Posts tagged ‘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.

Who's Your Daddy

My column this week in Forbes is on Steve Levitt's daughter test.

There are lots of things that are legal, and should stay legal, that I don’t want my daughter participating in.   I don’t let my daughter hang out at the mall without an adult or have a video game console in her room, but other parent’s make different choices.  I think prostitution should be legalized but certainly hope my daughter does not become a hooker.  On the other side of the equation, I grew up drinking modest amounts of alcohol in the home with my parents (ie wine with dinner), and feel strongly this pays benefits later in life in the form of more rational approaches to alcohol, but I am legally barred in Arizona from taking this sensible parenting approach with my kids.

Oh, and by the way, as a word of advice to Mr. Levitt:  While you may be happy to see your daughter as a future poker champion, or you may want her to have the option of an abortion, a large portion of America thinks that your daughter making these choices is roughly equivalent to shooting heroin or engaging in prostitution, and they are going to try to ban them, and maybe even put her in jail for doing so.  In your theory of government, your hopes and dreams for your daughter rely on being able to out-vote folks who have very different hopes and fears.

This flawed view of government thrives in Washington because it neatly reinforces the ego and hubris so characteristic of politicians.  It essentially calls on 535 people in Congress to substitute their judgment for that of ordinary Americans on a zillion different questions, large and small.  Because in reality, Mr. Levitt’s philosophy of government plays out not as the government banning what I think is wrong for my daughter, but what Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner think are wrong for their daughter’s.

Ground Zero Mosque and Limited Government

It appears that for a principled defense of property rights, the exercise of religion in America, and limited government we have to turn to ... liberal blogger Kevin Drum

We already know that a large majority of Americans are opposed to building it, but here are the results of an Economist poll on a slightly different question:

Whether or not you think the Islamic cultural centre and mosque should be built near the World Trade Center site, do you think that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque there?

Technically, I think the wording of this question should have been turned around: not whether Muslims have the right to build a mosque on Park Place, but whether the government has the constitutional right to stop them from building a mosque on Park Place.

Still, I think everyone probably understands what this means, and it's just depressing as hell. It's one thing to oppose the mosque just because you don't like the idea, but to deny that Muslims even have a constitutional right to build it? That should be a no-brainer. Of course they do.

Seriously, this is from a man who probably does not think you have the Constitutional right to choose your own doctor. Why are Republicans ceding the high ground on this to Democrats? Well, it turns out that is the theme of my new column this week in Forbes.

...prospective mosque-banners would argue that I simply don't understand how utterly, deeply offensive the proposed location of this mosque is to them. But that is not the case. I am offended as well by what might be a laudatory memorial to a terrorist incident. But the question for me is, do we have a right not to be offended?

The irony is that for the last decade or so, conservatives have fought the political correctness movement over exactly this issue. Conservative commentators, rightly I think, were up in arms over the "hate speech" trial of Mark Steyn in Canada, and more recently the cancellation of Ann Coulter's Canadian speaking tour. In both cases Canadian government and university officials argued that Steyn's and Coulter's criticisms of radical Islam were too divisive, too defamatory to Muslims, and in general too offensive to be allowed public voice....

This is what truly floors me about the Ground Zero controversy: Republicans all over the country are standing up and begging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama to void the property rights of a private entity, shut down the construction of a church, and do so to protect some mythical right not to be offended, a right that, until recently, conservatives argued did not exist. Do Republicans really want to encourage the federal government to tear up property rights and First Amendment protections, all in the name of hurt feelings? If conservatives set this precedent today, they are almost certainly not going to like how it is used tomorrow.

Postscript: I notice something in this poll that I have seen several times lately.  Traditionally, poll results for independents always fell somewhere between Republicans and Democrats.  In this poll, as in several others I have seen, Independent responses actually fell outside of these bounds.  Increasingly independents are shedding the "moderate" label and actually pacing the two political parties.  I find this encouraging, though it is probably too much to hope for that this is the leading indicator of some type of radical ideological restructuring of the Coke and Pepsi parties.

You Get What You Pay For

When we gave government money targeted at single women with kids we got, incredibly, more single women with kids.  And when we give people money only when they are unemployed, we are going to get more unemployed.  The economics of this are pretty bullet-proof.  We may choose to do so because we have a humanitarian desire to cushion hardship, but we should accept that when we reduce the hardship of being unemployed, and actually give people money for not working, we are going to get more people unemployed for longer periods.

Apparently, Nancy Pelosi lives in a different world (no surprise there) there supply and demand curves slope the opposite direction.

Talking to reporters, the House speaker was defending a jobless benefits extension against those who say it gives recipients little incentive to work. By her reasoning, those checks are helping give somebody a job. "It injects demand into the economy," Pelosi said, arguing that when families have money to spend it keeps the economy churning. "It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name."

Pelosi said the aid has the "double benefit" of helping those who lost their jobs and acting as a "job creator" on the side.

I am rapidly approaching the point where I am ready to throw out the whole of macroeconomics as unprovable and unproductive, serving the purpose of allowing statists to do whatever they hell they want to do with some fig leaf from some goofball macro-economics theory  (and if the necessary theory is not  on the books, Paul Krugman, formerly a real economist, will be more than happy to whomp one up for his buddies on the Left.)

Why Politicians Love the Global Warming Issue

James Lovelock in the Guardian, via Bishop Hill

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

I am pretty sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would like to put democracy on hold for a while.

Assessing the Marginal Price for a Congressional Vote

Via the Sunlight Foundation:

A day after Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and ten other House members compromised on their pro-life position to deliver the necessary yes-votes to pass health care reform, the "Stupak 11" released their fiscal year 2011 earmark requests, which total more than $4.7 billion--an average of $429 million worth of earmark requests for each lawmaker.

The eleven members were the focus of high level pressure by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats because they threatened to vote against the health care reform bill, which passed the House on Sunday, March 21, by a seven vote margin. Granting earmark requests are one of the ways leadership can encourage members to vote their way.

When it was announced the other day that three little-used airports in Stupak's district were given about 3/4 of a million dollars on the day before the health care vote, Stupak made it clear that he would never sell his vote for so little.  "It is absurd to think I would change my vote for a tow truck and a fence to keep deer from walking onto the runway of an airport in my district," Stupak said in a statement.  So it should not be surprising that he is asking for more.

Update:  The Sunlight Foundation has partially backed off on this story

Well, My Health Insurance Policy Just Became Illegal

My health insurance policy, which is an actual "insurance" policy that insures me against catastrophic medical costs but leaves me with responsibility for day to day expenses, just became illegal.   Over the last couple of years, I have documented my learning curve as, for the first time, I actually had an incentive to shop around for medical care, or to push back on doctors when I thought they are calling for too many tests and procedures.  I have learned a lot about saving money, but all of this education is now for naught, as I will now be required to buy a pre-paid medical policy that leaves very little of the decision-making to my family and provides zero incentives for me to be cost conscious.  Apparently, the operators of the US Postal Service and US military procurement felt they were better qualified to manage these cost/value trade-offs than I am.

Here, by the way, is my favorite quote from today, from Nancy Pelosi (who else):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the health care legislation for its ability to "unleash tremendous entrepreneurial power into our economy."

Only if one considers rent-seeking to be entrepreneurship.  There will certainly be a mad rush of special interests to Congress to get their pet procedure or drug included in national must-cover rules.  I discussed this rent-seeking process, which used to have to proceed inefficiently state by state but now can be achieved single-source, here.   Naturopath coverage, anyone? (already required under coverage rules in 4 states).   Already a lot of so-called medical research is really just thinly disguised pleas to have a certain procedure in must-cover rules.  For example, I wrote about one study:

In other words, the study surveyed a bunch of cosmetic surgeons.  They were asked "should an expensive procedure you provide be covered by insurance."  They all answered "Hell YES!"  Anyone want to bet whether the funding for the study came from the company that makes the laser equipment?

Imagine...

Per Nancy Pelosi:

"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."

Yeah, its a world where only the suckers work hard and try to be productive.

Feature Not a Bug

I find it pretty hilarious that folks on the left suddenly feel the US is ungovernable, largely because they have not been able to pass a couple of complicated and risky legislative initiatives.  Was the US ungovernable when Bush couldn't pass Social Security reform?   It seems that showing leadership on a national scale with diverse interests is a tad harder than running a grad school policy round-table.  Oddly, the left seems befuddled by actual diversity of opinion, rather than the faux diversity with lock-stepped beliefs they built in academia and among themselves.

I don't read Real Clear Politics much but I thought Jay Cost makes a good point:

Let's acknowledge that governing the United States of America is an extremely difficult task. Intentionally so. When designing our system, the Founders were faced with a dilemma. How to empower a vigorous government without endangering liberty or true republicanism? On the one hand, George III's government was effective at satisfying the will of the sovereign, but that will had become tyrannical. On the other hand, the Articles of Confederation acknowledged the rights of the states, but so much so that the federal government was incapable of solving basic problems.

The solution the country ultimately settled on had five important features: checks and balances so that the branches would police one another; a large republic so that majority sentiment was fleeting and not intensely felt; a Senate where the states would be equal; enumerated congressional powers to limit the scope of governmental authority; and the Bill of Rights to offer extra protection against the government.

The end result was a government that is powerful, but not infinitely so. Additionally, it is schizophrenic. It can do great things when it is of a single mind - but quite often it is not of one mind. So, to govern, our leaders need to build a broad consensus. When there is no such consensus, the most likely outcome is that the government will do nothing.

The President's two major initiatives - cap-and-trade and health care - have failed because there was not a broad consensus to enact them. Our system is heavily biased against such proposals. That's a good thing.

One of the roles of the President is to bring some adult supervision to his party in Congress.  Bush failed on this, allowing Republicans to run rampant in earmarking excess, and Obama has if anything been even worse on this dimension.  He routinely remains aloof from the legislative details (some would say he just got rolled by Nancy Pelosi) and then proceeds to speak as if the actual bill matches his grand words and promises when it is obvious to all that it does not.

Wow! Nancy Pelosi Cuts Auto Development Cycle From 6 Years to 6 Months

It used to be that it took something like 5-6 years to develop a new vehicle from scratch.  Apparently, though, GM has accelerated this to 6 months, as Nancy Pelosi is taking personal credit for the recently released GM vehicles.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Obama administration officials defended last year's federal bailout of automakers on Monday, pointing to new vehicles at the Detroit auto show as a sign of the industry's rebirth. ...

"We've seen ideas turned into policy turned into product," Pelosi said.

Pelosi and company fawned over cars like the Volt, expected to be a money-loser from the get-go, while ignoring the trucks and larger family cars where GM actually makes money.  Bob Lutz steps up to take on the Orren Boyle mantle:

GM vice chairman Bob Lutz said Sunday that Washington's interest in the auto industry was welcome after being ignored by U.S. lawmakers for decades while other nation's backed their carmakers.

He said he had always thought the U.S. "was the only car-producing nation in the world where the administration and the politicians ... didn't know about American car companies, didn't care about American car companies - none of the politicians drove American cars."

"It's like we were the stepchild of the American industry and the American economy," Lutz said.

This is hilarious - few other industries have been the subject of more government bailouts and protection and subsidies than the auto companies.  Remember all those DOE and DOT grants?  Remember Chrysler bailout #1?  Remember the tariffs and import quotas?  But wait, it gets even more barf-inducing:

"Unfortunately it took the financial failure of the American automobile industry to make the whole country aware of the importance of the American automobile industry," Lutz said at a Society of Automotive

Analysts event.

See, its all of our fault they went bankrupt, not their crappy management, crappy designs, and crappy labor agreements.  All our fault.  I feel so terrible.

Congress and Obama Enticing States Further into Bankruptcy

I missed this in the original discussion of the stimulus.  I was one of the first to point out that most of the stimulus was earmarked for maintenance of state government budgets rather than the infrastructure projects people thought they were getting  (here and here).  But I missed this part of the law, which basically made acceptance of these funds a suicide pact for many states:

Worst of all, at the behest of the public employee unions, Congress imposed "maintenance of effort" spending requirements on states. These federal laws prohibit state legislatures from cutting spending on 15 programs, from road building to welfare, if the state took even a dollar of stimulus cash for these purposes.

One provision prohibits states from cutting Medicaid benefits or eligibility below levels in effect on July 1, 2008. That date, not coincidentally, was the peak of the last economic cycle when states were awash in revenue. State spending soared at a nearly 8% annual rate from 2004-2008, far faster than inflation and population growth, and liberals want to keep funding at that level.

A study by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Seattle found that "because Washington state lawmakers accepted $820 million in education stimulus dollars, only 9 percent of the state's $6.8 billion K-12 budget is eligible for reductions in fiscal year 2010 or 2011." More than 85% of Washington state's Medicaid budget is exempt from cuts and nearly 75% of college funding is off the table. It's bad enough that Congress can't balance its own budget, but now it is making it nearly impossible for states to balance theirs.

These spending requirements come when state revenues are on a downward spiral. State revenues declined by more than 10% in 2009, and tax collections are expected to be flat at best in 2010. In Indiana, nominal revenues in 2011 may be lower than in 2006. Arizona's revenues are expected to be lower this year than they were in 2004. Some states don't expect to regain their 2007 revenue peak until 2012.

So when states should be reducing outlays to match a new normal of lower revenue collections, federal stimulus rules mean many states will have little choice but to raise taxes to meet their constitutional balanced budget requirements. Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

Apparently a couple of states (no surprise, Texas is among them) were smart enough to turn down some of the money.

This Has To Be An Outright Lie

Frequent readers know I almost never call statements "a lie."  I try to take the position that reasonable people can disagree without either lying.  I hate all the "Lying liars and the lies they tell their lying supporters" type books.

But I simply can find no other way to explain this statement:

"There isn't anything we could do to satisfy them in this health care bill. Nothing," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. "They are so anti-competitive. Why? Because they make more money than any other business in America today. . . .What a sweet deal they have."

I have written about this any number of times, but Carpe Diem also has the numbers at the link - health care insurers are well below average both in profit margin and return on capital, the two most common measures of profitability.  For the last couple of years, most large health care companies have made less than 5% return on sales.

The only other explanation is the neither the House Majority Leader, his staff, President Obama, or Nancy Pelosi and her staff (all of whom have echoed this same meme) have never once spent the 12 seconds going to Google finance or the Wall Street Journal to look the number up.

Nancy Pelosi once said:

I'm very pleased that our Chair of our Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and member of the leadership will be talking too about the immoral profits being made by the insurance industry and how those profits have increased in the Bush years. We all believe in the profit motive; we all want to reward success.  But having that success come at the expense of America's working families "” have that success come by withholding care, when a person becomes ill, is just not right and we're going to take this issue in a new direction.

Liberal pundit Kevin Drum, who really should know enough to look it up, once said:

It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

A Total Crock

Since the New York Times has pretty much become the official media outlet of this administration, I presume that this article represents a new trial balloon in selling government health care.  The pitch this time -- its good for small businesses!  (via Maggies Farm)

President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, said the Democrats' health insurance overhaul would help small businesses and stimulate the economy by providing relief from "the crushing costs of health care "” costs that have forced too many small businesses to cut benefits, shed jobs, or shut their doors for good."....

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, said the sharp rise in premiums for small businesses offered the latest evidence that Congress must act swiftly on health care legislation.

"This underlines the urgent need for health insurance reform, including a public option," she said in an interview. "We need to have competition for the insurance companies to keep premiums down."

I am only now getting through the 1500 pages of this bill (putting me ahead of Ms. Pelosi in reading it, I am sure), but the last House bill would have been a disaster for my company, increasing taxes on wages by up to 8% and imposing a record-keeping burden that was just horrific.

The NYT and the Democrats are apparently trying to set up a mini-class war within bussinesses, snidely saying these companies have more negotiating leverage.  Sure.  But what they have even more of is the leverage to shape federal legislation to their benefit.  However worse a deal my company may get in free insurance markets due to being small is nothing compared to how much worse of a deal we will get from Congress by being small.

If they really wanted to cut costs for small businesses, they would strip out all the national and state coverage mandates for things like aromatherapy that raise costs so much and let me shop for insurance across state lines.  That would be real competition.  Unfortunately, all Pelosi means by competition is throwing Amtrak into the mix to compete with the airlines.  Yeah, that will do the trick.

What I Wonder...

I have always wondered - when politicians do something like this, do they actually believe in their hearts they are doing the right thing or do they fully know that they are cynically trying to appear to take action while actually doing absolutely nothing useful. The former may almost be scarier than the latter

OBAMA ASKS FEDERAL WORKERS TO SACRIFICE "” By 0.4 percent! "Citing the current economic recession "” and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks eight years ago "” President Obama says he will use emergency powers to cut the programmed across-the-board January increase in federal employees' pay from 2.4 percent to 2.0 percent, according to a letter he sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi"¦"

I have worked full time for 26 years.  Number of years I have had a programmed, guaranteed annual salary increase to be paid irregardless of my performance:  zero.

What Does Pelosi Define as "Immoral" Profits? Greater than Zero?

Nancy Pelosi said this the other day (emphasis added)

I'm very pleased that our Chair of our Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and member of the leadership will be talking too about the immoral profits being made by the insurance industry and how those profits have increased in the Bush years. We all believe in the profit motive; we all want to reward success.  But having that success come at the expense of America's working families "” have that success come by withholding care, when a person becomes ill, is just not right and we're going to take this issue in a new direction.

In the past, other leftish pundits have been even more direct:

It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

I don't have time to redo the analysis, but for the third quarter 2008 (the last quarter of the dreaded Bush years that increased insurance profits so much) I looked up on Google Finance the profit margins of major health care insurers, providers, and HMO's.  I am not sure who the Democrats would consider the real Satan of health insurance (ala ExxonMobil or Wal-Mart) but if I left a key company off you are welcome to suggest it in the comments.  Anyway, 3Q08 profit margins were:

Cigna: 3.50%

United Health Group: 4.56%

Aetna: 3.64%

WellCare:  4.08%

Amerigroup: 3.51%

Humana 2.56%

WellPoint: 5.49%

So, if you are a business owner (and that includes those of you who own equities, which are ownership shares), be very afraid.  Look at your company or your favorite stockholding.  If they have margins of 2.5% or more of revenues (and that includes just about every profitable company in America -- I think the industrial average is in the eights) then Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats consider your profits immorally high and they intend to gut you like a trout.

Update: OK, I had a bit of time to update numbers, so I took Cigna, which is the first on the list, and looked at their net profit margin over 4 years:

2005:  7.6%

2006:  7.0%

2007:  6.4%

2008:   1.5%

Hmm, not sure I see the profits increasing in the Bush years -- looks like they are going down to me.  I would also observe that they never in the last four years even rise to average for a large American public company.

A Question about the Stimulus Bill

Kevin Drum, quoting Joe Klein, hopes the press (which we know to be so terribly biased against leftish ideas and new government spending) doesn't smear Obama's economic plan like they did Clinton's.

I won't get into all that, but I want to ask a related question:  To what extent does current legislation actually represent an Obama plan at all?  Maybe the press coverage has been poor, but hasn't Obama really been forced to put a happy face on and accept the half-baked mess that comes out of Congress?  Hasn't Obama really taken the role as Majority Whip, trying to wrangle votes for an existing piece of legislation, rather than actually crafting its framework?

I would define one of the key aspects of Presidential leadership as bringing some adult supervision to Congress, and particularly his own party in Congress.  Bush CERTAINLY never was able or willing to do so, and I don't see evidence of Obama doing so either.  Congress is running amuck, and every week seems to add another $100 billion in random pork to the bill.  In content, my perception is that the stimulus bill is Nancy Pelosi's bill but Obama's blame.  Or am I missing something?  Has the Administration had more involvement in the crafting of this bill than it appears?

Update: Jane Hamsher at Huffpo (HT to a commenter) argues that my understanding above is a result of furious Administration spin:

The story of the morning seems to be that the Obama team is unhappy with Nancy Pelosi and the House committee chairs for delivering up such a liberal, pork-laden bill that they themselves really had nothing to do with.

"Anonymous staffers" are fanning out to fuel the fiction that "during the transition Summers, his deputy Jason Furman, and the White House's top Congressional liason, Phil Schiliro, laid out the broad principles they wanted the bill to adhere to, but when it came to actual content, they deferred to the chairmen."

Except that it's not true.  The Obama transition team has been working on the substance of the bill from day one.  Their first step was to go to the Association of Mayors, the National Governors' Associations and other non-congressional groups and say "give us all your shovel-ready projects."  That and other provisions written by the Obama team became the spine of the bill.  It went through only three committee markups, and moved through the House at lightening speed in a way that made many House chairs unhappy, with the notable exception of Dave Obey (now also under attack) who helped push it through quickly.

The House bill is notable not only for its size but also because it had no earmarks, which are the lifeblood of House members, the way they show their constituents what they're doing for them.  As one person knowledgable about the writing of the bill says, "if you're in the House why would you write a bill without earmarks unless you didn't write the bill?"

But with public opinion quickly turning against the bill, and the House Republicans claiming the moral high ground as they held formation to oppose him, how could Obama be distanced from responsibility for elements of the bill under GOP attack and remain above the fray?  That seemed to be the locus of White House concern, and according to those familiar with what happened, the "polarizing" Nancy Pelosi was designated to take the fall.

Interesting.  Well, I don't often comment on politics per se  (vs. actual proposals) because I am so naive about this stuff.  Hamsher could in turn be shilling for Pelosi.  I just don't know enough.

By the way Hamsher tends to imply that it is a good bill with bad PR.  Phhhth.  It is an awful bill, and I am willing to bet that I have read more of it and the CBO report than she.

More Auto Bailout Thoughts

I don't think I have ever gotten as much mail from as many different readers as I have received on the auto bailout.  Readers seem fairly unified in their outrage and horror at the prospect.

Via insty:

Nancy Pelosi calls the deal a barber shop, where everybody will take a haircut.

There is already an available process for operating companies that cannot meet their obligations where all the parties take a haircut:  Its called chapter 11.  We have about a zillion man-years of experience with it, in companies great and small.  And it does not take idiotic Senators flashing billions of our tax money to mediate it.

The auto industry is tremendously magnetic for wannabee technocrats in Congress, in large part because in perhaps no other industry is there a bigger gap between what the average American wants to buy and what the country's intelligentsia things they should buy.

But US automakers are failing because they have not been very responsive to customers; they have grown fat and complacent, feeling protected by their monopoly power position; they have consistently failed over decades-long periods to make tough decisions vis-a-vis labor and costs; and they have refused to make real prioritization decisions (GM brand strategy is a good example).  It is therefore hilarious that Congress thinks it can do better, because wouldn't these same traits be high on the list of failings of the Federal Government itself?

And this is funny, if you have not seen it yet.

Republicans to Receive Bailout from Congress

Congressional Democrats announced today that they had agreed to a bailout plan for Republicans after last week's devastating election results.  While exact details are unavailable, sources tell us that the Republicans will be given 4 seats in the Senate and 15 in the House.  Nancy Pelosi said in a statement today: "We've established pretty clearly over the last several months that failed strategies and management should not necessarily have to result in losses in market share, particularly for well-connected Washington insiders."

Asked for comment, Democratic strategist James Carville was giddy.  "This is brilliant.  It really doesn't give up anything of substance to the Republicans.  But it will sap the energy from the Republican Party for making any substantial changes, and make it more likely they will continue the failed strategies that led to this most recent loss.  After their recent failures, the Republicans were on the verge of being forced to reinvent their whole organization.  This bailout should reduce the likelihood of that substantially."

When asked if bailouts of AIG, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and Bear Stearns wouldn't similarly reduce the urgency to change failed approaches, Carville answered "no comment."

For Those Who Doubted Me When I Said We Are Heading Towards A European-Style Corporate State

I predicted it here.  Now see it here:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Congress is considering bailing out Detroit's Big Three automakers."We may need to make a statement of confidence in our auto industry," Pelosi told NPR this afternoon. "We're not saving those companies, we're saving an industry. We're saving an industrial technological and manufacturing base... It's about jobs in America."

I wrote why its better to let GM fail.

So what if GM dies?  Letting the GM's of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation.  Assuming GM's DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM's assets from GM's control actually increases value.  Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value.  Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

The alternative to not letting GM die is, well, Europe (and Japan).  A LOT of Europe's productive assets are locked up in a few very large corporations with close ties to the state which are not allowed to fail, which are subsidized, protected from competition, etc.  In conjunction with European laws that limit labor mobility, protecting corporate dinosaurs has locked all of Europe's most productive human and physical assets into organizations with DNA multipliers less than one.

Pelosi held a meeting Monday with Democratic leaders to consider a request from Detroit's Big Three automakers for another $25 billion in "bridge financing" to help them survive a huge downturn in auto industry.

Cargo Cult Economics

The Democratic party, which so often accuses others of adopting superstition over science, are themselves pursuing Medieval economics:

The Democratic Party's protectionist make-over was completed yesterday,
when Nancy Pelosi decided to kill the Colombia free trade agreement.
Her objections had nothing to do with the evidence and everything to do
with politics, but this was an act of particular bad faith. It will
damage the economic and security interests of the U.S. while trashing
our best ally in Latin America.

The Colombia trade pact was signed in 2006 and renegotiated last year
to accommodate Democratic demands for tougher labor and environmental
standards. Even after more than 250 consultations with Democrats, and
further concessions, including promises to spend more on domestic
unemployment insurance, the deal remained stalled in Congress.
Apparently the problem was that Democrats kept getting their way.

I am sure the Columbians, who for years have been told by the US to export something other than cocaine, are scratching their heads at this rebuff when they actually try to do so.  My sense is that the Democrats are reacting to this ugly picture of US manufacturing output post NAFTA:

Manufacturing

We can see that since the passage of NAFTA in the mid-1990s that US manufacturing output has, uh, has.... can that be right?

I Honestly Don't Understand Where We Are on Foreign Policy

I don't even pretend to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy so I seldom write about it.  But the dialog around Turkey honestly has me confused.  Nancy Pelosi argues that we need to call out Turkey right now in order "to restore America's moral authority around the world."  So I get the moral dimension of calling out bad people for bad actions.  But it was my understanding that this was what Democrats found facile in Bush's foreign policy, that Bush called out countries like North Korea and pre-invasion Iraq for being part of an axis of evil.  Is it then Pelosi's position that morality in foreign policy consists of pointing out evil actions committed by our allies eighty years ago, but avoiding calling out current evil actions by our enemies?

You Know You Have Been In Government Too Long When...

...you equate the government choosing not to provide a service with that service being banned.  Michael Cannon quotes our Speaker of the House:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's understanding of government's role in a
liberal democracy (and of the veto power) may be worse than I thought. A reporter sends a transcript of a press conference that Pelosi held yesterday, where she made the following remarks:

Oh, [President Bush] used the veto pen to veto the stem
cell research bill.  That was a major disappointment. . . . I remember
that veto very well because he was saying, "I forbid science to proceed
to improve the health of the American people."

Regarding Bush's threatened veto of the Democrats' expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program:

The President is saying, "I forbid 10 million children
in America to have health care." You know from your Latin that is what
"veto" means.

Pelosi should know that there is a difference between the government not funding something and forbidding it.

Someone Should Study this Phenomenon, Part 2

A few days ago, I was astounded to find that oil prices had a here-to-for unsuspected (at least by Congress) utility - that they can actually manage demand to help match supply.  But this strange phenomenon is even more amazing, because it now appears that higher oil prices also have the ability to stimulate investments in increasing production of this scarce commodity:

The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended
period of low oil prices, is on the rebound. Wildcatters like Mr.
Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices now hovering around $60 a
barrel "” three times higher than they were throughout the 1990s "” the
industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

"The oil
industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years," Mr. Bryant
says. "Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn't matter
if you've been in the business 100 years or 100 days."

Easily
available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil
companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to
finance energy projects while leaps in computing power, imaging
technology and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest
entities to compete on an equal footing with the biggest players.

"There's
a lot of money out there looking for opportunities," said John
Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial
Services. "It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now."

Advice to Nancy Pelosi and Maria Cantwell:  You may need to study this phenomenon.

Blame It On The Profits

Steven Pearlstein has a column on the American health care system based on a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute.  As Mr. Pearlstein reads it, the problem with the American medical system is all about the profit - it's all about the doctor profit stacked on the drug profit stacked on the insurance profit.  If the government would just take over and get rid of all that profit, the system would run smoothly and be much cheaper.  I am flabbergasted that anyone at Cato would remark on such an article with approval.

First, while I worked at McKinsey & Co, I never worked for the global institute.  However, though I have not yet read the study, it would be unusual to the point of uniqueness if their recommendation for the industry was more government control and less profit motive, but I guess it is possible.  More likely, Mr. Pearlstein is reading the study through his own progressive lens.  Anyway, let me deal with a few parts of the article:

Even after adjusting for wealth, population mix and higher levels of
some diseases, McKinsey calculated that we spend $477 billion a year
more on health care than would be expected if the United States fit the
spending pattern of 13 other advanced countries. That staggering waste
of money works out to 3.6 percent of the nation's entire economic
output, or $1,645 per person, every year.

I will agree that for a variety of reasons, there is a lot of waste in the medical system.  We will get to "why" in a minute.  However, note that the author is taking a leap from "we spend more per capita than Europeans" to "staggering waste."  The US spends more per capita on a lot of things than the Europeans, in large part because we are wealthier (by a lot, and more every day).  One man's waste is another man's preference.  However, I would agree that health care is unique, in that it is the one industry where the decision maker(s) on whether to purchase a service is not the same person who is paying the bills.  I think we will find, though, that I and Mr. Pearlstein differ on who the person should be who should do both simultaneously (I say each person for himself, he says Nancy Pelosi and George Bush for everyone).

But let's get into all that money-grubbing.  Mr. Pearlstein reads the study as saying the problem is all that profit.  Because we have layers of profit in the distribution channel, our health care costs more than it does in Europe, where you have the efficiency [sic!] of government management.  Before we get into detail, I would observe that this fails a pretty basic smell test right off:  Nearly every single product and service we Americans buy, all of which are rife with layers of nasty profits in the supply chain, are cheaper than their counterpart services and products in Europe.  If this layering of profit without government management is a problem, why is it only a problem in health care but not a problem in thousands of other industries.  But anyway, to details:

Let's start with one the American Medical Association hopes no one
will notice, which is that American doctors make a lot more money than
doctors elsewhere -- roughly twice as much. The average incomes of
$274,000 for specialists and $173,000 for general practitioners are,
respectively, 6.6 and 4.2 times those of the average patient. The rate
in the other countries is 4 and 3.2.

According to McKinsey, the
difference works out to $58 billion a year. What drives it is not how
much doctors charge per procedure, but how many procedures they perform
and how many patients they see -- a volume of business 60 percent
higher here than elsewhere.

Ooh, those greedy doctors.  They are the problem!  But read carefully, especially the last sentence.  He makes clear doctors in the US are not making more because they charge more, they make more because they see more patients --- ie, they work harder than their European counterparts.  Where have I heard this before?  Again, in every other industry you can name, the fact that our workers work harder than their European counterparts is a good thing, leading to lower costs and higher productivity.  So why is it suddenly bad in medicine?  For this I would instead draw the conclusion that their are perhaps too many procedures (an expected outcome of the screwy incentives in the system) and thus too many doctors.  Doctors, whom Mr. Pearlstein paints as enemy number one in the health care system, are actually its greatest asset, being 60% more productive than their European counterparts, certainly something to build on.

Don't be distracted by arguments that American doctors need to make
more because they have to pay $20 billion a year in malpractice
insurance premiums forced on them by a hostile legal system, or an
equal amount for all the paperwork required by our private insurance
system. The $58 billion in what the study defines as excess physician
income is calculated after those expenses are paid.

Walter Olson, are you listening?  Since Walter is not here, I will say it for him.  Malpractice insurance premiums themselves are only a part of the cost of runaway malpractice.  Defensive medicine, including the overuse of tests, is another big cost.  Malpractice is one big reason doctors prescribe so many more tests and procedures than their European peers.

Proponents of a government-run "single-payer" system will certainly
home in on the $84 billion a year that McKinsey found that Americans
spend to administer the private sector portion of its health system --
a cost that national health plans largely avoid. But as long as
Americans continue to reject a government-run health system, a private
system will require something close to the $30 billion a year in
after-tax profits earned by health insurance companies. What may not be
necessary, McKinsey suggests, is the $32 billion that the industry
spends each year on marketing and figuring out the premium for each
individual or group customer in each state. Insurance-market reform
could eliminate much of that expense.

What freaking planet does this guy live on?  Does he really think administrative costs are going to go down in a single payer system?  That's insane.  I am willing to believe that the number of procedures will go way down, as Congress starts to ration care in favor of building bridges for their constituents  (a savings likely offset as America's world-leading doctor productivity discussed above takes a nosedive).  Does he really think that administrative costs will go down?  Most administrative costs today are for satisfying government paperwork requirements - how is having the government run everything going to reduce these?   I would argue exactly the opposite -- that eliminating government from the equation would reduce private administrative costs substantially.

I won't bore you with any more, but he doesn't miss the chance to blame health care costs on drug and hospital company profits as well.  Just for entertainment value, I urge the reader to look up a few P&L's of some of these companies.  The profit as a percent of sales for Humana is 2.3% of sales.  So if you wiped out all that egregious profit at Humana, you would save all its customers a whopping 2.3% (before, of course, the incentives problems take over and costs bloat for the lack of a profit incentive to manage them). Insurer CIGNA's profit is a bit under 10%.   Merck's profit is a more comfortable 19% of sales, which means that by cutting their profit to zero we could get nearly a 20% discount on drugs.  Of course, new drug development would cease, but the AARP doesn't care about drugs that won't be on the market after their current constituency is dead.

Isn't it more reasonable, as I am sure the McKinsey study actually concludes, that the problem is not in companies making profits or doctors working hard, it is in having a health care system, built the way it is through distortive tax law, that gives neither patient nor doctor any reason to consider costs when deciding on care?  Can you imagine such a screwed up system in any other industry?  How inefficient would retail be in the US, for example, if we all had a "shopping policy" that paid for all our purchases.  Would you give a crap about the price of anything?  Would you hesitate one second buying something you may not need but is covered by your "policy"?

Mr. Pearlstein sortof agrees, but its hard to find this incentives point in the middle of all his blame-it-on-the-profits progressive rhetoric.  Here is our one hint that Mr. Pearlstein understands that the true problem is this mismatch between payer and decision-maker.  Unfortunately (emphasis added) he has a really destructive perspective on the issue:

What we have here is pretty good circumstantial evidence of
Pearlstein's First Law of Health Economics, which holds that if you pay
doctors on the basis of how many procedures they do, and you leave it
to doctors and their insured patients to decide how much health care
they get
, consumption of health services will rise to whatever level is
necessary for doctors to earn as much as the lawyers who sue them.

Mr. medico-fascist Pearlstein thinks the big system problem is leaving it to you, the patient, to decide what health care you get.  The solution for him is to have the person spending the money, preferably the US Congress, decide how much health care you get.  I think a much saner solution, and the only one consistent with a free society, is to get back to a system where the same person who gets the care, pays for the care.  If its a good enough system for 9,999 things we purchase each year, its good enough for health care too.

State-Run Companies and Investment

Kevin Drum is concerned that projected drops in Mexican oil production are a leading indicator that the "Peak Oil" theory is coming true.  I would argue that, in fact, it is a trailing indicator of what happens when you let governments run producing assets.  Drum says:

The issue here isn't that Cantarell is declining. That began a couple
of years ago and had been widely anticipated. What's news is that, just
as many peak oil theorists have been warning, when big fields start to
decline they decline faster than anyone expects. So far, Cantarell
appears to be evidence that they're right.

Actually, fields in the US do not tend to decline "all of a sudden" like that.  Why?  Because unlike about any other place in the world, oil fields in the US are owned by private companies with capital to make long-term investments that are not subject to the vagaries of political opportunism and populism.  There are a lot of things you can do to an aging oil field, particularly with $60 prices to justify the effort, to increase or maintain production.  In accordance with the laws of diminishing returns, all of them require increasing amounts of capital and intelligent management.

Unfortunately, state owned oil companies like Pemex (whose assets, by the way, were stolen years ago from US owners) are run terribly, like every other state-owned company in the world.  And, when politicians in Mexico are faced with a choice between making capital available for long-term investment in the fields or dropping it into yet another silly government program or transfer payment scheme, they do the latter.  And when politicians have a choice between running an employment meritocracy or creating a huge bureaucracy of jobs for life for their cronies they choose the latter. 

I am not arguing that US politicians are any different from their Mexican counterparts, because they are not -- they make these same stupid choices in the same stupid ways.  The only difference is that we have been smart enough, Mr. Drum's and Nancy Pelosi's heartfelt wishes notwithstanding, not to put politicians in charge of the oil fields.

By the way, I wrote on Peak Oil here.  A while back I dug into the 1870 archives of our predecesor publication, the Coyote Broadsheet, to find an article on the "Peak Whale" theory:

[April 17, 1870]  As the US Population reaches toward the astronomical
total of 40 million persons, we are reaching the limits of the number
of people this earth can support.    If one were to extrapolate current
population growth rates, this country in a hundred years could have
over 250 million people in it!  Now of course, that figure is
impossible - the farmland of this country couldn't possibly support
even half this number.  But it is interesting to consider the
environmental consequences.

Take the issue of transportation.  Currently there are over 11
million horses in this country, the feeding and care of which
constitute a significant part of our economy.  A population of 250
million would imply the need for nearly 70 million horses in this
country, and this is even before one considers the fact that "horse
intensity", or the average number of horses per family, has been
increasing steadily over the last several decades.  It is not
unreasonable, therefore, to assume that so many people might need 100
million horses to fulfill all their transportation needs.  There is
just no way this admittedly bountiful nation could support 100 million
horses.  The disposal of their manure alone would create an
environmental problem of unprecedented magnitude.

Or, take the case of illuminant.  As the population grows, the
demand for illuminant should grow at least as quickly.  However, whale
catches and therefore whale oil supply has leveled off of late, such
that many are talking about the "peak whale" phenomena, which refers to
the theory that whale oil production may have already passed its peak.
250 million people would use up the entire supply of the world's whales
four or five times over, leaving none for poorer nations of the world.