Friday, December 27, 2013

Obama's Bad Year

There is no question that President Obama had a bad year. Nearly every president has problems in his second term. But Obama's management style made this a particularly bad year.

President Obama is not really interested in every aspect of being president. He loves some parts. When he says "I'm really good at killing people" he really means that he likes going through lists of potential drone targets deciding who will live and who will die. It's the parts that he is not interested in that cause him problems.

Obama does not care much for foreign policy. His original goal was to reverse everything that Bush did. He alienated long-standing allies like Great Britain and India and courted Russia. Since then he has let foreign affairs drift with a reactive policy rather than a pro-active one. He supports whoever is in power until it is obvious that they are about to be removed then he says they should go. The rest of the world no longer trusts him or the US and the Muslim world is outraged by his increasing use of drones.

Domestically he prefers short-term political wins over long-term solutions. These often backfire on him. He was regarded as winning the fiscal cliff showdown at the beginning of the year but that led to the sequester which was supposed to be so harmful that the Republicans would do anything to prevent it. The Republicans decided that a bad set of budget cuts was better than any deal they could get from the White House and Obama was embarrassed when the world failed to end.

Obama hates to hear bad news and the White House is set up to shield him from any. That means that he is constantly surprised by scandals. The failure of the Obamacare web site, the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the constant leak about the scope of NSA spying all caught him be surprise. In each case he excused himself from responsibility claiming that he was as surprised as anyone when he found out about these from the newspapers.

It is difficult to govern properly without full knowledge of events. If Obama had been told about the numerous problems with Obamacare he could have acted differently during the shutdown. He could have agreed to a one-year postponement and spent 2014 excoriating the Republicans. Instead he stood firm until the Republicans surrendered. This gave him a short term advantage in that the Republicans approval rating dropped more than his did but this was drowned out by the failure of Obamacare.

There has always been a great deal of arrogance in the Obama administration. They were sure that they ould remake the world and that lead to overreach. One high-level progressive who deals with the White House complains that "they think their shit doesn't stink". This reenforces Obama's tendency to seek political wins rather than compromise. This also causes him to bypass Congress completely and use executive authority to implement his preferred policies.

There is no sign of any major changes in the White House. No one has been fired. Instead a new spin-artist has been brought in. Inevitably, Obama will have more disasters breakout and will continue to flail about in a reactive mode.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Culture Wars & Santa Penguin

Around a week ago Slate Columnist Aisha Harris wrote a column proclaiming that Santa Claus should no longer be represented as an old white man. In stead he should be a penguin. That inspired Fox News' Megyn Kelly to say that Santa is white as is Jesus. The controversy has spiraled since then.

I'll save Harris's column for last and start with the controversy. The Left has been jumping all over Kelly for her assertions that Jesus and Santa were white. Nonsense, they say. Jesus was Jewish and Santa was Turkish (Harris claimed that he was Greek). This is a subject that most on the Left normally would never touch with a ten foot pole. Normally it's only racists who start saying that Jews and people from the Middle-East in general aren't white. Bill O'Reilly suggested that this is a false controversy stirred up to demonize Fox News. It's hard to argue with that.

The actual Jesus was, of course, Israeli and probably had black hair and brown eyes. Saint Nicholas was from Asia Minor (now Turkey) and also probably had dark hair and brown eyes. Neither would have had brown skin and neither was a sub-Sahara African. Santa Clause came to us through the Dutch who changed his name and celebrated him as the patron saint of children (also mariners and pawn brokers). He was really introduced to Americans around 200 years ago in the classic poem A Visit From St. Nick. The description was of a white man with rosy cheeks. That image was set by the end of the 19th century and refined with some 20th century Coke ads.

So, what brought on Harris's original column? Sometime in the last 20 years or so, black families started putting up representations of Santa with dark skin. When Harris asked her father about this, she was old that Santa is all colors. She internalized this and became offended that the "default representation" of Santa is white. To some extent her original column is a complaint that Santa is supposed to be represented as many colors. Since whites don't do this then the image needs to be taken away from them.

All of this is news to most whites who seldom see the Black Santa and never heard Harris's father explain that Santa is all colors.

Harris is part of a growing minority movement that says, "It hurts my feelings when you remind me that I'm in the minority." This includes complaints about teaching history as "dead white guys".

People need to step back and take a breath. Kelly did not say anything particularly outrageous and the faux-outrage is mainly an attempt to discredit Fox News.

Minorities do need better representation in the media but making over major symbols such as Santa Claus is highly divisive and leads to worsening racial relations.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Is Obamacare Here to Stay?

A few days ago columnist Dana Milbank proclaimed:
But fixing the Web site after its embarrassing launch means that opponents of the Affordable Care Act have lost what may have been their last chance to do away with the law. And supporters can rule out the worst-case scenario: Obamacare isn't going away.
Is this true?

First, the site is working much better than at launch but it still fails 20% of the time. Any private company that rejected 1 out of 5 characters would be out of business fast. It shows how bad the site was at launch that this can be considered fixed.

There is also the issue of the back-end. The information going to insurance companies is often wrong or incomplete. No information has been released about the error rate but the rumor is that up to a third of the applications processed to date have been bad. Again, and private company that screwed up to one third of it's orders could not stay in business.

Obamacare is a lesson in the limits of government. The site was badly implemented by people who had no idea what they were doing. The people at the top had no idea that the site was not working, they discouraged the people below them from giving them bad news. None of this inspires confidence in the government's ability to implement Obamacare.

These are technical issues and can be solved. There are bigger problems coming up. The exchanges have not been attracting the right mix of applicants which will affect future premiums. People will find that they are losing their doctor as well as the policies they like.

There is also the issue of people who lost their coverage. The site will have to sign up nearly a quarter million people daily all month just to break even. If the immediate result of Obamacare is that more people lost their coverage than gain it then popularity for it will drop even more.

So, there will be continuing pressure to repeal Obamacare. President Obama has made it clear that he will fight any attempt to change or repeal it. That makes it harder but it is still possible. A lot depends on how much public sentiment goes. If things keep going bad with the implementation then Congress will end up running from it. Several Democrats are from states with Republican governors. They last ran in 2008 with a Democratic wave and Obama on the top of the ticket. They will have neither of those in 2014. Will any decide to turn their backs on Obamacare and join with the Republicans? It takes 66 votes to override a Presidential veto but that could be reachable.

It will be even more possible if the Republicans regain the Senate and increase their seats in the House. Continuing problems with Obamacare could easily cause this.

Assuming that Obama blocks all efforts at repeal, there is a very good chance that he will be succeeded by a Republican. The next president might even run on a platform of repealing Obamacare.

All of this assumes that the whole thing will be a failure. It is possible that the problems will resolve themselves quickly and that people will forgive Obama for his "if you like your policy you can keep it" lie. It all depends on how much faith you have in big government.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NBC turns on Obama

NBC News featured two stories last night that show that their love affair with President Obama is over.

The first was a detailed look at the deal with Iran. They made it clear that both sides walked away thinking that it had won because of the use of ambiguous language about the enrichment of uranium. While this is supposed to be clarified within 6 months, it was the major sticking point during previous negotiations and is not likely to be easily resolved. This report undercut the Obama claim that the treaty is a win.

The second was more serious. It was on the effect of the Obamacare tax on "Cadillac" health plans on real people. They showcased a couple whose employer-provided coverage was considered too good and cut back. Their deductible was raised from zero to $10,000 and hip surgery that one of them had would have cost a great deal more if she had it next year. This report was a terrible blow to the official line that the only people affected are self-insured with sub-standard policies. It adds a new footnote to Obama's repeated promise that you can keep your policy: as long as it does not exceed an arbitrary maximum.

Put together, these stories sound more like Fox than NBC. Keep in mind that NBC News' sister operations is MSNBC which bills itself as the liberal alternative to Fox and you can see what a significant change this is.

Power Grabs

Remember back when President Bush was a threat to the Constitutional fabric of our government because of the number of signing statements he made? Consider our current administration.

The President has expanded the powers of the office in many significant ways. In some case he has ordered agencies to assume additional power as the EPA has by bypassing Congress and ordering new mileage standards. More worrisome, he has simply used executive orders to bypass laws he finds inconvenient. The most significant of these were his order implementing the Dream Act and his postponing enforcement of elements of Obamacare. Bizarrely, he threatened to veto any legislation that actually gave him the authority for these actions.

Last week the Senate joined the President in grabbing power. They exercised the "nuclear option" and eliminated the filibuster for certain offices.

Obama's power grabs are easy to understand. He has little respect for the Constitution and hates working with Congress so he simply goes around it. He will not have to live with the consequences since he will be out of office before anyone else can follow his precedent.

The Senate is different. There is a good chance that the Democrats will lose control of Congress in a year and the White House in 3 years. There will be lots of opportunities for them to regret setting this precedent. So why did they?

My best guess is that they expect to lose the Senate in 2014 so they see this as their last chance to stock the courts with ideologically left judges.    

Friday, November 22, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

When something big happens there is a tendency to want answers. The most immediate quesition is "how could this happen?" Among those who believe in big government, mainly Progressives and big-government Republicans, the question becomes, "How could the government have let this happen?" This gives rise to conspiracy theories.

On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assasination, the many conspiracy theories are being resurected. There is little to any of these. Most of them assume the coperation of the Vice-President, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and leaders from both parties in Congress. The reasons given for assasination are even murkier. They mainly rest on the hope that Kennedy would have reversed himself on Viet Nam and withdrew troops instead of escallating and that vested interests were willing to kill him for this. This isn't even a stretch, it is preposterous.

The need to find meaning through government involvement can be seen in other tragedies. The 911 Truth movement was the same - people could not believe that something that big coud happen without the government allowing or even staging it.

Going back further we find debates about Franklin Roosevelt knowing about Pearl Harbor and allowing it to happen.

The sad truth is that terrible things happen and the government can't stop it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Obamacare and the Progressives

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Ronald Reagan

That quote bothers President Obama to no end but the rollout of Obamacare proved it and gives a lot of insight into the flaws of the Progressives and their desire for expanding government. There are three main traits that cause major problems.


I've complained for years that the Progressives think that they are the smartest people who ever lived. They are like college students who sit around and say "If we were only in power then we would fix everything." Most students outgrow this phase but it is central to the Progressives. They have no idea of their own limits. In the case of President Obama, he doesn't even recognize limits. During the transition following is election in 2008 he complained about how difficult it was for him to hire a cabinet since he could do everyone's job better than anyone else.

With Obamacare, they underestimated how difficult it would be to set up the insurance exchanges. They trusted people who had never managed a major software project to take on one of immense scope.

When the flaws in the web site became undeniable, the first impulse of the left was to complain that the real problem was that they hadn't seized enough control. If they had only implemented Single Payer or made Medicare universal, everything would be perfect.

At the same time, they deny the problems with Single Payer and Medicare. Both are massive programs so they must be perfect.


A base premise of Obamacare is that individuals can't be trusted to make the right choices about their insurance. You might be tempted to buy the wrong coverage or, worse, go without. When people first began complaining about cancelled policies, they were told that the policies they had were junk and that they should be glad to go to the (non-working) exchanges and buy new policies with proper coverage.

This leads right into the third trait:


For decades, the NOW as complained that women's health insurance costs more than men's (while staying quiet about men's auto insurance costing more than women's). The reason or this is simple - women use more services. That is unacceptable so Obamacare decrees that everyone has to include maternity coverage. Other interest groups are included for the same reason - to reduce the costs for the people who are most likely to use the coverage.

This was a purely political decision and this sort of thing happens every time the government gets involved. Interest groups start asking for special favors.

Put it all together and you have a system that is more likely to make things worst than to make them better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Obamacare and the Real World

The roll-out of Obamcare and the insurance exchanges offer a look into how government works. By comparing this with how private business handles major projects, we can see why the government is unsuited for handling projects on this scale.

This was a huge project. It should have had a three-year implementation. Instead it was created in less than a year. This was because of politics. Major decisions were postponed until after the election.

Other major decisions such as forcing people to create an account before being able to compare rates were made late in the process forcing a redesign of the web site.

When it was close to the implement date, the company doing the work warned the government officials that there were likely to be major issues but it was decided that a delay in implementation was unacceptable. In fact, the site was not fully operational at launch with important parts such as the security questions waiting for values and problems interfacing between the dozens of agencies involved have not been solved. This was another political decision.

Finally, warnings that the site was going to fail were kept from the President.

As a result of all of this, we had the President of the United States stood before the American people and claimed said that the site would be as easy to use as a travel site. Three weeks later he said that he had found out the problems from the news reports and that they were a combination of glitches and demand.

How would all of this play out in the real world?

First, a product launch date is determined by an estimate of how long the project will take. No one starts with an implementation date and works backwards.

Once a release date is set, other dates are set. Major design changes are frozen far enough ahead to prevent them from interfering with the release date. As the date grows closer, smaller decisions are frozen. As the date approaches, all changes are frozen except for bug fixes.

The features should be frozen by the testing phase. A few feature can restart the testing phase from scratch. The system should also go through a load test to see what will happen under the expected load.

Projects do inevitably fall behind. When that happens, either the release date is moved or features are cut or both.

Upper management is given a realistic appraisal of the status.

Finally, if a bad product does make it out, the person at the top apologizes and people are fired. When Apple implemented a bad maps replacement, their chairman apologized. When Microsoft had a bad roll-out with Windows 8 and the Surface tablets, several top managers lost their jobs and the top man, co-founder Steve Balmer, was forced to accept early retirement.

With Obamacare, major decisions were made based on politics and no one has been held accountable. And this is just a web site.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Hidden Facts about Obamacare

For the past two weeks, the government shutdown drowned out the coverage of the Obamacare roll-out. It was a disaster but even if that had been covered, there are a host of deeper problems. In increasing importance they are:

The exchanges are a mess. Outside reviews say that the exchanges were written with 1990s technology. They are slow partly because they are exchanging data with dozens of other sites.

The Affordable Care Act isn't. The policies offered are much more expensive that prior coverage. The subsidies help some for people who qualify but even so, many people who managed to get through the software are experiencing sticker shock. The assumption was that healthy people would cover those with pre-existing conditions. It appears that the healthy people still need to pay an unhealthy surcharge to cover the pre-existing people. There was a reason that insurance companies refused to cover pre-existing conditions. It was not that they were heartless or greedy, it was that they couldn't do it and stay in business.

The biggest problem is that Obamacare is going to crash and burn. Between the difficulties in signing up, the poor rates, and the modest penalties for not buying coverage, Obamacare is not going to get enough people signed up. The only people who are motivated to sign up are the ones with pre-existing conditions. Without a large proportion of healthy people subsidizing them, the exchanges will come up short and the rates will rise astronomically. Fixing the software will not fix the problem with the rates. That's baked into the system.

All of this will become self-evident in the next few months. Opponents of Obamacare have until then to think of a workable solution to the problem of the uninsured with pre-existing conditions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Did They Do It?

For weeks, possibly months, leading up to the government shutdown the White House and the Left openly wished for a shutdown. They learned the lessons of the shutdowns under President Clinton - that no matter what really happens, the President can use his bully pulpit to blame his opponents and will come out of it politically strengthened.

At the same time the far right made a hysterical appeal to defund Obamacare. They insisted that President Obama would abandon the program that he sees as his legacy. This played well with fund-raisers and raised the visibility of some Tea Party favorites but is counter-productive.

The result of all this is that the Republican brand has been diminished. Republicans are polling at their lowest numbers in years.

Worse, they helped Obamacare. Last night, NBC's top story was on the shutdown and it's effect on the Republicans. It was not until 8 minutes in that they spent time covering what a total failure the exchanges are. Without the Tea Party, the top story would be how unprepared the programs are. If the Republicans had stayed out of the way then public pressure to delay and replace Obamacare would have grown on its own.

That was a squandered opportunity.

It's time for this vocal group to admit a few realities. They are not the only ones in this fight and other strategies are more likely to succeed. They need to stop attacking compromise and learn from President Reagan who never attacked a fellow Republican in public, no mater what.

Obamacare needs to fail on its own. It is not instantly addictive. Lots of people have been hurt by it. The exchanges are not ready and the rates are too high. Instead of distracting people from these problems, the right needs to be highlighting them.

They also need an alternative. Obamacare passed because of a real problem - the fear of being being uninsured with an expensive illness. The Republicans need a solution to this that they can sell.

Shutting down the government will only hurt Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections. The only hope of replacing Obamacare lies in taking the Senate and the White House.

Monday, October 07, 2013

What's Wrong With the Exchanges?

When the insurance exchanges went live last week, people all over the country tried to access the system. Almost none of them got in? Almost none of them got in. The official explanation was that the opening day crowd overloaded the system.

The few who did get in discovered that they had to create an account before they could browse insurance rates. Creating an account includes answering some personal questions based on information from credit agencies. This would be similar to Amazon requiring you to enter your credit card and shipping information before it shows you the top seller list.

Several things are going on. The first is that the system just wasn't ready. Three years is a short amount of time to create a system like this from scratch. The system has not been properly load tested and there are numerous bugs left in the system. It is an alpha release rolled out as a finished product.

The Obama Administration should have admitted that the exchanges weren't ready and delayed implementation. They did not for political reasons.

The requirement to create an account before you see rates is different. It turns web sites on their head but it makes sense if you remember the Obama Administration's history of being to clever by half.

I suspect that the designers had two thoughts in mind. The first was that everyone has to sign up for insurance so they might as well force them to create an account at the beginning.

The second consideration is that the policies in the exchanges aren't that good. If you allowed someone to just browse, they might see this and give up, especially when presented with a complicated enrollment process. By putting the enrollment up front, it means that people have already invested time in the process. Even if they don't like the policies offered, they are more likely to choose one to justify the time and effort they have already put into the exchanges.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Shutdown Follies

Various thoughts on the government shutdown:

The most important one is "What was the Tea Party thinking?" Did thye really think that President Obama would give up what he sees as his legacy? Yes, Obama is willing to cut deals with murderous dictators and rogue theocracies but his heart isn't in those fights. His only interest in foreign affairs was getting out of Bush's wars.

The shutdown was a disaster for the movement to repeal and replace Obamacare. It enforced the belief that, once in place it can't be removed. The headlines should have been about the breakdown of the exchanges and how few of the people who actually get through are signing up for coverage. Instead the top stories are about people hurt by the shutdown with a subtext about heartless Republicans.

What is not getting covered is that it takes two sides to have an impasse. Obama and the Democrats are refusing to negotiate, period. They need to throw the Republicans a bone for the good of the country. Instead they are too busy looking at the harm the shutdown is doing to the Republican brand and counting on that for winning the 2014 elections.

The Democrats are being ingenuous about the dispute. Obama and others emphasize that it is over just one law without acknowledging the massive scope of that one law.

I've also seen the argument that representative government requires that the Republicans accept the law. There is some truth to that. Obamacare was not a major issue in the last election and the Republicans have only managed to take one house of Congress. The flip side to that is that Obamacare was passed with the slimmest of margins, only by using legislative tricks and opinion polls showed that it never had a majority behind it.

The worst thing about the showdown is that Obamacare is not ready but it was implemented anyway. If not for Obama's reluctance to deal with the enemy (Republicans) it would have been delayed for at least a year.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Battle Over Obamacare

Ted Cruz is waging a personal battle against legislation that he urged the House to pass. This is generally considered to be a stunt. For that matter, so is the House bill which has a clause that would de-fund Obamacare. That clause will be taken out in the Senate and even if it wasn't, the President would rather see the government shut down than sign a law that would de-fund his signature accomplishment.

The fight to stop Obamacare was lost some time ago and, ironically, its biggest opponents killed any chance of stopping it.

The only way to stop Obamacare would have been to take the Senate and the White House. There was a good chance at taking the Senate but the Republicans lost several races against vulnerable Democrats because the Tea Party wing insisted that ideology was more important than winning.

The last chance to stop Obamacare came a bit under 10 months ago. In a close election where voter turn-out was the key to winning, far to many Republicans stayed home rather than vote for a moderate/right Mormon.

Since the Democrats control half of Congress and the White House, there is no way for the Republicans to roll back Obamacare.

That is not the end of the fight but it does make it more difficult. The left insists that Republicans are afraid of Obamacare because they know it will work. This is incorrect. What Republicans fear is that it will work for enough people to form a constituency. Just ask gun control advocates about the power of a vocal constituency.

We've already seen how efforts to replace Obamacare will play out with Social Security and Medicare. Both programs will run out of money in the foreseeable future but efforts at moderate reform have been characterized by ads showing Republicans throwing seniors over a literal cliff. Attempts to repeal Obamacare will get a similar treatment, possibly showing a mean Republican taking a crutch from a child.

Republicans need to take a long view. They will need to keep up their attacks on Obamacare's shortcomings but they also need to come up with a viable replacement. Obamacare may be a bad piece of legislation but it does address some real concerns like pre-existing conditions. If the Republicans don't have an answer for that then they will lose the long war.

They also need to follow the advice of Ronald Reagan who refused to attack fellow Republicans on ideological grounds.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Shootings and Political Expediency

For weeks after the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook, we heard regular updates on how horrible it was and how something had to be done. The same was true for the shooting at the Aurora theater.

But the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC has already vanished from the headlines. I realize that killing children is more shocking that adults but this still seems callous. What happened?

I suspect that editorial decisions were made to play up the Sandy Hook story and minimize the DC shootings because of political expediency.

The Sandy Hook shooting was used to push new gun legislation. We were told that if we would just outlaw certain rifles and high capacity magazines and have more background checks then we would be safe.

The DC shooting showed how flawed this argument is. Most of the victims were killed with a shotgun and the shooter passed a background check when he bought it. Until now the line has been that politicians don't want to outlaw guns used for hunting, just ones that are too dangerous to be in the hands of regular people. The only gun control law that would have helped is one that confiscated all weapons and that would never pass.

While a tragedy, the Navy Yard shooting served no political purpose so it has already been dropped from the new cycle. We will not see any survivors from the shooting or relatives of the victims appearing with the President. It was all political posturing in order to pass measures that would not have made us safer.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Obama Doctine

To refer to President Obama's Middle East policy as Amateur Hour is an insult to amateurs. His Syrian policy in particular has been one blunder after another but it is possible to analyze these and use them to construct an overall Obama Doctrine.

First, let's look as his actions. In Egypt he supported all sides at some point or another. The official response to the legal requirement to classify the military coup that created the most recent government is that it is not in the interests of either country to reach a conclusion. We all know that it was a coup but calling it one would require that we cut off aid pending Congressional action.

We intervened in Libya on humanitarian grounds without Congressional involvement but only after we were shamed into it by the British and French.

Syria is where the administration has shown the least competence. At different times during their civil war we have supported President Bashar al-Assad, said that he must go, implied that we would accept a partitioned Syria, and finally partnered with him on removal of his chemical weapons.

Obama clearly wanted to stay well away from the conflict. His red line was an off-handed comment that he never expected he would be called on to enforce. When pushed into it he was on the verge of ordering a cruise missile strike when he changed his mind and sent the decision to Congress to be voted on. At the same time he insisted that he didn't need Congressional approval but he wanted them to vote on a resolution anyway. Weeks later the text of that resolution has not been finalized.

Our current policy also started as an off-hand comment that bordered on being a joke. When asked if anything could stop an attack, Secretary of State Kerry suggested that Syria turn over all of its chemical weapons stores by the end of the week. He clearly meant this as something that could never happen (technically, the end of the week is here and it didn't happen). This inspired Russian head Putin to propose a weapons turnover as a serious policy.

The President should have addressed the American people prior to ordering a strike (or prior to kicking the can to Congress). Instead he waited until after it was sure to fail in both houses before giving a speech. In that speech he explained why it was urgent that we strike but then announced that we would not because of the Russian offer.

It is likely that the talks will go on for a while. There may even be a token turnover of weapons but nothing major. After sticking their necks out for him once, Congressional Democrats will be unlikely to so so a second time. The same is true for France, the only other country to support us.

It is even possible that Bashar al-Assad will continue using chemicals on a smaller scale. It came out that he had been using them for some time. The red line was only crossed when images of dead bodies began showing up on TV.

Put all of that together and you have the Obama Doctrine:

1) The United States will not intervene in the Middle East on humanitarian grounds unless other countries, preferably Great Britain and France, take the lead. We will call this "leading from behind" but it is indistinguishable from following.

2) In the absence of leadership from other countries, it is acceptable for a government to kill unlimited numbers of its citizens using conventional weapons.

3) Governments will allowed to use chemical weapons on its own people as long as it does not make the evening news. If it makes the evening news then the government will have to be punished. This punishment will consist of beginning negotiations to turn over its weapons. No other punishment will be given.

Not exactly the Monroe Doctrine but there you have it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Which Way on Syria?

For the last two years I have been wishing that President Obama would do something about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. With hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, President Clinton's vows of "never again" have been forgotten. So, now that Obama is requesting permission to act do I feel so conflicted about it?

I've been weighing this question for the last few days and I finally realized that this is not even a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. He wants to do the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

The President's response has nothing to do with the humanitarian crisis. Worse, it is not really about the use of chemical weapons. What clarified the issue for me was a columnist who pointed out that, had Obama not made a speech last year drawing a red line, he would be making a case before the Hague instead of Congress.

But he did draw the line and, as in Libya, he insists that he has the executive poser to act on that without authorization from Congress. He is going to Congress, anyway but not because of a sudden respect for the Constitution or the War Powers Act. He is going to them for political cover.

So, the President wants to take some form of action, the nature of which is still under debate, because of a speech he gave and he wants Congress to share the blame when it inevitably goes wrong.

No wonder the Pentagon and a majority of both parties are reluctant to support him.

So, while I think that the US should have been supporting the non-Islamic rebels for the last two years, I cannot support Obama's current goals in Syria especially when his administration is unable to state clearly what they are. Congress should vote him down.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Obama and Syria

President Obama has painted himself into a corner on Syria. Elected on an anti-war platform, he is reluctant to get involved in new wars. He reluctantly got involved in Libya only after being shamed into it by the European countries. With the exception of France, they are sitting out this conflict so there is no "leading from behind".

For more than two years Obama insulated himself from the war with his "red line" which implied that Syria could slaughter as many of its people as it wanted as long as it was done with conventional weapons. He obviously expected that a warning about chemical weapons would be enough.

When he drew his red line, the President does not appear to have consulted with any allies or members of Congress. There are rumors that he did not even consult with the State Department. He warned of serious consequences but did not give any specifics and possibly did not have any in mind.

Now Syria has crossed the red line (by some reports they have been crossing it on ever-expanding scale for months). The President feels that he has to act but has not good options. There is no support for a boots-on-the-ground approach. Even an air attack has limited support.

Last week it was assumed that he would order a strike with cruise missiles and that this would be limited. At the last minute he decided to wait and ask Congress for permission. While this move was applauded by many, this move was more likely motivated by a desire to share the blame than by a desire to observe Constitutional requirements. This is the same president who ignored Congress and the War Powers act in Libya.

The President knows that any action he takes in Syria will be unpopular, especially with the anti-war base that the Democrats milked for support during the Bush years. In a bit of irony, there were anti-war protests outside of Secretary of State Kerry's house over the weekend. This is the same Kerry who first made his name as a Viet Nam protestor.

It is also possible that the President knows that the actions he has planned will be symbolic and will not change the balance of power in the area.

Politically, appealing to Congress has its advantages. The hawks will not vote for a symbolic strike and the doves will not vote for any action. There will be less fall-out if the measure fails in Congress than if Obama launches it and Syria continues to use poison gas.

A humanitarian and strategic case can be made for crippling strike combined with aid for the non-ideological rebels. Obama could make that case to Congress, the US citizenry, and the world but his heart is not in that option. He hasn't even delivered the small arms that were promised months ago.

Congress should reject anything short of regime change. Sharing blame for a symbolic action made necessary by the President's imprudent red line will not help Congress.

The President made it clear that he believes that he has the authority to order the strike regardless of Congress. If so then he should either act on that or back down instead of trying to share the blame.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Obama and the Middle East

President's Obama has no unified foreign policy for the Middle East. Instead he has a piecemeal approach that is not working.

Let's start with Israel. Like most liberals, Obama and current Secretary of State, Kerry think that most of the violence in the Middle East is caused by frustration at the plight of the Palestinians and that the only obstacle to peace is for Israel to stop its settlements. I could go on at length about these beliefs but the short version is that he is completely wrong on both counts.

Obama's Egypt policy appears to be to support whoever is in charge regardless of what they do right up until they are about to fall. He supported Mubarak at first. When The Muslim Brotherhood took over, he supported them which would have been fine if he had tempered his support. Yes, they were duly elected but they did not respect human rights and had no economic plan. Instead they spent their time consolidating power and trying to assure that there would be no further elections. Obama was silent about all of this until the military staged a coup. Then the administration threw its support behind the military and turned a blind eye to the fact that a coup had happened.

How can we explain this? One possibility is that Obama is too lazy to do more. He has never been very interested in foreign policy and it's hard to knock off work and have dinner with the family at 6 when you have to meet with foreign policy experts.

Another possibility is the one from last year about Obama and anti-colonialism. Obama spent some of his formative years overseas at a time when anti-colonialism was a major theme. The anti-colonialists believe that any outside action by the western powers is likely to be worse than no action at all. This theory at least puts Obama in a better light. The trouble is that the Egyptians don't believe it. Both sides expect more from the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize than a hands-off approach.

Obama's policy for the rest of the Middle East has consisted mainly of drone strikes. No question of his being engaged there. He is supposed to be personally involved in picking targets, putting almost as much effort into it as he spent drawing up the basketball teams for his 50th birthday celebration. Areas where there are no drone strikes he ignores. That includes Iran's nuclear ambitions and the growing unrest in Iraq.

Syria has become the one place that he cannot ignore. When the civil war began he distanced himself from it, essentially saying that the government could kill as many rebels as it wanted as long as it used conventional weapons.

At various times Obama has called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a reformer, then said that he had to go, then implied that he could continue to rule part of a divided state. When the body count rose, he promised small arms but so far has failed to deliver.

But Syria crossed the red line that Obama drew and used WMDs. There are reports that they have been using poison gas on rebels on a small scale for months but this time it made the news.

So, Obama is obligated to act but has failed to outline what his intentions are. Will he launch a limited, symbolic missile strike? Will he engage in a lengthy air war? Does he intent to leave Basar al-Assad in office? Over a week later and he says that he is still unsure if he even will attack to say nothing of what his objectives are?

The country is split over this but on unusual lines. Many, mainly on the right, believe that the US needs to follow up on Obama's red line in order to establish US credibility. They reason that allowing Syria to use WMDs will tell the rest of the world that they are free to ignore Obama. With Iran likely to have nuclear weapons in the near future, that is a bad precedent. The remainder of the right and most of the left is tired of war and wants Obama to make his case to the country before moving ahead.

At this rate, Obama might have to be late to dinner a few times.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recreating the Depression

There is a movement among the left to push for higher wages for traditionally low-paying jobs such as fast food or Wal-Mart. A recent column by Harold Meyerson typifies this. At the same time, Mayerson's column is so goofy that it deserves some close examination.

He begins by reciting sales figures for retail chains. They are not good. Wal-Mart's same-store sales have declined slightly. Other chains have reduced their forecasts as well. But Meyerson has a simple solution - give everyone at these stores a big raise. The extra money will boost the economy.

He even has a historic precedent for this. He quotes Edward Filene, whose family owned the Filene's department store. In the 1920s, Filene pushed for a wide list of economic reforms. Meyerson goes on to say:

They were well compensated for their clear understanding of how to make an economy thrive: During the 30 years of broadly shared prosperity that the New Deal reforms made possible, department stores catering to the vast middle class were a smashing success.

So, what's wrong here? A lot. To start with, Filene was ousted from the management of his family's business by the time he was pushing for these reforms. This column has to the the first I've ever seen that calls for a return to the good old days of the 1920s economy. Everyone else uses the 1920s as a cautionary tale since it led to the 1929 crash and the Great Depression. Meyerson ignores the fact that the New Deal and the Great Depression go hand in hand and that the 30 years of broadly shared prosperity happened after most of the New Deal was dismantled during WWII.

The 1930s provide a valuable lesson for those who want to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. In the early days of the Depression, the country actually suffered from deflation - the value of the dollar went up instead of down over time. By all rights, wages should have dropped to match the new buying power. Instead the government intervened and kept employers from lowering wages. Since the dollar was worth more, that gave them a huge increase in buying power - something like 50%. But it also raised labor costs that much and acted as a long-term inhibition on employment. Employers just couldn't afford to hire people at the new rate so they didn't.

That is what Meyerson and the others would cause in today's economy. They see corporate profits going up and see it as money that rightfully belongs to the workers (a very Marxist view) but they don't bother to do the math. There isn't enough corporate profits to pay for the pay increases they want. Product costs would have to go up and sales would go down. The people on the bottom might find themselves marginally better off but everyone else would be squeezed. At best, we would see a return of the inflation of the late 1970s were price increases wiped out wage increases. At worst we would see a second Great Depression where those who have a job would be fine but a large portion of the population would be unemployed.

Meyerson needs to look further than low-wage workers. Except for health care, the economy is not really growing. Instead of trying to turn all jobs into good jobs, we need to see what is impeding the growth of good jobs. This might be painful for Meyerson since he supports Obamacare.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oprah and Race

Oprah Winfrey is one of the world's richest and most successful women. Despite this, she sees herself as a victim of racism. The most recent example involved a shopping trip in Switzerland. She went into a high-end store and asked to see a purse. According to Oprah, the clerk didn't want to get down the expensive bag that Oprah asked for and instead kept showing her cheaper ones. Oprah is sure that this was because of international racism.

Let's look a little more closely at this story.

First, Oprah says she was shopping alone but that she had dressed up first because she knows that these stores get snobby. Now, the handbag in question (which is rather ugly) cost $38,000. The poverty level in the US is defined to be $23,000 so that bag cost enough to lift one and a half people above the poverty level. This is not a bag aimed at the 1% or even the 0.1%. It is aimed at the .00001%. As it happens, Oprah happens to be in that group but without recognizing her and without a retinue to signal that she is rich and important, the clerk can be forgiven for thinking that the purse was out of Oprah's price range. In fact, even Oprah admits that she would not have spent that much on a handbag. I suspect that the purse was never even meant to be sold. It was there as a status item to impress customers and make the rest of the over-priced merchandise seem inexpensive.

But Oprah doesn't see it that way. In her mind, the only reason a clerk would ever be reluctant to show an insanely over-priced bag to someone is because of race.

I should note that the clerk insists that she did not refuse to show the bag and that Oprah had someone - either a friend or bodyguard - with her. The clerk is at a loss for why one of the richest and most powerful women in the world attacked her like that. Some suspect that Oprah was trying to get publicity for her new movie about race in America. Being able to point to an example of racism affecting her helps Oprah sell the movie.

I have never paid much attention to Oprah (or any other talk show hosts) but this does remind me about the one episode of her show that I watched.

Around 10 years ago PBS had a reality show called Colonial House in which a group of people were trying to live as 17th century, New England colonists. Oprah was a fan of the series and decided to make an appearance. She had a brief orientation during which she asked if there were any blacks among the colonists. She was told that there had been two but they left for personal reasons. Oprah then suggested that the group didn't like black people and wondered if she would be safe among them.

In fact, the cast was huge fans and she was more than welcome.

This whole bit was important in showing Oprah's world view and the image she projects. She never asked what the personal reasons were for the black members leaving. As I remember, one had other commitments and only signed on for half the show and the other left because she felt guilty about the subjugation of the Indians by the colonists she was portraying. Neither left because of race but that was Oprah's assumption.

Oprah's speculation about her safety was worse because she knew perfectly well that she would be accompanied by a production crew. Her worries about being alone (with her friend) among whites who had reverted to their racist roots simply were not based on reality.

Finally, this speculation was left in the clip even though she knew when it was edited that she had been welcomed. There was never a clip where she admitted that she had been wrong to worry. This tells us that Oprah is quick to see things in the worst possible light and slow to admit mistakes.

She also recently compared the death of Travon Martin to the murder of Emmett Till and again, used the incident to promote her movie.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I've seen a lot of columns on the failure of Detroit but none of them really discuss the real problems. I'm not an expert on the subject but there are a lot of obvious holes in the current analysis.

Something that is almost never mentions is that the population of the Greater Detroit Metro Area is stable. People are leaving Detroit proper but not the area. Paul Krugman refers to Detroit as a market failure without explanation but this is what he means.

Detroit is in trouble because its population and tax base have been shrinking while its liabilities stay the same. One of its biggest liabilities is its retirement system. A proper retirement system invests workers funds during their tenure and pays the retirement out of the profits from those investments. That means that retired workers would continue to receive their checks, even if Detroit were to go bankrupt. Detroit didn't do that. It opted for a pay-as-you-go system where today's retirement checks are paid for from today's taxes. This is manageable as long as the tax base is stable or growing. With a shrinking tax base, it becomes untenable. This is the same problem that the Detroit automakers face.

Since the retirement checks and other fixed expenses have to be paid, cuts have to be made in services. That is why the streetlights dont' work and it takes an hour for the police to arrive in an emergency.

Detroit could have survived the bad pension plan if it had a stable tax base but it does not. It has been hemorrhaging residents. Liberals chalk this up to White Flight. If whites had only stayed put after the race riots in the 1960s, Detroit would be fine.

This is simplistic. There were many factors that led to the population loss. Ironically, the automobile and the rise of the suburbs are a big factor in Detroit. Unlike many cities, Detroit is on flat land which encourages urban sprawl. As the metro area expands, it drains people from the center. This has been a problem for most US cities to some degree or another. Decades of corruption and mismanagement are another factor. The process was also self-sustaining. As the population left Detroit proper, city services were reduced and crime increased. This encouraged more people to leave which fed the cycle. Even black families gave up on their old neighborhoods as crime rose. Businesses followed the population or took advantage of undeveloped land on the outskirts of the metro area.

This is the market failure that Krugman referred to. When given a choice between Detroit proper and other cities in the metro area, the population overwhelmingly chose to leave Detroit.

What can we learn from this? One lesson is the one Krugman wants to downplay - that underfunded pension systems can drag down cities. Another is that you can't mismanage a city indefinitely. Detroit may be unique but many of the factors that brought it down exist in other cities.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Race Relations and President Obama

The most remarkable thing about President Obama's "I could have been Trevon" press conference was what it revealed about his own views on race. Specifically, it shows that, as far as he is concerned, any time someone thinks that a black person is acting suspiciously, the only possible reason is his skin color. He outright said this when he speculated that things would have been different if Martin was white.

What was his basis for saying this? He didn't say and the evedence is against him. Investigations into Zimmerman's past showed that he had a long, positive history with blacks. He had black friends and business partners. He mentored black children. What is more, seeing a black face in his neighborhood was nothing new. One out of every five people on his street was black. Regardless of this, the President is positive that Martin was under suspicion because he is black. This says far more about Obama than about George Zimmerman.

Obama went on to give a personal history of suspicion. It is undeniable that racial tension exists in America but it is very possible that some of the incidents he describes had other factors besides race.

When he was in high school, he smokes a lot of pot. He must have reeked of it The potheads in my high school did.

As for being followed in stores - it happened to me, mainly when I was with a girlfriend in women's stores.

I have a personal story of my own, In the 1990 we had two employees who violated written work rules about absences without leave. One was a white man and the other a black woman. Both had similar number of violations and the personnel actions taken were identical. Despite this, the black woman insisted that the actions were racially motivated.

My point here is that not everything is about race. As long as the President and other people of color insist that it is they will have a racial divide with whites. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Zimmerman verdict and America

It was heartening that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. As the trial made clear, there was never much question about Zimmerman defending himself at the time of the shooting (although both men made mistakes leading up to the confrontation). The charges were filed for political purposes after reports got out that a white man was able to kill a black boy then get off because of Florida's Stand Your Ground laws.

What is disheartening is the reaction to the verdict. Stand Your Ground was never an issue because Martin surprised him, knocked him to the ground, then began pummeling him. That hasn't stopped a national call for repealing the law. Stevie Wonder announced that he will boycott Florida and any other state with similar laws.

President Obama managed to slip in a mention about stopping gun violence in his reaction speech. Presumably he would be happy if Martin had beaten Zimmerman to death.

Many can't get past their initial impression. Eugene Robinson insists that Martin was no threat to Zimmerman.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man's pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

While it is true that Zimmerman outweighed Martin, it must be kept in mind that Martin was a shade under 6 feet, ideal weight and a football player. Zimmerman was three inches shorter and overweight. Martin had no trouble breaking Zimmerman's nose and pinning him to the ground. Having your head pounded against the pavement goes beyond having your pride threatened. (And that discounts Zimmerman's testimony that Martin was trying to get his gun.)

The worst reactions are from people who just want an excuse to protest. The Occupy movement manged to include an anti-capitalism message in their protest. Protestors in Oakland robbed stores.

None of these protestors care what happened. They don't even want to know. They want an excuse to protest or simply wreck havoc.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Zimmerman/Martin myths

There are a number of misconceptions about the Zimmerman/Martin case. The case is in the hands of the jury. While we're waiting for the verdict, I'll go over a few:

Zimmerman racially profiled Martin.
Zimmerman thought that Martin looked like he was up to no good but did not say why. An early version of the 911 tape seemed to indicate that he was racially profiling Martin but this turned out to have been altered by NBC. In the full tape, Zimmerman only gave Martin's race when asked by the police dispatcher. There is no reason to think that racial profiling was involved. Zimmerman is mixed race and has many close black friends. The neighborhood is mixed race so a black face would not stand out. On the 911 tape, it was Martin's behavior, not his race, that made Zimmerman specious.

Zimmerman shot an unarmed boy
This is a major sticking point for many people - that Zimmerman had a gun and Martin did not. This is a major oversimplification. According to Zimmerman, witnesses, and forensics evidence, at the time of the shooting Martin was sitting on Zimmerman, hitting him in the face and pounding his head into the cement sidewalk. It doesn't matter that Zimmerman's injuries at that point were minor. What matters is that he had reasonable cause to think that he would be seriously injured or killed if Martin continued beating him. I challenge anyone who thinks that Zimmerman was overreacting to put himself in that position and see if it changes his mind.

The defense summed it up saying that Martin was armed with a cement sidewalk.

Martin's character should not be questioned - it is Zimmerman who is on trial.
A big question in the trial is if Martin was the sort of person who would decide to teach a crazy-ass cracker a lesson by beating him up?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The President's Speeches

Barack Obama was elected on the basis of his speeches but since then his rhetorical skills have failed him. What happened?

I think it is a simple example of expectations. When he was a candidate he could promise anything he wanted. He had no real power. Instead, he was asking for it.

Now he is in office. People don't want to hear promises or excuses. They aren't impressed by blaming others. They expect results.

At the same time, Obama now knows the limits of what he can do and what he must do.

For most of his presidency, Obama's response to problems has been to make a speech. This never succeeds which creates even lesser expectations for his next major speech.

This was not a problem that Reagan had. He was a master at manipulating Congress and when that didn't work, he knew how to make a persuasive case to the American people. Obama has no idea how to work with Congress and tends to lecture rather than persuade.

Reagan is ranked among the greatest presidents. Even his detractors (including Obama) concede this. Obama is proving himself to be one of the lessor presidents, sinking with each speech.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial

The longer the trail of George Zimmerman goes on the weaker the case looks. This isn't surprising. From the beginning it was a show trial of sorts.

The first most people heard of George Zimmerman and Trevon Martin was a distorted version of the actual events. According to this, Zimmerman profiled Martin because of his race and his hoodie, tracked him down, and shot him then got off because of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. To make matters even more extreme, old photos of martin were released showing him as being fairly small while Zimmerman was described as being twice Martin's size.

On top of all that, NBC edited a tape of the 911 call to make it appear that Zimmerman did indeed profile Martin based on race.

Suddenly the incident became a national cause. Opponents of the Stand Your Ground law publicized it while black activists insisted that it was a proxy for all race relations. The authorities who failed to file charges against Zimmerman were fired and a special prosecutor was brought in who files 2nd degree murder charges.

Eventually the real story came out. Zimmerman may sound like a white name but this one is a mixed-race Hispanic (although he is still being referred to as a "white Hispanic). Zimmerman is short and doughy while Martin was tall and in good condition (in one picture taken just before his death he towers over his family).

The Stand Your Ground defense is meaningless here because Zimmerman claimed that Martin knocked him to the ground and sat on him while hitting him and banging his head against the sidewalk.

So far the prosecution has totally failed to prove otherwise. The two most reliable witnesses insisted that Martin had Zimmerman pinned. Another witness assumed that Zimmerman was on top because all of the pictures in the media showed Martin as being smaller. Once she found out that Martin was a good deal taller than Zimmerman she changed her story. The one witness who said that Zimmerman was on top also claimed that he shot Martin three times in the back (he was shot once in the front).

The physical evidence supports Zimmerman. He was cut and bruised while Martin was unharmed except for his knuckles and the shot that killed him.

You would think that all of this would be enough to convince a fair-minded observer that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. Not so. There is still a crowd who clings to minor details - Zimmerman says that they struggled for the gun but there is no evidence that Martin touched it and Zimmerman says that he spread Martin's arms wide but they were together when the police found them.

These people have been watching too many police shows where a tiny inconsistency eventually points to the real killer. That makes for good fiction but poor training for reality.

Unfortunately, if Zimmerman is found innocent then we will probably have nationwide race riots.

Monday, June 24, 2013

About the Rich Getting Richer

Last week the stock market crashed after the Fed said that it will eventually scale back on its efforts to keep interest rates low. The correlation between the two explains why the rich are doing so much better than the rest of the country.

For years the Fed has been pumping money into the economy. Normally this would be inflationary but only a few places in the economy had indicated any sort of bubble. The stock market is the biggest.

What is going on is simple - investors are borrowing money at record-low rates and using it to buy stocks. There are other investments going on at the same time. What is not happening is the money going for traditional investments. Businesses are not using the money to expand.

That keeps the money bottled up at the top. Only a limited number of people are in a position to benefit from this, mainly financial institutions. People involved with those institutions are making a LOT of money but they aren't spending it.

There are contributing factors. The new financial regulations institutionalize Too Big to Fail which encourages risky behavior. The financial institutions know that the tax payers will bail them out if their investments go bad.

But all of this depends on cheap money so any hint that the Fed might allow rates to climb in the future is bad news.

Note that none of this involves tax law or unions. Progressives worry about the concentration of money at the top but their remedies will be ineffective.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Armed Idiot

Writing in Ms Magazine, Heidi Yewman tells of her month carrying a gun. She claims that she was inspired by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre who said "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Her rules for carrying the gun are:
Carry it with me at all times, follow the laws of my state, only do what is minimally required for permits, licensing, purchasing and carrying, and finally be prepared to use it for protecting myself at home or in public.

To understand where Heidi is coming from you have to know that she has been an anti-gun activist. She led a shareholder's revolt against Starbuck's open carry policy and has boycotted the chain for two years.

At first this sounds like an honest attempt by an anti-gun activist to understand gun culture. It is not. It is a stunt designed to prove her original point that guns should be banned in public.

The key is her third point - only doing the minimal requirements. While most normal people who buy a gun for self-defense take a gun safety course and become familiar with gun handling, she didn't even ask the dealer how to load it. Instead she brought the gun home, opened the box, and panicked because she convinced herself that it was loaded with the safety off.

After finding a policeman who showed her some basics, she strapped it on and went to a Starbucks. Her conclusion?

In some way, I feel a certain vindication. I was right to protest Starbucks policy. Today, they have a woman with absolutely no firearms training and a Glock on her hip sitting within arm's reach of small children, her hands shaking and adrenaline surging.

This whole is contrived. She faults Tony, the gun dealer, for selling a gun to someone as ignorant as she is. She faults the cop for not confiscating the gun when she told him what an idiot she is. Why didn't she ask Tony for some basic instruction? Probably because he would have spent more time with her than the cop could. He might have even tried to sign her up for a gun safety course which would invalidate her entire premise. Also, some basic gun handling would alleviate her jitters about carrying a gun.

That is the last thing she wants. Her whole article is based on the idea that guns are dangerous instruments that are likely to go off at any second. Her ultimate aim is to establish a guilt-by-association for gun owners. If someone who is willfully ignorant is allowed to carry a gun then all gun owners should be treated as willfully ignorant.

A careful reading of her goals shows that they are contradictory. She says that she will be prepared to use the gun to defend herself but that involves knowing how to aim and fire the thing. She can't remain willfully ignorant and still be prepared to use it.

She is not above stretching the truth a bit, also. She apparently lives in Washington state whch requires two background checks and a waiting period for getting a gun. She fails to mention this. Instead she says that getting a dog license is easier (do they really fingerprint dog-owners in Washington?).

The irony is that she will probably hurt her cause. The article is making the conservative rounds where she is being held as an object of ridicule.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

About that Amnesty Bill

I keep getting urgent email alerts warning that the Amnesty Bill is advancing through Congress. I hate them because there is no such bill. True, there is a bill which would overhaul how illegal immigrants are handled but this is no amnesty bill.

Let's talk a little bit about reality. There are something like 11 million people who came to this country illegally. The biggest group came from Mexico but a large number came from China. They came here because our labor market was able to absorb them and portions of our economy need them. There is no way to send them all back, even if our economy could absorb the impact. Attempting it would require turning our country into a total police state where your citizenship was constantly being verified and your home was subject to search in case you were sheltering illegals.

They aren't going away so what do we do with them? Current policy amounts to amnesty. We look the other way and let them stay. Some cities have even adopted a sanctuary policy where the police are barred from turning illegals over to immigration authorities.

They are here and they aren't going to leave so we need to find some way to legally accommodate them. This is a good time to do it. The collapse of housing construction in the US and a rebounding Mexican economy has slowed the illegal immigration rate to a trickle. This would be a great time to close the border.

The objections to immigration reform don't stand up to scrutiny. One objection is that they are being rewarded for breaking the law. Actually the path to citizenship includes fines and a long residency requirement. Also, keep in mind that federal laws are so complex that nearly everyone breaks them regularly.

There is a fear on the right that this will assure a permanent Democrat majority. The thinking is that the Democrats will ram immigration reform through then claim credit for it for decades to come. This is a real possibility which is why Republicans need to be leaders in the fight to pass reform. Being seen as the anti-Hispanic party will hurt the Republicans for decades but stealing this as an issue from the Democrats will help Republicans make inroads with Hispanic voters.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Defending Libertarianism

Michael Lind on Salon thinks that he has the ultimate question that Libertarians can't answer: If your approach is so great, why hasn't any country anywhere in the world ever tried it?

E. J. Dionne picks up that question and tries to use it to discredit Libertairans.

First things first. There are no true, modern libertarian countries just as there are no pure communist or socialist countries. These policies have been implemented in various degrees in many different countries so we can judge their relative merit.

Before I go further I need to define Libertarianism. It means different things to different people but its heart is a government that protects property rights and the rule of law while allowing trade and innovation to happen with minimal regulatory oversight.

Historically there have been many countries that have implemented this. All of the great trade empires have strong libertarian elements. This includes Victorian England, 17th century Holland and Renaissance Venice. These were not democracies but the governments still promoted trade.

The classic example of Libertarian values is pre-20th century United States.

In the modern world we have seen countries like China move from communist poverty to capitalist prosperity by adopting libertarian trade policies.

In the US we can compare Texas with California to see the effect of loose and strict government policies.

Internationally we can see that the US which just significantly expanded the regulatory state is lagging behind most of the developed world in economic expansion.

Dionne brings up the Great Depression as an example of how expanding government power saved the country from the Great Depression. The truth is that it was a world-wide depression and the recovery happened world-wide regardless of local policies.

So, if Libertarian policies are so great then what happened to them? The short answer is Progressives like Dionne. around the beginning of the 20th century they became upset with income inequality and other causes and started lobbying for increased government power to set things right. This was an emotional appeal, not an economic one. Libertarianism didn't exist at the time. It was created by the backlash when socialist and communist policies failed.

Now the Progressives are back. They see income inequality as a major problem that must be addressed by government intervention. It doesn't matter to them that everyone is living a more prosperous life than 50 years ago. They want the expansion of government to proceed and feel threatened by anyone who points out the flaws in this.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Phone Records Scandal

The fact that the government is collecting records on every call made within the United States is a bit troubling but not as bad as it seems at first. In order to access the data, agents have to first get clearance from a judge.

What is not clear is easily these requests are granted or how wide reaching they are. Given the current administration's overreach on surveillance, we need to know more about the program before we can properly judge it.

One thing that is clear though is that the man in the White House is not the man who people thought they elected. Candidate Obama was against surveillance programs such as this. President Obama has extended them.

It should not go unremarked that many of the people who are defending this program condemned it under President Bush. That implies that the program is needed and that the objections were purely political.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Michelle Bachmann and the Left

Michelle Bachman recently announced that she will not run again. That led several left-leaning columnists to revive all of the misstatements she has made. In doing so, they prove that she is right in stepping down, not because of her own failings but because she can't get fair treatment from the press. This column by Dana Milbank is representative.

Certainly, the media and late-night TV hosts will greatly miss the woman who declared that the American Revolution began in Concord, N.H., instead of Concord, Mass.; that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation; that certain members of Congress are "anti-America"; that John Wayne came from her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa (she confused him with serial killer John Wayne Gacy); that God created an earthquake and a hurricane to protest federal spending; that the U.S. government is plotting death panels, re-education camps and an IRS database of Americans' medical records; and that the feds could use census data to put people in internment camps.

Whether she was calling President Obama a socialist, misplacing John Quincy Adams in history as a "Founding Father," or wishing Elvis Presley a "happy birthday" on the anniversary of his death, Bachmann frequently furnished evidence for her claim that God had called her to run for president — if only to provide comic relief.

Certainly Bachmann made errors but this list is misleading. The biggest one is John Quincy Adams. In a speech, Bacjmann referred to him as a fore-bearer meaning someone in the past. She did not call him a founding father but someone substituted that term and proceed to ridicule her for confusing Adams with his father.

While it is true that John Wayne was not from Waterloo, Iowa, his parents were. Confusing John Wayne with his parents is a lot different than confusing him with a serial killer.

It should also be pointed out that President Obama was a Marxist in college and it is unclear when his world-view changed (assuming it did). Public statements by some members of Congress do come off as anti-American and she would know more about their private views than most outsiders. The existence of death panels (panels deciding to withhold medical treatment because of expense) will not be known until Obamacare is fully implemented. The same is true for the IRS and medical records.

The real errors on the list - things like confusing Concord, N.H. with Concord, Mass., confusing an account of the MMR vaccine with the HPV vaccine, and the anniversary of Elvis's death with the anniversary of his birth are the type or error made by every politician. Even Obama was unclear about the number of states. Finally, there are her statements of faith which cause consternation to the left.

The point of this is that the left goes to lengths to paint her as an idiot of some kind. Everything she says is taken as ridiculous, even when it is true.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Obama Scandals

A score-sheet to the current crop of scandals.

Benghazi - The left keeps presenting this as a made-up scandal. It is not. Regardless of who came up with the talking points, the Obama Administration used them to conceal what happened. To be clear, an al Qaeda affiliate executed a planned assault on a consulate and killed the ambassador. This raises questions about intelligence gaps and the strength of al Qaeda in a country we had been aiding. With an election coming, the administration preferred to push the idea that the attack was spontaneous. If it wasn't planned then there could be no intelligence failure. Even when testifying before Congress, Hillary Clinton's "what difference does it make?" outburst presented it as either spontaneous but inspired by a video or simply spontaneous.

The furor over the talking points hides the fact that the real question is why we didn't anticipate an attack.

The IRS - Obama apologists like to insist that it was perfectly logical to profile Tea Party groups for additional tax scrutiny. Here is an example:

Someone at your office notices that a lot of the applications for 501(c)(4) status are from groups that claim to be part of the burgeoning Tea Party movement. Aha! When you're looking for signs of political activity, wouldn't it make sense to search for criteria related to the largest new political movement of our times?

The problem is that there were lots of political groups being formed but only conservative causes got put on the list. These were not large groups with lots of money, either. This shows every sign of being politically motivated.

The AP - The Obama Justice Department spread a wide net in trying to track down a leak. It is true that some Republicans called for the leak to be investigated but they did not specify the means. They assumed that the Obama Justice Department would follow the guidelines set down in 1980 which call for the narrowest search possible. The leak investigation is not the scandal. The scandal is that the Justice Department totally ignored the guidelines.

Fox News - In a different leak investigation, the Justice Department named a reporter as a co-conspirator because he asked a source for more information. This goes way beyond the AP investigation.

Obama's cluelessness - Last weekend the President's supporters defended him on the basis that he didn't know anything about any of these. Even when the White House had been briefed, the President was kept in the dark. This fits other accounts of President Obama as a hands-off administrator who only puts in minimal effort.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Progressivism Hits the Wall

In the early 20th century a new political idea took root - the idea of an expansive central government managed by dispassionate professionals. To a large extant, that is what we have now and why the IRS and AP scandals are so damaging to the Obama Administration and the Left.

While it is often ignored, Civil Service was a big part of the Progressive movement. The political patronage system was corrupt and a significant barrier to an expanding government. As the government's power expands, so does its ability to be abused.

The solution to this was to create professional bureaucracies. Lawmakers would no longer write the rules. They would write legislation enabling bureaucrats to write the actual rules.

The bureaucracies themselves were supposed to be non-partisan professionals who would administer the law impartially. The office that rules on tax-free status was moved to the regional office in Cincinnati specifically to keep it away from Washington politicians.

So the news that this office was specifically targeting conservative groups received universal condemnation. If the bureaucracy has be used to target one group then it will be used again. It does not matter who gave the order. There were no controls to stop it and the practice was allowed to continue at a high level.

The AP story is similar. There are specific guidelines for discovering a security leak. These were totally ignored. Instead of limiting the data narrowly, the government cast the widest net possible. This is chilling for reporters who depend on inside sources to cover the government.

The progressive idea of dispassionate professionals has run into reality. Civil servants do not live in a vacuum. Some of them have strong political leanings and are willing to act on them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Obama Scandals

The hits keep coming on the Obama administration. First it was the Benghazi hearings, then the IRS scandal. The most important things about these two is that conservatives knew all about them but were scoffed at. The big revelation is not that they happened but that everything the conservatives complained about was true. The White House really did rewrite talking point memos to remove references to an organized terrorist attack. Instead it was explained as a spontaneous regional event which was inspired by a video.

Let's be clear that there were such demonstrations but not in Libya and the administration knew it. This was not an attempt to tie local events to regional ones as some apologists have claimed. It was an attempt to rewrite events in order to aid the President's reelection campaign.

The IRS scandal keeps growing. When it was first released, on a Friday in the hopes that it would be buried, it was presented as a small, rouge group working without authorization. Since then it has come out that at least three offices were cooperating and that any group that was identifiably anti-Obama was included. Even Jewish groups were given special, chilling scrutiny. Now that the MSM is paying attention, there is no hiding things. There is a long paper trail that is beyond the control of the administration. All of the affected groups can produce the list of questions they were asked by the IRS.

The third scandal is likely to hit the Obama administration the hardest. The Justice Department was secretly monitoring the AP for two years. This is likely to turn the press against the Obama administration which means that they will receive less cover for their other improprieties.

Barack Obama must be asking himself why he ran so hard for a second term? He already suffered major defeats on gun control and the sequester and now he has to cope with multiple scandals at once. He was too competitive to walk away from the office but he doesn't like it and he is not very good at it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Judging Bush

Last week's opening of George W. Bush's Presidential Library had many reassessing his presidency. It is really too early to do this. Most of the people writing were still suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Regardless, four years and 100 days have given some perspective. We can see how Bush's policies actually played out and which of them the Obama Administration continued. This is important because it removes the "if you only knew what I knew" problem that most critics have.

Bush looks particularly good when compared to his successor in many areas. The first of these is politics. The Bush years were marked by strident political division. The Left outright hated him. Despite this, all of his major achievements were done with bipartisan support. Even after losing both houses of Congress in 2006, he still managed to piece together a working majority. Even when the Republicans controlled the Senate, they never had more than 51 votes. In contrast, President Obama needs 60 Senate votes to pass anything important.

The invasion of Iraq may have been a mistake but it must be taken in context. We had been in open hostilities with Iraq for a decade prior to the invasion. Saddam may not have been making WMDs but he had every intention of doing so as soon as the sanctions were lifted and it was only a matter of time before that happened. Look at our powerlessness to stop North Korea and Iran and you can see where Iraq would have been by now.

You should also look at Syria to see what might have happened in Iraq if we had not invaded. They have tens of thousands of dead, a million refugees, and a rebellion that is increasingly made of Islamic fundamentalists.

Bush is often blamed for the Great Recession. This was a bipartisan problem with roots going back to the Clinton administration. The Bush administration pushed for reforms that would have lessened the impact of the crash but these were blocked by prominent Democrats.

Bush's response to the crash must also be taken into account. Economists agree that he saved the world's economy. Technically, the recession ended before Obama's stimulus went into effect.

It is often said that Bush took a surplus and turned it into a deficit. Actually the Internet Bubble created the surplus and the recession caused by it bursting created the deficit. Bush did have some significant deficits but they peaked with the recession and were declining until the crash in 2007. In contrast, Obama turned the emergency stimulus into the new baseline. His deficits are three times Bush's and that's with a declining military presence in war zones.

Bush received a lot of blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina. This was undeserved. He was even blamed for the levies flooding (because he caused global warming, because money allocated for levee maintenance went to pay for troops, or because he ordered the levees to be dynamited). This must be compared with the response to Hurricane Sandy - a much smaller storm. Bush's response looks fairly good by this measure.

Bush's Medicare Drug Plan was not properly funded but it ended up costing a fraction of what was projected. In contrast, Obamacare was supposed to be funded but new projections show it will be much more costly than projected.

The left could never utter the words "Bush tax cuts" without adding "for the rich" but Obama signed a measure continuing 99% of the cuts. These tax cuts were blamed for the growing divide between the rich and poor but that divide has widened during the Obama years.

In all, Bush looks pretty good compared with his successor.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The FAA and the Sequester

Some people on the left are upset that Congress and the President gave up a major bargaining chip by voting to ease air congestion. These people are politically tone deaf.

The message they wanted to send was that flight delays were all the fault of Republicans refusing to raise taxes. That message did not get out. Even a left-leaning media would not take so partisan a viewpoint. After all, the networks are more affected than the rest of us.

The story that came out was that the cuts and the delays they caused were politically motivated. The FAA had their budget cut. They could have targeted the cuts, taking more money from overstaffed airports and less from understaffed ones. Instead they cut all airports equally, guaranteeing delays.

There was no way for the Democrats to spin this story as an example of Republicans' refusal to raise taxes. If the Democrats had stood firm then the public would have blamed them for their single-minded pursuit of tax hikes.

The President and Congressional Democrats took the only path available to them and voted to alleviate the delays.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Obama and Guns

When he ran in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that he was not anti-gun. Many gun-rights advocates did not trust him on this. They believed that he was deeply anti-gun but hid his true motives in order to get elected. Recent events have justified these fears. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, Obama proposed an anti-gun agenda that could have been written in the 1990s. He then used his bully pulpit to make gun control legislation the centerpiece of his second term.

So, where are we now?

Three states have passed restrictive gun legislation. My prediction is that it will be ignored, especially the New York ban on "high capacity" magazines. The original legislation banned nearly every semi-automatic pistol ever made. The statute was amended to allow magazines that can hold more bullets as long as they are not transported that way.

As far as Congress, it was obvious from the start that actually passing any meaningful measures was going to be difficult if not impossible. The House refused to introduce any legislation until the Senate passed something.

In the Senate it quickly became obvious that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines did not have enough votes. Mandatory background checks were pushed as the only thing that could pass.

Despite political reality, the President kept pushing his whole package, seemingly oblivious to events.

Some political observers suspected Obama of playing the long game. He would push gun control through the Senate in the hope that it would die in the Republican-controlled House. Then he would use this as a campaign wedge in 2014 to defeat the Republicans and regain control of both houses.

If true, this policy now lies in tatters. The Senate failed to pass anything, even a moderate background check. Most Republicans voted against it but a few were for and a few Democrats voted against. That will make it very difficult for the President to use the vote against the Republicans.

A bigger problem is that the country is not behind the President. While one poll found that 90% of the country supports background checks, only 8% things that gun control is the nation's top priority. And that poll was taken before the events of last week.

There is also a political issue to the vote that goes beyond the NRA. Immigration reform is coming and is likely to be decisive. Some Senators know that they will be voting against the wishes of their constituents. They feel that they can survive one divisive vote but not two. These Senators rightly believe that immigration is the more pressing issue.

The Sandy Hook push was an emotional appeal made possible because of the immediacy of the tragedy. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion, and the death of one bomber and apprehension of the other one, Sandy Hook seems a lot less urgent.

For now, the President will get nothing on gun-control on the national level. Most politicians would face reality and drop the issue but Obama is particularly stubborn. Expect him to bring the issue up again.