Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Rubio on Syria and Obama’s lack of leadership

New Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been getting a lot of attention since he took office.   He has a piece in Foreign Policy magazine on line arguing that the US has an obligation to at least react to the massacres in Syria in a strong way.  He outlines precisely what President Obama should do:

U.S. President Barack Obama needs to make clear whose side America is on, back up our rhetoric with action, and clearly articulate why Syria matters to the United States.

Wow – he means actually lead for a change.  Rubio says at a minimum, this should happen:

Clearly, we should be on the side of the Syrian people longing for freedom and challenging the regime’s corrupt and repressive rule. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s hesitancy to weigh in has been mistaken for indecision at best and indifference at worst. The president needs to speak directly to the Syrian people to communicate American support for their legitimate demands, condemn Assad’s murderous campaign against innocent civilians, and sternly warn Assad and his cohorts that they cannot continue grossly violating human rights, supporting terrorism, and sowing instability among Syria’s neighbors.

Of course none of it, to this point, has.  Libya, yeah, easy pickin’s, (or so it was thought), but Syria, well, that’s the land of the “reformer”, Assad and they have heavy ties with Iran (another country about which Obama was essentially silent).

Rubio also says even more stern action should happen as well:

But his words must be backed by clear, firm actions. As ill-advised as it was to restore diplomatic relations with Syria by sending an American ambassador to Damascus last year, we should now sever ties and recall the ambassador at once. While Syria is already under heavy U.S. sanctions as a designated state sponsor of terror, we should expand sanctions to include persons identified as authorizing, planning, or participating in deplorable human rights violations against unarmed civilians. Our partners in Europe, Turkey, and the Arab Gulf share many of our interests in Syria and play a large role in that country, and the president must put the full diplomatic weight of the United States behind an effort to convince them to adopt meaningful economic and diplomatic sanctions targeting Assad and his enablers in the regime.

America has an obligation to weigh in strongly about the situation in Syria. For years, its regime has aided the terrorist operations of Hezbollah and Hamas, supported Iran’s destabilizing policies, and helped terrorists kill Americans in Iraq. The regime has not only destabilized the region but also directly acted against the national security interests of the United States. We simply cannot sit silently as innocent people peacefully challenge a regime committed to undermining the United States and its allies.

Notice that Rubio hasn’t rattled a single sabre.  He’s talking about very basic first diplomatic steps – both words and action – which don’t involve military action.  Side with the oppressed, condemn the regime’s actions, withdraw the ambassador, impose sanctions, etc.   It is a regime that supports terrorists and terrorism.  How hard is this?

Apparently pretty hard when your modus operandi is to “lead from behind”.  This must be the part of that “open hand” Obama claimed he was going to offer regimes like Syria.  That’s working out well, isn’t it?

In two short years, foreign policy has gone from bad to worse – despite all the promises of how it would be so much better under the Obama administration.  Another example of talking the talk, but not being able to walk the walk.

~McQ

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Officials can call it what they want, most Americans think we’re still in a recession/depression

And like it or not, the Obama administration’s future probably depends on turning that around somehow:

The April 20-23 Gallup survey of 1,013 U.S. adults found that only 27 percent said the economy is growing. Twenty-nine percent said the economy is in a depression and 26 percent said it is in a recession, with another 16 percent saying it is "slowing down," Gallup said.

With growth slowing to 1.8% in the first quarter, those on the pessimistic side seem to have a point.

Severe winter weather, a dip in defense spending and higher energy prices all slowed the growth of gross domestic product in the January-through-March quarter.

Of course our economic experts – who’ve been so dead on all through the financial difficulties – say this is only a temporary blip and recovery should restart anytime.  But:

Leaders of the Federal Reserve, for example, said Wednesday that they expect the economy to grow 3.1 to 3.3 percent in 2011; in January their estimate was 3.4 to 3.9 percent.

Keep an eye on energy prices (which have an effect on everything we produce/buy) as a means of testing that claim.  If they stay up, which appears likely, then growth isn’t going to speed up that much.  Remember the economy needs to grow at about 2.5% annual clip to begin to expand the job markets.  Right now that isn’t happening.  And energy prices could be the drag that keeps it from happening.

Oh, and key demographic in the poll?

Fifty-seven percent of independent voters — a crucial segment of the electorate for Obama’s re-election bid — said the economy is in a recession or depression and 24 percent said it is growing.

Big job ahead to change those numbers around.   And not much time.

~McQ

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Atheist “chaplains” in the military?

So atheism is now a religion?  What am I missing here?

Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.

Ok, then don’t believe – but why in the world does a group of nonbelievers need a “chaplain” to represent them in the military?  Well according to them it would make things more convenient, I guess:

Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.

“Official acceptance”?  You’re a nonbeliever.  Who has to “accept” that?  Be what you are.  You need others to help spread your literature and advertise your events?  Why?  It’s about not doing something isn’t it?

The whole point is lost on me – except the fact that these are militant atheists who have made their nonbelief into a sort of pseudo-religion, and, as Saul Alinsky taught, want to use their opponents rules against them.

As for the military chaplain ploy, here’s their problem:

But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?

The answer to question one is “no” if you ask most real atheists.  The answer to question two is also “no”.  So they are 0-2 on the requirements necessary to be a chaplain.  As  a kid I grew up in non-denominational army chapels that conducted faith based services.  How does a atheist do that?  They don’t.  In fact, atheists don’t hold services at all, faith based or otherwise.  That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

And:

Military atheist leaders say that although proselytizing by chaplains is forbidden, Christian beliefs pervade military culture, creating subtle pressures on non-Christians to convert.

Which is interesting since what the atheists are trying to do is set up a mechanism where they can proselytize their nonbelief – something they claim to hate about religions.  What, not enough atheists to suit them?

Seriously – this is an absurdity that true atheists all over should denounce. 

Geez.

~McQ

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Horrific storm night in the South

And an incredible loss of life, especially in hard hit Alabama.

AP is now saying that the death toll for the night stands at 178, with Alabama reporting an incredible 128 deaths.  Mississippi lost 32, Tennessee had 6 dead, 11 in Georgia and 1 in Virginia.

For me it was eventful but mostly sound and fury with thankfully little evident damage (a couple of trees down, etc.)  But the supercell storms that passed to the north of us (we sort of caught the edge) were monsters.  Watching the local TV weather folks until we lost power, the reports were unbelievable.  2 to 2.5” diameter hail (with vid), wind sheers of 115 mph.  Storms moving at 65 to 70 mph.  One report showed over 300 lightning strikes in one of the storms in a 10 minute period.  And the different cells lined up behind each other as they moved NE.  Rome GA got hammered.

There are also estimates of over 130 tornados spawned by these storms. 

I actually learned a lot about these storms watching the local weather people out of ATL.  Imagine the velocity of the winds aloft that can keep hail with a diameter of 2” up there as it forms and then eject it into what they called a “hail core”.  Also, they repeatedly pointed out a trailing hook pattern which indicated tornados.  I was introduced to the BTI which is some sort of rating from 1-10 which goes from “not likely” to “on the ground” when it comes to tornados.  At times the BTI of the storms was 9.9.

I’ll pass on a repeat and I wasn’t even in the worst part.  Probably a result of global warming.

~McQ

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Good News! Biden Not The Real President!

After much agitation from the “birther” crowd, and the recent pressure from Donald Trump, President Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate. And it is wholly unremarkable:

The President believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn’t good for the country. It may have been good politics and good TV, but it was bad for the American people and distracting from the many challenges we face as a country. Therefore, the President directed his counsel to review the legal authority for seeking access to the long form certificate and to request on that basis that the Hawaii State Department of Health make an exception to release a copy of his long form birth certificate. They granted that exception in part because of the tremendous volume of requests they had been getting.

Pres. Obama\'s Long Form Birth Certificate

Nothing about whether his parents were married, or what his religion is, or really anything else. Just the fact that he was born in Honolulu (which many of us already knew).

Of course, the fully committed will still carry on with the conspiracy theory, but hopefully those who were simply skeptical because Obama was so reluctant to release the document will now be satisfied. And then maybe we can all concentrate on the myriad real world reasons why Obama is unqualified to be President of the United States.

Is the presidency “overgrown”? And, does the nature of today’s elections run off good candidates?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Haley Barbour is necessarily a “good candidate”, I’m just saying, as Roger Pilon points out and Kyle Wingfield echoes, that his reasons for withdrawing from the race seem to me would apply to many people who might make a good president but never run the race because of the atmosphere and requirements of the race.  Not necessarily the requirements of the job, but what it takes to get the job.

First Pilon:

Gov. Barbour’s explanation for why he will not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — because a candidate today “is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” and he cannot make such a commitment — is not only refreshingly candid but points to a much deeper problem.

We are moving inexorably not simply to news but to politics 24/7/365. And what better example than our current part-time president who, with no primary challenger in sight, is already on the campaign trail (did he ever leave it?), when the election is 19 months away. Some of us are old enough to remember when elected officials served — and ran for office or re-election only around election time.

Part of the reason for the change is the need today for vast amounts of campaign cash. But the deeper reason, I submit, is because politics has taken over so much of life. When government was more limited, and we didn’t look to it to provide our every need and want, those who “governed” didn’t feel such a need to cater to us — and we had better things to do anyway than obsess over politics. Calvin Coolidge took naps in the White House — in his pajamas! Imagine that today.

There is no question to any objective observer that communications and technology today have radically changed the "atmosphere" of politics with the 24/7/365 news cycle.  That includes the expansion of the pundocracy to include influential bloggers and the like as well.

Those changes have made it necessary for incumbent presidents as well as serious candidates to begin their runs for office well before an election to ensure they either remain prominent in the news cycle or at least appear with some regularity.  It’s about name recognition and money.  Without the first, you don’t get the second.  And the best way to get the first is to be prominent in the media coverage.

But it seems it also has some fairly serious deleterious effects as well.  For one it puts incumbents and candidates on an extended, some would argue “perpetual” campaign cycle.  As Pilon notes, Obama is already campaigning for a second term 19 months before the election.  As for the GOP candidates, how long have the candidacies of each of the supposed contenders been talked about?  Literally since the last presidential election in 2008.

It also seems to have created a new class of politician – the celebrity politician.  Instead of fairly anonymous public servants, we get this elite ruling class who think their every word is plated in gold.  And that is a big part of the problem we have with our political class today.

Anyway, understanding the extended run today’s candidates must make to even be taken seriously, the present requirements obviously dissuade many clearly qualified candidates from taking on the onerous and time consuming necessities of running at all.

Who does that leave us with?  Well the narcissistic, the overly ambitious and the professional politician who wants to be a celebrity pol.  Seriously.  The present occupant of the White House hits me as a combination of all three of those who loves the celebrity of the position he holds but apparently hates the job (and, frankly isn’t up to it).

In fact, it has begun to appear that achieving office is the priority rather than governing.  How in the world does one explain Barack Obama except by saying he was the one with the best shot at winning despite the thinnest and least impressive resume of any candidate for the presidency in history?

Another problem is the job of president itself.   The reason Coolidge was able to take naps is we had, in comparison to today, a very limited government.  But we’ve expanded it to the point now that it would be almost unrecognizable to those of the Coolidge era.  Wingfield hits that:

The presidency is too-large-for-life because the president is the head of a government that is simply too large. (The too-large-for-life factor also reportedly is why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who I’d place well above Barbour on my list, has been on the fence about running.)

Not to excuse bad decisions by any president, but I have to wonder who, exactly, could perform the job as it stands today, evolved and mutated in so many ways. And let’s not overlook that President Obama and his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, didn’t help matters with their efforts to expand the federal government and the president’s role in it.

In fact, I think the too-large-for-life presidency also reinforces the polarization of politics — which in turn further explains the “all-consuming effort,” in Barbour’s words, it takes to become and serve as president. A president invariably will disappoint or even anger his base with some of his actions. But, because he is responsible for so much, his supporters are often hesitant to object too strenuously, lest it weaken his ability to act on other policies on which he and they agree.

So, we got less self-policing of Bush by Republicans on the growth of government and spending — at least until the very end of his presidency, when the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore any longer. And now we get crickets from the mostly left-wing anti-war movement when Obama extends the war in Afghanistan and launches a new one in Libya.

I think he makes a good point.  The expanded role of government, and thus the presidency, combined with the constant news cycle and the feedback from the partisan groups to their “people” added in has made it extremely difficult to govern – for anyone.  When you then introduce incompetence or inexperience or extreme partisanship (or all three) to the office, it becomes impossible.  And that’s pretty much the situation today.

As Wingfield concludes, “If we want a better president and government, we need to ask them to do less”.

And doing less may mean less onerous and intrusive campaigns which may again attract statesmen and leaders to undertake the job of the presidency instead of self-promoting, overly ambitious celebrity politicians without either the experience or the competence to do the job.

Of course that also assumes the American people have learned something about the mistake they made (and why they made it) this last cycle and are planning on fixing it in 2012.

~McQ

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Panetta to SecDef, Petraeus to CIA? (update)

That’s what a POLITICO is quoting from AP in a “Breaking News” tweet:

 

secdefCIA

 

QandO isn’t normally a “breaking news” site, but this is about as fresh as it gets.  I had just read this conjecture on Morning Defense, POLITICO’s morning email list all about defense (it’s a good read if you’re interested).

So what do you think?  Panetta for SecDef?  Why not Petraeus (retire him and move him into the job – although there may be some regulation that would prevent that – and will he retain his military status and rank at CIA)?  And Petraeus to CIA?  Why not leave Panetta there and give the agency some continuity?

I’ll update as more becomes available.

Opinions?

UPDATE: Here’s the story via USA Today.  Apparently the change will take place in July just prior to the date set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

~McQ

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Are food prices higher? The answer is “yes”!

Although you have to do a little comparison of portion sizes to understand that.  It’s an old marketing trick the food industry has used in the past where prices remain about the same, but portion sizes get smaller and smaller.   It started with the recession of 2008. For example:

Unilever U.S. Inc. cut a jar of Skippy peanut butter from 18 ounces to 16.3 ounces in the first quarter of 2008, wrote Dean Mastrojohn, a company spokesman in New Jersey, responding via email to questions. Unilever was facing rising commodity costs – the “same environment as today,” he wrote.

Haagen-Dazs shrank its pint of ice cream from 16 to 14 ounces in early 2009, said Diane McIntyre, a spokeswoman for parent company Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc. in Oakland, Calif. Its expenses for dairy products, eggs, vanilla, raspberries and other ingredients had risen by an average of 25 percent, she said.

“We just aren’t going to compromise in what we put into the ice cream in terms of quality,” McIntyre said.

The company didn’t want to pass on a higher price to consumers, she added. “The economy was really bad then, and we just didn’t think it was the time to ask them to pay more.”

This month, with many product materials still expensive or rising, Haagen-Dazs did boost prices. The 14-ounce ice cream rose from $4.39 to $4.69, McIntyre said.

It is a pretty common practice, especially in times of rising prices for ingredients:

“You’re seeing it across the board,” said Ann Gurkin, a food, beverage and tobacco analyst for Davenport & Co. in Richmond.

“It’s one way to raise prices” that consumers don’t notice as much, she said. “You’ve seen both package changes and you’ve seen prices going up. I think it’s both.”

Manufacturers do this to combat rising costs, Gurkin said. They’re dealing with higher grain prices because of low harvests last year of corn, flour and soybeans – which go into baking products and snacks. They’re paying more for meat used for soups and frozen meals.

And, like the rest of the nation, they’re battling spikes in oil prices. Petroleum is used in packaging materials, and gasoline and diesel are required to transport goods.

So the reductions continue:

Cans of tuna fell from 6.5 ounces to 5 ounces, according to the commission. Evaporated milk dipped from a 14.5-ounce can to 12 ounces. … A carton of Tropicana orange juice squeezed down from 64 ounces, a full half-gallon, to 59 ounces. … A large box of Kleenex dropped from 280 tissues to 260. A pound of coffee, 16 ounces, dropped 25 percent to 12 ounces, and some brands have started to slim that further, down to 11-ounce bags.

The reasons are obvious:

Smaller packages are more palatable to consumers than price hikes, said Ken Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State University who specializes in consumer behavior. “It’s a lesser evil than having to pay more.”

The goal is to trim the package “to the point where it’s barely noticeable,” he said.

Indeed.  But the message is this – food prices have been and continue to go up.  At some point, the food industry isn’t going to be able to hide it in the packaging (check out the price per ounce most grocery stores have on the cost labels.  You’ll see what I’m talking about in terms of cost).

If you think gas prices ignite political fire storms, wait until it becomes more obvious that food prices are increasing rapidly (see reference to low harvests and oil prices).  At the point that food manufacturers can’t reduce the package size anymore and must increase pricing because of the increased cost of ingredients, transportation and distribution, you’re going to see real fireworks begin.

My guess?  About the end of this year or the first part of 2012.

~McQ

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Gas price BS

In many cases, there’s not much government can do to stem the rising price of gasoline.  But there’s also pure BS afoot when it claims the following:

Michael Bromwich, the chief regulator for US offshore drilling, on Monday waded into Washington’s growing debate about high oil prices, saying his agency’s pace of reviewing oil and gas exploration plans has no relation to the rising cost of gasoline.

"Even if we permitted the hell out of everything tomorrow — every pending permit, some permits that haven’t even been filed yet — it would not have a material effect on gas prices," Bromwich said. "That’s the simple, clear reality."

Bollocks.  Anyone remember what happened when the Bush administration announced that it was opening the Outer Continental Shelf along both the east and west coast to drilling?  High oil prices immediately began to drop.  That’s because those who speculate on oil were speculating on long-term scarcity – building demand with, at best, the same amount of oil produced.  Such an announcement makes that premise questionable.

And despite claims to the contrary, it doesn’t take 10 years to bring a well in.  Depending on where it is, that can be done in a matter of months or a couple years.  So it dampened the speculation by promising increased production of oil.  Econ 101.

So Bromwich’s claims are nonsense.  Perhaps if they “permitted the hell out of everything tomorrow” it might not have as deep an impact on oil prices as the Bush declaration did, but it would certainly have a positive downward effect on oil prices.

Oh, and if governments are truly concerned about gas prices and how they can keep a little more money in your pocket, a gas tax roll back is always something they can consider:

 

GASOLINE-TAX-MAP-JANUARY-2011

 

Yeah, that’s not going to happen – so Californians, Illini, New Yorkers?  Remember that over 60 cents of the cost of a gallon of gas in your neck of the woods is taxes.  And that’s something government has full control over.

~McQ

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