Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


You Might Be A Right-Wing Extremist If …

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, the Department of Homeland Security has apparently decided it is necessary to warn the nation’s law enforcement agencies about a new and growing threat – right-wing extremists.

For instance, you  might be a right-wing extremist if you’re a member of any groups:

“…that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration …”

The report, entitled “Right-Wing Extremism – Current Economic and Political Climate Refueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”, doesn’t mention whether those who are on the left and dedicated to single-issues, such as support for abortion or unlimited immigration might be extremists as well.

You can read the report here. (pdf)

David Weigel of the Washington Independent has trouble understanding the right-wing outrage this report sparks:

Seriously, though, I struggle to find anything wrong in a close — not a willfully obtuse — reading of the report.

Well maybe it’s the little things, David – like the apparent belief by DHS that any problem brewing domestically will occur only on the right. And perhaps it is implication that soldiers are likely to succumb to the draw of radical right-wingers:

Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

Of course they have to go back to the early ’90s and Timothy McVeigh to substantiate this claim. Apparently they’ve been unable to find any more recent possible problems on which to pin their caution. And of course they also use as intel a claim made on a white-supremacist web-site which claimed (without any proof) that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.”

Well, there you go!

My favorite “you might be a right-wing extremist if” moment came with this little tidbit from DHS:

Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures.

The “perceived loss of US jobs?!” Heh … well I guess we won’t need all of that ‘stimulus’ money for unemployment if they’re only perceived losses, huh? But look at the topics – “extremist chatter” focuses on “the economy … jobs … and home forclosures?” Heck, then half the news media is extremist. And we here at QandO fall into that camp. And that’s with a less than obtuse reading of the sentence above, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Weigel?

And of course, DHS covers guns, gun laws and the current gun buying spree in a rather amusing way:

Open source reporting of wartime ammunition shortages has likely spurred rightwing extremists—as well as law-abiding Americans—to make bulk purchases of ammunition. These shortages have increased the cost of ammunition, further exacerbating rightwing extremist paranoia and leading to further stockpiling activity.  Both rightwing extremists and law-abiding citizens share a belief that rising crime rates attributed to a slumping economy make the purchase of legitimate firearms a wise move at this time.

So when you buy that gun and ammo, which is it? Is it because you’re a paranoid rightwing extremist or a law abiding citizen who thinks such a purchase is a “wise move at this time”? Only DHS knows for sure. But if you’ve happened to write about the “perceived loss of US jobs”, the economy or “home foreclosures” on the internet and are a military veteran, I imagine you can figure out into which category you fall (heh … me included).

And don’t you dare be a state’s rights guy who believes that the federal government should respect the 10th Amendment:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.

In all, DHS is convinced that the economic downturn along with the “historic Presidental election”, code for “hey, we elected a black guy”, ensures a return to the ’90s and the rise of skin heads and militias.

By the way, you weren’t supposed to know about any of this.

LAW ENFORCEMENT INFORMATION NOTICE: This product contains Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) information. No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of this information could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

In reality it contains a bunch of warmed over nonsense, conjecture and unsubstantiated cites from anonymous websites. But remember, don’t tell anyone in the media about this BS passed off as “Intelligence and Analysis” because if they ever got wind of it they’d conclude there was very little analysis or intelligence on display in the document – and we wouldn’t want to embarrass DHS, would we?

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Tea Parties Are About Future Taxes, Not Present Ones (update)

Much of the left,  Steve Benen serving as a perfect example, are missing an essential point about the tea parties planned around the country. They aren’t about the level of taxation now. Instead, those attending them understand that with the massive spending undertaken by the federal government and the massive amounts of currency pumped into the system by the Federal Reserve, taxes aren’t going to remain anywhere near where they are now, no matter what politicians promise.

Benen uses a recent Gallup poll which says people are mostly happy with the tax rates they now have in an attempt to portray the protesters as being out of touch and out of step with the mainstream:

The latest survey from Gallup shows these assumptions don’t seem to apply right now: “A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is ‘about right,’ with 46% saying ‘too high’ — one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.”

The same poll found that 61% of Americans believe the income taxes they paid this year are “fair.”

This certainly isn’t the kind of public opinion landscape Republicans were hoping for. In order for conservative talking points on the economy to be effective, Americans have to believe the current tax rates are never “about right” and anything but “fair.” Broad satisfaction with taxes leaves Republicans with very little else to say.

I beg to differ (and it isn’t just “Republicans” involved in these protests). What it says is the Bush era taxes, the ones which resulted from a tax cut, are considered “fair”. That would mean, then, than any increase in taxes would be considered something other than “fair”. And anyone with enough intelligence to make toast should realize that the spending orgy we’ve seen in the last few months is something that will have to be “paid for” either through taxation or inflation (or both).

So when Benen says the following, he whiffs completely:

Indeed, the semi-official slogan of the Tea Baggers’ events tomorrow is “T.E.A.: Taxed Enough Already.” It was hard enough to make this argument shortly after the president signed the largest middle-class tax cut in history; it’s even harder in light of poll results like these.

“Taxed Enough Already” mirrors the poll. But unlike Bennen, who attempts to pawn off the “95% of Americans will receive tax cuts” nonsense as the reason for the satisfaction, the people showing up seem to understand the economics of the situation better than he does. Someone is going to have to pay for all this fiscal profligacy, and the protesters know exactly who those people are.

Thus the protests.

UPDATE: Benen still doesn’t get it. Referencing this post, he says:

I see. So, at some point in the future (we don’t know when), some politicians (we don’t know who) might find it necessary to raise taxes. Whose taxes would be raised? It’s too soon to say. How much would taxes go up? No one knows.

It helps, if you’re going to write about this stuff, if you keep up with what’s been going on. As we pointed out in another post on the Obama budget, you don’t even have to guess “how much” or whether or not it might be “necessary”, the budget answers those questions:

Tax Increases:

Against a baseline that assumes current law tax policy is extended, S. Con. Res. 13 raises taxes by $361 billion and allows for $1.3 trillion in additional tax increases. In addition their budget paves the way for additional tax increases from a proposed cap-and-trade tax in reconciliation.

And (making the point as to how the 1.3 trillion is raised):

Deficit Neutral Reserve Funds:

The Democrat budget includes 15 “reserve funds,” which essentially “phantom spending” policy statements that allow the majority to say that they would like to fund a certain initiative. The deficit neutral requirement associated with the reserve funds typically require that taxes be raised in order to pay for the new policy initiative. If all reserve funds were to be fully enacted, total spending would increase by $1.3 trillion, financed by tax increases or spending decreases.

Maybe Benen finds that acceptable, but obviously those protesting don’t.

He concludes with:

With this in mind, I can only conclude that the Tea Parties are the most forward-thinking political events in the history of the country.

Another whiff – all you have to do is read the budget proposal that was passed by Congress, Mr. Benen. It outlines the size and scope of those future taxes fairly specifically.

You have read it haven’t you?

~McQ

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Pirates: Facts, Fiction and Opinion

If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem.   Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia.  The bulk, of course, go through Suez.  The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison.  In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.

The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007.  Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking.  That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage.  It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.

20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden.  A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force.  TF 151 operates in the Gulf.  China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151.  They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.

With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.

But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage.  One of those tools is a website.  There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely.  There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.

Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others.  What type of ship are the pirates looking for?  According to Admiral  Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”.  If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.

The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean.  As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates.  This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.

As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.  Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.

The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?

In my opinion, probably not.  To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates.  And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked.   And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.

While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.

Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one.  Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use.  But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem.  The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated.  Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.

Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely?  Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen.  But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that.  They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go.  We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited.  Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.

What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams.  For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone.  I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.

Food for thought.

~McQ

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Believing Makes It So?

What an absurd poll:

A new poll indicates Americans don’t agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertion that President Barack Obama’s actions have increased the chances of a terrorist attack against the United States.

This qualifies as “news”?

“A new poll indicates Americans don’t agree with Joe Blow that Obama’s actions against the Somali pirates increases the risk of attacks on American shipping”.

If you saw that, you’d think, “so, what do those who don’t agree actually know about the situation with the pirates off of Somalia?”

And you’d answer, “not much, so of what importance is their uninformed opinion and why is it being treated as news?”

Good question.

That goes for this poll as well – the fact that those being polled are ignorant as to whether “Dick Cheney’s recent assertion” is true or not isn’t important.

Apparently what is important is what they believe to be true.

~McQ

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GM Probably (Finally) Heading To Bankruptcy

After skillfully managing the bailout of GM and throwing billions of dollars in taxpayer money at it, our man Timmy (Geithner) has told GM to prepare for bankruptcy:

General Motors Corp. is believed to be preparing to file for bankruptcy by June 1 after being directed to plan for a filing by the U.S. Treasury Department, according to a report Sunday in the New York Times.

The Times, quoting unidentified sources, said the Treasury Department has directed officials at General Motors to lay the groundwork for a “surgical” bankruptcy filing that could last as short as a few weeks for portions of the company. Those portions would be the “good” parts of the company, and the “less desirable” parts of the company would remain in court for much longer and possibly be liquidated, according to the Times.

One has to wonder who gets to determine what the “good” parts are, but that said, if the following is true, it won’t be GM’s present “health care obligations”.

The parts of GM that may get bogged down in a lengthy court restructuring or liquidation include the “unwanted brands, factories and health care obligations,” sources said in the report.

That should fire up the UAW. The union won’t be the only one who isn’t going to be happy with an attempt to rush through a GM bankruptcy.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday said that any attempt at a “quick” bankruptcy for GM could face legal challenges from bondholders of the company.

As they have every right to do — but it certainly isn’t going to make the bankruptcy either surgical or short. My guess is the bondholders are realizing that pirates aren’t only to be found off the coast of Somalia.

~McQ

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Quote Of The Day

You want pithy, here’s pithy – from Gerald Warner of the UK Telegraph, speaking of the recent European foreign policy tour by President Obama:

President Barack Obama has recently completed the most successful foreign policy tour since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

And that’s the opening line.  Couldn’t help it – deep belly laugh in reaction to it.  As you’ll discover, Warner is not an Obama fan.  RTWT.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

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Pirate Rescue – Both Right And Left Spinning It Hard

Anne Scott Tyson, at the Washington Post, seems to have the low-down on how the mission to rescue Captain Phillips went down.

The pirates apparently were growing increasingly agitated with the situation and were making threats when they made a fatal mistake and gave SEAL snipers 3 targets at once. Feeling that Captain Phillips life was in imminent danger, the on-scene commander called the shot and the snipers took all three of the pirates out.

Okay and well done. But there seems to be a whole bunch of spin on both sides as to what role Obama played. The left seems bound and determined to spin this as some sort of “military victory” which proves Obama has stones of steel and the right seems equally as determined to deny him any credit for the rescue, claiming it was the “on-scene commander” who made the decision.

Look – Obama was most likely briefed and asked for the go ahead to use both the military and lethal force if the situation called for it. He gave his approval for both. I doubt he tried to tell them what tactics to use or how to carry out the rescue. Instead he allowed those on the scene to make that determination. His concern was Phillips and resolving that situation in a way that the captain was rescued unharmed. By approving the use of lethal force, he made it clear he had no concern for the final disposition of the pirates and placed no constraints on the military in that regard, assuming the main mission – rescuing Phillips unharmed – was accomplished.

Great – that’s what he should have done.

But a “military victory”? It was a hostage situation – albeit on the high seas with lots of drama. But at its foundation, it was no different than a situation the local sheriff finds himself in with a domestic disturbance gone bad and hostages held in a house. The reason the national command authority and the military were involved at all is because the situation developed on the high seas in international waters. But at base, it was a run-of-the-mill hostage situation that law enforcement deals with routinely without presidential input.

So? So Obama did the right thing (at the right level of visibility) and so did the military. The situation was resolved. To the right – Obama did a good job. Get over it and understand that it wasn’t his job to “call the shot.”  He gave the on-scene commander, through his authorization to use deadly force, the latitude to make that call himself without seeking further permission.

To the left – this was no more a “military victory” than was Ruby Ridge or Waco. Quit trying to make it more than it is. If you think popping 3 rag-tag pirates is going to be interpreted by Iran or North Korea as a demonstration of our military might, you’re dreaming. Obviously, had it gone bad, it would have reflected badly on the US. However it didn’t (thankfully). But it proves nothing more than in the situation presented – a hostage situation – we were able to resolve it to our advantage. That’s good and it reflects well on us. But a “military victory”? For heaven sake, get a clue.

~McQ

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Podcast for 12 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the Maersk Alabama Piracy conclusion, President Bush’s Obama’s military and terrorism policies, and the poll that found only 52% of Americans beleive that Capitalism is superior to Socialism.

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.

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