Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

BlogTalk Radio – Tonight, 8pm (EST)

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Subject(s):

Crotch Bomber – Intel failure? Security failure? Both? And will an “air marshall surge” actually do any good?

Afghanistan – speaking of surges, is the White House really chafing at the pace of the surge it has ordered? Doesn’t it understand why it is taking a while?

The Met
– no exhibits on the prophet Mohammed. Smart or exactly what the terrorists want?

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How Terrorists Win

One is by making you afraid to do what you might normally do:

Is the Met afraid of Mohammed?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art quietly pulled images of the Prophet Mohammed from its Islamic collection and may not include them in a renovated exhibition area slated to open in 2011, The Post has learned.

The museum said the controversial images — objected to by conservative Muslims who say their religion forbids images of their holy founder — were “under review.”

Critics say the Met has a history of dodging criticism and likely wants to escape the kind of outcry that Danish cartoons of Mohammed caused in 2006.

To answer the question – no, the Met isn’t afraid of Mohammed. It’s afraid of some of his followers. The bomb throwing, murdering group of his followers who take offense at just about anything.

But is self-censorship the answer?

Isn’t the reaction exactly that for which they are hoping?

One of the things those involved in the arts like to tell us is one of the purposes of art is to challenge convention. To jab hard at those that are comfortable.  Smack their beliefs and conceptions around a bit.  Make ’em think. And when there’s no real risk, they’re all for it aren’t they? “Piss Christ” for example was done knowing no one would show up throwing bombs or threatening to kill those who exhibited the “work of art”.

But when it comes to the likelihood that there’s an actual possibility of violence, suddenly artists and their backers aren’t so keen on “challenging convention”, are they? Suddenly the challenge to convention – that purpose of art – isn’t really that important anymore, is it?

Funny how that works.

~McQ

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Irony – White House Chafing At Slow Pace Of Afghan Deployments

The president who decided to again change strategies in Afghanistan after announcing his “new” and “comprehensive” strategy soon after taking office and then dithered for months before making a decision on the “surge” is now concerned that the troops he’s committed aren’t magically going to be there and ready when he wants them there.

Remember the “let me be clear, this decision has delayed nothing” rhetoric”? Well, let me be clear – his inexperience apparently has left him with the false impression that troop deployments are an overnight thing. And now the usual finger pointing from the White House has begun.

As you might imagine, it really has nothing to do with the troops per se. They can be loaded up quite quickly and flown into Afghanistan. But, as the old saying goes, “amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics”. And the amateurs in the White House apparently don’t understand the impact the addition of 30,000 more troops in theater have on an already strained logistics system:

Last month in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, did not back away from that schedule, but he told reporters of the difficulties he faced even in getting all the forces in by fall. He said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for troops from Pakistan and other countries presented substantial hurdles.

“There’s a lot of risks in here, but we’re going to try to get them in as fast as we can,” he said at the time. “There’s a lot of things that have to line up perfectly.”

On a visit to Afghanistan last month, Admiral Mullen pressed military logisticians on how they would be able to meet the schedule. But even Admiral Mullen, who said he was “reasonably confident” that the logistics would work out, acknowledged the tall order before the military, saying, “I want a plan B because life doesn’t always work out.”

So why wasn’t the logistics system already prepared to take the surge? Well, until the decision was made, no one in the logistics channel knew there was actually going to be a surge, or how large it would be if there was one. Unlike the claim made by the president, every day he delayed that decision was another day the logistics piece remained unplanned and unresourced. And that’s on top of the problems that LTG Rodriguez has pointed out.

One thing you obviously don’t want to do is field soldiers you can’t support and sustain. The surest way to ensure you get your tail kicked is to watch tactical operations falter because of the beans and bullets piece can’t support the plan.

As usual, the military will try to make up for the amateur screwup and meet the unrealistic timetable. Whether or not they’re successful remains to be seen – but bear in mind that problem that the military faces in successfully meeting that goal of full deployment by this summer isn’t one of their making, but a product of delays in the decision making process at the highest level.

~McQ

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Health Care Spending – The Government Is NOT The Answer, It’s The Problem

Morgen Richmond of Big Government points out a story that received very little coverage this week in the media.  It had to do with a report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and its findings.  Apparently, per CMMS, 2008 health care spending (the latest figures available) “slowed” when compared to 2007.  In fact that slowed from 6% growth to 4.4% growth in 2008.

That, one would think, especially as health care reform is the hot topic, is newsworthy.  But one has to believe that the reason it wasn’t found newsworthy has to do with the details of the report.  The reason is that the details don’t support the premise that our health care spending problems lie in the private sector:

Because in a year where the growth rate in overall healthcare spending dropped by an unprecedented amount, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid actually increased dramatically from the prior year.

Medicare by 8.6% in 2008 compared to 7.1% in 2007, and Medicaid by 8.4% compared to 6.1% in 2007. And Federal spending on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) increased by an even greater amount (13.4%).

In other words, the reduced growth rate in healthcare spending for 2008 was entirely due to reduced spending in the private sector. Which upon reflection really comes as no surprise since the private sector by its very nature must respond and adapt to market dynamics. As long as it has the flexibility to do so, unimpeded by government regulation.

Exactly.

Look again at those numbers. Think about the reduction in private health care spending necessary to offset those increases in federal health care spending to bring the overall number down to 4.4%. Private care and/or insurance are not the problem and giving more power to government is not the solution to lowering health care costs.

Another report that has been mostly ignored points to factors which will most likely see private sector spending continue to decline over the coming years. It is most likely being ignored because the solutions put forward are primarily market based solutions.

Given these facts, you are left to ponder the following question articulated by Richmond:

So a federal government which has never in history demonstrated one iota of ability to reign in spending can permanently add another 40+ million people to federal entitlement programs [and] [t]his is the silver bullet necessary to reduce costs?

Nope. No bullets at all, silver or otherwise. The government is shooting blanks, and a system that is ranked number 1 out of 191 in the world for “responsiveness to the needs and choices of the individual patient” (uh, isn’t that what good medicine is all about?) is about to be downgraded dramatically based on a collection of myths, half-truths and outright lies.

Comforting, isn’t it?

~McQ

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Quote Of The Day

It comes from the ever entertaining Ezra Klein, charter member of the juice-box mafia, and apparently not a history major:

I’ll just note that Democrats will definitely lose their supermajority sooner than later. If not, something is going seriously wrong in the system. A competitive, two-party democracy shouldn’t have long periods of single-party dominance. The mid-20th century, which did see Democrats with that sort of majority in the House, was the product of a three-party system in which a party of conservative, racist Southerners entered into a coalition with the Democrats. But that’s over now.

Apparently when Ezra attended history class, they’d come up with a new designation for the “third party” to explain the behavior of the Democratic party at the time  – it was in a coalition with “a party of conservative, racist Southerners”.

Hmmm.  Gotta tell you, around here we just called them Democrats.

Like Senator Al Gore Sr. of Tennessee, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act and gave us his apparently more famous son, Al “I invented the internet and global warming” Gore, Jr.  Quite a legacy, no?

Like Senator William Fullbright of Arkansas who did the same thing Al’s daddy did and was Bill Clinton’s mentor to boot. And of course, Robert Byrd, admitted member of the KKK, was already representing Democrats in West Virginia at the time. Oh, wait – he’s still doing that, isn’t he? Byrd was also a participant in the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, speaking for 14 hours and 13 minutes in an attempt to deny the bill passage. And today he remains a member in good standing of the Democratic party – not that “third party”.

The fact that these and other Southern Democratic luminaries of the time happened to be somewhat more conservative than their northern brethren doesn’t change the fact that they were lifelong, racist Democrats (btw, “conservative” does not equal “racist”.   Racist equals racist).  They simply made up the more conservative wing of the party and were very welcome there until about 1964 when things began to finally change. Most, such as Sen. James O. Eastland of Mississippi, Rep Howard W. Smith of Virginia, and Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia (a mentor of Jimmy Carter) were and remained life-long Democrats. Others, such as George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and T Coleman Andrews eventually became independents. But that was well after this so-called “third party” coalition you claim, Ezra.

Heh … you do know that the GOP did exist in the South at the time, don’t you? Yup, you guessed it – we called them Republicans. There weren’t many. 1 in the Senate and 10 in the House. And yes, they did the same thing the Democrats from the area did – voted against the bill. But the filibuster? All Democrat. And what’s interesting is to see the final totals on the bill by party. You know the myth – here’s the reality:

The original House version:

* Democratic Party: 152-96 (61%-39%)
* Republican Party: 138-34 (80%-20%)

Cloture in the Senate:

* Democratic Party: 44-23 (66%-34%)
* Republican Party: 27-6 (82%-18%)

The Senate version:

* Democratic Party: 46-21 (69%-31%)
* Republican Party: 27-6 (82%-18%)

The Senate version, voted on by the House:

* Democratic Party: 153-91 (63%-37%)
* Republican Party: 136-35 (80%-20%)

That’s right – despite the mistakenly popular belief to the contrary, the bill was overwhelmingly supported by the GOP and, as I’m sure you can see, without that overwhelming support, it would never have passed in the Senate and been signed into law.  In fact, the Democrats, even with a 67 vote majority, wouldn’t have been able to muster the support to pass it if every Republican had, instead, voted against it. But the record shows 82% GOP support in the Senate and 80% in the House – far greater  in percentage than Democrat support.

As famous Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” In this case, the facts don’t support your spin, Mr. Klein. Learn the history of your party and learn to live with it.

Embrace the suck.

~McQ

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The National Political Scene

That scene is incredibly muddled and getting more muddled every day. In some ways, such as the Democrat retirements, it reminds me of the political atmosphere of 1994.  Charlie Cook, who knows Democrats and their electoral chances, pretty much writes the Democratic Senatorial majority off as a dead loss after 2010:

Come November, Senate Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress.

When the Republican in the race for Teddy Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts is competitive, you know the electoral landscape has changed and just about anything is possible.

Of course, in terms of divided government, that’s very good news. The fact that it is Republicans, who for the most part, still don’t seem to have a clue, not so much. Of course that obviously depends on who the Republicans end up running, or winning, those seats. Florida’s race between Crist and Rubio is a good example. Crist is the moderate establishment (business as usual, McCain type Republican) while Rubio is more of the Tea Party conservative.

And it is there that the establishment Republican party seems to be missing the boat – again. After a sweeping victory by Barack Obama and the Democrats, the Republicans quite naturally tried to do a little soul searching and, for whatever reason, came to believe that their problem was they didn’t appeal to enough moderates. Yet in the year that has passed since the Obama administration has been in office and the Congress with prohibitive Democratic majorities has been wreaking its havoc, independents, who establishment Republicans choose to characterize as “moderates”, have been abandoning the Democrats in staggering numbers. And they’re looking for a place to go.

Why are they abandoning the Democrats? Because they bought into a myth a compliant and noncritical media aided and abetted concerning the new administration and now they’re seeing the radical truth. And they don’t like it.

However, what they don’t want is a merely less radical replacement. Democrat lite. What independents are in the middle of doing is rejecting, in toto, the Democratic agenda. Rasmussen and others have been providing these clues for months. In the latest Rasmussen poll:

With Democrats in majority control of both the House and Senate, it’s not surprising to find that 79% of Republicans are not confident that their congressional representatives are actually presenting their best interests, but 74% of voters not affiliated with either party agree. Democratic voters are evenly divided on the question.

74% of voters “not affiliated with either party agree” that their Congressional Rep (obviously that includes some Republicans) is not actually representing their best interests. Now that could be for any number of reasons, but on thing for certain, if 74% aren’t happy with their Rep, I’d guess they’re not happy with what the establishment Republicans are selling either.

Enter the Tea Partiers. First written off as brownshirts, angry whites, red-necks, un-American, ‘teabaggers’ and any other pejorative the left-wing thought it could get away with, the movement has grown into a political force. But make no mistake about it – it’s a populist movement. Regardless it has, to a large degree, managed to tap into this unhappiness with what is going on in Washington and give it some structure.

And what continues to astound me is the establishment Republicans seem to think that they “own” the movement – that when push comes to shove, this group will fall in line and vote for them.

Hello! Crist/Rubio!

There is going to be a war between the Teapartiers and the establishment Republican party. The Teapartiers don’t necessarily support or even like many of the establishment Republicans. As a result that war is going to be waged in primaries. And much like it was on the left (Lamont/Lieberman) it is a war for the soul of that party. Establishment Republicans really don’t seem to understand that – yet. So we see stories like this one where the establishment party is said to have “soured” on Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she represents as well as anyone, the populist nature of the movement that the Republicans don’t seem to yet understand. Add the stupidity of the leadership and the visible infighting within the establishment wing of the party, and you hold little hope that they will wake up in time to smell the roses and figure out the formula for electoral success.

What part of this don't Republicans get?

Where’s this all headed? To more polarized politics, if that is possible, with the sides much more differentiated – if the Teapartiers get their way. Republicans are going to be moved in a much more conservative direction, come hell or high water, if they want Tea Party support. And the Tea Party movement is going to attract (has attracted?) enough of the independent voters to make the electoral difference.

Conventional wisdom says the electorally successful win by appealing to their base, picking off enough independents to make the difference and then governing from the center. I don’t think that CW is valid anymore. It appears that the public has finally had the scales removed from their eyes with the present administration. The premise that a centrist government is what America wants has been overcome by events. Those events, products of that centrism, have given us the state of affairs with which we’re now afflicted – a welfare state with huge deficits, a debased currency and a behemoth government that is out-of-control. Listen closely to those who spoke up at the summer town halls. It wasn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, folks – it was about the direction of the country and the realization that both parties had participated in creating the horrendous mess we now enjoy.

All of that to say that CW is ready to be turned on its head and, in fact, people (to include independents) are demanding action to roll back government and reduce spending. That should be right in the Republican’s wheel house. Yet instead of really talking their supposed principles and actions to accomplish them, establishment Republicans still insist that it is more important to ensure they have a “big tent”. That is a complete sell out of their principles. The “tent” is established by those principles. What Republicans have to do is fashion a message that makes that tent attractive and brings people to them. That’s what will make it “big”. Compromising their principles to fill the tent is a sure way to lose – and that’s precisely what they’ve proven over the last few elections.

Politically, 2010 is going to be a very interesting year to watch. For libertarians, the best hope is divided government and a Republican party that rediscovers its primary principles and decides to live up to them. I think we’ll get the divided government. However, my concern is the midterms will see enough Republicans elected, despite themselves and their lack of a principled stand, that the important message about principles will continue to be lost on them – again. That will result in a Senate not much different than we have now, where compromise and collegiality are more important than principle and the people. That means big government, more spending and more deficit. And that means Republicans will remain the minority party and out of the White House in 2012.

~McQ

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About That Dependency On Foreign Oil – Get Used To It

The double-talking Obama administration, who lectured us about the need to wean ourselves from our dependency on foreign oil, has, through actions taken by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, made the goal of less dependency less likely.

Salazar, yesterday, announced a new level of bureaucratic requirements sure to slow and provide disincentives to increases in domestic oil and gas exploration.  In the first year of the Obama administration’s tenure, Salazar had already slowed such exploration to a walk  As the Institute for Energy Research (IER) reports:

* Under the first year of the Obama administration’s 2009 oil and gas leasing program, fewer onshore and offshore acres have been leased than in any previous year on record.

* The Interior Department collected less than one-tenth the revenue from oil and gas lease sales in 2009 than it did in 2008

* For the year 2008, lease sale revenues produced a return for the taxpayer of $942 per acre leased. In 2009, taxpayers received about $254 in return for each acre leased under the Obama administration – indicative of the quality of leasable land made available under Sec. Salazar

* More than 97 percent of the 2.46 billion acres of taxpayer-owned lands in the public domain are presently not leased for oil and gas exploration

In a time of economic hardship where federal revenues are way down and deficit spending runs rampant, it is almost criminal to do what Salazar has done. As the Industrial Energy Consumers of America points out:

“At a time when we should be working to enhance our energy supplies here at home, we believe it would be a mistake to pursue policies that would make it more expensive or difficult to access critical natural-gas resources …”

But that is precisely what Secretary Salazar intends to do. IER president Thomas J. Pyle released the following, which pretty much calls the administration out on their absurd policies concerning domestic exploration for oil and gas.  Frankly, I think it is an understatement:

“When it comes to paving the way for the responsible development of homegrown, job-creating energy resources, no administration in history has done more to ensure producers do less.”

The Bureau of Land Management released the following:

Under the reformed oil and gas leasing policy, BLM will provide:

* Comprehensive interdisciplinary reviews that take into account site-specific considerations for individual lease sales. Resource Management Plans will continue to provide programmatic-level guidance, but individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased internal and external coordination, public participation, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance as well as site visits to parcels when necessary;

* Greater public involvement in developing Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated so that other important natural resource values can be fully considered prior to making an irreversible commitment to develop an area;

* Leadership in identifying areas where new oil and gas leasing will occur. The bureau will continue to accept industry expressions of interest regarding where to offer leases, but will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the number of protests filed as well as enhance BLM’s ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales.

Of course, anyone who has been around for more than a day or two has seen this sort of wording before and know how to read between the lines. For instance, note the last sentence. “Increased … public participation” means environmental groups opposing such leases will be given much more access to the process. “A more thorough environmental review process” means leases will essentially be held hostage to a review process which could last years. Finally, the “ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales” means the priority will be to make the protesters happy, not those seeking a lease.

The effect, of course, will be less exploration, less production, fewer jobs and more dependency on foreign oil. Given the economic climate today and the country’s energy needs,  that’s inexcusable.

As Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute warns:

About 9.2 million Americans rely on the oil and gas industry for their jobs. By imposing these unnecessary additional hurdles, American jobs will be threatened along with the economic opportunities afforded by oil and gas development.

So, instead of safely and swiftly exploiting domestic resources (and creating jobs and increasing revenue) it appears the plan is to sit on an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore, as much as 35 billion barrels of oil in Alaska and the Chukchi Sea, and a massive 2.2 trillion barrels of energy in oil shale deposits in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado while Salazar plays politics with our energy future.

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Bad Tradecraft Kills

I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan.  How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?

Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.

First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:

Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”

“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”

Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:

Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.

So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.

In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they  may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.

When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.

Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.

~McQ

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