Free Markets, Free People

North Korea

North Korean threats continue to escalate

Apparently Marshall Poppin Fresh is still mouthing off about war. Now his state run media has issued a warning to “foreigners” in South Korea:

North Korea issued its latest dispatch of ominous rhetoric on Tuesday, telling foreigners in South Korea they should take steps to secure shelter or evacuation to protect themselves.

The unnerving message, announced by state-run media, follows a warning from the North last week to diplomats in

its capital city, Pyongyang, that if war were to break out, it would not be able to guarantee their safety.

North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, but many analysts have cautioned that much of what it is saying is bluster.

It appears what we’re likely to see is some missile tests in lieu of “war”. Why? Well the WSJ says:

While a missile launch would be seen as a major provocation, South Korean and U.S. officials have repeatedly said there are no signs that North Korea is preparing for any kind of attack. Instead, a missile test and possibly a new nuclear test by the North are seen as efforts to keep tensions high, hone the isolated state’s weapons technology and send an internal message of military strength.

Trust me, we have the means to know and we certainly know what “war prep” would look like. Massive mobilization

and extensive troop movements would be easily spotted. Apparently none of that is happening.

In fact, we may find war to be less of a threat the more belicose they are, if you want to believe the experts and the NORK record:

Experts and officials say that while the current period of harsh language and provocative behavior still carries a risk of accidentally spilling into military confrontation, North Korea’s record shows it poses more of a threat when it is not making warlike statements.

“I worry more about North Korea when they are not rattling the saber,” said Scott Snyder, an expert on North and South Korea at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank.

Acts of aggression from North Korea, experts note, are almost always surprise attacks designed to cower South Korean administrations that have taken a tough line with the North or that aren’t providing sufficient aid.

Note the last phrase. In fact, all of this may be North Korea simply establishing a bargaining position.

We’ll see.

~McQ

Sure would hate to be a rocket scientist in NoKo right now

My guess is the population of rocket scientists (at least North Korean’s version of them) may be a bit smaller today.

For the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, his government’s failure to put a satellite into orbit on Friday was a $1 billion humiliation.

[…]

The rocket reached only about 94 miles in altitude, far less than 310 miles required to place a satellite into orbit and, as North Korean officials liked to say, present “a gift” to the closest the North Koreans had to a heavenly God: Kim Il-sung.

[…]

“It is hard to imagine a greater humiliation,” a North Korea expert, Marcus Noland, said on his blog at the Web site of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“The North Koreans have managed in a single stroke to not only defy the U.N. Security Council, the United States and even their patron China, but also demonstrate ineptitude,” Mr. Noland said. “Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment.”

Indeed.

And I don’t expect their ability to successfully launch a satellite to be enhanced by those who replace them.

There’s a very basic reason for that – even in such hard science areas as rocketry, their rise is based more in loyalty than ability.  Additionally, with little to no access to the outside world (except perhaps Iran), they must discover, through trial and error, many of the things more advanced countries learned decades ago.

And, of course when results like what happened yesterday yield “rewards” like death or the gulag, the rush to fill those vacancies and attempt the next launch are probably not among the highest priorities of whatever NoKo would consider its “brightest and best” in the field.

North Korea is a tragic joke.  Each time we’re led to believe they’ve developed something that threatens us all and they usually manage instead to embarrass themselves and to leave everyone questioning the hyperbole associated with the build up to their latest failed stunt.  They remind me more of a reckless kid with a chemistry set than a serious international threat. 

They are certainly a regional threat.  Any country with a million man army has to be taken seriously, at least conventionally.  But I think we can relax for the time being concerning ICBMs and nukes.  All they’re capable of right now is producing a rather expensive fireworks show.

As Zero Hedge said, “North Korea is redefining the term “minuteman”.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

The Kim is dead, long live the Kim … or not

Kim Jong Il, dictatorial ruler of the hermit kingdom of North Korea, has assumed room temperature.  A tearful announcer on the NK news service announced it last night.   The 69 year old ruler will be replaced by his 3rd son, Kim Jong un – or at least that’s the announced plan.

There is speculation as to whether or not that will be the final outcome.  Kim Jong un will only be the third leader (all from the same family) that NK has had in its relatively brief history.   General Thurman, the US commander of troops in South Korea summed the situation up pretty well in his confirmation hearing in June where he warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that  the older Kim’s death could increase the military threat on the peninsula, since "Kim Jong-un’s youth and inexperience increase the likelihood of miscalculation, as does the imperative for him to establish credibility with the military hardliners he needs to support succession. These factors make him less predictable in the near-term."

As if to emphasize that point, we have this:

North Korea test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast on Monday, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

The agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying the missile launch was unrelated to the announcement that Kim had died Saturday of a heart attack.

Naturally, anyone who has observed North Korea knows that nothing like that is “unrelated”.  Everything is tightly controlled and done for a purpose.  And the missile firing is not an “unrelated” incident.

This will be a situation to watch closely.  The military is a very powerful faction in NK.  And you have to figure there are those within its upper hierarchy that would like to see a change in leadership, most likely to an even harder line that now.  Dangerous times on the Korean peninsula as this leadership position plays out. 

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Hamas calls Greek stop of US blockade runner “inhumane”– Israel on “Specially Designated Country” list for first time

In the world of overwrought spin and propaganda we find a premiere example of the genre from Hamas:

The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Friday denounced Greece after its coastguard intercepted a US vessel which tried to sail to Gaza to break Israel blockade of the coastal strip.

In a statement issued by its political leadership in Damascus, the militant group described the action as "inhumane" and said Greece had played into Israeli hands.

"This is inhumane action, is contrary to international regulations and norms," said the statement by Hamas, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

"Barring this aid from reaching the Gaza Strip is done as a result of pressure imposed by the Zionist occupiers," referring to Israel.

Of course the US ship, the “Audacity of Hope” has no aid.  It is sailing with nothing but letters of support.  Secondly, even if it was, there’s a very well-established route to deliver aid to Gaza.   The blockade runners simply want to further demonize the Israelis by attempting to provoke an incident like that which happened the last time this was tried.

Finally:

The Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza "is unjust… and a mark of disgrace on the forehead of humanity," [Hamas] said.

Translation: “The blockade prevents us from smuggling in more weapons than we have now. “

Of course with the overthrow of Mubarak, the Egyptian portion of the border is quite porous now so even that objection is largely invalid.

Nope – just another example of a long line of examples of Hamas calling the right of a nation to defend itself “inhumane”, mostly because it doesn’t recognize that nation’s right to exist.  Given all the other ways to get aid to Gaza – real aid – it is clear this has nothing to do with any of that.

It is simply another in a long line of attempts to provoke that nation into acts of self-defense so it can condemn it further.   It is the equivalent of firing rockets into Israel and then condemning Israel when it reacts.

And for some reason, much of the rest of the world takes its condemnations seriously.

Meanwhile, CNS news reports that for the first time, Israel has landed on the “Special Designated Country” list.  What does that mean?

[T]he Obama administration is currently listing Israel among 36 “specially designated countries” it believes “have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members.”

Also on the list are countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

This is the first time Israel has shown up as an SDC. 

Of course, no one seems to know how that happened, but ICE is the agency tasked to carry out the enforcement of what SDC means:

Even though the administration includes Israel among “specially designated countries” that it believes "have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members,” ICE Spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told CNSNews.com that the U.S. also considers Israel, as well as some other countries on the “specially designated countries” list, as partners in the struggle against terrorism.

“The U.S. does not and never has considered Israel to have links to terrorism, but rather they are a partner in our efforts to combat global terrorism,” Christensen said in a written statement. “Countries may have been included on the list because of the backgrounds of arrestees, not because of the country’s government itself.”

“The United States maintains close intelligence-sharing relationships with many of these countries in order to address security issues within their own borders and in our mutual pursuit of safety and security around the globe,” said Christensen.

ICE declined to say who put Israel on the list or when Israel was put there. However, in her written statement, ICE spokeswoman Christensen said the “specially designated country” list had been created "at least" seven years ago–which would have been during the presidency of George W. Bush–and that ICE was not responsible for creating it.

Yes, friends, it’s Bush’s fault.  Bottom line though, given how SDC is defined, it is hardly the appropriate list for Israel to be on.

Oh, and who didn’t make the list this time but was on the last one?

North Korea.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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Hope and change on the rocks?

And no, that’s not a new bar drink.  It seems to be the unstated conclusion of a NY Times poll that measures the mood of the American people.

Granted, they’ll poll anything these days, and certainly all polls should be viewed cautiously, but they are an interesting peek into the thoughts of the American people.  This particular poll and the write up indicate that perhaps a Carteresqe malaise is settling in as the citizenry appears to be losing hope about economic (and other) changes for the better.  There are also some interesting comments in the story to discuss.  But first some of the poll results.  The lead:

Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The significance here?  Well, first it is a NYT/CBS poll saying it.  Secondly it is an indication that economic fatigue may be setting in which might translate, at some point, into major political opposition to the man in charge.  It is inevitable.  That’s how it has worked in the past and certainly there’s no reason to suppose it won’t work the same way now. Whether it is enough to put a Republican in the White House is still very debatable, mostly because of the crop of candidates the GOP currently sports. However,  despite all the hope and change rhetoric this president spouted and promised, very little in the guise of either has been evident in his first two years in office.   In fact, as some on the left have said, he turned into just another president – shorthand for “he’s not what I voted for”. 

That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to abandon their man, but it does mean their enthusiasm about him is probably far below what it was in 2008.  That usually turns into a “GOTV” problem in an election year.

Here’s one of the more interesting paragraphs in the piece:

And slightly more Americans approve than disapprove of a proposal by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to change Medicare from a program that pays doctors and hospitals directly for treating older people to one in which the government helps such patients pay for private plans, though that support derived more from Republicans and independents. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that found 65 percent opposed Mr. Ryan’s plan, suggesting results can vary based on how the question is asked.

Two points – of course it matters “how the question is asked”, which is a general comment on all polls.  Most are pretty careful about how they do that – although some either purposely or inadvertently ask questions in a leading or biased way.  I’m not saying that’s what happened in the WP/ABC poll, but it is certainly a reason to drill down into the details of a poll that seems to be (or should be) an outlier.

The second thing of interest is this statement about support for the Ryan Medicare plan: “ though that support derived more from Republicans and independents.”  Or said another way the poll split along party lines with that all important independents apparently siding slightly with Ryan.

The poll goes into some fairly disturbing numbers for Obama supporters.

Mr. Obama’s job approval remains below a majority, with 46 percent saying they approve of his performance in office, while 45 percent do not. And support for his handling of the military campaign in Libya has fallen since last month: 39 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. In a CBS poll in March, 50 percent approved and 29 percent disapproved.

I’d suggest that they reflect a growing frustration with what the country perceives – rightly or wrongly – as an all talk, no action administration. 

For example, on the domestic front, Obama recently addressed gas prices by doing what?  Saying he’ll appoint a commission to look into them.  While he may be able to do little to influence gas pricing, appointing commissions has become recognized as a political method for avoiding any direct action on a subject.  That leads to frustration like that which has driven down the number of those in this poll who think the economy is getting better by 13 points in one month:

Disapproval of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy has never been broader — at 57 percent of Americans — a warning sign as he begins to set his sights on re-election in 2012. And a similar percentage disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling the federal budget deficit, though more disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are.

Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign against the incumbent George HW Bush stayed focused on the real interest of the American people with his internal slogan– “it’s the economy, stupid”.  Ronald Reagan had his famous question for the American people when running against the incumbent Jimmy Carter – “are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?”  Both illustrate the power of the economy in deciding presidential outcomes – especially against an incumbent.

The poll also points out that Republicans in Congress don’t particularly come off well.  But that’s a mixed bag.  While the poll seems to concentrate on the Republican held portion of Congress – the House – you can’t help feel that any overall negative rating would include perceptions of the Democratically held Senate as well.  The approval rating for Congress is at 17% in this poll, slightly higher than the single digit numbers 111th and all Democratic Congress racked up.

And, as usual in almost all polls, the “desires” of the American people, when asked about what they want in terms of government size, benefits, etc. are, as the NYT says, both “conflicting and sometimes contradictory views.”

For instance:

Twice as many respondents said they would prefer cuts in spending on federal programs that benefit people like them as said they would favor a rise in taxes to pay for such programs.

But:

Yet more than 6 in 10 of those surveyed said they believed Medicare was worth the costs. And when asked specifically about Medicare, respondents said they would rather see higher taxes than see a reduction in its available medical services if they had to choose between the two.

And:

Given the choice of cutting military, Social Security or Medicare spending as a way to reduce the overall budget, 45 percent chose military cuts, compared with those to Social Security (17 percent) or Medicare (21 percent.)

That’s one of those “how the question is asked” or in this case, the choices given. What if they’d said just Social Security or Medicare?  Or Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?

But the results, as indicated, are all over the place (oh, and apparently the tax the rich mantra has been successfully sold by the left as 70% in this poll support doing that – but don’t raise their taxes.)

My personal favorite indicator is the “direction of the country” question.  A whopping 70% say it is headed in the wrong direction.  That’s huge.  But, it doesn’t mean the frustration is all pointed at Democrats or Obama.  Congressional Republicans come in for their fair share as well.

All of the angst, anger and frustration though is focused in one area:

Frustration with the pace of economic growth has grown since, with 28 percent of respondents in a New York Times/CBS poll in late October saying the economy was getting worse, and 39 percent saying so in the latest poll.

Those are not good numbers for an incumbent president.  Right now the only silver lining in the otherwise dour outlook for the Obama reelection bid in 2012 is the dearth of exciting challengers on the Republican side.   There’s just no passion evident for those who are probable for that race.  And that too evolves into a GOTV problem in 2012.

Conventional wisdom and history say the incumbent president on the downside of a bad economy should be easy pickings for the opposition party.  Unfortunately, given the GOP field at this moment, CW and history may be in for a revision. 

Regardless, the mood in the country isn’t any better now than it was in 2008 or 2010 – and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight for the growing frustration of the voters.

~McQ

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Missile defense: a necessary cost?

Discussing the START treaty that right now is being considered by the Senate, the Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll reminds us and the Senators considering the treaty of some objective reality:

Senators should keep in mind this Administration’s hostility toward missile defense to begin with. Within months of assuming office, the Obama Administration announced a $1.4 billion cut to missile defense. The successful Airborne Laser boost-phase program was cut, the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor was terminated, and the expansion of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California were canceled. Adding insult to injury, President Obama then installed long-time anti-missile defense crusader Phillip Coyle as Associate Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technologyby recess appointment. That’s right—this President not only appointed the “high priest” of missile defense denialism as his top adviser on missile defense, but he did so in a way to purposefully avoid Senate consultation on the matter. This is the President some Senate conservatives want to trust? On missile defense? Really?

One way to make nuclear weapons obsolete or less desirable is to make them undeliverable.  That’s the purpose of the missile defense technology we’ve been developing over the years.  Then, when you negotiate a treaty like START you negotiate from a position of strength. 

Instead, we’ve seen a unilateral decision to throw missile defense under the bus, even while rogue nations like Iran and North Korea develop bigger and more powerful missiles every year.   Not to mention the fact that both countries are supplying the technology to others and, according to news reports, providing missiles to proxies and planning on basing missiles in Venezuela.

The cuts to these programs is short-sighted and ignores a very real and growing problem.  The Airborne Laser boost-phase program, for instance, has successfully intercepted ICBMs in the boost phase in tests and is able to quickly kill and engage multiple targets as they boost out toward their targets (a time when the missiles are at their most vulnerable).    It is the first layer in a multilayered missile killing system which would provide this country and its allies a virtually impenetrable shield against rocket launched nuclear weapons.

Instead, we have an administration going around killing off the systems that will protect us all the while telling us that START will do the job and we should just trust the Russians (and Iranians and North Koreans one supposes). 

The easiest way for a nuclear weapon to be delivered successfully is via an ICBM.   Killing off our successful and front-line missile killers like the Airborne Laser boost-phase program is short sighted and dangerous.  If President Obama wants START, make him negotiate.  Reinstate the anti-missile programs.  Then, the next time he or anyone else (hopefully) negotiates a like treaty, it will be from a position of strength that essentially renders rocket delivered nukes obsolete.  That would be a nice change from the obvious unilateral disarmament we’ve seen in the anti- missile shield area and a subsequent negotiating position of weakness.

That’s what our president should be doing, instead of giving away the farm for a piece of paper.  I wonder if the new START promises “peace in our time”?

~McQ

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Nork’s being Norks? Or worse?

Doubtless you’ve seen the headlines about North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island near the coast of North Korea, killing two South Korean Marines.

The usual claims have been made, denunciations issued and sabers rattled.  But this is another in a long line of serious incidents that the North has been willing to provoke.  The reasons however, remain speculative.  Why is NoKo sinking South Korean ships and killing South Korean Marines?

Well let’s turn to the experts, shall we?  One says it has to do with food and, most likely starvation within North Korea:

One of the analysts who linked the North’s action to food aid was Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a research institute in Seoul. “It’s a sign of North Korea’s increasing frustration,” said.

“Washington has turned a deaf ear to Pyongyang and North Korea is saying, ‘Look here. We’re still alive. We can cause trouble. You can’t ignore us.’ ”

Mr. Choi said North Korea had become frustrated over the Obama administration’s refusal to remove a broad range of sanctions against the regime for its continuing nuclear efforts.

“They see that they can’t pressure Washington,” he said, “so they’ve taken South Korea hostage again.”

“They’re in a desperate situation and they want food immediately, not next year,” he said.

It is indeed true that there have been sanctions which have limited the food supplies that could be shipped in, and they’ve had another bad harvest.  But is that the only reason?

Don’t forget, it was just a week ago or so that we learned they had significantly upgraded their nuclear capabilities with what a visiting US professor described as an astonishingly modern facility for processing nuclear material.

Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that he had been “stunned” by the sophistication of the new plant, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed in a recently gutted building and operated from what he called “an ultra-modern control room.”

So, is it just about food?  Or is it, as others have claimed, an incident generated for internal political reasons?  As we’ve heard recently, Kim Jong Il has promoted his third son, Kim Jong-un, to 4 star general – a move seen as a precursor to handing over power to him at some future point.  Jong-un is a young man with little experience.  Therefore, say some experts, this was about burnishing credentials as well as consolidating power:

NORTH KOREA has burnished the leadership credentials of its 26-year-old dictator-in-waiting with a deadly artillery attack on South Korean territory, causing its neighbour to return fire and scramble F-16 fighters.

Two South Korean marines died, and at least 12 were wounded. There were reports of civilian injuries and houses were set ablaze as scores of shells fell on Yeonpyeong island.

A North Korea expert at Beijing’s Central Party School, Zhang Liangui, told the Herald that Kim Jong-un was deliberately destabilising the environment in order to mobilise the military and consolidate his power.

If that’s the case, it becomes a much more complicated and serious incident. North Korean tantrums and the provocations that mark them are not unusual and normally signal their willingness to negotiate something for something. That, for instance, would the the case if food were the predominant problem. But if we’re in the middle of a power shift, and given the existence of a previously unknown, ultra-modern nuclear weapons facility, is it more dangerous than that?

While the previous incident involving the sinking of a South Korean military ship took many more lives than today, it had some “plausible deniability” attached to it, something the North Koreans took advantage of to deny any involvement.  But not today.  This incident is an act of provocation and belligerence.  I’m of the opinion there’s a lot more going on here than food.

It will be interesting to see how the administration handles this incident.  And let’s pass that START treaty – that’ll take care of the nuke threat, won’t it? /sarc

~McQ

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Has North Korean succession been settled?

The answer to that question is “probably.”  That’s a step up from “possibly.”  But in the Hermit Kingdom, nothing is really ever certain.

The recent late night announcement by Kim Jong-Il of the promotion of his third son, Kim Jong-un to the rank of general in the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) has removed any lingering doubt as to which of his sons is his chosen successor. The promotion repeats a pattern from the past.  Kim Jong-Il was also promoted to a high post in the NKPA in 1991 by his father, Kim Il Sung, to establish his future claim to the top position in the country.

According to Dr. John Ishiyama, a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas and expert on North Korea, the sudden rush to establish his third son as his legitimate and chosen heir to power has been accelerated by Kim Jong Il’s deteriorating health.

But, says Ishiyama, there are some other promotions, which have taken place, which are also important to understand and indicate how any succession in the near future might be handled.  Kim Jong-un is in his late 20s and is virtually untried, having had little or no experience to date within North Korea’s power structure.  If Kim Jong-Il were to die soon, he’d be left to fend pretty much for himself.

However Kim Jong-Il has now carefully prepared the way for a sort of “regency” if should die unexpectedly. Kim Jong-un’s consort is a visible part of the top leadership, and in the position of Kim Jong Il’s personal secretary for years, is thought to wield exceptional power. Additionally, Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Soong-taek, considered by some to be an opposition figure, has been reconciled with the family and promoted to the vice-chairmanship of the National Defense Council, solidifying his position in the power structure. Kim Kyon-hui, Jong-un’s aunt and Soong-taek’s wife, is a 4 star general in the NKPA as well as holding a powerful position within the ruling Korean Workers Party.

All of that suggests that the consort, aunt and uncle will form a power clique that will be the actual “power behind the throne”, until Kim Jong-un is deemed to be prepared to take the reins of power himself.

In the meantime, and unlike the careful grooming Kim Jong Il got from his father, Kim Jong-un will be set upon a relative crash course to learn what is necessary for him to survive and thrive in the leadership role his father will leave him. The recent promotion sets him on that path and the other promotions are designed to protect him and enable him to learn the levers of power there.

It won’t be an easy task by any means.

The totalitarian nature of the regime, the poor international standing of the nation, the sanctions imposed by other nations for its role in nuclear proliferation, another bad harvest and the subsequent rumors of starvation all combine to paint an even bleaker future for the country than present. All that can be realistically hoped for at the moment is that when the young Kim Jong-un does take power he will look outward with the aim of reform and rejoining the society of nations instead of looking further inward and remaining on the road to eventual catastrophic ruin.

~McQ

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Fidel Castro – Socialism doesn’t work

We could have told him that 50 years ago:

Fidel Castro told a visiting American journalist that Cuba’s communist economic model doesn’t work, a rare comment on domestic affairs from a man who has conspicuously steered clear of local issues since stepping down four years ago.

[...]

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, asked if Cuba’s economic system was still worth exporting to other countries, and Castro replied: "The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore" Goldberg wrote Wednesday in a post on his Atlantic blog.

[...]

The state controls well over 90 percent of the economy, paying workers salaries of about $20 a month in return for free health care and education, and nearly free transportation and housing. At least a portion of every citizen’s food needs are sold to them through ration books at heavily subsidized prices.

Of course the "Cuban model" only “worked” while the USSR existed. It was essentially based in heavy subsidies paid Cuba by the USSR for being its main proxy in the Americas. And the USSR’s woes most firmly underlined the problems with a centralized demand economy run by the state. Even so, Cuba continued on along that vein even after their greatest benefactor and financial supporter collapsed like a wet paper box. Now, finally, after pushing Cuba into poverty, Castro admits socialism is a bust.

China, while still totalitarian, recognized the economic problems soon enough to avert a similar disaster by loosening up economically. Cuba and North Korea, though, have continued to use the disastrous economic model and are basket cases (Cuba has instituted some modest economic changes, but not enough to break the dependency on the state the government of Cuba had ingrained on multiple generations of its population).

Of course Castro’s admission comes to late for the people of Venezuela who’ve been roped into a Cuba-style socialist government by strong man Hugo Chavez. Predictably, the Venezuelan economy is in shambles.

You have to wonder how many more ruined economies it will take before the socialists of the world (or wannabes) recognize that their brand of government and economics is a disaster and has probably ruined more lives than any other economic system in history.

~McQ

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Has the world fallen out of love with Obama?

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.

Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.

Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.

Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”

Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:

The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.

Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.

Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:

In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.

His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.

These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?

Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?

So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.

Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:

America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”

I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.

Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.

~McQ

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