Archive for February, 2012
February 29th, 2012 at 4:31 pm
Obama’s Energy Secretary: Administration’s Goal is Not to Lower Gas Prices
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About the only thing that Dr. Steven Chu, President Obama’s Secretary of Energy, deserves credit for these days is honesty. Testifying before Congress yesterday, Chu was asked by Republican Congressman Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi whether the Obama Administration’s energy goal is to reduce the cost of gasoline. Chu’s response, according to Politico:

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

… “We agree there is great suffering when the price of gasoline increases in the United States, and so we are very concerned about this,” said Chu, speaking to the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee. “As I have repeatedly said, in the Department of Energy, what we’re trying to do is diversify our energy supply for transportation so that we have cost-effective means.”

In other words, “We’re perfectly content to see oil prices shoot through the roof if it means all you knuckle-draggers will start driving Smart Cars.” Should we really be that surprised from the man who once told the Wall Street Journal, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,”? Chu’s intransigence represents a broader liberal pathology: an ideological allergy to economic growth.

February 29th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
USAF to Overrule and Investigate Questionable Contract Award to Brazil’s Embraer Over American Hawker Beechcraft
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I can only say that the Air Force senior acquisition executive, David Van Buren, is not satisfied with the quality of the documentation supporting the award decision.”

That was U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley yesterday, regarding the USAF decision to vacate a $353 million attack aircraft contract awarded late last year to Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, and to investigate the process by which the contract was awarded.

We at CFIF monitored and criticized that process and voiced our concerns directly to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. 

By way of background, two defense companies competed for the contract to provide military aircraft to Afghanistan:  Hawker Beechcraft of Wichita, Kansas, and Brazil’s Embraer.  Disturbingly, Embraer receives subsidies from the Brazilian government, which has publicly opposed the War on Terror and American efforts against Iran and Venezuela, but nevertheless shamelessly sought to profit from U.S. foreign policy.  Additionally, a provision within the potential Embraer contract known as the “Golden Share” clause would allow the Brazilian government to shut down the operation at any time during the production or maintenance of the aircraft.  Alarmingly, the United States would possess no recourse in the matter. 

Hawker Beechcraft would sustain an estimated 1,400 domestic jobs, whereas Brazil’s Embraer would offer only 50 final domestic assembly positions.  Moreover, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 is based upon an aircraft already in wide use by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and other American allies.  Consequently, that familiarity and logistical infrastructure advantage would allow for substantial cost savings over the new aircraft’s life cycle.  This is particularly important at a time when the Defense Department seeks cost control measures.

Although this situation remains unresolved, the USAF decision to overrule and investigate the dubious award to Embraer is a very encouraging step in the right direction.

February 29th, 2012 at 9:07 am
Ramirez Cartoon: Solar Powered Truth Dispenser
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Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

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

February 28th, 2012 at 6:56 pm
Could a RINO Cost Republicans the Senate?
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Just about an hour ago, notoriously centrist (if not liberal) Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced on her Facebook page that she has decided against running for a fourth term in the Senate this year. No doubt many conservatives will respond “good riddance.” From her opposition to the Bush tax cuts to her objections to free trade (she voted against both NAFTA and CAFTA) to her love for big-government environmentalism and gun control initiatives, Snowe is hardly a Tea Party favorite. Yet her retirement is likely to do more to hurt conservatives than help them.

The reason? Snowe’s native Maine is, for the most part, a liberal place and Republicans need a net pickup of four seats in the upper chamber to retake the senate majority. Snowe’s absence makes it much more likely that the Pine Tree State’s next senator will be a Democrat.

Snowe wouldn’t deserve any of the blame for that if it wasn’t for the fact that she completely set the GOP up for failure. According to the Washington Post, she failed to notify both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and NRSC Chairman John Cornyn of her decision until earlier today. That spells disaster for the party, since the filing deadline is March 15 — two weeks from Thursday — and no one in the state party bothered looking for a candidate while Snowe was believed to be a sure thing.

Not only has Snowe skipped out on her team, she’s done so 10 minutes before the start of the game, with no backup readily available. Perhaps “good riddance” is the right sentiment after all.

February 28th, 2012 at 5:34 pm
On Obama’s Responsibility for High Gas Prices

Jim Geraghty at NRO has the story:

A report by Greater New Orleans Inc., an organization of businesses large and small in Southeast Louisiana, lays out how the Obama administration is approving only a fraction of the new permits, significantly less than preceding administrations in both deepwater projects and shallow water projects, that getting approval from Obama’s Department of Interior takes much longer than before he took office, and how Obama’s administration rejects a much higher percentage of proposals for drilling than before he took office….

The three-year average for shallow-water drilling permits had been 14.7 per month; the Obama administration now has that down to 2.3 per month…. The average approval time has increased from an average of 60.6 days in the preceding five years to 109 days in 2011….

I wrote about this general topic last year right here. And here. Meanwhile, as has been reported numerous places elsewhere (I believe I first broke the story four years ago in the Washington Examiner, or at least broke it within the US), Obama has gone out of his way to help promote and subsidize Brazil’s efforts to develop its own oil industry.

This is madness. And it is costing Americans a fortune.

February 28th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
More on Common Core (Nationalized Education: Yuck)

Last week I wrote this column here, arguing that the Common Core education standards are, predictably, being misused by the Obama adminstration in a dangerous way. Key line: “Control of educational content by the national government risks creating a national system of indoctrination, without local recourse to diversity of thought.”  Today at the Weekly Standard comes this report along the same lines. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is trying to repeal her state’s participation in Common Core: “Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states,” Haley wrote. “Our children deserve swift action and the passage of a clean resolution that will allow our state to reclaim control of and responsibility for educating South Carolinians.”

It is now a hot topic here in Alabama. I served as MC for a candidates’ forum last night at the University of Mobile, and the hottest dispute involved just this issue, which is the central battle in a state school board race. I was interviewed on it here.

And at Education Week, Rick Hess also blasts Obama’s end run around federal law on this issue:

Prominent Common Core proponents have been telling Duncan’s team, literally for years, that its ham-handed tactics were doing more harm than good. It’s ludicrous for Duncan to pretend otherwise. Race to the Top, the administration’s “ESEA blueprint,” and the waivers all reward the adoption of Common Core, while RTT included $330 million to develop Common Core assessments–funds that, with little concern for the niceties of statutory prohibitions, are helping to develop curricular and instructional “materials.”

Three takeaways: First, given the likelihood that this administration will have five more years to run, but may never reclaim unified control of Congress, there will be increasing temptations for the administration to bypass Congress and rule by fiat. The prospect of an endless series of state’s petitioning to amend their waiver and RTT plans means we’re already closer to this state of affairs than I’d have thought possible a year ago. This is bad for democratic government; for education policy; and for students, teachers, and schools.

Conservatives have every reason to fight back against this administration’s lawless centralization of education.

February 28th, 2012 at 1:53 pm
Some “Reset” – Only 8% of Iranians Approve of U.S. Leadership
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So much for Barack Obama’s “Reset” foreign policy doctrine.

Presumably, the potential payoff from Obama’s constant prostrate manner, his willingness to meet dictators like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “without preconditions,” his repeated apologetics and public disparagement of allies like Israel would at least be improved perceptions of America abroad.  Four years after introducing that doctrine, however, we’re still awaiting the payoff.  Russia and China continue to obstruct U.S. policy, Israel is more endangered each day and the Iranians dislike us as much as ever.  According to a new Gallup survey, only 8% of Iranian respondents approve “of the job performance of the leadership of the United States,” while 67% disapprove.

This should prompt recalibration within the White House, because its foreign policy weakness is not showing results.  Meanwhile, time is running out to halt Iran’s nuclear ambition.

February 28th, 2012 at 12:11 pm
Michigan’s Tricky Delegate Math

Politico notes that “The rules pit the real race for Michigan at the district, not statewide level.”  Here’s what that means:

Michigan awards its 30 delegates based on the new congressional district lines drawn in 2012 redistricting, with two delegates given to the candidate who wins each of 14 districts. Two additional delegates are allocated based on the statewide popular vote.

Thus, the winner of the state’s popular vote may not be the same candidate who wins a majority of the state’s delegates.

The takeaway is to be wary of statewide exit polls that declare a “winner” since what really matters in terms of GOP convention delegates is who won a majority of new congressional districts.

February 27th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
Eric Holder: Reality is Racist
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Pity Eric Holder. To be a professional scold is not an attractive quality. Nor is being woefully incompetent. Yet Holder manages to be both. Thus do we end up with the Attorney General of the United States decrying the racism of … wait for it … school principals throughout America. From the Daily Caller:

“We’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled,” Holder said in Atlanta, Ga.

“This is, quite simply, unacceptable. … These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed,” Holder said at the meeting, which was hosted by 100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc.

Holder attributed his claim of racial disparity in school discipline to a 2011 study that he said showed “83 percent of African American male students and 74 percent of Hispanic male students ended up in trouble and suspended for some period of time.”

However, Holder’s speech ignored the report’s conclusion that 59 percent of white males are also disciplined. He ignored other data suggesting that the different discipline rates roughly align with actual schoolyard behavior.

If one presumes racism is everywhere, one is destined to find it everywhere. As Abraham Maslow noted, for the man with only a hammer in his toolkit, every problem is a nail.

February 27th, 2012 at 12:21 pm
NYT Agrees with Tim: Obama Flunks Deficit Test

After Tim’s excellent column explaining how President Barack Obama explicitly failed to live up to his promise to “cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term” the New York Times published today another damning indictment of America’s worst CEO.  In it, the Times faults the President for failing to exhibit any kind of leadership with the Bowles-Simpson deficit plan:

But the downsides for Mr. Obama have become clear. His partisan turn undercuts a central promise of his 2008 campaign, to rise above the rancor. And by neither embracing Bowles-Simpson nor explaining his objections and quickly offering an alternative, Mr. Obama arguably failed to show leadership on perhaps the country’s biggest problem. This month, in a New York Times/CBS News poll, 59 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of the deficit.

February 27th, 2012 at 10:36 am
Ramirez Cartoon: How Electric Cars Work
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Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

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

February 25th, 2012 at 5:13 pm
California Public Unions’ “Totalitarian Ethics”

As if California’s public employee unions didn’t have enough advantages with compulsory dues, a bought-and-paid-for Democratic legislature, and a deep blue citizenry, Steven Greenhut has identified yet another mechanism being used to extract more money from taxpayers:

In San Diego, unions are fearful of a new pension reform measure referred to by supporters as Comprehensive Pension Reform, or CPR, that has qualified for the June 2012 ballot. Instead of simply gearing up to fight this political battle, the unions petitioned one of those ridiculous commissions that most Californians have never even heard of, the Public Employment Relations Board, which is unfriendly turf for taxpayers. The union said placing the initiative on the ballot amounted to an unfair labor practice, and PERB called for an injunction to stop the election until it could complete its sham proceedings.

In essence, the unions and this unelected board insist that the people of San Diego have no right to vote on pension reform. This is just the latest reminder of the totalitarian ethics of a public-sector union movement that doesn’t care about anything other than protecting its benefits.

February 25th, 2012 at 5:08 pm
Judges Slap Down Justice Department Thugs

Hans von Spakovsky had an eye-opening piece this past week at Pajamas Media about horribly abusive prosecution by the legal thugs in the Obama/Holder Justice Department, led by chief legal thug and mendicant Thomas Perez at the Civil Wrongs, er Civil Rights, Division.  It seems as if DoJ is trying to prosecute entirely peaceful protesters outside abortion clinics, with zero evidence of criminal behavior. Read all about it at the link above. I’ve written numerous times about these lawless goons at DoJ. So has Hans. I repeat: They are a menace to a free society.

February 25th, 2012 at 4:59 pm
Santorum’s Senatorial Habits Die Hard

Just days before the pivotal Michigan and Arizona GOP primaries, Rick Santorum lapsed back into long-winded Senator mode when delivering a major speech on his first 100 days as President.  Although the speech contained plenty of red meat for conservatives – e.g. repealing Obamacare, cutting spending and regulations, and allowing states to means-test welfare programs – Fox News reports a big mistake:

Santorum’s speech went past 9 p.m., limiting local news organizations’ ability to highlight his 100-day agenda.

This isn’t the kind of mishap one wants when running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney.

February 24th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
Affirmative Action, a Middle View

The always thoughtful, always interesting former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama has a superb essay on affirmative action, in response to the Supreme Court announcing it will hear a new case challenging race-based admissions. Davis is more in the middle on the issue than I am — I am dead set against using race as a factor in any way, pro or con, because I believe in absolute legal color-blindness — but he does make good points to the effect that the lack of ANY racial consciousness probably would have the short-term effect, at some schools, of a lower rate of black admissions and enrollments.

One thing he missed, though, is the strong evidence that black students, or any students for that matter, admitted to more competitive institutions than they otherwise would qualify for tend, in turn, to fail at higher rates — whereas if they went to slightly less competitive institutions, they succeed, and end up better off in the long run. In fact, in the Texas case heading to the Supreme Court, three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Gail Heriot, Peter Kirsanow, Todd Gaziano) make that point exactly.

Without discussing that point, though, Davis still notes that there are plenty of less competitive, but perfectly competent schools, that will indeed take students turned down by, say, the Ivy League schools, and then writes:

But the reflexive instinct that ending race conscious college admissions is a disaster in the making? It’s no longer a serious claim. Even a full-scale retreat would hardly disenfranchise African American students or consign them to sub-par schools that lack adequate resources. The market of higher education is much too robust for that. 

This is great stuff. Conservatives do need to recognize that it is important, in one way or another, to ensure that opportunities are not closed, for cultural or whatever other reasons, to black Americans. (Other reasons might include semi-legitimate practices such as preferences for “legacy” candidates.) Those of us who oppose affirmative action should always keep in mind that even if racism isn’t at work, black Americans proportionately do seem to suffer from fewer opportunities, in practice, than white ones. This doesn’t mean the law should discriminate in their favor, but it does mean the culture still needs work.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the high court does the right thing and strikes down the racial preferences in Texas…..

February 24th, 2012 at 11:58 am
Podcast: CEI’s Vincent Vernuccio Discussed State Right-to-Work Statutes
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In an interview with CFIF, Vincent Vernuccio, Labor Policy Counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, discusses Indiana’s passage of a right-to-work law that prohibits labor contracts that force workers to pay for union representation, and the impact of such statutes on jobs and the economy.

Listen to the interview here.

February 24th, 2012 at 8:36 am
Video: Obama’s Presidents Day Lesson
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, CFIF’s Renee Giachino honored Presidents Day by humbly submitting a few pearls of presidential wisdom for our current Commander-in-Chief from the presidents who came before him.

February 23rd, 2012 at 7:40 pm
Texas’ Marco Rubio Makes Unforced Error

I’ve written previously about former Texas Solicitor General and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz.  He’s a towering legal intellect and a conservative’s conservative.  His Cuban heritage and up-by-the-bootstraps story from son of immigrants to Princeton and Harvard Law are legendary.  His ill-chosen words about Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) are not.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News reported by Roll Call, Cruz said he was “not going to prejudge” the upcoming Senate GOP leadership race where Cornyn is running for GOP whip, one step below party leader.  Based on his comments, Cruz seems to be saying that if he becomes Texas’ next U.S. Senator he might vote for someone besides Cornyn if the opponent is more of a constitutional conservative.

That’s all well and good, and Cruz’s scenario may even come to pass, but the first-time campaigner made a rookie mistake by refusing to support his fellow Texas Republican in what amounts to little more than deference to a party elder.  After all, as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Cornyn has his hands on millions of dollars in fundraising that he could use to either hurt or help Cruz in the latter’s current primary battle.

So far, Cornyn has honored his pledge to stay neutral in the primary.  Chances are he’ll keep that pledge, but Cruz’s unforced error makes it more likely that Cornyn would be fine if David Dewhurst, Cruz’s primary opponent and sitting Lieutenant Governor, frames Cruz’s comments as a signal he can’t be both a conservative and a Republican at the same time.

By contrast, Florida’s Marco Rubio isn’t having that problem.  Without sacrificing any of his conservative bona fides Rubio has managed to win the confidence of party elders and is no doubt on the vice presidential short list of every remaining Republican presidential candidate.  Cruz needs to take a page from Rubio’s playbook because Texas – and America – needs as many constitutional conservatives as we can get in the U.S. Senate.

February 23rd, 2012 at 7:05 pm
Rise of Self-Employed Grows Constituency for Health Care Reform

My column this week explains how WWII wage ceilings and a compliant Congress teamed up to create employer-based health insurance, a market distorting phenomenon the reduces take-home pay while increasing both health care spending and widespread dissatisfaction with the results.  (When was the last time you heard anybody happy about the cost or care in an HMO?)

Of course, one of the reasons this problem is allowed to persist is the lack of a motivated constituency to change the status quo.  That may be changing thanks to the Great Recession.

According to Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., between 2007 to 2011 there has been a steady rise in the numbers of independent contractors in industries like real estate, financial services and natural resource extraction.

More recently EMSI showed how self-employed money management consultants are adapting very well to the new economic landscape. “The surprising thing to note is the huge growth that took place in the three money management occupations – personal financial advisors, securities/commodities/financial services sales agents, and financial analysts.”  Many of these jobs are classified as non-covered, i.e. independent contractors who service clients rather than employees who work for employers (and thus get benefits).

The rise of the independent contractor makes perfect financial sense for a business looking to shred costs while maintaining quality in services and products.  The legal profession is being transformed by a switch to contract-based work for attorneys while other white collar jobs like money management are following the same route.

It is very likely that this type of vendor-client relationship will come to redefine the work life of many Americans who in a previous era may have counted on a brick-and-mortar institution to cover everything from an expense account to health care benefits.  But if millions of American workers are to be recast as intellectual entrepreneurs, the federal tax incentive to exempt employer-based health insurance but not insurance purchased by individuals or families has to change.

As I explain in my column, the Heritage Foundation has an easy fix to this problem.  From my column:

In Saving the American Dream, a team of Heritage experts propose transforming the existing exemption into a “uniform, nonrefundable federal tax credit” to assist individuals and families purchase health insurance.  The annual net value of the tax credit would be $2,000 for an individual and $3,500 for a couple or family.  The credit could be used “either to offset the cost of coverage offered through the workplace or to buy insurance outside the workplace.  For most middle-income working families, the value of the credit is similar to the tax relief that they receive for health insurance today.”

Law always lags behind reality, but if a presidential candidate wants to make an easy reform that will remove a huge disincentive to become an intellectual entrepreneur, adopting the Heritage Foundation’s health insurance tax credit would be a huge step in the right direction.

February 23rd, 2012 at 5:01 pm
Dodd-Frank’s Quiet Regulatory Assault on American Energy
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Dodd-Frank, the monstrous financial “reform” legislation enacted two years ago, contains hundreds of byzantine provisions targeting banks, mortgage lenders, and traders on Wall Street.  All of those new rules and regulations have been contested from both sides of the political aisle, and regulators have requested additional time to even understand its requirements.  There’s one little-known provision, however, that was snuck into Dodd-Frank at the last minute and should alarm everyone, regardless of political point of view.  Namely, new payment disclosure rules for American oil, gas, and mining companies that instantly threaten our nation’s energy security.

Typical of the current trend in Washington, Congress has tasked a regulatory agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to carry out this mandate. The new regulation, formally called “Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers,” is found in Title XV, Section 1504 of the bill. Put simply, the rule would require that any company listed with the SEC and engaging in energy production overseas must disclose literally every single payment made to a foreign government.

The rule would create a competitive disadvantage for American energy producers because not only would state-owned companies such as those in Iran and Venezuela be exempted, they would also suddenly possess detailed knowledge down to individual wells and projects.

Senator Ben Cardin (D – Maryland), one of the champions of this provision, has curiously argued that “it’s appropriate to require companies to provide project-level information…” According to him, specific, sensitive financial – even proprietary – data on particular drilling projects should potentially be surrendered, including to those countries or companies who don’t share America’s intentions.

Pete Sepp at the National Taxpayers Union recently explained the problem well:

“…Here is the painful rub with Section 1504: In essence, the rule would give foreign competitors—largely state-owned oil and gas firms—access to information about what American companies are paying to governments overseas, enabling them to outbid and outmaneuver in the global race for energy resources.”

That means that energy firms controlled by the Iranians and the Chinese would receive a huge helping hand compliments of the SEC, one that would severely undercut the international competitiveness of American companies. What’s more, the state-run energy firms that would benefit from the SEC’s new payment disclosure rule already maintain a large advantage over our domestic producers – not only financial backing from their home governments, but also ownership of the lion’s share of proven oil and gas reserves worldwide.   (According to The Wall Street Journal, state-run companies now control more than 75 percent of global oil production.)

And, quite simply, after the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and renewed calls for new tax hikes on American oil and gas companies, this new SEC regulation would deal yet another blow to an industry that is essential to our economic recovery. Why then would Congress and the SEC side with petro-dictators over American motorists and manufacturers?

An alternative would be for the SEC to implement a payment disclosure rule on a country-by-country basis, which could help protect American companies’ interests in specific projects abroad.  Or, preferably, Congress could reconsider that section of Dodd-Frank altogether.  Recall that Capitol Hill spent significant time more than 30 years ago hashing out the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which already specifically addresses  the transparency and payment issues at hand in Section 1504. For the sake of American future energy and economic security, our chief securities regulator must keep America’s interests first – not Russia’s or Iran’s or Venezuela’s.