Monday, October 31, 2011

A smear campaign already? Really?

One would think Herman Cain was about to win the Presidency, that it was late October in 2012, not late October in 2011, what with the coverage he's been getting of late. There's a palpable air of fear around the pundits dogging the Cain campaign; they're deeply concerned, despite their supposed neutrality.

Why? What is it about Cain that engenders such mindless, low-rent criticisms of him and/or his ideas?

Look at the latest hit piece at Politico. The intrepid reporters there have managed to dig up some apparent "scandals"--two, actually--from the nineties that may or may not involve pubic hairs and a Coke.

Then--halfway through the "story"--these "reporters" have the gall to offer up this line:
The revelations come at a time when Cain is riding high in the polls, with a candidacy that relies heavily on Cain’s claims that his experience as a businessman and the former head of Godfather’s Pizza has prepared him to be president.
This, after earlier noting that they've been sitting on the "story" for weeks, at the very least. It's the height of navel-gazing; the reporters refer to their own story's timing within the story, itself! And they present this as some sort of news bit, as opposed to what it clearly is: evidence of motive. Look, they even do it again:
Revelations about the settlements come as members of the association’s board planned to meet this month to talk about ways to use the organization’s clout to boost Cain’s campaign.
I'd have more respect for them if they just spoke the plain truth: "we released this story now because Cain seems to be getting some momentum and we'd like to slow that down, if possible."

Now, all that said, sexual harassment and the like is no joke (unless your last name happens to be Clinton). But if this kind of stuff is going to be public fodder, the principals need to bring it forward, not a bunch of over-caffeinated reporters with secondary motivations.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Tea Party?

As a rule, we're lazy thinkers. We're often too quick to draw comparisons, often leading to boneheaded analogies involving the non-analogous. Witness the plethora of articles in the years after the invasion of Iraq that compared the situation there to that of the US involvement in Vietnam during the late Sixties and early Seventies. Do a Google search for Iraq+Vietnam+quagmire and see what you get. Hell, there's even a book on this non-analogous analogy. Haven't read it, myself. And I'm sure I never will.

And in recent months, there's been some comparisons made of Obama to Carter, mostly by those hoping to see another one term President. No doubt, they're both painfully clueless with regard to the economy. But there's not much more there, really. 

The current comparison du jour? The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement. Ed Feulner and Billie Tucker offered an op-ed on the subject, admittedly from a very pro-tea party perspective. They note that the Tea Party movement actually has some clear objectives and principles, that it's not an anarchist movement, and that its adherents respect the laws of the nation. They conclude:
The Tea Party represents (and respects) America. The Occupiers may be well intended, but their demands would be very different from what the Founding Fathers gave us and would dramatically change America. 
Any comparisons between the Tea Party which desires to liberate We the People from big government and the Wall Street Occupiers who want more government regulation is either misguided or made to intentionally confuse Americans.
That probably seems a little harsh. And I think it's also a little bit wrong. There is some overlap between the two movements, like libertarian minarchists who very much see Wall Street--as the puppet master of DC politicians--as a major part of the problem.

Yet, there's a great deal of truth here, as well. There's been some nonsensical counterpoints from progressive pundits of the sort "the Occupy movement isn't a bunch of gun-waving racists!" Such silliness obscures--intentionally--the reality behind the genesis of the Tea Party movement. Lest we forget, it had its beginnings under Bush, really picking up steam after the Bush admin's bailout plan came out in 2008. The original wave of nationwide gatherings were--true to the name--centered around taxes in general and often took place on Tax Day. Guns? Not a one. Racists signs? Not a one. All of that came much later, as the movement grew and attracted various people with various views on other issues.

Surprise, surprise, now that's happening in the Occupy movement, as well. That's an actual point of similarity, but it's a reality for any movement, so it's hardly a significant point.

But the point is, the two movements--despite the overlap and the above similarity--are fundamentally different, with regard to purpose. The Tea Party movement is about taking back: taking back government from corrupt and entrenched politicians, taking back daily life from government control and/or interference, taking back freedom. The Occupy movement is about taking, period: taking from the rich, taking from government, taking from anyone that has.

The sentiments it arouses speak to a large swath of the population only because people are selfish and envious, more often than not. The fanfare surrounding the Occupy movement is a display of the baser traits of mankind. It's an ugly thing, in my view.

Cheers, all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night Philosophy Lesson: Is Heidegger a Nazi?

We're going to go right to the meat of it. From Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, Section 74:
...if fateful Dasein, as Being-in-the-World, exists essentially in Being with Others, its historicizing is a co-historicizing and is determinative for it as destiny. This is how we designate the historicizing of the community (Gemeinschaft), of the people (Volkes). Destiny is not something that puts itself together out of individual fates, any more than Being-with-one-another can be conceived as the occurring together of several Subjects. Our fates have already been guided in advance, in our Being with one another in the same world and in our resoluteness for definite possibilities. Only in communicating and in struggling does the power of destiny become free.
In 1999, Johannes Fritsche published a book entitled Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger's Being and Time. Up until that point in time, Heidegger was viewed--intellectually--with some trepidation, insofar as his sympathies seemed to lean towards the Nazi Party (and he did, in fact, join the Party). Some argued that he simply played the hand he was dealt, that he had no choice but to accept the politics of the moment. But regardless, the question was one mostly limited to Heidegger's action, not his philosophy.

Fritsche changed the game with a quite detailed analysis of Being and Time that demonstrated a deep-seated approval of the basic precepts of Nazism wound up in the work. But of all the passages within, it was the above--from Section 74--that Fritsche focused on, that was the source of his claims.

For Fritsche--and many others who accept his arguments to some degree--the passage is a a justification of the historical destiny of Nazism and the Volkgemainshcaft of the German race.

Fritsche is--of course--completely wrong. Heidegger is exploring phenomenology (the study of how the individual understands his/her self), not political theory. The passage is meaningful only as it relates to Dasein (Heidegger's term for the self one perceives of oneself) in the world. Really, it is more in tune with Hegel's Master and Slave Dialectic than with the historical destiny of national socialism.

The point of the passage is simple (and if you think it's hard to read in English, you should see it in German), despite how complicated it seems: Dasein understands it's fate/destiny in relation to how it understands itself in terms of others.

Heidegger is attempting to lay out how we perceive ourselves as actual participants in the world in which we are "thrown." This is no simple task, though some might find it less than interesting and less than necessary.

The last line of the passage, however, seems almost out of place. But it's really not. What Heidegger is arguing is that the role of the individual Dasein--with regard to that individual Dasein's destiny/future is dependent on participation in the world, in conflict with the other Daseins (note: it's a major error to substitute the idea of a person for Dasein; the concept is important to grasp to understand Heidegger's points and goals).

And indeed, there is a potential Nietzschean outcome, for the Dasein that understands itself as more causal is more causal, is the Nietzschean superman in a sense, is the hero, but only within the limited framework of the Dasein as self-awareness.

Long a short of it? Heidegger may have been a card-carrying Nazi, but that has nothing to do with Being and Time.

Cheers.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Antediluvian World Returns

The antediluvian world, as commonly understood, is shrouded in mystery, in the mists of time, yet presses into the modern world through the subconscious collective at various moments. It's a world variously portrayed as a Utopia, as simple and peaceful, as even horrible, but always as a world with something that has been lost.

As we push forward into the future, as the population grows and we are beset by crisis after crisis, the restless desire to know or have that something that was lost grows. Literature, art, and film turn abruptly towards the antediluvian experience, as vampires, elves, and dragons all rise again, just as they have done in past moments of great social anxiety. Tales drenched in mystery and In the the writings of decadent, non-euclidean philosophers are born and reborn, time and again.

The trenches of World War I--the Great War, the War to End All Wars--were filled with young officers, clutching Zarathustra amid the mustard gas and drifting smoke, dreaming of Siegfried and shielded maidens. In the 1960's, as the US and the Soviet Union teetered on the brink of holocaust, the drug-induced fantasy music from Haight-Ashbury filled the air and "Frodo Lives" was the underground rallying cry. And Japan still dreamed of monsters, as it struggled to define itself, yet again.

It wasn't just the turmoil of the present, but also the uncertainty of the future, the unknowability of a world seemingly without limits, with boundless potential, yet born from the daemonic gold of war and servitude. Guilt loomed as large as fear.

The sugar-coating of such turmoil notwithstanding, there is always hope. But it teeters over the chasm, the gulf of despair. And we are there, once again. We are on the edge, barely balancing as a world between normalcy and absolute chaos. And we dream of an imaginary past, beyond comprehension but on the edge of understanding.

He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. "The scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever," he muttered, but I do not believe Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he began the wonderful story of the Last King.--Robert W. Chambers, from The King in Yellow

Cheers all.


This post was a part of the AbsoluteWrite October 2011 blog chain. Read the other posts here:

orion_mk3 - http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to this month's post)
Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
Cath - http://blog.cathsmith.com/ (link to this month's post)
Diana Rajchel - http://blog.dianarajchel.com/ (link to this month's post)
Alynza - http://www.alynzasmith.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
pyrosama - http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
dolores haze - http://dianedooley.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
leahzero - http://www.leahraeder.com/words (link to this month's post)
AbielleRose - http://stainedglassinthenight.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
pezie - http://www.erinbrambilla.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
MysteryRiter - http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
Inkstrokes - http://drlong67.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
AuburnAssassin - http://clairegillian.com/ (link to this month's post)
Alpha Echo - http://writersramblings81.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
robieae - http://thepondsofhappenstance.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
JSSchley - http://www.jessicaschley.com/ (link to this month's post)
spacejock2 - http://halspacejock.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
Madelein.Eirwen - http://madeleineirwen.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worst economic argument, ever!

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Rutgers history professor James Livingston argues that the cornerstones of economic growth are consumer spending and government spending. And, according to Livingston, private investment monies are not even needed to grow the economy.

To support this controversial claim, he looks at some numbers: GDP per capita and business investment as a share of GDP. In his words:
Between 1900 and 2000, real gross domestic product per capita (the output of goods and services per person) grew more than 600 percent. Meanwhile, net business investment declined 70 percent as a share of G.D.P. What’s more, in 1900 almost all investment came from the private sector — from companies, not from government — whereas in 2000, most investment was either from government spending (out of tax revenues) or “residential investment,” which means consumer spending on housing, rather than business expenditure on plants, equipment and labor. 
In other words, over the course of the last century, net business investment atrophied while G.D.P. per capita increased spectacularly. And the source of that growth? Increased consumer spending, coupled with and amplified by government outlays.
Far be it from me to rain all over someone's parade, but there seems to be a little problem here. To whit: the variables are not independent ones. Comparing GDP per capita to investment levels as a function of GDP to make this case is, well, stupid.

Economic growth is most effectively measured in terms of GDP per capita, this is true. But it's a major error to suppose investment as a share of GDP is a useful metric to assess the consequences of investment on GDP, itself. Private investment has a ripple effect throughout the economy. Government investments do too, actually. And we might remember that the current admin was counting on this effect--from stimulus monies--to drive growth. But as Veronique de Rugy at Reason Magazine notes, this was a pipe dream, based on actual evidence:
So what do the data say? There aren’t many studies of the issue. But two stand out: Robert Barro’s work and research by Valerie Ramey, an economist at the University of California–San Diego, on how military spending influences GDP. Both studies found that government spending crowds out the private sector, at least a little. And both found multipliers close to one: Barro’s estimate is 0.8, while Ramey’s estimate is 1.2. This means that every dollar of government spending produces either less than a dollar of economic growth or just a little over a dollar. That’s quite different from the administration’s favored multiplier of four. What’s more, Ramey also found evidence that consumer and business spending actually decline after an increase in government purchases.
Note the last bit: government spending also drives down consumer spending. So Livingston's two cornerstones can't even work in concert.

The long and short of it is that in a fully developed economy, private investment monies drive economic growth, and that includes consumer spending. Thus, continual private investments will lead to an increasing GDP and an increasing amount of consumer spending, which will then also lead to a greater GDP. And the reason why private investments are more effective than government spending in this reagrd is simple: Smith's old "invisible hand," the market can make better use of the money than the government.

Livingston makes the mistake of a first-year statistics student: he mistakes correlation for causality. Not only that, he does it in big, bold letters in the New York Times. Funny, but also very sad.

Cheers, all.

Why let Biden loose, at all?

Vice President Joe Biden has consistently made a fool of himself since the 2008 Election. From talking about FDR going on TV as President in 1929 (there were hardly any TVs and Hoover was still President), to sitting around like a dimwit at the Beer Summit, to falling asleep during Presidential speeches, Biden is a gaffe-machine. Really, he makes Dan Quayle look good, and that's saying something.

Michelle Malkin reports on Biden's latest round of gross stupidity:
Biden’s office is now calling for an official investigation of a young editor who dared to question His Highness. Jason Mattera of the conservative-leaning Human Events magazine confronted the veep last week on his hysterical claims that rape and murder would increase if Congress didn’t ram through the half-trillion-dollar White House jobs bill... 
Never mind that the statistics in Flint actually show no correlation between crime rates and the number of police officers in the city. It’s never about the facts. It’s about the shameless demonization of Biden’s and Obama’s political opponents — and those in the press who would dare question their doom-and-gloom narratives.
It's not enough for Joe Biden to make an utter fool of himself, he needs to hammer it home by attacking the people that witness his stupidity and dare to call him on it, it would seem.

The question I have is this: why now? Certainly, everyone in the admin knows about Biden's propensity to screw up. Given the current political climate--with the President's numbers going South and with everyone just looking for something to criticize--why is Biden on the loose?

There's been some talk of switching out Biden for Clinton in the veep slot for the coming election (Biden would take over as Secretary of State) and I have to admit buying into the possibility. But that was because Biden had been relatively quiet for some time; I had actually started to forget how badly he could screw things up. Now that he's once again in the public eye, it's clear that the switch would make no sense at best, and would be dangerous at worst.

Of course, some on the left just don't see it that way, at all. Margaret Carlson at Bloomberg actually thinks Biden has been great as a VP and writes off his gaffes as no big deal:
Once in office, a few vice presidents have been notably troublesome. Dan Quayle was just too lightweight to pass muster, which is why an added “e” on “potato” caused such a stir; there was little substance to counterbalance the gaffe. Spiro Agnew was corrupt. Dick Cheney was sufficiently toxic after having led the cheer for war in Iraq, and for torture in black sites around the world, that he volunteered to resign, telling President George W. Bush that he would bow out for “medical reasons” should Bush request it. 
On the other hand, Joe Biden is about as good as vice presidents get...
Biden’s no Quayle, and he’s no Cheney. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do and done it well. This veep’s a keeper.
Now, I agree that dumping Biden wholesale is unlikely. And I think the switch would be dangerous. But let's get real: Biden is a Quayle. He's held up as an "expert," yet he's noticeably absent from and silent during major policy initiatives. Whenever he's "hits the road," he makes an ass of himself.

He's not going anywhere, it looks like, at this point in time. Best to put him back in the closet before he hurts himself. If Obama wins in 2012, he can step down gracefully for health reasons or the like, then maybe someone that could actually help the admin can step into his large clown shoes.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Current phony meme: GOP wants to tax the poor

It's an oldie, but a goodie: the Republicans want to tax poor people and give rich people tax cuts. Robert Borosage, in an op-ed at Politico, freely argues that it's what conservatives want, that it's a badge of honor among men to call for taxing the poor. As evidence, he cites statements from various conservative politicians:
Perry launched his presidential campaign expressing dismay at the “injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” And he was not alone. Every major candidate — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mitt Romney and Cain — has suggested that too many of the working poor aren’t paying income taxes, a position The Wall Street Journal describes as “GOP doctrine.” 
“We don’t have enough people paying taxes in this country,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a GOP vice presidential hopeful, who trumpets conservative gospel. “We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something,” said Bachmann. Only Ron Paul dissents — saying he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anyone.
Now to be fair, there's some truth in here. Some do think that it's expressly unfair that a large swath of the population pays no income tax. And those that think this are often confused or are simply trying to score political points, insofar as demographics dictate that some shouldn't be paying much--if any--in the way of income taxes.

For instance, most retirees aren't earning real income, they're living off of retirement savings and Social Security. And many young adults are in a similar boat, especially when they are in school. There's nothing wrong with that at all, in my opinion. Then there are the unemployed--current between nine and sixteen percent of the population, depending on one's parameters--who obviously can't be paying income taxes. That's a lot of people. Some conservative types forget this reality all too quickly.

Yet, Borosage is still taking liberties with the truth. Consider the quote he provides from Senator Rubio: “We don’t have enough people paying taxes in this country." Now, that's a real quote, that's exactly what Rubio said. Except he didn't say it in context of wanting poor people to pay taxes, he said it in context of wanting the economy to improve, so more Americans would have jobs, would be able to get better pay, and thus we would have more people paying taxes, not because tax laws were being changed, but because more people could pay taxes, by virtue of making more money. Here is Rubio opining on tax payers and the need for more of them:
“We don't need new taxes. We need new taxpayers, people that are gainfully employed, making money and paying into the tax system."
Simple, right? Easy to understand and not about taxing the poor, at all. Yet a simple Google search returns thousands of hits, almost all of which portray Rubio as interested in taxing the poor, not in helping people get back to work, become successful tax-paying citizens. And as near as I can tell, the Rubio quote--"We don't have enough people paying taxes in this country"--is flat-out wrong. It comes from John Huntsman paraphrasing what Rubio said in the above speech. That speech was all about creating jobs and why such was good for everything and everyone, including government revenues. Whether the Democrat or Republican approach is the right one for creating jobs doesn't matter a whit, with regard to Rubio's sentiment. He's right, absolutely right: more jobs, a better economy, means more taxpayers. And Borosage is flat-out wrong. Or at best, confused.

Cheers, all.

Fundraising is a political skill, too

Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg argues that President Obama's supposedly formidable political skills are something of a myth:
Last year, President Barack Obama issued a warning to Republicans. They had been “politicking” instead of “governing,” he said. “Well, we can politick for three months,” he said. “They forgot I’m pretty good at politicking.” 
That was in August 2010. At the end of those three months, Republicans controlled the most seats in the U.S. House since the 1940s. Republicans did well for a lot of reasons. One of them was that the president is wrong: He isn’t all that good at politics.
To back up his claim, Ponnuru looks at Obama's history in political contests, noting that he's never really had to go looking for votes, outside of the people that would generally support him or oppose his opponent. And he has a fair point: Obama won a Presidential race that was always the Democrats to lose. And his Senate race was against some seriously weak competition. Seriously weak. And in the Oval Office, Obama made himself the center issue of a 2010 election season that saw some of the biggest losses in the history of his Party.

That's not--at first glance--a very impressive resume for someone often supposed to be a consummate politician. And interestingly enough, it parallels Obama's supposedly awesome oratory skills, which Ponnuru addresses, as well:
Even his most vaunted gift, that of oratory, has done him little good as president. He gave speech after speech about health care, including an address to a joint session of Congress. None of it made the public like the Democrats’ health- care plan more.
The praise for Obama's oratory prowess is indeed puzzling, since he's been something of a failure in swaying public opinion and has displayed quite mediocre skills when TOTUS is unavailable.

All that said, Obama raised a god-awful amount of cash for the 2008 Election, some 744 million dollars. And for 2012, it looks likely that Obama will easily eclipse that total. Granted, he does more fundraising events than even Bill Clinton, but he likely knows that he'll need the jingle.

And make no mistake: fundraising is a political skill, and not always an easy one to learn. Obama has it down pat.

Cheers, all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

See, this one is worth listening to...


In a previous post, I waxed poetic on the concept of incentives, as it relates to the economy and economic theory. I concluded with the following recommendation:
If a politician--or an economist--isn't talking about incentives, when it comes to the consequences of a given policy--they're not worth listening to.
Today, Martin Feldstein--former chair of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors--offered an op-ed in the WSJ on the subject of tax reform. From the beginning of the piece (my boldface):
The Tax Reform Act of 1986, enacted 25 years ago last Friday, showed how a tax reform that includes lower rates can change incentives in a way that grows the tax base and produces extra revenue.
There you have it, boys and girls. You may freely listen to Mr. Feldstein because he's speaking the right language, the language of incentives. And Mr. Feldstein's research on tax returns demonstrates--with empirical evidence--exactly what I was arguing in my previous piece: changing income tax rates doesn't lower or increase revenues, it creates different incentives for the individual. Not surprisingly--since it's exactly what I said--the evidence shows that incentives to under-report taxable income are greater when the income tax rater is higher:
Lower marginal tax rates also caused individuals to shift some of their compensation from untaxed fringe benefits and other perquisites to taxable earnings. Taxpayers also reduced spending on tax-deductible forms of consumption.
See, when people do their tax returns--when they sit down to figure out how much money they owe the government--they look for ways to lower their tax bill. Some people even *gassteinp* cheat to lower their tax bill. Many people will tell you that cheating on one's taxes is what rich people do, but that's just not true. Far more middle class people cheat on their taxes than rich people, because there are far more middle class people. But regardless, the cheating doesn't matter because--again--just about everyone looks to lower their tax bill. That's human nature,

And one of the best ways to lower that bill is lower one's reportable income. Ask any tax accountant that you know if you doubt me. Thus, the larger the potential tax bill, the lower the reportable income will be for the individual (within the range of real, true income and what is eventually reported as income). At the same time, if the exceptions for lowering reportable income are taken out of the tax code, reportable income can't help but go up.

Those two things are exactly the focus of Feldstein's article, exactly the focus of the Reagan administration, with regard to income taxes, and exactly what should be the focus, now. Simply the tax code, lower rates, and Federal revenues will go up, economic activity will increase, and Federal revenues will go up even more.  Oh, and as an unintended consequence, employment will also increase.

This remains a very difficult concept for many to grasp, particularly those in Washington, D.C. that are charged with making the tax laws. Well okay, it's not that it's too difficult for them, so much as it is not conducive to a mindset focused on class warfare as a means of garnering and maintaining political power.

But the time for such games is coming quickly to a head, and then an end.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With all due respect...

Don't you hate that phrase? Invariably, someone uses it just before saying something disrespectful. Plus, suppose someone's not due any respect? Then the phrase is pointless. Yet, it's become a time honored tradition of saying this--or something like it--as a means of absolving oneself of blame for crossing a line of good manners, taste, or decorum. With that in mind...

With all due respect Mr. President, who do you think you are? Following the failure of the teachers and first responders  jobs bill--the one that caused Reid to claim that the private sector is "doing just fine"--President Obama said the following (my boldface):
For the second time in two weeks, every single Republican in the United States Senate has chosen to obstruct a bill that would create jobs and get our economy going again. That’s unacceptable. We must do what’s right for the country and pass the common-sense proposals in the American Jobs Act. Every Senate Republican voted to block a bill that would help middle class families and keep hundreds of thousands of firefighters on the job, police officers on the streets, and teachers in the classroom when our kids need them most. Those Americans deserve an explanation as to why they don’t deserve those jobs – and every American deserves an explanation as to why Republicans refuse to step up to the plate and do what’s necessary to create jobs and grow the economy right now.
"That's unacceptable"? Really? Nevermind the most obvious problem: it's not the job of the Federal Government to hire teachers, firefighters, and policemen. Nevermind the silliness of claiming this type of bill will "grow the economy." Nevermind that a couple of Democrats voted against the measure, as well. Nevermind that a Republican proposal--that another piece of the American Jobs Act--failed to pass, yet came much closer than this legislation (57 to 43 for the Republican bill, 50 to 50 for the Dem one). Nevermind the ludicrous proposition that voting against the bill is identical to telling people they don't deserve a job. Why is it unacceptable? Because you don't like it, Mr. President?

Let's be clear: there's a conflict of visions here, with regard to the role of the government in growing the government. There's even more of a conflict of visions with regard to whether or not something like this bill will grow the economy, at all. And empirical evidence suggests that it won't. Period. End of story. Still, Obama and those of a similar mindset are free to believe in the fantasy version of reality, wherein they can dictate economic growth by government mandate. That's not unacceptable. Stupid and naive maybe, but not unacceptable.

But mounting the outrage pony because others have a different point of view? That's what is really unacceptable. And I'm sick of hearing about it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Premature Punditry

It's good to know I'm not alone on this: the mainstream political pundits are spewing nonsense when they claim the GOP is a two-person race between Romney and Perry, and even more nonsense when they claim Romney has the nomination all but secured. Craig Shirley at Politico agrees with me...thank goodness someone does.

In his words:
How many now remember President John Connally or President Ted Kennedy — or other slam-dunk nominees, who only had to float their names to win the presidency as enunciated by the elites? 
Since then, Perry has fallen in the polls like nobody’s business, and Romney, after five years of panting after the nomination, is still stuck at 25 percent. 
The media made the mistake of writing that it was a two-man race, and now they are making the mistake of saying Romney has the nomination sewn up. One of the best pollsters and consultants in the business, Tony Fabrizio, knows his way around a campaign and a poll — and knows that a front-runner gets what a front-runner gets.
And he makes the following very significant observation, with regard to Christie and the widely accepted claims that the Governor's failure to enter the race--and subsequent endorsement of Mitt--was a sort of tipping point that made Romney close to unbeatable in the primary:
Indeed, as soon as Christie endorsed Romney, the one-term Massachusetts governor went down in the polls.
As I noted previously, Christie was never really the rising star among conservatives that the media would have us believe. He would have been deeply flawed as a candidate and his conservative bona fides were simply not there.

And it's only October, for Pete's sake! I remember the 2008 primaries, when--at this point--this same crowd of know-it-alls was insisting that Romney was a shoe-in and McCain was done, while on the Dem side Obama was on the outside looking in at Clinton, who was poised to get the nomination. And I remember the 2000 primaries, when it was Bush that was finished and McCain that had it in the bag.

The 24-hour news cycle can be a great boon; it keeps churning, keeps updating, keeps informing, but when it comes the pundits, everyone feels compelled to make absolute claims. And--like the proverbial weatherman--they always seem to be wrong when tomorrow finally comes.

Cheers, all.

Fisker-gate?

On the heels of the Solyndra scandal, ABC News has "uncovered" another DOE loan program that appears--at first glance--to be another mess for the administration. Appearances can be deceiving.

From the ABC News article:
With the approval of the Obama administration, an electric car company that received a $529 million federal government loan guarantee is assembling its first line of cars in Finland, saying it could not find a facility in the United States capable of doing the work. 
Vice President Joseph Biden heralded the Energy Department's $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs. But two years after the loan was announced, the job of assembling the flashy electric Fisker Karma sports car has been outsourced to Finland.
Looks bad, right? A US company taking government monies, then building its product overseas. But here's the thing, the DOE loan program that Fisker successfully applied to doesn't require the company to limit itself. And in fact, the company claims that none of the government loan monies are being used to fund the Finnish operations. I'd guess this could be easily verified  and doubt the company would lie. It has gotten substantial investments from the private sector, too.

Remember, the real problem with the Solyndra mess is that it was improperly vetted, it was a bad investment and this was obvious from the get-go. We can't yet say that about Fisker.

It's fair to question the loan program, of course. One might argue that the DOE shouldn't be doling out these kinds of monies at all, that companies should make due with the private sector investors. And that's completely fair, in my opinion. I think it's also completely correct.

But the program is there. The money is on the table. Fisker applied for the loan and met the requirements. From all I've seen and read, they have a real product to offer with a real market for that product. The attack on the company for doing what it feels is necessary to achieve that end is unjustified. The "jobs in Finland" angle isn't a legitimate complaint, it's ginned up outrage.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More on the Great Conceit

I ended a recent bit with a reference to what I call "the Great Conceit" of politicians--and bureaucrats, really--especially those in the Federal Government and on the left:
...they actually believe that the economy springs from and follows the government...To be fair, it's not a nefarious conceit, at all. They truly believe that they have it right, that they can predict and control the economy via government mandate.
Under this deeply flawed rubric, decisions of policy are made by, in conjuction with, or based on the advice of ...experts. As an ideology, this view has been called the technocracy movement in the past. The driving idea behind it is that things are too complicated, too diversified when it comes to government policies and laws for typical people to understand, thus decisions should be left in the hands of the experts in a given field. As a "for instance," consider climate change and the question of what--if anything--should be done about it. For the technocrat, the answer is simple: climate scientists should decide, end of discussion.

Part of the allure of this view is that those making decisions of policy would be doing so from the outside, as impartial observers. In theory, at least. Who can forget the story of the Harvard economist employed to help Russia, who used his position to make some quick cash? Of course, that could be held up as anomaly.

Regardless, when it comes to the economy, the experts in the field would be the top tier of economists, the men and women at the top of their game, the ones that know how the economy works and how to make the correct policy choices to improve it. Right?

In that regard, I give you two recent articles.

The first is an essay from Bill Frezza at Forbes. In it, he tackles the concepts of GDP--gross domestic product--and Unemployment, as metrics for assessing the economy. For the former:
The GDP is supposed to measure “the total market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period.” Only an omniscient being could possibly know this number, even if it could be precisely defined. Subjectivity abounds. (Hey bud, is that hamburger patty final or is it destined to become a Big Mac?  
So instead we rely on extremely crude estimates subject to all sorts of biases, the accuracy of which cannot possibly be better than a 10-percent margin. Yet we obsesses over whether the GDP is growing or shrinking by one or two percent, demanding legislative action to fix it. Now.
For the latter:
The broadest measure [of unemployment], U-6, purports to count “the total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.” So, if you work part time because you prefer to golf every afternoon, you’re not unemployed. But if your daily golfing partner answers “yes” to the survey question inquiring whether he would prefer a full time job, he counts as unemployed. 
And just how do you total up the civilian labor force, which is defined as the sum of civilian employment and civilian unemployment? (Pay no attention to that circularity behind the curtain.) Be careful, though, not to count discouraged workers who want and are available for work, have looked for a job in the prior 12 months, but answer “no” to the survey question “are you currently looking for a job.” And if you are discouraged and over 65, are you retired, unemployed, or none of the above?
Understand? Less-than-certain metrics are used as if they were mathematically certain. And from such metrics, predictions on the consequences of policy changes are fashioned and proclaimed to be not only meaningful, but even certain. Witness the predictions that accompanied the first "Stimulus" Bill, wherein unemployment was supposed to remain at or below 8%, according to the experts that helped to fashion it. These experts ultimately admitted that they were wrong, but not because they weren't as smart as they thought they were, not because they didn't really know what they were talking about. Rather, they just were "off" on the forecast and the measure was still a success, still "saved millions of jobs."

There's no way to prove that conclusion wrong, no way to shake people of that belief, since there is no evidence for what would have happened without the Stimulus package, only the opinions of the experts--who get things wrong all of the time, obviously--in that regard. But we should take them at their word because...why? Because they say they're right. No other reason.

The second article is Ron Paul's op-ed in the WSJ. In it, Paul argues that the Federal Reserve is to blame for all of our economic woes, that it "has caused every single boom and bust that has occurred in this country since the bank's creation in 1913." Let's be clear about this: Paul is wrong. The Federal Reserve lacks the causal efficacy to do this. It can certainly contribute to a boom or a bust, since its policies do indeed create incentives, but it's wrong to overstate reality, here. Business cycles existed before the Fed and would exist without it. Paul--like most economists--fails to account for demographics and the natural flow of the economy in his analysis, along with the myriad of outside factors that impact the open, complex system that is our economy.

That said, he's absolutely on target when he says:
In many respects the governors of the Federal Reserve System and the members of the Federal Open Market Committee are like all other high-ranking powerful officials. Because they make decisions that profoundly affect the workings of the economy and because they have hundreds of bright economists working for them doing research and collecting data, they buy into the pretense of knowledge—the illusion that because they have all these resources at their fingertips they therefore have the ability to guide the economy as they see fit.
But Paul needs to proceed more cautiously. Austrian School economics--which he is so proudly a proponent of--doesn't provide its adherents with absolute predictive powers, either.

The lesson here is that--in case there were any doubts--economics is not a hard science, despite the claims of those with Nobel prizes and pages of complicated mathematical formulas that supposedly explain the economy. What it is--as Friedrich von Hayek (and Milton Friedman) understood all too well--is a amalgamation of individual actions that will sometimes result in less-than-prosperous moments. Ups and downs will abound, but the overall trend will be positive, if people are free to choose.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2006 Terlato Devils' Peak

At my anniversary dinner with my wife, we ordered a bottle of the 2006 Terlato Devils' Peak. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec (mostly the Cab Franc), I thought it might be a good choice for the variety of foods we were ordering (steak, Caprese salad, seafood). I think I made a good choice.


The label proclaimed that the blend was a tribute to Red Bordeaux wines, and that's an apt description. It was a very balanced wine, a bit of spice, a bit of earth, but not too dry or too sweet, it was bold yet easy to drink. There was a distinct blueberry flavor, along with a bit of a floral taste. The nose was good, as were the legs. We enjoyed it from a decanter and this really extended the finish. It was--as is usual for me--a bit too complex for my palate, but that didn't affect my enjoyment level. Highly recommended, an excellent choice for a big meal.

Cheers, all.

Harry Reid jumps the shark, and the dolphin, and the whale...

On the floor of the Senate during a debate for a $35 billion bailout bill for State and local governments, Harry Reid said thusly:
"...It’s very clear that private sector jobs have been doing just fine. It’s the public sector jobs where we’ve lost huge numbers, and that’s what this legislation is all about.”
 Yes, he's absolutely serious. What he's talking about are State and local public sector jobs, like teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. And there's a small amount of truth here: there has been a increased number of public employees getting fired or laid off in the last several years.

But who--aside from Reid--thinks it has actually been worse in the public sector than in the private sector? Who thinks the private sector is doing "just fine"? Newsflash, Mr. Reid: if the private sector was fully recovered, there'd be revenue and need for the the public sector jobs that have been lost.

James Sherk at the Heritage Foundation gives us some numbers, and a nice chart:
Senator Reid is not just mistaken; he has his facts exactly backwards. If the recession has barely touched one sector of the economy, it is government. Since the recession began in December 2007 the private sector shed 6.3 million net jobs, while government payrolls are down by just 392,000.
(courtesy of Heritage.org)

That's a fairly stark contrast. Sure, one could argue that the private sector is trending up, while the public sector is trending down, but note the time lapse: the economy tanks, private sector employment numbers go off a cliff, while government jobs actually go up or stay flat...for a year and a half! One could almost argue that the lost revenue--from the recession--was realized in the next fiscal year and forced governments to take action. And that--in fact--is exactly what happened at the State and local level. Federal jobs? Well, that's a different story. In February of this year, the Heritage Foundation put up another nice chart:

(courtesy of Heritage.org)

But what we really see on display here is the Great Conceit of federal politicians, particularly those on the left: they actually believe that the economy springs from and follows the government. In this flawed world view, a drop-off in government hiring is the cause of economic woes, not the consequence. To be fair, it's not a nefarious conceit, at all. They truly believe that they have it right, that they can predict and control the economy via government mandate. If only...

Cheers, all.

Be a simple kind of man...

...with a simple kind of plan.

Okay, Lynyrd Skynyrd never said the second part. But what they did say--in their classic hit "Simple Man"--is this:
Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need is in your soul
An easy bit of advice to give, a much harder one to live by. Nonetheless, there seems to be a lot of lusting going on these days, from the class warfare rhetoric of the admin and Democrats in Congress, to the Occupy Wall Street movement (which the previous two are desperately trying to take ownership of for obvious political purposes).

At the end of the day, the solutions to the unequal distribution of wealth in this country are bound up in government action: "regulating" and taxing the greedy 1% (or 4%, or 6%, or wherever one draws the line). So, we've heard plans for a "millionaires' tax," plans to cut away tax breaks for corporate jet owners, plans to have an "executive pay czar," plans to up capital gains tax rates and income tax rates (on the "wealthy"), and the like, with simultaneous calls for increased "stimulus" spending, increased entitlements, and extended unemployment benefits, all against the backdrop of a mounting debt problem that seems unlikely to get fixed in the near future.

Along comes a man with a simple plan, Herman Cain. I noted his plan in a previous bit and asked--in jest--if he was a buffoon or a visionary. Judging by the response to his plan, it looks like most political leaders and pundits have opted for the former. On the left, the criticism is built around Cain's plan being too "regressive," never mind his stipulation that the lowest income levels would pay no income taxes (and no payroll taxes). On the right, the criticism is built around--of all things--the simplicity of the plan. It's no good because it's simple.

That kind of criticism should be an eye-opener, with regard to those that have offered it. What exactly is wrong with simple plan, if it does what it needs to do?

Taxation has a simple goal: to fund the government. And it is based--in nations founded on a social compact theory--on a simple standard: pay for service rendered. Taxation is not tribute. Taxation is not punishment. Citizens pay taxes because the government serves their interests, provides security, and manages the laws and rules of society. That's all there is, there isn't anymore.

So, what would Cain's plan actually do? Arthur Laffer lays it all out--in a simple manner--in the WSJ:
The whole purpose of a flat tax, à la 9-9-9, is to lower marginal tax rates and simplify the tax code. With lower marginal tax rates (and boy will marginal tax rates be lower with the 9-9-9 plan), both the demand for and the supply of labor and capital will increase. Output will soar, as will jobs. Tax revenues will also increase enormously—not because tax rates have increased, but because marginal tax rates have decreased. 
By making the tax codes a lot simpler, we'd allow individuals and businesses to spend a lot less on maintaining tax records; filing taxes; hiring lawyers, accountants and tax-deferral experts; and lobbying Congress. As I wrote on this page earlier this year ("The 30-Cent Tax Premium," April 18), for every dollar of business and personal income taxes paid, some 30 cents in out-of-pocket expenses also were paid to comply with the tax code. Under 9-9-9, these expenses would plummet without a penny being lost to the U.S. Treasury. It's a win-win.
The money would be there to fund the government, especially when the economy revved up. This fixation on the flaws on Cain's plan--and it's by no means perfect--ignores the flaws of the tax code we now have in place. Currently, the incentives (remember what those are) all go the wrong way: minimize reportable income, maximize deductions, and look for loopholes. Those incentives mean lower revenues, as a matter of course. Cain's plan--or one very similar to it--would create the right kind of incentives, ones that would actually tend to increase revenue, since there would be no downside for the individual--or corporation--in trying to increase income.

Simple. Yet--apparently--far too sensible.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The myth of smaller government

The rallying cry on the libertarian right has been--for a very long time--smaller government, limited government. It's a theme over two hundred years old, occasionally forgotten in the moment (like during a war), but always just below the surface, when not in full view.

And people are very quick to forget that it was still in evidence during the previous administration, that there were conservative types and libertarian types quite unhappy with the spending of the Bush administration, particularly the domestic spending for the former, the military spending for the latter. With the popping of the housing bubble and the slide into near-depression, the call for fiscal responsibility in government grew, even as some argued that the government needed to increase it's spending (and size) to save the nation's economy. 

Even today, with the dismal results from past so-called stimulus spending fully in evidence, there are people that argue for more and more spending, more and more government programs, to save the nation from ruin. And this is no novel approach, it's standard fare. Even with some calling for prudent approaches to economic downturns, for government cuts (to reflect the loss of government revenue), the reality is that the government always grows.

The WSJ reveals the less-than-surprising final numbers for the Federal Government, fiscal year 2010:
The Congressional Budget Office recently finished tallying the revenue and spending figures for fiscal 2011, which ended September 30, and no wonder no one in Washington is crowing. The political class might have its political pretense blown. This is said to be a new age of fiscal austerity, yet the government had its best year ever, spending a cool $3.6 trillion. That beat the $3.52 trillion posted in 2009, when the feds famously began their attempt to spend America back to prosperity.
And much of the increased spending comes in the form of new programs, new initiatives, and the like. What happens if a true-blue conservative/libertarian, determined to "shrink" the government, take the reins of power in 2012?  At best, spending is checked, growth rates are limited, and the federal government merely grows more slowly. This reality is laid bare by an examination of the Reagan years. The only place and time--that I know of--that saw an actual reversal of the modern welfare state is England, under Margaret Thatcher (who remains the great Satan for a fair majority of English politicians). It just doesn't happen, regardless of the rhetoric.

Remember, the admin recently cut a deal with House Republicans--in order to up the debt ceiling--wherein there would be meaningful spending cuts. Well, where are they? And if--by some weird miracle--Obama's "Jobs Bill" is passed in full, those cuts--however minimal--will disappear in a puff of ideological smoke.

For those of us that think the government really does need to cut back, really does need to get its own fiscal house in order, where does that leave us? No matter what we say, how loudly we scream, how many politicians we put in office, an actual decrease in the size of government is a pipe dream. That's the reality we need to recognize, to accept. So? We scream louder, work harder, and make even more outrageous demands, because that is the only way to even chip away at the growth, to minimize it, to prevent it from going exponential.

There is a dead end out there.And we're going to run into it, eventually. The question is, how long will it take and how fast will we be going when we get there? Make it a long, slow drive, that's the only solution. And-not surprisingly--Madison and company knew this, all the way back in the eighteenth century.

Cheers, all.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Solyndra fallout: a "culture of corruption" and DeVenCi

Set aside your ideological suppositions. Ignore the R's and D's by people's names. Forget which party is in charge, was in charge, or will be in charge and read this article in the WSJ.

Apparently, an investment firm--Rockport Capital--that is a major investor in Solyndra succeeded in convincing the US Navy to give Solyndra a very lucrative deal (though it has fallen apart, due to the latter's bankruptcy). How? Easy:
Solyndra was promoted to the Navy by RockPort Capital, one of the firm's largest investors and board members, which has a seat on a Pentagon panel that helps the government find emerging technologies.
This mysterious "Pentagon panel" is the Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative panel, or DeVenCi. The FAQ page for DeVenCi makes for an interesting read. The current goals of DeVenCi, as given:
  • Identify technologies and expose government users to emerging commercial products that meet war-fighter needs
  • Facilitate experimentation and testing of emerging commercial products
  • Fielding emerging commercial products from non-traditional DoD suppliers
That's actually a reasonable set of objectives. But--as is usually the case--it's not the goals that are the problem, it's the means used to achieve them.

In the case of DeVenCi, the "means" is allowing venture capitalists to simply apply to become members of the DeVenCi board. Then, they have a direct line to DoD heavyweights. People in the DoD think this is workable:
The venture capitalists on the panel serve two-year terms and aren't paid. They must disclose any "financial or other business relationships" with companies they recommend, according to military officials. Mr. Hicks [Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy] said the "overwhelming majority of technologies recommended were not ones the venture capitalists had a financial stake in."
But--as this defense of DeVenCi makes clear--some minority of the recommendations involve companies/technologies that the venture capitalists on the board DID have a financial stake in. Like Solyndra. And the problem there--aside from the conflict of interest--is that DeVenCi apparently doesn't require the venture capitalists to disclose pertinent information on companies:
Mr. Kopczynski said RockPort disclosed its $47.5 million investment in Solyndra to the Pentagon panel, though it didn't disclose that Solyndra was in financial trouble and said it wasn't required to under the panel's rules.
Now, if Rockport chose not to disclose Solyndra's problems--because it wasn't required to--what is the obvious conclusion? Rockport didn't come clean because it was more interested in saving it's investment in Solyndra than in helping the DoD. And on what basis are we to assume that the other venture capitalists on the board would behave any differently, given human nature?

The creation of DeVenCi (by Donald Rumsfeld) may have been an honest attempt to help the DoD stay abreast of emerging technologies, but that's not enough. It represents yet another government entity that provides opportunities for cronyism, back door dealing, and corruption.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2008 Sodaro Estate Petit Verdot

My last wine review was for the very interesting 2009 John Galt Proprietary Red. Like that one, the 2008 Sodaro Petit Verdot comes from Bounty Hunter Wines. Note the hand-written lot number:



This is a very dry wine--very dry--with a medium body and excellent nose. Petit Verdots are not very common  as stand alones; the grapes are more often used in blends. However, when done well I am told they can be exceptional. The Sodaro certainly was in the ballpark. It was a bit too complex for my palate, but the taste was superb, especially for a medium body wine. The fruit flavors were dark--raspberry/blackberry--and there was a barely perceptible oak flavor. The finish was smooth and long. Highly recommended, if you can find a bottle.

Cheers, all. *hic*


Obamacare Implosion

Yesterday, a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ususlly called "Obamacare") went up in smoke. The portion of the bill that dealt with a long-term care insurance--the CLASS program--was basically tabled, since it had become apparent that the program was not fiscally sound. Katherine Sebelius, HHS Secratary, on the issue:
"For 19 months, experts inside and outside government have examined how [the Department of Health and Human Services] might implement a financially sustainable, voluntary and self-financed long-term-care insurance program under the law," Sebelius wrote. "But despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation."
Now, the legislation establishing the program is still there, HHS has simply decided--with the approval of the administration--to not implement it. That's a strange thing, in my mind. The legislation was passed, it's the law of the land, but the government is going to ignore a portion because it doesn't make sense to do it? Representative John Thune sees the problem here, too:
"Simply setting aside the program for the near term is not enough," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "Repeal is the only solution to ensuring American taxpayers will not be on the hook in the future for this disastrous entitlement."
And this all begs the question, why was the program included in the legislation, if--for 19 months--everyone involved has apparently known there were major problems in it?

The answer is very clear. Obama touted his healthcare package as financially sound, as something that would not increase the debt but would--instead--decrease the debt. And as the WSJ points out, it was the supposed revenue stream from the CLASS program that made such a claim possible:
Democrats engineered the program known by the acronym Class with front-loaded premiums and back-loaded benefits so that on paper it threw off a lot of revenue early on but then bankrupted itself later. This design made it possible for the Congressional Budget Office to score the program as a money-raiser during its first decade and thus make ObamaCare look like it reduced the deficit. And sure enough, CBO, in its final estimate at passage, said that Class would reduce the deficit by $70 billion through 2019—or more than half the bill's supposed $124 billion 10-year "savings" to the federal fisc. Well, goodbye to all that.
Get that? It's another case of accounting tricks being used to mask the reality. The CBO knew the program was a ticking bomb, knew it would implode down the road, but it still willingly went along with the administration by scoring the CLASS program as a revenue generator. And as we can see, this "revenue" represents over half of the saving that Obamacare was supposed to produce.

So what we have here is a fiscally unsound program that was used to trumpet the fiscal responsibility of the overall plan it was a part of. And if the SCOTUS ultimately rules against the Constitutionality of mandated insurance purchases in the bill? There goes the rest of the imaginary revenue. And then some.

Cheers, all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Positive Law and Government Malfeasance

In a previous bit, I noted the blatant and near-commonplace disregard for the Constitution--the Law--shown by Senators via the introduction of revenue-raising bills in that body, prior to the passage of such bills in the House (the body Constitutionally ordained to produce all such bills). This practice is justified with legal trickery, with an assumption that legal maneuverings and loopholes can be freely exploited, whenever possible.

When it comes to the private sector, this is--unfortunately--absolutely true and is a consequence of having a society based on positive--not common or natural--law. Positive law refers to laws enacted (properly) in specific society for that specific society. In positive law, every action is subject to the same tests for legality. Despite the existence of the Bill of Rights, the vast majority of out legal code is positive law. The enumeration of powers in the Constitution is positive law (the assumption that the government has other powers--not expressly given--is not).

But government agents--including elected officials--are not operating within the same basic paradigm as common citizens. Citizens are looking out for their own interests, while government agents are --theoretically--looking out for the interests of society as a whole.

Thus, we expect government to abide by not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law. Of course--as the previous bit made crystal clear--many government agents fail to do so, far too frequently in my opinion. I've been following the Solyndra scandal quite closer--as should be clear to frequent readers here--and the one issue in the mess that troubled me the most, once it became known, was the subordination of the governments investment to those of some private investors. The government--when it loans money--never does this. Government loans are always supposed to take priority, as a matter of law. If that is not acceptable to whomever is to get the loan, the loan doesn't happen.

Yet, the DOE loan to Solyndra was subordinated. This issue was the subject of discussion today on Capital Hill, as Treasury Department officials were called before the House Commerce and Energy Committee to testify about the Solyndra loan deal. According to the given testimony, officials in the Treasury Department did not believe that the loan could be subordinated (duh, that's the law) and thought the DOE's actions might be illegal (might?).

The DOE's response to this:
"Based on a careful analysis of the terms of the restructuring, the career officials in the DOE loan program determined that the restructuring was legal and that it did not require Justice Department review," LaVera said. 
Energy Department officials say the statute cited by the Treasury Department requires the Justice Department to approve a loan "compromise," in which a borrower is allowed to pay back less than the full amount of the loan. That was not the case in the Solyndra deal, they said.  
And while one portion of the law makes clear that a federal debt cannot be subordinate to other financing at the time of the loan, another section provides officials with broad authority to take action to protect the taxpayer in an emergency situation, they said.
Note what's going on here: the DOE is playing games by looking at the letter of the law and ignoring the very clear intent. And regardless, how could it possibly be the case that subordinating the loan (putting other people ahead of the taxpayers) would be a means of protecting the taxpayers?

It's obvious that some people at the DOE are in very serious trouble. The questions are, who benefited from this subordination and did that person or persons have other connections in the government, above and beyond the DOE? Because if--perish the thought--the line goes to the admin, if the subordination helped insure someone who is/was very close to the President, this really is a scandal. And Impeachment would rightfully be on the table, in my opinion.

Occupy Apple Stores!

Today is the day, the Apple iPhone 4s is available in Apple stores all across the country. As of 7 am this morning in Palm Beach Gardens:

 (photo courtesy of the Palm Beach Post)

Of course, pre-orders for the iPhone 4s topped one million, so lines may not be that bad. Overnight on 5th Avenue, New York:


So, what's going on at the Occupy Wall Street protests? I can't help thinking that there will be fewer protesters on hand today. Or am I being overly cynical?

Cheers, all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Enough Solyndra talk!

Let's talk about SunPower, instead. Let's go to the charts (SPWRA), shall we?


Huh. Not looking too good, these days. No doubt, the Solyndra scandal has hurt the credibility of many solar energy companies. But there's a little more to this story.

Like Solyndra, SunPower is a beneficiary of the DOE loan program, to the tune of $1.2 billion dollars, over twice the monies that Solyndra received. And that money--according to the DOE--is supposed to go towards building something called the California Valley Solar Ranch:
...a project that will help create 15 permanent jobs, which adds up to the equivalent of $80 million in taxpayer money for each job.
Apparently, SunPower is building another manufacturing facility, as well. In Mexico.

SunPower has subsequently sold the ranch and has had outside infusions of capital, from the sale of stock. But SunPower is not financially strong; it's debts are far greater than its assets and it is set to report more major losses for the year. At one point--back in 2007--SunPower's stock was well over $100 a share and was close to $70 a share just before the 2008 elections. By January, 2009, the price had plummeted to less than $27 a share. So what went on, here? A company suffering quite badly received a a huge guaranteed loan from the DOE, but that money has apparently done little, if anything, to help the company's bottom line. Not only that, the company is outsourcing jobs to Mexico. Oh, and it's also facing several class-action lawsuits. Brilliant, just brilliant.


There is speculation that politics played a role here, as the top lobbyist for SunPower is the son of a California Congressman. But there is no apparent malfeasance. Yet.

Regardless, what is very obvious--in my opinion--is that the the DOE has been handing out billions of dollars, based on either piss-poor analysis or outright political favoritism, or both.

I'm sure we'll hear more about SunPower in the very near future...

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And if the elevator tries to bring you down...

...go crazy!

Dana Milbank at WaPo reports on the "Occupy DC" movement:
Attempting to emulate the Occupy Wall Street protests, Washington activists and some out-of-town guests set themselves the lofty goal of occupying the Hart Senate Office Building. “We are there to shut the place down!” organizer David Swanson told his small band of followers. 
But how to do this with only a few dozen demonstrators? Well, Swanson said, they could push all the buttons on the elevators — the way naughty children sometimes do in apartment buildings. “There are people who are wanting to go into the elevators and fill them and not get out and push all the buttons,” he said. “If you like that, do it.”
They also considered filling up all the bathrooms in the building, though I'm guessing most offices had their own. Ultimately, though, they did absolutely nothing, aside from a few getting arrested. What a nice way to spend the day.

Don't get me wrong, I'm okay with peaceful protests, even when the goals are silly and/or unattainable. I'm not so okay, though, with protests that needlessly inconvenience other people. But this one was neither, it was more of a bad joke. Filling up the elevators and bathrooms? Really? Maybe they could also make the line at Starbucks really long...

Cheers, all.

It seems almost like a pattern...

Previously, I noted how Eric Holder had seemingly perjured himself before Congress in July of last year. That situation has led to Darrell Issa issuing yet another subpoena, this time to the Justice Department, for documents  and other communications related to Operation Fast and Furious:
The subpoena seeks, among other things, all communications regarding the operation from 16 top Justice officials, including Holder, his chief of staff, Gary Grindler, and the head of the department's criminal division, Lanny Breuer,  as well as correspondence on specific dates to and from the former head of the ATF's Phoenix field division, William Newell. 
It also asks for all documents and communications referring or relating to the murder of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata, including any correspondence outlining the details of Zapata's mission at the time he was murdered.
Now, this is not the first sting operation that has gone bad, and it won't be the last. And it's little wonder that officials at the ATF and at Justice want this mess to disappear. But Holder's actions here are hardly unusual.

In the previous bit, I concluded that "either [Holder] doesn't read the pertinent memos and reports he is sent--making him an incompetent fool--or he lied to the Congressional committee." It appears that it may actually be the latter.

Mark Thiessen at WaPo lays out some of Holder's biggest misteps. Some highlights:

Holder’s bad advice began almost immediately after Obama took office, when he and White House counsel Greg Craig convinced the president to announce the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay by January 2010 — without even examining the feasibility of doing so. 
The next unneeded firestorm came with Holder’s decision to release classified Justice Department memos on the CIA terrorist interrogation program and reopen criminal investigations into the conduct of CIA interrogators. Holder overrode the objections of five CIA directors, including Leon Panetta. According to The Post, “Before his decision to reopen the cases, Holder did not read detailed memos that [career] prosecutors drafted and placed in files to explain their decision to decline prosecutions.” 
This only scratches the surface of ill-fated Holder initiatives. He also provoked a political firestorm by withdrawing a lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party for violations of the Voting Rights Act, over the objections of six career lawyers at Justice. And then there was his decision to sue Arizona over its popular immigration law, over the objections of three Arizona Democrats engaged in tough reelection fights (two of whom lost their seats).
As Thiessen notes, Holder doesn't seem to bother with due diligence, at all. He just shoots from the hip, making important decisions with incomplete information. This is no way to run the Justice Department. Indeed, it's no way to run any department. Yet, the President still has "complete confidence" in him.

Wise up, Mr. President. Holder is incompetent. And tragically so.

What's so great about Christie? Nothing.

I realize Christie is something of a folk hero to many people right now. This sudden jump status may have turned him into a bit of a kingmaker, as the Romney campaign seems to think Christie's endorsement is a pretty big deal. And it's certainly fair to give him credit when credit is due, for what he's accomplished as Governor in New Jersey.

But what has he accomplished? Seriously.

Beyond that, let's not forget his transgressions, one in particular. In 2010, Chris Christie's administration pushed through legislation--as a part of the much-heralded budget--that would allow the State of New Jersey to seize the monies from unused gift cards, two years after they were issued. So, if I had a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond for $100 and didn't use it, the State of New Jersey would be able to force the company to cancel the card and turn the money over to the State.

This is a conservative, a man who believes in liberty and freedom, a man that many think would be a great President? The gift card scheme--which has been blocked in court--was simple theft, nothing more. And it's rarely brought up as an issue these days.

For the life of me, I don't understand how anyone could see such actions as legitimate, as within the purview of government authority. And yet, the Christie admin had no problem appealing the decision.

Sure, this is old news. But it's not that old. And it's pretty damning, in my view.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Naming and Truth

There's a great fable about a Chinese Emperor who was having problems with a particular river that kept flooding. The river was named "The Wild One." In order to combat the flooding problem, the Emperor had a most novel idea: he would rename the river "The Quiet One."

In the traditions of Chinese philosophy, this technique is a perversion of the Confucian doctrine, the Rectification of Names. Essentially, Confucius argued that it was of vital importance that names were "correct," that they carried the truth of what something was, when they were descriptive in any way (proper names obviously do not fit this bill). Thus, of a mountain were to be named "Long Mountain," it really should be long. And if an office were to be called "the office of bridge building," the office-holder really should be concerned with building bridges. Simply stuff, right?

The name-changing Chinese Emperor sought to "rectify" the thing, itself, by changing its name (instead of the other way around), a name that was properly descriptive.

Did it work? Of course not. The river's flooding was as bad as ever. Of course, we might speculate that travelers--looking at a map with a river called "the Quiet One" on it--felt more at ease during their journey...right up until the point that they drowned in a flash flood.

This evening, the US Senate is poised to consider The American Jobs Act, Obama's much-ballyhooed piece of legislation that will supposedly "fix" the unemployment problem, via some taxes on the rich, some tax breaks on companies, some government spending, and some more extensions of unemployment benefits.

Obama says "it's gut check time" for the Senate. Mitch McConnell responds with the obvious rejoinder:
The President’s been calling for this vote for weeks; and in my view, we can’t have it soon enough. By proposing a second stimulus, Democrats are showing the American people that they have no new ideas for dealing with our jobs crisis. Today’s vote is conclusive proof that Democrats’ sole proposal is to keep doing what hasn’t worked — along with a massive tax hike that we know won’t create jobs.
And that's exactly right, in my opinion. It's the same old song and dance. Last time, it was a near-trillion dollar spending spree that didn't solve anything, other than the dearth of public Frisbee golf courses in some parts of the country. This time, it's only half that much, plus a special tax on "millionaires," apparently.

Calling the bill the "American Jobs Act" doesn't mean it will create jobs. Every Chinese schoolboy knows that.

Cheers, all.