A short blurb in the Wash Post this morning reports that a House "lobbying reform" bill is finally headed to a floor vote this week. Gee, whiz. Whatever. It turns out that this version of "reform" does NOT require lobbyists "to keep track of their contacts with lawmakers and report fundraising activities." In other words, less and less actual reform. Now I'm not one who says that lobbyists are evil; far from it. But the public does have a right to transparency when lobbyists and money (either for lunches/trips/favors or for campaigns) are tied together with lawmakers. Saying that lobbyists can't have access would of course be unconstitutional. But for PAID lobbyists who ALSO donate money to lawmakers to do so without disclosure is to invite corruption. Even in the wake of the Abramoff scandals, it amazes me that the House doesn't seem to understand this.
The Spectacle Blog
If this story is to be believed -- and I hear it is indeed accurate -- then Tony Snow will be the new White House press secretary, and a particularly powerful one at that...while the unrelated Treasury Secretary John Snow will be out the door. Let's take the latter first. John Snow isn't exciting, but he actually has done a good job with the nuts and bolts at Treasury, and he has worked his heart out. The knock on him is that, despite his best efforts, he hasn't been an effective salesman. That may be true -- but, on the other hand, it is tough to be a good messenger when the overall communications apparatus for the whole administration hasn't been effective. If the president can get somebody with a superb combination of policy skills, management skills, AND political/communication skills, then by all means replace John Snow. But don't replace him with somebody else who isn't already well known and who doesn't within two minutes create a "Wow" factor.
It's more than just talk at this point. I have heard half a dozen playings of a new PSA on radio from (I believe) the DOE, offering a toll free number and soliciting complaints of price gouging for (so says the PSA) government action. So something has been budgeted to the issue -- on the wrong side --, and something has been done. Runaway bureaucracy?
Dave, Quin: A $400 million retirement packages is "obscene" and "wrong" and "greedy?" Nonsense.
There is no moral content to an individual's income or networth. All you can do with money is spend it, lend it, or invest it. We do not live in a zero-sum economy, where accumulation of wealth amounts to deprivation of others.
As Milton Friedman has argued, the social responsibility of a corporation -- that is, its moral obligation -- is to provide the best possible return for its stockholders. If you think a company is spending more on its executives than their services are worth, don't buy stock in that company. It's as simple as that. As to the argument that corporations have an obligation to limit executive compensation because it "gives the libs a perfect target to get government involved in all kinds of mischief": Isn't that like saying that permitting religious pluralism incites Islamist rage? I'm not equating economic leftism to terrorism, but you'd better think hard before accepting a line of logic that you'd surely reject in a different context.
Quin, as a matter of morals, a $400 million paycheck is awfully greedy, and greed is wrong.
But a matter of public policy, it's not. And when Hastert deems that compensation "unconscionable" to the press, he's saying so in his office as a Congressman and Speaker of the House. If he's saying that to preface remarks along the lines of "while this is unconscionable, it's none of our business," fine. But alone, it appears that he wants to do something about it, namely a price gouging investigation. Or worse.
Dave -- As a matter of government interest, exhorbitant salaries should be off limits. But I see nothing wrong with jawboning these execs. A $400 million golden parachute, as with the Exxon exec, is obscene. In fact, there is plenty of merit in the complaint that American corporate execs get paid so much more than do, say, Japanese ones. The compensation structure is all screwed up. In fact, the DESIRE for wealth over and above a certain point, except to do good with it (charity, etc), is a character flaw and deserving of ostracism. There's a difference between ambition and greed, and when execs get too greedy they open up a can of worms because it gives the libs a perfect target to get government involved in all kinds of mischief to correct the "imbalances" in compensation. OF course, government should NOT step in, but that doesn't mean the greed is morally defensible.
That point aside, though, I agree with everything else in your post, except that the anti-price gouging thing may only merit point nine or ten on a ten-point list. :) Meanwhile, your last question is appropriate: What DOES Hastert have to show for himself?
Quin, I agree that bowing to politics is wise in these cases. If this were a clever, "we're-all-for-enforcing-the-law-even-though-it's-probably-being-followed" action, I'd be all for it. It would make a great point eight on a ten-point list of legislation that would roll back all the faulty energy regulation of the last 30 years and begin ANWR and off-shore drilling, as you suggested.
But the fact that we enforce the law is a no-brainer -- and undeserving of a major media push. Instead, these guys assume the Democratic position: that of course the oil companies are price gouging.
Dave -- You know, I actually don't mind a little bit of showboating; if there are indeed people breaking the law via price gouging, I'm all for prosecuting them. A LITTLE bow to politics is okay... but only if such a misleading bow isn't the sum total of one's efforts. The problem, as you so well noted earlier, is that there are a lot more and a lot more substantive reasons for the high prices than "gouging," but the House GOP seems unable to make a case for correcting those real problems. It is that combination of an inability or unwillingness to do REAL solutions along with the mostly empty (and wholly ineffective) rhetoric on price-gouging that is so, well, let's call it flat-out offensive. In contrast, my old boss Bob Livingston of Louisiana was on Fox News last Friday at the same time as Eleanor Clift, and HE actually took the fight to her. She started in with all the tommyrot about how the high prices are Bush's fault, but he blew her out of the park with a concise list of policy mistakes for the last 30 years that led us to this point. E.g., Regs that keep refineries from being built.
Quin, believe it or not, it gets worse. Majority Leader John Boehner's office just sent out an email (as a "Majority Matters" alert) reporting that by Frist and Hastert requesting gas price investigations, "Republicans are sending a strong signal to would-be gasoline price gougers tat they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." This comes under the headline, "GOP Leaders Take Action on Energy Prices to Safeguard Growing Economy."
I have little to add to my comments below on this silly showboating, but then the email claims Democrats have only "More empty rhetoric" to address the issue, and cites the Detroit News editorial as evidence. They selectively quote the parts of the editorial most hostile to Democrats and their obstruction, but leave out the bulk which depicts the noise about price gouging as demagoguery. Is the majority leader's office really so blind as to attack the very Democratic talking points on which his allies are basing their stunt?
Republicans aping Democrats, and the majority leader celebrates. Aren't you glad the boys are back in town?
I've been writing in the past week about a sensible-Left document called the Euston Manifesto, here, and also at the end of this column. (My column itself was mentioned by another Guardian columnist, but most of the Guardian blog respondents slammed me and the Manifesto. Oh, well.) Now, kudos to Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard for advancing the cause in a very good column. I can only hope that there are enough voices on the Left to see that dialogue and making common cause for freedom are goals worth pursuing.