Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

CIA, Cheney and Al Qaeda

Unlike the left, I’m having difficulty getting too excited about a CIA program that never got out of the planning stage. The NYT carries the story today. Essentially the gist is that the CIA, under the supervision of Darth Cheney, planned (for 8 years apparently) to deploy assassination teams to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives where ever they were to be found.

Certainly, had they actually done that and say “captured or killed” someone in a place other than Iraq or Afghanistan, I think there would certainly be legal questions (and problems) involved (assuming we did so without the knowledge and permission of the country in which the person targeted was to be found). But as is obvious in the NYT story, these plans were never executed and for all we know, it may be because of those concerns about its legality that it remained only a plan.

On the other hand, I can also understand the concern of those who say all such plans, by law, must be disclosed to the body charged with oversight, whether executed or not. That’s how rogue operations are prevented, and this non-disclosure, by definition, would make it such an operation. Oversight and disclosure are key to a free and open society, so I’m sympathetic to the complaint that this operation was hidden and that’s wrong.

But other than that, I’m not at all sure any investigation in this program is going to come off as anything other than a witch-hunt and find little sympathy for the investigators with the public at large. This, in the big scheme of things, is going to be considered slap-on-the-wrist stuff for most of the public. Al Qaeda is not a sympathetic organization and considering plans to take out their leadership isn’t going to be seen by the majority of Americans as a “bad” thing, especially when the plans in question were never executed.

What happened is UAVs provided a viable alternative. Putting these sorts of teams together presented all sorts of unanticipated problems which, in combination with the UAV option, quickly shelved the idea. Why the program continued for 8 years and why Congress wasn’t informed are legitimate questions that deserve answers.

Special prosecutors and a legal witch-hunt, however, will not shed any more light on the subject and will find a largely unsympathetic public quickly on the side of those who sought, however clumsily, to protect us and against those who push the prosecution.

~McQ

What’s Our Future? Bigger Government And Higher Taxes

At least that’s what Robert Samuelson sees for us. I can’t really dispute his numbers either:

For the past half-century, federal spending has averaged about 20 percent of GDP, federal taxes about 18 percent of GDP and the budget deficit 2 percent of GDP. The CBO’s projection for 2020 — which assumes the economy has returned to “full employment” — puts spending at 26 percent of GDP, taxes at a bit less than 19 percent of GDP and a deficit above 7 percent of GDP. Future spending and deficit figures continue to grow.

What this means is that balancing the budget in 2020 would require a tax increase of almost 50 percent from the last half-century’s average. Remember, that average was 18 percent of GDP. To get from there to 26 percent of GDP (spending in 2020) would require an additional 8 percentage points. In today’s dollars, that would be about $1.1 trillion, a 44 percent annual tax increase. Even these figures may be optimistic, because CBO’s projections for defense and “nondefense discretionary” spending may be unrealistically low. This last category covers much of what government does: environmental regulation, aid to education, highway construction, law enforcement, homeland security.

Now, this should come as no surprise, really, to anyone with a passing knowledge of accounting. When you increase spending without increasing revenue, you end up with a deficit. And what we’ve seen the government doing for decades is exactly that.  Now it’s in the midst of piling up massive deficits and planning huge increases in government.

And it’s not all the politicians fault. After all the average American keeps returning the same fiscally irresponsible people to the same place where they can continue doing what they’ve been doing for decades – spending us into bankruptcy.

Because, as Samuelson notes, Americans like the benefits even if they don’t like the taxes. So the formula has been a little different for each party but the result has been precisely the same:

Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting spending. Democrats want to increase spending without increasing taxes, except on the rich. The differences between the parties are shades of gray. Hardly anyone asks the hard questions of who doesn’t need benefits, which programs are expendable and what taxes might cover remaining deficits.

In fact, much harder questions are routinely ignored, such as “why is government getting into _________ at all?” To me that is the key question that is never asked. Name your program and tell me when anyone asks why government is involving themselves in such things?

It all comes back to the fundamental question which, over the centuries, has seen the answer change radically – “What is the basic function of legitimate government?”

Few are going to be able to argue successfully that the answer in 1781 was the same as it is today, are they? And you don’t really have to be an economist to understand what this direction we seem to be intent upon taking means for our future.  It should also be clear by now that those who’ve have gotten us into this mess have little incentive to change their ways and certainly no stomach for the sort of work it would entail:

There is little appetite for any of this, and so we face the consequences of much bigger government. Certainly higher taxes for future Americans. Probably a less robust economy. The CBO notes that elevated deficits would penalize saving, investment and income, while unprecedented tax burdens could “slow the growth of the economy, making the [government’s] spending burden harder to bear.” To such warnings, Americans’ collective response is: Go away.

Enjoy.

You can go back to sleep now.

~McQ

The OAS’s Double Standard

Surprisingly, one member of the Washington Post – Jackson Diehl – has noticed the double standard the OAS has applied when it comes to Honduras vs. Venezuela.

Venezuelan Antonio Ledezma is no gadfly or dissident; as the mayor of Caracas, he received almost as many votes in last November’s election (700,000) as Manuel Zelaya (915,000) did when he won the presidency of Honduras in 2005. Yet while the Organization of American States has been united in demanding Zelaya’s return to his post, and in suspending Honduras for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter, it has studiously ignored the case of Ledezma — who, since his election, has been illegally driven from his office by a mob, stripped of most of his powers and budget, and subjected to criminal investigation by the regime of Hugo Chávez.

The reaction of the OAS? “None of our business”.

While championing Zelaya — whose attempt to illegally rewrite the constitution united Honduras’s Congress and Supreme Court against him — Insulza refused to interest himself in the case of Ledezma and other elected Venezuelan mayors and state governors who have been subjected to power-stripping and criminal prosecution by Chávez. The OAS “cannot be involved in issues of internal order of member states,” said a statement Insulza issued after a June meeting in Washington with Ledezma — a declaration he quickly contradicted once the pro-Chávez Zelaya was deposed.

The “Insulza” Diehl is referring too is OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza who has been absolutely uninterested in what has happened to the democratically elected mayor of Caracus or, for that matter, state governors and other mayors who’ve essentially enjoyed the same fate as Ledezma in Venezuela.

The reason? Simple – Insulza is counting on, in fact banking on, the support of Hugo Chavez for a second term as OAS GS. Insulza, who Diehl characterizes as a “Chilean socialist” knows he’s dead in the water without it. So he’s not at all inclined to rock the boat when it comes to Chavez’s illegal and unconstitutional moves in Venezuela.

Ledezma has courageously been pushing Insulza to acknowledge the problems in Venezuela:

Ledezma’s hunger strike eventually shamed Insulza into making a phone call in which he promised to meet with the Venezuelan mayors and governors in Washington, and to investigate their charges that Chávez had violated the democracy charter. But Insulza later repeated that “it is very difficult to determine how a country should organize itself internally.”

This is the face of the “new” OAS, which recently admitted the totalitarian dictatorship of Cuba into fold. It is now an organization which is driven by a socialist agenda that uses the veneer of ‘democracy’ as a way of legitimizing advancing its agenda throughout Latin America and as a weapon to thwart real democracy should it attempt to stop that agenda from successfully subverting a country.

But it obviously has no desire to really support democracy or investigate illegal and unconstitutional moves by despots in good ideological standing with the OAS leadership. That is reserved for those countries which haven’t yet converted to the socialist “Bolivar revolution” championed by Hugo Chavez – the defacto leader of the OAS. And, as Diehl points out, the OAS has been quite happy with the new administrations policies:

Such willful disregard of political repression was the prevailing policy among OAS members before the Honduran coup — including the Obama administration. Though Chávez launched his latest and most virulent campaign against elected opposition leaders and independent media shortly after Obama’s inauguration, the administration for months refused to publicly respond; instead, it agreed on a new exchange on ambassadors with Venezuela and repeatedly announced its hope to “work with” the caudillo.

My goodness, it sounds like Iran, doesn’t it?

Diehl holds out hope that the administration is figuring it out citing a recent Hillary Clinton interview with Globavision as proof. One interview, however, doesn’t prove that the administration has figured out it is being played like a fiddle or that it will take another look at how it has reacted to Honduras or the agenda of the OAS.

Diehl cites testimony before Congress the day after the interview and wonders what it means:

In testimony to Congress the next day, the State Department’s incoming assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, said that following the Honduras crisis, “it should be clear that the collective response of the hemisphere in support of democracy should not be limited to taking action simply when elected leaders are removed from office by force.” Does that mean the United States now will also push Insulza and the OAS to judge what is happening in Venezuela — and in Nicaragua, Ecuador and other states where freedom of the press and free elections have been under sustained attack? The administration’s high-profile effort to defend a hostile Honduran president has provided an opportunity to take the offensive against the hemisphere’s most dangerous anti-democratic actors.

Given what I’ve seen so far from this administration and its foreign policy, I’d have to guess the answer is a flat “no”.

~McQ

Presidential Reality Check (Update)

Keith Hennesey does a fair job of fisking President Obama’s Washington Post editorial in which Obama tries to put a happy face on what his administration has done thus far to combat the recession. Hennesy included a chart by Don Marron that graphically takes Obama to task on one of his favorite claims, namely:

Nearly six months ago, my administration took office amid the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Marron’s chart:

image1

Now Obama’s claim is certainly close to being true, but by 1/10th of a percent, it isn’t quite there. And, it could be argued, the past 6 months of this administration’s policies has moved it closer to being what he claims than it was when he took office.

But when he talks about the gloom and doom of the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression”, remember this chart. He and the Democrats are and have been using that claim as a means of justifying all sorts of deficit spending. It is also the means to justify health care reform (claim: health care spending is going to “bankrupt us”) and cap-and-trade (claim: the route to fiscal health is “green jobs” and “green industry”).

The point here is to understand how overplayed the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression” really is. Yeah, it’s a nasty one, but in comparison to the Great Depression it simply doesn’t compare. In fact, it isn’t even close.

UPDATE: Here’s a perfect example of an exaggerated and, naturally, unfalsifiable claim by a politician.

~McQ

Podcast for 12 Jul 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the health care bill that will presented on the House floor.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

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.

Damned Global Warming Skeptics

Why don’t they just shut up!

The science is settled! We have consensus.

Well, except for those 32,000 American scientists who have signed a petition saying they don’t agree that anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming is threatening society as we know it.

And now we have another one – another skeptical scientist who attempts to enlighten the cult of AGW as to how the science actually works.  I’ll let him lay it out:

So why the fuss lately about man-made global warming? The melting Arctic? Do you know we’ve only been monitoring the extent of Arctic ice via satellites since 1979? And while Arctic ice coverage has declined, it’s actually been rising since 2006. And have you heard Antarctic sea ice has increased by nearly 14% since 1979?

The global warming crowd is quick to blame the release of carbon dioxide thru the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gasoline, natural gas, and coal, for warming our climate and setting us on a path for doom.

Since before the industrial revolution the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising, up to around 385 parts per million by volume today. That amounts to a miniscule 0.0385% of the atmosphere. Increased CO2 levels are beneficial to plants since they require carbon dioxide to grow. In this experiment, plants exposed to CO2 levels of 1,090 parts per million by volume by far exhibited the most growth.

So, does carbon dioxide drive the climate? The answer is no!

Natural cycles play a much bigger role with the sun at the top of the list. A look at total solar irradiance since 1600 shows a distinct correlation to temperature readings. Readings are higher now than anytime in the past 400 years!

Then there’s El Nino Southern Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, the Arctic Oscillation, the Pacific-North American Teleconnection, Milankovitch forcing, ocean variations, and so on and so forth.

Is there any way to model all these variables? Again, the answer is no! The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has tried and failed!

Back in 2001 the IPCC released a suite of computer model solutions depicting the future state of the atmosphere. These reports by the IPCC are used repeatedly to drive policy around the world. But, if you look at what’s happened since then, global temperatures are actually on a downward trend, whether you look at actual thermometer readings across the world or satellite-derived temperatures. This when the IPCC models were predicting continued warming.

Can you believe it? Another one who insists models at least be able to model what is happening by using all the variables? And that the models be able to actually predict what is happening instead of modeling something that isn’t?

What’s up with demands like that?! We’ve heard from the oracle, he’s told us the earth has a fever and that’s that.

Gore said it, enough “scientists” believed it and that ends it!

Now let’s get that cap-and-trade bill through the Senate and save the planet.

~McQ

The Magic Of Paying For Healthcare

I‘m so glad that the Democrats have settled on how to pay for their latest government boondoggle even if it is the same old formula:

House Democrats will ask the wealthiest Americans to help pay for overhauling the health care system with a $550 billion income tax increase, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said Friday.

The proposal calls for a surtax on individuals earning at least $280,000 in adjusted gross income and couples earning more than $350,000, said the chairman, Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York.

It would generate about $550 billion over 10 years to pay about half the cost of the legislation, Mr. Rangel said. As the proposal envisions it, the rest of the cost would be covered by lower spending on Medicare, the government health plan for the elderly, and other health care savings.

Tax the rich and squeeze the health care industry with lower Medicare payments. Sounds like a very “healthy” and stable way of paying for “health care reform” doesn’t it?  A perfectly sure way to accomplish the stated Obama priorities of “expanding health insurance coverage to virtually all Americans and curtailing the steep rise in the cost of medical care while improving patient outcomes.”

Expand coverage, cut payments and improve outcomes.

Yup – “I believe!”

Questions and Observations #4

For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” stands for.

  • I thought one of the things the Obama administration was promising it wouldn’t do was use signing statements to ignore the law? Apparently not.
  • It would appear that a witch-hunt for “extremists” in the military is building. First we had the DHS warning claiming veterans might be recruited by right-wing extremist organizations. Then Alcee Hastings proposes law (a law already on the books, btw) to prohibit “extremists” from joining the military. Now the Southern Poverty Law Center is asking Congress to investigate the military based on a couple of postings it found on a suspect website.  The premise, of course, is because we now have a black Democratic president, there is more of a threat from such extremists who might be in the military.
  • Government’s attempt to regulate every aspect of your life takes another step in that direction, but in an unexpected area – licensing yoga teachers. Of course, government knows so much about yoga to begin with. In fact, all this will do is add cost and paperwork to something which is at the moment, self-regulated by the market.  What it will do for yoga is present an government imposed bar to entry.  And, of course, create another revenue stream where none previously existed.
  • Electric cars? The panacea? Not according to the Government Accounting Office which claims, at best, they’d reduce CO2 emissions by 4 – 5% but would see that negated by increased travel because users would drive more believing their use isn’t a threat to the environment. And then there’s the lithium problem.
  • David Brooks sat through an entire dinner with a Republican Senator’s hand on his inner thigh? Really? Why? And what does that say about David Brooks?
  • Corporations which have taken taxpayer money are on notice not to book meetings at fancy resorts. But government (which exists on nothing but taxpayer money)? No problem.
  • Mark Steyn wonders if the era of “soft despotism” has begun here? It’s a good description of what is going on I think.  For the record, Obama isn’t the initiator of it, he’s just an accelerant. The only problem with “soft despotism” is it usually turns to the garden-variety hard despotism after a while.
  • Timing is everything, isn’t it? In the midst of the recession, the federal minimum wage is scheduled to increase by 70 cents an hour to $7.25 on July 24th. That’ll certainly help the recovery and create jobs, won’t it?

I’ll add more as I find them – check back throughout the day.

~McQ

Gird Thy Self – With Health Care “Reform”, The Tax Man Cometh

It should be abundantly clear by now, to even the slowest among us, that the promise that 95% of Americans wouldn’t see their taxes raised by one dime during an Obama administration was a flat out lie.

Of course, given the promise of health care and the cap-and-tax proposal pushed by candidate and now President Obama, the 95% should have been able to figure out the lie well before the election. But they didn’t.

The Heritage Foundation has laid out the proposed taxes Congress is looking at to fund this 1.5 Trillion “Health Care Reform” legislation being proposed (note: consider this 1.5 Trillion estimate in light of the Medicare estimate back in the ’60s. It was a low ball load of blarney then and I have little doubt that this estimate is a low ball one as well).

Proposed tax hikes in this category[tax the rich – ed.] include: 1) capping the value of itemized deductions including gifts to charities; 2) a 3% surtax on households earning more than $250,000; and 3) a millionaires tax.

But the left is beginning to figure out that you can only squeeze so much revenue from class warfare taxation. So Congress is also considering a slew of other taxes that will, again, force Obama to break his not tax hike promise. These include: 1) a tax on soda; 2) a tax on beer; 3) an increase in employer and employee payroll taxes; 4) a flat tax on health insurance companies; 5) broaden the Medicare tax on investment income; 6) an employer mandate; and 7) a value added tax on everything but food, housing, and Medicare. And we’re sure we missed some.

There’s no other way to “save money on health care” than to tax the hell out of those who will be stuck with the system they cobble together.

Then add cap-and-trade’s impact (and taxes) to the mix and explain how an economy already reeling with a loss of 15 Trillion in wealth is going to recover when more and more of the private sector’s money (and wealth) goes to government?

~McQ

F-35: Last Manned Fighter?

Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seems to think that may be the case.

So, what the aviation side of this is, I think, is very much focused on this change. And I think we’re at the beginning of this change. I mean, there are those that see JSF as the last manned fighter — or fighter-bomber, or jet. And I’m one of — you know, I’m one that’s inclined to believe that. I don’t know if that’s exactly right. But, this all speaks to the change that goes out, you know, many — obviously, decades, including how much unmanned we’re going to have and how it’s going to be resourced.

I’m not one inclined to believe that necessarily (at least not with the technology today). Although I did read that the Air Force will, this year for the first time, train more UAV pilots than fighter pilots, I think there will always be a role for fighter pilots in combat. Why? Because of the air superiority role. UAVs – drones if you prefer – can fulfill the close air support role, and even a tactical and strategic bombing role. But, at least with the technology we have today, I simply can’t see an unmanned “fighter” having the advantage over a manned fighter in the air superiority role.

And without air superiority, you don’t fly UAVs.

Here’s someone who agrees with Mullen:

I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft.

Addressing b) above, things like this don’t help the manned fighter side.  But then “cheap” doesn’t always translate into “most effective” either.

Thoughts?

~McQ