Friday, March 26, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

Earth Hour is tomorrow (March 27). We are supposed to turn our lights off in solidarity against global warming. This seems to be a good time to look at the current case for Global Warming.

There are four pillars to global warming:
  1. The Earth has experienced unprecedented warming.
  2. Human activities, particularly the release of CO2, are the cause for this warming.
  3. The consequences of this warming are dire.
  4. We have to take immediate action in order to mitigate the damage.
A series of scandals have rocked these foundations. Let's look at the effects on these pillars:

1. No one argues that the Earth has warmed but is it unprecedented? Records are kept by a small number of researchers and they tend to be ideologues. The Climategate emails show that researchers have actively suppressed outside scrutiny. They have also used "tricks" on the data. Comments in the source code for a computer program used to collate multiple temperature records into a world-wide average show that the results cannot be reproduced. If there were errors in the original graphs there is no way to find them.

2. Graphs of warming do not match predictions. A lot of warming took place before heavy CO2 build-up. Warming in the last decade largely plateaued. There have been significant periods with no warming. Even the web site Real Climate published a paper speculating that the biggest warming during the 1980s and 1990s included natural cycles.

3. The real question about global warming is if it is beneficial, harmful, or benign? The most recent IPCC said in no uncertain terms that warming is harmful. They predicted that, among other things, it would deplete the source of most of India's drinking water and cause the loss of 40% of the rainforests. It turns out that these claims did not come from peer-reviewed sources. They came from advocacy papers from the WWF and Greenpeace and have been dis-proven. Worse, the head of the IPCC knew this and still took grant money to study these bogus effects. More than two dozen parts of the IPCC report have claims that are only supported by advocacy group position papers. These were inserted late in the review process. It is obvious that the original report was not scary enough and that the authors were encouraged to "punch it up" by salting it with worse-than-worst-case scenarios.

4. Why should we act immediately when we don't really know if it will be effective or if the alternative will be worse than the result of non-action?


Much is being made about various threats that Democrats have received. I do not approve of threatening elected officials with violence but I would like to make a couple of observations.

First, and others have already said this, the left has been both making threats and acting on them for decades. Most of these have been aimed at pundits rather than politicians but the Democrat have been slow to condemn this behavior. Just this week, Ann Colter had to cancel some speaking engagements in Canada because of threats of violence. This has been happening for years and the left has encouraged it, or at least excused it. Go back to late September, 2001 and look at the Left's reaction to September 11. Many of them were sure that the attack came from their people to protest the election or the US pull-out of a conference on racism. A common reaction was, "It was wrong but what do you expect?"

Which brings me to my second point - the threats may be wrong but what do you expect? Regardless of the merits of the health care legislation itself, the way it was passed seems designed to make people seem outraged and powerless. The majority of the country was against passage. A huge majority (85%) wanted the bill defeated or scrapped and started over from scratch. There was bipartisan opposition to it. It was finally passed in the middle of the night on a Sunday using tactics that the Democrats had previously condemned. The antics used to pass the bill were an example of pork-barrel politics at their worst. Politicians would make a principled stand then retreat from it in exchange for favors.

At the same time, there is the legislation itself. People have been protesting the rising deficit for over a year. In response, the Democrats passed a two trillion dollar program which will be funded by a one trillion dollars of tax increases and called it a cut in the deficit.

Given all of that, is it any wonder that many people feel angry and powerless. The Democrats' goal is to get the bill to firmly entrenched that it cannot be repealed, regardless of future elections. With current public opinion being ignored and no possibility of reversal, our system seems broken. It is enough to make you scream. If you happen to scream at elected officials I can understand it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Back to the 16th Century

During the reign of Henry VIII and continuing into the early 17th century, England began changing from general agriculture to wool production. This sounds benign but it was not. Nobles would take common land which had been used for farming and cattle grazing for centuries and converted it into private land for sheep. This was known as "enclosure" since the noble would enclose the commons with a fence. The advantage to the noble was the decreased overhead. Instead of a village devoted to farming, he now only had a few boys acting as shepherds. This threw tens of thousands out of work and led to masses of homeless wandering the country.

The kings and queens along with Parliament failed to protect the commoners. Instead they sided with the nobles. Laws were passed to increase the demand for wool. Outer garments had to be made of wool. So did burial shrouds. In order to create a market for both the wool merchants and the Knitter Guild, London passed a series of acts requiring everyone in the city to own a flat wool cap. This became known as a Statute Cap. The justification for this, if anyone bothered justifying it, was that it made England a more prosperous nation in general. They could do this because the ruling classes did not have to answer to the general population.

Jump forward 450 years. The insurance companies wanted something to offset the cost of accepting people with pre-existing conditions so Congress mandated that everyone has to buy a minimum level of insurance. In doing this, Congress and the President ignored every poll that has come out in the last several months.

Now that the president has been made, what is to stop Congress from requiring other purchases? I'm sure that there are several industries that are vital to the country that would love to force everyone to buy their product. Just think of how it would help the economy if everyone was required to purchase a new car every few years.

George W. Bush was often derided as an "imperial president" but he never did anything as far-reaching or as imperial as this.

Health Care - Whats Next for the Democrats?

President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are sure that now that health care passed, the voters will come to love it. They mentioned "history" many times in the final push. Obviously they see themselves going down alongside FDR. They expect that this will become another unkillable federal entitlement like Social Security. I've seen speculation in places like Huffington that this will drive a stake through the heart of the Republican Party. There are two problems with this.

First, there is the economy. For the next several years, ever time a company lays off employees or goes out of business, they are going to blame Obamacare. If the worst happens and the economy drops into a double-dip recession, everyone will blame Obamacare. With unemployment projected to be over 8% for some time to come, this will be a millstone around the Democrats' necks. Their only hope is a stronger recovery than anyone expects. This has its own dangers. Too strong a recovery could lead to another bust.

The second problem is the bill. The bills for Social Security and Medicare were put off for generations. They are coming due now. Social Security is beginning to cash in the special bonds that its surplus has been invested in. This has to be paid from the general fund. Medicare will be next. We are already in danger of following Britain and Greece into unsustainable debts. History tells us that the promised cuts in Medicare will never happen and that the expected taxes will be insufficient. At some point, and probably soon, the welfare state is going to have to be scaled back. That will be painful and the Republicans will blame the Democrats. Long-term, this is as likely to drive a stake through the heart of the Democrats as the Republicans.

In the meantime, outraged Republicans are going to be energized.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Has Obama Bottomed Out?

In the last week I have seen several columns speculating that President Obama's popularity has bottomed out and will rise again. Here is the most recent by Howard Fineman. So, is there anything to this?

Fineman mentions Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton so let's take a quick look at their presidencies. For Reagan, and Clinton, you need to understand the Misery Index. This is created by adding the inflation and unemployment rates together. It isn't exactly scientific but it still gives an idea of the forces behind an election. During the 1970s and early 1980s the Misery Index was very high. It's highest point ever was during 1980, just before the election. This is why Reagan won. While the Misery Index in general had declined by the 1982 mid-term election, unemployment was rising again. The Democrats ran against Reagan's tax and budget cuts. By the 1984 election, the Misery Index was down to its lowest point since the early 1970s and unemployment was the lowest it had been since the 1960s. At the same time, the Democrats ran Walter Mondale who had been Jimmy Carter's Vice President. Reagan won in both 1980 and in 1984 by asking voters if they were better off than they had been four years ago. Because of economic conditions, Reagan never had to moderate his position.

Clinton was a different case. The Misery Index was fairly stable throughout his presidency. The 1994 mid-term election cannot be attributed to economics. After his mid-term loss, Clinton made a shift to the center. He also won a showdown with Newt Gingrich. The Republicans helped by running Bob Dole. Dole was a long-time Senator and just as burdened by this as John Kerry was in 2004. He had run as Gerald Ford's Vice President and was tainted by that association as well.

So what does this say about Obama's chances? Not much. Like Reagan, Obama came into office during an economic crisis. Unlike Reagan, the economy under Obama may not recover by the mid-term. It is almost impossible for the economy to rebound enough to recreate the lost jobs or the wealth that was lost in the stoke market. Obama has other problems. He ran a feel-good campaign that was short on promises and allowed the voters to project their own hopes onto him. That left many voters feeling disenchanted.

Fineman thinks that passing Health Care will help Obama. It will not. Putting Health Care ahead of economic recovery was a major blunder on Obama's part. The longer he reminds people of this the worse it will be for him, especially if unemployment stays above eight percent or inflation starts to rise.

I think that there is a lot of wishful thinking in the "Obama will rise again" columns. No one gives any reasons why this should happen. They just speculate that Obama's popularity can't keep sinking forever. In fact, the deck is stacked against Obama. The housing market will take years, maybe decades to recover. Credit is still tight. People are reluctant to borrow and spend. Other countries are still having major problems which affects the world economy. The deficit is becoming an issue that will not go away. Social Security is no longer generating surpluses that can he used to offset deficit spending. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone on so long that the nation is exhausted by them. There will be no victory parades when the troops pull out.

In fact, given all of the conditions in the world, it is hard to see how any president could succeed. With a record of arrogance and stubbornness and surrounded by sycophants who are unwilling to convince him to change course, Obama's presidency seems doomed.

He does have two chances. One is to learn from the mid-term election losses and triangulate. His other hope is that the Republicans run an uninspiring candidate. The Republicans are being pushed to change from the party of values to the party of fiscal restraint. It is unclear if they have any candidates who can appeal to both wings.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Democrats - A Way Out

This is an open letter to the Democrats in Congress.

Health Care legislation is currently a mess. It is unpopular and is consuming Congress and the Presidency. If it passes it will be the first time that such a far-reaching and unpopular measure passed on a narrow, party-line vote. If it fails then there will be tremendous pressure to revive it. If it passes then you had better get used to the phrase "government take-over of one sixth of the economy" because you will hear it ten times an hour between Labor Day and the election.

Most pundits will tell you that you have two choices - pass it or let it fail. I'm going to offer you a third option - kill it. I don't mean let it fail, I mean actively kill it. Drive a stake in it. I am asking that a group of you announce that you will vote against it, no matter what.

Yes, this means throwing the President under the bus but ask yourself - hasn't he already thrown you under the bus? The country's top priorities are jobs and the economy. Health Care reform is pretty far down the list but it is all that the public hears about. I know that many of you are as frustrated with this as the general public.

If you kill Health Care you will be crippling the President and probably dooming him to a single-term. Ask yourselves this - which would you prefer, losing the White House in 2012 or losing Congress in 2010?

I realize that coming out against the President's signature issue will be hard. You will have to take on the White House and top Congressional leaders. The Netroots will hate you forever. If enough of you stick together then this will not matter. It is possible to oppose the establishment and survive. Just ask Joe Liberman.

Keep in mind that moderate Democrats are no longer safe seats, regardless. The Netroots are challenging moderates from the Left. Look at Specter. He switched parties to keep his seat and still has a primary challenger.

The trick to keeping your seat is to appeal to the voters. Tell them that the Health Care has become toxic. It is distracting Washington from the country's real priorities. It is distracting the President from conducting foreign affairs. Just a few days ago it was announced that a major Asian trip will be postponed because of Health Care.

I realize that you will be pressured to change your minds. Your state will be offered hundreds of millions. It will be tempting. Don't take it. If you do you will sully your own reputation and your state.

It is up to you, the Democrats in Congress to finally kill the bill. Any other choice will lead to more months of agonizing debate. The left may hate you if you do but the rest of the country will hate you if you don't.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why Obama Can't Be Reagan

Newsweek's Elenor Clift has a list of Five Ways that Barack Obama can be More Like Ronald Regan. She's wasting her time and giving bad advice. She is wasting her time because Reagan and Obama have lived such different lives. Reagan started as a Democrat. During the 1950s he spent years being paid to give patriotic and motivational speeches to factory workers. He wrote all of his own material. This is when he actually defined his political beliefs and came to the conclusion that he was in the wrong party. As a result of this period he knew what he believed in and could explain it to others.

In contrast, Obama has always been a Progressive. He started his career as a Saul Alinsky community organizer. After two years with sparse results, he decided on a change of tactics. He never seriously questioned or explained his core beliefs and, prior to becoming president, he was always playing to a like-minded crowd.

Then there is the matter of experience. Reagan spent eight years as Governor of California where he learned how to work with a Democratic Legislature. Obama is still learning how to get legislation passed with a strong Democratic majority. Next year he will have to start learning how to pass legislation with a reduced majority or a Republican majority in one or both houses. He will be into his second term (assuming that he he reelected) before he really has a handle on Congress.

So, ignoring the fact that Obama is unprepared to be a liberal Reagan, what advice does Clift offer?

1) Get health care done, and then explain to the voters what he's been doing for the last year, and what's in it for them.

Clift has this backwards. Reagan always sold his legislation to the people first then used this to put pressure on the Democrats. He would never try to pass an unpopular bill then sell it.

2) Talk to Hillary Clinton. Ask her how she connected with blue-collar voters during the '08 primaries and racked up a string of victories against Obama.

During the campaign, Hillary was a chameleon. When in the South, she developed a southern drawl. When in the North, she was a life-long fan of the local team. Obama never stops being Obama and looks uncomfortable when he tries - remember when he went bowling?

3) Do concrete things that connect with middle-class voters.

I can't
argue with that one but Clift doesn't have any suggestions beyond Cash For Clunkers.

4) Don't forget Bush.

Clift really means "blame Bush" but Obama has never stopped doing that. When SNL and the Daily Show start to joke about blaming Bush, it's time to move on.

5) Don't cloud the message.

She says to leave Immigration and Climate legislation until next year. Does that mean that we are in for a second year of nothing but Health Care? Kill me now.

None of these points have anything to do with Reagan and none are likely to help Obama. He would do better to talk to Bill Clinton. Like Obama, Clinton came into office with a majority in both houses and lofty expectation. Clinton managed to save his presidency through triangulation. Obama has rejected this so far but it is far easier to have a successful presidency from te center than from the left.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Myth of Government Jobs

I constantly see pundits saying "It will take years for the private sector to create enough jobs to bring down unemployment so the public sector has to step up." Les Leopold from Huffington asks outright for the government to start creating jobs. The problem is that government-created jobs may do more harm than good for several reasons.

Basic math says that you cannot create something from nothing. If the government creates a job then it has to pay for it somehow. The federal government has three options for this. The first one is to take the money from other people. The second is to print more money. The third is to borrow the money.

The first option is how government is supposed to work. Through taxation, the government takes enough money to pay its bills. This is a straight transfer of funds and can easily become burdensome. There are something like fifteen million unemployed right now. In order to pay them a living wage for a family of two adults and two children, the government would need to spend something like $40,000-$60,000 per year on wages plus Social Security and insurance. Some of that extra would come back in taxes to let's just look at raw wages. Giving everyone who is unemployed a job at $40,000 would cost $600 billion per year. That's $2,000.00 in additional taxes for everyone in the country including children, the retired, and the new additions to the government payroll. Fifteen million people suddenly being unemployed would boost the economy but everyone would have to economize to pay for it. The net effect would be a wash (some economists insist that there is a magic multiplier effect when government spends money but this is nearly impossible to prove).

To avoid the pain of taxing everyone $2,000 per year, the government might just print enough extra money to cover the expenses. That carries its own cost. It eventually leads to inflation. If the government prints too much money, it leads to hyperinflation. You still have the same amount of money but it is worth less than before. Anyone who lived through the 1970s knows how destructive this can be.

The ideal solution would be to borrow during the hard times and pay down the debt in the good times. This actually never happens. Even during the Clinton years, the government showed a surplus on the books largely because of creative bookkeeping involving Social Security funds. While it is on a different scale, government borrowing is not that different from using a credit card. There is a minimum payment that is required each month. With a credit card, that payment includes enough to pay down a small portion of the principal. With the national debt, we just pay the interest and let the principal accumulate. We can keep this up indefinitely as long as the national debt is not increasing faster than the economy is growing. If debt grows too quickly for too long it becomes unsustainable and the country's resources are diverted from being spent on its citizens to making interest payments. This is where Greece is now and where we might end up.

It used to be well-known that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that government spending in one area means pain elsewhere. With the resurgence of the Progressives, that knowledge has been lost or discounted. They have convinced themselves that government spending is benign or that taxes can be raised painlessly as long as they are aimed at the rich. In many cases they just want to help people and don't understand the limits of government power.

Palin and Canadian Health Care

It made the news that Sarah Palin admitted that when she was growing up her family would go to Canada for medical care. Is this relevant to today's health care debate? Not in the least for two important reasons:

1) Palin's family lived in a small Alaskan town and the closest (by a long shot) medical facility was in Canada. Closest does not mean best (or worst).

2) Palin says that this was during her first five years of life. She was born in 1964 and Canada did not become single-payer until 1985. No one seems to have picked up on this but it invalidates any arguments about single-payer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Austerity and Boom Times

Greece and California are deeply in debt forcing them to make huge cuts in services. This is causing mass protests. The protests in California have been fairly restrained but Greece has near-riots. The UK is also facing growing debt. All of these governments are in debt because of the general financial problems but this points out an economic paradox - governments have no incentive to shrink, only grow.

In good times the taxes come rolling in and government expands. No bureaucrat ever wants to let money go unspent. With federal governments, politicians go a step further and spend money that they don't have, running up the national debt.

Bad times inevitably come. President Obama has talked about breaking the boom and bust economic cycle but that is likely impossible. Private businesses respond to economic slumps by downsizing and taking out loans to tide them over. These are repaid when times are better.

Here is the problem. During an economic downswing, there is a lot of pressure on government to keep its spending levels the same. At the same time, it is under economic stress. Costs like unemployment go up while tax revenue goes down.

Many economists on the left say that deficits do not matter. Lead by Paul Krugman, they insist that no level of spending is too high but most are too low. Krugman insists that Japan's Lost Decade was caused because the Japanese government's stimulus spending was too small. He suggests, with a straight face, that a stimulus equaling a country's annual GDP is appropriate, if a little low.

Under pressure from its own citizens and the US (and Krugman), the UK lead Europe in stimulus spending. Now it is in economic trouble.

A major obstacle to government spending cuts during an economic downturn is the fear that it will make the downturn worse. Sometimes taxes are raised but this just creates increased spending during the next boom cycle.

The result of all this is governments spiraling out of control. Sometimes things get bad enough that some cuts can be made. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher made some cuts in the UK. Ronald Reagan made some cuts but these were mainly in the speed of growth.

Right now there is no push for limiting government (except for the Tea parties). The Democrats are trying to increase government size and spending. This will inevitably lead to a crisis. The best we can do for at the moment is to resist growth from the Democrats and hope that a re-energized Republican party will be less spendthrift.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


A story published by ESPN has made a stir. It speculates that the Obama administration is about to ban all commercial and recreational fishing. I doubt that this will happen. I doubt that even the tone-deaf Obama administration would alienate tens of millions of Americans and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. That doesn't mean that fishers have nothing to fear.

What is almost certain is that either strict limits or an outright ban will be placed on bluefin tuna. This will be totally ineffective since Japan is responsible for 75% of the bluefin catch and will opt out.

There may also be new limits on all commercial fishing. Some computer models show that the current fish population is a fraction of what it had been, maybe less than ten percent. Environmentalists have been calling on strict limits on fishing to let the stock rebuild. Here is Greenpeace's position paper. Keep in mind that they have been caught presenting questionable data as established facts.

The ESPN article refers to a document called Transition to Green. I read the section on U.S. Fish and Wildlife as well as some other sections relating to land management but I could not find anything that would apply to recreational fishing. There are several mentions of overfishing. Most are qualified to refer to commercial fishing, fishing beyond the 200 mile limit or fishing as covered by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. A policy recommendation on overfishing on page 369 is not qualified but it appears at the end of a section that does qualify the term to mean commercial fishing. There are also mentions of overfishing under the section on NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) but I am going to assume that their charter is limited to oceans. The context supports this. Most of Transition to Green is devoted to global warming strategies. The recommendations will probably be devastating to commercial fishing and the price of fish but are not aimed at sport fishers.

The ESPN article mentions that the same group managed to stop bear hunting in Canada but this is tiny compared to sport fishing in America. It also mentions attempts to ban lead fishing tackle but non-lead alternatives already exist.

So why the alarm? I think that some of it is guilt by association. While Transition to Green is fairly mild, it has several radical groups behind it. It also appears that the public input was treated as a formality. This is typical for the Obama administration which seems surprised and annoyed when anyone questions it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Michael Moore's argument against big government

Michael Moore posted an open letter to the President in the Huffington Post telling how he would handle being Chief of Staff. Personally, I would love to see this part: "Each morning you and I will do 100 jumping jacks".

At the end, Moore explains how he would handle Republicans.
P.S. Just to give you an idea of the new style I'll be bringing with me, when a cornhole like Sen. Ben Nelson tries to hold you up next time, this is what I will tell him in order to get his vote: "You've got exactly 30 seconds to rescind your demand or I will personally make sure that Nebraska doesn't get one more federal dollar for the rest of Obama's term. And then I will let everyone in your state know that you wear Sooner panties, backwards. NOW DROP AND GIVE ME 50!"
So, in Moore's perfect world, congressmen would be punished for voting against the President by having their federal funds cut off. So much for the separation of power. This reminds me of a quote:

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have
Gerald R. Ford, August 12, 1974

Attacking the Tea Parties

A year ago the Tea Parties were being dismissed as nothing more than astro-turfed demonstrations paid for and coordinated by Fox News. A year later and they have shown strength and resilience. The Tea Parties had their first anniversary in February. This caused a new series of attacks from several sources, particularly the New York Times. Here is how a few of the attacks were handled.

First up is the nastiest. Bob Cesca of the Huffington Post boiled his attack down to one word - racism.

Because when you strip away all of the rage, all of the nonsensical loud noises and all of the contradictions, all that's left is race. The tea party is almost entirely about race, and there's no comparative group on the left that's similarly motivated by bigotry, ignorance and racial hatred.

In todays' world, there isn't a worse thing you can call someone than a racist but how does he justify this attack?

Strike that. Correction. founder Dale Robertson brandished a sign with the (misspelled) word "niggar." So they're not even as restrained as the generally unstrung Atwater anymore.

Two problems here. The first is that the Robertson has no standing in any Tea Party groups. The second is that Cesca is asking you to ignore everything that the Tea Parties have done and only pay attention to one guy with one sign.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich uses a similar tactic but is much more subtle. He starts out by associating the nut who rammed his plane into an IRS office with the Tea Parties, even though there is no direct connection at all.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack's suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow's chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. "The New World Order," with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

This is guilt by association and this is not a line of attack that Rich really wants to open. For example, he points out that Ron Paul won the CPAC straw-poll then uses Paul to link the Tea Parties to the 9/11 Truth Movement. The implication is that anyone linked to the 9/11 Truthers is a nut-case but the only Truthers elected to Congress or appointed as a Czar but the President have been Democrats. It is easy to hang around the fringes of a protest and find nuts. The piece that Rich linked to does not quote any organizers nor does it try to give a breakdown of the composition of the Tea Parties. That would spoil the message - that you should fear the Tea Parties because they are made up of angry whites with guns.

An interesting comparison is how the Times and other sources covered the anti-Iraq war movement and the March 4th protests last week. Many of these were organized by International ANSWER, a pro-marxist, anti-American group. These people support real, bomb-throwing terrorists like Hamas. Does the Times ever imply that you should be afraid of them?

Finally, for my quick survey, there is Newsweek's Elenor Clift. In a piece entitled Weak Tea (Party), she asks if it will be a lasting force and denigrates its accomplishments. I think that she is too quick to dismiss the effect that the Tea Parties have had on the primaries. Look at Texas, Florida, and Arizona.

To Clift's rhetorical question, "will it last?", I will give a real answer - no, but it's not going away on its own. The Tea Parties have two main components - a call for fiscal restraint, and a counter push to the rise of the Progressives.

First, there is a real constituency for fiscal restraint. Bush never believed in fiscal restraint. That was the point of his "compassionate conservatism". Even ignoring his wars, he ran up the deficit to new heights. The left ran against this as far back as the 2004 Super Bowl ad. Fiscal restraint was part of the Democratic platforms in 2006 and 2008. With Bush's retirement, the Republicans have again become the Party of Reagan but the Tea Parties are skeptical that they have really reformed. If the Republicans can establish a record of fiscal restraint then they will absorb some of the Tea Partiers. This will take time.

The urgency that created the Tea Parties started with the huge amounts being tossed around in bail-outs, the stimulus, and the 2009 budget. It was given a boost by the economic failure of Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (the so-called PIGS). Iceland and Italy are in equally bad shape. The Tea Parties look at these countries as examples of the direction that our leadership is taking us.

The other factor is the rise of the Progressives. During the 2007 and 2008 Democratic debates, most of the candidates identified themselves as Progressives instead of Liberals. They also talked about returning to Progressive values and goals. This might have been simple re-branding but it led people like Glenn Beck to look up what the Progressives stood for in the early 20th century. It turned out that Progressivism came from the same root as Communism and Fascism. They all call for a huge expansion of government power. Given Obama's majorities in both Congressional houses and his penchant for taking over industries and appointing Czars, conservatives had reason to be scared. Given President Obama's self-identification as a Progressive, everything that he did was assumed to be part of a Progressive take-over of the country. This is why the Tea Party members seem to see conspiracies everywhere.

The last year has shown that the Obama administration is not competent enough to implement a Progressive agenda but that is not going to sooth the Tea Partiers. They fear tiny incremental changes that will add up over time (something that advocates of the current health care bill are promising). They will not go away until the Progressives are out of power.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Obama the Arrogant

The President has repeatedly called the Republicans "the Party of 'no'" but he is turning out to be the President of "no compromise". A recent Washington Post piece by Jason Horowitz paints the President as arrogant and unwilling to bend on his historic, far-reaching goals. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. During the campaign, Obama made it clear that he expected to be another transformative president like Reagen and FDR. He made a point of modeling his cabinet on Lincoln's "cabinet of rivals". Horowitz has pointed out that in the reaction to his piece, no one argued with his description of the President.

What does this mean to Obama's presidency? Obama and his inner circle have convinced themselves that the rise of the Democrats in the last two elections means that the country has moved to the left. They ignore the alternate explanation that the voters were disgusted with Bush's wars and Republican corruption and spending.

The President and his advisers are all believers in What's the Matter with Kansas? which advances the thesis that Republicans use edge issues to convince people to vote against their own best interests. This mindset lets them ignore polls since the people do not know what is good for them. This behavior was on display in the health care debate. The White House ignored the results of all major polls which shows a solid majority of the country against the current bill. Instead they pointed to some individual issues that the public supports in principle. Their reasoning is that, once the bill is passed, it will become overwhelmingly popular and will become a monument to the Obama presidency.

This arrogance and single-mindedness is hurting the Democrats. The entire House comes up for election every other year including this year. They worry that the White House's concentration on health care over the economy will give the Republicans a huge advantage.

Obama's arrogance shows up constantly in foreign policy. He takes long-standing allies for granted and has snubbed many of them. The United Kingdom has been our closest ally for a century but he has personally slighted its Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Just this month, the US reversed its long-standing support of British ownership of the Falkland Islands in favor of hands-off neutrality. At the same time, the White House has counted on Obama's aura of destiny to persuade hostile countries to be more friendly. So far, his efforts have done little more than make us look weak and faithless.

For those opposed to Obama's over-all goals, his arrogance is a blessing. Where Rahm Emanuel has pushed for incremental changes that could pass with bipartisan support, Obama has instead gone for hard-to-pass, major reforms. The White House originally planned a "wave" strategy of building political capitol by passing a wave of bills, each reaching further than the next with the idea that each victory would make the next one easier to achieve. They overestimated their reach and had used all of their political capital by the time they got to health care.

When Obama has made a show of bipartisanship, it has been more of a sham. He seems to expect that the Republicans will abandon their principles if he approaches them directly. This happened when he met with Republicans about the stimulus and again when he met with them over health care. He was willing to talk to them but not to change his legislation. When the Republicans explained their objections to the stimulus he simply told them to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh.

This attitude has hurt Obama. Some Republicans were willing to work with him on closing Guantanamo as long as it did not force terrorists into the criminal court system. Obama ignored this in order to have a show trial for KSM (he then announced that he expects KSM to be found guilty and executed). This became a Republican rallying point and united the Republican opposition to closing Guantanamo.

While Obama's arrogance and tone-deafness may hinder his agenda, it is not good for the country in general to have a chief executive who has crippled himself. Clinton displayed some of the same arrogance in his first two years. After losing Congress, he moderated and managed to secure some successes. George W. Bush lost Congress in 2006 but managed to preserve a working majority by reaching out to moderate Democrats. Unfortunately, Obama has already rejected these models for governing.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y came up with an interesting defense for his ethics violation - he should not be held responsible for things that his staff knew, even if they wrote him two memos and a letter.

"Members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoings or mistakes or errors of staff," Rangel said.

Even more interesting is that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, backed him up on this.

"I think it's quite a statement to hold members accountable for what their staffs knew," Pelosi said. "I would be interested to see how that reverberates. But we have to place our confidence appropriately, and we're held responsible for that."

Accountability starts at the top. Rangel broke the rules by accepting corporate money (twice) for trips to a Caribbean conference. His staff notified him that he was breaking rules. His defense comes down to insisting that he doesn't pay attention to memos and letters that his staff sends him. Remember, this is one of the most powerful men in Congress.

This should come as no surprise. When people started making a fuss about Congressmen not reading the bills the voted into law, many bristled, insisting that they couldn't understand the laws, anyway. Ironically, they said that they left it to their staffs to decipher and summarize the laws for them. Of course, that implies that they actually read their staffs' recommendations.

In the rest of the world, the person on top is held responsible for his staff knowledge. That includes making sure that his staff notifies him before he violates rules or breaks laws.

Just imagine if the head of Toyota testified to Congress that he shouldn't be held responsible for things that his company did.

Or, imagine trying to tell a policeman that you shouldn't get a speeding ticket because your passenger didn't tell you that you were over the limit.

Rangel is off of his committee but he insists that he is only taking a leave. He probably expects to let the flap blow over then go back to being powerful.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Health Care Stories

I constantly see stories on TV or read letters to the editor in favor of health care reform. They are always similar. They tell a sad story about someone who needs insurance but is unable to afford it. The central person is sure that, if health care reform only passes, then everything will be fine.

The trouble is that the plans under consideration will not help these people. It will only make things worse for them.

That's because most of the people writing or being reported on are solidly middle class. They do not make enough money to qualify for subsidies under the plans and even if they did, they would find the plans burdensome. Worse, right now they have the option of carrying no insurance or only catastrophic insurance. The current plans would force them to cover comprehensive insurance.

So why are they in favor of reform? They think that someone else will pay for their insurance. It's as simple as that. If President Obama gets his way then they will be really outraged. But that's ok with him. The provisions will be phased in after the 2012 election.