Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: March 2009


DC vouchers in trouble

The omnibus budget bill that passed the House last week could destroy school vouchers in Washington, DC and the Washington Post is urging the Senate to restore the funding:

Rep. Davis R. Obey (Wis.) and other congressional Democrats should spare us their phony concern about the children participating in the District’s school voucher program. If they cared for the future of these students, they wouldn’t be so quick as to try to kill the program that affords low-income, minority children a chance at a better education. Their refusal to even give the program a fair hearing makes it critical that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) seek help from voucher supporters in the Senate and, if need be, President Obama.

Last week, the Democrat-controlled House passed a spending bill that spells the end, after the 2009-10 school year, of the federally funded program that enables poor students to attend private schools with scholarships of up to $7,500. A statement signed by Mr. Obey as Appropriations Committee chairman that accompanied the $410 billion spending package directs D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to “promptly take steps to minimize potential disruption and ensure smooth transition” for students forced back into the public schools.

We would like Mr. Obey and his colleagues to talk about possible “disruption” with Deborah Parker, mother of two children who attend Sidwell Friends School because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. “The mere thought of returning to public school frightens me,” Ms. Parker told us as she related the opportunities — such as a trip to China for her son — made possible by the program. Tell her, as critics claim, that vouchers don’t work, and she’ll list her children’s improved test scores, feeling of safety and improved motivation.

But the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn’t about facts. It’s about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program? Why wouldn’t Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?

This week, the Senate takes up the omnibus spending bill, and we hope that, with the help of supporters such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the program gets the reprieve it deserves. If it doesn’t, someone needs to tell Ms. Parker why a bunch of elected officials who can send their children to any school they choose are taking that option from her.

The vouchers cover up to $7,500 ($6,000 average), the average cost per student in DC is $24,600. So it’s hardly a substantial amount of money in comparison to the amount of money spent on the average student and the vouchers are having a positive impact for students.

Members of Congress and the President have made the choice to send their kids to private school. If they don’t trust the government to educate their kids, why should the residents of the District of Columbia?


Why The Surprise That Limbaugh Wants Obama To Fail?

 You know I’ve been reading all the opinions being tossed around about that statement by Limbaugh, and I’ve thought about it for a while, and I just can’t find anything wrong with it.

Here’s a confession: I’d be lying out of my 3rd point of contact if I said I wanted him to succeed. That’s because “success” would mean the subversion of everything I find important into something I loathe. It would mean the supplanting of free market and capitalistic economic mechanisms with those designed by government. It would mean sanctioning and approving govenment driven market distortions. It would mean approving government picking economic winners and losers. It would mean agreeing that it is the job of government to provide health care, welfare, and retirement. And on and on we go.

So I’d be absolutely full of it if I said, with a smile, “of course I want Mr. Obama to succeed, he’s our President and no patriotic American wants to see a President fail”.

Well, except those patriotic Americans of the left during the last 8 years.

But you know, that doesn’t count. 8 years of  claiming to be “in the darkness”,  governed by “a loser” and an “incompetent” who was taking us down the road to “totalitarianism” and who had to be stopped wasn’t at all the same as Rush Limbaugh stating he wants Obama to fail.

That was then, this is now. Then it was patriotic dissent. Now it’s an unspeakable outrage.

Well, let me go on record here, not that it counts for much. It’s nothing personal toward Mr. Obama. He’s a nice enough guy for someone who I think has an agenda which will destroy this country and the institutions which have made us the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world. So it’s not personal. It’s political.

It’s about what he represents politically. It’s about his political agenda. And since he’s the driving force behind his political agenda it’s rather hard to separate the man from the movement, wouldn’t you say?  I guess I could be real cagey about it and say, “of course I want to see Mr. Obama succeed, but I want his agenda to fail”.

Makes no sense does it?

Nor does saying, “this has nothing to do with Obama, it’s about the agenda, and I want it to fail”. That’s as false as any other statement which tries to separate Obama from his agenda. And that bears saying again – it’s “his agenda”.  If Iraq was “Bush’s war”, this spending monstrosity and the plans that go with it are “Obama’s agenda”, aren’t they?

Well, unsurprisingly, I want that agenda to fail.

Crash.

Burn.

If you want to interpret that to mean I want Obama to fail, so be it – that’s up to you.

But don’t even try to pretend that this is something new or unique to the right after the last 8 years. And for the record, I wanted much of Bush’s agenda to fail as well – Medicare Part D, NCLB, etc.

So save your self-righteous hypocrisy about Limbaugh’s desire to see Obama fail for someone who cares. To be perfectly clear, I want to see the Obama agenda to go down in flames too. If that happens to take Obama with it – oh well.

~McQ


Notes on the “Big Plan”

Two major points about the budget plan the Obama administration has out there (from the Heritage Foundation):

Spending: Obama’s budget proposes $1.13 trillion in regular discretionary spending for 2010. This is a full 12% increase over the 2009 spending baseline. On top of this the Obama budget increases entitlement spending by another $700 billion. The proposed post-recession spending level of 22% of GDP has been exceeded only 8 times in the post-war era. And these numbers do not include the spending priorities of the unchecked far left in Congress.

The Chicago Tribune reports today “President Barack Obama will break a campaign pledge against congressional earmarks and sign a budget bill laden with millions in lawmakers’ pet projects … Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, identified almost 8,600 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion.”

Deficits: The Obama budget claims to cut the deficit in half by 2012, but relies on audaciously optimistic economic forecasts that no one believes in. Adding the “stimulus” bill to a realistic budget baseline yields a projected 2010-2017 cumulative budget deficit of $8.4 trillion – 2.5 times the size of President Bush’s deficits over the same 8-year time period. Before the recession, revenues were 18 percent of GDP and spending was 20 percent. After the recession, President Obama would maintain revenues at 19 percent of GDP, and spending at 22 percent. In other words, all new tax revenues would finance new spending, rather than deficit reduction. President Obama’s structural budget deficit would exceed President Bush’s.

So you have, in the time of economic contraction and massive deficit, a 12% increase over the 2009 spending baseline in discretionary spending. 12%. And entitlement increase of $700 billion. In an 8 year time period (should he be re-elected in 2012) Obama plans to add 8.4 trillion to the debt – a full 2.5 times larger than the huge debt George Bush added. This is a phenomenal and eventually crippling level of borrowing and spending. There is no end in sight. Where the Bush administration spent 2% above the revenue, even with an increase in revenue from increased taxation, the Obama administration plans on maintaining a 3% spending gap of revenue/spending.

Untenable, unsustainable and ultimately, utterly destructive to a market economy.

~McQ


Successful NYC Trip …

I just barely beat the global warming home. Otherwise, I had a great trip up to New York City. Here’s some of the highlights:

The Empire State building as seen from the roof of my sister's apartment building.

The Empire State building as seen from the roof of my sister's apartment building.

Looking across the East River into Queens

Looking across the East River into Queens

I made it a point to go take pictures in Central Park. These are from the Bethesda Terrace which is Mid-Park around 72nd Street.

Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Terrace, Central Park


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How Bad Is It? Check Out Europe

It is certainly worse abroad than here. As Dale pointed out, if this is a failure of the “free market” why is Europe, which is very tightly regulated, having a worse time than we are? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has a blog post outlining the woes of Europe. First, the real possibility of repudiation of debt:euro

Ex-Bundesbank chief Karl Otto Pohl has just said that Ireland and Greece are in danger of defaulting on their sovereign debts and/or may be forced out of the Euro, for those who may not be aware of his Sky interview by my colleague Jeff Randall.

“I think there are countries considering the possibility. It would be very expensive,” he said. “The exchange rate would go down, 50 or 60% and then interest rates would go sky high because the markets would lose all confidence.”

Then we have the possible abandonment of the Euro in order to “re-establish economic competitiveness quickly”:

Laurence Chieze-Devivier from AXA Investment Managers — in “Leaving the Euro?” — says that the rocketing debt costs of Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Italy are taking on a life of their own. (Italy has just revised is public debt forecast from 2010 from 101pc to 111pc. That is a frightening jump. While the CDS default swaps on Irish debt is are at 376 basis pouints. Austria is at 240. This is getting serious).

It is far for clear whether all these countries will accept the sort of drastic retrenchment required to stay in EMU. “By leaving the euro, internal adjustments would become less `painful’. An independent currency would re-establish economic competitiveness quickly, not achieved by a sharp drop in employment or wage cuts”.

 

euronations

The possible death of the “European nation”:

Carsten Brzeski for ING in Brussels said the eurozone laggards were more likely to default than pay the punishing costs of leaving EMU.

“It is difficult to believe that Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, would be better off outside the eurozone. While a government could possibly get away with a redenomination of its debt, the private sector would still have to service its foreign debt. We believe any attempts to leave monetary union would lead to the mother of all crises, and total isolation in any future European integration”

Mr Brzeski said the bigger danger is that countries will face a buyers’ strike for their debt as a flood of bond issues across the world saturates the markets.

“A further worsening of the crisis could lead to (partial) sovereign defaults in one or several countries.”

How is that likely to happen?

The country’s parliament could pass a law redenominating debt into the new Lira, Drachma, or whatever. But there would be a pre-emptive run on bank deposits long before then. “Anyone not desirous of losing money would presumably see the writing on the wall and transfer any funds beyond the reach of the state. In other words, close down that account with Monte dei Paschi di Siena and open a new one with Commerzbank in Germany”.

Such a wholesale shift would lead to a collapse in the money supply, perhaps equal to the 38pc contraction in M3 from October 1929 to April 1933 in the US — but concentrated in a much shorter period. “Banks would be forced to call in outstanding loans, bring about a collapse in the country’s business.”

Certainly a bit of a doomsday scenario, but, unfortunately, not at all outside the realm of possibility. In fact, as they are, some are arguing it will happen in the near future. Almost every bit of it the result of market distortions implemented or enabled by government.

~McQ


Our Ironic Foreign Policy

A billion dollars of your tax dollars is on its way to Palestine, 300 million of it earmarked for the Gaza Strip where Hamas still rules:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will pledge about $300 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip, plus about $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a U.S. official said Sunday.

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters traveling with Clinton Sunday that she would announce the donations at an international pledging conference at this Red Sea resort. The conference is seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy.

So thanks to your generosity, Hamas doesn’t have to ante up $300 million to support its own people. Yes, your subsidy will allow them to instead purchase some new munitions and rockets with which to attack Israel.

This is the same Secretary of State who recently was peddling our debt bonds to the Chinese, ostensibly so we could borrow more money to, what, fund Hama’s war on Israel?

Isn’t life ironic?

~McQ


Podcast for 03 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, and Dale talk about the president’s new budget, and the end of the Post-WWII global financial system.

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.


BlogTalk Radio – 8pm EST Tonight

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s): We’ll expand on Dale’s “Dead Ed” post, talk about the domestic direction of the Obama administration and a couple of nice surprises like the refusal of Congressional Democrats to try to reinstate the assault weapons ban and the intention of the Obama administration DoJ to let the states sort out the medical marijuana issue.


Project Hero – SSG Jason Fetty, Silver Star

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SSG Jason Fetty was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team, which, as the name denotes, isn’t a combat unit. It is a civil affairs unit with a much different role. He was a member of the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team or PRT as they’re known, and very proud of what he’d been able to accomplish during his tour in Afghanistan.

Provisional reconstruction teams serve a vital role in Afghanistan as they do in Iraq. They complement maneuver forces in separating the enemy from the people, connecting people to the Afghan government and helping the government meet the needs of the people.

That, of course, makes the 25 PRTs’ achievements in Afghanistan — including the opening of a new emergency room for almost 1 million Khost province citizens — prime targets for terroristsd.

That’s exactly what happened when members of the Khost PRT joined officials from throughout the province to celebrate the facility’s opening Feb. 20th of last year. “We were all there to celebrate the fact that we had come together, worked together as a team to achieve a common desire, and that was to help the people,” said Navy Cmdr. John F.G. Wade, who commanded Joint Provisional Reconstruction Team Khost during the late-February incident.

But among the medical professionals who had come from all corners of Khost was a man in a doctor’s lab coat nobody else recognized.

Fetty, a PRT member who was pulling security outside the building alongside paratroopers of the newly arrived 82nd Airborne Division, watched as a sea of white lab coats came rushing out of the building and past him. After more than 10 months in Khost, Fetty had worked closely with the local medical community and recognized each doctor’s face.

He turned to ensure the 82nd Airborne Division troops didn’t fire and cleared them from the area, noting that “those guys had no way of knowing these were actual doctors. I was the only one who knew they weren’t bad guys.”

When Fetty turned back toward the building, the “bad guy” was standing directly in front of him, disguised as a doctor. Fetty had never laid eyes on him before and immediately knew something was wrong. “He was crazy in the eyes. He looked like he was on drugs, and he was acting very erratic. He definitely didn’t look right,” Fetty said.

“Every soldier who has been in combat or been downrange knows when something is not right,” he continued. “You can feel it. You can see it. It’s a general sinking feeling that things are not going to go right. You feel it in your gut.”

Fetty’s military training kicked in. He began going through his “escalation of force” commands: “Stop. Get down.” The man ignored him, and tried to grab Fetty.

Fetty wanted to fire a warning shot, but feared it would ricochet and hit the hospital or someone gathered in the crowd around it. The suspect continued to close in on him and grabbed the barrel of his rifle. At this point, Fetty started to fear the worst. “I was pretty sure he had a (suicide) vest on under his lab coat, but I still didn’t know for sure,” he said.

Rather than shirking him off, Fetty used the distance his weapon created between him and his attacker to his advantage. “I knew that if he grabbed hold of my armor or my person in any way, I was toast,” he said. “There was no getting out of it at that point. I wouldn’t be able to stop him from detonating himself.”

He slowly maneuvered toward a clearing between the hospital and the nearby administrative huts, away from the crowd. “I figured that if I stalled him long enough, everyone else would do their job and get the area cleared,” he said.

Fetty kept his eyes locked with his attackers’. “The last thing I wanted him to do was lose focus on me, because he didn’t want me,” he said. “The governor of the province was there, and he was the primary target. Suicide bombers rarely attack Americans; they want government officials. So I had to keep his focus on me.”

As the struggle continued, Fetty recognized he probably wouldn’t survive. “You resign yourself pretty quick. You just stop thinking at that point about yourself,” he said. “It was either going to be me or 20 other people back there. … Suicide bombers are next to impossible to stop. All you can do is limit the damage that they can do.”

The chain of events “becomes sketchy” when Fetty recalls what happened after he maneuvered the attacker around the corner from the crowd. “Things happened very, very quickly,” he said. Friends told Fetty he tackled the attacker, but he doesn’t remember that. He recalls hitting him with the butt of his weapon, then firing warning shots at the ground near his feet.

The attacker came at him, so Fetty fired into his lower legs, then his kneecap. “He stood back up, even though I gave him a crippling wound,” he said. “He got back up and tried to come at me again.”

Fetty said he remembers hearing the blast of weapons from other members of the security team firing at the attacker. He shot again, at the man’s stomach. He’d heard that it’s safe to fire into a suicide vest, but didn’t want to test his luck by firing into the attacker’s chest. “That’s a bad way for me to end up in a bunch of pieces,” he said.

Then the attacker looked at Fetty with “the scariest face I’ve ever seen.” The standoff had turned personal. “Earlier, he just looked crazy, but now he wanted to kill me,” Fetty said. “I knew what his intent was, and I abandoned all hopes of killing the guy before he would explode.”

Fetty took three steps before making a “Hollywood dive.” The blast came as he hit the ground, peppering him with shrapnel in the face, leg and ankle. All that remained where he had struggled with the attacker was a big hole in the ground.

For several months after the incident, Fetty second-guessed his actions. He fretted that several other soldiers and an Afghan security guard had received shrapnel wounds. Should he have shot sooner or done something differently? “Maybe I could have done it so nobody got hurt, or at least just I got hurt,” he said.
All he had wanted to do was protect his fellow soldiers, the Afghan people they were helping and the new emergency room his provincial reconstruction team had spent months working to make a reality.

In the end, he accepted that he’d made the best of a bad situation by limiting collateral damage as he applied the training that had been drilled into him. “We train hard,” and for every imaginable scenario, including dealings with a suicide bomber, he said. “You go through your rules of engagement and pray that it all works out the way it’s supposed to. This time it happened to work out.”

For his actions that day the 32-year-old pharmacist from Parkersburg, W. Va., became the first Army reservist to receive the Silver Star for valor in Afghanistan. Fetty’s commander said his actions went far beyond saving “countless, countless lives.”

“His actions, along with the actions of others on the team, really prevented a strategic catastrophe,” said Cmdr.. Wade.

Although he’s proud to receive the Silver Star, Fetty said anyone in his shoes would have acted the same way. “I don’t really believe in valor that much,” he said. “It’s more like the set of circumstances you’re put in. I think there are plenty of people over there who are just as brave as I am, who fortunately never found themselves in that situation.”

He said he’s convinced that everyone possesses traits of heroism. “It’s in every human nature to protect someone else,” he said, particularly those they’ve bonded with through hundreds of combat missions and countless hours of ping-pong. “It’s a combination of training, loyalty to your friends and basic human nature,” he said.

As of October 2007, Fetty was still assigned to a medical holding company at Fort Bragg, N.C., but said he looks forward to getting back to his troops to instill some of the lessons he’s learned. “You stick to the basics,” he said. “Always have a plan, stick to the plan, but be prepared to change the plan when you need to.”

Looking back, he said he’s glad he felt compelled to volunteer for duty in Afghanistan, even changing his military specialty so he could deploy as part of the civil affairs team.

He’s convinced the PRTs are making “a huge difference” in Afghanistan. “It’s absolutely vital,” he said. “We build roads, build bridges, improve health care. The Afghan government doesn’t really have the means to fix itself by itself.”

Working among the Afghan people was “amazing,” he said. “Every time we’d go and stop someplace, people were happy to see us. Kids knew ‘PRT’ meant that we were going to fix something. We were going to improve their life in some way.”

Wade said Fetty’s actions during a celebration of a PRT milestone “exemplified what we are trying to achieve.” By standing firmly in the face of danger, Fetty demonstrated “that we really are there to help the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

Fetty’s actions had a ripple effect in Khost province, he said. Furious that terrorists would try to undo the progress being made, local leaders and mullahs staged a peace rally following the would-be attack. They decreed acts of violence “unIslamic,” Wade said, and helped get word out to the people “that the United States and coalition are truly here to help.”

Wade said he’s glad Fetty is being recognized for his actions, “and for the tactical and strategic impact he had.”

“It was an incredible honor to have served with him,” he said.

SSG Fetty is a man who put his life on hold to participate in something bigger than himself. He volunteered for Afghanistan in order to make a positive difference in the lives of others. While some people talk about that, he did it. And when confronted with a man who would destroy all the good he had labored so hard to help build, he valorously took action which assured that didn’t happen. That’s why SSG Jason Fetty of Joint Provisional Reconstruction Team Khost, pharmacist, reservist, patriot and recipient of the Silver Star is someone you should know.

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