Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

A few things to note

I don’t mind at all saying “I told you so” when it comes to the alarmists and “climate change”.  You’ll remember a few weeks ago when the alarmists began screeching about the collapse of an ice shelf in Antarctica and how that was going to raise sea levels by feet, not inches and that there was nothing we could do about it?  Oh, and it was because of man-made global warming?

We found out subsequently, that the “rise in sea levels” might occur with this melting of the ice shelf, but that it would likely take a 1,000 years.  And, at that time, I put forward an article I’d written for QandO in 2009 where I noted that volcanic activity (aka geothermal activity) was responsible for an ice melt then.  I further posited that it was entirely possible it was responsible for the most recent ice shelf melt (since it is very close to the shelf itself) and had nothing to do with man.

Vindication:

Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it’s being melted from below by geothermal heat, researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) report in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings significantly change the understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where accurate information has previously been unobtainable.

The Thwaites Glacier has been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks as other groups of researchers found the glacier is on the way to collapse, but more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds. The new observations by UTIG will greatly inform these ice sheet modeling efforts.

Using radar techniques to map how water flows under ice sheets, UTIG researchers were able to estimate ice melting rates and thus identify significant sources of geothermal heat under Thwaites Glacier. They found these sources are distributed over a wider area and are much hotter than previously assumed.

The geothermal heat contributed significantly to melting of the underside of the glacier, and it might be a key factor in allowing the ice sheet to slide, affecting the ice sheet’s stability and its contribution to future sea level rise.

Oh my.  Who knew?  Uh, we did. Or at least we were able to apply facts and logic to the event and give a credible hypothesis as to why what was happening was happening.  Nice.

On another subject, the Bergdahl fiasco, it appears that Mr. Obama, who was perfectly fine about taking all the credit for his release when it appeared it would be to his political advantage (thus the Rose Garden announcement with the family), has now found someone he can throw under the bus since it has all gone wrong.  It’s Hagel’s fault:

FInal approval for the prisoner exchange that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was made by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, members of Congress learned on Monday from administration officials.

‘They indicated (it was) Secretary Hagel (who made the final call),’ Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said after a classified briefing, ABC points out.

‘It was the president of the United States that came out (in the Rose Garden) with the Bergdahls and took all the credit and now that there’s been a little pushback he’s moving away from it and it’s Secretary Hagel?’

Yup … I’ve lost count of all those who’ve found themselves looking at the underside of the Obama bus.  And for those who don’t think that this was an attempt to divert attention from the VA scandal, check this little tidbit out:

The final agreement was brokered in a week by Qatar and dovetailed with Obama’s announcement of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2017. Engulfed in a scandal over hospital care for veterans, it also provided him an opportunity to demonstrate he was helping those who had served.

So it was Hagel’s final call?  Yeah, right. Again, the administration insults our intelligence.

Meanwhile we find more and more neglect and corruption in the VA, an agency that Mr. Obama criticized when his predecessor was in charge and vowed to clean up:

The agency said more than 57,000 new patients have waited at least 90 days for their first appointments and that about 13 percent of VA schedulers indicated they were told to falsify appointment-request dates to give the impression that wait times were shorter than they really were.

Remember, this is pure government run health care aimed at a very small population, relatively speaking.  And it is a disaster.

The agency also found evidence that in the past 10 years, nearly 64,000 veterans who sought VA care were simply never seen by a doctor.

“Simply”.  Not simply at all. This is mind numbing incompetence and corruption.  This was Ezra Klein’s ideal example for touting the benefits of government run (single payer) health care back when he was shilling so hard for the ACA.  Obama has done nothing to change the situation.  Congress, as usual has simply thrown money at it assuming that would fix it.  But its not just Obama’s problem.  This is a decades old institutional problem driven by a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy that has given short shrift to the care of our veteran population.  This is the face of “government run healthcare”.

~McQ

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Wait … didn’t they say if we didn’t pass ObamaCare this would get worse?!

Why yes, yes they did.  And they also told us it was because of the expense of this sort of medical care that the benevolent and non-intrusive federal government saw a reason to attempt to manage this through its new and wonderful law.

Surprise!

Nationally, nearly half of ER doctors responding to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they’ve seen more visits since Jan. 1, and nearly nine in 10 expect those visits to rise in the next three years. Mike Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, said members statewide describe the same trend.

Experts cite many reasons: A long-standing shortage of primary-care doctors leaves too few to handle all the newly insured patients. Some doctors won’t accept Medicaid. And poor people often can’t take time from work when most primary care offices are open, while ERs operate round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients.

Plus, some patients who have been uninsured for years don’t have regular doctors and are accustomed to using ERs, even though it is much more expensive.

“It’s a perfect storm here,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton of Lexington, president of the Kentucky chapter of the ER physician group.”We’ve given people an ATM card in a town with no ATMs.”

I love the doc’s line about ATMs.  He’s nailed it on the head.

Now I won’t bore you with the fact that we foresaw this and wrote about it.  I mean we talked about doctor shortages, that an increase in those having insurance didn’t mean they’d be able to see a doctor and how doctors were dumping Medicare because of all the hassles and low payments.

But our ever faithful zealots on the left kept telling us that a) we didn’t know what we were talking about, b) human nature isn’t really human nature and c) now that everyone would have insurance all would be sunshine and roses and costs would magically come down (because, you know, the Democrats said they would).

Instead it is all mostly compost.  ERs are seeing a surge in patient visits and expect it to get worse.   Of course, that sort of care is much more costly than regular doctor office visits (according to the article, about $580 per visit more) but what they hey, they have subsidized insurance now … so you get to continue paying for it.

Another in a long line (and getting even longer) of predictions about the effect of a program that this administration has gotten completely bass ackwards.

Competence?

It just doesn’t exist in Washington DC and especially with this administration.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 06 Jun 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about Bowe Bergdahl and the economy.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

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 Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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Economic Statistics for 5 Jun 14

Chain stores reported slower year-on-year sales growth in May, but this year’s Easter shift made April look better, complicating the comparison.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report for May jumped to 52,961 reported layoffs, the highest since February, 2013.

Gallup’s Payroll to Population employment rate rose 1.1% to 44.5% in May.

Weekly initial jobless claims rose 8,000 to 312,000. The 4-week average fell 2,250 to 310,250. Continuing claims fell 20,000 to 2.603 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose for the first time in five weeks, up 1.8 points to 35.1 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $8.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.331 trillion. Total reserve bank credit rose by $0.3 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose $36.1 billion in the latest week.


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The failure of the Obama presidency

On the eve of D-Day, the allied invasion of Europe during WWII, a day in which America demonstrated not only its power and honor, but its competence and leadership, we sit in a shambles of an era which is directly the result of a failed presidency.  Ron Domenech gives voice to the point:

When Obama burst onto the national scene, he almost immediately became an inspirational figure. His promise spoke to our hearts as Americans and our desire for dramatic change in the wake of the fractious Bush years. His personal story and his optimism about the future sounded an affirming and uplifting note at a time when Americans were losing their hope for what tomorrow could bring. For a moment, it seemed like the promise of a uniter, not a divider, could provide leadership which – whatever Obama’s personal ideology – could lead to a healthier politics and a less fractured society.

Obama’s tenure in office has turned all these hopes into despair – despair in the corruption of our institutions, in the capability of our government, in our ability to manage large systems and more. Consider just the events of the past few days: the slow-rolling scandal of how we care for our Veterans, full of mismanagement, denials, and a growing awareness that this problem was shoved under the rug for years; the White House’s decision to embark on a top-down monopartisan environmental policy which will squeeze the working class and make energy more expensive; and of course, Obama’s decision to trade five high ranking terrorists for an apparent American deserter in Afghanistan, a decision which directly ignores the law of the land and will almost certainly lead to future deaths.

In these arenas, we see the Obama administration at its worst: willing to engage in irresponsible and occasionally illegal acts, bowling their way through mismanagement and cronyism and the rule of law to achieve their aims, no matter the cost. It is the same approach they used in his single domestic policy achievement – Obamacare – and they have not stopped using it since.

As an aside, many of us didn’t buy into much of what Domenech outlines in the first paragraph although it is clear that’s what sold the empty suit that is Obama.  Not once, but twice.  And for that, the American population can be blamed.  It was clear from the beginning that this man didn’t have a clue how to govern or run a large organization.  If there’s a silver lining to all of this, one of Obama’s goals was to demonstrate that large government was a good thing and could run social programs well.  In that, as with everything else he’s touched, he’s been a dismal failure.  In fact, with ObamaCare and the VA scandal he’s proven the opposite to be true.

So the inevitable question:

Why did this happen? Why did Obama fail? The typical answer from the left is one of racism or bigotry or Republican extremism. More even-handed analysts seem to believe that Obama tried to do too much, that he was a poor technocrat or struggled with mismanagement, or that the job of the presidency is just too big.

The real source of the problem Cook identifies isn’t universal intolerance for other points of view, but intolerance on one side of the debate for any legitimate reasoning to legislate according to their points of view. Where in the absence of national consensus conservatives reject federal law imposing something, typically favoring state level legislation instead, liberals in the Obama era cry racism or bigotry or worse. One side of the American body politic is willing to accept principled disagreement as a signal that an issue is either unsuited to or unripe for a federal response; while the other sees it as authorization to bypass the democratic process and impose their will by any means available.

In these arenas, we see the Obama administration at its worst: willing to engage in irresponsible and occasionally illegal acts, bowling their way through mismanagement and cronyism and the rule of law to achieve their aims, no matter the cost. It is the same approach they used in his single domestic policy achievement – Obamacare – and they have not stopped using it since.

But I would suggest it’s Obama’s inability to actually live up to his promise as a unifier of people which proved his undoing. Maybe it’s not his fault. Coming up in a Democratic state and a Democratic city, he lacked the ability to work across lines of ideology from the get-go, and if he failed to initially convince people to agree with him on something, he had no desire to keep working at it to convince them otherwise or the personal diplomacy to meet them halfway. Charlie Cook’s latest piece nods in the direction of this idea, but this line strikes me as off the mark: “The notion that “where you stand depends on where you sit” seems to cut little ice in our increasingly rigid society, when tolerance for different points of view is becoming increasingly rare.”

Obama’s tenure in office has turned all these hopes into despair – despair in the corruption of our institutions, in the capability of our government, in our ability to manage large systems and more. Consider just the events of the past few days: the slow-rolling scandal of how we care for our Veterans, full of mismanagement, denials, and a growing awareness that this problem was shoved under the rug for years; the White House’s decision to embark on a top-down monopartisan environmental policy which will squeeze the working class and make energy more expensive; and of course, Obama’s decision to trade five high ranking terrorists for an apparent American deserter in Afghanistan, a decision which directly ignores the law of the land and will almost certainly lead to future deaths.

The why is pretty easy … and extraordinarily frustrating. And at the risk of boring the 2 regular readers we have, a big part of it was because he had no accomplishments.  None.  Zip.  How do you explain to Americans that the job of the presidency is to important to make it OJT?  All the man had done his entire adult life is play at work and run for office.

Now roll that in with a majority of Americans being tired of the old regime and a huge dollop of “we want to prove to the world we’re not a racist country” (aka, cashing in on “white guilt”), not to mention being at the right place at the right time against a horrible opposition candidate and you can get a sense of how he managed to pull it off.  Once.

But not twice.  Unless you believed the nonsense about how it was Bush’s fault and that the “evil Rethuglicans” were the reason for his poor showing first term … not to mention the not so subtle undertones of racism if you didn’t “believe”, then I find it difficult to understand why he got a second term.

And, of course the proof of the pudding – the proof that it has nothing to do with Republicans and Bush – is his consistent and constant failure at foreign policy.  In fact, I don’t really think he has a foreign policy – well, except for apologizing for America.  But for 6 years now he has staggered from foreign policy disaster to foreign policy disaster.    It is also hard to pin the corruption on Bush or the Republicans.  Or the incompetence as demonstrated in the rollout of ObamaCare and administration of the VA.

But I think that there is more to it than just that – the Obama administration epitomizes the degeneracy of the left.   As he points out, they don’t consider it an argument of principle, like climate change, they consider the “science to be settled”.  Consequently, for them, it’s about winning.  And they sincerely believe that “whatever it takes makes ‘right'”.  Fudged numbers, lies, reality bending narratives, half-truths, intimidation and if necessary, violence.  They are the equivalent of religious fanatics -zealots.  Argument, no matter how well reasoned, is lost on them (and it is the primary reason attempts to “debate” them are a lost cause).  They believe in power and its use.  They march to an emotional “feel good” agenda that has been proven to be bankrupt time and time again by reality and they will destroy anything that gets in their way (from reputation to, well, you name it) of implementing it – forcing it upon us – again.

One thing the left doesn’t have, however, and doesn’t understand, is the concept of “honor”.  Frankly you can’t have honor and act like they do.  And so they are constantly tripped up by it.  The Bergdahl fiasco is a perfect example.  No you may say, what the hell does “honor” have to do with all of this?  Well, honor is based in principles and is defined as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.”  There is very little of that among the rabid zealotry of the left.  There is no honesty.  “Fairness” is an excuse to control money, speech and anything else they can fit under that code-word umbrella.  And integrity is the last thing most of the zealous left are concerned with.  And that points out why “argument” from a point of honor (meaning what it says) is a waste of breath and time.

But back to the Bergdahl affair as the case in point. The inability to understand the concept of honor and what it means (especially as it concerns the military), is what has turned this into a fiasco.

The left’s blinkered view of military culture is perhaps best summarized by Elias Isquith, a young writer for Salon.com, who yesterday explained the backlash against the Bergdahl deal as follows: “When a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right’s rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers . . . come down on them [sic] like a ton of bricks.” He cited one example in addition to Bergdahl: John Kerry.

Isquith seems to imply that servicemen are fungible, each entitled to equal respect regardless of conduct. But the bitter criticism of Kerry in 2004 and Bergdahl today would carry no force if it came from mere “right-wingers.” It comes, instead, from servicemen and veterans who see the two men as having behaved dishonorably. Once again the left is being undone by its failure to comprehend the centrality of honor to military culture.

It is one of the reasons Obama garners such little respect from the military as a whole.

That’s because the left (and Obama) have so little contact with an honor society and certainly find honor (much like the Constitution) a hinderance in pursuit of their agenda. So they were blindsided by the blowback.  It would be funny if it hadn’t been such a horrible deal.  They are stunned.  Just as Kerry was stunned in 2004.  They don’t get it, they don’t understand it and that’s because they don’t believe in it and certainly don’t live it.

Why has Barack Obama failed as a president?

Why has the left failed every time it has tried to implement its agenda?

For a bunch of self-described brilliant people, you’d think they’d have figured it out by now.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 4 Jun 14

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.1% last week. Purchases fell -4.0% and re-fis fell -3.0%.

ADP’s estimate for private payroll growth for May is  a weak 179,000.

In contrast to ADP’s weak jobs estimate, Gallup’s Job Creation Index for May was 27, a 6-year high.

The U.S. international trade deficit rose to a much higher than expected $-47.2 billion in April.

The Commerce department revised 1Q 2014 productivity down sharply, to a -3.2% annualized decline. Unit labor costs, meanwhile, rose a sharp 5.7%.

The US Services Purchasing Managers’ Index rose 3.1 points to 58.1 in May.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index rose 1.1 points to 56.3 in May.

JP Morgan Global Composite PMI rose 1.5 points to 54.3 in May, while the Global Services PMI rose 1.9 points to 54.6.

The Fed’s Beige Book characterized current economic activity as modest to moderate, but noted ongoing labor market improvement.


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Apparently we do negotiate with terrorists

I know Americans are torn by the Bergdahl story.  Face it, given how poorly things are going, they desperately want a “feel good” story.  The Bergdahl repatriation is one where you want to celebrate it, but as the facts come out, you can’t find it in yourself to do so.  The guy wasn’t a POW, he deserted and sought out the enemy with the apparent desire to join them.

The administration just as desperately wanted a distraction from all it’s ongoing failures and scandals.  But this story and its ending are anything but that.  In fact, it stinks to high heaven.

First there’s the way it was done by the administration, which strongly supports the hypothesis that this was done in haste to change the subject and redirect the focus of the news cycle.  The subject they were trying to change was their abject failure with the VA.  How better to distract from that than repatriating an American soldier and rescuing him from the clutches of the Taliban?  Paint him as a hero and take a bow.  Let a sympathetic media take it from there.

Except this guy isn’t a hero.  He wasn’t “captured”, he deliberately set out to find those who eventually grabbed him and kept him.  Since 2010 the Army has determined that this guy deserted his post in time of war.  But of course that didn’t stop the Baghdad Bob of this administration, Susan Rice, from heading out to the talk shows soon after the deal was made, and telling us how this deserter had served with “honor and distinction”.

What the administration hadn’t counted on was former soldiers from his unit coming forward and telling the real story. They apparently didn’t know about the 6 soldiers killed in attempts to find and rescue him.  The backlash from their attempt to whitewash who this guy was has been overwhelming. And, as usual, points to a clueless administration again bungling it’s attempt at distraction.

But that’s only one part of the story.  How about the trade itself?  What did it accomplish?

Well for the US, another in a long line of stupid failures.  Why “stupid”. Because, as usual, it was ill-conceived plan and a self-inflicted wound.  We got back a PFC that deserted (yeah, I know he was promoted while in captivity, but in reality he’s a PFC) and they got this:

  • A senior Taliban military commander
  • Their deputy minister of intelligence
  • Their army chief of staff
  • Their governor of the Herat province and former interior minister
  • and a senior Taliban figure and security official.

Not only that, the Taliban (aka “the enemy”) got a propaganda coup of unrivaled proportion as “NightWatch” lays it out for us:

The mainstream media have covered the increased risk of hostage-taking as the direct and foreseeable result of the hostage exchange. This was not a prisoner of war exchange.

Two points not mentioned in most mainstream commentary are noteworthy. This exchange invests Omar and his Islamic Emirate with stature that neither had when the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan. It negotiated as an equal with the US and got the better deal. That sets a precedent for potential deals with other NATO members. It is a powerful disincentive for Pakistan to rein in Omar and his cohorts.

The second point is the release of the five Taliban leaders will boost Taliban morale; help improve their organizational and fighting skills and enhance their operations. It might have a ripple effect on the now divided Pakistani Taliban.

The timing could hardly be worse for Allied forces. As NATO draws down its forces, the Taliban get an influx of experienced leaders, undermining years of effort to degrade the leadership. These were men Mullah Omar trusted in the early days of Taliban rule. He now has a seasoned core around which to build a reinvigorated administration and movement.

We, as a nation, have constantly stressed the Taliban is a terror organization.  Both Democrats and Republicans. And we’ve also made it a firm rule that we don’t negotiate with them because it does exactly what NightWatch notes this has done.  If the Taliban want to empty Guantanamo, they now know how to do it – capture American soldiers. The price and precedent have been set.  One can imagine all sorts of scenarios where enterprising Afghans will try to kidnap American soldiers for money from the Taliban. And the Taliban will then expect to trade them for more terrorists.  5 for 1 seems to be the going rate.  But with this crew, they’re likely to be able to get an even better deal.

Yes, Afghanistan, which is a deeply hostile place to our soldiers now, just got more dangerous for them.  Meanwhile, troop levels will be drawn down to all time lows.  Yup, nothing could go wrong with that.  Thanks Mr. “Commander-in-Chief”.

I’d like to say the American people are terribly ill served by this abomination of an administration, but that’s just not the case.  The majority of them have elected this boob twice.  What you see is what you get.  You wanted it, you got it – how do you like what you elected?

For the adults in the room who saw through this empty suit and the propaganda machine behind him from the beginning, you will also recognize the terrible damage this man and his administration have done to our national security and foreign relations.  It will take decades to recover from this debacle of a White House.

And then there’s the economy, and VA, and Benghazi, and the IRS scandal and the NSA, Fast and Furious, executive orders, EPA …

~McQ

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Trying desperately to make sense of the Bergdahl mess

When something happens in the public sphere, we never know all the details. But usually we know enough to build a plausible mental model for how it all went down. Based on the actors’ previous actions, the context, and what we know about the ideological battles at any time, we think and hope we have some level of understanding.

But then something happens that makes no sense at all. It could only happen with a level of incompetence or malice that we intuitively don’t believe is possible, even in those public figures we despise.

The Bergdahl situation fits that description for me. Here are the links directly from Drudge on the whole thing, in case you’re not up on the latest:

 

Reintegration: Military hides Bergdahl from public view...
FLASHBACK: 'Converted to Islam And Taught Captors Bomb Making Skills'...
NYTIMES: Left note explaining desertion before going AWOL...
Pentagon knew whereabouts but didn't risk rescue for 'deserter'...
Never Officially Listed as POW...
CHARGE: Soldiers died searching for him...
Former fed prosecutor: Release of Gitmo terrorists impeachable offense...
CHENEY: U.S. will 'pay a price'...
Freed Taliban leaders given hero's welcome...
Toobin: Obama 'Clearly Broke Law'...
Three years since consulting Congress...
FATHER: 'I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners'...
Anger explodes...
WAS HILLARY IN ON IT?

BOWE 'SHOULD FACE COURT-MARTIAL'

 

You can get the gist from the headlines. This guy has been gone five years – notice that I don’t say “missing” because the NYT says he left a note that he was deserting before he left, and apparently his location was known. He was exchanged for five Taliban leaders in Gitmo who were welcomed as heroes back home – and it looks like that was done in clear violation of the law concerning Congressional notice about such releases.

On top of all this, the Taliban said back in 2010 that Bergdahl apparently converted to Islam and collaborated with the very people his unit was fighting.

If that’s all true – and there’s no indication otherwise at this point – then the Obama administration gave five enemy leaders their freedom to retrieve a traitor who went over the enemy voluntarily and didn’t seem in any hurry to leave. There is no conceivable upside for the United States that I can see.

Now, maybe all kinds of things will come out to challenge this interpretation. We’ll wait and see.

I rather hope so. Because as it stands, this simply doesn’t make any sense.

I can think of several ways this could get through the White House, but note of them seem any more likely than any of the others. Here are the possibilities I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Nobody at White House knew the details on Bergdahl because they are all incompetent boobs who don’t know how to do due diligence on anything
  • Somebody at White House knew, but was afraid to say anything because Obama (or Jarrett) had declared that they wanted this to go forward
  • Somebody at White House knew, and put the information in a report, but Obama and Jarrett are both too lazy to read reports closely and realize what’s important
  • Everybody knew, including Obama, but he simply didn’t care because he thought it could be spun as a triumph
  • Everybody knew, including Obama, and he knew the real nature of Bergdahl would get out, but Obama simply didn’t care because it was an opportunity to poke congressional Republicans in the eye

 

All of these assume extreme incompetence or malice or both. But I can’t think of any way a competent White House that has the best interests of the country in mind and is operating in good faith takes a decision that gives these results. I’m leaning towards extreme incompetence; in fact, I’m waiting for today’s press conference where Obama tells us he found out all this stuff about Bergdahl the same time we did through press reports, since that shtick seems to work every time he tries it.

OK, sharp and excellent QandO commenters – what am I missing here?

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