Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Little Street

By Alan Caruba

When I was age five back in 1942 my parents moved to the town of Maplewood, New Jersey, leaving behind a two-family dwelling in the Roseville section of Newark that was home to many Italian immigrants and Jews. Those who could do so during the perilous years of World War II left the city and this exodus accelerated in the go-go Fifties.

It was the birth of suburbs all over the nation. Maplewood, however, had a history stretching back to the days of the Revolution. By the time my family arrived, it was filled with many beautiful single family homes with expansive lawns, famous for its many tree-lined streets, and an excellent school system.

Maplewood had always been an upscale address, aided greatly by the fact that a commuter train, then known as the Erie-Lackawanna, could take executives into New York or at least to Hoboken where they grabbed a subway for the rest of the trip. These days, it is a quick half-hour direct into Penn Station.

I grew up on Brookside Road, as picturesque as its name, with just nine houses on a tiny street that had at one end an elementary school with a large playground area where the local kids could play ball games. It took its name from a brook that ran behind the homes across the street from mine. With time out for college and the Army, I would live there for sixty-two years.

I sold the house in 2004 after property taxes had virtually doubled and sensing that the market was peaking. I moved one town over to a new, luxury apartment complex. It allows me to shop in Maplewood’s “village” area and even get a haircut in the same chair I sat in as a child.

Living close by allows me to pay an occasional nostalgic visit; a slow drive on the short street to enjoy seeing my former home and to remember many happy years spent there.

Today on that street of nine homes there are three houses for sale, one of which has been up for sale verging on what I think is close to a year or more. Another for sale again has turned over several times since the new millennium and one on the corner of the street that shares its lawn with Brookside has also been waiting for a new owner for many months. My former home changed hands twice in the last four years.

Anthropologists, sociologists, and economists could surely draw some deep lessons from this rapid change and the stagnation of the housing market. No doubt it speaks to a larger picture of life in America, but in the sixty-plus years I lived there practically the only reason a house went up for sale was because the owners died. Those that replaced them also stayed for long stretches of time.

In addition to rapidly rising property taxes, what changed in recent years as homes gained new owners was the installation of fences. The tiny backyard in which I had played as a youngster became tinier as first one new neighbor planted a row of trees and then a newer one removed them and put in a fence. Then a new neighbor on the other side put one up as well.

In fairness, both had young children and keeping them safe was the reason. Still, it saddened me that three adjoining backyards that had never had any obstruction were now small impenetrable bastions. A number of the homes sprouted signs announcing they had burglar alarm systems.

It saddens me today to see three of those houses remain empty, waiting for families to breathe new life into them. The for-sale signs bespeak harsher times, less amendable to people seeking a better life on a tiny suburban street in a picture postcard town.

Those earlier times were different. Children were in and out of everyone’s home on the street and the grownups kept a watchful eye on all of them. The nearby schoolyard was filled with their laughter as we gathered on the swings, the metal slide, and the teeter-totters. All have been removed as a threat to life and limb, but no one ever got hurt.

Those of us who were kids growing up during World War II and the Cold War were aware of the threat of atomic bombs and, later, nuclear missiles, but we knew that nothing would ever harm little Brookside Road. We were safe. Our neighbors would live forever. Our doors would always be open.

Neither my parents, nor my original neighbors lived forever, but my memories of them remain. I like my new digs, but I miss Brookside Road.

Note: The illustration is one of several murals in the city hall depicting the history of Maplewood. This one depicts the Fourth of July celebration with races for the kids in the morning, baking contests, a circus, a concert and fireworks in the evening. Click on the image to see a larger one.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Electing Dumb People to do Dumb Things is Dumb

By Alan Caruba

Just how close is the United States to being ruled by executive order? It’s a question worth asking given the flurry of executive orders issuing forth from the Oval Office.

It is perhaps a cliché, but it has long seemed to me that Republicans and, in particular, conservative Republicans, were the grownups while Democrats, liberal by definition, were the children; the ones that insist on instant gratification and for whom no lie is big enough to cover up their long history of failures.

Just over half of those who voted in the last election were so enthralled with the oratory of Barack H. Obama and the thrill of electing the first African-American President to office that they heard whatever they wanted to hear. I grant that the Republican candidate, John McCain, was no match for Obama. His voting record and general political views were so out-of-step with most Republicans that vast numbers of them stayed home rather than cast a vote for him.

The media played its role by elevating Obama to such heights he gained the mocking moniker of “the Messiah”. Time magazine put his face on the cover some thirteen times during 2008. An inauguration preview made it fourteen as 2009 began.

It helped, too, that the aptly named “Bush derangement syndrome” was in full throat to position George W. Bush (who could not run for a third time) as the cause of the economic bubble that burst toward the end of his second term.

When Bush first took office in 2001, he warned against “strong repercussions in financial markets”, but no one was listening. After 9/11 the nation’s entire attention was focused on the threat from al Qaeda and, thereafter, the war in Iraq. In 2003, when Bush's Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow, testified in Congress that something had to be done about the cascade of failed mortgage loans being purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Barney Frank (D-MA) who is now the chairman of House Financial Services Committee, dismissed his warnings saying there was no crisis.

Efforts by Republicans in 2005 and 2006 to staunch the bleeding at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government sponsored enterprises, were defeated and, on September 7, 2008, both were put into conservatorship, another word for bankruptcy.

Prior to and ever since the Crash of 1929, the Democrats have seen a recession or depression as an opportunity to build party power. The latest Obama executive order strengthens union power which has long been in decline and for very good reasons. One of those reasons explains why General Motors is soon to be in bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, we have a Democrat President and a Democrat controlled Congress. As much as I have urged anyone who will listen to email, call, and fax their Senator or Representative to tell them to vote against the so-called “Recovery Act”, it is likely just a waste of effort. They like their predecessors in the FDR years are hell-bent to repeat the same errors that prolonged and deepened the Great Depression.

The voters have elected dumb people who will do dumb things and there is no foreseeable end to the pain and misery that will follow in their wake.

The federal government, the cause of the present crisis, needs to recuse itself from further mindless borrowing and spending if there is any hope to avoid the train wreck, but, that said, we have the wrong people running the train.

The United States of America is in peril of becoming the biggest banana republic the world has ever seen.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Motors!

By Alan Caruba

What legislators at the federal and state level don’t seem to understand is a fundamental law of thermodynamics. You cannot get more mileage out of a gallon of gasoline than it possesses. Every form of energy, oil, coal, natural gas, has a specific amount of energy it can produce when used.

When you add moonshine like ethanol to a gallon of gasoline, you actually reduce the amount of mileage you get for your dollar.

Meanwhile, the producers of the ethanol are lining their pockets with federal subsidies. Without the subsidies—taxpayer dollars—they would not be able to make a profit and since the ethanol fantasy has managed to drive up the cost of corn—normally a food product—some ethanol producers have already gone out of business because they couldn’t afford it!

California, home to more truly bad ideas about the environment than any other State, has enacted a “California Car Standard” to cut tailpipe emissions of “greenhouse gases.”

There is NO global warming and carbon dioxide has NO impact on the Earth’s climate except to show up in slightly higher amounts hundreds of years after a warming cycle has occurred. What Governor Schwarzenegger hasn’t figured out is that the Earth is well into a cooling cycle since 1998.

In California, all vehicles, cars and trucks, sold in the State will have to average 34.5 miles per gallon by 2015. Recent new standards for trucks, most of which would have to be retrofitted, means that fewer and fewer goods will be delivered in and to California because the cost of retrofitting is so high most truckers and fleet owners will simply decide to avoid doing business there.

Meanwhile, with the U.S. government imposing more and more emission demands on the auto manufacturers, they will ultimately have to start making cars out of paper mache in order to lighten the vehicle enough to achieve utterly meaingless mileage standards.

On top of that, the U.S. government is requiring automakers to make cars that very few people can afford or even want. Pretty soon we’ll have a new auto company, Obama Motors!

Isn’t it communism when the central government gets to decide what must be manufactured?

The effect of putting carbon dioxide emission limits in place on American cars ignores the fact that CO2 is being produced daily in China, India, Russia, Europe, and everywhere else in the world. Let’s not forget, too, that every human being on Earth emits about two pounds of the stuff every day.

The California standard has the effect of banning, not just SUVs, but midsize cars like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. Just how dumb is this?

It is interesting to note that Ford Motor Company has refused to line up for a government bailout. Back in the 1930s when the FDR administration passed a law requiring manufacturers to collude to set higher prices, Henry Ford refused to participate. He believed that competition was the best economic policy. People actually went to jail back then for selling a product or service for less than the price set.

Your President, elected by just barely 6% over the Republican candidate and accompanied by a huge Democrat majority in Congress, is pushing this nation into a deeper recession which in time, if nothing is done to reverse the process, will develop into a full blown depression.

You might want to keep this in mind in 2010 when it comes time to vote for members of Congress. Americans put the Republicans in control in 1994 and we can do it again. At this point, I would vote for a chimpanzee if it was a Republican!

The next politician who, like Al Gore, tells you that the Earth is facing a global warming calamity because of greenhouse gas emissions, should be voted out of office and into the nearest soup kitchen line.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Cascade Effect

By Alan Caruba

Events do not occur in a vacuum. They are a combination of decisions made at the highest levels of government that are then acted upon by literally millions of Americans, whether they are the CEOs of large corporations, small business owners, parents raising children or facing the prospect of putting them through college, skilled or unskilled workers.

These decisions then ripple out among the rest of the population as together they make a billion decisions every day “to buy or not to buy?”

We are watching the cascade effect as the astonishingly bad performance of our elected and appointed leaders in Washington, D.C. reaches into the boardroom and to the kitchen table.

This is not Bush’s fault entirely as the new administration would have you believe. The notion of social justice that caused Congress to create and later alter the role of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae has resulted in billions in bad mortgage loans that were made because banks and mortgage companies were literally required to make those loans to people who otherwise would not have qualified to receive them. These, in turn, were then “bundled” as assets.

There was no way to trace such “assets” back to the original holders of the mortgages who, in turn, put in motion an increasing number of foreclosures. This destabilized the entire financial system and the result is the present crisis.

There is one way that is well known to economists and others who studied the Great Depression of the 1930s to restore equilibrium and confidence. It is to cut taxes dramatically in order to put money back into the pockets of wage earners. Despite promises to cut taxes, how this is done and on whom the burden will fall most will determine its success or failure.

The current “stimulus” act is little more than a government budget bill whose purpose is to grow government; it has been occurring since the 1930s when the FDR administration created bureaucratic entities in a desperate effort to somehow “control” the economy.

Farmers then and now were paid not to plant crops. Unions were encouraged to demand and receive wages in excess of what manufacturers could afford to pay. Manufacturers were given the opportunity to collude together to set prices. In addition, the FDR administration imposed countless excise taxes on everything from cigarettes to movie tickets and long distance calls. The consumer’s pockets were picked to fund big and bigger government.

The free market was literally abandoned and with it came a depression that lasted from 1929 during the administration of Herbert Hoover through the elections of FDR until the advent of America’s entry into World War II in 1941. The war required the mobilization of the entire population to fight in two theatres, Europe and against the Japanese.

We have questionable government agencies that have been instituted by both liberal and conservative presidents. The Department of Education is arguably unconstitutional. There is not a single word in the Constitution authorizing the federal government to administer education. Likewise, the Department of Energy does little more than distort the marketplace as Congress thwarts the discovery and extraction of vast energy reserves available domestically and off the nation’s continental shelf.

Layer upon layer of government interference with the free market system that generates wealth and encourages innovation have brought us to this perilous moment.

Within less than a month, President Obama has gone from saying government is the answer to the present crisis to saying that the business community, through the creation of jobs, is the answer. What, in fact, does he believe?

The government’s answer is a $819 billion distribution of federal dollars, mostly to government agencies and, in some cases, to programs of extremely dubious merit. Economists including the government’s own analysts all assert that these billions will not find their way back into the pockets of taxpayers and consumers. At best, these billions upon billions of dollars will not have any effect for years.

Those federal dollars come from two sources, the working population in the form of taxes and from increased borrowing by the U.S. treasury. Stressing both to their limits will further exacerbate the crisis and imperil the value of the U.S. dollar.

America has never been more vulnerable to its enemies. Iran is demanding an apology for past “crimes” against it. Russian naval ships are docking in Cuban ports. The Mexican border is the battle ground of narco armies warring with one another.

The greatest economy, approximately $14 trillion annually, is in serious trouble and the elected leadership of the nation is repeating all the errors of the 1930s. The prospect is not good, nor is it short term. It is a cascade of debt, foreclosures, job losses, and bankruptcies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hey Kids, It's a Depression!

By Alan Caruba

Here’s the difference between a recession and a depression as defined by Bloomberg Business News:

A recession occurs when a nation’s living standards drop and prices increase. This downturn in economic activity is widely defined as a decline in a country’s gross domestic product for at least two quarters.

A depression is defined as an economic condition caused by a massive decrease in business activity, falling prices, reduced purchasing power, excess of supply over demand, and rising unemployment.

If this isn’t the beginning of a depression, it sure feels like one. Just check the daily headlines. On Monday, the Financial Times informed readers that “Gloom deepens as 75,000 global jobs go.” Among the companies laying off people were Caterpillar, General Motors, Sprint Nextel, Home Depot, Pfizer, and Texas Instruments. My guess is the General Motors declares bankruptcy by March.

The Financial Times still called it a recession, but we know what it is, don’t we? And if we just look at the 1930s and see how every move the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt made only deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, we will also see what should be done, but won’t be done. Indeed, with every passing day, the Obama administration looks and sounds just like FDR’s.

As to the stimulus bill, here’s what Monday’s Wall Street Journal had to say about it:

“The stimulus bill currently steaming through Congress looks like a legislative freight train, but given last week's analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, it is more accurate to think of it as a time machine. That may be the only way to explain how spending on public works in 2011 and beyond will help the economy today.

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, a mere $26 billion of the House stimulus bill's $355 billion in new spending would actually be spent in the current fiscal year, and just $110 billion would be spent by the end of 2010. This is highly embarrassing given that Congress's justification for passing this bill so urgently is to help the economy right now, if not sooner.”

Much, if not most, of the proposed $825 billion “recovery act” will go to various government agencies. Even a cursory review of the 600-plus page document suggests that not much of its billions will create private sector jobs. Those portions devoted to infrastructure projects are not only worthy, but polls indicate are greatly favored by the public. By contrast, the bill includes nutty energy stuff about solar and wind farms, neither of which can produce enough steady, dependable energy to keep the lights on anywhere.

Contrary to the madness that has gripped most of Congress, government spending should be cut. There is enormous waste in government at almost every level except the local level that must answer to people directly.

There should be major cuts in the tax rates from the wealthy to the lowest paid job holders. Putting money back in the hands of people will shorten the duration of the depression by stimulating purchasing, investment, and the risks involved in beginning or expanding a business of any size.

There should be a marked reduction in government regulation of all manner of business and industry in order to avoid increasing the cost of production and facilitate research and innovation.

NONE of these options, proven, known, effective, are being discussed by the Obama administration that, in office less than two weeks, is issuing executive orders that will increase the cost of manufacturing cars in the name of fighting “global warming” or “climate change.”

Apparently word has not reached the White House that it just snowed in a Middle Eastern desert nation, the United Arab Emirates, for the first time ever! That the world outside (and including) Washington, D.C. is experiencing some serious cold weather.
It’s so cold in D.C. that Al Gore’s Wednesday testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Earth is warming will likely be rescheduled.

While there is talk of tax cuts, it remains just that, talk.

Meanwhile things are going to hell in a hand-basket, so maybe it would be a good idea to (1) pay attention to the history and lessons of the Great Depression, (2) avoid repeating the same mistakes, and (3) not take your eye off the ball here at home with talk of finding a Mideast peace where none has not existed since the days of Harry Truman and, for that matter, all previous presidents.

The folks in Washington, D.C., being politicians, are all delusional and guess who’s going to pay the price for that? Phone, fax, email your Senators and Representative, and tell them to put the Recovery Act back on the shelf.

Welcome New "Followers"

Just a word to say "Welcome!" to those who have signed on as "Followers" of this blog. And thanks to those that joined earlier.

Every writer wonders if there's really anyone "out there" reading his work, but you folks confirm that there is. That's a great feeling.

And the best part is that it is a two-way conversation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

King Obama has Spoken

By Alan Caruba

It has taken less than two weeks in office for Barack Obama to confirm that his delusions of grandeur, evidence of which we saw throughout his campaign, are real. I am tempted to refer to him from now on as King Obama, not President Obama.

His executive orders, coming fast and furious, are revealing. Let me begin by pointing out as I seem to do on a daily basis of late that there is no global warming. The Earth is fully a decade into a cooling cycle. This may account for why it snowed a few days ago in the United Arab Emirates for the first time in recorded history.

Secondly, just because the greatest moron to ever hold the office of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, thinks that “greenhouse gases emissions from vehicles” have anything to do with a non-existent global warming is not a justification for imposing so-called “efficiency standards” on automakers to reduce them.

King…er…President Obama, via executive order, has endorsed efforts in several states to restrict tailpipe emissions and require higher fuel efficiency standards. I have a suggestion. Eliminate blending ethanol with gasoline. Ethanol reduces the mileage of every gallon of gas. Get rid of it and you improve efficiency.

What could be more inefficient than to allow the states to introduce their own emissions standards? As it is the EPA has for years required dozens of different gasoline blending standards depending on what part of the nation it’s sold. That plus the ethanol requirement has been an unseen tax that everyone pays along with the state and federal taxes on gasoline.

All this is being sold to the public as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. I have another suggestion. Why not allow U.S. oil companies to drill for oil in---oh, I don’t know—ANWR? Or maybe off the continental shelf of the nation?

Did you know that the U.S. Geological Service released a report in April 2008 in which it estimated that there are from 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the North Dakota and Montana Bakken formation? The Bakken is the largest domestic oil discovery since Alaska’s Prudoe Bay.

The U.S. does not lack for oil reserves. It lacks a President and a Congress that will permit it to be drilled, extracted, refined and sold without having to import a comparable amount from foreign producers.

According to Speaker Pelosi, though, “This morning, President Obama signaled that our country can no longer afford to wait to combat the climate crisis and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.”

I repeat: there is no global warming. There is a climate crisis, however. The Earth is beginning to cool and, indeed, could be on the cusp of a new ice age. At the very least, we could be entering another one of the Earth’s previous mini-ice ages such as occurred from 1300 to 1850.

We can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but neither the United States nor any other nation can ever be “energy independent.” Talk of energy independence is a deliberate lie that ignores the global marketplace for energy sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas.

Lastly, we are in a recession. The rest of the world is in a recession with us. Congress cannot “spend” us out of recession. That was tried during the Great Depression of the 1930s and it not only failed, it prolonged it well beyond the normal time such economic crises take to recover.

Obama is not a king. He is an elected President and, if these first two weeks are any indication, he and his Democrat controlled Congress are going to make every mistake made by FDR and his Congress.

By 2010, Americans will have an opportunity to return Congress to the control of a sobered Republican Party that can and should return to its principles of smaller government, fiscal prudence, and a strong defense policy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What's the Hurry? Kill the Recovery Act Now!

By Alan Caruba

Excuse me, but weren’t we told, just before the Bush administration folded its tent, that we had to throw billions at failing banks or the entire financial structure of the nation would self-destruct?

Remember that three-page memorandum from former Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, late of Goldman Sacks, that said give me $700 billion? Trust me. Yours truly, Hank P. (And now Congress is contemplating replacing him with a known tax cheat!)

Remember how Sen. John McCain stopped campaigning and ran off to Washington, D.C. to take part in top-level meetings? And now, we hear, he will not vote for more billions in bailout money. Obama said next to nothing. Now he says we have to ruin our economy by taking on the kind of debt that no one can begin to comprehend.

There is far too much political theatre taking place and far too little of what the Constitution is designed to do; ensure that there is plenty of discussion before any fad or fancy becomes law.

I simply distrust and dislike the appeals from President Obama that say that this Mother of All Pork Bills, an alleged “recovery” act must be passed within a week’s time. That is no way to spend $825 billion and upwards of a trillion dollars. Aren’t we already deep in hock to China and Japan?

I think that there are people in the White House and in Congress who think that the best way to serve themselves—not the American people—is to panic us into accepting an extremely bad piece of legislation that is not going to “solve” anything with regard to the current economic crisis.

Why has no one apparently learned the lessons of the Great Depression and FDR’s famed New Deal? Nothing, absolutely nothing, that FDR and his merry band did shortened the Depression by one day. Indeed, they stretched it out.

Ten years after FDR had been in office, his Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., told the House Ways and Means Committee, “We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work.”

And this is why this so-called recovery act has to be stopped in its tracks. It will spend billions, drive up the deficit, and waste enormous sums on projects such as “clean energy” (coal and solar) when this nation needs more coal-fired and nuclear plants, and an electrical grid upgrade that increases the amount of electricity to our urban centers…not to some solar farm located hundred of miles away in a desert!

Our elected representatives are treating us all like children, like fools, like so much cattle to be stampeded into running off a financial cliff that will devalue the U.S. dollar and shackle succeeding generations to a level of debt unseen since World War Two.

Do you think the present financial crisis will go away tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year?

Do you think that thousands of spending projects will make any difference when comparable efforts in the 1930s demonstrate that they won’t?

Do you think that money will actually get out into the economy any time soon?

Or do you think the government has to secure all that “toxic paper”, the loans gone bad, isolate it in a Resolution Trust, and let banks get back to making loans? It is the bad debt that has everything stalled.

The government doesn’t create jobs. Private industry and business do that, but they can’t if they can’t get the kind of bank loans that permit them to function. Failing that, they begin to lay off people.

Write, call, fax and email your Representative and Senators. Tell them to slow down, to not vote for this obscene pork bill.

As former President Reagan told us in his first inaugural speech. “Government isn’t the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Desperately Green

By Alan Caruba

As more and more people figure out that the Earth is cooling, the Greens grow more and more desperate to keep the global warming hoax going. They have a lot invested in this Big Lie and some of it comes in the form of proposed carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes, along with millions invested in ethanol production and so-called “sustainable” energy like solar and wind.

The fact that none of these ventures can make any money without a government subsidy—your taxes—should tell you something about how viable or sensible they are.The latest scam making the rounds among a hardy band of “skeptics” and “deniers”, two descriptions of real scientists, is the publication in “Nature” magazine of a study purporting that Antarctica is getting warmer.

Most of the mainstream, allegedly science-based magazines have long ago sold their souls to the global warming mob. Anything you read in “National Geographic” or see on their television channel when it comes to climate is just balderdash.So “Nature” comes out with an article by a team led by Professor Eric Steig that Antarctica is warming and guess what? It turns out to be based on those same tired old computer models that have been manipulating data for years to spit out “global warming” predictions and claims.

The U.S. Weather Service has some of the best computers available for predictions and it cannot tell you what the weather will really be next week. At best, it can predict weather about three, maybe four, days out. And even then you better bring an umbrella or wear your boots.

All the claims of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been based on these utterly corrupt computer models and real scientists have been merrily tearing them apart for years.The problem is that you have to attend an event like the upcoming Heartland Institute Conference on Climate Change to get the real facts and, even though they were presented by some of the leading climatologists and meteorologists in the world last year, the media was around only to heap scorn on the event.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the study published in “Nature” claimed to have new evidence produced by a computer model that combined satellite data with temperature readings from surface weather stations. The problem is that Antarctica has very few surface weather stations so the computer model, apparently using intuition, decided what surface stations would be reporting if there were any.

The bottom line is that all the satellite data for that past 30 years has reported that Antarctica is getting colder with the exception of a small part of the continent known as the Antarctica Peninsula. Antarctica is not melting. Last year’s sea-ice cover was thirty percent above average.

I can guarantee you that we shall see more of these spurious studies as it become abundantly clear to people all over the globe that things are cooling off, not warming up.

At which point, some folks may want to drag Al Gore from his over-heated mansion and run him out of town.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Making the Economy Worse

By Alan Caruba

Watching the former Bush administration and now the Obama administration try to deal with the worsening economy is like watching old newsreels of the Roosevelt administration announcing its many experimental programs—the New Deal—between 1933 and the start of World War II in 1941.

The Great Depression began with the crash on Wall Street in 1929. Herbert Hoover struggled with the impact this had and, when he was unable to deal with it, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. A charming man with an eloquent speaking style, FDR mesmerized Americans with his fireside chats and stirring speeches, but he surrounded himself with a bunch of academics who had no more idea how to solve the growing loss of jobs and related problems than he did.

FDR had never run a business, had invested in a number of ventures that all failed, and was, for his entire life, on an allowance from his mother who tended the family wealth. He was a spoiled rich kid and indifferent student with the time and money to engage in politics where competence is not always high on the list of a candidate’s attributes.

President Barack Obama was certainly not a rich kid, but thanks to his grandparents he was able to attend an exclusive school in Hawaii and by means of support that is impressively vague, went on to attend Columbia University and Harvard. A lawyer and community organizer, Obama like FDR, has never run a business, met a payroll, had to make a profit, et cetera. He chose politics as his profession and, like FDR, appears to be quite good at it.

Politics, however, is not business. It doesn’t rely on making a profit and it doesn’t seem to matter if huge debts occur as the result of an imbalance between imports and exports, so-called “entitlement:” payments, or even if taxes actually impede growth instead of stimulating it.

Making its way through Congress is a huge $825 billion so-called “stimulus” bill that has no more relationship to stimulating the economy than my computer has to a parking meter. It is pork, pork, and more pork.

It will spend an insane amount of money on projects that are totally unrelated to the real problem, a breakdown of credit liquidity. Until the banks begin to make loans again of the type that facilitate the operation of businesses large and small, nothing Congress does will affect the economy, except probably to make things worse.

A group of elite politicians, Congress and the White House will feel compelled to “do something” when they actually should do as little as possible. We have already seen billions disappear into a black hole of bailouts. Why would we continue that practice without some restraints, transparency, and accountability? Why, in fact, continue to do that at all?

Some bankers are acting like greedy, heedless pigs which is, of course, what they normally get paid to do. Whatever prudent behavior we normally associate with bankers, hedge fund managers, and financial advisers seems to have been jettisoned long ago.

After studying the Roosevelt years, two UCLA economists concluded that it dragged on for a dozen years after 1929 because New Deal policies virtually ensured that the economy would be paralyzed.

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Harold l. Cole and Lee. E. Ohanian blamed anti-competition and pro-labor measures that FDR signed into law on June 16, 1933.

“President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services,” said Cole. The result was a law that allowed businesses in every industry to collude to set prices and workers to demand salaries above what they should have been, given market forces. People were sent to jail for offering their products or services for less than the amount set.

Excise taxes on all manner of things sucked money out of the pockets of the poor and middle class.

What does this tell us today? It tells us that government, the cause of the present financial crisis (as the result of mortgage loan practices it required) should get out of the way of the business and financial community except to purchase the bad loans, allowing banks to clear their books, and get back to normal lending practices.

The economy will get worse and, in time, people are going to look at the White House and blame it and Congress for the great troubles so many people will encounter.

Why do I keep thinking that the successful businessman and governor, Mitt Romney, is beginning to look very good right about now?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not a Word About Oil, Coal or Natural Gas!

By Alan Caruba

If you visited on the second day of the new administration, you would find a lengthy document about “The President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” You will not find a single word about oil, coal, or natural gas in it, nor nuclear power.

To put matters in context, coal provides just over 50% of our nation’s current electricity. Nuclear provides an additional 20%. The remainder comes from sources that include hydroelectricity and natural gas. Combined, solar and wind energy sources provide 1% and for the fundamental reason that solar and wind farms are unreliable sources of constant energy and must be positioned far from the urban centers that require it. This means adding miles of lines to our electrical grid. That grid, much in need of upgrade and expansion, is not mentioned either. Nor is there any reference to all the gasoline and diesel we need for the nation's cars and trucks.

Instead, President Obama’s plan to “jumpstart job creation and long-term growth” begins with a proposal to “(double) the production of alternative energy in the next three years.” It does not say a word about exploration and extraction of the vast, known oil deposits in ANWR and there have already been hints that the ban on the nation’s coastal continental shelf may be reinstated. It would shut off access to potential new reserves of oil or natural gas in the thousands of miles of the nation’s coastal continental.

This resistance to utilizing any oil found anywhere in the United States continues while President Obama and his administration keep complaining about the billions of U.S. dollars that flow to countries that are “unfriendly” to our values. The same resistance to mining any of the extraordinarily vast reserves of the nation’s coal deposits continues as well.

Second on Obama’s plan is the “modernizing (of) more than 75% of federal buildings and (improving) the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.” It’s hard to be against energy efficiency, but when it includes a ban on the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs, it represents a level of stupidity that has been the only product of Congress in recent years. Energy that is not available cannot be made more efficient no matter what you do.

This reminds us of the Congressional mandates for the production and use of ethanol to be combined with gasoline. Ethanol production drove up the cost of food at home and around the world. Indeed, the cost of corn rose so steeply that many ethanol producers went out of business because they could not afford it! Add to that the fact that ethanol in combination with gasoline actually reduces mileage per gallon and you have no efficiency whatever.

Third on the list of recovery objectives are investments to ensure that “all of America’s medical records are computerized.” The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” How secure will you feel if anyone in the U.S. government, any insurance company or a potential employer can access your personal, private medical records?

The Obama administration plan goes on to urge the equipping of “tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries. It wants to expand broadband across America, and finally to invest in “the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.”

May I respectfully suggest that this is not the job of the federal government? That research and development has a long history in America of being the province of private industry and entrepreneurs, competing to produce the best, new products and services?

To return to my original theme, the failure to make any mention of accessing America’s vast resources of energy production bespeaks the years of environmental agitation against the energy America needs to function as a society and as a thriving economy.

America will not recover from its financial crisis by throwing billions at the most inefficient and untrustworthy means of producing electricity, solar and wind.

Americans will not be more secure if their medical records can be accessed by any government clerk or are available to any industry or employer who wants to avoid hiring anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. Millions of Americans have encountered sexually transmitted diseases and surely this is not the kind of information anyone wants known.

This is George Orwell’s “Big Brother” approach to government combined with a willful ignorance and resistance to the production of the vast new amounts of energy the nation will need by 2030.

But then, this is the President who said, “We can’t drive our SUV’s and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times…and expect that other countries are going to say OK…”

Why not? And who will decide what we can drive and how much we can eat? Who will determine how much we can heat or cool our homes? If it’s the government, then we will have exchanged our freedoms for totalitarian control.

This proposed recovery and reinvestment plan reflects the future that President Obama has in mind for all of us and for the nation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Promises Made, Promises to Fear

By Alan Caruba

Promises are the currency of politics and politicians have been making them from the time that people banded together in tribes for a common purpose. The purpose of the politician, however, is always the same; to gain power and to stay in power.

There’s a reason we parse every word in an inaugural speech and keep records of the promises made to get to get elected. They are one sure way to map the intentions of the new President and, in time, to determine his success or failure rate.

There are any number of very good and valid reasons why those with a conservative approach to policy and politics are concerned about President Obama. We need to remember his promises and hope that some of them do not come true.

It seems to me that his promises give us cause to be fearful regarding his apparent belief that the Earth is warming and coupled to that are his views about energy use. Lastly is his “global” view of the world as a place where global institutions like the United Nations should be granted powers that supersede the sovereignty of our nation.

Nations like people make alliances based on their perceived best interests and their hidden agendas. The United Nations, a repeat of the failed League of Nations, has become a vast cesspool of corruption and a platform for the ugliest propaganda from its Muslim nation members. Created to avoid military conflicts, it has never achieved that lofty goal and has, as often as not, been used to justify them. It should be abandoned by the U.S., but Presidents seem fond of making speeches there and, when possible, to manipulate it.

In his inaugural speech, President Obama made one brief comment about the need to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” The planet is cooling, not warming. Spending a dime on “global warming” is a waste. Instituting programs to reduce the generation of carbon dioxide based on the false assertion that it causes “global warming” will endanger our already damaged economy.

Telling Americans that “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factors” borders on a terrible ignorance about the inefficiency of solar and wind energy---barely one percent of all electricity used in the nation---demonstrated by the need to subsidize and require both to ensure their use, and a lack of reality regarding the enormous reserves of coal, natural gas, and oil this nation possesses, but refuses to access and use.

Like all politicians, President Obama made scores of promises while on the campaign trail. All agree that his administration’s first priority—perhaps its only priority—is to restore our financial system to credibility and liquidity. We did this to solve the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s and practical steps can be made to correct the present crisis. Reducing the tax burden on individuals and businesses is one of the known solutions. Eliminating wasteful government spending is another; ending the practice of “earmarks” is now essential.

President Obama is on record promising to eliminate unnecessary programs, i.e. spending. He has promised that he wants to lower the budget deficit. All this is good and all this has been said by a long line of previous presidents.

He has also made many promises regarding the environment and energy, any one of which could cost billions, drive up the cost of everything, and undermine any recovery. Among these promise is the reduction of electricity demand by 15 percent by 2020. He has promised to increase fuel economy standards four percent each year. He favors plug-in hybrid cars. He is a big fan of “renewable”, wind and solar, energy and would require that ten percent of electricity be produced by it by 2050. Lastly, he has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

The good news is that, were he to win a second term, he will still be out of office in eight years. The bad news is that, based on his environmental and energy promises, he can set in motion a waste of billions of dollars at the same time the nation is borrowing and spending billions in a vain effort to end the current financial crisis.

There are promises that will be forgotten and there are promises we need to fear and to fight against ever becoming policy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oratory Versus Reality: The Obama Years Begin

By Alan Caruba

Not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy has this nation had a President so blessed with the gift of oratory.

There is no doubt that, if words alone could lift this nation out of its current financial crisis, its wars, and other problems, President Barack Obama could make that happen.

We need, therefore, to cast our eyes backwards to those earlier presidents to remind us that, for all his eloquence, his power to encourage and inspire Americans, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not resolve the Great Depression and, indeed, prolonged it with a misguided New Deal. Inaugurated in 1933, he was still struggling when World War II began for the United States in 1941.

As John F. Kennedy urged us to ask not what the country could do for us, but what we could do for our country, it was mere months before the die was cast for growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Other than the space program, his administration was a series of stumbles. His assassination eliminated any further opportunity to judge his brief term in office.

So oratory is a fine thing and our new President delivered a fine speech. But! If Americans discover that we are in for a “first 100 days” that involves a great flurry of ill-conceived, ill-considered, and utterly political legislation, we will rue the day we gave power to him and those on Capitol Hill.

“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions,” said President Obama. He’s right because the greatest failures always follow an excess of ambition. It happens to individuals and it happens to nations.

The proposed stimulus bill reeks of all the errors and ills of FDR’s New Deal programs that wasted millions paying farmers not to plant crops, fixing prices within industries to kill competition while driving up the cost of goods, and initially handing out money without requiring that people work to earn it.

The proposed $825 billion “stimulus package” is pure pork. It has no more relationship to economic recovery than previous efforts. The real change America needs is for government to stop interfering with the marketplace of goods and services.

When Congress gets out of the way of business and industry, you will have recovery.

When it stops paying farmers not to plant crops, as it continues to do, you will have recovery.

When it puts a stop to the lawsuits and laws that stop or slows every form of development in favor of some unknown species of insect or reptile, you will see recovery.

When it permits our vast natural resources of coal, natural gas, and oil to be extracted and sold as energy for America, you will see recovery.

Called the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill”, the proposed bill includes $650 million to help Americans upgrade to digital cable after the transition on February 17th. In what possible way does this help the economy? It is pork.

While surely there are structures in cities and towns in America that could use an upgrade, $44 million will be spent to repair and improve the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. All manner of taxpayer money will be lavished on a panoply of government agencies, all standing in line with their tin cups.

As Ronald Reagan said, “Government isn’t the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.”

There will be $1.2 billion to provide day care services to 300,000 additional low-income children since clearly both parents will have to work in order to put food on the table. It is pork.

$1.2 billion to create an estimated one million summer jobs for young people. It is pork.

And $6.2 billion to weatherize the homes of low-income people to make them “more energy efficient.” It is pork.

It probably passed unnoticed, but the President’s promise to “roll back the specter of a warming planet” is quite possibly the worst indicator of what his new administration plans to do to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars and countless new regulations.

The Earth is dramatically cooling. There is no global warming. Why is the new President talking about “a warming planet”?

As just one more example of the endless list of items taxpayer money to be wasted, the most egregious is $2.4 billion for “projects demonstrating carbon-capture technology.” There is no need to “capture” carbon dioxide, a gas that plays virtually no role whatever in climate change. The oceans of the world have been doing that for more than five billion years.

After the oratory comes the reality. If, as a nation our elected representatives act, based on the failed politics and policies of the past, economic reality will swiftly become painfully apparent and all the speeches in the world will not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

High Expectations

By Alan Caruba

It will likely be impossible for Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, to live up to the expectations of his adoring supporters.

First of all, a lot of them are quite young and even the ones who aren’t probably do not have much of a grasp of history. There is an arc to the popularity of leaders.

Following the drawn out agony of the Watergate scandal, Jimmy Carter went from being a fresh new face in the White House to a President who was seen as overwhelmed by the job as he lectured people to turn down their thermostats. He was pathetically inadequate when American diplomats in Iran were taken hostage in 1979. His post-White House outspoken sympathy for Islamic terrorists should be a warning to Obama to avoid any advice he offers.

The myth that has grown up around John F. Kennedy is largely due to his having been assassinated before he did much in office. In some ways, the young people who saw themselves and their future in him resemble those who are heavily invested in Barack Obama. Kennedy campaigned against Richard M. Nixon and there were widespread rumors that Kennedy’s pals in Chicago had helped steal the election for him. As Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun.

I doubt that Obama has any more of a grasp of the current national and worldwide financial crisis than Congress. He has, to his credit, surrounded himself by people who presumably can find a way for America to return to prosperity.

Obama will likely spread money around just like Franklin D. Roosevelt did, funding all manner of projects to stimulate the economy. It didn’t work for FDR and it is not likely to work for Obama. Only the business community and entrepreneurs riding the next wave of innovation will save the economy, but only if their taxes are reduced along with the web of regulation that strangles both risk-taking and success in the cradle.

Large corporations, however, have a harder time shifting gears and a lot of them are looking overseas to reduce their risk, reduce their costs of operation, and get away from a federal government that cannot pass laws fast enough to reduce their profit margins.

The expectations will likely be undermined by the short attention span of the young. By mid-2009 there will be a growing volume of voices asking why the recession is still hanging on, why new jobs in the private sector aren’t being created, and why did I have to move back in with my parents? The pain will be widespread and will not go away in a year.

Obama is a big government kind of guy. With his leftist philosophy, he will want to retain and expand federal power, but he will discover that the unrest out in the States far from Washington, D.C. will be magnified as the recession continues and could reach explosive dimensions if the nation is allowed to slide into a depression. I hope he finds the formula to avoid that.

His problems won’t just be domestic either. Enemies of the United States will see opportunities to further undermine its economy and even launch attacks. The southern border with Mexico could turn into a battleground as troops face off with narco-armies, well armed and busy fighting with everyone for territory. That fence between us and Mexico is going to look like a very good idea, but Obama is an open borders kind of guy. His popularity will begin to plummet if he sticks to that bad idea.

Finally, there are early signs that Americans, including the mainstream media, are at a tipping point with regard to whether global warming is real or a hoax. As a candidate who emphasized his green credentials, this is an issue that could swallow up his administration in controversy and disputation if more and more green restrictions conflict with American lifestyles and preferences. We’ve already learned that ethanol is a boondoggle and a farce. Let’s hope he avoids wasting millions on solar and wind energy when we need a new electrical grid and many more coal-fired and nuclear plants.

Any effort to ban gun ownership will run into an army of Americans who think it is their Constitutional right and they will be right about that. His proposal of a Homeland Security force similar to the U.S. military will rightly be seen by a lot of people as a private militia intended to install him in office for life. It is a spectacularly bad idea.

There are a variety of scenarios that represent traps for the new, young President, but how adroitly he addresses the economy will be Job One or else he will be sent packing in four years.

Instead of hating him from the moment he takes the oath as I have heard some say, we would be better off granting him some time to master the office and, most importantly, Congress.

The greatest obstacle to any success he might achieve will be his own political party, currently led by two of the greatest dunces to ever hold public office.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Endless Inauguration

By Alan Caruba

I am the last person you want to invite to a party. I am almost always the first to leave. There’s something about a whole bunch of people getting together to celebrate anything that doesn’t work for me.

I am one of those who far prefer a small group of people, perhaps no more than three couples, who can exchange their thoughts and points of view without having to shout over loud music or, worse, to pretend to be happy if they’re not.

That’s why I am already “partied-out” with the inauguration, not because it isn’t a historic occasion, but because it already seems to have gone on for too long when, in fact, it will not officially and formally occur until Tuesday.

It may have something to do, for example, with the fact that Time Magazine has put a portrait of President-elect Obama on its cover thirteen times in the passed year. That’s just stupid.

I can live with the fact that my political party’s candidate lost. I wasn’t that thrilled with him to begin with and, apparently, neither were several million Republicans who simply stayed home on Election Day. I am not one of those people who think that the nation is in great peril just because the other guy won.

I do think that many of the policies that will carried out in the next four years by the Obama administration will illustrate once again why liberals should never been allowed to be in charge. To be fair, however, the last eight years of Republicans turned out to be a nearly complete renunciation of the party’s principles. Let’s face it, they deserved to lose.

To return to my complaint of the day—if I am not cranky, you need to check my pulse—all the media coverage of every single aspect leading up to the event seems to demonstrate just how much those about to acquire power can lead this adoring media around to ensure hour upon hour of vapid reporting.

Monday will be no better and, of course, Tuesday will encompass the actual event, plus the parade, plus the many gala balls, plus whatever else is deemed momentous.

Only in America, a nation already engulfed by one of the worst financial situations in modern times, could we witness millions spent on an inaugural celebration and its attendant events.

I would have preferred a more subdued atmosphere, minus the theatrics of a train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., with a stop at Wilmington to pick up the Vice President-elect. The incoming President seems to need huge crowds on a daily basis and I am sure will love hearing “Hail to the Chief” everywhere he goes.

I will, of course, watch the actual inaugural ceremonies. There are moments in the nation’s history that must not be ignored. In 1963 I watched Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I wish he could have been here for this inauguration.

Somehow, for all the criticism raised against America, we seem always able to utterly confound our critics and our enemies. That’s something worth celebrating.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Know-Nothings are in Charge

By Alan Caruba

Briefly in the 1850’s there was a Know-Nothing movement that went by the name of the American Party. It was composed of anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant, white Anglo-Saxon morons and faded fairly quickly. It was yet another example of how dearly humans love their prejudices.

It seems to me and a lot of other folks that we might label the current bunch of bozos in Congress the Know-Nothing Party because, Democrat or Republican, they have reached a point at which they can be stampeded into voting for the expenditure of huge amounts of money without a clue why or to whom.

Now it appears they are getting ready to “stimulate the economy” with a giant, political grab-bag in excess of a trillion dollars. Much like earlier efforts, it is likely to fail while at the same time plunging the nation into deeper and deeper debt. At some point, the U.S. dollar may come to resemble its counterpart from Zimbabwe, a million of which we buy you a loaf of bread. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi cannot wait to repeal the tax cuts, but tax cuts are known to every economist as the best way to respond to a recession.

A recent Rasmussen poll revealed that “Just 37% of Americans are even somewhat confident that their political leaders know what they’re doing as they try to address the nation’s economic problems.”

Very close to 60% lack confidence in the current crop of elected leaders, including 20% who say “they are not at all confident that policymakers know what they are doing with regards to the troubled U.S. economy.”

Need it be said that of those polled “Democrats are more confident in policymakers than Republicans”? Republicans are famous party poopers, always insisting on frugality, transparency, oversight, et cetera. Well, at least, they used to. Now, without any power in Congress, their voice and their votes count for nothing.

We are not only not getting the quality of governance we voted for, we are being subjected to an appalling demonstration of Congress critters voting more and more money be given with no indication it’s having had the desired affect on banking and insurance recipients.

It may be too soon to make such a judgment, but the tottering of both Citigroup and Bank of America is sufficient to make a lot of people question whether these bailouts are working.

What I know about banking you could put in a bug’s ear, but one is forced to wonder how such giant financial institutions could have engaged in practices that have proven so imprudent? One is tempted to say, well, there was government regulation, but it is obvious, particularly with regard to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that in reality there was none.

I have a relative who has worked a quarter century in a famed brokerage house. It has undergone new ownership or mergers so often that he literally has a collection of more than 30 different business cards to reflect the changes.

This is the price we pay for capitalism, the free market, and the massive movement of capital around the nation and the world. Given the alternative, socialism or communism, I will always take capitalism because, from my observations a government-controlled economy is always a disaster. It can only be maintained with coercion and invariably a great deal of corruption.

This is why, in a capitalist society, the quality of leadership we elect is vital to the maintenance and growth of wealth.

What we appear to have, however, are a group of people that are utterly overwhelmed by events, subject to the discipline of a handful of highly partisan, but incompetent party leaders, and easily driven to ignore the genius of the U.S. Constitution which instituted a deliberately slow process of lawmaking.

The thing I fear most in the first days of the new Obama administration will be the rush to enact bills that most of the members of Congress have not read, nor have understood if they did read them.

That’s not lawmaking. That’s magical thinking.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Goodbye, George W.

By Alan Caruba

After eight years as President, we would probably be thinking unkind thoughts even if it was the Dalai Llama who held the job. In the case of George W. Bush, saying goodbye comes as a distinct relief. As with all modern day Presidents, we just have seen too much of him over the course of eight years.

I felt the same about Bill Clinton when his second term mercifully came to an end, but that feeling was also tinged with the disgust I felt then and now for disgracing the office with his White House intern antics. How and why he has found forgiveness with Democrats or anyone else still eludes me.

Reporters and others keep saying that what you see is what you get when it comes to George W. If so, he is surely one of the goofiest Presidents we have had, afflicted with a variety of mannerisms and ticks that have made him easy fodder for impersonators and comics.

I cannot shake the feeling that the man lacked seriousness or at least the intellectual depth to grasp the events and issues that came to his attention daily. There really seemed to be a “frat boy” at the core of his personality. It often seemed that, as the oldest son, he was just engaged in the family business of running the country.

Even so, I thought Bush’s response to 9/11 was right on target. Learning that Osama bin Laden was headquartered in Afghanistan, he sent the CIA and the military there to chase out the Taliban. Failing to capture bin Laden, he could have stuck to covert efforts, but he went beyond the initial action, invading Iraq for what I am sure he saw as the greater needed to draw in al Qaeda to destroy it. Simply said, he succeeded. Al Qaeda is reportedly a shadow of what it was when it attacked the U.S. in 2001. Bin Laden issues weak messages from hiding.

So, perhaps history will be more kind to him than present opinions. The rest of his eight years, though, hardly merit hosannas. He spent and he spent and he spent. He introduced legislation that only a liberal would consider; the No Child Left Behind Act, the Prescription Medicine benefits on top of a Medicare program that was already running out of money, the failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

George W. could just as well have been a Democrat. He leaves with a popularity rating so low that it rivals Harry S. Truman who was a Democrat. Here again, though, history has proven that many of Truman’s decisions were the right ones.

His farewell address was dignified, but not without the fumbling over simple words and phrases now so familiar to his inability to deliver a speech without these stumbles. It is not his speeches, however, by which he will be remembered, but by his enduring faith in the spread of freedom and democracy.

The result of his tenure is, after three decades of despotic control, an Iraq as a young democracy. It is an Afghanistan struggling to throw off the oppression of the Taliban, the spawn of a duplicitous Pakistan, itself struggling to be something, anything more than just another junta-run excuse for a nation. Bush has strengthened ties to India and to China. Burned by his initial confidence in Vladimir Putin, he has kept Russia bottled up to some degree.

His humanitarian instincts are seen in programs to deal with AIDS and Malaria in Africa, but his reputation will rest ultimately on his role as Commander-in-Chief. Here again, history may speak well of him in hindsight.

We may look back on the Bush43 years with some nostalgia, if not for the man, then for the fact that we did not suffer another attack like 9/11 and that you knew he would not let that happen on his watch.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Stench of Sleaze

By Alan Caruba

I’m betting that we will all look back at the confirmation hearings, the controversy over Barack Obama’s birthplace, and the “Blago” scandal, and say “Why weren’t we paying more attention?”

The Obama administration, before it even takes office, is giving off a stench of sleaze that some in the media might want to ignore, but should be cause for genuine concern.

Overriding all other issues is the question of whether Obama qualifies under the U.S. Constitution to hold the office of President. Is he a native-born American or is his true birthplace Kenya as is being asserted in a number of court cases? Did his youth, spent partly in Indonesia as the adopted son, disqualify him if he held citizenship there? We are looking at a Constitutional crisis if the answer is yes.

Questions arising about the character of Timothy Geithner, his choice to be the next Secretary of Treasury, are another red flag that should not be ignored. If this man deliberately sought to cheat on his taxes then he is clearly the wrong man for the job. To suggest there is no one else to do the job is a slap in the face to everyone.

The controversies circling Erik Holder, the man chosen to be the next Attorney General, deliberately ignored the facts regarding the granting of a Clinton presidential pardon to a fugitive who did business with Saddam Hussein, then one must ask what other facts he might choose to ignore if confirmed? Holder also presided over the dubious and disgraceful seizure of Elian Gonzalez for return to Cuba after his mother died trying to bring him to America. Additionally he has a long record of opposition to the Second Amendment, i.e., gun ownership. No Attorney General can pick and choose which elements of the Constitution he intends to enforce.

By far the most egregious choice is Carol Browner as the new environment czar. She was recently found to have been a commissioner in Socialist International, an organization that regards capitalism as the problem and favors the nationalization of industry. In her previous Clinton administration position as head of the EPA she presided over the banning of pesticides that had long, safe, and distinguished records in the protection of health and property. We could be looking at “green” laws that increase the cost of energy for everyone and the attacks on private property everywhere.

Lisa Jackson, a Barack appointee to be the next director of the Environmental Protection Agency, has served in my home State of New Jersey under Governor Jon Corzine who has been an unceasing advocate of global warming and the many taxes and restrictions that disproved theory would impose. If Ms. Jackson is a global warming true believer, it bodes ill for the administration of draconian EPA mandates such as the Clean Air Act.

The fact that Hillary Clinton will be the next Secretary of State should give us pause as well, knowing as we do that her husband’s charity has received millions from, in many cases, unknown donors and those that are known who might be considered unfriendly to America’s best interests.

Back in Chicago, where Obama learned his politics, the Governor of Illinois is set to face a battle to impeach and remove him from office.

None of this suggests that there will be any “change” from the aroma of the former Clinton administration from whom he has selected so many of those to serve again in positions of power.

We could be looking at an administration that will be plagued by questionable actions domestically and under attack from foreign enemies sensing weakness in every area except defense, thanks to a Bush administration holdover, Robert Gates.

We will witness an orgy of excess in the millions raised for and by the inaugural balls and galas, the cost of which is twice as much as the last celebrations.

All this is occurring as the mainstream press is itself weakened by economic distress. Given the Fourth Estate’s essential role as watchdog of government, it could not come at a worse time.

The “misery index” introduced during the Carter Administration, is about to shoot through the ceiling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Barack Lincoln

By Alan Caruba

What is with all this positioning of Barack Obama as the next Abraham Lincoln?

Obama began his campaign in Springfield, Illinois, famed home of Lincoln. He returns there periodically for other announcements, but he still vacations in Hawaii.

We’re told Obama read a book about how Lincoln put together his cabinet, including “rivals” which one must presume means Hillary Clinton. The rest of his cabinet is mostly Clinton retreads and, predictably, some have already run into confirmation problems.

Now we learn he will take a train ride into Washington, DC to emulate the way Abe arrived.

No doubt his inauguration speech will be cribbed from any number of eloquent Lincoln speeches.

What we have here is “branding.” One establishes a brand in order to sell a product or selection of products with which the consumer associates good things.

What most people associate Lincoln with is the Civil War, a conflict he pursued to the tune of more American dead on both sites of the conflict than any other. Neither party to it, Union or Confederate, really believed it would ever erupt into such a bloody slaughter of soldier and civilian alike. Both dithered about in hope of achieving a compromise before the fighting began in earnest.

Lincoln wasn’t big on compromise and, as history records, he wasn’t big on the U.S. Constitution if it got in the way of winning the war. And Lincoln was a lawyer. Not just any country bumpkin lawyer, but a very successful corporate lawyer.

To his credit, Lincoln hated slavery, but he was willing to nibble at the edges if it meant keeping the Union intact. When it became clear that wouldn’t work, he freed the slaves, but only in the Confederate States where his Emancipation Proclamation had no force of law while he permitted slavery to continue in border States such as Maryland, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

Whole libraries could be filled with books about Lincoln at this point in time, but it would be indelicate to point out he was an extraordinarily devious politician. Few would fault his decision to preserve the Union, but it was done at considerable cost. Few, also, realize that the real issue at hand was States rights. The States lost.

I suspect President-elect Obama knows this. I suspect that, like everything else involving his nearly two-year campaign to become President, this Lincoln-Obama alignment is no accident and is, in fact, a deliberate effort to create a public image of the incoming President as being intellectually, spiritually, and morally on a par with the revered sixteenth President.

Obama is all about imagery. The problem with that is that, after a while, people begin to demand results that will improve their lives. He won’t have to wait long to hear that. By then the campaign promises will be long forgotten, along with “hope” and “change.” Real solutions to real problems are not created by imagery.

All men who aspire to put their mark on history understood the power of imagery, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the monarchs of Europe and, today, the sultans of the oil-rich Middle East who cannot build huge skyscrapers fast enough. Obama’s “Lincoln” pageant has a faintly unpleasant quality to it; a coat-tails effect that cannot sustain itself.

Obama is no Lincoln. He only wants to drape himself in Lincoln’s aura, to appear Lincolnesque.

It’s what lies below that scares me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Bad Attitude

By Alan Caruba

I’ve noticed that the closer we all draw toward Inauguration Day, January 20th, my attitude toward life grows worse. I have been depressed in the past over the usual vicissitudes and I suppose that as one grows older there is a tendency to look back and think one’s life was better in earlier times, but the fact is that life was better.

The second half of the last century, despite wars in Korea and Vietnam, despite assassinations that took the lives of a President, a civil rights leader, and even a Beatle, were also filled with what historians will surely note as the most innovative times in modern history. The U.S. put men on the Moon. Television went from a giant box offering a half dozen channels in black and white to the modern flat-screens with over a hundred channels. Air conditioning made life in the summer an easy escape from the heat. Et cetera.

There was prosperity. Lots of it. There were lots of jobs and most paid well enough for an entire new middle class to emerge, to buy homes, to drive not one, but two cars. And to go on vacations anywhere in the world.

There was patience, too. The United States by dint of its prosperity and innovation could wait out the menace of the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1991 until it collapsed of its own dead weight.

Something else, however, collapsed. It was our education system, traditionally the reserve and concern of States and local communities. As the teachers unions gained in political power, allying themselves with the Democrat Party, the curriculum was pared back from the essentials of reading, writing, arithmetic, and elements such as civics.

They were replaced with allegedly improved teaching programs, but the result has been high school graduates without the basic skills to continue into college without taking “remedial” programs. Further corrupting the schools was a politically correct curriculum that emphasized diversity instead of individual achievement. Add in a bunch of environmental garbage and you have people who think they know something about the world, but are clueless.

Traditionally, youth looked to adults for instruction and insight. Family, teachers, clergy, passed along tested values, but in the present world, youth are so connected with one another that they take their “knowledge” from one another. Relationships are as much “electronic” as personal.

This has left the last two generations and present one extraordinarily vulnerable to the emergence of a cult figure like Barack Obama. He straddles the world of black and white. He is articulate in controlled circumstances. He is young by comparison—as was Bill Clinton—with the gray-headed older folk that had been running the nation for a long time.

Youth has much to say for it, but judgment is not one of the attributes that springs instantly to mind.

The nation went about its business during eight years of Bill Clinton’s feckless management. Despite attacks on embassies and warships, Clinton’s administration remained blind to the growing Islamist threat. Voters, in 1994, turned the Congress over to Republicans for the first time in forty years in order to insure the values of fiscal prudence, a strong military, and smaller government.

Unfortunately, GOP values fell by the wayside along with school scores, a growing population of illegal aliens, and, with the advent of George W. Bush, a debt that could find no ceiling in Congress. The only accomplishment defenders of the Bush administration can cite is that, following 9/11, the United States has not been attacked again. That’s not good enough.

So, I am in a bad mood with an increasingly bad attitude as I contemplate America under the aegis of Barack Obama and the clown-car load of loonies he has put into office with him. Energy Secretaries that hate coal. A Homeland Security Secretary who comes to the job having recently been the Governor of Arizona. A Science Advisor who has been more wrong in the past than right on major issues. An EPA Director who is likely to continue that agency’s draconian attacks on things like pesticides that protect our health and property. And the list just goes on and on.

Meanwhile, Congress is led by two of the greatest ignoramuses I have ever witnessed in seven decades of life.

Here’s a prediction. Congress and the White House will not get us out of this Recession, the debt level of the U.S. will rise astronomically and eventually the value of the U.S. dollar will drop like a stone as other nations lose confidence in our ability to address the simple reality that you cannot get out of debt by borrowing and spending more money.

Just short of half of the voters did not want Barack Obama in office and, of those registered to vote, 37 million Republicans stayed home, probably out of a sense of despair.

There will be more cause for despair in the months and the years ahead. But, hey, we can probably look forward to having Senator Al Franken to keep us laughing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Are We Being Hustled?

By Alan Caruba

I am perhaps naïve, but I can’t shake the feeling that the politicians are once again hustling us all with the endless talk about “bailouts” and “TARP” and the constant repetition that the nation is in a deep recession and that billions must be spent to escape it before a depression sets in.

I am well aware that some banks have failed, that AIG the giant insurance firm could not be allowed to fail without taking whole national economies with it, that there are foreclosures on homes when the owners could not pay their mortgages, and that there is something in the area of 7% unemployment. To me, however, that reads like 93% of the working population remains employed.

The problem comes down to getting the banks to begin lending again and, apparently, having thrown $350 billion at them—no strings attached—they still aren’t doing that. The nation got into this mess when banks and mortgage lenders were compelled by law to make bad loans so it is unlikely they are in much of a mood to starting lending again. Let’s begin by repealing or rescinding those bad laws.

Lending, however, is what they’re in business to do and I keep thinking the government, if it is going to do anything sensible, has got to drag some bankers into the spotlight and ask them when they will begin to lend. We went through a song-and-dance with Detroit auto manufacturers that everyone knows will declare bankruptcy about 48 hours after the new President is sworn into office.

What is taking place now is politics, not sound fiscal policy. If we had had a sound fiscal policy none of this would be happening.

Not only did the last administration spend every cent Congress asked it to, but they borrowed and borrowed in order to keep spending. Shame on you George W. Bush. Shame on Republican leaders in Congress and, for the last two years, Democrat leaders in Congress.

Leaders are not elected to bankrupt the nation, but we have a new President coming into office who is apparently convinced that the answer to the present problem is to spend a trillion dollars.
One trillion dollars is roughly one-sixth of the entire outstanding U.S. federal debt held by the public and one-tenth if you include intro-governmental debt such as Social Security IOUs. Yes, that’s right, the government keeps those “entitlement” programs going by borrowing from itself.
A trillion dollars is more than the Gross Domestic Product of all but twelve countries in 2007.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept the last Depression going for seven years by having the government hire folks instead of instituting programs that would encourage private business to do so. Roosevelt wasn’t keen on competition, but Roosevelt had never run so much as a corner store or met a payroll. His mommy held the purse strings of the family fortune and FDR lived on an allowance.

The Congress is full of lawyers, elected to public office, and living off public funding that includes all kinds of perks. Why should we trust or expect these people to have any insight to the way the marketplace functions? Lawyers live rather parasitically off of the need of businesses and individuals who, while performing a useful service for customers, lack the time to deal with the morass of paperwork the government requires.

What these useful members of society would tell Congress and the mainstream media right about now is to SHUT UP. And SIT DOWN. The frantic and secret negotiations going on behind closed doors right now to divvy up that trillion dollars should STOP.

Don’t bail out the Detroit auto makers. Don’t bail out the States coming hat in hand for the opportunity to waste more public funds. Don’t pick and choose between who gets what and how much. Shut off the spigot. And then go back to the bankers and demand to know what they are not providing mortgages, car loans, college loans, and the kind of loans that keep businesses functioning.

Congress has to tend to the problem of foreclosures in order to avoid destabilizing neighborhoods with good, but empty homes. It has to attend to the losses involved with the “toxic paper” that is the “bundled loans” for which no one was ultimately responsible to pay. But a trillion dollars? No.

The example of the successful recovery of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s is a good example of how the current problem should be solved, but a massive distribution of more borrowed public funds is such a bad idea that the only way to get it done is to frighten Americans into believing it is the only answer.

It isn’t. It isn’t even an answer. It’s a toboggan ride to the next Great Depression.

Write your Senator and write your Congress critter. Tell them you don’t want them to run up any more debt for the U.S.A. Period.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ExxonMobil Throws in the Towel

By Alan Caruba

I don’t know why it was news on January 9 that the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil favored a carbon tax as the most efficient way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Rex W. Tillerson had signaled in June 2007 that the giant energy company would seek the path of least resistance to the global warming hoax, based as it is on the claim that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, were causing a massive heating of the Earth.

What Tillerson didn’t want was the United Nations Kyoto Protocol that mandated a “cap and trade” system involving a vast and fraudulent scheme of “carbon credits” being bought and sold so that industries could continue to use energy sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas in order to function.

Addressing an International Business Leaders Program in London back in 2007, he said, “It has become increasingly clear that climate change poses risks to society and ecosystems that are serious enough to warrant action by individuals, by businesses, and governments.”

Well, yes, there has been climate change. The Earth has become increasingly cooler since 1998 and even Pravda, Russia’s famed newspaper, is now predicting a coming ice age.

What really concerns Tillerson and ExxonMobil is “Achieving a uniform and predictable cost of carbon across the economy (that) will enable market mechanism to work effectively to this end.” No one likes surprises and business likes surprises even less than most people. Thus, opting for a carbon tax is the lesser of evils since everyone will be playing on a level field as opposed to the insane buying and trading of bogus carbon credits.

When you’re trying to run a huge corporation like ExxonMobil, one that depends on billions of dollars of high risk expenditures on exploration and extraction of oil, you want some semblance of stability in the marketplace. The huge run-up of the cost of a barrel of oil made for short-term profits, but it has been followed by a significant down-turn in the cost of the same barrel of oil.

Who ultimately pays that carbon tax? Not the corporation. It merely collects the tax from consumers and passes it along to the government. If you fill up your gas tank, heating your home or business, or use any of the thousands of products that have an oil derivative, you are paying the tax.

But why would you even want to pay a tax on the emission of carbon dioxide when it has absolutely nothing to do with a non-existent global warming or, as it is called these days, climate change?

Would you be a bit more bothered if the government announced it was going to tax the air, i.e., the oxygen you breath?

Carbon dioxide’s contribution to the Earth’s atmosphere is 0.038%. It plays virtually no role in determining the overall temperature of the Earth whereas common water vapor is a significant factor.

There’s a reason the incoming Obama administration wants to institute decreases in taxes. Putting more of the money that people earn back in their pockets will do more to stimulate the economy than any other factor.

Enacting a carbon tax is just a really bad idea based on a totally false assumption. ExxonMobil, if it has to make a choice will support it, but it would serve everyone’s interest far better if it just came out and explained why it is against everyone’s interest and a further drag on the economy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let the Hype Begin

By Alan Caruba

In the run-up to the inauguration, the mainstream media will engage in myth-making to encourage everyone to believe that Barack Obama is the man of the hour (“Our time has come”) and will be able to solve all the problems the nation faces.

We will be assured that he has surrounded himself with the finest minds, but not reminded that these same people make their own share of mistakes when they were in the Clinton administration. In fact, the Obama administration is the Clinton administration Redux!

We will hear about how intelligent Obama is, but Obama is intelligent in the same way that a college professor is, particularly one teaching in the school of arts and sciences. Long ago I worked at a college of engineering and the faculty actually knew how things worked. They taught civil, chemical, and electrical engineering among other things. Real stuff for the real world.

That is a far cry from the kind of intelligence that the practice of law requires which is more like cunning than smarts. Lawyers earn their living looking for loopholes, ways out of nasty situations their clients have created for themselves or want to avoid. When you combine lawyers and lawmaking, you have a formula for disaster.

The modern definition of an unsuccessful politician is that he left the job as poor as when he first won it.

Lawmakers, otherwise known as politicians, must drink deep of the elixir of power on a daily basis in order to feel that they are of any use to anyone. I have long thought that Barack Obama has been consumed since youth with this dream of ultimate power; the presidency. I also think he is ill-equipped for the job.

One reason I believe this is that I keep hearing the siren call of all politicians that the problem is so big that we must “act now” and, of course, throw vast sums of money at it. It is a certifiable act of insanity, if you’re broke, to borrow more money, and then dispense it in all directions in the hope that by “doing something” the problem will be solved.

That’s what President Obama wants to do. The figure he cites is one trillion dollars and that is about one-third of the annual U.S. government spending and 13% of the U.S. economy.

Obama’s promise that he can somehow create millions of new jobs is another insane notion. Presidents don’t create jobs; entrepreneurs, small, medium, and—yes-- large corporations create jobs. Huge subsidies for green projects like solar and wind farms are an obscene waste because neither of these “alternative, clean” energies can ever provide the same amount of electricity that a single coal-fired or nuclear plant can deliver.

The billions that Congress and the Department of the Treasury have thrown at banks seems to have staunched the panic, if not the credit liquidity problem. Now even Congress is reluctant to add more to that black hole with its lack of transparency and accountability.

Meanwhile, the media hype machine will be busy creating or embellishing the new President’s image. The public will be assured that, since just over half the voters chose him, he will bring extraordinary powers of intellect and vision to the job.

It’s a good thing to remember how disappointed we’ve been in a succession of Presidents since the last of the World War II class of politicians have held that office. John F. Kennedy followed Dwight Eisenhower and was in office just long enough to put “military advisors” into Vietnam, while overseeing the debacle of the Bay of Pigs. He was followed by Lyndon Johnson whose War on Poverty was an abject failure and whose further involvement in Vietnam was a disaster. He was followed by Richard Nixon who opened up relations with China, but bequeathed Watergate to us. Nixon also detached the U.S. dollar from gold, allowing it to be worth whatever anyone thought it was worth.

Gerald Ford could not get elected after taking over on Nixon’s departure. It could have been worse. We might have had Spiro Agnew, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Then came the ultimate buffoon, Jimmy Carter, a great admirer of Hamas and other terrorist regimes. The Reagan administration was extraordinary in many ways, but George H.W. Bush was merely the caretaker of that legacy.

Bill Clinton was all personality, glitz and aw shucks, bad boy entertainment value, but he did nothing to respond to the growing threat of Islamofascism and he utterly disgraced the office with his Oval Office intern antics. George W. Bush has managed to leave office with the lowest popularity rating since they started measuring such things.

This quick bit of history suggests that we more often elect flawed men to the office than those mature enough and wise enough to guide the ship of state. It’s useful to keep such things in mind when you watch the inauguration, the parade, and the gala balls that follow.

Don’t envy these people celebrating the power the Constitution has bequeathed them. Pity them. And pray for them and the nation.