Wednesday, May 27, 2009

America's Broke, So How About Some Cars and Gov't. Health Care?

US revenues are down $138 billion (about 34 percent) from April a year ago, reports USA Today.

The UK Daily Telegraph reports that China has expressed concern about recent purchases by the Treasury of US bonds. The story, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, reports that the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Mr. Richard Fisher, was questioned repeatedly by Chinese officials about the US government's intentions to "'. . .monetise the actions of our legislature'" -- essentially, whether it was going to just print money.
Mr. Fisher is, according to Mr. Evans-Pritchard's article, "running a fervent campaign to alert Americans to the 'very big hole' in unfunded pension and health-care liabilities" to the tune of $99 trillion.
When do we get Obama care for everybody? You know that's coming, right? If China doesn't pay for that, you will. . . What utter good sense. The treasury's broke, the lenders are balking, and Obama wants health care "reform" and he's putting the government deeper into the auto business.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Freedom Then, and Now

Here's something to think on:

Until August 1914, a sensible law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. . .

* * *

Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale. . .or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. . .Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.

(A.J.P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, (Ed. Sir. George Clark, Oxford Univ. Press, paperback, 1992) at 1.

Now, just who lives, or lived, in what the Founders of our republic might have called a free country? Pre-1914 Britons in a limited monarchy where relatively few people could vote; or modern Americans in our 2009 land of universal suffrage, civil rights for every hyphen-group imagined or imaginable, global warming legislation, border controls, passports, v-chips, the internet, drinking age regulations, prolix statutes and regulations on jaywalking, the layout of parking lots, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the FBI, CIA and the IRS?
Food for thought.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.

Inscription, British War Memorial, Kohima, India. (attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds, Times Literary Supplement [London], 4 July 1918).

For a moment, pause in your enjoyment of a day off of work, spent with your families, and remember our soldiers, sailors and aviators, serving, struggle and carrying the flag for us, in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the world. Particularly keep their families in your thoughts and prayers. Remember the wounded who are reminded of their service to us daily. Never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice; who gave all their tomorrows, for all our todays.
God be with them, with you, and with our country, today and every day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Watch Obama TV, Keep Your Head Down. . .

As if the regular TV media were not enough, Obama's now got his own Ministry of Propaganda -- Obama TV, complete with its own logo.
Meanwhile, more and more people are afraid to speak up when they disagree with this administration. Peter Robinson writes in Forbes about Clifford Asness, who runs "an approximately $20 billion dollar money management firm" who is fearful of criticizing President Obama's economic policies in writing: "It's really a bad idea to speak out" Mr. Asness wrote. "Angering the president is a mistake."
Robinson's piece goes on to supply several other all tending to show that opposing the administration is bad for business, and that there's real fear of reprisal in the future:
. . .Lately, a professor explained, students and faculty had begun quietly approaching him. "Everything's on the hush-hush," said the professor, a senior member of the faculty. "But they're looking for support. . ."
What did those who had approached him fear?
"They're afraid for their careers," the professor said, now serious. "These are young people I'm talking about. they don't want to become known as opponents of this administration. They [sic] way things are going, they figure, this new pattern we're seeing, with the government ordering businesspeople around, could become a permanent way of life."
So far, so fast. Not even five months into this administration. Obama the dictator is no longer such a joke.

Obama's Outrageous Speech

I hope to have a fuller, more reasoned reaction, soon, to President Obama's absolutely outrageous speech yesterday, at the National Archives Museum. For the moment, I want to think more on what he said, on what Vice-President Cheney said; and on what I'm going to say, and read everything again. But the explosion will come in due course.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama's Auto Fiat

The subhead of a Wall Street Journal piece on President Obama's auto-fuel efficiency increase decree yesterday neatly sums up the whole thing, and further comment by El Jefe is mostly superfluous:
Bankrupt companies making 39 mpg autos. Are we nuts?
No, but courtesy of the voters, the nuts are in charge for the moment. Elections have consequences, and two of them are a Speaker of the House with a CIA persecution complex who is upset she can't have President Bush's head on a platter; and beyond-insane fiats from the O-God on auto fuel efficiency (mostly to appease the global warming cult) while the whole domestic automobile industry is dying.
But the nuts won, so they get to do damage for awhile. The only real issue before the house is how much of the country can they wreck till the adults are in charge again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ghost Fleet, Storm Warning. . .

The first page of yesterday’s New York Times business section has a story by Keith Bradsher on a vast ghost fleet of cargo vessels, which are now congregating in the Straits of Malacca, by Singapore and Malaysia, across from Indonesia.

The Times article, citing a research department of Lloyds, reports some 735 vessels now sitting idle there. Truly an immense fleet: some of these vessels displace almost 300,000 tons. For comparison purposes, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier displaces approximately 100,000 tons at full load. “To go out in a small boat along Singapore’s coast now is to feel like a mouse tiptoeing through an endless heard of slumbering elephants,” Mr. Bradsher writes. No doubt the Ghost Fleet is truly awesome to look at, but it is also terrifying, as it is a visible symptom of the utter collapse of world trade.

The normal business of this cargo fleet is the carriage of raw materials from all over the world to the factories of Asia (particularly China). The ships then turn right round, and then move the produce of all these factories to the markets of Europe and North America.

But the ships – each with crews, maintenance expenses, berthing contracts, fueling and victualling contracts, insurance policies and miles of ledgers and lists of other associated expenses – are all just sitting. America and Europe are not buying right now. There is no need for raw materials at the factories, no cargo moving to the docks. Chinese exports, reports the Times, fell 22.8 percent in April from the same period in 2008. Philippine exports fell 30.9 percent in March from the same period a year ago.

Think on those idle ships, their crews, the factories and business they serve, and all affected by the collapse of that trade. Contracts are going unfulfilled, wages are being stretched and unpaid, millions of people have lost, or are losing, their livelihoods – maybe (eventually) including us both, dear reader. That’s not the worst of it, either: the ramifications of those idle ships and shops haven’t even begun to work through the world nervous system.

The Malacca Ghost Fleet is more than economic disaster for millions of people – it’s going to be a political nightmare of the first order, as the destituted demand that their leaders produce quick solutions and easy answers – neither of which will be forthcoming. The tide of fear and populist rage that’s building is going to be terrible, likely sweeping away governments and bringing chaos all over the globe. The Ghost Fleet is warning us that a tsunami is coming.

Monday, May 11, 2009

McKiernan Replaced in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has, according to the Associated Press, decided to replace General David McKiernan, who is double-hatted as both the US commander in Afghanistan, and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. General McKiernan's replacement is to be Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, presently in the Pentagon as Director of the Joint Staff.
The Associated Press story states that Secretary Gates asked General McKiernan to resign his post and that this "probably" ends his career.
I am sorry to read this, I happen to think that General McKiernan (commander of the US 3rd Army, which was US Central Command's main ground component during the Second Gulf War [ARCENT] march to Baghdad) -- never got the promotion, recognition and preferment that should have been his due.
During the planning phase of the war in Iraq, General McKiernan consistently (and correctly) demanded more troops than Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and his boss (General Tommy Franks) wanted to allocate; and he was the first senior commander to recognize that the Fedayeen Saddam (and not the Republican Guard) were the real locus of military opposition. Despite the lack of cooperation or even understanding from seniors higher up on the command chain, General McKiernan worked with what he had, solved his problems and still got the Army to Baghdad faster than the Iraqis thought remotely possible.
When the war yielded to pacification operations, McKiernan was (in my opinion) wrongfully passed over as Franks' successor to the command in Iraq in favor of the much more junior and recently promoted Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez.
It will be interesting to see what prompted Secretary Gates to relieve General McKiernan so publicly. My bet would be that McKiernan's side of the story will be both hard to come by, and very well-reasoned. The US effort in Afghanistan is at best stalled, at worst in serious trouble, but this is hardly General McKiernan's fault: the General has, to the best of his considerable ability, been running a poorly-funded war in a land-locked country with few roads; populated by people who hate foreigners and foreign soldiers; with hostiles on virtually every border. The reinforcements McKiernan and others have been crying for are now in the pipeline. Whether more troops will actually make a difference, and whether this war is at all winnable, I beg leave to doubt.
In any case, General McKiernan's relief really smells, and for the second time in his long and decorated service to the United States, it appears that General McKiernan has been ill-used. General McKiernan has no reason to envy the incoming General McChrystal custody of the Afghanistan tar-baby, but this is a sad end to the career of a man who, based on the quality of his service, probably should have been Chief of Staff of the Army.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fifth of May

Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, first American in Space, in his capsule "Freedom 7 " during a test shortly prior to his flight on Mercury-Redstone 3, 5 May 1961 (NASA[KSC] Image No. 61-10515).
All kinds of interesting historical events, today.On this day in 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space when Mercury-Redstone 3 blasted-off from Cape Canaveral's Pad 5 and took Astronaut Shepard and his capsule Freedom 7 into space. Freedom 7 did not orbit, only going up, and then right back down (a "suborbital" flight), and he was only up for 16 minutes.
After moon landings and space shuttles, it doesn't sound like much now, but if you have ever seen a real Mercury capsule (eleven and a half feet wide, just over six feet in diameter), you would understand how absolutely brave a stunt it really was to climb into this thing (actually, you pretty much wore it, you didn't get in it) and sit quietly on the pad while the smart boys fired up a rocket as likely to crash or explode as to fly.
Rear-Admiral Shepard, who later played golf on the Moon commanding Apollo 14, died in 1998. I will never forget, when I was about 16, having the honor to shake the man's hand and talk with him briefly.
On this day in 1883, the first Earl Wavell, or to give him his full titles, Archibald Percival Wavell, Field Marshal, Earl Wavell, Viscount Wavell, Viscount Keren of Eritrea and Winchester, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, CMG, MC, PC -- was born in Colchester, England. Colchester, the oldest Roman town in Britain, seems an appropriate place of nativity for such a distinguished soldier, of a family of soldiers. The future Lord Wavell was not long in Britain, however: he spent most of his youth in India. Wavell's father, like his son and grandson, was a career soldier in the British Army, the father retiring with the rank of Major General.
After a glittering British Army career in the First World War and between the wars, Wavell was given command of all British forces in the Middle East early in World War II. Wavell was given an almost impossibly huge task (containing the Vichy French, beating the Italians and later Rommel, and keeping the Arabs quiet) -- with far too few forces.
Wavell's problems were compounded by excessive political interference, particularly by Winston Churchill. In early 1941 Wavell's forces were winning in Libya and mopping-up the Italian East Africa colony. However, in February 1941, Wavell was ordered by London (that is, Churchill) to halt his advance from Egypt into Italian Libya (Wavell was beating the Italians), and send his best forces off to Greece to fight Germans and Italians. Wavell protested, and the British intervention in Greece proved, as Wavell had predicted, a complete disaster.
The intervention in Greece, with the diversion of effort it occasioned, and the loss of much of the intervention force and its heavy equipment in Greece and Crete, gave the Italians and Germans a breathing space in Libya, and an German general named Rommel his opening. Wavell's efforts to stop Rommel were unsuccessful, although he was able to keep Iraq in the British orbit by successfully suppressing pro-German nationalist rebels (the Anglo-Iraq War), as well as ending Vichy French control of Syria (Operation Exporter).
Wavell was eventually shunted off to Asia, being made the British commander-in-chief there, just in time for Japanese entry into World War II. Again, Wavell was asked to do much too much with far too little, and he made as good a job of it as could be expected, finishing his career as a Field Marshal, and Viceroy of India, and the king creating him Earl Wavell in 1947. Upon Wavell's death on 24 May 1950, all his titles passed, of course, to his only son, another Archibald, another soldier. Major Lord Wavell was killed in action in 1953 in Kenya (fighting the Mau-Mau), and with the son's death, the titles became extinct.
Today is also the anniversary of the death in 1821 of French Emperor Napoléon I, while in British captivity on St. Helena in the South Atlantic. "To live defeated is to die every day" the Emperor said, during this bitter period of his life, and, passing his days at rat-infested Longwood house, Napoléon had ample time to ponder the subject. But Napoléon never gave up or accepted defeat lying down: as a captive exile he fought and won his last (political) battle for control of the popular imagination. Aided by the petty humiliations of his stupid and unimaginative British jailer, the Emperor constructed a political and historical narrative of his life (which was even a little bit true) describing a great man brought low by pygmies. The "Napoleonic legend" helped his nephew become Emperor Napoléon III.
Speaking of Emperor Napoléon III, on this day in 1862, his forces in Mexico (there to collect debts and carve out a Mexican Empire) suffered a check at the Battle of Puebla, on the road to Mexico city, in 1862. General-de-Division Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez, with his tough little army of line infantry; Chasseurs a Pied; Zouaves; mounted Chasseurs d'Afrique; sailors with rifles; and the Troupes de Marine -- the French Marines -- tried to overrun General Ignacio Zaragoza's dug-in Mexican Army regulars and local militia straight off the march, but soon learned that fighting even raw or half-trained troops in buildings and behind the walls and trenches of both regular and extemporized fortifications was quite different from catching them in the open, where French fire discipline and training would have told to best advantage.
Count de Lorencez possibly deserves a marginally better press than he gets. True, he rushed into a fight after only slapdash reconnaissance and after ignoring advice from friendly Mexicans. But he had reasons for haste: he was trying to collapse resistance to the French and the Mexican faction they supported with a quick blow to the Mexican forces around Puebla. Most importantly, Count de Lorencez knew he had with him some really splendid troops, which had routed a similar Mexican force with ease on 28 April at Aculzingo. However, the quality of his own force led him to discount that of his Mexican opponents: many of whom (even the militia) were veterans of Mexico's most recent civil conflict and were fighting on their home ground.
In any case, the Mexicans repulsed the French attack, and de Lorencez fell back out of range. The French waited in their own positions for two days, hoping to draw a Mexican attack on their own positions: and when it did not come, they fell back on Orizaba to await reinforcements, allowing the Mexicans to claim the victory.
Count de Lorencez would not be the first general confronted, without realizing it, with a politico-military situation that was quite beyond him. Possibly my Francophile side is showing. In any case, the anniversary of the Puebla engagement is celebrated in parts of Mexico, and among Mexicans in the United States as Cinco de Mayo.