Category Archives: Politics

The Cheesy Nanny State

The New York Times reports that “While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales”.

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

This story reminds me of my friends who ran a dairy farm in the 1980s. They got heavily subsidized by the Massachusetts Division of Food and Agriculture  to modernize their long unused dairy barn, buy some cows and get into the milk business in a state funded effort to promote local agriculture. Two or three years later, when the the US Department of Agriculture was trying to prop up wholesale milk prices, they were paid a huge pile of cash by the feds to slaughter their cows and promise not to sell milk for some bureaucratically determined period of time. So they went back full-time to the construction business just as the housing boom was starting to pick up and bought themselves a nice large sailboat with all the government largess.

Perhaps it just shouldn’t be the governments job to either market certain products, tell us what to eat, or micromanage whole industries. Why is a federally funded and mandated organization paying for Dominic Pizza’s marketing program? And why do the do-gooders in the federal government feel empowered to tell us what to eat?

Can we really afford to spend a fortune for one part of the government encourages certain activities, while other government bureaucrats are paid to discourage those exact same things? Wouldn’t it perhaps make more sense to stop squandering tax dollars on the nanny state and just let the market sort things out and treat citizens as if they had some responsibility for their own lives?

Once again, this story points out  the need for congress to clarify and restrain the role of government in our society. Though cutting government programs will be politically difficult, there sure are a few programs that seem ripe for not only cutting, but permanent elimination.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Politics

This Closed Solar Factory Funded by ARRA

This story is a perfect example of enlightened government officials picking winners and losers and parceling out borrowed money while sticking our kids with the multi-trillion dollar tab for their reckless and wasteful spending. The half billion dollar loan guarantee from the federal ARRA “stimulus program” for a start-up with at best questionable technology and prospects, is a glamorous version of the complete waste the vast majority of the stimulus spending represents. It’s perfect example of the fundamentally flawed policy framework that  parcels out public money for private ventures based on the subjective and often arbitrary criteria of government officials.

What’s the best explanation the article offers for a start up with unproven technology getting a half billion dollar loan guarantee?. “Solyndra actually applied for DOE loans back in 2006, when Bush was still President. When Obama announced that he wanted to rev the energy economy, Solyndra happened to be first in line.”  Likely it also involved something like the way government corruption works here in Rhode Island and one of their VC’s suggested “I know this guy, who knows a guy…..”

Hopefully the recent election represents a political wake up call that will put an end to this kind of senseless waste. The new congress should clarify the fundamental principal that the proper role of government is to set and enforce fair, sensible and stable rules for the economic game rather than unfairly and arbitrarily inserting itself in the game as a competitor. The sooner we get government completely out of the roles of business, the more likely we will be to recover some semblance of a sustainable economy.

Expect Solyndra to become a political poster child for those opposing clean energy policy generally, not just wasteful government policies like the stimulus program. The kind of arbitrary political favoritism the stimulus program and most government economic policy represents today is a deep fundamental challenge to a healthy economy and to sensible sustainable public policy.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Energy Policy, Fundamental Perspectives, Politics

Our Shocking Government Obligations

As the recent election season heated up, the statistics tracked at USDebtClock.org crossed a shocking threshold. The combined unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone now total over a million dollars for each and every tax payer in America.  That doesn’t include the more than $124,000 share of the official federal debt per taxpayer, the huge undocumented liabilities that the Federal Reserve has committed taxpayer guarantees for in the last three years, the large state and local government debt burdens, the huge unfunded liabilities in the public employee pension systems or all the other financial liabilities our governments have committed taxpayers to cover.

Combined unfunded Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid liabilities and the official federal debt stand at almost 125 trillion dollars, almost twice the value of all the privately owned assets in the country, and more than ten times US GDP.  At some point, even the most optimistic liberal has to wonder how sustainable the continued borrowing and unfunded political promises can really be. Everyone paying attention at all is starting to realize it has to end.

Leading up to the recent election, the anger expressed by those concerned about our economy was a sign of healthy recognition by ordinary people that the commitments made by our federal government are in reality just a giant Ponzi scheme. We’ve been had. And now – we’re broke.

Politicians recently elected face an unprecedented level of citizen expectations for economic responsibility and accountability. I don’t envy any of them. The economic challenges they face are enormous and the only responsible actions possible will be hugely unpopular.

I am encouraged by the few newly elected Senators and Representatives vowing to vote against authorizing any increase to the federal debt limit. While a successful vote to stop the insane levels of borrowing might precipitate another financial crisis, the reality is that it is all the generous votes for nice ideas without realistic funding mechanisms that Congress has taken in the last half century that has actually caused the crisis. Eventually some grownups have to step in and stop the madness. Hopefully that will start to happen in the 112th Congress.

As Margaret Thatcher suggested, “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples money to spend”.  That’s the exact same problem Mr. Ponzi ultimately ran into. Most of America is realizing we’re there.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Politics

Lovins On The Financial Folly Of Nuclear Power

In “Nuclear Socialism”, once again Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins outlines the continuing and increasing financial folly of the nuclear power industry.  This prolific clean energy pioneer, whose realm of work is generally considered the favored domain of the political left, is once again reaching across traditional political divides to make the free market economic case against the continuing irrational subsidies for nuclear power, this time in The Weekly Standard.

The financial case against nuclear power is so strong that Lovins doesn’t need to discuss the arguments of safety, waste disposal, environmental hazards, national security, terrorism and other negative implications that are all inextricably tied to the nuclear power industry. He didn’t even address the Price Anderson Act, the unique federal legislation that relieves those in the nuclear power industry of the need to cover their own liability through insurance the way every other business in America does. His article also skips the obvious and undeniable ties between excuses justifying “civilian nuclear power” and the ever increasing risks of nuclear weapons proliferation in places like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran.

Lovins is one of the most informed and interesting thinkers in the world on innovative and cost effective energy technology and energy policy. He has been central in helping to transform the thinking and energy related policies, practices and investments of major organizations like Ford, Wal-Mart and the Pentagon. He is the author of “Winning the Oil End Game”, “Natural Capitalism”, “Soft Energy Paths” and “Small is Profitable”, which have helped reshape thinking about business, economics and efficiency in the manufacturing, transportation and energy sectors, as well as in government.

For decades Lovins has highlighted both the financial folly and huge completely unnecessary risks to society inherent in the nuclear power industry.  He has repeatedly made the clear business case that continuing subsidies for nuclear power and risks are completely unnecessary, unwarranted and unjustifiable.

And for decades, nuclear power has been a poster child for corrupt corporate welfare. Yet it continues to garner strong bipartisan support in congress. If there was ever a solid argument for campaign finance reform, a prime candidate is the continuing and increasing subsidies for the nuclear industry, which would never exist without decades of massive socialist handouts.

Its great to see the Weekly Standard publishing articles like this. Hopefully other politically conservative organizations will start aligning their rhetoric with the realities of nuclear power. And hopefully the liberals and blindly naive “environmentalists” who think nuclear materials proliferation is an acceptable solution climate concerns will also start waking up to reality.

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Filed under Climate Policy, Economic Policy, Energy Policy, Environmentalism, Politics

Bring Our Troops Home

In “Tea in Kabul”, Nicholas Kristof brings back stories from Afghanistan about the net result of the American presence in that country. Our occupation is alienating and angering the Afghan population, inadvertently funding the Taliban enemy and escalating the successful recruitment of more Taliban fighters.

Brian Mockenhaupt’s “The Last Patrol” tells a heartbreaking story of deadly patrols with a platoon from the 82nd airborne division in the orchards and farms of the Arghandab Valley. The fights with the Taliban are brutally fierce. The casualties are high. The aims are unjustifiable. The impact on the lives of those fighting is indelible. It’s an agonizing story of tough soldiers and good young kids getting blown up and killed for no good reason at all.

We have a family friend that recently deployed to Afghanistan. He’s a private in an army infantry brigade, doing what our country is telling him is his duty. Reading Mockenhaupt’s article about how completely senseless the battles over farm fields in Afghanistan really are, while having a young friend’s life and whole future at risk because our politicians are unwilling to be realistic or responsible in their own actions, is just infuriating.

In a recent note, my father recounted the logic of the continuing American presence in Afghanistan, as well as the clarity that the vast majority of Americans are realizing regarding the mission creep of the war that has emerged to cloud the failure of the primary mission President Bush set out to achieve after September 11, 2001:

I had thought that we had boxed ourselves into a moral obligation to remain in Afghanistan because we had partially liberated many women there and thought it wrong to desert them until their new freedom was more secure. This is probably naive and beyond that, we also have a moral obligation to protect our troops.  We went there to find and kill Osama bin Laden. That’s not going to happen. It is time to leave.

Clearly our guns and bombs are never going to turn that ancient tribal society into a prosperous 21st century democracy with equal womens rights and other progressive cosmopolitan values. And yes, it is incredibly sad to have to admit the complete failure of that war after ten years, over 350 billion dollars wasted, over 2,100 American and allied troops killed, countless troops wounded and all the thousands of Afghan civilians who have been killed, maimed, lost their homes and loved ones and had their lives upended.

News accounts regularly report the blatant corruption of the Karzai government, its complete ineffectiveness and its glaring lack of popular support.  Along with traditional Afghan injustices against women and other blatant affronts to western sensibilities, stories of the decades long suffering of the Afghan people from wars and intense poverty are frustrating for idealists of all political persuasions and hard to just abandon.

But the lessons of the proud ancient Afghan people fiercely defending their homeland from foreign invaders over millennium has rightfully earned that land the title as the “Graveyard of Empires”. They fended off Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the nineteenth century British and Russian empires and more recently a long unsuccessful Afghan invasion accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is pure fantasy to imagine that our American invasion will somehow be “successful” in a muddled nation building endeavor in which the goals of the effort and the very notion of success are completely undefined.

The Afghan war is just senseless. Like our misadventure in Vietnam, this war has turned into a hopeless and pointless exercise that continues only as an abstraction for domestic politicians to act tough about for their own elections.

However. the sacrifices of our soldiers risking their lives, losing their limbs and dying over this senseless political fantasy are no abstraction.

This war is completely wrong and so is every politician who continues to support it. Any politician who supports the Afghanistan war continuing should be thrown out. It’s just that simple.

We need grownups in charge. This war has to end.

10-18 update: The commander of our young friend’s recently deployed squadron just announced the loss of three soldiers today to the squadron Facebook page. The messages responding are painful to read, knowing that most of those writing have loved ones in the battles too. It’s so sad to have such brave, patriotic soldiers and their families suffering so much for such a senseless war. It just has to end.


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Filed under Politics, Uncategorized

Common Sense Political Positioning

Over at Reason.com, in advising President Obama : “Don’t Bash the Chamber of Commerce”, Terry Michael, a self proclaimed “Libertarian Democrat” suggests:

The government should assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies. Spread pluralistic democracy and free markets by example, understanding that neither can be planted by force on political real estate lacking indigenous cultivators for their growth. Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century civil rights, fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups.

If only there were a few such rational and sensible people in Congress.

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The Responsible Politician’s Pledge

It is irresponsible insanity that we have allowed our current  federal deficit to grow to around 10% of GDP, have allowed our government to budget for deficits in the trillion dollar range far into the future, have allowed unfunded federal liabilities to grow to over $100 trillion and have allowed our state and local governments to drift into equally irresponsible fiscal condition.

Despite all the attention to taxes in the press these days, fiscal problems as huge as we face simply can’t be fixed on the revenue side. Raising tax rates will only further weaken the economy and reduce actual tax receipts. We need Congress, state legislatures and local governments to all seriously address the cost side of the equation by eliminating at least 30% of existing government spending – across the board.

At the same time, we need to address the ever growing regulatory burdens in our country that are stifling creativity,  job creation and productive economic activity. The ever growing morass of regulation is leaving our businesses uncompetitive in the global economy, while facing huge uncertainties and unable to respond effectively to domestic opportunities.

The good intentions of all kinds embedded in our current laws, programs and regulations are killing our economy and severely threatening the viability of our nation’s economic future.

Despite all the other challenges we face, we cannot afford any more idealistic good ideas from our leaders in government, at least not until we get our fiscal house in order. More than anything, we need to reduce the costs and damage created by all the idealistic good ideas that we are already stuck with.

We should only elect politicians willing to make a pledge to not create any new programs, create any new regulatory burdens or fund any new projects at all for the duration of their term. They should all spend their next terms focused entirely on eliminating and trimming existing unaffordable programs and regulations that we are already burdened with. By necessity that will involve making the hard unpopular cuts in politically untouchable programs like Medicare and Social Security, as well as completely eliminating vasts swaths of government activity.

We can’t leave our children with our inexcusable levels of government debt and regulation.  We need to elect only politicians willing to make the hard and immediate cuts necessary to restore fiscal and economic responsibility to our government.

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