Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of Presidents and Prime Ministers

The Year was 2002. Having made quick work of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and completed all military objectives that his administration had planned ahead for with little effort and little cost to American and Allied lives, President George W. Bush turned his eyes a little to the West. He really wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq and implement a more America-friendly regime. Disobedience to UN mandates and intelligence suggesting there might be weapons of mass destruction gave him cover, but President Bush wasn't particularly popular abroad, there wasn't much support outside of the US for the Iraq invasion, and President Bush needed someone to support his plans.

Enter Tony Blair. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister was young, vibrant, moderate, reform-minded, and incredibly popular. There were newspaper articles about his meetings with the teachers of his children. He was seen as a man of the people, a Prime Minister that common people could identify with. In 1997, under his leadership, the "New" Labour Party had given the Conservatives their most devastating defeat ever. And importantly for President Bush, PM Blair wanted Hussein gone as much as he did.

It didn't exactly work as planned. Instead of PM Blair's popularity gaining support for President Bush's invasion, it killed PM Blair's popularity. The United States and United Kingdom had allies: Canada, Australia, Georgia, Spain for a while, and (don't forget) Poland, but many important, reliable allies like France and Germany refused to join the party. PM Blair was called as a Bush-loving neoconservative in his home country, and his support eroded to the point that he stepped down from his post in 2007.

Seven years later, while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still being fought, the world has turned its attention to the worldwide banking crisis and recession. During the first days of the recession, the world seemed to want to work together. When credit froze up, most major countries bailed out their banks, expanded deposit insurance, expanded their currency supply, and did what they could to insure that bank failures were minimized. One leader wants to do more. Much, much more. UK's Prime Minister Gordon Brown fully believes in a government spending a country out of recession, and is prepared to print as many Pounds as it takes to do it. If the UK destroys its own currency to inflate itself out of recession, it needs its trading partners to do the same, or it will destroy the standard of living for UK citizens. Unfortunately for PM Brown, many of the UK's trading partners are refusing to spend their way out of the mess, and are preferring to clean up their regulatory systems and provide a growth atmosphere for a market recovery. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is off fighting windmills of competing currencies, and many of the rest of the G20 leaders from PM Stephen Harper of Canada to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to libertarian-leaning President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic (current EU Presidency) are taking a more conservative approach. PM Brown doesn't have the respect, and certainly doesn't have the popularity to convince them.

Enter United States President Barack Obama. He's young, vibrant, liberal, and incredibly popular. He's easily the most popular world leader right now. Some European commentators have said that his "Barackness" will convince their citizens and politicians. In November, he and his Democratic Party gave the Republicans their worst defeat in years. And importantly for PM Brown, President Obama wholly endorses the idea of governments spending their way out of recession. At this week's G20 meetings, PM Brown is counting on President Obama's popularity to give him cover and gain support for the borrow-and-print-to-recover economic plan. They will gain some support, but the President and the Prime Minister need most or all major trading partners to agree to go along, or their plan doesn't have a chance of making life better for their citizens. If France, Germany, China, Japan, or Russia decide to play a different game or take their ball and go home, PM Brown doesn't get cover, he takes President Obama down with him. If "Don't Forget Spain" becomes the next "Don't Forget Poland", President Obama's popularity will fade quickly.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Predicting a $2,000,000,000,000 Budget - Update

On January 7, I made what I thought then was a bold prediction, that the budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2009 would be $2 Trillion. Today, the CBO projects a $1.9 Trillion budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2009. Odds are that many more stimulus packages are on the way. I'd like to revise my prediction up to an immoral $2.5 Trillion. The words of Senator Tom Coburn are worth repeating: “The greatest moral issue of our time isn’t abortion, it’s robbing our next generation of opportunity. You’re going to save a child from being aborted so they can be born into a debtor’s prison?” However, my response to the Good Doctor is that at the rate we are going, we may not be able to afford to finance debtor's prisons. Federal bankruptcy is looking more and more likely every day.

Congress May Have Saved Us 0.045% of the Money They Wasted on AIG


Sure, between the Federal Reserve and Congress $180 Billion of future taxpayers' wealth might have been wasted on AIG in two bailouts. Sure, untold tens of billions of dollars of that passed right through AIG and went to banks in Europe and Asia. Sure, these coordinated actions by Congress and the Fed has propped up zombie banks that destroy untold billions more wealth. But Congress is going to tax the bonuses on people work for AIG Financial Products, and make more than $250,000 per year, at 90%. If this action isn't challenged and ruled unconstitutional, they are going to get back 90% of some portion of the $170 Million in bonuses that represents less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the money that they've wasted on that one company this year. Good thing they're looking out for us and our children.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reports of the Death of the GOP are Somewhat Exagerrated (Part 2)

In the Generic Congressional Ballot poll, Republicans now lead Democrats 41%-39%.  This hasn't happened in years, and Republicans have won majorities in years where they trailed by several percentage points.  A general rule of thumb for Congressional races is that Americans generally like their Republican better than all the rest, and that they like all the rest of the Democrats better than the one that they're watching daily.  Let them start to practice what they preach, and people really start to like the Republicans.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


The Junta's favorite governor, Mark Sanford, invoked comparisons to Zimbabwe in describing the stimulus package.

On Earmarks, Ron Paul, and Cognitive Dissonance

All of the tubes of the internet are abuzz with a speech that Ron Paul made Tuesday, calling for more earmarks. Despite the fact that I actively supported Ron Paul's campaign for President and am supporting the Campaign for Liberty, I can't support this. Let me go through Dr. Paul's claims:

1. Earmarks are a tiny part of the overall budget. - Agree completely.
2. Cutting earmarks out doesn't take away from the budget. - Mostly true, but it ignores future costs. If you request $750,000 for Houston Memorial Hermann HealthCare system for Life Flight operations center in an earmark, odds are that is going to have ongoing costs. And as we know from New Orleans, if the Federal Government builds it, everyone expects the Federal Government to maintain it.
3. Earmarks add transparency to the budget. - Not true at all anymore. Since the Coburn-Obama Act in 2006, every dollar spent by the government is tracked at USASpending.gov. (Yes, I know that the bank bailouts aren't being tracked here. I think that's illegal based off this act, and I'm pretty sure that's the only off-the-record spending.)
4. Earmarking is a responsibility of Congress. - Not in any historical sense, and not Constitutionally. Since the beginning of the Republic, the Congress set the budget for the executive departments, gave them laws, and let them spend the money to execute those laws. More importantly, most earmarks, such as $25,000 to install security cameras at Fox Run Apartments in Victoria, are for specific welfare, and not general welfare as required by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution.
5. What's considered an earmark is confusing - An earmark is a line item in a budget that directs Federal funds to a specific project. That's not really confusing to me. Dr. Paul's example of a weapons system would be an earmark if picked by Congress, and not an earmark if picked by the Pentagon.
6. The Federal Reserve is worse than all earmarks, and should be audited - Agree completely.

The fact is that earmarks allow all sorts of things to be passed that would never stand on their own. Congressmen get to add things for their district, as long as they vote for things in other districts. It's an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you'll-scratch-mine system that is rotten to the core. The fact is that as bad as bureaucracies are, they have laws that direct them in how they spend their money, and they have bid processes that get rid of some of the waste. Congress is making up the laws about spending as they go, and they may or may not have a good bid process.

Now I really don't have that much of a problem that Dr. Paul requested the earmarks. If he had said, "The people of the 14th district of Texas pay a lot of taxes, they've been devastated by a hurricane, and I'm going to make sure that some of their tax dollars come back to help rebuild," I wouldn't have a problem with it. But he defended the corrupt earmark system, and that's where he loses me.

Here's a solution for Dr. Paul: The one-subject-at-a-time rule. Congress has operated under this rule before. The concept is this: Spending must be passed on a by-department basis. No omnibuses. You can't fund National Park bathrooms in a Highway Administration bill. I know Dr. Paul's friend John Culberson supports this. Dr. Paul needs to get on board as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pat Buchanan: Pitchfork Time

When one of the Pitchfork and Musket Junta's favorite public figures, Pat Buchanan, writes an article called Pitchfork Time, the Junta takes notice. This article is a good one. Here is an excerpt:
In his campaign and inaugural address, Barack Obama cast himself as a moderate man seeking common ground with conservatives. Yet, his budget calls for the radical restructuring of the U.S. economy, a sweeping redistribution of power and wealth to government and Democratic constituencies. It is a declaration of war on the Right. The real Obama has stood up, and lived up to his ranking as the most left-wing member of the United States Senate....
...Where the U.S. government usually consumes 21 percent of gross domestic product, this Obama budget spends 28 percent in 2009 and runs a deficit of $1.75 trillion, or 12.7 percent of GDP. That is four times the largest deficit of George W. Bush and twice as large a share of the economy as any deficit run since World War II. Add that 28 percent of GDP spent by the U.S. government to the 12 percent spent by states, counties and cities, and government will consume 40 percent of the economy in 2009.
We are not "headed down the road to socialism." We are there.

Buchanan concludes his article this way:
The president says he is gearing up for a fight on his budget.
Good. Let's give him one.

I'm with you, Pat. My pitchfork is ready.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Independence Day

The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836, 173 years ago today. It is worth reading today.

The Unanimous Declaration of Independence made by the

Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the town of

Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyrrany, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.