The real CIA scandals

According to AP reports, the CIA program about which Dick Cheney supposedly kept Congress in the dark was an effort to gain intelligence and carry out killings of Al Qaeda leaders at close range, rather than through air strikes that risked collateral damage. Congress wasn’t informed because the program never got far enough to justify a briefing. That’s the first real scandal, not that Congress wasn’t informed but that such a common sense measure never got off the ground, probably due at least in part to the destruction of human intelligence networks during the 1990s.

The even bigger scandal. Leon Panetta ordered the program cancelled in June in what is a clear indication of a return to the Clinton era intelligence policies that made the September 11 attacks not merely possible but almost inevitable. While one of the pleasant surprises of the Obama administration has been that Obama and Panetta take the terrorist threat more seriously than many would have expected, if any change in this sort of intelligence operation was called for, it was a redoubling of the effort and troubleshooting to find out why it hadn’t yet yielded results.

There is one other scandal here, though on the Congressional side, not the CIA side. Apparently Congressional leaders had to be explicitly told that this was going on, while the American public for the most part merely assumed, wished and hoped that it was. Proof yet again that Congresscritters aren’t too bright.

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It started with a tea party…

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Of course, throwing off such government is definitely not playing by the rules…

Happy Independence Day!

Amerika 2009 with Apologies to Martin Niemoller

First they came for the heroin and crack addicts and I didn’t speak up because I don’t use heroin or crack.

Then they came for the smokers and chewers and I didn’t speak up because those are nasty habits.

Then they came for heavy drinkers and I didn’t speak up because speakeasies sounded fun.

Then they came for people who cook with trans fats and I didn’t speak up because I quit those years ago.

Then they came for the overweight and I didn’t speak up because I was too winded from the treadmill.

Then they came for me and they had to pry my bacon from my cold dead fingers.

Obama pledges to quickly sign anti-smoking bill

To hell with that, I’m speaking up.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Your life, your liberty and your pursuit of happiness are your own and the relative value you place on each are your business, not mine. For myself, I’ll take more life rather than pursue happiness with tobacco. But ultimately, my liberty to make that decision is exactly the same and in the same measure as your liberty to make the opposite one. Liberty doesn’t mean the liberty to make the choices someone else thinks are right for us. Real freedom means having the freedom to make bad decisions. It’s past time to really roll back the nanny state and get government off our backs, out of our pocketbooks, and out of our bedrooms.

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I’m from the government and I’m here to help the auto industry

As predicted, the Chrysler bankruptcy case has raised questions worthy of Supreme Court review and the Court has just temporarily stayed the sale of Chrysler to Fiat. It will be interesting to see whether the Court that surrendered the private property rights of homeowners in Kelo will be as quick to rewrite the long standing and clear cut rules of creditor priority when the parties are a union on one hand and a public employee group on the other. In any case, the possibility of a 30-day bankruptcy are out the window. Thankfully so, to be frank.

If the sale of American lemon maker Chrysler to Italian lemon maker Fiat wasn’t sufficient to do it, the proposed sale of Hummer to a Chinese heavy equipment firm gives the lie to the argument that government involvement in the auto industry was necessary on national security grounds. Hummer is the single brand most closely tied to national security – the HMMV was initially a military vehicle evolved into a consumer brand because of heavy demand. If government involvement doesn’t prevent the sale of what is ostensibly the closest thing to a tank making division in the entire auto industry to the single biggest potential military threat on the map, national security was clearly no concern of the Obama administration at all. Big surprise that.

The firing of GM’s CEO by the nation’s CEO clearly didn’t solve the poor management problem at GM, merely replaced it with government approved poor management. GM is selling the Saturn brand to Penske, a very well run organization with savvy management that is getting the brand at a steal of a price. Saturn’s best years were when it was a “different kind of car company” outside the main GM network and with something of a management firewall. I would not be surprised if ten years from now Saturn is the best selling and most profitable of the current GM brands.

Ford, meanwhile, has done an admirable job of pulling its own act together without resorting to the government credit line available to it, but is facing serious problems as competitor GM benefits from the bailout of GMAC. With GM now owned by the government, we can expect Ford will face even more unfair competition, but, of course, it won’t be called that – competition is only unfair in the liberal mind when it comes from a highly competent, highly successful private party. Here is a case where Congress should act – Ford investors should receive a breank on dividends and capital gains taxes and the company itself should receive a break on its corporate income taxes for the next several years. The company has shown a willingness and ability to raise its money in the private sector and its management, its workers and the investors supporting the company should be able to keep the fruits of their labors instead of being taxed to support their competitors. That won’t happen, but what did we expect when we heard “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

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10 Cars That Won’t Make Obama’s Grade

Here for your amusement and edification are ten cars that won’t meet President Obama’s fuel efficiency standard – and I didn’t even come close to listing the Hummer or the Lamborghini Gallardo.

  1. The Mini Cooper with a combined 29 MPG.
    Mini Cooper

    Mini Cooper

  2. The Hyundai Accent with a combined 29 MPG.
    2009 Hyundai Accent

    2009 Hyundai Accent

  3. The Ford Escape Hybrid with combined 28 MPG.
    2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

    2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

  4. The 2009 Toyota Yaris with a combined 31 MPG.
    2009 Toyota Yaris

    2009 Toyota Yaris

  5. The 2009 Nissan Versa with a combined 28 MPG.
    Nissan Versa

    Nissan Versa

  6. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid with a combined 26 MPG.
    Toyota Highlander Hybrid

    Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  7. The Honda Civic with combined 29 MPG.
    2009 Honda Civic

    2009 Honda Civic

  8. The Chevy Aveo with a combined 30 MPG.
    2009 Chevy Aveo

    2009 Chevy Aveo

  9. The Kia Rio with a combined 30 MPG.
    2009 Kia Rio

    2009 Kia Rio

  10. The Scion xD with a combined 29 MPG.
    2009 Scion xD

    2009 Scion xD

The Obama standard will reportedly require cars to get an average of 39 m.p.g., and trucks to get 30 m.p.g. None of these fuel efficient subcompacts even comes close to meeting the car standard and the two hybrids don’t even come close to the standard for trucks. Data from

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Rantlets: Cocaine, Terrorism, Tea Parties and Separation of Powers

  • The Obama administration has come out in favor of eliminating the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Presumably this means lowering the penalty for the crack, what with the last two Presidents widely suspected of using the powder form and the current one an admitted former user. The real question is how something sold without harm in corner shops all over America without so much as a prescription until the early 20th century and that, apparently, doesn’t disqualify holding the highest office in the land as either a Republican or Democrat merits any prison time at all.
    End the cocaine disparity
  • Second, with appropriate apologies to Newt Gingrich, we ought to say flatly that if you enter the United States with the intention of committing mass murder, you will receive a tougher penalty than if you import a commercial quantity of illegal drugs, powdered or otherwise. But apparently, while importing drugs merits a death penalty under the old Gingrich plan, conspiring with al Qaeda terrorists in the days preceding the September 11 attacks merits “as many as 15 years in prison.” In Eric Holder’s book, this “reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which this nation was founded and the rule of law.” Hearing that, I almost want that humble Texan that harassed John Ashcroft on his sickbed back figuring out how to get around that damned piece of paper for his boss. Almost.
    Marri Admits Conspiring With Al-Qaeda Operatives; Faces Up to 15 Years
  • I haven’t commented on the tea party phenomenon, mostly because I think it came three years too late. Still, it’s interesting to see the embrace of the “tea party” movement by Republican leaders who last year were scared when the word “revolution” was uttered in reference to a conservative grassroots movement. I guess a revolution is out, but a tea party, well, that’s just fun, right? Do these folks not know what happened two and a half years after the Boston Tea Party? Well, probably not. After all, to anyone who can’t remember that in 1980 and 1994 “revolution” was a perfectly respectable word in Republican circles, 1776 really is ancient history. Of course, given the fact that those revolutions were largely betrayed from within, it’s little wonder that the bigwigs are a bit nervous.
  • A group of 20 Chrysler creditors may be doing us all a huge favor. Not the saving of a few piddling billion more taxpayer dollars going to Chrysler, but, with any luck, helping preserve one of the vital principles of the damned piece of paper – separation of powers. One of the lawyers, Tom Lauria, got right to the heart of the problem:

    I’ve never seen the President of the United States personally thrust himself into a bankruptcy case. The executive branch is going to be present in the court and it will really put pressure on the court to demonstrate to the people of this country that it’s watching what’s going on in an independent and unbiased way.

    30 to 60 days in bankruptcy? Maybe, if the executive branch hadn’t overstepped its bounds in the first place that would actually be possible. Instead, all the attempts to delay the inevitable are likely to create issues that will be resolved in the Supreme Court a few years down the road.
    Chrysler lender group plans objection to sale

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Condemned to repeat it

The idea that what passes for a government in Somalia could ask for international funding to solve the problem of Somali piracy is comic. That Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) actually intends to seek funding for the ridiculous proposal in Congress is tragic. That Payne’s party claims the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is absurd.

Typically when faced with a foreign policy problem we’re lucky if we have one good historical precedent to guide our actions or, more often, a few close parallels. In this case we’re guided by two solid and completely on point historical lessons that cry out “Don’t do it!”

One of these is so recent and should be so firmly entrenched in the public mind that having to even mention it is absurd. One would think that a popular movie only 8 years out of the theaters would be enough for even the dullest of dullards to remember that 18 American soldiers died and 73 were wounded in our last attempt to help the Somalis. The reason those deaths eventually grew out of what started as a purely humanitarian mission was that in the anarchy of Somalia at the time, which persists to this day, money, food or other aid never reached those it was intended to help without US military escorts to help it on its way. Unless we’re prepared to provide an overwhelming show of force, the rule “no land war in Asia” is doubly true in Africa.

The second object lesson is the payment of an estimated 20% of federal revenues to the Barbary pirates from 1786 to 1801. That huge expense didn’t win a war or disband the pirates, it only delayed by 15 years the Marine landing on the shores of Tripoli. The delay was perhaps necessary as the new nation recovered from the cost of the Revolutionary War and built up its naval forces. Today, we do not have that problem. The surest, the quickest, and the most honorable way to deal with these pirates is to do simply that – deal with the pirates and those sheltering them. That buying them off may be cheaper in the short run is irrelevant. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “Trillions for defense; not one cent for tribute.”

Somalia says: Let us handle the pirates

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Are video games an inferior good? and other questions

In the big flurry of economic news lately I have a lot of questions and, because I’m just that arrogant, a few answers.

Video game sales were up 10% in February. Now this is a big question. Are video games an inferior good? Obviously when times are shaky, people are going to delay big ticket purchases, even for necessities like houses and refrigerators. But it seems like people who feel really insecure about the near term future would not spend hundreds of dollars on a luxury like a Wii or Xbox. To believe the economy is not starting to recover, we have to believe that people will spend more money on video games when they have less money to spend.

Another question on this same front. Depending which headline you trust, sales either rose 10% or “sales growth slow[ed] in February.” Have some people in the media not gotten the memo? Your guy won. You don’t have to keep looking for a negative spin on any good economic news. I guess an eight year habit of sabotage is hard to turn off overnight.

Another reason to ask “Why would we even consider giving more money to the Big Three?” [by way of Newmark's Door]:

Fifteen Cars Americans Are Buying
…the Saturn Astra, which saw sales increase 30.3% over last year…General Motors recently announced plans to halt production on all Saturn models and phase the brand out of existence by 2011.

Doesn’t that kind of management decision making cry out for a Chapter 7, not Chapter 11, bankruptcy and financial oblivion for the people in charge? Recall that Chrysler is doing the same thing, though only with one of its best selling models and not with a whole division.

Retail sales excluding autos rose two months in a row. A week after the report, the Fed announced a $1.25 trillion plan to buy securities in the open market – to print $1.25 trillion dollar. Why now? After the second rise in retail sales, I was ready to argue that this Fed meeting was time for them to adopt a “neutral” stance and mid-summer was probably the ideal time to consider a small but symbolic rate increase. Such a move would have signaled a commitment to the integrity of the dollar, calmed the fears of the Chinese and other foreign bondholders, made US banks and industry more attractive to private foreign capital and eased commodity prices, a big boon to nonfinancial companies and consumers. Instead, the dollar tanked and oil prices are back above $50/barrel – despite a continuing inventory glut and a decision by OPEC to delay production cuts in the name of helping the world economy. Bernanke and Company undid the kindness of OPEC in one unnecessary move. Today, Bernanke is out trying to undo the damage by promising to “taper off” the printing of money. Perhaps instead of all this jawboning, Bernanke ought to branch out from economics and study the politics of Ronald Reagan, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it,” then you won’t have to fix your fix. Until he does learn that lesson, keep a sharp eye out for the next Fed inflation fueled bubble and maybe you can make a worthless buck.

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