Osama bin Laden is dead!

May 2, 2011

I got word rather late last night that Osama bin Laden was killed in an early morning raid by U.S. Navy Seals on May 1. Other details I’ve heard are that the Pakistani government was not told about the raid until yesterday. The U.S. government got intelligence last August that bin Laden was in a building in Abbottobad, Pakistan, just outside of Islamabad. Abbottobad is a wealthy community mostly made up of retired Pakistani military personnel. The building was 8 times larger than any other building in the area, and it was fortified against attack. It was also set apart from the community, and was only accessible by a dirt road. It was described on the news as a “mansion,” but the ABC News article I link to gives a description that makes it sound more like a large military building.

Obama said in a speech last night that the U.S. had been gathering intelligence on this location since it first learned of it. He said last week he felt he had enough information to know for sure that bin Laden was there, and he ordered a raid on it, which took place early yesterday morning. It was successful.

Reportedly, three other people were killed in the attack. One of them is thought to be one of bin Laden’s sons. Another was a woman that bin Laden’s fighters used as a human shield. There were children housed in the building, who were unharmed in the raid. No U.S. soldiers were killed.

I heard a report just a little while ago that bin Laden was given the opportunity to surrender, but he chose to fire his weapon, and so he was killed. Bin Laden always said that if it came to this, he would refuse to be taken alive. His body was taken by the Seals, and has been identified by comparing his DNA with that of his relatives. It is now in U.S. custody.

Shortly after the news broke of bin Laden’s death spontaneous celebrations started gathering at the White House, Times Square, and Ground Zero.

This is a great moment for President Obama, and he deserves praise for finally getting the leader of Al Qaida. Of course, my thanks go to the U.S. military who actually did the work! The only other “big fish” who is still at large is Ayman Al Zawahiri, who was bin Laden’s “#2”. The fight is still not over. As President Bush said, even if he was able to get bin Laden, it would not end Al Qaida as a movement and organization. That is still the case.

Edit 5-3-11: Reportedly the body was buried at sea, according to Islamic customs. The White House has backtracked on some details of the raid. See here.


Samuelson on the debt situation

April 25, 2011

Here are a couple good articles by Robert J. Samuelson. He’s of the same opinion as myself: The federal government is suicidal, and Obama is not helping matters.

“Big government on the brink”

“Obama abdicates on the budget”

Though Samuelson doesn’t say this, I think a big reason the Republicans have been so timid on budget cutting, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, is that despite their tough talk about it, the Democrats have set up the budget rules such that if there’s a government shutdown, soldiers will not receive paychecks. This was not the case when the government shutdown happened with Clinton in the 1990s. The military is a major Republican constituency, and they’d catch hell from their base for denying pay to soldiers (though they would be reimbursed once the shutdown ended). Michele Bachmann introduced a bill in the most recent budget battle to change the rules so that soldiers would continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown. Obama shot that down, saying he would veto it if it came to him. He understood what was going on, and he was not going to take the pressure off Republicans to backtrack on their demands. In the end, there was effectively no budget cut for this year, with about $300 billion in cuts spread out over the next few years, of money that was appropriated in ’10, but hadn’t been spent yet. What would be done with the unspent money was not discussed in public. Perhaps it would reduce the debt a little, but the amount is paltry compared to the size of the problem.

Some Tea Party Republicans voted against the deal that was ultimately reached, because they wanted much larger cuts, but there weren’t enough of them to force the issue.

The big “budget drama” that Republicans say will be coming, probably in May, in raising the debt ceiling is likely going to end the same way. Little change, and for the same reason. The Democrats have equalized the field, and said, “If you’re going to hurt our constituents, we’re going to hurt yours, too,” and the Republican majority in the House has been revealed as having no spine. The current congress is not up to the challenge.

Lifting the veil on the new New Left

January 21, 2011

This is a follow-up post to “Lifting the veil of the Left”.

When I first heard of Stanley Kurtz’s book, “Radical In Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism”, I was circumspect, because I thought it might be another conservative diatribe full of anecdotes that just say, “I’m really scared of this guy, and you should be, too.” I’ve seen books like this before, and I find them useless, because you don’t really learn anything of value. However, listening to the research Kurtz has done really impressed me. What impressed me most of all is he claims to have been able to use his research to show that Obama most certainly hid some critical pieces of his past in his book, “Dreams From My Father”. By this he means that Obama would talk about his political activities, but he left out the socialist aspects of them; that he told half-truths, and in one case, lied.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t get into a deep analysis of it. I just wanted to share this, because there have been some books written that look at Obama from the outside and try to fit models of political theory to his story, to explain who he is. Kurtz appears to have written a much deeper analysis of what formed Obama’s political views and agenda, using a wealth of source material that goes beyond what Obama said in his autobiography. What follows is taken from a speech Kurtz gave at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend from 2010.

After reviewing this, it reminded me of a clip I saw online a couple months ago with Lawrence O’Donnell confronting a progressive political supporter, named Glen, on MSNBC:

I’m not so much talking about how O’Donnell admits he’s a socialist. It’s that he chastised Glen for being unrealistic, that what Obama and the progressives in the Democratic Party got through was really the best they could do, and they should be satisfied with that. This sounds kind of like what the Midwest Academy (which I get to below) advocated, in the sense that they tried to stay away from some divisive issues, like foreign policy, and certain social issues, like abortion, and focus instead on economic populist issues. What they advocated was incrementalism.

Kurtz said that the socialist left’s strategy for taking over the Democratic Party started in the 1980s when Reagan was president. There was the community organizing from below, but there was also a strategy to drive the business interests that supported the Democrats out of the party, and into the arms of the Republicans. This was an intentional polarization of the country. It was thought that this would attract community organized groups into the Democratic Party, and then the Party would become the vehicle for a class struggle between the workers, in the Democratic Party, vs. the business interests in the Republican Party. What we’ve seen must’ve been a modification of that strategy, because there are certainly business interests that have been supporting the Democratic Party of late. A coalition has developed between Wall Street and the Democratic Party that has supported ObamaCare, and cap and trade, though Kurtz uses the example of the way the Obama Administration has treated the Chamber of Commerce to make his point.

Kurtz’s thesis is that Obama is most certainly a socialist. In detail after detail, he builds a very strong case. He uses the term carefully. Kurtz seems to be an honest academic whose goal is, “Just the facts, ma’am.” He is not given to hyperbole. He says, in fact, that when he first set out to write the book he was not looking to find that Obama is a socialist. He was commissioned to write a book on Obama’s political past, and by his account there was no agenda to slant that research one way or the other. He said his finding was unavoidable, given the evidence he found. He was shocked at the amount of evidence for it.

Kurtz said that Obama is partly the product of a change in the socialist movement in this country that occurred in the 1980s. He zeroed in particularly on the Midwest Academy (I will call it “the MA” from here on). There, he found a blueprint for the way that Obama has behaved politically. A big theme was “stealth.” Members of the MA believed in stealth socialism. They did not believe that making their true agenda known would work to their advantage. This was in contrast to the New Left of the 1960s, which was very open about its socialist goals. Instead they advocated that their members speak in fairly neutral tones, using what Kurtz called “communitarian language.” In fact he said that Obama’s 2004 keynote address at the Democratic national convention, “not a red America, not a blue America, but one America,” fit this mold. Michelle Obama, the First Lady, is not an innocent in all this. She was with Barack Obama when he attended meetings of the Midwest Academy.

Richard Epstein gives a view of this “stealth” behavior in this interview from March 2009, called “Crisis and the law”, on the show Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson:

Robinson: From your weekly column in Forbes Online, I’m quoting you to yourself, “I know Obama through our association at the University of Chicago Law School and through mutual friends in the neighborhood. We have had one or two serious, substantive discussions when I sent him e-mails in the early days of his senate term.” You’re the kind of person who gets to send e-mails to senators. “He always answered in a sensible and thoughtful fashion, and yet for the likely course of assessing his presidency, I don’t know him at all.” How can you say such a thing?

Epstein: Oh, it’s very easy. One of the things about Obama is that he has the world’s most perfect human disposition. He can sit in a room with you. He can listen to you. He can talk to you. And what happens is you really get the sense of a man who is in complete self control. That is the feature that makes him so hard to read. He is so much in self control that if he doesn’t want you to know in a conversation where he’s thinking, you can be there for 30 minutes and never be able to figure out what he believes. You can only have him question you about what you believe. He keeps all of his thoughts to himself.

Robinson: So he’s Leonard Nimoy. Playing Spock, the Vulcan.

Epstein: He basically knows how to keep that shield over his face. It’s almost a little bit unnerving to talk with him, because you want to say, “Well I agree with you,” as opposed to having another question to sort of formulate your position, so that he can understand it a little better.

The second half of it of course is that the speech is completely inconsistent with the political record in the sense that in the Senate he had the most left-wing voting record of anybody there, moreso than with people like Hilary Clinton. And that’s the way of course in which he moves.

Robinson: Charles Krauthammer described the dinner that Barack Obama attended at the home of George Will with a number of conservative journalists shortly before the inauguration. Krauthammer said that after Obama left, Will, Krauthammer, several others stayed around and talked about it for an hour or so, and they could not decide whether he was a centrist who wanted to throw bones to the left, or a leftist who wanted to throw bones to the center. Which is it, Richard?

Epstein: Well, first of all, the reason they couldn’t figure it out is the same thing that I mentioned before. The man has this sort of stone face experience, and it’s quite on purpose. Look, the answer I think is pretty clear. He’s a man on the left who will, if necessary, throw bones to the center. This is not a man from the center. Some of the appointments he has may sound centrist, but again, I just don’t believe in this as a serious indicator. David Axelrod is a high-cot politico. He has much more influence on anything that Obama does than somebody like Lawrence Summers, who might have more sense on these economic issues. How do I know that? Well, I’m certainly not there for the conversation, but when I hear Larry Summers announce how it is that collective bargaining, and organized labor improves productivity, I don’t treat that as the statement of an independent judgement. I treat that as a sense that the administration is really strongly pro-labor, and you have to sort of throw some bones in that particular direction as an independent advisor in order to lend a certain degree of gravitas to what’s happening.

Kurtz said the Midwest Academy also advocated an “inside, outside” strategy. He rephrased it as “good cop, bad cop.” Obama was, and still is, the “good cop.” Acorn was the “bad cop,” using thuggish tactics to pressure businesses into doing what they wanted, particularly the banks. He said Acorn was the organization that implemented the community organizing strategy they had for “building socialism from below” during the Reagan era when it appeared that trying to impose socialism from the top, constructing and using government institutions and policies to impose it, was not going to work in America. When Obama was in the Illinois state legislature, on the surface he played nice with people and business interests, not to cause alarm, but behind the scenes he was coordinating with Acorn.

The thing that really jumped out at me was he said that the MA had developed a strategy for “evolving” our society into socialism, using the work of a French socialist as a template, called “non-reformist reform.” He said that their first idea in this vein was to create a United States energy corporation, run by the government–a public option for energy–to “compete” with private energy companies. The key element of this strategy was it was thought to be politically palatable, using capitalist language of “competition,” to promote “fairness” in the energy market. However, it would be a “poison pill” by design. Kurtz said this was not a presumption on his part. The members of this organization openly talked about how the strategy was designed to drive private companies out of the market. Kurtz said they could do this since the government controls taxation, and regulation. I would add that in addition it could subsidize the price of energy through such an entity. The end game that was anticipated was the government would control the means of energy production for the entire country. This would transform the energy industry to socialism, and would be a significant step in transforming America into a socialist country. This strategy was the blueprint for the public option in health insurance. Kurtz said that the structure in the health insurance bill that was passed was just a path to “the public option” at a slower pace, since the public option was not politically palatable. He said that the current structure is designed to fail. It was designed to drive people out of their private health insurance plans and into the government’s health insurance exchange. So far the first half of that has been happening since last year. The health insurance exchanges are yet to come.

In one of the speeches Kurtz gave on his book he mentioned that the financial reform bill that was passed last year contained a provision that made it easier for environmentalists who are stockholders in corporations to gain seats on corporate boards, which will make it easier for the government to coordinate the means of production across many industries. I would add that even with a conservative administration, it would make it possible for these board members to advance socialist political agendas within corporate cultures.

Kurtz said that the Midwestern Academy’s overall strategy was to create polarizing situations, creating and using coalitions of workers and minorities against private industry, and we see this in the way that Obama has behaved as president. Secondly, he said that the people from the MA “thrive on crisis situations.” So when you think about the economic collapse of 2008, you can see how Obama exploited that very well in order to get elected. In fact Kurtz says that Acorn played a major role in creating the financial crisis, going all the way back to negotiations it engaged in with the Clinton Administration to set up the rules for mortgage lending.

In the speech Kurtz gave at Restoration Weekend, during the Q&A, a woman asked if he was using the term “socialist” strategically. She said, “This is communism.” He said that since he’s an anthropologist by training, he documented what these people said they are, not who he thinks they are, though he said that he considered the evidence he found to question in his book the claims some of these people made about what their true intentions were, suggesting that even though they called themselves democratic socialists, their true aims may have been more towards communism. He did not make a definitive claim to that effect, because he could not find evidence to show definitively that that was their true aim. This reserve he showed lent credibility to his thesis, in my opinion.

I guess what Kurtz says should not be a surprise. Even Charles Krauthammer has openly said on a few occasions that the agenda Obama has pursued amounts to democratic socialism, and that Obama really thinks the European model of socialism is better than what we have. I don’t think he says this to slur the President, but rather is just trying to give an accurate description of the evidence he’s seen. I think talking about this, though, is helpful in dealing with what we see coming out of the Democratic Party, because it enables us to have a more realistic discussion about what’s going on, and we can make the choice about whether we want to accept it or not.

Another financial crisis looms

December 22, 2010

“60 Minutes” recently did a piece on the financial situation of state and local governments. What we could be looking at is another financial meltdown in the U.S., caused by municipal government bond defaults. What this story suggests is that when this happens (Meredith Whitney, a financial analyst who was interviewed for this piece, said we will see 50-100+ significant municipal bond defaults in the next 12 months), it will have been caused by benefit and pension obligations that states are now legally bound to honor for state and municipal employee unions. The financial losses for bondholders will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, unless they are bailed out by the federal government (states don’t have the reserves to cover these losses, for the most part), and it’s looking like the federal government is not going to come to the rescue this time. It’s got its own financial problems. This will not only have implications for local services that are currently offered, it will also negatively affect the financial markets. It sounds like the financial sector (big banks) will be one of the sectors hit again, since they are significant holders of municipal bonds. This is advanced warning so that we can prepare for another financial collapse. I suggest we take heed.

Great analysis on local government

December 10, 2010

This is an excellent article on how our municipal governments have evolved over time, and how the incident in Bell, CA. was a kind of “canary in the coal mine” moment:

“How the Road to Bell Was Paved”, by William Voegeli, City Journal

I think this explains a lot about how Boulder city government and the local school board operate. I don’t know this for fact, but I don’t think we have the sort of overpaid salary problems that Bell had. That’s not the reason I’m recommending you read it. What’s important is the history that led to this incident, because it affects many, if not all cities across the country.

Obama acting unpresidential

December 8, 2010

Obama came out yesterday to announce that he had come to an agreement with the Republicans in congress to keep the Bush tax cuts on a temporary basis, to cut the payroll tax, to raise the estate tax (though less than he wanted), and to extend unemployment benefits for another year. I hate saying this, because I think it is good that the government not overtax, but I don’t see what’s responsible about this. I can see not raising taxes on small businesses, so as to not cause more damage than the Democrats have already done. Hopefully as the economy recovers they’ll hire more people. The top 1% I have no opinion about. I wouldn’t mind seeing their taxes raised.

Social Security and Medicare are not solvent at this point, and so cutting the payroll tax doesn’t help there. It will provide relief to the poor and middle class, though. I’m sure there are some people out there who will be thankful for that.

I haven’t liked the principle of the estate tax. This is money that has likely already been taxed once. If anything it should be taxed at the gift rate, because that’s essentially what it is.

Unemployment insurance has been funded more or less for two years now. I heard from one small business that their unemployment insurance fee had gone up 80% from two years ago. This insurance was designed to be temporary. It’s turning into another welfare program. It’s not that I want to see people struggle. Rather, I want people who need an income to work for it. That’s part of what will get this economy going again. Unfortunately there’s a lot of fraud in the unemployment insurance program, because the government doesn’t have the staff to check up on everybody. Secondly, I’ve been hearing stories about people who have had opportunities to work, but who haven’t because it’s not the job they want, or it pays less than what they’re getting in insurance. This needs to stop, but I guess it won’t.

I shouldn’t heap all of the blame on the President. The Republicans are in on this as well. I would be more approving if I saw something that gave me assurances that they were going to tackle the big programs that are eating the federal budget alive, as well.

I am worried about the government’s fiscal situation. Something has got to give. In January, when the new congress will come into session, ALL of the tax revenue for this fiscal year will already have been claimed by Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the debt. In fact, the tax revenue will not even cover all of that. Some money had to be borrowed this year just to pay Social Security benefits. That’s the first time that’s happened in 30 years. Every single piece of discretionary spending next year will have to be borrowed! The funding for the basic functions of government, funding for the military (our wars), education, the various departments of government, etc.–ALL OF IT–will have to be borrowed. This is serious. Either the government needs to figure out a way to raise revenue for its programs, or the programs need to be cut. This is one reason the decision to keep the Bush tax rates concerns me, because with the exception of trying to stop Obamacare (a move I don’t object to at all), I haven’t heard from the Republicans that they’re going to work on cutting Medicare, which is the next biggest fiscal train wreck coming down the pike. What also concerns me is that many of the Tea Party members, who are now a force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party, don’t seem to have a handle on what’s going on with the government’s budget. It seems like they’re satisfied with the oncoming train wreck, just getting there at a slower pace. They want Obamacare repealed (which is fine by me), but most of them don’t want Medicare cut at all. To me this is missing the point. Even if the Democrats had not passed the health care bill this year, and the “stimulus” and bailout bills last year, Medicare would still be a looming fiscal problem. Social Security is another looming problem. It’s not as big as the problem with Medicare, but there’s going to come a day of reckoning for it as well. It is not actuarially sound at this point.

What really got me steamed, though (this is the reason I named this post “Obama acting unpresidential”), was when Obama was asked why he agreed to this deal over the objections of his own left wing base. He said that you don’t want to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostages are going to get hurt. In case you need this spelled out, the “hostage takers” in this scenario are the Republicans (who, by the way, were elected by a majority of voters), and the “hostages” are “the American people.” Gee, that makes a lot of sense! We were stupid enough to elect criminals, or even terrorists to office in government, and now they’re holding us “hostage”! Wow, Mr. President. Now I see how little respect you have for the voters, and for the democratic process. Yes, I know you want to take care of us. We’re so daft that we can’t take care of ourselves, but being stupid we keep doing inept stuff like protesting the policies you’ve crafted to make sure we’re safe and sound, and we keep voting in people who vote against your caring graces, which prevents you from doting over us. You take pity on us, because we’re so F-ING STUPID TO YOU!!! Yes, well you know where you can shove your arrogance!

Mr. President, this is really beneath your office to say this about your opposition. I know this was red meat to your left wing base, who are crying in their wine glasses (or their lattes) over this, but it was beneath the dignity of the office you hold. Get a grip and do your job, which you were elected to do! I don’t care who’s president, or who’s in the congress. The president should not compare his (or her) opposition to criminals, or terrorists, unless of course they really deserve it (if they’ve broken the law). Some have said this doesn’t foster an atmosphere of bipartisanship. Well that’s an understatement! I know O’Reilly laughed this off last night, but I think it represented an international incident. He admitted for all to hear that he was readily willing to negotiate in a situation if hostage takers were demanding ransom, and were going to hurt their captives. Well I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Islamists take that cue and take some hostages to call him on it.

President Obama should apologize, both to the Republicans in congress, and to the American people. I am sure the Republicans will not demand this, as they’re glad to get this compromise, but I would sure like to see it, as I found this offensive.

A good article on what the recent election means

December 6, 2010

“Indebted and Unrepentant”, by Fred Siegel, City Journal