Friday, October 14, 2011

Spot the difference


2012: Time for a common sense election

Want to annoy a liberal? Tell one that America needs a business-person as president to put our economic house in order. Most libs will, however subtly, react defensively, given that their experiment in “transforming” America has turned out — how to put it mildly? — disastrous, with even Democratic campaign officials using Titanic metaphors.

The standard reply (and we’re hearing it more and more) is that running the country and running a business are two different things. The responsibilities and consequences of leading a nation can be, and usually are, far graver than those of, say, running a fast-food empire.

There is some truth to that. As we are reminded, the president doesn’t enjoy the luxury of firing members of the opposing party. But the significant advantage of electing a business leader — or, at the very least, one who appreciates the dynamics of a free economy — is having someone who has been held accountable. Accountability, providing goods and services that people want, satisfying stockholders are the defining traits of a free economy. It isn’t complicated nor is it just one of many competing economic theories out there. It’s common sense.

That, in part, explains the appeal of Herman Cain. And the GOP’s flirtation with Donald Trump a few months back. And why Mitt Romney, a mere one-term governor, remains a front-runner. It’s his life-long devotion to business where common sense can mean the difference between solvency and shutting the doors for good.

Contrast Cain, Trump and Romney to Barack Obama in 2008. Our 44th president sailed into office on charisma, platitudes, an activist media, a GOP in ruins and a wafer-thin resume. Soon, he and his cabinet were lauded for their intellectual heft.

Today, by contrast, the American electorate expects reason over rhetoric and solutions over academic pedigree. One of our great common-sense presidents, Calvin Coolidge, said of experts that, “Whoever deals with current public questions is compelled to rely greatly upon the information and judgments of experts and specialists. Unfortunately, not all experts are to be trusted as entirely disinterested.”

Indeed, common sense forged this nation from the beginning. In his aptly titled essay Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote that the crises of his day served some good, in that “the mind grows through them and acquires a firmer habit than before.” Also, they “bring things and men to light which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. . . they sift out the hidden thoughts of man and hold them up in public to the world.”

Our founders knew that great leaders derive their power and inspiration from the common sense and goodwill of everyday Americans. They knew that it takes all of us to make this country work: labor and management, urban and rural, all races, creeds and colors. We now know that economic class is not set for life, with workers rising above their lowly circumstances even in the toughest of times.

A majority of Americans can easily discern the current Occupy Wall Street protests for the turgid, disjointed people’s-movement-wannabe that it is. Common sense values can easily contrast the rank class envy masquerading as discourse, and the moral (and physical) sloth disguising itself as a helpless victim of economic injustice.

2012 is all but crying out for an antidote to fear, pessimism and resentment — and to the politicians stoking the flames to fuel their own ambitions. Calm, cool reason, along with a passionate love for America’s founding ideals can rule the day, and common sense voters can well define 2012 the way values voters and soccer moms seemed to capture more recent elections.

The raucous leftists always fashion themselves the starry-eyed idealists, but we can’t even give them that one, for Calvin Coolidge also remarked that “economy is idealism in its most practical form.”



Notes on Sweden's welfare state

Most people are familiar with what I call the Swedish Fallacy – the reliance on Sweden by people on all sides of the spectrum to back up whatever policy proposal they're making, as if Sweden is a paradise on earth that everybody can emulate by adopting the same policies. It's especially common on the left: they have high taxes and a dynamic economy, so higher taxes must not be a bad thing! A new report from the Libera Foundation, a Finnish think tank, throws a spanner into those works:
One should remember that the golden age of Swedish entrepreneurship, where one successful firm after another was founded in the small country and gained international renown, occurred during a time where taxes and the scope of government were quite limited. Sweden shifted to radicalized social democratic policies in the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s. . . .

It is, however, important to remember that Sweden, like other Nordic nations, has compensated for these policies by improving economic liberty in other fields. Some reforms, such as the partial privatization of the mandatory pensions system and voucher systems in schools and health care surpass what has been possible to implement in most developed nations.

Swedish society is not necessarily moving away from the idea of a welfare state, but continuous reforms are implemented towards economic liberty within the scope of welfare. The rise of government has been stopped and even reversed in recent years. The nation is again returning to the free market policies which served it so well in the past.

This is a point that Tim Worstall has made in the past as well. The report also discusses the cultural factors that make such high taxes tolerable. Yes, Sweden is a high tax, high welfare country, but it's also remarkably free market by most other measures. Indeed, it might be that the only way they're able to pay for so much welfare is because in many other respects they take a more laissez-faire approach to their economy than we do.

That should be food for thought for socialists who want to take from the rich to give to the poor – if a free market maximises the money they have to redistribute in the medium-term, the most sincere socialist position might be to favour fairly high taxes and low regulation. It's not something I'd support – high taxes are still bad news for lots of reasons – but I'd prefer it to the primitive central planning that many on the left still favour. I don't think Sweden's a paradise, but it might still be able to teach the left a thing or two about how to pay for the welfare state they want.



SunPower: Twice As Bad As Solyndra, Twice As Bad For Obama

Congressman's son lobbied for failing solar panel company

How did a failing California solar company, buffeted by short sellers and shareholder lawsuits, receive a $1.2 billion federal loan guarantee for a photovoltaic electricity ranch project—three weeks after it announced it was building new manufacturing plant in Mexicali, Mexico, to build the panels for the project.

The company, SunPower (SPWR-NASDAQ), now carries $820 million in debt, an amount $20 million greater than its market capitalization. If SunPower was a bank, the feds would shut it down. Instead, it received a lifeline twice the size of the money sent down the Solyndra drain.

Two men with insight into the process are SunPower rooter Rep. George R. Miller III, (D.-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee and the co-chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and his SunPower lobbyist son, George Miller IV.

Miller the Elder is a strong advocate for SunPower, which converted an old Richmond, Calif., Ford plant in his district to a panel-manufacturing facility.

The congressman hosted an Oct. 14, 2010, tour of the plant with company CEO Thomas H. Werner and Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar to promote the company’s fortunes.

“The path to a clean energy economy starts here, in places like SunPower’s research and development facility,” said Salazar during the tour. “The work that comes from these facilities transforms renewable energy ideas into a reality. When renewable energy companies continue to invest in places like California, the realization of a new energy future is within our reach,” he said.

Miller the Elder said he was grateful for Salazar's interest. “We’ve worked hard to make renewable energy a priority because it represents America’s future economic growth. Today, businesses like SunPower are moving forward, hiring 200 people for good clean energy jobs in the East Bay,” he said.

“By fostering a business climate that encourages companies like SunPower, even more good jobs will be created locally, we’ll reduce demand for dirty energy sources, and we’ll cut customers’ utility bills. That’s the right direction,” he said.

SunPower’s political action committee (PAC) was not shy about participating in the political process either.

According to the SunPower PAC filings for its activities in the 2010 midterm election campaign cycle, it donated more than $36,000. Of the $15,650 donated to House and Senate candidates, $14,650 went to Democrats, with these top recipients: $4,000 to Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), $3,000 to Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D.-Ariz.) and $2,900 Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.).

The congressman was not forgotten either. The SunPower PAC remembered him with $500 for his 2010 campaign. While SunPower was a financial partner in the congressman’s reelection campaign, it straight-out hired his son.

Miller the Younger is not registered to lobby in Washington, but he is a member of its bar. He is not a member of the California bar, home of his lobbying firm, Lang, Hansen, O'Malley and Miller (LHOM), of which he is a founding partner.

According the firm's website LHOM specializes in providing advice to clients on larger macro political issues trends. “Utilizing our broad experience in California and Washington, D.C., we can furnish 'big picture' analysis of developing political and policy trends which may affect client interests and goals.”

What does Miller the Younger bring? Read here: “George Miller brings a lifetime of friendships, relationships, and contacts together with over 15 years of front-line advocacy experience. He’s an attorney with expertise that ranges from insurance and banking to transportation, taxation and gaming law,” according to the website. “Unlike most advocates, George is at ease working both the corridors of Sacramento power or the halls of Congress.”

What is the stated purpose of the SunPower’s DOE 1705 program loan guarantee?

SunPower has different lines of business. In addition to manufacturing solar panel and roof tiles, it builds solar panel ranches, which it then sells off, but retains the services contract.

The loan guarantee is earmarked for the job numbers for the California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) in San Luis Obispo County, which it has already sold to NRG Solar, but will continue to maintain.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE) website, the CVSR project will create 350 construction jobs during the two-year build and 15 permanent jobs—presumably those are the squeegee men for keeping the panels clean.

Capitol Hill powerbroker Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.), center, hosted Interior Sec. Kenneth L. Salazar, left, on an Oct. 14, 2010 tour of SunPower's Richmond, Calif., plant. During the tour, Salazar said plants like SunPower's transform renewable energy ideas into reality. One month later, the company announced it had restated its 2008 and 2009 financial filings to correct for unsubstantiated accounting entries.

If $80 million per permanent job seems a little high, even for the current Obama administration, you are correct. In addition to the 350 construction jobs and the 15 squeegee men, there will an as-yet-undetermined number of jobs created building the panels for the CVSR—in Mexicali, Mexico.

The company is looking for a facility of up to 320,000 square feet, where it will build three different solar panel models and its solar roof tiles, according the company’s Aug. 5 statement.

Marty T. Neese, the company's chief operating officer, said, “Establishing our own manufacturing facility in Mexicali means we will be positioned to quickly deliver our high-efficiency, high-reliability solar products to a growing North American solar market.”

Mexicali Mayor Francisco Perez Tejada Padilla said he was thrilled. “Mexicali is rapidly becoming an industrial hub for high-tech companies, offering an educated workforce and a growing manufacturing area,” he said. “We welcome SunPower to our city and are pleased that they have chosen Mexicali to establish its solar panel manufacturing facility.”

The good news for Mexican jobs seekers did not affect the DOE's loan guarantee to SunPower. Hours before the DOE 1705 loan program expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2011 on Sept. 30, the $1.2 billion in loan guarantees was approved for the company.



Panderer in Chief: What would a Mitt Romney presidency look like?

Romney brazenly proclaimed, "One reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for, I've written it down. Words have meaning."

"I've written it down"—I love that. I'm put in mind of the great New Yorker cartoon, featuring a Washington bigwig behind an enormous desk, the Capitol looming through his office window. "I keep my core beliefs written on the palm of my hand for easy reference," he tells his visitor.

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie out and Perry floundering, it's looking ever more likely that the alternative to President Obama will be a candidate who needs a cheat sheet to remember his core beliefs.

Taking to heart the Stoic principle that we shouldn't lament what we can't control, I'm going to try to convince you—and myself—that things could be worse.

In their 2007 editorial endorsing Romney, National Review argued—hilariously—that the former Massachusetts governor was a "full-spectrum conservative."

But if there's any case to be made for Romney, it's that he's a full-spectrum panderer. Paradoxically, Romney's faults—his incessant flip-flopping and desperate quest for approval—might make him a less-dangerous-than-average president.

On the campaign trail, Romney has savaged Obama's proposed Medicare cuts—the sign "keep your hands off our Medicare" is "absolutely right," he insists—and he has attacked Perry for questioning the constitutionality of Social Security.

The good news, I suppose, is that there is no better reason to take Romney at his word here than there is anywhere else.

Romney's strategically timed ideological conversions are well-known. On the road to the presidency, he's had convenient epiphanies about stem-cells, gay rights, and immigration, and gone from being a staunch gun-controller to, in 2007, buying a lifetime NRA membership and awkwardly bragging about blasting rabbits with a single-shot .22 rifle (do those come with laser sights?).

But, having suffered through two ideologically charged presidencies in a row, to many Americans the poll-tested pandering of the Clinton era doesn't look so bad by comparison.

Our 42nd president wanted national health care, but the country wanted welfare reform and prosperous normalcy—and the country got what it wanted.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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