Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Bowing, Boasting And Bloviating

I‘ve pretty much avoided mention of the bowing incident – it’s a distraction from the more serious things going on. But then the White House says we shouldn’t believe what we saw and throws out a couple of the most ridiculous reasons for what the President did that I’ve heard (an “unnamed” White House source claims it was either an adjustment for a short king or he lost a contact – take your pick). My question? Why is the White House bringing this back up? It makes no sense.

Then there’s Joe Biden’s claim of lecturing George Bush. When will this guy figure out that such claims can be checked? There’s not a moment of a president’s tenure that isn’t recorded by someone. Yet Biden seems to think, for he can make stuff up to retroactively bolster his arguments and make himself seem both wise and prescient.

He’s neither. He’s a blowhard who’s rise to the position he’s in was based mostly on his perceived ability to cover a glaring weakness in foreign policy experience from which Barack Obama suffered. But he was not a guy who anyone in the previous administration sought out for advice or council on much of anything.

However both of these incidents are troubling. The first indicates an innate defensiveness within the White House. This is something that should have simply been ignored. It would bang around on the right side of the political sphere for a while and then fade. But to claim something which you can clearly see for yourself is not what you see is foolish. It erodes credibility. “Don’t believe your lying eyes, believe what we say”.

As for Biden, as Karl Rove said, he’s a serial exaggerator – which is a nice way of saying he’s telling a whopper. Biden has a tendency to make up anecdotes which make him sound good and the other guy look bad. It’s sort of like when you have a “I wish I’d have said that” moment. You didn’t say it, but had you said it, it would have been perfect for the moment. Biden tries to make those moments real and claim them for himself. Again, it’s a credibility problem. You can’t believe a thing the man says.

For such a media savvy bunch you’d think the White House would know to leave a story such as the bowing incident alone. And you’d think, by now, that Joe Biden would have realized that what he could skate by on as a Senator won’t be overlooked now that he’s the VP – that and the fact that he should know his claim of lecturing a president is fairly easily checked.

Amateur hour.

~McQ

By A Small Majority, Americans Think Capitalism Is Better Than Socialism

This should disturb a good number of you – it certainly did me. It shows you how effective the indoctrination of our youth has been. Don’t forget the radical students of 1969 are the tenured professors of ’09.  It also demonstrates something else just as disturbing that I’ll get too at the end of the post:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

As you’ll note, the older someone is, the more likely they are to understand what socialism is and how it is inferior to captialism. The under 30 crowd, with no wisdom and little practical experience outside of academia – not to mention having not yet completly traded their utopian fantasies for the best practical system which has been shown to work – have a large group who either believe socialism is better or just aren’t with it enough to have an opinion.

Once past 30, and having put a few years under their belt in the real world, suddenly the utopian scales begin to fall from their eyes and they have a bit of an epiphany. As for those over 40 being so strongly for capitalism, most of them remember the old USSR and how well socialism worked there.

As you might imagine, there’s an ideological divide as well:

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

Compare the results above to a poll taken in December of 2008:

As the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership scramble for ways to right the U.S. economy, 70% of U.S. voters say a free market is better than one managed by the government.

Just 15% say a government-managed economy is best, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

Question: In the intervening months, what system and what players has the Obama administration demonized?

Answer: Capitalism and capitalists.

Gee, I wonder why?

~McQ

Ooops

Pirates, operating off the coast of Somalia, have grabbed an American flagged ship. Although they’re rare, it’s just not a good idea to grab American flagged ships because it is likely to bring a response that for which the pirates aren’t looking.   I.e., a crew that fights back, and every available American military vessel in the area.

As it turns out the pirates grabbed the Masersk Alabama off the eastern coast of Somalia yesterday. That’s below the Horn of Africa since the Gulf of Aden, their previous hunting grounds, has been pretty effectively policed by TF-151 – a coalition of 12 navies.

It is assumed, since the attack on the Alabama occurred 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, that the pirates came from a “mother ship”, a larger ship from which they launch their attacks in the small, swift skiffs they use.

The pirates grabbed the Alabama early in the morning but by afternoon, the crew had retaken the ship. All except the captain who the pirates somehow kept in their custody. Apparently they negotiated with the crew for a pirate the crew had captured and agreed to an exchange. But the pirates didn’t keep their side of the bargain and kept the captain while the crew gave up the pirate.

The pirates and captain are now, apparently sitting in a lifeboat near the ship, negotiating with the crew. On site are the destroyer USS Bainbridge and some air assets.

My guess is this will go on a couple more days with the military content to let it continue as long as they don’t threaten to kill the captain or try to move out of the area. In the meantime they’ll gather as much intel as they can and formulate a plan to retake the captive.

Lesson to pirates? When they see that flag with a blue field full of stars and red and white stripes below it – let it pass. Not worth the effort. They don’t play patsy like the others do.

Oh – and too those trying to make this a presidential level “crisis”, it’s not unless he injects himself into it (and I don’t think he will). If the Pentagon needs guidance or permission for something, they’ll ask. Otherwise they should keep the administration informed and be left to do their job (here’s an interesting rundown of the last US ships taken in international waters and the reaction of three different presidents).

However, one has to wonder if the seizure of a US flagged ship might not increase calls for this:

Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team.

“Our special operations people have been itching to clean them up. So far, no one has let them,” Oakley told the Daily News.

The veteran diplomat, who also was ambassador to Pakistan, said teams of Army Delta Force or Navy SEALs “could take care of the pirates in 72 hours” if given the order to strike.

“They have plans on the table but are waiting for the green light,” Oakley said.

A Special Operations Command spokesman at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., declined comment.

A U.S. intelligence official, though dismissive of the pirates having any terrorism links, said “there is a more intense focus” now on these criminal gangs.

We’ll see.  What concerns me about this is the administration may see this as a relatively cheap opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to use military force to protect American interests.  Piracy, while a pain in the rear, is not such a threat that it requires that level of a response (of the 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden, less that 1% are hijacked).

~McQ

The Great Obama European Concert Tour

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.

Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.

The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.

The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.

So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.

Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:

Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.

And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.

In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.

I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.

~McQ

Restaurant And Mosque Uneasy Neighbors

While some may want to make this a story about “Islam”, it’s not really. It is a pretty standard story in which some who disagree with what others choose to do, although perfectly legal, attempt to pressure the law to have their belief imposed on others use of their property.

The story:

On one side of the disagreement is a Muslim mosque, and some of its worshippers are unhappy about plans for a new restaurant that will serve alcohol.

On the opposing end of the clash is a business owner who says he’s invested $1 million to upgrade a blighted building and has tried to accommodate Muslim worshippers during spiritual holidays.

The two entities – The Hill restaurant and the Anoor mosque – are a mere 191 feet apart.

According to the local law they should be at least 300 feet apart for the establishment to get a beer and wine license. As it turns out, front door to front door they’re probably pretty close to that distance. But the distance is arbitrary anyway. And really, it’s not about the distance, it is about the desire to control behavior. The distance just gives cause to that desire.

The possibility that the restaurant could serve as a local drinking hangout bothers mosque attendees like board member Nadeem Sidiqqi.

Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, but Sidiqqi said the protest isn’t an attack on drinking in general, just a call for buffer zones for religious establishments.

“People may say ‘we may not want to go to this mosque’ if it’s not a good environment,” Sidiqqi said. “You want an area where you can bring your kids or your family.”

Sure are a whole lot of assumptions going on in those three paragraphs, aren’t there? And you’d like to believe this isn’t really about “drinking in general”, but obviously it is. Otherwise, there’d be no call for a buffer zone, would there?

As you’ll see in the story, as you read it, the mosque is in a walled in court yard, and the restaurant has taken a building which was a neighborhood eyesore and rehabilitated it. The restaurant owner seems willing to accommodate the mosque during its holidays.

But the petition signing continues. Because, you see, those on the one side want those on the other side to do what they believe is the right thing, even though there’s nothing wrong with what the other guys want to do nor is there any evidence that what they want to do will have an effect on the others.

As it turns out, it probably won’t matter anyway. Apparently if the state of Tennessee grants the restaurant a liquor license, the 300 foot requirement is waived (again showing you how arbitrary and meaningless the number is).

Of course, my guess is, that won’t sit well with the other bunch, and, unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the attempts to shut the restaurant down.

Oh, the location? Knoxville, TN – trust me the fact it is a mosque and not a church is only a matter of random circumstance. But it does point out that as much the cultural landscape is changes, it really remains pretty much the same.

~McQ

GM – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like …

Bankruptcy.  Something many of us advised before the government threw 20+ billion of our dollars down the proverbial rat hole:

A week into his new job as chief executive of General Motors, Fritz Henderson said on Sunday he was confident in the future of the company but a structured bankruptcy remains a possibility.

Mr. Henderson has just 55 days remaining to meet President Obama’s timetable to come up with a new plan to save the struggling car giant. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said that the company was working to avoid bankruptcy, but that if it failed to meet its goals for cutting costs and shrinking the company, it “may very well be the best alternative.”

“If it can’t be done outside of a bankruptcy process, it will be done within it,” he said.

Ah, how nice. And what, we had to fire the CEO, put a new board together and essenitally give control to the government to come to this conclusion?

Even Timothy Geithner, the tax-cheat of a Treasury Secretary, is now saying the “B” word is a possibility:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner stressed Sunday that G.M. “is going to be a part of this country’s future,” but said that a managed bankruptcy was among the options for the company.

“These guys have made some progress in putting together a restructuring plan, but they’re not there yet,” Mr. Geithner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We wanted to give them the time to try to get it right. But, again, our objective is to allow — is to help these companies emerge stronger in the future so they can survive without government assistance.”

Of course had they left this all alone, we’d be 20 billion to the plus side and they’d already be in the middle of the bankruptcy process and well on their way to emerging as a stronger auto company.

Irony of ironies, I just picked up my new company car – a Chevy Malibu. It is a very nice car and has a lot of standard bells and whistles that I wouldn’t expect for a car of its price range. Frankly it’s not the engineering or the quality, as I see it – its legacy costs. And bankruptcy is the only way those are going to be actually approached and dealt with properly.

And you can’t lay this all off on the Obama admistration either – the Bush bunch was the first to throw money at the problem. However you can blame the Obama administration for continuing to do the same thing.

Time to back off, let the legal process that has worked for literally thousands of companies do its thing and see what comes out the other end. My guess is a stronger and more competitive GM.

~McQ

Obama Visits Troops In Iraq

I was wondering if this would happen:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, met Obama shortly after Air Force One landed in Baghdad about 4:42 p.m. local time (9:42 a.m. ET).

Obama chose to visit Iraq rather than Afghanistan because of its proximity to Turkey, which Obama just visited, said Robert Gibbs, the president’s spokesman.

In addition, Obama wanted to discuss Iraq’s political situation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Gibbs said.

Mostly, however, the stop is about Obama visiting troops, he said.

Good – a tip of the cap. This is important and I’m glad to see President Obama made time to see the troops. We can get all cynical about a lot of things, but I, for one, appreciate the effort and the gesture.

~McQ

About Those Previously Condemned Wiretaps

No surprise to some, but a complete surprise to others I’m sure:

The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

Disclosure of information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”

The promise of transparency has been the most consistent casualty of the Obama administration. No bills thus far have been posted on the web 5 days prior to signing. The Treasury Department refuses to disclose how TARP money has been spent. And now this – something, as the EFF points out, which was unceasingly criticized by candidate Obama when the Bush administration was in power.

Now, that said, perhaps what the Obama Justice Department has discovered is argument the Bush administration was making at the time were valid. The case in question is an extension of the September case:

Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.

The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.

It would appear the Obama Justice Department has examined the case and the evidence and, amazingly, has come to the conclusion that what the Bush administration claimed – that the taps were aimed only at al Qaeda and/or affiliated organizations – was correct, and is now defending that. They’ve also concluded that disclosure of the information involved in the case would be harmful to national security.

What I now wonder is if “secrecy” suddenly is ok? And since it is the Obama administration – the increasingly opaque Obama administration – saying the taps were used only on bad guys, are they now ok? And will that be enough to mollify those on the left who were so outraged when the Bush administration was accused of doing all of this?

And finally, I wonder if the NYT will devote the time and space to this defense of what it termed “illegal wiretapping” in the past as it did when it surfaced during the Bush administration?

~McQ