Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Again

I consider this blog to be inactive at this point and I it set to private last summer, but for the sake of posterity I'm setting it to be public again. I generally stand by what I've posted here, but I would gently remind readers that the oldest posts on this blog are from the very beginning of my college experience, so some of my thoughts have (naturally) evolved since then.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Barack Obama and D-Day

Barack Obama failed to say anything to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day. From Gateway Pundit:
On June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion of Europe took place during World War II as Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. America lost 2,499 of its finest men that day.

It’s too bad Barack Obama missed the anniversary today.

The White House website has nothing posted today on the 66th Anniversary of the D-Day landing.

The president had other things on his mind.
He was attending his second party this week, tonight at the Ford Theatre.

I have to admit that I find this pretty troubling. For many Americans, including me, D-Day is one of the most important days in American history. It was this country's finest hour; a moment that perfectly achieved the platonic ideal of using American military power to fight tyranny and make the world a better, safer place. There have been many other moments where the US used its military power for good, but none where American intervention is so universally viewed to have be for the better. I'm willing to bet that even among those who believe that US power should only be exercised sparingly, the Normandy landings are still viewed positively.

And yet, Obama's apology tour and a couple of years listening what to what he, his wife, and his associates have to say about America, I get the feeling that he just doesn't think that the US has that much to be proud of. He gave a decent speech on D-Day last year, but even there he took time to underline America's flaws:
The nations and leaders that joined together to defeat Hitler's Reich were not perfect. We had made our share of mistakes, and had not always agreed with one another on every issue. But whatever God we prayed to, whatever our differences, we knew that the evil we faced had to be stopped. Citizens of all faiths and no faith came to believe that we could not remain as bystanders to the savage perpetration of death and destruction. And so we joined and sent our sons to fight and often die so that men and women they never met might know what it is to be free.

(I should add that Obama's appearance at Normandy only came after pressure by Sarkozy and ended up as a snub for the British.) If anything, I get the feeling that he views D-Day as a special case where the situation was so clear cut that for once the US actually did the right thing. It may have been our finest hour, but only because he seems to think that there has been no other time where America's position in the world had a positive impact. I feel like that goes a long way towards explaining his willingness to ignore the anniversary this year. As important as D-Day may have been, why would he celebrate it if he feels that it's the exception rather than the norm across American history?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Obama's Approval Rating Hits a New Low

According to Rasmussen, he's at 42% approval for May 25, with 24% strong approval and 44% strong disapproval. Although the strong disapproval level is as high as it has ever been, it hasn't moved a lot over the last 5 months or so other than a slight decrease followed by a rebound. By contrast, the strong approval rating got a large bounce up into the 30's after the passage of Obamacare. That bounce now seems to have entirely disappeared.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crist vs Rubio and Blumenthal vs the Truth

A couple weeks ago I wrote about dislike for Charlie Crist and my dislike of writing about campaigns. Apparently the former trumps the latter. After Crist declared as an independent in Florida, his poll numbers jumped by enough that he momentarily had the lead in the three way contest between him, Rubio, and Democrat Kendrick Meek. According to a new Rasmussen poll, however, Crist now trails Rubio 39-31 with Meek coming in at 18%. If support for Meek collapses, Crist may pick up some of those voters, but I can't imagine him getting more than another 4 or 5 percent out of the voters who are currently supporting Meek. When Lieberman ran as an independent against Lamont in Connecticut in 2006, the Republican candidate still held on to 10% of the vote, and that was in a situation where the independent candidate had been forced out of his own party on a matter of principle. By contrast, Crist's decision to leave his party was nothing more than political opportunism, and he lacks a signature issue where Florida Democrats would prefer him to Rubio in the same way that Connecticut Republicans preferred Lieberman to Lamont on foreign policy. Consequently, I have a hard time imagining Meek dropping below 13 or 14 percent support. Add this to the negative publicity following Crist's refusal to refund campaign donations and Rubio's fundraising advantage, and I have a hard time imagining Crist winning.

Speaking of the Connecticut Senate race, the New York Times reports that Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal has been lying about his service- or lack thereof- in Vietnam. Avoiding service in Vietnam doesn't disqualify a candidate, but getting caught in a lie about it looks pretty bad. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. (Hat tip: Hot Air.)

Why I'm Sick of Hearing About Bob Bennett

Much ado has been made about Bob Bennett's failure to make the runoff for the Utah primary. As Jack Kelly summarizes, various commentators are horrified:
"This is a damn outrage," said David Brooks, a "conservative" columnist for The New York Times on NBC's "Meet the Press" program last Sunday.

"It's almost a nonviolent coup," agreed E. J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist for The Washington Post.

"The long promised purge is on," wrote Kathleen Parker, a "conservative" columnist for the Post.

Not to be outdone, Dana Milbank dramatically claims that Bennett's loss will lead to the demise of the Republican party:

Future historians tracing the crackup of the Republican Party may well look to May 8, 2010, as an inflection point.

That was the day, as is now well known, that Sen. Robert Bennett, who took the conservative position 84 percent of the time over his career, was deemed not conservative enough by fellow Utah Republicans and booted out of the primary.

The problem is that Bennett's ouster just wasn't all that extraordinary. Bennett has historically been a fairly conservative senator, but not remarkably so. Furthermore, over the last two years he has voted for TARP, sponsored an alternative health care bill that included an individual mandate, and overall racked up a record as the 9th most liberal Republican senator in 2009. Given that Utah is one of the two or three most conservative states in the union (and that the delegate based nomination process is disproportionately influenced by the most conservative Utahns) this voting record clearly worked against him.

But there's more to it than a simple issue of the voting record. Utahns (and tea partiers and conservatives everywhere) have had little reason to be happy with the record of Congress over the last decade or so. With the exception of the Bush tax cuts (which are about to expire), there have been few legislative achievements to celebrate. At the same time, government spending has literally doubled over the last ten years. This has been helped along by the Republican congress that approved large, earmark filled appropriations bills and fiscal disasters like the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Clearly, conservatives need senators in Washington who are willing to try to make radical changes.

Looking at the issues pages for Mike Lee, Tim Bridgewater, and Bob Bennett makes it pretty clear that the first two are pretty similar on most issues and that either of them is much more likely to bring change than Bennett. (Bennett's website has been taken down following his loss, but is still cached.) For example, consider the position that each takes on health care. Lee lists repealing ObamaCare as one of his "three vital priorities". Bridgewater also supports the repeal of ObamaCare and provides a detailed set of market based alternative bills that he would want passed. By contrast, Bennett's health care page consists only of two things. The first is a video of him explaining his vote against the final Obamacare bill. He justifies his opposition not through appealing to conservative principles but rather through objecting to the speed with which it was brought to a vote and the questionable accounting practices used to obtain its cost estimate. The second is a list of health care related earmarks that Bennett won for the state of Utah. In short, he doesn't exactly come off as a conservative visionary, especially when compared to Bridgewater and Lee. Instead, he comes off as a Washington insider who would generally vote the conservative line but wouldn't participate on an attack on the worst parts of Washington culture. His awkward video explaining why he no longer supports term limits (unlike his rivals) can only reinforce this perception.

If Republicans force out every moderate and insist on running die hard conservatives in seats that are more suited for moderate candidates, then they will lose races that they should have been able to win. If this happens on a large scale in 2010 and 2012, then, yes, the Republican party will suffer significant damage. But Bennett's seat is in no danger of being lost to the Democrats, and conservatives in Utah have legitimate reasons to be unhappy with him. In short, the circumstances in Utah are uncommon enough that it's time to stop drawing conclusions about national trends and instead acknowledge that reports of the death of the Republican party have been greatly exaggerated.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paying the Interest on the National Debt

I came across this rather shocking article a couple days ago:
In the wake of the financial crisis and recession, Moody's Investors Service has brought new transparency to its sovereign ratings analysis — so much so that 2018 lights up as the year the U.S. could be in line for a downgrade if Congressional Budget Office projections hold.

The key data point in Moody's view is the size of federal interest payments on the public debt as a percentage of tax revenue. For the U.S., debt service of 18%-20% of federal revenue is the outer limit of AAA-territory, Moody's managing director Pierre Cailleteau confirmed in an e-mail.

Under the Obama budget, interest would top 18% of revenue in 2018 and 20% in 2020, CBO projects.

But under more adverse scenarios than the CBO considered, including higher interest rates, Moody's projects that debt service could hit 22.4% of revenue by 2013.

That's pretty staggering. Can you imagine living in a world where it's safer to lend money to Microsoft (or any other AAA rated corporation) than to the US government? That's an amazing thought. More to the point, can you imagine a world where the US government is forced to default on its debt? I can't imagine anything that would destroy the prestige and power of the US faster than being humiliated by the Chinese government after approaching them to renegotiate a trillion dollars in debt.

Even setting aside the risk of a credit downgrade, the United States can expect to spend more and more of its tax revenues on interest on the debt. Over the last year, the Federal Government spent about 187 billion dollars paying interest on the approximately 7.8 trillion dollars of the national debt that is held by the public, with "public" in this context meaning anyone who isn't the US government: individuals, China, banks, etc. (The usual figure for the national debt of 12.9 trillion includes money that the government owes to programs like Social Security and Medicare. As far as I can tell, this money doesn't have interest paid on it.) The overall interest rate for the government's debt right now works out to something like 3.2%, which is absurdly low. While 187 billion dollars is certainly a large amount of money, it's not too painfully large by government standards. After all, it only represents something like 13% of the federal deficit of 1.4 trillion dollars in 2009 and 8% of the total of 2.4 trillion dollars in revenue. If the cost of interest were to remain at these levels, we would be ok.

Of course, the amount that the government spends on interest won't remain anywhere near 200 billion dollars a year, for two reasons. First, the amount of publicly held debt has been skyrocketing. In 2009 alone, it increased a staggering 22%, from 6.4 trillion dollars to 7.8 trillion dollars. With another 1.3 trillion dollar deficit expected for 2011 and 10 trillion dollars in projected deficits for the next decade, this trend will only continue. If Congress doesn't slash spending now, we could quite possibly see the publicly held debt triple in size by 2020, and that's assuming the deficits don't turn out to be larger than is now projected.

On top of this, interest rates will have to go up. Indeed, despite the explosion in publicly held debt, interest payments actually declined by 65 billion dollars last year as interest rates plummeted. As I mentioned above, the government is now paying about 3.2 percent interest on its debt. As recently as September 2007 that rate was above 5%, and within the last decade it was above 6.5%, or more than twice what it is now. So over the next decade, and perhaps even over the next two years, we can expect to see interest rates increase by two thirds or even double.

The combination of these means that interest payments could quintuple to a billion dollars or more annually over the next decade. (The CBO figure of $700 billion is quite a bit lower than this, but history shows us that CBO estimates are consistently quite a bit lower than reality.) Either scenario would leave us in a place where interest payments represented at least 20% of government revenue. The government would lose its AAA credit rating, which would cause interest payments to grow even more. (A reduction from AAA to AA would probably increase the total amount of the interest payments by about 8%) All other forms of government spending would have to be cut drastically just to keep deficits at the same level they are at now.

Ultimately, some method for reducing the debt would need to be found. My guess is that when the time comes, we can expect high inflation. As painful as that inflation will be, politicians will opt for it rather than showing the courage necessary to cut government spending in a meaningful way through pursuing entitlement reform. If Obama and the Democrats don't get serious about deficit reduction now, it's going to be a rough decade.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Charlie Crist and Politics

I generally hate writing about political maneuvering and primary challenges and the like. I'm much more interested in the issues than in articles about why the Republican party needs to move to the left/move to the right/widen its tent/get rid of RINOs/appeal to minorities/rally the base/nominate Sarah Palin/get rid of Palin in order to be viable over the long run. To be honest, someone who went from living in Utah (Bush by 46% in 2004) to living at Yale (Obama by 75% in 2008) can't really claim to have a good sense of the mood of the country and of what voters really want out of the Republicans.

All that said, I truly despise Charlie Crist and really hope that he loses in Florida. I was more or less indifferent to the primary campaign between between him and Rubio until the middle of April. And then Crist vetoed Florida's education reform bill:
The governor's decision to veto the bill drew a stark line between his administration and the Republican establishment. It earned plaudits from teachers unions, which opposed the bill.

The legislation—one of the most sweeping of its kind in the nation—would have eliminated tenure for new teachers and required merit-pay plans linking salaries to student learning progress. Unions opposed the measure, saying it would make it harder for Florida to hire good teachers, and that it violated collective bargaining rights.

I have long believed that the American teachers unions are one of the biggest problems in education today. Quite simply, the teachers unions exist not to advance the interests of students or even of all potential teachers, but rather the interests of members of the teachers union. The tenure and seniority based system of compensation that they advocate rewards mediocrity. The most talented individuals will always have offers from professions where they'll be paid in accordance with their abilities and their talent. Some of these remarkable human beings will take the pay cut and become a teacher because they enjoy teaching and feel that it's a worthwhile way to spend their lives. Personally, I have had the good fortune to be the student of many such teachers. But unfortunately, a career where seniority trumps competence is just not that appealing to potential teachers. Far too many of the college graduates who go into teaching are those who don't have other options. If you're not particularly good at what you do, a profession where you're virtually guaranteed steady pay raises and tenure for life is pretty nice. When the teachers unions complain loudly about how switching to merit pay will make teaching into a less appealing profession, my thought is that it makes it less appealing to the teachers who are the least effective, ie, precisely the group of teachers we need to get rid of to improve our education system. Merit pay is not a silver bullet, but it's hard to deny that merit pay will attract better teachers than the current system.

Crist, of course, knows that as well as anyone, which explains why he had originally supported this bill. By the time it passed the Florida legislature, though, it had become apparent that he was going to need to drop out of the Republican senate primary and run as an independent in the fall. His decision to veto it was an absolutely disgusting bit of political maneuvering, which is why former Senator Connie Mack resigned as the chairman of Crist's campaign in protest. It's one thing for the teachers unions to oppose this bill in their own interest. It's an entirely different thing for Crist to veto it at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Florida students because he thinks its in his own personal interest. I hope that Crist is humiliated in the November election and never again wins an election for anything.