Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Hey Children, What’s That Sound …

Nope, not another post about the kiddie speech. Instead the title is from an old protest song from the ’60s (by Buffalo Springfield I believe). The sound is the sound of real, honest to goodness change being driven by government excess – not the veneer of change pushed by a certain candidate in the last election.

Daniel Henninger writes about it today in the WSJ. He sees it happening everywhere (he uses Japan as an example) and he believes it all pretty much boils down to this:

No matter the ideological cast of these governments, they all hold in common one policy: the inexorable upward march of national indebtedness. It has arrived at the edge of the cliff.

It is the point the liberal left in this country still doesn’t understand. The looters have finally been noticed by looted and the looted aren’t at all happy.

That’s it. That’s the problem. And that’s why there’s so much unrest.

As measured by the OECD, the growth in gross debt as a percentage of GDP since the dawn of the new century is stunning. The data isn’t exactly comparable across individual countries, but the trend line is unmistakable.

In the U.S., debt as a percentage of GDP rose to 87% in 2009 from 55% in 2000. In the U.K., to 75% from 45%; Germany, to 78% from 60%; France, 86% from 66%. There are exceptions to this trend, such as Canada, New Zealand and notably Australia, whose debt has fallen to 16% of GDP from 25%. But for all the countries in the OECD’s basket the claim of indebtedness on GDP grew to 92% from 69% the past nine years.

In short, the lumpen electorate works, and the lumpen bureaucratariat spends. They get away with it because they have perfected the illusion that no human hand causes these commitments. The payroll tax just happens. Entitlements are “off-budget,” presumably in the hands of God. This is government without the responsibility of governance.

Unable to identify who or what has put them in hock to the horizon, national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power.

That, among other reasons, is why the Republicans are out of power. And, if the Democrats continue down the path they’ve charted, is why the Republicans may find themselves back it power. And it wouldn’t at all surprise me, given the gawd-awful track record of the Republicans, that they too will misinterpret their reinstatement and be gone again in 2 years.

It is about the size, cost and intrusiveness of government, stupid!

The “lumpen electorate” has finally had enough. They want to keep what they earn. They want less government. But that’s an anathema to politicians who have built whole lives and careers on providing more government. It’s like an addiction – they can’t stop what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.

And, unfortunately, even though the masses seem unhappy with the size and cost of government, they too are addicted to a certain level of government. They too have an addiction to break.

The question, of course, as far as libertarians are concerned, is how these two addictions can be addressed and overcome so that government’s size and cost can be scaled back to a proper and legitimate size? And where are the leaders to do this?

Until they emerge – and there is nothing to say they will – this cycle of unrest which sees the swapping out of political parties will continue. But you have to believe that at some point, the disenchantment with the current political regime (and both parties make up that regime) will come to a flash point. What that flash point will entail – the range of possibilities is vast – is anyone’s guess.

When it is reached, politics and government as we know it now, will change forever. I cautiously believe we’re moving in that direction. When and where are anyone’s to guess, but I’m beginning to believe we’ve moved beyond “if” and have a “when” in our future. Or at least I hope so – because it seems obvious that we need some very drastic changes in direction.

What we’ve got to work toward is a change that emphasizes freedom and enhances liberty. And that isn’t by any means the only possibility such change would bring.

The old Chinese curse seems to be in full bloom right now – “May you live in interesting times”. I can’t think of times, during my life, that have been any more interesting.


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Leadership And Afghanistan

Yes, I’m again addressing presidential leadership, or the lack thereof. While it appears that President Obama has finally decided he has to “step up” in the health care insurance reform debate, he’s seems to be AWOL in that department concerning Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama lays it out pretty succinctly:

I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, “the good war” has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool’s errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration’s support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).

Of course the assumptions Abu makes in his paragraph above are only valid if there’s someone in charge and leading the effort. A decision was supposedly made in March, in terms of policy and goals, and the assumption was made it would be executed. But apparently that’s not the case. And, as in the case of health care insurance reform, the evident lack of leadership has caused there to be a noticeable shift in the debate and a tremendous drop in support for the war effort. Again, a major policy issue is left to twist in the wind for lack of a leader.

Abu Muqawama, obviously recognizing this problem, throws out a solution:

What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it’s understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.

This is a very critical issue that needs to be resolved now. That means the Commander-in-Chief needs to act like one and do what is necessary to resolve this policy issue. He needs to make a decision, give guidance to the proper agencies which directs them in how he wants his decision implemented and, finally, take responsibility for the war.

As a certain someone is learning, governing and actually leading is much harder than standing off to the side and tossing bricks while regaling everyone with how much better you could do the job. Thus far, the job performance has been anything but impressive.


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Those Who Refuse To Learn From History …

As the president gears up for a new push to pass health care insurance reform with a “major speech” to a joint session of Congress this coming Wednesday, it’s always instructive to peek in periodically at a system that is the practical end state he’s claimed he’s always wanted – the single payer system.

Today, as usual, we take a look at the National Health Service in the UK.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

What’s the criticism of the insurance industry? That a bureaucrat somewhere is making a life or death decision, correct? Of course that’s precisely the same thing that happens in a single-payer system, except it is a government bureaucrat making the decision.

In an insurance system, what are your choices? Appeal. Or tell them to stuff it and pay for the care yourself. But in such a system it is highly unlikely that any insurance company is going to try to issue “guidance” to doctors telling medical staff how to deal with dying patients like what the NHS has done. They wouldn’t presume to do it (and if they did, the option is to find an insurance carrier that doesn’t).

However, when it’s a single payer system and, as in the case of the UK, everyone works for government, such as the UK, then such guidance is completely within reason given the system. After all the basic presumption of such a system is that, in fact, bureaucrats do have a right to call the shots.

The scheme, called the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), was designed to reduce patient suffering in their final hours.

Developed by Marie Curie, the cancer charity, in a Liverpool hospice it was initially developed for cancer patients but now includes other life threatening conditions.

It was recommended as a model by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the Government’s health scrutiny body, in 2004

And there is no appeal as there’s really no one else to whom you can go.

A number of doctors there are concerned about the guidance. Dr Peter Hargreaves, a consultant in Palliative Medicine at St Luke’s cancer centre in Guildford, is one of them:

He added that some patients were being “wrongly” put on the pathway, which created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that they would die.

He said: “I have been practising palliative medicine for more than 20 years and I am getting more concerned about this “death pathway” that is coming in.

It is supposed to let people die with dignity but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Patients who are allowed to become dehydrated and then become confused can be wrongly put on this pathway.”

He added: “What they are trying to do is stop people being overtreated as they are dying.

“It is a very laudable idea. But the concern is that it is tick box medicine that stops people thinking.”

He said that he had personally taken patients off the pathway who went on to live for “significant” amounts of time and warned that many doctors were not checking the progress of patients enough to notice improvement in their condition.

The key of course, and the reason for the “pathway” is contained in the second sentence I’ve put in bold – “overtreated”. Code for spending money on someone in the last stages of life. Obviously, it is much cheaper to put them in a drug induced coma and let them die than it is to attempt to keep them alive. Hargreaves sees that as a “self-fulfilling” process, where patients who would actually respond to more care and live “significant” amounts of time longer are condemned to death in an uncaring system more concerned about cost than life.

From the beginning one of the primary targets of health care insurance reform has been cost. The claim is that government can help lower those costs. The further claim is it can do it by introducing “competition” into the system. But there’s little in the proposals that anyone can find that actually does that. Instead it appears to most that things like the “public option” are actually designed to move us toward the eventuality of a single-payer system. The NHS provides us almost weekly examples of the cost containment strategies it implements in which extending life takes second place to cutting cost.

If cutting cost is the top priority of a system, any system, those are the types of decisions someone is going to be making. Most likely, if the patient isn’t involved in paying for the service, it isn’t going to be the patient or his family making them. It is going to be some bureaucrat with a budget line busily engaged in the priority of “cutting cost” making the decision.


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Why Obama’s Kiddie Speech Is “Creepy”

In all honesty, I don’t have a big problem with Obama’s impending speech, primarily for tactical reasons. If he gives the speech that the right is worrying about (i.e. indoctrination towards his policy preferences such as universal health care, cap and trade, etc.) then his political world will crumble. Obama is smart enough to realize this. And I, as I expect are most American parents, am vigilant enough not to let such a message get too far with my kids. However, it’s the fact that any of us have to be on guard to such a speech that makes it creepy. Well, that and the President’s track record of seeking to use children to advance his own goals.

However, there is a current of thought that thinks it’s hypocritical to challenge Obama’s address to the nation’s children while ignoring others:

All this over a video address to kids telling them to stay in school.

I’ve got to wonder how these people felt twenty years ago when a Republican did it:

President Bush pleaded with young people around the nation today to stop using drugs and ”not to look the other way” when others do.

In a 15-minute nationally televised plea from the White House library, the President presented the latest round of an anti-drug campaign that began a week ago with another nationally broadcast message announcing a $7.9 billion package.


In the speech, Mr. Bush said that saying no to drugs ”won’t make you a nerd.”

”Presidents don’t often get the chance to talk directly to students,” Mr. Bush said. ”So today, for each of you sitting in a classroom or assembly hall, this message goes straight to you.

”Most of you are doing the right thing. But for those of you who let drugs make their decisions for them, you can almost hear the doors slamming shut.”

Equating drugs with death and displaying the badge of a slain 22-year-old rookie policeman, Mr. Bush said, ”I keep this badge in a drawer in my desk to remind me of that.”

Yea, I’m guessing they were pretty quiet back then when Bush 41 was advancing his ideological agenda and fighting the War On (Some) Drugs.

While I understand Doug’s disaffection with the Republican Party and its die-hard adherents (with good reason), I really don’t understand this line of attack. Is it really the same thing for a president to encourage kids to stay off of drugs as it is for a president to encourage school children to contemplate the many ways that they can fulfill the government’s wishes?

When Bush 41 was delivering his speech to the nation’s youth, he was at least spreading a message that had individual importance. There’s no question that avoiding recreational drugs is healthy way to live one’s life. It doesn’t justify the War on (Some) Drugs, but it’s not necessarily a message advocating fealty to government authority. In fact, the quotes above speak more to individual responsibility rather than respecting the president’s wishes: i.e eschewing drugs won’t make you a nerd, don’t let drugs make your decision for you, etc.

Again, I’m not trying to condone the destructive policy pursued by the federal government with respect to certain drugs. But when a president encourages our children to stay off them, I’m hard pressed to see that as some sort of intrusion into the realm of the parent or individual, much less a blatant call for nation’s kids to ponder what it is they can do to further the president’s goals.

Therein lies the rub.

President Obama has already shown that he’s not above using children to advance his political agenda, so it’s not surprising that those opposed to his aims would be a bit skeptical of his speech. Adding to the wariness is the fact that he only seems to make these speeches when he needs help with bolstering his political capital (e.g. the “race speech” after Jeremiah Wright blew up in his face). After the battering his health care insurance reform plans took in August, it almost seems too convenient that he would suddenly want to address all the school kids in the nation, right about when he’s planning to try and save the one program he truly wants to enact.

On top of all these legitimate worries is the fact that Obama’s administration has prepared lesson plans for the kiddies to absorb in the afterglow. Surely it’s not the first time that a president has done so, but have any other post-speech plans been so blatantly pro-subservience? I mean, look at these suggested lessons:

What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

What, no questions such as “do you agree with the President’s position? Why/Why not?” Or how about, “Why should you do anything the President says?”, or “What are the pros and cons of the President’s proposals?”

Some of these wouldn’t make any sense if all Obama is going to do is encourage kids to stay in school and try theor best. But, then again, neither do the administration’s lesson plans. Nor the fact that Obama intends to do a live address rather than a taped PSA of some sort. All of which, again, provides plenty of reason to be skeptical of Obama’s speech.

In light of all the above, and regardless of whether anyone is being hypocritical or not, shouldn’t we all be a bit skeptical when the President of the United States decides to address our children when, at the same time, he is politically vulnerable and seeking some means of righting his listing ship? Maybe Republicans who are complaining now should have had more to say 20 years ago (if they were even politically aware back then), but that doesn’t mean they are wrong now. Charging hypocrisy does not negate the potential ill that may result from being less vigilant to government indoctrination. It only make that ill more possible

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Big Brother Has Such A Nice Smile!

Is anyone else even slightly creeped out by this upcoming presidential address to our kids and grandkids?

Maybe its just me but there’s something just not quite right about it all. Oh, I suspect he’ll be very careful about what he has to say and probably keep it pretty general in tone and nature. But there’s just something about a politician addressing young children without an alternate or dissenting voice that smacks of, oh I don’t know, some novel I read years and years ago.

Its "for the childern"

It's "for the children"

In fact, I’m pretty sure they made a movie of that book.

You know, it’s one thing for a teacher to use a politician’s words or deeds in class as an example of some point they’re trying to make in a lesson. But it is quite another to have a captive audience with no choice as to whether they listen or watch sitting in front of TVs because a politician decided that would be a good idea.

Maybe it’s my cynical nature that’s coming to the fore. Who knows, this may be nothing but a “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best” speech. But then I wonder why, if that’s so, he assumes the right to make such a speech best left to moms and dads. Of course he did tell us this week to make sure we wash our hands, sneeze in our sleeve and stay home if we’re sick. So addressing real children after treating us all like children isn’t a real stretch.

The real reason there’s a growing creep factor to all of this is that not only does he presume to have the right to address our kids, his speech has a lesson plan. It’s one thing to have a politician give a speech and everyone go, “ok, that’s nice” and get back to work. But it is entirely creepy when that politician has a lesson plan sent out to accompany the speech. For the pre-K to 6th grade group the plan suggests pre-speech questions like: “Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”

Now that doesn’t tend to border on indoctrination or anything does it? “Obey you young skulls full of mush. Elected officials are good. Listen to them. Question authority? Not till you get to the 7th grade.”

7th – 12th graders get a little more sophisticated lesson plan than do the little guys. And guess who it is all about?

Short readings. Notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education. Teacher might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, and share their collaborations with the class (Think/Pair/Share) about the following: What are our interpretations of these excerpts? Based on these excerpts, what can we infer the President believes is important to be successful educationally?

Yeah, you see, this seems to be more than “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best”, doesn’t it?

After the speech, the 7-12 crew will have a “guided discussion” in which questions like, “What is President Obama inspiring you to do? What is he challenging you to do?”, will be pondered.

And the poor little tykes in preK to 6 (preK?)? Well they get the full cult of personality treatment:

Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:

What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
What would you like to tell the President?

Boy, you know what I’d like to tell the President if I was in one of those classes?

Leave our freakin’ kids alone. And don’t ever assume you have either the right or privilege of addressing them about anything ever again without our permission.

But, you know, that’d probably be some sort of overreaction or something. After all, I’m sure his intentions are sweet and pure and good and he only want’s to be our national daddy. And anyway, I don’t even have a lesson plan.


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The Iranian Answer To “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”

Iran, as we all know, is a theocracy. That means Islamic law and thus Islamic clerics, have great influence. One of the clerics which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, has recently laid out the Iranian version of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. It is rather revealing, both about the mentality of those that we’re fighting (and make no mistake, we’re engaged in a war with Iran, even if only through surrogates) and the religion they claim.

It appears, at least in the version of Shi’a Islam this cleric claims, that the use of rape, torture and drugs are perfectly permissible for use against enemies of that state – after ritual washing and proper prayers, of course.

“Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?” was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: “The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it’s acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed.”

Lovely – religiously sanctioned rape and sodomy. And, of course in the case of Iran, that means state sanctioned rape.

These questions were apparently raised after allegations of rape surfaced in connection with election protesters the regime had jailed. Oh, and you’ll love this little disclaimer:

This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: “Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?”

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: “No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape.”

Because we certainly wouldn’t want anyone enjoying it – no word about what they’re supposed to do if the rapist enjoys it. Rinse and repeat, I suppose.

As for women?

A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:

“If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi’ite holy city of] Karbala.”

What a job description – a “rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam” who, while committing what any other civilized country would consider a heinous crime punishable by life behind bars is promised “Allah sanctioned” pilgrimage equivalents, depending on the status of his helpless prisoner. Always a nice bonus to get your Haj credits while performing such a valuable service for the state.

As we rip ourselves apart debating the cruelty of blowing second-hand cigar smoke in the face of a detainee caught trying to kill Americans, consider what our adversaries gladly reveal about their own moral code. That’s not to condone or rationalize torture by our side. It is instead to provide a reality check for those who need it.

Iranians love to tell the world how they are one of the world’s oldest civilizations and will expound at length about the contributions their civilization has made to the rest of the world. While it’s true that Persia has indeed make a number of outstanding contributions over the centuries, modern Iran is a religiously warped and perverted state which apparently regularly churns out religious leaders such as this whack job. The problem is he’s not hidden away in some mental hospital jibbering only to some health care professional who shakes his head in amazement before quietly closing the door of his cell and leaving him there alone until the next session.

Instead he’s an adviser to the President of the country and what he says is being acted upon throughout the prisons and jails of Iran. What a miserable, awful place. It is hard to imagine living in a country in which religious leaders not only condone but encourage and incentivize the behavior you read about above, isn’t it?

For you lovers of the state, this is a cautionary tale – anything can be made legal, as demonstrated above. And, as a wise man once said, “the state is coercion”. The combination, unfortunately, can, and does, bring exactly what Iran now suffers.


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Independents Disapprove Of Obama’s Job Performance

At least in the domestic realm. Those are the latest poll results tracking the president’s job performance approval by CNN/Opinion Research Corp.

Obama retains majority support on foreign affairs at this point (although I don’t expect that to remain favorable for long), but a majority of independents, the key to his electoral victory last year, are not at all impressed with this performance domestically:

Fifty-three percent of independents questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say they disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties in the White House, with 43 percent in approval. That result marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of independents give the president’s performance a thumbs-down.

Here’s the key line in the article:

“Obama won a majority of the vote among independents last year, and that helped put him in the White House,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Losing their support makes it more difficult for Obama to govern from the center.”

So that leads the question, “how does Obama recapture this key electoral demographic”? The obvious answer is by moving toward the center. But if he does that he’ll have to scrap the more controversial parts of his health care insurance reform bill and there’ll be hell to pay with his base.

But it is even more complicated than that.

Is the fight over health care responsible for the downturn in Obama’s numbers?

“Yes, in part, but his standing on some other issues has taken an even bigger tumble,” adds Holland. “Among all Americans, his rating on health care has dropped 13 points since March. Compare that to his 16 point drop on the deficit and 17 point dip on taxes and it looks like there is growing discontent with Obama’s overall domestic agenda — not just his health care policy.”

Again, emphasis on the point the left seems incapable of grasping – independents disapprove of the whole domestic agenda – health care insurance reform is only the flash point.

So coming up with a new bill aimed at the health care issue, even if more acceptable than what is presently being proposed isn’t going to necessarily change the approval rating or bring independents back into the Obama (and Democratic) fold.

As an aside, this is interesting as well:

The survey also indicates that 37 percent of Americans think the media has treated Obama fairly, down 18 points from February. One in four say the media has been too critical of the president, up seven points from February and 36 percent say the media has not been critical enough, up 10 points.

If you add the 37% who think the media has treated Obama fairly, with the 18% who’ve dropped out of that category you just about have the percentage of the vote which elected Obama. My guess is that 37% that think he been treated fairly are mostly the independents he and the Democrats have been losing over the past few months.

Back to the topic – it is fish or cut bait time for Obama and the health care debate is where he’ll finally have to show his true colors. Is he going to try to woo the independents back by proposing moderate reforms and attempting to move back toward the center? Or will he double down, push the controversial portions of the legislation his base demands and all but declare his liberal colors? He’s not going to be able to please both his base and independents. So he’s going to have to make a decision and make it soon – look for his “major speech” on health care to be that decision point.


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Liberals Still Don’t Get It

Robert Reich has to be the poster boy for why liberals are only about 20% of our population. If it weren’t for the quiet backwaters of academia where, apparently they’re pretty much left alone to survive and breed, they wouldn’t have much of a chance of making it anywhere else.

Here’s his latest riff:

What we learned in August is something we’ve long known but keep forgetting: The most important difference between America’s Democratic left and Republican right is that the left has ideas and the right has discipline. Obama and progressive supporters of health care were outmaneuvered in August — not because the right had any better idea for solving the health care mess but because the rights’ attack on the Democrats’ idea was far more disciplined than was the Democrats’ ability to sell it.

A) my 5 year old grandson has ideas. But when they involve matches and curtains, we have a tendency to step in and prevent him from bringing his ideas to fruition. Call that “discipline” if you wish, but just because a group has ideas doesn’t mean they’re worth 2 cents. And in the case of health care insurance reform, they’re worth a negative 1.5 trillion dollars we can’t afford and would put government intrusion and control and new and unprecedented levels.

B) as usual you see a liberal who believes that the message isnt the problem, but the obfuscation of the right that prevented the message from being properly received. Really? It appeared that the audiences of the townhall meetings attacking the plan had actually read more of the proposed legislation than those on stage trying to defend it. They knew what the “message” was and rejected it.

C) and most important – this isn’t just about health care. This is about TARP, porkulus, “stimulus”, GM, the financial system, cap-and-trade and 9 trillion dollar deficits. Those are all ideas that have been proposed or passed by this Congress or administration. The “idea” that has traction is that these are all bad ‘ideas’. However, the left seems not to understand that point and we continue to hear tone-deaf analysis such as Reich’s contending that they only need to sharpen up their “message” a bit and impose a little discipline and all will be well.

Reich then gets into bit of classic cognitive dissonance and projection:

You want to know why the left has ideas and the right has discipline? Because people who like ideas and dislike authority tend to identify with the Democratic left, while people who feel threatened by new ideas and more comfortable in a disciplined and ordered world tend to identify with the Republican right. Democrats and progressives let a thousand flowers bloom. Republicans and the right issue directives. This has been the yin and yang of American politics and culture. But it means that the Democratic left’s new ideas often fall victim to its own notorious lack of organization and to the right’s highly-organized fear mongering.

How can you not laugh outloud at someone who will claim, in the shadow of the biggest attempted takeover of the private sector by government since WWII that those who “dislike authority tend to identify with the Democratic left”.

Given OFA and the unions and the predominant collectivist mentality of the left, that’s laughable on its face.

Also lost in Mr. Reich’s fantasy analysis is the fact that the idea laden left is losing independent support at a rate unseen in decades. It isn’t just the right rejecting these “ideas”, it is the center and even center left.

All of this leaves Reich to conclude:

August is coming to a close, and congressional recess is about over. History is not destiny, and Democrats and progressives can yet enact meaningful health care reform — with a public option. But to do so, we’ll need to be far more disciplined about it. All of us, from Obama on down.

This is what you end up with when you start from a false premise. Believing that all you have to do is impose a little discipline (to those authority hating but collectivist lefties) and sharpen your messaging, and your ideas about how to burn the house down will be accepted with open arms.



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Obama To Finally Lay Out His Health Care Insurance Reform Goals

Under the department of “it’s about time” we learn this from Marc Ambinder:

Next week, President Obama is going to give Democrats a health care plan they can begin to sell.

He plans to list specific goals that any health insurance reform plan that arrives at his desk must achieve, according to Democratic strategists familiar with the plan. Some of these “goals” have already been agreed to, including new anti-discrimination restrictions on insurance companies. Others will be new, including the level of subsidies he expects to give the uninsured so they can buy into the system.

Obama will also specify a “pay for” mechanism he prefers, and will specify an income level below which he does not want to see taxed.

I guess Democrats feel it’s better late than never, but if health care insurance reform is Obama’s highest priority and signature issue, shouldn’t this have been something handed to Congress on January 21st instead of something finally cobbled together in September?

And doesn’t this again demonstrate both a lack of executive experience and leadership we’ve been talking about for the past two days? In a word: yes.

As to the cite above, one of the more interesting aspects of his plan will be how he plans on paying for it or, as Marc Ambinder says “what income level below which he does not want to see taxed”.

This will be interesting as well:

He will insist upon a mechanism to cut costs and increase competition among insurance companies — and perhaps will even specify a percentage rate — and he will say that his preferred mechanism remains a government-subsidized public health insurance option, but he will remain agnostic about whether the plan must include a robust public option.

This is the holy grail to much of the liberal left. If he bails on this, he’s going to be seen as a milquetoast by that part of the base. One of the things that is irritating the left is the fact that they have majorities in both houses of Congress and they aren’t just ramming through what the liberals want. The reality-based community refuses to face the reality of actual governing but that’s not a particular surprise.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see, depending on what he lays out, whether the bulk of his criticism and resistance comes from the left or right – or both.

Though officials would not provide the numbers Obama plans to use, they say that the goal is to give his side — Democrats — a true presidential plan that they can sell. That includes the rebranding of several consensus initiatives, like the insurance reforms, as his own. The effect of this sales job, if it works, will be to associate the president with parts of the reform bills that are almost certainly likely to pass — assuming the Senate doesn’t bog down.

There’s one problem with all of that though – by finally issuing the guidance and goals for this plan that he should have issued the day after he took office, he is tacitly acknowledging that what has been produced by Congress to this point is a non-starter. How well that will go over in there remains to be seen. And how well his “rebranding” will do remains to be seen – to resurrect a saying which became a cliche during the campaign, you can put lipstick on a pig …

Per Ambinder, this setting out of Presidential “specifics” is meant to “sooth the concerns of the Democratic caucus”. I’m wondering if this may not be a little to far down the track for that to happen.

Then there’s this:

The budget reconciliation process remains a cudgel — it’s still the weapon of last resort, and President Obama has told his advisers that he does not want to ask Congress to use the mechanism until it becomes necessary, politically — that is, until the public understands that the popular elements of reform will not pass without using it.

If you think selling the legislative monstrosity Obama – Kennedy – Chappaquiddick Memorial Health Care Insurance Reform Bill is going to be tough, try selling a resistant public with the song and dance that it was necessary to use parliamentary tricks to ram through what couldn’t be passed under normal Congressional rules. I’m sure that’ll impress the heck out of everyone and make them more than willing to support the party in power at the next election.

I’m of the opinion that because this is so late in coming, Obama’s “plan” may end up further muddying the water instead of clarifying it. And if so, September may end up being about as kind to Obama and the Democrats as was August.


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Afghanistan: Political Will Or Political Cynicism?

For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.

The problem?

As usual it has to do with political will.

The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”

Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.

Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.

The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.

It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.

Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.

Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.

Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.

However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.

Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.

Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:

[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.

That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.

And it may never be done either.


Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.

We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.

And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):

“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.

Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:

We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.

Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.

There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.

What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.

If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.

Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.

If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.

If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.


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