Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


Trip Report

Great day yesterday – drove up Skyline Drive which borders the Shenendoah Valley and did the scenery tour.  Absolutely beautiful (we’re staying in Charlottesville, VA).  Then came back through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen in a while to Montpelier – James Madison’s home.

This was particularly interesting to me because of Madison’s role in writing the Federalist papersand the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The house itself is a work in progress.  They only finally restored it to its original dimensions in September of last year (subsequent owners had added on – they took all the additions off of the house and only kept the parts that were there when the Madison’s owned it).

Anyway, probably the most memorable moment for me was standing in Madison’s study, where he penned much of the Constitution and many of the Federalist papers and staring at the ink stains on the wooden floor where his desk had been.  It’s little things like that which can bring history alive for a person.  That and staring out of the window at the beautiful scenery he looked at as he worked on those incredible documents.

If you get a chance, go see the place.  Web site: www.montpelier.org.

Today Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland (home of James Monroe) and Michie Tavern (of course). Hopefully the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg battlefields as well.

Ta ta …

~McQ

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Foreign Policy? Becoming A Bit Uncomfortable On The Left

Gloria Borger, hardly a right-winger (and certainly an Obama supporter), takes Obama to task about his performance so far in the foreign policy arena:

This is not a column about whether the president should take pictures with — or shake the hands of — unstable foreign leaders who mostly call him names and rant about America.

Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. A grimace instead of a smile on the face would be better, sure. But it’s not the end of America’s standing in the world, as some are suggesting.

But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.

What she’s talking about are two recent incidents – one in which Obama was in attendance and the other occurred in the UN when Iran’s Amadinejad called for the destruction of Israel.

In both cases, Obama’s response was essentially a non-response.

Says Borger:

Case in point: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the podium at the United Nations conference in Geneva on Monday to call Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime,” we might have said something. The European delegates walked out of the conference (we declined to attend), but when asked about the brouhaha later, the State Department spokesman, sticking to the talking points, could only muster that “that type of rhetoric is not helpful and doesn’t help facilitate a constructive dialogue.”

You think?

A bit of a chuckle there for me. You know it’s gotten bad when even the Borgers of the world are criticizing the issuance of boilerplate rhetoric in response to what the rest of the West considers to be outrageous and inflammatory words. While not exactly a non-response, the administration comes as close to one as you can with its words.

But the second incident is even worse. Here Borger is talking about Newt Gingrich’s criticism of Obama and claiming he missed his real opportunity:

But the Summit of the Americas gave them an easy opportunity to decry the president’s weakness, not only after his handshake with Chavez but also when he sat quietly through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute anti-American rant.

He didn’t have to walk out, but he could have given a sharper critique of Ortega’s histrionics after the event. Instead, he decided to just give it the back of his hand, saying only that “it was 50 minutes long.”

Its funny, the administration will attack any domestic critic with the full power of its spin machine. And yet, the president sits through a 50 minute anti-American tirade (after one of his advisers declared anti-Americanism was no longer cool in the world) and has no reaction at all.

Tell me, who’s job is it to defend the US if not his? Of course that’s not an easy thing to do if a president engaged in apologizing for the country at every foreign affairs opportunity, is it?

~McQ

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NYT: Spectacularly Wrong … Yet Again

Will someone please buy these people a subscription to Google or something? In trying to compare TANF and TARP spending, Nancy Folbre makes a rather glaringly error:

Robert Rector and Katharine Bradley of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, estimate that federal welfare spending amounted to $491 billion in fiscal 2008. (They don’t explain what specific programs they included in this estimate, and I’ll try to unpack it in a future post.) Even their extremely high estimate remains far below estimates of the total of $2.5 trillion spent on financial bailouts this year. The libertarian Cato Institute often emphasizes the issue of corporate welfare, but it’s remained remarkably quiet so far on the topic of bailouts.

David Boaz begs to differ:

Excuse me?

Since she linked to one of our papers on corporate welfare, we assume she’s visited our site. How, then, could she get such an impression? Cato scholars have been deploring bailouts since last September. (Actually, since the Chrysler bailout of 1979, but we’ll skip forward to the recent avalanche of Bush-Obama bailouts.) Just recently, for instance, in — ahem — the New York Times, senior fellow William Poole implored, “Stop the Bailouts.” I wonder if our commentaries started with my blog post “Bailout Nation?” last September 8? Or maybe with Thomas Humphrey and Richard Timberlake’s “The Imperial Fed,” deploring the Federal Reserve’s help for Bear Stearns, on April 14 of last year?

Boaz goes onto reproduce a video compilation of Cato scholars denouncing bailouts on “more than 90 radio and television programs.” He also produces an impressive list of papers, articles and media appearances which seriously challenge Folbre’s notion of “remarkably quiet.”

Folbre doubles down here:

You’re right. The Cato Institute website has not been silent. It just didn’t meet my expectations of adequate noise.

Yeah. Too bad her post didn’t meet reality’s expectations for factual.

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North Dakota’s “Secessionist” Resolution

What to make of this trend? I think Oklahoma got the 10th Amendment push-back ball 10th-amendmentrolling, Montana advanced the ball several yards, Texas got into the game recently (albeit, too glibly), several other states are getting their shots in, and now North Dakota takes it’s turn.

The resolution in the North Dakota legislature asking the federal government to begin recognizing the 10th amendment and to stop overreach into state matters, the one the Fargo Forum wrote off as being part of a “secessionist movement, has passed in the Senate. By a strictly party-line vote, unfortunately, meaning not one Democrat in the legislature had enough respect for the sovereignty of North Dakota to vote for it.

[...]

The resolution now goes to the House, where I expect it will also pass. Also, I’m guessing, by a strictly party-line vote. Which, if it happens, would be a small bright spot in an otherwise dim legislative session. It takes a certain level of conviction for politicians to vote for a resolution like this one. Would that the Republicans voting for it now had the courage of those convictions when faced with legislation that grows spending and government in the state.

At Say Anything, Rob Port has a copy of a state Senator Joe Miller‘s speech in support of the resolution from the Senate floor. I recommend you go there and read it.

Does it limit the feds, or not?

Does it limit the feds, or not?


Combined with some Governors rejecting portions of the stimulus funds, and the Tea Parties breaking out all over the country, I’d say it’s a good sign that people are finally telling Washington to take a hike. Personally, I would say that both Porkbusters and the Sunlight Foundation are owed some credit as well, but either way it’s about time that the federal government was reminded of its place. Granted, it’s a fairly small reminder, but maybe one that can be built upon.

So where does all of this lead anyway. Is there any hope that all of this momentum will lead to less federal government interference? How about some support for repealing the 17th Amendment? I’d like to think that it will end up reducing the size of government (i.e. electing fiscally conservative representatives who will cut taxes and greatly slash spending), but once that horse left the barn, the barn was burned to the ground and a giant spending dance was done on the smoldering ashes. Nevertheless, is there some small ray of hope that the states will rein in our profligate Congress?

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Your 33 Cent Spending Cut – Enjoy

I know Dale has covered this, but I’ve got to add my 2 cents (and besides I wrote this last night and don’t want to waste it).

You’ve got to love this ruse.  Jack up spending in all cabinet departments by huge precentages and then, after the tea parties that he’d apparently never heard of, Obama demands his cabinet cut spending by — a hundred million dollars?

This guy who is on the back end of spending 4 trillion dollars we don’t have now says it is important to cut spending by a measly hundred mil?

Heck even he knows this is nothing more than a propaganda attempt and a poor one at that:

President Barack Obama on Monday ordered his Cabinet to find ways to slice spending by $100 million, but acknowledged it’s a “drop in the bucket” and said there’s a “confidence gap” that he needs to overcome.

That’s just freakin’ hilarious in a slick, sick political kind of way. Hey, I’ve just spent $36,000 dollars for every man, woman and child in the US and, to show my intentions are good, I’m going to cut the equivalent of … 33 cents … from that debt.

And that is supposed to mollify everyone?

Talk about an insult to anyone’s intelligence. Yet the left is out there touting this as some great and wonderful thing and sucking it up with a straw. Lord they’re easy to roll, aren’t they?

~McQ

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Axelrod – Clueless

The more I hear from this crowd the more I come to believe they live in cloud cuckoo land:

Top White House adviser David Axelrod on Monday said that President Obama’s trips to Europe, Turkey and Latin America in the last three weeks have made anti-American sentiment uncool and “created a new receptivity” to U.S. interests.

“What’s happened is anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore,” Mr. Axelrod said, speaking to an audience of a few hundred at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“This president has not only engaged the leaders of the world, he’s engaged the people of the world,” Mr. Axelrod said, arguing that Mr. Obama’s approach to foreign policy has restored “a sense of humility” that “was missing” in the past.

So that’s what was missing. And it has paid such dividends so far – Europe rejected the two big Obama goals of his tour (increased governmental stimulus spending and increases in European combat troops to Afghanistan), but they feel much better about the fact that he “listened” while they said no. Heh … why engage in anti-Americanism when “no” suffices?

Axelrod’s statement is so pathetically naive that it is difficult to comprehend it being spoken by a senior adviser in a presidential administration. Bowing to kings and fist-bumping dictators doesn’t make anyone more receptive to the US – it simply identifies an easy mark. This crew has absolutely no grasp on foreign policy at all, especially when they seem to actually believe that one quick swing around the world has eliminated anti-Americanism and restored anything but a calculated understanding by each of those leaders Obama supposedly charmed as to how far he can push the US and get away with it.

~McQ

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Crazy Barry is Cutting Prices to the Bone!

The Washington Post reports on the president’s bold move to order his cabinet to identify cost savings in the Federal government:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, and he will order its members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

So, how much is that, exactly, in terms of spending?  Well, let’s take a look.  Heritage Foundation drew up a little graph for our edification.

obamacuts

As the AP “Spin Meter” puts it:

The thrifty measures Obama ordered for federal agencies are the equivalent of asking a family that spends $60,000 in a year to save $6.

He’s all about the sacrifice.

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Second Amendment now applies to the Ninth District

The Ninth District Court of Appeals weighed in on the Second Amendment today as they ruled in Nordyke v. King. Here’s the story from SCOTUS Blog:

The Constitution’s protection of an individual right to have guns for personal use restricts the powers of state and local government as much as it does those of the federal government, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled Monday. The opinion by the three-judge panel can be found here. This is the first ruling by a federal appeals court to extend the Second Amendment to the state and local level. Several cases on the same issue are now awaiting a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court.

Ruling on an issue that is certain to reach the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court concluded “that the right to keep and bear arms” as a personal right has become a part of the Constitution as it applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

That right, it said, “is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’ Colonial revolutionaries, the Founders, and a host of commentators and lawmakers living during the first one hundred years of the Republic all insisted on the fundamental nature of the right. It has long been regarded as the ‘true palladium of liberty.’
[...]
[F]ollowing the lead of the Supreme Court’s decision last June in District of Columbia v. Heller, finding a personal right in the Second Amendment for the first time, the Circuit Court concluded that the right as interpreted by the Justices is limited to “armed self-defense” in the home.

Basically what that means that the Ninth District incorporated Second Amendment, as an individual right, to the states in its jurisdiction.

The opinion is available here.

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The AIPAC and Harman Scandal

The blogosphere is abuzz after this Jeff Stein piece in CQ Politics, essentially regurgitating old news:

Influence Peddler?

Influence Peddler?

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript … In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

The fact that Harman was recorded via an NSA wiretap has some in the blogosphere declaring a victory for irony:

There’s a large poetic justice factor here in that Harman has been a big defender of potentially abusive surveillance so she doesn’t, personally, have much to stand on as an opponent of abusive surveillance when applied to her.

[...]

Thinking about that further reenforces (sic) the point that selective, unaccountable surveillance is very dangerous. A president could do a great deal to gin up pretexts to wiretap members of congress and blackmail them even without the members doing anything unusually egregious. But it’s also a reminder that we have a political system that’s substantially powered by a kind of systematic, quasi-legalized bribery.

Matthew Yglesias’ self-righteousness is supposedly justified by the fact that Rep. Harman backed the Bush Administration’s terrorist surveillance program, fondly remembered by the left as the inappropriately named “domestic warrantless wiretapping” program. However, Harman was not caught on tape by that program, but instead via a regular, old court-approved wiretap:

It’s true that allegations of pro-Israel lobbyists trying to help Harman get the chairmanship of the intelligence panel by lobbying and raising money for Pelosi aren’t new.

They were widely reported in 2006, along with allegations that the FBI launched an investigation of Harman that was eventually dropped for a “lack of evidence.”

What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.

Nevertheless, thanks to Harman’s transgressions against the anti-war/anti-Bush left, in the form of her support of anti-terrorism activities, she is not getting any sympathy from Democrats. Which is a shame because it doesn’t necessarily appear that she’s done anything wrong here.

Because the article provides a paucity of specific information, I’m hard-pressed to figure out what Harman’s illegal action could have been. All the allegations are to unnamed sources, and there is no indication of what the supposed illegal activity was. The insinuation is that, based on earlier reports, Harman would help out AIPAC in return for the lobbying group raising money for Pelosi, who would then show her appreciation by promoting Harman to the Chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Yet the facts as alleged don’t even support that theory.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Harman “waddling into” the AIPAC case merely to advocate for a lighter sentence for the Israeli defendant accused of spying. It may not have been smart, nor exactly savory, but it would not have been illegal as far as I know. If instead Harman had tried to use her official powers to alter the outcome someway (which is not alleged), I could see wher there may some problems. Merely making a case for a lighter sentence does not even begin to rise to that level, however.

Furthermore, I’m not so sure that there is any real quid pro quo here. If after Harman “waddled into” the spy case, AIPAC went to Nancy Pelosi and said “that Harman chick is one swell gal! You should promote to the head of Senate intelligence panel, or something,” what would be the problem? Does AIPAC not have the freedom of speech to say they like one congressman over another? Some might think that AIPAC is a foreign lobbyist firm (it’s not), and thus should be restricted from certain activities with respect to supporting political appointments, but that’s not true. Foreign lobbyists are more restricted when it comes to elections, but no lobbyist is prevented from advocating for the appointment of an already elected official to committee assignment or the like. So, again, based on the information provided, I’m just not sure what the charge is here.

Interestingly enough, if there is anyone who should be worried about this latest report (assuming any of it is true), it is Alberto Gonzales. According to Stein’s article, other than the fact that Harman was caught on tape, the only other new news here is that “contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for ‘lack of evidence,’ it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.”

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.

As for there being “no evidence” to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that “bull****.”

[...]

The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.

But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.

[...]

Harman responded that Gonzales would be a difficult task, because he “just follows White House orders,” but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.

According to the rest of the story, the Justice Department and the CIA were ready to conduct a full scale investigation of Harman because of the transcripts, but Gonzales stepped in and stopped it because he needed her help:

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program

He was right.

On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”

Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing.

And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.

The problem with this version of the story is that it fails to allege what wrongdoing Harman was being accused of. Lots of “sources familiar with the transcript” are quoted, although none are named, and not a single person identified which statute or regulation Harman allegedly violated. Why is that?

Of course, regardless of whether Harman had actually committed any crime, if Gonzales called the dogs off for political reasons (as the story asserts), then he has a problem. I don’t think it would be obstruction of justice per se since, after all, he was head of the DoJ. Short-circuiting a criminal investigation for political gain, however, is exactly the sort of use of public office that Harman appears to be accused of in the Stein story.

At this point it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell exactly what happened. There are tiny whiffs of spice conjured up here there, but no real meat on any of the bones. Stein even admits at the end of his story that none of the supposed gains bargained for were actually realized:

Ironically, however, nothing much was gained by it.

The Justice Department did not back away from charging AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman for trafficking in classified information.

Gonzales was engulfed by the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal.

And Jane Harman was relegated to chairing a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

All of which calls the veracity of the story into question. I don’t know what actually went down, and apparently neither does anyone else whose willing to be named. Until there are some solid facts produced and names put behind them, this whole “scandal” looks pretty contrived in my opinion. Which really just leaves two questions: (1) Why this old story now, and (2) Cui bono? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Obama offers nothing in the way of budget cuts

President Obama is asking for budget cuts from his Cabinet:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president’s determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

Obama’s order comes as he is under increasing pressure to show momentum toward his goal of eventually reducing the federal deficit, even as he goes about increasing spending in the short run to prop up the economy and support his priorities.

That’s it? $100 million? John Miller over at the NRO describes that as a “a rounding error at a Department of Agriculture regional office.” What a joke.

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Old QandO

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