Free Markets, Free People

Ethics


Obama’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Despite all the happy talk about hope and change concerning America’s foreign policy the reality is every nation out there has its own agenda and America still stands in the way of many of them.  In the case of our allies, their agenda usually entails seeing how much of the load they can get America carry.  And, while the hope, hype and spin claim that this is the dawn of a new era, in reality the clock is ticking:

Vladimir Putin of Russia

Vladimir Putin of Russia

The danger is that, as the novelty of the Obama administration begins to wear off the U.S. will be left with little more to show for its renewed focus on diplomacy than the Bush administration achieved.

Before that occurs, U.S. officials are hoping a willingness to engage in a way that the Bush administration never was will produce progress. Major reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran are currently under way and are expected to produce new options for Obama within several weeks.

The options produced may be new for Obama, but will they be new for those nations at which they’re aimed? And will they address the fundamental problems in the areas they are intended or will they simply be the same policies with shiny new names? While Obama may come up with what he considers many new options, in reality the options are quite limited when it comes to some of the nations who are going to challenge him (and that will be dictated by the attitude those nations take to any new Obama initiatives).

As the Washington Times notes, his foreign affairs problems are beginning to cascade:

On Friday, Pakistan – the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid – released from house arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who for two decades ran a black market that sold nuclear-weapons technology to U.S. adversaries including Iran and Libya.

Two days earlier, Kyrgyzstan announced that it would not renew a U.S. lease at

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

the Manas air base, a critical transshipment point in the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the Russians – who offered Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in cash and loans to oust the Americans – said that they intend to establish a new base in a breakaway enclave of Georgia, the country Moscow invaded over the summer in response to a Georgian assault on another enclave.

If this were not enough, Iran last week launched a crude satellite into space, suggesting that the Islamic regime has mastered at least some of the technology for multistage, long-range missiles.

Finally, Yemen on Sunday announced that it had released 170 men arrested on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda. Just two weeks earlier, the terrorist group called Yemen its base for the entire Arabian Peninsula.

And let’s not forget that the Obama administration has already upset India with its claim that it would involve itself in the India/Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.

A president’s primary job involves foreign policy. He is the sole architect and executor of it. But thus far, it seems more of a distraction than a focus for Obama. He has primarily concerned himself with his domestic agenda and delegated his foreign policy role to Biden – at least for the time being. But Biden isn’t the decision maker and lack of focus on foreign affairs could see the US end up, diplomatically, behind the power curve if enemies perceive him as not being fully engaged and his diplomatic effort lacking leadership.  That is a weakness they would try to exploit.

If that ends up happening, all of this happy talk will quickly go out of the window and the Obama administration could be facing the same stark choices, and options, that his predecessor faced – if he’s lucky.

~McQ


The Stretch To Call Porkulus “Bi-Partisan”

For the Washington Post, it only takes 3 Republicans (out of approx 218 Congressional Republicans) to declare the “stimulus” bill to be a “bi-partisan” achievement.

As I said yesterday, and the WaPo article validates,  those three who will vote for this give the veneer of bi-partisan legitimacy to the bill and something the left and its fellow travelers will use to give them cover.

Calling this bill “bi-partisan” is like calling Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with Sarah Pallin “rational”.  But WaPo dutifully tries to frame the narrative:

The bipartisan deal was cut after two days of talks and would cut more than $100 billion from the $920 billion bill, dropping its cost to about $820 billion, if amendments added on the Senate floor are retained.

Of course the key phrase in that sentence is “if amendments added on the Senate floor are retained“. The bill must now be negotiated with the House and all of that which was cut may very well end up back in there. As Carl Cameron pointed out last night, you might expect bills with similar totals to be an easily negotiated, but that’s not the case. Different programs make up the amounts in each bill, and historically these negotiations haven’t lowered the totals for the final bill, but, instead, increased them – sometimes dramatically. And it is certainly possible those amendments added by Republicans could be discarded.

If that happens, and it is entirely possible, what will the three RINOs do then?

~McQ


The Promise and The Reality

The promises are going faster than a pizza at a Weight Watcher’s Convention.

The Promise:  Obama pledged during  his campaign that he would give the public five days to review a bill before he signs it.

Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.

The Reality:  Broken with the 2nd bill he signed.

The House gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill extending health insurance to millions of low-income children, and President Obamasigned it this afternoon, in the first of what he hopes will be many steps to guarantee coverage for all Americans.

5 days? He didn’t even wait 5 hours.

Hope and change.

~McQ


The Tin Ear: More Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Kingsmill Spa and Resort

Kingsmill Spa and Resort

Yesterday, President Obama expressed outrage at Wall Street’s “excesses” and  said he would cap the salaries of CEOs in institutions getting federal bailout money to $500,000 a year.  If that isn’t absurd enough:

Adding to the outrage was a flurry of reports that after taking taxpayer rescue funds, some big banks were still planning to purchase corporate jets, planned executive junkets to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, or had spent millions of dollars on office renovations.

Can’t have that – well, except if you’re the Democrats:

The House Democratic Caucus spent more than $500,000 in taxpayer money over the past five years for its annual retreats at resorts in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

On Thursday, Democrats will head to the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in historic Williamsburg, Va., for the three-day planning powwow. The resort boasts multiple championship golf courses, a full-service spa and six restaurants.

Kingsmill's River Course - Democrats only

Kingsmill's River Course - Democrats only

And guess who’s jetting in to say “hi”:

Tonight, Obama takes his first trip as president on Air Force One for a one-day “out and back excursion” to the House Democratic Caucus retreat at the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Va.

To be fair, the Republicans had their retreat as well. But the Republicans aren’t carping about executive pay and company junkets at the presidential level, are they?  And don’t forget about the recent Democratic corporate junket with Citi.

What, there’s no place in DC in which the Dems could “retreat” to do any of this?

If a President is going to insist on box lunches and Day’s Inns for others, it might be wise to look at cutting back on a few things himself (like no more $100 a pound Wagyu beef?). But that’s leadership. And leadership is usually developed throughout life by doing things, not talking about them. So turn down those thermostats, America – while they grow orchids in the Oval office.

Hope and change.

~McQ


Rangel to Be Cleared?

Given the vaunted status of tax cheats amongst the Democrats, you’re all shocked, I’m sure:

Charles Rangel in "Scold Finger II: The Speaker Who Loved Me"

Charles Rangel in Scold Finger II: The Speaker Who Loved Me

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel predicted, on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program that aired Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, that his multitude of ethics woes would soon disappear. “I think that next Tuesday you will see a break in this and as soon as the Ethics Committee organizes they ought to be able to dismiss this,” National Journal’s CongressDaily quoted the Rangel as saying.

If so, it’s hard to imagine that the Select Committee on Ethics will have devoted anything more than a cursory glance at the various issues raised. Consider just one aspect, for which documents are in the public record: Rangel’s financial disclosure forms. We took a look at his filings going all the way back to 1978, the first year members were required to disclose information on their personal finances, and found 28 instances in which he failed to report acquiring, owning or disposing of assets. Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appear or disappear with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as the operative House rules at the time required.

This is all according to Charlie, of course. Much like the Obama team clearing itself of any inappropriate behavior in the Blagojevich troubles, taking Charlie’s word here would not be advisable. However, he seems to know that something is coming, and considering that Speaker Pelosi made little to no effort to support the investigation, we shouldn’t be surprised if Rangel walks away from this with his Chairmanship still intact.

Most ethical Congress ever!


The Lonliest Guy In D.C. Right Now

That would be Robert Gibbs, Presidential spokesman for the Obama administration. He’s discovering that “just words” aren’t good enough anymore. For instance:

Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, “The bar that we set is the highest that any administration in the country has ever set.”

Here’s a clue, Mr. Gibbs – unless you clear the bar it really doesn’t matter how high you set it. Setting the bar at 10′ but only being able to reach 6′ doesn’t really impress anyone.

Oh, and this is classic:

He also said those experts recognized that Obama would need to make exceptions to his pledge to run an administration free of former lobbyists.

As Maxwell Smart would say, Ah, the old “experts say” ploy. Yeah, that excuses absolute pledges doesn’t it?

It is “put up or shut up” time, Mr. Gibbs. You don’t get to promise anymore. You have to perform. You don’t get to tell us what you’re going to do, now you have to do it.

And in the face of Geithner, Holder, Dashle, Killefer, and all the lobbyists for which the administration has made exceptions, the bar doesn’t look very high from out here in flyover land. And you’re still far from getting over it.

Hope and change.

~McQ


Daschle and Killefer Withdraw Their Nominations

Far be it for me to advocate anything to do with the travesty of taxation that takes place in this country right now, but it sure is becoming clear why most Democrats have no problem with tax increases.

Tom Daschle, under increasing fire for his tax problems (i.e. not paying them) has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration for HHS Secretary. Take a deep breath America – that’s good news.

Its early so it isn’t clear if he was warned off by Senate colleagues, asked to do so by the Obama administration (although that seems less likely given Obama’s endorsement yesterday) or had a fit of ethical conscience and did it himself. Whatever the reason, I’m happy about it.

Oh, and another Obama appointee has also withdrawn from consideration with tax problems:

Nancy Killefer, the management consultant and former Treasury official who had been picked by President Obama to serve as the country’s chief performance officer, has withdrawn from consideration for the post, White House officials confirmed this morning.

In a two-paragraph resignation letter, Killefer indicated that controversy over failure to pay taxes by two other high-profile nominees of Obama’s had convinced her to decline the new president’s request to join his administration. Shortly after her appointment, the Associated Press reported that Killefer had a tax lien placed on her house by the D.C. government because she had not paid unemployment taxes for her household help.

Killefer at least had the good grace to step aside before it got to the Daschle stage.

That Obama administration vetting process?  Awesome, no?

Hope and change.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]


Ethics? Oh, That Was Just Campaign Rhetoric …

You have got to love the tip-toeing the NYT’s Peter Baker does as he “gently” chastises and then excuses the Obama administration’s ethical lapses:

During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a “new era of responsibility.” What he did not talk much about were the asterisks. The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.

17 now ensconsed in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

17 now ensconced in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

In fact, as India Daily tells us, the count is 17 lobbyists who’ve needed exceptions to serve, to include the number 2 in the Treasury Department.

But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.

Compromise? This isn’t compromise, this is capitulation. And it is sounding more and more like a – dare I say it – lie. Some will try to excuse all of this as naiveté. Really? Is that what you want to be saying about a politician in the most powerful office in the world? That he’s naive? Just who you need in office when staring very complicated foreign policy in the face, isn’t it? I would assume that these decisions about who Mr. Obama would name to his administration began well before he was elected. One also assumes, like the number 2 at Defense, that the names and background of those he planned on choosing were known. So you then have to conclude that he may had no intention of living up to the promises he was making. Thankfully, there are some who will continue to call his hand on this, even if the MSM wont:

And so in these opening days of the administration, the Obama team finds itself being criticized by bloggers on the left and the right, mocked by television comics and questioned by reporters about whether Mr. Obama is really changing the way Washington works or just changing which political party works it.

Obviously it is the latter. For heaven sake, this is the Clinton administration reborn and ethics wasn’t what it was known for at all. Because Obama set the bar so high and because he claimed that his rhetoric wasn’t ‘just words’, the expectation that he’s a “different” politician who would change the way Washington does business remains a very imporant part of his appeal. But so far, not so good:

“This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual.”

And so far, other than a few bones to supporters, this administration is shaping up as a “business as usual” administration. One thing Obama could do to help save the day is something he was quite good at doing on the campaign trail – throw Daschle under the bus. I don’t think that will happen, and the fact that it most likely won’t is perhaps the most telling thing of all.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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