The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

47 Percent

President Obama seems wedded to the notion that big government—in the form of the stimulus, massive healthcare regulation and “reform,” energy taxation via cap and trade, government take-over of private corporations, to name only a few things—is the right strategy for our nation moving forward. Although I have grave reservations about that point of view, let’s assume for the moment that he’s right—that big government is the solution.

If that’s the case, wouldn’t it seem only appropriate that a significant percentage of American households contributed to big government programs via their income tax payments? In fact, in 2009, fewer Americans are contributing than ever before. Jeanne Sahadi of reports:
In 2009, roughly 47% of households, or 71 million, will not owe any federal income tax, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Some in that group will even get additional money from the government because they qualify for refundable tax breaks.

The ranks of those whose major federal tax burdens net out at zero -- or less -- is on the rise. The center's original 2009 estimate was 38%. That was before enactment in February of the $787 billion economic recovery package, which included a host of new or expanded tax breaks.

And of course, these numbers don’t consider those who earn “tax free” money in an underground economy that some estimate at hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Those of us who do pay taxes year in and year out clearly understand that families with very low incomes should be exempted, but 47 percent of all households?

The problem is that fewer and fewer people are paying for a government that is expanding far too rapidly. Even without the President’s new and very expensive programs, existing entitlements cannot be sustained over the long run.

Our reform-minded President might be well served to “reform” our income tax laws (a flat-tax, anyone?). If Barack Obama can mandate that every citizen be covered by health insurance, it would only seem reasonable that every citizen help support the government that regulates it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In his recent speech at the UN, President Obama suggested that the US has turned a new page and is now a viable member of the world community after our long walk in the wilderness while George W. Bush was in office. Among the laundry list of things his administration has done to soften our image throughout the world is active participation of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). That’s the same UNHRC whose membership list includes a ‘who’s who’ of human rights violators and brutal dictatorships. But no matter, the council name incorporates "human rights" and that will surely cause the world to like us, really like us.

In an article at the UK’s TimesOnLine, Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK comments:
In the history of international organisations it is hard to conceive of an institution less fit for purpose than the absurdly titled UN Human Rights Council.

Since its inception in 2006, the UNHRC has included such champions of liberal values as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba. There is no doubting the comic value of such membership. Analogies spring to mind of Jack the Ripper leading a disciplinary inquiry at Scotland Yard, or Dr Harold Shipman chairing a panel discussion on medical care for the elderly. Yet for Israel, on the receiving end of this surreal hypocrisy, it is no laughing matter.

I suspect that our President would argue that by participating, we can change UNHRC thinking, mold their biased reports, and “reform” their approach. For a smart guy, it seems that Barack Obama is chronically naïve. The alternative to that characterization is that he agrees with the council’s findings, to wit:
The latest example of its hypocrisy is the 575-page Goldstone report into the Gaza conflict at the beginning of this year. Israel, a democracy with an unquestionably free press and meticulously independent judiciary, faces a threat from terrorism unique in its intensity. Yet its obligations to defend its citizens from terror are being scrutinised, delegitimised and condemned by states in which the routine price of dissent is imprisonment without trial, torture or execution.

It is impossible to escape the obsession of the Human Rights Council (and I chuckle every time I write its name) with Israel. In three years, it has issued 25 resolutions against individual states: 20 of them targeted Israel. Basic maths suggests that Israel, a tiny democracy permanently threatened by dictatorships and terrorists, is guilty of 80 per cent of the world’s human rights offences. This is ridiculous, as is a human rights body with member states that still view public beheadings as a wholesome leisure activity.

In his speech to the UN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised an assembly that is perfectly willing to listen to and applaud people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mouamar Quadafi. He asked: “Have you no shame?”

I think that’s a reasonable question to ask an administration that brags about its participation in the UNHRC.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

The New York Times reports on yesterday’s “bombshell” disclosure that Iran has a second undisclosed nuclear processing facility:
President Obama and his allies raced Friday to use their revelation of a secret Iranian nuclear enrichment plant as long-sought leverage against Tehran, demanding that the country allow highly intrusive international inspections and propelling the confrontation with Tehran to a new and volatile pitch.

In a day of high drama at an economic summit meeting, American, British and French officials declassified some of their most closely held intelligence and scrambled to describe a multiyear Iranian effort, tracked by spies on the ground and satellites above, to build a secret uranium enrichment plant deep inside a mountain.

My, oh my, what a shock! Gosh, I’m certainly surprised that the Iranians have lied to the incompetent IAEA and to the feckless UN. I’m astounded, just astounded, that President Obama’s broadcast greeting to the Iranian people, his private note to the Mullahs, and his mea culpas to the Islamic world haven’t worked. I, for one, expected the Iranians to cease and desist in the efforts to build and use nuclear weapons and to do so once President Obama—the anti-Bush—made nice with them. Why … it’s just unbelievable. Not.

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily captures our current strategy with Iran perfectly:
President Obama delivered numerous applause lines before the United Nations last week, like this one regarding nuclear proliferation: "Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences."

But what consequences? Only the most crippling of sanctions, like a concerted oil export and gasoline import embargo, would constitute real punishment for Iran, for instance.

And we're nowhere near getting that to happen.

Which leaves us with what might best be called Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Diplomacy. Dustin Hoffman, the divorcing dad in the movie "Kramer vs. Kramer," haplessly warns his bratty little boy again and again not to get the chocolate chip ice cream out of the freezer before finishing dinner.

"You take one bite out of that, you're in big trouble," the ever-more-ridiculous-looking father says. As the bite gets closer to the boy's lips, he says: "You put that ice cream in your mouth and you are in very, very, very big trouble. Don't you dare go anywhere beyond that. Put it down right now. I am not going to say it again."

That's us now. Neither Iran nor any other terror state has any reason to believe America's tough words have steel behind them.

And that’s at the core of the problem. President Obama, a man who supposedly analyzes changing situations and adapts accordingly, seems wedded to his non-confrontational approach to this Islamist regime. He remains committed to long-term negotiations, soft power, and, well, dare I say the word “appeasement.”

If we just offer the right collection of “incentives” and “sanctions,” the Mullahs will see the light. Never mind that any agreement will be abrogated, that other secret facilities will continue to operate, and that their rogue regime (you remember, the one the violently suppressed its own citizens less than two months ago) will not change its ways. Ultimately, further down the line, the world may pay a very heavy price, but for now, we can all play make-believe and think happy thoughts—the Iranians are only enriching Uranium inside a fortified mountain for medical purposes.

In fairness, President Obama does not have many good options – a consequence of our kicking the can down the road for the past 30 years. Had the Carter administration (another President who believed that long-term negotiations, soft power, and appeasement) taken a different tack when Iran committed an act of War when it seized our embassy and our diplomats, we might not be facing this problem today. But Carter, like Obama, talked and talked, and the first Iranian Mullah, Ayatollah Komeni, laughed. He knew weakness when he saw it, and he acted accordingly.

It is ironic that Barack Obama is now put in a position of addressing the festering problem that was precipitated by Carter’s irresponsible and naive behavior in 1979. Ralph Peters describes Obama’s dilemma:
Ahmadinejad's boys know what they're doing. They've dispersed their nuclear program across urban areas and deep underground. The network is not only hard to hit -- it's impossible to strike effectively without inflicting thousands of civilian casualties.

These new sites raise the stakes higher still: Attack the plant near Qom and we'll be seen by Shia Muslims as violating a holy city. Strike those Tehran detonator factories and you get severe collateral damage -- plus the probable spread of radioactive material, an instant "dirty bomb."

Yet, after all this, there's still resistance in Washington to the conclusions that Iran's determined to develop nuclear weapons and then use them. What amount of evidence will it take?

Iran's faith-crazed president appears before the UN, denying the Holocaust and damning Israel. He has openly and repeatedly professed an apocalyptic religious vision that requires chaos on earth to bring about the return of the "hidden imam," the Shia version of a messiah. He never misses an opportunity to call for Israel's total destruction.

We’ll talk and talk some more. We’ll impose weak sanctions that will be violated within days of their implementation. And ultimately, Iran will have a weapon of mass destruction.

No worries. Just don’t eat any of that chocolate chip ice cream.

Update (9/29/09):

As if to punctuate the complete idiocy of our chocolate chip ice cream diplomatic efforts, Iran yesterday launched two medium range missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to Israel, Turkey, most of the Arab countries in the region, and parts of southwestern Europe. Then, adding whipped cream, the Iranian Parliament, this morning, is reported to have pompously declared that: (1) if they are "threatened" by the G5 they will escalate uranium enrichment efforts, and (2) they will decide when and whether the IAEA can inspect their illicit "new" nuclear enrichment facility.

Hmmm. I wonder whether President Obama will use his blinding brilliance to learn from this "teaching moment."

Thursday, September 24, 2009


President Obama’s legion of supporters becomes excited when he makes a speech. His eloquence convinces them that words alone can solve our problems. They believe that sheer force of personality can move others—even those who are our adversaries—to see the light and blithely change their malevolent actions.

Yesterday’s speech at the United Nations was an example. Obama told the arrayed audience that:
We've re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council. We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals."

That’s all very nice, but I suspect that thugs like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Muammar Gaddafi will be less than impressed.

Rich Lowery comments further:
Obama's mistake is in believing "the interests of nations and peoples are shared." They aren't. Georgia has an interest in becoming a strong nation capable of defending itself; Russia has an interest in quashing it. China has an interest in dominating all of East Asia; Japan and other neighbors have an interest in containing it.

Iran has an interest in gaining a nuclear weapon; Israel -- and the United States -- has an interest in stopping it.

On the latter, Obama was shockingly weak, if his weakness still retained the capacity to shock. He outlined with great specificity what the United States will do to reduce its own nuclear arsenal. We'll pursue a nuclear agreement with the Russians, move on ratifying the Test Ban Treaty, complete a Nuclear Posture Review, etc.

As for Iran, if it moves ahead on its nuclear program, it "must be held accountable."

How? Obama can't say, because Moscow and even Paris apparently haven't gotten word about the "new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect." Both are making discouraging noises about any serious sanctions against Iran.

But Obama’s supporters are unswayed. They believe that words matter (a lot) and that actions must be carefully tuned to ensure that “they” won’t hate us. If that risks appeasement, no matter, because if “they” hate us, then we are lost.

Richard Fernandez summarizes nicely as he discusses present day world conflict:
But can it [world conflict] be changed by words alone? Who knows. What is safe to say is that history hasn’t stopped; conflicts continue. The idea that they can be resolved through institutions which ultimately lack the power of enforcement — having given them up — is a dubious one. Once upon a time it was thought that a Security Council could oversee the world; it didn’t. And maybe it is already an anachronism. Still, lasting peace is so glittering a prize that it can be held out over and over again to justify the most far-fetched projects; and past failures will be discounted in our desire to grasp it. It’s the lottery ticket of international relations. Unlikely to pay off, but always in demand. Maybe history is a race between two adages: the idea that hope springs eternal and the sad knowledge that there’s a sucker born every minute.

In May of 2008, in the run-up to the Presidential campaign, I wrote:
I have this awful feeling that Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter redux. Slicker and a better communicator, no doubt. Updated for the 21st century, unquestionably. But Carter, all the same … If Barack morphs into Jimmy, we’re in for a very rocky ride.

As I watch this President navigate his first year in office, it’s hard to deny that the ‘morphing’ has already begun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We Can Reverse It

This morning, President Barack Obama gave a long awaited speech on climate change. It was, to be blunt, long on rhetoric but surprising short on facts to back up the President’s dire predictions of an impending global catastrophe. He began:
No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples -- our prosperity, our health, and our safety -- are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country, as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

Obama exhibits rather significant hubris and a startling lack of scientific understanding to state “we can reverse it.” Even most of those (but not all) who have adopted climate change as a modern religious experience admit that the anthropogenic component of global warming is relatively small. Serious climate scientists argue about whether it’s 5 or 10 percent of causation. Let’s assume the higher number. That means that 90 percent of causation is attributable to variations in solar activity that are not completely understood, and more importantly, that cannot be controlled by human political endeavors.

It appears that the president is willing to risk a significant impact on an already weakened economy by imposing the equivalent of an energy tax that will invariably reduce the profitability of everything from public utilities to whatever manufacturers and heavy industry remain on shore. The result, sadly, will be even more outsourcing, and a continuing loss of jobs within the United States.

I always find it interesting when a politician proposes legislation or sets goals that will not have any positive impact for many decades but will have significant unintended and more likely negative impact in the mid-term, conveniently converging after he has left office. That’s what our President is doing and it’s reasonable to question his strategy.

In a way, the energy debate is a lot like the health care debate. All Americans recognize that we need substantial reform in both arenas, but many also believe that big government solutions will do little to improve our situation and have the potential to saddle future generations with enormous costs associated with new entitlements or absurd government mandates.

In discussing these concerns with my more progressive friends, I hear the same talking point repeatedly. “If we could spend 1 trillion on the Iraq war,” they intone with a smug look, “why can’t we spend $1 trillion dollars on

The answer is really quite simple. The trillion dollars we spend in Iraq is gone. The trillion dollars we’ve spent on economic stimulus is going fast and will soon be gone. The billions we’re spending bailing out GM, Citibank, and many others will not be recouped. We’re in serious financial trouble, and an adult response to serious financial trouble is to curtail spending, not increase it.

That means that you try to achieve your goals (health care reform or energy policy) using a lighter (and therefore less costly) government touch. It means new taxes, sure, but focuses on creating an infrastructure that encourages the private sector (you remember the private sector, the place where jobs are created and from which prosperity flows) to provide effective solutions.

But a lighter touch takes courage, and more importantly, leadership. It does not pander to an ideological base, nor does it rely solely on talk show appearances and UN speeches. It requires work in the trenches to develop a political consensus that can get things done.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

H.R. 1479

Have you heard of H.R. 1479, the Community Reinvestment Modernization Act of 2009? This legislation, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and all but ignored by the MSM, would expand the original 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a bill that required banks to make loans in low-income areas that many lenders had ignored. The intent of the 1977 legislation was commendable – to encourage home ownership among all Americans. But the legislation had unintended and catastrophic consequences that culminated in the economic debacle the began about a year ago. Byron York explains:
The problems began in the 1990s, when Congress made it harder for lenders to do business if they had not passed the CRA "exam" -- that is, if they had not met the government-imposed standards for loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers.

"From 1995 on, there was an incredible push by the Clinton and Bush administrations in every way they could -- CRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other ways -- to increase the homeownership rate," says Russell Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University. "What that did was to push up the price of housing, and that made it imaginable to lend money to people you never would have lent money to, on terms you wouldn't have done before."

In particular, Fannie Mae began to aggressively promote homeownership using the Community Reinvestment Act to give loans to people who couldn't afford them. Fannie went to bankers and said, make as many CRA loans as you can; we'll buy them and take them off your hands. "Our approach to our lenders is 'CRA Your Way,' " top Fannie executive Jamie Gorelick told the Mortgage Bankers Association in 2001. "Fannie Mae will buy CRA loans from lenders' portfolios; we'll package them into securities; we'll purchase CRA mortgages at the point of origination. ..."

Fannie promised to buy billions and billions of dollars worth of CRA loans because it was under pressure to do so from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which in turn was under pressure from Congress, which set ambitious quotas for low- and moderate-income loans.

The policy ended in a lot of people losing their homes.

The seemingly innocuous CRA legislation, coupled with irresponsible and greedy Wall Street firms, incompetent rating agencies, poorly crafted or non-existent federal regulation, and government “watchdogs” like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd who refused to recognize the growing storm, led to the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

And now, in the words of Byron York, “Democratic majorities are pressing hard to expand some of the very policies that led to the reckless home lending that in turn helped lead to the great financial meltdown.”

Has the Democratic Congress gone completely mad? In their quest for “social justice” are they willing to set the stage for still another debacle down the road?

Sometimes you can only shake your head in amazement at the utter stupidity of those who purport to lead us.

Just Say No

It’s hard to be President of the United States, and it’s hard all of the time. Barack Obama is finding that out.

On the domestic front, his ill-conceived and poorly structured attempts at health care reform, his support for ruinous cap and trade legislation, and his administration’s lurching attempts to get a difficult economy under control have led members of his own party to just say “no.” Although he suggests that the Republicans are obstructionists, the simple truth is that significant democratic majorities in both houses of Congress could pass all of his legislation easily, except for one thing – members of his own party have serious reservations about what he’s proposing.

On the international front, it’s equally hard. Amir Misroch summarizes Obama’s challenges nicely:
Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it's not just that they're saying no, it's also the way they're saying no.

The Saudis twice said no to his request for normalization gestures towards Israel (at Barack Obama's meeting with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, and in Washington at meetings with Hillary Clinton). Who says no to the American president twice? What must they think of Obama in the desert kingdom?

The North Koreans said no to repeated attempts at talks, by test-launching long-range missiles in April; Russia and China keep on saying no to tougher sanctions on Iran; the Iranians keep saying no to offers of talks by saying they're willing to talk about everything except a halt to uranium enrichment; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying no by refusing to meet with Binyamin Netanyahu until Israel freezes all settlement construction; the Israelis said no by refusing to agree to a settlement freeze, or even a settlement moratorium until and unless the Arabs ante up their normalization gestures. Which brings us back to the original Saudi no.

Mizroch posits that the reason that everyone is saying “no” to President Obama is that he is perceived as being weak, and that the weakness is caused by a faltering US economy. If the economy doesn’t recover by 2011, Obama is seen as a one-term president. As such, his power diminishes considerably.

I think there a bit more too it than that, but Mizroch is on to something. There’s no doubt that the economy is Obama’s albatross, but some of his other actions also do him harm.

His mea culpa speech in Cairo, while applauded on the Left, was unprecedented in its apologist feel. His “soft power” positions on many international issues find praise in the politically correct power centers of the US and the EU, but our adversaries view them rather differently – as lack of resolve, or worse, a lack of courage to prosecute his country’s interests.

Barack Obama won the presidency, but he hasn’t yet demonstrated that he can lead or that he has the courage to make really hard decisions. And that’s why everyone seems to be saying “no.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Memory

There are times when a writer should exhibit the humility to recognize that there are better writers and better thinkers who can express an idea in ways that he cannot. I do that today, on the anniversary of the Islamofascist murder of over 2,900 of our fellow citizens.

The inimitable Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of the Belmont Club does what he does best. I present his words here without further comment:
Like a garment of many colors, the memory of September 11 changes hue with each different glance. And it will continue to do so because what we are looking at is not an event, which happened once, but at ourselves, which changes with the passing years. Memory includes us; it is the record of the various phases its participants went through; their hopes and disappointments, their fears and relief; it is a narrative of all the changes undergone since that day. Great events define history not only through their direct effects but in the manner they change the way people think. Osama bin Laden was the anti-Columbus, the shriveler of the world and vanquisher of new beginnings; the dark prophet who showed the oceans an illusion; who proved that there was no escape from ancient hatreds; the celebrant of those faceless idols who will not allow themselves to be forgotten.

The shadow of September 11 will mar man’s dreams until the day when we regain our boldness and set foot on other worlds; when humanity can once again distance the old evils, if only for a moment, carrying only such malignancies as are left dormant in their hearts. In all likelihood it will only be for a moment, because man pursues man with the hunger of a demon. Half the human race seeks something to love and the remainder seeks them as something to rule. The men who rushed up the stairs were our better angels; and their day is done. Not so us. We have miles to go before we sleep.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Goldilocks and Tinkerbell

As the Obama administration careens through the first year of its Presidency, those on the Left are asking why he hasn’t been more aggressive in building a bigger government, and those on the Right have castigating him for overreaching in his early attempts on healthcare, cap and trade, as well as underperforming on his reformulated foreign policy.

Terry Madonna and Michael Young define what they call the “goldilocks principle” and apply it to Obama’s presidency to date:
And it [the President's initiatives] has been shut down because Obama has violated a fundamental rule of the presidency. Call it the "Goldilocks principle": presidents who under-reach their agendas end up tasting "too cold" to the American people, while presidents who over-reach their agenda end up "too hot." But presidents whose agendas are ambitious but limited taste "just right." They not only get to eat their porridge, but they get re-elected, too. Examples of all three types of presidencies have been observed throughout American history.

The crux of the Goldilocks principle is that successful presidents align their agendas within broad parameters defined by widespread voter approval. Reagan did that, Carter didn't, and Obama so far hasn't.

On his present trajectory Obama is a "too hot" president. His ambitious and expansive agenda has transformed a party with too few bold ideas into a party with too many bold ideas. And in the process he has left behind a solid hunk of the American people.

But how did a smart guy get himself into a dumb spot only some eight months into his presidency? Many will say inexperience mixed liberally with hubris prevented him from learning history's oft taught lessons about over-reaching agendas. But even more fundamentally Obama is in trouble because he has misread the tea leaves. His administration is floundering because it has failed to understand the nature of its 2008 electoral victory.

They have fallen prey to the flawed view that Obama has a mandate for massive change-a mandate to transform the fundamental relationships that have existed between the American government and its people since the New Deal. In point of fact they have no such mandate.

It is not a minor point to emphasize that Obama, like most American presidents, is trying to do what he said he would do. His problem, like other presidents who stumbled early, is that he didn't distinguish between what he thought he said and what the American people largely heard.

Obama can recover and he can become a successful President, but only if he governs from a center-left position in a center right country. His base cannot accept this, and like children, urge him onward toward his political demise. The question is whether his personal ideology is coincident with his base. I think it is, as exhibited by high-level appointments like Van Jones.

If the Goldilocks principle can be used to better understand the President's sinking approval ratings, the "tinkerbell effect" can be used to explain his current appeal among those that wholeheartedly support his initiatives. Adriel Bettelheim defines the tinkerbell effect as:
… the notion derived from J.M. Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” of a century ago that some good things are likely to come to pass so long as people believe they will.

As I listened to President Obama’s prime time speech before a joint session of congress, I was struck by his reliance on the Tinkerbell effect.

  • Adding tens of millions of people to a medical insurance plan will not cost us a dime in new taxes and will certainly not increase the federal deficit. An occasional visit to an emergency department will cost more than a family’s yearly visits to family practitioners and specialists, all subsidized by the taxpayer. You gotta believe.

  • The fees that will be levied on insurance companies wont be passed on to consumers. Nah, they’ll just eat the additional overhead without passing it along, and if forced to eat it, they certainly won’t reduce coverages to maintain profitability. You gotta believe.

  • Removing waste from Medicare/Medicaid will save $600 billion. But we’ve recognized waste and fraud for 20 years and have been unable to eliminate a dime of it. There’s a magical, heretofore hidden approach that’ll work. You gotta believe.

  • Few companies will opt out of their current coverage if a lower cost (only in the sense that it’s taxpayer subsidized) government option. The president indicates that high costs are killing many businesses, but on the other hand, if presented with a taxpayer subsidized alternative, businesses will opt to maintain higher costs. You gotta believe.

… and on and on.

The President is right when he states that Americans have a big heart and will help those in need. But the majority of us bridle when we’re asked to believe in fairy tales, and that’s the reason his claims are not being well received. Tell us the unvarnished truth, and maybe, just maybe, the President will achieve at least some of what he wants.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Cocoon of Denial

Following in the long tradition of those who believe that words matter more than actions, the Obama administration has banned the phrase “War on Terror” and has replaced it with a more politically correct, non-offending euphemism. If words were all that mattered, I’d agree with Obama. Afterall, it’s been pointed out that you can't be at war with a tactic (terrorism is a tactic employed by Islamic Jihadists in many countries and in many contexts).

But I think the elimination of the phrase has a much deeper meaning. Many on the Left refuse to believe that 9/11 was anything but a one-off event, that terrorism would evaporate if only the West would mollify the grievances of Islamists, that 9/11 was really our fault, and Jihadists are doing nothing more than fighting their imperialist, capitalist oppressors.

Maybe if we don’t mention terrorism, the people who want to kill us will, well, maybe they’ll see the light.

So the Obama administration bans the use of the word “terror” and at the same time, broadens the definition of “torture” so that it can investigation and ultimately prosecute CIA officers who worked to extract crucial information from terrorists (oops, sorry, oppressed Islamic freedom fighters).

The evil Dick Cheney has the audacity to question the wisdom of this strategy and is castigated by Left-leaning media and the Whitehouse.

But what if Cheney is right? That's the question Douglas MacKinnon of The Baltimore Sun asks when he writes:
The health-care debate? Cash for clunkers? Rising unemployment? None of that will matter if we lose an American city to terrorism. An intelligence operative told me that if terrorists successfully detonate a nuclear weapon on our soil and kill and wound hundreds of thousands of Americans, "the thin veneer of civilization will be ripped from our nation in an instant, and we could very well descend into barbarism. Neighbor against neighbor as we fight to survive in a country where government ceased to function and law and order became of thing of the past."

Impossible? Difficult to hold that idea in your head? Better just to pretend the threat does not exist and vilify the man who warns of this nightmare of destruction. To those who think that way, I offer up another Einstein quote: "The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Over the years I’ve written about the Left and the proverbial three monkeys—the ones that hear, speak, and see no evil. I honestly believe that some on the left, when faced with an idea that’s “difficult to hold in your head” prefer to act like the three monkeys and retreat into a cocoon of denial or delusion. Terrorism, nah, if it exists its our fault and we can stop it through better behavior. It just the Right trying to frighten us – no need the think about it or defend against it, or heaven forbid, act aggressively to eliminate it.

So when Dick Cheney comes along as asks grownup questions, he’s attacked with a ferocity that is fascinating to watch. MacKinnon continues:
Why do some on the left hate Mr. Cheney so for trying to do something about this?

A week from today will be the eighth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. At 8 a.m. on the East Coast on that fateful day, the sun was shining, the sky was a vivid blue, and the normal worries and joys of life occupied most minds as people began the day. Forty-six minutes later, the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was struck. By 10:28 a.m., both towers had collapsed, killing almost 3,000 innocent people. Terror, panic and a feeling of hopelessness gripped the nation.

Eight years later, complacency perilously rules the day. Most have forgotten. Most have forgotten the terror, forgotten the hate, forgotten the indescribable pain and destruction, and forgotten the lessons. Most - but not Mr. Cheney. He refuses. At the risk of his reputation, he has made it his life's work to never forget. For to forget is to condemn our nation to much worse.

The evil that resides in the sick minds of these terrorists can't be reasoned with, can't be bought off and can't be appeased. What if Mr. Cheney is right, and those who hate him on the far left are wrong?

There are no second chances in this debate. We remain vigilant or we pay an unimagined price.

In the real world there are no second chances, but in the cocoon of denial, there’s no reason to worry. None at all.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Diplomatic Rules of Engagement

There’s something sickeningly predictable about the diplomatic interactions between dictatorial, Islamist regimes (as well as North Korea) and the West. The rules of engagement, from their point of view, go something like this:

  1. Characterize yourself as a victim that has “legitimate grievances” against the parties that are demanding a tangible action on your part.

  2. Lie repeated and convincingly, claiming that any Western concerns are incorrect and ill-founded.

  3. Act very tough, refusing to even negotiate until the Western parties make significant concessions.

  4. If concessions are made, demand more, suggesting that these Western attempts at appeasement are meaningless or insufficient.

  5. Bluster— suggesting that any attempt at sanctions or force will be meant with devastating consequences for the West.

  6. If deadlines are established by the West, do nothing except bluster.

  7. As deadlines approach, make a weak suggestion that negotiation are possible, but make no tangible concessions.

  8. After deadline pass, hold tight until it looks like sanctions or military force will be brought to bear.

  9. Just before the West pulls the trigger, enter into sham negotiations that can be drawn out for months or even years.

  10. At the same time, continue doing what the West would like to see terminated.

  11. Make a few empty promises and even sign an agreement, but do not change your behavior in anyway.

  12. Repeat the above ad nauseam.

You’d think that President Obama, a really smart guy, would recognize these rules of engagement and define tough rules of his own. But it appears that instead, he is naively entering into a game he cannot and will not win.

Tony Karon of Time reports:
President Barack Obama took office promising to pursue a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, but so far, he's gotten little out of Tehran. So little, in fact, that the President has given Iran a September 15 deadline to respond positively to his offer of negotiations, or face a heightening of sanctions. As U.S. officials huddled with European, Russian and Chinese counterparts in Germany on Wednesday to review the issue, Iran signaled that it will, indeed, respond — by offering its own package of proposals to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the standoff. Western leaders at the meeting in Germany urged Iran to agree to a meeting with Russia, China, the key European nations and the U.S. before September 23. But nobody is expecting Iran's proposals to come close to meeting current Western demands, and that could leave Obama facing the unenviable choice either of being painted as feckless, or else moving down a road of escalation that puts a diplomatic solution further beyond reach.

Following the rules of engagement precisely, Iran will offer a “new” package of diplomatic initiatives this coming week as Obama’s stated deadline looms. Their gambit will be touted as a diplomatic victory for the President, allowing him, along with the rest of the West, to continue their feckless approach to a country that will eventually become a nuclear power and may very well destabilize the entire middle east

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Some problems are intractable (that is, they have no solution). Such problems are typically defined by a large set of parameters that must each be addressed individually. At the same time, all parameters must be addressed collectively. In many cases, addressing one parameter successfully only makes another more difficult to solve.

Afghanistan is like that. In order to solve the Afghanistan problem, many parameters must be solved: (1) a primitive, tribal culture, (2) a populace that embraces extreme Islamist thought and has instantiated Sharia Law at its worst, (3) a corrupt and often violent collection of local war lords who cannot be negotiated with or trusted, (4) an economy that is predominantly driven by the heroin trade, (5) a harsh topography that makes military movement difficult and sometimes impossible, (6) a non-existent infrastructure, (7) a corrupt and unfriendly government, (8) a porous border, and of course, (9) the hyperviolent Taliban.

In an ideal world, we select one parameter at a time, “solving” each and then moving to the next. But when one parameter is solved, we exacerbate others. For example, we try to eliminate Taliban leaders, but any collateral damage that occurs as a consequence alienates a populace that sympathetic to Jihadists in any event.

George Will addresses the Afghanistan “problem” in a widely discussed column:
The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.' " Afghanistan's $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."

Because Afghanistan presents the United States and the Obama Administration with an intractable problem, we can’t solve it. In the extreme, our only real choice is to manage it.

But what does management really mean in this context? It means developing a strategy for extricating ourselves from the Afghani cesspool. This won’t solve the problem, but as I indicated, the problem is intractable.

I’m afraid that I must agree with Will when he states: “Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop.”

President Obama will show real leadership if he demonstrates that he knows when to stop, even if a political firestorm erupts as a consequence. If he’s as smart as his supporters suggest, it would seem reasonable to expect that he can recognize an intractable problem when he sees one.