Posted tagged ‘Obama’

Can Obama plug the hole?

May 31, 2010

The Gulf oil spill is producing two crises. The obvious one is the disaster with coastal fisheries, but it poses an ideological crisis as well. For liberals, government is supposed to be the solution to all problems. The oil spill is a big problem. So if the government is impotent in solving it, what does that say about the possibilities of government? If the oil spill is a problem that government cannot solve, might there be other such problems? That thought is too horrible to contemplate.

It is boldly apparent that government cannot plug the hole. The government does not have the technology, the expertise, or the equipment. If government did have the technology, expertise, and equipment that would mean that those resources had been diverted out of the productive private sector into the non-productive government sector. That’s not a good idea. People who know how to drill for oil ought to be left to do that, not put behind desks in faceless bureaucracies.

Every time government fails, the outcome can be spun as (a) poor leadership in government, (b) not enough regulation, or (c) regulators tied being too lax because of industry ties. Katrina was a disaster, the Left would have us believe, not because it was a large hurricane striking New Orleans, but because George Bush provided poor leadership. The bust in the housing market was supposedly due to not having enough regulatory laws, so Congress passed new laws regulating largely-unrelated activities — as if the weight of the paper the laws are printed on suppresses underlying problems, never mind the relevance. Airline crashes are supposedly due to cozy relationships between the airlines and government regulators.

In a pinch, there are two more options: (d) increase the number of regulators, and (e) ban the activity altogether. Increasing the number of regulators is surprisingly unpopular. That is because the notion on the Left is that not only is government all-knowing and good, it accomplishes its work cleanly and efficiently. That’s nonsense, but it is part of the ideological package. There is a final method of preserving the good name of government. What happened as a consequence of the Bernie Madoff scandal? There were plenty of laws and plenty of regulators; the regulators looked at Bernie’s operation. He simply scammed them, with surprising ease. So were the regulators all fired? Was there a call for a private rating agency to be set up, like the bond rating companies? No, as a lesson in government, it was ignored. The final refuge is to ignore the lessons of failed government.

Now here comes the oil spill. It was the consequence of chance events accumulating, typical of the scenario behind many air crashes or auto accidents. The oil companies suffer tens of billions of dollars of financial loss when such events occur. The financial penalty is so great, it is unrealistic to suppose that adding some additional regulatory hoop to jump through will make much difference. If a ten billion dollar penalty doesn’t work, would ten billion plus an official reprimand turn the trick? the situation is different if it involves companies that cannot cover the risks they take. Big oil covers their bets.

Obama cannot plug the hole and he has, correctly, said so. That is not a satisfactory answer for the Left, because it is contrary to the ideological principle that government ought to have the solution to every problem. Insofar as the reality penetrates that government cannot prevent oil spills, the leftist alternative is option (e), ban drilling. In this particular case, decreasing domestic oil production means that much more will be imported by tanker. Oil well blowouts are rare. Oil tankers are probably no safer.

I am all in favor of technology as a way to solve problems. Whatever the causes of the BP spill, they ought to be investigated and a solution put in effect. It is virtually impossible to stop a solution from being found, government or not. Oil companies are no more fond of losing tens of billions than anyone else — well anyone else in the private sector. My objection is to demands for complete safety, guaranteed by government as a sure thing. We should minimize risks and then get on with living. In that respect, it is like airline crashes or auto accidents. Auto crashes take over 30,000 lives a year in the U.S., and despite seat belt laws and all else, government cannot completely solve the problem.

I think there is a role for government in cleaning up the mess, though it would be better if it were accomplished through an industry consortium. Oil spills are so uncommon that it is inefficient to demand that each company be independently prepared to handle every contingency. Obama can be held accountable for management of the clean up, but, hey, we are dealing with government and government is inherently inefficient.

We should accept that life involves risk, and not expect government to remove the risks. So find a way to prevent blowouts like the BP one, and get on with drilling.

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On Boycotting Arizona

May 18, 2010

I have yet to hear a call for a boycott of Arizona that made an accurate reference to the Arizona law that is at issue. The full text of the law is here. The new Arizona law will require that if someone is stopped by police for other legal reasons, and the person also presents other legal reasons for doubting their citizenship status, that the police must then check citizenship status with the Federal Authorities.

President Obama claimed that under the Arizona law, anyone could be stopped and checked for citizenship if they were no more than going to an ice cream store.  The President is wrong. The Arizona law requires that there first be a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official” which means that the person was stopped for some other legal reason, and then after that also have reason to suspect that they are illegal. Federal agents, by contrast, can stop a person to check immigration status without any such constraint, and the liberal Ninth Circuit has upheld the Feds’ constitutional authority to do so.

The Highland Park High School girls’ basketball team has had its trip to an Arizona tournament canceled by a school superintendent because of “safety concerns.” The “safety” issue is that if one of the girls is an illegal immigrant, is stopped for some crime, and then found to, say, be unable to speak English, her citizenship could then be checked. In other words, the danger that is presented is the danger of the laws against illegal immigration being enforced.

Do schools have a general obligation to protect criminal students from law enforcement? If a precocious teen is dealing crack in the high school, is the school obliged to maintain his cover? Must a field trip to a local police station be canceled for fear that a narc might finger him? A civil rights attorney on The O’Reilly Factor claimed that the school might be sued for subjecting a student to potential arrest.

Because the school authorities in Illinois believe this to be unfair, they won’t allow the students to travel to Arizona. They do allow students to travel overseas, even though students must present passports to reenter the States. China, of course, is a model of civil rights compared to Arizona.

Facts have not gotten in the way of celebrating the joys of self-righteousness. San Francisco and Los Angeles are in the forefront of boycotting Arizona, and there is move afoot for state boycott legislation. It is self-righteousness at it’s most joyous because a boycott can hurt Arizona without significantly harming the righteous Californians. Californians can take their vacations and schedule events in other states, no big deal.

California, however, gets one-third of its electricity from Arizona. That’s a consequence of many years of refusing to build ugly dangerous environmentally-unsound power plants in California, while having Arizona do it for them was just fine.

It would be reasonable for Arizona to asked, pointedly, if California would like to extend their boycott to electricity? I suspect that errant self-righteousness would not be so much fun practiced in the dark.

Obama’s election was about process

March 29, 2010

Democrats are fond of reminding us that Obama made no secret of his radical leftist agenda when he ran for President. Conservatives are fond of replying that they saw it coming. What this exchange misses is the role that promises of transparency and bipartisanship played in the election. Independent voters did not react to the leftist agenda because Obama promised that whatever he did would be tempered by a process that exposed all of the political dealings and by the need to get Republicans to agree. He might or might not want to nationalize everything in sight, it was no matter because he would have to get many Republicans to agree. The claims of transparency and bipartisanship effectively moved Obama from the left to near the center of American politics.

The claim of bipartisanship was not outrageous on the face of it. We saw it work for a while when President Clinton worked with House Speaker Newt Gingrich to craft the major legislative achievements of the Clinton Administration, including welfare reform and NAFTA. Reagan worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neal to achieve Social Security reform. So it is not as if Obama’s promise should have been dismissed out of hand as impossible. Moreover, it could have been achieved. For example, Republicans were eager to support a ban on exclusion of pre-existing conditions from health insurance, and there were many other points of agreement that seemingly could have been developed into bipartisan legislation.

On transparency, nothing prevented Obama from opening legislative process substantially. I don’t think that backroom strategizing would ever be made entirely public, but the meeting with Republicans at the White House that Obama called late in the game showed promise. Obama, of course, was not really seeking Republican input to legislation. He was posturing to justify slamming through the legislation under reconciliation by hoping to show how Republicans just wouldn’t play ball. For some Americans, the event was the first that they became aware that Republicans even had health care proposals of their own. Such events were shown to be potentially disastrous for Democrats.

The C-SPAN broadcasts of Congressional hearing don’t do the job because Democrats control the agenda. Democrats want to protect the heavy contributions they receive from trial lawyers, so tort reform legislation is killed before it is up for serious debate. The advantage of a “summit” forum is that all the ideas are presented uncensored. It is clear why Obama didn’t want that.

Right after the election, Charlie Rose interviewed Tom Brokaw on television. The question they discussed was what exactly we had gotten with Barrack Obama. Neither claimed to know what was really behind the generic claims of hope and change, transparency and bipartisanship. The accurate prediction would have been, “Brutal strictly-partisan Chicago-style politics to advance the most left-wing agenda we’ve seen since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe ever.” Rose and Brokaw are astute observers. If they missed it, we cannot blame middle America. Obama pulled off the biggest lie of modern political history.

Who really wins if health care reform passes?

March 19, 2010

According to CNN, “[Obama] framed the vote as a choice between a victory for the insurers or ‘victory for the American people.’ ” This isn’t the case.

According to Reuters, the current health care bill will still require that all Americans buy health insurance. The choice is gone. The American people will be dependent on the insurance companies for treatment, and when they opt not to pay, the suffering patients will be forced to file for bankruptcy. The option of health care independence, of the health savings account, is vanquished.

Worse, because the demand for insurance is inelastic, the price of insurance will drastically increase. Those that cannot afford insurance will either be fined into oblivion or scooped into Medicare, the failing program that will not cover many key treatments.

So who really wins if this reform passes?  The insurance companies will have an unlimited supply of customers. Obama has it backwards. The American people lose if this bill passes. The insurance companies are the victors.

Can you like the parts but not the whole?

February 28, 2010

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the solution might be to change the party’s message by focusing on individual reforms in the massive healthcare bill. … Van Hollen noted to reporters that polls show voters support the individual reforms of the Democrats’ healthcare package1

In the health care debate, liberals are fond of citing polls that show, they say, that voters like individual aspects of Obamacare, but do not like the package as a whole2. They conclude that voters are behaving irrationally, because if all the parts are good than obviously the whole must be good. From this line of reasoning, they deduce that if Congress passes Obamacare, then people will realize they really liked it all along. Alas, the logical premise is false. There are valid reasons why one might like the parts, but not like the whole.

Suppose a family is looking for a pet. Would they like a kitten? Yes. Would they like a puppy? Yes. How about a hamster? Yes. Or maybe tropical fish, a rabbit, a gerbil, or a parakeet? Sure, those are all good choices. So can we make the family very happy by giving them a kitten, a puppy, a hamster, tropical fish, a gerbil, and a parakeet. If they liked each one independently, aren’t they logically obligated to like them all when presented as a group? Clearly not.

Do you like macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, and rice? Do you want them all in the same meal? How about having a couple of speculative stocks in your retirement portfolio? How about owning nothing but speculative stocks? How about taking a vacation in Florida, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, or the Greek Isles this year? How about going to all of them?

In each each example is that there is something that accumulates beyond an acceptable threshold. There were the work of caring for pets, the blandness of starchy food, the risk of speculative stocks, and the cost of vacations. Among the things that accumulate with health care proposals are the cost, the risk of unintended consequences, and the potentially unacceptable accumulation of power in the hands of government bureaucrats. A total overhaul of the health care system poses risks not presented by any single modification. An incremental approach is inherently less risky because it is then possible to undo a wrong move without so great a risk of system failure.

While one can logically like each part while not liking the whole, it is not true that voters like every element of the health care legislation. When liberals claim that polls show approval of elements of Obamacare, are they claiming approval of the special privileges for certain states, the cuts to Medicare with costs transferred to the insured, the unions’ exemptions from high taxes on “Cadillac plans,” and the new taxes on medical devices and drugs? Those elements are not mentioned by advocates who claim agreement, but the implication is that those features are not important compared to what liberals consider to be the important parts of the legislation.

The norm is that voters would like all manner of new benefits, so long as they don’t have to pay for them. Would you like A, B, C, D, E, and F? Yes! Would you like to pay for A, B. C, D, E, and F? No! A, B, C, D, E, and F are polled separately, so the score is six yeses and one no.

In the past, the game has been to sell new benefits while pretending that someone else will pay for them. Obamacare claims that only the rich will pay for everyone. This time around, voters are not so willing to accept that claim. There may be agreement on a very long list of items. The poison pill is the single item of paying for it. It does not follow that if 90% is favored, that it’s unfair to reject the whole based upon the 10%. The 10% can be fatal.

Actually, Obamacare has several poison pills. Besides cost, there is the risk of imposed rationing and associated deterioration of the overall quality of care. Individuals may find other poison pills. Representative Dennis Kucinich says he won’t vote for any thing without a government option, and other House Democrats have trouble with the risk of government-funded abortions.

The White House position is that many Republican ideas have been incorporated into pending legislation3. The implication is that Republicans ought to accept the “compromise.” The hundreds of Republican amendments that were accepted into the legislation where technical amendments, staff corrections of typographical errors and such. Substantial changes proposed as amendments were uniformly rejected.

There are indeed some substantial Republican ideas in the legislation, but Democrats got to choose the ones they found acceptable. It’s also true that there are elements of the legislation that voters favor. But it is wrong to suppose that the legislation as a whole ought to be therefore considered acceptable. Accumulated cost and risk to the health care system, and poisonous individual included features make the package unacceptable.

______________________

1. Alexander Bolton, White House signals new way on health, The Hill
2. CNN Poll: Health care provisions popular but overall bills unpopular
3. whitehouse.gov, Republican Ideas Included in the President’s Proposal

Why don’t Americans like internationalism?

January 4, 2010

Last night Chris Matthews, the commentator famous for getting a tingle in his leg when Obama speaks, hosted a panel discussion reviewing Obama’s first year in office. The panel cover the spectrum of opinion one would expect on NBC, ranging from overall approval to adoration. I did sense that the obsequiously worshipful category was a bit weak, perhaps due to the bitter realities the past year served up.

One point stumped the panel. All agreed that American are unusually welcoming to foreigners visiting the US. One much-traveled panelist claimed that Americans were clearly the most welcoming in the world. The conundrum, then, it why Americans have not been notably impressed with Obama’s efforts to curry favor with the international community. I’m here to help explain the mystery.

What does it takes to be a full-fledged American? If you apply to become a citizen of Japan, an inspection team comes to your house and checks your refrigerator. True Japanese eat Japanese food, which definitely includes miso and noodles, and definitely does not include Pop Tarts or Wheaties. Americans do not much care about such artifacts of culture. What it comes down to is that what Americans look for and expect of those in their tribe is a love of freedom, and not much more.

Visitors to the US have a prima facia love of freedom simple by the fact that they are traveling here. People who travel are not at home being cared for, they have some gumption to do something. That is enough of a display of independence to gain points.

Obama had a father from Kenyan and was raised mostly in Indonesia. Americans did not hold that against him in the election. Origins have little to do with Americanism. Obama’s attractiveness as a candidate had much to with his drive to succeed and his wonderful rhetoric about making the country successful. Remember hope and change? People assumed that the direction of change was towards making the country more prosperous, more free, and better at defeating terrorism — simple things. Obama’s actual idea was to change America to make it more like other countries.

Obama’s message on internationalism has been that we ought to take our place in the world as an equal with all the other countries. Obama speaks out aginst Iran getting nuclear weapons, and he urges fellow nations to act jointly to do something about it. If they don’t act, well, we did our best to exercise leadership, but that’s the way it is.

Freedom protesters in Iran are viewed favorably by Obama, in due time and with the due caution that they should not expect any help from America.

Obama’s overseas speeches always apologize and always provide a message of cooperation without pressing any issue beyond what the rest of the world, the rest of the world being mainly Europe, approves.

What liberals, notably Mathews and his panel, cannot comprehend is the enduring American love of freedom. Liberals believe that a certain concern with freedom is important, so long as it is restricted to a small list of social issues and there is no concern with economic freedom. However, liberals draw the line at willfully imposing or irresponsibly encouraging freedom in other nations. Any encouragement is viewed as irresponsible.

Liberals interpret the American interest in freedom as an interest in world domination. Not at all. What Americans expect are that our freedoms be protected and that America be an unapologetic spokesman for freedom on the world stage. What binds Americans is not country of birth or a large set of cultural traditions. It is unapologetic advocacy of freedom, and the enterprise to act on the belief. The concept eludes Mr. Matthews panel.

Obama is doing fine as his policies fail

November 13, 2009

President Obama is staying up around the fifty percent approval mark as two-thirds of the people feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. Big spending liberals were sent packing in Virginia and New Jersey, but voters attributed none of it as fall out from the President. Remaking health care in the leftist image was until recently a forgone conclusion in the House, but the bill barely squeaked through this past week.

The Left concludes from this that the public actually loves government-orchestrated health care, new energy taxes, a foreign policy structured around apologies, and, above all, unbridled spending. The proof, they say, is that Obama is still popular, and surely his popularity would have suffered if voters did not want the proposed Big Government. Only lies by Republicans and Fox News, they claim, have temporarily interfered with voters what they really want.

The problem with that explanation is that the voters are getting the truth about the programs, and they are not much liking it. That brings us back to the conundrum: why is Obama remaining so popular in the face of rapidly growing dissatisfaction with his policies?

Obama remains popular because many middle-ground voters have not associated him with the implementation of the policies of his administration. The committed Left and the committed right have no trouble associating Obama with Obama policies, but few in either of those camps have changed their opinions about Obama since he was elected. The middle ground perceives health care as a product of Congress, not the President. The President wants only wonderful things: lower health costs, universal coverage, preserving what you now have, and no increase in deficits. He is firm on all those things, having asserted them in 112 speeches on the subject.

He does not talk about $500 billion in Medicare cuts and other details that might offend. It’s the job of Congress to make magic happen after he casts the spell. The same strategy applies to cap-and-trade, the Stimulus Bill, restructuring the financial system, figuring out where to put GITMO inmates, and so forth. The upside of not providing leadership is avoiding the responsibility that goes with it.

Congress was run by Democrats for the last two years of the Bush administration, yet Democrats have had success holding Bush responsible for everything. A poll showed that 57% of the people who voted for Obama believed that Republicans controlled Congress. Now with a Democrat as president, the Democratic-controlled Congress is held at fault rather than the President. That’s an amazing feat of politics.

It flows from Obama’s style and enormous skill as a politician. His campaign was based upon “hope and change,” without the specifics. The specifics get politicians in trouble. That strategy worked to get the Stimulus Bill passed. Insofar as there was agreement on the bill, in was on the generic premise that “government must act.” It was not sold on the premise that ten months later only 14% of the money would have been pumped into the economy.

Can Obama continue with generic messages that express goals rather than policies? It is possible. Imagine a scenario in which Republicans do well in the elections next year. Obama is already doing well blaming Republicans for his policy failures, despite Republicans having little power in Congress. Obama can step that up by posing the situation as his generic goodness being blocked by horrible detail-obsessed Republicans.

That might not happen. Another scenario is that voters gradually feel the lack of leadership from the President, and start holding him accountable for failed policies. It hasn’t happened so far, but perhaps it is just a matter of time.

We may be seeing a basic flaw in democracy. The best candidates may be the ones who are best at running for office, and perfection as a candidate comes at the expense of the ability to govern once elected.