Leave us alone

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 30 November 2012

In doing some housecleaning, I found this forgotten essay that I wrote in February and never got around to posting.  With only a few changes for the sake of grammar, and clarity, here it is:

 

For the first time in over two years I’m afraid that Republicans could actually lose the race for the White House in 2012.  Should they do so, especially in light of the enormous advantages they have over a dysfunctional Democratic Party in 2012 (high unemployment, stagnant growth, unpopular programs foisted upon the public, and an unlikable mob–OWS–as the face of liberal activism, just to name a few) it should disqualify the GOP from ever holding the presidency ever again.  If the GOP loses the presidency, it will be the biggest victory of an outclassed mismatch since Aesop’s rabbit blew the race with the turtle.

So how could this be?  Simple, there isn’t a candidate who can unite the opponents of Barack Obama.  That alone would probably be enough to win in November.

Comparisons with Reagan, just as comparisons with FDR or JFK, almost never measure up.  That’s not because those three men were supermen–they weren’t–but because in retrospect each of them is bigger now than they ever were at the time.  Nonetheless, Reagan’s genius was in recognizing that politics is the art of addition, and not about subtraction or division.  That is still true.

The most recent not-Romney is Rick Santorum.  He is most closely associated with the “social conservative” wing of the Republican Party.  This is an important member of the family of conservatism, but like its siblings–Fiscal, Defense, Libertine, and Law N. Order–none of the conservative brethren are capable of striking out on their own.  Still, that’s what Santorum did, when he linked his opposition to the recent Obama decision to force abortificants upon churches to the canard of “birth control isn’t safe.  That is the message of subtraction.  It is a position that attracts none but the already converted.   Even worse, it is a message so offensive to so many (not to mention, so factually incorrect) that it repels those who might otherwise be attracted to his position were it couched in different terms.

What I mean bythat is this:  a Republican must unite the whole party around a simple message that resonates with all its wings.  And that message is the same now as it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan put all conservative factions under the banner of “Leave Us Alone.”

“Leave us Alone” applies to Catholics justifiably outraged by the government trampling upon their First Amendment rights.  After all, even if you disagree with the Church’s religious position, you must admit, the First Amendment accords to all religions the right to be wrong, otherwise, the right is not a right at all if its only protection is to protect popular positions.  Had Santorum cloaked his argument in “Leave Us Alone,” he would have acknowledged the freedom of churches to decide what medical procedures they would pay for, but would do so without appearing to compromise the right of people to choose to do otherwise with their own money.  It is a message consistent with (or at least, not in opposition to) the other conservative brothers. 

Rick Santorum is hardly the first to make this blunder.  Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman, each fell by failing to embrace a logically coherent message.  The problem, I suspect, is that “Leave Us Alone,” or at least its implications, is not a message that any of the current Republican candidates really embrace.  For if you truly wish to be left alone, it implies a reciprocal obligation to leave others alone as well.  For defense conservatives that means that if you want others to leave America alone, you must let be those military threats that are non-existental in nature:  Libya and the Taliban, for example.  To the law and order conservative, it implies a level of tolerance to at least some of those activities, like prostitution and minor drug abuse, that are distasteful, but are not a threat to any but those who engage in them.  To the fiscal conservative, “Leave Us Alone,” requires that we not fund any good ideas with public moneys, since, if they realy were “good ideas,” they would find ample private funds.

You see, it’s not simply about “messaging” your support for or opposition to programs.  It’s about actually believing your message and all its implications.  And when you believe in your message, you are consistent with your message.   If there is a Republican killer this year, consistency will be its name.  That’s why it’s time to unite the Republican brand around the simple message of LEAVE US ALONE.

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Run, don’t walk

Byline: | Category: Economy, Ethics, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 29 November 2012

If the deal is $1.2 T in new taxes and new spending now in exchange for $400 B in cuts ten or more years away, then Republicans shouldn’t walk away from “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  They should run.

The alternative is to just let sequestration take effect. The biggest hit is to the Department of Defense.  And I can tell you that the hit won’t be nearly deep enough.*

*Usual caveat about this being my view and not DoD’s, blah, and blah.

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No cake for you

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sara Hoyt:  We’ve come to the end of cake

Read the whole thing.

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Egypt: get in line, or get cut off

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Just as I predicted at the end of last year, Egypt continues to be a mess.  (See #12.)  The latest news  is that the military leadership that stepped in last year “temporarily” in order to stabilize the country in the wake of the violent “Arab Spring” ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, has now effectively voided this weekend’s democratic election of an islamist president, and seized supreme legislative power and veto authority over the new constitution.  At this point there are no good outcomes possible in Egypt; only bad ones and worse ones.

A relatively smooth transition of presidential power to Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate who apparently secured the majority vote on Sunday, would give control of the largest country in the Arab World to an Islamist and anti-Western government that is sympathetic to al-Qaeda and highly belligerent toward Israel.  Considering that Egypt and Israel fought four wars in the 25 years between 1948 and 1973, and that the now-reviled Hosni Mubarak led Egypt for the vast majority of the last 40 years of peace, and all signs coming out of Cairo point to a deteriorating situation with Israel.  Given the already uncomfortable relationship between a nuclear Israel and a nearly nuclear Iran, it is easy to imagine a newly militant Egyptian government being just a hair trigger away from initiating a much wider conflagration. It is also easy to imagine that an al-Qaeda-sympathetic government with access to Egypt’s wealth and military, not to mention control of the Suez Canal, could provide a platform for a renewed worldwide projection of terrorism and terrorist weapons.

And what I just described is probably the best that we can hope for.

Egypt is America’s second largest beneficiary of foreign aid and one of the largest recipients of foreign military sales.  Its military trains at all levels with the US military and it possesses some of our best equipment.  It would be preposterous if America were even to consider to provide that level of support and assistance to a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government.  On the other hand, continuing that level of American support to the military junta that has taken over the country risks an even worse outcome, as a circa-1979 Iranian Shah style backlash becomes increasingly likely.  America is already culpable in the eyes of the Egyptian majority.  Every passing day that we arm Egypt’s oppressors, we increase the inevitability that an anti-government revolution grows even more anti-Western.  When the rebels take over the country (and they will) the US will get all of the bad outcomes listed above, and on top of that, even more of the blame.  Furthermore, our support for an anti-popular regime complicates US efforts to resolve peacefully an analogous situation in nearby Syria, where Russia, Iran, and perhaps even China support a military dictatorship against a popular uprising.  Hypocrisy will be the charge, and it will have merit.

My prescription will be anathema to career diplomats and also to military leaders who have bought into the idea that engagement and dialogue equate to success.  It is to publicly tell Egypt’s military government that all foreign aid, military assistance, and military training will completely halt effective the end of this month.  And that if after that date, Egypt wishes the resumption of any portion of American assistance, it will be contingent upon being able to demonstrate measurable results in achieving democratic rule, protection of human rights, cooperation with Israel, support of the free flow of trade through the Canal, and the suppression of terrorist activities.  Failure to achieve any one of those objectives will result in no American assistance.

My recommendation is no less than to break a significant portion of the Camp David Accords, so it is not made lightly.  However, the status quo is untenable and increasingly likely to blow up (hopefully only figuratively) in the face of Americans.  When confronted with the choice of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” the best outcome is the one with the least damnation.  And the only thing we have to look forward to as a result of continued engagement with Egypt, is even more damnation.

*These opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense.

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Light posting for a little while

Byline: | Category: 2012, Blogging, Economy, Military, Regulations, Taxes & Spending, wine | Posted at: Monday, 14 May 2012

Starting tomorrow I will be going on active duty for the next four months.  That means that my posts will probably be less frequent and will certainly be less partisan.  When I come back in September I will return with a fresh up-close perspective on the European economy, Middle East politics, and Defense Department waste, as well as the upcoming presidential election. 

And if I’m real lucky, I’ll be able to talk with you about a book.

BTW, this might be a good opportunity to reiterate that whatever opinions you read on this site are mine alone and are not to be construed as the opinions of the Department of Defense.

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Is it Treason?

Byline: | Category: Military | Posted at: Friday, 11 May 2012

The leaking of details about the foiled underwear bomb plot was already troubling enough.  Telling the enemy that you have a double agent in their midst, and in doing so, disclosing to them the identity of that agent, immediately shuts down that source and puts him and his family at risk.  It also puts other sources on notice that they will not be protected. 

I subscribe to this view of that earlier news:

“If this is not a deliberate disclosure done for an operational purpose, then it is a shocking example of a leak posing risks to highly sensitive and important work.”

Those were the words of British MP, Patrick Mercer, a lawmaker and a specialist in security matters.  Unfortunately, the severity of leak just grew by orders of magnitude because we have just learned that the source is apparently a Brit.  Yes, US personnel leaked the name of a British secret agent whose information was being shared with US intelligence agencies.

I can’t impress upon you enough just how tightly controlled are the names of sources.  It is even more hush-hush when those sources are citizens and agents of foreign friendly governments. 

We call it Five Eyes, and it refers to five nations who have a special reciprocal intelligence sharing arrangement:  Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Sharing provides greater opportunity to “connect the dots,” not to mention, it gives all member nations the ability to conserve resources as it reduces the duplication of effort.  If the Five Eyes arrangement were to break down, an irreplaceable intelligence void would exist. 

While all four countries enjoy an incredibly close relationship with the United States, there is no member whose contribution is as important as that of Great Britain.  That’s because the Brits have more resources than the other three smaller Five Eye countries.  They also have historical relationships around the globe with other nations where the United States would otherwise be blind.

If this report is correct, it is a big deal.  And it is a big blow to US credibility in the eyes of our most important foreign military partner, bar none.  Coming on the heels of the GSA and Secret Service hooker scandal (and of the three, this potentially is by far the biggest scandal), this calls into question the wisdom and/or judgment of U.S. leadership at the highest levels. 

I sincerely hope that this was a deliberate leak done for operational reasons and with British concurrence, otherwise someone has committed a treasonous act.

*Note.  I’m obligated to inform you that since I am an Army Reserve officer, this is only my opinion and does not represent the opinion of the Department of Defense.

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That’s nice; now what about jobs?

Byline: | Category: 2012, 2nd Amendment, Culture, Economy, Education, Environment, Government, Military, Race, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012

I suppose I ought to say something about President Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage.  Instead, I’ll tell you what I wish Mitt Romney had said when he was asked about the President’s stance:

“That’s nice; now what about jobs?

In fact, that should be Mitt Romney’s response every time he is asked about gay marriage, immigration, guns, Trayvon Martin, global warming, eating dogs . . .  

Pretty much everything except the economy, taxes, and spending is a distraction from the issues that are really important.  Mitt Romney should drive the point home that everything else is secondary and frivolous and that he is not going to allow the debate to come off that point.

P.S.  If you’re really interested in what I think about gay marriage, here’s a couple recent posts that shed some light on that.  But rather than expect you to read them, here’s a two-word summation:  Don’t care.

MORE:  Roger Simon concurs and offers a warning:

“The issue is a sideshow intended to distract. If our country goes the way of Greece – and writing this from the City of Los Angeles, it’s not so hard to imagine – you can forget any issue, whatever your favorite one is.  You won’t be living in America anymore.”

UPDATE:  Thanks to Ed at Insty’s Place for the links.  While you’re here, this is a story that’s not directly about jobs, but I bring it around to that point:  She deserves pity, not a punch in the throat.  (There’s a bonus Blazing Saddles clip at the end.)

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Europe as we know it

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 10 February 2012

europe_as_we_know_it.jpg

I’ve spent most of the last two years in Germany, and in fact, am going back there again this weekend.  So I’ve been exposed to a great deal of press and thought about the European economic situation as it relates to Germany.  If you want to understand the complexity of the problem, this article by Christopher Caldwell is probably the best summary you could read.

I have come of the belief that the EU is a union of intractable problems held together for the time being by the glue of German guilt.  That glue, however, is decaying with the loss of the older generation.  Ultimately the EU must either subordinate centuries of different cultures, languages, and customs to itself, or it must fail. 

This may be hard for Americans to understand, as our perception of regional and cultural differences is colored by our own, which are, by comparison, not that different.  When Americans travel Europe they see it as akin to traveling through New England.  Moving between European nations today is seemingly no different than driving through four or five very similar states on the way from Connecticut to Maine.  The money is the same.  The language is the same. (English is virtually every European’s second language).  And so long as you confine yourself to the usual tourist haunts, even the experience is often the same:  castles, old churches, and gelato.

But European nations are not the same as states.  I was in a multi-national planning meeting a few months back when the discussion turned to the subject of one NATO nation training with its forces in another NATO nation.  Sheepish looks overcame several faces.  Finally, one foreign officer said, “We are all military professionals here, so we understand the necessity of this, but our people might have difficulty . . . ”  Another officer interjected more succinctly, “This is Europe; we have history.  Europe is not North America.”

History in Europe has a way of reasserting itself.  As the older German generation goes away, those historical differences will again come to the fore.  Germany is very different from Italy, and as Caldwell correctly points out, even Italy is very different from itself.  Sicilians and the citizens of Sudtirol might as well be on different planets, and yet they’re are ostensibly both Italian.  One doesn’t even have to travel far from Europe’s capital, Brussels, to see such differences in action.  Belgium, itself a nation cobbled together from three cultures who quarrel with each other, is an ungovernable mess.  And that’s just in one European country not much larger than Massachusetts.

Europe has all the trappings of union: a common currency, a central government, a de facto language.  But its trappings are just that:  traps.  Europeans are confined.  And confinement breeds resentment. 

Last year on a transatlantic trip I watched Life As We Know It.  It is the story of two incompatible people thrown together into the same house to raise the orphaned daughter of their mutual friends who died in a car wreck.  The two had all the trappings of a couple:  house, child, common friends.  Hollywood gave the unlikely plot a happy ending.  But Hollywood is half a world away from Europe.  And in the real world, the European marital union of 27 incompatible countries is confronting increasing resentment.  Ultimately there will be a messy divorce.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, please take a look around.  Would love to get your thoughts on the constitutionality of conscientious objection.

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Is there a Constitutional basis for conscientious objection?

Byline: | Category: Culture, Military | Posted at: Monday, 6 February 2012

Regarding the decision of the Obama administration to mandate that all employers provide abortificant services, I pose this hypothetical:

If Congress can require that religious organizations must violate their sincerely held beliefs, can it also invalidate any legal basis that might exist for declaring conscientious objector status?

Discuss.  But please keep in mind that the question at hand is not about abortion, but where is the line between what government can demand and what people can assert as their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

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2012’s Predictions

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 29 December 2011

Now that we’ve had the chance to review last year’s results, let’s go forward to 2012’s predictions:

1.  It’s the end of the Euro as we know it.  Someone is going to leave the currency union.  If Germany was wise, it would be them.  (Sure, a strong Deutschmark would put pressure on their exports, but it would give huge buying power to its people–not to mention, having Euro-denominated debts would greatly reduce its debt load.)  But inertia and obstinacy, especially among political classes, is a powerful thing.  More likely is that Portugal, Ireland, Greece, or Spain will be kicked out of a “full” currency union.  Chaos will ensue.

2.  Before the Euro breaks apart, first will come a failed Italian debt auction in February.  The ECB will finally flood the system with cash.  After a few days of rejoicing, reality will set in.  Gold will soar eventually above $2,000.  The Euro will fall below $1.10.  Germany will get nervous.  In short, nothing will have changed, except that more bankers will have been made whole on their bad debts at the expense of taxpayers.

3.  While long-term investors should look at what is happening in Europe as reason to disassociate themselves from unsustainable sovereign debt, in a world awash in “free” money, there remain few real long-term investors.  Instead, the “flight to safety will push up the prices on treasuries.  The U.S. ten-year note will spend almost the entire year at or under two percent, and will even flirt briefly with one.

4.  Even with interest rates ridiculously low for another year, the housing market will not recover.  The problem is and will continue to be the banks’ holding back of a shadow inventory of 6 million homes either in foreclosure, or badly behind on their payments.  Until that clears the market, real estate will not find its bottom.

5.  Another drag on the economy will be 2012’s Kredit Anstalt moment.  Not sure if it will be BNP, or DeutscheBank, or someone else (there are so many bad banks from which to choose), but a major European bank will fail, and fail spectacularly.  There won’t be enough money to bail them out and the ripple effects will shock the world.  World stock markets will collapse.  Countries will try currency controls to contain the crisis, but will succeed in only making it worse.  By the last quarter of the year, the phrase “global depression” will be freely used.

6.  The Fed will end the year still fighting a mythical deflation monster with an arsenal of ridiculously low rates and gimmicky asset purchases.  As a result, inflation will be coming to America.  Brutally so.  But not in 2012.

7.  There will be less employed people in America at the end of 2012 than at the beginning.  Still, because of the vast swaths of the disenchanted who simply leave the job market, the unemployment rate might appear to be little changed, or perhaps might even improve.

8.  Europe’s PIIGS will have two new members:  Belgium and France.  Each will end the year paying more than 6% on its 10-year debts.

9.  Iran and Israel will not come to blows.  There will be no bombing of Iranian reactors.  But the heated rhetoric will not dissipate either.

10.  Iran will come to blows with the United States.  Not sure how or where it will come, but they will launch a successful symbolic strike at what they perceive as impotence.  However, war will not be the result.  What will result is $120 oil, adding to the economic catastrophe.

11.  Russian revolts will continue until they are violently put down.  Think Tiananmen on steroids.  Putin will hold power.  At any cost.  Europe, enslaved by its dependence on Russian natural gas, will timidly express “grave concern.”  There will be calls for America to withdraw from the 2014 Winter Olympics to be hosted in the Russian ski resort of Sochi.  Not wishing to repeat Carter’s 1980 Moscow performance, President Obama will ignore the advice, but to no avail:  he will be pilloried for being even weaker than Carter.

12.  2011’s Arab Spring will result in 2012’s Arab Winter of Discontent.  Egypt will continue to be a mess.  Turkey will be teetering on the brink.

13.  NATO will announce that it will end its involvement in Afghanistan in 2014.

14.  Speaking of NATO . . .   The annual NATO conference in Chicago in May will be a disaster as the splintering economies of several NATO members prompt calls for the alliance to dissolve.  Even worse, is the fact that it is simultaneously scheduled to coincide with the G8 Conference, also in Chicago.  Like rotting fruit to maggots, the spring meetings will draw tens of thousands of anarchists, militants, communists, and Methodists.  It will be 1968 all over again as the city is consumed by riots and a heavy-handed police response.  Pundits from left and right will savage President Obama for the sheer stupidity of allowing these two events to occur in his hometown just six months before the election.  Occupy Wall Street will completely beclown itself, taking down its President with it.  He will never again poll above 43% approval among likely voters after May.

15.  The first economic surprise of the year will be that Europe’s failings will show that CDSs are not in as bad a shape as everyone had feared. 

16.  The second economic surprise of 2012 will be ETFs.  The complicated investment strategies will be exposed as Enron-like impenetrable schemes.  At least one big respected investment house will collapse as a result.

17.  Now to the elections . . .  Republicans will pick up between 8 and 12 seats in the Senate, taking control of the upper chamber, but not achieving a filibuster-proof majority.  Among the gains will be Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The surprise of the night will be Florida.  Bill Nelson will lose.  Linda Lingle and Scott Brown will  finish excruciatingly close races–close because in both liberal states, President Obama will vastly underperform expectations due to low turnout.  In fact, 2012 will be the lowest turnout election since 2000 as blacks, youth, non-government unions, and social conservatives see their numbers fall off from 2008 and 2004.  Harry Reid will depart the Senate.

18.  Republicans will gain 10 to 20 more seats in the House.  Along with the ouster of five or more moderates in the primaries, the Tea Party wing of the GOP will wield enormous power in the lower chamber.  Nancy Pelosi will announce her retirement.

19.  President Obama won’t win more than ten states.  California, New Jersey, and New York will all give him less than 53% of their vote.  The only states he wins west of Maryland will be Illinois and some of the ones that border the coast.  Only DC gives him greater than 55%.  The down-ticket effect on state races will be even worse for Democrats than they were in 2010. 

20.  President-Elect Romney will immediately let down his base by the nomination of a major financial industry insider as Treasury Secretary.  This will be the first of many disappointments that will follow in 2013.

Bonus prediction which will take years to see if it comes true:  2012 will be the last year that a Republican is ever elected President.

UPDATE:  I received quite a few comments and emails asking what I meant about the bonus prediction. 

In turbulent times it is far easier for those out of power to offer revolutionary reforms than it is for those in power to reform themselves.  Power nearly always acts to preserves the status quo.  Mitt Romney is the status quo.  I believe that President Romney will have a GOP super-majority in the House and a large majority in the Senate.  He will be given an enormous opportunity to undertake reform, but he will be unable to do so.

Barack Obama, when he took office in 2009, had that same opportunity.  But he was beholden to his status quo: labor at the auto firms, government employee unions in the states whose budgets were bolstered, the green lobby, and Goldman Sachs.  Parties in power are hamstrung by the interests that brought them to power.  Incrementalism is the only thing they have to offer.  It is only those out of power who are unconstrained by the necessity to hold on to it.

Over the next four years I expect numerous so-called “black swans,” events that are thought to be unpredictable, but arise only because shared assumptions are shattered.  Today we assume that money has value because government says that it does.  We assume that governments will honor their social spending obligations.  We assume that Western Europe will remain a peaceful and prosperous place.  We assume that China’s capitalist trajectory is ever upward.  We assume that developed nations never wage war on each other.  Enormous resources rest on these assumptions and others.  

Soon these assumption  will be tested.  Some (most?) will fail and enormous problems will be the result.  Solutions to those problems cannot come from those in power, any more than the solution to the housing crisis can come from the banks whose very viability rests on the belief that the value of their mortgage assets will recover.  The powerful will always act to preserve the status quo–and when it fails, they’ll attempt to preserve the illusion of it.  You need only to see what has happened with the Euro over the past year to understand just how much effort those in power will expend to preserve an illusion. 

Over the next few years I expect very bad things; things which require solutions, not illusions.  A Republican Party which holds all the levers of power, will shoulder all the blame.  As for the Democratic Party, as long as it embraces redistributionism it will always have a natural constituency.  It can never go away. 

In short, at the height of crisis, when Democrats offer only redistribution and Republicans have been repudiated, I expect that a third party will emerge.

NOTE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link!  While you’re here, please, look around at things like this.

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