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Monthly Archives: February 2009

If Obama Turns America Into Europe…

February 27th, 2009 - 4:08 am

… Then who, or what, fills the resulting vacuum in world leadership?

Europe — sclerotic, bureaucratized and social-democratized – has for decades enjoyed the protection, inventions and security afforded by its more laissez-fair, strapping, and exuberant cousin across the Pond, the United States. America, with its free markets, its market incentives, and its relatively large private sector, has been the engine of global growth. America’s system, based fundamentally on individual risk and responsibility, has been the great incubator of innovations that have become the staples of the modern age — from medical advances, to computers, to the internet and beyond. Around the world, people have benefited in ways beyond measure.

All that energy poured into progress is likely to fade, as America devolves into a nation of carbon-capped civil servants, tending to a much-shrunken private sector, and a growing line of people on the dole. However high-flying President Obama’s rhetoric, he can’t re-engineer human nature. If you tax and subsidize Americans more, they will — like anyone else – produce and create less. In many realms, there will be fewer gains from trade. In the middle of every transaction will be the taxman, or the government regulator. For the dramatic reshaping on which Obama has embarked, the cost will be paid not only in taxes, but in a pervasive souring of climate (and I am not talking about hocus-pocus with the weather).

In short, where there was America the superpower – with its almost bottomless pockets and limitless drive — there will be a shabbier America, quite likely more self-absorbed. There will be a growing vacuum on the world scene. If, a generation into the post-Soviet New World Order, that shift is already underway, we can now expect it to accelerate. Since World War II, America’s capitalist system has allowed it to stand as a bulwark of democracy, provider of security and font of commerce and creativity for the world. Europe has had America at its back. There is no candidate right now to replace America in that role.

There are candidates of a somewhat different character, who may see this as a opportunity. There are despotisms, such as China, and resurgently aggressive Russia. There are the totalitarian Islamists of Iran, with their visions, shared by both rivals and collaborators within the Muslim world, of a global caliphate. There are blocs which can be glimpsed in miniature in the doings of the UN General Assembly, where some of the world’s more swaggering dictatorships enjoy pride of place. We do not know how these forces might play out as America transforms itself into Europe – but there’s a chilling likelihood that we will all pay for this, in ways not mentioned in the multi-trillion dollar spending plans now emanating from Washington.

Click Here for Central Planning

February 21st, 2009 - 1:37 am

OK, all you Americans still clinging to your guns, religion, and failed ideas of the past two centuries or so about a country built on individual enterprise and responsibility – here’s your chance to get with the new program.

To go with the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” a.k.a. the “stimulus bill,” a.k.a. the $787 Billion Great Leap Toward Socialism in America, there is the new web site, Recovery.gov — which describes itself as “the centerpiece of the President’s commitment to transparency and accountability.” Think of it as the Facebook of the Welfare State, the Twitter of the Visible Hand.

This site promises all sorts of interactive graphics and data to come. But one of the graphics already online is an amazing display of central planning in action. It shows a map of all 50 states, and as you roll your cursor across each state, you can see the number of “Jobs created/saved in next 2 years.” The numbers are both unnaturally round, and highly specific: 369,000 jobs “created/saved” for California; 269,000 for Texas; 37,000 for Iowa; 12,000 for Rhode Island. A pitiful 8,000 for Alaska — though I’m sure that’s nothing personal. You can play with it here, on the Estimated Job Effect page.

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Taboo Talk About North Korea

February 20th, 2009 - 12:38 am

It seems Hillary Clinton broke an informal taboo Thursday by mentioning to reporters the possibility that Kim Jong Il, tyrant-supreme of North Korea, might not last forever. Gasp! Shock! Horror! — apparently, according to the New York Times, the usual experts agree that this kind of talk might discomfit the Chinese, or cause the North Korean government to lose face — and then who knows what they might do??!!

(Sell missiles to the Middle East? Test a nuclear bomb? Stockpile plutonium? Help the Syrians build a secret nuclear reactor? Test a ballistic missile? Threaten to drown South Korea in a sea of fire? Divert food aid to the military? Counterfeit U.S currency? Send hundreds of thousands of North Koreans to Kim’s gulag? Cheat on their deals, miss their deadlines and demand fresh nuclear payoffs? …Oh, wait, they’ve been doing all that already).

Actually, a lot less focus on satisfying the whims of Kim, and a lot more focus on benefits of life without him, is exactly what’s needed for North Korea — as I’ve argued in my column this week for Forbes.com, Try Real “Change” Toward North Korea.” North Korea’s nuclear rackets are a symptom of the core problem, which is Kim’s regime. Diplomatic engagement over most of the past 15 years has actually helped sustain the regime, with the result that the nuclear rackets have gotten much worse. Kim not only has plutonium, a suspected uranium enrichment program and proliferation networks that almost succeeded in producing an operational copy of North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor in Syria (shut down not through diplomacy, but by an Israeli air strike in 2007). He also has a basketball signed by Michael Jordan and hand-carried to him in 2000 in an act of tribute by America’s then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and an army that has supped for years off American-donated, North Korean-diverted food aid.

The only real answer — brace yourself, I am going to use a taboo phrase — is regime change.

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Day by Day does “Line by Line”

February 18th, 2009 - 9:38 pm

In his way, President Obama is inspiring us all. The marvelous Chris Muir, who sums up in his “Day by Day” political cartoons what most of us need a zillion words to say, has picked up on Obama’s “line by line” promise mentioned in my post on Doublespeak in Denver, reached into history for some context, and — see for yourself – here’s his latest on the “stimulus” bill.

Thank you, Chris!

Obama’s Doublespeak in Denver

February 17th, 2009 - 2:17 pm

In Denver, last August, standing in front of those stage-set columns to accept the Democratic Party nomination, Barack Obama delivered a speech that included the following promise (boldface is mine):

I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

Today, Obama returned to Denver, and with elaborate ceremony signed the $787 billion “stimulus” bill passed last Friday by Congress, which runs to more than 1,070 pages. That left fewer than 96 hours between passage and signing (thus also violating his promise about posting legislation for five days on the internet before signing, to allow for transparency and comment).

When did Obama even find time to skim this monster bill? Let alone go through it “line by line?”

Obama enjoyed an intervening weekend heavy on R&R. Carbon-emissions-notwithstanding (personally I don’t care how much carbon he emits, but Obama wants all the rest of us to sacrifice on this front), on Friday Obama flew with his family and entourage to Chicago, where he helicoptered in from the airport, to spend time at his Chicago mansion and — as The New York Times put it — see a few friends and “reconnect to the rest of the country.” Over the weekend, he took Michelle out for a Valentine’s dinner at a South Side* restaurant. He got a haircut. He spent two hours playing basketball. He watched the N.B.A. All-Star game. He also gave his weekly video address. He then flew back to Washington, and on Tuesday flew to Denver.

Unless Obama was reading the bill over his Valentine’s dinner, and had it taped to the basketball backboard, when did he go through it line by line?

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Whether to boycott Durban II — the United Nations racist conference on racism – is one of the early foreign-policy tests President Obama faces. Also known as the Durban Review Conference, this UN gathering, scheduled for April 20-24 in Geneva, has been taking shape as a virulent reprise of the UN’s infamous September, 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. That original Durban conference was supposed to fight racism. Instead, it turned into such a malicious attack on Israel that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, making the correct call, ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out.

Since 2007, the UN has been preparing for Durban II. Operating under the umbrella of the UN’s Human Rights Council (a deeply compromised body that spends most of its time condemning Israel), the 20-member preparatory committee has been stacked from the start: It is chaired by Libya, and includes Iran (which hosted one of the preparatory meetings for Durban I), Cuba, Russia and (speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) Pakistan.

Both the debate and the drafting of an “outcome document” for the conference have displayed the same obsession with attacking Israel that turned Durban I into one of the UN’s more memorably ugly events. The Durban II agenda also includes a bid for global censorship by way of gagging any discussion, worldwide, that might offend the sensitivities of such Islamic tyrannies as Libya and Iran. Plenty of appalling documentation is available in videos of the debate such as this, or this, from Geneva-based UN Watch , and a rich collection of materials assembled by Eye On the UN.

The Bush administration declined to dignify the preparations for Durban II by taking part, but did not declare an outright U.S. boycott of the conference itself — thus kicking the can down the road to Obama.   

Questions to the Obama administration have now elicited the information that this week the State Department is sending a delegation to ”engage” in preparatory negotiations from Feb. 16-19 for Durban II. According to a U.S. official, this U.S. delegation will include Betty King (who served under the Clinton administration as a U.S. representative to the UN’s Economic and Social Council) and Felice Gaer (of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the American Jewish Committee).

While preparing to “engage” in Durban II preparations, the State Department put out a statement this past weekend that: ”Our participation does not indicate — and should not be construed to indicate — that the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself.” That decision will be made “at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process.”

To salvage Durban II from its own sordid origins and bigoted agenda would require the U.S. delegation finding a way to permanently and securely delete the fixation on attacking Israel, utterly scrap the bid for global censorship, and remove any control of the agenda from such tyrannies as Libya and Iran.

Don’t hold your breath.

When Hillary Clinton was running for president last year, she issued a statement on Durban II, saying that under her leadership, the U.S.

 ”would lead a boycott of the conference should current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail. We must not accept, condone or participate in a conference that can be hijacked by an agenda of hatred, and we must work strenuously to ensure that our friends do not do so either.”

Now Clinton is Secretary of State, handling the UN portfolio for Obama. And with Durban II just two months ahead, and the forces of hatred clearly on a roll toward that April meeting in Geneva, the U.S. is not so far leading any boycott. Instead, State is sending delegates to engage. As a sign of how Obama plans to address global bigotry and hatred, this is not auspicious.

No, We Are Not All Socialists Now

February 15th, 2009 - 3:34 am

Over at Newsweek, they may all be socialists now . But some of us persist in believing that transferring ever more power to the state is such a disaster for both our economy and our freedoms that America deserves the effort — no matter how untrendy — to reverse the tide. Yes, we now have a congress in which the majority count it as a great achievement to ram through the biggest spending binge in history. Yes, we have a president who praises this $787 billion act of government gluttony and central planning as “progress.” But that doesn’t mean we should burn the remaining copies of Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, and line up to chuck The Wealth of Nations into the collectively-owned woodchipper.

Most disturbing in that Newsweek piece, which echoes President Obama’s dismissive rhetoric about free markets, is the patronizing tone in which we are told that there is no point in further debate:

If we fail to acknowledge the reality of the growing role of government in the economy, insisting instead on fighting 21st-century wars with 20th-century terms and tactics, then we are doomed to a fractious and unedifying debate. The sooner we understand where we truly stand, the sooner we can think more clearly about how to use government in today’s world.

What, exactly, are these dazzling new 21st-century terms and tactics for which we are supposed to forsake all memory and spurn all debate? The cult of “climate change?” The group chant of “We are one” -? Deep thinking as represented on Google News?

Actually, there is a desperate need to revive those 20th century debates about government versus free markets — and there is plenty of room for such debates to be edifying in the extreme, since many of those now waving aside free markets and genuinely private enterprise seem to have chucked right down the memory hole such basic and vital insights as those set forth by Friedrich Hayek in his 1944 Road to Serfdom, or his indispensable 1945 essay on The Use of Knowledge in Society.

This is an excellent time to revive the lessons about the importance of free-market prices as signals of where resources can most productively be put to use (that’s how America got rich). This is a great time to re-examine the loss of freedom, and the immense damper imposed on creativity, productivity and individual dreams, when government controls people’s livelihoods. And there could be no better time to review what actually went wrong in America’s system in recent years – with profligate budgets, loose money and government poisoning the housing market with forced lending, implied taxpayer guarantees, and hellish knock-on toxic effects. Fannie Mae was not something cooked up by the free market. It was a product of the same state-engineering mindset that now brings us the godzilla “stimulus” bill.

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Even in the endless UN hit parade of cash, corruption and cover-ups, this one’s a show-stopper. Just when you thought Oil-for-Food was history, the AP reports that “The U.N.’s highest internal judicial body has ordered the United Nations to pay legal fees to the former chief of its oil-for-food program.”

That former Oil-for-Food chief is Benon Sevan. He was indicted in 2007 in the Southern District of New York, charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the same UN Oil-for-Food food program that he ran from 1997-2003. Sevan was also accused in an August, 2005 report from the UN-authorized Oil-for-Food inquiry, run by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, of having profited “corruptly” — to the tune of some $147,000 in cash – from oil deals obtained via the UN program. Months before that, Norm Coleman’s Senate subcommittee investigation into Oil-for-Food had made similar allegations, with Coleman stating at a Feb. 14, 2005 hearing: “As a former prosecutor, I believe that clear and direct evidence establishes probable casue that Benon Sevan broke the law.”

But Sevan, who says he is innocent, has never faced justice. Despite assurances during the Oil-for-Food scandal from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Sevan would cooperate fully with investigators in New York, Sevan skipped town months before the Volcker committee weighed in with its final report. Since early 2005, Sevan has been living beyond reach of U.S. extradition, on his native Cyprus. I last saw him smoking a cigar in his penthouse apartment in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, when I dropped by there in 2006.

But now, the Sevan saga rises from the grave. During the Oil-for-Food investigations, which began in 2004, Kofi Annan initially decided — despite disturbing documents already unearthed by then in Baghdad — that the UN would pay Sevan’s legal fees. When a Volcker interim report in February, 2005, reached preliminary findings alleging that Sevan had created a “grave a continuing conflict of interest,” Annan reversed his decision to cover Sevan’s legal expenses. Sevan protested, and from Cyprus demanded reimbursement, appealing to the UN’s internal “judiciary.” It now turns out, according to the AP story, that in a judgment reached quietly last November, the UN’s version of an internal court, the UN Administrative Tribunal, decided the UN should pay Sevan’s legal fees through February, 2005:

Reports the AP: “The judgment said Sevan and his lawyers were seeking $880,300, plus interest.”

This is beyond the dreams of Kafka. We have a former senior UN official, alleged by both U.S. federal prosecutors and a UN-authorized inquiry to have taken bribes from a UN-sanctioned regime, via a UN program he was entrusted to run — and when he leaves town and evades the charges, what does the UN finally do? Here’s the story again. This is justice, UN-style. Before the Obama adminstration further enlists the UN as an anchor of U.S. foreign policy, does anyone in Washington plan to do anything about it?

President Obama picked Elkhart, Indiana to make a townhall-meeting pitch on Monday for the porker of an $800-billion-plus stimulus spending package — his rational being that “Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America.”

Obama — this is his description, not mine — presented Elkhart as a place of bewildered, helpless people, wandering the ruins of a dying private sector, picking through the debris of tested-and-failed-and-junked capitalism, waiting for the only possible form of salvation to arrive in the form of torrents of government funding for roadworks, extended unemployment insurance, etc… people with “no idea what to do or who to turn to.” So there he was, to save the day.

But even accepting Obama’s vision (in which it is hard to recognize any vestige of America’s pre-change character), there is, for Elkhart, a much better solution:

Move the United Nations to Elkhart!

The UN is on a spending spree that has entailed record-breaking budgets year after year, with expanding programs, reach, and jobs! jobs! jobs! Of course, about one-quarter of those many billions spent by the UN come from U.S. taxpayers, so it’s not as if the UN actually creates wealth. (But neither does the vast bulk of the stimulus spending bill). Like Obama, the UN is mainly in the business of transferring wealth, taking it from the more productive sectors and sinking it into the less productive (including, in substantial part, its own staff). But that’s no reason some of the money shouldn’t be sunk into Elkhart.

Consider: Right now, the UN is busy renovating its midtown Manhattan headquarters at a cost of some $2 billion. American taxpayers are likely to get stuck with that extravagant tab, just as they get stuck with the lion’s share of the bills for the sky-high costs of running the tax-exempt UN in Manhattan. UN personnel grumble constantly about the high cost of living, when not helping themselves to rent-controlled apartments or crowding out New York families for taxpayer-subsidized housing (see Kofi Annan’s old housing arrangements) .

Elkhart, by contrast, is an incredible bargain. There is space, there is parking (no more problems with those tawdry parking tickets) there are rentals galore (for monthly prices that would barely get you a parking space in Manhattan). There are airports. And lest anyone worry about depriving UN-ocrats of their cultural fix, Elkhart — however dire its financial straits — appears to be spending $18 million renovating the local performing arts theater.

Right now the UN is planning on dislocating its headquarters staff in any event, while the high-ticket renovations in Manhattan proceed. For $2 billion, imagine what could be built in Elkhart! Imagine the jobs as the UN gets down to work ordering such delicacies as the shrimp and crab buffet in the Delegates’ Dining Room, with which Sudan recently celebrated taking over the chairmanship of the G-77! Imagine the jobs as orders pour forth from the re-located UN for security, and furnishings, and limousines, and other staff amenities!

This would also solve the current spat over premises for the UN press corps, many of whose members have long enjoyed rent-free facilities at UN headquarters. The UN is now reconsidering that policy, which is drawing protests that some members of the media, especially from poor countries, would not be able to afford offices if they had to pay actual New York rents. Elkhart would solve all that. Manhattan would probably come out ahead as well, with a lot of space freed up for any Americans who might still believe that in the big city there are opportunities for even the reviled private sector to invent, create, and actually produce wealth (and pay taxes) — instead of simply waiting for Obama to arrive with his magic money machine.   

There is the drawback that there’s an even better case to be made for simply moving the UN out of America altogether — say to one of its more natural, spiritual homes, in Caracas, or Tripoli, or Tehran. But in emergencies, there may well be need for compromise. Seriously — why is it treated as reasonable to spend billions buffing up the UN in Manhattan, but unthinkable to do something as obvious as move it lock, stock and bureaucracy, to Elkhart?

Loud and clear, from President Obama himself, it is now official. In trying to squelch critics who say the $900 billion congressional pork pie is not a “stimulus,” but a spending bill — Obama confirmed on Thursday that yes, indeed, this is all about spending:

“What do you think a stimulus is? That’s the whole point. No, seriously, that’s the point.”

OK. But if the whole aim is spending, then why are we all calling it a “stimulus” bill? The “stimulus” tag actually refers to a highly debatable prediction based on the dodo theories of Keynesian economics. The basic premise is that the government will spend your money more wisely than you will. And if you believe that … Although, as the Weekly Standard points out, Obama seems confused even on this point, because such Keynesian “stimulus” is supposed to be a short-term effort to counter a downturn. This bill is more like a long-range effort to start re-engineering the entire economy to live in a condition of constant state “stimulus”  – which in this case seems to be a hybrid: socialism laced with plain old pork.

In this new system, there will be no more over-spending by private consumers, because the Obama administration and Congress will elbow in to engage in over-spending on our behalf. Private excess is out, public excess is in. You pay, someone else spends. It used to be called central planning, and it has a record of creating massive inefficiencies, waste, pervasive corruption and poverty. But with oracular certainty, Obama informs us that his plans for colossal state spending will “create” two million, or three million, or pick-a-number-million jobs, and warns us, in similarly round numbers, of the pick-a-number-million jobs that will be lost if Americans don’t pony up $900,000,000,000 for the government to spend. Where will that money come from? Taxes — which kill jobs. Or the government printing press, a.k.a inflation, which hurts almost everyone, but takes its biggest toll on the poor –who can least afford to hedge against it.

With this bill, there is no guarantee of “stimulus” for anyone but the spenders. There is, however, a definite guarantee of spending… and spending… and spending. So, why not call it what it is? “The Spending Bill.”