Gary Johnson on ‘intolerance’ redux

A couple weeks ago, I commented on the remarks of Presidential candidate and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson regarding the ‘offensive’ Family Leader Pledge signed by fellow GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Yesterday I was invited to participate in a blogger conference call with Governor Johnson regarding intolerance as “a formula for Republican defeat.” Unfortunately I couldn’t participate directly but I asked for the transcript knowing this was an issue I’d broached previously.

Perhaps the question closest to the one I would have asked was offered by New Hampshire blogger Skip Murphy of Granite Grok. I’m going to shorten it just a touch for this purpose, though:

I do have a question about your opening statement, on social conservatives.  Certainly the Tea Party is focused on the fiscal issues, but as we all know, social issues often have a fiscal cost to them as well.  If you look at Medicaid, Social Security, other entitlement programs, have an outsized cost to them.  Is it really something that Republicans and conservative Republicans should do?  To concede the social issues to the Democrats and step away from that arena?  And thereby letting them raise the fiscal costs of their agenda, versus fighting for what we believe is our agenda, which is cutting the fiscal costs across the board?

Governor Johnson responded:

Well, if you’re talking about fiscal costs, I don’t know where an intolerance to gays, I don’t know where a woman – where decision making should be taken away from a woman, and I’m talking about abortion – and, that that should be the driving issues of the Republican Party.  And I guess I could go to immigration, and to the xenophobia about immigrants, and there are costs associated with illegal immigration.  I think they should be addressed, but they don’t involve, in my opinion, building a fence, or putting the National Guard arm in arm across the border.  There’s some real, rational steps that can be taken, and really, a win-win situation: immigrants that want to come in to this country to work being allowed to work.  And businesses that would like to take advantage of being able to get workers that they currently can’t get, because of our immigration policies and our welfare policies in this country that have us sitting at home collecting welfare checks, that are just a little bit less money or the same amount of money for doing nothing, as opposed to getting out and getting an entry level job.

Murphy pressed further:

Well, I do notice that you brought up some hot button issues that are near and dear to a lot of Republicans.  But I specifically asked about some of the other entitlements: certainly the ever growing welfare state is a social issue, and it certainly has a high fiscal cost.  So, what is your strategy for bringing that down, and again I ask, is that something the Republicans should just forget about, because…

Johnson interrupted:

No, Skip, I didn’t consider welfare as part of this Ames Pledge.  If I missed that, I certainly apologize.  I saw this Ames Pledge as, really, vilifying, or just saying “No” to tolerance.  I saw it as a very intolerant document.  And I am a firm believer that we need to reform welfare in this country, and at the base of reforming welfare is “If you can work, you should work.”

It’s an interesting and broad-based conversation overall, but I think the problem with Gary’s approach is that a lot of the base he’s catering to – the small-government crowd – also cares about social issues.

Johnson makes the mistake of assuming that social conservatives are monolithic in their support of government-centered approaches to issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the general decline of society. As I noted in my original post on the Family Leader Pledge (refer to original pledge here,) I didn’t find a lot objectionable except for the call for a Constitutional amendment on marriage between one man and one woman. It’s not that I have an issue with protecting marriage, but it’s properly a state issue.

Ironically, Johnson is in agreement with me on that, but still chose to call me and others who care about these issues ‘intolerant’ because I don’t fall completely into line with his libertarian views on the subject. Perhaps he hasn’t a problem with certain portions of the Family Leader Pledge (particularly its call for a more limited government) but he chose not to sign it and that should have been enough. Many of the other contestants for the Presidential brass ring have forgone the opportunity as well but they haven’t besmirched the competition who did – even Mitt Romney withheld personal condemnation in refusing to sign.

Certainly I would like to pick and choose aspects of government to strengthen (yes, there are a few) and which ones should release their stranglehold on the American people. There are a few otherwise seldom-discussed planks in Johnson’s platform with which I agree and think should be brought out into the national conversation – chief among them the folly of the War on Drugs.

He certainly would like to limit government. Consider this passage from the call:

I just think that we’ve gone way overboard when it comes to this notion of need and entitlement, if you will.  So I am promising to submit a balanced budget for the year 2013, which would cut 43% of government expenditures at existing levels.  That means Medicaid, that means Medicare, that means military spending, for starters.  So, in that context, 43% reduction with regard to everything it is that government does, I think that is a weeding out process that gets us closer to the notion of helping those that are truly in need as opposed to this notion of entitlement and really this give away that has us in the fiscal predicament that we are in.  Really, we’re broke, and we’re on the verge of a monetary collapse because we print money to cover these obligations.

Good luck getting that through Congress. although it’s only cutting the budget back to 2002 levels. It also brings up a point that across-the-board cuts aren’t necessarily the correct solution – for example I think the budget of the Department of Education should be cut 100 percent, with the savings from the extra share used to maintain a strong national defense.

Yet the point is a good one. We haven’t prioritized spending in decades because the government gave itself a blank check with deficit spending, knowing they have the power to tax (also known as the power to destroy.) It’s time for some fiscal discipline, and I think TEA Party members understand this point. The question which Skip Murphy presented so well is whether we can have it all – advances in both social and fiscal conservatism – and I think the answer is yes, they are nowhere near mutually exclusive.

I would like to thank Gary Johnson’s staff for forwarding me the transcript. He’s been one of the best in working with bloggers, and that’s appreciated whether I agree with him or not.

Cardin: GOP “not playing fair” on health care

Well, that was a fun 40 minutes. Earlier this moring I listened to a conference call with Maryland’s Senator Ben Cardin promoted by the folks at Organizing Against America. It was sort of like sneaking behind enemy lines.

Host Jason Waskey (the State Director) briefly went through the history of OAA, which changed over from an organization to help President Obama get elected to a “special project” of the Democratic National Committee. One of his tasks, Waskey said, was “to make sure plenty of people were at the events” like town hall meetings and such where the subject of health care would come up. But what he was “most proud” about was helping to defeat Michael Steele – isn’t that a touch racist?

Anyway, Waskey concluded his introduction by stating Maryland’s Senators were “very confident” about the bill and “they’ll be great supporters.”

Senator Cardin then jumped on the line and immediately referred to Waskey’s comment on Steele by saying having him as RNC chair was a “plus for Democrats.” (Of course, he can get away with saying such a thing in this crowd.)

But the Democrats in Congress were taking on “the challenges of our time,” which included the “difficult” subject of health care – to the Senator health care was a “moral issue.” Cardin also dismissed the GOP as “they say the status quo is fine.” (And for about 80% of the people the GOP is correct in saying so.)

Then Cardin had some interesting contradictions.  In one sentence he said that Majority Leader Senator Reid has “total support to get the bill done,” yet in the next breath he noted “three or four Democrats are uncertain.” And while he considered the Congressional Budget Office “a thorn,” he was all too happy to cite their figures in making some of his claims.

There were several points the Senator claimed would be addressed in the bill:

  • The health care bill would provide affordable health care and insurance for “all Americans.” (Even though the CBO numbers say that would be an additional 31 million, bringing it to 98 percent.)
  • The bill would bring down costs – Ben claimed that 90% would see a decrease or leveling off of premiums.
  • Passing health care would reduce the deficit – we’ve “always exceeded CBO numbers,” said Senator Cardin.
  • It “saves Medicare,” and Cardin blasted Republicans for trying to restore the cuts in provider compensation, saying you can’t control costs by cutting Medicare.

On the last point, Senator Cardin questioned the fiscal conservatism of Republicans, daring them to put up an amendment to end Medicare altogether. (Hey, if it were properly written in such a way to wean people off it, I’d vote for that. It’s not like Medicare will be solvent when I reach that age anyway.)

Most of the Medicare savings, though, come from ending the “corporate welfare” of Medicare Advantage (although Cardin didn’t refer to that by name.) Ben predicted in answering a later question that we would save if everyone were on Medicare, as opposed to having some seniors on Medicare Advantage.

One claim made by Senator Cardin that left me scratching my head was that costs would be saved by having fewer people use the emergency room because they were insured. But a key component frustrating many physicans who oppose the health care bill is dealing with both paperwork and the limited compensation insurance companies tend to provide, so if fewer physicans are practicing would that not force people to use the ER for services anyway?

The Senator concluded his monologue by telling the hundreds listening in that this was “not a perfect bill” but “we will build on this in the future.” A slippery slope indeed.

Then some lines were opened up for questions – since I didn’t hear a method of chiming in with my two cents, my suspicion is that the questions were prearranged. While they weren’t softballs, they were akin to sending a high school pitcher out to face the Yankees.

Karen from Bethesda asked when Americans would feel the full effects of the bill.

The immediate effects would come in reforming the insurance industry, said Senator Cardin, with provisions allowing children to stay on parents’ policies through age 26, eliminating the restriction of pre-existing conditions, and coverage caps beginning pretty much upon passage. Setting up insurance exchanges for each state would take more time. (Cardin forgot to mention the taxes would also start immediately, too. I think that answers Karen’s question better than Ben did.)

Delegate Tom Hucker was next, and he queried the Senator about the impact on the state budget and the fairness aspect – states like Maryland with overgenerous Medicaid programs wouldn’t benefit as much as other states which are more prudent. (No, Delegate Hucker didn’t put it in those terms, I did. Of the Delegates I’d love to see voted out – aside from my own – Hucker is number one on the list.)

The federal government would pick up the Medicaid costs, answered Cardin, but the “bottom line is you” at the state level. This bill, though, would “finally get the federal government to acknowledge its responsibility,” said Ben. Returning to his love of the CBO, Cardin confided that they may not be able to score that aspect of the program.

Stephanie, a doctoral student in public health at Johns Hopkins, asked about procedural issues – specifically, is there any merit in working with the GOP on compromise amendments?

It was on this answer that Cardin was his most testy – not at Stephanie, but at Republicans. He asked why, if we’re not getting cooperation, are we allowing the GOP’s “message amendments” to be voted on? “They’re not playing fair,” complained the Senator. But he also admitted that they don’t have the 60 votes quite yet because one member of the caucus seems to want to hear all the amendments before he or she makes the decision. (Obviously it’s an important one.)

Cardin also revealed that a manager’s amendment is in the works, so the bill may get more work done before the final Senate decision.

The discussion then turned to the Stupak Amendment, which, according to the Senator, would “violate the unwritten rule that health care reform is neutral on abortion.” And Senator Cardin was “very, very confident it will be rejected.”

Adam from Potomac asked why no attention to tort reform?

This was another opportunity for Cardin to bash Republicans, saying they wouldn’t vote for the bill even if tort reform was included. (And he’d be right, because there’s too much bad to go along with the good tort reform would provide.) It’s more “rhetoric for Republicans,” noted Cardin, and claimed that “it’s not about tort reform, it’s about killing the bill” for Republicans. Actually, it’s about our freedom and way of life, but I’ll give Cardin a half-point for stating the obvious.

Cardin also said the bill addresses some aspects of defensive medicine by mandating electronic medical records, which would eliminate the need for some testing because various ailments would be ruled out by knowing the patient. Fair enough, so why not that as a stand-alone provision?

The final question went to Nina, in College Park. She asked about the public option.

It was “critically important” that the public option be included, said Cardin. It was being “misrepresented in a terribly irresponsible way” by Republicans, and, as Cardin explained it, the public option would create more choice – as it was, Cardin pointed out in an earlier response that 71% of Maryland residents were enrolled in just two insurance companies. (A beautiful argument for allowing insurance to be sold across state lines rather than creating a government-controlled “exchange.”)

Regarding the public option, Senator Cardin continued that it would also have the effect of nationally regulating the private insurance industry and forcing the insurers to open their books to show how much money was being spent on patient care (as opposed to executive compensation, as Cardin played the class envy card before a receptive audience.) “I’m for the strongest possible public option,” Ben said, even as the Senate version was “already compromised.”

I found it interesting that Senator Cardin compared the public option to how federal employees are served with a number of choices. Yet I don’t see him making a move to eliminate his gold-plated health care.

Worthy of note also is that Cardin praised his Maryland counterpart, Barbara Mikulski, for getting an amendment through that mandates coverage of mammograms and assorted other items. I thought I heard Senator Cardin mention “family planning” among them, which leads me to believe it’s going to cover the a-word.

At that point, Waskey returned to the phone and promised a follow-up e-mail to solicit volunteers to phone bank and call key Senators from a number of states, presumably Democrats who are waffling (although he did mention Maine, so Senators Collins and Snowe are presumed to be soft GOP opposition.) I haven’t received that yet, but it should be as amusing as hearing a partisan Democrat Senator speak before an audience he believes is friendly.

My first letter to Frank

I’m going to be curious to see when and how I get a response to this. Here was an opportunity to reach out and touch my newly and duly elected (despite my strenuous objections and serious reservations) Congressman. He has no Salisbury office yet, but e-mail is actually better anyhow.

The bill in question is S.22, which I wrote about last Friday.

On Sunday, the Senate allowed S.22, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, to proceed by voting for cloture. Thus, it’s expected to get a vote in your chamber later this week, although my bet is that even more will be added to the 1,200-plus pages the bill already contains.

There are three main concerns I have with this legislation. First of all, as an omnibus bill there’s more than just land management added. One instance is the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, which was a bill that didn’t get passed last session. The Senate sponsor decided to add this into the bill in hopes of sneaking it through without as much debate. Many of your fellow House members are notorious for doing the same thing to “must-pass” bills.

Secondly, one provision of S.22 pulls an estimated 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil off the market by restricting the use of the land overhead in Wyoming. At a time when we have energy companies willing to invest their own capital into our economy in order to secure new supplies, taking them “off the market”, so to speak, seems like a poor move given both our economic situation and dependence on foreign energy supplies. While I know you favor alternatives in energy, the technology isn’t ready for a switchover and may not be for some time.

My third concern comes out of respect for private property rights. By placing areas under federal control (such as “wild and scenic” rivers, for example) many of those new restrictions negatively impact landowners whose plans for their private property would be altered because they would run afoul of federal dictates. Moreover, any privately-held land directly acquired by governmental entities comes off the local property tax rolls, dealing a blow to the financial well-being of local governments.

I hope you’ll take these arguments into consideration and vote against the passage of S.22 through the House.

While it may do just as much good as my brief conversations on Friday with the staffers of Senators Cardin and Mikulski (both of whom voted for cloture), I decided to make my feelings known. It’s a good chance for Frank to establish those “independent” bonafides he campaigned on, because as I write this he hasn’t gone against his party brethren yet in any vote.

Answer to the question

If you saw this post right after it went up, my apologies for not having the charts come up. I forgot the source was a transient website address, now I’ve corrected the oversight. I also put in a short explanation of what the charts represent.

I told you Jane Van Ryan reads my site. Yesterday I received an e-mail in my box regarding a query I had in Wednesday’s post about gas prices and other oil-related news. In getting the answer, I found out that I misread the chart but lucked into asking the right question anyway. The date in question for the huge marketing/manufacturing bump was September 5, 2005 – not 2006. As most recall, September 2005 was the period immediately after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast. Naturally I would have realized the reason had I seen the date correctly – ah! right after Katrina!

But here’s her answer:

I’ve got the answer to the question posed in your blog post, and it’s is precisely as I expected. Here’s how one of our economists explained it:

First, it is important to remember that the 9/5/05 figure is a one-week snapshot in time…right after Katrina.

Second, the figure is for manufacturing and marketing (and transportation, margin (both wholesale, retail, and distribution), and all other costs.

This figure is very volatile—tending to broaden as prices go up (widening out the most when prices are spiking) and narrow as prices go down (shrinking the most when prices are plummeting).  This is partially because it includes the expected costs of the next shipment. When refineries are offline it tends to rise as well (as with Katrina/Rita) and different product formulations also affect the price (higher costs for summer blends vs non-summer blends).

It is better to look at the numbers over longer periods of time instead of a weekly snapshot—over a month or a year, for instance…and better to look at same-month comparisons vs different months (with different product formulations).

For September 2005, the cost was $1.119, for September 2008 it was 82.7 cents.

Annual averages (inflation adjusted):  from 1980’s peak of $1.1509, the manufacturing/marketing/transportation/margin component fell to 39.46 cents in 1999, rising back to 74.06 cents in 2007.  For the first 10 months of 2008 it is estimated at 55.04 cents.

This chart shows the manufacturing and marketing cost component of gasoline from 1980-2006.

This chart shows the manufacturing and marketing cost component of gasoline from 1968-2004.

So far for 2008, the monthly averages have been well below 60 cents (with the exception on September and October in the aftermath of Gustav and Ike).

This chart shows the manufacturing and marketing component cost of gasoline during 2008.

I hope this helps.

By the way, another interesting data point not in the Pump Price Update is the “Refiner Margin”  (the difference in price from crude and gasoline in the spot/futures market).  It is out of this number that the actual cost of manufacturing gasoline is taken…it has been NEGATIVE since October 3.

Refinery margin graph for 2008, showing the negative margin of late.

So far in 2008 it has averaged 11.05 cents…down from 2007 (27.58 cents), 2006 (22.13 cents), 2005 (26.77 cents), 2004 (21.62 cents), 2003 (16.48 cents), 2002 (13.77 cents).

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best,

Jane

Can you tell an economist answered this? Holy smokes, that’s a lot of data – and all because I misread a number!

But Jane does bring up another good point, one that is often missed when talking about gas prices. The price at the pump isn’t set by what was paid for the gasoline that’s in the station’s storage tanks but rather by the next tankful the station owner has to buy. This tends to explain the phenomenon where prices seem to spike upward quickly but take their sweet time to decline. And the formulation aspect is also important around here because there’s a certain time of year (we just passed through it) where gasoline in Delaware runs cheaper than it does in Maryland – I’m told that is because of formulation differences between the two states. Now that both states are back on a level playing field the prices have reverted back to the norm of Delaware being a few pennies more than Maryland.

I don’t know if I can give you a college semester’s credit for reading this post, but I certainly imparted a lot of data to my readers and managed to get all the charts to come out. All told, I’m just pleased that the price of a gallon is back down to a level more in line with sanity – and I’m sure Jane and her cohorts would agree that now’s the time to work on keeping it that way!

Unsolicited response #2

With all the traveling he did around the country supporting Barack Obama’s Presidential bid, I thought Maryland’s Senator Ben Cardin wasn’t going to respond to the note I detailed back in September. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting a response but since I put up Senator Mikulski’s reply what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for contacting me about the troubled state of our nation’s economy. Over the past few months, I have heard from thousands of Maryland families who are struggling with the aftershocks of the housing crisis and the declining stock market, as well as high energy and food prices. These economic concerns are foremost on my list of issues to address in the weeks to come.

As your Senator, I want to assure you that I take your concerns seriously. In these difficult times, I am committed to working in a bipartisan manner to find effective legislative solutions to benefit working families, who have been hardest hit by the downturn. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will be involved in crafting next year’s budget resolution, which will become the blueprint for Congress’ spending decisions. It will be my top priority on the Committee to keep a watchful eye on the nation’s balance sheet and guarantee that efforts to repair our economy are in the best interests of taxpayers.

After years of inadequate oversight and lax enforcement of existing laws, Congress must also act to guarantee greater transparency and accountability so that consumers, homeowners, and investors are adequately protected. Additionally, we must reform our complex system of regulation so that we can help stabilize the markets and increase the availability of credit to families and small businesses.

As we look forward to the new Administration and the 111th Congress, which will convene in January, I ask you to continue to keep me informed of your views on efforts to improve the economy. With your help, we can work together in pursuit of bipartisan solutions to improve the lives of working families and our country as a whole.

Thank you again for writing to me.

Instead of a signature, I was invited to receive his e-newsletter which I indeed signed up for. It’s never too early to prepare for the 2012 campaign.

Seriously, it seems to me that many of the problems Senator Cardin cited in his first paragraph have less to do with lax government oversight than with too much interference and regulation. [I’m also wondering how he can talk about “inadequate oversight” and “reform(ing) our complex system of regulation” in the same paragraph and keep a straight face; that is unless he agrees there’s too much regulation – and I’m not holding my breath on that one.] Just for two examples, the subprime mortgage problem stemmed in large part from heavyhanded federal interference in the lending industry, with banks being threatened by ACORN and their allies with legal action if they didn’t loan money to those who wouldn’t necessarily qualify. It can also be argued convincingly that mandates on the usage of ethanol led to the spike in food prices as the price of corn sailed to all-time highs; in turn that jacked up the cost of dairy products and other foodstocks which depend on corn for their composition. ‘Tis the folly of using food for fuel, courtesy of Al Gore and Congress.

I can also speak to the lack of domestic oil activity and high fuel prices because of onerous environmental regulations and the offshore drilling ban that only recently expired – however, Senator Cardin’s party is the force behind a bid to restore the ban. Possibly the only one of the problems Senator Cardin noted which I can’t blame the majority Democrats in Congress for in some way is the declining stock market – on the other hand, there are some in his party and who think along similar lines as they do who believe that 401.k and other individual retirement accounts like the ones I have should be regarded as taxable income. Perhaps that can explain some of the sluggishness of the stock market.

And why is it that it’s always, ALWAYS, about “working families”? I happen to be a working single person, but beyond that, what’s wrong with advocating solutions to benefit everyone regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation and most particularly income level. I don’t suffer from class envy like many of my fellow bloggers who reside to the left of me do.

Also it’s worth asking Senator Cardin that, if he’s a proponent of “transparency and accountability”, where does he stand on eliminating earmarks? Sure, they’re not a large chunk of the overall budget but every little bit helps. Lord knows we’re not going to see much in the way of entitlement reform for at least the next two years, and perhaps we’ll take a large step backwards as President Obama finishes the job President Clinton vowed to do in the 1996 campaign – “fix” (read: eliminate) the welfare reform that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” Congress got passed after Clinton vetoed it twice.

Finally, I would like to know where Senator Cardin reached across the aisle in a bid to shrink or streamline the federal government, or do away with the Gordian knots of red tape individuals and businesses need to wade through in order to succeed. It’s why I don’t wish to be “bipartisan” unless people agree with my principles as a starting point.

I will say one thing, though – if Senator Cardin wishes to know what my views on a number of subjects happen to be, it’s as simple as doing a little bit of web surfing and pointing his browser right here. He should feel free to comment as well. As you readers have seen over the last few weeks, the majority of my comments have been coming from his side of the aisle so why should the Senator not join them?

Ten Questions follow up: Blue Star Mom Deborah Johns

It was one of my most popular posts ever, so I decided to follow up with Blue Star Mom and “Stop Obama Tour” participant Deborah Johns. In this follow-up interview, I asked her how she thought the tour went and what the future holds for her tour sponsor, among other things.

monoblogue: We know the featured speakers on the “Stop Obama” tour were yourself, singer-songwriter Lloyd Marcus, and Internet talk radio host Mark Williams. But how large of an entourage made the trip with you three? And how did you occupy the travel time between venues?

Johns: We occupied our time by answering thousands of e-mails we would receive and confirming the different locations for the rallies we had with local supporters, sending out press releases. This was more work than anyone knows.

There were 5 other people who came along the trip. The guys were responsible for confirming the rally locations, sending out the press releases, contacting local supporters, set up and tear down of our podium and sound equipment. Everyone worked really great together and enjoyed the company of one another.

monoblogue: In the original interview, you noted it was “anyone’s guess” how much press coverage you’d get. Since you did get some reasonably favorable national press coverage, would you consider that aspect of your trip a success?

Johns: I think our press coverage was great. Every location we were at we had local reporters. However, it still would have been nice to get some national coverge. We did, however, appear on Fox and Friends and that was really good. We had supporters come out at 6:00 a.m. to hold up signs and show their support. We then had about 20 of them come on the bus and had coffee and juice together and that was a lot of fun.

monoblogue: A question regarding strategy. Late in the tour, your strategists decided to abandon the Ohio and Pennsylvania stops (except for Toledo, Ohio) and return to Michigan citing encouraging poll results. Now that we can look back and see how closely McCain lost Ohio (by 4 points) do you believe the focus should have been on Ohio instead?

Johns: I still think we made the right decision to go back to Michigan and abandon Ohio, simply because McCain and Palin were covering that so much. Even though we lost there by 4 points, it was a tight race, and we had the opportunity to tighten things in Michigan. We were pressed for time, and Pennsylvania was just impossible to cover at that point.

monoblogue: One thing you were pleased about initially was having a Blue Star Mom on the ticket in Governor Palin. While her and John McCain’s bid came up short, as one who’s not a political insider per se but one who closely follows the political scene, would you consider Sarah Palin the favorite for the 2012 nomination?

Johns: I certainly would like to see her run in 2012. However, my sense is that she probably will not make that bid, she may make a bid for a Congressional or Senate seat instead. We will just have to wait and see. She energized the base of the Republican party and women as well. But we have about a  year and a half to go to see if this is a viable option for her. A lot is going to depend on how the Obama Administration handles things considering his overwhelming lack of experience. He is going to have to surround himself with a lot of knowledgable people who are willing to reach out to the American people and across party lines to maintain their momentum. He is going to be heavily criticized for everything he does, especially by the left if he does not follow through with the things he has said on his campaign trail.  They are a vicious group, unforgiving, and will turn on their own in a heartbeat.

monoblogue: As a follow-up to that, if you believe the national media, they claimed that Governor Palin was a drag on the GOP ticket. Did you sense that with the crowds at any of your stops or did you perceive she was actually the root cause of their enthusiasm?

Johns: I never saw Governor Palin as a drag on the ticket, and never once sensed that from anyone we met on the trip. Here is what happens when a ticket loses. In order for the staffers to save face and to now have to go out and get employed, they start playing the blame game so they don’t look like the ones who mismanaged anything. Personally, it does not do anyone any good to do this sort of thing, there is nothing to gain from it, and I do not believe any of the backbiting comments that are being said about her. That type of diva attitude that is being thrown around would have come out and been very obvious in Governor Palin’s speeches. She was always very warmly received by people and everyone said how genuine she is, and I think it is tragic that these staffers are doing this and it is very unprofessional of them.

monoblogue: Final question. In my original interview I asked about your personal plans if Obama won, so now I shift to your employer’s plans. What will the Our Country Deserves Better organization focus on now that Obama has won – will they become a watchdog-style group staying focused on the Obama Administration or will they branch out into legislative politics and advocacy on a Congressional level?

Johns: We do plan to be a watchdog for what happens in the Obama Administration, especially when it comes to matters concerning our military and national defense.  We are also going to look at Congressional and Senate issues and hold them accountable as well.

**********

Again, I appreciate her taking the time to answer my questions. Deborah told me she had a backlog of 1200 e-mails upon her return, which isn’t surprising given the number of people she spoke to along the way.

In my political life, I’ve met a number of candidates for office and it goes without saying the vast majority of them work hard to secure their election. The same goes for thousands of volunteers and paid staff who devote months to making their choice the most popular one on the ballot.

But you have to hand it to someone who’s not officially affiliated with a campaign or some other elected official stumping on another candidate’s behalf to take two weeks out of their life and travel cross-country on a bus, never really knowing the type of reception they’ll get when they arrive at the next stop or what will come up in the meantime. It’s why I enjoyed the opportunity to twice get a glimpse into that sort of devotion, and hopefully the next time she feels the need to travel across the country from California she’ll stop and say hello to this end of the country.

There is one item to add from the small talk we had after completing this interview, basically talking about where we each would go from here.

I agree with you. I truly wanted fromer Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to run. I think he would have been a much better choice for the Republican Party.

We all need to focus on some bigger issues, like doing away with early voting, and making sure that everyone who is registered to vote is a US citizen so there is no more voter fraud, they are not registered in multiple states.  We have the technology to do this, and for the benefit of the country, this should be done.
 
I am sure you will see a lot of “watch dog” groups being formed for just these reasons. (Emphasis mine.)
I had to let her know that we just adopted early voting in Maryland, so that makes the task that much more difficult.
One new fact of life with the internet, a facet of the 2008 campaign I found fascinating, is the sheer number of new organizations which popped up armed with a pitch and a good e-mail list. A lot of them will likely fade away now that the election is done, but many others will take root and aim for real change in 2010 and beyond. It sounds like hers will attempt to do the same.

The strangest bedfellow

I can only shake my head in wonderment at how I ended up on the mailing list for the Environmental Defense Fund. But I did and they wanted me to send a message to the next President about what I wanted him to do in his first 100 days. And what, pray tell, would that be? Let me fill you in:

In George W. Bush’s first 100 days in office, he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol and put forth a policy favoring increased exploration for fossil fuels and rapid construction of new power plants, rather than exploring conservation and sustainable power generation.  Actions like these, put out so early in his administration, set the tone for eight environmentally destructive years.

As you may be the next President, I am writing to ask you to differentiate yourself from Bush’s policies of the past, and accomplish the following during your first 100 days in office:

1. Introduce legislation to cap global warming pollution.
2. Commit to creating new incentives to unleash energy innovation and build the green jobs sector.
3. Invest in public transportation alternatives to help Americans drive less.
4. Support alliances of industry, environmentalists, and landowners to protect endangered wildlife.
5. Take on the overfishing crisis through new economic incentives for fisherfolk.

By accomplishing these 5 tasks, you will be setting the stage for an environmentally protective administration, and taking the first steps toward undoing the damage the past 8 years have caused.  I urge you to implement this To-Do List within your first 100 days in office.

Once I stopped laughing, I realized that, gee, one could have a LOT of fun with this editable form letter. The only problem is whether the EDF sees it before they send it and can stop it.

Instead, I simply came up with five better suggestions. You can take them as you may. Hell, sign my name to it and send it on in.

In George W. Bush’s first 100 days in office, he refused to fire any of those environmentalist hacks that plague the lower reaches of government and only put forth a policy favoring increased exploration for fossil fuels in his final year, finally ending his father’s prohibitions on offshore drilling. It’s unfortunate that actions like those wanted by the radical environmentalists may yet set the tone for eight economically destructive years if the wrong candidates are elected.

As you may be the next President, I am writing to ask you to differentiate yourself from failed policies of the past, and accomplish the following during your first 100 days in office:

1. Introduce legislation to eliminate the ban on offshore drilling once and for all.
2. Commit to creating new incentives to energy companies to allow them to create jobs.
3. Invest in better transportation infrastructure to help Americans spend less time being stuck in traffic.
4. Support landowners and protect their private property rights from overbearing government regulation.
5. Take on the overfishing crisis through eating more chicken – it tastes better anyway and supports our local economy.

By accomplishing these 5 tasks, you will be setting the stage for an outstanding administration, and taking the first steps toward undoing the damage the environmentalist wackos have caused.  I urge you to implement this To-Do List within your first 100 days in office.

Sincerely,

Michael Swartz

www.monoblogue.us

Maybe they’ll vet their mailing lists a little better next time!

Sorry, since I don’t sponge off donations like the EDF does, I can’t offer you a gift for sending this in like they do. But who needs another travel mug or tote anyway?

Unsolicited response

I saw this on my e-mail yesterday and it made me go, “hmmmmmm….” But then I realized why I got it, and I’ll fill you in after I reveal the note.

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for writing to me about the Bush Administration’s proposal to bail out the financial industry. It’s good to hear from you.

There’s no question that we are in a credit crisis. People who have saved for their retirement, been faithful in paying their mortgage, and worked hard to pay for college are wondering, ‘What is going on?’

They’ve watched Wall Street executives pay themselves lavish salaries. They’ve watched irresponsible lending practices. They’ve watched casino economics, gambling on risky investment mechanisms. Now those very same Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules are being asked to pay the bill for those who didn’t.

Congress must act promptly to restore confidence and stability in the economy. But I will not be stampeded into voting for the Bush Administration bill. During the last seven years, every time there’s a crisis, they generate fear and they generate bad ideas. This three-page bill gives the Secretary of the Treasury unlimited power to intervene in our financial markets without any review by Congress, agencies, or courts. It cannot be rubber stamped by the Congress.

At the minimum, the plan must be limited and temporary – not open-ended. There can’t be any golden parachutes that reward executives for their excesses and their recklessness. No blank checks. There also must be a plan for those who have been hit hardest by the mortgage crisis.

Knowing of your views is very helpful to me. I will keep them in mind as the Senate continues to debate the President’s economic plan.

Thanks again for getting in touch. Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you in the future.

Sincerely,
Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator

So I was sitting there wracking my brain about why I would get that note and then realized that it was sent on my behalf by the National Taxpayers Union – remember this post? Perhaps having that few signers made a little more impact because the note looked more original.

And, truth be told, this is one of the rare moments I agree with our state’s senior Senator – to a point. Yes, anything by Congress regarding this issue should be limited and temporary. But that’s true of almost any issue, yet our Senators have continued to regulate and seek to tax our economy so that there’s no incentive left for entrepreneurship, unless you count further socialization of our society. (They had no issue with subsidizing alternative energy sources at the expense of oil companies, for example.) I too am hoping cooler heads prevail on this issue, given that Congress only has a few days before adjourning for the elections.

Now let’s talk about golden parachutes. Many of those in Congress who allowed this problem to fester for years without being addressed are also due some pretty hefty pensions once they retire (I believe Senator Mikulski is one who’s been there long enough to maximize hers.) Much like Wall Street executives, they fiddled around with taxpayer money while Rome burned too, yet no one’s talking about their failures and threatening to yank their retirement. If it’s proven that these executives committed criminal acts of fraud then they rightfully should go to prison, but there were fair negotiations between them and their companies regarding compensation. I may not like the Big Three giving in to union demands and paying people for not working but these provisions were fairly negotiated, so why should Congress question the motives of these Wall Street executives? Also it seems to me that some of those “irresponsible lending practices” were in place because Congress wished them to be. Before Senator Mikulski plays the class envy card, she should take a hard look in the mirror and see what her hand has wrought in this affair over the years.

And let me question who’s been hit hardest by the mortgage crisis? Most likely it’s those who shouldn’t have gotten mortgages in the first place; still, there’s a lot more of us who do pay on time and aren’t playing speculator than there are “victims.” Unfortunately, we will be the ones hurt the most eventually (while the scofflaws will probably be right back with hat in hand, no lesson learned) because there’s no way our nation can continue on this fiscal path without serious ramifications. It may be better to take the blow now then to wait for yet another shoe to drop.

However, having never heard from her before (or seen her in these parts, normally we just see Senator Mikulski’s Eastern Shore representative) I’m pleased she’s keeping my views in mind. Being an optimist by nature I’ll hold out that slight bit of hope we can teach an old dog new tricks.

Switch and plug

Yeah, another shameless plug. I was actually supposed to be on for this coming Monday, but Bill needed me to switch because of a conflict another guest had and I’m happy to do so.

Listen for me at 7:40 this morning, I’ll be discussing the upcoming WCRC meeting and other political information. (And no I wasn’t up at 5:00, I’m leaving space for my SotW to be on top of the site for awhile.)

Extension of remarks

After my lunchtime post, I had some additional reaction from reader J.M., discussing in more detail Delaware vs. Maryland energy policy. This is just slightly edited for brevity:

I don’t know if you are keeping abreast as to what is going on in Delaware regarding Renewable Energy initiatives.

But DE has been paying for a number of years now $31,500.00 maximum or 50% per each residential installation for photovoltaic(s). In addition, they are paying 50% of the entire installation (with) a maximum of $250,000 for commercial.

Moreover, they are paying $600/ton for installation of high efficiency HVAC 15 SEER or more (with) a maximum of $3,000 per residence. 

The story gets better, I guess you’ve heard of Bluewater’s proposal for the offshore windfarm. They are also moving briskly towards electricity generation on a grander scale.

Now as for Maryland – once again, I have been invited to testify on numerous energy bills during this past legislative session, but I’m happy to report that I’ll not be attending any of them. Why, you might ask? Because this would have made the 4th consecutive year that I would have wasted my gas and time to speak (to) deaf ears.

It isn’t any one party’s fault for lack of an energy policy. I tag the…fault to a totally dysfunctional State as it relates to implementation of Renewable Energy Initiatives. (Emphasis in original.)

So we have a good idea of what J.M. thinks. However I also wanted to take the opportunity of this post to extend something I remarked on this afternoon as well. As I stated:

I don’t have a lot of objection to HB377…except for my longstanding objection to tax legislation being used to pervert market forces.

After writing that I decided it may be a good idea to further this thought. There are a number of ways that business can take advantage of the government and by extension the taxpayer. In this case, government is using the incentive of a grant or tax rebate to shift the playing field of home energy sources toward the use of solar collectors or geothermal heating and placing a disadvantage on electric and natural gas providers. Somewhere there was a lobbyist for the solar and geothermal industry who talked a legislator into introducing this bill originally in order to secure an advantage for the lobbyist’s client company or group.

Similarly, every day government at all levels works at the behest of a particular business or industry to create some sort of advantage for themselves. A couple years ago my adopted hometown of Salisbury created a controversy for itself by allowing tax increment financing to a developer in order to redevelop the site of the former Salisbury Mall – while the mall has recently been demolished as promised, the new construction has not yet begun while the tax increases endured as part of payment have commenced.

We also see this on a regular basis when a large corporation such as an automaker decides it would like to build a large assembly plant someplace in America. States trip over themselves to secure these plants by offering up multi-billion dollar packages which include tax incentives, making the bet that the plant will not just employ thousands of wageearners whose payroll taxes would make up for the lost corporate taxes, but spinoff entities then create thousands more jobs and even more revenue. Sometimes these packages pan out magnificently, but oftentimes the jobs created fall short of expectations and taxpayers get stuck holding the bag while the corporation adds to its profitability. It also skews the market to some extent as other competitors who didn’t get those sweetheart deals have to find a way to make up for the disadvantage, perhaps holding one of their plants as hostage to local governments with a threatened closing if they don’t get a similar pact.

Corporate interests sometimes choose another angle to gain advantage. Similarly to the solar and geothermal bill above but without the individual tax incentives, companies try to game the system through regulation, a practice called rent-seeking. Fellow Red Maryland contributor and Maryland Blogger Alliance member Mark Newgent has been doggedly looking into this in recent weeks on his website The Main Adversary, with an emphasis on the “Global Warming Solutions Bill” scam (a recent example is here); while a good, quick primer on the concept by Thomas Firey can be found on the Maryland Public Policy Institute site.

Sometimes government can create a disincentive as well. Last week a story ran in Business Week (I found it on the MSN site) that talked about “Why Exxon won’t produce more oil“. While the story charged that Exxon/Mobil is being managed solely to maximize profit, one point I saw as key was that Exxon simultaneously was predicting more production in regions like Russia, Africa, and the Middle East but less production in North America and Europe. Where are the most onerous restrictions for exploring? You guessed it, North America and Europe. (By the way, as an XOM shareholder I don’t mind them making a profit, not that the whole nine shares I bought would allow me to retire on the dividends tomorrow.) Some of those restrictions have been placed by entities interested in alternative energy in order to hamper efforts at utilizing the oil we have. (I know oil companies get breaks here and there as well, so don’t start with the conspiracy theories. You all should know where I stand on oil drilling though.)

In a perfect world, all governmental entities would stay out of the free market but we know that’s not realistic. Even by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8 ), Congress is allowed “To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” and “regulate Commerce…among the Several States.” They certainly have taken advantage of that power, and those Several States followed close behind. But to the extent that it’s possible, trying to put this genie back into the bottle is worth attempting because with a more level playing field innovation is encouraged, benefitting all of us.

Crossposted on Red Maryland.

Reader feedback

Knowing that I pay attention to bills in the General Assembly, on Tuesday reader J.M. wrote to me on the subject of energy grants, noting he “doubt(s) very seriously” that an energy grant bill will come out of our General Assembly session. In his opinion, Maryland lags far behind Delaware, which offers, “energy grants for commercial (and) residential customers…(and) implementation of geothermal heating and air.”

“Maryland continues to offer nothing…but demands higher taxes!”

(By the way, the last part was all caps in the original, I decided to be nice to my readers and not yell.)

So I looked up the bill he cited, HB377/SB207. J.M. correctly notes that the bill as amended passed the House of Delegates 137-0 on March 19, so it can be brought over to the Senate for their action before sine die on April 9th. For an O’Malley Administration-sponsored bill I don’t have a lot of objection to HB377 (nor did anyone in the House of Delegates as no one stood against it) except for my longstanding objection to tax legislation being used to pervert market forces. Be that as it may, the idea’s not too radical as solar and geothermal energy are relatively practical for limited applications such as heating a home. I know some who have used geothermal even without a large tax incentive because of the energy cost savings.

Like the bill or not, J.M. is correct on one statement, noting that, “this session…can be chalked up as a defeat for the Maryland taxpayer.” While we may not agree on a lot in the field of alternative energy, he and I share similar sentiments on that opinion.

Another political theory too good to leave in a comment box

Today Michelle Malkin liveblogged the Iowa GOP debate. As one would imagine a number of people have commented, with some asking about just how Alan Keyes got into the fray and a few others who like Duncan Hunter as I do wondering why he doesn’t get more in the way of polling. As sometimes happens, I meant to leave a short answer to these questions but got on a roll!

*****

Way up yonder, several wondered about a) when Alan Keyes got into the race and b) why a solid conservative like Duncan Hunter is not well-known.

To answer the first question, not many have noticed Keyes was in the race because he didn’t announce for it until the middle of September, a few days after Fred Thompson made it official. I know he’s on the Maryland ballot so I assume he’s managed to get on the other state ones as well. Some may recall he also ran for President in 2000 and (as I recall) was a late entry into the Senate race in Illinois in 2004 when the original GOP candidate dropped out. It was that race which put B. Hussein Obama in the Senate.

Now for my theory about Hunter. Let’s look at the nine candidates on the stage and their backgrounds.

We have one man (Rudy Giuliani) who made an abortive run for U.S. Senate but is most known for being mayor of America’s most populous city on the darkest day of my lifetime. (Being in the front row at all those Yankee playoff games didn’t hurt either.)

Then we have two men (Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney) who served as governor in their state. Obviously they play on that executive experience during their campaigns – bear in mind that four of our last five Presidents spent time in a governor’s chair.

The next group of two serve (or recently served) in a body that boasts only 2 elected officials from each state, the U.S. Senate. Both are from relatively populous states and also have at least one other claim to fame, whether it is a prior run for President (John McCain) or a TV gig (Fred Thompson).

Also falling into the onetime run for President category is the aforementioned Alan Keyes.

That leaves three candidates who have one thing in common – they are all members of the House of Representatives. As such, their political base is only about 650,000 people as opposed to the millions who vote for U.S. Senator or for President. So they don’t have a lot of name recognition outside their district. Frankly, Ron Paul has done the best job of gaining popularity despite the small political base but it’s by and large been through taking a page from John McCain’s playbook and being a “maverick” Republican, particularly on the Long War.

Because both Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo are pretty solid conservatives and haven’t built up a lot of name recognition nationwide by grandstanding to the press, they aren’t going to get a lot of play in the partisan media. Both are better known among people like me who study the issues but that hasn’t worked as well with the general public who’s still focused on the “horse race” aspect of the race. Unfortunately most of those people won’t pay a lot of attention until a week before their primary, a point where the candidates with the most money will do a saturation bombing on television with 30 second spots saying “vote for me”, hopefully not pandering too much.

As for me, unless he pulls the plug and withdraws from the race beforehand (sadly, a fair possibility) I’ll be touching the computer screen on February 12 for Duncan Hunter. I studied the issues and he came out on top.

*****

Michelle put up a nice post, with plenty of linked video. I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to do this in the middle of the afternoon, but I guess they were cognizant of the old 6 p.m. news cycle and the Des Moines Register, being dead tree media, probably is put to bed pretty early.

I believe this is the final debate before the Iowa caucuses, so now the candidates will have to use the press to get their message out, including the blogs. I’m always looking for good material to comment on, you know.