Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Kristof reflects the left’s naiveté on democracy in Middle East and Africa

Nicholas Kristof manages to roll up all the naiveté of the left into one article in which he explains why he thinks those who don’t think democracy will be the final outcome of the unrest we’re seeing in North Africa and the Middle East are selling the people there short.  He’s pretty sure all those who’ve said that democracy  most likely won’t be the product have got it wrong.  Because he’s looked into the eyes of those who’ve protested the authoritarian governments there and, well, let him tell you:

I don’t think so. Moreover, this line of thinking seems to me insulting to the unfree world. In Egypt and Bahrain in recent weeks, I’ve been humbled by the lionhearted men and women I’ve seen defying tear gas or bullets for freedom that we take for granted. How can we say that these people are unready for a democracy that they are prepared to die for?

Well, sir, because they haven’t any tradition of democracy nor do they have any democratic institutions ready to ensure the outcome of the turmoil is democracy … that’s how.

There have been thousands … millions even … of “lionhearted men and women” who’ve braved tear gas or bullets in the name of freedom, only to end up suffering under authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.  Take the way back machine to Hungary in 1956 for instance, when a scenario much like this played out there ultimately to be crushed brutally by oppressive communism.

It certainly isn’t for the lack of wanting to see something like democracy flourish in the Middle East and North Africa.  Heck, that would be wonderful.  But it is an appreciation for history and an analysis of that history that ends up pointing out that probability – because of conditions beyond the protesters control – doesn’t bode well for a democratic outcome.

Kristof’s premise is many in the West think Arabs, Chinese, etc. are “unfit for democracy”.   Not at all. In fact, he misses the point completely.

It has nothing to do with the fitness or unfitness of any people.  I’m of the opinion that all people yearn for freedom and, if introduced into a democratic system, would flourish (and millions have, emigrating to free countries).

It isn’t their fitness or unfitness that’s in question, it’s the fitness or unfitness of the culture in the country or region in which they live.  Does it indeed support the principles of freedom and liberty, does it allow equal access for all, does it indeed allow all to participate equally and finally, does it contrive to protect the rights of the individual over the power of the state?

Look at the present regimes in the area and history of the countries in the area and you tell me.  For the most part the cultures in many of them don’t support the principles that underlie a democratic society.  That’s obviously not to say that can’t change, but the question is what is the likelihood, given the specific country’s culture and history, that it will change?

That is where the examination has to take place – not in the hopes and aspirations of a relatively few “lionhearted” people who yearn and fight for such freedom.  Is there a chance?  There’s always a chance.  Is it likely?  Well, history says no.  I’d like as much as anyone to see history proven wrong in the case of all of these countries.  But like Egypt, where the real power behind the throne – the military – is still in charge of the government they’ve essentially run for 50 years, it appears unlikely that the essential pillars of a democratic society will be allowed to be erected and strengthened.  It just goes against human nature and the dominant political culture that still holds power in that country. 

Do I hope democracy is the product of these protests and revolutions.  Yes.  Do I expect it?  No.  And the reasons given are why.  What the US should be preparing for is the probable outcome while working to encourage the hoped for outcome.  Unfortunately, I don’t see it doing either.

~McQ

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Duke Snider dead at age 84

I’m not one to memorialize the dead usually, although some are significant in history and my life.  And it may seem strange to choose a former baseball player when I do decide to do so.  But Duke Snider was one of my  all time baseball heroes as a kid.  This was back in the era of 3 major league teams in New York and rivalries that simply were  unmatched.  I caught the fever early and young, and Duke Snider was one of those I most admired:

Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder renowned for his home run drives and superb defensive play in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ glory years, died Sunday in Escondido, Calif. He was 84.

From 1949, his first full season, until 1957, the period generally considered the golden age of New York baseball — the last time the city’s fans were divided into three camps, and when at least one New York team played in the World Series each October — Snider was a colossus, one of three roaming the center fields of New York.

The others, of course, were Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and the three became symbols of their teams, as the city’s fans argued over who was best: Willie, Mickey or the Duke?

History has since settled Snider in third place, but at the time, he had a good case to make. The Dodgers, known fondly as Dem Bums and immortalized by the writer Roger Kahn as “The Boys of Summer,” won six National League pennants during Snider’s 11 seasons in Brooklyn.

It was the era of Mays, Mantle and Snider and history may have put Snider in 3rd place, but not to an impressionable young kid he helped fall in love with the game of baseball. 

Rest in Peace, Duke.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 27 Feb 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the demonstrations by public employee unions in Wisconsin, and the state of the economy.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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Trumka: Raise gas taxes to create jobs

If ever there was an example of the complete cluelessness much of the left commonly displays when it comes to economic matters, the AFL-CIO’s (and Obama advisor) Richard Trumka provides it:

What’s the best way to get Americans back to work?

Raise taxes, according to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Specifically, he wants to raise the federal gas tax as a means to fund infrastructure spending. "We need a dedicated source of revenue to create infrastructure in this country," he tells Aaron Task in the accompanying clip.

"We need to create jobs. The best way to do that is through infrastructure development." Simply maintaining the existing infrastructure in this country will cost $2.2 trillion over five years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. That doesn’t include Obama’s objective of high-speed rails and green energy projects.

So, to sum up, raise one of the most regressive taxes there is (it hits the poor the hardest at the gas pump because they end up having to pay a larger portion of their disposable income for gasoline) and declare this will help "create jobs".

What it will actually do, if that were to occur, is create more union jobs. And if the poor have to cut back on food or shelter, well, you know, a few eggs have to be cracked to make an omelet.   The key to economic recovery, per Trumka, is government created jobs with money taken from taxpayers who just might have a much different priority for it.  It calls for another “new revenue stream”.  And he has no qualms at all laying claim to your dollars to fund his nonsense.

Trumka didn’t say specifically how much he would raise the gas tax, but mentioned he’s shown the President a $256 billion plan to improve infrastructure.  If every billion spent on infrastructure creates 35,000 jobs, as he claims, this package would create close to 9 million jobs over the next five years. 

The idea would also improve America’s fiscal and competitive future, says Trumka. "There’s also a downstream effect, you put people back to work, they pay taxes, they don’t use services, they’re contributing, other jobs are created along the way as well," he explains.

Fantasy.  A) it is, as usual, the left’s answer to everything – tax and spend.  Someone tell Mr. Trumka that it is precisely that mindset that the majority of Americans have rejected.   B) it assumes something not in evidence.  We just spent over $800 billion on “infrastructure” – look around you, did you see the unemployment rate dip significantly or go up?  C) after the stimulus was spent there has apparently been no down-stream effect for jobs, service use is up and tax revenue is down.

If Trumka’s solution had any credibility, unemployment would be down below 8% (that was the promise, remember – spend the money on infrastructure and see jobs created) and we’d be riding the recovery train.  We have a million little signs up everywhere in America right now touting infrastructure projects – and the unemployment rate?

In fact, what Trumka is doing is asking for more to be spent on a plan that has already failed miserably and expecting different results.  Isn’t that the definition of “insanity”?

That’s precisely what this plan is – insane.  Government has wasted trillions on nonsense like this.  The solution to this isn’t government creating jobs.  It is private industry doing so.  That requires low taxes and a stable business atmosphere where government hasn’t declared war on business and corporations.  That requires less government, not more – something the Richard Trumkas and Barack Obamas of the world can’t quite seem to get through their heads.  In their world, government is always the answer.   Unfortunately, we’re living in their world right now.

Happy with it?

Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?

~McQ

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Meanwhile in Egypt, part II …

More “surprises”:

Tens of thousands of protesters returned Friday to Tahrir Square, the site of demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two weeks ago, to keep up the pressure on Egypt’s military-led transitional government.

But by early Saturday, the military made it clear there would be limits to further dissent as soldiers and plainclothes security officers moved into the square, beating protesters and tearing down their tents, witnesses said.

Let freedom ring.

~McQ

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Meanwhile in Egypt …

A “surprising” development:

For the second time in as many days, Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers from Cairo. Live ammunition was fired, wounding two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Several sources confirmed the army’s use of RPG ammunition. Four people have been arrested including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating yesterday’s army attack.

Monk Aksios Ava Bishoy told activist Nader Shoukry of Freecopts the armed forces stormed the main entrance gate to the monastery in the morning using five tanks, armored vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish the fence built by the monastery last month to protect themselves and the monastery from the lawlessness which prevailed in Egypt during the January 25 Uprising.

"When we tried to address them, the army fired live bullets, wounding Father Feltaows in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen," said Monk Ava Bishoy. "Six Coptic workers in the monastery were also injured, some with serious injuries to the chest."

The injured were rushed to the nearby Sadat Hospital, the ones in serious condition were transferred to the Anglo-Egyptian Hospital in Cairo.

Father Hemanot Ava Bishoy said the army fired live ammunition and RPGs continuously for 30 minutes, which hit part of the ancient fence inside the monastery. "The army was shocked to see the monks standing there praying ‘Lord have mercy’ without running away. This is what really upset them," he said. "As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Victory, Victory’."

He also added that the army prevented the monastery’s car from taking the injured to hospital.

Says the Army:

The Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement on their Facebook page denying that any attack took place on St. Bishoy Monastery in Wady el-Natroun, "Reflecting our belief in the freedom and chastity of places of worship of all Egyptians." The statement went on to say that the army just demolished some fences built on State property and that it has no intention of demolishing the monastery itself (video of army shooting at Monastery).

Heh … yeah the spring of peace, love and moon ponies the gullible expected to come out of all of this is off to a roaring start, no?  Fence demolition, Egyptian style – done with RPGs, machine guns and tanks all while pumping sunshine up your posterior and denying what is on video.

Sounds like a "new day" in Egypt to me … you?

~McQ

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Eco-Fail

The mantra amongst the warmist community is that if we don’t curb our carbon emissions drastically, the planet will warm severely and wreak all sorts of havoc. While the actual science doesn’t support that notion, the levers of power around the world are encouraged to heed the warmists’ warnings by curbing freedom and subsidizing things like the “green economy.” The London suburb community known as Muswell Hill took some initiative in that regard and built The Living Ark:

The LivingARK is a zero-carbon cabin designed to facilitate education on low carbon building technologies and raise awareness of climate change. It will be used to showcase sustainability not only to Muswell Hill Primary School pupils but to other local schools, community groups and residents. There are educational information boards both inside and outside the ARK which will explain the concept of a zero-carbon building and will also cover wider ranging topics such as sustainable transport, food-growing and an explanation of climate change.

Presumably, it’s called an Ark in reference to the massive flooding that’s supposed to happen thanks to Anthropogenic Global Warming. Ironically, its designed to prevent such a catastrophe from happening in the first place. Unfortunately, the designers forgot that England doesn’t get a whole lot of sun:

Eco-campaigners who built a classroom powered by the sun believed they were paving the way for the future.

Instead they have been taught a valuable lesson – there is not enough sun in North London to sufficiently heat their building.

[…]

It boasts laudable green credentials and is made from sustainable wood, sheep’s wool and soil. The roof is made of mud and grass and it has its own ‘rain pod’ and solar panels.

But there is snag – its solar panels only provide enough energy to power a few lightbulbs.

As a result the classroom is bitterly cold and uninhabitable for lessons.

Oops. And at a cost of just over $40,000, and rather expensive “oops.”

Local councillors, at Labour run Haringey council, who were behind the initiative, opened it with great fanfare in December as a beacon of their climate change policy.

But today a local parent at the 419-pupil school said teachers weren’t allowing pupils into the classroom because it was too cold.

‘What is the point of a classroom that can’t be used when it’s a bit cold outside? My kids have been told it’s too cold for them to use as nobody can figure out how to heat it,’ said the parent, who did not want to be named.

‘This is just an expensive piece of hollowed out wood and no use to anyone. We are living in Britain, not the Caribbean.’

The ‘waste’ of money comes as councils across the country are facing a severe shortage of school places.

By 2018 they will need to find an additional 500,000 primary places due to a population surge.

Once again cold, hard reality smacks down attempts to wish a fantasy world into existence. Maybe they, and the rest of the warmist cult, should pay a little more attention to that science stuff that nanny-staters are always claiming to be so fond of.

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More F-22s at the expense of the F35? No thanks

I’m sympathetic with the argument – even in this era of austerity – that DoD made a mistake by stopping the production of the F-22 Raptor.  It is the premier air superiority fighter in the world (5th generation stealth).  It was designed to keep our edge in air superiority/air dominance that we’ve enjoyed for 56 years or since the Korean war (no soldier or Marine on the ground has been killed in that time frame by enemy air).

But in a recent WSJ article (subscription), Michael Auslin attempts to make the case that F-22 production ought to be revived (I agree) and paid for by cutting F-35s (I disagree).  Yes,  I think we need more F-22s.  We’ve manufactured about 180 to replace a fleet of 4th generation air superiority fighters than number 800.  Not exactly a number that is able to give us the flexibility we need to do all the missions those 800 allowed us.

So Auslin’s arguments that we need more F-22s make sense.

What doesn’t make sense are his arguments that F-35s should be cut to do so.  He gives three reasons why the F-22 should be funded via cuts in F-35s:

• The emergence of foreign challengers. Russia and China are steadily developing heavy, twin- engine aircraft with stealth capabilities. Based on their size and potential capabilities, the smaller, single-engine F-35 probably will not have the speed or power to compete.

The Chinese ostentatiously first test-flew their J-20 prototype last month during Mr. Gates’s visit to Beijing. Western analysts are still debating the plane’s capabilities. Some believe it will serve as a supersonic fighter-bomber, given its large size (more than 20% bigger than the F-22 itself). Whatever the ultimate capabilities of the J-20 or the Russian PAK-FA turn out to be, we can expect more surprises in their development. The U.S. government apparently did not know about two new Chinese nuclear submarine models until they were revealed on the Internet several years ago.

Here’s a dirty little secret – speed and power aren’t what will determine who wins future battles between 5th generation fighters. As missile and radar technology have advanced over the years, those type fights have taken place at longer and longer range – to include over the horizon attacks. What will determine who will win those type fights is the range, reliability and speed of the missiles and the ability of the radar systems on board to detect the enemy before he detects you.

It really doesn’t matter how many engines an aircraft has or how fast it can go, a manned aircraft cannot outrun a missile. If the F-35 has the better missiles and the better and longer range detection capability, it should do just fine.

• Sophisticated air defenses are a growing threat to American fighters. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, among others, are developing and fielding integrated air-defense systems, including interlinked radar sites and advanced surface-to-air missiles such as the S-400. The lower operational ceiling of the F-35 (around 40,000 feet) and its subsonic cruising speed means it will be at much higher risk in attempting to penetrate such heavily defended airspace.

The F-22 was designed precisely to fight and survive in such environments—as attested by its 60,000-foot operational ceiling and supercruise (cruising at plus-mach speeds without afterburners) ability.

This is simply not accurate. Air superiority fighters do not take out enemy air defenses and the operational ceiling or speed has little if anything to do with any ability to accomplish that mission. The military has a doctrine which is called Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) which requires strikes on enemy air defense sites before we introduce air superiority platforms such as the F-22 into the conflicted air space.

Aircraft of choice? Multi-role fighters. Presently the Airforce uses the F-16, a multi-role single engine fighter with HARM missiles. The Navy and Marine Corps use the F/A 18, a multi-role fighter. The F-35 is perfect for the role … not the F-22.

• F-35 delays and cost overruns. The JSF program has run into numerous delays and cost increases, with the unit price of each plane nearing $100 million. In early January, Mr. Gates put the F-35B program on hold for two years, as its vertical take-off-and-landing capabilities ran into significant development problems. Many industry observers question whether the F-35 will reach initial operating capability before the end of this decade. And given the rising costs of the plane, the likelihood of further procurement cuts is very real, putting the F-35 potentially on the same death-spiral as the F-22.

Again, not really accurate. The F-35 is well on its way to reaching "initial operating capability" before the end of the decade. The A and C variants (The Airforce and Navy) are on target and ahead in their flight testing programs. The B variant (the STVOL Marine Corps version) is the one that has given the most problems, but it appears the problems are known, understood and not show stoppers.

Look, the F-35 is a developmental aircraft. That means they’re taking something from concept to reality based on capabilities the customer (in this case DoD) has asked for. That means you design, test, refine, retest, fix and finally deploy the product. It’s a long and laborious process that, as you might imagine, costs money. However, the F-35 cost model is based on consistent and predictable increases in production rates to maintain program affordability. If the current production projections are maintained, the average unit cost of the Conventional Take Off and Landing variant (the Airforce model) will be about $65M (in 2010 dollars). That’s about the same cost as a fully mission equipped 4th generation F-16 costs today.

What Auslin wants to do is cut the production rate of F-35s (in favor of more F-22s) which would make the cost problem he quotes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I think Auslin is right about needing more F-22s. I don’t disagree in the least.  Even in these days of austerity, I think closing down the production line for these aircraft is a strategic mistake. We many not need 800 of them, but we need more than the number we’ve now produced.

However, I think doing so at the expense of the F-35 would be a bigger mistake. Both aircraft are vital to our ability to dominate the battlefield of the future, both in the air and on the ground. Like it or not, our potential enemies are going to build and field 5th generation fighters that we may meet someday in combat. Both of these aircraft will be vital to our effort then. What we don’t need is cannibalizing capability on one side to pay for it on the other. We can be sure those building rival 5th generation fighter aircraft certainly won’t.

~McQ

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CBO: Jobs “saved or created” by stimulus cost $228,055 each

I’m increasingly leery of the worth of the information put out by the CBO simply because in many cases it seems to fit the definition of GIGO.  This would be one of those instances. CBO now claims that the $821 billion “stimulus” money saved or create “between 1.4 million and 3.5 million” jobs.

Really?  Can’t narrow it down any closer than that?  Well no, because:

This estimate seeks to state the net impact the stimulus had on the number of people employed in the United States as a result of the stimulus, taking into account not only the new jobs believed to be created and the existing jobs believed to be killed by the stimulus, but also the existing jobs that were saved that otherwise would have been lost.

It is all about estimates based on some sort of criteria that isn’t clear to anyone apparently.  And it certainly isn’t centered on hard data – not with a range like that.

Here’s how I look at it.  The administration said that if we didn’t pass the stimulus, the unemployment rate would hit 8%.  If we did, it promised that the unemployment rate would stay below 8%.  The stimulus was passed, the money supposedly spent and the unemployment rate went to 10%.

That, in my way of thinking, is stimulus FAIL. 

Now they want to argue about how it could have been worse?  That it was prudent to spend at least $228,055 per job they believe (because they’re obviously not sure) they may have created or saved?

Yeah, I’m sticking with “stimulus FAIL” and a total waste of borrowed money.

~McQ

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Where are the Navy and Marines to protect and evacuate US citizens in Libya?

Right now, in Libya, there are hundreds of Americans waiting for evacuation … by ferry.

Seriously.  The State Department has chartered a ferry to take the hundreds of waiting Americans to Malta.  But rough seas have delayed the ferry’s departure until Friday.

So where is our military and why aren’t they involved in the evacuation of Americans threatened by the violence in Libya?

Well there’s actually a simple answer to that:

So far the State Department has not requested the U.S. military to assist in the evacuation of civilians from Libya, something it would specifically have to request. Several U.S. officials have confirmed to CNN there is a vigorous debate inside the administration about whether to involve the military because of concern it could cause further provocations by the Libyan regime.

Ah … fear and intimidation.  Assume the worst and … do nothing.   And when I say nothing, I mean “nothing”. Per POLITICO’s Morning Defense newsletter:

THERE IS NO U.S. MILITARY ROLE IN LIBYA FOR NOW, officials across Washington said Wednesday. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t explicitly reject calls by McCain, Lieberman and others for a no-fly zone above the country, but that seemed unlikely for the present. Gates told The Weekly Standard the U.S. hasn’t talked with NATO about doing anything. Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters Wednesday the Pentagon had received no requests to stand up a no-fly zone or use its ships or aircraft to help evacuate Americans.

Nothing.   That’s not to say that the military isn’t trying to at least be prepared should someone decide to call them and ask that they help look out for the safety and security of Americans in an apparent war zone:

In the first indication the crisis with Libya could take on a military dimension, the Pentagon is looking at "all options" it can offer President Barack Obama in dealing with the Libyan crisis a senior U.S. military official tells CNN.

The official declined to be identified because of the extremely sensitive nature of the situation but he has direct knowledge of the current military planning effort.

"Our job is to give options from the military side and that is what we are thinking about now," he said. "We will provide the president with options should he need them."

While all true, we’re in the 10th day of this blowup … 10th day!  And apparently the military, on its own initiative, is trying to provide options to the national governing authority that it has just as apparently not requested.  Notice the wording in the very last sentence above.  “Will provide” and “should he need them”.  That says to me he hasn’t requested them and the military is trying to get ahead of the game without any guidance.

It took the President 9 days to speak out about the situation there and then his remarks were anything but forceful.  Even Chris Matthews found them wanting saying they “lacked dignity”.   Essentially we got the “unacceptable” line and a promise to send the Secretary of State to … Geneva?  Well yes, that’s where she’ll repeat how “unacceptable” all of this is – in 5 days from now, of course.

So in sum, we find out that our government has no plans, other than a ferry  – which I’m sure isn’t big enough to carry the full number of Americans from Libya who might need to be evacuated, but, because of violence, haven’t been able to make it to that particular evacuation point – to evacuate the thousands of American citizens there.  No military plan.  No orders to ships such as the Kearsarge group (which is the closest) or the Enterprise group off Pakistan to redeploy to the coast of Libya to aid in the evacuation of Americans.

No.

As POLITICO’s Morning Defense reminds us:

The Navy and Marines evacuated some 15,000 Americans from Lebanon in 2006, but that was a major undertaking that required several ships.

Well, yes, of course … and we should have had “several ships” moving toward Libya 10 days ago when this thing blew up  — that’s what a prudent administration concerned with its citizens abroad would have done in order to try to ensure that the lives of those citizens in Libya were protected.

Instead, 11 days later those citizens get … a ferry?

~McQ

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