Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Senators Who Committed a Crime Demands Rule of Law

David Vitter (R-DiaperPuta) stands firm:

Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) will block two nominees to the Securities and Exchange Commission…

Daniel Gallagher Jr., a partner at the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP who was nominated to join the SEC, and agency commissioner Luis Aguilar, who was nominated for a second term….both require Senate confirmation, haven’t encountered any substantive opposition partly because they were paired together as a Republican and a Democrat in order to reduce incentives for partisans to blow up their nominations.

But senators often use the confirmation process to pressure federal agencies to meet various demands. By placing a “hold” on the nominees, Mr. Vitter is delaying a confirmation vote by the Senate.

BarryO was strangely silent during Vitter’s re-election campaign, not once declaring that having committed an actual crime would be a reason to resign.

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Annals of Republican Obstructionism

Last week, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on S.3335, a measure which among other things would extend the production tax credits for solar and wind energy, plug the Highway Trust Fund deficit, and keep the Alternative Minimum Tax at bay for elements of the lower-upper-middle-classes for another year. The vote was 51-43, with a few mostly endangered Republicans joining the Democrats, and Harry Reid voting Nay for procedural reasons — so the bill does have at least majority support.

In fact, since the elements of the package are broadly popular if not useful, this bizarrely enough seems to be an effort of the Republicans to be against a package of tax cuts before they’re for it. (More Republicans than Norm Coleman and Gordon Smith would be hard pressed to vote Nay in a final vote, methinks.) Whether this represents Pyrrhic support for the Bush administration’s idiotic plan to raid transit funds for the highways, or an effort to get the Democrats to accept oil drilling to get essential legislation passed, is unclear from the reporting I’ve seen.

I’d seen Tom Ridge on TV yesterday claiming that it’s the Republicans with a comprehensive energy plan, whereas Obama is supposedly opposed to the zero nuclear plants currently under construction. In fact, not only are the Republicans working to effectively throw a spanner in the works of the rapidly expanding renewables industry — providing generating capacity with no sensitivity to fossil fuel prices in multi-gigawatt quantities now. In fact, it may be down the page but McCain supports the tax credits his caucus is opposing.

It makes me wish I were rich enough to get on the air with an ad on this flip-flopping and obstructionism by the Grumpy Old Party.

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Losing The Other War

by Tom Bozzo

Not that I want to reinforce our doom-and-gloom reputation or anything, but the Bush administration is demonstrating its inability to walk and chew gum at the same time by losing in Afghanistan:

A recent Pentagon report about Afghanistan painted a stark picture of security conditions inside the country, a militant force that had “coalesced into a resilient insurgency” and a central government in Kabul that still could not extend its reach into the hinterlands. An American commander, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, has said that militant attacks on coalition troops increased by 40 percent from January to May compared with the same period last year.

The reason is that for the small fortune that’s been appropriated for that war, there aren’t enough resources there to keep the Taliban at bay:

General McNeill said the Afghanistan mission “needs more maneuver units, it needs more flying machines, it needs more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units.”

The problem, as any student of the place would know, is that Afghanistan is the asymmetric warrior’s paradise, with a long history prior to the Soviet invasion of chewing up notionally superior forces. Incidentally, this is part of the reason why the partisan in me would be almost as happy to see Condoleezza Rice as McCain’s running mate as I would Mittens. Not only would I make a sizeable donation to anyone willing to run an ad featuring her recounting the title of the “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” memo, but also she must be either totally ineffectual and unprincipled [*] or the worst Sovietologist ever [**] not to have tried convincing the other Bushies to really win in Afghanistan first or to resign having tried but failed.

Comparing the candidates, Obama’s Iraq page notes the rivalry for resources, and the plan (pdf) calls for shifting some U.S. military resources freed from Iraq to Afghanistan; McCain keeps Afghanistan off his Iraq page and seems to promote the blunter and more expensive instrument of a larger standing military as the answer to resource limitations in fighting the GSAVE.

[*] The unprincipled part is is pretty much a given.

[**] Before you start debating me on worse Sovietologists, please note the “worst X ever” formulation.

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How to Devalue Your Brand, Greg Mankiw Version

Greg Mankiw, clearly distracted by his former collaborator’s wife having been denied a tenured position at Harvard, quotes Fred Bergsten in the WSJ, Instapundit-style:

By effectively killing “fast track” procedures that guarantee a yes-or-no vote on trade agreements within 90 days, lawmakers in Washington, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have destroyed the credibility of the U.S. as a reliable negotiating partner.

Which leads to the obvious conclusion: Republicans “destroyed the credibility of the U.S. in 1998 when they did the same thing to President Clinton.

Strangely, Greg Mankiw (Fortune, January 12, 1998) “knew better.”

Policy and politics diverged again in the fast-track debate. Clinton was asking Congress for something all recent Presidents have had–the authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress would consider without amendment. This power is crucial if the President is to continue the multilateral process that over the past half-century has moved the world toward freer trade and greater prosperity.

Although economists are united in support of free trade, opinion polls show the American public is more skeptical. The public’s view is partly based on the false analogy that trade is like war–some countries must lose for others to win….

Because of the public’s ambivalence–and the opposition of interest groups that fear foreign competition–fast track went down to defeat. This may put an end to the multilateral approach to opening up world trade. But it need not mean an end to the free-trade movement.*

Got it? If it’s a Democratic Congress, then Pelosi is a “problem.” If it’s a Republican Congress doing the same thing, it’s Through No Fault of Their Own.

And by not pointing out that he himself used to know better, Greg Mankiw destroys not Fred Bergsten’s credibility, but his own.

Cross-posted from Marginal Utility.

(See also Dani Rodrik, who gives the lie to the whole line of “reasoning.”)

*Yes, I omitted Mankiw’s framing issue (tomatoes), but if he really wants to claim George W. “Steel Tariffs” Bush was different, the only possible response is “Bring it on.”

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