Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 09, 2003

Free Trade For Energy?

President Bush is reportedly proposing a "free trade" agreement among the Uniited States and countries in the Middle East within 10 years.

It's an interesting idea - but I'm not sure exactly what it would mean.

Most of what some Middle East countries (such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and faithful Qatar) produce and sell to the United States is "energy": oil and gas. Of course, this is not true of Israel and Jordan, with which the United States already has free trade agreements. One continually hears calls - especially from certain types of environmentalists, some on the left (such as Al Gore) and even farm state representatives - for different types of "engergy taxes" specifically supported by arguments that such taxes would discourage American "dependency" on foreign (especially Middle Eastern) energy sources and encourage development and use of domestic energy sources, such as coal, wind, geothermal reserves, grain alchohol and even hydrogen. But a "free trade" agreement with any country doesn't mean much if the main products of that country (or the counsumption of such products) is subject to high taxes - if the stated point of the taxes is (or is allowed by the "free trade agreement" to be ) to free the United States from dependency on the products supplied by the nominal "free trade partner." And that is still true even if the taxes apply to all such products, not just those actually imported from that "free trade" partner. So, is the United States still to be allowed to tax all oil if the point of the tax is largely to shift American consumption away from "foreign energy sources" to, say, consumption of US-raised corn alcohol? Or US geothermal deposits? Or US-created hydrogen or coal?

Would a "free trade zone" with the Middle East end the possibility of "carbon taxes" and the like whose aim is to reduce American dependency on Middle East energy sources? Would such a "free trade zone" prohibit by federal treaty efforts by states to shift energy use away from Middle Eastern products towards US products with no envoronmental advantage such as alcohol or coal?


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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Living Small

Democrats in Congress are making a big fuss over the costs of President Bush's jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week. Even with the most aggressive accounting assumptions, the Democrats can assert only the cost of the trip may have been as much as $1 million - although the actual costs are probably more like $100,000. It is a curious response, since it mostly - and very predictably - makes the Democrats look small and bitter. As liberal columnist Matt Miller correctly notes:

Every so often you come across evidence that a political party is losing its mind. Something like that is happening to Democrats over President Bush's fabulous "top gun" photo-op aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. It's a case study in how Bush and Karl Rove have left so many Democrats undone.

To get some idea of how ineffectual and counterproductive the Democratic criticism will be, one might compare it to prior criticism of the cost of a Presidential trip. Specifically, President Clinton traveled to China in his first term for about 10 days - a trip that cost the American government about $45 million dollars and had few practical benefits to the United States. The Clinton China trip was more political grandstanding for Mr. Clinton than a justifiable, necessary or valuable action by the President. The trip and its costs were criticized - with no effect.

Hillary Clinton also traveled to China. She was not even a public official at the time. In 1995 Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana questioned why Hillary Clinton's trip to the women's conference in China had to cost 1.5 million dollars for air transportation alone (Congressman Dan Burton News Release, Sept. 13th, 1995, Indianapolis, IN.). Hillary Clinton was reportedly accompanied by 5 Air Force jets and a 125 member delegation. Hillary and her staff traveled in a C-137 and the White House dispatched at least three C-141 Starlifters and one C-130 Transport aircraft, which were said to be carrying cargo or luggage only. Burton also criticized the costs associated with the trip other than transportation costs. He said, "You have to take into account the advance teams, the Secret Service, the food and lodging expenses of the entire 125-person delegation and their staffs, the storage of official aircraft in China, the costs of motorcade vehicles, the salaries of everyone from pilots, to ground crews, to staffers who have been planning this trip for weeks. I think America would be astonished to hear whatever this staggering sum might be."

Representative Burton was probably right. But his comments being correct didn't make him look any better - and he certainly didn't do material harm to the Clintons with that sniping.

Mr. Bush's aircraft carrier celebration was vastly more justifiable - and vastly less expensive - than President Clinton's China hijinks. The aircraft carrier celebration was vastly less expensive than Hillary Clinton's China trip.

How can the Democrats engaged in this exercise in self-diminution not understand what the effect of their criticism will be?

UPDATE: Fritz Schranck and the Journal have interesting things to say about all this.

FURTHER UPDATE: The White House reaction to the Democratic sniping seems to be close to defiant jubilation. The Democrats and their sympathizers in the media who are engaged in this silliness might want to ask themselves why that is the case.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Krugmania Goes To War!

Michael Dukakis (in)famously donned military garb and climbed into a United States army tank in his failing attempt to obtain the Presidency. Unfortunately, his opponent, George H. W. Bush, ran a highly effective campaign commercial making use of the fact that Mr. Dukakis looked like a ridiculous twerp during his tank ride. [To view the Bush commercial, find the picture on the bottom of the linked page with Mr. Dukakis in military garb.] The Bush commercial juxtaposed Mr. Dukakis's obvious lack of familiarity with, and discomfort in, that tank with his generally anti-defense positions.

Mr. Bush was criticized for running what many Democrats found to be an unfair commercial. But - at least to my knowledge - nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to suggest that because Mr. Dukakis and his campaign managers thought that he looked good in military garb astride a late 20th Century version of a military horse, that Mr. Dukakis' aspirations to the White House cast a scary shadow across American democracy. And nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to compare Mr. Dukakis with Georges Boulanger, a popular French general who flirted with accepting the dictatorship of France. Nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to do any of those things because anybody who tried it would have been universally considered a fool.

But that was all before Paul Krugman came on the scene.

The difference today is not that Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman should not or will not universally be considered a fool for suggesting in his most recent column that the current President's donning a Navy flight suit and piloting a Navy aircraft casts a scary shadow across the very existence of American democracy. No. Herr Doktorprofessor and his sound and fury proclaiming this threat to the Constitution will be seen for what they are. The difference today is that Paul Krugman is no longer deterred by that prospect - and that the New York Times sees fit to run columns by those such as he who are not so deterred.

He rushes in again and again. And the Times publishes the results.

UPDATE: Don Luskin has more - complete with another picture of an anti-defense Democrat who once wrote that he (or, maybe, some other "fine person") "loathed" the American military, constumed as a defense supporter. Priceless.

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