and democracy – they take it for themselves. The Anbaris deserve this credit.

Today I step down as the dictator, albeit benevolent, of Anbar Province. Today the Anbaris took it from me. I am ecstatic. It was a privilege to be part of it, to have somehow in a small way to have helped make it happen.

Shawcross asks:

There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.

Now that’s real hope and change.

~McQ

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Pentagon: Drop Nation Building, Fight Taliban

The Pentagon, unsurprisingly, has completed a study in which it concludes that the US should lower its expectations in Afghanistan:

A classified Pentagon report urges President Barack Obama to shift U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, de-emphasizing democracy-building and concentrating more on targeting Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen the report prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it has not yet been presented to the White House, officials said Tuesday. The recommendations are one element of a broad policy reassessment under way along with recommendations to be considered by the White House from the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, and other military leaders.

[...]

[T]he plan calls for a more narrowly focused effort to root out militant strongholds along the Pakistani border and inside the neighboring country, according to officials who confirmed the essence of the report.

In other words, the military is saying “let us do what we’re good at – killing bad guys.”

Taliban with rocket launcher

Taliban with rocket launcher


Let’s face it, nation building requires the intense participation of the State Department in addition to the military, and during the Bush years, State showed no stomach for that sort of work in Iraq. Under the Obama administration – and the Clinton State Department – the desire to participate will be even less.

And while only a fool would argue that the establishment of a democracy in Afghanistan would be the best case for the US (and the world), at this time, it may not be an attainable goal.

So the Pentagon, reading the hand-writing on the wall, is saying let’s go kinetic and forget about trying to establish another democracy – Afghanistan is just not worth the blood and treasure at this time.

British Soldier in Afghanistan

British Soldier in Afghanistan

Interestingly, that’s also the conclusion Michael Yon has reached a similar conclusion (via email):

My humble recommendation is to downgrade all expectations for Afghanistan. Treat the patient as best we can, and concern ourselves with more important matters while striving not to allow Afghanistan to again become a launching pad for international terror. President Obama should not stake our national reputation on the idea that we will achieve our current more ambitious goals. Decrease expectations, and work on more important matters such as the world economy and other more serious military threats. Afghanistan is not worth so much effort when most of NATO has no heart and is virtually worthless. Eventually we’ll likely end up alone, or mostly alone, holding the bag, while Europe goes home to its wine and beer.

Given the lack of progress with nation building and NATO’s intransigence, I’m beginning to think this approach may be the most rational way to proceed in Afghanistan.

~McQ

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Smoot-Hawley Fiasco Averted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lonliest Guy In D.C. Right Now

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

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

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

Oh, and this is classic:

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

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

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

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

Hope and change.

~McQ

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