Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: June 2010


Why governments are dangerous

When government doesn’t want to pay a bill, you have little recourse except the courts in most law abiding countries.

In the dictatorship that is Venezuela, not only does the government not pay the bill, but it takes you means of livelihood to boot for daring to attempt to collect what you’re owed. Such is the fate of one American owned country which tried to collect on its debt.

Venezuela will nationalize a fleet of oil rigs belonging to U.S. company Helmerich and Payne, the latest takeover in a push to socialism as President Hugo Chavez struggles with lower oil output and a recession.

[...]

The 11 drilling rigs have been idled for months following a dispute over pending payments by the OPEC member’s state oil company PDVSA. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Wednesday the rigs, the Oklahoma-based company’s entire Venezuelan fleet, were being nationalized to bring them back into production.

The reason they weren’t presently in production is the Venezuelan government refuses to pay them for $49 million for past services.

Of course the government of Venezuela has devised an excuse for what would be grand theft in any other law abiding society:

Ramirez said companies that refused to put their rigs into production were part of a plan to weaken Chavez’s government,

“There is a group of drill owners that has refused to discuss tariffs and services with PDVSA and have preferred to keep this equipment stored for a year,” Ramirez told reporters in the oil producing state of Zulia. “That is the specific case with U.S. multinational Helmerich and Payne.”

Interestingly, we here have the opposite problem. Venezuela’s government is trying to get drilling rigs into production and has resorted to nationalized theft to do it.

We have a government trying to take drilling rigs out of production, and is prepared to ignore court rulings to the contrary and do so by executive fiat.

~McQ


Quote of the day – forget what I said the first time edition

Coinciding with and probably as a result of the McChrystal firing, a lot of questioning has been directed toward the Obama administration about its previously announced decision to begin the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2011. That was originally announced by the President when he outlined his new strategy about a year ago. Since then, as administration officials have been questioned about the date, mixed messages have been the result. VP Joe Biden has said the date is “firm”. SecDef Robert Gates has said it would be based on “conditions on the ground”.

Critics have rightfully said that announcing a firm withdrawal date is a strategically self-defeating thing to do. It gives the enemy a finish line they simply have to survive long enough to make. It also isn’t great for the morale of those US soldiers there now fighting in this war.

So it was interesting to hear the president – who originally announced the withdrawal date for next year -deny it was what he said it was:

“We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us,” Obama said. “We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.”

Well that’s not exactly how it was interpreted then (light switching and door closing were certainly implied). Nor was that interpretation of the date then ever denied by the president or his staff – until now.

The announcement above is actually a change. White House spinmeisters will most likely characterize it as a “clarification”. But the bottom line is, the “firm” July 2011 withdrawal date announced by the president last year is much less “firm” with this “clarification”.

And, if I know my wars, the ANA and Afghan government are far from being ready to “transition” into taking “more and more responsibility”.

That, in fact, is why critics in the Senate are telling the president that the problem lies not with the military side of the house, but with the civilian/State Department (and other Departments) side of the house.

Until a credible and competent diplomatic staff is assembled in Kabul and is able to begin to do what was done in Iraq, there will be nothing to which to hand this “transition” off.

Yes, there’s corruption. Yes, we don’t like it. But Afghanistan isn’t the US and corruption and the like have been an integral part of their lifestyle for centuries. Is our goal to make them a mini-US, or to have them develop a functioning government and security apparatus that can hold the country and keep terrorists from basing there and threatening the US?

Two things to take from this – this is a mild presidential rebuke to the “this is a firm date” crowd (*cough* Biden et al *cough*). That may have further implications down the road. And it is also a case where strategic ambiguity – at least in this specific area – is a help and not a hindrance.

~McQ


How hungry are governments for tax revenue?

Hungry enough to tax minimum wage employees for their “free” (or reduced cost) restaurant meals in Michigan:

Although it may be “free,” that’s not stopping some legislators from attempting to tax it. State Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, has introduced House Bill 6214, which would tax free meals employees get while working at restaurants and food establishments.

Can anyone think of a better example of a tax which would hit those that can afford it least? One of the few benefits of working what is usually a minimum wage job is the server or worker is allowed one free or reduced cost meal a day. When working for the wages the restaurant industry usually pays – especially in fast food establishments, that helps a bit.

Making them pay the sales tax on the meal probably won’t break them, but it is a direct tax on what Democrats always call “the working poor”. The party that contends they’re the champions of this class are taking a run at squeezing a few more pennies out of their pocket – at least in Michigan.

It also places another collection and book keeping demand on the business. That isn’t “free” either.

Michigan, of course, is a state in which government has essentially failed, is significantly in debt and is looking for any sort of revenue it can scare up.

What’s next, taxing the dead for the privilege of being buried in the state?

~McQ


Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-24

The government required BP to use flawed models to create their accident contingency plans for oil spills. http://bit.ly/bjn3Qy #

There's not a lot of happiness about the Feds' response to the Gulf spill. REALLY not happy. Mutiny-level unhappiness. http://bit.ly/cEecZp #

Medvedev thinks Russia could have a hi-tech economy. Maybe rural electricity and plumbing would be a good start. http://bit.ly/cRZ9ZX #

NYC exhibit shows shiny, green utopian cities in 2030. Like people in the 1930's imagined we'd have flying cars today. http://bit.ly/aEzjxX #

Shoddy disposal work mars Gulf spill cleanup. http://bit.ly/9E4ZGI #

RT @dmataconis @CalebHowe @CO2HOG @TejasKat Is BP burning sea turtles alive? | Yes, but then you crack them open and have yummy turtle soup. #

RT @dmataconis: Americans Love Their Country, Fear Their Government. | But not quite enough to eliminate the things that make gov't fearful. #

In the worst idea since direct election of senators, the electoral college is on the verge of being eliminated. http://bit.ly/cCo46e #

There's a good chance that BP will declare bankruptcy. File in London, get relief from spill liability. http://bit.ly/biUBU7 #

Venezuela nationalizes some US-owned oil rigs. This is how poor countries tell the world, "Never invest here again." http://bit.ly/929IAF #

RT @GayPatriot @FloridaJayhawk: $540 Massage? What Kind of Massage Did Al Gore order? | I believe it's known as a "Happy Ending". #

RT @JoeNBC SOCCER GAME: For me, it was as exciting as any sports event since Lake Placid. | Seriously? Since Lake Placid? #

Hey, Belarus, all your gas are belong to us! #MedvedevTweets http://bit.ly/9L4k0t #


Obama DoJ to take AZ to court over immigration law – Mexico joins suit, AZ Dems scream

That’s right folks, instead of fixing the problem, the Department of Justice, at the behest of President Obama, has chosen to sue a state trying to protect itself.

And guess who thinks it is a good idea and wants to join in the fun?

Mexico on Tuesday asked a federal court in Arizona to declare the state’s new immigration law unconstitutional, arguing that the country’s own interests and its citizens’ rights are at stake.

Like the “right” to illegally enter another country? When I see Mexico take down its border stations and yell, “come on down” in Spanish, then I might think it has a moral leg to stand on. But in this case, it’s just hypocritical nonsense.

More interesting than even Mexico joining the law suit is the fact that AZ Democrats are livid about the DoJ suit:

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) on Monday sent a sharply worded letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to sue.

“I believe your administration’s time, efforts and resources would be much better spent securing the border and fixing our broken immigration system,” the two-term congressman wrote in the letter. “Arizonans are tired of the grandstanding, and tired of waiting for help from Washington. … [A] lawsuit won’t solve the problem. It won’t secure the border, and it won’t fix our broken immigration system.”

Heh … change a few words and he could be talking about the effort in the Gulf.

Mitchell isn’t the only Democrat upset with Obama. Facing tight races in AZ this year, a number of Democrats see this as an unnecessary and even foolish effort by the Obama administration.

“Congresswoman [Gabrielle] Giffords wants more federal agents on the Arizona border, not federal lawyers in court arguing with state lawyers about a law that will do nothing to increase public safety in the communities she represents,” C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for the congresswoman, told The Hill.

Well there’s your bi-partisanship. All in opposition to the administration’s decision to sue AZ.

My favorite quote comes from Democratic Rep. Ann Kilpatrick though:

“I am calling on the president and the attorney general to abandon preparations for a lawsuit against Arizona, and to recommit to finding a national solution to fixing this national problem,” the freshman lawmaker said in a statement released Monday. “The administration should focus on working with Arizona to put together a long-term strategy to secure our borders and reform our immigration policy. … The time for talk is over, and the time for action is here.”

With this president, the “time for talk” is never over. And the “time for action?” Well they haven’t sued yet, have they? Or closed Gitmo. Or pulled out of Iraq. Or ended DADT. Or …

~McQ


McChrystal wasn’t the problem in Afghanistan

Of course the irony is thick – Gen. David Petraeus, the man the left labeled "General Betrayus" and then Senator Hillary Clinton essentially called a liar about Iraq, has now been called upon to pull the presidential bacon out of the fire in Afghanistan.

If winning in Iraq was a tall order, winning in Afghanistan is a giant order. We’re not much closer now than we were 9 years ago, we’re operating under a strategy that takes time and massive manpower, yet we’re dealing with a “firm” withdrawal date of next year, and the civilian team in country has been less than successful.

It is on that latter point that I wish to dwell. Before going there though, as I stated yesterday, changing “firm” to “conditions based” will go a long way toward heading off dissent and disillusionment by the Afghan people and government. The massive manpower, of course, has to come from the Afghan government (and army/police). There’s no reason for an Afghan to join those security forces if we’re leaving next June. The commitment from our government to their cause has got to be what is “firm” – not a withdrawal date.

If we’re not able to make that commitment, then we need to withdraw – completely.

But assuming our goal there is to leave a relatively intact, democratic and functioning country, that in-country civilian team needs to be challenged to do a much better job than it is or be replaced. And that begins with Amb. Eikenberry.

The basics of COIN say the military/host country forces clear/hold/protect. That protection is key and the obvious goal of the military is to turn that job of clear/hold/protect over to the ANA. However, the civilian side of things comes into play during and after that military goal has been accomplished.

First a functioning national government must be in place. The job of the civilian side of the house in the sort of nation building COIN calls for is to be intimately involved in helping the national government function properly.

The one way you don’t do that in an honor/shame society, is go on yelling rants against the president of the country as it has been reported both Eikenberry and Biden have done. Whether or not one thinks the man is corrupt or not doing enough is irrelevant – once shamed like that, his cooperation has been lost. That is the sort of toxic relationship now existing there.

Gen. Petraeus, other than his military success in Iraq, had a very close working relationship with Amb. Crocker. It was that relationship, plus the military side of things (plus the awakening and surge) that spelled success in that country.

McChrystal and Eikenberry had a very hostile and adversarial relationship (Eikenberry is not lamenting the fact that McChrystal is gone). It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the same sort of relationship begin to develop between Petraeus and Eikenberry, given the latter’s mode of operation. If that happens, it would be Eikenberry who would likely go down. Obama can’t afford to change generals again and Petraeus is seen by the vast majority of Americans as a winner.

Anyway, back to COIN – once clear/hold/protect is in place, government has to be extended into those areas and the people have to see the benefit of that connection. Enough so that they reject the insurgent once and for all.

That’s a very difficult and so far unobtainable goal for the civilian side of the house. Marjah is the perfect example. “President” Karzai is really the mayor of Kabul. Until he or the leader of a subsequent government is seen as and acknowledged as the president of the country in the outlying provinces of Afghanistan, the “country” will always be a collection of tribal areas, overlaid with a single religion and no real governing power.

That’s the civilian side of the house and apparently there’s a move afoot within the Senate to use the Petraeus hearings to address that problem. This is probably the most pressing need to address at the moment.

“The civilian side, in my view, is completely dysfunctional,” said Graham.

Lieberman said the magazine article “revealed what we have known, that there is not the kind of unity in Afghanistan between our civilian and military leadership” that is necessary.

Though none of the senators would name specific civilian leaders who should be replaced, McCain suggested “re-uniting the Crocker-Petraeus team,” a reference to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad while Petraeus headed up military operations in the country.

The current ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, had a notoriously rocky relationship with McChrystal.

If this situation isn’t addressed and addressed quickly and forcefully, it isn’t going to matter much what the military does in Afghanistan. If the civilian team isn’t functional and working in harmony with the military toward the commong goal, then that goal won’t be reached.

Obama made the right decision about McChrystal, but not for these reasons. Now he needs to listen to the Senate, review the progress, or lack thereof, on the civilian side of the effort, and sack and replace those who aren’t serving him well in the critical positions there. And that would include Amb. Eikenberry.

~McQ


Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-23

Italian researchers report that stem cell therapy returns sight to people blinded in accidents. http://bit.ly/bDNbjl #

Journalist who says bad things about me has had terrible, horrible accident. Must be karma, da? #MedvedevTweets #

Hello everyone! I go to Vladimir's house. He has television and American blue jeans! #MedvedevTweets #

Another call to use explosives to close the oil leak. We know it'll work at 5000ft and 2000psi pressure how, exactly? http://bit.ly/d6QXDe #

It just hit me that the last time new home sales were at 300k for a month was the year before I was born. #

Rumblefish will allow YouTube users to purchase royalty-free music for $1.99, for lifetime use in non -profit videos. http://bit.ly/cPzru8 #

On the bright side, Obama now has the opportunity to appoint yet another official that Hamid Karzai hates. More of that smart diplomacy. #

RT @EdMorrissey: If our entire national policy is based on one "irreplaceable" general, then we truly are screwed, and not just in A-stan. in reply to EdMorrissey #

RT @dmataconis @jstrevino: Re:soccer, Eurovision, annihilating Israel, Nutella, appeasement. | One of those things is fantastic! #

With a 77 seat majority in the house and 18 in the senate, and no filibuster possible, the Democrats are still unable to pass a budget? #

New-home sales plunge 33% to 300k, vice expectations of…450k?…Really? Anyway, that's pretty bad. http://usat.me?38981184 #

Canada's spy chief says that a number of Canadian politicians are owned by foreign governments. Hmmm. Who owns ours? http://bit.ly/cjBeza #

Now Mexico is challenging Arizona's immigration law? How about we adapt Mexico's law & watch them freak out. http://bit.ly/cJqH0a #

Watching FOX NEWS, I see a commercial, clearly directed at the ' seeds, for something called the Creation Museum. That's an oxymoron. #

RT @Amuk3 Happy Birthday Joss Whedon! | Feh. Until he brings Firefly back, he's dead to me. But I'm not bitter. #


McChrystal is gone – now what?

Unsurprisingly, President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of our effort in Afghanistan, for remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

That’s unfortunate, but most people saw it as something that had to be done, given the importance of our Constitutional tradition of civilian control of the military. While a great general, his remarks couldn’t be allowed to stand without punishment.

That said, now what? Given the public remarks of McChrystal and his staff, it seems obvious to any fair observer that our Afghanistan strategy isn’t hitting on all cylinders and “team work” at the top is a buzz word, not a reality.

Maybe what would be easier to puzzle out is what shouldn’t happen now. McChrystal was the architect of the present strategy in Afghanistan. What shouldn’t happen, and would most likely spell final disaster there, is to again change strategies. All of the surge troops deployed to push that strategy forward won’t be in place until August. While McChrystal had asked for 40,000 troops, he only received 30,000. Regardless, the surge, in full, has yet to fully begin.

As we all know, the military piece is only a part of the solution, and, frankly, is a relatively minor one when talking about COIN and the peculiarities of the Afghan political landscape. A huge amount of work remains to be done on the civilian side of things there.

And, apparently, McChrystal is the only one who understands how important it is to form a personal relationship with the government and its leaders as a step toward reforming it and getting it to perform properly and competently with the goal of having it become a real national government:

McChrystal may hold the closest relationship of any American in what often has been a strained relationship with the Karzai government, says Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Obama administration has been critical of Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, although it has dialed back the rhetoric in recent weeks. “In Afghanistan, personal relations are critical,” Phillips says. “It’s difficult to build trust and working relationships. If McChrystal is suddenly replaced that would be a major blow to the Afghan and American military relationship and the Afghan and American governments’ relationship.”

The civilian team in place – Amb. Eikenberry, Holbrooke and others including the VP – have formed adversarial, even confrontational relationships with Afghanistan’s president and some government ministers. In an honor/shame society, that sort of a relationship is totally counter-productive. Unfortunately, with McChrystal gone, the only buffer to that sort of treatment has been removed as well as any reason for the Afghan government to cooperate.

Despite the remarks that sparked the relief, it apparent that the civilian side of the situation in Afghanistan has not been productive and may be staffed by the wrong people using the wrong approach. A full review of their actions and accomplishments (or lack thereof) to date is more than warranted given how little progress has been made in improving the governing ability of the Karzai government.

But back to the command options. It is critical that the Obama administration signal its intent to continue with the McCrystal/Obama strategy. It appears with the naming of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander, that is exactly the sort of a signal being sent. While it is a little of a step-down for Petraeus, politically and most likely tactically and strategically, it is an excellent choice. He is certainly familiar with the strategy and while he may tweak it, he’ll probably keep it mostly intact.

However, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus interacts with Eikenberry and Holbrooke. Remember the effectiveness of the Petraeus/Crocker relationship. No such dynamic has ever existed in Afghanistan. While the civilian side can probably skate on the McChrystal relationship, they’re going to have a much more difficult time doing the same thing with a more politically savvy David Petraeus, who most people consider to be a national hero.

Secondly, and just as importantly, the administration needs to make it clear that their June 2011 withdrawal date is “conditions based” instead of “firm”. A firm date is a signal to the bad guys that all they have to do is hunker down and wait it out. Making it conditions based makes the point that we’re not going to abandon Afghanistan. That, in and of itself, would go a long way to helping change the attitude in Kabul. If the “firm” commitment is kept, the Karzai government has no reason or incentive to make the effort to cooperate with the US strategy and may go out on its own to make a deal with the Taliban.

Keeping the “firm” withdrawal date can and will do more damage to the effort in Afghanistan than the Taliban could ever do.

Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.

As it happens, and as mentioned, Petraeus is a good choice both politically and strategically. But our effort in Afghanistan is in more trouble than an intemperate general’s remarks, and if some more big changes aren’t made, mostly on the civilian side, it is going to fail.

~McQ


Obama Orders Louisiana To Halt Berm-Building

I’m beginning to think that the comparisons of Obama’s management of the oil spill to how Hurricane Katrina was handled are completely inapt. In reality, it looks more like the Obama administration should be compared to the storm itself.

Louisiana has been busily building berms about a mile out from the coast to halt the infiltration of oil into its sensitive marshes, wetlands and prime fishing areas. This process was greatly delayed by federal red tape, and now that the state has permits in hand it’s being order to stop because, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, it’s doing it wrong:

The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about the dredging is being done.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who was one of the most vocal advocates of the dredging plan, has sent a letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for the work to continue.

[...]

Nungesser has asked for the dredging to continue for the next seven days, the amount of time it would take to move the dredging operations two miles and out resume work.

Work is scheduled to halt at midnight Wednesday.

Pat Austin is trying to understand the federal obstruction, but finds that political reasoning is the only thing that makes sense of it all:

I’m trying to see both sides here; I’m trying to understand the “coastal scientists” who contend that the berms will “change tidal patterns” and lead to more long term erosion of the islands, but if the islands are killed off by the oil what difference does it make? To borrow from Greta Perry’s analogy, if my house is on fire, what does it matter what room I try to extinguish first? It’s all doing down.

[...]

It seems that the feds are doing everything they can to cripple Louisiana’s own response to this crisis. Bobby Jindal reached his exasperation point long ago when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, If you’re not going to fix it, get out of the way and let us do it ourselves! From the moratorium, and Salazar’s promise to appeal the strike down of that moratorium, to the crazy red tape on the berm projects, to shutting down the skimmer barges for 24 hours, and now this?

Well, we could get the idea that Team Obama was trying to neutralize Jindal’s response, as if he were threatened by Bobby Jindal, or something.

For Billy Nungesser part, he isn’t taking this lying down. He fired off a letter to Obama demanding to be allowed to move forward with the coast-saving project … or else:

Plaquemines parish president Billy Nungesser is furious, drawing a line in the sand with the White House!

[...]

Nungesser is targeting President Obama as the only hope for continuing the work. In harsh letter he spelled out an option.

“Don’t shut us down, let us lay the pipe three miles out and then let us move the dredge so we will be down less than a day and we’ll refill the hole,” Nungesser said.

He also issued a threat to the President in the letter if he didn’t do something to help.

“It says if it shuts down, I’ll be on Anderson Cooper at nine…and it won’t be pretty.”

Nungesser also pushed Jindal to, in effect, damn the torpedoes and move full speed ahead:

“I asked the governor to let me stay out there tonight on the dredge, let em come out there and take the permit away.

Tell them the radio not working. We’ll smash it with a hammer.”

I’m actually a little surprised that Jindal hasn’t already taken this approach, citing exigent circumstances and daring Obama to shut him down.

Stepping back for a moment, does anyone else see the connection between the Arizona (and others) illegal immigration law, Gen. McChrystal’s insubordination, and Louisiana’s current predicament? Lacking any coherent direction, policy or plan, these people and entities are forced to take the reins over their particular situations only to be hindered by the Obama administration when they do, or worse, vilified and ridiculed. The lack of leadership creates a vacuum, and people like Jan Brewer, Gen. McChrystal, Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser are trying desperately to fill it. If there were ever a clear indication that Obama is an incompetent leader, this it.


Feds shut down Louisiana dredging operation – after approving it

Yessir – we have a unified plan and it is being executed to perfection to contain the Gulf oil spill.

Or not:

The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about where the dredging is being done.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued permits to build the berms (and President Obama had 360 million allocated for that construction) which are now almost complete. The Fish and Wildlife Department, however, has now pulled those permits and told the state it must move the operation two miles further offshore to satisfy their concerns.

As you might imagine, that’s not made the president of the parish involved in the construction of the berms very happy:

“Once again, our government resource agencies, which are intended to protect us, are now leaving us vulnerable to the destruction of our coastline and marshes by the impending oil,” Nungesser wrote to Obama. “Furthermore, with the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms, we are being put at an increased risk for devastation to our area from the intrusion of oil.”

Nungesser has called Adm. Allen, BP and the White House trying to get the order lifted. None have responded to his calls. I have no idea what BP could do – it’s a federal thing – but I guess he figures maybe they could apply some pressure.

Nungesser’s letter includes an emotional plea to the president. “Please don’t let them shut this dredge down,” he wrote. “This requires your immediate attention!”

Sorry he has a general to fire, something, which thankfully for the administration, has taken the spill off the front pages.

And they wonder why people keep calling the federal effort “chaos” and continue to try to figure out who, if anyone, is in charge.

~McQ