Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Meanwhile On The Foreign Policy Front …

A lot is happening, not that you’d know it unless you’re paying attention.

The North Koreans are happily enriching uranium again, as are the Iranians. We’re in the middle of completely screwing over Honduras while ignoring what Venezuela is in the middle of doing.

And what is that you ask? Well the Washington Post fills us in:

But Mr. Chavez has clearly forged a bond with one leader who is as reckless and ambitious as he is: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The growing fruits of this relationship, and its potential consequences for U.S. security, have not gotten as much attention as they deserve.

Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.

But remember, it is much more important that we punish Honduras for living by their Constitution. Meanwhile:

Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been investigating the arrangements, says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”

“The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles,” Mr. Morgenthau said in a briefing this week in Washington at the Brookings Institution. “The mysterious manufacturing plants, controlled by Iran deep in the interior of Venezuela, give even greater concern.”

Big deal. I mean, look at what Honduras has done.

Mr. Morgenthau’s report was brushed off by the State Department, which is deeply invested in the Chávez-is-no-threat theory. State “will look into” Mr. Morgenthau’s allegations, spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Chávez is off to Moscow, where, according to the Russian press, he plans to increase the $4 billion he has already spent on weapons by another $500 million or so. Mr. Chávez recently promised to buy “several battalions” of Russian tanks. Not a threat? Give him time.

And, of course, as a little jab at the US, Chavez recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and buying tanks in Russia.

North Korea, as mentioned, is back to building nuclear bombs.  But don’t worry, all the signs are present that they’re willing, once again, to do a little bartering.  They’ve announced they’re open to two-party talks with the US.  That means, they’ll talk and the US will pay for them to quit making bombs.  And they’ll agree until the next time they need a little cash.

Afghanistan? Going swimmingly, haven’t you heard?

But don’t worry – Honduras is going to pay the price for their constitutional misbehavior.  And besides, our president gets to play “King of the World” in a couple of weeks might even have the chance to give Moammar Qaddafi a hug while he is at it.

Yup – it’s looking good out there.


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2996 Project – Lt. David Halderman, FDNY

A post I did in September of 2006, originally entitled “September 11th, 2001 – “We Lost David”.  It is the ongoing fulfillment of a promise made in the last sentence of the post.  This is what 9/11 should be about.


Each week I do a tribute, called Project Hero, about a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who’s been awarded a medal for valor in combat. Those medals represent their actions above and beyond the call of duty. But, as we all know, valor and courage aren’t exclusive to the military or combat. And no better example of that is what the courageous men and women of fire, rescue and police did that awful day in September of 2001 when terrorists attacked our country by flying commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

A few weeks ago I signed on to an effort called the “2996 Project” organized by a blog to do a tribute to each and every one of those who died on that day. Three thousand bloggers are participating. The names were assigned randomly. When you signed up, you got whoever was next.

I was honored to draw the name of David Halderman Jr.

Of course, I never knew David Halderman. I’d never previously seen his name or if I had, it never registered beyond that of a person who’d died that day in those barbaric attacks. But when I began to research David, I found a man for whom my admiration and respect knew no bounds.

You see, David Halderman was a firefighter with Squad 18 of FDNY.

On that grim day in September, FDNY lost 343 of its finest who, disregarding their own safety, rushed toward the scene of the disaster while others were running away. It is estimated they saved over 20,000 souls that day. In the finest tradition of firefighters everywhere, they never hesitated. David Halderman, Jr. was among them.

Squad 18 is located in Greenwich Village. When the towers were hit, Squad 18 responded immediately. All seven firefighters on duty that morning were lost.

A visitor to New York just prior to 9/11 happened to remember Squad 18 for a particular reason:

This past Labor Day weekend, one of the youngest attendees, my nephew Beau, was walking with his mom and aunt past Firehouse #18 in Greenwich Village. Beau asked if they could stop. Three firefighters took the time to show Beau and his sister the fire truck and posed for some pictures.

Among the three firefighters who so made those visitors feel so welcome was David.

After returning home to Alaska, and following the terrible events of 9/11, Beau asked his mom if the guys in the picture were OK. After checking back with Squad #18, and showing them the picture, my sister in New York learned that “Chris and Harry made it. We lost David.” The photograph was the last picture taken of him.

As I looked further and further into the life of David Halderman, I found a man who was worthy of love, admiration and respect. He was a 2nd generation firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father and namesake who had very recently died. His brother also was with FDNY.

The fact that he’d taken time out of his day to spend with a young visitor from Alaska seemed something completely in character for him. The fact he’d responded immediately to the disaster of the World Trade Center came as no surprise either. His mother remembers the night before:

On Monday night, David Halderman called his mother in Brentwood to comfort her, as he has done regularly since his father died on Aug. 8.

“I asked him to have a good night, to be careful, to be safe, and I told him I loved him,” his mother, Geraldine Halderman, said. “That was the last time I spoke to him.”

“I love you, take care of yourself.” That was how David Halderman always ended his telephone conversations with his mother.

The next day fate and tragedy took David Halderman while performing the duty to which he’d dedicated his life:

On Tuesday morning, Halderman, a firefighter with Engine-Squad 18 in the West Village, entered the World Trade Center to help victims escape. He is now among the missing city firefighters.

“He was in the building when it collapsed,” Geraldine Halderman said. “They found his helmet. That’s all they found.”

The helmet was identified by its badge – No. 10652, the same badge number used by Halderman’s late father.

Where do we get such men? In the face of every human instinct which tells us to flee, they resist that and walk into danger, risking their lives to help others escape and live. Courage and valor are rare commodities. That’s why we revere and reward them. Those attributes were displayed by hundreds of the fire and rescue people who responded with David Halderman Jr. on that grim and horrid day in September of 2001. As a nation watched in stunned horror, men like David were saving lives.

A few days ago, David’s mother left this message on his memorial site:

Dear David, Five Years! My son you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. I have moved from the house where you grew up,it was too much for me alone. I carry all my memories in my heart. I know you are with me always, you are the voice within me that says “don’t be afraid” when I am sad or anxious. The ache in my heart remains, dulled with time but always present even through the laughter and happy times. There have been weddings and a birth since you left us,and you have been missed so much and remembered at those times. I love you forever.

Life goes on but the hurt never goes away, and mothers suffer a special agony which comes with losing their children. But we are all poorer for the loss of David and those like him. It is they who define what is good and right about us. It is they who show us what man can be. It is they who give us hope for the future.

September 11th is the day to remember those, who like David Halderman Jr., gave their lives in the service of others. I didn’t know David Halderman before this year. But I do now. He was a man to both admire and respect. And every subsequent September 11th I will remember and honor his name. It is the least we can do for the heros among us.


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Left Wing Terrorism? (Update)

What would the left be claiming right now if  it was an abortion supporter killed?

State police at the Corunna post have confirmed a well-known anti-abortion activist was shot multiple times and killed this morning in front of Owosso High School.

The victim’s identity has not yet been released but the shooting occurred around 7:30 a.m., after most students were off the buses and safely inside the building, said Owosso schools transportation supervisor Jayne Campbell.

State police also confirmed that a suspect was taken into custody about 8:15 a.m. at the suspect’s home.

Of course we don’t know if this is the result of a domestic problem, a grudge, or something totally unrelated to the dead person’s activism.

But if it is an action precipitated by victim’s activism, it will be interesting to see how it is handled by the MSM which is always ready to talk about right-wing hate groups, militias and gun lovers at the drop of a hat.

I wonder if the Southern Poverty Law Center will be asked for comment.

UPDATE: So is this now a “hate crime” or just plain old murder 1? Terrorism?  Or the act of an extremist loon?

Given this reason reported by police, let’s compare and contrast how this guy is labeled by the MSM vs. the guy who shot up the Holocaust museum:

As to the reason for the killing of pro-life activist Jim Pouillon, Harlan Drake has told police that he was “offended” by Pouillon’s anti-abortion messages. Neighbors of Jim Pouillon say that he was a quiet man in recent years but his checkered past was a result of his boisterous protests. They have commented that some might not have agreed with his message or his graphic displays of aborted fetus’ on his protest signs but he was quiet man in his older age.


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Trying To Sell The Big Lie

Mona Charen distills the big lie contained in the version of “health care reform” that the Obama administration is trying to sell:

He also claimed that his plan will 1) extend coverage to all; 2) force insurance companies to cover “at no extra charge” routine check ups and screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies; 3) place limits on how much people can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses; 4) forbid yearly or lifetime caps on coverage — and 5) spend less than we are currently spending!

I touched on that yesterday in my post about Nancy Pelosi in unicorn land – “There’s a cap on what you pay in in premiums. There’s no cap on what you receive back.

Everyone understands that such thinking is what got us into the mess we’re in now with unchecked government spending piling up huge deficits. The fact that such thinking is still prevalent in the leadership of both the Congress and the Executive branch is what is scaring people more than anything. We know it, but they seem to not realize it yet. And we don’t understand how they can be that clueless.

The majority of the public knows what is being offered is just as unsustainable as Medicare and Social Security. And they recognize that the same entity that has mismanaged those programs is now aiming toward a takeover of the rest of health care. They also know that because what is promised is unsustainable, at some point in the near future new revenue is going to be required to pay for it. Finally, they know that the claim that it “won’t add a dime to the deficit” and “it will mostly be paid for by eliminating waste and abuse” in the present system is a lot of hot air.

In other words, most of the public knows inherently that as presented, this version of reform is all a grand but telling lie. Telling because it underscores the extent to which this Congress and this President are willing to go to pass their agenda. And it has become an issue of trust – or in this case, distrust.

It has also become a test of wills between a petulant president not used to being denied, a Congress run by the extreme left who are determined to pass their agenda while they have a chance and a people who are worried sick about the level of government spending and intrusion.

President Obama’s speech really did nothing to address those rising concerns or to allay those fears. In fact, he most likely increased them. And it was pretty ironic to hear the president lecturing others about lies when in fact he engaged in 45 minute lie.

What is being planned is not and cannot be “deficit neutral”. It will end up costing taxpayers billions if not trillions of dollars. What is being planned will not introduce “competition” or “choice”, but will in fact decrease both. And what is being planned will introduce a governmental bureaucratic nightmare in which privacy concerns will be completely disregarded as the IRS and others trade your information without your consent to ensure you’re not “gaming” the system or failing to follow orders.

As has been said in the past, it is clear that Americans want to see health care reformed. But it should also be clear that what Democrats are offering is not the reform the majority of people want.

A humble public servant dedicated to serving the people would have picked up on that by now. He or she would step back, reassess and, if necessary, start over. He or she would understand that an undertaking this large and complicated can’t be rushed or made to conform to some arbitrary legislative deadline. And, wanting what is best for the country, he or she would take the time necessary to propose, debate and craft legislation that meets the needs of the country and not his or her party.

A party politician would do precisely the opposite – and that’s what we’re seeing now.

There is a path to common sense reform that will, in fact, increase both competition and choice. The problem, of course, is it doesn’t involve much government. I say problem because it seems clear, despite glib assurances otherwise, that any solution this administration and Congress are going to come up with will include government to an extent never before seen – come hell or high water.

More government is not the solution to health care reform. Less government is. And until that is realized by those in power, they will continue to see a push back. They’ll also be called liars for as long as they continue to push the big lie they’re now trying to sell.


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I never watch morning TV. I can’t stand all the caffeine fueled happy talk on the morning news shows and anyway I’d rather ease into the news cycle the old fashioned way – with a newspaper. But on September 11th of 2001 I happened to be listening to the radio when I heard a report that it was believed that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I walked over and turned on the TV. I forget which channel or network it was but I remember the anchor talking about what was then thought to be a horrific accident. It couldn’t have been 5 minutes later that the second tower was hit.

I stood in horrified amazement. I realized it was no accident but I didn’t understand yet what it all meant. Then the report came in about the Pentagon. Finally I realized that it was an orchestrated attack. I wouldn’t hear about the plane that crashed in PA for a while.

I remember doing something I never do – sitting in front of that TV all day. It was like the earth stood still. I watched the towers burn. I watched the people flee. I watched in horror as others jumped. I watched the towers collapse one by one. I watched as fire and police rescue headed into the disaster area as civilians fled. I watched as ash, like a volcanic explosion might bring, cover that portion of the city. And I watched as New Yorkers fled the city on foot over clogged bridges.

It was a stunning day – an almost visceral feeling of anger finally descended on me as I began to understand the full implications of what happened.

9/11 is certainly a day that will live in infamy as we were the victim of a cowardly attack that cost the lives of 3,000 people. But, as is often the case with Americans, there were a lot of heroes that stepped up that day. And the basic decency of our fellow countrymen was also evident as businesses and individuals did what was necessary to help and comfort those who had been able to flee those towers.

9/11 is a day for remembrance. Not a day for “community service” or whatever it is that some are trying to turn it into. It should be a somber day in which we remember those who died, recognize that we have enemies in the world who will stop at nothing to strike us and redouble our commitment to protect our homeland from such attacks.

And to all those who lost their lives on that day, we should dedicate at least a portion of this one to their memory.


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The Case Against “Not Enough Regulation” Causing Financial Meltdown

The case against?

Bernie Madoff, of course.  A man who bilked investors of some 80 plus billion dollars over a couple of decades knew how to fool the regulators and was not shy about passing on that information to those who worked for him.

Money quote (no pun intended):

“You know, you don’t have to be too brilliant with these guys because you don’t have to be …”

Apparently the regulation regime, which should have easily have caught Madoff, failed too because regulators got to cozy with him:

“The guys . . . ask a zillion different questions and we look at them sometimes and we laugh, and we say, ‘Are you guys writing a book?’ ” he said.

“These guys, they work for five years at the commission then they become a compliance manager at a hedge fund now.”

Yeah – we need more regulations. That’s the ticket. More. That’ll fix it.

The regulations were there – the regulators, however, failed to enforce them. My guess is that a close examination of why we ended up in the financial pickle we did had less to do with the lack of regulation and more to do with what let Bernie Madoff skate for so long – a criminal lack of oversight by regulators as authorized by law.


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Fun With Numbers

There were a lot of numbers thrown around in the president’s health care speech the other night. Some of them, unsurprisingly, don’t add up or were at best confusing.

For instance, Obama said 30 million were uninsured. But in the past, he and Democrats have favored the 47 million figure (the figure the Census Bureau claims to be correct). If it is 30 million, I’d love to know where those 17 million got their health care insurance – it might be a good idea to send the other 30 million with them.

But that’s probably not possible because the president said 14,000 Americans are losing their health care insurance every day. So rough back of the envelope math says 2,520,000 (180 x 14,000) more Americans have lost their insurance since he’s been in office.

So is it really 32,520,000 or 49,520,000 uninsured? Or less? Or more?

And as David Freddoso points out, the future’s not so bright either – with 14,000 losing their insurance a day, that means 15,000,000 or so will lose theirs before his plan is enacted in 2013.

No wonder he’s in such a hurry.

Oh, wait – I did say 2013 didn’t I?

Huh … I did.

So why is he in such a hurry?


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And You Wonder What Fairyland Is Like?

Nancy Peolsi will be the first to tell you that the experts are wrong when they say the public option described by President Obama last night won’t work.

At a separate event, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that half the bill “will be paid for by squeezing excesses out of the system” by finding $500 billion in reduced waste, fraud, abuse and redundancy. The rest will be paid for in pay-as-you-go funding and cuts in other spending.

“Squeeze it out of the system, and that means out of the providers and the rest as well,” she said.

She added that despite the price tag, there’s no limit on the help people will receive.

“There’s a cap on what you pay in in premiums. There’s no cap on what you receive back,” Pelosi added.

My guess, given the current state of the Nobel Prize, her prize for economics is in the bag. She’s discovered a condition where price controls work and are in perfect equilibrium with unlimited payouts thereby never leading to funding deficits.

It’s freakin’ magic!


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Obama’s healthcare joint session may have been a sign of desperation

In any contest, you have certain assets, and your strategy is to use the assets in the most efficient and effective way you can find. In war simulations, for example, you normally don’t use offensive units for defense or vice versa.

But there is a point at which that breaks down. Anyone who has played war simulation games, such as Empire or Civilization, is familiar with the “edge of defeat” problem.

When it looks like you are about to be defeated, you use whatever assets you have at hand because your choices start to go away. Some people call this the use-it-or-lose-it point. If you are defeated, your assets don’t matter anyway, so you might as well use them to try and stave off defeat, even if your odds are not very good and you are using them in normally inappropriate ways.

Addressing a joint session of Congress is one of Obama’s assets. Using it ineffectively degrades the ability to use it again. If he did one once a week, or even once a month, then those speeches would get no more attention than the weekly radio address.

Looking at last night, I couldn’t help but feel Obama used that asset ineffectively. He got some juice out of it, but not much, and even the Democrats concede that it was not a game changer.

That asset is now gone for the purposes of the healthcare debate. If he tries to pull it out before sometime next year, it will be mostly ignored. So I’ve been wondering why he decided to commit that asset, even with a speech that didn’t break any new ground or attempt to dramatically change the terms of the debate in any way I can see.

The most likely possibility is that is that Obama’s overconfidence led him to believe he could get more mileage out of the asset than he did. He may be pretty out of touch with the real source of opposition to his healthcare wishes. He may think it’s just a matter of misunderstanding, and that if we all understood what he wanted better, we would just go along with it. I hate to think he’s that out of touch, but I have to rate that the most likely explanation.

But what if he understands that the opposition has hardened? What if he knows that the bill is in trouble, and he’s caught between the liberal caucus insisting on a public option and the Blue Dogs insisting they won’t vote for it, and just doesn’t know what to do? What if he knows that he’s at the edge of defeat on this, and thinks it will be the defining contest of his presidency?

In that case, it would make complete sense to use any asset at his disposal to try and salvage a win. Using the joint session asset to make a routine speech would be scraping the bottom of the barrel, but what other assets does he have that he hasn’t already used? He used up his strong-arming on many House members over cap-and-trade. He used up his high-pressure sales option in the summer. He used up all his influence with the industry to get concession from them, both monetary and that they would not publicly fight him. (I am wondering where that $150 million pledge by PhRMA went, though.)

If Obama is half as smart as his supporters say, the joint session last night could be a sign of desperation, an indication that he knows he’s losing on this and just can’t think of any other asset to use.

The preferred metaphor for his speech is “doubling down”. But you normally double down when you think you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning. I think a “Hail Mary” metaphor might be more applicable.

If true, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to lose. Sometimes the Hail Mary works. It just doesn’t work that often.

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The Gathering Consensus About “The Speech” (Update)

I think The Hill best captures what I’ve been reading in the MSM, on-line and around the blogosphere today as the consensus about the effect of the Obama speech last night:

Still, while the speech once again illustrated the president’s extraordinary oratory skills, it was not a game changer and appears to leave the president with the same quandary: Healthcare has become the pinnacle legislative issue of his first term, but has divided his party in Congress and run into almost universal GOP opposition. Polls suggest Americans are not convinced reform will help their lives and it is unclear whether the legislation Obama seeks will reach his desk.

Obama was expected to take the wheel on healthcare reform after the Democratic-led Congress drove it into a ditch over the summer, but it did not appear he did so.

As he as done throughout 2009, Obama is largely deferring to lawmakers on the details. His address drew laughs from Republicans when he said some details still needed to be worked out.

A Democratic strategist said, “The speech was good, but not transforming,” adding the address “won’t move votes or change what [Obama] called unresolved issues.”

Or, ‘meh’ ….

Interesting that writers, Sam Youngman and Bob Cusak, both point out that Obama had been “expected to take the wheel”, i.e. assume leadership, but didn’t. No real surprise to me.

The Democratic strategist, of course, is pulling his or her punches. The speech, to be good, had to be “transforming”. It wasn’t. Therefore it wasn’t “good.” It was just number 28 in a long line of speeches with unconvincing rhetoric pushing the same stale and discredited programs.

Democrats are back to square one.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus gives one of the better and more trenchant summaries of the speech out there:

“Obama doesn’t need to get ‘Republicans on board.’ He doesn’t need to get Blue Dog Democrats on board. He needs to get voters on board.” And if there’s any tactic less effective at wooing skeptics than number-fudging insincerity, it’s number-fudging insincerity coupled with attacks on the veracity, motivation, and worldview of the skeptics themselves.

And that is precisely the path Obama took last night.


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