Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

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

Survey Finds Some Americans Not Averse To Price Controls

Very interesting opinion survey from the Center For Consumer Freedom. Essentially it’s about price control. Check out the first three questions and the responses:

B1 Do you think Congress should cap the interest and fees charged on short-term loans at 75 cents a week for a $100 loan?

* YES 56%
* NO 36%
* DON’T KNOW 8%

B2 Cell phones and other mobile devices can be expensive. Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of cell phone service so that lower income families are able to afford these products?

* YES 57%
* NO 41%
* DON’T KNOW 2%

B3 AUTOMOBILES have risen in price dramatically over the PAST TEN YEARS. Inexpensive, high-quality vehicles are harder to find.

Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of certain kinds of cars so that more families can purchase a safe, reliable vehicle?

* YES 55%
* NO 42%
* DON’T KNOW 2%

So, when it comes to items which are expensive and (and I’m guessing here) the public identifies as an industry which makes too much profit (or has been vilified as such), they’re all for capping the price on them (apparently never watching TV and seeing the competing commercials for all of this, indicating market competition has most likely pared those profits down considerably).

Speaking of TVs, and coffee as well, suddenly the public isn’t so hot on capping prices:

B4 COFFEE prices have risen dramatically over the PAST DECADE, with many locations charging more than $3.00 for a basic cup of coffee.

Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of coffee and other hot beverages to a more reasonable level?

* YES 39%
* NO 59%

B5 The price of televisions has risen in the past few years. The government should cap the price that electronics companies can charge for new televisions, since many new technology changes require a new television. Would you say you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with this statement?
[RECORD ONE ANSWER]

1. STRONGLY AGREE 18%
2. SOMEWHAT AGREE 21%
3. SOMEWHAT DISAGREE 24%
4. STRONGLY DISAGREE 32%

56% disagree that TVs should have prices capped. And 59% say “no” to capping the cost on a cup of coffee.

I would love to see the reasoning behind the answers given on this survey, because it would appear that if you believe that government should be controlling prices, you wouldn’t differentiate between cell phones and coffee, and certainly not between TVs and cars.

I have to go with my first inclination here – the public is more likely to call for price controls on the products of industries which have been vilified by the press and government. Banks (loans), auto makers and telecommunications have all suffered from various levels of vilification rencently and in the recent past.

Coffee, however, is still “Juan Valdez”.

Unfortunately, even if true, it means that a majority of Americans have no problem with government price controls – it just means they require the industry to be out of favor before they do. And industry “vilification”, as we’ve witnessed lately, that’s certainly something this administration is more than willing to do. Above are your results.

~McQ

The “Economics” of Obama’s First 100 Days

I put economics is [“”] for a reason. And that has to do with the fact that there was little about the first 100 days which had much to do with economics and certainly wasn’t economical. Feast your eyes on this. Yes, it’s from the GOP, but “numbers is numbers”, folks, and check out the quote attached to the chart:

chart-first100

Heritage also weighs in with a few trenchant observations:

In his first 100 days, President Obama will have quadrupled the budget deficit he inherited while pledging to cut it in half, which would still leave a deficit double the size it was in January 2009.

Make sure you get that – quadrupled the budget deficit within 100 days. Promised to cut budget deficit in half. Even if he does that, it will still be twice the size of the budget deficit in Jan 2009 when he made the promise. Yup, smoke and mirrors.

The President came into office promising a “net spending cut” then signed the stimulus bill, which will dump $9,400 in new debt on the average American household. Under CBO’s estimate, if some programs become permanent, this would skyrocket to $26,600 per American household.

And we are reminded that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program (REA anyone?).

Just to give this all a little more perspective:

In his first 100 days, President Obama proposed a budget that would dump a staggering $9.3 trillion in new debt—$68,000 per household—into the laps of American children. This is more debt than has been accumulated by all previous Presidents in American history combined.

And yeah, for the lefties that includes the “selected but not elected” George W. Bush among all the president’s combined. Or said another way, 44 is spending more than the previous 42 combined (and no I didn’t screw up, Grover Cleveland was president twice at two different times).

So while you see the informationally deprived “celebrating” the “accomplishments” of his first 100 days, don’t forget that those yet to be born aren’t going to be quite as enamored with Obama as the present spendthrifts who think he’s doing such a great job economically.

~McQ

The Growing Opacity Of The Obama Administration

As you’re seeing demonstrated in the machinations concerning GM and Chrysler, not to mention the attempt to pass the card check legislation, unions are a favored constituency within the Obama administration. And it gets even better:

The Obama administration, which has boasted about its efforts to make government more transparent, is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation.

The Labor Department noted in a recent disclosure that “it would not be a good use of resources” to bring enforcement actions against union officials who do not comply with conflict of interest reporting rules passed in 2007. Instead, union officials will now be allowed to file older, less detailed conflict reports.

The regulation, known as the LM-30 rule, was at the heart of a lawsuit that the AFL-CIO filed against the department last year. One of the union attorneys in the case, Deborah Greenfield, is now a high-ranking deputy at Labor, who also worked on the Obama transition team on labor issues.

Apparently, however, it is a good use of resources to spend money on just about everything else under the sun. But of course, if they used resources to bring enforcement actions against union officials who don’t comply with conflict of interest reporting rules, they’d have to start with Deborah Greenfield, wouldn’t they?

Funny how “resource use” suddenly becomes a problem when a probable rule violation becomes fairly evident.

Critics worry that the rollback of union reporting requirements will keep hidden potentially corrupt financial arrangements aimed at rooting out corruption, but unions say the Bush administration reporting rules were unfair and burdensome.

Darn right they were because, you know, they were catching corrupt union officials. Can’t have that. So “unfair and burdensome” – something that tax payers are never able to plead about the gigantic and undecipherable tax code – now takes priority over transparent and accountable.

Hope and change.

~McQ