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The Great Imponderable

"What is wrong with some Republicans in Congress?" Also: Honorary Bush hater Mahmood Ahmadinejad. In good Company. Levee protection for the Army Corps. Plus much more.

5.12.06

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PLAN B FOR CONGRESS
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Wild on the Supply-Side:

Put me on Bob Tyrell's team, please. What is wrong with some Republicans in Congress? Why can't they see what is right before their eyes? Is it they fear the wrath and ridicule of the alien media nation if they step forward and support PERMANENT tax cuts?

Memo to Republican Congress: The Alien Media Nation already hates you and thinks you wear funny shoes -- you might as well support what is good and right with our great country. Press coverage can't get any worse.
-- Judy Beumler
Louisville, Kentucky

If the American people need to learn any lesson from economics, it's that the federal government does not control the economy. So it's distressing to read articles praising tax for stimulating the economy. There are three things wrong with such thinking: 1) It's not true. 2) It increases the deficit. 3) It encourages Americans' idolatrous worship of the federal government.

1) It's not true. What about the powerhouse economy of the 1990s in which we endured record-breaking tax increases? Certainly a growing economy has followed tax cuts, but it has also followed tax increases, which should signal that taxes play a minor role in the economy. What causes economic growth? Investment in new or existing businesses and productivity increases only. All else is slight of hand.

2) It increases the deficit. It seems to me that supply-side economics began with the idea that a tax cut would increase federal revenues because under high tax rates, people will find ways to shelter income. In that regard, supply-side economics has proven correct. But the rest of the supply-side story is that tax rates have a tipping point and once you go below it, you actually reduce revenue from taxes. Based on the huge budget deficits, I'd guess that we have gone below that tipping point. Budget deficits cause the feds to borrow more money, so we're not cutting taxes; we're only pushing them off on our children. Once the tax rate reaches the optimum revenue producing level, which we're probably below, the only honest way to cut taxes is to cut an equal amount of spending.

3) It encourages Americans' idolatrous worship of the federal government. Keynes invented the idea in the 1930s that the federal government can control the economy through taxation and interest rates and Americans lapped it up like puppies even though far better economists, von Mises and Hayek, warned us that Keynes was selling snake oil. American have prostrated themselves at the altar of the federal government, praying for the mighty god to intervene in the economy and rescue us from the gods of the market ever since.

Most Keynesians have promoted federal spending, or as Clinton called it, "investment," as the best means to pump the economy. Those who advocate tax cuts are promoting Keynesian thinking via a different tactic.

Almost every principle of Keynesian economics has been proven false in the past three decades, but Republicans still cling to it. It's time we learned that the federal government does not control, and therefore cannot stimulate, the American economy. If it could, FDR would have ended the Great Depression in a few weeks. In the first place, the economy is too large for the federal government to have much impact. But the main reason for its impotence is that the federal government merely transfers money from one pocket to another; it creates nothing.

This should be the constant drumbeat of all conservatives concerning federal spending: Shrink, but balance the budget. Leave economic growth to the experts -- entrepreneurs.
-- Roger D. McKinney
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Mr. Tyrrell writes: "There is a bigotry against the term Supply-Side Economics. That is the only way to explain it."

I think there might be another explanation. Supply-Side Economics is a concept which requires a bit of nuance to grasp, and so is simply beyond the intellectual reach of most liberals. Most pre-schoolers, on the other hand, will internalize the concept after their learning-facilitator reads them the fairy tale about the Golden Goose.

Liberals see complex problems and latch onto simplistic solutions. Liberals typically offer Pavlovian, conditioned responses to policy questions. Liberal politicians lack critical thinking skills. They dialogue in cliches, but the depth of their reasoning is quite shallow.
-- Dan Martin
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PERVERSION OF TRUTH
Re: Mark Tooley's Bush the Bad Christian:

It's always annoying to see the Bible taken out of context. Whether it's done by Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad, the National Council of Churches, or the rest of the religious left hardly matters; the result is the same: perversion of truth.

These self-serving jerks should actually read the Bible someday. If they did they would find passages such as Matthew 10:34 wherein Jesus said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Is that clear enough to penetrate their thick skulls and hard hearts? If not, I wonder if they could explain to the rest of us how allowing mad dictators to control every aspect of their countrymen's lives or threaten Israel and the rest of the region with an unprovoked nuclear attack somehow provides "justice for the poor and oppressed?" Do they really believe Jesus would turn a blind eye towards rape rooms, putting people into recycling shredders, or of unprovoked nuclear annihilation?

And, of course, Christians believe that Jesus is God, not, as Ahmadinejad put it, "one of the great prophets of the Almighty." As C. S. Lewis famously pointed out, since Jesus claimed to be God he either is just that, or else was a liar or a lunatic. Clearly Ahmadinejad wishes it were one or both of the later two, as that would be someone to whom he could relate.
-- R. Trotter

First, that anyone takes with more than a grain of salt the rantings of Mahmood Ahmadinejad, a non-Christian who believes in Allah--and not the Judeo-Christian deity which we call the LORD God--about George Bush and his relationship with Christ Jesus is absurd.

Second, that the "religious" liberal-left assaults the president, who appears to hold more Biblically traditional -- perhaps, even at times, more anchored in Christ? -- values than them, is predictable and instructive. Remember the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Third, there clearly are times when the only route to peace is war. Unfortunately. Regrettably. It must grieve the heart of God. But it is not without Biblical precedent.

However, when evil exists in the world at such unmistakable and potentially lethal levels as did in Iraq and as appear to with Iran and its non-peaceful nuclear program, for example, that evil must be confronted, resisted and defeated. If the left-leaning clerics in America cannot grasp that, then perhaps they need further divine revelation.
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

Just read article about the chastisement about Bush and his Christianity. What about the Persians and their acquired wealth by wagging war on neighbors?
-- Merlin

ENABLING STUPIDITY
Re: Paul Chesser's Guttmacher Inseminates the Media:

"There's no reason everybody else should have to pay for the sex poor people want and the pregnancies they don't want."

The problem with this statement, of course, is that it is logical, fair-minded, and presumes the need for one to take personal responsibility for their actions. Unfortunately, this is also a position that is anathema to liberal, morally bankrupt "progressives" and their paramours, the MSM, who blur the line between their desire to "assist" the down-trodden away from their self-destructive behavior, and seek instead to "reward" them for it. If one doesn't want to take them up on their offer to assist in disposing an unwanted pregnancy, then they can always take them up on their offer to assist in providing for it with welfare checks. We get to pay for the pregnancies they DO want as well.

Look, people do stupid things, but the dirty little secret is, they aren't that stupid. It's pretty simple, really. Deep down, everybody knows that abortion is the killing of a life, a life that is soon destined to cramp our style, cost us money, and cause untold inconvenience. Wealthy folks have abortions for the very same reasons, by the way, and should be held no less responsible for the devaluing of human life that this country has permitted and funded for over 30 years. This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. This is not a liberal-vs.-conservative issue. Abortion is murder, it is wrong, and we will be held accountable as a nation for our shameless, selfish behavior.
-- Mark Kalbach
Morton, Pennsylvania

WRONG BAND?
Re: Michael Fumento's The Band of Brothers (and Their Mothers):

A correction to Michael Fumento's article on your website today: Easy Company, ("the Band of Brothers" in Stephen Ambrose's book of the same title), was part of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
-- Robert E. Henry, CPT, JA, JFHQ CTNG
Hartford, Connecticut

Michael Fumento replies:
No, the term BoB is now applied to the entire 506th. I heard it repeatedly in Corregidor and HBO is currently filming something on the new BoB about the 1st of the 506th, the only unit in Corregidor.

EXTRA CONCENTRATION
Re: G. Tracy Mehan, III's Concentrating the Army Corps of Engineers:

I agree with The Honorable G. Tracy Mehan, III that the worthwhile projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be funded and he is correct that the inadequate levees in New Orleans showcase the lack of funds going to needy projects. Unfortunately, the best route to that end is not an overhaul of the Corps and passage of the Feingold-McCain bill, S. 2288, with revitalization of an already discredited Water Resources Council, but an overhaul of the Water and Power Branch in the Office of Management and Budget. By advocating budgets that are almost half of what is needed to maintain the nation's crumbling infrastructure and substituting their own priorities (most notably large and expensive environmental restoration projects and endangered species protection projects), OMB has ensured that this nation is ignoring construction projects such as levees that give us almost a three to one return just in "national" benefits and promoting a "fix as fail" operation and maintenance program. These are not "pork-barrel" projects, these are the basics we need for our American way of life, such as those for flood control, transportation, hydropower, water supply and recreation.

What is little known is that the Civil Works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already subject to an exhaustive in-house process of budget prioritization, not the least of which is because, as the only infrastructure projects in the nation required to have cost-benefit ratios grounded in economic theory and extensive ongoing economic analyses, data exists from which to evaluate incremental changes in benefits as a function of increased or decreased spending.

From their inception, each "economic" water resources infrastructure project goes through multiple "winnowing" processes. Based on a recent sample of data taken over several years, only 16% of proposed project studies generally pass the positive "national benefit"-cost ratio threshold which, when combined with other engineering and scientific analyses, makes them eligible for a favorable Report of the Chief of Engineers upon which authorization and then appropriations depend.

The second winnowing is a cost-sharing requirement. Both studies and construction require percentages of local monies that match amounts from the Federal government, as well as other contributions such as lands, easements and rights of way. (In the case of inland waterway construction projects, matching funds come from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.) Unless exempted by Congress, if a local cost-sharing agreement is not finalized, a project is not eligible for Federal funds to go forward.

Next is the actual budget apportionment process. It begins roughly 18 months before a President's budget is delivered to Congress and starts at the 41 districts of the Corps of Engineers. Performance-based budgeting requires a highly detailed matrix. Projects are sorted by benefits and costs or remaining benefits and costs, and rated in a variety of categories such as costs per ton-mile and trip ton-mile calculations (for navigation O&M projects), project completion dates and risk factors for the environment, safety, security and operations. Each of the "economic" Corps projects is then subject to a "diminishing returns" analysis that defines specific measurable performance benefits that may be gained through a number of levels of incremental funding. In addition, if a project has unique elements or circumstances (judicial judgments or transportation routes vital to economic/national security such as exists in Plaquemines Parish), it is flagged. Note is also taken of loss of federal revenue from multiple missions that may be dependent upon one use (jeopardy to hydropower or water supply due to pending drops in the level of water for navigation.) Those recommendations are then sent to a Corps Division office that merges all district inputs into a Division recommendation. Divisions then send their recommendations to the Corps headquarters in Washington. There they are reviewed, merged, "cross-walked" (transportation missions are compared to flood control are compared to hydropower, etc.) and "racked and stacked" so as to rank all of the projects in the nation on a "benefit" scale. That list is then delivered to the Office of Management and Budget.

Rather than providing a budget based upon actual needs, OMB provides arbitrary ceilings. (Even OMB employees acknowledge Civil Works funding is woefully inadequate, but look to Congress to increase the bottom-line.) They have their own criteria and priorities for funding which recent trend analyses strongly suggest are skewed in favor of environmental restoration projects to the detriment of "economic" projects that provide monetary returns to the Treasury. Within the construction account for FY2007, only 90 out of approximately 655 projects were accorded "priority status" that would allow for some level of funding. Of those, the highest priority Administration projects (dam safety as well as 9 other construction projects, including four for environmental restoration) were allowed full funding. The next tier of projects received a smaller percentage of their funding needs and the other OMB priority projects received less than half the amount actually needed. The remaining construction projects, all with positive benefit-cost ratios or needed because of special circumstances, are now proposed for immediate termination, with the attendant wastefulness of millions and millions of dollars for contractor costs as well as the prospect of solid construction jobs lost. Even the much needed maintenance of our ports and harbors that keeps America competitive is short-changed, even though 100 percent of that funding comes from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, privately financed by a tax on importers.

Congress does attempt to correct these inadequacies, but is hampered by the arbitrary low budget ceiling. The authorizing committees deliver their "Views and Estimates" which includes their justification for a specific level of funding based upon their own evaluation of project funding level needs. Appropriations Committees also have funding matrices designed to track yearly funding commitments and changes in circumstances for specific projects. There is an extensive process whereby Corps districts are required to submit "justification" sheets for each project. In addition, Appropriations Committees gauge political support for projects, balancing as much as possible the priorities of members with the actual needs of a project and the attendant implications. Their jobs would be much easier should the Water Resources Development Act of 2006 pass as it contains a Fiscal Transparency Report provision that directs the Corps to provide the "real" data, not OMB's version of reality.

Is the Corps process perfect? No, there are limitations, and the Corps is working to address the following concerns through new analytical tools:

1) OMB ranks construction projects by their remaining benefit/remaining cost ratio (RBRCR). Over the past two years, those with less than a 3 to 1 positive RBRCR have been left out of the President's budget due to a scarcity of funds. Unfortunately, this type of formula is generally biased against flood control projects because those projects tend to provide benefits over the life of construction, causing lower RBRCR figures. To "fix" this problem for FY2007, the Corps has added a new "metric" to capture those flood control projects below a 3.0 RBRCR that have a high risk to human life and safety as measured by velocity and depth of flows during a flood event as well as lead warning times.

2) While environmental restoration projects are now being ranked by cost per acre, there is no metric currently being used to actually calculate "national benefits" to the Nation, or one that would enable an objective incremental funding analysis.

3) Corps analyses do not encompass global market dynamics. Current decision making processes assume that business/recreation development would stay in the United States rather than transfer to foreign countries. For example, if a channel is not maintained at an authorized depth, the Corps model assumes that a company response would be to build or expand into another part of the U.S. rather than overseas. Therefore, those benefits are not counted.

The Feingold-McCain bill will do nothing to improve the metrics and prioritization of projects that already takes place within the Corps. Many forget that in its previous incarnation, the Water Resources Council was tasked with "prioritizing" projects. It was unable to do so and the entire exercise led to a wholesale stoppage of projects. This was a major factor in the decision to no longer fund the Council. We do not need to reinvent the wheel -- creating new bureaucracies and studying problems to death. The Administration already has the data on which to base sound funding decisions, if they will only use it.

S. 2288, with its call for independent peer review, is woefully behind the times. In compliance with the provisions of the Information Quality Act, the Corps already requires reviews all of its project feasibility studies, and has established its review panels and issued guidance for independent reviews. Both the House and Senate versions of the much-delayed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) enumerate specific instances in which further, more extensive review is needed. Common sense says not all projects, particularly those with a low-threshold of $25 million, need expensive National Academy of Science reviews, so flexibility, with safeguards, is what is needed. In addition, the provisions in S.2288 provide for an independent review at the end of the draft feasibility report stage rather than during the study process. Especially for those projects that need an independent review, input should be given during the study process to ensure a reliable and cost-effective work product. Delaying independent review until after a draft report has been completed could result in a re-visitation of the entire study process -- a needless waste of funds as well as a setback to project timetables.

One area in which I do take great issue with Mr. Mehan's views is in the importance of the Inner Harbor Canal Lock (INHC), now over 85 years old. Contrary to his perception, it is not a "Canal-to-Nowhere," but one of the most congested locks on the inland waterways system, with average delays of 11 hours, and as much as 24 to 36 hours on many occasions. The pending closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) leaves the IHNC as the only viable trade link between the eastern and western portions of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. It connects the Mississippi River, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Industrial Canal, and key states of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. The lock is part of the critical marine transportation infrastructure that, under the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, falls within the purview of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Commander for New Orleans to ensure its operational continuity in response to intended or unintended events such as a marine transportation incident or natural disaster. In 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the replacement of the existing unreliable 600-foot lock with an industry-standard 1200-foot lock -- an almost three-fold increase in lock capacity -- would result in an increase in annual tonnage of cargo from 16.8 million tons/year to 25 million tons/year by 2010, representing huge volumes of commodities such as agricultural and forest products, industrial chemicals, petroleum products and mineral ores from over 25 states and all vital to our Nation's economy. The current remaining-benefit remaining-cost ratio (RBRCR) for the IHNC lock replacement project is $2.20 in "national" benefits for every $1 invested. And, half of the cost is being paid with funds from the user-financed Inland Waterway Trust Fund. The construction of this project would also contribute to the revitalization of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana and the region through benefits that are not captured via current economic analyses, such as an estimated additional $1.4 billion in secondary spending in the metropolitan New Orleans area during the construction period, the generation of another $23 million in local and state tax revenues, and an average of at least 950 jobs annually created as a result of construction and two new and more reliable bridges at St. Claude and North Claiborne Avenues.

We do not need the "old news" and wasteful recommendations in the current Feingold-McCain bill, S. 2288. Any needed workable, beneficial and "concentrating" provisions have already been added to S. 728, the Water Resources Development Act that is awaiting passage in the Senate as well as H.R. 2864, the WRDA that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 406-14 last summer.

What we desperately need is a national wake-up call to the Administration that we are shortchanging the very backbone of our nation's economy, in direct apposition to the President's stated goal of a competitive America. We already know the projects that have 75 percent risks of imminent failure or more, and the Corps is moving to further inventory and assess not just Federal levees but also those controlled by non-federal entities. If we do not move quickly to adequately maintain and improve all aspects of our ports and waterways, including levees, we risk our safety, our trade competitiveness, our nation's water supply, our power and our quality of life, and as Katrina showed us most eloquently, the costs to fix failure are astronomical.
-- Worth Hager, President
National Waterways Conference, Inc.
Arlington, Virginia

LACKING REFINEMENT
Re: "Market Forces" letters in Reader Mail's Oil for One and Ben Stein's Stop the Scapegoating:

If I may, I'd like to respond to the rather-impertinent challenge posed (presumably, to Ben Stein) by Sean "M.," from Magic Kingdom Metro:

Mr. "M.," to the best of my knowledge, oil refineries in this country are operating at something on the order of 98 percent of rated capacity (unless they get disrupted by a Katrina-like phenomenon). So we're doing pretty-much all we can with what we have. That the refineries have been able to keep apace with increasing demands is testimony to the oil companies' efforts to expand, improve, and upgrade existing facilities -- but expansion and improvement only goes so far. We need to build more refineries, and we should have been doing so right along.

That having been said, the truth is that there hasn't been a new refinery built in this country for three decades -- not because the oil companies don't *want* to build new refineries to meet increasing demand (think about it -- more refineries means increased output, which translates to more product, more sales, and increased profits), but because lawyers for sundry environmental groups know exactly which toady politicians will deny various permits and exactly which activist judges will issue restraining orders to prevent new construction.

It's really just that simple, Johnny.
-- David Gonzalez
Wheeling, Illinois

In response to Sean M. of Orlando, Florida, regarding refining capacity in the U.S. The oil companies would love to build new refineries but who in their right mind would commit to a billion-dollar project when an argument over a sacred owl or some other so called endangered species could delay the project for years or actually have the project canceled. When the legal costs exceed the construction costs then it's time to throw in the towel.
-- Tom Bullock
West Covina, California

Letter writers Pilger and Espinosa fixate on XOM's $8.4 billion quarterly profit figure with no context whatsoever. This is the second largest corporation in the world who made that $8.4 billion on $88 billion of revenue and will record close to $400 billion revenue for the year. ExxonMobil is somewhere between the 15th and 20th largest economic entity in the world. Maybe $8.4 billion isn't such a big number after all.
-- William H. Stewart
Boston, Massachusetts

Was that letter from the greatest agricultural broadcaster ever, Charlie Rankin RFD, who once plied his trade at KRGV lots of years ago? If so, I had the privilege of briefly working with a fine American some 47 years ago. Like so many of your other readers, this guy knows his stuff.
-- Jack Frost
Quintana, Texas

NO LIGHT AT END OF TUNNEL
Re: Jason Strakes's letter ("Soldiering and the Homefront") in Reader Mail's Oil for One:

Well, as to Jason Strakes' tome-like request for help in his on going research into the history of Vietnam war, I am always happy to help distinguished academics in their search for truth by pointing out open sources...

Just off the top of my heard Janson might begin his research on opinions other than those of the cloistered with the interview of Colonel Bui Tin's (NVA Ret.) interview in the 3 Aug 1995 Wall Street Journal and/or Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam by Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer (McFarland and Co.), among other sources, which quotes rather extensively North Vietnam's former Defense Minister General Vo Nguyen Giap. I could go on but I know that personal discovery is important to the younger generation so I will refrain from doing your research for you...

Don't recall any accusations or personal attacks in my response, just questioning of authoritative statements made as incontrovertible doctrine with no attribution or reference. Jason may be correct about what the majority of the population thought of the "protesters" however researching the opinion of the MEDIA shows an entirely different story and agenda. History is written by the winners and in the case of Vietnam said history is being written by those same media types 30 years later. As an academic Jason I'm sureI has much better sources to research the documents of 30+ year old media archives than I, if he has the interest, I have only my poor unverifiable personal experience. Online veteran groups still discussing this subject might be a rich vein of information if Jason wants some objective experience within this area of interest.

Lastly I have not spent 30 years "arguing that people like [Jason] were responsible for saving North Vietnam from total defeat." I was noting, however, the history being written by those open to all interpretations, especially that history being written by those that were on the other end of the rifle. "I like to think of it more as being in a position to examine the subject objectively without regard to my personal preferences" and personal experiences at war.
-- Craig C. Sarver
Behind Enemy Lines
Seattle, Washington

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