Archive for January, 2010
January 30th, 2010 at 9:32 pm
The Trouble with Adolescence …
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… is that nothing’s ever that satisfying. In the D.C. Examiner, the always lucid Byron York asks the compelling question: “Has Obama Become Bored Being President?”

From the piece:

He’s in his second year as president, and he’s discovered that even with all the powers of office, he can’t do everything he wants to do, like remake America. Doing stuff is hard. In the past, prosaic work has held little appeal for Obama, and it’s prompted him to think about moving on.

A little later:

What drove Obama was not just ambition, although he is certainly ambitious. As he became frustrated in each job, Obama concluded that the problem was not having the power to do the things he wanted to do. So he sought a more powerful position.

Today he is in the most powerful position in the world. Yet he has spent a year struggling, and failing, to enact far-reaching makeovers of the American economy. So now, even in the Oval Office, there are signs that the old dissatisfaction is creeping back in.

Thought for the day: what does it say about someone’s temperament if being President of the United States isn’t enough to satisfy him?

My answer: that he should probably be teaching existentialist philosophy at a community college somewhere.

January 30th, 2010 at 1:52 pm
A Scarcity of Creativity

The basic point of departure between progressives and classical liberals (a term I’m using to encompass any political ideology that supports a free market) when it comes to solving an economic problem is how each deals with scarcity. Scarcity occurs when the demand for a resource like land, labor, or capital is greater than its supply. The lack of the resource (i.e. it’s scarcity) leads to prioritizing how to use that resource most efficiently. This is where public policy disagreements come into play. Typically, progressives see just about everything as scarce, and argue for a neutral government to allocate scarce items fairly. For progressives, there is almost never an instance where the policy impulse to find a way to create more of something. Instead, government’s task is to “spread the wealth around” – be it energy through carbon credits, capital through welfare redistribution, or health care through rationing.

Classical liberals are of a different mindset. They start by questioning whether the scarce resource is correctly is really scarce. Consider health care. A progressive would argue that if the number of licensed doctors became static or declined, limiting the amount of patient visits per year would be appropriate in order to “share” the scarce resource of medical expertise over the largest amount of people. A classical liberal, though, would ask whether a licensed nurse could be allowed to take on more responsibility for diagnosing and treating patients with common ailments like colds, cuts, and other minor medical problems. By expanding the amount of people who are licensed to treat patients, the scarcity vanishes because people are allowed to visit a medical professional as much as they need to.

Now to the issue of job creation. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is proposing a bill to give people as young as 60 years old a financial incentive to retire early by offering early retirement with social security benefits and health care subsidies paid for from COBRA. The thinking is that are a finite amount of jobs in the American economy, and the federal government must find a way to get older workers out to create room for younger workers. Sounds like jobs are “scarce” these days, right?

Not so fast. The workers who have survived the rash of lay-offs are most likely to be those who are highly producing because businesses can no longer afford to carry dead wood on their payrolls. Moreover, if older workers are convinced to leave the job market, that means centuries of accumulated knowledge and expertise will be leaving with them. In the alternative, if it is the low-skilled elderly that Kucinich is targeting (a more likely scenario since guaranteed Social Security and COBRA benefits aren’t enticements for people making more than minimum wage), the vacancies they create won’t be enough to support younger workers with families trying to get out of apartments and into all those foreclosed houses.

The better way to look at how to create jobs isn’t to figure out how to best allocate the ones in existence – it’s figuring out how to encourage even more to be created. With more people working the economy will be that much stronger, which will eventually lead to the kind of scarcity only an employer fears: not enough hard-working, qualified people to fill all their employment needs.

January 30th, 2010 at 10:19 am
Less Speeches, More Debates

After a week’s worth of forgettable speeches, President Obama finally made an appearance worth watching. Yesterday’s Q&A with House Republicans was a refreshing reminder that the much maligned political class in Washington, D.C., does, in fact, know something about policy. The ninety-minute exchange also took the focus off elections that are still ten months away. That in itself is enough to commend a repeat meeting because there is still way too much time left in the current congressional session to waste strategizing about outcomes that – at this point – cannot be projected. It is a much better use of everyone’s time to remember that the 111th Congress is barely halfway finished debating the people’s business.

And what a debate it was! I can’t remember the last time I agreed with anything David Corn wrote, but I agree with part his column yesterday about the future implications of the historic Q&A between President Obama and House GOP members. Corn thinks a regular meet-and-debate session would fundamentally change the type and skill set of a person running for president. If that means someone who has a deep command of issues, is quick on his feet, and can use a bit of humor – I’m all for it. Besides, it is obvious Republicans want to engage the president on his policies. (In two out of three speeches to joint sessions of Congress, the president has elicited responses from Rep. Joe Wilson and Justice Samuel Alito.) Why not at least give members of Congress – and the president himself – a crack at the opposition face-to-face. While I don’t agree with Corn that the president “cleaned the clock” of the House GOP, I do think he set a standard for depth and poise that should be emulated.

Now, for a criticism. The president needs to refer to his interlocutors with the same courtesy for their positions as they do for his. No one will ever call him anything other than “Mr. President”, but his repeated use of representatives’ first name became tiresome. It was also rude. If he’s striving for friendly informality, he should find another way than telling “John” (Boehner, Republican Leader), “Eric” (Cantor, Republican Whip), and “Mike” (Pence, Conference Chairman) why he doesn’t like their proposals. As usual, it comes across as the president speaking down to people. At best, it is a silly verbal tick that needs to be corrected.

A final suggestion. Republicans need to embrace this format because it gives them an unparalleled opportunity to debate the president’s policies directly and for the benefit of the American people. This kind of exchange reflects a confident republic at work, and it would go a long way towards softening the partisan tone while at the same time strengthening the quality of policy differences. Instead of criticizing the president for staging a photo-op, Republicans need to talk up his newfound willingness to be open and transparent. Invite him back to speak soon, and often. Keep up the pressure to have a weekly, televised Q&A between the parties and the branches. If nothing else, it will finally reward politicians who study policy and have a knack for making memorable, persuasive arguments.

January 29th, 2010 at 8:02 pm
Obama Plagiarizes From Jimmy Carter in State of the Union
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If George Will and Charles Krauthammer are the brains of the conservative movement in print, then Peggy Noonan probably has a good claim to be the heart. While you rarely see her dissect policy minutiae, nobody does an ethereal meditation on exactly where America is at in any given moment quite as well.

Noonan’s reaction piece to the State of the Union in today’s Wall Street Journal is characteristically strong, but one passage jumped out at me:

They’ve chosen a phrase for the president’s program. They call it the “New Foundation.” They sneaked it in rather tentatively, probably not sure it would take off. It won’t. Such labels work when they clearly capture something that is already clear. “The New Deal” captured FDR’s historic shift to an increased governmental presence in individual American lives. It was a new deal. “The New Frontier”—we are a young and vibrant nation still, and adventures await us in space and elsewhere. It was a mood, not a program, but a mood well captured.

“The New Foundation” is solid and workmanlike, but it attempts to put form and order to a governing philosophy that is still too herky-jerky to be summed up.

Not only is the phrase a bit too pedestrian … it’s also a retread from the Carter Administration.  Readers of Robert Schlesinger’s excellent book “White House Ghosts: Presidents and their Speechwriters” may remember that “The New Foundation” was actually the title that President Carter chose for the agenda he presented in his 1979 State of the Union. Both the policies and the tag line failed spectacularly.

As the Obama Administration starts contemplating staff shakeups, someone in personel might want to start asking around about which White House staffers think that plagiarism is (a) necessary and (b) best accomplished by borrowing from the work that came out of dying days of the Carter Administration.

January 29th, 2010 at 5:26 pm
Study Shows Cell Phone Ban Does Not Improve Safety

So, can Californians get rid of it?  After all:

A new study from the nonprofit Highway Loss Data Institute found that rates of crashes before and after the landmark law took effect in 2008 have not significantly changed. It also found that the trend of California’s crashes before and after the law followed that of neighboring states — like Arizona and Nevada — that do not have bans on hand-held phones.

“The laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk,” Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its affiliate, the data institute, said in a statement.

I’m just saying, it seems like the science/evidence/proof/etc. is pretty settled…

January 29th, 2010 at 4:25 pm
The President’s Question Hour
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Today, President Obama sparred with Republicans at a GOP retreat in Baltimore.  The debate lasted about an hour, and covered taxes, spending, health care and federal debt, among other issues.

It’s good to see the U.S. following the British tradition of the Prime Minister’s Questions.

Before the debate, Republicans were treated to a second lecture by the President.  With two lectures in one week, the GOP must feel so fortunate.

If you weren’t glued to C-SPAN this afternoon, here is the full exchange.

January 29th, 2010 at 4:18 pm
“Climategate” Scientists Broke UK Law By Concealing Data
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Last month’s “Climategate” revelations exposed thousands of emails between global-warming activist scientists, who sought to conceal and distort climate data, blackball other climate scientists who rebutted their claims and discredit scientific journals.

Now, UK authorities have concluded that they also broke the law.

According to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the climate researchers at the center of Climategate were requested in 2007 and 2008 to submit data on which they based their global warming contentions.  Those contentions were in turn a basis on which the United Nations and global warming alarmists around the world issued their latest doomsday predictions.  The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also relied upon them in issuing their reckless carbon dioxide regulations.

Under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, however, those researchers were required to disclose the data on which they claimed to rest their conclusions.  The Act also prohibits deliberate concealment of requested information, which these activist scientists did.  According to a statement issued by the ICO, the information requests were “not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation.”

Talk about understatement.

Phil Jones, who directed the unit at the center of the Climategate scandal, stepped down following the revelations.  Yet, bizarrely, he claims that the team’s efforts at distortion and concealment were “taken completely out of context.”

Not exactly the defense one would expect from a man with a clear conscience…

January 29th, 2010 at 2:50 pm
Sacramento Needs a Socrates

A good friend of mine is fond of pointing out that majority opinion condemned both Socrates and Jesus to death for speaking truth to power. One wonders if the political equivalent will happen to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreau now that his country has avoided being booted from the European Union for it’s out of control deficits. Part of the deal keeping Greece in the EU fold is Athens’ promise to do “whatever it takes” in order to get the nation’s fiscal house in order. The other part is the knowledge that the EU will not bail Greece out of its problems. For his part, the prime minister gets it:

“Greece is in a situation where we need to take very strong measures and structural changes in our country,” he said. “We’re determined to implement the programme.”

Unfortunately, the current solution is to sell a series of bond measures to finance the debt. This is exactly the same situation facing the State of California. Yearly budget shortfalls should no longer be patched with accounting gimmicks and stimulus money from the feds. Instead, if the state is going to avoid running out of money on April 1st, Sacramento needs to cut spending – NOW. But the only way that’s going to happen is with a sustained, detail-oriented presentation about the need for systemic reform from someone with access to the media. In effect, California needs a public figure willing to get the electorate to sober up on spending and make a priorities list funded with at least 10% less money than the state has taken in since 2007.

True, that won’t be politically expedient for any of the main contenders running to replace Schwarzenegger next year. It may even cost them the election. Then again, no one who’s running needs the job. Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have over a billion dollars in wealth between them, and Democrat Jerry Brown wants a third turn at the governor’s mansion. If any of them want to start their tenure off on a realistic foot, they’d be talking about ways to cut, not ways to spend. As Greece shows, at some point the money runs out. Crazy thought: Why not start correcting the problems before they’re too big to fix?  Put another way, anybody willing to be a potential martyr for sake of actually telling people the truth?

January 29th, 2010 at 2:31 pm
This Week’s Liberty Update

This week’s edition of the Liberty Update, CFIF’s weekly e-newsletter, is out.  For those readers who don’t receive it in their e-mail inboxes or if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, below is a summary of its contents:

Senik:  10 Things to Hate About the State of the Union
CFIF Staff:  Bloomberg Joins All Who Just Say No to New York City Terrorist Trials
Lee:  Approaching a Global Warming Agenda Stop Sign, Obama Decides to Floor It
Ellis:  Texas Governor Rick Perry Says No to Obama Education Department’s “Race to the Top” Initiative

Freedom Minute Video:  The Return of Free Speech
Podcast:  EPA Climate Change Mandates Based on Flawed, Questionable and Potentially Fraudulent Data
Jester’s Courtroom:  Now Hear This: Listen at Own Risk

Editorial Cartoons:  Latest Cartoons of Michael Ramirez
Quiz:  Question of the Week
Notable Quotes:  Quotes of the Week

If you are not already signed up to receive CFIF’s Liberty Update, sign up here.

January 29th, 2010 at 12:05 pm
Moving Terror Trials out of New York?
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That’s the word from the New York Times.  If the grassroots outrage didn’t sway the White House, the objections of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and fellow Democrats appear to be enough for the White House to at least consider moving the terrorist trials.

Even liberal Democrat Chuck Schumer from New York has gently nudged President Obama away from the New York City location.  Schumer recommended to the Administration that they “find suitable alternatives” and that “concerns about costs, logistics and security” might force the trials out of New York.

Since costs could balloon to more than $1 billion for civilian trials in New York, the President is rightly balking from his initial decision.  Let’s hope his newfound ambivalence leads him to the correct decision.

January 29th, 2010 at 10:25 am
Video: The Return of Free Speech
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, CFIF’s Renee Giachino discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC and the left’s response.

January 29th, 2010 at 9:08 am
Morning Links
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January 28th, 2010 at 8:04 pm
Shock Claim: Ford Motors Makes Profit Without Bailout Money!

Well, this is interesting.  Apparently, Ford Motor Company shocked Wall Street by announcing it made a profit last quarter, and expects to carry that good news over the entire 2010 year.  But how can this be?  Ford was the only U.S. automaker that didn’t accept a government bailout.  In fact, the measures Ford took to regain its profitability look like a blueprint for government owned General Motors and Chrysler: cost cutting, a nearly $700 million profit in its credit line of business, and sales of popular models like the Ford Fusion and Escape.

Here’s a thought: since the president doesn’t want to run car companies, why not hire some of the talent (or at least adopt some of the strategies) that got Ford back on the road to sustainability?  That way, he could un-nationalize General Motors and Chrysler, putting more money back into the economy, spurring job creation and more tax receipts to fund all his pet projects?  You know; the stuff he really does want to do like health care “reform,” cap and tax, and more stimulus packages.

Of course, that kind of policy would only make sense if Progressives like the president actually cared about creating a sustainable create-tax-and-spend model to support their statist policies.  Anybody want to start a pool wagering how long it will be before the White House starts attacking the “fat cats” at Ford for their non-government-funded prosperity?

January 28th, 2010 at 7:31 pm
More on POTUS vs. SCOTUS

Those watching last night’s State of the Union Address may have noticed that a third of the Supreme Court wasn’t in attendance. It couldn’t have been an ideological statement because the absentees included Associate Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. After President Obama castigated the Court’s recent ruling on national television, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that insult could lead to the other six members finding better things to do during next year’s speech.

At the end of Tapper’s piece is an intriguing quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt about his thoughts while getting sworn in by the Chief Justice for his second term as president.

After his second inaugural, FDR recalled to an aide, when “the Chief Justice read me the oath and came to the words ‘support the Constitution of the United States’ I felt like saying: ‘Yes, but it’s the Constitution as I understand it, flexible enough to meet any new problem of democracy—not the kind of Constitution your Court has raised up as a barrier to progress and democracy.’”

Tapper doesn’t comment on the quote, but it’s worth mentioning that FDR’s deviation from the Constitutionally-prescribed oath says a lot about the Executive’s abuse of power up through Obama. Is there any doubt FDR’s current successor feels any differently about his ability to judge how flexible our fundamental laws are?

January 28th, 2010 at 4:35 pm
Obama Hearts First Person Pronouns
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January 28th, 2010 at 1:56 pm
Senate Votes to Expand Debt Limit by $1.9 Trillion
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Today, the Senate  voted to expand the U.S. debt limit to a record $14.3 trillion, or more than our total economic output last year.  We will soon spend more than we produce.

Here is the roll call vote.  No Republican voted for the measure.

January 28th, 2010 at 10:37 am
President Smacks the Supreme Court
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The recent weeks haven’t been kind to President Obama.   Support continues to drop for his health care bill, his poll numbers are falling and his filibuster-proof majority has been lost.

Well, last night, President Obama took out some of his frustration by criticizing the Supreme Court in front of a national audience.  As the President, he has the power to trounce on judicial independence, but his display last night was historic.

According to the Legal Times, only once has a President publicly criticized the Supreme Court during a State of the Union address.   Not surprisingly, it was President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937, and even FDR didn’t call for Congress to overturn the Court (thought the justices would eventually start to capitulate shortly after the address).

Here is FDR’s attempt at judicial intimidation:

The Judicial branch also is asked by the people to do its part in making democracy successful. We do not ask the Courts to call non-existent powers into being, but we have a right to expect that conceded powers or those legitimately implied shall be made effective instruments for the common good. The process of our democracy must not be imperiled by the denial of essential powers of free government.

Here is President Obama’s criticism:

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

As Justice Alito gestured during the remarks, the Court did not reverse “a century of law” in its Citizens United decision.  Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce was decided in 1990, not 1910.  Linda Greenhouse over at the New York Times calls out the President on this as well.

As a former constitutional law professor, President Obama should either fire his speechwriters or hit the books.

January 28th, 2010 at 10:04 am
Ramirez Cartoon: One Term President?

Below is one of the latest cartoons from Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.

January 28th, 2010 at 8:49 am
Morning Links
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January 27th, 2010 at 4:46 pm
Follow CFIF on Twitter for State of the Union Coverage
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The Center for Individual Freedom will be tweeting live during tonight’s State of the Union Address and subsequent Republican response.

President Obama’s address begins around 9:00 p.m. (EST) tonight.

You can follow CFIF on Twitter by clicking here.