Archives for August 2011

Sincerity, Burning Through the Fog of Obfuscation

It is human nature to seek those things which are most rare and beautiful, and therefore the most prized. In the physical world, few things elicit visions of such stark elegance and grandeur than Carrara marble. Marble is highly sought after and desired in our most beautiful edifices. Expensive and often difficult to work with, its very temperamental nature makes it all the more desirable, the elemental equivalent of a beautiful, tempestuous woman that will not be tamed.

Marble comes in a myriad of types and colors, but Carrara marble, known for its pure, milky white character, is prized above all other marble by the world’s greatest sculptors. Centuries ago, in the “Golden Age” of Tuscan sculpture, it was considered the highest honor for a sculptor to be commissioned by a wealthy benefactor to create a statue from a block of Carrara marble.

It was also an endeavor that came with great pressure for the sculptor. Before the chisel was ever applied to the marble, the sculptor must first study the block in exquisite detail, memorizing its characteristics, noting the direction of the grain and any tiny flaws in the stone. He had to map out every strike with precision, completing the sculpture in his head before ever touching the stone. It was critical that he understand the flow of the marble’s grain. If not, a single strike with hammer and chisel against the grain could crack it. To strike with excessive force could cause the crystalline structure of the stone to be crushed, which in turn led to sub-surface holes that could ruin the entire piece.

The Debt Generation and…Fireworks? Sort of…

Man, I looove me some fireworks. The bright flashes, the intense color, the wave of energy expanding across the room—

Oh, you thought I meant that stuff they light off at the Fourth of July. No, I was referring to the fireworks that occur in a debate. And what a debate we’re going to have!

The sparks started flying when Matt Yglesias, poster boy for the Center for Authoritarian Propaganda American Progress tweeted “David Boaz is dumb.” (Hmm, I wonder what he had to say about naughty rhetoric back in January…) Boaz then retorted that Yglesias had completely missed the point, which I guess is not surprising. Yglesias then decided to tackle Daniel J. Mitchell’s take on Paul Krugman’s…well, I’m not really sure what you could call it. Lunacy? Let’s be nice and just call it “absurdity.” Anyways, Yglesias basically stated that “money doesn’t matter” and that the broken window fallacy itself is broken. A very succint summary of modern progressive thought, I would imagine.

So why do I bring this all up?

Because tomorrow, Cato On Campus is hosting (at the Cato Institute, natch) a debate titled: “US Debt and the Millennials: Is Washington Creating a Lost Generation?” Attending will be Megan McArdle of The Atlantic, Matt Mitchell of Mercatus, and Matt Yglesias of Center for American Progress. Three guesses as to who will be moderating. Yes, Dan Mitchell of Cato.

Ed Schultz tries to create controversy, fails miserably

Most of us have become used to the “race” card being played by supporters of President Barack Obama when we speak out against his agenda. It’s been frequently used tactic since before he won the nomination. I’m used to it and typically brush it off. However, there are occasionally times where someone screams “racism” when

While giving a stump speech, Rick Perry said that he would a  “pro-business president” and work to pay off our substantial national debt, which he referred to as a “black cloud.” MSNBC host Ed Schultz played this clip on his show, cutting the clip off the speech right after the “black cloud” reference and said, “that black cloud that Perry is talking about is President Barack Obama.”

Here is the clip:

Seriously, this actually went down? Sigh. Admittedly, I don’t watch the news, local or national. I collect stories that interest me online, so I’m sure there is some equally absurd claim out there from Fox News. But no one in their right mind can take what Perry said as a racist slur. At all. End of story.

11th Circuit Decision Update — Severability Issue

News broke late last week that the 11th Circuit Court had ruled against the government in Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the many legal challenges to President Obama’s new health care law. In my reporting, I noted that

  • The Court disappointed in its treatment of the non-severability issue. In fact, it overturned the lower court’s ruling, which held that, because the law lacked a severability clause, overturning any of the law’s provisions means necessarily an overturning of the entire law.

The Court’s opinion is over 300 pages long — so it’ll take me time I’m not even sure I have to sort out their reasoning on this last part. For now, I’ll simply note that this is a deeply troubling development, and certainly a little rain on the liberty parade.

I also noted Megan McArdle’s prognosis for the health care market (and the federal budget deficit) if we wound up with a mandate-less Obamacare:

Here We Go: Perry and Romney start taking shots at each other

It’s pretty safe to say that we can get used to Rick Perry and Mitt Romney knocking each other throughout the rest of the Republican primary for president:

Contours of how Mitt Romney and Rick Perry will campaign against each other emerged on Monday, as each questioned the economic record of the other.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, speaking in New Hampshire, stressed his record in the private sector as his primary qualification to win the Republican presidential nomination.

“I’m not going to need a primer on the economy if I’m lucky enough to be elected president,” he said at a town hall in New Hampshire that was streamed online.
Economic management is the proverbial feather in the cap for both Romney and Perry. The Texas governor boasts of one of the best job creation records in his state amid a tough economic environment, though his detractors say those numbers aren’t as rosy as they seem.

Perry got a question on Romney’s comments from reporters on the ground at the Iowa State Fair, where the Texan was campaigning.

“Take a look at his record when he was governor. Take a look at my record,” Perry responded, according to a New York Times reporter.

Perry, who points to his record in Texas, also lobbed some shots at President Barack Obama while he was on the stump in Iowa, telling him to reduce regulations on business and free the economy. All of that sounds nice, but the biggest problem for Perry is proving to Republican voters that he can compete, not just with Mitt Romney, but Obama as well.

Where does Ron Paul go from here?

Libertarian-leaning Republican candidate Ron Paul finished just second to Michele Bachmann in the Ames Straw Poll.  The Ames poll is one of the biggest straw polls out there, and Paul has done well at most of them.  So what does this mean for Paul?  Well, he’s well positioned to make a splash in the GOP convention, that’s for sure.

To start with, there’s been some speculation that Paul may actually win in Iowa.  An early Iowa win in and of itself doesn’t mean a whole lot.  However, this builds momentum going into New Hampshire.  You know, “live free or die” New Hampshire.  New Hampshire is one of the most libertarian-leaning states out there, even if you don’t count the Free State folks that have moved there.  A strong showing in Iowa would position Paul well for a great showing in New Hampshire.

Now, let’s say that Paul managed to win one of those states and finish strongly in the other.  If that were to happen, it would become more difficult for mainstream media to discount Paul’s candidacy like they have been to some extent, and like they did four years ago.

The truth is Paul’s message has always been economics that are extremely popular right now, meaning they can’t hit him with a flip-flop charge.  They can’t hit him on a lot of things that will come back to haunt some of the other candidates right now.  His consistency through the years, coupled with a media that can no longer ignore him, may bode very, very well for the Texas congressman.

DC Is Recession-proof, and Washingtonians Know It

I moved to Washington, DC two years ago for graduate school — apparently, as a freshly-credentialed MPP entering the job market, my timing was impeccable. But I can’t say I’m really happy about what it means more broadly for the direction in which the country is heading.

Catherine Rampell at the New York Times Economix blog reports (emphasis mine):

In every state, a majority of residents think the economy is getting worse. In the nation’s capital, however, a full 60 percent of people think the economy is getting better.

Cato’s David Boaz examined the reasons behind this dynamic here and here.

Reader’s Digest version: the Bush-Obama spending binge has spurred more growth in Washington, DC than anywhere else in the country. That’s because new federal agencies with new missions (or new missions at existing agencies) need new personnel. But beyond a simple expansion of the government itself came an expansion of the special interest class, eager to get its mitts on new waves of federal spending.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with millions unemployed across the country and new levels of uncertainty abounding, this doesn’t bode well for friends of the free market.

What can we do about it? Get involved.

Early speculation on SCOTUS and ObamaCare

George reported on the Eleventh Circuit Court ruling striking down the individual mandate, but not the rest of ObamaCare. A lot of us are wondering what’s next for the case as it moves towards the Supreme Court. Elizabeth Price Foley, author of Liberty for All: Reclaiming Individual Privacy in a New Era of Public Morality and healthy policy aide to then-Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR), tries to read the tea leaves:

The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the critical relationship between individual liberty and federalism and limited powers only a few weeks ago in Bond v. United States. In Bond, a criminal defendant claimed that the federal law she was charged with violating was unconstitutional because Congress didn’t have the power to enact it. If Congress didn’t have the power to enact it, she reasoned, her crime was punishable only by the states. Lower federal courts said the woman couldn’t challenge the constitutionality of the federal law because her argument raised an issue of “states’ rights”—something only states, not individual citizens, could complain about.

Warren Buffett wants to pay more taxes, so what’s stopping him?

Warren Buffett, a billionaire that made a substantial amount of money off the Wall Street bailout and frequently talks about the need to increase taxes, begged Congress in an editorial at The New York Times to make him pay more:

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

But also, Buffett may be twisting the facts to push his argument. Dan Mitchell, an economist at the Cato Institute, takes note:

His numbers are flawed in two important ways.

Moody’s lowers economic expectations (haven’t we all?)

Not unlike what the Federal Reserve did last week, Moody’s Analytics has lowered the United States’ short-term economic prospects:

Moody’s Analytics, a sister company to credit-ratings company Moody’s Investors Service, now expects real gross domestic product to increase at an annualized rate of about 2% in the second half of this year and just over 3% next year, compared with its estimate a month ago for growth of 3.5% for the second half of this year and through 2012.

The firm attributes most of the expected decline to a loss of business, investor and consumer confidence, noting the economy’s improving fundamentals such as the strengthening of business’s balance sheets and consumers’ strides in cutting household debt.

The credit-rating company also said it thinks the odds of a renewed recession over the next 12 months — now at 1 in 3 — will increase if stock prices continue to fall. Moody’s maintains that the odds of a renewed recession rise with each 100-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. While Moody’s expects the economic recovery will continue, prospects for economic growth and job creation have “diminished substantially.”

Though the U.S. economic recovery looked healthy at the beginning of the year, a series of events have hurt business, consumer and investor confidence, Moody’s said. These include surging prices for food and gasoline, natural disasters in Japan, Europe’s debt crisis and, most recently, the U.S. debt woes.

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