Archives: 06/2010

Your Government At Work

Here’s yet another example of government programs that are total nonsense, collectively, if not individually.

First, news that a Federal panel of experts has issued a new report on what you should be eating.

[The report’s] findings: People should consume more vegetables and whole grains, and less fatty meats, salt and sugar…The guidelines in turn will form the basis of the USDA’s updated food pyramid, scheduled to be released in spring 2011. They also determine the nutrition standards for all federal nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, which feeds more than 30 million children a day.[emphasis mine]

I’ve emphasized the “less fatty meats” part because that news comes hot on the heals of this article that hit the wires yesterday:

The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to buy as much as $14 million worth of dark meat chicken products to help producers facing a glut in stocks and decreasing prices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday…The government purchase… will be used by food banks, school lunch programs, and other food assistance programs….

So let’s get this straight: the Federal government is on the one hand encouraging people to eat fewer fatty meats, but on the other is buying more of said fatty meats to appease a special interest.  And they can’t even use “inter-agency coordination problems” as an excuse.

Perfidious Albion?

Today’s Wall Street Journal excerpted a Peter Hitchens Daily Mail column and then inexplicably tried to stick it behind the pay wall on their website.  (Peter is the “Anti-War, Pro-God” Hitchens, not the “Pro-War, Anti-God” Hitchens.)

Because I’m feeling subversive–and because the column was a good piece of prose–let’s take a look.  Hitchens is talking about the Obama White House vs. BP in the context of the US-England relationship, and lets loose:

…Far too many people – many of them academics, many politicians – continue to jabber about a supposed ‘special relationship’ between our two countries.

I used to think that no such thing existed. Recently, I have become convinced that it does, and that it is in fact a Specially Bad Relationship.

Americans may say they love our accents (I have been accused of sounding ‘like Princess Di’) but the more thoughtful ones resent and rather dislike us as a nation and people, as friends of mine have found out by being on the edge of conversations where Americans assumed no Englishmen were listening.

And it is the English, specifically, who are the targets of this. Few Americans have heard of Wales. All of them have heard of Ireland and many of them think they are Irish. Scotland gets a sort of free pass, especially since Braveheart re-established the Scots’ anti-English credentials among the ignorant millions who get their history off the TV.

Words such as ‘arrogant’ and ‘snobbish’ occur – and the ceaseless use of English actors in Hollywood movies to portray haughty, cruel villains is not accidental. Sometimes it bursts out into the open. Mel Gibson’s atrocious anti-English propaganda film The Patriot pretty much equated the Redcoats with the Nazi SS. And it played to full and enthusiastic houses.

Some of this is deep-buried. The American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is a des­cription of a British naval bombardment of Baltimore. It refers to the presence of British troops on American soil as ‘their foul footsteps’ pollution’. There’s always been a rough, republican anti-English spirit, well expres­sed by the Mayor of Chicago, Big Bill Thompson, who threatened to punch King George V ‘in the snoot’ if he ever came that way. His Majesty didn’t.

Apart from the war of 1812 to 1814, the two countries have almost come to blows many times. It was American pressure that forced us out of the first rank of naval powers in the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which led to our defeat at Singapore 20 years later. The last physical clash was in 1956 when the US Sixth Fleet harassed the Royal Navy on its way to Suez, deliberately steering destroyers dangerously close to our battle line. But by then Washington had learned money spoke louder than guns, and Dwight Eisenhower forced us to abort the operation by threatening to bankrupt us.

During an assignment in Washington I watched Bill Clinton fawn over the grisly IRA apologist Gerry Adams. I learned that White House officials regarded us as on a level with, say, Yugoslavia – an annoying, backward European nation to be ordered about and forbidden to control its internal affairs.

That’s how it really stands. I would like a British Government to behave as if it understood this, instead of mouthing outdated and meaningless fake Chur­chillian ‘Finest Hour’ rubbish.

House GOP Announces First Vote to Repeal ObamaCare

House Republicans say they will force a vote to repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which will subject nearly all Americans to fines and/or imprisonment if they do not purchase a government-designed health insurance plan.  They are soliciting public feedback on their America Speaking Out website, which explains:

We need to repeal and replace the health care law with common sense reforms that will actually lower health care costs and let Americans keep the plan they have and like. That’s why Republicans are offering a proposal to repeal the requirement forcing Americans to buy government-approved health insurance. Twenty states and the nation’s leading small business organization agree that this law is unconstitutional and that’s why they are suing to overturn it. The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of forcing you to buy health insurance and taxing you if you don’t.

I’d rather see the entire law repealed – including the price controls on health insurance, the trillions of dollars in health insurance subsidies, the CLASS Act, etc..  Why not do it all at once, just so you don’t miss anything important?

But this vote is unlikely to succeed, so I suppose there will be time for votes repealing the whole thing.

Ending DADT, Again

Stuart Koehl has a piece at The Weekly Standard against ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). He presents a comprehensive set of arguments based on readiness, that ending DADT will hurt the effectiveness of the force.

I disagree, and it’s worth pointing out that he is quick to dismiss the fact that other first-rate militaries have allowed gays to serve without damaging readiness. As he puts it:

But history provides plenty of evidence that homosexuality does undermine unit cohesion.  The current practices of other armies are an experiment in progress, which should not overturn empirically proven policies.  There are also significant differences between those armies and the United States military.  The first is scale—the entire British army is barely the size of the Marine Corps, while the Israeli army is very small unless fully mobilized.  Neither the British nor the Israeli armies undertake extended overseas deployments of the length or scale of the U.S. military; Israeli army is very much a “commuter” force, with most troops living at home unless serving in the field—which is only an hour or so from home.  As a result, neither has any experience with homosexuals serving in the field for extended periods.  Finally, neither the British nor the Israeli armies have experienced anything approaching an extended, high-intensity war, so neither has any idea what effect homosexuals in the ranks might have on combat effectiveness.

Israel certainly has experience with an extended, high-intensity war. Since its birth it has faced the threat of invasion and terrorism, and the forecast for the last few decades has been scattered machine-gun fire with a chance of rockets by mid-afternoon.

Except for the United States, Britain remains the largest donor of forces to Afghanistan (now America’s longest war), according to the ISAF website. This excellent dispatch from Michael Yon portrays them as a first-rate force. There’s even a female combat medic on patrol with Yon. I see no difference between American and British experiences in Afghanistan to support Koehl’s claim.

Setting aside the official policy, American commanders have historically looked the other way during war to allow gays to serve in their units. As I said in this post:

Sergeant Darren Manzella served as a combat medic, and his chain of command investigated the claim that he was gay. Manzella provided pictures and video of him with his boyfriend, but found “no evidence of homosexuality.”

The story makes clear that Manzella gave them plenty evidence of homosexuality, but it didn’t make any sense to get rid of a good soldier in a critical field when he wanted to continue serving and there was a war going on.

Gays are currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am certain that many of their brothers and sisters in arms suspect or know that they are gay, and don’t care. Ending DADT will not harm military readiness.

Prizes for Writing on Freedom

Submissions for the Bastiat Prize for Journalism and the Bastiat Prize for Online Journalist close at the end of June. Journalists, bloggers, and writers of op-eds are encouraged to submit their work here. The International Policy Network awards prizes of up to $10,000 to  “writers anywhere in the world whose published articles eloquently and wittily explain, promote and defend the principles and institutions of the free society.”

Note that these prizes are not (just) for students. Last year’s winners included law professor John Hasnas, for an oped published in the Wall Street Journal; Robert Guest, Washington Correspondent of the Economist; Robert Robb, editorial columnist of the Arizona Republic; British politician and blogger Daniel Hannan; and Shikha Dalmia, online columnist for Forbes and Reason.

Topics:

Grasping for Rationales, Feeding Conspiracy Theories

On June 13, the New York Times reported that America “just discovered” a trillion dollars worth of mineral resources in Afghanistan (HT to Katie Drummond over at Danger Room for offering some enlightened skepticism on the topic).

Of course, the U.S. Geological Survey has known about Afghanistan’s “large quantities of iron and copper” since 2007. The Los Angeles Times reported that geologist Bonita Chamberlain, who has spent 25 years working in Afghanistan, “identified 91 minerals, metals and gems at 1,407 potential mining sites” as far back as 2001. Chamberlain was even contacted by the Pentagon to write a report on the subject just weeks after 9/11 (possibly to expound upon the findings of her co-authored book, “Gemstones in Afghanistan,” published in 1996.)

Given the recent failure of Marjah, which Gen. McChrystal recently called “a bleeding ulcer,” this new “discovery” could offer Western leaders a new way to convince their war-weary publics that Afghanistan is worth the fight. Government officials are already touting this new “discovery” as yet another “decisive moment” or “corner turned” in the Afghan campaign.

In the NYT article, head of Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, said, “There is stunning potential here. There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

Afghanistan epitomizes the fate of countries too dependent on foreign patronage, which over time has weakened its security by undermining their leaders’ allegiance to the state. In the long run, $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits could eventually help Afghanistan stand on its own two feet. However, two problems emerge. First, there is little assurance that revenue from mineral resources (which will take years of capital investment to extract) will actually reach the Afghan people and not be siphoned off by Karzai and his corrupt cronies–like much of the international community’s investment does now.

Second, in the short-term, this discovery may feed conspiracy theories that already exist in the region. Though unwise to generalize personal meetings to an entire population, some conspiracy theories that I heard while I was recently in Afghanistan should give U.S. officials pause before announcing that America can help extract the country’s mineral deposits. Some of the wildest conspiracy theories I heard were that the United States wants to occupy Afghanistan in order to take its resources; the Taliban is the United States; the United States is using helicopters to ferry Taliban around northern Afghanistan (courtesy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai); America is at war in order to weaken Islam; and the list goes on.

This “discovery” may force more people in the region to ask: what are America’s real reasons for building permanent bases in Central Asia?

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post on June 15, 2010.

Congress to Expand Deposit Insurance

While I never had much hope that this Congress would actually fix the real causes of the financial crisis - loose monetary policy, Fannie/Freddie - I had hoped that they wouldn’t do a lot to make an already bad situation worse.  Boy, was that hope naive.

Take the area of federally provided deposit insurance.  There is a massive amount of scholarly work, much of it empirical, that demonstrates that expanding the level and scope of deposit insurance results in more frequent and severe financial crises.  So what is Congress considering?  Yes, you guessed it:  expanded deposit insurance.

Recall during the financial crisis Congress raised the coverage limit to $250,000 - forget that there were never any premiums charged ahead of time for this coverage.  The FDIC also, without any basis in law, offered unlimited coverage to non-interest bearing accounts, targeted mostly at business customers.  While these expansions may have brought the system some short term stability, they come at the cost of considerable long term instability.

Congress is also making the misguided change of basing  insurance premiums on total assets rather than total deposits.  This will punish banks for relying on sources of funding other than deposits, giving banks an incentive to shift their funding toward deposits, putting the taxpayer ultimately at even greater risk.

So why all these expanded bank guarantees? Smaller banks view these as changes that would give them a competitive advantage relative to larger banks.  After all community and regional banks are far more dependent on deposits as a source of funds.  And while big banks are damaged politically, the smaller banks, despite their higher failure rates, have managed to maintain their political ability to shift the costs of their risk-taking onto the backs of the taxpayer.