March 30, 2009

My America

In Fargo, goodwill runs as deep as the Red River
One family offered their home to anyone left homeless by flooding, even sharing their security entry code. When another couple lost their house, total strangers showed up at their hotel with chicken dinners, brownies and quilts. In the neighborly spirit synonymous with North Dakota, some people have given out their phone numbers on radio talk shows, offering shelter to any listeners in need. The generosity is so common that even as thousands of people are driven out of their homes by the overflowing Red River, most storm shelters are virtually empty.

That's my America, the one I grew up in, and the one I live in, and the one I work to preserve. Do your part.

Nutshell V

'New York Times' Spiked Obama Donor Story:
Congressional Testimony: ‘Game-Changer’ Article Would Have Connected Campaign With ACORN

A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a “a game changer.”

Hey, and it took less than two weeks for someone to notice! Ah, media-driven tranparency!

Cannibal Watch

Democrats vs. Democrats
As Boehner accused Blue Dog Democrats of being “lap dogs” for Obama, and Americans United for Change, the labor-backed organization that serves as the White House’s chief third-party operation, began airing ads Wednesday urging moderate Democrats in both the House and the Senate to get on board with the president’s budget.

Among the targets of Americans United for Change is Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who declared the ads “not very helpful.”

“The liberal groups need to understand that we are not elected to represent the president,” Pryor said. “We’re elected to represent our states, and we are trying to reflect the attitudes and values of the people who sent us to Washington.”

You can always spot a winger--they insist on trying to eat their own.

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

DHS Signals Policy Changes Ahead for Immigration Raids
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed a series of proposed immigration raids and other enforcement actions at U.S. workplaces in recent weeks, asking agents in her department to apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids, federal officials said.

A senior department official said the delays signal a pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute -- increasing the focus on businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers.

"ICE is now scrutinizing these cases more thoroughly to ensure that [targets] are being taken down when they should be taken down, and that the employer is being targeted and the surveillance and the investigation is being done how it should be done," said the official, discussing Napolitano's views about sensitive law enforcement matters on the condition of anonymity.

Being rather familiar with bureaucratic double-speak, my mind immediately interprets this "change of policy" and "increasing the focus" as "We can nail almost anyone if we want to, and we're going to target those who make our enemies list. So play ball, or else."

Maybe that's just sheer cynicism talking. But similar things have been known to happen.

For a somewhat different take on Napolitano and the Obama admin's new "focus" on illegal immigration, see here.

March 28, 2009

Nutshell IV

Obama Town Hall Questioners Were Campaign Backers
But while the online question portion of the White House town hall was open to any member of the public with an Internet connection, the five fully identified questioners called on randomly* by the president in the East Room were anything but a diverse lot. They included: a member of the pro-Obama Service Employees International Union, a member of the Democratic National Committee who campaigned for Obama among Hispanics during the primary; a former Democratic candidate for Virginia state delegate who endorsed Obama last fall in an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star; and a Virginia businessman who was a donor to Obama's campaign in 2008.


[*--emphasis mine. If this were truly a "random" selection, the results indicate a pre-stacked crowd, any one of whom could be safely called on. If they were not random selections, well, that also speaks to the Potemkinist nature of "Town Hall" meetings at the most transparent White House in history, doesn't it?]

Someone Else's Nutshell

Obama's Press Conference in a Nutshell
Capitalism is a systemic virus that we cannot hope to kill, and as distasteful as that thought is to my Administration, it is something that we can hope to control if you give us unprecedented power.

We need to institute cap-and-trade so that we move from real, but pollution-causing energy sources to environmentally-friendly solutions that presently, err, do not exist.

And sure, my budget will most likely bankrupt the United States if we're off even a little bit, but if we don't spend hundreds of billions to institute a bunch of vague, wide-ranging, and ideologically-driven policy prescriptions, then we might end up broke anyway because of impossible—hey look, a bunny!

Pretty much on target.

March 27, 2009

Nutshell III

Yep yep, the most transparent White House in history. How could I ever have doubted?

WH preserves secrecy option for tax panel
I think I have a better idea now why the White House was so sensitive about my story Monday questioning the legality and wisdom of secret meetings held by subcommittees of President Obama’s economic advisory panel.

It was because officials planned to announce within days that Obama intended to use just such a subcommittee to prepare his tax simplification and enforcement initiative. And it looks like they’re laying the groundwork to allow the new tax panel to do its work behind closed doors.


March 25, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

Nominee for EPA No. 2 spot withdraws
President Barack Obama's nominee to be the No. 2 official at the Environmental Protection Agency, Jon Cannon, withdrew Wednesday after it was disclosed that he was on the board of a nonprofit group faulted for mishandling federal grant money.

...A 2007 EPA inspector general's report on the foundation alleged a variety of irregularities involving $25 million in federal grants to assess water quality problems, including those at farms and pork processing facilities. The problems with accounting, improper cash advances and similar violations stretched from 1998 to 2005, according to the report. The foundation dissolved in 2006 and all directors resigned, the report said.

Just another step along the Great Chicago Way.

March 24, 2009

Nutshell II

Reines storm: Clinton conflict brews
The incident’s aftermath was one in a series that roiled the State Department press corps as it adjusts to a new administration whose tendencies – in this one area – are more restrictive than its predecessors. This may not be by accident: One government official said State and the White House have been discussing reducing the amount of information the State Department releases about the secretary’s words and meetings, which by long tradition is more expansive than what’s released by some other agencies.

Reporters who deal with the State Department wouldn’t voice their complaints on the record. Those who spoke on background said they had enjoyed what they saw as excellent access to Clinton during a previous trip to Asia.

But the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler let some of the dissatisfaction show on his blog during the trip to Europe and the Middle East.

He reported from Sharm el-Sheikh that Clinton was the first secretary of state in seven years not to brief reporters at the beginning of a trip. “We got off the plane, wordless. This was a big deal for the press corps.”

Once you pull the pin, Mr. Hand Grenade is no longer necessarily your friend.

March 20, 2009

The Obama Administration, In A Nutshell

Obama White House bars press from press award ceremony

Yep, "the most transparent presidential administration in American history" once again makes Bill Clinton look open and forthcoming.

March 18, 2009

Don't Misunderestimate Obama

Obama climate plan could cost $2 trillion
President Obama's climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion, nearly three times the White House's initial estimate of the so-called "cap-and-trade" legislation, according to Senate staffers who were briefed by the White House.

...At the meeting, Jason Furman, a top Obama staffer, estimated that the president's cap-and-trade program could cost up to three times as much as the administration's early estimate of $646 billion over eight years. A study of an earlier cap-and-trade bill co-sponsored by Mr. Obama when he was a senator estimated the cost could top $366 billion a year by 2015.

For the slow-of-economic-uptake, what the White House is saying is that their proposed economy-choking massive new taxes on energy, which would be paid directly and indirectly by every American, rich or poor , will likely be three times what they initially claimed.

But they promise they'll give a few of us some small part of our money back, if they think we're deserving of it.
A White House official did not confirm the large estimate, saying only that Obama aides previously had noted that the $646 billion estimate was "conservative."

"Any revenues in excess of the estimate would be rebated to vulnerable consumers, communities and businesses," the official said.

Of course, they get to decide who's "vulnerable" and thus worthy of receiving some small amount of federal assistance to ease tyhe pain of those killer taxes. The phrase CONFISCATORY SOCIALIST WEALTH REDISTRIBUTION, one I have carefully avoided using these last few months, does leap immediately to mind.

It's nice to see someone in the GOP show some spine in response:
"The last thing we need is a massive tax increase in a recession, but reportedly that's what the White House is offering: up to $1.9 trillion in tax hikes on every single American who drives a car, turns on a light switch or buys a product made in the United States," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner. "And since this energy tax won't affect manufacturers in Mexico, India and China, it will do nothing but drive American jobs overseas."

March 12, 2009

Econ 201: Corporate Behavior

Corporate oil booms in low-tax Switzerland

Over the past six months companies including offshore drilling contractors Noble Corp and Transocean, energy-focused engineering group Foster Wheeler and oilfield services company Weatherfield International have all announced plans to shift domicile to Switzerland.

"Switzerland has a stable and developed tax regime and a network of tax treaties with most countries where we operate," Transocean Chief Executive Bob Long said in a statement in October, when it announced its move. "As a result, the redomestication will improve our ability to maintain a competitive worldwide effective corporate tax rate."

Dear Mr. President,

This phenomenon is called "safe-haven capital flight" and is a perfectly predictable and utterly rational corporate response to increased taxes on capital. Please note that tax-exporting capital flight can and does occur not just on the imposition of new taxes, but on the future expectations of same.

I would beg to note that capital flight also involves human capital.

It's not too late to stop or reverse the trend. But it's getting there.


A Recovering Economist

March 11, 2009

The Laugher Curve

Tom Maguire does his best not to collapse in giggle fits while critiquing an "orthodox progressive" understanding of market economics. (Bolding mine.)

Shut Up, She Explained

I GUESS THE WALMART GUYS MISSED THIS IN B-SCHOOL: Former Hollywood producer Jane Hamsher takes time from her schedule to explain to WalMart management how they can boost their bottom line:

Even Bank of America admitted in an internal memo that increased wages for working people would mean "increased spending power of lower income consumers," which would mean that even if Wal-Mart was successfully unionized -- a big if -- they could make up the cost of higher wages with an increase in sales.

I am afraid that any response would spoil the moment; I want to savor this "Walmart could earn more if they just increased their cost base" theorem a bit longer.

OK. Since Ms. Hamsher is an orthodox progressive we can easily imagine her reaction if presented with the notion that the government could increase its revenue by cutting tax rates (another firedog favors "crazier notions of supply side economics" as a description of the Laffer Curve). Yet now we live in a world where WalMart can increase its profits by increasing its costs - can we call this "the Laugher Curve"? Why haven't WalMart's managers and owners figured this out for themselves? I blame false consciousness!

Sure, they'll lose a little on each sale, but they'll make it up on volume!

Don't Tell Democrats

FDR's policies prolonged Depression by 7 years, UCLA economists calculate

Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After scrutinizing Roosevelt's record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.

"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics. "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

March 09, 2009

David Axelrod, Official Echo Chamber

From the morally bankrupt New York Times:

It is known as the Wednesday Night Meeting, an invitation-only session for a handful of advisers, nearly all of whom played a key role in paving Mr. Obama’s path to the Oval Office. The location varies, but in a recent week Mr. Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, was feeling under the weather, so a group that he says is “like family to me” met at his place.

....Jon Favreau, the president’s chief speechwriter, said there was a familiar refrain during these meetings, with Mr. Axelrod urging the team not to become consumed by the insularity of Washington. “Can I speak on behalf of the American people here?” he said Mr. Axelrod often asks aloud.

That is precisely why, Mr. Axelrod said, he convened the Wednesday Night Meetings: to keep the pulse of what people were thinking. Locked in the White House all day, he added, he can no longer hear those voices on his own.

So, um, the President's chief advisor finds out what "the people" are thinking by close consultation with Obama loyalists wielding focus group results. Am I the only one that thinks that just maybe he's getting a somewhat, er, filtered message?

Kind of like Wikipedia readers are?

March 08, 2009

Pay No Attention to the Brigade Behind the Curtain

More HopeChange™! Obama claims to have already begun drawing down the Iraq troop presence by diverting the deployment of the 5th SBCT to Afghanistan, instead of to Iraq as previously scheduled.

But Mudville Gazette has been paying attention, and noticed that the 5th SBCT (which spent ten months training specifically for Iraq) was being replaced in the Iraq deployment by the 4th SBCT, several months ahead of their scheduled deployment.

One hopes that the 4th SBCT had enough time to complete that 10-month training course. If so, net effect is NO troop reduction in Iraq (at least not the one claimed by Obama) but an increase in troops in Afghanistan.

March 07, 2009

The Nature of the Beast

GayPatriot has some cogent thoughts on the sad state of what passes for political discourse nowadays.

In both cases, those on the left side of the political aisle demonize their opposition in a manner reminiscent of a political campaign where the goal is to prevent an opponent’s election. In short, they seem to see politics as a battle of personalities not ideas. They always need a villain. Yes, I grant this is true for many on the right, especially certain extreme social conservatives.

Why is it they believe they can best advance their argument not by taking apart their opponent’s case, but by taking that opponent apart (or defining someone as their opponent so as to eviscerate him)?

At least in part because they've never learned the difference between truth and propaganda, and believe they are synonomous and interchangable.

Some good stuff in the comments as well.