Thursday, May 31, 2007

2008 Update: Thompson Moving

Fred Thompson has reportedly dropped NBC's Law and Order next season, and MSNBC is reporting he will formally file initial FEC papers on June the fourth.

This poses problems for all GOP horses, most severely Romney, Gingrich, McCain, and the second tier.

Gingrich is the other "non candidate," and as he continues to tarry his coming until September, it opens the door for anxious and agitated donors to support Thompson. McCain is still desperately trying to best his pitiful first quarter fund raising, which Thompson could put a dent in. Most polls that include Thompson demonstrate that a good deal of his support coming from the Romney camp, likely due to the feeling that Romney is the most conservative of the "big three." The appeal of the "second tier," most notably Huckabee, Brownback, and Tancredo, is largely contingent on frustration with more popular candidates. Thompson may hamper that feeling.

RCP averages, taken before the Law and Order announcement:

RCP Average 05/10 to 05/23
Guiliani: 26.0%
McCain 18.2%
Thompson 10.0%
Romney 10.0%
Spread: Giuliani +7.8%

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Powerful Economies Screw Up the Environment... Don't They?

A couple of Heritage Foundation trade analysts had a dumbfounding brilliant and obvious idea. They looked at Yale's Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) and the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, and observed how they correlated. When meshing the two together, they produced this graph, which doesn't require any explanation.

Oh, and a parting golden nugget of wisdom:

I sued Taco Bell
'Cause I ate half a million Chalupas
And I got fat!
I sued Panasonic
They never said I shouldn't use their microwave
To dry off my cat
Huh, I sued Earthlink
'Cause I called them up
N' they had the nerve to put me on hold
I sued Starbucks
'Cause I spilled a Frappucino in my lap
And brrr, it was cold!

-- Weird Al, "I'll Sue Ya"

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gas Prices: Evil Big Oil Executives (Dick Cheney and Halliburton) in Mitch McConnell's Attic

Gas prices are, obviously, rising at the onset of the summer driving season. Accordingly, politicians are again crying for effectual price controls to combat the illusory "price gouging" on the part of the ever-amorphous and scheming "big oil."

A golden nugget of wisdom we should add to the likes of "fire cannot melt steel," and "Al Qaeda isn't in Iraq," should be "gas prices are set by Hallibuton and Republican donors to pay pension plans."

I can't help but remember, the indispensable Tom Sowell said, "Asking a liberal where prices and wages come from is like asking a six-year-old where babies come from."

As usual, the current gasoline prices are directly correlated to an increasing demand without an increase in supply that would be necessary to maintain the same price. No congressman's bill entitled, "The 2007 Act to Repeal Economic Equilibrium and to Henceforth Draw Demand Curves Upside Down" will change that.

The Wall Street Journal explained it well this morning:

Under the anti-gouging law, service station owners could face up to 10 years in prison if they dare to raise their prices too much when supplies are low. Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who sponsored this scheme, said the vote would determine whether Members "side with Big Oil" or "side with consumers who are being ripped off at the gas pump." Who elects these guys?

The inconvenient fact is that there's no evidence of price rigging by Big Oil or the tens of thousands of independent service station owners across America. The causes of higher gas prices include $65-a-barrel oil caused by rising global demand and geopolitical tensions, a record high U.S. gasoline consumption of 380 million gallons a day, and refined gasoline shortages caused by Congressional rules and mandates. Far from withholding production to raise prices, U.S. gasoline production of 8.8 million barrels a day is higher than any time in history and refineries are getting more gas per barrel of oil than ever before.

It's worth noting what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on oil prices released last year, "Investigation of Gasoline Price Manipulation and Post-Katrina Gasoline Price Increases," had to say regarding prices.

"In light of the amount of crude oil production and refining capacity knocked out by Katrina and Rita, the sizes of the post-hurricane price increases were approximately what would be predicted by the standard supply and demand paradigm that presumes a market is performing competitively... olding prices too low for too long in the face of temporary supply problems risks distorting the price signal that ultimately will ameliorate the problem."

Instead of price controls, which consistently backfire, there are a couple of options. We can work with the elasticity of oil supply and demand by increasing supply or reducing demand. Nearly all measures to reduce demand have severe economic consequences, so we work to increase petroleum supply and refining capabilities. Kenneth Green from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) gives some very practical suggestions.

-Open ANWR (sixteen billion barrels of oil)
-Open OCS (billions more barrels)
-Offshore Drilling (same story)
-Repeal regulations on oil refining

I might add, "quit demonizing oil companies." Am I now a suck up?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The "Scary Weapons" Ban

An issue that rests at the emotional core of social policy, politically charged, and well funded, has emerged in recent months in one particular bill, HR 1022. A new "assault weapons" ban. This bill reflects international pressure that's growing at an alarming late, and this policy is the manifestation of moot and flawed arguments contrary to the preponderance of empirical literature in criminology research; not to mention foundational policy ethics. There are four principle reasons to reject the proposal of the new assault weapons ban.

First, the bill's definition of "assault weapon" is arbitrary at best, asinine at worst, relying on standards that, at times, don't even significantly deal with the functionality of weapons (e.g. the type of clip). The general reasoning for such bans is that no one needs an "assault weapon." There are certainly legitimate uses for these weapons; standard semi-automatic rifles can have multiple functions ranging from hunting to sports. Regardless, legislative fiat to the idea that a person doesn't "need" something is a response not founded in any ethical system of governmental power. I might not need many luxuries in life, but if I should avoid infringing on the equivalent rights of others with my tools or property, the sustained principle is that we err on the side of liberty. Such naive policy subverts the core purpose of such legislation.

Second, this measure, like most gun control measures, it is an ineffective reaction to emotion and emotionally charged anecdotes that aren't grounded in empirical precedent. Unfortunate situations such as the tragic massacre at Virginia Tech underscore the fact that there is evil in this world, and there are desperate criminals who will stop at nothing to harm those who have done no harm. Yet, such an event took place in a "gun free zone," in which the criminal (who didn't observe the gun free state ordinance) preyed on the disarmed law-abiding citizens. Great Britain, which passed a complete gun ban, has been lauded by many as a great step forwarded in the progress of Western Society. Yet, it has been ineffectual, and undermines the spirit of liberty. As the venerable British newspaper The Observer noted in 2000, since the enactment of the gun ban the quantitative number of firearms in England has increased, not decreased, and the black market flourishes. Those who wish to commit crimes with firearms are still able to do so, it is the law-abiding who are left defenseless. Advocates of more stringent regulations frequently cite the fact that Britain has lower homicides with firearms per 100,000 citizens than the United States, yet that overlooks the fact that Britain has lower crimes with or without firearms due to cultural, sociological, and demographic differences. Former visiting criminologist professor Dr. John R. Lott aptly noted that 96% of the time the citizen only must brandish a weapon to deter attack. The deterrent factor of an armed citizenry is an inherent right that must be preserved. The precedent of banning some "scary looking" semi-automatic weapons cannot be established.
Third, fundamental principles of human liberty object to the notion that a citizen can have his rights suspended when he has harmed no one. The natural Lockean right to self-defense has been recognized throughout the history of mankind, and involves the necessary tools to carry out such a right. Err on the side of liberty, not license.

And, finally, there is no legal reason to contextually the Second Amendment to exclude these weapons. While this is not currently the Rule of Law in the United States, since the Supreme Court never heard a case regarding the original assault weapons ban, if one should maintain the interpretation that the Second Amendment applies to all arms, then one cannot escape the conclusion that the individual's right to bear arms shall not be infringed. The founders intended the Second Amendment to apply to muskets no more than they intended the First Amendment to apply to quill pens and newspaper presses.

In short, I ask Americans to not allow emotionally charged rhetoric to override empirical literature and foundational rights.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Second Debates - Schumer's Surprise

"Intuitively, you would think volatility is increasing. But it isn't, which I guess shows that the American economy has always been very flexible."

"Oops," says Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). After teaming up with his colleague in liberalism Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to direct the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to conduct a study on economic volatility, they were taken aback that the figure wasn't historically high. What the CBO classifies as economic volatility, the percentage of workers to see their income drastically change annually, rose slightly after 2000 with the recession, but it still well within historic norms. Once again, the US economy remains flexible and consistent.

The ten declared candidates seeking the GOP nod for President met again last week at South Carolina with Fox News' Brit Hume and Chris Wallace. Far superior to the style and management of Chris Matthews and MSNBC*, several factors were similar to the first debate, and others entirely indigenous.

The winners of the debate were the same as last time: Romney and Huckabee. Giuliani did better, helped by Ron Paul's outrageous 9/11 comments; after which he luckily had the floor. McCain had a poorer performance.

Tancredo did better. His appeal is the girl-next-do--I mean, the Republican-next-door, not an intellectual and strong Presidential appeal, was evident. His problem persists, however. Every horse needs water, and when your only horse is immigration, the Rio Grande dries up rather quickly. His comment that he'd "be looking for Jack Bauer" in the terrorist crisis was memorable and drew him a bit of attention.

All I could think of when Gov. Jon Gilmore spoke was that his ears made him look like an elf, and he loves to bloviate about his governorship. He should stick to writing emails for the party. Rumor does have it, however, that there is a photoshop file with his campaign logo somewhere. On a computer setting in some office. Too bad he doesn't have the money or staff to print it.

Tommy Thompson is just cruel for causing name confusion with our favorite, Fred Thompson. And his face looks like a catcher's mitt. This debate was his second strike, he can head to the dugout and save some embarrassment.

Ron Paul's 9/11 comment was poorly worded and shocking. Interestingly enough, he led the Hannity & Colmes "txt in" poll for a good portion of the show. Both of his supporters are quite active

Sam Brownback was dry. Like Tancredo, Brownback only has one horse: social issues. Abortion is important. But there must be another reason to vote for a candidate. Surely?

Romney was vivacious, as usual. I was disappointed to find a second issue that I disagree with him on, No Child Left Behind. That means we now have one major issue (gun control), and one moderate (NCLB) in disagreement, which keeps me from, by default, throwing support behind Romney if Fred doesn't run. Fortunately, he won't have any power with gun control, and NCLB is something I can live with. He also has Greg Mankiw as an economic adviser, to which I give props.

Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee was fantastic. The debates are his time to shine. He's charismatic, a fabulous orator; he's memorable, his phonetics always rhyme, his metaphors and analogies are delightful. He has an uncanny ability to strike cords with the values voter part of the GOP block in a pickup trucks, the soccer moms worried about terrorism, and the Wall Street Journal Republicans. If I lived in Iowa and not Arkansas, I would think he was a God-send. One might feel a little more confident about him if I thought he had a Karl Rove type behind him. President Huckabee still doesn't sound too bad. $500,000 does. Well, he can always start a Subway with that much and be his own Jared.

One thing that does have me concerned is the Michael Bloomberg/Chuck Hagel situation. Bloomberg is taking a third party run quite seriously, and is rumored to have discussed strategy with Ross Perot's campaign. A third party run with Bloomberg and Hagel would likely be disastrous for Republicans, a 2008 Ross Perot. However, one possible token of fortune would be Bloomberg and Clinton splitting New York, leaving an unprecedented thirty-one electoral votes from New York going to the GOP candidate (presuming it isn't Giuliani).

Parting thoughts:

“That people on the political Left have a certain set of opinions, just as people do in other parts of the ideological spectrum, is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is how often the opinions of those on the Left are accompanied by hostility and even hatred. Particular issues can arouse passions here and there for anyone with any political views. But, for many on the Left, indignation is not a sometime thing. It is a way of life. How often have you seen conservatives or libertarians take to the streets, shouting angry slogans? How often have conservative students on campus shouted down a visiting speaker or rioted to prevent the visitor from speaking at all? The source of the anger of liberals, ‘progressives,’ or radicals is by no means readily apparent. The targets of their anger have included people who are non-confrontational or even genial, such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It is hard to think of a time when Karl Rove or Dick Cheney has even raised his voice, but they are hated like the devil incarnate. There doesn’t even have to be any identifiable individual to arouse the ire of the Left... If it is hard to find a principle behind what angers the Left, it is not equally hard to find an attitude. Their greatest anger seems to be directed at people and things that thwart or undermine the social vision of the Left, the political melodrama starring the Left as saviors of the poor, the environment, and other busybody tasks that they have taken on. It seems to be the threat to their egos that they hate. And nothing is more of a threat to their desire to run other people’s lives than the free market and its defenders.” —Thomas Sowell

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thompson vs. Moore - Obama on Social Security

The great battle of the wits is at hand.

Michael Moore, as many of you know, is currently in Cuba filming his new documentary, "Sickos," which chronologies how Cuba's health care system is allegedly superior to the United States'. We've previously covered the inaccuracy of such statements. He's received a good deal of criticism (shockingly), and is under investigation by the Treasury Department for a possible infringement of our embargo on Cuba.

In the midst of this, Moore lashed out at former Tennessee Senator and potential Presidential candidate Fred Thompson, who, as many of you know, is my pick for President.

Moore accused Thompson of supporting Cuba as well by purchasing Cuban cigars. He then challenged Thompson to a public debate on health care. Thompson then posted a video response on the internet that has been circulated since.

Watch the video. You won't regret it.

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama appeared on ABC's program "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" last weekend. He had a little chit chat regarding social security reform, and apparently he's very open minded to being closed minded.

Stephanopoulos: You've also said that with Social Security, everything should be on the table.

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopoulos: Raising the retirement age?

Obama: Everything should be on the table.

Stephanopoulos: Raising payroll taxes?

Obama: Everything should be on the table. I think we should approach it the same way Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did back in 1983. They came together. I don't want to lay out my preferences beforehand, but what I know is that Social Security is solvable. It is not as difficult a problem as we're going to have with Medicaid and Medicare.

Stephanopoulos: Partial privatization?

Obama: Privatization is not something that I would consider . . .

Good show, Mr. Obama.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Free Market Education Solutions - Literally

US News & World Report showed us an interesting perspective on education reform in their April 29th edition.

For Trinity Gardens, a poor neighborhood in Mobile County, Ala., that sends children to Brazier Elementary, the neglect wasn't a huge surprise. In 1965, a nearby Air Force base closed-taking away 10,000 jobs-and a series of paper mills shut down in the 1990s, stealing at least 3,000 more. Most of the Gardens' residents live below the poverty line, holding two jobs to get by. Who had time to care how many fifth graders passed a state writing test? (In 2003, only 7 percent.)

But in 2004, Brazier Elementary suddenly began to change. In just one year, workers cleaned up the halls, new teachers poured in, and test scores shot up. Noting the change, parents like Patrick sent their kids back to Brazier. Patrick thanks Brazier's new principal, Merrier Jackson, for the turnaround, calling her "a godsend." But it was actually a less heavenly group that sent Jackson to Trinity Gardens: CEOs.

Four times a year, Everage Thomas, a supervisor at the nearby Budweiser Busch Distributing Co., squeezes into the school's miniature plastic chairs for a meeting with Principal Jackson on student performance. Budweiser has invested capital in her school, and it wants to see results. So Jackson, a former businesswoman, brings PowerPoint presentations, graphs, and charts to prove her students are learning. She calls Budweiser a "stakeholder." That terminology fits a district-ordered reorganization three years ago intended to use a business mind-set (and accountability) to improve Mobile's worst-performing schools. The overhaul followed a reform campaign bankrolled in part by local business groups and the Chamber of Commerce.

It's the same quintessential principle behind school choice: incentive. The government has little accountability and incentive contained with it's quasi autonomous functions. The infamy of bureaucratic blunders lies, at least partially, in the government's inability to innovate and conquer. Businesses, on the other hand, have a direct stake in their performance. All income is contingent on performance. That same risk assesment in decisions can be applied to many realms. The private sector, or at least, government programs that offer private contracts, or private entities supported by government, consistently outperform pure-governmental functioning. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is noted for low-quality and rapidly deteriorating housing that can't compete with private offerings to low-income families needing shelter (e.g. Habitat for Humanity).

Objections in the article come from sources like John Dewey, who lamented:

Education would then become an instrument of perpetuating unchanged the existing industrial order of society... Who, then, shall conduct education so that humanity may improve?"

Because the industrious spirit of private enterprise considers only the short term, and perpetuates its own ignorance, while state glorifies mankind and innovates beyond the individual citizen's wildest expectations? The precedent itself cries out in agony.

Why can't private innovation be applied to education? Why, after every hour of Milton Friedman's explanations, do only a handful of states offer realistic school choice? Why do the John Deweys of the world still see government as the panacea? Perhaps Brazier Elementary will pose these questions yet again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Restored Ally?

Last week may have put an end to French jokes for a while. America-friendly, pro-free market, center-right candidate Nicholas Sarkozy edged out Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal 53% to 47%. Sarkozy's platform included desperately overdue economic reform, lift trade barriers, reduce taxes, and roll back regulations. Royal advocates, as Steve Forbes put it, "to boost France's job-killing minimum wage, meddle even more in its nationalized electric industry and increase state control over the financial and media sectors." She also continues to express support for France's strict 35 hour work week cap and mandatory vacation.

The increasing socialist influence in France has inhibited growth for several years. As the venerable British magazine The Economist said in 2002:

At the time of its introduction, most economists pronounced the law's motivation--that if each employee works fewer hours, there will be more hours to share around--to be nonsensical. The idea that a fixed quantity of work exists, to be parcelled out among workers, is the so-called lump-of-labour fallacy. France's own Frederic Bastiat had pointed out two centuries ago that there is no limit to the work that needs doing.

But, unemployment did go down after the enactment of the 35 hour work week, and some productivity figures remained the same. At least, so it appeared.

In sum, the productivity figures may be misleading. Restrictions on hours mean that output per hour is bound to rise, as firms shed lower-value, yet still profitable, tasks. France's output per worker, however, has remained flat. What is more, the government bought big employers' agreement to the law by offering tax breaks. These tax cuts would have helped to bring down unemployment even had there been no 35-hour law.

The original problems on a more fundamental level weren't be alleviated by perpetuating the same state-dependent mindset. The French voters desperately wanted a change, an innovative reform-style candidate. Sarkozy represented the majority party in France, and by all accounts, the socialist to left candidates should have had the upper hand. But Sarkozy projected himself as a new, fresh, reformist candidate, and took the popular vote. Perhaps in a lesson of strategy to the GOP in 2008.

His platform included some no-brainer solutions that we've known for years, as The Economist said back as far as 1997:

Why not seek instead to reform France's rigid, high-cost labour market, for instance, by encouraging more part-time work (which occupies 16% of French workers, against 24% in Britain and 38% in the Netherlands); by lowering the minimum wage (of FFr6,643, or $1,127, a month); by making it easier (and less expensive) to sack workers; by reducing France's generous unemployment and welfare benefits, and so on? Not, apparently, on Mr Jospin's mind

As music to the ears of a Bush White House, Sarkozy also promised to restore relations with America and the Bush Administration (that have been less than cordial under Jacques Chirac). Of course, Mr. Sarkozy retains his fair share of flaws, but a fundamentally feasible philosophy under riding the French President, along with some basic economic understanding, could do wonders for the cornerstone EU state. Not to mention, France could remain a dedicated ally and friend to their freedom-loving comrade across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

2008 Update: Searching for Reagan and... Thompson?

The Reaganite impact has been seen in the establishment of an ultimate idiom for national leadership. A man who can unite the party's vast internal ideological differences. Individualist lovers of liberty that make up the quasi-libertarian branch of conservatism (the "New Right"), the traditionalists of neoconservatism who long for the men who will opine to their cries for society bound by a transcendent order, and those "anti-communist" members of the party (whom today would be "anti-terrorism") who stand firm in the hawkish zeal to defend the homeland against those totalitarian forces of aggression who wish to see us dead. The battle for a balance between order and liberty drove wedges in the party for much of the 20th Century, yet Reagan was able to unite them under their common goals. Their Jeffersonian libertarian ideals that the "government which governs best governs least," and their neoconservative ideas that a strong military and national defense must be maintained to save the Western World and the Shining City on a Hill. This fusion of ideas, produced Reagan. The economic zeal of Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek and George Stigler drawing from frustrated calls for return to sanity in The Road to Serfdom and Free to Choose. The staunch defense of the free world, aggressive, definitive, and imperative; laden with Churchillian and Lincoln poetic rhetoric. A defense inspired by the terrorizing tales of defected Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers in Witness. These factions of the party united to defend the natural and necessitated rights of men esteemed by Locke and Hobbes, the Burkean ordered liberty of society, the Hayekian and Chicago School ideas of free markets and monetarism, the fundamental values of Kirk and Milton, while preserving the individual autonomy of Bastiat-style classical liberals.

But is it even comprehensible that a GOP candidate in 2008 could unite the tory notions, drive away the gathering storm of neo-liberalism, and land a seat in the Oval Office?

The Reagan legacy has impacted many great leaders of our day. Names ring in the minds of his students: Quayle, Williams, Gingrich, Sowell, Meese, Kirkpatrick, Weinberger, Noonan, Bennett... McCain? Giuliani? The vacuum is opened.

Of the present field of candidates, for balance of ideology and electability I draw nearer to supporting Mitt Romney than anyone else. Charismatic, well-grounded, deep fund raising pockets, and understands liberty. He's lurched to the right in the past few years, but it seems more sincere than others, and could be in the same style that Reagan lurched right before running for President. His economic record in Massachusetts is impeccable, and his advocacy on other issues impressive. Yet, his lackluster support in comparison to Giuliani, and the prejudice from some of the Religious Right over Mormonism (however preposterous a gripe) still leaves a spot in the candidates. Sure, Brownback, Gilmore, and Huckabee are noble chaps. But $1.5 million or half a million in fund raising is going to get you no where.

A new factor is actor and former senator Fred Thompson. A relative latecomer, his window of opportunity for announcing may be short, yet as Bob Novak puts it, "many conservatives may embrace Thompson with a sigh of relief." The popular senator from Tennessee has had a strong limited-government record on virtually all major issues, and has sustained some of the limelight while starring on NBC's "Law and Order" and maintaining his PAC. A current fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, he's garnered a good deal of support from GOP base publications ranging from Human Events to Patriot Post to the Wall Street Journal.

His support is not universal, however. Pulitzer Prize winning conservative columnist George F. Will scoffs at the notion of a Reaganite Thompson. Mr. Will cites his age, lack of experience in a tightly contested campaign, and hypothetical lackluster energy. He also details, to my hearty agreement, discontent with Thompson's support of the reprehensible McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform legislation. As of a March interview with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, Thompson maintained his support of the freedom-suppressing measure. An additional area of concern is his 1995 vote against Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

All other aspects of his prospective campaign may prove strong. A recent LA Times poll, according to Dick Morris, has Thompson at second place behind Giuliani, trumping McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and the undeclared Newt.







If Gingrich feels Thompson represents the cause fully, there's a good chance he won't declare in September (his deciding point). Thompson would be a likely choice for many Gingrich supporters, while Huckabee will likely be forced out due to lack of competitive fund raising. Leaving the vote of those like me to be split between Romney and Thompson, either of whom I would be happy with. A true blue lover of liberty at the helm of the GOP ticket may be the only thing that can prevent a second Clinton White House. Thompson/Romney '08?