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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

GM rehires lobbyists -- and taxpayers foot the bill

General Motors laid off its outside lobbyists when it was under bankruptcy over the summer. Today, my column reports, although it is still under government ownership, the failed carmaker retains four K Street firms:
GM, of course, is still owned mostly by the federal government and is still losing money -- $1.2 billion in the third quarter. That means the company's expenses are the taxpayer's expenses. That means you are paying these lobbying fees. Put another way, the Obama administration, through GM, is transferring wealth from average Americans to millionaire former public officials.
The home values of 13 of GM's 18 lobbyists can be found in public records. The mean assessed value of those homes was $1.13 million. Three of GM's lobbyists have homes valued at more than $1.5 million, including one whose home is worth $2.97 million. Your taxes are paying to shine the chandeliers in these posh palaces.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Examiner column looks at the smaller ways the Obama government boom has meant a boom for K Street:

But the real cost of Obamanomics on this score is the way in which it sucks wealth from Main Street to K Street by forcing smaller businesses and industries, non-profits, and cities and towns to invest or invest more in lobbyists.

The City of Cordova, Alaska, population 2,251, retained not one, but two lobbying firms in 2009, to lobby for stimulus money and other federal spending.

Drug lobby applauds Senate passage of health-care bill

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

The Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), is the largest single-industry lobbying group in America. It represents name-brand drug-makers. Considering this clout, and considering President Obama's claim Monday that the Senate, by passing the health-care bill, was "standing up to the special interests," it's noteworthy that PhRMA this morning celebrated the bill's passage.

Here's the PhRMA press release, with some emphasis added by me:

We applaud the Senate for taking an important and historic step toward expanding high-quality, affordable health care coverage and services to tens of millions of Americans, many of whom are struggling today financially. While considerable work remains to be done in reconciling differences between the Senate and House bills, we remain convinced that comprehensive health care reform, if done in a smart way, will benefit patients, our economy and the future of our nation.

Most importantly, the Senate bill recognizes the importance of medical progress in America. Innovative, cutting-edge medicines have dramatically increased life expectancy rates in the United States and have allowed patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other devastating chronic diseases to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. We strongly believe that everyone in America should benefit from promising new advances in medical care.

By expanding coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, the Senate is moving decisively in that direction. We embrace reform efforts which put an end to practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions or charging higher premiums because of gender. We also support expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of federal poverty – something we first proposed along with Families USA.

Our commitment to comprehensive health care reform is evident by our $80 billion pledge to reduce health care costs over 10 years. To that end, our companies agreed back in June to help most eligible seniors and disabled Americans who hit the so-called ‘donut hole’ in Medicare Part D cut their out-of-pocket expenses on brand-name medications in half as part of the Senate’s health care reform legislation. The remainder of our commitment will help the government expand health care coverage to millions of Americans.

In the final analysis, we believe the Senate bill provides the best blueprint for reform. It offers the kind of change that will benefit patients today without putting medical progress at risk in the future. Today, we believe the Senate voted with America’s best interests and future in mind.

Obviously, expanding Medicaid eligibility expands the pool of people who get taxpayer-funded subsidies for their drugs. For more explanation of drug-maker gifts in the bill, check my Wednesday column and my blog post from yesterday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Big Pharma payoff? Health bill favors prescriptions, dings over-the-counter drugs

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

John Berlau, my former colleague at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, adds to my list of the goodies big drug companies receive in the Senate health-care reform bill. Berlau flags the bill's provision prohibiting the use of pre-tax Health Savings Account money to buy over-the-counter drugs. This tax hike thus pushes more people to buy more expensive prescription drugs, which still, of course, get favorable tax treatment.

OTC drugs are much cheaper those available for prescription, but they could now be more expensive to individual consumers given that prescription drugs would still be eligible for favored treatment in the tax plans, and that insurance companies would be mandated to cover many of them. Consequently, any time a consumer has the slightest headache, the financial incentive would often be to see a doctor and get a prescription rather than go to the store and get medicine off the shelf. This could mean that billions will be wasted on the additional costs for prescription drugs in instances when OTC medicines could be just as safe and effective at treating the illness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas comes early for the big drug companies

My column reports on some of the many favors the health-care "reform" bill hands to the drug companies:
President Obama on Monday credited the Senate for "standing up to the special interests -- who've prevented reform for decades, and who are furiously lobbying against it now." But the health care "reform" bill, passed late Sunday night, provides the drug companies with billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies, government-sanctioned monopolies, and mandates forcing people to buy drug insurance. At the same time, the bill doesn't touch the industry's existing special favors that Obama had pledged to eliminate in the name of consumers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health insurance stocks rally on promise of 'reform'

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

If you've bought into the talk of Barack Obama, Keith Olbermann, the DNC, or Matt Yglesias, you may have lost money in the stock market this week. If you've been listening to me or Glenn Greenwald, you might have made some money.

Check out this AP article:

NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of health insurance providers leaped Monday after a key Senate vote on the country's health care overhaul put legislation on track for passage before Christmas.

Yes, it seems out that requiring us to buy more private health insurance, using taxpayer money to subsidize more private health insurance, preserving the government favors for anti-competitive employer-based health-care, and preserving most limits on interstate purchase of health insurance actually helps insurance companies, contrary to the claims of the President and his boosters.

Liberal writer Glenn Greenwald brought this stock rally to my attention.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A corporate takeover of healthcare AND a government takeover

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Following up on my column today about the progressive rebellion against Obama's corporatism, I wanted to comment on this claim by blogger Ed Kilgore:

To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama's critics to the right say he's engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can't both be right, of course....

But, my health-care writing since February has focused on how a government takeover of health care is entirely congruent with a corporate takeover of health-care. Just as a government takeover of Wall Street and a Wall Street takeover of government are consistent. Reihan Salam at National Review explains it well:

The concern from the right isn't that the Obama approach will literally nationalize for-profit health insurers. Rather, it is that for-profit health insurers will continue evolving into heavily subsidized firms that function as public utilities, and that seek advantage by gaming the political process. Profits, including profits governed by medical loss ratios, can and will then be cycled into political action, which leads to the anxiety concerning a "corporate takeover of the public sector." Again, progressives don't literally believe that such a takeover is happening. Instead, they believe, rightly, that subsidies without effective cost containment represent a massive windfall for the private insurance sector, including non-profit insurers that generate salaries for large numbers of politically active middle and upper middle class professionals.

And Ross Douthat, as usual, takes it to a far higher level:

The point is that the more intertwined industry and government become, the harder it is to discern who’s “taking over” whom — and the less it matters, because the taxpayer is taking it on the chin either way. Or to put it another way: The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which...

Friday, December 18, 2009 review: An Advanced Course in Big Government in the Age of Obama

John O'Hara reviews Obamanomics over at Andrew Breitbart and Mike Flynn's
Obamanomics reads like an encyclopedia of corporatism in the age of Obama....

Thoroughly researched with Carney’s typical muckraking fervor, Obamanomics shows that these behind-the-scenes alliances are often between players one would not expect to cooperate. In fact, allegiances are often the exact opposite of what politicians say and the media reports.

Insurer bailout, Bernanke pit Left against Obamanomics

My column today makes sense of the current political landscape:
President Obama is trying to rally his team behind a health care bill lambasted as "an insurance company bailout," and a Federal Reserve nominee who has engineered a slew of bailouts for Wall Street's biggest banks. While Obama's explosion of government spending and regulations has stoked conservative fury for months, the naked corporatism on display this month has finally sparked an insurrection on the Left.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NY Times' Douthat: Lessons in Obamanomics

Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist, blogs today on Obamanomics:
The hand-in-glove relationship between a Democratic administration and certain precincts of corporate America is one of the major stories of the Obama era. And if you want to know why the Department of Energy has become a venture capital firm, or what happened to Barack Obama’s pledge to allow American consumers to buy their drugs from overseas, or why the health care bill looks, well, the way it looks, Carney’s book is a good place to start.

Carney is more stringently libertarian than I am — more anti-TARP, for instance, and more thoroughgoingly critical of the welfare state in general. But his kind of libertarian populism is a important counterweight to what’s been happening in Washington across the last twelve months. His analysis represents the cogent version of the inchoate angst that’s gripped the conservative base of late.

Howard Dean comes around to my way of thinking

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]
Howard Dean said today: "You will be forced to buy insurance. If you don't, you'll pay a fine. It's an insurance company bailout... It's an insurance company bailout."

Dean must be reading his Washington Examiner, because this is what I said in February, April, May, June, July (twice), August (twice, and thrice), September, (twice and thrice), October (twice and thrice), and December (I don't know why I skipped March and November).

Let's see where Democratic lawmakers go. Will they fight against industry and for their liberal principles, or will they follow their president down the path of corporatism?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

GE employee Olbermann insists corporations are inherently conservative

[originally posted at Beltway Confidential]
Keith Olbermann went on a rant last night based on the premise that "there is no liberal media." Here's Olbermann's proof that there is no liberal media: "The media which is, after all, owned by corporations naturally leans to the right. Corporations, by definition, lean to the right, towards the status quo."

I will let someone else argue with Olbermann over his equation of "the right" and "the status quo" (maybe the Center for American Progress can do that, considering their focus on the right wing's "radical" agenda). I want to address the claim that "corporations, by definition lean to the right."

Let's start with Olbermann's employer, a corporation called General Electric. By what measure does GE "lean to the right"? Not by campaign contributions, I'll tell you that. For instance, 69% of GE's political action committee cash to House candidates so far this year have gone to Democrats, with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. (95% liberal rating from Americans for Democratic Action), the top recipient. On the Senate side, Democrats have pocketed 55% of GEPAC cash, with Chris Dodd the top recipient.

But maybe GE has a conservative lobbying agenda? Hardly. The company lobbies for cap-and-trade, embryonic stem-cell research subsidies, the stimulus, alternative energy subsidies, and more.

If you actually examine the campaign contributions and lobbying agenda of corporations, you'll realize it's ridiculous to pin them with labels like "conservative." But fact-checking is not really Olbermann's thing.

Obama brings purrs from Wall Street's fat cats

Obama seems to like talking tough to corporate America, but sometimes the fat cats like cuddling up with Obama anyway. My column today explores the Wall Street-White House relationship:

But if you skip the rhetoric and focus instead on verifiable facts -- campaign contributions, administration appointees, White House visitor logs, Obama's bailouts and even his proposed regulations -- you see instead that Obama may be closer to Wall Street than any modern president.

Obama raised $14.8 million from Wall Street in the 2008 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- more than any politician ever, and more than George W. Bush raised in both of his elections combined. From the fattest cat, Goldman Sachs, Obama raised $997,095, more than four times McCain's Goldman haul and more than any candidate has raised from any single company since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Washington Toy Story carried an excerpt over the weekend of Obamanomics, and my section that deals with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act:
And small craftsmen were threatened by the testing requirement. Every manufacturer, including grandpa in his woodshed, would need to submit its products to an accredited outside testing facility. This would be costly and burdensome. But written into the law was a provision that, while common sense, seriously favored mass-producers. Look at this guidance from the CPSIA:

If your products need to be tested, and they are materially identical and made in the same fashion with no change in assembly, equipment used, etc., then a single sample may be all that is necessary for testing purposes. A change in materials or design can be enough to alter testing results. [9]

So if you’re rolling 10,000 petroleum-based Barbies off an assembly line in Shanghai, you need test only one. If you’re making ten sets of children’s rosary beads to donate to the kids in your parish receiving their first communion, you also need to test one – unless these rosaries are unique, or if you made some at home, some at your office, and some while visiting your grandchildren. In those cases you need to get each one tested – not just each rosary, but each component: the little beads, the big beads, the crucifix, and the string.

Mattel was deploying the “Overhead Smash”: crowding out smaller competitors and potential start-ups by lobbying for stricter regulation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Discussing Obamanomics on PJTV

Here is a video of a fairly meaty discussion of Obamanomics on PJTV. We focus on Climategate, but we also discuss some of the economic foundations of my argument.

AARP Takes Fire

I produced the cover package in today's Washington Examiner, focusing on the important and complex role AARP plays in our current health-care debate.

The main story discusses AARP's role in the healthcare debate.
AARP, the powerful seniors group with 40 million members, is drawing political fire for its support of Democratic health care legislation increasing regulation of the industry and cutting Medicare benefits.
The senior-citizens group, founded in 1959, has become a sprawling billion-dollar financial and political powerhouse that does far more than simply publish a couple of newsletters and find discounts for seniors. And increasingly, its political and financial relationships have put the group's leadership at odds with its members, critics charge.
The companion piece delves into AARP's lobbying army:
In lending its lobbying muscle to current Democratic health care bills, AARP is providing a formidable ally.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AARP has spent $170 million on lobbying since 1998, making it the largest nonprofit lobbying group by orders of magnitude. AARP's lobbying budget regularly exceeds that of defense giants such as Lockheed Martin, the drug lobby and the insurance lobby. With more than 60 in-house lobbyists, AARP has one of the largest influence armies in town (by comparison, the National Rifle Association employs only 13 registered lobbyists).

Life insurers lobby to save the death tax

Is the estate tax debate really just about the wealthy resisting a tax hike? My column explains the real dynamic:
While senators debate health care, House Democrats have quietly moved to save the federal estate tax, scheduled to disappear next month. In this push to preserve the so-called "death tax," Democrats have an important K Street ally: The life insurance companies that peddle estate-planning products.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Russia Today

Here's a clip of me yesterday on Russia Today, discussing Obamanomics and bailouts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama delivers change industry can believe in

As the health-care bill gets closer to passage, it looks more and more like corporate welfare. My column tells the tale:
With their apparent abandonment of the "public option" in favor of yet another program of government-endorsed private insurance, Democrats in the White House and Congress have revealed their health care "reform" as corporate welfare benefiting health insurers and drug makers rather than a populist assault on a greedy industry.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lefty blogger: pay no attention to the industry money behind ObamaCare.

I am constantly railing against what I call "The Big Myth," the false dogma that Big Business simply wants to be left alone by government, and that Big Government serves the role of constraining Big Business. Matt Yglesias, a liberal blogger for the Center for American Progress, tried pretty hard in a blog post yesterday to salvage that myth yesterday in a blog post that has an odd "I want to believe" tone.

In a later post, I'll address Yglesias's specific points, but for now I want to address his thesis. Referring to Obama's health-care overhaul, the blogger writes:

But the simple fact of the matter is that corporate America is doing what it usually does—attacking progressive legislation, and promoting obstruction by conservative politicians.

I'll admit it's a bit hard to argue with Yglesias because of his tendency of leaning almost exclusively on loaded but undefined terms such as "progressive," "conservative," "corporate America," and -- this one Yglesias repeats so much, with so little content, it's almost his mantra -- "reform." So you have to do some mind-reading when dealing with this guy. Let's assume that by "progressive," he means "Big Government policies Obama has supported."

By this definition Yglesias's thesis falls apart. What are the biggest legislative issues of the last year or so? By my count, the top five would be the Wall Street bailout, the Detroit bailout, the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. On Wall Street, Detroit, and the stimulus, Obama's Big Government side had the backing of the affected industries as well as the Chamber of Commerce. On cap-and-trade and health care, "corporate America" has been split.

Many industry giants including Duke Energy, Alcoa, Chrysler, Caterpillar, Conoco Phillips, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, and Shell are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the lobbying group that has crafted the cap-and-trade legislation currently on Capitol Hill. Yes, the Chamber and Exxon are against cap-and-trade, but with the above big boys and Goldman Sachs on Obama's Big Government side, the situation is hardly one of "corporate America ... attacking prorgessive legislation."

Health-care is far more complex, but Yglesias's blog post unfortunately glosses over that complexity by leaning so heavily on the undefined word "reform." Still, it's startling to hear this "industry-always-battles-progressives," talk from the liberal blogger who so proudly touted his "progressive" employer's deal with Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest private employer -- to lobby for a federal mandate that all employers provide health insurance. While Yglesias tried to paint this Wal-Mart-CAP alliance as an anomaly, he did note, "the willingness of much of the business community to break with Chamber ideology on Waxman-Markey and now on health care."

Let me add these data points to poke further holes in the Big Myth Yglesias is peddling here Barney Frank scored higher on the Chamber's score card than did Ron Paul. The tobacco regulation bill Obama signed was partly written by Philip Morris, and the toy safety bill he supported was the fruit of Mattel's 2007-08 full-court lobbying press. Cash-for-Clunkers also provided an industry-Obama alliance.

At the time of the Yglesias-Wal-Mart alliance, I wrote:

The notion that Big Business has long been reflexively anti-government is a myth, and Yglesias repeats it here in order to pat his boss John Podesta (whose brother lobbies for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and whose sister-in-law lobbies for Boeing, Cigna, and dozens of other megacorps,) and the President (who received more money than anyone else from Wall Street, and frankly every industry but insurance) on the back for "change."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Comcast support for Baucus bill shows NBC still in Obama-friendly hands

The same day Comcast and General Electric announced Comcast would take control of NBC Universal, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced his company was supporting the health-care bill currently before the Senate.

This is interesting in two ways:

First, as Newsbusters points out, this move by Roberts coincides with an announcement of a merger that will likely face anti-trust scrutiny from the same Congress and administration that is pushing the health-care bill. Washington has long used the weapon of anti-trust to extract pounds of flesh from big corporations. One commissioner said yesterday, "My skepticism about the harms imposed by so few controlling so much persists."

Also, it seems fitting that Comcast would move a step closer to Obama when taking over NBC Universal, because the current owner, GE, is perhaps the most Obama-friendly corporation in the country.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jobs summit features rent-seeking CEOs

What does job creation look like under Obamanomics? Take a hint from the CEOs Obama invited to his job summit. My column dives into this:
Executives from Boeing, Siemens, Disney, and Dow were among those headlining the summit. These companies all depend on government aid or regulation for their profits. In this way, they were fitting icons for Obama's economic vision.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Washington Times Review of Obamanomics

AG Gancarski reviews Obamanomics in the Washington Times:
And the biggest companies with the most lobbyists reap the benefits. This trend holds true for many sectors of the economy - big pharma, the insurance industry, king coal, big tobacco, the auto industry, agribusiness, the securities industry and so on - even as average Americans grapple with the realities of a deteriorating dollar, double-digit credit card interest rates, and houses with mortgages as underwater as a sunken ship. So it is that companies such as General Motors Corp., clinging to fiat bailout cash to survive, nonetheless kept their lobbyists employed even while pleading penury.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obamanomics Excerpt: Obamanomics: General Electric wins big with White House

Today, the Examiner carries an excerpt from Chapter 10 of Obamanomics:

Days after Obama's inauguration, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, wrote to shareholders: "[W]e are going through more than a cycle. The global economy, and capitalism, will be 'reset' in several important ways.

"The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner."

General Electric is a sprawling, complex corporation with many diverse businesses. The company makes light bulbs and refrigerators, sure, but it also has a finance arm, a transportation arm, a health-care arm, a communications arm, and more. The above letter from Immelt reveals what these arms all have in common: They all reach out for government favors.

Washington Times "Hot Button" Column on Obamanomics

Amanda Carpenter at the Washington Times writes a daily "Hot Button" column. Today, she discusses Obamanomics:
"Obama strongly believes in government directing the economy," Mr. Carney said. "It's inevitable when government directs the economy lobbyists become more important, so whether he likes it or not, he's making them more important."

Close friend of agriculture chief now a Monsanto lobbyist

My column today continues on the theme of the agrichemical industry's reach into the Obama administration:
Jerry Crawford, an Iowa lawyer and lobbyist with deep ties to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, recently registered as the Washington representative for Monsanto, a biotechnology and agrichemical giant that embodies the "special interests" President Obama planned to drive from the temple of federal government.

The Des Moines Register calls Crawford a "well-connected, high-profile Des Moines lawyer" and "Democratic power broker."

Examine his record, and you see what the paper means. Crawford was once chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. He was the Iowa chairman for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry. In 2008, he was Hillary Clinton's Midwest campaign chairman.

Of greater significance today, he is also a "longtime Vilsack friend and adviser," a "Vilsack ally," a "top Vilsack insider," and "a guru for and a big friend of Gov. Tom Vilsack," according to the Register.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review: Obamanomics Ties Obama to Big Business

Human Events runs its review today of Obamanomics:
Carney isn’t calling the new president corrupt. Instead, he’s warning Obama that “corporate-government intimacy is a breeding ground for scandal.”

Time and again Carney states his opposition to Obama’s legislative agenda without the sort of rancor one might expect from a critic of the new administration. He doesn’t think Obama is a socialist or someone who wants to harm the country. The president simply believes his approach is the right one. Meanwhile, major corporations see the benefits of Obamanomics -- more regulation and less competition for their services.

So what happens next? Obamanomics details a step-by-step approach to defeat the principles set in motion over the last year, like banning future bailouts and earmarks. Carney realizes not every step is feasible. Some won’t be politically popular while others might not be enough to thwart the changes being made to our government.

But they show hope for a different kind of change still exists.

Obamanomics defined: Big Government in service of Big Business

Today, the Examiner runs an excerpt of Obamanomics, Chapter 1:

Underlying Obamanomics are some basic economic facts and political realities. These are the Four Laws of Obamanomics, paired below with some of the lobbying strategies that exploit these laws.

1) During a legislative debate, whichever business has the best lobbyists is most likely to win the most favorable small print. Similarly, once a bill has passed, the business with the best lawyers and lobbyists will best be able to craft the regulations and learn how to game them. A big business, counting on this fact while lobbying for more government spending or control, is employing The Inside Game.

2) Regulation adds to overhead, and higher overhead crowds out smaller competitors and prevents startups from entering the industry. When corporations, knowing this, lobby for more regulation of their industry, I call this the Overhead Smash.

3) Bigger companies are often saddled by inertia, meaning robust competition is a threat. Adopting regulations that stultify the economy is the equivalent of raising the basketball hoop to twenty feet at half-time: it protects the lead of whichever team is ahead. When Big Business seeks to stultify the economy to hold back smaller competitors, I call it Gumming the Works.

4) Government regulation grants an air of legitimacy to businesses, boosting consumer confidence, often beyond what is warranted. This is The Confidence Game.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Top Eight Winners of Obamanomics

Today is launch day for Obamanomics, and on Clusterstock, I've posted with my brother a slideshow of the Elite Eight -- the biggest winners in the world of taxes, regulations, mandates, handouts, and bailouts that is Obamanomics. If you're interested, please buy a book today.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The first review of Obamanomics

David J. Sanders, a columnist in Arkansas, wins the gold medal by publishing the first review of Obamanomics:
Obamanomics, of course, cuts against Washington’s most compelling narrative (which started during the campaign): Obama, the agent of hope and change vs. the powerful interests. But Carney reveals a president who on the one hand professes to protect the little guy, but on the other supports policies that punish innovation, hurt small business and run up trillions of dollars of government debt, while rewarding his friends at Goldman Sachs, GE (a company that earned its own chapter), Pfizer and the United Auto Workers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Obama’s revolving door and agri-chemical giants

The agri-chemical industry is one big winner in Obama's America. My column reports on recent developments on this front:

Most recently, Obama showed his agri-chemical colors with his nomination of Isi Siddiqui as the chief agricultural negotiator at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. If confirmed, this would be Siddiqui’s second spin through the revolving door.

After 28 years at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, he entered the Clinton Administration. There he served in the Agricultural Marketing Service before spending four years as the senior trade advisor to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Then Siddiqui cashed out. In 2002, he became a lobbyist for CropLife America, the lobbying group for pesticide and herbicide manufacturers.

Siddiqui avoids any clash with the executive order restricting lobbyists in Obama administration posts because he last registered as a lobbyist in 2004. Currently, however, he serves as CropLife’s “vice president for science and regulatory affairs.”

So, Siddiqui works for a lobbying organization as the VP in charge of “regulatory affairs,” but he isn’t registered as a lobbyist (meaning he supposedly spends less than 20 percent of his time talking to government officials), so he’s cool by Obama’s standards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Global warming industry becomes too big to fail

My K Street column looks at the flap over the leaked/stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit:
"I'm in the process of trying to persuade Siemens Corp. (a company with half a million employees in 190 countries!) to donate me a little cash to do some CO2 measur[e]ments here in the UK -- looking promising," wrote Andrew Manning, a climate-science research fellow at the University of East Anglia, "so the last thing I need is news articles calling into question (again) observed temperature increases."
Manning's e-mail, written in October to a colleague at East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit, was one of the thousands of private communiques exposed to public view by a whistleblower or a hacker. The note and others like it reveal the intriguing relationship between industry giants like Siemens and the scientists driving climate change fears. More importantly, though, Manning's e-mail shows the incentives of climate scientists: Convince people there is a climate disaster coming, get more money.

Friday, November 20, 2009

No neutrality in Google-funded net neutrality studies

My column today looks at the slurry of business, government, and academia, as regards net neutrality:
Obama's FCC announced in July it had chosen Harvard University's Berman Center for Internet and Society to "conduct an independent expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world." The study, led by professor Yochai Benkler, has provided fodder for advocates of net neutrality regulations, such as the Obama administration.
Unreported so far is the fact that on the center's Web page naming donors is a section called "Support for Current Activities" thanking corporate and foundation donors. The list includes Google and Microsoft.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Subsidies on trial in Caribbean rum rumble

I got my hands on the on contract between Diageo and the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands in which the USVI offers the liquor company a flotilla of subsidies to lure Captain Morgan away from Puerto Rico. My column examines the subsidies, and the Capitol Hill war over them:

The Virgin Islands courtship of Captain Morgan has angered Puerto Rican officials, who have started to push back. The territory's congressional representative, Pedro Pierluisi, introduced a bill in April prohibiting territories from using more than 10 percent of their cover-over for subsidies (a consultant for Puerto Rico tells me it turns about 6 percent of the cover-over into liquor subsidies)....

Puerto Rico's play here is something like bilateral disarmament: We won't bribe companies with hyper-subsidies if the Virgin Islands doesn't. But the predicament points out a hole in a standard free-market argument. It turns out that municipalities competing for business aren't in a race to roll back regulations and lower taxes, but in a race to provide more taxpayer subsidies.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Feeling pushed, the Catholic Church pushes back

To complement the reports by my colleagues over on the news side (Michael Neibauer on the Washington Archdiocese-vs-the City Council on gay marriage, and Susan Ferrechio on the U.S. Bishops-vs-Congress on abortion subsidies), I have a special column today:
Typically averse to direct involvement in the political fray, the Catholic Church in the United States now finds itself fighting in Washington's policy trenches both on Capitol Hill and at City Hall....

The church's newfound political assertiveness likely results from changes in both the nature of the issues at hand and the makeup of the American clergy.

The battles in which the church finds itself embroiled today are not simply about the underlying moral issues -- abortion and gay marriage -- but about more aggressive policies that might restrict the ability of the church and of individual Catholics to act according to Catholic teachings.

A mining giant in bed with Boxer, Kerry

Adding to the gallery of climate bandits, my column today explores why mining giant Rio Tinto is lobbying for climate-change legislation:

Rio Tinto stands to profit in many ways from Boxer-Kerry, often in ways that provide no real benefit to consumers or the environment, while increasing costs for everyone.

In 2008, Rio Tinto mined more uranium than any company in the world, according to Chiaro. Uranium is the feedstock for nuclear power plants. Litigation and regulation have for decades blocked the expansion of nuclear power, and many companies see robust climate legislation as the way to knock down the regulatory barriers....

But Rio Tinto also sees profit in Boxer-Kerry in ways that harm the consumer. Boxer-Kerry would add to the cost of gasoline, heating oil, and electricity, and also force less efficient energy sources on American families and manufacturers, while imposing new costs on taxpayers. This would drive business to Rio Tinto's other ventures.

Rio Tinto and BP, for instance, have formed a joint venture called Hydrogen Energy, which is building plants in California, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere that aim to combine the technologies of fueling a power plant by hydrogen and pumping carbon dioxide underground in order to keep the gas out of the atmosphere. These projects are already subsidized by taxpayers, and Rio Tinto is lobbying for the additional subsidies Boxer-Kerry would provide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pfizer deserts its monument to corporate welfare

Remember Kelo v. New London? That was the case in which the liberal majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities, towns, and states had the right to seize properties by eminent domain and give the land to private developers.

Well, my column today reports on how that great redevelopment plan hasn't worked out so well:

Susette Kelo's little, pink house in New London, Conn. -- like the houses of all her neighbors -- is now a pile of rubble, overgrown with weeds. But Pfizer, the company that called for the demolition in order to build a new research and development plant, announced Monday it is packing up and leaving town in order to cut costs after its merger with fellow drug-giant Wyeth.

New London now has a wasteland where a neighborhood once stood, and no jobs or business to show for it. It's another travesty of central planning.

Friday, November 6, 2009

McDonnell should let the market, not developers, guide transportation policy

Governor-elect Bob McDonnell won well-deserved praise for his transportation plan, but I argue, in my column today, that he didn't go far enough in promoting the role of market forces.
More roads and more lanes spurs more homes and more developments -- and that doesn't alleviate traffic....

Traffic affects people's home-buying decisions and job-seeking decisions. If Route 29 and Interstate 66 are nightmares, many people will decide either to live closer in or work further out. When politicians decide to pave more roads or add more lanes, they aren't alleviating traffic -- they are subsidizing the cost of living in Loudoun and working downtown.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Obama's revolving door always open to Podestas

I spent Friday evening studying the White House visitor logs, and my K Street column today reports my findings:

Lobbyist Tony Podesta and his lobbyist wife, Heather Podesta, separately visited the White House eight times in Obama's first six months, according to the White House data dump. On 17 occasions, Obama's White House welcomed Tony's brother John, who co-founded the Podesta Group lobbying firm with Tony.

The Podestas are precisely the sort of wealthy, well-connected, revolving door, corporate lobbyists whom candidate Obama assailed for having "turned government into a game only they can play."

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Steve Shannon's friends profit from your tax dollars

I wade into Virginia politics in my column today, looking at the Democrat in the attorney general race, and why Northern Virginia developers are backing him:
And the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce is openly at war with Virginia taxpayers. The organization's agenda includes opposing a homestead deduction to property taxes (a deduction that would make it easier for families to afford life in the costly county) and opposing legislative efforts to prevent developers from offloading costs to taxpayers.
The chamber has endorsed Shannon, who regularly describes himself as "pro-business." There's more than one way to be "pro-business," though: You could favor lower taxes and less regulation as Cuccinelli does, thus creating an open and level playing field for all businesses -- even those that don't yet exist. Or you can support a system of taxes and subsidies as Shannon does, thus rewarding existing businesses, especially those who are politically well-connected.
When asked in a recent debate for details about what the AG job entailed, Shannon filibustered and evaded so badly that Cuccinelli jokingly made a court room-style objection that the witness was not answering the question -- more evidence Shannon is really running this year for the 2013 gubernatorial nomination. Well, the Post and the Northern Virginia developers are pleased that Shannon is a pro-tax increase "Aspiring Governor."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Google, Amazon profit from net neutrality

My column today weighs into the push for net neutrality regulations:

So Obama is pushing federal regulations that would profit companies that generously funded his campaign, but when Obama's chums at the Center for American Progress wrote about it, they described McCain as a "long-time friend of" the networks while omitting Obama's coziness to Google and crew.

This one-sidedness is typical in regulatory battles: Businesses that lobby for and profit from big government are given a free pass, while those who oppose regulations as damaging to profit are assailed for their corrupting influence.

There's money on both sides. The only question is whether the flow of money will be determined by the market or by Obama's bureaucrats.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will Congress cover for a drug-maker's billion-dollar mistake?

Did you hear about the drug-maker that missed a filing deadline by one day, and so it could lose a billion dollars. My column explains the sausage making that has resulted:
Amid President Obama's push to trim government and private-sector spending on health care, one drug maker is lobbying hard to extend the patent protection of a costly drug - an extension that could cost taxpayers and patients $1 billion.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Chamber fights Obama's regulatory robbery

My column today makes sense of some of the sound and fury these days about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But there's another reason Obama is running low on enemies: He's already bought off many of the most powerful industries and businesses.

Look at health care, where Obama has brought the name-brand drug makers on board to his reform with promises of subsidies and pledges not to attack the industry's special favors. Look at cigarettes, where Obama signed a tobacco regulation bill with the firm backing of Philip Morris.

And of course, look at climate-change legislation, where Obama has on his side coal giants like American Electric Power, manufacturing giants like Nike, agribusiness giant Monsanto, and lobbying giant General Electric, to name a few. The Democrats have bought off these special interests by rigging the legislation so that taxpayer and ratepayer money is funneled into corporate coffers.

So why hasn't Obama won over the Chamber of Commerce on his regulatory pushes?

The problem is that the chamber is so varied. Its members are manufacturers, service businesses, high-tech companies, finance companies and everything in between, ranging in size from Exxon to Mom & Pop, and in geography from Anchorage to Miami.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Watch me on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" this morning

Here's the clip of me on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." It was an enjoyable, and I thought interesting, conversation with me and liberal writer Taylor Marsh, a former beauty queen and actress.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tough talk at HMOs will give way to corporatism

Insurers are the "villains," we're told, and Obama promises to battle them. In my column today, I predict there will be no such battle.
So, will Democrats do anything to smash the government-created shelters that protect these companies from market forces? Will they create a government insurer to compete against private insurers? Will they significantly cut Medicare payments to private insurers?

Or, will they follow the model of Obama's first nine months in office?

Think about Obama's accomplishments so far. After assailing lobbyists, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and every other major business lobby in the country.

Obama added a fourth bailout for AIG, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner created new Wall Street bailouts. Obama signed a tobacco regulation written in part by Philip Morris while claiming he was battling Big Tobacco. Cash for Clunkers was corporate welfare for automakers.

Obama has talked about battling special interests, but he's backed away from every proposal that would actually harm well-connected corporations. Card Check? Tabled. A climate bill without corporate giveaways? That was nice in theory, but we're not going to see it. Medicare negotiating down drug prices? Tossed out in a deal with the drug lobby.

Obama's mode of operation has been to rattle sabers at corporate America and then give them what they want.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pro-Obamacare Republicans in the pay of the health industry

Those pro-ObamaCare Republicans Obama lauds for their bipartianship -- turns out they're all in the pay of the health-care industry. My column reports:
Thompson, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin, served four years as President George W. Bush's HHS chief. Now Thompson is a health care consultant at the lobbying firm Akin Gump, whose clients include insurer Aetna, many drug makers, device makers and hospitals....
Sullivan was George H.W. Bush's HHS secretary in the 1990s. In 2008, Sullivan made $220,000 as a director for four health care companies, including the biotech firm Biosante Pharmaceuticals, where he was chairman of the board, according to Forbes. His total 2008 compensation from these companies (with options and other non-cash compensation) was more than $1 million. He has recently served as a director at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Cigna....
Frist is a partner in a private investment firm that bets on health care companies -- and on regulation. The firm's Web site reads: "With deep expertise in the healthcare reimbursement and regulatory environments, the Cressey & Company team has invested in almost every for-profit niche of healthcare."...
And Dole, as this column discussed last Friday, is a health care lobbyist for the downtown firm Alston & Bird, which represents drug makers and insurers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dole, a health-sector lobbyist, gets the statesman treatment

Former Sen. Bob Dole is being paid by health-care companies to support ObamaCare--and for this he is winning praise. My column tells the story:

Dole made news in Kansas City Wednesday by calling on his party to back Democratic health-care reform bills currently before Congress, calling health-care reform, "one of the most important measures members of Congress will vote on in their lifetimes."

The New York Times, the Associated Press, Salon, the Chicago Tribune, and the Kansas City Star reported Dole's comments, but all omitted a seemingly relevant fact: Dole is a registered lobbyist with clients who stand to profit from the current Senate reform bill.

Dole is a lobbyist at the downtown firm Alston & Bird, where his clients include the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. The Association pays Alston & Bird $30,000 per month to lobby Congress and the administration on "issues in health reform relating to home health & hospice," according to Alston Bird's second-quarter 2009 lobbying report.

In September, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., amended his reform bill to expand Medicaid funding for home health-care and to include hospice care--care for the dying--under Medicaid, as well. This accelerates the flow of taxpayer money to Dole's clients. Now Dole is rallying the public behind this "important measure," and winning praise for his "bipartisanship."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The revolving door spins out a new John Warner

Former Sen. John Warner is lobbying on behalf of foreign and U.S. companies to loosen national-security export controls he once backed. My column tells the story:

"When hard decisions must be made, national security must always be the paramount consideration," Sen. Warner said in 2001. He assailed the companies that were lobbying for looser export controls at the time: "I am afraid there are those, including people in the corporate boardrooms across this country, who sometimes are not mindful about what serves as the foundation of our economic strength and their ability to project beyond our shores."

But now Warner's priorities have shifted. "I remember the Strom Thurmond Act -- that's fine," he told me. "I stand by whatever I said. I don't remember what I said, but I'll be delighted to read it in your column tomorrow. But I know this is an industry that needs help, and I'm privileged to be in a position to try and help them."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nike's green lobbying: Corporate responsibility or regulatory robbery?

Nike, as an act of protest, relinquished its spot on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's board of directors. Nike supports federal laws restricting greenhouse-gas emissions while the Chamber opposes them. My column explores the angles:
Nike won't bear most of the costs of a cap-and-trade scheme in the U.S. because Nike doesn't make stuff in the U.S. Cap-and-trade adds to manufacturing costs by attaching a price to emissions, which makes energy more expensive. But "a vast majority" of Nike goods are made overseas, a company spokesman told me in an email.

While Nike outsources its manufacturing to factories in Vietnam and other poor countries where greenhouse gasses are unregulated, some of its competition makes their shoes here in the U.S., where Nike is lobbying to increase costs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lobbying can be sordid, but it's not a crime

Kevin Ring is only the second associate of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff to go to trial. My column today takes his side (sort of):
Ring, no doubt, played a crooked game, and he was paid well for playing it ruthlessly. He showered lawmakers and their staffs with concert and basketball tickets and other gifts, then got what he wanted from those same public officials. The government argues this makes Ring a "corruptor." The government's presumption is that Congress was not already corrupt, or at least not waiting to have its palm greased, before Ring came calling.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Paul Kirk, senator from Pharma

Ted Kennedy's replacement was chosen this week, and in my column, I argue he is a fitting man to carry ObamaCare to passage:

If a health-care overhaul clears the U.S. Senate this year, the key vote may be a former drug industry lobbyist who has helped raise millions of dollars from drug companies and insurers.

Paul Kirk, chosen by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election in January, will be the 60th Democratic senator, and he looks like a reliable vote for President Barack Obama's push to overhaul the health-care sector.

Kirk could deliver the 60th vote on health care--crucial to break a potential Republican filibuster--which would be fitting for a "reform" effort that will enrich the drug industry and could provide a boon for private insurers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How a power giant profits from greenhouse regs

Big Coal is lining up behind the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. My column makes sense of it all:

"Without this bill, without a strict regime for controlling carbon emissions, Big Oil and Big Coal win," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. "And the environment, endangered species, our kids, our grandkids, you, and I will be the losers."

Got that? It's Big Coal against the children.

A[merican] E[lectric] P[ower], however, qualifies as Big Coal. One of the biggest electricity producers in the country, AEP generates more than two-thirds of its electricity by burning coal. Many years, the company is the Western Hemisphere's largest consumer of coal.

So how come AEP is on the same side as Woolsey, Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, not to mention "our kids" and the "endangered species"?

Friday, September 18, 2009

ACORN and wealthy developers vs. hipsters and firemen

I went to Brooklyn for today's column.
Wealthy and well-connected developer Bruce Ratner wants to bulldoze an old neighborhood in Brooklyn and turn it into high-rise apartment buildings and a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets. Many locals, including the hipsters who live in Park Slope and the firemen who work at FDNY Squad No. 1, don't want this steel hulk named Atlantic Yards casting a shadow over their neighborhood and filling their streets with traffic....
To understand what's happening on Atlantic Avenue, you need to shed Left-vs.-Right and white-vs.-black modes of thinking, as well as simple anti-corporatism. Without eminent domain, Ratner would never be able to get all the land.
The real dividing line is people with access to government power -- Ratner, ACORN and the politicians -- against people without such access. You can guess who's going to win.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tire tariffs show another cost of cap and trade: Free trade

Obama's tire tariffs, I argue in my column today, show how cap-and-trade is the enemy of free trade:
And cap and trade makes a trade war a political necessity, because the policy otherwise will ship U.S. jobs overseas. A trade war may cost jobs, but in a way less traceable to specific policies. In this way -- when U.S. politicians claim China is subsidizing its exports by not taxing emissions -- carbon caps could become a net short-term winner for manufacturing companies.
Cap-and-trade legislation may not stop the oceans' rise, as Obama has suggested. On the contrary, it may cause a rising tide of prices that lifts the fortunes of the well-connected companies, leaving American taxpayers and consumers drowning.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

David Shuster and me

Here's my performance on MSNBC:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Carney on Tauzin

Today's Washington Examiner contains a profile on Billy Tauzin, written by yours truly.

The main item is headlined "Billy Tauzin: K Street's Drug Kingpin." The package includes a "biofile" titled "From the Bayou to K Street by Way of Congress." There's also a sidebar, "Revolving door or God's gift?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obama offers the insurers their Holy Grail

Champagne corks must have been popping at UnitedHealth's corporate headquarters following President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. My column explains:
Obama didn't give specifics Wednesday night, but a mandate needs an enforcement mechanism. The mechanism on the table currently is Sen. Max Baucus's proposal to fine every family without the minimum-required health insurance $3,800.
It's an odd way to "cover everyone." It's like delivering on the old political promise of "a chicken in every pot" by fining everyone who doesn't buy a chicken.
The individual mandate has been the Holy Grail for the insurance companies. What business wouldn't love similar treatment? Maybe Apple can get a provision stating (to use Obama's phrasing) "individuals will be required to carry basic music players." Perhaps Smith & Wesson can get its own individual mandate.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama shadow boxes with 'enemies' of health plan

Obama says he's battling the special interests in his health-care fight. My column today asks if any business is really fighting back.
Emmanuel Goldstein was the enemy of the state in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," and the target of the "Two Minutes Hate," in which the citizens of Oceania -- at the cue of Big Brother -- would rage at those undermining the state and the party.
Within the novel, it's never clear if Goldstein is real or a fabricated whipping boy for party officials and angry citizens.
Unlike Big Brother, President Obama hasn't even deigned to give us a name for the enemy of "reform." He uses only ominous, vague epithets: "Opponents of health insurance reform," "well-financed forces" and "those who are profiting from the status quo."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mattel exempted from toy safety law it helped write

Toymaker Mattel has been given an exemption from a federal toy-safety regulation it helped create. My column tells the story and draws some lessons.
When regulation turns into a boon for the biggest businesses in an industry being regulated--which is often--commentators decry the "capture" of the regulatory body. Indeed, Mattel is much more likely to get the ear of toy-safety bureaucrats than is the independent artisan. But these regulations are often "captured" before they are even passed into law.

Remember, Mattel lobbied for this bill, and the Toy Industry Association said "we were early proponents of adopting mandatory laws to require toy testing." Hasbro, the second-biggest toy-maker behind Mattel, hired lobbyists for the first time in its history in order to back the CPSIA.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How a congressman brings business to K Street

Congress is pushing a bill to get the federal government in the business of promoting travel to the U.S. My column tells the twisted back-story of this legislation:
In 2005 Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Democrat who represents Cape Cod, addressed the Washington Summit of the Travel Business Roundtable, and urged it to lobby more. Fed News reported, "The Congressman called on the industry to wage a more aggressive, bipartisan campaign."
It's not every day that a lawmaker issues a clarion call for more lobbying, so the industry obliged with enthusiasm. The Travel Business Roundtable registered as a lobbying organization in 2006, changed its name to the Discover America Partnership, and hired Steven Schwadron, Delahunt's longtime chief of staff, as its K Street lobbyist. Nobody can say Delahunt doesn't take care of his employees.
Delahunt this year sponsored HR 2935, the Travel Promotion Act

Friday, August 28, 2009

How GE's green lobbying is killing U.S. factory jobs

I traveled to a GE factory in Winchester, Virginia, to write my column on GE's green lobbying:
WINCHESTER, VA--“Government did us in,” says Dwayne Madigan, whose job will terminate when General Electric closes its factory next July.

Madigan makes a product that will soon be illegal to sell in the U.S. - a regular incandescent bulb. Two years ago, his employer, GE, lobbied in favor of the law that will outlaw the bulbs.

Madigan’s colleagues, waiting for their evening shift to begin, all know that GE is replacing the incandescents for now with compact fluorescents bulbs, which GE manufactures in China.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Leaked e-mail shows how GE puts the government to work for GE

My column this week provides a look behind the scenes at the most prolific corporate lobbyist in the country--General Electric:
"The intersection between GE's interests and government action is clearer than ever," General Electric Vice Chairman John G. Rice wrote in an Aug. 19 e-mail to colleagues.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Matthew Cooper's misleading attack on the late Bob Novak

[Originally posted at "Beltway Confidential."]

Now, I don't agree with the notion that one should never speak ill of the recently deceased. Sure, there's no reason to bad-mouth the kid next door who died of cancer, even if he was a bully, but if a public figure passes away, balancing the paeans with critical material is valid.

And Bob Novak, my boss for nearly five years, was not only a public figure, he was intentional stirrer of strife. It's fitting to debate his legacy. Some critiques I've read of him this week were legitimate contributions to the discussion.

But if you wait until a man dies to badmouth him in print, and then attack him through name-calling and deceptive omission--well, that's not quite gentlemanly. I'm talking, in this instance, about Matthew Cooper's blog post at the Atlantic.

Cooper was caught up in the whole Valerie Plame mess, and like Novak, he protected his sources until he learned that the sources had already told prosecutors about their conversations and specifically relieved Cooper of his confidentiality pledge.

But Cooper tries to paint Novak in a black hat and himself in a white hat:

Novak had acted as a transmission belt for the malevolent leakers who sought to trash former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had the temerity to criticize the war and report that he had been to the African country of Niger at the behest of the CIA where his wife worked. My piece noted that the trashing of Wilson continued. My goal was not to serve as an open mike for the leakers--which Novak did--but to show them up.

There are many problems with this passage, but let's start with the glaring omission. Nowhere in the entire post, which talks about Novak's "leakers," and which mentions Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, does Cooper include the name of the man who told Novak Plame worked at the CIA, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Omitting Armitage's name allows Cooper to tout the line that liberals and Democrats tried to use in the 2004 election: a conservative columnist had teamed up with Karl Rove (who confirmed Armitage's nugget when Novak asked him about it) and Scooter Libby (whom Novak never spoke with) to kneecap Joe Wilson for opposing the war and exposing the White House's bad intelligence.

Cooper uses all the buzzwords of this meme: "malevolent leakers who sought to trash former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had the temerity to criticize the war...."

But Richard Armitage was basically a dove, and Novak had so consistently, and publicly opposed the Iraq War that it earned him the label of "Unpatriotic." In fact, Novak wasquestioning the pro-war intelligence in print long before Wilson was.

Consider this analysis by David Corn and Michael Isikoff--hardly Novak defenders:

The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

Novak's stance on Iraq seems relevant if you're going to lump him in with "malevolent leakers" attacking war critics. But by omitting even Armitage's name Cooper's piece seems, to borrow a phrase he uses to attack Novak, "more about destroying than illuminating."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health-care reform's hidden gift to the HMOs

I cover, in my column today, an underreported detail about health-care reform:
Did you know that, if your job-based HMO wrongly denies you coverage for a medical treatment, and that denial leads to your injury or death, federal law may protect that insurer from paying any damages to you or your family?
Did you know that the House Democrats' health-care "reform" bill would cement this extraordinary legal immunity for the health insurance companies?
Despite the crusading anti-HMO rhetoric coming from the White House and some congressional Democrats this summer, the "reform" bills currently on Capitol Hill include many gifts to health insurers: The bills would all subsidize private insurance and mandate that individuals carry insurance; some also mandate employers insure their workers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Novak's public service: Exposing the power game

My column today pays tribute to my old boss:
With his columns, Novak helped foster a salutary skepticism of government and reinforced the distrust of power that lies at the core of American liberty.
Much of Novak's work involved tracking political horse races and getting inside dirt on candidates and elections. But Novak also loved digging into the bowels of the legislative and executive branches, and showing readers how the sausage is actually made.
In these days, when the president (like his predecessors) calls his critics "naysayers" and "cynics" and says the day for skepticism of government is past -- and when even many conservatives believe that government is responsible for solving all of the nation's problems -- Novak's lesson is indispensable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Remembering Bob Novak

My Human Events remembrance of Novak:
In 2004, I was chatting with Novak at a conservative dinner at the Willard Intercontinental in downtown D.C. when Ralph Reed approached. Novak greeted Reed, introduced me, and began trading pleasantries, but within one minute the conversation had somehow become an on-background interview -- I noticed this, but I’m not sure Reed did, because of the subtlety with which Novak deflected any questions back at Reed and steered the conversation away from himself.
It was a remarkable trait to find in a professional pundit so successful and so opinionated: Novak might have been the best listener I’ve ever known.

Bob Novak, RIP

Robert D. Novak, who began covering Washington during the Eisenhower administration and later achieved fame as a columnist and television commentator, died in his home Tuesday morning after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 78.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Down with the Health Insurers

My column today is a letter to conservatives:
Dear conservatives: Health insurance companies are not your friends. Keep opposing a new government-run insurer, a single-payer plan, and new regulations on the HMOs. But grant that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is correct on this: Insurance companies are villains.
Insurance companies lobby for big-government regulations, subsidies, mandates, and tax-code distortions that funnel them money, keep out competition, and stultify innovation. These policies preserve the employer-based health-care system that mocks the idea of free-market competition. Then they cry "unfair competition" when government threatens to encroach on their government-protected monopolies.
But they're not just lobbying against a government option. Today, health insurers are lobbying to force you and me to buy their product or face a tax hike (the individual mandate).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Forget the talk: Insurers buy into Obamacare

In my column today--Some inconvenient facts about the insurance industry and ObamaCare:
Barack Obama last year received more campaign cash from health maintenance organizations than any politician before him ever did -- and it's not even close.
Obama raised more than $1.4 million in 2008 from the employees and executives of "Health Services/HMOs" as the Center for Responsive Politics labels them -- or "villains" as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls them. That's more than the combined haul of every Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan left office.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Obama's pattern of intolerance towards dissent

Things are getting ugly in the health-care reform debate. My column looks into how Obama is handling this:

Dissent, it turns out, is no longer patriotic. President Obama's White House and his Democratic National Committee (DNC) have unleashed an all-out assault on what they call "angry," "manufactured," and "lobbyist-funded" lies about health care reform. Look closely and you realize that's how they classify all dissent.
Obama, when speaking at Notre Dame this spring amid protests from pro-lifers, said, "When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground."
But his record of dealing with actual dissent paints a different picture, one that suggests he has so much faith in his own good intentions and clever plans - and so little skepticism about the power of government to do good - that he sees all disagreement with his policies as condemnable.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Special interests cash in on clunker boondoggle

My column today looks at the Cash-for-Clunkers boondoggle:
But the real benefit to business — and harm to the economy — comes after the car sale. The law requires the dealers destroy the “clunker” engine (which, to be eligible, was drivable upon trade-in), scrap the car and shred almost all its parts. This government-required waste reduces the supply of used cars on the road. Reduce the supply of drivable used cars, and you drive up the price of all cars.
This supply reduction is the real stimulus for automakers and new-car dealers, and it comes at the expense of every consumer who didn’t take advantage of Cash for Clunkers — especially those who can’t afford a new car. The program taxes used-car buyers to subsidize new-car buyers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Barack Obama was Born in the United States

I didn't think I would have to ever write about this, because the evidence is fairly clear, and there's no legitimate evidence to the contrary, but let me say this: Barack Obama was born in the United States to a mother who was a U.S. citizen, and thus Obama is a U.S. citizen. And the new Kenyan birth certificate is demonstrably a fraud.

I'm writing this now because a couple of callers to Ringside Politics with a Punch doubted this, and one called me "naive" when I argued that Obama was demonstrably born here.

First, on the Kenyan birth certificate, check out David Weigel's take down.

The key points Weigel makes:

- It records Barack Obama Sr’s age as “26.” Obama Sr was born in 1936; his son was born in 1961.

- Its publication date is February 17, 1964, but it purports be a document of the “Republic of Kenya.” Kenya did not become a Republic until December 12, 1964, a year after it won independence from Great Britain.

- It’s signed by “registrar E.F. Lavender.” Earth Friendly Lavender is a kind of detergent, and government officials who use vanity initials on official documents are, to put it mildly, rare.

- The kicker? The image is part of the extremely ill-informed conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Mombasa—conveniently, one of the more Muslim parts of the country.

Then, on Obama's real birth certificate, and the birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, check this story from

Yes, it is not totally impossible the real birth certificate and the birth announcement are somehow fake, but it is also possible that George W. Bush was born in Saskatchewan. There is no valid reason to believe Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii. There is no valid reason to keep talking about the subject.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Big government gets in your food, hurts small farmers

With the House having just passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act, I dedicate my column today the history of Big Business and food safety regulation:
When Teddy Roosevelt instituted federal meat inspection, muckraker Upton Sinclair, whose book “The Jungle” spurred the push for meat regulation, wrote, “The Federal inspection of meat was, historically established at the packers’ request ... for the benefit of the packers.” The regulations “primarily affected their innumerable small competitors,” historian Gabriel Kolko wrote, and gave the big guys a virtual “government certificate on their goods,” as Sen. George Perkins described it.

Today, giant food producers (whose poor practices caused the scares of 2007 and 2008) again lead the push for food regulation, and many elements on the Left again see that the big guys are shaping the laws.

The big food processors, such as Kellogg, have lobbied for this bill, which would treat farms as “food production facilities,” subject them to inspections, and saddle them with reporting and record-keeping requirements.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How industry kidnapped Obama’s health ‘reform’

We still have a long way to go before Congress passes health-care "reform," but I look the landscape in today's column and conclude Big Business is winning:
A liberal Democratic president with a supermajority in the U.S. Senate and a massive majority in the U.S. House is on the road to passing a health care “reform” bill shaped by health maintenance organizations, drugmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, funded in part by a middle-class tax hike.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama, the drugmakers, profit and ‘reform’

Who's benefiting from Obama's health-care "reform"? My column digs into that question.

The homepage of warned Tuesday, “For those who fight reform in order to profit financially or politically from the status quo, the president sends a simple message: ‘Not this time.’”

But what about those who lobby in favor of “reform” in order to profit financially from new subsidies, mandates and regulations? Seemingly, the president says, “You’re in luck!”

The pharmaceutical industry, which gave $3.58 to Obama for every $1 to Sen. John McCain in last year’s presidential race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has spent more on lobbying in the Obama era — $78 million so far this year — than any other industry.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When conservatives go gaga over Big Business

Last week, we saw an unpleasant flap regarding the American Conservative Union and a lobbying effort by FedEx. My column today rebuts some of the Politico's claims but shows how the story points to a deeper problem in the conservative movement and the GOP.

On health care, why are Republicans and conservatives most vehemently battling the government insurance plan and efforts at cost savings, rather than the bills’ tax increases, mandates on private citizens, and subsidies? Why did a recent conservative coalition letter opposing the bills omit opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion?

I suspect donor priorities become activists’ priorities. Of course conservative groups and politicians need to raise money, and Big Business has the big money. But there’s a problem: Big Business’ agenda often entails handouts and regulations that crowd out competitors — witness health care reform, cap and trade, the stimulus, and bailouts.

Is it coincidental that Republicans’ recent major transgressions against the free market — the Wall Street bailout and the Medicare prescription drug benefit — aided Big Business?

Conservative obeisance to business distracts the movement and sacrifices its principles. Even if this dynamic wasn’t behind the ACU-FedEx flap, conservatives should use the episode as inspiration to tell Big Business, “We’re with you as long as you’re for freedom, and we won’t let you set our priorities.”

Read the whole thing here.