Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

The Troubles In Pakistan

The Taliban, as expected, have managed to endear themselves to another benighted people:

Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.

As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.

The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”

This is pretty much the style of the Taliban, certainly nothing very different than what they did in Afghanistan.

However, there is a difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that difference is nuclear weapons. Now most seem to think that the Pakistani army is strong enough to prevent a deterioration of the situation to the point that the Taliban would gain control over the nukes. But that makes a lot of assumptions which may or may not be warranted. It is important to remember that the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its eventual triumph there is irrefutably linked to support from Pakistan’s government, namely the ISI. Now it may be a stretch to believe the ISI would help the Taliban gain control of Pakistan, but it may not be to much to believe the organization may have mixed feelings about the present operations against the Taliban.

The Taliban needs to be destroyed as an effective organization. Like a type of cancer, the Taliban attacks the very religious core of countries. But only Islamic countries. Its extremist brand of Islam appeals to a certain element of Islamic countries and it is that portion of the population in which the Taliban embeds itself and attempts to exploit.

The very fact that Pakistan is treating the Swat valley takeover by the Taliban as an emergency in which drastic action must be taken to defeat them is an encouraging sign. Previously Pakistan’s government and army were content to give such opposition lip-service and some rather poor attempts to oust them from other territories. Now that the Taliban has all but declared war on the Pakistani nation, we may finally see a real and concerted effort by Pakistan to rid the region of the Taliban. In the end, the overreaching by the Taliban may end up being the best thing that could have happened. If Pakistan is successful in taking the Taliban out, the war in Afghanistan become much more winnable. The remaining Taliban based along the border may not enjoy the same safe-haven they’ve enjoyed for years.

However, should Pakistan fail in its attempt to destroy the Taliban, we may end up with two nations in jeopardy instead of one, and since one has nuclear weapons, we may have no choice but to intervene should it get to that point.

~McQ

Rising Thugocracy?

First we have the “car czar” threatening investors with audits and vilification, and now we have a report that a union was inappropriately involved in matters in which it should not have been included:

Officials in the governor’s office say a politically powerful union may have had inappropriate influence over the Obama administration’s decision to withhold billions of dollars in federal stimulus money from California if the state does not reverse a scheduled wage cut for the labor group’s workers.

The officials say they are particularly troubled that the Service Employees International Union, which lobbied the federal government to step in, was included in a conference call in which state and federal officials reviewed the wage cut and the terms of the stimulus package.

The SEIU is of the opinion the state is “breaking the law” as it concerns the use of “stimulus” funds. The state sees it otherwise. But that doesn’t explain the inclusion of the union on the call. Said state officials:

During the conference call, state officials say, they were asked to defend the $74-million cut scheduled to take effect July 1. The cut lowers the state’s maximum contribution to home health workers’ pay from $12.10 per hour to $10.10.

The California officials on the call, who requested anonymity for fear of antagonizing the Obama administration, said they needed the savings to help balance the state budget.

Most know that California is a budgetary basket case, but they should also know that SEIU members are the one’s effected by the cut. The phrase which is most chilling in the last cite is that which indicates a fear of “antagonizing the Obama administration” among state workers.

Is that really the atmosphere that should exist between the states and the feds? And, given their inclusion in the call, isn’t it fair to claim that the SEIU has had “undue” influence with the administration?

So how is this different than the alleged inappropriate lobbyist influence the left liked to holler about during the Bush years?

~McQ

This Is “Rich”

I‘m still amazed that many people who put their support behind Obama in the presidential election, are suddenly discovering things about him they don’t like.

Really? Now they discover Obama is a class warrior? It comes as no surprise for those of us who took the time to assess where he came from and what (little) he’d done.

Suddenly, the rich are concerned that the guy they backed may not be what they hoped he was (notice that’s the correct context in which “hope” should be used when “hope and change” is spoken):

Some of Barack Obama’s richest supporters fear they have elected a “class warrior” to the White House, who will turn America’s freewheeling capitalism into a more regulated European system

Ya think? What was your first clue – his remarks about “spreading the wealth” to Joe the Plumber or the thousands of other things he said which might imply such a tendency?

And as an aside, America’s capitalism is about as “freewheeling” as a modern waterslide is “death defying”.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, a free enterprise think tank, said Democrats in Congress were unnerved by the president’s latest plan to raise $210 billion over 10 years from multinational corporations.

The money is needed to pay for a national debt that will double over the next five years; and triple over the next 10 years to $17.3 trillion. But the crackdown already faces fierce Democratic resistance.

“These big companies are based in New York Boston, Seattle and Silicon Valley, where Democrats dominate,” Mr Edwards said. “Obama’s tax plan is already cleaving him from his big corporate supporters,” he said.

The good news in this, of course, is that Congress has to pass the legislation that enables this, and per Edwards, they’re getting cold feet. The reason is also obvious – any “cleaving” of Obama from “big corporate sponsors” also means the rest of the Democrats suffer the same fate.

The level of taxation necessary to pay for the profligate spending now taking place will have to be massive as anyone with a 5th grade education understands. But the Dems also understand that any taxation that takes place must be other than income taxes because it is important to maintain the mirage that “95% of all Americans” are getting tax cuts. That leaves “the rich”, corporations and smoke and mirrors.

The rich have been identified ($250k or more), corporations are on the block with much higher taxation in the offing. So the investor class and the engine of the economy are under assault. The smoke and mirrors show? Wait until health care and cap and tax trade hit. 100% of Americans will be paying large sums for both.

But back to the point – the deeper we get into the Obama administration, the more we come to understand how gullible a good portion of the American public appears to be. There is a certain level of satisfaction with the buyer’s remorse being seen among many of his supporters as they see what their vote has actually bought. I sure hope they don’t shop for other important items as badly as they apparently shop for presidents.

~McQ

Another Saturday Bush-era Backpeddle

Another “horrible Bush-era rule“, uh, er, kept:

The Obama administration on Friday let stand a Bush-era regulation that limits protection of the polar bear from global warming, saying that a law protecting endangered species shouldn’t be used to take on the much broader issue of climate change.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that he will not rescind the Bush rule, although Congress gave him authority to do so. The bear was declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act a little over a year ago, because global warming is harming its habitat.

So why is this interesting (and important)?

The US Environmental Protection Agency designated polar bears an endangered species last year, because their habitats were disappearing as ice-caps melted.

Environmentalists seized on the ruling, arguing that endangered species were entitled to heightened protection under US law and that the government was therefore obliged to crack down on the carbon emissions causing global warming.

The Endangered Species Act bars federal agencies from “taking actions that are likely to jeopardise the species or adversely modify its critical habitat”, and lays down civil and criminal penalties for people that kill or injure designated animals.

But?

But the Bush administration passed a rule exempting “activities outside the bear’s range, such as emission of greenhouse gases” from prohibition.

Which, apparently, the Obama administration has found to be the proper rule:

It is this rule that the Obama administration has decided to let stand.

Because, you see:

“The Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions,” Mr Salazar said.

“Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts.”

While I’m not so sure about Sec. Salazar’s last point, I agree whole-heartedly with his first.

The usual suspects, of course, are livid – but then they spend most of their life livid.

~McQ

Military Commissions Again In Saturday News

Last Saturday, May 2nd, we were reading about the possibility that the Obama administration might revive the military commissions that candidate Obama had so reviled.

Today, Saturday May 9th, we again see more on the subject. Could the administration be any more obvious in their attempts to “hide” this story?

The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.

The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

So apparently it really wasn’t the commissions themselves, but how they were run. Of course they were run by rules that Congress had put in place. Yeah, you can figure out the rest.

And the only change I can see is the elimination of some evidence, tightning of the rules on other evidence and the ability to choose their attorney (to a point).

Yet, in the big scheme of things, it ensures that secret testimony, exposure of which so concerned the previous administration, will remain secret. Yes, that’s a good thing.guantanamo-bay-5a

But, as the Obama administration begins to reinvent the wheel (even though it will claim that these military commissions aren’t the same as the previous military commissions – a bit like saying a Ford isn’t a Chevy. They’re still both cars) I keep remembering a very sure candidate proclaiming:

“By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.”

The Obama administration is seeking a 90 day extension on the 120 day extension previously imposed on military commissions. They would be moved to American soil (given the ruling by SCOTUS that doesn’t mean as much as it would have previously). But by all appearances, they will be pretty much the very same thing that candidate Obama said was unacceptable and an “enormous failure”. In the end, it appears, it has just been justice delayed (another reason he was against them).

Of course the real critics of such commissions (those whose opposition wasn’t strictly political in nature) are not happy:

“This is an extraordinary development, and it’s going to tarnish the image of American justice again,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International.

Yeah, well he won you know Tom, and with that, he reserves the right to throw issues under the bus if necssary, especially when it becomes clear that he had no idea about the subject he was condemning. And as an aside – I suspect that the slight differences in the commissions listed above will be enough for the fevered left to roll over and accept these military commissions as “OK”.

~McQ

About Your Illegal Yard Sale

One of the things I try to consistently feature here at QandO is the depth of intrusion of the federal government into our daily lives. Talk about “mission creep”. There’s little that we do any more that doesn’t seem to involve the government looking over our shoulder and I, frankly, don’t welcome that sort of monitoring or intrusion.

The latest? The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a 28 page pamphlet which outlines the result of a recent law (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) and its impact.

So if you’re planning on selling your kids old books (or anything else that a kid under 12 might use) and they haven’t been “tested” first, you’re liable to a $100,000 fine. Now I know you’re reading this and saying, “no way. Our government would be that intrusive”.

I guess the best way to counter that is with the CPSC’s own words:

This handbook will help sellers of used products identify types of potentially hazardous products that could harm children or others. CPSC’s laws and regulations apply to anyone who sells or distributes consumer products. This includes thrift stores, consignment stores, charities, and individuals holding yard sales and flea markets.

The next line of defense for those who support this level of intrusion, once that level of intrusion has been exposed in the government’s own words, is “well, how would they enforce it”?

It’s not a bad argument (the answer is selectively), but it misses the real point.

Obviously, it’s unlikely the CPSA goons are going to bust up your yard sale. But putting out a detailed booklet that reserves the right to do so is hardly encouraging about where the implementation of this legislation is heading.

It is about precedent. And, it’s about acceptance. When both are established, it doesn’t require much in the way of the imagination to realize that like any entity which seeks to increase its power, government will soon attempt to stretch the envelope just a little further (further precedent/acceptance).

Wash, rinse, repeat.

~McQ

No Credibility

Not that I’ve ever believed Nancy Pelosi ever had any to begin with, but the “EIT Briefing” scandal puts the final nail in the coffin of her credibility.

Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

In a 10-page memo outlining an almost seven-year history of classified briefings, intelligence officials said that Pelosi and then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) were the first two members of Congress ever briefed on the interrogation tactics. Then the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and Goss were briefed Sept. 4, 2002, one week before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now don’t forget this is the Leon Panetta led CIA making these claims, not a bunch of “Bushbots”. So when Pelosi recently claimed that she had “never, repeat never” been briefed on the techniques used, it just doesn’t square with the record.

More specifically:

The memo, issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to Capitol Hill, notes the Pelosi-Goss briefing covered “EITs including the use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah.” EIT is an acronym for enhanced interrogation technique. Zubaydah was one of the earliest valuable al-Qaeda members captured and the first to have the controversial tactic known as water boarding used against him.

Pelosi, of course, tip-toes through the controversy with statements like this:

“As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman.

Pelosi’s statement did not address whether she was informed that other harsh techniques were already in use during the Zubaydah interrogations.

Pelosi can issue all of the “carefully worded” statements she chooses too, but it seems pretty clear that she not only knew about EIT and their use since 2002, but said little and certainly did nothing to protest or stop their use. And because of the implied sanction that gives those techniques, she has no moral high-ground from which to condemn anyone.

~McQ

$3.4 Trillion In Spending, $17 Billion In “Savings”

I am enjoying the spin on this – a $3.4 trillion dollar budget offset by $17 billion in “savings”. And what does the administration want you concentrating on? That pittance of a savings.

Now I welcome any program eliminations and reductions, don’t get me wrong, but my goodness, $17 billion in relation to the spending that’s being done with the budget and outside the budget for “stimulus” and bailouts makes these “savings” simply laughable. They’re diversionary bait. They’re larger than the 100 million Obama ordered previously only because of the derision with which that cut was met. In the context of total spending, this ‘savings’ is comparable.

Even liberals aren’t fooled for the most part. Isabel Sawhill, who was a senior official in the Clinton budget office and now with the Brookings Institute finds little to be excited about:

“This is a good government exercise without much prospect of putting a significant dent in spending.”

Translation: “This is all for show. It demonstrates no committment to smaller government or less spending. Its purpose is to dampen criticism of the huge spending increases”.

As I understand it, half the cuts come from Defense spending and the other half from discretionary spending. Again the politics of these cuts is smart if not transparent. If you’re going to cut defense, something the right is passionate about, you have to even that out by eliminating something the left likes. Again, I’m not necessarily against cuts to defense (if they’re smart and appropriate then fine) but you have to again admire the way this is being done – defense cuts and cutting “Even Start”, a program created in the late 1980s to promote literacy for young children and their parents.

Of course Even Start was probably a boondoggle from the start, but what does it do for the administration – give them political cover and somewhat immunize them from criticism.

Smart politics, to a point, but absolutely irrelevant except as a show piece and certainly pitifully insignificant as a spending cut.

~McQ

Yes Virginia, There Really Is A Pogue

I‘ll be traveling most of the day, but I have to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with “Pogue Mahone” from our comment section.

We had a fantastic time. Great discussion and enough humor that my ribs hurt when I got back to my room.

More on it later (with a pic as soon as the photographer in question sends it to me), but in the meantime, thanks Pogue!

~McQ

Knee-capping Recovery

Dale makes an incredibly important point about investment below – investors aren’t going to commit their money to industries which are being manipulated by government for political goals and payoffs.

And, the Wall Street Journal makes a similar argument about corporate taxation and the Obama administration’s apparent plan to compound the problem he hopes to “deincentivize” by driving both investors and US companies off shore..

The energy picture is no rosier. Because there is no comprehensive and clear-cut, long-term energy plan from government, and because it is clear to many that the present administration’s plans for energy involve achieving political goals dictated by government vs. a straight market based plan which would see decentralized signals and decisions determine the energy future, investors are sitting on the sidelines. As Sen. Murkowski said, too many in national government today see the energy sector, and especially the oil and gas industry, as an “ATM to pay for other programs”.

When government is so deeply involved in picking winners and losers, investors are not going to invest. Especially given the example of the car and financial industries.

You can guess what that means in terms of economic recovery, not to mention economic growth. Investment is the engine of economic growth. Without it, nothing sustainable happens. Government can make all the make-work jobs in the world, but until investors commit to the economy, we only mark time economically speaking. If anything government should create a climate that provides incentives for private investors – low taxes, favorable investment rules, etc. to encourage investors to risk their money here in the US.

Instead, we have at least three critical areas where government intrusion and manipulation is having exactly the opposite effect.

~McQ