Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 17, 2011

Light Bulb Crony Capitalism

Last week, Congress failed to repeal new regulations that effectively banned the traditional incandescent light bulb, making the purchase of new expensive halogen bulbs or florescent lights mandatory. Most Americans buy the line they’ve been sold about the bulb: the new lights are more efficient and therefore will “save the planet.” But what they don’t know is the drive to ban the old bulbs has more to do with the interests of the manufacturers than the poor suffering planet.

COMMENTARY contributor Jeff Jacoby does his usual excellent job of summing up the situation in his Boston Globe column on the subject. Jacoby points out  the push for the regulatory ban was the brainchild of an industry eager to force consumers to buy a new product that costs nearly 10 times as much as the old popular light bulbs. Consumers have been understandably reluctant to shell out more money for the new lights; not only due to the price but also because they are slow working, contain toxic mercury and don’t work with dimmers or some kinds of fixtures. The industry’s response has been to put in a political fix that legislates higher profits for them in return for the possibly illusory promise of greater efficiency. This is, as Jacoby aptly puts it, a classic example of “crony capitalism.”

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Last week, Congress failed to repeal new regulations that effectively banned the traditional incandescent light bulb, making the purchase of new expensive halogen bulbs or florescent lights mandatory. Most Americans buy the line they’ve been sold about the bulb: the new lights are more efficient and therefore will “save the planet.” But what they don’t know is the drive to ban the old bulbs has more to do with the interests of the manufacturers than the poor suffering planet.

COMMENTARY contributor Jeff Jacoby does his usual excellent job of summing up the situation in his Boston Globe column on the subject. Jacoby points out  the push for the regulatory ban was the brainchild of an industry eager to force consumers to buy a new product that costs nearly 10 times as much as the old popular light bulbs. Consumers have been understandably reluctant to shell out more money for the new lights; not only due to the price but also because they are slow working, contain toxic mercury and don’t work with dimmers or some kinds of fixtures. The industry’s response has been to put in a political fix that legislates higher profits for them in return for the possibly illusory promise of greater efficiency. This is, as Jacoby aptly puts it, a classic example of “crony capitalism.”

Republicans who fought for the repeal of this regulation were accused of pandering to the extreme right wing of their party, but the corrupt nature of the ban on the old bulbs was rarely mentioned in the accounts of the vote. Far from attempting to stop progress, all the opponents of the ban want is to let the market decide which bulb will survive. As Jacoby writes, nobody needed a law to force people to buy compact discs instead of long playing records nor to induce them to use cell phones rather than land lines. If the new bulbs truly are better, the old ones will be rendered extinct soon enough.

There is more at stake in this debate than the survival of the incandescent light bulb. Those Republicans, such as Michele Bachmann, who have seized on this issue, understand the impulse to use the government to dictate private behavior is fundamentally anti-democratic as well as economically futile. The GOP effort to restrict funding for enforcing this idiotic rule is a sign the debate is not over. Regulations such as this one may be catnip to both bureaucrats and intellectuals who believe in social engineering and manipulating public behavior to conform to their notions of what is acceptable. But politicians would be better off letting consumers make their own decisions.

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The Obama Legitimacy Doctrine

In Istanbul on Friday, Hillary Clinton was asked about her statement that Syria’s Assad has “lost legitimacy.” She responded that he “lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people because of the brutality of their crackdown, including today.” It was the doctrine President Obama first developed in a February phone call to German Chancellor Merkel about Libya’s Qaddafi :

The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.

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In Istanbul on Friday, Hillary Clinton was asked about her statement that Syria’s Assad has “lost legitimacy.” She responded that he “lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people because of the brutality of their crackdown, including today.” It was the doctrine President Obama first developed in a February phone call to German Chancellor Merkel about Libya’s Qaddafi :

The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.

Qaddafi, a dictator, lost “legitimacy” by using mass violence against his people. Assad, another dictator, lost “legitimacy” because of the brutality of his crackdown. Egypt’s Mubarak, a third one, was informed by Obama that he had to go — “now” — a few months after Obama had welcomed him to the White House as a “key partner.” In each case, the issue was not the dictatorship itself; it was the dictator’s sudden loss of “legitimacy.”

Last week, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren provided a brief history of the family-owned Syrian regime :

[Assad’s] father came to power through a very bloody coup, and he has repressed any attempt to democratize, including 30 years ago when his father killed as many as 20,000 people in one city, in Hama, in a single afternoon, who were protesting for democracy. It’s hard to say that a regime like that ever had legitimacy, and from where.

The Obama Legitimacy Doctrine (OLD) addresses how legitimacy ends, but not how it starts. Under OLD, all leaders are legitimate – eligible for a reset, an outstretched hand, a recess ambassador, or whatever – until they “lose” their legitimacy, although it is not clear how they got it in the first place.

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

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Giuliani Might Sink Romney in New Hampshire

This past week, Rudy Giuliani continued his flirtation with another presidential run with a limited schedule of appearances in New Hampshire. The former New York City mayor hasn’t decided whether he wants to try again for the Republican nomination, but his interest is obvious. While we’ve noted before his chances of winning in 2012 are practically non-existent, if, as reports indicate, a Giuliani run would be focused primarily on trying to win in the Granite State, the consequences of such an effort might be serious for frontrunner Mitt Romney.

While everyone in Giuliani’s camp swears he has learned the lessons of his disastrous run four years ago, the notion the GOP is ready to nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control candidate is farcical. Even if Giuliani runs on his fine fiscal record as mayor rather than on his strong stands on foreign policy and terrorism as he did then, there is even less reason to believe he could now win. But the ability of Democrats and independents to vote in the New Hampshire primary does increase his chances at least in that state. Which is bad news for Mitt Romney, the man who believes his centrist approach and status as former governor of neighboring Massachusetts puts New Hampshire in the bag.

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This past week, Rudy Giuliani continued his flirtation with another presidential run with a limited schedule of appearances in New Hampshire. The former New York City mayor hasn’t decided whether he wants to try again for the Republican nomination, but his interest is obvious. While we’ve noted before his chances of winning in 2012 are practically non-existent, if, as reports indicate, a Giuliani run would be focused primarily on trying to win in the Granite State, the consequences of such an effort might be serious for frontrunner Mitt Romney.

While everyone in Giuliani’s camp swears he has learned the lessons of his disastrous run four years ago, the notion the GOP is ready to nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control candidate is farcical. Even if Giuliani runs on his fine fiscal record as mayor rather than on his strong stands on foreign policy and terrorism as he did then, there is even less reason to believe he could now win. But the ability of Democrats and independents to vote in the New Hampshire primary does increase his chances at least in that state. Which is bad news for Mitt Romney, the man who believes his centrist approach and status as former governor of neighboring Massachusetts puts New Hampshire in the bag.

Giuliani hasn’t a prayer of doing much damage outside of a state like New Hampshire, but he could draw votes from Romney as well as crowding out the already dim hopes of Jon Huntsman. If he does, that could potentially open the door for somebody else, such as Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry, to either win or finish a close second in a state that nobody expects either to win. A crowded field that split the votes of moderate Republicans and the crossover voters could give an opening to a conservative who might otherwise never have prevailed. New Hampshire is designed to go to someone like Romney, and anything short of a big victory there would be a blow to the frontrunner. Since Romney is likely to lose in Iowa, the caucus state that precedes New Hampshire, such an outcome would not only deflate the notion he is the inevitable nominee but quickly put his well-funded candidacy on life support.

The 2008 Republican race was a serious of unlikely and unusual events that led to the victory of John McCain, a man few thought could possibly win in late 2007. This time around, the late entry of candidates such as  Perry or Sarah Palin could throw everyone’s calculations for a loop. Perry’s entrance might cause Giuliani to stay out, while a Palin run could seriously damage Michele Bachmann even if the former Alaska governor’s chances of winning the nomination are probably not much better than that of Giuliani.

We don’t know who will be the beneficiary of a Giuliani candidacy, but we do know Mitt Romney would be hurt the most by it.

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If Polls Should Inform Policy, What About Obamacare?

During his press conference on Friday, President Obama made this claim:

Chuck, you have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach. Eighty percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts.  So the notion that somehow the American people aren’t sold is not the problem. The problem is members of Congress are dug in ideologically into various positions because they boxed themselves in with previous statements. And so this is not a matter of the American people knowing what the right thing to do is. This is a matter of Congress doing the right thing and reflecting the will of the American people. And if we do that, we will have solved this problem.

Matt Drudge has done us the service of calling attention to this poll that shows most voters oppose including tax hikes in the deal. Approximately one-in-three voters (34 percent) believe a tax hike should be included in any legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Well over half (55 percent) say it should not.

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During his press conference on Friday, President Obama made this claim:

Chuck, you have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach. Eighty percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts.  So the notion that somehow the American people aren’t sold is not the problem. The problem is members of Congress are dug in ideologically into various positions because they boxed themselves in with previous statements. And so this is not a matter of the American people knowing what the right thing to do is. This is a matter of Congress doing the right thing and reflecting the will of the American people. And if we do that, we will have solved this problem.

Matt Drudge has done us the service of calling attention to this poll that shows most voters oppose including tax hikes in the deal. Approximately one-in-three voters (34 percent) believe a tax hike should be included in any legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Well over half (55 percent) say it should not.

But just for fun, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Obama has embraced the view lawmakers should act as seismographs, with their votes perfectly reflecting public will.

Since Obama is now so enamored with the idea Members of Congress should support only popular legislation, perhaps one of his aides, or even a reporter, will point out to the president that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is massively unpopular and therefore should be undone based on arguments set forth by the president earlier today.

“The question is at what point do folks over there start listening to the people who put them in office?” the president said this morning. “Now is a good time.”

With that counsel in mind, now must also be a good time to dismantle, with the stroke of a pen, Obamacare. After all, this recent poll shows that by a margin of more than two-to-one (48 to 20 percent), likely voters believe Obamacare would reduce rather than improve the quality of health care. By a margin of more than three-to-one (53 to 15 percent), they believe it would raise rather than lower health costs. By a margin of four-to-one (56 to 14 percent), they believe it would raise rather than lower deficits. Not surprisingly, then, by a huge margin – 54 percent to 39 percent – likely voters support a repeal of Obamacare (independents support repeal by a margin of 19 points, 56 percent to 37 percent).

I look forward to the president’s next press conference, when tough, independent-minded journalists press Obama on the deep, across-the-board unpopularity of his signature domestic achievement — and the president, in bowing to his own logic, endorses a repeal of his most unpopular health care plan.

 

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Anti-Murdoch Hysteria and Hypocrisy

The News of the World hacking scandal continued to fester this week. Accusations were made that the police went soft on the investigation during the past few years. This is extremely messy, and given the nastiness of some of the charges, it is understandable that the British public will demand some people over and above those specifically involved in the crime will be held accountable. Which means that until media mogul Rupert Murdoch can prove himself innocent of any role in the wrongdoing, he and his vast media empire will be tainted, if only by association.

But there are a couple of points about the feeding frenzy in which Murdoch is being represented as the font of all that is evil in the world. One is that as bad as the accusations lodged against the News International organization are, the belief the hacking was solely the product of Murdoch’s influence rather than the longstanding gutter culture of British tabloids seems to be grounded firmly in bias against the publisher. The other is that much of the dumping on Murdoch by rival media outlets is barefaced hypocrisy.

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The News of the World hacking scandal continued to fester this week. Accusations were made that the police went soft on the investigation during the past few years. This is extremely messy, and given the nastiness of some of the charges, it is understandable that the British public will demand some people over and above those specifically involved in the crime will be held accountable. Which means that until media mogul Rupert Murdoch can prove himself innocent of any role in the wrongdoing, he and his vast media empire will be tainted, if only by association.

But there are a couple of points about the feeding frenzy in which Murdoch is being represented as the font of all that is evil in the world. One is that as bad as the accusations lodged against the News International organization are, the belief the hacking was solely the product of Murdoch’s influence rather than the longstanding gutter culture of British tabloids seems to be grounded firmly in bias against the publisher. The other is that much of the dumping on Murdoch by rival media outlets is barefaced hypocrisy.

As to the first, it must be pointed out that Rupert Murdoch did not invent the crazy culture of London tabloids. As Anne Applebaum wisely noted last week in the Washington Post, the tabs thrived on this sort of muck for decades, and the downfall of News International execs fits right into the same story pattern that delighted News of the World readers for a century. Nor can the cozy relationship between large media outlets and politicians and police be attributed to some original insight on Murdoch’s part. While they might be considered regrettable, such ties are a given in any democracy. No “reform” enacted purely to punish Murdoch will change any of this.

Second, while it is also understandable some in the media would get up on their hind legs and huff and puff about how awful this scandal is, the fact that the alleged hacking really is terrible stuff is no excuse for some of the hypocritical criticism doled out by those who don’t work for Murdoch.

One comical example was a piece published in the Washington Post on Friday by, of all people, pornographer Larry Flynt. The idea the publisher of Hustler could teach anyone a lesson about the ethics of journalism is so bizarre you might have thought it was a parody.

Far worse was Joe Nocera’s anti-Murdoch rant in the New York Times on Saturday. Nocera’s interest was in bashing the Wall Street Journal and claiming that Murdoch had destroyed a once-great paper, not commenting about the scandal. The Journal had no role in the hacking, and despite Nocera’s carping, the changes Murdoch wrought at the Journal have been widely praised for bringing new energy and improved features to a paper directly competing with the Times in a way that it has never done before.

Nocera delivered a searing indictment of the Journal’s coverage of the story and what he thought was a fawning interview with Murdoch published in the paper. Even if we were to agree with his assessment of the Journal’s work on this story, it is beyond me how anyone at the Times could have had the chutzpah to write about journalists not subjecting their publishers to the third degree. Suffice it to say the day someone on the Times’ payroll treats their boss Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (whose many follies on both the editorial and business sides of the newspaper are certainly worthy of scrutiny) the way Nocera thinks the scribes at the Journal should treat Murdoch, he will have standing to write about that subject.

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Bolton Launches New Security Group

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton hasn’t decided whether he wants to run for president next year, but he has started a new group whose purpose will be to promote discussion about national security issues. The organization, named Decide America, is focused on influencing the debate in the 2012 presidential race that has been largely devoid of serious discussions of foreign affairs.

The launch of Decide America may be a sign Bolton is ditching the notion of what would undoubtedly be a futile run for the Republican presidential nomination. Bolton’s candidacy would be a major complication for this new non-profit group. While having a foreign policy expert on the stage at the GOP presidential debates would ensure that security issues get a hearing, it is to be hoped Bolton can have an impact even if he doesn’t run.

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton hasn’t decided whether he wants to run for president next year, but he has started a new group whose purpose will be to promote discussion about national security issues. The organization, named Decide America, is focused on influencing the debate in the 2012 presidential race that has been largely devoid of serious discussions of foreign affairs.

The launch of Decide America may be a sign Bolton is ditching the notion of what would undoubtedly be a futile run for the Republican presidential nomination. Bolton’s candidacy would be a major complication for this new non-profit group. While having a foreign policy expert on the stage at the GOP presidential debates would ensure that security issues get a hearing, it is to be hoped Bolton can have an impact even if he doesn’t run.

A terrible economy, concern about the administration’s vast expansion of the federal spending and entitlements via the stimulus and Obamacare and the debt ceiling crisis have combined to shift foreign policy to the sidelines of the presidential campaign so far. But with three wars and a looming crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the horizon, America can’t afford to ignore these perils when electing its next president. Even if he isn’t running, Republicans need to listen to John Bolton’s trenchant criticisms of Obama’s poor treatment of allies like Israel and his feckless and ill-considered policies on a host of issues. Decide America has its work cut out, but it’s a job that desperately needs to be done.

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Will Argentina Kiss and Make Up With Iranian Murderers?

An announcement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Saturday is fueling speculation that Tehran is seeking a rapprochement with Argentina. The statement indicated that Iran is ready to discuss the deadly bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Hezbollah and its Iranian ally were responsible for those crimes which together took the lives of more than 100 persons. Current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is believed to be the person who planned the bombings.

Iran formally requested Argentina drop the investigation into the bombings in March. While efforts to bring the guilty to justice continue, the history of that investigation has been one of delays and political maneuverings inside Argentina that have frustrated the cause of justice. According to an Argentine tabloid that reported the Iranian overture, the South American nation is far more interested in normalizing relations with Tehran than with prosecuting those involved in the bombings.

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An announcement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Saturday is fueling speculation that Tehran is seeking a rapprochement with Argentina. The statement indicated that Iran is ready to discuss the deadly bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Hezbollah and its Iranian ally were responsible for those crimes which together took the lives of more than 100 persons. Current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is believed to be the person who planned the bombings.

Iran formally requested Argentina drop the investigation into the bombings in March. While efforts to bring the guilty to justice continue, the history of that investigation has been one of delays and political maneuverings inside Argentina that have frustrated the cause of justice. According to an Argentine tabloid that reported the Iranian overture, the South American nation is far more interested in normalizing relations with Tehran than with prosecuting those involved in the bombings.

While the Argentines deny they will drop their investigation, the suspicion lingers they would prefer to do business with Iran than prosecute terrorists. Iran already has a foothold in South America in Venezuela where the Chavez regime considers them allies in an anti-American coalition. This illustrates the difficulties in the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate Iran in order to halt its march toward nuclear capability. If even a country that was victimized by Iranian terror is prepared to do business with it, what chance does diplomacy have in persuading others to embargo Iran?

We hope Iran’s Argentina gambit will fail. But the Argentines need to understand if they choose to join Chavez in playing ball with Iran, there will be consequences in terms of their relationship with the United States.

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Take That China! Obama Meets Dalai Lama.

A week ago when the White House let it be known that President Obama would not meet with the Dalai Lama during his current visit to Washington, D.C., we were among those who condemned the decision as both morally wrong and a mistaken appeasement of China. But we’re glad to note that the president thought better of his decision and invited the exiled Tibetan leader to the White House for a private meeting on Saturday.

Among the hallmarks of the administration’s foreign policy has been Obama’s disinterest in the cause of human rights and a desire to appease powerful tyrants. Thus, the president refused to see the Dalai Lama during his first year in office and then did his best to downplay it when he did meet him. He seemed more interested in bowing to China’s demands to isolate the revered religious leader than in making a statement about the rights of Tibetans. So the reversal of the announced snub of the Tibetan icon gives an unexpected boost to supporters of Tibet and a well-deserved slap to the Chinese.

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A week ago when the White House let it be known that President Obama would not meet with the Dalai Lama during his current visit to Washington, D.C., we were among those who condemned the decision as both morally wrong and a mistaken appeasement of China. But we’re glad to note that the president thought better of his decision and invited the exiled Tibetan leader to the White House for a private meeting on Saturday.

Among the hallmarks of the administration’s foreign policy has been Obama’s disinterest in the cause of human rights and a desire to appease powerful tyrants. Thus, the president refused to see the Dalai Lama during his first year in office and then did his best to downplay it when he did meet him. He seemed more interested in bowing to China’s demands to isolate the revered religious leader than in making a statement about the rights of Tibetans. So the reversal of the announced snub of the Tibetan icon gives an unexpected boost to supporters of Tibet and a well-deserved slap to the Chinese.

We don’t know whether this one meeting is a signal the president will take a bit more interest in the religious persecution and cultural genocide taking place inside the Chinese empire or other human rights causes that might cause the administration to risk the displeasure of other tyrannical regimes. Frankly, we’re skeptical about that. But we can always hope.

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