Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: August 2009

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Here’s A Pro-Business City

Yeah, you probably thought immediately, “he’s being facetious and talking about New York city”. Ah, you got me. From Jacob Sullum at Reason:

Vince Nastri III paid $9,000 for the coffee machine he installed in his lower Manhattan tobacco shop. Now it could cost him thousands of dollars more. The city’s health department is threatening him with fines, saying he is operating a “food-service establishment” without a permit, even though the coffee is free. Nastri could apply for a permit, but then his customers would no longer be allowed to smoke.

Damned if he does, no coffee if he doesn’t. Tell me, since when did it become any government’s job to decide whether or not you could offer free coffee to customers of your establishment if you chose to do so?

And does this mean that lawyer’s and doctor’s offices which offer free coffee to clients and patients are “operating a food-service establishment without a permit”, or is this really just a bit of selective targeting and enforcement to harass an out of favor business?

Well, unless I see a lot of citations in the coming months citing business establishments of all types and sizes who provide coffee to their employees or customers as “operating a food establishment without a permit”, I’ll have to conclude its the latter.

~McQ

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Dodd: Obama Must “Step Up”

Politico carries a story today quoting Sen. Chris Dodd saying President Obama needs to “step up” and give Congress “more of a framework to work with on health care reform”.

Or translated into common language that everyone can understand, Dodd is saying it is time for Obama to “step up” and lead.

There’s a problem, however – Obama has never led anything. He’s not a leader although he’s in the ultimate leadership job. His background, as many pointed out ad nauseum during the campaign, isn’t one of leadership. And when he was questioned about that fact, his claimed his successful campaign for the presidency proved his leadership abilities. If that’s not an acknowledgment of a paper thin leadership resume, I don’t know what is.

It has become even more obvious in this health care debate that he lacks the attributes of a leader. His first reaction to opposition was defensive. He and many in Congress attacked those who opposed him (and that continues today).

He then went into campaign mode, not understanding that doing so doesn’t constitute leadership on an issue. Unlike a leader, he’d literally outsourced his signature agenda item to Congress. Then, without apparently realizing it, his statements during his staged townhalls were diametrically opposed to what was actually in the House bill. It ended up hurting his credibility further.

Other examples of his lack of leadership experience and skills have been evident as well. He’s been dismissive of those who oppose him, preferring to wave away or ignore their criticism. He’s rarely involved himself in the nuts and bolts of legislation thereby leaving it to the liberal leaders of Congress to fashion the legislation in their own image, not his. Consequently he’s not seen as a strong leader even by his own party – thus the comment by Dodd.

I’ve heard people say that some people are born leaders. If that is true, Barack Obama isn’t one of them. Charismatic, intelligent and charming?

Yes.

A leader?

No.

My years in the military have convinced me that the vast majority of good leaders are made, not born. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I never served with one. However I have watched the development of good solid leaders throughout my career. In fact I was a part of the process, as it is the job of all leaders to train and mentor the next generation of leaders.

From the raw material of recruits and junior officers to Command Sergeants Major and Generals, these leaders were trained, tested, mentored and tested again. To gain the top rank they eventually earn they met the tests and gain the leadership experience necessary at every level to move on up the ladder one rung at a time.

Barack Obama has never been developed as a leader nor has he had to endure the tests a leader must endure. While I’m sure he’d deny it, he’s led a privileged life in which his charm, intelligence, charisma and a good helping of guile have been his primary means of advancement. And his political career has been perfectly tailored to take advantage of those attributes. Centered in the legislative branch where those are valued assets, he’s never been tasked to lead. Leadership in those venues is only vested in a few and with his short tenure at each level, leadership responsibilities were never vested in him. In general, it is one of the reasons that Senators rarely make good Presidents.

So he comes by his lack of leadership honestly – it is simply not something which was necessary in the track his life has taken to this point – but now finds himself in a real dilemma

He’s not a leader.

He really doesn’t know how to be a leader.

But he pursued and won a job that demands a set of skills he, to this point, doesn’t possess. That’s why reversion to what he knows – campaign mode – is his natural answer to “stepping up”. Given the attributes he does have, he feels that if he can just get in front of the media and the people, he can use his charm, charisma, intelligence and guile to convince them to back his agenda just as he was able to do during the election cycle.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that’s not leadership. His days of uncontested speech loaded with glittering generalities and factual inaccuracies are over. “Feel good” transitions into “make good” when the presidency is won. Instead of talking about what can be, he’s now stuck with talking about what is. And “what is” can be fact checked.

He’s disconnected, not seeming to understand that it isn’t Congress’s job to read his mind and churn out legislation to match his desires. Instead it is his job to work with Congress to make that happen. He seems to want to reign, not lead.

As it stands now, Dodd is asking for something that Obama hasn’t the experience or ability to deliver. Of course Obama’s surrounded by smart advisers who must also understand this problem and are most likely working diligently to find some way to correct it. But again experience says leaders aren’t born or made overnight. And the presidency is far and away much to critical and demanding a job for someone to first be learning what leadership is all about and how to apply it.

~McQ

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Costa Rican President Wants To Change The Constitution Too

As you recall when Honduras invoked its Constitution and kicked out its sitting president for violating it, President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica stepped forward and volunteered to act as an intermediary to help settle the “crisis”.

It was, apparently, only a “crisis” to those outside Honduras and now we’re beginning to understand why. It seems Arias wasn’t at all the honest broker everyone thought he was. Cato@Liberty reports:

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has joined the trend in Latin America of calling for a new constitution that would expand executive powers and get rid of “unnecessary checks” on the president’s authority. Although Arias has less than 9 months left in office and can’t run for reelection, his brother and current minister of the presidency — a primer minister of sorts — has openly said he’s interested in running for president in 2014. A new constitution with expanded executive powers would fit him just fine.

But Arias is also apparently at war with the media which to this point is still free and able to oppose the changes for which Arias is calling. The Arias argument against the media sound very familiar:

However, the most disturbing aspect of Arias’ call was his harsh criticism of the media. Borrowing from the script of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Arias described news outlets as “corporations interested in making a profit” that don’t necessarily pursue the “public good.” He asked the media to “tone down” its criticism of government officials, and said that journalists “should understand their role within a higher framework.” He complained that news outlets claim to represent the public interest, without any control or accountability.

This is precisely the formula followed by the new leftist despots in Central and South America. Use the system to subvert the system and expand the executive’s power to a defacto dictatorship. The first step, of course, is to rewrite the country’s constitution to abet their grab for power. And, of course, along the way it is critical that they silence and then control the media.

This formula isn’t a hard one to discern, and the the result is obvious. Despotic governments imposing ruinous socialism while a muted press is powerless to do anything about it.

And where is the US is all of this? Busily engaged in undermining the one government, Honduras, which has actually stepped up to thwart the formula and enforce its constitution.

As Ed Morrisey asks:

The US should be on the side of self-determination and the rule of law. Instead, we’ve ended up on the side of power-grabbing future despots and potential ruling cliques of nepotism. How did this happen, and why hasn’t the national media shined its light on Arias’ interests in this dispute? Could it be that it would make Obama look like a bumbling fool on the international stage — or worse?

Good questions with no easy answers. However, one has to wonder why the media hasn’t gotten into the details of what is happening in Honduras and why it is so heavily opposed by the players in the region, such as Chavez, Ortega and Correa. There’s an unacknowledged revolution going on which is neither good for the people of the region nor good for the US and we seem to be not only blind to the fact, but implicitly and perhaps unknowingly aiding it. And now we find Arias too is a player.

Honduras is the only country in the region saying “no” to the trend and they’re under increasingly heavy fire to give in. In fact reports now say the Obama administration is contemplating cutting off foreign aid to Honduras unless they reinstall Mel Zelaya in the presidency. The willing ignorance the US is displaying concerning the problem in Honduras cannot be seen as anything but pandering to the likes of Chavez, Correa and Castro. It certainly isn’t based in respect for a nation’s laws and their right to self-determination – and that certainly makes the Obama administration look foolish on the international stage.

~McQ

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Congress: Get Rid Of Them All

According to Rasmussen, if given the choice of a single vote to turn out or keep all the members of Congress, 57% would vote to boot ‘em:

If they could vote to keep or replace the entire Congress, just 25% of voters nationwide would keep the current batch of legislators.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 57% would vote to replace the entire Congress and start all over again. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure how they would vote.

Of course that’s more of a feel-good poll than reality since we all know that incumbents are usually reelected and that happens because for the most part those in each Congressional district feel the problem is the rest of Congress and not their guy or gal.

However, it is a number which does point to the underlying unrest among the population – and not just about health care.

Back in October, prior to the election which saw increasing Dem margins, 59% said given a single vote to turn out the whole Congress, they’d do so. That was in the middle of the “crisis” and frenzy of TARP.

Obviously “turning them out” wasn’t something which happened then, but the fact that we had a rather historical presidential election can be assumed to have had some salutary effect. 2010, on the other hand, is a purely Congressional election year. Again, the probability of turning the whole Congress over is practically nil. But it could be a bloody year for incumbents as we’re seeing some of the early polls indicate. If the anger remains at this level and the politicians continue to ignore it as they seem to be doing, I predict that 20 seat losses in the House may be considered the best outcome to be hoped for when election day rolls around.

~McQ

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Podcast for 30 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the top stories of the past week.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.  The link goes to BTR since my old computer is inexplicably dropping out of recording mode.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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Questions And Observations #6

For new readers, Questions and Observations is, in full, what QandO means.

  • Still pining for that “public option” Bunky? Well you might want to take a gander at a public option our government has been operating for quite some time. That would be the Indian Health Service for Native Americans. It would be no pun to say the natives are restless about the service they get.
  • Irwin Stelzer lays out 7 lessons learned from Cash for Clunkers. My favorite is “government forecasters are really bad at their job”. Wow, there’s a surprise. Anyone – can you name a single major program that was touted by government at one cost that didn’t actually end up costing far, far more than their estimate?
  • It appears that President Obama’s pledge that “95% of Americans won’t see their taxes go up one dime” is being modified to add “but I didn’t say anything about a nickle – or a bunch of nickles”. Yes, given the rosy deficit projections that we’ve seen it appears higher taxes – much higher taxes – are now in the “when” not “if” category. As the Brookings Institute’s William Gale said:

    “If you rule out inflating our way out of the problem and defaulting on the debt, there are two ways: Cut spending or raise taxes”.

    Of course, I’m on the “cut spending” bandwagon personally.

  • Here’s an announcement that should warm the cockles of your heart – Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., the California Housing Loan Insurance Fund (CaHLIF) and Freddie Mac, have put together a program that allows teachers working within the state to purchase a home with a downpayment of just $500. Wait a minute – isn’t that exactly the sort program that supposedly got us into this mess in the first place?
  • Investors Business Daily finds that its rather roundly panned claim that Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have fared well under the NHS is, in fact, correct, but certainly not for the reason that he isn’t British. In fact, Hawking didn’t fare well at all with the NHS which didn’t even provide what anyone would call minimal care for his condition. His care ended up being provided for by private donations and private health care providers.
  • Apparently Democratic Colorado Representative Betsy Markey didn’t get the talking points memo in which President Obama claims there won’t be any cuts to Medicare benefits. Either that or she’s actually read the bill and in a fit of honesty said, to a constituent asking about that very point:

    “There’s going to be some people who are going to have to give up some things, honestly, for all of this to work. But we have to do this because we’re Americans.”

    Actually we don’t have to do this and for precisely the same reason.

  • The real astroturfing of townhalls has begun in earnest as Organizing For America – the successor to the campaign’s “Obama For America” – begins to finally stage a supposed “grassroots” push back against the rabble from the other side. Of course OFA claims they’re all about grassroots movements. BTW, if you’re wondering which side is which at a townhall, OFA is the “grassroots” organization with same color t-shirts and the preprinted signs.
  • Wandering through Europe, Roger Simon is hardly surprised that the predominant English language news channels carried there are the BBC and CNN International. What did surprise him was discovering English language Al Jazerra and finding it more balanced and better than the BBC or CNN International.
  • Anyone know who or what really saved the whales? Well it wasn’t Greenpeace – whales were saved well before Greenpeace ever became an organization. No it was actually capitalism and the petroleum industry which saved them. When petroleum became available in large quantities and at a low cost, the whale oil business went extinct almost over night. You’re not likely to read that in any environmental, animal liberation, “man is an eco-tumor” literature you might pick up. But think about it …

~McQ

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CIA Morale May Be Low, But The Political Distraction Is Perfect

The Washington Post reports:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program.

Wow, I can’t imagine why morale has sagged. Issues that were previously dealt with by Congress and the DOJ are now back under a microscope and somehow the agency is experiencing low morale? Who’d a thunk?

Look, I think it is pretty well known by those that read this blog what our feelings are about torture. We don’t condone it. Period.

However, as I understood it, that issue had pretty much been settled, new guidelines issued and, as a policy, apparently followed (there may be some individual incidences where that isn’t true, but policy was settled). Point made, lesson learned, new policy in place. Move ahead.

We also watched President Barack Obama assure the agency that he wasn’t interested in looking back, implying he too thought this was all settled business, but instead looking to the future – and he further assured them of his backing.

And now this. I frankly don’t understand necessity of this at all – especially when we’re engaged in two wars in which this agency’s best is necessary.

But I do understand the timing. This is a complete waste of taxpayers money, but it is a political distraction and diversion of the first level when such a distractions and diversions from the health care debacle are badly needed. The CIA is always a favorite target of the left. And it handily resurrects the liberal left’s favorite bete noir – Darth Cheney – just when a bad guy is needed. What better to take the heat off the Dems than a witch hunt involving the CIA and Dick Cheney?

Nothing is new in politics – especially new lows. This, as far as I’m concerned, ranks right there with the lowest.

The Department of Justice? New Black Panther voter intimidation case with video of the crime? Dropped. Pay-to-play corruption case against Democrat Bill Richardson? Dropped. 5 year old case involving the CIA previously settled by Congress and DoJ? Oh, let’s do that. Hard to fathom a more obviously cynically political move than that from a department supposedly dedicated to the enforcement of justice.

This too has the potential to backfire, big time.

~McQ

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What If Chappaquiddick Had Happened Today?

Eric Zorn does a little “what if” in the Chicago Trib, wondering if Ted Kennedy could have survived Chappaquiddick in today’s news environment.

If we’d had insatiable 24/7 cable news networks in July 1969, the accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a passenger in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy drowned would likely have dominated the national consciousness for months.

Zorn then proceeds from the premise that Kennedy’s life and work after that event make the point that it is a good thing we didn’t have the 24/7 news cycle because we’d have lost a giant among legislators.

Of course, you have to accept his premise that Kennedy’s life and work after Chappaquiddick were worthwhile to sign on to the premise. I, for one, don’t.

I mean this is a guy who, as he schemed to figure out a way to become president, tried to make a deal with the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, to undermine Ronald Reagan and gain politically.

So there are probably just as many out here who might have welcomed such coverage if it had had the desired effect of running Kennedy out of public life.

“Politically, Kennedy wouldn’t have survived that kind of media bombardment,” said Bruce DuMont, president of Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications and host of “Beyond the Beltway,” a national weekly talk-radio show. “It wouldn’t have just been a spotlight, it would have been a heat lamp. On him, on all the investigators, on everyone connected to the story.

The cable networks turned Scott and Laci Peterson into household names, DuMont said. “Just think what they would have done with Ted and Mary Jo. Remember all the coverage they gave to the [1999] plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr.? Multiply that by 10.”

Two things argue against this scenario. One – Scott and Laci Peterson didn’t have the upper hand with an adoring media. The Kennedys have always seemed larger than life because the media made them that way. One also has to remember the media of the time knowingly covered up brother Jack’s infidelity. 24/7 news coverage or not, that same sort of mentality was at work with any Kennedy. Expecting a critical look at this particular event is simply not something one can assume – especially given the fact that it never really got it at the time.

Two – Ted Kennedy was shameless. There was nothing that would run him out of public life, to include his cowardly act which led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Had it been otherwise, the facts surrounding the incident at Chappaquiddick and the amount of coverage it did receive should have been sufficient to do what Zorn claims only 24/7 coverage would have accomplished now. But Kennedy waved it off, ignored it and plowed on.

So while I find Zorn’s point about today’s news cycle (and talk radio) to be interesting, I also find it to be a flawed rationalization for keeping certain bad actors in place supposing that some will become “Ted Kennedys” if we don’t run them off. In fact, he says as much:

Or, as I believe, is the nation — particularly our disabled and disadvantaged residents — better off for the 40 years of service he was able to render after that terrible night?

The momentary satisfaction of destroying Ted Kennedy for his failings would have had a significant price. Something to keep in mind when the next fallen figure, Democrat or Republican, stumbles into the heat lamp.

Zorn’s argument is that justice delayed or belayed might turn out for the better in some cases. That’s an incredibly silly notion. And again you have to agree with the premise that Kennedy’s “40 years of service” were worth Kopechne’s life. Zorn is arguing it is. And he’s not the only one.

Joyce Carol Oates attempts to push the very same premise under a different guise:

His tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war (when numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton voted for it) suggest that there are not only “second acts” in American lives, but that the Renaissance concept of the “fortunate fall” may be relevant here….Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

One is to think that there isn’t equal justice for all, that some are more privileged and apparently valuable than others. And certainly any future accomplishments, if good, are simply pure luck, even if you agree they’re “good” . We have no way to look into the future and decide that someone will contribute to society in a grand way.

But we can look into the the interior of a ’67 Oldsmobile, see a woman left to drown through the sheer cowardice of the driver who was more concerned about his political career than her life, and draw certain conclusions then.

To some, such as Zorn and Oates, they see a redeemed person who did well with the second chance. Others, such as myself, see such thinking as rationalization for making an exception of Kennedy where they wouldn’t make one for anyone else (despite the lip service). “Second acts” or second chances, where I come from, occur after a price has been paid for the act in question. Kennedy never paid that price.

What Zorn and Oates are really saying here is since it turned out well in their opinion, the ends justify the means. As I see it that’s not justice, it’s elitism on steroids.

~McQ

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Proposed Legislation Would Give President Expanded Power Over Internet

For all the whining and complaining about the Bush executive branch expanding its power, it appears now the Senate, at least in the guise of one Senator Jay Rockefeller, can’t wait to expand this president’s power.

In this case, the expansion of power is in the name of “cyber security”. And FYI, “cyber” is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks. Proposed is the following which is actually a rewrite of a previous attempt:

The new version would allow the president to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

Vague language, expanded power, expanded control – all the things with which any civil liberties watchdog would be concerned. When Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe introduced the original bill, this was their declared reason:

“We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs–from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records,” Rockefeller said.

Yes we must, but it isn’t clear why government could do that better than private firms who would have just as invested an interest in security as would the government or why such security must be extended to the entire “non-governmental computer networks”, i.e. the internet.

Proponents liken the power to literally shut down the internet in an emergency to the power President Bush exercised to ground all aircraft in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Really? Given the state of cyber security, we couldn’t be much more precise than that?

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to “direct the national response to the cyber threat” if necessary for “the national defense and security.” The White House is supposed to engage in “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies “shall share” requested information with the federal government.

“The language has changed but it doesn’t contain any real additional limits,” EFF’s Tien says. “It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)…The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There’s no provision for any administrative process or review. That’s where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it.”

“Shall share?” For all intents and purposes, that makes those “private networks” so identified as anything but private. And, arbitrarily, just about any or all networks could be designated “critical” couldn’t they?

Cnet gives us the translation of what that means:

If your company is deemed “critical,” a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.

How could that possibly be abused?

Again, we see the expansion of government power in a way which intrudes, imposes regulation and, in the end, controls. While “cyber security” is certainly important, it can be managed in a much less controlling and intrusive way than this. Like the health care insurance reform bill, this is one which needs to be torn up and the entire process started over again.

~McQ

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