Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Sonia Sotomayor

My thoughts regarding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor are summed up nicely by Jefferson:

"It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression ... that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary; ... working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped."

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Charles Hammond, August 18, 1821

From today's 'Founder's Quote Daily' courtesy of The Patriot Post.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Poverty and Capitalism

From an excellent treatise in The Claremont Review of Books, Up From Poverty, some clarity about growth and the eradication of poverty comes forth:

In the touchstone year of 1820, 84% of the world's population lived in what would today be judged "extreme poverty." Today, only 16% do. That is such an astounding achievement that it is difficult even to comprehend. According to the World Bank, in the last 30 years alone-a time of rapid globalization-the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by 25%, or 500 million people. The outbreak of entrepreneurial capitalism within the Communist political system of the People's Republic of China accounts for most of this achievement, but almost every region of the world has seen a decline in the share of its population living in extreme poverty. Bright spots such as Israel and Mauritius, moreover, have proven that growth can occur in regions previously thought allergic to it.

All this appears to have happened in the absence of, or even in spite of, those infusions of foreign aid once presumed to have been poor countries' only hope. In fact, the one factor we can say with certainty is a force behind global growth is capitalism-a reality stubbornly resisted by those who seem blinded either by the now fashionable resistance to growth, often dressed as anti-globalism, or by their unbreakable embrace of planning as the predicate for economic success, or both.
And the marvelous conclusion, at least to my way of thinking, comes this:

The principles of liberal democracy have made sustainable economic development a possibility for the whole world going forward. The application of creative talent by the individual in the context of commerce-once found only in liberal democracies-is now seen as necessary even inside socialist regimes. The rediscovered insight that entrepreneurs bring forth expanding welfare for all is so powerful that growth has regained its rightful place as a legitimate goal of economic enduring truth often forgotten (or ignored) by proponents of state-led development: economic growth owes more to the forbearance of the state than to its intervention. Governments do not, indeed cannot, make wealth-only their citizens can. And when government protects their freedom, the world's growing population of entrepreneurs, in the bargain, expands human dignity and establishes the foundation of ongoing growth on which civil society ultimately depends.

Please read it all so you can help eradicate the so wrong notions about the evils of globalisation and the tragedy of capitalism.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"The Truth About Cars and Trucks"

Here is more evidence to support my remarks in a previous post concerning the UAW as the WSJ's Holman C. Jenkins, Jr. tells "The Truth About Cars and Trucks":

For more than 40 years, a 25% tariff has kept out foreign-built pickup trucks even as a studied loophole was created in fuel-economy regulations to let the Big Three develop a lucrative, protected niche in the "passenger truck" business.

This became the long-running unwritten deal. This was Washington's real auto policy.

For three decades, the Big Three were able to survive precisely because they skimped on quality and features in the money-losing sedans they were required under Congress's fuel economy rules to build in high-cost UAW factories. In return, Washington compensated them with the hothouse, politically protected opportunity to profit from pickups and SUVs.

...the muddled, covert bailout continues: Washington's latest fuel-economy rules actually reward manufacturers for increasing the size and weight of some vehicles. The truck tariff remains in place. The fuel-mileage rules continue to protect the UAW monopoly by discouraging the Big Three from shipping small-car production offshore.

Lately some have doted, with wonderment and admiration, on the Obama administration's apparent willingness to drive a hard bargain with the UAW as it tries to impose a stage-managed replica of bankruptcy on GM and Chrysler. Please.

In a real bankruptcy, which is the natural fate of companies unable to meet their obligations, Chrysler and GM would be run (or liquidated) for the benefit of their creditors, not their workers. But, here, "pattern bargaining" will remain the law of the Detroit jungle. The UAW will continue to use its unnaturally augmented clout to extract uncompetitive pay and benefits (it can do no other given its internal incentives). As it has for 40 years, Washington will pitch in with one improvisation after another, disguised as energy policy, trade policy, health-care policy or environmental policy, to stop the rivets from popping off. Politics, especially Democratic electoral politics, will play a more dominant role than ever.

Look closely and the hidden subsidies to keep the dismal beast alive have already started flowing -- tax credits for UAW retirees to make up for reduced health-care benefits, loans to help Detroit "invest in green cars." And plenty more will be needed to sustain Obama Motors on life support, at least through the 2012 election.

The Obama strategy does nothing to change the basic dynamics of the homegrown auto sector -- a labor monopoly combined with endless finagles in Washington to help the Big Three survive competition from Japanese, German and Korean auto makers. But maybe the shock of seeing GM nationalized will at least cause some in politics and the press finally to think about how we got here.

The travesty is how long this will continue to play out to the detriment of the US auto industry and especially to the US taxpayer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Contrary to Too Big to Fail

The following quote is from John Tamny in Real Clear Markets. Dr. Thurow, who is quoted, spent a day with one of my senior year undergraduate macroeconomics classes and I have been a 'fan' of his ever since.

MIT economist Lester Thurow once observed that, “One man’s security [protection] is another man’s lack of opportunity.” Thurow’s words take on greater relevance today given the seeming reluctance on the part of Treasury secretary Tim Geithner and other administration officials to let banks pay back the protective loans foisted upon them through TARP....

...within capitalist economies new substitutes regularly reveal themselves such that industries as we define them regularly take new shapes. Schumpeter was writing about the retail sector, but as he observed, “the competition that matters arises not from additional shops of the same type, but from the department store, the chain store, the mail-order house and the supermarket which are bound to destroy those pyramids sooner or later.”

Indeed, Blockbuster Video was not crushed by a like competitor along the lines of Movie Gallery, but instead by Netflix. When we consider finance, for years retailer Wal-Mart has been panting to get into banking only to be thwarted by many of the same banks presently on life support. Quicken began as a company peddling personal finance software, and ETrade low-cost stock trades, but now both are very much in the loan business. Most in the U.S. think of British retailer Tesco as a retail behemoth, but its lending arm is growing by leaps and bounds.

Looked at from the perspective of banks, it’s quite simply not true that finance would have dried up had one or many big U.S. banks failed. Instead, and as Thurow made clear, their failure would have created an opportunity for substitutes to fill in where their predecessors failed. So while it’s seemingly settled “logic” on both sides of the political aisle that we must empower to an even greater degree the very regulators who proved so unequal to the crises before us, and that occurred on their watch, it seems the better answer is less regulation so that well-run companies inside and outside the financial sector can do what gasping banks could not.

Thurow concluded long ago that “demands for protection” arise due to the abandonment of “belief in the virtues of a competitive, unplanned economy.” His words describe today’s economic environment very well, and as long our federal minders keep offering us false security, the alleged economic recovery will be stillborn thanks to a bipartisan lurch away from the very competitive economic principles that made us so prosperous to begin with.

The above passage perhaps applies even more aptly to the automotive sector as great substitutes currently exist without lingering union problems nor closed plant locations with environmental clean-up legacies. And these substitutes have US plants employing large numbers of US workers. Consumers have already proven the demand for Mercedes from Alabama, BMW's from SC and Honda's and Toyota's from the mid-west. It also troubles me that the US Government is giving financial support to the "big three" (of which two of the three should have filed for bankruptcy already) and not support to the domestic producers with 'foreign' ownership. Is that fair, I ask rhetorically? Did not the Honda Prius represent what the US government wants US citizens to drive?

No doubt the huge support of labor unions for the Democrat party has influenced the decisions of the executive and legislative branches. Perhaps what is too big to fail is political support not certain formerly private companies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gitmo, Bagram and Obama

President Obama, contrary to the vocal left, is beginning to deal with the real world. Cheney has called for a declassification of memos detailing what was derived from the treatment (not torture) of a few people who have admitted and been proud of 9-11. According to Cheney (see here) other attacks were prevented due to the information. Bill McGurn in today's WSJ:

In an impassioned 2006 speech on the Senate floor on the right to habeas corpus, Mr. Obama declared, "I do not want to hear that this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy." During the campaign, his language implied that all we needed to settle the detainee issue once and for all was to shut down Gitmo.

As president, he is finding out that this very much is a new world, that we do face a new enemy, and that the problems posed by Guantanamo have less to do with the place than the people we detain there.

Put simply, the U.S. needs the ability to detain people we know to be dangerous without the evidence that might stand up in a federal criminal court. Because we can't say when this war will end, moreover, we also need to be able to detain them indefinitely. This is what makes the war on terror different, and why our policies will never fit neatly into a legal approach that is either purely criminal or purely military.

The good news is that Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that the relative obscurity of Bagram, not to mention the approval he has received on Guantanamo, enables him to do the right thing here without, as Mr. Greenwald notes, worrying too much that he will be called to account for a substantive about-face.

The bad news is that we seem to have reached the point where our best hope for sensible war policy now depends largely on presidential cynicism.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Popularity Surveys

American Thinker:
...Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein”: Einstein had moved to Princeton in 1933 and remained there until his death in 1955. During the 30’s, he was world famous, beloved, quirky and kind. To my surprise, in a section called Prewar Politics, the author writes the following on page 445.

“A survey of incoming freshmen in 1938 produced a result that is now astonishing, and should have been back then as well; Adolf Hitler polled highest as the “greatest living person.” Albert Einstein was second.”

This passage had a footnote which I followed to the back of the book. Here is the footnote:

“Hitler Is ‘Greatest’ in Princton Poll: Freshmen Put Einstein Second and Chamberlain Third,” New York Times, Nov 28, 1939. The story reports that this was for the second year in a row.”

Simply food for thought and a possible worthwhile rejoinder when discussion turns to the perceptions held by our best and our brightest of the ‘coolest’ Politician of the day."

Back for More

I am ready to resume blogging. I have taken a nice leave and have done some new things - some successful and some not. I will be posting as before and publish whatever suits my eye and mood. I hope you find something new and enjoy the experience as much as I enjoy the thinking, the writing and the sharing.

Welcome back,

Friday, September 14, 2007

9/11 Attitudes Revealing

The present day attitudes toward the tragedy of September 11, 2001 reveal magnitudes about the full world view of groups and individuals as to so many issues.

Recall statements from John Edwards that the global war on terror was just a bumper sticker, John Kerry recently reverting to the law enforcement theory of dealing with terrorist incidents and the Democrat's now politically correct dictum to separate, wherever possible, Iraq from any association with a fight against terrorism?

How about The New York Times effort to distinguish Al-Qaeda Mesopotamia? Here's the WSJ's James Taranto pointing out the humor in this September 12 post in Best of the Web Today:

In an item yesterday, we noted the following hilariously awkward sentence from a New York Times report on the Petraeus testimony: "When Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, suggested the war was not integral to the anti-terror effort since members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, sometimes called Al Qaeda in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led, is not part of the Qaeda network behind the Sept. 11 attacks, the general offered a quick retort. "

What we didn't catch is that the sentence isn't even grammatical: The subject of the dependent clause that begins the sentence, members, does not match the verb, is, which is understandable since the two words are separated by a participial phrase and another dependent clause.

We also missed this equally riotous passage, from a "news analysis" in yesterday's Times by Michael Gordon: "The National Intelligence Estimate issued last month made a similar point--and General Petraeus quoted from it in his testimony. 'We assess that changing the mission of coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent A.Q.I. from establishing a safe haven would erode security gains achieved thus far,' the estimate noted. A.Q.I. is the abbreviation the intelligence agencies use to refer to Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi organization with foreign leadership."

Hmm, if AQI an an abbreviation for "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," what does the I stand for? We suspect this is another case of an NYT* reporter protesting the Times's policy of forced editorializing in stories about al Qaeda in Iraq.
* An abbreviation for Nieuw Amsterdam Times.

The notion that there is no "Global War on Terror" is actually very common.

Tony Blankley offers this analysis in "The War On Terror Six Years On":

Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq war has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. This regrettable fact has been compounded by the intense hatred of President Bush, who has prosecuted the war with such personal determination and whose own rhetoric has contributed to the confusion.

As a result, six years after 9/11, there is little consensus in the United States or Europe as to the nature and magnitude of the threat, and many -- including government officials, experts and the general public -- still believe there is little to fear from radical Islam and its terrorists. These people -- perhaps two-thirds of Europeans and 30-40 percent of Americans -- believe the terrorists can be dealt with merely with law enforcement, as previous 20th-century European terrorists had been. Those who hold this view are likely to wrongly see President Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others, such as me, who agree with them as exploiting the fear of Muslim terrorists for crass political advantage.

Thus, much of the ferocious controversy over electronic intercepts, Guantanamo, CIA renditions, semi-secret foreign-based CIA prisons, coerced interrogation methods, and the Patriot Act provisions is a product of not seeing a sufficient threat to national security to justify tough wartime intrusions into civil liberties.

If we in the United States can't agree on the nature and magnitude of the threat, we aren't likely to agree on the means of protecting ourselves from it. Until a majority can be convinced that we face real danger from radical Islam, virulent political strife in Washington will continue to delay the design and implementation of an effective, united national defense.

He concludes:

In the days following Sept. 11, I realized we were in for a test of our strength, will and capacity to persist for decades in a harrowing task. But I never imagined that six years into the ordeal, we would remain so utterly divided in the face of a unique and little understood enemy. That constitutes a collective act of abdication of duty without parallel in our long history. We live in greater jeopardy because of it.

To prove Blankley's thesis, here is a portion of my local paper's lead editorial on 9/11 - the Asheville Citizen-Times and "6 Years Later, Time to Take Stock, Correct Mistakes". Here are some paragraph headings and their conclusion:

Initially, our invasion of Afghanistan weakened and displaced the Taliban, but our distraction in Iraq has enabled the Taliban to regroup.

Our invasion of Iraq was not related to the “War on Terror,” despite what the Bush government would have us believe.

With the Patriot Act, we have undermined our Constitution and civil rights.

By pursuing torture in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, we have violated the Geneva Convention and many of the human rights principles we hold so dearly.

By over-committing our military, we have placed personal hardships on many military families, run up tremendous amounts of debt and reduced our ability to fund many of the infrastructure and social needs at home.

It’s time to turn back from our mistakes and head in a different direction.
This involves:
• Significantly reducing our forces in Iraq, redeploying some of them to Afghanistan and the Pakistani border to go after real terrorists and bringing large numbers of them home....
• Actively pursuing diplomacy and dialogue with all parties who can contribute to a solution in Iraq including Iran and Syria....
• Reaching out without arrogance to moderate Muslims around the world diplomatically and with economic aid where appropriate....
• Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, charging in court or releasing to their home countries all prisoners housed there and recommitting the United States to the Geneva Convention.
• Scaling back our military-industrial complex to the size needed to defend our country and pursue real terrorists. This involves a retreat from the role of the world’s policeman and a reinvestment of some of our military spending into debt reduction, infrastructure, health insurance and social programs for the American people.

During the past six years we have expended vast amounts of money, driving the nation deeply into debt, undermined our Constitution and exhausted our military, and yet Osama bin Laden is still running a terrorist network. Invading Afghanistan, where the terrorists found safe haven, avenged the attack on our nation. We had the moral high ground and an opportunity to destroy the heart of the terrorist threat. But that objective was neglected when we took our eye off the ball and went into Iraq, and the broader problem has been dramatically exacerbated by that move. The fact Osama is still releasing tapes is inexcusable.

As the arch terrorist tries to ratchet up our fear, we need to remember this: Terrorists can hit us, they can hurt us, but they can’t take the country from us. Only we can do that.

I always think when my paper is late that the Democratic National Committee must have been late with the day's talking points email and so the lead editorial in the Citizen-Times wasn't ready on time.

Seriously, these two points of view on the war on terror certainly serve as frames of reference and a clear predictor of the world view and specifically the political views of the opinion holders for almost any issue. Think about that.

America Is No Roman Empire

These days I cannot think of politics or economics without an over-hanging and omnipresent context of the war in Iraq. In the next several posts, I will highlight several recent opinions that helped me clarify my thinking on the broader issues of where we actually are in the Global War on Terror and in Iraq, and how those two issues shape not only my thinking but most thinking of the engaged citizenry of the United States.

In some sense, these posts are all the same in that they are more contextual rather than strategic or tactical in nature. I am an optimist about where we are and what we have done --which certainly seems to be a contrarian opinion held by a very few people. Perhaps some of the following may make you slightly more optimistic too or you may conclude I am delusional. Either way it will impact your thinking at least a nudge in spite of any opinions you bring with you to the arena.

Gerard Baker, whom I enjoy reading, has a piece in The Times (London) today, A Quick History: America Is No Rome - The Tired Analogy of Imperial Decline and Fall. Here are some cuts:

...Gibbon himself noted in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.” Which brings us back neatly to General Petraeus and the Iraq war.

...You can argue about the surge. The evidence is encouraging that the increased US military effort, together with a change in tactics, has reduced the violence in Iraq. On the other hand there are legitimate questions about the long-term viability of the strategy. But if America is to emerge from Iraq with a renewed sense of its global role, you shouldn’t really debase the motives of those who lead US forces there. Because in the end what they are doing is deeply honourable – fighting to destroy an enemy that delights in killing women and children; rebuilding a nation ruined by rapine and savagery; trying to bridge sectarian divides that have caused more misery in the world than the US could manage if it lasted a thousand years.

It is helpful to think about Iraq this way. Imagine if the US had never been there; and that this sectarian strife had broken out in any case – as, one day it surely would, given the hatreds engendered by a thousand years of Muslim history and the efforts of Saddam Hussein.

What would we in the West think about it? What would we think of as our responsibilities? There would be some who would want to wash their hands of it. There would be others who would think that UN resolutions and diplomatic initiatives would be enough to salve our consciences if not to stop the slaughter.

But many of us surely would think we should do something about it – as we did in the Balkans more than a decade ago – and as, infamously, we failed to do in Africa at the same time. And we would know that, for all our high ideals and our soaring rhetoric, there would be only one country with the historical commitment to make massive sacrifices in the defence of the lives and liberty of others, the leadership to mobilise efforts to relieve the suffering and, above all, the economic and military wherewithal to make it happen.

That’s the only really workable analogy between the US and Rome. When Rome fell, the world went dark for the best part of a millennium. America may not be an empire. But whatever it is, for the sake of humanity, pray it lasts at least as long as Rome.

Posts follow giving more context and will, as always, reveal my present thinking from the choices of articles I post.