Thursday, November 20, 2008

Here we go again

Every time the economy is in trouble, what is the headline news? What gets splashed across the front pages and discussed in hand-wringing lead editorials?

The budgets of GOVERNMENT.

All we hear about is what can we do to make sure government doesn't have to feel the impact. And of course we are treated to an endless parade of human-interest stories about how people can possibly get by without this or that government program. It has only just begun.

So perhaps it would be wise to actually put things in perspective. The state revenue reforecast came out yesterday, and the estimate is that the state tax revenue will .....

Increase by $857 million.

Say what? Yup. It's true. That new estimate you hear all that caterwauling about is because state revenues will only go up by almost a billion. You see, in the prior forecast they thought they would have $2 billion more than last biennium, so the government class is crestfallen that some of their big spending plans might be at risk.

It's like if you thought you were getting a big raise next year, then your boss told you it would be smaller than you expected. 

Clearly, this is untenable. Unless the state government has 20% increases each biennium, we are in crisis. Just ask them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why do people vote Republican?

There's a lot of soul searching going on amongst Republicans at the moment, as evidenced by the reaction to my post about Jack Roberts' op-ed piece. Today, I had a lot of time to think about the party's recent hammering, as I spent the day organizing all the leaves in my yard.

It seems to me that people vote Republicans in office when they grow dissatisfied with the way our government institutions are serving the people. The Republican party is the party that reforms government; the Democrat party is the party OF government.

It is the human nature that any institution, over time, evolves to exist primarily to serve the elites in charge of the institution. We've seen this time and again.

Our public school system exists to serve the unions that control it. The public employee pension system grew into an obscene orgy of feather-nesting excess. The land use system serves the vision and desires of extreme environmental groups, at the cost of property rights of landowners.

It's the Republican party that seeks to reform government when these excesses occur, and Republicans win when the party can articulate the need for reform.

But here's our problem: more often than not, when elected and empowered to run government institutions, we forget about reforming them and instead just use the institutions to serve the ends desired by the folks who got elected. Pork, earmarks, and corruption - and the voters throw us out.

That is one reason for our current situation. Republicans in Oregon and nationally became the party of government rather than the party of reforming government. There's already a party for that - and if the voters are in the mood for government, that is who they will elect.

In short, we got booted by voters because we didn't do what voters want when they put Republicans in charge.

This has a big impact on the debate about what Republicans must do to win some elections. We have to be reformers. If voters don't want reform, we won't win. But that's OK. Our current mess isn't because voters don't want reform - it's because we didn't reform anything while we were in office!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The problem with bailouts

Bailouts are a bad idea. There are lots of reasons. 

Here's just one: When the government tries to prop up failing businesses it always come with strings, and those strings make it even harder for the company to succeed. 

Case in point: 

Thomas Friedman wrote in his New York Times column about what he thinks the government should demand in exchange for the bailout of General Motors. He says that GM must: 

"... demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol."

This is such a bad idea. Who knows when and if hybrid/flex fuel/cellulosic ethanol is truly going the be the "next generation" model for automobiles? Friedman certainly doesn't know, nor does the federal government. 

Yet he wants this mandated as a condition of the bailout? What if they are wrong? Then GM will fail again, or more likely, taxpayers will just have to subsidize the production of these supposedly next generation cars forever.

Better to let it fail. The company is failing because of its medical and pension liabilities, not so much because its cars are bad. Let someone else put their own capital at risk buying the assets and making cars that aren't weighed down by a corporate cost structure that makes it uncompetitive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

President Obama

The candidate I supported in this election didn't win. So Barack Obama is going to be president.

This country is in the middle of some very serious problems- possibly the most perilous time since the late 1920's. I hope President Obama succeeds.

Barack Obama is my President. I am an American first and a Republican second. I love our country too much to spend the next four or eight years like the political left in America spent the last eight years, doing its level best to make the President fail.

This doesn't mean I will cheerlead for his policies that I disagree with. When I think he is wrong I will speak out here and on the radio and any other forum I have access to. But even if he successfully passes the things I oppose, I will hope they work. Loyal opposition should be loyal first and opposition second.

I didn't support President-elect Obama, but there are some very positive things about the fact that America elected him. For one, merchants of racial spoils like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have had the rationale for their sorry careers pulled right out from under them. Our nation is better off for it.

And also, as little as I care about how the US is perceived in other countries, the fact that they see a black man elected president is a good thing.

I am not going to spend the next four or eight years pulling against America. If a successful America over the next four years means Barack Obama is re-elected, that is fine by me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jack Roberts talks in circles

So the Republicans got slaughtered in the election, so the conversation turns to what the party needs to do to stop the bleeding. Jack Roberts wrote a guest editorial for the Oregonian with his take on what Republicans should do to regain favor with voters.

Now, I like Jack Roberts. I think he is one of the smartest guys in Oregon politics. But what he wrote, frankly, is nonsense. It's not that I disagree with his prescription - it's that what he wrote literally doesn't make sense. 

Here are some snippets:

"I also think there is plenty of room for us to argue over how best to deal with the challenge of global climate change rather than hunkering down in denial while hoping the sun spots change so that we don't have to."

The problem with this? First, the logical flaw: If we are "hoping" that sun spots change to cool the globe, this implies the climate cycle is a natural phenomena, so no amount of human behavioral change will stop it. I realize he's just trying to turn a clever phrase here, but Jack is usually much more careful than to make an argument for statewide publication that is self-refuting. 

But his argument itself basically is one of capitulation. I don't know if Jack has ever made a serious personal inquiry into the global warming controversy. I'd be disappointed if he had, because he is a smart man, and I find it hard to believe he could have actually looked into the AGW theory and was convinced that we need draconian government controls on energy consumption to deal with it.

But he is essentially arguing Republicans should just concede the question and turn our efforts to figuring out a less harmful way of dealing with it than the Democrats propose. So become Democrat-Lite. 

I think this is wrong on several fronts. First, the D's seem hell-bent on putting a Cap & Trade system in place, which will be a disaster for the economy and will do absolutely nothing to change the climate. It will create a huge new tax, a new government bureaucracy, and it will raise everyone's energy costs and kill jobs. If Republicans go along with this idiotic policy and just argue about the details, as Jack Roberts suggests, we give voters no contrast. 

It is really important that the D's own Cap & Trade lock stock and barrel so when the job killing effects become clear, and the temperature trends continue to expose the lie of the climate models, we can shove it right down their throats. 

Follow Jack's advice and we lose this opportunity. 

Jack Roberts goes on to wish for miracles:

"We need to think seriously about how to extend health insurance to the 15 percent who don't have it without reducing the quality or increasing the cost to the 85 percent who are already covered."

Well, sure. And while we are at it let's "think seriously" about how everyone can have housing and plenty to eat without burdening taxpayers with high taxes or debt. And "think seriously" about how to ensure retirement security for every American without reducing the living standards of people still working. 

When we are done with all this serious thinking, perhaps the serious adults among us will admit that life is full of tradeoffs.

It gets worse, though:

"And if we agree that improving the quality and availability of health care is better than simply continuing to spend more, shouldn't we apply the same reasoning to our schools? But that will require Republicans to end our fixation on vouchers and charter schools, which make it seem like we've given up on the public schools when our real focus should be on how to improve them."

We "agree" that it is better to improve quality and availability of health care than just continuing to spend more? I am not even sure what that means. Did he show us any way to improve the quality and availability of health care? Does anyone anywhere suggest that it can be done without spending more? 

Jack Roberts is usually not given to such breezy proclamations. 

But to take that meaningless platitude and then suggest that applying that "reasoning" to schools means we should give up on charter schools  - that is ironic in the extreme. The charter school movement is PRECISELY what he is looking for - a way to improve the quality and availability of schools without simply spending more! For the first time, because of charter schools, the debate about schools has focused on something other than money.

The charter school movement is arguably the single most important Republican-led reform of any Oregon institution in the last 20 years. It was once a partisan Republican issue, but it is now rooted firmly in the mainstream, with so many Democrat defenders that last session the OEA failed to so much as get a floor vote for their charter-school "reform" in a Senate that was 18-12 Democrat majority.

So, the one Republican-led issue that has succeeded, not only in giving us better schools without spending more, but it has become popular and mainstream to the point that there is not a single Oregon newspaper that is editorially opposed to charters.

And Jack Roberts says the Republicans should "end our fixation" with them, as a route to winning back favor with voters.

Again, I really do like Jack Roberts. His analysis and his thinking is usually far, far better than this. When I read this column I was left wondering, in the vision of Jack Roberts, exactly how would Oregon Republicans differ from the Democrats?

Here's his conclusion: 

"In essence, I believe the challenge for the Republican Party is to become more conservative and less right-wing. We need to be a party of sound principles rather than a rigid, dogmatic ideology." 

OK, again - Jack! This is just drivel! What on Earth does it mean to become more conservative and less right-wing? What exactly is the difference between "principles" and "ideology?" If we have sound principles, should we stay true to them? Or is that being too "dogmatic," and "rigid?" 

I've never known Jack to be this intellectually sloppy. Word has it that the Oregonian is going to replace Dave Reinhard's voice on the editorial pages by having monthly contributions from a panel of Republicans. Jack is one of them, along with Dave Lister, and a couple others. I just hope this piece isn't indicative of the quality of Jack's stuff in the future.