Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Ethics? Oh, That Was Just Campaign Rhetoric …

You have got to love the tip-toeing the NYT’s Peter Baker does as he “gently” chastises and then excuses the Obama administration’s ethical lapses:

During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a “new era of responsibility.” What he did not talk much about were the asterisks. The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.

17 now ensconsed in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

17 now ensconced in the "lobbyist free" Obama administration

In fact, as India Daily tells us, the count is 17 lobbyists who’ve needed exceptions to serve, to include the number 2 in the Treasury Department.

But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.

Compromise? This isn’t compromise, this is capitulation. And it is sounding more and more like a – dare I say it – lie. Some will try to excuse all of this as naiveté. Really? Is that what you want to be saying about a politician in the most powerful office in the world? That he’s naive? Just who you need in office when staring very complicated foreign policy in the face, isn’t it? I would assume that these decisions about who Mr. Obama would name to his administration began well before he was elected. One also assumes, like the number 2 at Defense, that the names and background of those he planned on choosing were known. So you then have to conclude that he may had no intention of living up to the promises he was making. Thankfully, there are some who will continue to call his hand on this, even if the MSM wont:

And so in these opening days of the administration, the Obama team finds itself being criticized by bloggers on the left and the right, mocked by television comics and questioned by reporters about whether Mr. Obama is really changing the way Washington works or just changing which political party works it.

Obviously it is the latter. For heaven sake, this is the Clinton administration reborn and ethics wasn’t what it was known for at all. Because Obama set the bar so high and because he claimed that his rhetoric wasn’t ‘just words’, the expectation that he’s a “different” politician who would change the way Washington does business remains a very imporant part of his appeal. But so far, not so good:

“This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual.”

And so far, other than a few bones to supporters, this administration is shaping up as a “business as usual” administration. One thing Obama could do to help save the day is something he was quite good at doing on the campaign trail – throw Daschle under the bus. I don’t think that will happen, and the fact that it most likely won’t is perhaps the most telling thing of all.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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AGW Update

Newmark’s Door tells us that J. Scott Armstrong, a noted professor of marketing at Wharton, has taken a look at the “global warming models” and come to some conclusions:

We have concluded that the forecasting process reported on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lacks a scientific basis.

1. No scientific forecasts of the changes in the Earth’s climate. Currently, the only forecasts are those based on the opinions of some scientists. Computer modeling was used to create scenarios (i.e., stories) to represent the scientists’ opinions about what might happen. The models were not intended as forecasting models (Trenberth 2007) and they have not been validated for that purpose. Since the publication of our paper, no one has provided evidence to refute our claim that there are no scientific forecasts to support global warming.

We conducted an audit of the procedures described in the IPCC report and found that they clearly violated 72 scientific principles of forecasting (Green and Armstrong 2008). (No justification was provided for any of these violations.) For important forecasts, we can see no reason why any principle should be violated. We draw analogies to flying an aircraft or building a bridge or performing heart surgery—given the potential cost of errors, it is not permissible to violate principles.

2. Improper peer review process. To our knowledge, papers claiming to forecast global warming have not been subject to peer review by experts in scientific forecasting. . . .

5. Forecasts are needed of the costs and benefits of alternative actions that might be taken to combat climate change. Assuming that climate change could be accurately forecast, it would be necessary to forecast the costs and benefits of actions taken to reduce harmful effects, and to compare the net benefit with other feasible policies including taking no action. Here again we have been unable to find any scientific forecasts despite our appeals for such studies.

Speaking of the peer review process, Warren Meyer at the ever readable Coyote Blog reminds us that, in fact, “peer review” has a fairly narrow function, and not the power most would like to give it.

Jennifer Marohasy posts:

Last Friday there was an article in one of the most read science journals, Science, entitled “Galloping Glaciers of Greenland have Reined Themselves In” by Richard A. Kerr.

Yes, as the title suggests, the article explains that a wide-ranging survey of glacier conditions across south eastern Greenland, indicates that glacier melt has slowed significantly and that it would be wrong to attribute the higher rates of melt prior to 2005 to global warming or to extrapolate the higher melt rates of a few years ago into the future.

She further reports that for some reason, the MSM just hasn’t managed to pick up on this story.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who has followed the AGW issue from its beginning. The MSM has been one of its chief enablers. And it appears that the BBC has given up all semblance of impartiality in its coverage of AGW:

Londoners might have been startled last Monday to see a giant mock-up of a polar bear on an iceberg, floating on the Thames outside the Palace of Westminster. They might not have been so surprised to learn, first, that this was a global warming propaganda stunt and, second, that the television company behind it is part-owned by the BBC.

And finally, Czech President Vaclav Klaus fired at Al Gore again:

“I don’t think that there is any global warming,” said the 67-year-old liberal, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. “I don’t see the statistical data for that.”

Referring to the former US vice president, who attended Davos this year, he added: “I’m very sorry that some people like Al Gore are not ready to listen to the competing theories. I do listen to them.

“Environmentalism and the global warming alarmism is challenging our freedom. Al Gore is an important person in this movement.”

Klaus was speaking at the World Economic Forum and said that he was more concerned about the planned actions to combat the so-called problem than the consequences.

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The “Stimulus” As Written Means Increased Welfare And Protectionism

The key phrase is “as written”.

The NY Post notes:

Turning back the clock.

Turning back the clock.

Buried deep inside the massive spending orgy that Democrats jammed through the House this week lie five words that could drastically undo two decades of welfare reforms.

The very heart of the widely applauded Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is a cap on the amount of federal cash that can be sent to states each year for welfare payments.

But, thanks to the simple phrase slipped into the legislation, the new “stimulus” bill abolishes the limits on the amount of federal money for the so-called Emergency Fund, which ships welfare cash to states.

“Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, there are appropriated such sums as are necessary for payment to the Emergency Fund,” Democrats wrote in Section 2101 on Page 354 of the $819 billion bill. In other words, the only limit on welfare payments would be the Treasury itself.

“This re-establishes the welfare state and creates dependency all over the place,” said one startled budget analyst after reading the line.

So the limits on welfare payments, written into law when welfare was reformed, would be lifted. Welfare reform, widely panned when it was first passed, has been very successful in cutting dependency on tax payer dollars. Now, without any need evident, Democrats are attempting to reinstate welfare as we once knew and hated it.

And that means the obvious – more dependency and more government to administer it. It also will mean more taxes.

Then there’s the “Buy American” clause in the stimulus bill. It would require government to be restricted to goods and services produced by US companies.

We can't afford a trade war.

We can't afford a trade war.

Of course that sounds just peachy keen when you first hear it. Our government should buy from American firms if it can. But only if they provide the best services/products at the best price.

But that’s not what is being required. And to the rest of the world, that means protectionism. We don’t take very kindly to protectionism when others do it, so we shouldn’t be particularly surprised when they aren’t any more happy about it than we are.

So the obvious reaction by the rest of the world would most likely be to reciprocate in kind. We would see the same sorts of provisions pop up in countries we trade with.

And not as obvious is the fact that it will end up making the American goods the government is required to buy even more expensive than now.

Protectionism imposes large-scale structural sectoral dislocation, as exporters are ejected from their foreign markets and domestic producers that depend on cheap imported imports suddenly find themselves to no longer be competitive, on top of the global effective demand failure we are already suffering from.

This isn’t progress “as written”. For such a “progressive” administration, it is a return to the 20th century, and in the case of trade, the 19th century.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Venezuela: Headed For A Hugoless Future?

I think my guy Hugo is beginning to see the handwriting on the wall and realizes that if he doesn’t manage to fool the population into making him president for life now, he’ll have to seek other means.

You see, the situation in Venezuela is not getting better nor the future brighter for our favorite socialist:

Treasury reserves are dwindling, electricity blackouts are becoming commonplace, public security is deteriorating, and the finances of the state-owned oil monopoly, PdVSA, are in apparent disarray. There is little reason to think that the decline will be reversed any time soon.

If Mr. Chávez hopes to continue governing under the guise of democracy after 2013, when his term expires, he must get the constitution changed now.

The last time he tried this, even with almost total control of the voting apparatus, he was unable to concoct a win. He apparently tried for days, but apparently the loss was such that even he couldn’t fudge it.

So now the newest attempt. Interestingly, the latest attempt includes open-ended terms for nearly every elected official in Venezuela, not just the presidency. I’d suggest that actually works against Chavez and not for him. Those that marginally favor Chavez may not want the local mayor, legislator or governor in office indefinitely. It is an even bet then that they will not be inclined to vote for such a constitutional amendment. They, as well as anyone, know the hazards of entrenched power.

You have to wonder then, given the great possibility that the amendment will go down in flames on Feb. 15th what Hugo’s next move will be. My guess is it will have nothing to do with supporting and defending the constitution of Venezuela.

~McQ

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Have Another Snort, Mr. Ridley.

The drink of 'true Americans'

The drink of 'true Americans'

Sometimes essentially intelligent people get wrapped up in the moment and say things which, upon reflection, they’d most likely think were stupid.

Of course that’s not necessarily true – face it, some people never reflect on anything.

But if I read this after I had sobered up written it, I might be a bit ashamed.  Then again, I might just have another shot of the Kool Aid:

Every president to hold office has espoused some version of Americanism; the truths that we hold self-evident, even when those truths are not always in evidence. But for all their grand rhetoric and mostly good deeds, none was able to seal the deal on the trifecta of equality, plurality and socioeconomic ascendancy. Obama has. Obama is the more perfect union. He is a house united. Obama is the New Generation and the hot light of a dawn that goes way beyond clever talk of morning in America.

Quite simply, quite plainly, just by virtue his being, Obama is America. The first true American to lead our nation.

George Washington, call your agent.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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TARP News: Wells Fargo to Pay Back U.S.

money
According to this report, Wells Fargo is prepared to put some money back into the federal coffers:

Good news out of the failing financial sector, finally. Wells Fargo Bank reports it will pay back the federal government $371.5 million in its first quarterly bailout installment.

Wells Fargo is believed to be the first major bank receiving TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) to do so.

In an internal memo obtained by The Remmers Report, Wells Fargo said the quarterly dividend of $14,861.11 per share is payable Feb. 15. The feds purchased 25,000 shares of Fixed Rate Cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock last September and is the only holder of record of the Series D preferred stock.

“Since credit began contracting 18 months ago, Wells Fargo has made almost half a trillion dollars in new loan commitments and mortgage originations,” said Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins. “Last quarter alone, we made $22 billion in loan commitments and $50 billion in mortgage originations. That’s more than $70 billion or almost three times the amount of the U.S. Treasury’s investment in Wells Fargo. We believe we’re leading our industry in lending to creditworthy customers during this difficult economy.”

It is ironic that initially Wells Fargo signalled (sic) Treasury it did not want TARP funds and when it did, negotiated the takeover of financial giant competitor Wachovia.

The payment would represent only about 1.5% of the TARP funds given to Wells Fargo, but it’s a start I guess.

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Lawyering The War on Terror

If there is one sure way to roll back any gains the US has made in the War on Terror over the past eight years, it would be to shift the focus from military and intelligence gathering, to a crime fighting stance. That is exactly the position the Obama DOJ appears to be taking:

The Justice Department, probably more than any other agency here, is bracing for a broad doctrinal shift in policies from those of the Bush administration, department lawyers and Obama administration officials say.

Eric H. Holder Jr., whom the Senate is expected to confirm on Monday as the nation’s 82nd attorney general, plans to take the oath of office that evening to demonstrate a quick start, which will include overseeing the creation of a new detention policy for terrorism suspects.

Mr. Holder will have to contend with that and other issues rapidly. Lawyers inside and outside the department say he will face crushing time constraints. Chief among them is a pledge by President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Mr. Holder and a department task force must find a solution to the question of what to do with the remaining prisoners there and any apprehended in the future.

“This will be a sea change of what went on before,” said an Obama administration lawyer, noting that the principal authority over detention policies will move from the Defense Department under the Bush administration to the Justice Department.

What to do with the GITMO prisoners is a piddling concern compared to how the administration plans to fight terrorism. Released prisoners can potentially be tracked. The hands of national security however, once tied, are difficult to free. handcuff-terroristFighting terrorism as if it were an issue of law enforcement will potentially, and dangerously, bind our hands in that endeavor:

The department has to decide by next month whether it will reverse course from the Bush administration, which had repeatedly invoked the so-called state secrets doctrine to shut down legal challenges to several lawsuits dealing with national security. Officials also face a February deadline on whether to extend habeas corpus rights to detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Above are two prime examples of how the policy switch advantages the enemy at the expense of the citizens. In the first, the folly of fighting terrorism through the courts could not be clearer. It is nearly impossible to build a public case based on state secrets. In the law enforcement model, the prosecution is not allowed to have secrets, and defendants are entitled to see the evidence against them as well as to confront all witnesses. That is because our nation is founded on the principle that the people, from whom the government derives its power, should enjoy the benefit of presumptions and the government should be required to make its case. When trying to confront our nation’s enemies, however, we do not want to allow them the same benefit. By engaging them in courtroom battles rather than in military/intelligence ones, we do just that.

Specifically, allowing state secrets to become part of a legal case allows the enemy to see what cards we’re holding. It is a surefire way to devalue our national intelligence. Indeed, any time sensitive information is available to more than a few people it eventually becomes public, and lawyers sworn to secrecy are no different (see e.g. Lynne Stewart). Yet, despite these dangers, the Obama DOJ may be considering backing off the positions staked out by the previous administration:

The case dealing with the state secrets doctrine, which allows the government to rebuff lawsuits by invoking national security concerns, involves al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. A federal trial judge in San Francisco ruled that the government could not invoke the doctrine to block a lawsuit by al-Haramain, which has asserted that the government illegally listened in on its conversations.

The Bush administration used the doctrine to block more than two dozen lawsuits. In timing that was a bit of a surprise, the Justice Department lawyers who have handled the lawsuit filed a motion with the court an hour before Inauguration Day that held to the same position.

Some Obama administration figures regarded the filing before midnight on Jan. 19 as a rear-guard action to make it more difficult to reverse course.

The Justice Department has to file a new brief by Feb. 13. Jon B. Eisenberg, who represents al-Haramain, said the schedule meant that “Holder and company have to decide pretty quickly if they want to keep opposing this case with the state secrets doctrine.”

If the DOJ opts to forego the state secrets doctrine as a defense, then it will be left with two undesirable choices: (1) make national intelligence discoverable in a court of law, or (2) drop the case altogether and set the defendant free. Neither choice is satisfactory, but both are the inevitable outcome of pursuing terrorism under the rubric of law enforcement.

Similarly, extending habeas corpus rights to prisoners detained on the battlefield is an exercise in futility. Of course, that ship sailed with the ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. I’m not sure what argument the government could make that any prisoners under the control of the U.S., regardless of where they are being held, are not entitled to some sort of habeas proceeding. And since the very procedures deemed constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court in Hamdi were struck down as inadequate in Boumediene, I don’t know what options are actually left to the Obama administration other than the unsavory prospect of field executions.

Again, these are the inevitable results of waging war as if we were fighting crime. The two arenas are decidedly distinct, and the tactics and strategies of one do not translate well into the other. If we insist on treating terrorists as criminals, cloaked with the protections of our Constitution and privy to the secrets that ensure our security, then we invert the promise of a national defense. The end result is to allow the enemy to be in control of our security interests rather than the other way around.

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Human Rights Watch – Headed Down The Same Road As NOW

When Bill Clinton was found to be a womanizer and serial abuser, the silence among women’s rights groups, such as NOW, was deafening. Since Clinton was a “progressive” and since he believed in the progressive agenda they shared, most feminists were quiet about his violation of various women’s rights. He was excused from the same level of condemnation the likes of Bob Packwood endured.

Seems we’re about to witness the same phenomenon among human rights groups concerning the Obama administration’s decision to continue the rendition program.

Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.

You’d expect, given this decision, to see the usual suspects, like Human Rights Watch, condemn the continuation of the program begun under Bill Clinton and continued through the Bush administration, wouldn’t you? I mean if they really were more concerned about human rights than politics. And principled consistency.

But Darren Hutchinson over at Dissenting Justice (a “progressive blog”) seems to have caught HRW in a NOW moment. Hutchinson quotes and links to HRW’s written position on rendition – a position it has held for at least the Bush years:

The US government should:

Repudiate the use of rendition to torture as a counterterrorism tactic and permanently discontinue the CIA’s rendition program;

Disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001, including detainees who were rendered to Jordan;

Repudiate the use of “diplomatic assurances” against torture and ill-treatment as a justification for the transfer of a suspect to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse;

Make public any audio recordings or videotapes that the CIA possesses of interrogations of detainees rendered by the CIA to foreign custody;

Provide appropriate compensation to all persons arbitrarily detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody.

He then quotes the Washington advocacy director for HRW, Tom Malinowski apparently modifying the previously unequivocal position of HRW:

“Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place” for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “What I heard loud and clear from the president’s order was that they want to design a system that doesn’t result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured — but that designing that system is going to take some time.”

Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed a public hearing in an official court. “Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance,” Malinowski said.

Given their previous position, this is simply capitulation with a huge dollop of hypocrisy added for taste. Suddenly the ‘new’ rendition isn’t like the old rendition because there’s a progressive in town. The fact that the same agency which has been running the program for the last 16 years will continue to do so is waved off as unimportant. And the fact that the incoming administration which roundly condemned the practice previously but now sees utility in its continuation is studiously ignored by HRW.

Now there are “limited circumstances” where there is a “legitimate place” for such practices. Obviously, those “limited circumstances” never existed previously and only suddenly emerged on January 20th around noon. Apparently they think that such a radical shift in position will go unnoticed and unremarked upon.

Wrong.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Who Is The Looter?

MoDo is in full anti-capitalist mode and boy I guess it feels good to finally let loose:

The president’s disgust at Wall Street looters was good. But we need more. We need disgorgement.

Disgorgement is when courts force wrongdoers to repay ill-gotten gains. And I’m ill at the gains gotten by scummy executives acting all Gordon Gekko while they’re getting bailed out by us.

18 billion taken from the government vs. 885 billion taken from the people. In which case are you sure “disgorgement” will never occur?

And that begs the question: who’s the looter here?

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Old Habits? Or Business as Usual?

Please ignore the outrage you hear from Congress about Citi almost buying a new airplane. Apparently that’s an inappropriate expenditure, but this is appropriate:

New York’s Charles Rangel and five other Democratic members of the House enjoyed a trip to the Caribbean sponsored in part by Citigroup (see above) in November – after Congress had approved the $700 bailout for financial firms (including Citigroup).

The members no doubt will object to the terms “junket,” but that shoe fits. The National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group, has asked Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to investigate the Nov. 6-9 excursion to the island of St. Maarten.

It was called the Caribbean Multi-Cultural Business Conference, but “the primary purpose … for most participants appeared to be to take a vacation,” said the NLPC. And not only was the timing lousy, but “corporate sponsorship of such an event was banned by House rules adopted on March 1, 2007, in response to the (lobbyist Jack) Abramoff scandal,” the group pointed out.

Joining Rangel on that trip were Donald Payne of New Jersey, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Donna Christenson, delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Your “most ethical Congress ever” hard at work watching over those Wall Street fat cats.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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