Posts tagged ‘White House’

Spying on the Press

Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.

You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack.  This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism.  I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me.  This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.

Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference.  Wow.  Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.

Update:  Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald

how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

Well, At Least TMZ Will Be OK

Via Walter Olson

Can websites be forced to change to accommodate the disabled — by using “simpler language” to appeal to the “intellectually disabled or by making them accessible to the blind and deaf at considerable expense?

Apparently, the White House is gearing up to force costly changes on websites in the name of ADA compliance.   The implications could be staggering, and in certain scenarios would basically force me to certainly close down this site, and likely close down many of my business sites.

Generally, the First Amendment gives you the right to choose who to talk to and how, without government interference. There is no obligation to make your message accessible to the whole world, and the government can’t force you to make your speech accessible to everyone, much less appealing to them. The government couldn’t require you to give speeches in English rather than Spanish …

But now, the Obama administration appears to be planning to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to force many web sites to either accommodate the disabled, or shut down.

The Plan For Universities to Raise Tuition to Infinity

Via the WSJ, President Obama is proposing debt forgiveness for student borrowers

The White House proposes that the government forgive billions of dollars in student debt over the next decade, a plan that cheers student advocates, but critics say it would expand a program that already encourages students to borrow too much and stick taxpayers with the bill.

The proposal, included in President Barack Obama's budget for next year, would increase the number of borrowers eligible for a program known casually as income-based repayment, which aims to help low-income workers stay current on federal student debt.

Borrowers in the program make monthly payments equivalent to 10% of their income after taxes and basic living expenses, regardless of how much they owe. After 20 years of on-time payments—10 years for those who work in public or nonprofit jobs—the balance is forgiven.

Already, it's pretty clear that many students pay little attention to size of the debt they run up.  Easy loans for students have essentially made them less price sensitive, however irrational this may seem (did you make good short - long term trade-offs at the age of 18?)  As a result, tuition has soared, much like home prices did as a result of easy mortgage credit a decade ago.  The irony is that easier student debt is not increasing access to college for the average kid (since tuition is essentially staying abreast of increases in debt availability), but is shifting student's future dollars to university endowments and bloated administrations.  Take any industry that has in the past been accused of preying on the financially unsophisticated by driving them into debt for profit, and universities are fifty times worse.

So of course, the Progressives in the White House and Congress (unsurprisingly Elizabeth Warren has a debt subsidy plan as well) are set to further enable this predatory behavior by universities.  By effectively capping most students' future financial obligations from student debt, this plan would remove the last vestiges of price sensitivity from the college tuition market.  Colleges can now raise tuition to infinity, knowing that the bulk of it will get paid by the taxpayer some time in the future.  Just as the college price bubble looks ready to burst, this is the one thing that could re-inflate it.

Postscript:  By the way, let's look at the numbers.  Let's suppose Mary went to a top college and ran up $225,000 in debt.  She went to work for the government, averaging $50,000 a year (much of her compensation in government is in various benefits that don't count in this calculation).  She has to live in DC, so that's expensive, and pay taxes.  Let's say that she has numbers to prove she only has $20,000 left after essential living expenses.  10% of that for 10 years is $20,000 (or about $13,500 present value at 8%).  So Mary pays less than $20,000 for her education, and the taxpayer pays $205,000.  The university makes a handsome profit - in fact they might have given her financial aid or a lower tuition, but why bother?  Mary doesn't care what her tuition is any more, because she is capped at around $20,000.  The taxpayer is paying the rest and is not involved in the least in choosing the university or setting prices, so why not charge the taxpayer as much as they can?

Postscript #2:  It is hard to figure out exactly what Elizabeth Warren is proposing, as most of her proposal is worded so as to take a potshot at banks rather than actually lay out a student loan plan.  But it appears that she wants to reduce student loan interest rates for one year.  If so, how is this different from teaser rates on credit cards, where folks -- like Elizabeth Warren -- accuse credit card companies of tricking borrowers into debt with low initial, temporary rates.  I  find it  a simply astounding sign of the bizarre times we live in that a leading anti-bank progressive is working on legislative strategies to get 18-year-olds further into debt.

Moms with Ivy League Educations

Apparently it is somewhat unethical in the feminist world for women to go to the Ivy League and then become a full-time mom.   I know several women who have Ivy League undergrad or graduate degrees and have, for at least part of their lives, been full time moms.  I am married to one, for example.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. People change plans.  Life is path-dependent.  Many women who ended up being full time moms out of the Ivy League will tell you that it still surprises them they made that choice.
  2. Why is education suddenly only about work?  I thought liberal arts education was all about making you a better person, for pursuits that go far beyond just one's work life.  I, for example, get far more use of my Princeton education in my hobbies (e.g. blogging) than in my job.   The author uses law school as an example, and I suppose since law school is just a highbrow trade school one might argue it is an exception.  But what is wrong with salting the "civilian" population with non-lawyers who are expert on the law?
  3. Type A Ivy League-trained full-time moms do a lot more that just be a mom, making numerous contributions in their community.  I am always amazed what a stereotyped view of moms that feminists have.
  4. If spots in the Ivy League, as implied by this article, should only be held by people seriously wanting to use the degree for a meaningful lifetime career, then maybe the Ivy League needs to rethink what degrees it offers.  Ask both of my sisters about the value of their Princeton comparative literature degrees in the marketplace.  By this logic, should Princeton be giving valuable spots to poetry majors?
  5. I can say from experience that the one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent.  I can help my kids develop and pursue interests in all different directions.  One's love of learning and comfort (rather than distrust) of all these intellectual rubs off on kids almost by osmosis.  In other words, what is wrong with applying an Ivy League education to raising fabulous and creative kids?
  6. The author steps back from the brink, but this comes perilously close to the feminist tendency to replace one set of confining expectations for women with a different set.

Oh and by the way, to the author's conclusion:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I would argue the opposite -- the fewer people of both sexes who go to law school to be in the Senate by 40 and the White House by 50, the better.

Update:  My wife added two other thoughts

  • Decades ago, when her mom was considering whether she wanted to go to graduate school, her dad told her mom that even if she wanted to be a stay at home mom, a good graduate degree was the best life insurance she could have in case he died young.
  • Women with good degrees with good earning potential have far more power in any divorce.  How many women do you know who are trapped in a bad marriage because they don't feel like they have the skills to thrive in the workplace alone?

The Meaning of Health "Insurance"

Megan McArdle has a column I am going to excerpt at great length (sorry Ms. McArdle).  This is great article on a topic I have tried to explain many times here

After all, the insurance company has to make money.  That has to mean that the expected value of the claims they pay out is lower than the expected value of the premiums their customers pay in.  In some sense, then, the expected value of your insurance premium is negative.

But insurance does make everyone better off, because it covers very large costs that most people would have trouble paying.  Even most really good savers would have a hard time replacing the value of their house, or paying off a $250,000 judgement for an auto accident.  The expected value of those incidencts is very, very negative--more than just the value of the cash, you have to factor in the horror of being homeless or bankrupt.  When you factor in the homelessness, the bankruptcy, and so forth, the slighly negative expected financial value is more than outweighed by the positive value of being protected against personal catastrophe.  Not to mention the peace of mind one gets from not having to worry about homelessness, etc.

This is the magic of risk pooling.  But notice that it's the catastrophe which makes insurance a good deal.  You wouldn't get much value from buying "grocery insurance".  At best, you'd be paying an extra administrative fee to route your routine expenses through an insurer, rather than paying them directly.  At worst, you'll end up with bills skyrocketing as all sorts of perverse incentives appear.  After all, if the insurer is paying all your grocery claims, why not load up on filet mignon instead of ground turkey?

But insurers try very hard never to sell insurance for less than the cost of your expected claims.  If you expect to buy $10,000 worth of groceries next year, it will not charge you less than that for a "grocery policy".  And if we all drive up the costs of grocery insurance by consuming more, the insurer can do one of two things: raise everyone's "insurance premiums" to cover a filet mignon budget, or create a list of "approved groceries" that it will cover, and start hassling anyone who tries to file an excessively expensive claim.

Sound familiar?

This is why you should always have liability insurance, but should think twice about collision damage coverage.  It's why high deductibles are a good idea--for small expenses, it's better to self insure.  And it's why "catastrophic" health plans, which only cover the sort of extremely expensive events that most people would have difficulty financing, are a much better deal than the soup-to-nuts plans that most people get through their employers.  Those plans are expensive, both because they're paying for a higher percentage of your expenses, and because they drive up utilization--which means that they drive up next year's premiums even more.  Imagine what your car insurance would cost if it covered gasoline, routine maintenance, and those little air freshener trees you hang from the rearview mirror.  Then stop asking why health insurance costs so much.

But Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS, thinks that catastrophic insurance isn't really insurance at all.

At a White House briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said some of what passes for health insurance today is so skimpy it can't be compared to the comprehensive coverage available under the law. "Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don't pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus," she said. "They're really mortgage protection, not health insurance."

She said this in response to a report from the American Society of Actuaries arguing that premiums are going to rise by 32% when Obamacare kicks in, as coverage gets more generous and more sick people join the insurance market.  Sebelius' response is apparently that catastrophic insurance isn't really insurance at all--which is exactly backwards. Catastrophic coverage is "true insurance".  Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it's a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan.

The last two lines are why I knew from the very beginning that the promise I would get to keep my health insurance was a lie.  Because I have true insurance, rather than a pre-payment plan for incidental health-related expenses, and the folks who wrote Obamacare think of insurance as pre-paid medical care (in fact, I believe they think of private insurance as a Trojan Horse for all-inclusive single payer government health care).

Update on Steve Rattner, Friend of Investors (as long as they are rich or voted for Obama)

Last week, I noted a piece by Steve Rattner who was horrified that individual investors, empowered by companies like Kickstarter, might one day be able to invest in startups without paying a fee to Goldman Sachs.

I noted that Mr. Rattner's concern for investors seemed to be coming rather late, given that "he was the primary architect of the extra-legal screwing of GM and Chrysler secured creditors in favor of the UAW and other Obama supporters."

A Detroit News piece by my Princeton classmate Henry Payne has more:

The administration has treated obstacles to its agenda with ruthless tactics. In April 2009, that agenda was to hand an outsized, 55 percent majority interest of embattled Chrysler to the United Auto Workers in a government-orchestrated bankruptcy. But by law secured creditors are first in line in bankruptcy, and bondholders — representing their working-class pension clients — refused to accept Obama's unfair deal for a measly 29 cents on their investment dollar.

Send in the muscle.

"One of my clients was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight," said Tom Lauria, lawyer for Perella Weinberg investment firm, on Frank Beckmann's Detroit radio program. Lauria later said the brass knuckles belonged to White House Auto Task Force leader Steve Rattner. Lauria's account was disturbing, too, in revealing the confidence that the White House has in its press allies to aid Obama's agenda. Sure enough, Washington reporters quickly attacked the messenger. "(Lauria's) charge is completely untrue," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told ABC News' Jake Tapper, "and there's obviously no evidence to suggest that this happened in any way." Actually, there was plenty of evidence. Jim Carney of Business Insider corroborated Lauria's account, reporting that "sources familiar with the matter say that other firms felt they were threatened as well." The White House escalated the threats when Obama himself singled out creditors for obstruction, accusing them of being "speculators" preying on an American auto icon — bullying words from a man with the IRS and SEC at his disposal.

"The sources, who represent creditors to Chrysler, say they were taken aback by the hardball tactics that the Obama administration employed to cajole them into acquiescing to plans to restructure Chrysler," continued the Insider. "One person described the administration as the most shocking 'end justifies the means' group they have ever encountered."...

"The president's attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him," wrote Cliff Asness, a managing partner at AQR Capital Management. "Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power."

How Freedom Dies

This way:

For four years, Mr. Obama has benefited at least in part from the reluctance of Mr. Bush’s most virulent critics to criticize a Democratic president. Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.

“We trust the president,” former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said on Current TV. “And if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms because we wouldn’t trust that he would strike in a very targeted way and try to minimize damage rather than contain collateral damage.”

Dear Ms. Granholm, I have a clue for you:  You have allowed the precedent to be set, which means everyone in the future who occupies the White House will claim this same power, whether you trust them or not.  I personally think you are insane to have some special trust that Obama is minimizing collateral damage, particularly given his Orwellian refusal to acknowledge innocent deaths as innocent.  What is he doing, steering the drones himself?   But it is more insane to give the government power solely because the person who occupies the White House this micro-second is someone in whom you have particular faith.  What happens in the next micro-second?  Sorry, doesn't matter, it will be too late.

A Couple of Nice Observations on Technocracy and Budgets

From South Bend Seven come a couple of comments I liked today.  The first was on the Left and current budget plans:

If I was on the Left I would look at these figures and then begin to think long and hard about whether knee-jerk opposition to things like Medicare block grants or defined-contribution public pensions is such a good idea. The biggest threat to redistribution to the poor is existing redistribution to the old.

To the last sentence, I would add "and redistribution to upper middle class public sector workers."  I am constantly amazed at the Left's drop-dead defense of above-market pay and benefits for public sector workers.  This already reduces funding for things like actual classroom instruction and infrastructure improvements, and almost certainly the looming public pension crisis will reduce resources for an array of programs much loved by the Left.

The second observation relates to a favorite topic of mine, on technocracy:

Often enough I think "you know, we need more scientists in charge of things." Then I remember that the scientists we get are Steven Chu and I think "yeah, maybe not so much."

Then I think about all the abominable committee meetings and discussion sessions I've been in with scientists and I think "perhaps best not to put scientists in charge."

Then I look over at my bookshelf, notice my cope of The Machinery of Freedom, and think "why are we putting anybody in charge at all?"

If this Administration has any one theme, it is a total confidence that a few people imposing solutions and optimizations top-down  is superior to bottom-up or emergent solutions.   Even the recent memo on targeted killings reflects this same philosophy, that one man with a few smart people in the White House can make better life-or-death decisions than all that messy stuff with courts and lawyers.   Those of us who understand our Hayek know that superior top-down decision-making is impossible, given that the decision-makers can never have the information or incentives to make the best decisions for complex systems, and because they tend to impose one single objective function when in fact we are a nation of individuals with 300 million different objective functions.  But the drone war / targeted killing memo demonstrates another problem:  technocrats hate due process.   Due process for them is just time-wasting review by lesser mortals of their decisions.  Just look at how Obama views Congress, or the courts.

Cost of Green

From Zero Hedge:

Why should we worry about 5c or 10c on a gallon of fuel down the local gas station when the US Navy (in all her glory) is willing to pay a staggering $26-a-gallon for 'green' synthetic biofuel(made we assume from the very same unicorn tears and leprechaun nipples that funded the ESM). AsReuters reports, the 'Great Green Fleet' will be the first carrier strike group powered largely by alternative fuels; as the Pentagon hopes it can prove the Navy looks just as impressive burning fuel squeezed from seeds, algae, and chicken fat (we did not make this up). The story gets better as it appears back in 2009, the Navy paid Solazyme (whose strategic advisors included TJ Gaulthier who served on Obama's White House Transition team) $8.5mm for 20,055 gallons on algae-based biofuel - a snip at just $424-a-gallon.

In its defense, the Navy Secretary said, ""Of course it costs more.  It's a new technology. If we didn't pay a little bit more for new technologies, we'd still be using typewriters instead of computers."  Of course, the switch from typewriters to computers proceeded without government mandates (or taxes, as they are called now) and in fact was led by the private sector -- the government trailed in this transition.  Further, people paid the extra money for a computer because they found real value in it (document storage, easy editing, font flexibility).  What real value is the Navy getting for the extra $22 a gallon?  How much better will this task force perform?  The answer, of course, is zero.

The Perfect Example of Politics over Policy

I don't think you could find any better example of paying off one's political constituents at the cost of out groups than this:

Congressional Democrats and the White House have agreed to pay for a bill to freeze student loan interest rates for a year by raising taxes on so-called S Corporations, according to a top Senate Democrat and senior House and Senate aides, but Republicans said the tax increase may ensure the bill’s defeat in the Senate.

Apparently, the taxpayer-subsidized rate of 3.4% on student loans is set to go up to a less-subsidized 6.8% in a couple of months.    So to keep this subsidy rolling, Congress is proposing to tax S-Corporations, mainly used by entrepreneurs and small businesses  (disclosure:  including mine) to avoid double taxation of business income.

I don't think its possible to come up with a real policy reason that money should be taken away from entrepreneurs and given to 18-year-olds so they can overpay for college, especially since most of the subsidy for student loans is captured by universities that have simply raised tuition to soak up each successive college subsidy program.  Note that Congress is instituting a permanent tax hike on entrepreneurs in order to give just a 1-year break (ie through the next election) to students.

But this is the perfect political bill.  It takes money from a group likely to be lost to the Administration in the next election anyway (e.g. entrepreneurs and small business people) and transfers it to a group that is very likely to vote for Obama if it votes at all, but needs to be energized to get to the polls.  The Obama Administration was obviously watching the Occupy movement carefully, and noted that much of the angst seemed to be aimed at student loans.

Expect similar payoffs to other constituencies over the next few months.  Oops, here is one already.

A Victory of Sorts

This is a nice but probably meaningless gesture to protecting basic Constitutional rights (Hat tip to a reader)

Just a week after the Virginia legislature approved a law to refuse compliance with NDAA“indefinite detentions,” an Arizona law committing the Grand Canyon State to noncompliance with any attempted federal kidnapping under the NDAA now stands just a signature away from implementation.

I guess I would be more thrilled if I thought the state would have passed this if there were a Republican in the White House, but I can't make myself believe it.

Weird, Who Would Have Predicted This?

I wrote on the day of Obama's inauguration:

I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

From Charlie Savage in the New York Times:

As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.

But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.

Each time, Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”

Where is This?

This is actually the inside of the White House during the Truman Administration.  I had realized it was "renovated", but I think I pictured something less dramatic.  It appears the place was totally gutted.

Great Moments in Bad Ideas

Via the Weekly Standard (with video):

Gene Sperling, director of the White House's national economic council, said today at an official meeting that "we need a global minimum tax":

Pegging our tax rates to France is almost as good an idea as pegging our exchange rates to Greece.

Also, this statement is a hilarious mass of contradictions

“He supports corporate tax reform that would reduce expenditures and loopholes, lower rates for people investing and creating jobs in the U.S., due so further for manufacturing, and that we need to, as we have the Buffett Rule and the individual tax reform, we need a global minimum tax so that people have the assurance that nobody is escaping doing their fair share as part of a race to the bottom or having our tax code actually subsidized and facilitate people moving their funds to tax havens," Sperling said.

He wants to lower rates for people investing, but he wants to institute the Buffett Rule, which effectively raises taxes on people whose income is substantially dividends and capital gains, ie people who invest.  He wants special rates for creating jobs and extra special rates in manufacturing, but he wants to get rid of loopholes, most of which were created at least with the nominal intent of spurring investment in certain sectors, particularly manufacturing.

Go Gary Johnson

I decided today to volunteer for Gary Johnson's independent libertarian run for President.  I have always been a Johnson supporter, and was disappointed that he did not get more attention in the debates and nomination process.

Yes, I know folks will be saying that if Gary Johnson does well, it will just be guaranteeing an Obama victory.  You know what?  Given the choices, I don't care.  My other choices seem to be the guy who pilot-tested Obamacare and Rick Santorum, perhaps the only person the Republicans could have found with a deeper authoritarian streak than Obama.  You know those 2x2 matrices where one leg is "government intervention in social issues" and the other is "government intervention in economic issues?"  Where libertarians are low-low and Republicans and Democrats are each in one of the low-high boxes?  Did you ever wonder who was in the high-high box?  Well, Obama has moved pretty strongly into that space.  But Santorum staked it out years ago.   He is right out of the John McCain, I-am-nominally-for-small-governemnt-but-support-authoritarian-solutions-for-a-range-of-random-issues school.

In fact, I might argue that freedom and small government would be better served by an Obama second term that the yahoos likely to gain the Republic nomination.  First, there is nothing worse than having statism and crony capitalism sold by someone who is nominally pro-market (see either of the Bushes as an example).  Second, Republicans are much feistier about limiting spending and regulation in Congress when in opposition.  They tend to roll over for expansions of state power when they have a fellow Republican in the White House -- just compare spending of the Republican Congress under Clinton vs. Bush.  Medicare Part D, anyone?

As I heard Ayn Rand say in a public speech in 1981, there is only so far I can go choosing the lesser of two evils.  I am now all in for Gary Johnson.

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.

Guess the Source

Social Security is a Ponzi Game:

Social Security is structured from the point of view of the recipients as if it were an ordinary retirement plan: what you get out depends on what you put in. So it does not look like a redistributionist scheme. In practice it has turned out to be strongly redistributionist, but only because of its Ponzi game aspect, in which each generation takes more out than it put in. Well, the Ponzi game will soon be over, thanks to changing demographics, so that the typical recipient henceforth will get only about as much as he or she put in (and today's young may well get less than they put in).

Paul Freaking Krugman, 1997.  Incredible how much his beliefs change depending on which party occupies the White House.

Green Industrial Policy Fail

This is like the third one in just a few weeks:

Solyndra, a major manufacturer of solar technology in Fremont, has shut its doors, according to employees at the campus.

"I was told by a security guard to get my [stuff] and leave," one employee said. The company employs a little more than 1,000 employees worldwide, according to its website....

Solyndra was touted by the Obama administration as a prime example of how green technology could deliver jobs. The President visited the facility in May of last year and said  "it is just a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world. And you guys all represent that. "

The federal government offered $535 million in low cost loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. NBC Bay Area has contacted the White House asking for a statement.

Beyond the whole green jobs boondoggle, trying to compete at low-cost manufacturing of a commodity product in California of all places is simply insane.

 

Libertarians as Corporate Whores

I am amazed lately as the left has tried to pitch libertarians as corporate whores, taking certain small-government positions because they have been paid off by Koch or Exxon.

I can understand how this charge might bite for Democrats and Republicans whose positions tend to be a hodge-podge of individual liberty and state control (and which seem to morph back and forth depending on which team is in the White House).  When there is no consistent, temporally stable philosophy that drives political positions, then it might be appropriate to look at other factors that might drive a public stance on an issue.  If, for example, I had always supported tight regulation of corporate market share, one might wonder why I defend Google against anti-trust scrutiny and reasonably look for other motives.

But as a libertarian, I consistently support market solutions over government regulation.  On this site I have supported the right of hair threaders and interior designers and real estate agents and casket sellers to ply their trade without government permissions.  I have supported legalization of gambling, marijuana and narcotic sales, and prostitution.

So why is it that I can plow along trying my best to be a consistent advocate of individual liberty, without a hint that I am in the pay of hair threaders or hookers, but as soon as I write on, say, natural gas fracking I am in the pay of the Koch brothers?  This strikes me as the lamest possible argument.

On this blog, think of me as sitting at a roulette table and always betting on black  (yes, the house will eventually win but welcome to the world of being a libertarian in modern statist politics).  Spin after spin I bet black.  Imagine a couple of folks walking up and seeing me place my next bet on black.  Why do you think he did that?  Was it because the last number was a 6?  Or because three of the last five were red?  No guys, it's because I always bet black.

Of nearly all the political groups, libertarians should be the most transparent.  We always side with individual liberty, and searching for other motives for these positions is generally futile.

More Upward-Sloping Demand Curves

Other than the demand among the status-conscious for Chanel handbags, the demand for a product or service generally decreases as its price decreases.  This is an observation so trivial it is almost stupid to write down. But I guess the point is still not understood in Washington.

"The Center for American Progress, often called the think tank for the Obama White House, recentlyrecommended another increase in the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour. Though the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1%, the thinkers assert that a rising wage would "stimulate economic growth to the tune of 50,000 new jobs." So if the government orders employers to pay more to hire workers when they're already not hiring, they'll somehow hire more workers. By this logic, if we raised the minimum wage to $25 an hour we'd have full employment."

On War

Harold Koh on what does and doesn't make for a war:

Koh, a former Yale Law School dean who wrote about the War Powers Resolution during his academic career, said the “narrow” role of U.S. warplanes in the mission doesn’t meet the definition of hostilities.

The circumstances in Libya are “virtually unique,” he said, because the “exposure of our armed forces is limited, there have been no U.S. casualties, no threat of U.S. casualties” and “no exchange of fire with hostile forces.”

With a “limited risk of serious escalation” and the “limited military means” employed by U.S. forces, “we are not in hostilities envisioned by the War Powers Resolution, Koh said.

As an outsider to the political process, it has been absolutely hilarious watching a White House full of children of the 1960's retroactively justifying Nixon's Christmas bombings of Cambodia.  It's not a war, they claim, as long as our soldiers are safe and we are mostly just killing citizens of other nations from the air.  Of course, by this definition, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of war.

There are many reasons to put separation-of-powers-type scrutiny on war-making that go beyond just the risk to American lives.  In particular, killing people from other countries can radically change our relationship with other nations.  I find it ironic that that White House has deliberately put blinders on and declared that the only reason to get Congressional approval is if US soldiers are at risk, since it was Obama who lectured the nation on the campaign trail about how damaging to our world image he felt Bush's wars to be.

Another Problem With Campaign Finance Legislation

There used to be two Americas -- the small portion who were criminals and the large majority of law-abiding citizens.  Now there is just one America, since with the proliferation of regulations, we all are guilty of something.  If we fall out of favor, we can all be rung up on charges.

Local Conservative pundit Greg Patterson makes this observation about the looming Jon Edwards prosecution, and observes that as much as he may dislike Edwards, his prosecution is downright scary

It looks like former Presidential candidate John Edwards is about to get indicted. Edwards is an awful person who embodies the characteristics that most of us despise.  His hypocrisy and hubris together with his unbelievably boorish behavior while his wife was dying of cancer are the stuff of Greek tragedy.

However, Edwards' downfall is also a great example of how the US has so criminalized the political process that the Government can indict anyone who falls out of favor. Once it was clear that Edwards no longer enjoyed any personal political authority, prosecutors combed through his entire political history and found this charge:

Much of the investigation, however, focused on money that eventually went to keep mistress Rielle Hunter in hiding along with former campaign aide Andrew Young, who claimed paternity of Hunter's child in 2007 so that Edwards could continue his White House campaign without the affair tarnishing his reputation. Investigators have been looking at whether those funds should have been considered campaign donations since they arguably aided his presidential bid.

Really?  Someone gave Edwards a bunch of money so that he could hide his mistress...and those funds "arguably aided" his presidential bid? That means that every dime that any candidate has ever received could later be classified as a political contribution because it "arguably aided" his candidacy.

How many millions has Edwards spent defending himself from this charge?  How much time is he going to spend in jail?  How many other candidates--or contributors--can be indicted for falling out of favor?

By the way, kudos to Patterson for bringing up this point in the context of his political opposition.  All too often groups seek to establish terrible precedents in the name of counting coup on political opponents.  For example, I have been depressed at how hard certain of my fellow climate skeptics have labored to try to bring warmist Michael Mann up on criminal charges.

By the way, I disagree with the second half of Patterson's post, wherein he tries to draw a parallel between the Edwards affair and shenanigans and political payoffs around the Fiesta Bowl.  Patterson describes politicians as having been "victimized" by the Fiesta Bowl, such victimization taking the form of the politicians accepting luxurious trips to college football games and failing to do all the necessary reporting for these boondoggles.

I have a hard time seeing this as victimization.  It would take a really, really, really naive and stupid politician to credibly argue that these trips were purely fact-finding trips and that they had no idea these expenditures represented an effort of the Fiesta Bowl to woo them in return for various quid pro quo's.  Politicians should not even be considering public subsidies of college football games, particularly ones that are so incredibly lucrative to the schools and bowl organizations.  Politicians could have avoided being "victimized" by such lobbying by simply saying that their city/county/state was not going to be handing out taxpayer-funded goodies to sports teams and games.  I don't necessarily want to send these guys to jail, but calling them victims is a joke.

It is interesting to see this attitude from a Conservative.  My mother-in-law the Boston Liberal takes the same line, that the evils that result from lobbying and outright bribery are entirely the fault of private enterprises and not of the politicians themselves.  Of course, the libertarian position on this is simple -- the fault is not any particular person, but the changes in government power that have put so many chips on the table.   If the government has the power to give or take billions, to make or kill whole industries, then it is worth a lot of money for individuals to harness this power or at least to protect themselves from being gutted by those who do manipulate the power.  To this end, 19th century corruption arguments are almost quaint, where the biggest concern was politician's ability to appoint their friends as postmaster.  Reduce government's power to give and take arbitrarily, and the amount of money spent on lobbying, elections, and outright bribery will fall precipitously.

Kim Kardashian for Congress

From my column today at Forbes.com, this week on Donald Trump and campaign finance reform. An excerpt:

Have you heard the news?  Apparently Donald Trump is running for President.  Of course you would have to be living in a hole not to know that.  Over the last couple of weeks, based just on media stories tracked by Google News, there have been over a thousand news stories a day mentioning Trump’s potential run for the White House.  In fact, there are more than double the number of articles on Trump’s potential run than their are on the actual candidacies of Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, and Tim Pawlenty combined.

Do you like candidacies by crazy populist billionaire reality TV stars?  If so, then by all means, let’s have campaign spending limits.

Ugh, I Missed This Little Turd

From Dan Mitchell

Called a “debt failsafe trigger,” Obama’s scheme would automatically raise taxes if politicians spend too much. According to the talking points distributed by the White House, the automatic tax increase would take effect “if, by 2014, the projected ratio of debt-to-GDP is not stabilized and declining toward the end of the decade.”

Pretty good evidence that the default mentality in Washington is that "all your money are belong to us" and whatever is leftover that the government does not happen to spend, you are welcome to use for yourself.

Gas Prices

I find it sort of hilarious that it is Conservatives that are demagoguing gas prices and Liberals who are trying to explain that they really are not that high.  Yet another example of the Coke and Pepsi parties swapping political positions based on whose team is in the White House.

But I thought this graph was interesting, and supports a point I have made for years (Via Flowing Data)

I have worked in oil fields drilling miles below the surface and on offshore platforms in mile-deep water.  I have seen the Alaska pipeline under construction and worked in a 400 thousand barrel a day refinery.  And I can say with confidence that no other product on this list even is in the same order of magnitude as gasoline in terms of the capital investment, effort, and technology that does into delivering a gallon of gas.  The ability to deliver gas for even $4.00 a gallon is almost unbelievable.   Yet no other industry on this list or any other list gets 1/100th the grief oil companies do for being rapacious, greedy, and detrimental to society.