Posts Tagged ‘Republican’

War Monger, not Isolationist

June 27, 2011


The GOP’s War Powers Opportunism

Republicans abandon principle in a rush to score political points on the president.


Ms. Strassel,

First, I admire, occasionally greatly so and often agree with your writings and your appearances on WSJ Reports. Unlike many of your professional brethren you seem to think as well as you write. Not so much this time. In taking shots at Republicans who now oppose the Afghan and Iraq actions you join the great punditocracy in demanding party loyalty over good sense. I am a life-long Republican who frequently re-evaluates my association with that party over the Democrats or being independent. No one who knows me would dare suggest however, that I am a moderate.

Quite the opposite. I am an ardent, non-religious, fiscal conservative, social libertarian, war mongering globalist to throw out a few bumper sticker labels. My point is that just being a “Republican” ought not to require that I stifle my good sense in favor of a party line that fits on a bumper sticker. Why do you favor knee jerk Republicanism aka party loyalty over good sense? In fact, were I to ever rise to elected office my good sense would be the only anchor in a sea of contradictory demands. You, and others, are entitled of course to dispute my claim of “good sense”.

What I want to relate to you (Charles Krauthammer and Steve Hayes as well) is the consequences of the demand for knee jerk Republicanism in opposition to what you claim is a new form of isolationism. “They’ve
highlighted their own divisions and given voters reason to question whether the party is throwing over principle in favor of political opportunism or, more worrisome, a new form of GOP isolationism.”
Is it high principle to favor an unjustly constricted military operation whose functional objective is merely the political delay of an enemy at the great cost of soldier’s lives and national treasure? Or is it high principle to oppose this failed political policy that masquerades as a military intervention? The United States holds claim as the world’s greatest military power. Yet in 10 years this great nation cannot defeat, militarily or politically, a two-bit near stone age group of rag tag fighters and corrupt leaders. Why not?

I was once a volunteer soldier, a combat medic in Vietnam (173rd Airborne Brigade Oct 68-69). I served with pride, as much courage as I could muster yet often in considerable fear. But I felt a great desire to serve my country. For six months I was a proud soldier though I knew the sound of bullets whistling past my ear and the sight of blood on a comrades chest. During this time my unit was patrolling the Central Highlands, “Two Corp” it was called. We were in a “free fire zone” meaning, basically shoot first ask questions later. My captain developed a successful tactic that enabled us, at some cost, to kill a number of our enemy with few casualties on our side. This was war. Boring, unpleasant, with surprising camaraderie and sense of pride amongst fear, death and despair.

Then we were shifted to a populated coastal region. This is the birthplace of my anger. This was the model for contemporary military (in)action. This is why I am part of that Republican wing now in opposition not only to Afghanistan but Iraq, Libya and anywhere else in the world that politicians crave to send our troops for mere political posturing. In that populated costal area we were essentially ordered not to hurt anyone unless they were literally about to kill us. We could not call in air strikes, no napalm, no helicopter gunships, no C-130 war ships, no artillery. The most powerful military nation on earth tied its soldiers hands and ordered them to die. We went from a “free fire zone” to a “free to die zone”.

And why? So the media wouldn’t be able to display pictures of dead women and children. That is a good thing isn’t it? Does any soldier want to kill women and children? Except for the occasional psychopath no they most decidedly do not. I had to counsel one soldier who happened upon two women on a trail. They ran from him. He shouted at them to stop, they ran, he shot, they died. He was genuinely upset. I told him he did the right thing. Trust me Ms. Strassel, a woman can put a trigger, throw a hand grenade or set a booby trap just as easily as a man. She can also carry supplies, dress wounds and gather intelligence just as a man.

And, for the record, so can a child. While in this “free to die zone” I witnessed a child, a young boy maybe 12 or 13 walk across a rice paddy heading directly towards a small clump of Palm trees. I was on a hill across a road looking at the paddy. The boy entered that clump. Given the isolated location of those Palm trees in the paddy it was clear the boy intentionally entered the clump. I still remember thinking he must have wanted to go to the bathroom and was merely looking for a private place to do so. But that was curious since they normally just used the rice paddy as their toilet. Then the clump of trees exploded. The boy was killed as the booby trap exploded in his hands. In one instant I understood more clearly than any instruction could provide that women and children are as much the enemy as a soldier in uniform. I believe that booby trap was destined for my unit and would have been placed on one of our regular patrol routes.

Yet that is not the most extreme instance of political cowardice that I suffered. It was mid-April 1969 when we were ordered to go look for what military intelligence described as a “large force of NVA” (North Vietnamese Army). The captain, the same man with the successful tactics in the Central Highlands called the company together to give us our orders. With the strained look of suppressed anger he ordered us, that is the right word, a direct order, not to return fire unless we could see the individual firing at us. I actually could not believe this order was accurate and I asked a follow up question. “Captain, what if someone who is in a hutch pops up in a window, fires off a few rounds and ducks back down? Can we fire into the hutch then?”. His answer was singularly blunt: “NO”. We were ordered not to return fire unless we can literally see the person shooting at us.

And we went on that late afternoon patrol looking for a “large force of NVA”. If we found them we would engage them in battle. Sort of. If we could see the person shooting at us. We were not permitted to call in Air Strikes even if we spotted this large force. No artillery either. Might hurt someone. Maybe the AP would take a picture. No mortars either of course. So off we went. Shots rang out. Sniper. Everyone hits the dirt, waits for a further attack. Nothing happens. The captain leads us off in the direction of the sniper. More shots. More dirt. No one can return fire of course. Get up, move out. Chase the bastards they must be a small patrol from that NVA force. Still again more shots. It’s getting dark now. Can’t see anyone even if they are shooting at us. Could see the muzzle blast. Does that count? Get up, go after them.

BOOM! One of our 155mm artillery shells had been set as a booby trap. The snipers knew we were on patrol for a NVA force. They fired at us to get us to chase them. They lead us right into the booby trap. It was dark. The trip wire had been placed from the middle of the trail across to one side. They hoped (and were right) that the first few soldiers might miss the wire. Eventually someone would go on the deadly side and it worked. For them. Six South Vietnamese soldiers who were working with us died immediately. Another six or so US soldiers also died immediately. In the dark, with one booby trap already exploded and having been shot at all evening I had a job to do.

I grabbed my emergency kit and … turned on my flashlight. Nothing like being a bright target on a dark night to focus the mind. But there were another 6-8 soldiers wounded, including my captain. I gave morphine to the friend who was writhing in agony from two badly broken legs and moved towards the front of the line. I stepped on a log and shined my light on it so as to make sure it wasn’t another booby trap. Nope, it was the chest of a friend that I had chatted with just before the patrol started. His chest had a basketball sized hole. I moved forward again. I called out to see if anyone was alive. The man on point (in the lead) was still alive and had only a minor wound. He stayed put to be on guard. A brave man. The dozen behind him were dead and the half dozen behind them badly wounded.

I checked the bodies looking for anyone still alive. I found one! A young man-boy about 18. His right leg was blown off above the knee. Odd, it wasn’t bleeding much. Must be the blast cauterized the wound. His face was so pocked with sand from the blast it looked like a beach version of black face. As I put the tourniquet on what was left of his leg and tried to find a vein for an IV he sat up bold and brash. Instinctively I shined my light on his face, highlighting the whites of his eyes against the sand embedded on his face. Then only inches from my face he screamed, “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die”! And he laid back down and died.

Please think all this through for a moment. If you were a soldier would you stick you head up when the enemy is shooting so that you could see them shooting and thus return fire? Not likely. Or, if you did you might only be able to do it once. What this episode did was crystallize my understanding of what it meant to be Cannon Fodder. It highlighted the political motivations behind wasteful military operations. In short, I knew then that my government did not care about my life. It wasn’t that I might die in war that would be understandable. It was here, in this populated coastal region that my country became far more concerned about its media image than about my life and the lives of my comrades. My country preferred that I die rather than some child of the enemy.

And that Ms. Strassel is why I now oppose Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other hypocritical political operations hiding behind soldiers. Our military is not permitted to fight the enemy. Do not ever assume our enemy is unaware of our political puppet masters motivations. They count on them. They manipulate the media and the punditocracy. You have, perhaps unwittingly perhaps not played into their hands. You accuse Republicans of isolationism when their motivations may be a refusal to sacrifice soldiers for domestic political posturing in front of an anti-military media. If you instead took up the journalistic cudgel to take off the handcuffs of our military you would be reviled by many of your peers but you would be right. I am confident that our soldiers can destroy the enemy. Yes and a fair number of women and children as well. Tough. War is hell. Get over it.

If we are not going to permit our soldiers to fight then don’t send them into battle. This is my anger. This is my rationale for opposing the continued political abuse of soldiers. If you call this isolationism you could not be more wrong. I favored invading Afghanistan and Iraq. I favor destroying Iran and its nuclear program. Let us go after and kill Khadafy – and 10,000 men, women and children if necessary. I am a war monger. I am not an isolationist. But in good conscience I cannot any longer support the waste of our soldiers lives and our national treasure for the benefit of a group of miscreants running bumper sticker bi-annual political campaigns.


Health Care was NOT ‘Responsible Legislation’

February 6, 2010
Is It Possible to Pass Responsible Legislation?
February 6, 2010 · by Austin Frakt · Posted in Health Policy 

This post originally appeared on 1 February 2009 on The New Republic’s The Treatment blog.

The purposes of comprehensive health reform are noble: expansion of coverage and control of costs. Yet, the latest attempt to begin to address those goals is near death. For nearly a year Democrats shepherded bills through the complex legislative process, revising and merging them to accommodate the congressional process and political realities. Ultimately two bills, similar in broad structure and differing only in detail, passed the chambers of Congress.Yet, at the brink of completion support for them has waned. What can be learned from this experience?

First, it is worthwhile appreciating how unlikely it is that policy-makers have brought health reform legislation this close to passage. It doesn’t clearly benefit all influential interest groups, a condition that normally dooms major reform. To have even pursued it was, therefore, a political risk. That Democrats, and Obama, took responsibility for attempting to solve the large and important problems of the uninsured and health care costs is laudable. In doing so they managed to mollify the concerns of major stakeholders.

One might think that support for reform would increase as more and more interest groups embraced it. That it has not has more to do with the glacial, agonizing, and ugly process of production of legislation than it has to do with its content. The spotlight hasn’t been kind to health reform. Opponents have been able to focus it on the less savory elements of legislative sausage making and on the least popular aspects of the bills, whether they exist (the individual mandate) or not (death panels).

Still, the overall structure of both the House and Senate bills is sound. The individual mandate, the low-income subsidies and other provisions are required to make the insurance reforms like the ban of pre-existing condition exclusions possible. Without the mandate people would buy coverage only when ill, increasing premiums for all. And one cannot expect low-income individuals to purchase insurance they cannot afford.

In a panicked response to the Massachusetts election, policy-makers considered chopping up the logical structure of the bills into separate legislative proposals. That’s a recipe for unworkable policy. The bills are large and complex not because policy-makers want them to be, but because they must be. It would be irresponsible to attempt to solve one component of the problem without addressing the whole. That begs the question: can comprehensive reform of the health care system or of anything else ever occur? If government controlled by one party (including a super-majority in the Senate) cannot bring about responsible reform, what can?

I wish I had an answer. We need one. I understand why reform is hard: too frequent elections, too great minority power (the filibuster), too much special interest money, among other reasons. But knowing these doesn’t lead directly to an easy fix because the process of implementing a solution is subject to the same forces that are the source of the problem. It’s a deep and difficult hole from which to legislate egress.

If health reform succeeds despite all the hurdles it will be a major accomplishment that has eluded presidents and policy-makers for decades. But if it fails (again), it will be in large part due to the challenges of governance and the imperative to win the next election. Even the best ideas face substantial risk of failure. Even for good ideas offered by responsible leaders, Congress is a graveyard.

Some say reflexively that government is not the solution to our problems. Usually proponents of markets or libertarian ideals view government as an impediment to good outcomes. The experience of health reform has revealed another sense in which government may not be the solution–because it can’t get out of its own way. That is, our government is improperly structured to solve the problems we face. It isn’t necessarily that government can’t be a solution or that government can’t propose a solution, it is that government can’t pass a solution, at least not very often. Even if health reform ultimately passes, it is clear that an historically rare level of single-party control was required to pull it off.

Unfortunately, when it comes to health care the market is not a solution either. And so we’re stuck (or may be), with a set of problems that can’t be addressed with either broad system at our disposal. It could be that the health system we have, the one resulting from a far from perfect market and a far from ideal set of government regulations, is the only one we can get. The sad consequence is that it leaves so many under-served and wastes so much of our treasure. I’m confident we can prod government into doing a little better, but without comprehensive reform, not much and not soon.

The gap between our ideals and reality is large, and even with the will and the votes the obstacles to closing it are nearly insurmountable. That’s the most troubling lesson of all.


One Response to “Is It Possible to Pass Responsible Legislation?”

  1. RedSt8r on February 6th, 2010 5:05 pm | permalink

    @AF: First, I challenge the premise. Neither proposed health care “reform” bill constituted “Responsible Legislation”. What they did constitute was a single party attempt to force selective changes to a large portion of the economy. This can hardly be called responsible.

    “One might think that support for reform would increase as more and more interest groups embraced it. That it has not has more to do with the glacial, agonizing, and ugly process of production of legislation than it has to do with its content.”
    It had everything to do with the content as only those interest groups that (a) were on the left wing of the Democrat party or (b) were bought off by either political patronage – Louisiana, Nebraska, Florida, unions or (c) bought off by false promises of enhanced profits – insurers, AMA, big pharma. When the content was so one sided the process exacerbated the issues to the point of failure.

    Why could Richard Nixon open up China? Because as a Republican he was trusted on national defense. Hence he could open up China to the US without being seen as weakening US national defense. Why could George Bush (43) pass the Medicare D (drug insurance) with bi-partisan support? Because again, as a Republican he was trusted not to squander taxpayer dollars (so much for that trust). Why could Bill Clinton reform welfare? Because he was trusted to protect the poor at least to some degree.

    Had Obama and the Democrat majority taken on their interest groups – trial lawyers, unions, politicians – and truly reformed the process they would have earned the abiltiy to pass other legislation that might have had an actual positive impact on both health care cost and availability. As it was they were clearly seen and it was clearly understood this was a left wing bill designed to serve only left wing (or bought off) interests and worse, to do so while penalizing the people. The elderly saw Medicare cuts, the young saw expensive insurance mandates, those of us in between saw a loss of personal freedom for no gain. It was a lose lose for us.

    Responsible legislation requires challenging ones interest groups not the opponents. Republicans can and should be trusted to raise taxes in the most responsible manner. Democrats can and should be trusted to reform social welfare programs in the most responsible manner. When each attempts to work in the others camp failure results.

Budget Cuts: Obama vs Bush (who cares?)

May 8, 2009

comment on Budget: Baby Terminator by

Comparing proposed Bush discretionary spending cuts with Obama’s is a wasted exercise. GWB-43 threw away any Republican claim to responsible fiscal policy. Regrettably it was much the same with GWB-41. Both declined to present their case to the public to rein in spending and instead took the easy way out. GWB-41 reneged on his “read my lips” promise and quickly raised taxes. GWB-43 just signed every spending bill that hit his desk, deficits be damned.

For Democrats to hold Clinton up as a great economic master ignores the fact that he stepped into an economic recovery from the 90-91 recession + the internet/technology boom + Greenspan monetary pump priming. And he left a emerging recession for GWB-43 to boot. To gain his surplus Clinton let defense spending lag and signed a welfare reform under pressure from a Republican congress. Clinton enjoyed his rare surplus due less to his efforts than a political split between the White House and Congress. My outrage is over the wasted opportunity to reform SSA, Medicare/Medicaid and Defense (mostly Clinton’s fault but also partly Republicans). That failure stings even harsher today.

Obama today does not hide his plan to drastically restructure the US economy. He will double the national debt in a very few years and is apparently eager to have government take over large portions of our economy. Favoring a president is not a zero sum game. I do not have to be (and I am decidedly not) a fan of GWB-43 to oppose Obama. Frankly, a pox on both their houses.

As I have read more and more blogs (economics, politics and markets) I have come to the conclusion that much of what I read is analogous to quarreling about who arranged the deck chairs – and whether to buy more or fewer – on the US Titanic. I am far more interested in helping to find a better captain who will steer away from the obvious icebergs and run a tighter ship or, failing that, finding a lifeboat.

Regulatory Failure

April 22, 2009

In a post on “Economist’s View“, Mark Thoma wrote:
“Every market that was supposed to self-regulate failed?” … “So more and more I’m starting to think there may be a single explanation after all, that the regulators of these markets were captured by powerful forces that wanted the game to continue.”

Well, which is it? Did self-regulation fail or did government regulators fail to do their job? Which of the steps Mark has noted was wholly self-regulated? Mortgage brokers, realtors, appraisers, and rating agencies, are all licensed and regulated! Truly the only players not regulated by the government are homeowners and the government. Corporations being a mixed bag of limited regulatory oversight.

Everyone has some aspect of self-regulation. Don’t rob customers. Don’t cheat on taxes. And all of us have layers of regulations. If self-regulation failed then put the miscreants in jail. But if regulatory agencies failed what do we do then?

Mark and the commenter’s seem determined to paint the regulatory failure as a Republican failure – usually Reagan or Bush (43) or both. Granted this is a liberal blog with a liberal author and most commenter’s seem to also be liberals (judging from the comments). I assume therefore all are Democrat. You don’t like Republicans in general and Reagan and Bush (43) in particular. Peachy.

But for all your dislike (and I’m being kind) the regulatory failure that is at the heart of this morass has been and continues to be a massive bi-partisan affair. One clear example: the failure of Congress and regulators alike to label a Credit Default Swap (CDS) as an insurance policy. Doing so would have put every CDS under the insurance regulator. Not doing so let every bank, hedge fund, pension fund, go wild.

That simple act was/is a key factor in this economic maelstrom. That act was totally bi-partisan and totally intentional on the part of Congress and the various agencies. If it wasn’t for the CDS all the MBS and CMBS would not have had their AAA ratings and would not have been such “good” investments.

Get over your disklike of Reagan and Bush (43) if you really want to truly reform our economy. Shove your anti-Republican rants over to Wonkette. It’s a sport over there.

Is the tax system progressive?

April 14, 2009

A recent article on “Economists View” suggested – I think – that it was not progressive or at least not progressive enough. The most cogent response was from ‘Irreverent Comment’ who rightly bemoaned the paucity of debate. While I heartily agree with that notion I found a few of the ideas lacking. My comment is listed below.

Is the tax system progressive? BJ Feng, cynicalone and rbm411 all directly make my point (and better said no less). This graph and paper use one set of distinct numbers in an attempt to disprove a second set of distinct numbers. At best it is disingenuous, more likely it is an intentional use of disinformation in a political polemic.

Irreverent Comment provides the most incise criticism. That is, for so rich a topic the debate is incredibly poor. One critique however, is the use of utility of incremental income/wealth as a justification for a specific tax policy. I have no clue what the income utility is for someone transitioning from a deca-millionaire to a centi-millionaire. I do know what it was for my wife and I to transition to millionaire (very singular) status. Visually it was transitioning from an 8 year old 19 foot center console boat to a brand new 35 foot flybridge sportfisher. The incremental utility was incredible. At the same time our taxation rate and tax monies paid were incredible as well.

A second critique is the dismissal of a flat tax by (a) defining it as the so-called “fair tax” and then (b) suggesting that if absolute equality is the goal then it is fair to “give” the same income to everyone as it is to “take away” the same income. This concept fails on multiple levels. First of course, government does not “give” income but government does take taxes. The former is ostensibly based on individual effort while the latter is based on the police powers of the state.

I also take great issue with arbitrarily defining “flat tax” as the mis-labeled “fair tax”. My definition of a “flat tax” is a flat tax rate applied equally to all income. Thus a 10% flat tax rate for the $50,000 earner is a $5,000 tax while for a $1,000,000 earner it is $100,000. The tax rate is the same (e.g., flat) but the taxes paid could be considered progressive.

But to the biggest issue raised, why is there such a paucity of ideas in the debate? As a “RedSt8r” I’m as tired of tax cuts as the Republican solution as I am of tax hikes as the Democratic solution. This could and should be a debate rich in ideas. One highly suited to an economics blog but which is sadly lacking.

My first question is: what is the purpose of a tax system? Is it strictly to raise public monies to be used for constitutional purposes (national defense, highways, etc.)? Or is the purpose of a tax system to correct whatever issue(s)- economic, social or otherwise – the political majorities feel need correction? Are both purposes valid? Why?

What is a progressive tax system? Is it limited to an increasing tax rate dependent on income? Would a fixed tax rate that raised increasing amounts of tax monies based on income be considered progressive? Should a progressive system consider earned versus unearned incomes differently?

Should “wealth” be taxed in lieu of or in addition to income? Why do Warren Buffett and Bill Gates support an estate tax (a wealth tax) while simultaneously moving almost all of their wealth outside the reach of an estate tax? Do their actions conflict with their speech regarding the political validity of a progressive tax system applied to wealth?

Can a flat tax be progressive? Yes, in the sense that it takes a progressively larger amount of money from those with larger incomes. No, in the sense that “X%” is the same regardless of income. Which is the correct view? I posit that there isn’t one. The issue can only be resolved in a political debate. When will the economists start the debate?

How to cure a credit hangover – more credit

February 11, 2009
Comment on article by James Stewart:
Mr. Stewart,
I’ve long read your articles and admired both the writing and your ability to (almost) always be making money buying and selling various securities. Good for you.

(Now I go off-topic for just a moment.) Then you whined about Auction Rate Securties and demanded that the government make you whole. You who, if anyone, qualifies as a sophisticated investor complaining about an investment you made with your eyes wide open. But for fractions of a point in extra yield you ignored the risks and when your money got trapped you whined for government to save you.

In the same vein (back on-topic now) now you are whining for the government to save the economy. Our economy is suffering a credit hangover and your prescription is more of the same. As other posters made clear, Keynesian spending did not cure the 1930’s depression and it sure as heck hasn’t helped Japan.

We have not even reached the recessionary depths of the 1980’s when Reagan and Volcker killed inflation yet you and a whole host of smart people are stomping your collective feet for a multi-trillion spending program THAT YOU HOPE will “cure” this recession.

I do not admire President Obama nor his Democrat colleagues nor the three LIBERAL Republicans for passing this monstrosity. I do admire the few Democrats that opposed it, I do admire the majority of Republicans that opposed it and yet it will pass. It is a political instrument designed solely for the 2010 elections to preserve and protect the Democrat majority. While I am as angry at President Bush as anyone there is no hope for any positive change from President Obama. This nation, my child and my grandchildren will pay an enormous price for my generations failure to pay the bill for the services we abused.

Vote No on the Stimulus

February 6, 2009

To:                                                                             February 6, 2009

Rep. Mike McIntyre

Senator Richard Burr

Senator Kay Hagan

As one of your constituents I am asking you to vote no on the current stimulus bill working its way through congress. I firmly believe, as a small business owner, husband, father and grandfather that this bill will not provide the corrective action our economy currently needs. Even worse I believe this billl will make the situation considerably worse and will unduly burden our children for the rest of their lives. While I appreciate the politics of the current circumstances I am asking you to vote no on the stimulus bill.

Moderates? Centrist? Please!

February 6, 2009

Can we stop please? Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are NOT moderates nor centrists. They are liberals. Oh sure, when viewed from the perspective of the left wing Democrat side of the political spectrum they may look like centrists but from my side of the political spectrum they are limp liberals (aka RINO’s) hiding under the Republican banner.