Free Markets, Free People


Obama’s Contradictory Foreign Policy

Melanie Phillips points to an interesting contradiction:

As the world watched events unfold in Iran, Obama’s double standard over Israel was illuminated in flashing neon lights. How come he’s saying it is wrong for him to tell the Iranians what to do, people asked themselves, when he is dictating to Israel its policy on settlements?

It’s an excellent question. So what is the policy of the United States qua Barack Obama – strict hands off concerning the “internal affairs” of a country, or, in the case of Israel, what can only be considered “meddling” in internal affairs?

Just wondering …


No Hot Dogs For Iran

It took almost two weeks of brutalizing their own people, but the invitation for Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July parties at U.S. Embassies around the world has finally been rescinded. Of course this was done about a day after President Obama gave this mealy-mouthed answer to a question on the subject:

Q: Are Iranian diplomats still welcome at the embassy on the Fourth of July, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think as you’re aware, Major, we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with — we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years, in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.

For those of you who need a translator, the answer was “yes”. Today the answer is “no”.

I’m glad they’ve awakened up there to the reality of what is happening in Iran and finally made some sort of move, no matter how trivial or symbolic, to show their disapproval. But it has taken unrelenting pressure to get them to move off of their “engagement at any cost” policy.  In the case of 4th of July celebrations, it would have been a travesty to have representatives of the present brutal regime present.  Ed Morrissey asks what they’d have been present for anyway:

Besides, what Independence Day values would the Iranian regime want to celebrate with us? Freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? The freedom to peaceably assemble or petition government for a redress of grievances?

Obama rather arrogantly reminded us that “only I am President of the United States”. But as former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger reminded Obama, that means he represents the people of the United States when he speaks and in the case of the Iranian violence, he hasn’t represented them very well at all.


The “Bullet Fee”

Shades of the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.

A protester is shot dead in Iran. His father learns of his death:

Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

But we don’t want to be the “foil” so we’ll withold saying anything that might be misinterpreted. Well, except this:

But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.

Ed Morrisey calls this “despicable”. I say he’s being very understated in his criticism.

Pass the hot dogs.



Questions And Observations

Some conversation starters:

  • For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.
  • I’m constantly amused by the anecdotal evidence I gather while on the road that says if you’re over 65 you have to drive a Buick.
  • One thing to keep in mind as you listen to all of these proponents tell you that government can do health care better than the private sector – The private sector is a net producer of wealth. The government sector is a net consumer of wealth. That’s why the more of the economy a government takes over the less wealth is produced and thus available within the economy.
  • Interesting chart showing the level of spending in the last 12 months compared to the spending over the last 206 years in inflation adjusted dollars.  How do people believe that such a massive increase in spending doesnt have to be paid for at some point?
  • Is Obama’s honeymoon over?  Is enough resistance building to derail some of these economy killing policies and programs now on the table?
  • Former President Bush speaks out, apparently tired of a president 150 days into his own administration continuing to blame the previous administration. Appropriate or should he remain silent? And interestingly, since the left excused Jimmy Carter’s criticism of the Bush administration, does that mean they’re fine with Bush speaking out?
  • Is it “IGgate”? What’s up with this story about the Americorps IG and are there more IGs with whom the administration has messed? Wasn’t this the administration which was going to “return” us to the “rule of law”? Why aren’t they following it?


Conference on Health Care Reform

Cato Institute is hosting a conference on health care reform today that will be webcast live. It will feature the following speakers:

* Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
* Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX)
* Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA)
* Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy, Center for American Progress
* Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Former Director, Congressional Budget Office, and Director of Domestic and Economic Policy for the McCain presidential campaign
* Tom G. Donlan, Barron’s
* Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine
* Susan Dentzer, Health Affairs
* John Reichard, Congressional Quarterly

This represents a wide range of views and promises to be much more interesting and informative than the White House/ABC News infomercial scheduled for next week. so if you’re interested in this topic at all, take some time to check it out.

Obama Media

While it comes at no real surprise given how they behaved during the presidential campaign, the MSM has finally decided to go all in with its support for the President. Next Wednesday night, June 24, ABC News will host a program about health care reform from inside the White House, but only one side will be presented — i.e. Obama’s. The Chief of Staff for the RNC is not happy about this decision and sent the following letter to David Westin, the President of ABC News:

Dear Mr. Westin:

As the national debate on health care reform intensifies, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue on June 24, 2009. Next Wednesday, ABC News will air a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House with President Barack Obama. In addition, according to an ABC News report, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, WORLD NEWS, NIGHTLINE and ABC’s web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.” This does not include the promotion, over the next 9 days, the president’s health care agenda will receive on ABC News programming.

Today, the Republican National Committee requested an opportunity to add our Party’s views to those of the President’s to ensure that all sides of the health care reform debate are presented. Our request was rejected. I believe that the President should have the ability to speak directly to the America people. However, I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our Party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate, which affects millions of ABC viewers.

In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime. The President has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime.

Ken McKay
Republican National Committee
Chief of Staff

This comes on the heels of a Politico report about how Obama has been “wooing” the New York Times (as if it needed wooing), and further evidences a disturbing level of acquiescence to the White House. It’s one thing to have a broadcast from inside the White House, although it does strike an appearance of impropriety, but its another thing altogether to so blatantly snub an opposing views when the production is supposed to be one of news reporting. Presenting the view of those in power without question or examination, and refusing to allow any other voice, is pretty much the textbook definition of propaganda.

Since there is sure to be an uproar over this in the blogosphere, however, I’m wondering whether ABC News will back down and either allow some token opposition voice, bring on a known opponent of the President’s plan to raise some issues, or allow some questions of the President from actual reporters (Jake Tapper does still work for ABC News, doesn’t he?). Either way, its awfully pathetic that the MSM can’t seem to figure out how to get it right the first place. They are so blinded by their fascination with all things Obama, apparently, that any semblance of actual news reporting has gone out the window, and is being replaced with unabashed cheerleading for The One.

UPDATE: Oops! I didn’t realize that Bruce was writing on the same topic until after I posted. See his take below as well.

Krugman: The “Nipponisation” of the World

After a lot of partisan “happy talk” about how the Obama administration is handling the economic crisis here, Paul Krugman goes on record saying the world is doomed to suffer Japan’s lost economic decade on a global scale.

The thing about Japan, as with all of these cases, is how much people claim to know what happened, without having any evidence. What we do know is that recessions normally end everywhere because the monetary authority cuts interest rates a lot, and that gets things moving. And what we know in Japan was that eventually they cut their interest rates to zero and that wasn’t enough. And, so far, although we made the cuts faster than they did and cut them all the way to zero, it isn’t enough. We’ve hit that lower bound the same as they did. Now, everything after that is more or less speculation.

For example, were the problems with the Japanese banks the core problem? There are some stories about credit rationing, but they are not overwhelming. Certainly, when we look at the Japanese recovery, there was not a great surge of business investment. There was primarily a surge of exports. But was fixing the banks central to export growth?

In their case, the problems had a lot to do with demography. That made them a natural capital exporter, from older savers, and also made it harder for them to have enough demand. They also had one hell of a bubble in the 1980s and the wreckage left behind by that bubble – in their case a highly leveraged corporate sector – was and is a drag on the economy.

The size of the shock to our systems is going to be much bigger than what happened to Japan in the 1990s. They never had a freefall in their economy – a period when GDP declined by 3%, 4%. It is by no means clear that the underlying differences in the structure of the situation are significant. What we do know is that the zero bound is real. We know that there are situations in which ordinary monetary policy loses all traction. And we know that we’re in one now.

Shorter Krugman, “we’re in new territory in terms of the size of the problem, but it is all eerily similar to what happened to Japan”. Unfortunately our reaction has been eerily similar to what Japan did as well.

Krugman’s bottom line:

WH: So, one way to think about it is that self-reinforcing financial crises rooted in overstretched, overborrowed companies and governments in less developed countries – like those in Argentina and Indonesia, which were amazingly destructive in the 1990s and 2000s, but localised – are now playing out in the developed world?

PK: There are really two stories. One is the Japan-type story where you run out of room to cut interest rates. And the other is the Indonesia- and Argentina-type story where everything falls apart because of balance-sheet problems.

WH: So in a nutshell your story is …

PK: The “Nipponisation” of the world economy with a bunch of “Argentinafications” playing a role in the acute crisis. But even after those are over, we have the Nipponisation of the world economy. And that’s really something.

And of course, implicit in the “Nipponisation” of the world economy is the “Nipponisation” of the US economy – something we’ve been talking about for some time. Now, add “cap and trade” and “health care reform” into the mix.

What will we be wishing we were suffering when that all kicks in, should it pass? Nipponisation, of course. As bad as lost decade or two might be, it would be heaven compared to the economic carnage those big tax and spend programs will inflict on a very weak economy here in the US. And that, of course, will ensure the “Nipponisation” of the world economy.


Health Care: “Special Interest Democracy”

It may be hard to believe [/snark], but it appears when Democrats speak of “fairness” they define it in their own special interest kind of way.

Take the talk about taxing your private health care benefits (something adamantly opposed by Obama during the campaign).

Originally it was going to be everyone. But other Democrats complained mightily to Senate Democrats who were considering such a tax to pay for the conservatively estimated 1.5 trillion necessary to pay for “health care reform” (PAYGO? HA!). So they modified it a bit – tax the “rich” – those who had the best of coverage. Always a popular populist fallback, Sen. Dems were sure that would work.

Alas it was soon discovered that a huge number of those holding “Cadillac” health care policies were unions. Yes, the special interest group in the pocket of the Dems (and vice versa) would be heavily hit by such a tax. As you might imagine, they were not happy.

Solution – drop this bad idea?

Of course not. Instead exempt the unions, you silly person:

Mr. Baucus officially floated his plans for a tax this week, only with a surprising twist: His levy will not apply to union plans, at least for the duration of existing contracts. In other words, Mr. Baucus intends to tax the health-care benefits only of those who didn’t spend a fortune electing Democrats to office. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is circulating his own health-care reform, has also included provisions that will exempt unions from certain provisions.

The union carve-out is designed to allay the fears of many Democrats who remain outright hostile to a tax on health-care benefits, whether out of principle, political fear or union solidarity.

This is not your grandfather’s America. Pay czars who arbitrarily set arbitrary pay limits based on what they “think” (according to presidential spokesperson Robert Gibbs) is “fair”, a government appointed CEO for an auto company who admits he knows nothing about cars and the government hijacking of health care.

If you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.


Miranda and War

An interesting discussion broke out in the comment section of the Miranda post, which I’m hoping will continue. The primary issue (and I’m simplifying here) centers around just how detainees caught on a battlefield should be handled if they don’t fit the established parameters of soldiers under the Geneva Conventions. Although there appears to be agreement that reading detainees Miranda rights is a step (or three) too far, there is also wide agreement that we should be skeptical about allowing our government so much latitude as to hold anyone indefinitely. I think closing the gap on those parameters is the challenge to be met, but I don’t think it is possible to do so without understanding how war differs from law enforcement.

Clausewitz defined war as “continuation of policy with other means.” The crux of his definition is that “war” is simply a tactic used to further political goals. War is not waged as end in itself, but as a means towards other ends which, for whatever reason, could not be accomplished through non-violent tactics. There are always exceptions, of course, but certainly a rational state will not expend blood and treasure when the same goals can be accomplished without. Even an irrational state, with irrational goals, will not waste such resources if it understands that it does not have to.

The other tools in the box for continuing policy include diplomacy and capitulation. Once those are deemed exhausted or unacceptable (as the case may be) then the tool of war is likely to appear. In other words, if agreement cannot be reached between erstwhile enemies, and surrender by one side or the other is not acceptable, then actual battle will be necessary to decide whose policy will be continued. At that point all manner of understanding between the parties is dead and only victory or a credible threat thereof will allow the discarded tools to once again be used in the construction of policy.

In the absence of war, there is general agreement as to how competing parties will conduct themselves in the pursuit of their policies. Citizens may vote, senators may argue, special interests may agitate, and whole nations may barter. The agreements may deal with how citizens deal with one another, how governments deal with their citizens, or how violations of the agreements are handled (i.e. law enforcement). In the modern world those general agreements are reduced to treaties, constitutions, rules, regulations and the like, all of which may be considered law. The policies themselves may also be enacted into law, but without some understanding as to the mechanisms for peacefully deciding which policy will be followed, then war is the only tool available. A rule of law, which is only useful where there is broad agreement on it, obviates the need to use war to advance policy. All of the foregoing are the hallmarks of a civil society that depends on pursuing policies through peaceful tactics. To turn Clauswitz’s definition around, law is the continuation of war by other means.

To be sure, transgressors of law will be dealt with at times in violent ways, but there is at least a tacit agreement to the law’s authority to do so where the violator is operating from within the society and generally partaking of its benefits. If enough transgressors get together then the agreements have broken down, and civil war or revolution may occur. Therefore, war can be understood as the tactic that is used when the law has ceased to be of use. More simply, war is the absence of law.

Given the above, which is nothing more than a condensed version of my personal views on the subject, it is difficult for me to understand how legal concepts can be introduced into war. Opposing factions may agree with one another to fight under particular rules of engagement, or to treat enemy prisoners a certain way, but when those rules are broken there is no legitimate authority to enforce them. The Geneva Conventions represent a more elaborate attempt to impose limits on warfare, but even those were never intended to apply to non-signatories except in very limited circumstances (pre-Hamdan anyway). More importantly, it seems obviously ludicrous to apply laws outside such limited agreement to any of the parties involved in battle, because there would be no battle if such laws were being adhered to in the first place.

So while any number of parties may agree amongst themselves to fight under self-imposed rules, that does not give any of them authority to impose those rules on others. Furthermore, except where explicitly agreed to otherwise, such rules would not govern war between a party to such an agreement and a non-party. To look at it another way, if Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield agree to fight under certain sanctioned rules, that does not mean that either fighter must adhere to the same rules if attacked by a third party on the way home from the match.

Accordingly, in a world of asymmetrical warfare, the basic principle that “war is the absence of law” seems to apply. In this context, the very idea of approaching war with terrorists in foreign countries under a rubric of law intended to govern domestic life appears absurdly out of place. Treating detainees captured on the battlefield to the luxury of legal niceties intended to protect the very citizens those terrorists seek to harm defies all logic. And pretending that reading any of them Miranda rights will do anything more than hamper our ability to defeat these cretins is an exercise in serious delusion. In short, law is a manifestation of the agreements underlying a peaceful community, and war is the means of protecting those agreements from those who seek to subvert them.

When considering just where the line should be drawn then, between reading enemies their “rights” and allowing the government to detain them indefinitely, I think it’s useful to understand that we are not really talking about a “rule of law.” Instead, we are talking about how best to utilize the tactic of war in furthering our policy of not allowing crazed radicals to murder our citizens. While I find great merit in placing the government (i.e. our instrument of war) on a firm leash, I don’t think it is at all useful to conflate the means by which we protect ourselves from an overbearing government with the means by which the government protects us from enemies bent on our destruction.

Embracing Paygo

Republicans and some allies are criticizing President Obama’s proposal for “pay as you go” rules that only cover new and expanded entitlement spending. They rightly point out that legislators can get around these new rules with budgetary tricks like relabeling spending so that “PAYGO” rules don’t apply.

But some on the Right have also warned that paygo will just lead Democrats to pass higher taxes. I’m not convinced that that’s a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like taxes. But deficit spending is taxation — deferred taxation, with interest. If the government is going to spend a bunch of our wealth on things other than emergencies, enlightened fiscal conservatives should want the American people to see the price tag, the sooner the better.

Otherwise we’re going to continue this business of borrowing from our children to pay for our reckless spending today – that’s what a lot of those tea partiers were protesting against, wasn’t it?

So fiscal conservatives should propose even more comprehensive and stringent paygo legislation than the Democrats have. Force the Democrats to put it all on the table – lock in tax hikes or spending cuts, now.

We’re going to have to do pay the piper at some point, so how does it help to wait until a real fiscal emergency is upon us?

The longer we wait to pay for it through direct taxation, the more time we give the spenders to come up with clever ways to conceal the cost – whether through inflation, or carefully targeted taxes designed to create as little political backlash as possible. Paygo creates forced errors.

If the Democrats decide to cover the gap with tax increases, that’s an issue for 2010 and beyond. Every new big spending plan, like the Obama health care plan, comes with a surefire tax increase in the near future. And as Californians recently showed the country, even Lefty voters don’t like the prospect of actually paying for all those neat programs for which they voted.

Sure, it’s self-serving for Republicans who engaged in no small amount of deficit spending themselves to suddenly find religion on the need for a balanced budget.

But there are good reasons to suspect that this level of deficit spending (and the necessary money-printing that has followed) is going to hit us in all kinds of unpleasant ways. If we don’t commit now to eventually paying off these debts, the problems will get even worse.

So let’s do something about it – or turn the heat up on the Democrats until they do something about it. Let’s give them all the paygo and fiscal discipline they can handle, and then some.