I now have a new site at ChinaMarc.com, which will (shortly) record my thoughts and musings on China and provide a way for people to keep up with me while I am abroad (for those interested in doing so).
Because we rapidly seem to be approaching $4/gallon gasoline (a fact that seems to be largely ignored by mainstream outlets, particularly when compared to the coverage such developments got just a few years ago), I thought I’d look at how gas prices have fared during the Era of Hope and Change. It turns out the Saudis are doing pretty well. Here’s the breakdown:
Price per Gallon of Regular Unleaded Gasoline (data from the Federal Reserve)
January 26, 2009: $1.838
April 18, 2011: $3.844
Price Change: 109.14%
Would anyone care to explain to me why the Obama Administration thinks it’s a good idea to subsidize oil production in South America while curtailing any attempts to exploit our own, local resources, all while the price of gas doubles? Furthermore, why is no attention given to this dramatic price swing when we are in the midst of a rather tenuous economic “recovery”?
Ben “The Helicopter” Bernanke likes to say that inflation has been rather subdued. Looking at the CPI, one could get that impression. But considering that fuel costs typically take up a substantial portion of a household’s budget, a doubling of those costs is going to have significant psychological and economic implications for how the household is able to spend the rest of its budget. When people see the price of gas double, their first instinct tends to be depressive, i.e. they associate higher gas prices with a lousy economy and act as if they are in a lousy economy (even if the economy is performing well- which wouldn’t really apply in this case anyway). They then have to reallocate the rest of their income to account for the higher fuel costs. So, they spend more money on fuel and less on splurges at the mall. So, this is really a double-whammy for economic growth, and yet no one’s talking about it.
On a side note, if you look at the data, you’ll notice that gas prices really take off right as the FED began implementing its QE2 program. I can’t really say anything authoritatively without looking into it more, but the correlation is certainly interesting, particularly considering that one of the main criticisms of the QE2 program was that it would produce significant inflation. I’d say that an approximately 30% price jump over a 6-month period counts as significant. Although some of that may include added risk-premiums to compensate for the Middle East’s increased instability of late. But that’s not likely the entire explanation, as gas prices were on their way up well before the Arabs started getting restless.
Let me just say that I am extremely underwhelmed by budget deal currently being touted by the GOP establishment. Putting aside the Planned Parenthood issue for a moment, let’s just trace the course of this “deal.” The GOP ran on a platform that promised $100 billion in cuts this year. That promise was swiftly down-graded to a promise to cut $61 billion. Now, just last night, we’re told that the final cut will be $38.5 billion. All the while, Harry Reid and the Democrats praise the deal as historic. That, of course, should set off some warning bells right there. When have the Democrats ever praised a spending cut? They’re happy because the GOP has effectively broken its “pledge” with the American people to take spending seriously.
And it’s not like a $100 billion cut from a federal budget that exceeds $3 trillion was all that big to begin with. Congress has been effectively arguing over pennies for the last few days, and now we’re supposed to congratulate them for cutting 1/3 of the pennies they originally promised to cut? But you can also take a longer view of this. Paul Ryan just proposed a what will likely be a highly controversial budget plan that makes some serious cuts and adjustments to many of the long-term fiscal problems that plague this country. Given the GOP’s rather unimpressive performance on what’s effectively a rounding error in the Ryan plan, I’m not getting my hopes up about this. Ryan’s plan proposes to cut approximately $6.2 trillion over the next ten years. But if the Republicans can’t even hold the line on $100 billion, how can we expect them to hold the line on $6.2 trillion? Rather than being a victory for Boehner and the House Republicans, I think this episode shows that when they’re pushed hard enough, the Republicans cave.
If you’re not aware, a various assortment of the communist groups on campus organized a labor rally today to protest some (minor) changes in the schedules of UNC facilities workers. According to the Daily Tar Heel, employees will lose the option to work a compressed work schedule (i.e. four 10-hour workdays) in favor of the traditional schedule (five 8-hour workdays). For you math whizzes out there, that’s a net change of 0 hours in the employees’ schedule and will not affect the amount they are paid. Naturally such a change is a reflection of the University’s disregard for human rights, and the communists on campus were out in full force. Some of the us formed a lightening fast counter-rally, holding such signs as “Fire Everyone” and “Down With This Sort of Thing” which aroused the interest of some of the protesters. You can watch (though you’ll probably end up mainly listening as the camera angle was not so good) the reaction of one of the protesters to our counter-protest below.
This whole Libya business has me a bit confused. The first point of contention that I see is a Constitutional one, namely that the President doesn’t have the authority (by himself) to commit troops to a conflict, as that power lies within Congress. Obama’s own words are particularly enlightening on this subject:
"2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.”
However, it seems that somewhere along the lines, Congress got left out of the process in favor of the United Nations Security Council and “the court of international opinion.” While I’m sure the people at the Security Council and in the “court of international opinion” are all well-intentioned people, they have no accountability to the American people. The decision to commit American military forces to a conflict rightly lies within the sovereignty of the American people and, the whims of France and the UK should not trump that sovereignty.
The wisdom of engaging in this conflict is also highly debatable. Effectively what we have here is yet another African, tribal civil war. What strategic interests is the United States protecting by embroiling itself in this conflict? Why is this particular situation special, differentiating it from similar situations in other countries (e.g. Iran, Sudan, etc.)? In short, what’s our bone in this fight? Answering some of these questions might be a little easier if the President were capable of projecting some sort of leadership in this situation. It might be easier to agree or disagree with his decision if he at least said what his decision is. Right now, there appears to be no clear strategy and no clear goal. The best I can tell, Europe decided it doesn’t want Gaddafi killing people, and Obama kind of sort of agrees with them.
There’s also the fiscal issue. Our military forces are already committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This by itself raises several questions. Does our military have the capability to successfully execute three different wars at the same time? War tends to be expensive, and with the highest annual budget deficits in history, will our military have the resources to put forth its best effort in all three conflicts? There’s also the human cost. While some defense systems are automated, you generally need to use real people to take out the bad guys. Does our military even have enough people to conduct these campaigns without producing an undue strain on our armed services? Considering that the vast majority of our armed services are real people and not robots, this is a question that deserves due consideration.
What is lacking in this whole situation is any sense of leadership from Obama. He has left dozens of questions about this conflict unanswered and seems to have made this decision on the spur of the moment. He hasn’t even attempted to rally the American people behind his decision largely because he hasn’t really made one. This is a rather inauspicious start to a war that seems likely to devolve into a very sticky situation.
This past weekend, ASG had a meeting, sort-of. According to the Daily Tar Heel, over half of ASG’s own members failed to show enough interest in the organization to attend its monthly meeting. This, in turn, prevented the group from obtaining quorum, which means that they were unable to vote on any legislation or accomplish much of anything. Just when I thought the group couldn’t be anymore useless, they have proven that even I overestimated them. Not even the lure of salaries and big expense accounts could persuade the delegates to attend the meeting. If nothing else, lack of interest by ASG’s own membership underscores the general uselessness of the organization. If I’m paying you to attend these meetings, and you can’t even bother to show up, in the words of Anthony Dent, “that’s really lame.”
Now generally, an effective chairman will ensure that he will have quorum before calling a meeting. According to the DTH article, it seems that Mr. Bhula, who heads the organization, had a pretty good idea that most of his people wouldn’t be showing up. So, this raises the question: Why did he hold the meeting if he knew that no one would show up? Let’s be honest here. It’s not like ASG didn’t incur any expenses in the course of this little fiasco. There’s the nice hotel rooms, the car rentals, and whatever else these people like to blow money on. So, in holding the meeting, Mr. Bhula incurred a series of unnecessary expenses, and this at a time when everyone from the Governor on down is looking to hold down unnecessary costs. This speaks to the general unaccountability that so characterizes ASG and its minions. Because Mr. Bhula isn’t elected by the students of this system and because the students of the UNC system have no say in the operations of ASG, what does he care if ASG wastes a couple thousand dollars on a meeting that accomplishes nothing? He’s not paying for it.
On a more positive note, it’s nice to see that some people inside ASG have finally gotten a clue and given what’s effectively a vote of no confidence to the organization. Despite Mr. Bhula’s protestations that “We’re doing work,” ASG has accomplished nothing of benefit to the students it purports to represent. Its latest project is to gain a vote for Mr. Bhula on the UNC Board of Governors. Given Hogan Medlin’s indication that such “power” on the UNC-CH Board of Trustees is generally useless, it’s small wonder ASG can’t even muster a quorum anymore. They’re just not doing anything important.
If nothing else, the on-going situation in Wisconsin demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Left. A little more than a month ago in the wake of the Tucson shootings, we were lectured by everyone from the President on down about the need for civility in political discourse. Yet, for the past few days, mobs of angry public-sector union members have compared Gov. Scott Walker to everything from Hosni Mubarak to Adolf Hitler. Just today, the state capitol had to be evacuated because of the threats made against the governor and Republican lawmakers. Because asking union members to pay for their pensions is totally on the same level as killing 20 million people, especially when many of these people make more than $100,000 a year.
In order to demonstrate their devotion to democratic ideals, the rule of law, and the ability to hold adult conversations, the Democrat members of the state legislature have … (wait for it)… fled the state! Really? What do they really expect to accomplish by running away? It’s not like they can hide forever. Eventually, they’ll either have to resign their seats or return to the capital. For a fun mental exercise, imagine if a group of Republicans tried this. Would they be commended by the President for their commitment to democracy? No! And rightly so. Such a move is a huge blow to the rule of law and popular sovereignty.
What these legislators are effectively saying is that last November’s election is irrelevant and that the will of the people can be ignored when it conflicts with their politics. Such actions are shameful and a direct assault on the core values of this country. What makes the situation worse is the national Democrat’s machine declared intention to spread this labor rebellion to other states. The President would do well to remember the oath he took to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
We operate under a system of government that provides a constructive outlet for political disagreements. We have regular, open and free elections to select people to represent the interests of the people in our government. Between elections, we are free to contact our representatives, encouraging them to support the passage or defeat of legislation. The representatives themselves have the advantage of public forums and open legislatures to argue their position. There is no need to threaten the safety of those legislators and hamstring the operations of the state assembly by mobbing the capitol. Illusions to Hitler are completely unnecessary and only serve to further polarize the opposing factions. If the AWOL legislators truly respect the people they claim to serve, they will recognize that they lost last November, return to the capitol, and have a mature and civil conversation about the issues confronting Wisconsin. The longer this anarchy persists, the more damage will be done to this country’s great institutions.
In an email sent out mere hours ago, the Association of Student Governments (ASG) has laid down the law and drawn a line in the sand for its members. Quoted in full:
EOs [Executive Officers],
When dealing with the media, please be sure to get clearance from Dakota [Williams] or I [sic] to answer any questions.
I remind you that in your position you are representing ASG, and not just your campus. With that said, there are several people involved in campus politics, such as endorsing a candidate for Student Body President. If I hear anything that may hurt the credibility of ASG (such as anti-ASG, anti-ASG’s [sic] fee, or anything to that effect) and/or you are endorsing a candidate with such a stance, then I will have to ask you to step down from your postion. If you forsee this happening, please let me know. I will not hold it against you, but rather I’m looking out for the credibility of “our” organization.
I have stated in the past that I am willing to fire EOs, and I have not relaxed my position if your performance is not satisfactory or if your work and vision is not aligned with that of ASG. I realize this may be coming off as stern, but I believe it’s a necessary step to remind us all of the seriousness of the issues at hand.
Atul [Bhula, President of ASG]
In short, if you don’t get in line you’re fired. I’m really glad that this organization is so open to criticism that they’ll fire their own people if they have the nerve to question it. But this speaks to the fundamental problem with ASG: they are completed closed to any criticism. How can you even begin to reform an organization if they won’t even admit that they’re wrong? Most companies will have some sort of Open Door policy, where you’re allowed (or even encouraged) to ask questions about the company’s direction or the particular decisions made by your manager.
Apparently, this is not the case with ASG, as they prefer to take a more authoritarian stance towards their people. Going off the above email, you’re not even allowed to question how the organization is funded. You could think ASG is the best thing since baked bread, but if you have a problem with the fee, then game over! I might be a bitter clinger when it comes to guns and religion, but it appears that Mr. Bhula is a bitter clinger when it comes to his stipend.
On a more positive note, it does appear that we’re getting to them. Such an email would not even be necessary if they didn’t feel threatened by the “seriousness” of the various campus campaigns organizing against them. They’re also concerned about defending their credibility (though that presumes they have any credibility to defend) and shoring up any remaining support they may have with students. In sending out the Thought Police, they’ve given the game away: we’re winning.
This whole attempt by the Left to pin the Arizona shooting on Sarah Palin really doesn’t surprise me. Given their outright hatred of her, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they tried to accuse her murder (special shout-out to Paul Krugman). However, Rush Limbaugh also appears to have been involved. According to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, Limbaugh “attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior… is not without consequences.” Ignoring Dupnik’s rather obvious rip-off of Bill Clinton’s attempt to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on Limbaugh and ignoring the fact that no evidence exists to support such an assertion, that got me thinking.
I do believe that we are approaching this all the wrong way. Operating under the assumption that Krugman and Dupnik are right on this (i.e. Limbaugh and Palin cause acts of political violence), the Left thinks these acts of violence can be solved by silencing the Right. Given their very obvious failure to silence people like Limbaugh and Palin, I think the Left should engage in some self-censorship. Because if people like Krugman and Dupnik just shut up and went home to hide in their basements, Limbaugh and Palin would not have anyone to criticize. And if there was no one to criticize, to whom could Limbaugh and Palin direct their “irresponsible vitriol”? Since the Right is obviously too immature to engage in such self-censorship, the Left should take the moral high ground and just cede the country to the Right. There would be no more vitriol, no more political extremism, and no more political violence. As an added plus, the United States would also experience full-employment and unprecedented GDP growth. So the direction for the Left is clear: shut up and go home.