Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Charles Freeman And The Obama Administration – What Is Going On? (UPDATE)

What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control?  Who, exactly, is in charge there?

Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster.  But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”.  Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House.  That means Freeman has never been formally vetted.  Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?

More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job?   A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush,  to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored.    Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.

But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation.  This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card.  After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.

Then there is the Congressional side of the question.  Jennifer Rubin asks:

Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.

And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”

Given what we know, I’d say no.  However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.  

This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.

~McQ

Honduras And The Effects Of Raising The Minimum Wage

Honduras is going through a rather large spike in kidnappings. From 5 in 2005 to 121 in 2008. In an attempt to understand this rise in kidnappings, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State, was sure that economic conditions had most likely driven the spike. But what specifically was likely to have caused it? Apparently an increase in the minimum wage:

In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.

Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.

Of course everytime increases are argued against here, those in favor of them tend to wave off the point that raising the wage will cause unemployment among those who can least afford it. Obviously I’m not contending that if we do so here, those laid off will take up kidnapping, but to pretend such rises in minimum wage don’t have any detrimental effect is simply not true – and Honduras provides the case study.

~McQ

Duh!

Warren Buffet on the economy and the effort of the government to “stimulate” it:

While praising efforts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others to stimulate the economy, he said the economy “can’t turn around on a dime” and that their efforts could trigger higher inflation once demand rebounds.

“We are certainly doing things that could lead to a lot of inflation,” he said. “In economics there is no free lunch.”

Funny how, when someone like Warren Buffet – who has been a supporter of Obama – says things like ‘trigger inflation’ and ‘no free lunch’, people who were previously playing the denial game (massive spending is necessary and good) suddenly figure there may be a problem.  Meanwhile the laws of economics have continued to function despite the denial.

For the most part the press has ignored Buffet’s words and they’ve been downplayed by the administration.  But perhaps if those who’ve been in denial are willing to consider Buffet’s warnings, they’ll be open to listening to others.  Such as warnings about the double talk that’s been coming out of the Obama administration the past few weeks.  For instance:

Confidence (too little) and uncertainty (too much) define this crisis. Obama’s double talk reduces the first and raises the second. He says he’s focused on reviving the economy, but he’s also using the crisis to advance an ambitious long-term agenda. The two sometimes collide. The $787 billion “stimulus” is weaker than necessary, because almost $200 billion for extended projects (high-speed rail, computerized medical records) take effect after 2010. When Congress debates Obama’s sweeping health care and energy proposals, industries, regions and governmental philosophies will clash. Will this improve confidence? Reduce uncertainty?

A prudent president would have made a “tough choice” — concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda.

Instead he’s decided he’s not going to let a “good crisis” go to waste and pursue his very expensive agenda which has nothing to do with the economic crisis (or alleviating it). All the while he preaches about crisis, catastrophe, sacrifice, tightening belts and doing with less even as he plans to expand government beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

It is an amazing performance.

~McQ

Cap-And-Trade – The Impact And The Politics

It is time to get real about what the promised cap-and-trade tax means to the average American.

Politicians love cap and trade because they can claim to be taxing “polluters,” not workers. Hardly. Once the government creates a scarce new commodity — in this case the right to emit carbon — and then mandates that businesses buy it, the costs would inevitably be passed on to all consumers in the form of higher prices. Stating the obvious, Peter Orszag — now Mr. Obama’s budget director — told Congress last year that “Those price increases are essential to the success of a cap-and-trade program.”

Essentially Congress will be creating a new commodity literally out of thin air. It will only create a certain amount of that commodity and so create instant scarcity. As we all know, scarcity drives up prices. The next year, the plan is to remove a portion of the created commodity from the market creating even more scarcity and driving prices for the commodity even higher.

Imagine steel as the commodity. Imagine steel prices going through the roof. Do you suppose they might effect the price of, say, automobiles? Metal buildings? The price of building a bridge or sky scraper?

So who, in the final analysis, is going to end up paying for this increase in steel prices? Why the final consumer, of course. Naturally, with steel, in some cases you can choose to consume (buy a new car, rent an office or approve the bridge) or not consume. However, with the CO2 tax on all industry, to include manufacturing, service, transportation and energy, you have little choice in the matter of consumption. You will be picking up the tab for this.

That brings us full circle to the promised tax cut for 95% of America and my promise that what government gives with one hand it takes with another, making the tax cut illusory at best:

Hit hardest would be the “95% of working families” Mr. Obama keeps mentioning, usually omitting that his no-new-taxes pledge comes with the caveat “unless you use energy.” Putting a price on carbon is regressive by definition because poor and middle-income households spend more of their paychecks on things like gas to drive to work, groceries or home heating.

After all the caterwalling the left does about “progressive taxation” they are about to implement the most regressive tax I can imagine. And as I’ve pointed out, the tax is pervasive, touching just about all aspects of life. Food prices will rise. Energy prices will go through the roof.

The Congressional Budget Office — Mr. Orszag’s former roost — estimates that the price hikes from a 15% cut in emissions would cost the average household in the bottom-income quintile about 3.3% of its after-tax income every year. That’s about $680, not including the costs of reduced employment and output. The three middle quintiles would see their paychecks cut between $880 and $1,500, or 2.9% to 2.7% of income. The rich would pay 1.7%. Cap and trade is the ideal policy for every Beltway analyst who thinks the tax code is too progressive (all five of them).

Of course there is talk of subsidizing those at the lower end of the economic ladder so the impact of rising prices is lessened. Naturally that also negates the impact of the cap-and-trade system. In the end, your tax dollars subsidze the system while increased prices are passed along by so-called polluters. As the price of permits rise over the years, permit holders pay the increasing cost, pass it along and you again subsidize it. The rich can afford it, the poor will be subsidized, so who will get squeezed? Why that middle class that Obama and Biden are so concerned with.

Economically, estimates are that we’re going to have a miserable year in ’09 and possibly ’10. But we may begin to see a recovery really start to take hold in ’11, just in time for the 2012 presidential election. The smart politicians in Washington plan to delay cap-and-trade implementation until 2012. The reason should be obvious. If cap-and-trade has the expected impact on the economy, we could very well see the recovery stall and head back into recession. But politically the timing would be perfect. The mirage of recovery would be just enough to keep the current administration in power for another 4 years, before the economy wrecker of cap-and-trade begins to do its work.

~McQ

Ending the “I Want Obama To Fail” Kerfuffle

Patterico does it by producing a 2006 poll:

poll-should-bush-succeed

The difference, of course, is instead of 51% of Democrats telling a polling company they wanted Bush to fail, an influential conservative came right out and said it about Obama.

The point for the left? You can quite pretending you’re witnessing something never seen before and climb on down from the throne of self-righteousness to your usual seat on the stool of hypocrisy (dissent no longer being the “highest form of patriotism).

~McQ

Podcast for 08 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the indications the provide into the President’s apparent intellectual incuriosity.

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.

Speaking Truth To Cluelessness

Heh … I love it when this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough.

The saccharine conventions of showbusiness were thrown out of the window last week, when the Hollywood actress Maria Conchita Alonso was collared by paparazzi and asked if she was pleased about her former co-star Sean Penn’s recent Oscar victory.

“He’s an amazing actor. I can’t take that away from him,” she said of Penn, who worked with her on the 1988 cop film Colors. “It’s just that he has no clue at all what’s going on in Venezuela. He’s been praising Hugo Chavez, who is a dictator and a killer. He should shut up about what he doesn’t know.” Alonso, who was raised in Venezuela, was apparently upset by a glowing article that Penn had written for The Nation magazine about her homeland’s charismatic but increasingly dictatorial left-wing President.

Of course Penn’s not the only one from Hollywood in the thrall of Chavez:

Other Hollywood liberals face public criticism, most notably Oliver Stone, currently filming an adulatory authorised biopic of Mr Chavez. Stone could be joined in the pillory by Danny Glover, who was given $18m by Mr Chavez in 2006 to make a left-leaning film about Haiti’s 19th-century leader, Toussaint Louverture. Harry Belafonte sparked outrage two years ago when he appeared on a platform with Mr Chavez to call George Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world”.

The term “useful idiots” describes them well.

~McQ

Project Hero: SFC Frederick Rowell, Silver Star

valor1smFor some, bravery and courage is rooted so deep, the heroic becomes almost common place. Sergeant First Class Frederick Rowell exemplifies this fine character trait. SFC Rowell, a US Army infantryman, was deployed to Iraq for two tours, both of which took place during some of the most pivotal moments of that ongoing campaign, and both times he distinguished himself with valor and heroism.

SGT Rowell was not originally scheduled to deploy to Iraq with a combat unit. In fact, he was an instructor at Ft. Polk. Rowell had joined the army at age 17, and had served 6 years stateside duty until then. But when a call came down for volunteers to join an infantry unit deploying to Iraq, without consulting anyone he stepped forward. 48 hours later he had said good bye to his wife and family and was on an airplane bound for Kuwait.

In the thunder run that was the invasion of Iraq, then-Sergeant Rowell was involved in the critical fight for the Baghdad International Airport. April 4, 2003 was the first great test of this young non-commissioned officer’s dedication to his fellow soldiers. Remember, he’s just joined them and hasn’t really trained with them extensively to this point. But as you’ll see he rose to the occasion.

After dismounting his Bradley fighting vehicle, Rowell’s unit came under heavy automatic and rocket-propelled grenade fire. After assessing the severity of the fire, Rowell covered his comrades as they fell back to their Bradley. During this withdrawal phase, he noticed another fire team was pinned down far from cover and taking heavy fire. For those of you unfamiliar with the structure of an infantry platoon, two fire teams make up a squad of about 10 infantrymen. 4 squads make up a platoon. So a fire team is about 5 soldiers led by a sergeant.

Once his own fire team was in the relative safety of his Bradley fighting vehicle, Rowell did not hesitate to act to aid the pinned down fire team.

Charging across about 300 meters of open terrain under fire from Iraqi forces, Rowell arrived at the location of the isolated fire team to find it leaderless and with a severely wounded soldier. Rowell took charge and sprang into action. He gave the team direction, telling them where to concentrate their fire and deploying them to maximize it. After he had them laying down cover fire he began applying first aid to the wounded soldier. As the enemy attack became more focused and more intense, Rowell threw himself on top of the soldier, using his own body as a shield while another Bradley fighting vehicle attempted to close in on their beleaguered position.

“I had to lay on him. He was in shock, moving his legs around and the rounds were coming in everywhere. I was afraid he was going to get hit again. So, I laid on top of him. About this time I got shot in the plates, in my Interceptor Body Armor. I got shot there.”

As he was covering the injured soldier with his own body, Rowell took a direct hit from an AK-47 round in his back. The good news is, it was stopped by his body armor. But it was a round that would have almost certainly killed the soldier under Rowell who had been stripped of his protective vest in order to treat his wounds. With the evacuation vehicle blocked from coming any closer, Rowell hoisted the wounded soldier onto his back and ran some 100 meters to that vehicle in order to evacuate the severely wounded soldier. His action was credited with saving the soldier’s life. He then lead the withdrawal of the rest of the fire team to the safety of US lines.

4 years later, now Staff Sergeant Rowell was again deployed to Iraq, as a part of the Surge.

On September 11th of 2007, Rowell, now squad leader, was on a scouting mission to observe insurgent activity in a volatile part of Baghdad. The idea, of course, was to get soldiers into areas they’d never previously been in to begin to root out the terrorists and protect the population.

His squad was split into two observation posts in two buildings. They were there to observe activity on a road on which IEDs were frequently planted. As Rowell said, it was a ‘real bad’ part of Baghdad. He and his soldiers were located on the 2nd floor of an abandoned house when they observed some activity during the night.

An enemy scout was snooping around the house in which they were located. He tried to get into the door then backed off and disappeared before they could do anything. Rowell hoped they hadn’t been compromised, but in a few minutes 3 of the enemy rushed across the area near the house and up to it, then withdrew. What the soldiers didn’t know is the enemy had planted a 2L soda bottle loaded with homemade explosives and a pressure plate near the door. The terrorists then opened fire from three different directions. SSG Rowell contacted his platoon headquarters and reported that he was under fire and his position had been compromised. His platoon leader ordered them to withdraw to his position.

As enemy fire poured in on them, Rowell planned to move his squad to the other observation post. He planned his route and the order in which they’d move out of the building, and how they’d support each other as they moved. He lined the men of his squad up in the order they’d go and then gave them the order to go. Rowell was second in line.

But the first soldier down the stairs was severely injured by the IED the terrorists had planted earlier. As Rowell stepped out of the door, the blast blew Rowell off the second floor landing and knocked him unconscious. He lay there for 4 or 5 minutes before regaining consciousness as the battle raged around him. His squad had pulled back into the house.

Rowell regained his focus – despite being later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury – and looked around to assess the situation. He said “I saw a body out there and I saw it moving.” He rose to his feet, running to the aid of his comrade, Spc Jonathan Prusner. Prusner’s left leg had been blown off below the knee. Under heavy fire, Rowell pulled Prusner back into the building, treated him and defended him from the numerous attackers. In the meantime his platoon leader had requested the quick reaction force, a Stryker platoon, to move to the ambush location to rescue the squad.

On other thing I should add – SSG Rowell was completely deaf from the IED explosion at this time. He couldn’t hear a thing. And although his hearing would return at a later date, he was unable to communicate by radio at this time. So he had only one option left to him when it became necessary to direct the fire of the quick reaction force upon their arrival.

He ran back out into the fire storm and physically directed the reinforcements fire onto the enemy positions. He then helped evacuate Spc. Prusner into one of the Strykers. Finally on the way out of the kill-zone, Rowell manned the roof gun on the Stryker as they evacuated the injured to a combat hospital.

In these two events, Rowell’s heroism was undeniable. He is the epitome of a combat infantryman and non-commissioned officer. By ignoring his own safety and using his body as a shield to protect a wounded soldier in 2003, he was awarded the Silver Star. For coming to the aid of Spc. Prusner and displaying steadfast courage under harrowing fire in 2007, he earned the Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device for Valor.

Recently promoted to Sergeant First Class, Rowell’s reaction is precisely what you would expect – “I was only doing my job”, he says. He has become very good friends with the young man that he saved, but who lost his leg. That’s because they’re both recovering together at the Warrior Transition Center at Walter Reed Medical Center. The bond they formed in combat has helped them both in their recovery process. And SFC Rowell also credits the rock steady support he’s received from his wife and family. Said Rowell:

“My wife has been there to help me out. Been very supportive. All around I think the greatest Army wife out there ever.”

What is it SFC Rowell wants to do as soon as he’s recovered from his injuries? He says, “I want to get back to soldiers”.

And the soldiers who end up with SFC Rowell as their platoon sergeant will be among the most fortunate infantrymen in the Army. And that is why SFC Frederick Rowell, United States Army infantryman, and awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor device and Purple Heart during two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is someone you should know.

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Too Tired For Diplomacy or Foreign Affairs? Not Interested? Or Overwhelmed By The Job?

Or, perhaps, “all of the above”. From the UK Telegraph:

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been “overwhelmed” by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama’s inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.

And here we were led to believe Mr. Obama was this cool, multitasker under full control and able to handle everything the job entailed.

That’s what we were led to believe.

Some of us, however, said that of all the jobs on the planet this wasn’t the one for OJT.  This isn’t a job where one aspect of the duties can be ignored to concentrate on others.

Guess which group looks more prescient at the moment?

~McQ