Archive for March, 2011
We all know about the efforts by unions and other lefties to recall eight Wisconsin Republican state senators, and to overturn the results of last year’s election, and this year’s vote to limit public sector unions.
You may not know about another effort to do so by politicizing a race for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Unlike our justices, who need only face retention votes, Wisconsin State Supreme Court justices run against each other in nominally non-partisan elections. Via National Review:
The Greater Wisconsin Committee is preparing to throw $3 million into the judicial election to defeat Prosser — not because it is feared that he will fail to administer the law impartially, but because it is feared that he will. To that end, Wisconsin Democrats are working to install one of their own on the court and, if the GWC ad is any indicator, they are prepared to do just about anything to win. Because of legal restrictions, Prosser cannot solicit contributions to aid his campaign under this onslaught. But you can help his campaign by helping the Wisconsin Club for Growth (donate here) or donating to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (donate online here; fax donation form here).
It is important that conservatives nationwide make this campaign their own.
Indeed it is. The elections is next Tuesday, April 5, and the day before, Monday, April 4, unions across the country plan to hold “events.” It’s quite clear that the “event” in Wisconsin will be little more than a campaign rally for Prosser’s opponent.
As Ross Kaminsky has pointed out in recent days, what’s needed is a national effort here, not just against the recall efforts (that will come later), but also for Justice Prosser. If successful here, unions may succeed in cowing the one Republican they need in Ohio’s State Senate to kill a bill limiting public unions in that state. You can forget about making progress in California. And they’ll feel a free hand to go on the offensive in places like Colorado, where thus far, efforts to organize state workers have more or less been a bust.
State legislators across the country will learn a lesson about who’s in charge, and their resulting unwillingness to take bold positions will demoralize the Tea Party movement at a critical moment, and deny citizens victories over would-be aristocrats at a moment when we had all the political momentum, and stretch these battles out for years.
The Left picked this battlefield because it looks like the friendliest turf around for them. If they can’t win in Wisconsin, it’s hard to see where they can win. If we can win in Wisconsin, it’s hard to see where we can’t.
Folks, we’ve seen this movie before, right here in Colorado, where it was test-piloted and perfected: it’s called “The Blueprint,” and this is it on a national scale. It’s a scaled coordination of resources at a point where they can make the most difference. In fact, this may even be the national rollout of that plan. Here’s State Senator Randy Hopper on Fox News:
HOPPER: Well, I can tell you in my district the person that’s heading up the recall effort in my district was doing some work on behalf of either the administration or big labor in Colorado prior to moving into my district to do my recall.
Tea Parties don’t like to be astroturf (as opposed to the Left, which merely has an aversion to looking like astroturf), which sometimes leads them to be resistant to coordination. And independent-mindedness is a virtue. But in situations like this, it plays right into the strengths of union-led activism: their ability to coordinate money and activists on whatever scale is necessary, their exemption from many campaign finance restrictions, and the fact that they’re an easy address to find.
It is necessary – now – to contribute to these advertising efforts, and to the recall campaigns of affected senators. No Republican, Tea Party, or activist event should go by without passing the hat.
It’s hard, raising money for someone else, out of state. But that’s where the battle is.
It’s hard, raising money for an election, when you’re not a party member. But it’s one thing to punish Republicans in office for doing the wrong thing. It’s another thing altogether to let the other side punish them for doing the right thing.
UPDATE: And as if on cue, this morning, JJG, Barclays ETF on grains, is up almost 5% this morning. This is not just a generalized inflation play (meaning this isn’t just about the Fed printing dollars), since GLD and TBT (the bearish bet on the 10-year Treasury) are up, but only about 1%.
Much has been said about the contradictions between the energy policy that President Obama announced today, and how his government has behaved up until this point. But even taken on its own terms, today’s ethanol-and-natural-gas announcement contains enough internal contradictions to make it fall over like a basketball player with his shoes tied together.
The key point here is that ethanol already depends heavily on natural gas. Twice. Directly, as an ingredient in its production. But ethanol is made from corn, and corn – especially when planted in the same fields, year after year – requires a lot of fertilizer. And the key component in ammonia-based fertilizers like anhydrous ammonia, urea, and ammonium nitrate in nitrogen. From natural gas.
When I worked at the brokerage, one of the companies we covered was a fertilizer company (since bought out), based in the heart of the corn belt. We considered it an ethanol play, with the company remaining profitable as long as corn plantings increased and natural gas didn’t get too expensive. Again. Here’s the chart for the wellhead price of US natural gas:
In 2007, during the last burst, corn planting came at the expense of soybeans, which returns nitrogen to the soil. This meant a large increase in the amount of fertilizer necessary. For the last few years, soybean planting has returned to its long-term trendline, and increased corn production appears to have occurred at the expense of winter wheat, which uses a comparable amount of fertilizer:
Up until now, that’s meant that increased corn plantings, inadequate though they may be, haven’t in and of themselves driven up the price of natural gas. This year, however, soybean plantings may be down, as corn nears its postwar high, meaning additional natural gas demand.
All of this is happening even without Obama’s intervention to commandeer even more of our food for fuel. We already push 1/3 (yes, one third) of our corn harvest into ethanol plants rather than kitchen tables, which amounts to about 8% of the world supply of corn. Any additional ethanol subsidies will only make things worse.
Moreover, Obama’s plan does absolutely nothing to increase natural gas production. To do that, he seems satisfied to ride herd on oil and gas companies that already have more than enough incentive to increase production, if only our government would let them. (Sadly, Colorado, between Ken Salazar and Diana DeGette, is playing a disproportionate role in enforcing that dictate.) He does, however, propose all sorts of subsidies to encourage increased natural gas consumption, promising to drive the price up even farther.
To circle back to my original point, this is going to make ethanol unprofitable even with subsidies. Just for fun, I went back and looked at the gross profit margin for Green Plains (GPRE), a major ethanol producer, and compared it to the natural gas price six months earlier, for the last 8 quarters:
The correlation is an astounding -0.96, which is about as close to metaphysical certainty as you get in statistical analysis. Those who know something about statistics will say that the outlier increases the correlation, and they would be right. If we get rid of the outlier, the correlation is still -0.84, and the slope of the line only changes slightly. If the other points, the ones below 6.00 on the price scale, were clustered together, that would be a problem. But they lie on a nice line of their own.
Using a very rough model, using the company projections for unit sales over the next year, assuming that interest rates don’t rise and the company doesn’t take on any additional debt, the wellhead price of NG would have to rise to 6.8 to eliminate the company’s pre-tax earnings completely for the next year. That’s happened twice over last decade, and this administration’s policies will only make it more likely. Let that happen, or interest rates rise, or both, and see how fast Green Plains decides that it really does need those subsidies – and more – after all.
To the extent that ethanol production can increase, it will help drive up natural gas prices. To the extent that it can’t, its price will rise, and it will need compete for ever-more-scarce natural gas.
Even if ethanol weren’t already a colossal waste of money and resources, this plan couldn’t be designed any better to make things worse.
In this at least, Obama’s being consistent with the rest of his economic policies.
Today’s ethanol industry can prosper without government incentives, the founder of Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. said Thursday.
Ethanol has become an integral part of the country’s energy picture, in demand not only from motorists but also from oil refiners who use it to boost the octane of the gasoline they produce, said Todd Becker, president and CEO of Omaha-based Green Plains.
The economics of the fuel industry, combined with new production technology, make ethanol 40 cents a gallon cheaper than gasoline, on average, Becker said. That gives ethanol producers like Green Plains a cost advantage that will outlast the government’s 45 cents-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol-blending companies.
The blenders’ tax credit eventually will end, he said, but should be followed temporarily by incentives that would increase demand for ethanol. Those incentives would encourage gas stations to install equipment to sell high-ethanol fuel and the auto industry to make and sell vehicles that use high-ethanol fuel.
If Mr. Becker thinks ethanol is profitable, then he should be able to borrow against those earnings to build the delivery infrastructure himself. If gas stations think that ethanol is profitable, they should be able to finance the dispensing equipment. If I think ethanol is profitable, I’ll lend it to them.
But if they can only make all this happen with government subsidies, then maybe it isn’t really all that profitable after all, and directing resources to it is just more of the massive misdirection of resources that has been part and parcel of trying to grow fuel rather than drill, mine, or capture it.
Bob Balink, El Paso Treasurer and former El Paso County Clerk & Recorder, and Duncan Bremer, former El Paso County Commissioner, have weighed in with a precise tactical nuclear strike about what putting people like Jon Hotaling and Dudley Brown (more about him in a moment) in charge of the State Republican Party would mean, including a number of angles that, not surprisingly, I hadn’t considered.
Primaries don’t have to be divisive. The can make both the winner and loser stronger candidates, can generate interest, and can help the party define itself. But the sort of behavior that Hotaling et. al. engage in makes one wonder if there ought to be a maturity exam for graduating high school.
As for Mr. Brown, he’s also closely associated with Jon Hotaling. Well, birds of a feather.
I have my own experience with Dudley “Just Call Me ‘Zool'” Brown, one that is apparently not dissimilar from that of other candidates who didn’t return his questionnaire. With the same unerring instinct for alienating those who agree with him, Dudley decided to chime in on a completely unrelated FB thread to torpedo my own candidacy:
This was in the general election, fer cryin’ out loud. A number of friends – people who are actually familiar with my politics – jumped to my defense, of course, but I’m a big boy, and schoolyard taunts from people of Dudley’s stature don’t particularly bother me. But this sort of behavior – along with its entitlement mentality – transplanted to the Party HQ is going to start costing us elections.
Before we elect Ted Harvey State Chairman, it’s time for him to tell his posse to stay home.
Well, it turns out that being first isn’t always being right.
The letter sent out over Jon Hotaling’s name, using the PO Box address of the Colorado Christian Coalition in Denver turns out not to have been written by Jon Hotaling, but by someone playing an extraordinarily dirty game for relatively low stakes.
As mentioned before, the letter was received by a number of members of the State Central Committee, one of whom scanned the letter.
I suppose if you blog enough, this sort of thing is bound to happen, but that doesn’t really excuse it. Dirty politics is one thing, but this is fraudulent through and through, and it was through misfortune and over-eagerness that I got caught in it.
My apologies to Jon Hotaling directly, and to Ted Harvey, for having run with a story that was evidently calculated by someone to damage their reputations.
Since there’s no benefit to leaving a fraudulent letter posted on the net, I’ve removed the post, and posted Hotaling’s reply , and will embed it here when it’s done processing over at SlideShare.
That was one of the less forgettable catch-phrases from the 70s, when the independent trucker seemed to embody what remained of the free spirit of America. The part, anyway, that was engaged in constructive work rather than the self-indulgent self-destructiveness that came to pass for independence during that decade.
In fact, trucking has become increasingly regulated over the years, so much so that the notion of the independent trucker, gamely staying awake to deliver his load, is a thing of the past. And with good reason. These are very large, very dangerous vehicles. They’re necessary, but they share the road with, and occasionally crush, passenger vehicles a fraction of their size and weight. As a result of making sure that drivers get a decent amount of rest, the number of fatalities involving heavy trucks, per 100 million miles traveled, was at 2.34 in 2005, down from 6.15 in 1979. More recent analyses have it falling even farther. And those same statistics show truck driver fatigue as a factor in only 1.7% of those crashes. The accident rates continue to decline.
So naturally, what we need is: more rest time!
That’s right. The government has proposed rules that will require longer rest times, fewer hours on the job, more frequent breaks. At first, this sounds like something truckers might like. Until you realize that it’s basically forced idleness, with little marginal benefit to the rest of us using the roads. Truckers hate sitting around. They have loads to deliver, and a forced 15-minute break is actually more stressful, because instead of taking the break when the need it, they’re just as likely to be sitting around watching the clock tick until they can get back on the road.
The company that I am currently contracting for, Werner Enterprises, ran a little experiment with one of their more seasoned drivers, asking him to work to the rule for a month to see what would happen. Turns out that idle trucks aren’t just the Devil’s workshop, they’re also expensive. Two-day trips stretched into three days, and his income, which is based on miles covered, dropped 6% year-over-year. Adopted nationwide, these standards would not only play havoc with the many businesses that use just-in-time inventory management, they would amount to a pay cut for the drivers they’re supposed to help. And in an industry that tends to face driver shortages in good times, anyway, it would require even more drivers, and even more trucks, with all of the overhead that implies, even before they drive their first mile.
This is not an industry that opposes regulation for opposition’s sake. They ended up supporting, for instance, the stricter rules against cell phone use. There are signs on many of the tables in the company cafeteria warning truckers against cell phone use, not on the grounds that if they get caught, they’ll lose their commercial license and have to hitchhike back home from Keokuk, but because it’s dangerous.
They object to this brilliant idea, cordoning off I-70 at certain hours, because it would greatly complicate route planning, on a fairly major truck thoroughfare. (C’mon guys, just widen the road, already.) In combination with the new rules, mandating stops where it might or might not be possible to stop, it would turn driving that stretch into a nightmare.
Colorado’s own Cory Gardner serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which might be able to exercise some oversight here. (Although, so does Diana DeGette, who’s probably miffed that even after decades of trying, there are still trucks on the road at all.) Perhaps he can take a look at this.
Today is Purim, the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Jews over Haman’s genocidal faction in ancient Persia, during the Babylonian exile. As always, there are questions.
On most holidays, Jews recite a set of Psalms of praise and thanksgiving collectively known as Hallel. We do recite it on Chanukah. We do not recite it on Purim. Why?
Rav Yosef Soloveitchik argues that the reason is that Chanukah established Jewish independence, and therefore regaining control over our own destiny. Purim, on the other hand, was a reprieve, but one that left our fate in the hands of a king and a system that had been proven arbitrary. (The difference between Fate and Destiny is one that Rav Soloveitchik explores in greater depth in an essay, later released as a short book, by that name, Fate and Destiny.) Purim thus established the “Fiddler on the Roof” scenario, the shtetl paradigm, that would come to dominate and define Jewish existence for most of the next 2500 years, interrupted only by the 2nd Commonwealth.
And arrested again by the establishment of the State of Israel.
While many times Ahashveraus, the Persian king, is depicted as foolish, rather like the king in Aladdin, the rabbinical commentators see him as considerably more malevolent, anywhere from looking for a reason to exterminate the Jews to hostile, and willing to let himself be persuaded in the matter. They note that it was under his rule that reconstruction on the Temple came to a halt, under obstacles and threats from the throne.
Which brings us to today.
While history doesn’t repeat, President Obama is certainly doing a fine, fine Ahashveraus impersonation when it comes to Israel. His hostility is manifest, and even if he’s not willing to take positive action himself on the matter, he doesn’t seem very interested in doing anything to impede Israel’s neighborhood enemies. His recent on-again-off-again veto or not of yet another Security Council resolution on Israel was designed as much to show the Israelis who was in charge, as though Israel really believes it can willingly alienate an American president. His lecture to American Jewish leaders that they need to “search their souls” on Israel’s (and their) desire for peace, made the implicit threat almost explicit.
Much of the point of Fate and Destiny is the difference between being active in your future, and being passive, at the mercy of other people and forces. (I’m not sure if the essay, written to provide a theological basis for Orthodox support for Israel, uses the Purim-Chanukah comparison. Undergoing an Omahavian exile myself, I don’t have access to my copy.) Unfortunately, then, as now, too many Jews are more comfortable acting under those parameters. It is too much like a replay, at a national level, of the deals-for-today that Jews had to make for centuries for their communities to survive.
Instead, we should be acting forcefully to shape our own future. Forcefully doesn’t mean recklessly or insultingly. But as an Orthodox Jew and a patriotic American, I believe that Israel’s interests & principles, and those of the US coincide far, far more often than they collide, and lucky for me that they do.
Right now, when we have a President who shows himself to be uncertain at best about American interests and principles, the temptation is to try to ride things out. But such decisions, taken cumulatively, have long-term consequences. It’s one of the reasons why I supposed Sharon’s disengagement strategy – it was an attempt to seize the initiative and set the terms of the debate, and but for his age and health, it might have succeeded.
We need to remember that we do have another choice. We are lucky to live in an age when we can choose Chanukah over Purim.
This post isn’t about the wisdom of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya. I’m leery of this in the same way I was a little leery about our involvement in Kosovo: we’re on the right side, I’m just not sure we’re doing the right thing. But troops are in action, and that calls for support, and prayers for their safety and success.
This post is about Arab fecklessness and manipulativeness, which often go hand-in-hand. March 12:
The league’s secretary-general, Amr Moussa, was quoted in the German weekly Der Spiegel as advocating a no-fly zone in advance of the meeting, though he conceded it wasn’t clear who would impose it and how.
“I am talking about a humanitarian action,” Moussa said. “It is about standing by the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their fight for freedom against an increasingly inhumane regime.”
The Arab League does not have the ability to impose the no-fly zone itself, but the decision is seen as an essential first step before the European Union, the United Nations and the United States move forward with official considerations of the proposal. (Emphasis added)
But Arab League chief Amr Moussa said what was happening was not what Arabs had envisaged when they called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said.
For some reason, the Arab League’s support was considered a diplomatic necessity before stepping in. I’m sure there’s a reason this qualifies as “Smart Diplomacy,” but hopefully we’ll at least file this away for future reference. This group of impotent “leaders,” running militaries incapable of imposing a no-fly zone by themselves, even with the air forces we’ve supplied them over the decades (I’m looking at you, Egypt and Saudi), turn to NATO to do the work, and then turn around and complain about it when, you know, the work gets done.
Don’t tell me they didn’t know what was involved. There was no-fly zone over parts of Iraq for over a decade, and its enforcement occasionally involved breaking things and killing people. These folks have a remarkable capacity for sympathy about human suffering when it’s politically useful, and not too often otherwise.
I’m sure we’ll hear the normal plethora of explanations about this. They really didn’t want us to go in. They really wanted us to go in, but to do more. They really want us to go in and do more, but they have secret reasons of their own. They really don’t want us to go in, but they said so to placate their people, and now, they’re doing the same thing once the shooting started. They really want to be able to blame whatever happens on Israel, so they can distract people. They’re telling us one thing behind closed doors, and saying something different in public because they think they have to, or want to, or have some other agenda. They’re using this to bargain for something else.
The fact that Arabs do this sort of thing all the time – saying one thing, then saying something else, then doing a third thing – doesn’t make it normal.
And it certainly isn’t any reason to take them seriously.
Not much of a surprise, at this point, as noted by Claire Berlinski over at Ricochet:
Beit-Oren was founded as a die-hard socialist settlement in 1939. Predictably, it went bankrupt, because socialism doesn’t work. By the 1980s it had no means of subsistence, and the world’s ideological tides having turned, the larger kibbutz movement cut it off. In 1987 about half the population of the kibbutz decided to leave, an event known as the Beit Oren Incident.
In 1988, after an intense period of discussion and decision, the New Kibbutz was on its way with renewed strength and vigor, and many new members. The kibbutz’s financial situation improved, empty apartments were rented to new residents, the kitchen and dining room became an events hall, and various kibbutz enterprises recovered. In June 1995, the decision was taken to privatize services and individual income. This was to be the first in a series of privatizations. Within a short time after this decision, most kibbutz members expressed satisfaction with this arrangement.
As socialisms go, Kibbutzim were among its more humane manifestations. Unlike
residents inmates of the Soviet bloc, people were free to go any time they wanted, and join the majority of Israel that was at least somewhat more capitalist. The country may have been conceived of and run by socialists, but actual kibbutzniks were always a small minority, and capitalism was a vital, if largely latent force in Israel from its beginnings.
In fact, as Sol Stern points out, Tel Aviv was a very capitalist enterprise from the beginning. And since Netanyahu, as Finance Minister, began privatizing large swatches of the economy, its entrepreneurial spirit has been given free rein.
So while it’s not surprising that Israelis are innovators when it comes to water, it’s at least a little ironic that a major Israeli venture capital firm, specializing in water projects, would be located in “Kibbutz” Lavi.
All this must be giving Haman fits.
For some people, you just can’t be socially conservative enough to vote for. Not Jeff Crank:
Jeff, of course, is the head of the Colorado branch of Americans for Prosperity. Hardly RINOs, that’s one of the national organizations that’s help Tea Parties achieve success.
Not Ken Buck.
And now, apparently, not Mark Waller. Yeah, that Mark Waller, the Representative who’s held down the fort on little things like taxes, TABOR, spending, and coming from Colorado Springs, doesn’t exactly have the social views of Arlen Specter.
And it’s all over a bill that isn’t even about abortion.
Rep. Waller introduced HB-1256, which was intended to provide legal recourse to women whose unborn children were killed in automobile accidents. It was intended only to address this lacuna in the law, had nothing whatever to do with abortion, and went out of its way to make sure that was understood. It’s a gap in the law that even pro-choice Democrats understand, and the bill, according to Waller, had broad bipartisan support.
The architects of this fratricidal strategy are Mark and Jon Hotaling, the social absolutists’ less-effective answer to the Koch brothers. Mark headed the Colorado Christian Coalition at the time they produced the above flyer about Crank, and Jon has a long association with Colorado Right to Life, a group that was effectively tossed out of National Right to Life for being too radical.
Colorado Right to Life, the Judean People’s Front (or is it the People’s Front for Judea?) of Colorado politics, decided that since the bill didn’t address abortion, it had to be killed.
RTL issued the following mailer, calling the bill “monstrous:”
They then went on to say that the correct bill would have just implemented the Personhood Amendment, leaving this letter for Rep. Waller:
Since the bill was written not to touch existing abortion law in any way, it also didn’t touch parental notification. But that didn’t stop RTL from using that inaccuracy to whip up opposition to the bill, creating such a political hot potato that Rep. Waller finally had to pull it.
If that’s all it was, it would be another self-defeating act by Colorado Right to Life.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Remember, Jon Hotaling has a long history with Colorado Right to Life. The same Jon Hotaling who:
was manager of (State Senator Ted) Harvey’s short and unsuccessful race against 6th District Congressman Mike Coffman and Wil Armstrong in 2008.
Sen. Harvey still owes Hotaling almost $20,000 for his work on that campaign.
And here’s what he recently had to say about Mr. Hotaling:
Rumors persist that Harvey, if elected chair, will hire the Hotaling brothers to run the state party office. That, his detractors fear, would also mean the party’s candidates would be screened to pass ultra-conservative principles. If so, that might doom the party to failure in more moderate races.
“If only we could be so lucky to hire Jon Hotaling, nobody has a better track record for winning campaigns than he does. Jon would have to take a pay cut to work for the party”, said Harvey.
Look, politics, especially in a middling-size state like Colorado, is a small pond. And the higher you go up the pyramid, the more people know each other. There’s nothing the matter – necessarily – with Harvey using a friend of his to manage his campaign.
But this is absolutely not the sort of thing we want out of a State Political Director. There is a legitimate debate to be had about abortion, but state level-politics requires coalition-building and teamwork, not casting out everyone who doesn’t agree with you 100% on particular issue.
I know plenty of people who, unlike me, voted for the Personhood Amendment, and still voted for me – twice – for State House of Representatives. They don’t want to purify the party, or use good bills like Rep. Waller’s to push their position, to the exclusion of progress on another front.
So, given that, I think it would benefit the party, in advance of next Saturday’s vote for State Chairman, to know his answers to the following questions:
I’m on record in this space arguing that parties are coalitions, and that coalitions need to be big enough to win majorities. Not every election, not all the time. But big enough so you have a chance to implement your ideas and promote your ideals.
Moreover, Ted Harvey has secured considerable – although far from universal – Tea Party support, by focusing not the social issues, but economics and the promotion of liberty. He has a chance here to make a concrete promise that would give credibility to that campaign claim, and to show that those really are his priorities for the state.