Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Military Commissions Back On The Table For Gitmo

Sometimes, watching this circus of the Obama administration, you just have to shake your head and laugh a bit, even if the laughter is rueful:

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system.

The more this crew gets into the weeds concerning Gitmo, the more they seem to validate all the moves Bush made.

I’m sure it’s a bit maddening for them.

Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

That was the Bush administration argument for some time. Congress passed legislation to enable it, the SCOTUS shot it down and told them how to fix it and Congress did, only to see SCOTUS change its mind and shoot it down again.

And, of course, that made it very easy to denounce from the campaign trail. But now the reality of governing intrudes:

Obama administration officials — and Mr. Obama himself — have said in the past that they were not ruling out prosecutions in the military commission system. But senior officials have emphasized that they prefer to prosecute terrorism suspects in existing American courts. When President Obama suspended Guantánamo cases after his inauguration on Jan. 20, many participants said the military commission system appeared dead.

But in recent days a variety of officials involved in the deliberations say that after administration lawyers examined many of the cases, the mood shifted toward using military commissions to prosecute some detainees, perhaps including those charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The more they look at it,” said one official, “the more commissions don’t look as bad as they did on Jan. 20.”

Heh … what a surprise.

And this:

Administration officials said Friday that some detainees would be prosecuted in federal courts and noted that Mr. Obama had always left open the possibility of using military commissions.

… is pure and unadulterated BS.

Still, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama criticized the commissions, saying that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” and declaring that as president he would “reject the Military Commissions Act.”

But according to both Sec. Gates and AG Holder, military commissions are still very much on the table, because, as Holder said:

“It may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

Gee — I wonder who else’s administration said that?

~McQ

Reinventing The Flat Tire – Chrysler Set To Try A Variation Of The British Leyland Model

There’s some interesting stuff out there to read about the Chrysler bankruptcy, like people asking “why wasn’t this done in the beginning”?

Simple answer – in the beginning there was no way to secure the UAW a majority stake in the company. Now, as Felix Salmon points out, that’s been accomplished:

The broad outlines of a deal are already clear: Fiat will take a 35% stake in the company and manage it; the UAW will have a 55% stake; and all the government’s TARP funds will be converted into a 10% stake. Present-day creditors do not get equity but rather get cash; the sticking point is exactly how much cash they will get. And of course present-day shareholders — Cerberus and Daimler — are wiped out, and top management will be replaced.

Of course the reason Chrysler is headed into bankruptcy is because all of its bondholders weren’t satisfied with the deal offered through taxpayers money. As you might imagine, Think Progress has the “progressive” spin on the situation:

As Bloomberg reported, “Obama’s team had first offered secured lenders $2 billion for their $6.9 billion in loans, and then raised the offer to $2.25 billion. In a game of chicken, the holdouts asked for $2.5 billion, and Obama’s patience ran out.” Steven Pearlstein put these numbers into perspective:

What you need to know about these vultures is that their idea of fairness is throwing 100,000 people out of work and denying retirees their pensions and their health benefits just so they can liquidate the company and maybe squeeze an extra 15 cents on the dollar from their Chrysler debt. Of course, to get that extra 15 cents, the hedge funds would probably have to fork over a penny or two to pay the army of $700-an-hour lawyers needed to spend two years working it through the bankruptcy process.

The greed factor here is really appalling, but bad intentions can sometimes produce a good result.

The greed factor here certainly is appalling, but not on the part of the group Think Progress would like us to believe is the problem. I mean, how dare secured lenders ask for more money than a paltry 30% of what they lent Chrysler? In the new world of what’s fair, apparently asking for 30% is unfair and greedy. And frankly with an administration which has tossed trillions around like they were beads at Mardi Gras, it seems that somehow $250 million more was just a “bridge too far” when it came to keeping the deal together.

More importantly, what in the hell is the President of the United States doing involved in this sort of process to begin with? Oh, wait, the UAW gets 55% ownership?

Nevermind.

Salmon again:

All of this is necessary but not sufficient for Chrysler to have any hope of a long-term future. One of the more interesting things going forward will be how Chrysler manages to turn itself into a smaller, nimbler, change-oriented company while being majority owned by the UAW — which is nobody’s idea of a change agent. In general, if you need a dose of creative destruction, big unions are not the place to look.

You think? Another wonderful deal put together by the folks who want to run your health care. And yes, I know this isn’t perfectly analogous to the British Leyland situation, but it certainly has some striking similarities. A labor union will most likely have to decide between it’s previous decades of focus and producing cars that people want and can afford. And government involved in the deal up to its armpits.  In case you missed it, the government will appoint four of the nine member board and the Canadian government will appoint one.  Fiat is essentially a management entity with only 3 on the board and a 35% stake.  And while the UAW will only have one seat, it will be a seat representing 55% ownership.

Yeah, nothing can go wrong with that.

~McQ

“Cram Down” Bill Defeated By Senate

An moment of sanity prevailed in the Senate today:

For the second time in two years, a provision to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages died in the Senate today, handing the Obama administration a significant defeat in its plans for arresting the foreclosure crisis.

Supporters argued the measure would keep 1.7 million borrowers in their homes, but it ultimately foundered in the face of fierce financial industry and Republican opposition. The bankruptcy modification provision, which was offered an amendment to a broader housing bill, failed by a vote of 45 to 51.

I love how this is reported by the WaPo. The measure failed because of ‘fierce financial industry and Republican opposition?”

Apparently it failed because 14 Democratic Senators said “no”.

Of course, passage of such a measure would make legal contracts in this country subject to review by the courts and arbitrarily changed based on political concerns. Certainly, in this case, such power is only being given for changing mortgage amounts – but as we all know, precedent is what courts operate under, and such a precedent would just as certainly be used to attempt to give the court similar power with other types of contracts.

It’s a phenomenally bad idea, but one you can expect to see attempted again and again, as promised by Dick Durbin:

“I’ll be back. I’m not going to quit on this,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the measure.

[…]

“At some point the Senators in this chamber will decide the bankers shouldn’t write the agenda for the United States Senate. At some point the people in this chamber will decide the people we represent are not the folks working in the big banks, but the folks struggling to make a living and struggling to keep a decent home.”

You’ve got to love the populist rhetoric and the absolute misrepresentation of what he and those that were trying to get this monstrosity passed were attempting. A fundamental change in how this country has operated since its inception. If courts can arbitrarily change the terms of a contract for social/political reasons, we’re doomed. And that’s precisely what Durbin and his ilk are proposing.

Unfortunately I have no confidence that he won’t manage, at some future time, to push this piece of legislation through. But at the moment, it’s where it needs to be – in the virtual garbage heap of bad legislation.

~McQ

Petraeus Says Next 2 Weeks Critical For Pakistan

Gen. David Petraeus says it is put up or shut up time for Pakistan. They’ve let the Taliban establish itself within Pakistan’s Swat valley and they are now threatening other areas. We covered that in a post about the price of appeasement.

Petraeus said:

“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Earlier in the month the Talibs had advanced within 70 miles of the capital, Islamabad. So what about the nuclear weapons?

The officials who spoke with Petraeus, however, said he and they believe that even were Zardari’s government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani’s army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal.

That is because the Pakistani arsenal is set up in such a way — with the weapons stockpile and activation mechanisms separated — so as to prevent easy access by invaders. Moreover, the Taliban is not believed at present to possess the sophisticated technical expertise necessary to exercise full “command and control” over a nuclear arsenal, and would probably require weeks if not months to develop it.

Oh wonderful – they don’t possess the knowledge now, but a few months, and the Taliban could be nuclear. And, of course, we know what organization would be a beneficiary of such a capability, don’t we?

Pakistan is suddenly a much more critical story than either Iraq or Afghanistan. So what is our plan?

As for the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Saturday, in an interview with FOX News in Baghdad, that the U.S. believes the arsenal to be “safe” but only “given the current configuration of power in Pakistan.”

She described as “the unthinkable” a situation in which the the Zardari government were to be toppled by the Taliban, adding “then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, and we can’t even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further…”

You know, say what you will about the last administration, but if they had said what Clinton said, I’d pretty well understand what they meant. But with this administration I have no idea what “we cannot let this go any further …” means.

~McQ

David Souter Will Retire From SCOTUS (updated)

Let the real scary part of the “all Democrats all the time” begin:

Factors in his decision no doubt include the election of President Obama, who would be more likely to appoint a successor attuned to the principles Souter has followed as a moderate-to-liberal member of the court’s more liberal bloc over the past two decades.

The problem, of course, is that Souter could be one of three appointments Obama might have the opportunity to make within his 4 years in the White House. Apparently neither Stevens or Ginsburg plan on retiring after this term, but Stevens is 89 for heaven sake and Ginsburg just got over a bout with cancer.

Rumor has it that Obama wants to appoint a woman (I guess “best qualified for the job” is just too much to ask):

Possible nominees who have been mentioned as being on a theoretical short list include Elena Kagan, the current solicitor general who represents the government before the Supreme Court; Sonia Sotomayor, a Hispanic judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; and Diane Wood, a federal judge in Chicago who taught at the University of Chicago at the same time future President Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law there.

Just looking at the list, Sotomayor would be the diversity daily double winner and don’t anyone think that won’t enter into the conversation when nominees are being discussed.

UPDATE: George Stephanopoulos thinks Sotomayor is a ‘heavy favorite’.

UPDATE II: MichaelW hopes if he chooses from that list that his choice is Kagan.  Here’s why.

~McQ

As California Goes, So Goes The Nation …

Or so the saying goes – but in this case it may have a ring of truth to it.

Democrats have been quick to dismiss the Tea Parties which were held in hundreds of locations throughout the country as nothing more than a few disgruntled right-wingers who are sore losers.  But instead, they may be the most visible part of a much larger movement that is saying “enough is enough”.  And nothing may demonstrate that more than the upcoming special election in California.

Voters there are apparently tired of the legislature not doing its job, and see the 6 ballot measures as the legislature trying to pass the buck instead of doing their job.  Consequently, we find a broad consensus that crosses party lines, in opposition to most of the ballot measures proposed.  The one most likely to pass, interestingly, has to do with refusing legislators a raise if the state’s budget is in a deficit.  In California that means whatever they’re making now is likely to be their pay from now on.  Of course, I’d love to see the same sort of measure passed for the Congress of the United States.

To demonstrate the point of citizen bi-partisanship on this are a Republican and Democrat speaking about the upcoming vote:

Voter Barbara Dale, a Republican from Red Bluff, said she will be happy to vote in the special election because she is convinced that lawmakers can’t do their job themselves.

“I don’t like a lot of the things that they’re doing,” said Dale, who plans to vote “no” on Proposition 1A, which seeks to impose state spending restrictions but would trigger $16 billion in extended tax hikes.

“They’re just pushing things through,” Dale complained of lawmakers. “They’re spending too much money, they’re raising taxes, and they’re chasing businesses out of California.”

But Dale particularly wants to vote “yes” on Proposition 1F – the measure to deny elected officials pay raises when there is a state general fund deficit.

So does Democrat Vincent Anderson, an American River College student in Sacramento County.

“Why would we pay them more money when it seems that they’re never doing their job?” Anderson asked. “Their job is to run the state.”

Anderson, who opposes most of the budget reform measures, said he is offended the initiatives are even on the ballot.

“They’re just passing the buck,” he said. “California has been in debt for a while. Why is this (special election) so important now?”

In fact, a large majority of voters polled are not at all happy with the direction of their state’s government:

The poll found a greater proportion of Republicans opposed to the measures than Democrats. More than three-fifths of Republicans oppose the fund shifts proposed in Propositions 1D and 1E, even though both ideas originated with GOP members of the Legislature.

But healthy majorities of both parties – 72 percent overall – answered “yes” when pollsters asked if voting down the measures “would send a message to the governor and the state Legislature that voters are tired of more government spending and higher taxes.”

Now anyone that doesn’t understand that it isn’t just “state government” which has embarked on a program of “more government spending and higher taxes” isn’t paying attention. Thus the “Tea Parties”. If what is going on in California is typical of the developing mood around the country, and I think it is, then Democrats waive off the Tea Parties at their own electoral peril. Instead of Tea Parties being gatherings of a “few hundred” disgruntled “right-wingers” who are “sore losers”, they may just be the tip of a gigantic ice berg of discontent which will begin manifesting itself at the polls as it appears it will in California.

As an aside – that doesn’t mean the GOP is the winner in all of this. I think most of the Tea Parties demonstrated that the people who attended are just as fed up with Republicans as they are with Democrats.

~McQ

Tax Internet Sales – “Fiscal Relief” For The States

Down economy? Tax revenues in the toilet? Don’t worry Bunky, government will always find a way to keep it’s revenue stream full:

The days of buying online to avoid paying sales taxes may soon be over.

A bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this week that would force retailers like eBay and Amazon.com to start collecting sales taxes on behalf of states from people who shop online or through mail order.

Of course if you know anything about government you also know this was inevitable. However, it is lines like the following which make my blood boil:

“This would be fiscal relief for the states that wouldn’t require any money from the federal government,” said Neal Osten, a senior policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is drafting the bill.

Osten pointed to a recent study that said state sales tax collections fell to their lowest levels in 50 years at the end of 2008.

My earnings are not there to be “fiscal relief” for profligate states who find themselves with budget shortfalls due to poor budgetary practices. Osten seems to think this is some sort of money tree he’s discovered. More importantly, he seems to view the money as rightfully the government’s, not that of the wage earner. And notice, it is a lobbying group with a vested interest in the outcome writing the legislation. What happened to that promise about “no lobbyists” the new administration made? Special interest democracy is alive and well.

Of course a recession is a great time to pass tax legislation like this – why not cool another segment of the economy by giving priority to government tax collections over spurring economic growth?

The more I observe these lunatics and consider their blinkered and ignorant view of the economic world, the less confidence I have that they’ll figure out that the way out of a recession is to cut taxes, not pass new ones.

~McQ

Pirates, Armed Guards and “Civilized” Popinjays

With the spike in interest about combating piracy suddenly, any number of people have been sought out and quoted concerning their ‘expert’ opinion about what to do.

This one simply mystifies me.

Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said that his organisation had qualms about the use of armed guards on ships: “We always have been against the carriage of arms on vessels. First, we don’t think there is legal backing. Two, there’s a risk of escalation. Three, you cannot carry arms on ships carrying hazardous or dangerous cargo.

“If you permit armed guards on certain vessels, the others, which cannot carry the armed guards will become vulnerable and be targeted a lot more.”

Maybe it is just me, but I simply don’t understand thinking like this. It reminds me of the rightfully ridiculed “if rape is inevitable, lay back and endure it” school of thought.

Note how Mr. Mody seems not to understand that we have an inherent right to self-defense and thus shouldn’t be particularly concerned with whether or not exercising that right has “legal backing”. When armed thieves attack you and your property, they certainly aren’t concerned with the niceties of legal backing. They are called “outlaws” for a reason. But like all human beings, they’re looking for easy targets. Lay back and offer no resistance and they’ll happily take your property and, perhaps, your life. Although that hasn’t been the case yet, it certainly could happen now that the military of various states are killing pirates. In fact, because they are using deadly force now, the need for being able to defend one’s self would seem to me to be even more urgent than before.

That brings us to point two – escalation. I hate to break it to Mr. Mody, but as noted, the military reaction to piracy has escalated the situation. What is obvious, however, is the military cannot provide protection to all of the shipping transiting the area – it can only react to attacks. In the last two attacks on American ships, there was no way for our navy to react immediately. In both cases the USS Bainbridge was hundreds of miles away when the attacks occurred. That leaves immediate self-defense in the hands of the crew of the ship being attacked.pirates

As for three, of course you can have weaponry on such ships if done properly. And think of it this way, pirates don’t know whether or not the ship is carrying “hazardous or dangerous cargo” when they attack. So when they launch that RPG they’re much more of a danger to those cargoes (and the crew) than someone on the ship putting a line of .50 cal rounds across the bow of a pirate skiff and scaring them away.

And four, per Mr. Mody, it just isn’t fair if some ships have armed guards (Mr. Mody was reacting to a story about armed guards on an Italian cruise ship foiling a pirate attack) and others don’t. That’s just nonsense. It’s like “gun free zones” – what do they tell criminals? That no one will be able to defend themselves because the criminal will be the only one with a gun. It’s stupid. The whole point is to make the pirates unsure as to whether the ship has armed guards and whether it is worth it to them to attempt to attack such a ship. One way to take that sort of calculation out of their attacks is to ensure ships are “gun free zones”.

Certainly there are non-lethal ways to fight pirates, but as Gen. Petraeus said the other day, and I’m paraphrasing, I wouldn’t want to be on a water cannon when the guy at the other end has an RPG.

Fighting off pirates requires resistance, and resistance requires at least equality in firepower. The whole point is to make piracy less and less attractive. Right now the pirates pick a target, board it and name their ransom. The risk to reward ratio is so low they won’t consider returning to their former life. One way to help them make such a decision more readily is to raise that reward-to-risk ratio to a level that it is no longer attractive. Seems to me armed ships along with military intervention are certainly a good way to do that.

What we don’t need to be doing is listening to the likes of Mr. Mody and trying to dress up stupidity as some form of “civilized behavior”.

~McQ

Are Dems Overreaching On Climate Legislation

Kimberley Strassel has a good article in today’s WSJ about what she sees as Democrats overreaching on climate legislation.

For one, they seem to be misreading the public’s support for the radical type legislation that Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman favor. Since the recession has hit, people are much less concerned about the environmental impact of certain industries and much more concerned about preserving the jobs they provide.

But it is more than that – the Democratic leadership seems to be misreading the political tea-leaves as well:

To listen to Congressman Jim Matheson is something else. During opening statements, the Utah Democrat detailed 14 big problems he had with the bill, and told me later that if he hadn’t been limited to five minutes, “I might have had more.” Mr. Matheson is one of about 10 moderate committee Democrats who are less than thrilled with the Waxman climate extravaganza, and who may yet stymie one of Barack Obama’s signature issues. If so, the president can thank Democratic liberals, who are engaging in one of their first big cases of overreach.

Not that you couldn’t see this coming even last year, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi engineered her coup against former Energy chairman John Dingell. House greens had been boiling over the Michigan veteran’s cautious approach to climate-legislation. Mr. Dingell’s mistake was understanding that when it comes to energy legislation, the divides aren’t among parties, but among regions. Design a bill that socks it to all those manufacturing, oil-producing, coal-producing, coal-using states, and say goodbye to the very Democrats necessary to pass that bill.

Of course, that’s precisely what the Waxman’s of the party intend to do. As Strassel notes, Pelosi engineered the replacement of Dingell with Waxman precisely to push the more radical agenda.

And 2010 looms:

There’s Mr. Matheson, chair of the Blue Dog energy task force, who has made a political career championing energy diversity and his state’s fossil fuels, and who understands Utah is mostly reliant on coal for its electricity needs. He says he sees several ways this bill could result in a huge “income transfer” from his state to those less fossil-fuel dependent. Indiana Democrat Baron Hill has a similar problem; not only does his district rely on coal, it is home to coal miners. Rick Boucher, who represents the coal-fields of South Virginia, knows the feeling.

Or consider Texas’s Gene Green and Charles Gonzalez, or Louisiana’s Charlie Melancon, oil-patch Dems all, whose home-district refineries would be taxed from every which way by the bill. Mr. Dingell remains protective of his district’s struggling auto workers, which would be further incapacitated by the bill. Pennsylvania’s Mike Doyle won’t easily throw his home-state steel industry over a cliff.

Add in the fact that a number of these Democrats hail from districts that could just as easily be in Republicans’ hands. They aren’t eager to explain to their blue-collar constituents the costs of indulging Mrs. Pelosi’s San Francisco environmentalists. Remember 1993, when President Bill Clinton proposed an energy tax on BTUs? The House swallowed hard and passed the legislation, only to have Senate Democrats kill it; a year later, Newt Gingrich was in charge. With Senate Democrats already backing away from the Obama cap-and-trade plans, at least a few House Dems are reluctant to walk the plank.

Never mind that passage of this bill would most likely retard economic recovery for the foreseeable future, it might also begin to flip the House politically when its consequences are made clear to the public. Waxman and his allies are attempting to poltically arm-twist and bribe enough Democrats to push this through the House, but it apparently faces tough sledding in the Senate, even with a filibuster-proof majority in the offing.

How this ends up is anyone’s guess, but as strange as it sounds, the recession is our best friend in this case. Cap and trade would be disasterous now – not that it wouldn’t be even in a strong economy. And there seems to be building support on both sides to stop it. What you have to hope is that somehow it will then be delayed enough that the mix in Congress changes to the point that the Dem’s radical environmental policy ends up being DOA.

~McQ