Saturday, February 28, 2009

American Tea Party Revolution

It's a new American Revolution and a peaceful one. Across America and in 100 cities Americans gathered to protest and hold rallies against the spending bills that will bankrupt this country and against big government that has the potential of controlling our lives through the control of many of our industries. The sponsoring group is called The American Tea Party, and they are adamant about keeping Uncle Sam out of their wallets.

I attended the event in Fort Worth. As I drove up to the Cow Town Bar, I was greeted with eager protesters holding anti-spending bill and anti-Obama signs. Two such protesters were on mechanical pigs sporting signs that read "No Pork". The pink pig was named Princess Pelosi. Behind the bar, in the back parking lot a band playing 70's and Southern rock were entertaining a crowd whose ages suggested they remembered another era of liberal protesters. While the band played, petitions were being signed in opposition of the most recently proposed spending bill.

After awhile the band took a break, and the real reason for my visit had started. Speeches to work the crowd and inform the people were being made. The first of such was made by a patent attorney, Ken Emanuelson, who spoke on fiscal responsibility and the lack of such by our politicians. While he spoke, a man standing at the door of the bar asked which party is responsible for our deficit. Many, myself included, turned to him and yelled, "Both!" Apparently, he was not prepared for that answer, for he went on to speak on how much more deficit spending President Bush had done in his 8 years in office than that of Obama's administration. I wonder if he knew that President Obama has only been in office for less than two months. His facts had angered many in the crowd including one who was fast approaching him. Mr. Emanuleson reiterated that the problem lies with both parties, but that his motive is not to look for blame but to put Conservatives into office to find true solutions to the economic crisis. He politely urged the interrupter to leave, which he did without anything more than words being thrown out.

Other scheduled speakers followed, including a Vietnam veteran speaking about the healthcare, or lack of, he receives through the VA. Talking about his experiences, he made a very compelling argument against nationalized healthcare, which promises to look quite similar to that of the VA healthcare.

Overall, it was a very good rally, and I was encouraged by the approximate 400 person turn-out. I hope this is the start to a grass-roots movement that will light a fire in the hearts of Americans who believe in personal responibility and inidividualism.

Prince of Thieves

When candidate Barack Obama famously told Joe the Plumber that he intended to spread the wealth around, he wasn't kidding.

The income tax proposal put forward by the President radically expands the use of the tax code as an instrument for taking money from one set of taxpayers and redistributing it to others.

As reported by the Associated Press, a typical family earning as much as $50,000 would not owe any income tax and, in fact, would receive a small check from the government. These get called refunds, but is that the right term when nothing was paid in?

$50,000 is close to the median household income in the United States.

Someone has said that the downfall of democracy would come when 51% of the people realized that they could make the other 49% pay for everything.

We may be approaching our downfall.

The Dumb Congressional Quote of the Day (and there are always so many choices)

"You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war. You can't be in and out at the same time."

-- Rep. Dennis Kucinich, evidently confused by the continuing presence of U.S. troops in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. Perhaps he needs a briefing.

Buffett on the 2009 Economy

In a letter to investors in Berkshire Hathaway, as quoted at

"Economic medicine that was previously meted out by the cupful has recently been dispensed by the barrel. These once-unthinkable dosages will almost certainly bring on unwelcome aftereffects...."

"Moreover, major industries have become dependent on federal assistance, and they will be followed by cities and states bearing mind-boggling requests. Weaning these entities from the public teat will be a political challenge. They won't leave willingly."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Coffee Addiction

It's official- I'm a coffee addict. As soon as I walked into my office this morning and put down my stuff, I went straight to the break room and poured myself a cup of coffee without giving so much as a thought as to what I was doing. It wasn't until I was holding a full cup of the dark bitter liquid that I realized I don't really want another cup this morning.

Excuse me while I have another sip...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Mother of All Budgets

The numbers in President Barack Obama's budget are staggering, and disturbingly so. He is advocating a budget that includes deficit spending of $1.75 trillion.

But, what's a trillion among friends?

However, the nation should consider this. The total budget is just less than $4 trillion. That means that approximately 45% of the budget will be deficit spending. In other words, we are projected to spend nearly twice what we have coming in as total revenues.

It would be as though a family making $50,000, with no other resources, this year decided that, for whatever reason, they were going to spend $97,000.

In addition, the deficit part of the budget is only slightly less than the entire budget in the final year of the Clinton administration, which was less than $2 trillion.

President Obama said that this budget involved tough choices. That is a good thing. One can only imagine what the spending would have been if they had gotten everything they wanted.

Leaving partisan feelings and political ideologies aside, there is no way to think of this as good for the nation. For the first time in my life time, I am pessimistic about the future of our country. If this course is taken, things are going to get worse, and they may stay that way for a long time to come.

"Puritanical about food, and licentious about sex"

For an interesting review of a Policy Review essay by Mary Eberstadt, see George Will here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Obama and Jindal Speeches -- Some Quick Takes

First of all, the disappointing part. I like Bobby Jindal and hope some day that he will run for President. He is bright and accomplished.

His delivery of last night's Republican response was as bad as I've ever seen by a national political figure. The content was ok, but the delivery was awful.

The speech by Obama was ok. It was not really a State of the Union speech, but it was being compared to that. As such, it was better than the laundry list of promised spending and programs that have constituted those speeches over the last couple of administrations.

I also thought, though, that the speech sounded more like a campaign speech than a presidential address to the nation and before Congress. At some point, the sweeping rhetoric needs to be more concrete.

It was also noteworthy that he vowed to move immediately on health care reform (next week!?), even though as of this date he has no named Secretary of HHS and no one officially in charge of health care policy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comparative Research and Health Care Reform

Health care consultant Joe Paduda wrote a post the other day "debunking Rush Limbaugh," taking the radio talk host to task for statements he made about health care provisions in the spending bill that just passed Congress. An industry expert taking on a general commentator on health care policy hardly seems like a fair fight, but Mr. Paduda, as the author of his blog, has the right to choose opponents he considers worthy.

Leaving my cheap shots aside, Mr. Paduda's arguments are largely correct. As Mr. Limbaugh's comments echo recent commentary from other conservatives, it is important for those on the right, if they are to have anything constructive to contribute to the health care debate, to think more carefully about drivers of health care costs.

Conservative criticism of health care provisions in the bill have centered around the funding of "comparative research" that would be intended to determine the relative effectiveness of varying treatments. Opponents have argued that this starts the government down the path of health care rationing. While there may be some foundation for that concern, conservatives need to address the fact that, whether health care is financed through the private or the public sector, the utilization, or overutilization, of medical services is a major cost driver in American health care. Variations in medical practice also create significant concerns regarding the quality of care delivered. Those interested in the subject might start by looking here.

All of this is to say that any health care reform addressing costs must look at the issue of utilization. This is not to say that conservative concerns about this are lacking in validity. The federal government, for an increasing number of people, will evidently be the health care payer of both first and last resort. With regard to many problems, government regulators are better at using an ax than a scalpel when it comes to implementing policy decisions, and it is not difficult to imagine that health care will be managed on the basis primarily of financial, not medical, decision making.

People already believe this about private insurers. Of course, sometimes they are correct. However, even when private insurers correctly deny coverage for services that lack a sound medical basis, people assume that their doctor is trying to provide them with proper care and that the insurance company is only concerned with not having to pay.

Of course, regulators don't have to concern themselves with profits, and some would have us hope that would eliminate such thinking. However, regulators and lawmakers, at least in normal times, do have to deal with scarce resources and competing policy priorities. As such, it is not difficult to imagine that rationing based on purely financial considerations could become a legitimate concern.

However, that is an argument that requires nuance. There are a lot of moving pieces in the upcoming debate over health care reform. Those who would engage the debate constructively in order to seek genuine improvements in costs, breadth of coverage, and outcomes, would do well to bring scalpels, not axes, to the debate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Booms, Bubbles, and Busts

Those who argue that the current financial crisis demands that housing prices be stabilized understand the symptom, but not the real problem. The difficulty with stabilizing housing prices is that those prices had risen to unsustainable levels. Blame who you will -- lenders, buyers, financiers, or government regulators -- but people are upside down on their homes because those groups of people believed in a fairy tale that home values could rise beyond the ability of people to purchase them without consequence.

This chart showing home values over a period of over 100 years, adjusted for inflation, reveals the true nature of the problem.

Hat Tip: Doug Miller

The Other Prodigal

Marvin Olasky notes that a parable of Jesus has been misnamed that of "The Prodigal Son." Actually, he points out, there are two prodigals, the immature one who goes his own way, and the elder one, who is obedient, but prideful, arrogant, and without joy. Mr. Olasky notes that neither really understands the Father.

He writes that Christians should imagine themeselves in the role of a third brother, and that doing so would reshape the way believers involve themselves in social and political issues:

Third brother politics is also different. The Founders fought for both liberty and virtue: Elder brothers tend to forget the former, younger brothers the latter. Third brothers know that we can never have enough laws to banish sin. They tell the truth but do not rant at abortionists and gay rights activists. They control their tongues and lungs not because killing babies and killing marriage is right, but because their goal is to change hearts.

Read the rest here.

Rejecting the Stimulus?

I am opposed to the social security system as it is currently configured. If I had been alive in the 1930's, I would have voted against it. If it were up to me, the system would not now be eliminated, but it would be drastically changed. I believe that it will bankrupt the country.

When I arrive at that age, if it is still around, I plan to collect the benefits.

Does that make me a hypocrite? I don't think so. As a nation, we have debates on public policy. At the end of those debates, we have winners and losers as the nation decides what direction it will go. What the nation decides, the nation pays for (or its children and grandchildren do), and policies, structures, and benefits are created. We decided on social security. However I might wish we had decided otherwise, I am compelled to help pay for it, and perhaps I will collect something for the trouble.

All of which brings me to the enormous federal spending package that just passed in Congress under the guise of a stimulus program. Nearly every Republican in Congress voted against it, and many Republican governors are highly critical of it. Now, some are suggesting that Republican governors accepting funds are inconsistent.

That is not so. Republicans rightly voted against the legislation. Even those who acknowledge that deficit spending is needed to re-charge the economy can see that this package does not really accomplish that. However, the nation's representatives voted, and we lost. There is no inconsistency in acknowledging the policy choice that won and accepting both the costs and the benefits of that decision.

Except for when it creates unfunded mandates down the road, the governors are right to take the money.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Cruise Ships and Aircraft Carriers

Last week in San Diego, I was taking a shuttle to the airport along with a family on their way back home to San Francisco. The wife in that family noticed in the distance a cruise ship anchored in the water near by. She commented favorably on the impressiveness of that large, glistening white ship, but then she drew in a sharp breath.

"Oh, but next to it, that's ... kind ... of, uh -- eerie," she said, her voice trailing off.

It took me a moment to figure out what she found to be eerie, but then I saw what for her was a ghastly sight: an aircraft carrier near the cruise ship.

I didn't share her feeling.

I suppose that for some, a ship of war next to one of play is "eerie," but I find it entirely appropriate. We enjoy a level of freedom and a way of life that would be the envy of much of the world. One of the reasons we enjoy those things is that they have been secured, to borrow from Churchill, by the sweat, the blood, the toil, and the tears, of those who have fought, and sometimes died, that we might be free.

Those two ships side by side were a helpful reminder. They remind us that the freedoms we enjoy, including economic freedom and fthe reedom to travel, are owed to those who serve our country. For them, I am grateful.
I had no intention of blogging about this family as they have already received too much media attention, but another tragedy has befallen the Suleman children by the incompetance of the adults. The grandmother's home is being foreclosed. Naturally, I don't know the circumstances behind this, but the focus needs to be on the children. Where are the 14 Suleman children going to live? I know the state will not allow them to be homeless, but I'm hoping for a quick resolve to this conundrom for the sake of all the children because that really should be the focus. The media and office gossip about the mother has become a past time, but there are 14 little ones that need a home and a proper parent.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Birth of Ill Repute

Last week, Karl Kurtz of the National Conference of State Legislatures noted the anniversary of the birth of a practice that has increasingly become an albatross on our political system. On February 11, 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry constructed a district advantageous to his party, thus creating the "gerrymander." The monstrosity was so-named because the district had something approximating the shape of a salamander. Some districts so drawn today will narrow to the width of a highway before widening again to find voters of a particular stripe.

Modern demographics have turned gerrymandering into a grotesque art form, rendering most congressional and many state legislative districts uncompetitive. The result is a system in which large numbers of legislators are largely unaccountable to the voters that elect them. Gerrymandering also results in greater ideological divisions in legislatures, as the districts that result don't require those elected by them to appeal to centrist voters.

This past November, California passed a referendum calling for the drawing of districts by an independent commission, not by the legislature. One hopes that other states will follow their lead.

Calling South Carolina Voters....

Could you do the rest of the country a favor and return Senator Lindsey Graham to private life the next time he comes up for re-election?

Really, this is just too much.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Appoint, don't elect, Texas judges

As reported by Don Cruse, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson used his annual "State of the Judiciary" address to call for reform in how the state's judges are chosen. Consistent with the Chief Justice's position, legislation pending in the Texas General Assembly would have voters decide whether to change the state constitution to create a system of appointments and retention elections. It is unlikely that such legislation will see the light of day

While the proposal is better than the current system, and, as a result, I would support it, I don't think it really goes far enough. Judges should not be subject to election by voters. They should be appointed.

Here is why: judges have very different jobs than legislators or executive branch officials. While judicial biases are inevitable -- judges are, after all, human --some sense of impartiality of the courts is crucial to the legitimacy of our legal system.

This means that it is unethical for judges to campaign on what they would do if elected. This turns judicial elections into a farce.

Judges should be appointed, not elected.

Lincoln's Religion

Attempting to understand the extent of the religious devotion of historic figures is almost always a precarious enterprise. Public figures are prone to make statements for public consumption, so splicing together statements made by political figures in order to try to prove their religiosity may or may not provide an accurate result.

Nonetheless, the spirituality of Abraham Lincoln has remained a matter of interest to Americans over the last century and a half. Clearly, for much of his life, Mr. Lincoln was not a religious man, and he is known to have mocked those who were. In the last years of his life, the President did not make the sorts of statements about Christ and his death that might help to understand if he was a believer in the orthodox sense. However, Mr. Lincoln did make numerous statements, such as those in his second inaugural address, that seemed to manifest a deep spiritual reflection. In particular, the President seemed to have a deeper understanding of the Christian doctrine of Providence than many of those who inhabit pews on a regular basis. Thus, he stated in his second inaugural address shortly before his death:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Marvin Olasky, who seems to believe that President Lincoln became a Christian late in life, provides a summary of the President's religious statements in their context here.

The Devil in the Housing Bubble Details

Economist John Mastrobattista finds it in monetary policy that encouraged the use of variable rate mortgages and that ignored rising housing costs in calculating inflation.

Both his description of what happened and prescription for fixing it make a great deal of sense. Read it here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

As Long as Everyone Else Is Doing It....

The 5 Most Significant Presidents

1. George Washington -- the pace setter of them all.
2. Abraham Lincoln -- saved the Union
3. Thomas Jefferson -- for the Louisiana Purchase; otherwise, an undistinguished presidency
4. Ronald Reagan -- slowed, at least for a time, the regulatory state; defeated the Soviet Union.
5. Franklin Roosevelt -- fundamentally altered our form of government.

Honorable Mention

1. Woodrow Wilson
2. Theodore Roosevelt
3. Andrew Jackson
4. Calvin Coolidge
5. Dwight Eisenhower

The 5 Least Effective Presidents

1. James Buchanan -- fiddled while the union dissolved.
2. Richard Nixon -- accomplished a lot, but Watergate is his enduring legacy.
3. Andrew Johnson -- the task of following Lincoln and re-uniting the country was possibly beyond anyone. It was certainly beyond him.
4. Herbert Hoover -- constant tinkering lengthened Depression; signing the Smoot Hawley Tariff deepened it.
5. Jimmy Carter -- Iran and Aghganistan abroad; stagflation at home.

Dishonorable mention

1. Lyndon Baines Johnson
2. George W. Bush
3. William Henry Harrison
4. Ulysses S. Grant
5. Millard Fillmore

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Firmly Believing What We Least Know

Like George Will, I remember that not too many years ago, the scientific ecological consensus was sure that we were on the verge of a catastrophic ice age:

In the 1970s, "a major cooling of the planet" was "widely considered inevitable" because it was "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950" (New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the "cooling trend" could result in "a return to another ice age" (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age" involving "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation" (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The "continued rapid cooling of the Earth" (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that "a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery" (International Wildlife, July 1975). "The world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age" (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of "ominous signs" that "the Earth's climate seems to be cooling down," meteorologists were "almost unanimous" that "the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century," perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, "The Cooling World," April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from Central European forests, the North Atlantic was "cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool," glaciers had "begun to advance" and "growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter" (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

Mr. Will's column in today's Washington Post is a must read for those interested in this subject. I am agnostic on the subject of global warming: I don't know. However, the galling moral certitude and strident rhetoric of those advocating for vast immediate changes for everyone but themselves is rather off putting to those thoughtfully trying to figure it all out.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One of the Most Important Dates on the Calendar

For those who don't know, this is an important date: pitchers and catchers report.

Friday, February 13, 2009

American Economics

Press reports indicate that the Obama administration is planning to use taxpayer funds to "buy down," that is reduce the principal owed, on delinquent mortgages, but this seems to me to be a much too complicated approach.

Why not be more direct? Let's raise the mortgages of those who are current on their payments and reduce those of those who are behind. It accomplishes the same thing while cutting out the middle man (aka: the U.S. Treasury).

Meanwhile, we are also being told that Congress is making plans to allow bankruptcy judges to alter mortgages. Undoubtedly, advocates of this measure will be shocked -- shocked!!! -- when the uncertainty that this creates will require higher interest rates on mortgages in the future.

Yes, I am bitter.

What Is Love?

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and even though countless blurbs, books, and blogs have been written on the subject of relationships and love, I decided in the spirit of the season to throw in my own thoughts on the subject that has captivated and eluded so many from the beginning of time. Love is a choice and relationships take work, which is something I certainly believe and have also looked to I Corinthians 13 as the premier definition- “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous… it does not seek its own, is not easily provoked….bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”

That certainly is a good, clinical look at love, but since when is love clinical? I obviously had issues. Love is all of those things, but if it takes work, something is wrong. If you have to remind yourself that love is a choice, chances are you are seething at some wrong-doing or perceived wrong-doing. I have also learned that love is not some epic tale of heroes, fair damsels, and tragedies. How exhausting!

Love is simple and pure. It is to be treasured and protected. Putting someone’s dreams, needs, goals, health, and welfare above selfish desires and doing it effortlessly because it’s what you ultimately want is love. True love is easy, and above all, it is summed up in one simple thought that has been complicated by human fallibility- love is oneness. It is being of one mind, one heart, each individual stepping in union with his partner- there is no higher definition of love.

Those of us who know this as experience are truly the blessed ones.

Selig Shamed the Game

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud "Light" Selig, who seemingly has no shame, said yesterday that New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez "shamed the game" by his use of steroids.

There is certainly no argument here in favor of A-Rod, but the comments are galling coming from Bud Light, who only has a job because he, a former team owner himself, is a patsy for the owners. For those who may have forgotten, Bud Lite presided over the steroid era, joining his colleagues as willing participants who ignored the obvious evidence of steroid usage because they wanted players to hit more home runs. The increased number of home runs that led to the race by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris' record for home runs in a single season helped to restore baseball's popularity after the devastating 1994 strike.

Thus, Mr. Selig can point fingers, but the Sultan of Shame is in the Commissioner's office.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Waterloo Quote of the Day

"Not yet a third of the way through the president's "first 100 days," he and we should remember that it was not FDR's initial burst of activity in 1933 that put the phrase "100 days" into the Western lexicon. It was Napoleon's frenetic trajectory in 1815 that began with his escape from Elba and ended near the Belgian village of Waterloo."

-- George Will, in today's Washington Post, concluding a column on the rush to pass a stimulus package with multiple goals, some of them having to do with stimulating the economy. It is very much worth reading.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Barone on Long Term Success of Obama, Democrats

President Barack Obama told an audience in Fort Myers, Florida yesterday that if the stimulus package does not help to turn around the national economy, that he will be a one term President. According to the report (HT: Volunteer Voters), President Obama stated:

“If stuff hasn’t worked, if people don’t feel like I’ve led the country in the right direction then you’ll have a new president.”

Interestingly, in a speech I heard Monday in southern California, U.S. News and World Report writer and Fox News Analyst Michael Barone took the opposite view. Mr. Barone, while acknowledging that the President has had a couple of missteps in the first weeks of his administration, gently mocked conservatives ready to declare the President a failure after 20 days in office and suggested that Americans will be prone to give him the benefit of the doubt. In that regard, he compared the current President to John F. Kennedy, who was articulate, attractive and a "first." Kennedy was the first Catholic President. Mr. Barone noted that Kennedy's approval ratings held up even after some initial errors in his administration.

Mr. Barone also noted that support for President Obama might not translate into wider support for Democrats. He cited polling data showing that Mr. Obama won by holding together a diverse coalition representing the highest and lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Keeping that coalition together will be challenging for Democrats. In addition, even in 2008, many Obama voters split their tickets, voting Republican in congressional races.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Why I Will Never Be a Liberal Quote of the Day

I might start fearing economic Freedom -- like John Kerry, explaining on the Senate floor why he is opposed to cutting taxes as part of the stimulus, as quoted in The Weekly Standard Blog:

If you put a tax cut into the hands of a business or family, there's no guarantee that they're going to invest that or invest it in America.

They're free to go invest anywhere that they want if they choose to invest.

Oh, I am sure that someone can defend this, saying that Sen. Kerry was merely saying that proposed tax cuts are not sufficiently targeted. However, entrusting people with the economic freedom to spend their own money as they see fit is always preferable to the creation of expansive federal make work projects, and that is what much of this package contains.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Friday, February 06, 2009

On Fear and Failure

Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer has a devastating critique of the opening weeks of the Obama presidency. What makes the analysis most withering is the extent to which Mr. Krauthammer shows that President Obama's mis-steps result from a betrayal of his own stated principles.

The President has famously, and foolishly, expressed concern that a talkshow host wishes him to fail. He might want to pay more attention to the extent his own actions are furthering that wish.

Why I'm against Ethics

In the capitol of Pennsylvania, people continue to talk about the "Bonusgate" scandal, which has so far resulted in charges against a dozen current and former legislators and legislative staff. While the scandal has now been around for nearly two years, none of the charged have yet gone to trial.

But, as usual, the alleged criminal activities, which are serious, have led to discussions of ethics reform, which are usually not. Instead of focusing on transparency, most reform works to limit contact between legislators and their constituents.

This also reinforces and is in line with what is wrong with much of the way we currently go about political debate. Too often, pundits, both left and right, worry about a politician's "interests" -- will he in some way profit, either directly or indirectly, by his vote. This is small minded, short sighted, and misguided. The focus should be on the actual issues themselves -- was his vote right.

I don't mean to be overly simplistic about this, but if I am a legislator and I vote correctly on an issue, the fact that I might at the same time happen to benefit from it is not all that important -- I voted in the public interest. In the same way, if I advocate in favor of a position that would actually cost me money, but my position is also adverse to the public interest, I am still wrong, and there is no virtue in the fact that I took a bad position that also harmed me individually.

One fears that we do this because we have actually forgotten how to engage in real political debate. Arguing about issues persuasively requires fact gathering and thought, which can be hard work. Questioning interests and motivations requires little more than an ad hominem attack. Because our culture of microwave punditry eschews the former and favors the latter, we are all too frequently left with a political culture that is both wrong and profiting from it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Limiting CEO Pay

Some conservatives, as well as corporate business leaders, are criticizing President Barack Obama's call for limiting the pay of CEO's of companies accepting bailout money, but I have a different take.

Generally, I am opposed to the government telling private companies what they can pay their employees, executive or otherwise. But, just as any teenager should know, you don't always get your say if someone else is paying the bills. By going to Washington hat in hand, these businesses have in effect become wards of the state. As such, the state gets to make the rules.

We have started down a bad path, and one hopes that there will ultimately be a course reversal. In the meantime, businesses that want to rely on government bailout money will have to learn the other golden rule -- the one that has the gold, makes the rules.

Stealing Elections

Democrats and Republicans have a difficult time getting together on combating fraudulent electioneering because they view the problem completely differently. Republicans tend to worry about people voting that shouldn't -- dead people, felons, people voting twice or in places where they don't live, and other types of fraudulent voting or vote counting.

Democrats tend to see the problem as one of making sure that everyone that can vote does, thus, making sure that the right to vote is not suppressed and no one is disenfranchised.

John Fund finds a whole lot of the former problem, and some of the latter, in Stealing Elections: how Voter Fraud Threatens our Democracy. The book, first published in 2004 and brought back out prior to the 2008 elections, worries that increasing regularities might threaten to thoroughly destroy confidence in our elections if we have another close national contest. While that did not happen in 2008, the problems he describes should be of concern to every American.

Mr. Fund provides some information about America's heritage of election shenanigans, including those of Tammany Hall and Lyndon Baines Johnson. However, most of the book details election fraud in the years since 2000, with a particular focus on irregularities in Florida, Mississippi, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Seattle that impacted state and national elections. He also warns that the increased use of early voting and mail in voting increases the opportunity for fraud.

Most Americans would be appalled at the lackluster, or corrupt, enforcement and use of dirty tricks that Mr. Fund describes, and one senses that many of the fixes would be accomplished if not for the involvement of hyper partisans who want to retain the ability to go about business as usual.

In fact, it is important that they be fixed. In 2008, we were fortunate that the presidential election was won handily. However, 3 months past election day, we still don't know who won the vote to be U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and a perfect storm in the future could make us wish for the good old days of Florida in 2000. The United States should do better. In fact, it must.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Say It Ain't So Satire

It's a good thing that Tom Daschle and Nancy Killifer both withdrew from consideration for positions in the Obama administration this morning. After all, by the standards stated by Vice-President Joe Biden, this was setting up to be the most unpatriotic administration in American history.

No Republican said that. It's the Biden Doctrine.

By the way, has anyone heard from the Vice-President lately?

Taxes and Little People

Perhaps no one person reveals the disconnect between the Beltway and the rest of the United States more than Tom Daschle. Whether he is confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary may tell us a great deal as to whether the former retains even a modicum of concern for the latter.

Mr. Daschle, once the Senate Minority Leader and still the husband of a prominent Washington lobbyist, was famously turned out by the voters of his state, who decided that he was more in touch with D.C. power brokers than with the people of South Dakota. His nomination for a key role in the Obama administration has been at least delayed, and possibly derailed, by the revelation that he failed to pay over $100,000 in taxes owed the federal government. That is not the kind of mistake that ordinary people are used to making and getting by with, but it might be the sort of thing that Washington insiders wink and nod about, as long as it doesn't make the newspapers. Normal people complain about taxes, but pay them. Washington insiders, in this instance, advocate taxes, and then avoid paying them.

Unfortunately for Mr. Daschle, it has made the newspapers, and a lot of blogs for good measure, but Mr. Daschle remains one of the most connected people in Washington, and those to whom he is connected for the most part would just as soon let him get by with it if they can. What's $100,000 in tax evasion among friends?

Do the attitudes and cultural values of middle America still matter? The Daschle confirmation will tell us a great deal.

Update. It was obviously this post that did him in.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Its 33 Years Old, but Current

"Television is not the Truth. Television is a g..d... amusement park"

-- from the movie Network. Watch the entire speech from which the quote is taken.

Hat Tip: The Anchoress

Avoiding the Man-eater

One of my themes lately has been that regulatory uncertainty in the current political climate being created by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress will create a drag on economic recovery by depriving large sectors of the economy of two crucial elements required for healthy levels of investment and spending: stability and predictability.

Applying a similar theme in a somewhat different way, Kevin Funnell explains why many community banks that have been approved to receive TARP funds for use in increasing credit liquidity are nevertheless turning down the government money:

Although reporter Deborah Solomon validly asserts that these rejections are evidence of "push back" against increasing federal control, I think that it's also evidence of a basic lack of trust in the good faith of the federal government in not screwing the entire banking industry, and especially the community banking segment of that industry, out of a fatal brew composed of equal parts political calculation, hubris, venality, personal agenda-pushing, and an overwhelming case of dumb-ass. When community bankers think of the federal government, including (or perhaps, especially) the federal banking regulators, Billy Joel's "A Matter of Trust" is not the song that pops into their heads. Hall & Oates' "Maneater" is more likely.

Under TARP, the government can unilaterally alter the rules of the program retroactively, and many community banks simply do not trust the Federal government, under either the previous or the current administration, to regulate reasonably.

Growing Tax Revenues

Scrappleface "reports" that President Barack Obama has found an ingenious way to increase federal revenue:

“He targets wealthy individuals who filed inaccurate tax forms, cheating the government out of tens of thousands of dollars. Then he just nominates them for cabinet positions. They suddenly see the error of their ways, and they cut checks for the full amount owed, plus interest.”

A Failure to Stimulate

Washington Post syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson finds the alleged stimulus package to be lacking:

"But the result is that the stimulus, as an act of economic policy, is hobbled. A package so large can be defended only because the economy is so weak -- and seems to be getting weaker by the moment. The central purpose is simple: halt downward momentum. Perhaps some of the out-year spending might ultimately prove useful. But the immediate need is for the stimulus package to stimulate -- now. It needs to be front-loaded; it isn't."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Things to Be Thankful for

I think it is safe to say that Springsteen won't have a wardrobe malfunction.

Unfortunately, he doesn't sound so great either.

The It-Does-Not-Follow Quote of the Day

"If you don't extend unemployment insurance, people are going to be long-term unemployed."

John Kerry, on Meet the Press, as quoted in The Hill. Sen. Kerry does not explain how extending unemployment insurance will shorten the length of time that people are unemployed.

Can't do your taxes? Get in line behind, Daschle, Geithner, Rangel, et al

It appears that the Obama administration is working on some kind of record for cabinet members who could not figure and pay their taxes properly.

All of which reminds me of a letter written by Franklin D. Roosevelt, while President, and quoted in Amity Shlaes book, in which the President explained that he could not properly figure out how much tax he owed. He attached a partial payment of what he believed he would likely have to pay. Rather famously, he did not allow others as much latitude over differences in interpretation of the tax code.

Anyway, when the incoming Secretary of the Treasury and the incoming Secretary of HHS, not to mention the sitting Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, plead inability to understand the tax code, one is compelled to say that either the code is too complicated and should be simplified, or there are a lot of tax cheats in government. Other take aways from these current episodes are evading me.

The Depressing Stimulus

As though the ongoing economic news were not depressing enough, Americans observing the House of Representatives this past week sadly learned once again what most already thought to be true: even when facing genuinely grim circumstances, those that we have elected to Congress lack the ability to be serious.

Thus, the supposed stimulus package has been filled with expenditures that do relatively little in the short term (the short term emergency being the rationale for quick action on the bill) to stimulate the economy -- based on any liberal or conservative theory -- and that do a great deal to pay off interest groups that helped to elect Democrats and to implement vast new far reaching federal program changes on the fly that should be the subjects of intense national discussion.

All of this is being done in an environment in which, and part of this results from the mentality of both Congress and the Bush administration, no one seems to care what anything costs. That is perhaps excusable with regard to genuine short term stimulus spending. It is not excusable with regard to the creation of vast new entitlements. In fact, it may push the country toward a choice between runaway inflation and financial insolvency.

All Republicans in the House and those 11 Democrats, including Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, who voted against the bill deserve credit for standing on principle.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will correct some of the most egregious excesses of the House bill -- or worsen them. If they are not corrected, when the dust settles from all of this, we may find that we have created a national crisis that will be far worse than the one we are seeking to escape.

In addition, it is not at all clear that even a correctly done stimulus package will have the desired effect. Job creation requires investment, and investment depends on stability. Yet, we will not have stability as long as the Obama administration and Congress keep uncertain the future of a huge portion of the American economy. If you have money to invest, do you put it in health care? Transportation? Energy? Housing? Financials? Those industries all face looming uncertainty, as no one knows what major policy changes will be effectuated under the current administration. Certainly, a great deal is being talked about, and there are aspects of those talks that would appear threatening for businesses in any of those industries. If I had cash to invest, I would stay put for now, and it is likely that many of those who do are thinking the same thing.