Posts tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

Hey, We Are Getting Some Support

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has been all over the shutdown of private businesses that take no money from the Federal government, but have been closed by the Administration none-the-less.  The Daily Caller has an article up that includes some quotes from yours truly

During the government shutdown, the Obama administration has forced the closure of privately owned parks, stoking calls from lawyers for park owners to take legal action against the federal government.

“As a lawyer who once worked for the government, I assume there is no legal authority for this because these private tourist attractions were not shut down in prior ‘government shutdowns,’ even under Bill Clinton, who understood how to play political hardball,” Hans Bader, senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in an email.

A lawyer with the conservative Heritage Foundation said that the Obama administration’s actions were likely illegal and that business owners forced to close shop should sue.

“They should immediately file a lawsuit and seek a temporary injunction against the government,” said Former Justice Department lawyer Hans Von Spakovsky.

Which is what we are doing right at this moment.  Several other groups are winning similar suits.

Another example (though I am told the Cliff House case was greatly aided by connections they had with Nancy Pelosi).

I Would Really Like To Know: Does She Honestly Believe This, or Is Her Job To Spin This Kind of BS With A Straight Face

I can create a long list of reasons for disliking Republicans, but Nancy Pelosi just seems either totally insane or totally brazen when she makes this observation about Obama and Republicans:

“He [President Obama] has been … open, practically apolitical, certainly nonpartisan, in terms of welcoming every idea and solution. I think that’s one of the reasons the Republicans want to take him down politically, because they know he is a nonpartisan president, and that’s something very hard for them to cope with.”

As a truly non-partisan observer, I would say that I have not seen a President in my lifetime as empty of strategic thinking and substantive ideas.  Jeez, Bill Clinton did more substantive thinking in the shower in the morning than Obama has done in five years.  This man is all hyper-divisive rhetoric.  If Obama supporters want to compare him to a great leader, he reminds me in some ways of Bismark in the sense that Bismark was the master of negative integration, of defining an internal enemy (a Reichsfeinde) on every issue and marginalizing that enemy to unify everyone else on his side.  Of course, eventually, the legacy of that approach did not work out so well.

Highway Bait And Switch

Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein both complain that Congress is letting America's highways fall apart by not raising the gasoline tax.  They complain that current gas taxes are no longer high enough to cover costs, as the Federal highway trust fund is empty.  Apparently, Congress and the President were always blithely happy to raise the gas tax to whatever it needed to be to cover costs, and now this current Congress is departing from the historic norm:

We used to have a straightforward way to fund infrastructure in this country: the federal gas tax. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower raised the tax from 1.5 cents a gallon to 3 cents to help pay for the creation of the interstate highway system. In 1959, he increased it from 3 cents to 4 cents. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan raised the gas tax to 9 cents. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush raised it to 14 cents, with half of the increase going to reduce the deficit. In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised it to 18.4 cents.

In other words, from 1956 to 1993, there was a bipartisan consensus on the federal gasoline tax: Both parties agreed that it occasionally needed to be raised in order to help pay for the nation’s infrastructure. But since 2000, there has been a bipartisan consensus against raising the federal gasoline tax.

But here is what happened since 1993:  Roughly a third of highway taxes are diverted to local mass transit and other oddball non-highway projects.  Simply devoting all the highway trust fund to, you know, highways would add an effective 6-7 cents to the gas tax money without actually raising the tax.

Here is what is going on:  The Left loves mass transit projects, particularly urban rail.  Of all government transportation projects, these have by far the highest cost per passenger mile of anything we do, so diverting money to these projects reduces the bang for the buck but the Left loves these projects for social engineering reasons I will discuss in a post soon.

The Left knows that these transit projects will not stand up well in the appropriations process.  Kansas taxpayers are not going to be happy about paying for another couple miles of the LA subway system.  They will ask, rightly, why local urbanites can't pay for their own damn transit projects if these projects are so great.  But taxpayers generally support tax hikes for highways. So what does a politician on a transit mission do?  He sells the gas tax to the public on it being dedicated to highways.  Then he switches the money away from highways to transit.  This leaves highways falling apart.  So he can again go to taxpayers asking for money, ostensibly for highways, but of which a good portion will eventually be siphoned off to transit (and squirrel bridges and whatever).  Repeat.

In effect, calls for raising the gas tax are NOT to repair highways.  This is a bait and switch.  Gas taxes are sufficiently high enough to fully fund highway work if it was all applied to highway work.  Proposed increased in gas taxes are needed to pay for the continuing diversion of highway funds to egregiously expensive transit projects.  Congress is right to stop this shell game.

Politicians and Entrepeneurship

Don Boudreaux asks:

Here’s a quick question for anyone who takes seriously politicians’ pronouncements about what particular industries are “vital” or are “of the future” or are “crucial to meeting consumers’ needs”: Why do virtually none of these politicians, when they leave office, found their own non-political firms? Why do virtually none of these politicians, when they leave office, found their own non-political firms – firms that specialize neither in granting clients access to incumbent politicians nor in projects that depend upon getting subsidies or other favors from those same politicians?

This question occurred to me a few days ago upon hearing that former president Bill Clinton was off somewhere talking about something to some group concerned about some issue.  His career now is to make lots of money as a sort of high-brow social healer – to emit platitudes, attend state funerals, and (pardon my switch of imagery) be a show-pony for politically correct causes.  The post-Oval Office careers of every other recent president – to the extent that they haven’t simply retired to the golf course or the study – have been largely the same, with the groups and causes served by their attentions differing only as one former president’s political affiliations differ from those of another former president.

One guy comes to mind who had a sniff of the White House and then went on to run his own business:  George McGovern.  And though its just a small Inn that will never be even a blip on the economic radar screen, it has driven McGovern dangerously close to being a libertarian.  Actually, that might be a misnomer.  He probably is still a liberal, but from the days when liberals actually cared about individual freedom and saw aggregations of power in the government to be at least as scary as those in the private world.  Take this for example:

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics...

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

The only other place I have heard this recently on the Left was, perhaps not coincidentally, from that other child of 60's liberal politics, Jerry Brown

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalties on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and responsibility to make good choices for their children.

Sincerely,
Edmund J. Brown

Postscript:  The answer to Don's question is one of two.  Either a)  They are not up to it.  And/or b) There is a hell of a lot more wealth that can be captured through the exercise of government power than through private enterprise.

No Wonder Al Gore Is So Obsessed With Weather!

Bryan Caplan links a 2007 study that looks at voter turnout and weather, and specifically tests the conventional wisdom that rain helps Republicans (by disproportionately surpressing the Democratic vote).

The findings appear to be that bad weather does help Republicans and does supress turnout.  However, in studying presidential elections, he finds few that would have had their outcome changed.  Here, however, was one exception:

The results of the zero precipitation scenarios reveal only two instances in which a perfectly dry election day would have changed an Electoral College outcome. Dry elections would have led Bill Clinton to win North Carolina in 1992 and Al Gore to win Florida in 2000. This latter change in the allocation of Florida's electors would have swung the incredibly close 2000 election in Gore's favor.

Since we know from Gore that heavy snow, no snow, heavy rain, and no rain are all caused by global warming, his 2000 electoral defeat was obviously caused by manmade CO2.

Here is the Key Bait and Switch

Bill Clinton joined a number other leftish writers of late trying to marginalize those who criticize the government (and in particular, I think, the Tea Party folks).   I am really not going to comment much on this attempt, except to say that we endured something identical during the Iraq war, with the BS about not criticizing the President during wartime.

Here is the key bait and switch in Clinton's argument:

But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

The government that guarantees our freedoms?  I suppose this sounds sort of good if one just lets it roll by, but in the context of our country's formation, this is absurd.  The only threat to freedom that the founders of this nation were concerned about was the government itself.

The government is the only entity with the power to use force and the power to grab money without permission.  As such, the founders recognized it as the single most potent threat to freedom that could possibly exist.  All their efforts were aimed at constructing limitations and protections from the power of government itself.

It would be far more correct to say "the Constitution that guarantees our freedoms" by limiting the power of government, but in fact that is exactly what the left is trying to overturn, with a hundred years of efforts to slowly whittle the Constitutional limitations on the power of government down to zero.

Update: Wow, this is an amazing excerpt from a 1995 memo from Dick Morris to Clinton just after the Oklahoma City bombing.  Seems like he is still following the same playbook:

Later, under the heading "How to use extremism as issue against Republicans," Morris told Clinton that "direct accusations" of extremism wouldn't work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the "ricochet theory." Clinton would "stimulate national concern over extremism and terror," and then, "when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans." As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose "intrusive" measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, "provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen." Then, if members of Congress complained, that would "link right-wing of the party to extremist groups." The net effect, Morris concluded, would be "self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists."

It's Been A Long Road Since January

On January 20th of this year, Barack Obama probably had perhaps the strongest personal position to work from of any President in recent memory.  Everybody wanted to hear what he had to say and many were prepared to do what he asked.

Today, he seems to have frittered away much of this authority and devalued his own brand.  How else to explain that he is relying on a former president (Bill Clinton) to sell his health care agenda in Congress and it took another former president (George W Bush) to visit the Ft. Hood tragedy.

It's Apparently Racist to Creat Jobs in Minority Neighborhoods

I remember the fuss a number of years ago that a disproportionate number of heavily polluting industrial plants were in poorer neighborhoods.  I suppose it is no surprise that companies look to site plants where there are large labor forces and cheap land, which probably means that they are not going to buy of large swaths of Grosse Pointe for their new auto plant.  But there also seemed to be some chicken and egg here - residential land around industrial tracts probably attract residents who can't afford to live somewhere else.

Anyway, I had never realized just how destructive public policy had become in response to this "problem," nor how much our current climate czar had to do with it:

Case in point is "Climate Czar" Carol Browner, former EPA chief under Bill Clinton and ghostwriter of Al Gore's apocalyptic book Earth in the Balance. In the late 1990s, Browner championed the effort to apply Title VII U.S. civil rights law to plant permitting, arguing that locating industrial facilities in majority black cities "disproportionately impacted" minorities and was there "environmental racism."The policy provoked outrage among those black elected officials across the country who believe it's a good thing to have jobs available in minority areas.

Some of those officials were in Michigan, where Browner's green allies tried to use EPA rules to shut down electric power facilities and auto plants. At the time, Browner had already bagged the pelts of two major facilities in Louisiana -- a plastics plant and nuclear fuel facility -- that would have brought hundreds of jobs to minorities.

As can be expected, African-American politicians who were told it was racist to locate jobs in their communities were not amused:

Horrified by this threat to jobs within poor communities, Detroit mayor Dennis Archer led the primarily Democratic U.S. Conference of Mayors to scrap "green redlining" -- so called because the EPA actually drew circles around plants located in minority areas that would encourage lawsuits. The mayors were joined by a rainbow coalition of groups from the National Association of Black County Officials to Republican pols like L.A.'s Richard Riordan and Michigan Rep. Joe Knollenberg.

Addressing the Black Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting, then-U.S. Chamber president Thomas Donahue said: "I'm trying to think of a policy that would be more effective in driving away entrepreneurs and jobs from economically disadvantaged areas -- and I can't do it."

Apparently, the whole to-do was BS anyway

Mastio's News investigation further uncovered that Browner's EPA had suppressed documents finding that there was not a corporate conspiracy to locate polluting industries in black areas (in fact, they are mostly in white areas), and the bipartisan outrage eventually led to a Congressional vote blocking the EPA rule.

Quote of the Day

"I think it was exciting to some that she was a woman"

- Bill Clinton on Sarah Palin  (via)

Those Short-Term, Quarterly Focused Corporations

Everyone has heard the knock on corporations -- they are supposedly short-term focused and incapable of making investments that don't pump up the current quarter.  We hear this in particular from government officials, right before they try to sell some egregious bit of pork-spending that is supposedly for "investment" in things these awful corporate guys won't invest in.

But of course the entire existence of the oil industry is proof-positive that this knock on large corporations can't be universally true, or else the oil industry would have gone out of business for lack of reserves some time in the late 19th century.  The oil industry routinely makes huge investments that take 10 years or more to even start to pay out (e.g. Alaska pipeline, shale oil, deep Gulf).  One major reason that supplies are currently tight is that most of the world's oil reserves are held by state companies (like Pemex) that are incapable of making the long-term investments their fields needs because there is so much pressure on the government to divert the oil profits into social programs rather than into renewing the reserve base.

And now look who is singing the same tune as Hugo Chavez and the other oil producing kleptocrats - Barack Obama:

"Opening our coastlines to offshore drilling would take at least a
decade to produce any oil at all, and the effect on gasoline prices
would be negligible at best since America only has 3 percent of the
world's oil," Obama said in a statement that did not explicitly
distinguish between oil and gas drilling."

Of course, offshore drilling was approved 10 years ago, but was vetoed by Bill Clinton.  I don't believe for a second that this is his real reason for opposing drilling (in fact, I believe him to be in the pocket of radical environmentalists and perfectly happy to demagogue oil companies for high prices rather than take responsibility for past government action).  However, if we take him at his word, this is an absolutely unbelievable lack of long-term focus from a man people like to call "visionary."

The Oil Prices We Deserve

A good column on gas prices by George Will.

Can a senator, with so many things on his mind, know so precisely how
the price of gasoline would respond to that increase in the oil supply?
Schumer does know that if you increase the supply of something, the
price of it probably will fall. That is why he and 96 other senators
recently voted to increase the supply of oil on the market by stopping
the flow of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,
which protects against major physical interruptions. Seventy-one of the
97 senators who voted to stop filling the reserve also oppose drilling
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One million barrels is what might today be flowing from ANWR if in 1995 President Bill Clinton
had not vetoed legislation to permit drilling there. One million
barrels produce 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Seventy-two of today's senators -- including Schumer, of course, and 38
other Democrats, including Barack Obama, and 33 Republicans, including John McCain -- have voted to keep ANWR's estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil off the market.

Presidents and the Economy

There is very little that can make me go non-linear faster than when someone attributes economic growth to a politician, e.g. Reagan's economy or Clinton's economy.  So this post from Kevin Drum on the correlation between economic growth and the flavor of president in the Oval Office is just the kind of thing to make me lose it.  And not because I really care whether Team Coke or Team Pepsi looks better.

Larry Bartels says that Democratic presidents produce higher economic
growth than Republican presidents, and that the differences in average
growth rates for middle-class and poor families (but not affluent
families, apparently, who do well under both parties) are statistically
significant by conventional social-scientific standards.

OK, I have seen the analysis done different ways and accept the statistical conclusion.  You used to be able to get a really tight correlation between Washington Redskin football team performance and presidential election outcomes (via Snopes):

Sometimes one natural phenomenon supposedly
forecasts another, as in the belief that a groundhog's
seeing his shadow on February 2 portends another six weeks of
winter. In other instances the linkage is between affairs of mankind, as in the
superstition that the winner of football's Super
Bowl
augurs that year's stock market performance (or vice-versa).

A recent item of this ilk maintains that the results of the last game
played at home by the NFL's Washington Redskins (a football team based in
the national capital, Washington, D.C.) before the U.S.
presidential
elections has accurately foretold the winner of the last
fifteen of those political contests, going back to 1944. If the Redskins win
their last home game before the election, the party that occupies the White
House continues to hold it; if the Redskins lose that last home game, the
challenging party's candidate unseats the incumbent president. While we don't
presume there is anything more than a random correlation between these factors,
it is the case that the pattern held true even longer than claimed, stretching
back over seventeen presidential elections since 1936

What gets me is not the existence of a correlation, but the explanation:

In recent decades taxes and transfers have probably been more
important. Social spending. Business regulation or lack thereof. And
don't forget the minimum wage. Over the past 60 years, the real value
of the minimum wage has increased by 16 cents per year under Democratic
presidents and declined by 6 cents per year under Republican
presidents; that's a 3% difference in average income growth for minimum
wage workers, with ramifications for many more workers higher up the
wage scale. So, while I don't pretend to understand all the ways in
which presidents' policy choices shape the income distribution, I see
little reason to doubt that the effects are real and substantial.

I have three thoughts, of which the third is what really gets me:

  • It is funny that no one considers that this correlation may work in reverse.  Everyone assumes government drives short-term economic performance.  What if, to some extent, short-term economic performance drives changes in government?  If one assumes that, even without the public spirited and Herculean efforts of our presidents, economies are naturally cyclical, then why try to explain cycles on politics when we know cycles are going to exist anyway.  Why wouldn't a perfectly valid alternate explanation be that one political party tends to be elected if the economy is in one part of the cycle and the other gets elected if the economy is in another place?
  • The political brand names "Republican" and "Democrat" shift in meaning over time vis a vis economic policy recommendations, and individual presidents can diverge quite a ways from their party center line.  One can easily argue that Nixon was the most interventionist and economically ignorant president (think:  wage and price controls), despite the "Republican" brand name.  John Kennedy was more laissez faire than most Republicans are today.   Regulation, as measured by pages added to Federal Register, increased at a far faster pace under George Bush (I) than Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton passed free market legislation, including NAFTA, that John McCain shys away from today, while George Bush passed an expansion of Medicare that Bill Clinton did not consider.  Oh, and when we discuss regulation and such, Congress sortof matter too.
  • The author's argument boils down to "the more governors and useless loads we add to an engine, the more strongly the engine will run."  It is just absurd.  None of these guys have the first clue what it takes to run a business day to day, nor how much of a business owner's time and effort is aimed not at service customers better, and not at being more productive, and not at making employees happier or better trainined, but at responding to the latest mass of government regulation, paperwork, liscensing, taxes, and other total crap.  Here is just one example I wrote up about what sits on my desk.

To this last point, take just two things on my desk this morning.  The first is a pile of tax returns and some licensing paperwork.  Last year, our company's total tax bill was not that large.  But the problem is that the government takes the taxes in so many bites, and every bite costs time on our part learning the process and filling out paperwork.  For example, if I take all the taxes and licensing fees we pay to federal, local, and state governments, and multiply times the number of months or quarters each requires a report, I get a number of over 400.  Four hundred individual bites, each with its own paperwork and overhead.

The other problem sitting on my desk is a snack bar I inherited on a lease in California at Lake Piru.  The snack bar is a dump.  It is designed wrong, it is set up to cook the wrong kinds of foods, and uses space in the building very inefficiently.  I want to lay the whole thing out differently, as a win-win for everyone.  We could sell more with fewer workers.  The customers would get more selection, including much healthier choices.  The operation would be safer, because we would eliminate most of the heavy cooking  (e.g. deep fat fryers).  And it would be cleaner, with less wastewater and cleaner wastewater because there would be less grease and oil.

Unfortunately, it is very clear that Ventura County, California is not going to allow me to make these changes, at least at any cost I can afford.  First, apparently I need to build a new wastewater treatment plant for the snack bar!  But I am reducing the waste water load, I argue.  Does not matter.  New code requires a plant.  So because of this environmental code, I am pushed to continue the current operation which is environmentally worse than my proposed alternative.  We have the exact same problem on fire suppression.  But I am removing the ovens and most of the cooking equipment!  It's safer!  Doesn't matter, if I make any change at all, I have to install a new fire suppression system.  And on and on.  this is the true face of government regulation.  We face this kind of thing ten times a day.   

Anyway, I could go on and on about this stuff, but that is what the blog is about, so I will refer you to my past (and future) posts.

Yes, I Have This Problem Too

From Megan McArdle:

People are so wrapped up in their own irrational bundles of ideas that they seem unable to conceive of any bundle that isn't

a)  theirs

b)  the exact opposite of theirs

 

It just floors me when people want to argue that the current conservative/liberal or Democrat/Republican positions are internally consistent and the logical (or even only) way to parse the world of ideas.  Particularly when I can start naming so many issues where the two sides have swapped positions over the last few years.  For example, left/right opinions on unchecked presidential power tend to have a lot to do with whose guy is in office.  Bill Clinton proposed most of the Patriot act  as his anti-terrorism bill way back in the mid-nineties, and was opposed in Congress by Republicans led by John Ashcroft.

Clintons: Welcome to 1905

Bill Clinton is at least honest to some extent in saying that cutting back on CO2 emissions will requires us to throttle back the economy:

In a long, and interesting speech, he [Bill Clinton] characterized what
the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global
warming this way: "We just have to slow down our economy and cut back
our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our
grandchildren."

But how much?  Activists try to make the average person feel like the amount is "not much" by spinning out rosy stories of 3rd graders fighting global warming by recycling.  But in fact Bill's wife Hillary makes the degree of cuts clearer:

...[Clinton's] plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming...

And recognize, this is the typical figure being cited by global warming catastrophists for "necessary" US cuts.  So how much is 80%?  With current technology, an almost unimaginable cut.  Its hard to get good Co2 data, but here is a chart from some place called the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center that purports to show US historic CO2 production from man-made sources:
Usaco2_2

The chartsmanship sucks here, but 1990 looks like about 1.35 billion metric tons.  20% of that would be 0.27 billion metric tons.  That appears to be the level we hit in about ... 1905.  So, apparently without using nuclear power (since Clinton opposed nuclear expansion in one of the debates, I think in Nevada)  she wants us in the next 42 years to get back to the energy production of about 1905.  Now this is a bit unfair, since efficiencies and GDP per ton of CO2 have improved substantially since 1905.  So to be fair she may only want to take us back to about 1930.

While this is scary, what Clinton and other global warming crusaders want to do to the third world is even scarier.  Right now, close to a billion people who have been in poverty forever are posed, via growth in China, India, and SE Asia, to finally exit poverty.  Global warming crusaders want this to stop.  For example, here is the former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern says that India must stay poor:

Mr
Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, sends out a very
clear message: "We need to cut down the total amount of carbon
emissions by half by 2050." At current levels, the per capita global
emissions stand at 7 tonnes, or a total of 40-45 gigatonnes. At this
rate, global temperatures could rise by 2.5-3 degrees by then. But to
reduce the per capita emissions by half in 2050, most countries would
have to be carbon neutral. For instance, the US currently has, at 20-25
tonnes, per capita emissions levels that are three times the global
average.

The European Union's emission levels stand at 10-15
tonnes per capita. China is at about 3-4 tonnes per capita and India,
at 1 tonne per capita, is the only large-sized economy that is below
the desired carbon emission levels of 2050. "India should keep it that way and insist that the rich countries pay their share of the burden in reducing emissions," says Mr Stern.

No cars for these folks either!

On Political Calibration

If I had to choose one word that describes why I despair of politics, it is "calibration."  Recently, it has been observed that Ron Paul, for example, cannot possibly win because he sticks to a basic set of beliefs and never calibrates his message to the electorate and recent polls.  On the other end of the scale, Hillary Clinton is famous for endlessly calibrating everything she does in the hopes of maximizing the votes she receives.

Calibration is one of those dangerous words that tend to obfuscate the underlying reality.  Because, there are only two possible definitions of calibration as used in this political context:

  • Lying, i.e. telling the electorate what they want to hear with the intention of acting differently once in office
  • Total nihilism,, i.e. willingness to shift beliefs based on whatever is effective

Russell Roberts describes the situation pretty well:

But there is little difference between Republican and Democratic
Presidents in what they actually do. In what they say? Sure. Both
Reagan and Bush talk about individual responsibility and the market
blah blah blah. Bill Clinton talked more about feeling people's pain
and the downtrodden blah blah blah. Similarly, in the current
presidential campaign, there are stark rhetorical differences between
say Giuliani and Romney on the one hand and Obama and Clinton on the
other.

But will the actual results be different? Will Hillary double the
minimum wage? Change our health care system to be more socialized?
Eliminate corporate welfare? Will Giuliani make the health care system
less socialized? Eliminate the minimum wage? Get rid of farm subsidies?
Stop spending federal money on education?

Most of it is talk and it's not just because change is hard to
achieve. It's because they really don't want change. Did Bill Clinton
get rid of income inequality? Dent it? The share of income going to the
top 1% rose throughout most of the Clinton administration. Was it his
policies? The steady rise in the share of income going to the top 1%
started rising in 1976. Was it Carter's doing?

Was Bush or Reagan a hard core free trader in practice? Nope. They
used protectionism when it was politically expedient. Just like Bill
Clinton signed welfare reform and NAFTA and then chose not to enforce
the truck provision of NAFTA because the Teamsters didn't like it.

Government gets bigger under both Republicans and Democrats. What
they spend money on is a little different, yes. But to hate George Bush
for being a free market guy is to miss what is really going on. And to
hate Hillary because she doesn't understand the power of markets and to
love, say, Mitt Romney, is to misunderstand both of them. They use
rhetoric to dupe you. Don't be duped.

This all leads to the question of into which category should we place Paul Krugman - lier or nihilist?

Paul Krugman worries that,
although trade between high-wage countries is mutually beneficial,
"trade between countries at very different levels of economic
development tends to create large classes of losers as well as winners"
- and so is suspect because it likely harms ordinary American workers
("Trouble With Trade," December 28).

A famous trade economist
argues that this concern is misplaced.  In a 1996 essay, this economist
- responding to a protectionist who fretted that western trade with
low-wage countries would harm workers in the west - wrote that this
protectionist "offers us no more than the classic 'pauper labor'
fallacy, the fallacy that Ricardo dealt with when he first stated the
idea, and which is a staple of even first-year courses in economics. In
fact, one never teaches the Ricardian model without emphasizing
precisely the way that model refutes the claim that competition from
low-wage countries is necessarily a bad thing, that it shows how trade
can be mutually beneficial regardless of differences in wage rates."

Oh - the economist who wisely warned against the pauper-labor fallacy is none other than Paul Krugman.

Thoughts on Barry Bonds

I really don't like Barry Bonds.   I found his home run chase last summer almost painful, and was happy it was over just to stop hearing about Barry Bonds.

That being said, I am pretty non-plussed by his recent indictment on perjury charges.  I really am deeply concerned about going after high-profile people on perjury charges, particularly ones that are associated with cases where no underlying crime was even prosecuted (Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton also come to mind in this category).

The problem is that these cases get prosecuted incredibly selectively.  The vast, vast majority of people in Bonds situation never get prosecuted, much less have four year investigations.  As a result, it is pretty clear that those who do are selected on some basis having more to do with their profile (Martha Stewart), political animus (Bill Clinton) or just because the person is incredibly unsympathetic (e.g. Bonds).  As evidence for this in Bond's case, where are the similar investigations into McGwire or Giambi?

Tom Kirkendall has a great roundup of posts for those who are more concerned that titillated by Bond's indictment.  Or then there is TJIC's take, which is always, uh, not moderate:

What I find most amazing about cases like this, and the Martha
Stewart thing, is that there's some sort of unstated presupposition
that the state has a right to extract information from people.

Lying to government officials on fishing expeditions isn't just a right; it's a duty.

Larry Craig

OK, I have resisted commenting on Larry Craig.  My reactions are:

  1. We are so off topic here it is unbelievable.  For Congress, exercising arbitrary powers over individuals in violation of the intent, if not the letter, of the Constitution:  OK.  Playing footsie in the bathroom: Not OK
  2. Are we really going to have a Congressman resign for tapping his foot in a public bathroom while a man who had $100,000 in cash bribe money found in his freezer still sits in office?
  3. Why is it that Democrats, against their political beliefs, feel the need to criticize Republicans for being gay while Republicans feel the need to criticize Democrats for having large homes and SUVs?
  4. Do we really pay police officers to sit on the toilet for hours and try to catch men who are soliciting consensual sex?  And if so, do they also pay female officers to patrol for the same thing among women?  This is a real threat to us?

David Bernstein has more.  Via TJIC.

Update:  A reader pointed out to me I had a fairly relevant passage in my novel BMOC, when the Senator is confronted with his $50,000 earmark nominally for a "women's consulting company" turned out to be directed at a house of prostitution [edited to remove the more raunchy terminology]:

Taking a deep
breath, [the Senator's aid] said, "Senator, there is a reason that this one is not going
away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn't give a shit about a few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if the
teaser is "˜Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.' The Today Show doesn't interview the
contractors benefiting from a useless bridge."

"However, everybody and his dog will tune in if
the teaser is "˜Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at eleven'. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening
News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news? Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch "“ Dan Rather will be interviewing
hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God's sakes
Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker."

"And you know
what?" Givens continued, his voice rising. "The whole act makes me sick. All
these media types are going to be piously turning up their nose at you and
those women, while at the same time making more money for themselves off those
prostitutes than those women ever made for themselves on their back. It's rank
hypocrisy but it's the facts of life in Washington,
and I shouldn't have to be explaining this to you."

"You guys in the
Senate can get away with a lot, as long as long as a) you don't get caught or
b) the scandal is so boring or complex that it won't sell newspapers. Hell, I saw a poll the other day that a
substantial percentage of Americans to this day don't understand or even
believe what Richard Nixon did wrong. But if you polled those same people, every freaking one of them would
say that they knew and believed that Bill Clinton [fooled around with] an intern. What's the difference? Sex. Bill Clinton was impeached and lost his law license, not because he did
or did not commit fraud with Whitewater Development Corp., but because he lied
about [sex with] a young girl."

Democrats and Republicans United In Grabbing Power

This weekend, the Democrats in Congress passed legislation legalizing the Administration's previous grab for new wiretapping powers.  Further proving that the minority party in the US government does not really object to power grabs, they just get in a huff that the other party thought of it first.  Other examples of such behavior include the Patriot act, currently supported by Republicans and opposed by many Democrats, but most of whose provisions were originally proposed by Bill Clinton and opposed by a Republican Congress  (opposition led by John Ashcroft!)

I really don't want the president, of either party, listening to my phone calls without a warrant, and that answer does not change if I am talking  to my friends in Arizona or my friends in London.

John Scalzi has a great post reacting to the line in the article above where Democrats vow to, at some time in the future, "fix" the flaws in the law they just passed.

They wouldn't have to "fix" it if they hadn't have passed it.
Once again I am entirely flummoxed how it is that the Democrats, faced
with the president more chronically unpopular than Nixon, and so
politically weakened that the GOP candidates for president can barely
bring themselves to acknowledge that he exists, yet manage to get played by the man again and again.

If the Democrats honestly did not feel this version of the bill
should have been passed, they shouldn't have passed it. I don't see why
this is terribly complicated. And don't tell me that at least it has a
six-month "sunset" clause; all it means at this point is that in six
months, the Democrats are going to allow themselves to get played once
more, and this time they'll have given Bush the talking point of "well,
they passed it before."

My only objection to this statement is the implication the this is just a matter of the Democrats getting played.  I actually think it's exactly what the Democrats want -- they want to retain a reputation for caring about government intrusiveness without actually reducing government powers (just like Republicans want a reputation for reducing economic regulations without actually doing do when they were in power).  After all, the Dems expect to control the administration in 2 years, and they really don't want to take away any of the President's toys before that time.

It's Our Economy, Not Yours, Stupid

Like many libertarians, I lose interest quickly in politics, watching partisans of the Coke party argue why they are so much different than the Pepsi party.  You don't have to watch the whole farce for very long as a neutral observer before you see the same people taking the opposite tack on an issue than they did a few years earlier, only because their guy is in office, so now its more OK than when the other party's guy was doing it.

But I do read a few political blogs from both sides, just to keep abreast of what is going on.  This weekend, both sides managed to irritate me over the same issue.  First, Kevin Drum, from the left, railed on what he called "the GOP economy," complaining that the economy has grown without increasing median wages (note he carefully avoids "total compensation," which has gone up.)  Then Captains Quarters wrote from the right that "The economy continues its growth under the stewardship of the Bush administration."

George Bush does not run the economy.  George Bush does not even make day-to-day decisions that affect the economy.  He has made a few major moves that have economic consequences, with the positive effects of tax cuts probably mostly offset by unrestrained deficit spending, random protectionist acts and new bloated government services.  Bill Clinton, while we have to credit him for NAFTA (see below), was not responsible for the incredible economic expansion of the 90's.  In fact, neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have ever held a job where they produced anything. 

All of which is fine - I am not accusing president's of somehow falling down on the job.  I am merely stating what I thought was obvious.  Wealth is created by the actions and the minds of hundreds of millions of people, to whom the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant except insofar as the President  substantially increases or reduces the artificial burden of efficiency-sucking government mandates, reporting, and taxes.

I will go into more depth on this in my annual tax day post, but I am increasingly confident of my theory of wealth creation.  Wealth is increased as two things happen:

  • More individuals are more free to (and more likely to) question established beliefs, either scientific (e.g. the earth-centric universe), social (e.g. racial prejudice) or business (e.g. primacy of mainframe computing).
  • More Individuals are more free to act in their own self-interest to pursue the results of their insights and to keep for themselves the proceeds of their efforts.

Since the 1970's, we have seen an explosion in the global economy, which has greatly increased the number of people working on any given economic problem.  For example, instead of just people in Detroit and Germany thinking about how to design and produce cars, we have folks in Japan and South Korea and even China and Brazil questioning the established wisdom from Detroit.  This has resulted not just in better, more affordable cars, but in production and supply chain management techniques that have made nearly every industry you can name more productive. 

Whenever such a change occurs, there are conservative (lower-c) forces that try to halt them.  The Church used its power for a time to resist the heliocentric view of the solar system.  Southern states used Jim Crow laws to resist post Civil War racial and social reforms.  And any number of groups wanted (and still want) to slam the door on the global economy.  Many countries in Europe went down this path.  What has saved the US from the same low-growth fate they have in Europe (and Japan) is that the government, and Bill Clinton in particular, at a critical time resisted the technocratic urge to have the government "do something" about the economic changes flowing from globalization.  Some wanted protectionism, while some wanted a more active hand by the government in "choosing winners" in the economy, like it was perceived that Japan had.  Bill Clinton resisted resisted these voices, most of whom were powerful in his own party, and in fact doubled down on globalization by pushing NAFTA.  For this act of vision, Clinton should be credited, but I still wouldn't call it "his" economy. 

Beware of Prosecutors

Beware of prosecutors:  they don't like to lose.  Scooter Libby today became at least the third high-profile person in recent memory to be successfully prosecuted for lying about something that wasn't a crime. 

Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, and Scooter Libby were all prosecuted for perjury charges that were really tangential to the original case.  In all three cases, prosecutors, hot to not be left empty-handed when pursuing a high-profile target, fell back on prosecuting perjury charges related to non-crimes once their core case fell apart.  Only Bill Clinton escaped jail, escaping with what was effectively jury nullification -- no one seems to deny he was guilty of perjury, but his jury (the Senate) couldn't bring itself to impose a ridiculously harsh penalty for lying about something entirely unrelated to any crime and which in a reasonable world would not even have been allowable questioning under oath. 

OOPS

Kevin Drum, six months ago:

THE BEST CARE ANYWHERE....Thanks to innovations introduced
during Bill Clinton's administration, VA healthcare is now among the
nation's best. It's cheaper than either private healthcare or Medicare,
the quality is top notch, and it operates according to strict
performance standards. Sounds like a great model, doesn't it?

That quality government management and incentives system will do it every time.

Folks on the left are already gearing up to blame the current Walter Reed mess on the current administration, thus scoring points off Bush (fine with me) while not having to question the inherently poor quality of government-managed health care systems.

Forget Globalization -- Fear Neighborhoodization

Harold
Meyerson repeats the canard that "globalization entails [a] downward
leveling" of economic well-being ("Tipping Point for Trade," November
11).

This belief is crushed by mountains of evidence.  It's
crushed also by its own illogic: if ordinary people are served by being
"protected" from globalization, then they can be made even better off
by being protected from countryization - and better off still by being
protected from townization and neighborhoodization.  Protectionist
quackery implies that we achieve maximum prosperity when no one
consumes anything produced by anyone else.

Bravo.  I wrote about my fears of a Democratic Congress rolling back Bill Clinton's free trade legacy here.

The Worst Danger from Terrorism

A number of years ago, I heard someone (George Carlin maybe?  Commenters help!) ask "What's the worst thing that can happen to you if you smoke pot" and the answer was "Get thrown in jail".  The not so subtle message was that the preventative measures applied to prevent marijuana use were worse than the drug use itself.

I would say this fairly summarizes my fears about government responses post 9/11.  Reason's Hit and Run quotes T.J. Rogers along the same lines:

What's the worst thing that Al-Qaida can do to America? We have
probably already seen it. Of course, the government can talk about
bigger things, like the use of weapons of mass destruction, to justify
its use of totalitarian tactics.

I would much rather live as a free man under the highly improbable
threat of another significant Al-Qaida attack than I would as a serf,
spied on by an oppressive government that can jail me secretly, without
charges. If the Patriot Act defines the term "patriot," then I am
certainly not one.

By far, our own government is a bigger threat to our freedom than any possible menace posed by Al-Qaida.

The worst thing the terrorists can do is not another 9/11, but to push America into abandoning its separation of powers and its traditional protections of individual rights.

Reasonable people can disagree whether the Patriot Act goes too far in violating civil rights.  I personally opposed most of the measures in that act when Bill Clinton proposed them the first time and opposed them again this time around.  However, whether I support the Act or not, at least the Act and its provisions are still following the separation of powers script written into our country's DNA:  Congress proposes new administrative powers vis a vis searches, the administration and justice organizations follow the procedures, with certain oversight and appeals rights granted to the courts.

What worries me more than the Patriot Act is the administration's claiming of broader and broader police state powers in the name of combatting terrorism, whether it be detaining people indefinitely without a warrant or eavesdropping on citizens without a warrant.  I understand that both of these programs have practical goals related to security, but I think that most of these goals can still be reached by continuing to respects separation of powers.  Congress must still set the rules for a program such as detention of suspected enemy combatants, and these rules should include a role for the judiciary to review individual cases.

GWB the Spending Champ

President Bush has passed even Lyndon Johnson for the title of worst spender in the last 40 years.  While it is probably not a surprise that real military spending has grown an outrageous 8.8% per year during his tenure, it is amazing to see that domestic spending has grown 7.1% (yes, that's real, excluding inflation) per year.  Absolutely shameful.  More here in this Cato report (pdf).

Revised data released during the summer by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide analysts the ability to make side-by-side comparisons of the spending habits of each president during the last 40 years.1 All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.

It is interesting to note that Bill Clinton, who drove Republicans into a frothing hatred, can rightly be classed, along with Reagan, as one of the two most fiscally conservative administrations in 40 years.  Granted the Republican Congress kept him honest on spending and carved off his roughest edges (e.g. Hillarycare) while Reagan had to fight his Congress tooth and nail, but this spending record in the Clinton years combined with his passage of NAFTA and welfare reform make him a far better free market defender than either of the Bushes that bracket him.  I wonder if, in turn, liberals who are driven into a frothing hatred for Bush, will someday come to appreciate the work he has done for them in expanding the size of government and slowing the pace of free trade.

We Won't Respect You in the Morning

Again, small government libertarians like myself, who held their nose and voted Republican in the last election, have been used.  From the NY Post today:

THE Republican promise of smaller,
less-intrusive government is getting harder and harder to believe.
Especially when a more plausible plot line is unfolding every day: that
the GOP has put aside the ideals of Reagan and Goldwater in order to
pursue a political strategy based on big spending.

For the latest, check out a report just released by the
libertarian Cato Institute that tells a striking story about just how
out-of-control spending has gotten under President Bush.

Cato finds that:

* Bush has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson.

* Even excluding defense and homeland security spending, Bush is the biggest-spending president in 30 years.

* The federal budget grew from 18.5 percent of the Gross
Domestic Product on President Bill Clinton's last day in office to 20.3
percent at the end of Bush's first term.

Add to that Bush's massive Medicare prescription-drug
benefit, expected to cost $720 billion-plus over the next 10 years.
(The money for that new entitlement, the first created by a president
in a generation, will start flowing this year.)

It is not in the least bit comforting to have my suspicions confirmed by Cato, whose whole report is here.  Bring back divided government!  I will take Reagan-Democrat Congress or Clinton-Republican Congress over this any day.