Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cruising the Web

So just about everything that Obama administration tried to tell us about his trade of Gitmo prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl was false. Tom Bevan writes,
So, far from the fairy tale of a hero’s homecoming that President Obama tried to spin for the American people that Saturday morning 10 months ago, this story doesn’t have a happy ending for America. In his effort to empty the Gitmo detainee facility, the president traded five hard-core terrorists for a man who now stands officially accused of abandoning his fellow soldiers. He very may well be court-martialed and spend a good deal of his life behind bars. It’s the Taliban 5 who, beginning in just a few short weeks, get to live happily ever after.
But then fairy tales are exactly what most actions on national security by this administration have been.

As the WSJ writes,
At the time of the release, Mr. Obama said he had a sacred obligation as Commander in Chief to do everything possible to bring the sergeant home. Maybe so, but the President made his real motives clear when he noted that the transfer was part of “the transition process of ending a war” and that he wanted to “whittle away” the number of Gitmo detainees. That, he told NBC, “is going to involve, on occasion, releasing folks who we may not trust but we can’t convict.”

This is the language of a President more concerned with pursuing his ideological fixations, and fulfilling a misbegotten campaign pledge, than winning a war or securing the country....

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan shows no sign of ending, while an emboldened Taliban can look forward to getting their old commanders back after their obligatory year in Qatar ends in June. Sgt. Bergdahl will now face a court martial, but we already know that the White House is guilty of deserting its obligations to U.S. security.

For example, do you remember when Yemen was being held up by the administration as an example of this administration's successful approach to fighting terrorism? Yeah, how has that turned out?

A. B. Stoddard, writing for The Hill, explains hw Israel has become a trap for Hillary.
As Hillary Clinton prepares to sell herself as the next leader of the free world, she will want to balance herself somewhere between the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. Congress on a nuclear arms deal with Iran, and between President Obama and Bibi in the spat that threatens the bipartisan nature of American-Israeli bond.

On the issue of Israel, there will be no sweet spot for the former secretary of State. Democrats can only hope she pulls off a safe landing.

When Clinton finally comes out from behind Twitter as a candidate for president, all questions are fair game: what the terms of a nuclear arms deal with Iran should be, whether Netanyahu should have spoken before Congress without the blessing of the White House, what should be done about those politically expedient comments Netanyahu made before his reelection. Is a peace deal possible under Netanyahu? Where does she stand on a Senate bill that would give Congress more input over the Iran talks? How should the U.S. tackle rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and how can the trust that has been lost between the United States and Israel since 2009 be restored? What say you, Madam Secretary?
Political opponents are always searching for wedge issues to split the other party's base. Israel will be just such an issue. She's going to have to defend her actions in the Middle East as Secretary of State and decide whether or not to separate herself from Obama's clearly anti-Israel stance.

Oh, good news. Joe Biden is playing the long game for 2016. He's still picturing himself in the Oval Office behind the big desk. And even if he doesn't run, he's going to be working to make sure the Democrats don't bash Obama in their efforts to win in 2016.
Even if Biden continues to stay on the sidelines of the presidential contest, advisers say he feels he has an important role to play in 2016 in shoring up the Obama administration’s legacy. By traveling to early states to tout the White House’s record on the economy, health care and the environment, Biden is planting a rhetorical marker for any candidates who might try to stray too far from Obama.

“I know that we’ve been a political heavy load to carry,” Biden told House Democrats at their retreat in Philadelphia in late January, before calling on those lawmakers to “double down” on Obama’s success. “Let’s not make any apologies for what we did. Explain why what we did worked … Stick with it. Own it.”
You got that, Hillary? Own it.

Mary Katharine Ham sums up a story from Reason about how all sorts of unauthorized people at the IRS can have access to your tax information with the headline: "IRS has less identity theft security than your average Etsy shop."

George Will looks at the arguments by John Tammy in his new book, Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You about Economics, concerning how wealthy entrepreneurs are a sign of economic health for a country instead of the terrible problem that liberals want to make it. Though, of course, they don't disdain liberal billionaires, just the conservative ones.
When John D. Rockefeller began selling kerosene in 1870, he had approximately 4% of the market. By 1890, he had 85%. Did he use this market dominance to gouge consumers?

Kerosene prices fell from 30 cents a gallon in 1869 to 6 cents in 1897. And in the process of being branded a menacing monopoly, Rockefeller's Standard Oil made gasoline so cheap that Ford found a mass market for Model T's.

Monopoly profits are social blessings when they "signal to the ambitious the wealth they can earn by entering previously unknown markets." So "when the wealth gap widens, the lifestyle gap shrinks."

Hence, "income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful" because "it provides the incentive for creative people to gamble on new ideas, and it turns luxuries into common goods." Since 2000, the price of a 50-inch plasma TV has fallen from $20,000 to $550.
Henry Ford doubled employees' basic wage in 1914, supposedly to enable them to buy Fords.
Actually, he did it because in 1913 annual worker turnover was 370%. He lowered labor costs by reducing turnover and the expense of constantly training new hires.

All these thoughts are from John Tamny, a one-man antidote to economic obfuscation and mystification.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who called economics "the dismal science," never read Tamny, a Forbes editor, editor of RealClearMarkets, and now author of the cheerful, mind-opening book, "Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics."

In the early 1970s, when the Rolling Stones were coining money and Britain's top tax rate was 83%, Keith Richards, lead guitarist and social philosopher, said: "That's the same as being told to leave the country."

The Stones decamped to France, leaving Britain, Tamny notes, to collect 83% of nothing....

Is it regrettable that Americans are not doing the assembly jobs for which Chinese are paid the "latte wage"?

Actually, Americans incessantly "outsource" here at home by, for example, having Iowans grow their corn and dentists take care of their teeth, jobs at which Iowans and dentists excel and the rest of us do not.

LeBron James could be an adequate NFL tight end, but why subtract time from being a superb basketball player? The lesson, says Tamny, is that individuals — and nations — should do what they do better than others, and let others do other things.

Millions of jobs, he says, would be created if we banned computers, ATMs and tractors. The mechanization of agriculture destroyed millions of jobs performed with hoes and scythes. Was Cyrus McCormick a curse?

The best way to (in Barack Obama's 2008 words to Joe the Plumber) "spread the wealth around," is, Tamny argues, "to leave it in the hands of the wealthy." Personal consumption absorbs a small portion of their money and the remainder is not idle. It is invested by them, using the skill that earned it. Will it be more beneficially employed by the political class of a confiscatory government?
Ah, if only such common sense lessons were taught to students rather than all the whining and moaning about income inequality.

Max Boot describes the Obama efforts to realign the Middle East to his desired specifications.
Data point No. 1: President Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 and is preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, even while keeping a few more troops there this year and next than originally planned.

Point No. 2: The Obama administration keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit, while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges.

Point No. 3: Mr. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly “racist” campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now “re-assess options,” code words for allowing the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state over Israeli objections.

Taken together, these facts suggest that Mr. Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation. The president is pulling America back from the leading military role it has played in the Middle East since 1979, the year the Iranian hostage crisis began and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He is trying to transform Iran from an enemy to a friend. He is diminishing the alliance with Israel, to lows not seen since the 1960s.

Call it the Obama Doctrine: The U.S. puts down the burden, and Iran picks up the slack.
Imagine if Obama had campaigned honestly on that platform.

Thomas Pyle outlines how the renewable-fuel standards mandating ethanol is "one of the worst examples of corporate welfare in America."
When Congress enacted the RFS in 2005, its backers argued it would combat America’s dependence on foreign oil. Today, thanks to huge increases in domestic oil production, the U.S. is significantly more energy independent. In 2005, domestic oil accounted for 40% of total U.S. oil consumption. Now it constitutes three-quarters.

Unfortunately, the mandate has created a number of new problems thanks to its exceptionally poor design. The standard requires refiners to blend volumes—rather than percentages—of biofuels into gasoline based on fuel supplies and the EPA’s annual targets. So when gasoline consumption drops, refiners must increase the percentage of biofuels in the blend.

This is happening now: Gasoline consumption peaked in 2007 and has since dropped 6%. At today’s reduced consumption levels, complying with the renewable-fuel standard would require blending gasoline that contains more than 10% ethanol. That is higher than most cars are certified to use, according to AAA, and it would wreck lawn mowers, weed eaters, boats and motorcycles. The only reprieve has been bureaucratic ineptness at the EPA, which has failed to enforce the mandate and set thresholds for two years in a row.

At the same time, the RFS increases fuel prices. According to a 2014 report by the Congressional Budget Office, the mandate could raise gasoline prices by up to 27 cents between now and 2017. Moreover, ethanol is less energy dense than gasoline, which means that fuel economy drops—and drivers must fill up the tank more often—as ethanol content rises.

The renewable-fuel standard also makes it harder for families to put food on the table. Thanks to the mandate, a large and growing percentage of corn, soybeans and other crops is now used in biofuels production rather than for human consumption. Consider corn: In 2005, 15% of the nation’s corn harvest was used for fuel; today it is 40%. This makes corn more expensive. A 2012 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the RFS raises costs for chain restaurants by $3.2 billion a year. Those costs are passed on to families in higher prices.

Even the national environmental lobby is now expressing concerns. The World Resources Institute recently found that a gallon of ethanol—throughout its journey from stalk to pipe—emits more carbon dioxide than oil, which “undercuts efforts to combat climate change.”
So it doesn't achieve its stated purpose and has all sorts of pernicious unintended consequences. Rather like Obamacare.

And here is another effort by the Obama administration to undermine Israel.
n a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel's nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel's nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu's March 3 address in Congress, in which he warned against the dangers of Iran's nuclear program and how the deal being formed on that program leaves the Islamic regime with nuclear breakout capabilities.

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel's sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.
So is it a coincidence that one of the few FOIA requests on foreign affairs that the administration has respected was about Israel and came out just before the Israeli election?