Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Technology and Benghazi

David Ignatius says in regard to the failure to give air support to the defenders of the Benghazi Consulate and CIA annes that "it may indeed have been wise not to bomb targets in Libya that night."

Maybe someone should explain to David Ignatius (and President Obama) that they have these things called laser guided bombs and laser targeting devices. Tyrone Woods died with one in his hand, fixed on the mortar that killed him, waiting for the help that never came.

He continues, "U.S. officials needed better intelligence. That’s the toughest problem to address, but the most important." No. They need more guts. And it is the simplest problem to address. Plan on addressing it next Tuesday. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ok, once and for all, it is not whether or not President Obama said the word, "terror," it is whether he admitted that it was a pre-planned attack or a protest over over a you tube video. Both of these could be called an act of "terror," though there is a tendency to use the word to apply more the former. The fact is that the Obama administration has lied. They tried for almost two weeks to tell a story of a demonstration getting out of hand when in fact an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group planned an attack to coincide with the anniversary of their greatest victory and in retaliation for the drone attacks that have, to President Obama's credit, have taken out many of the top leaders of al Qaeda.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You don't have to believe in conspiracy theories to disbelieve the September jobs report. 
An economist's defense of pirates--well, who else would defend pirates. I mean, if there were a defense of pirates it would be the economists that find it. But the interesting thing is that the defense if not economic but political. Professor Leeson finds that pirates governed themselves democratically in a world ruled by absolute monarchies. Who knew? 
The Romer's (remember that Christina Romer was the head of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors) have a paper out that shows much higher wealth destroying, "contractionary" effects for tax increases than economists had previously estimated. Most of the effect comes from declines in investment. This is particularly important both because it is a particularly good paper by leading economists and because it is an "admission against interest," in other words it is an argument that supports the policy preferences of the right though it comes from researchers on the left.

The debate about higher taxes on the rich should not be about whether we can raise more tax revenues by lowering tax rates so much as whether we will be a wealthier society by lowering tax rates.

Berkeley Economist Christina Romer

The Charity of the Mandarins

Here is a link to an analysis of Romney's income, taxes and charitable giving. It has been widely remarked that Romney's tax rate was just under 15%, a fact which is supposed to show how greedy and selfish Romney is. But part of the reason that his taxes were so low is that he gave away so much of his income. If you combine taxes and charitable giving the Romneys gave away over half their income to others. Of course, in the eyes of the Mandarinate (our governing class, that is) the 30% given to charity doesn't count. It is only charity if the governing class gets to decide how the money is spent. 


I frankly don't care much for these demands for apologies that are continually being batted about in political discourse, but there does seem to be one due Governor Romney for the three days of infamy to which he was subjected over his criticism of the Cairo Embassy's tweets the night of September 11.

You will recall that just before midnight on that same night, Romney called these apologies, issued by our embassy in Cario both before and after the protests and attacks sparked by the now infamous youtube clips, outrageous. (A good summary of the facts can be found here) Subsequently, an attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi was launched, killing our ambassador and three other Americans (the only three Americans) who were guarding him. As it appeared that the Benghazi attacks were part of the same wave of protests that had begun in Cairo, Egypt, Romney was then criticized for attacking the administration in the midst of a crisis and making political hay out of a tragedy. He was, it was said, being an opportunist.

Later the next day the Administration distanced itself from the Embassy's tweets, to some degree at least vindicating Romney's earlier criticism of the same. But given the chance to say that he would not have made the criticism had he known of the Benghazi attacks Romney doubled down, saying that his criticisms of the Cario Embassy's 'appeasement' was still valid. Romney's comments and his refusal to withdraw them was the main political focus of the media for the next few days. The consensus was that Romney had hurt himself by trying to exploit a national tragedy before all the facts were in and had shown himself to be a political opportunist.

However, it now seems that Romney was right. The two events were separate, the Benghazi attack having been 1) a coordinated and planned attack in retaliation for the US drone attacks on al Qaeda commanders in the Somali and Pakistan, and 2) launched by an al Qaeda affiliated group in Libya. If the Benghazi attack was, as the administration after almost two weeks of denying it now admits, unrelated to the Cairo protests against the YouTube video there is no reason that Romney should be restrained in his criticism of the Embassy's tweets. It will indeed strike many Americans as outrageous that a mob should attack the sovereign territory of the United States, burning our flag and hoisting in its place a black flag reminiscent of al Qaeda's banner, and that the first reaction of our nation's representatives in that country should be not to express outrage, but to apologize that one of our citizens may have offended them.

But even more serious questions are raised by the Administration's efforts to pass the whole incident off as being a reaction to a YouTube video that got out of hand. Since it has become clear that the attacks were planned terrorist assaults the administration has explained their repeated assertions that the cartoons were to blame as being the result of relying on early, inaccurate reports. The Administration claims to have been mislead by reports from the State Department and the intelligence community. However, both the Career officials at the State Department and the career intelligence officers involved have broken with the administration, claiming that they knew either from the beginning or at the latest within 24 hours that the Benghazi attacks were terrorism and were unrelated to the YouTube videos. These denials have come not just in the form of press leaks but in sworn testimony before televised Congressional hearings.

Though the administration has finally owned that the attacks were terrorism it still insists that they were misled, most recently restating that position through the Vice President during the Vice Presidential Debates. The combination of such high profile back-pedaling on a story and finger pointing has made the story one that can no longer be ignored by the press--usually so serviceable to the Obama administration. Very serious questions are raised.

There are first, what would appear to be simple management questions. Why were the requests for more security and the concerns of the Ambassador and his staff--made so painfully public in their own writings recovered from the site of their murders--refused? There is also the simple question of public integrity: why would the administration say something that they knew to be untrue?

But there is a larger question that the whole incident raises about the Obama administration's foreign policy. The Obama administration premised their foreign policy reset on the notion that President Obama would, by presenting a kinder and more understanding face to the Muslim world and ending or at least winding down our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, make us more liked there and, thus, more secure. The administration's focus on destroying al Qaeda through drone strikes free of the distractions of neo-con nation building, democracy spreading fantasies would destroy the terrorists and, thus, keep us safer. It does not appear to have worked out that way.

It is bad enough that our embassies across the Middle East are in flames on the anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center, and that the US is less well-liked in the Muslim world than when Obama took office. One could maintain that it was a minor set back, that is takes time for perceptions to change. But what about the Benghazi attack?

The Benghazi terrorist attack shows that fighting from off-shore with unmanned drones is not enough to defeat al Qaeda. It is a real blow to the Obama administration's narrative of itself and its policies. That is why the administration kept with the YouTube-did-it story. Because the resurgence of al Qaeda in many of the very places where we assisted in bringing down a dictator is a direct challenge to the entire foreign policy of the administration.

It is not just that the administration was poor at managing by not giving enough security to the Benghazi mission, it was that they were deluded by their own ideology. They thought that the presence of American security personell would be aggravating to the Libyans. They thought of US military personell as part of the problem. Much like the generals in the early part of the Iraq war thought that minimizing the visibility of our soldiers was key to gaining the trust and not exciting the hatred of the Iraqis, the administration here thought that the fewer soldiers and security personell that were visible the safer the mission would be. They pushed the YouTube story because is was the only one that saved their foreign policy from blame. The story made the attack something beyond their control, something that they could not have anticipated, something unrelated to the warnings they had received repeatedly about the danger of al Qaeda and other radical groups taking over territory and launching attacks against us in Libya.

And what of the charge of political opportunism? If Romney calling out a bad embassy tweet is opportunism in the middle of the night and not retracting his criticism after the death of an ambassador, what are we to say of an entire administration, from the Secretary of State, to our Ambassador to the UN to the President himself telling the United Nations General Assembly that of his personal friend, Ambassador Chris Sullivan, was due to protests against a YouTube video? How is that for using tragedy for political gain? How is that for political opportunism.

It is not just Mitt Romney, or even our country, that is owed an apology. It is the family of Chris Sullivan and the three other Americans who died trying to protect his life. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Here is a post from Megan McArdle about the IPAB. In the piece, she explains why the administration's argument that the board will not ration services does not make economic sense. The board will determine what the government will agree to pay for certain services. If the board says it will not pay for service the administration argues that the services and being rationed, is simply "cutting payments to providers." But to imagine that providers will go on providing the same service while getting paid less is hard to believe. Indeed, if the board is going to create serious cost savings, it will have to stop providing payment for certain services altogether. To say that your doctors breach provided test or treatment as long as he doesn't desire to be paid for is surely tantamount to saying that the treatment will no longer be provided. And that is surely why the board does not go into effect until after the election.

It reminds me of a shark, the president made during the first debate. He set of Romney's plan to pay for lowering the rates by cutting loopholes that it was a bit of a swindle. Romney is telling you about the good news and not telling you the bad news. He asked – and I'm paraphrasing here – why doesn't he tell you the details? Why are they keeping all the stuff secretive so wonderful?

We might say the same thing about Obama. Why do so many of the provisions of his healthcare not kick in until after the election? Is it because these provisions are so wonderful? IF THE INDEPENDENT PAYMENT ADVISORY BOARD is so wonderful why not put into effect before the election?
From Megan McArdle's analysis of the vice president debates:

"People will be much more scared of us than they are of you" might have worked in 2004.  But by 2012, I think the electorate is pretty tired of the "peace through strength" approach.' 

Unfortunately, what the electorate is in the mood for and what the world requires are not always the same thing.