Was it personal? Or is it incompetence?

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Saturday, 2 November 2013

A month ago I postulated that the President did not give into Republican demands to delay Obamacare, even when it was becoming obvious that Obamacare was not ready for rollout, because of his arrogant, personal hatred for the GOP (It’ not business; it’s strictly personal).

Jonah Goldberg offers a more damning alternative.  (Hat tip: Glenn)

“Why Obama didn’t do this and why it didn’t occur to him are good questions. Hubris obviously played a role, as it does in nearly everything this White House does. But the best answer is he didn’t know how terrible things were over at HHS.”

Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually right.  And in this case, the simplest explanation may be that the President really didn’t know just how screwed up was the execution of his signature legislative accomplishment.  That he really did think that just by passing the law that America’s health care would be better.  That he thought that just by throwing $600 million at a software system was enough to guarantee success.   The simplest explanation, therefore, may be that the man is just incompetent.

That is also the scariest explanation.

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Doom it by making it go forward

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Economy, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Remember a couple weeks ago I said that it was purely for personal reasons that the President would not compromise by asking for a one-year budget deal in exchange for giving Republicans a one-year delay in Obamacare?  Well  the President only got a 90-day budget deal and it looks like it is his side that now needs an Obamacare delay.

If Republicans really want to destroy Obamacare, they would assure the Administration that there is no chance that Congress will obstruct the President’s signature plan.

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It’s not business; it’s strictly personal

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Ethics, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Republicans want a delay in Obamacare.  Because of the many significant problems with the rollout of Obamacare, and because he has delayed parts of the law himself some 19 times, President Obama should want a delay in Obamacare too.  One year gives Democrats an opportunity to fix systemic errors in the software, the regulations, and the law.  One year gives nothing at all to the Republicans–nothing–except the opportunity to crow a little bit.

That the President can’t compromise in a way that gives him everything he wants, plus the extra time he needs, is not about business.  It’s strictly personal.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, take a look around.

MORE:  Allahpundit  and Evan McMurray dissect Wolf Blitzer’s wonderment that it isn’t the Democrats who are the ones begging for a year’s delay.

Exit question:  Do national Democrats hate the Tea Party so much that they would take all the (well-deserved) negative reaction over the Obamacare Follies rather than to give in on just the delay even while it benefits them more than Republicans in the long run?

ALSO:  Thanks to Ed and Moe.

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Shit happens

Byline: | Category: 2nd Amendment, Above the Fold, Culture, Ethics, Government, Regulations | Posted at: Monday, 17 December 2012

With a weekend to digest recent events, I have concluded that Newtown is really just the continuation of that timeless discussion regarding the correct balance of individual rights and responsiblities against the ability and wisdom of government to control events.

An obviously mentally unstable man steals some firearms and kills more than two dozen of the most defenseless victims.  Immediately, as after all such events, there goes up a cry for more restrictions on the individual ownership of guns.  However, even if that were the right course of action, as John Fund points out, in a country that contains over 200 million privately owned firearms, prohibition is not possible.  To outlaw gun ownership would be as futile (not to mention damaging to the cause of limiting violence) as would be an attempt to return 11 million illegal aliens to their homelands or a second attempt at the prohibition of alcohol.  Some things are just too entrenched to ever completely end.

Another group has argued for a greater ability of the government to diagnose and detain mentally ill individuals.  While certainly there is great merit in having a serious adult conversation about the role of mental illness in violent crime, proposals to return to an era of committing people to the Cuckoo’s Nest, are as fraught with societal danger as are proposals to ban guns.  Granting to government the power to forcibly hospitalize the mentally ill who might perform violent acts is as anathema to the American way, as giving government the power to imprison those who might commit a crime.  Just how many scores of thousands of imprisoned innocently insane is the right number to save the lives of the next score of innocent children?

If phrasing the trade-off that way doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then I suggest that you don’t have an appreciation for what the American ideal of freedom means.  Our system was purposefully designed to default to government inaction and individual freedom.  While it is understandably frustrating to victims and their families, our rules prefer that the guilty  go free rather than to wrongfully imprison an innocent man.  That is no less true for the criminally insane than it is for the just plain criminal.

Shit happens.  Sorry to so crassly phrase it, but that’s just the way life is.  As we grow more technologically advanced, we have had great success in controlling–even eliminating–some of that shit.  Smallpox is completely gone.  Polio is rare.  Malaria is almost non-existent outside of the third world.  The same is true of hunger–the real, dying of starvation kind.  We have even the ability to screen out telemarketers without ever touching the phone.

While shit still happens, less of it happens than happened before.  So it is not surprising that we look around for other shit to stop.  But sometimes in our zeal to stop it all, we lose sight of the trade-offs.  How many millions of man-hours of economic productivity, for example, are lost every day in airport security lines in an effort to stop a hijacking that takes place less often than once-a-year?

Rare tragic events sharpen the focus more clearly than does the every day cost of preventing them.  I remember a couple dozen years ago the sad story of an airplane lap child who died when he struck the bulkhead during turbulence.  Immediately a cry went out to require infant seats on aircraft.  In one of those uncommon examples of when Washington considers the whole issue–that which is unseen as well as that which is seen–Congress wisely chose not to act.  I say wisely, not because I wish for infants on airplanes to die, but because a serious analysis of ALL of the facts indicated that the solution would lead to more deaths than it would save.  That was because if parents were forced to buy an extra ticket for their infant, some significant percentage of them would opt to drive rather than to fly.  And by driving, they would make their infant child far more susceptible to accidental death.  Shit happens.  And sometimes we just have to let it happen, because in trying to stop it, we inadvertently add to the pile of shit.

So what should we do to mitigate the risk of shit?  Confiscation, as Ed Schultz suggests?  Only if you want criminals to act with less caution, not to mention the real risk of igniting a civil war.  Outlaw automatic weapons as Rupert Murcoch demands?  It wouldn’t have helped as they were already outlawed in 1934 and Mr. Lanza’s weapons were not automatic.  Reinstituting the “assault weapons” ban that limits the size of magazines as Senator Schumer wants?  That wouldn’t have helped either; as Mr. Lanza reportedly overcame that limitation by having “hundreds of rounds of ammunition in multiple magazines.”  Enforce tighter restriction on gun possession by the mentally ill?  That might be worth analyzing, but it still wouldn’t have helped here, as apparently Mr. Lanza shot his own mother dead and then stole her guns.  More cops in schools?  There are 132,000 schools in the nation; even ignoring the $13 billion additional cost, is 132,000 new police really going to stop the violence?  In a mall in Clackamas it apparently only limited, but did not stop, the bloodshed.  Add to the list of places where guns are illegal?  They are already illegal in schools; perhaps that is why schools and other gun-free zones are such a target-rich environment.

In epidemiology there is a concept known as “herd immunity.”  If enough of the population is vaccinated, epidemics can’t occur.  Even the uninnoculated benefit because their vaccinated neighbors prevent a disease’s spread from getting out of control.  Herd immunity doesn’t stop the disease, but it does stop its spread.  The evidence of recent gun violence suggests that if enough law abiding citizens are armed, the death toll of mass murder events may similarly be limited by a form of herd immunity.  It is worth considering that the answer to gun violence is the counter-intuitive:  more guns.

But what I would even more strongly suggest is that more restrictions on individuals is a worse response than doing nothing.  Whether it is to leave a hundred million citizens more susceptible to everyday violent acts because, unarmed, they are at the mercy of armed criminals, or to add to the already swollen number of Americans forcibly detained, any heavy-handed governmental reaction to events such as what occurred in Newtown is likely to be worse than the problem it is meant to cure.

Government was never meant to be the last line of defense against evil.  We individuals are.  We are the militia.  That is the meaning of the Second Amendment.  Shit happens.  And when it does, hopefully enough of our herd is ready to deal with it before shit gets out of control.

UPDATE:

Guy Benson echoes a similar theme:

I’m skeptical that proposing more grief-fueled laws is a meaningful solution.  And even if one could accurately project that passing Gun Law X would save Y number of lives, where do Constitutional rights come into play, and who gets to weigh those factors?  If curtailing the First Amendment could also be scientifically proven to save some quantifiable number of lives, would we tolerate additional government limits on those core, specifically-enumerated freedoms?  These are extraordinarily difficult questions.

Megan McArdle does too:

 What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses.  He had all the mental health resources he needed–and he did it anyway.  The law stopped him from buying a gun–and he did it anyway.  The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry–and he did it anyway.  Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place.  Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.

. . . It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic–bring back the “assault weapons ban”–in order to signal that I care.  But I would rather do nothing than do something stupid because it makes us feel better.  We shouldn’t have laws on the books unless we think there’s a good chance they’ll work: they add regulatory complexity and sap law-enforcement resources from more needed tasks.  This is not because I don’t care about dead children; my heart, like yours, broke about a thousand times this weekend.  But they will not breathe again because we pass a law.  A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d “done something”, as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die.  But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.

For McArdle’s crime of pointing out the obvious truth–nothing that gun control advocates have proposed would have stopped Mr. Lanza’s murderous spree–New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait awards her the “Worst Newtown Reaction Award.”  I urge you to read his column, and then, if you can stomach it, read the comments.  There really are two Americas.  And Chait and his readers apparently have never stepped foot in the America west of the Hudson River.

Daniel Greenfield offers his thoughts on individual rights and responsibilities versus the government’s ability to control events:

The clash that will define the future of America is this collision between the individual and the state, between disorganized freedom and organized compassion, between a self-directed experiment in self-government and an experiment conducted by trained experts on a lab monkey population. And the defining idea of this conflict is accountability.

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Unemployment drops! (But did it really?)

Byline: | Category: 2012, Economy, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 5 October 2012

The headline unemployment rate fell below 8% percent for the first time in nearly four years to 7.8%.  Good news, right?  Not really.  Buried in the report is the reason for the decline:

” . . . total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 114,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

But:

“The number of unemployed persons, at 12.1 million, decreased by 456,000 in September.”

Wait:  How can unemployment fall by an amount equal to four times the number of newly employed people?  Simple.  If you stop looking for work, you’re not unemployed. 

Because of population increases America needs to see between 150,000 and 180,000 new jobs added each month just to stay even.  We’re nowhere near that:

“In 2012, employment growth has averaged 146,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.”

September job growth is below this year’s average, which has fallen slightly from last year’s average.  Simply put:  new jobs aren’t being created at a rate that sustains a vibrant economy.  This is not a recovery.  And it never has been.

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Why conservatives should applaud Obama’s decision to ignore the law

Byline: | Category: 2012, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Sunday, 17 June 2012

Republicans upset over President Obama’s decision to ignore the illegal immigration of hundreds of thousands of young foreigners should be overjoyed by the precedent the President sets.  Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor asserts that by ignoring Congress, Obama is “reshaping the power of the presidency.”  Actually, he is just re-asserting a power the presidency had long exercised until relatively recent history.  While I happen to believe that the United States would be better off with greatly expanded legal immigration opportunities, even those conservatives of a more xenophobic persuasion should find plenty to like about Obama’s Friday announcement. 

The decision to cease enforcing particular provisions of immigration law was not, as some commentors have asserted, a presidential usurpation of legislative power.  The Executive branch is not making law, as was the case when it attempted to declare carbon dioxide to be a pollutant in violation of the powers granted to the EPA by Congress.  Instead, this is a case where the President disagrees with a law on the books, and thus unilaterally decides not to carry it out. 

We have a long history of a passive aggressive presidency.  Thomas Jefferson refused to spend $50,000 to buy gunboats to patrol the Mississippi River and America’s border with the French colony on its western bank when his purchase of Louisiana in 1803 made moot that border.  I’m sure there was some Congressman in whose district those boats were to be made who objected to this first use of presidential impoundment power.  Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were both famously cool toward the idea of enforcing the Volstead Act outlawing alcohol.  Grover Cleveland didn’t fill numerous appointments, believing that government payrolls had grown  bloated through patronage and spoils.

Since the very beginning of our Nation’s founding, there has been (by design) a healthy tension between the Legislative branch, which writes laws, and the Executive Branch, which executes those laws.  Laws were only de facto valid when they were both on the books and willingly enforced.  As every law is a limit upon the people, this created a very high barrier to restrictions on individual rights.  In modern parlance we would say that it is a “feature, not a flaw,” as the tension between the branches reinforces the desired ideal that the default position of the federal government is inaction.  

If President Obama’s frustration over a “do nothing” Congress prompts him to respond with a “do nothing” government, then I’m all for it.  Imagine the good that could be done if a Republican president used Obama’s precedent:   By not filling tens of thousands of authorized positions, he could shrink the size of government.  By refusing to enforce some environmental regulations, he could remove barriers to economic growth and greater employment.  By canceling unnecessary weapon systems, he could remove the influence of earmarks from the defense budget.

Instead of complaining about Obama’s decision, conservatives should applaud anything which increases government inaction.  Meanwhile Democrats who applaud the President’s decision for the short-term advantage it might give them, should be very wary of handing a precedential hammer to a future Republican president who could use it to smash big government.

UPDATE:

Thanks for the links from Glenn, Rand, and Allah.  And thanks all for the comments.  I expected this post to produce some complaints.  Let me address some of them as they generally boil down to a few general ideas:

Liberals don’t respect precedent when it goes against them.  That’s a matter of opinion, and somewhat irrelevant.  However, if I were offering advice to the Romney campaign (I’m on active duty so I can’t do that) I would tell them to respond to this presidential move by listing the laws that he intends to ignore as soon as he becomes president.  Commenter Smart Dude says: “Call this ‘The Obama Rule’ and shove this right in the[ir] face. . . There have to be a thousand  insane regulations that need not to be enforced. Start with the War on Coal and the shutting down of irrigation water to Western agriculture.”  I’m sure that Romney could score many political points with this approach, particularly in the realms of spending and environmental restrictions.  Additionally, there is much entertainment value in this approach, as American voters would have the fun of watching David Axelrod contort himself explaining why ignoring one set of laws is good while ignoring another set of laws is wrong. 

Conservatives believe in the rule of law; and this measure violates that.  This is why I hate labels.  There are those who believe in a strong legal system that punishes miscreants; they are often called “conservative.”  There are those who believe in a legally enforeable system that regulates morality and they are often called “conservative.”  There are those who believe that government should allow individuals maximum latitude and that individuals should rise and fall on the consequences of their actions; they too are often called “conservatives.”  I could offer a dozen other depictions of conservative beliefs, half of which would conflict with the other half.   Instead, I dispense with those labels and use “more individualism” versus “more centralization” when it comes to who gets to exercise power.  So while I believe in “law and order,” I am always cognizant of the fact that law is not an established fact but a transitory event.  Free men should always question whether or not a law still makes sense.  And if one determines that it does not, it is his duty to violate it.  (Believe me, I’ve lived a half-dozen years in a country where people did not believe that way, and 70 years later, they’re still confronting the ugliness of their inaction.)  Does it still make sense to prohibit employment and education opportunities to American residents who, through no fault of their own, came to the States as minors and have been raised as Americans?  I don’t think so.  Similary, does it make sense to prohibit the reconstruction of a reservoir that provides literal sustenance to a community because a bird is threatened?  Again, I don’t think so.  Some laws are so intuitively stupid that they deserve breaking.  And guess what:  if you disagree, you get a vote next November and every fourth November after that.

It is an unconstitutional usurpation of legislative authority.  I’ve mentioned several historical examples of why presidents have ignored the law.  I don’t think that any of those were considered to be unconstitutional at the time.  (Admittedly, the end of impoundment is a pet peeve of mine; to understand why, you only have to have spent one September as a government employee.)  To one degree or another, executives of any organization have to prioritize what it is that their organization will do.  My background is the army.  If a company commander were to comply with every directive, order, regulation, and mandate that came before him, he would have no time remaining to actually train his soldiers.  His soldiers’ time instead would be consumed by diversity training, dental appointments, and half-day Thursdays.  Every new “good idea” seemingly requires a four-hour annual block of instruction.  The military is no different from society at large.  Complying with the myriad rules (and often contradictory rules, at that) exhausts the ability of an executive to execute anything meaningful.  Hence, the job of the modern executive is to determine which rules one can “get away with” violating on the way to actually accomplishing something.  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  This precedent recognizes that fact.

Thanks to all commenters, and keep the comments coming in.

MORE:

Jim Delong pens this:  “Broad illegality is also useful to maximize bureaucratic discretion. Make everything illegal, and then pick and choose what to enforce.”  That’s a horrific vision of the future (present?) wherein everything is subject to the whims of whomever is elected.  Thus, it’s a valid criticism of what I have written.  Although, more precisely, it’s an indictment of the legislative branch, although not without the complicity of the executive.  If we are there, then, well, God help us. 

BTW, Jim Delong has a new book out.  I bought it and like what I’ve found so far.

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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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When the Zeitgeist is Wrong

Byline: | Category: Culture, Environment, Regulations | Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012

“We buy organic food, put E10 in our gas tanks and switch to green electricity. Our roofs are covered in solar panels and our walls plastered with insulation. This makes us feel good about ourselves. The only question is: What exactly does the environment get out of all this?”

Der Spiegels’ Alexander Neubacher says:  not much at all. 

I have a more than 20-year history with Germany dating to about 1988, back when toxic chemicals in Germany meant nerve gas or sarin.  From my perspective as a sometime resident of Deutschland for about six of those twenty years, there has been a real evolution (apparently the word of the week) of thought about the environment there. 

Twenty years ago consumers sent everything out to the recycling bins.  They still do.  Twenty years ago some of the things they brought to their recycling centers just accumulated; it wasn’t economically feasible to recycle things like plastics.  Twenty years later they no longer accumulate, but it still isn’t feasible:

My yoghurt container, which I’ve carefully rinsed and sorted, isn’t recycled at all. In fact, it’s dumped into an incinerator with all the rest of the garbage and burned.

Yes, this is allowed. By law, the dual system is required to recycle exactly 36 percent of plastic waste. Waste disposal companies can do what they want — and what is most cost-effective for them — with the remaining 64 percent. As a result, much of it ends up in waste incinerators for what’s called “thermal recycling,” bringing the cycle to a sudden end. 

The economics there aren’t any different than they are here:  except for aluminum, glass, and paper, recycling most waste materials doesn’t make sense.  When I was in Germany, I did what I was supposed to do.  In America I do what makes sense; we have three recycle bins in our pantry for only those materials.

Water is another interesting environmental bugaboo for Germans.  I’ve lived in places where water is in short supply and comes therefore with a high cost:  Texas, the Mojave Desert, Kuwait, Iraq.  There you learn how to conserve water.  Thirty-second showers are necessary when you live in the driest deserts.  Germany is not that kind of place.  Water is abundant; so it surprises me that so many Germans strive to save H2O.  You’re not even allowed to wash your own car.  In a land blessed with frequent rain throughout the year, saving water makes as much sense as eating your vegetables in Kansas because there are starving children in Africa.  It’s a national non sequitur.

Speaking of rain . . . because it rains so often, and because it is so far north, I was surprised to find so many solar panels when I returned to Germany in 2010 after a 15-year absence.  Frankfurt is further north than Winnipeg.  It’s not exactly Phoenix, and even there–in the desert southwest with more than 300 sun-filled days a year, solar still isn’t economical.  Plus, houses covered in dysfunctional black panels happen to be ugly as sin, which is quite the shame in a land whose villages were formerly celebrated for houses festooned with red tile roofs.  Visual pollution is on the rise, unfortunately not counterbalanced by much solar power.

My latest time in Germany made me think that environmentalism there is less about saving the planet than it is about making Germans feel good about themselves.  Apparently I’m not alone in that thought.  So let me leave the last word to Herr Neubacher:

It would be nice if we would occasionally subject our certainties to a reality check. . . No one should be forced to bring toxic mercury-containing light bulbs into the house. It doesn’t make sense to shut down more nuclear power plants if it just makes us dependent on imported nuclear electricity from France. And as long as a disposal paper bag is worse for the environment than a plastic bag, the green morals police should think about whether it’s the plastic bag that they should be banning.

People who shop in organic grocery stores, eat a vegan diet or drive an electric car are free to do so. But this should not give them the right to lecture others on the environmentally correct way to live their lives. Things are sometimes more complicated than they seem at first glance.

(ht: Ed at Insty’s Place and Kate)

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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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The Life of Brian

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 3 May 2012

EXCLUSIVE REPORT  -  MUST CREDIT: 

I just got my hands on a copy on the soon-to-be-released Obama-Biden web advertising that will follow the Life of Julia montage.  This is the “Life of Brian” and looks at Brian through the years to see how the Obama-Biden policies help his life.  Below are stills of the pictures that I’m being told are right now being added to the President’s re-election website.  You saw it here first!

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UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn and Alex for the links.  While you’re here, check out the Stag-Nation where Brian lives.

Alert commenter Graham has informed me that the release of the “Life of Brian” Re-Elect ad is being held up because the Obama-Biden campaign is negotiating the rights for the use of this as a theme song for 2012.

MORE:  Based on the huge success of this series, the Obama-Biden Re-Elect campaign has hired Iowahawk to update Julia’s life.

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