Saturday, January 12, 2008

Huckabee's Confused Campaign

The Politico reports on the decision by Republican strategist and idea man Jim Pinkerton to join the Huckabee campaign:

Pinkerton was lured to the Huckabee team by Ed Rollins, the campaign’s national chairman. Both men are Massachusetts natives. In 1982 and 1983, Pinkerton worked for Rollins when he was President Ronald Reagan’s director of political affairs.

Rollins sold the job to him as a chance to help “restore the Reagan coalition,” Pinkerton recalled.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to turn THAT down,’" he said.

Restore the Reagan coalition? It seems like it wasn't all that long ago that Rollins was saying that the Reagan coalition was gone, and that he was OK with it.

Oh wait -- it wasn't all that long ago (less than two weeks ago, to be precise):

“It’s gone,” said Ed Rollins, who once worked as President Reagan’s political director and recently became Mr. Huckabee’s national campaign chairman. “The breakup of what was the Reagan coalition — social conservatives, defense conservatives, antitax conservatives — it doesn’t mean a whole lot to people anymore.”

“It is a time for a whole new coalition — that is the key,” he said, adding that some part of the original triad might “go by the wayside.”

Does Pinkerton's statement represent a split within the campaign, or simply a new strategy. There were a lot of people angry with Rollins' comment; they may have decided to pay fealty to the heritage of the Republican party. After all, building a new coalition is hard and some folks might get angry about being left out.

Update: Dan Riehl points out that Rollins doesn't seem to be too popular with some people close to Huckebee and may in fact, be on the way out. (Follow the link through to the Prowler.)

CAFTA Leads to Trade Surplus

The story is over at the Shop Floor, but the graph shows it pretty clearly:

I don't believe it's important whether we maintain a trade surplus with a given country, or a range of countries. If for example, the US imports a huge amount of raw material from a resource-rich country, and sell little back to that country because it's relatively poor, we run a trade deficit. Is that a bad thing? Clearly not.

Nevertheless, for those who criticize trade deal as being ineffective at promoting a 'positive' trade balance, the CAFTA ought to satisfy your objections:

It’s official. With the trade data just released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. trade balance in manufactured goods with CAFTA (Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement), has registered a $2 billion trade surplus. This is a sharp reversal from the pre-CAFTA situation, where in the years before the passage of the CAFTA agreement we averaged an annual manufactured goods trade deficit of about -$1.5 billion.

This agreement is the one that isolationist organizations have called “the job killer.” Just before the Congressional vote on CAFTA, one of these groups pronounced, “Like NAFTA, CAFTA is just another outsourcing agreement that will devastate U.S. manufacturing…CAFTA is a continuation of the failed NAFTA policy that drives our rising trade deficit and mounting job losses.”

This was always a silly statement, because the CAFTA countries already had one-way free trade into the U.S. market. The big deal in CAFTA was that in exchange for making their access to the U.S. market permanent, they would eliminate their trade barriers to Made-in-the-USA products. How we could lose in such a deal is beyond me.

Now the facts are in, showing that logic once again prevails over mythology. Far from being a “job killer,” CAFTA has been a real plus for the United States – as has NAFTA, another trade agreement for which these isolationist organizations have been unable to read the trade statistics.

The next step will be to try to explain to people why imports are actually GOOD for America.

Investment Advice: Buy Newspapers; How Much Lower Can They Go?

One question: if the print media continues to deteriorate, who will be left to mock us bloggers?

U.S. newspapers promise misery for investors this year as advertising sales erode and a possible recession looms, but steady cashflow and cheap shares may reward shareholders who grit their teeth and ride it out.

The perception on and off Wall Street is that the newspaper business is in big trouble as readers flee to the Internet, and things will only get worse this year as the real estate and financial industries slash spending on ads.

While these trends are real, some investors are holding -- and even increasing -- their stakes in newspaper publishers, attracted by low valuations after stock prices have fallen by as much as 70 percent over the past 12 months.

US Food Prices to Climb Again

Due to dry conditions in the autumn sowing period, crop yields are not what they need to be for food prices to remain stable -- let alone fall:

Food inflation faces more upward pressure after the US government on Friday revealed that American farmers had barely increased their sowing of cereal crops in spite of record prices.

The US agriculture department also warned of persistently low inventories, with wheat stocks at the lowest since 1947, and a massive 20 per cent reduction in corn stores.

Analysts believe a further wave of food inflation is on the way after the price surges of last summer.

Although it's not mentioned here, these basic crops are also needed to feed livestock, and go into countless other products. So as these crops go, so likely goes all food purchased in the United States.

At least we can feel good about devoting all that farmland to ethanol production, can't we?

Not so much.

Video of the Day

Snow in Baghdad:

McCain-Lieberman? Unlikely

Today Bob Novak writes on the abuse that Oprah Winfrey took for her endorsement of Barack Obama. That abuse might ultimately wind up costing Obama the presidency, since her absence from the New Hampshire campaign trail was followed by a stunning Hillary victory -- on the strength of the women's vote.

Novak also reports that Joe Lieberman won't be John McCain's running mate (assuming he gets the nomination):

Close advisers of Sen. John McCain say there is no possibility that Independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman would be McCain's vice presidential running mate on the Republican ticket.

McCain credits Lieberman's endorsement for president last month as triggering his turnaround in New Hampshire, leading to victory in that state's primary last Tuesday. In addition, McCain and Lieberman are friends who admire each other personally. Nevertheless, Lieberman still votes the straight Democratic line in the Senate on nearly all issues except Iraq, and McCain's advisers feel Lieberman never would be accepted by the Republican Party.

A footnote: When Lieberman endorsed McCain, Democratic friends called his office seeking reassurance that he was endorsing McCain only for the Republican nomination and not actually the office of president. No, they were told, this was a real presidential endorsement.

If McCain is the Republican nominee, where should he go for a vice presidential pick? He'll need to stay away from the Senate -- which means a governor. He'll have to go with a traditional conservative rather than a maverick, to ally fears that he will continue to flaunt his 'independence.'

Some possible names: Haley Barbour, Mark Sanford, Tim Pawlenty...

Here's another candidate worth thinking about... Sarah Palin.

Shrewd Sanford

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has a reputation for being a politically-shrewd rising star in the GOP. Moves like this help illustrate the reason why:

The Republican governor of South Carolina wrote an op-ed in the state’s largest paper Friday in which he spoke admiringly of Democratic candidate Barack Obama's candidacy, and urged voters to think about the significance of the Illinois senator’s White House run as they make their presidential picks.

Mark Sanford said he wouldn’t be voting for Obama because of their differing policy views. “However,” he added, “as the presidential campaign trail now makes its turn toward this state, and as South Carolinians make their final decisions on whom to vote for, it’s worth pausing to take notice of something important that the Obama candidacy means for our corner of America.

“…In the Obama candidacy, there is a potentially history-making quality that we should reflect on. It is one that is especially relevant on the sensitive topic of race — because South Carolina and the South as a whole bear a heavier historical burden than the rest of our country on that front,” he added.

It may also say something about how the South is changing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is the Border Fence About to Get New Prominence?

Read it at the Standard.

Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts

The Politico reports on an 'olive branch' extended by Congressional Democratic leaders -- an offer to meet with the president on a stimulus package before either side is committed to a proposal:

In an [sic] magnanimous move, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have sent President Bush a letter asking for a high level meeting so both sides can try to work out a bipartisan economic stimulus package before Democrats and Republicans start bickering about the specifics in public. In the letter, to be released this afternoon, Pelosi and Reid say they want to work with the White House and Republican leadership to "immediately develop a legislative plan."

Rather than pre-empting the president's expected economic proposals in his State of the Union address later this month, Democrats say they want to visit the White House next week and hash out a plan before either side releases its economic ideas.

"We would strongly urge this meeting take place before any economic packages are announced," Reid and Pelosi wrote in their letter.

Why the sudden conciliatory tone from Congressional leaders, who have so far sought to bully the White House at every turn? My guess is that it's because they're committed to new spending, and they want to get to the President before he has a chance to commit to a stimulus package with no new spending.

Last year, Congressional Democrats staked out their position and tried to force the President to come around. Presented with a 'take it or leave it' spending proposal, the president had little problem sticking with fiscal conservatives. They ended up getting rolled, and have been forced to reassess their strategy for the year ahead.

They seem to have decided that they might have better luck if they can get to the president early. If he doesn't take a firm position against them, maybe they can make a deal -- for $20 billion, $50 billion, or $100 billion in 'emergency' spending. It would all be tailored to stimulate the economy (of course), and it would be merely a coincidence that it included all the same spending items that got dropped from the appropriations bills last year.

Conservatives should get to the White House early, and tell them that before agreeing to any summit, they should stake out a position that any stimulus spending should fall within the regular spending caps.

MoveOn is a Joke... Really

Read it at the Standard.

What Happened to those Primary Challenges?

Read it at the Standard.

The Abramoff Fizzle?

Read it at the Standard.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Democrats Bring Change to Washington

Specifically, they changed the salary for Members of Congress -- raising it by about $4,100 annually.

Hadn't read about this before? Don't feel bad; the pay raise was approved on an obscure procedural vote which attracted little attention.

Fortunately for members of Congress, their pay isn't tied to their approval ratings. Lawmakers in 2008 will receive salaries of $169,300, a boost of $4,100 over the pay they have lived with since January 2006...

The salary figures were published in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

Last year was the first since 1999, when the pay was $136,700, that members of Congress did not receive a cost-of-living allowance raise along with other federal employees. Democrats, newly elected to the majority, had vowed to block an increase in their paychecks until Congress raised the minimum wage.

With the minimum wage increase accomplished last year, House Democratic leaders joined with their Republican counterparts to oppose a procedural vote to bring the COLA issue to the floor, leaving the way clear for their automatic raise.

I have explained before that Congressional Democrats have been extraordinarily hypocritical with regard to the minimum wage. Simply put, they spent years blocking the increase that they allowed to pass once they gained the majority. Now they're rewarding themselves with a pay increase for having ceased to block a minimum wage increase.

You have to hand it to the Democrats: the Republicans never could have done that -- the media wouldn't have let them. And while the amount of the increase is relatively small -- it is, after all, a COLA -- it's interesting that the Democratic leadership passed it in an unobtrusive way, and ended up publishing the amount of the increase months later, in an obscure federal register notice.

So much for openness.

Thompson Blogger Call

Read it at the Standard.

Federal Employee Unions Donate to Democrats

The Hatch Act prevents federal employees to donating to federal candidates, or from supporting political activities. But if the employees are not permitted to engage in partisan activities, why are their unions permitted to do so?

In keeping with national trends for the 2008 election cycle, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in contributions from federal employee groups' political action committees. Those PACs also are giving greater proportions to Democrats than they did in either of the two previous election cycles.

The National Treasury Employees Union committee has given $100,850 in campaign contributions so far, giving 96 percent of those donations to Democrats. In 2006 and 2004, 85 percent of the union's offerings went to Democrats, and 13 percent and 15 percent to Republicans, respectively.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association PAC has directed 85 percent of its $99,500 in candidate contributions to Democrats, up 21 percent from 2006, when it gave 64 percent to Democrats and 34 percent to Republicans. In 2004, 73 percent of NARFE's contributions went to Democrats and 27 percent to Republicans.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has made $823,900 in contributions this cycle, though with 20,000 members, it is significantly smaller than NTEU, which represents 150,000 bargaining unit employees, and NARFE, which has almost 350,000 members. Seventy-seven percent of NATCA's contributions so far have gone to Democrats and 23 percent to Republicans. NATCA directed 75 percent of its contributions to Democrats in 2006 and 65 percent in 2004.

NATCA's political action committee also has $1,040,586 on hand, according to data released by the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 2. NTEU's PAC has $68,357, and NARFE's has $386,910.

Leaving aside the question of whether this policy violates the spirit of the Hatch Act, is it prudent for federal workers to become known for strong alignment with one party or the other? Politically, it gives Republicans one more reason to support opening federal agencies to competition with private sector providers.

After all, if you can save taxpayer dollars, improve service, AND weaken your political opponent, the move becomes a no-brainer.

Can Ron Paul Hold His House Seat?

Read it at the Standard.

I For One, Welcome Our Robot Overlords

The joke has been done before, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it done this effectively.

In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power?

'At least the alpha models...'

Welcome to South Carolina

Read it at the Standard.

On Anniversary of the Surge, Democrats Still Deny Success

Read it at the Standard.

Is Tiger Woods a Racist?

Last Friday, the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman had an unfortunate suggestion for young golfers, on how to defeat Tiger Woods:

Ms. Tilghman realized the mistake she had made and apologized. Tiger Woods has taken no offense according to his agent:

Woods and Tilghman have known each other 12 years. She was picked to host a club demonstration with Woods in south Florida when he talked about new products from Nike Golf.

Tilghman was helped when Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at IMG, said it was a non-issue and considered the matter "case closed."

"Tiger and Kelly are friends, and Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly," Steinberg said Tuesday night in a statement released by Golf Channel. "Regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill-intent in her comments."

Tilghman had said in a previous statement she apologized directly to Woods, and the immediate support from Woods' camp was critical.

The Golf Channel has suspended Tilghman for two weeks -- probably appropriate for an inadvertent poor choice of words -- especially when Woods himself vouches for her. It's not good enough for Al Sharpton, however:

"This cannot just go with, 'I apologize, me and Tiger are friends,'" [Sharpton] said. "We are in an era now where we see hangman's nooses all over again. I don't know why that would pop into her head, but it popped out of her mouth and she should be accountable."

Later, he added, "Are we at the point where you can talk about lynching and then walk away like it doesn't mean anything? Some things are beyond the pale of discussions. Some things, under any set of circumstances, you have got to be held accountable for using this kind of language."

One side benefit of a victory by Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries would be a 'changing of the guard' in terms of black leaders in this country. Episodes like this show that people like Al Sharpton will never change his act, always seeking to find racial offenses, regardless of circumstance. The sooner we can turn the page on his clown act, the better.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Carbon Offset Fraud?

Read it at the Standard.

Update: Welcome, Don Surber readers (and thanks, Don for the traffic). I cross-post at the Weekly Standard. The post on an upcoming FTC audit of carbon offset schemes is over there.

Dems: Slow Economy? Spend More

If the economy slows down, there's a problem in the housing market, or politicians otherwise see a need to do something to get the economy moving, there's just one answer: spend more. The Wall Street Journal today discusses White House deliberations on the proposal anticipated from the president:

The president's main options include a tax rebate of perhaps $500 for individuals to encourage spending and a change in tax laws that would allow companies to deduct from their taxes a substantial portion of investments in equipment, according to people familiar with the discussions. President Bush is expected to prepare the economic-stimulus package before his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28.

The two measures at the top of the president's list would reprise his tactics during the economic slowdown faced during his early years in office. In 2001, while the economy was in recession, the Treasury sent checks of $300 or $600 to two-thirds of U.S. households during a 10-week period. The rebates represented advance payment on retroactive reductions in the lowest tax bracket, to 10% from 15%. In 2002, Congress, at Mr. Bush's urging, authorized companies to take deductions for 30% of the value of investments in equipment. The following year, Congress upped the so-called bonus depreciation to 50%, until it expired at the end of 2004.

What is the Democratic response?

House and Senate Democrats are working on a joint proposal to address the economic situation. "There's going to be things on the tax side and things on the spending side," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), who is involved in the discussions. Sen. Schumer wouldn't elaborate as to what specific measures Democrats are considering, but he said if Mr. Bush "takes spending stimuli off the table, it's going to be hard to deal with him."

This sounds a lot like the liberal line taken by Congressional Democrats when Bill Clinton took office in 1993. Under pressure from Congressional leaders eager to spend, Clinton proposed a package that included $15 billion in pork. What did the New York Times have to say? That it wasn't enough:

The troublesome combination of slow growth and high unemployment presents Mr. Clinton with an opportunity. He can jack up Federal spending without fear of straining the economy or fueling inflation. The situation invites boldness; so far, Mr. Clinton offers timidity.

In the past, most stimulus packages have emphasized higher transfer payments, like unemployment compensation, and lower income taxes. The idea was to stimulate consumption. Mr. Clinton offers a better idea. He plans to boost investment by accelerating public projects that are ready to go but held up by state and local governments for lack of funds. And he proposes to cut taxes on private investment in new plant and equipment -- a powerful way to boost productivity...

A $50 billion package of accelerated public investment spending and targeted tax cuts would boost long-term growth and short-term jobs. It would be big enough to do some good, but not so large as to do any harm.

Eventually Clinton's stimulus package collapsed under its own weight. Too many liberals were disappointed that it didn't go far enough; too many conservatives said it went too far. And of course, the economic recovery was already well under way by the time Clinton came into office. No stimulus package was ever passed.

In the end, it looks like the U.S. didn't actually need all that new spending anyway. The U.S. created 22 million new jobs during Clinton's presidency.

Just as then, our economy will do just fine -- even without tens of billions of pork-barrel projects.

Smithsonian Scientist: Ethanol Worse for the Environment than Oil

Read it at the Standard.

Candidates Challenged to 'Border Fence Pledge'

Read it at the Standard.

The End of the Kennedy Curse?

Read it at the Standard.

Chamber of Commerce to Oppose 'Anti-Business' Candidates

The 2008 presidential campaign has taken a decidedly populist tone, with candidates from Edwards, to McCain, to Huckabee, to Obama railing against the powerful elites in Washington and on Wall Street, who are prospering at the expense of the little guy. If the momentum stays with the populist candidates, it may mean higher taxes on businesses, more regulation, and a further slowing of efforts to expand international trade. Certainly the Democratic Congress is willing to advance such an agenda, as soon as there's a willing president in the White House (or perhaps even sooner).

Rather than waiting to see if the prevailing winds change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is laying down a marker:

Reacting to what it sees as a potentially hostile political climate, Donohue said, the chamber will seek to punish candidates who target business interests with their rhetoric or policy proposals, including congressional and state-level candidates.

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle. That approaches the spending levels planned by the largest labor unions.

The chamber president is scheduled to announce the broad outlines of the organization's plans for the 2008 election and beyond at a news conference here today. Donohue also plans to fire a rhetorical warning shot across the bow of candidates considered unfriendly to business.

It may already be too late to influence the parties' selection of their presidential candidates. With Iowa and New Hampshire behind, the field of likely candidates for each party is rapidly shrinking.

But while the Chamber might end up stuck with candidates it doesn't like, that doesn't mean it's too late to influence the election agenda. Spending tens of millions of dollars on political donations and issue ads in the months and weeks before the election might significantly influence both the presidential election and congressional races. Given our string of close elections, the Chamber could back enough candidates to head off any truly egregious legislation.

But efforts like this are in danger of winding up as rearguard actions. Polls show a greater and greater percentage of the American public are distrustful of international trade. Similarly, trust in 'major companies' has been falling consistently since the Harris poll first began asking the question 40 years ago. The public view on these policy questions has continued to deteriorate even as the United States has enjoyed an extraordinary period of relatively stable, inflation-free growth for most of the last 25 years.

The large companies and multinationals that benefit greatly from the low-tax, low-tariff regime the U.S. has maintained for decades stand to be big losers if the American public becomes convinced that this is a zero-sum game. Increasingly, that is their view. Where consumers are the biggest beneficiaries from low-cost, high-quality products, most see imports as nothing more than a job killer. While workers benefit from higher wages when their employers are unencumbered by excessive taxes and regulations, many no longer believe this to be true.

The Chamber will be wasting its money if they spend it to curry favor with a few politicians, but fail to try to educate the public on why open markets benefit everyone.

A Fox in the Henhouse?

There's probably no House Republican more dedicated to opposing pork-barrel projects than Jeff Flake (R-AZ). He constantly offers amendments to appropriations legislation to strike wasteful projects -- and he constantly loses the battle by lopsided margins. His inability to win any meaningful support -- among either Republicans or Democrats -- is clear demonstration that when it comes to earmarking, Washington is the same as always.

And if it is the same as always, there's no way he can win a seat on the Appropriations Committee, is there?

“Wouldn’t it make sense to have at least one Republican member of the Appropriations Committee who doesn’t earmark?” Flake wrote.

Flake made the case that putting him on the spending panel could have a positive electoral impact for Republicans.

“You have often said that ‘we have to earn our majority back.’ I agree,” he wrote. “But I think we can all agree that earning our majority back is going to take more aggressive action on earmark reform than we took during the first session of the 110th Congress.”

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Flake's behalf yesterday:

Now that they are back in the minority, however, these same GOP leaders say they want to reclaim their fiscal credentials. So Mr. Flake’s candidacy is a test of their sincerity. Currently each of the 29 Republicans on House Appropriations receives earmarks. In a letter to GOP leader John Boehner requesting the committee seat, Mr. Flake wrote, “Wouldn’t it make sense to have at least one Republican member of the committee who doesn’t earmark?”

Yes, it would, though this would amount to a cultural revolution of Maoist proportions. The unspoken Appropriations commandment is thou shall not speak ill of another man’s pork. Mr. Flake could be counted on to police the worst excesses and be the taxpayer’s advocate on one of Congress’s most powerful committees. This is why he’s a long shot to get the job. But if he doesn’t get it, we’ll know House Republicans still haven’t changed their ways from the Tom DeLay-Bridge to Nowhere era.

If Mr. Flake were to win a seat on the Committee and continue to oppose earmarks in the same way he has on the floor, it would probably be a disaster. He would propose scads of amendments, constantly lose them, and quickly be marginalized. He would descend to Ron Paul status -- lonely and irrelevant. Appropriations business would continue as usual and he would be ignored by the media in much the same way he is now.

If he and House Republican leaders could reach some sort of compromise however, his presence on the committee could be a win for him, for House Republicans, and for fiscal responsibility. Mr. Flake could promise not to pursue every earmark -- or even every bad earmark (there are too many). Rather, if he agreed to serve as a watchdog -- identifying egregious and wasteful earmarks, and getting cooperation from his Republican colleagues on the committee to oppose them -- it could make a real difference. Appropriators would grow wary of him, and would try to avoid sponsoring earmarks that earn a place on his 'hit list.' After all, who wants to become known for sponsoring a 'bridge to nowhere,' especially if you know that you'll actually be forced to fight publicly for it?

This would require an act of political bravery by the House leadership, but it might be a political winner.

Update: Andrew Roth has printed the text of Flake's letter to Boehner.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iron My Shirts!

Hillary Clinton had an emotionally-charged day yesterday, coming to the verge of tears at one campaign stop, and later being subjected to sexist verbal abuse at another. The latter scene was so surreal, it seemed almost... staged. A number of bloggers expressed surprise that Ms. Clinton responded so quickly to maximize the political advantage of the moment. I shamefully admit that I was among those who suspected it might even have been staged by the Clinton campaign. I envisioned a scene a little like this:

Now it appears that the event was staged -- but not by the Clinton campaign. Of course, if the perpetrators were dressed as priests, they might have gotten away in the pandemonium afterwards.

Update: Confirmed -- a radio stunt.