Starting tomorrow I will be going on active duty for the next four months. That means that my posts will probably be less frequent and will certainly be less partisan. When I come back in September I will return with a fresh up-close perspective on the European economy, Middle East politics, and Defense Department waste, as well as the upcoming presidential election.
And if I’m real lucky, I’ll be able to talk with you about a book.
BTW, this might be a good opportunity to reiterate that whatever opinions you read on this site are mine alone and are not to be construed as the opinions of the Department of Defense.
“We buy organic food, put E10 in our gas tanks and switch to green electricity. Our roofs are covered in solar panels and our walls plastered with insulation. This makes us feel good about ourselves. The only question is: What exactly does the environment get out of all this?”
Der Spiegels’ Alexander Neubacher says: not much at all.
I have a more than 20-year history with Germany dating to about 1988, back when toxic chemicals in Germany meant nerve gas or sarin. From my perspective as a sometime resident of Deutschland for about six of those twenty years, there has been a real evolution (apparently the word of the week) of thought about the environment there.
Twenty years ago consumers sent everything out to the recycling bins. They still do. Twenty years ago some of the things they brought to their recycling centers just accumulated; it wasn’t economically feasible to recycle things like plastics. Twenty years later they no longer accumulate, but it still isn’t feasible:
My yoghurt container, which I’ve carefully rinsed and sorted, isn’t recycled at all. In fact, it’s dumped into an incinerator with all the rest of the garbage and burned.
Yes, this is allowed. By law, the dual system is required to recycle exactly 36 percent of plastic waste. Waste disposal companies can do what they want — and what is most cost-effective for them — with the remaining 64 percent. As a result, much of it ends up in waste incinerators for what’s called “thermal recycling,” bringing the cycle to a sudden end.
The economics there aren’t any different than they are here: except for aluminum, glass, and paper, recycling most waste materials doesn’t make sense. When I was in Germany, I did what I was supposed to do. In America I do what makes sense; we have three recycle bins in our pantry for only those materials.
Water is another interesting environmental bugaboo for Germans. I’ve lived in places where water is in short supply and comes therefore with a high cost: Texas, the Mojave Desert, Kuwait, Iraq. There you learn how to conserve water. Thirty-second showers are necessary when you live in the driest deserts. Germany is not that kind of place. Water is abundant; so it surprises me that so many Germans strive to save H2O. You’re not even allowed to wash your own car. In a land blessed with frequent rain throughout the year, saving water makes as much sense as eating your vegetables in Kansas because there are starving children in Africa. It’s a national non sequitur.
Speaking of rain . . . because it rains so often, and because it is so far north, I was surprised to find so many solar panels when I returned to Germany in 2010 after a 15-year absence. Frankfurt is further north than Winnipeg. It’s not exactly Phoenix, and even there–in the desert southwest with more than 300 sun-filled days a year, solar still isn’t economical. Plus, houses covered in dysfunctional black panels happen to be ugly as sin, which is quite the shame in a land whose villages were formerly celebrated for houses festooned with red tile roofs. Visual pollution is on the rise, unfortunately not counterbalanced by much solar power.
My latest time in Germany made me think that environmentalism there is less about saving the planet than it is about making Germans feel good about themselves. Apparently I’m not alone in that thought. So let me leave the last word to Herr Neubacher:
It would be nice if we would occasionally subject our certainties to a reality check. . . No one should be forced to bring toxic mercury-containing light bulbs into the house. It doesn’t make sense to shut down more nuclear power plants if it just makes us dependent on imported nuclear electricity from France. And as long as a disposal paper bag is worse for the environment than a plastic bag, the green morals police should think about whether it’s the plastic bag that they should be banning.
People who shop in organic grocery stores, eat a vegan diet or drive an electric car are free to do so. But this should not give them the right to lecture others on the environmentally correct way to live their lives. Things are sometimes more complicated than they seem at first glance.
(ht: Ed at Insty’s Place and Kate)
| Category: 2012
, 2nd Amendment
, Taxes & Spending
| Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012
I suppose I ought to say something about President Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage. Instead, I’ll tell you what I wish Mitt Romney had said when he was asked about the President’s stance:
“That’s nice; now what about jobs?“
In fact, that should be Mitt Romney’s response every time he is asked about gay marriage, immigration, guns, Trayvon Martin, global warming, eating dogs . . .
Pretty much everything except the economy, taxes, and spending is a distraction from the issues that are really important. Mitt Romney should drive the point home that everything else is secondary and frivolous and that he is not going to allow the debate to come off that point.
P.S. If you’re really interested in what I think about gay marriage, here’s a couple recent posts that shed some light on that. But rather than expect you to read them, here’s a two-word summation: Don’t care.
MORE: Roger Simon concurs and offers a warning:
“The issue is a sideshow intended to distract. If our country goes the way of Greece – and writing this from the City of Los Angeles, it’s not so hard to imagine – you can forget any issue, whatever your favorite one is. You won’t be living in America anymore.”
UPDATE: Thanks to Ed at Insty’s Place for the links. While you’re here, this is a story that’s not directly about jobs, but I bring it around to that point: She deserves pity, not a punch in the throat. (There’s a bonus Blazing Saddles clip at the end.)
EXCLUSIVE REPORT - MUST CREDIT:
I just got my hands on a copy on the soon-to-be-released Obama-Biden web advertising that will follow the Life of Julia montage. This is the “Life of Brian” and looks at Brian through the years to see how the Obama-Biden policies help his life. Below are stills of the pictures that I’m being told are right now being added to the President’s re-election website. You saw it here first!
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn and Alex for the links. While you’re here, check out the Stag-Nation where Brian lives.
Alert commenter Graham has informed me that the release of the “Life of Brian” Re-Elect ad is being held up because the Obama-Biden campaign is negotiating the rights for the use of this as a theme song for 2012.
MORE: Based on the huge success of this series, the Obama-Biden Re-Elect campaign has hired Iowahawk to update Julia’s life.
Central bankers, like generals are always ready for the last war. The wrong war.
A few excerpts:
The feedback loop of investor fear has not been broken by all this liquidity because it has never been liquidity that has been feared. The issue has always been one of solvency, as in who gets to bear the brunt of losses generated by market prices incorrectly over-valuing assets and cash flow during one of the most artificial growth periods in history.
The modern version of money elasticity allows imbalances to grow far greater to the point they become systemically dangerous
[M]arkets will be denied, under the faux-auspices of a hundred-year old paradigm, their proper role of correcting imbalances because it might just work and belie the canard that the real economy cannot survive without the banking system as it is. Capitalism can flourish on its own without monetarism.
Read the whole thing.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes today that the currently unfolding scandals at the General Services Administration and the U.S. Secret Service may threaten the Obama presidency. Cillizza contends that the scandals visibly demonstrate President Obama’s competency problem. He’s right, of course. However, depending on how Mitt Romney frames the issue, he may himself face the same problem when he is the incumbent running for re-election in four years.
It’s often been said that conservatives don’t believe in the power of big government to compently solve big problems. True. And in 2005 Republicans went about proving incompetence by not solving the problems presented by Hurricane Katrina. The American people, of course, weren’t happy about that. So they elected a guy who made competency one of his “central pillars.”
After almost four years the results of the President’s competency are in:
Cash for clunkers used taxpayer dollars to subsidize wealthy car buyers who brought forward their purchases from the future, precipitating a huge decline in auto sales after the program’s end . . . just as the program’s critics said that it would.
Three years after the $800 billion stimulus plan, the unemployment rate has now ”fallen” to a level that is higher than the Presdident said it would ever get if we passed the stimulus package . . . just as the plan’s critics said it would.
Obamacare really doesn’t expand coverage while reducing costs (Duh) but actually increases costs and incentivized companies to cancel their employees’ health plans . . . just as the plan’s critics said it would.
Appeasing Iran, “resetting” the tone with Russia, intervening in Libya, promoting an overthrow in Egypt, encouraging indebtedness in Germany, and giving the finger to our two closest allies (Canada and the UK) have *surprisingly* resulted in a less stable world . . . just as the President’s critics said it would.
I could go on, but it would be redundant. For a man who promised competency, President Obama sure seems to have the anti-Midas effect: everything he touches turns to into a lead balloon that crashes into the ground.
The difficulty for Mitt Romney is that if he tries to reinflate hope, as Cillizza suggest when he says that the Republican should frame himself as “the ultimate turnaround artist,” he will himself fail. The central problem is not that Barack Obama is incompetent–he is, spectacularly so–however, the crux is that government, by its very nature, is incompetent.
One principle of organizational design is that the larger the organization is, the fewer the levers available to control it. And there is no organization in the history of Planet Earth so large as the United States government. President Obama has no responsibility for million dollar Vegas boondoggles or Colombian brothel visits, because no one man could possibly exercise the span of control required to prevent those kinds of occurrences in an organization so vast as the United States government. Just those two agencies alone are monstrously large enough: the Secret Service’s more than 4,000 agents are positioned around the entire globe, while the GSA has nearly 20-times the number of employees and 20-times the budget of Cillizza’s Washington Post. And yet, within the grand Washington scheme of things, the GSA and the Secret Service are minor players. Combined, they are well under one percent of the federal budget. So insignificant are they that I would be surprised if, before the scandals erupted, the President even knew the names of the agencies’ directors.
Government at all levels is always inefficient and is often ineffective. Just go to a local school board meeting if you don’t believe me. There you are likely to find well-meaning, but mediocre leadership that is burdened by innumerable and conflicting constraints imposed by the necessity of being all things to all people. Multiply that local confusion by several orders of magnitude and you have Washington, DC.
President Mitt Romney is incapable of leading the federal government competently becasue government by its very nature is incapable of achieving a level of competence that rises to a level that would be acceptable in the private sector. The best that we can hope for is that new leadership in Washington can reduce the level of incompetence. And the only way to do that is to reduce the size and scope of Washington.
UPDATE: The Hill is essentially running the same story that the GSA and SS Scandals hurt the Obama competence meme.
I strongly recommend John Tamny’s oped on Forbes. Here’s the money quote about Americans:
“We’re an ideal, not an ethnicity. Thank goodness.”
I’ve long argued that same point to any who would listen. I’ve lived about a third of my adult life in three foreign countries on two different continents and traveled to many more. What I’ve come to realize is that there are very few places on this globe where you can become a nationality because you want to. I could move to Japan, learn the language and promise to forevermore use only chopsticks. Doesn’t matter. I can never become Japanese. But someone from Nagasaki can move to Nashville and be just as American as any redneck you’ll ever find on Second Avenue.
All we ask is that to become American that you first recognize that it is freedom that makes us great. But also recognize that freedom is a two-way street. It means that as others extend the freedom to you to be you, that you give them the same courtesy in response. In little things, it means that if you want to wash your car on a Sunday, in America you can. And if you’d rather spend that day at rest, you can do that too.
In bigger things, as Tamny points out, it means that you mustn’t be a slave to tradition. I’m a student of wine, so let me use an oenological example. For a wine to be a champagne, it must be made: in Champagne-a region in France, made from only a few select grape varietals, and made according to the méthode champenoise. Given that Champagne is so far north and grapes grown there are often under-ripe, it was usually the case that the only way wines from there could be made palatable was by the addition of a little sugar. It was that late addition of sugar to the bottle that gave rise to the bubbles. Now, if you’re a believer in global warming, you might believe that this would be a good thing for the vintners of Champagne, as it would allow their grapes additional time to ripen and therefore create another avenue to sell their wines. But you would be wrong. For a wine to be labeled “champagne,” remember, it must be made in the méthode champenoise–the traditional way of making a sparkling wine in Champagne. So the Champage producer who would like to make a still wine from his grapes would be out of luck. Why? Because he bucked tradition, and tradition dictates (not to mention law and international treaty) that for a wine to carry the word “Champagne” anywhere on the label (remember, Champagne is a region, not a synomym for sparkling wine) it must be a sparkling wine.
Okay, so you don’t care for wine, and you especially don’t care for pretentious French wines. Fine. But Tamny’s point applies to industries far and wide. When tradition dictates what is within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do, someone else will find a better way around your stupid tradition, and when they do, they will take away all your customers too. That’s the American way. Or–Tamny’s point–it used to be the American way.
“. . . Entrepreneurs by definition disrupt the existing and accepted commercial order, and considering how many on the planet tend to cling to what already exists and is comfortable, many around us would naturally deem us a bit scruffy for always rocking the economic boat.”
And, while we’re on the subject of wine . . . it is the American way that has made it the case that since 1976, knowledgeable wine afficianadoes have recognized that the greatest red Bordeaus and the finest white Burgundies in the world come not from France, but from California–where until recently experimentation and entrepreuership were encouraged in not just the wine industry.
Read the whole thing. And may we Americans continue to make some of the world’s greatest wines.
After I leave here in a couple weeks, there are going to be a lot of things I will miss about Germany. Sunday isn’t one of them.
Finally. I had been waiting days for the weather to break. Rain, cold, snow, wind–almost every day this week has been the same. About two hours ago, while I was cleaning out my bedroom, I saw a strange glimmer on the wall—the sheen of natural light peaking through the window. There was a gap of blue between the clouds. I raced out to the car, hooked up the bike rack and put my bike on it. Off I went to the self-service car wash to powerwash away the grime so that the bike would be clean enough to ship back to the States. After that I was going to return with the car and do the same.
So I got there and plugged some change into the machine. Nothing. Put the coin in again. Nothing. The machine wouldn’t accept any coins. Broken, I thought. Or maybe it was full and couldn’t hold any more money. I moved the car to another bay. Again, nothing. It takes credit cards, so I tried that. Nothing! Again! I tried a third and gave up.
No signs. No explanation. Just the shared German expectation, apparently, that washing your car on Sundays is verboten. It doesn’t matter that the exercise in vehicular cleanliness bothers not a soul and requires no one to work on their “day of rest.” Never mind the fact that in this post-religious society there is no scriptural basis for closing—which wouldn’t be justification anyway. It is simply that YOU WILL NOT DO ANY WORK ON SUNDAY!
I wanted to scream. But that’s one of the problems with the tyranny of bureacracy: at whom would I curse? Rules that are made for everyone are made by no-one. Complaining is like punching the wind.
Unfortunately, America is playing catch up with ther Germans. Whether it’s a sex shop in Missouri or incandescent light bulbs in your home, American government of both the left and the right is increasingly comfortable telling you how you must live your life. It wasn’t always like this. But unfortunately it’s one of the perils of big government. When government is responsible for 40% of a nation’s spending, government will necessarily involve itself in 40% of its countrymen’s decisions.
Sad. Sad too is the fact that my narrow window of opportunity is now closed; it’s raining again.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link. While you’re here, please look around.
I’ve received a few emails. Some with similar stories. Others expressing support for the idea of a mandated day of rest.
Here’s the thing about the soft tyranny of bureaucracy: if you stimulate soft tyranny enough, it will grow hard.
Before giving my predictions for the coming year, let’s grade last year’s results:
1. Neither Italy nor Spain will require a major bailout . . . much to Europe’s growing chagrin. The default of either country would be the death knell of the Euro. Instead of a heart attack, the patient will linger with terminal cancer and be further weakened by chemotherapeutic attempts to shore up confidence in Greece, Portugal, and newly stricken Belgium.
Nailed it! Next year, however, will be different. (1-0)
2. Austria will join the growing list of countries of economic concern.
Nope. Hasn’t happened . . . yet. Even though the spread between German and Austrian notes has increased from a 25-50 basis point range in the first half of 2011 to 100+ points for most of the second half of the year, the sovereign bond market hasn’t yet put Austria on the deathwatch list. (1-1)
3. Germany will continue to be damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. Its debtor neighbors will resent having to continue begging the Deutsch for dough. But once they get it, they’ll resent even more the restrictions that come with the loans. Through currency, Merkel accomplished what Frederick, Bismarck, and Hitler never could by force: a Continent united under rule by Berlin. It won’t continue. At some point resentment will bubble over into conflict . . . However it ends, it won’t be pretty. It won’t end this year. But it will end soon.
Exactly correct! Living here in Germany for most of 2011, I see it from both sides. Germans resent having to bail out their indebted brethren, while their deadbeat relatives hate the Germans for the fact that they are indebted to them. The end will be ugly when it comes. (2-1)
4. The biggest foreign economic surprise of the year will be Luxembourg.
No way. Luxembourg has weathered all storms well. Its citizens, on average, are the wealthiest of the EU. But before Luxembourgers get too complacent, they should keep in mind that a collapse of the European banking system will hit little Luxembourg especially hard. (2-2)
5. No American state will default on its debts in 2011. Even California will somehow muddle through, though it will issue IOUs instead of money for months. The following year, however, won’t end so well.
Yes. California and Illinois didn’t default. However, that won’t last forever. (3-2)
6. At least one mid-size American city will go into bankruptcy. Others will be queued up behind them.
Sort of. Alabama’s Jefferson County (home to Birmingham) has filed for bankruptcy. Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg is next in line. On the other hand, the Meredith Whitney-predicted fear of cascading municipal defaults did not happen. So the second half of this prediction–that it would become a major political hot potato hasn’t either. (3-2-1)
7. Early 2011 optimism will give way to a dark economic reality. The only question: is it a double-dip? Or did the first recession never really end? The one area where almost everyone agrees: Keynes is dead. Paul Krugman never gets past denial. Incredible as it might seem, his lamentations grow even more shrill.
Spot on. Especially the Krugman part. (4-2-1)
8. Gold will fall early in the year, dropping into the 1200s, if not lower, before June. The bond crisis and a growing consensus that the Euro is in its final days will inflate gold to back over $1400, where it will end the year before really taking off in 2012.
Nope. I had thought that the first half of the year would have contained better market news than it did, and that that would have pressured gold down. Instead we just muddled through the doldrums, keeping gold high. Then when things went bad this summer in Europe, gold shot up briefly to $1900. It’s still more than $200 higher than I thought it was going to be–and I was one of the few offering a pessimistic economic prediction for 2011. That’s how bad 2011 really was. (4-3-1)
9. Multiple economic crises and presidential politics will combine to make the President announce that American combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 and all forces will depart by 2014. NATO will announce that its Afghanistan mission will end in 2012. The last American brigade will leave Iraq in 2011.
Half right. Iraq is over. Afghanistan is nowhere near an end. (4-3-2)
10. President Obama will receive pressure from activists on the internet left and pundits from the middle to drop out of the race, but then what? Hillary Clinton will not run for President. Russ Feingold will not run. Howard Dean will not run. The simple fact is that there is no room to Obama’s left and no Democrats remaining to his right; hence no challenger. Instead, most realistic Democrats will resign themselves to the fact that they are likely to suffer an enormous presidential defeat, and no one of any consequence steps up to be the next McGovern. By year end Barack Obama will have only token opposition in a race to secure a nomination that no one wants.
Half wrong. Occupy Wall Street was evidence of the pressure on Obama from the left that I predicted. And I was correct that there appears to be no Democratic challenger. On the other hand, it’s not all “gloom, despair, and agony” in the Democratic camp that I predicted. Of course, that probably has less to do with how bad the Democratic electoral situation is than it has to do with how lacklustre GOP candidates have been. So far it’s been a race between Mitt (Bob Dole without the war record) Romney and a series of anybody-but-Romneys that have included two minor leauge candidates (Bachman and Perry), a smooth-talking Lothario (Cain), the absent-minded professor (Gingrich), and the guy who has a lot of good positions but is also an addled anti-semitic racist nut (Paul). (4-3-3)
11. Republicans, meanwhile, will provide lots of electoral entertainment. By the middle of 2011 the pundits will announce that the race is a contest between Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. Neither will be the favorite by the end of the year. Instead, the shortest man in the race will cast quite a long shadow.
Nope. The only part of this that I got right was the Sarah Palin part. As we enter the election season, Mitt Romney is still the favorite. Of course, keep in mind that in all three of the most recent contested primaries, the year-end leader ultimately lost the race for their nomination (Dean, Clinton, and Romney). Unfortunately, the man whom I thought would be leading the race by now didn’t enter the field: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (4-4-3)
12. Republicans in Congress will be a big disappointment. There will be many individual bright spots, but not enough Paul Ryans to overcome the Lisa Murkowskis. A real third-party challenge will begin to coalesce. 2012 will begin with the question: will the splintering of the GOP be enough to cause the re-election a President with a sub-40 approval rating? It becomes the Democrats only hope and the media’s clarion call to highlight disaffected conservatives.
Yes. Republicans have been a disappointment in Congress, not having held the line on spending. And I do expect that the media will coalesce around this meme of GOP division in 2012. (5-4-3)
Now to 2012′s Predictions . . .
America is engaged in five costly wars today. Two have been won. Three have been lost. And it’s time for America to withdraw from all five.
America won the war in Iraq. Call it the Flypaper Theory, if you want, but America not only deposed a despot, we destroyed a menace. Al Qaeda, ignorant of geography and history, left Afghanistan for Iraq and lost on the battlefield of America’s choosing. It was long, it was costly, and it was brutal at times. But American Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines–and let us not forget the contribution of our 33 coalition members–carried the day. Iraq is as stable as we can hope, and Al Qaeda died in Mesopotamia, where legend says life began. What happens from here is up to the Iraqis themselves. It’s time for us to declare victory and leave.
America won the war in Afghanistan too. At least that’s true if we consider the fight there from the point of view of the original objective, which was to ensure that Afghanistan could no longer be a base from which Al Qaeda could plan, train, and launch future attacks against the United States. That is no longer true. What is also not true is that the “country” of Afghanistan can advance even to the point where Iraq currently is. Afghanistan is an amorphous location on the map, the land equivalent of seas labeled “Here there be monsters.” Declare victory, draw a line, and let it be known that what happens inside that line is their business. What happens outside that border is our business. Then leave.
The third war is in Libya. It was a folly from the start. There was very little potential upside. But the downside is the possible demise of the NATO alliance and the loss of American face. We’re closer to the latter. I still can’t believe that we let ourselves get suckered into a war by Italy and France. Declare defeat, leave Libya with our tail between our legs, and hope that NATO and our honor can survive.
The next two wars are similar to Libya in that we have no hope of a victory–at least not given our current tactics.
The war on drugs is over. Drugs won. Legalize marijuana. Don’t even bother taxing it; it’s too easy to grow. As for cocaine and the harder stuff . . . I’m sorry to report that it’s going to be with us for a while. I wish that weren’t the case, but we can’t afford the border interdictions, the invasions of privacy, and the formidable policing and prisons. The bad news is that a lot of people are going to die at their own hands. The good news is that a lot of people who were going to die from drugs anyway are still going to die at their own hands, and we’ll save a lot of money as a result. Cold, callous, and cruel, I admit. But it’s high time (pun intended) to admit that society bankrupts itself when it takes on the task of protecting people from themselves. Nobody is any better for it, and we’re all poorer as a result. Don’t worry, there is one upside. Schools, industry, and banks will find that negative drug tests are a pretty reliable indicator of future success. Admissions, hiring, and loans will be subject to private drug testing. That will likely do more to encourage the end of a drug culture than any advertisement of a frying egg or Coast Guard frigate could ever accomplish.
The last of our five wars is the war on poverty. Poverty didn’t win, but it isn’t in retreat either. What is in retreat is the notion that people’s lives are improved as a consequence of giving them what they didn’t earn. Did extending home ownership to those who couldn’t afford it make their lives better when the result was foreclosure? Do college loans that cripple a new couple under a pile of six-figure debt before they’ve ever made their first house payment serve anybody but the banks who made the loans? America has the wealthiest poor people, and the least appreciative. Let’s try a new tack: let the prices of houses, college, and medicine fall to where they would naturally be were it not for the government propping them up. The poor will find many more opportunities as a consequence of the cheaper prices that result from a free market. The way Washington waged war on poverty was to define poverty up. Sure, we should help the truly needy. But not everyone needs everything. Protect the very least among us and let the rest of us be free to fend for ourselves.
Wars are a terrible thing to wage and thus, should not be entered into lightly. Each one requires the nation’s full commitment, a viable strategy, clear and attainable objectives, and a plan to leave. Today America is fighting five wars it apparently has no intention to leave. But wars cannot successfully be waged indefinitely. It’s long past time to leave.