Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by
Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about.The reason why Dr Mörner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".
One of his most shocking discoveries was why the IPCC has been able to show sea levels rising by 2.3mm a year. Until 2003, even its own satellite-based evidence showed no upward trend. But suddenly the graph tilted upwards because the IPCC's favoured experts had drawn on the finding of a single tide-gauge in Hong Kong harbour showing a 2.3mm rise. The entire global sea-level projection was then adjusted upwards by a "corrective factor" of 2.3mm, because, as the IPCC scientists admitted, they "needed to show a trend".When I spoke to Dr Mörner last week, he expressed his continuing dismay at how the IPCC has fed the scare on this crucial issue. When asked to act as an "expert reviewer" on the IPCC's last two reports, he was "astonished to find that not one of their 22 contributing authors on sea levels was a sea level specialist: not one". Yet the results of all this "deliberate ignorance" and reliance on rigged computer models have become the most powerful single driver of the entire warmist hysteria.
During her recent visit to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unexpected stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and left a bouquet of white flowers "on behalf of the American people," after asking who painted the famous image.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted by Mary on the tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego in 1531. The image has numerous unexplainable phenomena, such as the appearance on Mary's eyes of those present in the room when the tilma was opened and the image's lack of decay.
Leaving the basilica half an hour later, Mrs. Clinton told some of the Mexicans gathered outside to greet her, "you have a marvelous virgin!"
This evening Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to receive the highest award given by Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- the Margaret Sanger Award, named for the organization's founder, a noted eugenicist. The award will be presented at a gala event in Houston, Texas.
I'll say that I didn't know this story myself, but I do think that if I was representing our country and visiting any cultural site, I'd have somebody telling me what I needed to know not to look stupid from the perspective of those whose respect I wanted.
As Mr. Dyson wrote in Edge, he disagrees with environmentalists not just on the science of climate change but on a deeper question of values:
The disagreement about values may be described in an over-simplified way as a disagreement between naturalists and humanists. Naturalists believe that nature knows best. For them the highest value is to respect the natural order of things. Any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil. Excessive burning of fossil fuels is evil. Changing nature's desert, either the Sahara desert or the ocean desert, into a managed ecosystem where giraffes or tunafish may flourish, is likewise evil. Nature knows best, and anything we do to improve upon Nature will only bring trouble.
The humanist ethic begins with the belief that humans are an essential part of nature. Through human minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer its own evolution, and now we are in charge. Humans have the right and the duty to reconstruct nature so that humans and biosphere can both survive and prosper. For humanists, the highest value is harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. The greatest evils are poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, disease and hunger, all the conditions that deprive people of opportunities and limit their freedoms. The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity. The humanist ethic accepts our responsibility to guide the evolution of the planet.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The nuancey boys were wrong on Obama, and the knuckledragging morons were right. There is no post-partisan centrist "grappling" with the economy, only a transformative radical willing to make Americans poorer in the cause of massive government expansion. At some point, The Economist, Messrs Brooks, Buckley & Co are going to have to acknowledge this. If they're planning on spending the rest of his term tutting that his management style is obstructing the effective implementation of his centrist agenda, it's going to be a long four years.
Friday, March 27, 2009
No one in the top echelons of the financial industry who has a weekend place in the Hamptons is a Republican.No, there is one. Teddy Forstmann. He has to throw his own parties and fly guests in. Otherwise, if they want to go to any half-decent parties, bankers must be Democrats. At their income bracket, multimillionaires will trade a little extra tax money for good cocktail parties.Even the "Republicans" on Wall Street don't care about national defense or social issues. They just want to trade with China and hire illegal aliens.
Democrats take care of the financial industry -- and the financial industry takes care of Democrats. After honing his financial skills as the bagman for Bill Clinton's White House, Rahm Emanuel was hired by the investment bank Wasserstein Perella, where he worked for 2 1/2 years.For that, Emanuel was paid more than $18 million. (Maybe Rahm Emanuel was the Democrat livid at Schumer for preserving a sweet tax deal for hedge fund managers!)Democrats have a beautiful system: They're showered with Wall Street money, but they also get to pillory Republicans for being the party of "Wall Street." The bankers don't care if Democrats attack them. They still get their bailout money.
unity. If you support President Obama and hope that he succeeds, turn
on all you outdoor lighting on Saturday night 8:30 - 9:30 (local
time). We're asking the whole world to light up the night in support
of Hope and Change. Tell you friends and neighbors. Avoid
negativity. We don't need to get into a debate about this, just do it
to show that you care about the President, your country and, really,
the whole world. Imagine the message that it will send if we can all
participate in this one symbolic act of unity.
Light up the night -- 8:30 PM, Saturday!
From its conception, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law was an assault on the First Amendment. Signing that unconstitutional bill into law, knowing it to be unconstitutional, was one of the worst moments of George W. Bush's presidency. Yet this malignancy lurks in the legal code, widely accepted, even celebrated. Now Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart has gone before the Supreme Court arguing that McCain-Feingold gives the government the right to ban books and films. He's right, it does. And for that reason, McCain-Feingold should be nullified.
At issue is a film called Hillary: The Movie, a documentary produced by the nonprofit group Citizens United, which did not wish to see Senator Clinton elected president. Because McCain-Feingold prohibits so much as mentioning a candidate's name in pre-election communications paid for by certain disfavored groups — unions and "corporations" — the filmmakers were informed by a federal judge that showing their work would constitute a crime. The filmmakers sued, and the case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Mr. Stewart is defending the government's ban on this film; the same rules that apply to a campaign commercial apply to a documentary film, his reasoning goes. Justice Alito alertly pressed Mr. Stewart on that issue: If commercials and films are covered, how about books? How about campaign biographies? Yes, Mr. Stewart answered, the U.S. government is prepared to ban books, under certain circumstances, and is legally empowered by McCain-Feingold to do so. Jaws dropped, black robes fluttered.
First, one needs to remember that the New Deal was not the assault on big business that its fans claim. FDR may have talked a good game about going after "economic royalists," and he did love confiscatory personal income taxes. But he and his Brain Trust also loved cartels, big businesses, and other "big units" of society. The notion that big business and big government are at war with one another is one of the great enduring myths of the 20th century. The truth is that ever since Teddy Roosevelt abandoned his love of trust-busting, progressives have liked big businesses big, really big. The bigger the business, the more reliable the partner for big government.
That's why any huge corporation that plays ball on health care, or "green jobs," or countless other initiatives, is hailed as a "forward-thinking" or "progressive" company. Companies such as GE, which stands to make billions from Obama's energy proposals, are vital sidekicks in the new era of public-private partnerships. Why is Obama working tirelessly to save Detroit automakers? Because GM is a wonderful poster boy for peddling nationalized health care, and UAW is an indispensable cog in the Democratic Party.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
At its core, the outrage over AIG is about not rewarding mismanagement with taxpayer money. However, one of the greatest examples of mismanagement is what continues to occur in Congress. It stands to reason then that the same folks who gave us the AIG bonuses, who gave us 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill, who gave us a record-breaking deficit and an ineffective stimulus bill, should be the last people to receive a taxpayer-funded bonus.
But, that's exactly what they got.
For the past 20 years, members of Congress have received an automatic taxpayer-funded annual bonus. To make matters even worse, members never had to vote on the bonus. That way they would not be criticized for voting themselves a raise. This year, rank-and-file members received a $4,700 pay hike. House leadership received even more.
Just to put things into perspective, Speaker Nancy Pelosi now receives an annual salary of $223,500 -- not to mention access to U.S. Air Force Gulfstream jets. Those kinds of perks and privileges sound pretty similar to me to the ones afforded to the corporate executives that members of Congress are so quick to criticize.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I have never seen this point made: all of Europe, which has nationalized health care already, is also experiencing the current economic crisis. Why does Obama believe that bringing national health care here will in any way save us a similar economic crisis in the future? He keeps repeating that only if we get health care costs under control will we have "real" prosperity, but the countries that have already "tackled" this problem in the past were not spared their own economic meltdowns.
No wonder Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) went wobbly last week when asked about his February amendment ratifying hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives at insurance giant AIG. Dodd has been one of the company's favorite recipients of campaign contributions. But it turns out that Senator Dodd's wife has also benefited from past connections to AIG as well.
From 2001-2004, Jackie Clegg Dodd served as an "outside" director of IPC Holdings, Ltd., a Bermuda-based company controlled by AIG. IPC, which provides property casualty catastrophe insurance coverage, was formed in 1993 and currently has a market cap of $1.4 billion and trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol IPCR. In 2001, in addition to a public offering of 15 million shares of stock that raised $380 million, IPC raised more than $109 million through a simultaneous private placement sale of 5.6 million shares of stock to AIG - giving AIG a 20% stake in IPC. (AIG sold its 13.397 million shares in IPC in August, 2006.)
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
William McGurn Says Notre Dame's Choice of Barack Obama as Commencement Speaker Is Morally Incoherent
In the end, the result is moral incoherence. It is an incoherence in which abortion-rights advocates have the most to gain, because it demoralizes those who support the cause of life while removing fears of even the slightest social sanction for those who do not. And it is an incoherence we see all across American Catholic life today.
In our intellectual life, this incoherence gives us a college president who tells the campus paper that honoring an abortion-rights president is consistent with the bishops' statement that such leaders "should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The top bowler for the Special Olympics looks forward to meeting President Barack Obama in an alley.
"He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily," Michigan's Kolan McConiughey (KO-lahn Mc-KAHNA-he) told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.
The athletic-minded president made an offhand remark Thursday on "The Tonight Show" comparing his weak bowling to "the Special Olympics or something." He quickly apologized and told the Special Olympics chairman he wants to have some of its athletes visit the White House to bowl or play basketball.
Friday, March 20, 2009
And there is such a thing as law. The way to break a contract legally is Chapter 11. Short of that, a contract is a contract. The AIG bonuses were agreed to before the government takeover and are perfectly legal. Is the rule now that when public anger is kindled, Congress will summarily cancel contracts?
Even worse are the clever schemes being cooked up in Congress to retrieve the money by means of some retroactive confiscatory tax. The common law is pretty clear about the impermissibility of ex post facto legislation and bills of attainder. They also happen to be specifically prohibited by the Constitution. We're going to overturn that for $165 million?
It is time for the president to state the obvious: This recession is not caused by excessive executive compensation in government-controlled companies. The economy has been sinking because of a lack of credit, stemming from a general lack of confidence, stemming from the lack of a plan to detoxify the major lending institutions, mainly the banks, which, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, is where the money used to be.
While not exactly a film buff, Gordon Brown was touched when Barack Obama gave him a set of 25 classic American movies – including Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins on his recent visit to Washington. Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem. The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen.
A White House spokesman sniggered when I put the story to him and he was still looking into the matter when my deadline came last night.
Brown, on the other hand, presented a rather more thoughtful gift to the American President in the form of a penholder carved from the timbers of an anti-slavery ship. The sister ship, in fact, of the one that was broken up and turned into the desk in the Oval Office.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Mr. Obama approved the $500,000 advance on Jan. 15. The advance is against royalties under a deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House. The project calls for an abridged version of his book "Dreams From My Father" for middle-school-aged children, according to the disclosure.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was just a few paragraphs into an address in Washington when he realised it all sounded a bit too familiar.It was. He was repeating the speech President Barack Obama had just read from the same teleprompter.Mr Cowen stopped, turned to the president and said: "That's your speech."A laughing Mr Obama returned to the podium to take over but it seems the script had finally been switched and the US president ended up thanking himself for inviting everyone to the party.Mr Obama is an accomplished orator but is becoming known in America as the "teleprompt president" over his reliance on the machine when he gives a speech.
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the corporate crony who is the largest recipient of AIG donations, is now leading the charge to tax the retention payments in order to recoup the $450 million the company is paying to employees in its financial-products unit.
But Dodd, it turns out, was for protecting AIG's bonuses before he was against them.
Fox Business reporter Rich Edson pointed out that during the Senate porkulus negotiations last month, Dodd successfully inserted a teeny-tiny amendment that provided for an "exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009," which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are seeking to tax.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
This is a book report on The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, by Mancur Olson. There isn't a whole lot about how nations pulled themselves out of their medieval stagnation (see A Farewell to Alms for that), so a better title for this still-in-print book from 1982 would be "How Rich Countries Die."[...]
Olson showed back in 1982 that modern macroeconomic theory was basically worthless in developed stable countries. Macroeconomics posits a free market in which wages and prices adjust dynamically. That applies to an ever-smaller sector of the U.S. economy. We have a rapidly growing governnment that directly or indirectly employs more than one third of our workers, many of whom are unionized. We have a health care system that consumes 16 percent of GDP and is staffed with doctors who restrict entry into the profession via their licensing cartel. The financial services sector is about 10 percent of the economy and they now tap into taxpayer money to keep their bonuses flowing in bad times. The automotive industry kept itself profitable over the years by successfully lobbying for import tariffs. When the profits turned to losses, they successfully lobbied to have taxpayers pick up those losses.
President Obama's apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.
Politicians in both parties flocked to express outrage over $165 million in bonuses paid out to executives at the company, demanding answers from the president and swamping yesterday's rollout of his efforts to spark lending to small businesses.
"I warned them this would be met with an unprecedented level of outrage," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the chairman of the banking committee and part of a group of senators who pressed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to stop the bonuses, said yesterday.
All this mock outrage, especially from Chris Dodd, is ridiculous. The company is paying its bills and fulfilling the terms of its contracts. The problem is not that taxpayer money is being used to pay bonuses. The problem is that the government decided to bail out AIG in the first place. It makes no sense to prop up poorly run companies and then complain that they're still poorly run even after the bailout. That's like complaining that welfare recipients aren't looking for a job after you increase their benefits. If you reward incompetence, you're likely to get more it. Face it: everything the government gave to AIG is gone. The guys who run it are making sure that they have a soft landing. Take the money and run. The government is pretending to care, but really they're in bed with these guys behind the scenes. They've been getting campaign contributions from the bigshots at AIG for years and now those executives are collecting on their political insurance policies. By the time, the government takes over and cleans house, there won't be much left to fight over. You can bet that Dodd and Frank will blame it all on Republican greed, but I bet there are a lot of Democrats in high places at the companies receiving bailout money.
The rhetoric grew so heated yesterday that Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested in a radio interview that AIG executives ought to "follow the Japanese model . . . resign, or go commit suicide." An aide later explained he does not actually want executives to kill themselves.
Monday, March 16, 2009
To locate individual mosquitoes, light from the flashlights hits the tank across the room, creating tiny mosquito silhouettes on reflective material behind it. The zoom lens picks up the shadows and feeds the data to the computer, which controls the laser and fires it at the bug.
A mosquito hovers into view. Suddenly, it bursts into flame. A thin plume of smoke rises as the mosquito falls. At the bottom of the screen, the carcass smolders.
Last month, Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly called "the stimulus plan." It gives billions of dollars to the states, but the gift has strings attached. One of its unique provisions changes state constitutions! That provision is unconstitutional, and its defect raises problems about the whole enterprise.
The aphorism, he who pays the piper calls the tune, is one that Congress understands quite well. If the state accepts funds, it also accepts a host of restrictions. For example, the plan increases, temporarily, the money it sends to states to fund various welfare programs. To receive that money, states have to add thousands of new people to the welfare rolls. In two years, the federal largesse stops, but the new welfare recipients are still there.
Consequently, several governors have said that they might simply refuse the money. Most are Republican, but recently the Democratic governor of Tennessee has joined the chorus. The stimulus bill, for example, gives $7 billion to the states to add to their unemployment trust funds, but to receive this "gift," a state has to change its formula so that it makes more people eligible for benefits, which leaves a long-term obligation on the system.
Because some governors might not accept the money, Congress added a unique provision, in subsection 1607(b): "If funds provided to any State in any division of this Act are not accepted for use by the Governor, then acceptance by the State legislature, by means of the adoption of a concurrent resolution, shall be sufficient to provide funding to such State."
If state law does not give the state legislature the right to bypass the governor, how can Congress just change that law? Where does Congress get the power to change a state constitution?
Friday, March 13, 2009
For more pessimism, see Derbyshire's essay: "The Lost Eden of Robert A. Heinlein"
It was pure Murray: filled with that good-natured, profoundly decent midwestern optimism that Charles brings to everything he writes and says.
It was also heart-breakingly naive. I agree with Charles in deploring the separating-out of our elites. I share with him nostalgia for the homogenous, egalitarian America of our youth. That America, however, is dead as mutton. There's a new one a-borning, and it looks much more like Brazil than like Robert Heinlein's U.S.A.
The European model can't continue to work much longer. Europe's catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that. So let me rephrase the question. If we could avoid Europe's demographic problems, do we want the United States to be like Europe?
Tonight I will argue for the answer "no," but not for economic reasons. The European model has indeed created sclerotic economies and it would be a bad idea to imitate them. But I want to focus on another problem.
My text is drawn from Federalist 62, probably written by James Madison: "A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained." Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.
I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish--it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness. Second, I will argue that twenty-first-century science will prove me right.
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. [...] When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
There is the striking lack of class envy in America--by and large, Americans celebrate others' success instead of resenting it. That's just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism--the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close.
[American exceptionalism] comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government's job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government's job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.
I say soberly and without hyperbole, that this is the hour. The possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real. And so it is our job to make the case for that reawakening. It won't happen by appealing to people on the basis of lower marginal tax rates or keeping a health care system that lets them choose their own doctor. The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth, and immeasurably precious.
The email traffic makes it clear that, even if Pelosi herself wasn't on the horn to DOD demanding personal transport, more comfort, and personal use of military bases and resources, her staff certainly was — and the DOD knew full well that the requests were coming not from the House Sergeant-at-Arms office, as Pelosi claimed, but from those speaking for the Speaker herself.
Section 1043 of the Internal Revenue Code permits those appointed to high-level positions in the executive branch (not Congress or the Judiciary) a one-time tax-free capital gains rollover.
Individuals who must sell assets to comply with federal ethics laws are allowed to convert them into Treasury securities or shares in broad-based mutual funds. No tax applies to the transaction until the Treasury securities or mutual funds are sold. The underlying basis carries forward so that all accumulated gains are taxed unless they are held to death, at which point basis would be stepped up to market value.
This provision was extraordinarily valuable to Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, both of whom had hundreds of millions of dollars in unrealized capital gains in Goldman Sachs stock. When they were appointed secretary of the Treasury, they were able to realize all the gains on their stock shares, saving them tens of millions of dollars in taxes, and diversify their portfolios at the same time.
What I have always found interesting about this obscure provision of the tax law is that it recognizes a principle that ought to apply to all taxpayers. That principle is that reinvested capital gains ought not to be taxed; they should be taxed only when consumed. The way we tax capital gains now, it is more of a transactions tax than a tax on income, preventing people from being able to diversify their portfolios and leaving them locked into assets on which they have large gains.
MAXINE WATERS AND THE CULTURE OF CORRUPTION: Waters Helped Bank Whose Stock She Once Owned. "Ms. Waters and her husband have both held financial stakes in the bank. Until recently, her husband was a director. At the same time, Ms. Waters has publicly boosted OneUnited's executives and criticized its government regulators during congressional hearings. Last fall, she helped secure the bank a meeting with Treasury officials."
UPDATE: More here: "Note that OneUnited is the same bank whose relationship with Barney Frank raised some eyebrows back in January. After receiving $12 million in bailout funds with Frank's help, the FDIC issued a cease-and-desist order against the bank, in part related to the fact that the bank was paying for the CEO's beach house and Porsche." The country's in the very best of hands.
An aide to President Barack Obama is on leave from his White House job after the FBI raided his old District of Columbia government office Thursday, arresting a city employee and a technology consultant on corruption charges, a White House official said.
The charges were lodged against the two men at a federal court hearing as the FBI finished searching the city's technology office, which was led until recently by Obama's new computer chief, Vivek Kundra.
Kundra is on leave from his White House job until further details of the case become known, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity because the official did not want to publicly discuss personnel matters.
Authorities say Acar and Bansal, along with others, defrauded the government through a variety of schemes, including billing the city for items that were never delivered and "ghost" contract employees who did not work. The scheme involved Acar approving falsified bills and splitting the money with vendors including Bansal, who submitted them, court documents alleged.
The White House says it got a heads up before FBI agents raided the former offices of a new Obama administration technology official.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the Department of Justice told the White House on Thursday morning of its planned raid at the offices of the District of Columbia's chief technology officer. Vivek Kundra recently left that post to take a job in the White House. Gibbs declined to say if administration officials knew about the ongoing investigation of the D.C. technology office when they hired Kundra.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Presidents throughout history have kept lists of political foes. But the Obama White House is the first I am aware of to pick targets based on polls. Even Richard Nixon didn't focus-group his enemies list.
Team Obama -- aided by Clintonistas Paul Begala, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg -- decided to attack Rush Limbaugh after poring over opinion research. White House senior adviser David Axelrod explicitly authorized the assault. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel assigned a White House official to coordinate the push. And Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gleefully punched the launch button at his podium, suckering the White House press corps into dropping what they were doing to get Mr. Limbaugh.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona following requests by congressional Democrats and allegations by liberal activists that the department has violated the civil rights of illegal aliens.
Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Robert Scott (D-Va.) requested the investigation, and activists groups such as National Day Laborer Organizer Network and ACORN launched petition drives and rallies in support of the probe.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
If you want to read a very short book on how we got into the financial crisis, I don't think you could do better than John B. Taylor's Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis. Taylor argues persuasively that the Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for too long in 2002-05 and that "government programs designed to promote home ownership, a worthwhile goal but overdone in retrospect," together with the credit that was plentiful because of unduly low interest rates created the housing bubble.
Taylor's book is a useful antidote to the mantra, spread by some Democrats including Barack Obama, that the crisis is the proximate result of Reagan- and Bush-style deregulation or the Bush tax cuts and other macroeconomic policies.
"No matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP." What a pity that his discovery has not been more widely disseminated.
The chart nearby, updating the evidence to 2007, confirms Hauser's Law. The federal tax "yield" (revenues divided by GDP) has remained close to 19.5%, even as the top tax bracket was brought down from 91% to the present 35%. This is what scientists call an "independence theorem," and it cuts the Gordian Knot of tax policy debate.
What happens if we instead raise tax rates? Economists of all persuasions accept that a tax rate hike will reduce GDP, in which case Hauser's Law says it will also lower tax revenue. That's a highly inconvenient truth for redistributive tax policy, and it flies in the face of deeply felt beliefs about social justice. It would surely be unpopular today with those presidential candidates who plan to raise tax rates on the rich – if they knew about it.
Although Hauser's Law sounds like a restatement of the Laffer Curve (and Mr. Hauser did cite Arthur Laffer in his original article), it has independent validity. Because Mr. Laffer's curve is a theoretical insight, theoreticians find it easy to quibble with. Test cases, where the economy responds to a tax change, always lend themselves to many alternative explanations. Conventional economists, despite immense publicity, have yet to swallow the Laffer Curve. When it is mentioned at all by critics, it is often as an object of scorn.
Because Mr. Hauser's horizontal straight line is a simple fact, it is ultimately far more compelling. It also presents a major opportunity. It seems likely that the tax system could maintain a 19.5% yield with a top bracket even lower than 35%.
What makes Hauser's Law work? For supply-siders there is no mystery. As Mr. Hauser said: "Raising taxes encourages taxpayers to shift, hide and underreport income. . . . Higher taxes reduce the incentives to work, produce, invest and save, thereby dampening overall economic activity and job creation."
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
From Federalist 63:"There are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?"Now is the time for the salutary interference of temperate and respectable citizens, otherwise known as the 41 Republicans in the United States Senate. It is their job to help the president in areas where there is widespread agreement that he should be helped, and hold the line on everything else.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
It takes considerable political skill for a U.S. senator to win a presidential pardon for a friend without the traditional review by the Justice Department. Sen. Christopher Dodd moved the furtive levers of power in 2001 for Edward R. Downe, convicted of tax and securities fraud eight years before. A man will do a lot for a former real estate partner.
A presidential pardon is a rare possession, especially when the man pardoned, Downe, still owed millions to the Securities and Exchange Commission for his violations.
Rarer still, however, is the real estate developer, like Kessinger, who appears to have left hundreds of thousands of dollars in appreciated value on the table for his minority-share partner. Dodd appears to have latched onto one — and, on paper, has turned a profit like the Wall Street pirates he once loved but now disdains.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened her first extended talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by giving him a present meant to symbolize the Obama administration's vow to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations.
She handed a palm-sized box wrapped with a bow. Lavrov opened it and pulled out the gift: a red button on a black base with a Russian word peregruzka printed on top.
"We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" Clinton asked.
"You got it wrong," Lavrov said.
Instead of "reset," Lavrov said the word on the box meant "overcharge."
Health care is not a right, at least not according to the conception of rights upon which this country was founded. Your rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You may not be unjustly deprived of these things. Your rights do not include things that I or anyone else must be forced to provide for you, such as a home, a car, a job, or health care. [...]
For some time now, the debate over how best to allocate scarce resources has been a settled matter. The market, with its system of price signals, is the most efficient way to direct resources to where they are most urgently needed. We need health-care reform that enables the market for health care to function more efficiently. Removing the distortion in the tax code that favors employer-based health insurance would be a good start.
The last thing we need is public policy based around the idea that health care is a "right" to which we are all entitled. We've seen the results when other countries have adopted such policies: shortages, rationed care, higher taxes and a less innovative health-care sector — in short, a state of affairs that infringes on everyone's right to pursue the best care he or she can obtain.
If I say to ten co-workers, "We all need to chip in together to get this done," and then say, "So, Todd, open your wallet and give five bucks to everyone else in the room," it would sound ridiculous. But when Obama says the same thing to 300 million Americans it's called "leadership."
"The problem with socialism," Margaret Thatcher once said, "is that you eventually run out of other people's money." What Obama is proposing isn't socialism — yet — but it runs into the same problem. You could take all of the money made by the richest one percent in this country and it wouldn't come close to covering government's expenses — even if those rich people for some reason kept working.
Michael Boskin Says Barack Obama Is Moving Us Toward a European-Style Social Welfare State and Long-Run Economic Stagnation
New and expanded refundable tax credits would raise the fraction of taxpayers paying no income taxes to almost 50% from 38%. This is potentially the most pernicious feature of the president's budget, because it would cement a permanent voting majority with no stake in controlling the cost of general government.
From the poorly designed stimulus bill and vague new financial rescue plan, to the enormous expansion of government spending, taxes and debt somehow permanently strengthening economic growth, the assumptions underlying the president's economic program seem bereft of rigorous analysis and a careful reading of history.
Unfortunately, our history suggests new government programs, however noble the intent, more often wind up delivering less, more slowly, at far higher cost than projected, with potentially damaging unintended consequences. The most recent case, of course, was the government's meddling in the housing market to bring home ownership to low-income families, which became a prime cause of the current economic and financial disaster.
The "day of reckoning" has now arrived. And because "it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament," Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.
Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience on Friday "never waste a good crisis," as she highlighted the opportunity of rebuilding economies in a greener, less energy intensive model.
Highlighting Europe's unease the day after Russia warned that gas exports to the EU via Ukraine might be halted, she also condemned the use of energy as a political lever.
Clinton told young Europeans at the European Parliament global economic turmoil provided a fresh opening: "Never waste a good crisis ... Don't waste it when it can have a very positive impact on climate change and energy security."
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Russia's overwrought protest against antimissile systems never sprung from any genuine strategic fear. It was always a ploy and a distraction from its real agenda.
Mr. Putin -- who is now prime minister of Russia -- relies heavily on oil revenues to maintain his grip on power. It is in his interests to increase tensions in the Middle East as a way of driving up global oil prices. There is no deal the U.S. can cut to stop Mr. Putin's Russia from arming Mideast terrorists and helping Iran's nuclear program.
Consider also that the Kremlin just struck a deal with China to send Russian oil to China at rock-bottom prices (under $20/barrel) for 20 years in exchange for $25 billion in loans. Powerful countries don't cut such deals unless they are desperate for cash. What's happening in Russia is that we are witnessing the survival gambit of a corrupt regime. The question is whether the West will bail out the Russian dictatorship or let it fall.
Number 10 may be content that they just about got away with the visit to the Oval Office yesterday, as Andrew Porter reports from Washington.
But on this side of the Atlantic the whole business looked pretty demeaning. The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House's very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. Squeezing in a meeting, denying him a full press conference with flags etc. The British press corps, left outside for an hour in the cold, can take it and their privations are of limited concern to the public.
But Obama's merely warmish words (one of our closest allies, said with little sincerity or passion) left a bitter taste with this Atlanticist. Especially after his team had made Number 10 beg for a mini press conference and then not even offered the PM lunch.
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as "bad luck."