Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Great News !

November 28, 2011

Bye bye Barney (Frank). Barney, the obnoxious hypocrite and my Congressman, is retiring.

I find it telling that shortly after the extremum of their political career (some call Dodd-Frank a crowning achievement, I call it an abysmal low point), both Dodd and Frank are history, legislatively speaking.

Rick Perry and the Jewish vote

August 25, 2011

I do not yet have an opinion about Rick Perry, GOP candidate for President. On the minus side, his recent prayer rally included some Jews for Jesus types whose goal is to convert Jews to Christianity. On the plus side, he is a longtime and staunch friend of Israel, and some of his policies in Texas (like tort reform) have clearly contributed to the strong Texas economy.

But he has other things that commend him to Jewish voters. Kinky Friedman (of the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys) likes him. And Perry recently signed a law that requires condominiums to permit owners to attach religious objects up to 25 inches long on their doors. While it applies to mezuzahs, I imagine it also applies to Christmas wreaths, as well.

In recognition of signing that law, Mezuzahstore.com is selling a one-of-a-kind mezuzah that is 26 inches long, just beyond the limit of the law. It is called “The Rick Perry” mezuzah. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas !

Politicizing war casualties ?

August 11, 2011

In 2009, the Obama administration changed Pentagon policy to let the families decide if photography was permitted when remains of US servicemen arrive at Dover Air Force Base. Previously, policy prohibited any such photography. Although 19 of the 30 affected familes did not want media coverage, a White House photographer shot a somber, backlit photo of Obama saluting the arrival of the casualties from the Special Forces helicopter recently shot down in Afghanistan. That photo is available on the White House Photo of the Day webpage (#2 of 8).

So, is this a case of the man who railed against “politics as usual” being hypocritical or was he just honoring the 11 of 30 familes who were OK with media coverage ? Or do you buy Press Secretary Jay Carney’s explanation that, “in this case, the White House released the photo, in the interests of transparency, so that the American people could have as much insight as possible into this historic and sobering event.”

To their credit, none of the media covered the event or retransmitted the White House photo.

Another problem with regulation: Dodd-Frank

August 11, 2011

Reacting to the financial meltdown of 2008, the Obama administration enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to provide regulation that would supposedly prevent this sort of financial crisis. The bill is 2,300 pages, with many details (the actual regulations) TBD (to be determined).

I have long been skeptical that it would improve anything, and Conrad Black has, in his usual fashion, provided a pithy, literate explanation. His words have helped me get my hands around what is wrong with Dodd-Frank:

The two most offensive aspects of Dodd-Frank are that it is part of the concerted bipartisan effort of the entire political class to pretend that the economic crisis was entirely the result of private-sector greed, and that it doesn’t address at all the main discernible causes of the economic crisis of 2008, which have not gone away. The housing bubble and imprudent lending into it were the principal problem, and the principal culprit is the United States government, for legislating a substantial percentage of private-sector commercial mortgages to be on a non-commercial basis; for issuing executive orders to the giant, pseudo-private-sector Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make the majority of their mortgage loans on that basis; and for keeping interest rates and mortgage equity requirements so low for so long. This was certain to lead to mountains of excess residential housing and worthless mortgages.

It was also the federal government that extended the permissible borrowing ratio of debt to equity for merchant banks to 30 to one, and required constant mark-to-market current valuation of the assets against which they were borrowing up to 30 times. A moron could see that if a bank became impetuous and put too many eggs in one basket, and the market value of the eggs declined, it would have to issue securities to hold its ratio, at steadily declining prices, encouraging and rewarding short sales and assuring a power-dive into insolvency, as was allowed to happen to Lehman Brothers.

So a monstrosity of government regulation is supposed to fix a problem caused by, government policy and regulation ? Acts of Congress cannot arbitrarily cancel the laws of economics or eliminate the human tendency to take unreasonable risks, as this one tries to do. But at the very least, a law to prevent financial meltdowns should have done something about Fannie and Freddie. This is what Dodd-Frank does about those two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE): “nothing”.

Unintended consequences

August 9, 2011

A recurrent theme in this blog is that government regulation almost always has unintended (negative)  consequences. The latest example is the shortage in generic cancer drugs. These drugs are off-patent, so they should be cheap. But lately, many have become unavailable.

The reason is government regulation, specifically Medicare price controls, according to Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahm’s brother). In a 2003 law, government agreed to pay oncology doctors the ‘average selling price’ of cancer drugs they prescribe, plus a 6% overhead, rather than allow a classic fee for service. As the rules are set out by law, prices can only rise 6% every 6 months.

I am guessing the rule was written to prevent ‘excess profits’ by evil drug companies jacking up the price of a successful drug. But in their infinite wisdom, our governmental overlords overlooked that when a drug goes off patent, its price drops a lot, as much as 90%. As other manufacturers start making the generic drug, the price often fluctuates a lot as the market finds its new balance as the original and generic manufacturers figure out whether they can make and sell it profitably. The regulators cannot keep up with real-time conditions in the marketplace and (apparently quite frequently) the price can get stuck at a point too low to incentivize enough production to meet demand.

Amazingly, Emanuel sees government regulation as the answer:

One solution would be to amend the 2003 act to increase the amount Medicare pays for generic cancer drugs to the average selling price plus, say, 30 percent, after the drugs have been generic for three years. 

As if his proposed fix doesn’t have more unintended consequences lurking in possible scenarios that no one has yet imagined.

When will these folks lose their arrogance and realize that government regulations will never be smart enough to create the utopia they want to force upon us ?

Hat tip Megan McArdle.

You can’t make this stuff up

August 5, 2011

Yesterday, the White House issued the following:

President Obama Directs New Steps to Prevent Mass Atrocities and Impose Consequences on Serious Human Rights Violators

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.  The President’s directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities.  Today he is also issuing a proclamation that, for the first time, explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights.

I, for one, will sleep MUCH better knowing that a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board is in place. How did we ever cope with mass atrocities without one? And that proclamation – serious mojo:

This proclamation fills this gap by expanding the grounds for denial of entry into the United States to cover a broader array of recognized violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. …

The President’s proclamation empowers the United States to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out, serious human rights violations or grave atrocities that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States.

I am SURE that will deter most folks contemplating committing mass atrocities. And I am NOT WORRIED that innocent victims, like Israeli politicians or soldiers who are falsely accused of war crimes, will ever have to worry about getting a visa. After all, isn’t the country (and the world!) in the very best of hands !

Hat tip James Taranto.

Jewish voters coming to their senses ! [UPDATED]

July 12, 2011

The latest poll shows American Jews are finally realizing that Obama’s policies towards Israel do not line up with their views (hat tip Tevi Troy). A poll byMcLaughlin & Associates and Pat Caddell commissioned by Secure America Now found that Jewish support for Obama’s reelection is underwater:

65% claim they voted for President Obama in 2008, 64% have a favorable opinion of the President and 63% approve of the job he is doing as President; however, only two in five (43%) would vote to re-elect President Obama. The plurality (48%) would consider someone else and 9% are undecided.

This is a fascinating poll with lots more information than can be summarized in a blog post. You can read the whole thing here. The sample may be skewed a little since  77% of Jews voted for Obama in 2008, not the 65% claimed by those sampled. Whether that is sample bias or selective memory among the respondents is unclear. Nor are all of the trends consistent:

About two-thirds (64% to 31%) have a favorable opinion of President Obama.

Nearly two-thirds (65% to 30%) approve of the job President Obama is doing regarding America’s defense and security.

By a 2 to 1 ratio (56% to 25%), the majority believes things in the U.S. are headed off on the wrong track.

Generally speaking, when deciding their vote for President, the most important issue category is economic (44%) followed by social (31%), foreign affairs (14%), moral (4%) and other local issues (1%).

So despite having a favorable opinion of Obama, American Jews believe the US is on the wrong track, probably for economic reasons. Here are some more tidbits.

In April of last year, President Obama had a +11 job approval rating on handling America’s relations with Israel (50% to 39%). Now his job rating is … upside down (43% to 50%).

Considering that President Obama has proposed a return to the 1967 borders, dividing Jerusalem, and allowing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs to Israel, two-thirds (67% to 24%) are concerned about President Obama’s policies towards Israel if he were re-elected.

Four in five (81%) are against Israel being forced to return to its pre-1967 borders, which were susceptible to attack.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) believe Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel. Only 8% thinks the United States should force Israel to give parts of Jerusalem, including Christian and Jewish holy sites, to the Palestinian Authority.

An overwhelming majority (88% to 5) agrees with the position that before the Palestinian Authority is given their own country, they must first recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Fox News (20%) and CNN (18%) are the most trusted news organizations to report international news and Israel fairly.

Regarding the Palestinian-Israel conflict, 43% is unsure who President Obama favors. Among those with an opinion, more Jewish voters think he favors the Palestinians (31% to 26%).

The sample views Prime Minister Netanyahu more favorably than Obama, kind of like their most recent speeches to Congress:
American Jewish voters are strongly favorable to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (65% favorable to 20% unfavorable).
All in all, I find this poll reassuring that Jewish voters are getting over their reflexive support for Democrats regardless of their policies.

UPDATE: According to Greg Sargent and Adam Serwer, this is a “laughably bogus poll” because in addition to the (possible) sample skew I noted, the “questions in the poll are phrased in as leading a manner as possible” (hat tip William Jacobson). And as a commenter pointed out, saying you would consider another candidate is not the same as saying you would vote for Obama.

I disagree that the poll is bogus, though some findings show some bias. Most of the questions were straightforward and not leading:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing regarding America’s defense and security?

Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would you say that President Obama favors Israel, or favors the Palestinians?

The good news is, you can read the pollster’s detailed findings and decide for yourself if it is believable.

OHO Again ! Transparency and the Debt Ceiling

July 12, 2011

File this under Obama Hypocrisy Observation: Obama promised the most transparent administration in history. Let’s see how that has played out in the debt ceiling negotiations.

None of the negotiating positions have been made public. But there was lots of spin and reporting that Obama was offering significant cuts – trillions of dollars – and the Republicans were holding back on agreeing to smaller tax increases. NY Times columnist David Brooks was convinced that the Republicans were losing an historic opportunity to make “the deal of the century” as Obama was offering 3:1 spending cuts to ‘revenues,’ i.e. tax hikes. I was not convinced as none of the principals would go on the record. All they said was the usual agreeable blather that the talks were making progress.

Now one principal has gone on the record. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said the negotiations, specifically the administrations’s positions, were a sham:

“We all saw how it worked,” he said. “The administration leaked to the media, without any details, the idea that it was willing to go along with trillions in spending cuts.”

But the cuts are largely illusory, McConnell indicated. Obama hoped “the budget gimmicks and deferred decision-making they actually supported would have the appearance of serious belt-tightening.”

In truth, the effect would be “at most about a couple billion dollars in cuts up front with empty promises of more to follow.” 

But the tax hikes Obama demanded were real !

According to Charles Krauthammer, Obama’s statements should be viewed as “situational truth. Obama will say what he needs to say at the time he says it to advance a political agenda.”  The Bush administration was not transparent. Bush made decisions without an open airing of views, pro and con. So Obama said, I’m not Bush, I’m going to be transparent, and won. Never mind about following through – ramming through legislation past midnight that no one could read was OK.

The evidence supports Krauthammer’s view. Some of you may remember Jim Geraghty’s list of Obama statements and their expiration dates. It is a very long list. With that sort of record, I expect a lot more OHO moments in the months to come.

OHO ! (Obama Hypocrisy Observation)

June 24, 2011

Every so often, the worst Administration in history does something to get this lazy blogger to take time out of his day to marvel at the sheer hypocrisy, venality, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-ness and overall low-down dirty trickery of this group that is incompetent to administer our government. Here is my first OHO ! or Obama Hypocrisy Observation:

Some of you may have noticed that Obama decided to release 30 million barrels of oil from the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve). Three links let you pick one of my favorite blogs with the story. As an editorial notes:

The spigots have been opened just twice — in 2005 by President Bush, who released 11 million barrels after disruptions from Hurricane Katrina, and in 1992 by President Bush Sr., who tapped 20 million barrels in the wake of the Gulf War. President Obama’s release — which is far bigger than either of those two emergencies — is supposedly in response to disruptions from Libya, which isn’t even a U.S. supplier. It isn’t our crisis.

This had an immediate effect on the oil markets, dropping the price of oil over 5%. In all likelihood, that will lead to lower gas prices at the pump. Political, ya think ?

But that isn’t what got me worked up. I expect every decision from the Obama administration to be made for political gain. What got me was learning that in addition, he waived the Jones Act to allow foreign ships to transport the SPR oil*. The Jones Act requires that cargo shipped from one US port to another be carried by US vessels that are US owned with US crews, a protectionist measure we can debate, later. “Waivers have been granted in cases of national emergencies or in cases of strategic interest.”

Transporting SPR oil is NOT a national emergency that requires waiving the Jones Act. So why did Obama do it? After all, this is the same guy who has restricted oil drilling from day one and is doing his best to move us away from a carbon-based economy to a green economy, whatever that is, the merits of which we can debate, later.

The hypocrisy is that oil from evil corporations is bad, but oil sold by the government to reduce energy costs is so good that getting SPR oil to market is a national (reelection) emergency!

*You may recall that a Belgian firm DEME gave the Jones Act as the reason their offer to help clean up the Gulf of Mexicooil spill was declined. It is unclear if that was true.

Democrat policy on gas prices sows fear and ignores basic economics [UPDATED]

April 27, 2011

According to Greg Sargent, Democratic strategists have some talking points they want to push to ‘protect Americans at the gas station’ in response to rising gas prices. Here is the key policy:

* Although there is no single, easy answer for addressing increased gas prices in the short term, there are things we can do to guarantee that Americans aren’t victims of escalating gas prices in the long term.

* One thing we can do is eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and instead invest that money into clean energy, so that we can cut our dependence on foreign oil.

Given the government’s track record in alternative energy (remember Synfuels ?), there is no guarantee government  ‘investments’ in clean energy will lead to lower energy prices. So what will be the effect of eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies ?

Eliminating tax breaks means raising taxes. If companies’ taxes go up, they will try to pass the cost on to their customers to keep their profits constant (that’s what I would do).

How will this brilliant Democratic strategy keep gas prices from rising ? The answer is it won’t. These talking points are pure demagoguery that seek to gain support from folks upset with rising prices by demonizing business.

I am not the only one to notice this. And I am hardly a fan of tax breaks for oil and gas companies – or tax credits or subsidies for ‘green’ cars, alternative energy sources, or ethanol, for that matter. These should all go away along with a host of other targeted government tax breaks and subsidies. Their primary effect is to buy votes. But eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and throwing the money at clean energy is ignorant of basic economics. It guarantees that prices will go up in the short term. There is no guarantee the imagined benefits will ever come to pass.

UPDATE: Larry Kudlow weighs in on the $4B in tax breaks Dems want to eliminate. Hint – the piece is titled ‘The Left Hates Oil Companies.’