Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My favorite nemesis has officially lost it.

And, for some of my readers, it may come as a surprise that he is a Republican.

Or, maybe not.

Either way, Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister-turned-politician-turned-self-parody, is releasing a new book in which he basically blames the downfall of the Republican Party in this year's campaign cycle on, well... pretty much everyone other than himself.

He's mad that Romney is rich, is a Mormon, and, most unconscionably, didn't congratulate him after he won the Iowa caucus.

He's mad that Giuliani is pro-choice.

He's mad that McCain denounces religion-based politics like what Huckabee advances.

He's mad that evangelist John Hagee endorsed McCain.

Get the picture?

In particular, he's now saying that, among other things, libertarianism is destroying the Republican Party. Why? Because it is reflexively opposed to tax hikes (when America has some of the highest tax rates in the world on investment and business activity) and because it leaves "little room for government-driven solutions to people's problems."

Former Governor Huckabee, I usually keep a general level of demeanor about this particular blog, and about my writing as a whole, but allow me to suspend that for a bit so I can tell you something:


Unlike those who seek government control over people's lives (such as the people who seek caps on individual earnings as well as nationwide bans on smoking... sound familiar to anyone, Reverend?), libertarians offer a unique, clear, consistent, and easily explainable philosophy that differs from the current wave of left-wing power-grabbing going on through Washington. And guess what? It resonates; people, on the whole, don't like the government meddling in their lives, and they don't like the government having free reign over what money they earn. It may not give everyone everything that they want, but it allows people to associate freely to develop solutions that work for them.

Heck, there's nothing preventing a community (Berkeley comes to mind as a convenient example/scapegoat) from, in a libertarian system of government, establishing a socialist cradle-to-grave system of care for its citizens if that is what they want. The converse, however, cannot exist. Under a socialist system, there is no way for the libertarian to live in a way consistent with their beliefs without leaving the country. There is little means by which to address grievances, and likely little access to the press to get a contrary view across. Libertarians have no problem with opposing points of view; in fact, they encourage it, and hope the best vision going forward wins for the individual and their community.

Maybe that's what it is that Huckabee is truly worried about... either way, his complaints ring hollow. He has been (relatively) successful at what he has done, carries influence, and is, on the whole, quite wealthy himself (although still takes time out to lambaste corporate CEOs and Mitt Romney for the exact same privilege that he himself benefits from).

Now let us all have the opportunity to do the same in our own lives, Governor.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Having fun in a bad economy - a "circling the drain" pool

In the wake of Circuit City's bankruptcy (which, honestly, was seen coming a long ways away) and Deutsche Bank setting a one-year forward-looking price target for General Motors stock of $0 (yes, zero), I've decided to put down some of my own money, the fruit of my labor, to amuse myself (and you, my readers) in a guessing game of buzzard-like proportions.

The name of the game: Guess when a gallon of gas will be worth more than a share of General Motors stock!

Some general rules to lay down... I will be calculating the price of GM's stock as of the closing price at any given day, and will compare it against the price posted at the S. Westnedge Road Speedway in Kalamazoo for a gallon of regular unleaded gas at the same time (currently standing at $1.95 a gallon). For those interested in a baseline measurement, General Motors stock is, as I am typing this out, $3.33 a share. One guess per person, and whoever is the closest to the right day I will send a $20 BP gas card (if, like myself, you don't drive... well, it works for getting snacks from their convenience stores as well!). I am posting this on my LiveJournal, Facebook (as it takes my LJ feed), The Corner Keyboard (my economics and politics blog), and MySpace, and, if there is no winning day by the end of 2009, well... I guess America wins, doesn't it?

Best of luck to anyone guessing!

-Michael Fisk
10 November 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pox on both your houses!

Honestly, by this point, I am getting completely sick and tired of the election campaign, which seemed to have started all the way back in the middle of 2004 with Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention. Finally, barring any legal challenges, it will all be over, one way or the other, tonight. And I’m glad for that. But seriously, I’m needing something, anything, to get my mind off of all this political coverage, most of which seems more steeped in platitudes and sheer inanity than actual substance or reportage. So I decided to find a movie to watch that would somehow, hopefully, distract me long enough from the stuffed shirts and empty suits on the networks. Then, getting through most of the video releases at the local rental shop, I realized why it was that I don’t rent many movies; to me, they seem only of marginally higher quality than what MSNBC passes for investigative journalism. And then, on the cover of an especially crappy movie, everything about this election made sense.

The movie in question, in case you were wondering, is “Aliens vs. Predator”, a typical high-budget special-effects-laden popcorn flick with an overall intelligence level a few notches below that of Paris Hilton. Needless to say, I didn’t take that movie back with me to watch, but the marketing tagline for it stuck out plainly in my mind: “Whoever wins, we lose.” Once I read that, I knew my angle.

To some extent, that slogan just encapsulated the entire 2008 Presidential election campaign.

On one side, you have Barack Obama, possibly the only man on the planet to have lived for nearly a half century without leaving any sort of paper trail or appreciable perception on anyone in terms of his capacity for governance. In a sense, he has become the ultimate example of a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to which people have been able to attach their own visions, hopes, and aspirations to his lofty rhetoric about change and coming together to move forward. Not that, mind you, he has shown any semblance of “coming together” on anything, unless it is somebody from the other side of the aisle completely capitulating to his line of thinking (such as Chuck Hagel, a Republican Senator from Nebraska, with respect to foreign policy; Sen. Hagel is now being talked about as a potential Secretary of Defense in an Obama administration). While having surrounded himself with a fantastic team of advisors and academics to build his policy platform, he also seems to disregard them when he needs to listen to them the most (such as his words vis-à-vis Austan Goolsbee, the brilliant University of Chicago economist, on matters of trade). His campaign relies on iconography in campaigning that hearkens references to Latin American “cult of personality” dictators like Juan Peron or Hugo Chavez, while simultaneously saying that Americans cannot continue living their lives as they have in the past and “expect the rest of the world to be okay with that.” His faith in the state to provide solutions to all manner of personal and societal ills, while profound, is also alarmingly naïve; as even the Scandinavian governments are scaling back their welfare states in response to overpromising and underdelivering, Obama seeks to inform the American people that, on matters of the environment, finance, and education, yes, the government knows what’s best for you, and will do so whether you like it or not. His taxation plans provide disincentives for people to actually invest, take risks, and become successful, while simultaneously allowing foreign nations to effectively close off their markets to our manufactured products by wanting to rip up currently existing trade deals. In many ways, we haven’t seen such a level of disregard for the freedoms of the individual from a Presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis twenty years ago; the difference being, of course, that Dukakis had absolutely no shot at winning. Obama, barring a small miracle, should win easily.

That is not to say, however, that everything is fine and dandy with Senator John McCain, a man who is becoming more emblematic of a historical relic than he is of being a viable Presidential contender. McCain escaped a circular firing squad of a Republican primary simply by virtue of the fact that nobody had many serious qualms about him, not so much of having any practical expertise or qualifications to be President. He was selected more or less because nobody could gin up enough hatred of him. In an age where rhetoric and capacity for ideas is paramount, Republicans placed their hopes on a man who graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at the US Naval Academy and whose main qualification in the Senate was that the media didn’t seem to hate him all that much (mainly because they only covered him when he criticized President Bush, fairly or not). He took a gamble on making the election be all about national security as conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan improved rapidly, undermining his own alleged confidence in the military direction of the current Commander In Chief, whom he claimed to be in agreement with. He stated that he didn’t know much of anything about economics… as the election became almost entirely about the economy. He tried making the argument about Obama taking away many individual freedoms… while still fondly talking about the idea of mandatory national service for American teenagers, a notion not unlike the state-driven conscription regimes practiced within Western Europe. When Obama punched, McCain seemed lost, either going off in tangents or trying a new line of attack rather than doing the manifestly obvious of refuting Obama’s wildly inaccurate statements (in particular about the economy). He tried making the election be about experience, then selects as his running mate somebody even younger than Obama, with just as little political experience, largely on the grounds of finding somebody who would be inoffensive to a group within the Republican Party whom a) had nowhere else to go and b) had been a group that, until that moment, John McCain completely disregarded. After that point, McCain seemed satisfied in letting the majority of the high-profile campaigning be handled by his running mate (apparently being oblivious to who was at the top of the ticket), only starting to get back into things a couple of weeks before Election Day, as he was already taking a drubbing in the polls. He locked himself into public funding, effectively freezing out some of the party’s top fundraisers, while Obama burned through a literally superhuman six hundred million dollars in funding, outspending him in battleground states by at least a 3:1 margin and spending more in usual “safe” Republican states than were spent on battleground states in 2000. Normally these mistakes are fatal in an ordinary election year; in a year where the Republican Party brand is hitting rock bottom, the campaign seemed less like a competitive group and more like a suicide mission until the last few weeks… but a campaign is not made in a couple of weeks. This is hardball, not the Easy-Bake Oven approach to the Presidency. All of these factors combine to raise questions about McCain’s competency for the top office.

So, am I pessimistic about the fate of our country moving forward? Not in the slightest; America will only decline when and if it chooses to, on the backs of its individuals rather than on its government. One man, regardless of how ambitious and how poorly-thought-out their decisions are, cannot bring it down on their own. Hell, our country survived twelve years of FDR’s statism as well as four years of Jimmy Carter’s malaise; after that, we can survive anything. That being said, to anyone who thinks that either one of these candidates are the best possible person to run this country, you have another thing coming; this is not a battle of who will do the best as it is one of who will be able to inflict the least damage. For at least the next four years, our individual freedoms will be put to the test in ways that they likely haven’t been at least in several decades. “Whoever wins, we lose” indeed. Just know that the bright sun of morning only comes after hours of darkness, as it seems as though the darkness is upon us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The only thing certain in this economy... absolutely unprecedented volatility. I'm sure people with long-term options contracts are probably scrambling for a dark corner to hang themselves in right about now, or a roof to leap off from. I wouldn't want to attempt calling these markets right now.

Today, the fear isn't the banks, but rather impending recession. Stocks are sucking wind, gold is off over 25% from its highs a couple of months ago, but at least we'll have cheap gasoline... wholesale gasoline futures at the moment are around $1.61 a gallon (when you figure in taxes, we might be seeing gas below $2.40 before too long if they maintain those levels).

Beyond just that, the currency markets are completely going bananas. Remember all the apocalyptic talk about the weakening dollar? Here's some data for you; from the dollar's weakest performances just over three months ago:

The euro has gone from $1.60 to $1.28.
The pound sterling has gone from $2.01 (and a local strength of $2.10 a year ago) to $1.63.
The Canadian dollar has gone from $1.01 (and a local strength of $1.08 a year ago) to 80 cents.
The Norwegian krona has gone from 20 cents to 14 cents.
And, in the prime example of currency freefall, the Australian dollar slid from 98 cents to 67 cents.

Overall, that's a good sign; it's meaning that investors are, on balance, bullish about America's economic prospects going forward.

Even if we can't see it too well right now.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

South Park has it wrong...

...the Chinese are not plotting to actively destroy America from within. The converse, however, is not necessarily true.

How do I mean? Krispy Kreme is opening 35 stores in China. Hard to take over somebody when you have to waddle to catch up to them. :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Come to think of it...

...this should be the Obama campaign's theme song.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Something I have noticed recently

As a grad student at Western Michigan University, I am bombarded from time to time with flyers for various organizations that people have taped/stapled/superglued/God-knows-what-elsed to the informational kiosks. Lately, they've been largely overrun by the "Barack Obama Campaign For Change" posters. Besides the obvious snark about them sounding like fundraising posters (when, in reality, it's basically telling students how to get involved, kinda like grassroots marching orders), one thing stuck out at me recently about them.

In the most recent series of flyers, they are encouraging voter registration (which, if recent polling is correct, is less advantageous to Obama than his campaign would like, although still a net benefit), and are doing so by showing various college-age students on the posters. Students of all races, creeds, colors... yet one thing stuck out to me.

Where were the white people?

Although some were a bit dicey to determine due to the posters being in black and white (fitting metaphor for the "post-racial" candidate, not to mention cheaper, a good thing for the high-burn-rate Obama campaign), for instance, a guy whom I couldn't tell if he was Sicilian or Puerto Rican, there wasn't a single person recognizable as Caucasian on any of the posters. Pretty much every other race (except maybe Native American, couldn't tell for sure on that one, either), but no white people.

For some reason, I am being reminded of the conversation between a white college co-ed and Malcolm X back in the 60s (one that Malcolm later regretted)... the girl asked the rabble-rouser-cum-social justice advocate what a white person sympathetic to the cause could do to help, and the response: "Nothing."

That's what I take away from it with the posters being seen in total, fair or not.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oh, dear God...

China attempts The Fatal Conceit

You know, it must really be hard being the Chinese government right now. You go and tick off half the world through top-down command-and-control economic and military policy, have such a level of dereliction of human rights as a matter of course that Amnesty International contemplates regime change, have a cultural tradition that seems straight out of a Disney World exhibit, and yet somehow the international community puts you in charge of putting on one of the biggest shows in the world, the Summer Olympic Games.

And then the dark clouds roll in. What's a totalitarian state to do?

Of course -- Attempt to alter the weather!

With an army of civilian operators with particulate-matter-belching artillery, the Chinese government hopes to get the clouds to expend themselves before getting to Beijing, allowing the opening ceremonies to go off without a hitch. At least, that's the plan.

At this point, all it seems to be doing is proving the megalomania of the country's leaders.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A (State) Constitutional Poison Pill

This most recent application of rule by bureaucratic fiat is brought to you, once again, by the State of California and, more specifically, Attorney General Jerry Brown. Go figure.

After the California State Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal under the state's Constitution, opponents of gay marriage have put forth a petition to put Proposition 8 on the ballot, which would amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage. So far, so straightforward.

Enter Jerry Brown.

The Attorney General is responsible, in most states, for approving the language used on the ballot to describe various proposals that have been placed up for vote by petition. Jerry Brown, however, may have crossed boundaries (as well as wires) in coming up with his most recent plan.

If at first you don't like the proposal, apparently, change the ballot language.

The language for Proposition 8, as was suggested by petition circulators: "Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

As changed by Brown, it takes a bit more (er, a lot more) pointed of a turn: "Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over the next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact to state and local governments."

Of course, the "eliminate right" part rankles some, although still is relatively accurate, even if the "right" was only created out of whole cloth recently on the part of the judiciary.

What bugs me, obviously, is the "Fiscal Impact" statement.

Last I checked, Jerry Brown was an absolute failure as a former Governor as well as a former Mayor of Oakland, yet he somehow ended up as the state AG (more than likely because he got the Democratic nomination; few Republicans win statewide office in CA). He is not an economist, or particularly well-versed in fiscal matters (as if the "former California Governor" thing wasn't a dead giveaway enough). Yet why would he sign off on a statement with ultimately no clear impact, just a handful of weasel words?

I have no problems with a state AG modifying ballot proposal language to more clearly illuminate the issues being addressed, but to inject personal opinion to it one way or another is unconscionable.

What I would like to see is, no more and no less, a word-for-word layout of the wording intended to be put in the state Constitution, and let the voters decide. I don't care about the logistics of it, or the amount of reading this may require; an informed voter is an informed voter. Obviously, I also do not have much faith in the state's Department of Finance, who draw up the impact statements. (This "unknown millions in costs" statement also appears in Proposal 2, an animal-rights-led farm reform proposal, Proposal 4, a bill to require parental notification for a minor's abortion, and Proposal 9, a victim's rights proposal requiring victim notification and opportunity for input in sentencing, probation, and/or parole hearings.)

Having one miserable wretch of a career politician substitute his own preferences for the task of accurately presenting a ballot initiative to the voters is not only unconscionable, but a dereliction of his duties as California Attorney General.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exhibit #65,537...

As to why government oversight results in behavior that defies logic: California investigates planned bottle water plant - for global warming reasons

For those of you wondering, yes, I am well aware that bottled water has quickly become the bête noire of the environmental movement, and that can be understood. If there are local concerns about what a water diversion plan of this scale would mean to the surrounding ecosystem, then those are things that should be heard before operations move forward. If the citizenry have decided that environmental impact is valuable enough to offset the economic benefit from such a facility's operations, then so be it; it's their priorities, after all.

But what in the blazes does it have to do with global warming? It's not like they're, say, manufacturing the bottles on site. The only greenhouse gas emissions related to the operations that are above and beyond a typical office building would be related to commuters going to work there, not from anything the facility would be doing.

Could it be a knee-jerk reaction to bottled water? Possible. Could there be some nativist resentment over the plant (it will be operated by Swiss-owned Nestlé S.A.)? Possible. Could there be some bureaucratic conflict of interest (i.e. somebody is angling for the site to be used by some other business or social interest)? Also possible; after all, progressivism and heavy-handed conflicts of political interest go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Is global warming being used as a whitewash for whatever reasons somebody has for scotching the development? You better believe it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anybody bother noticing...?

Brent crude falls to $121

Amazing how we heard daily stories about the run-up in price, but only crickets once it drops $25 a barrel from its peak.

Another nail in the coffin of the economic doom-sayers: Gold is down today over $20 an ounce, now off over 10% from its peak.

You'd think this wasn't news or something...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Evangelical case against Mitt Romney

The Washington Times is reporting that various Evangelical leaders are imploring John McCain not to select former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as his running mate on the 2008 Republican Presidential ticket. There are three main reasons for this, neither of which I am particularly fond of.

1. Mitt Romney is not particularly strong on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Romney admits to developing a pro-life position only within the last decade and was governor when the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, both things that make some in the Evangelical community skittish. Never mind that Romney's position on abortion as governor was to the right of McCain's, or that Romney led an unsuccessful effort to overturn the gay marriage legalization in Massachusetts - it's a "what have you done for me lately?" sort of a proposition. Needless to say, by that metric, Romney is especially weak.

2. Evangelical leaders have other people in mind. Namely, in the case of some leading megachurch pastors, there is a push for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister running on a populist platform, to be McCain's VP candidate. Although eventually picking up a handful more delegates than Romney, Huckabee's appeal was largely limited to the Deep South, and stayed in the race for about two months longer than Romney did, largely relying on a rather impressive grassroots network. As much as I think that Huckabee would be a terrible candidate (he seems less Ronald Reagan and more Jimmy Carter), I can't begrudge people their own personal preferences. I'd just prefer they be more open about it.

3. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Some religious leaders are suspicious of Romney's Mormon faith, considering him to not be a Christian, and therefore diminished in standing in their eyes. Personally, I find this to be, in some ways, analogous to anti-Catholic sentiment prior to JFK's electoral victory in 1960, and just as baseless. I am less interested in what a politician might do with respect to a particular religion than I am concerned about how that politician will impact America as a whole for better or for worse. I am a Christian of an Evangelical stripe, but I cannot begrudge somebody who is sincere in their religious faith.

The main weight behind these threats is that Evangelical leaders will encourage their followers to stay home on Election Day if a VP candidate not to their liking is selected. And then what? Have Barack Obama elected? As dicey as some may think Romney is on sanctity of life issues, even the most strident pro-lifer would have to agree that most any Republican is better on the issue than Obama, who carries a 100% rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Also, the power on most social issues rests from judicial appointments, which are the domain of the President, not the Vice President. Considering John McCain is a potential mixed bag on judges, it's possible that those lines of thinking should have been considered long before making McCain the presumptive nominee. In fact, adding Huckabee to the ticket could possibly have the disastrous effect of having economic conservatives either stay home or vote Libertarian, with the only options on the Republican ticket being somebody with an inconsistent record and one with almost no record, but a wide streak of populist, protectionist rhetoric.

Of course, this may all be for naught - McCain has made a career out of not making friends with the Evangelical community, and whatever direction they try to prod him into may end up causing the exact opposite to take place.

Sen. Ted Stevens indicted...

...on seven counts related to graft

From seeing the Senate's King of Pork in action all these years, I must say, I must say... couldn't have happened to a better person.


After having it suggested to me that I should differentiate my political blogging from my personal blogging, I have done just that... from now on, The Corner Keyboard will be the basic ground floor for my posts of a political or economic nature, whereas my old blog ( will remain my personal blog. Pretty basic.

Also, with that, I am announcing a minor change to the format of my posts. As a libertarian, I tend to view existing paradigms with suspicion... including, apparently, paradigms that I create myself. Therefore, The Corner Keyboard will be updated on a more free-wheeling basis, whenever the need arises, to allow yours truly to let off some venting room. Needless to say, without having to adhere to any particular style... this may be pretty damn often.

Buckle up.

-The Corner Keyboard