TSA Enhanced Screening Procedures Explained

November 17, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

In a handy, and hilarious, animation:

Outside the Beltway

Quantitative Easing Explained

November 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

This economics lesson is desperately needed by anyone who doesn’t see the need to put an immediate end to the monetary shenanigans of the Fed/Goldman Sachs/Obama Regime crony capitalist crime syndicate:

On tips from Oiao, Lee, and Incitatus.


UK: Would-be jihadist explained that “Allah and his prophet Mohammed” came first

November 8, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

This UKPA article is wholly unsatisfactory, as it doesn’t explain why the evidence that it mentions wasn’t enough to convict Amir Ali. Was there some extenuating circumstance, or some indication that he hadn’t actually written a farewell letter or posed with rifles? Or was this just another case of British dhimmitude?

In any case, note that the would-be jihadist explained his actions to his family by saying that “Allah and his prophet Mohammed” came first. So yet again, jihad terror acts are justified by reference to Islamic texts and teachings — the one motivating factor that the government and mainstream media demands we discount.

“Tube driver cleared of Jihad charge,” from the UKPA, November 8:

A London Underground Tube driver has been cleared of planning to travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan with the intention of taking part in a “violent jihad”, a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said.

Amir Ali, who drove trains on the Bakerloo Line for five years, was alleged to have purchased a plane ticket to travel to Islamabad and written a farewell letter to his family telling them that “Allah and his prophet Mohammed” came first, jurors were told.

When police searched the 28-year-old’s home they found pictures of him posing with weapons including two AK47 rifles and a self-loading pistol, prosecutor Duncan Penny said.

But Ali, of Ilford, Essex, was found not guilty at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court of preparation for acts of terrorism between April 2006 and March last year.


Jihad Watch

In Which the French Are Explained, but They Remain Mistaken

October 21, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

By Jason Kuznicki

The French youth are rioting over retirement ages, and I’ve seen it claimed that they’re failing to act in their own interests. More generous retirements have to be paid for by someone, and that “someone” will have to be the young workers. Why on earth are they shooting themselves in the foot like this? Why aren’t they acting in their class (err, age cohort) interests?

One of my favorite authors, Theodore Dalrymple, writes:

The lycéens’ demonstrations against the increase in the retirement age seemed to me something of a failure of the Cartesian critical spirit on which the French pride themselves… Whose labor, after all, do these lycéens imagine will pay for all of the unfunded pension obligations of the French state, as pensioners live longer and longer? Where do they imagine the money will come from?

He has a point here, but his explanation falls a bit short:

What probably accounts for the strikes is a mixture of combativeness—the prejudice that being against something is inherently superior, morally speaking, to being for it—and a desire for a day off from school.

Combativeness, sure. Nothing ever happens in France without someone going on strike. And nothing really important happens without a general strike. Now, the leaders do tend to be students, so I can’t dismiss the day off school hypothesis out of hand. But let’s at least look at the students’ own professed motives. Here’s what one of them had to say:

“If the reform passes, we’ll have even fewer chances to find work, we young people, because the jobs will be freed up more slowly.”

The impulse is both subtler and more ridiculous than Dalrymple realizes. It’s our old friend, the lump of labor fallacy: Force the oldsters into retirement, and it’s like a jobs program for everyone else. There is only so much labor to go around — not like jobs are ever created, you know — so we’d better be sure we get our fair share of it. Or so the theory goes. The protest signs, insofar as they communicate anything worth repeating, have often read “Place aux jeunes!” — Make room for the young! — or similar.

Not that this approach to economics makes any sense, either theoretically or practically. Putting someone out of work faster means he’s not producing anymore, which makes the economy worse off on the whole. And “his” job won’t necessarily stick around, because retirement is often the least painful time at which to eliminate a position entirely. Today’s workers aren’t likely to be trained for the same types of work as their parents and grandparents, and they shouldn’t necessarily want to be. The lump of labor fallacy imagines a world frozen in time, not one of dynamism and growth.

In Which the French Are Explained, but They Remain Mistaken is a post from Cato @ Liberty - Cato Institute Blog

Cato @ Liberty

The Midterm Elections Explained in Thirty Seconds

October 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

When President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, lefty hearts were a-flutter over thoughts of a permanent progressive majority. A Great New Deal Society was dawning and the Republican party would be relegated to an inconsequential minority status forever. My, what a difference two years make.

The above ad, for DEMOCRAT candidate Joe Manchin tells you everything you need to know about today’s political climate. If you were an expat returning to the US after an extended absence, you would probably wager a tidy sum that Manchin were a GOP candidate. Heck, you’d probably wager that he was one of those crazy “Tea Party” candidates that the media keeps insisting is going to destroy the GOP. (The media’s concern for the health of the GOP is touching, even if it is more than a tad disingenuous.

The Manchin ad crams more conservative touchstones into thirty seconds than a day-long seminar at the Heritage Foundation. Stunning.

Closing thought: Can you imagine the heart palpitations at MSNBC if a GOP candidate had fired a sniper rifle into a piece of lefty legislation? Even smelling salts would be hard pressed to revive Contessa Brewer.

Big Government

How Can Obama’s Ineptness on Middle East Issues Be Explained, Especially When It Makes Him Look Foolish?

October 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

By Barry Rubin

A friend who follows these issues closely wrote:

“How could Obama, who screwed up so badly before on the settlement issue, have convened a high-profile summit at the beginning of September only to possibly have it blow up in his face just weeks later because he failed to secure a deal on the moratorium [on construction] matter? How could he, and his staff, be so inept?….

“It’s just hard to imagine that Obama didn’t understand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s constraints or Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness (and need to find an excuse to get out of a negotiating process he can’t compromise on).

“It’s just hard to imagine that Obama didn’t understand Netanyahu’s constraints or Abbas’s weakness (and need to find an excuse to get out of a negotiating process he can’t compromise on)….This is simply incomprehensible, is it not?”

Well, it’s comprehensible if one understands that it is largely stupid. Let me state the issue in one sentence:

Knowing that it was unlikely he would get a full continuation of the freeze and that the Palestinian Authority was eager to get out of negotiations, why did Obama put so much of his prestige on success; give himself unnecessary self-imposed impossible deadlines; make a breakthrough seem relatively likely and easy (despite giving lip service to the difficulties); and magnify the issue’s importance so that a failure seemed all the worse?

Remember, this isn’t the first time in the last month that Obama has set himself up for humiliation on the issue. He also made his big UN speech which presented the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the world’s most important issue and made the potentially embarrassing prediction that he would resolve the conflict within one year.

Defenders of the Obama Administration would say that he had some secret plan that is too intelligent for us mortals to comprehend (critics have their own conspiracy theories). Not so in both cases. Or they would say that someone pointing to the emperor’s lack of clothes is merely biased against Obama. OK, so if that’s the reason you’ve got to be able to answer this question: Where are the clothes?

Or they would say that Netanyahu-they would never blame it on Abbas-had let him down. Yet Netanyahu didn’t do anything that was unpredictable, or at least shouldn’t have been. And the make-up of his coalition is well-known, as is the fact that a nine-month freeze was sold to Netanyahu as an experiment and it was one that clearly failed.

The answer that would make the administration look best is that it knows there’s no hope of progress but just want to show that they are working hard on the issue (supposedly keeping Muslims and Arabs happy) and are trying to avoid a crisis (so they can focus on Afghanistan, Iraq,and Iran nuclear).

There must be some truth here but this doesn’t explain why they look so foolish in dealing with the issue. For example, that strategy would encourage them to downplay the peace process and lower expectations, not make it seem like big meetings are about to happen and grand breakthroughs are at hand.

So this is an example of incompetence on the part of the Obama Administration, though I’ve also pointed out how part of it is due to an element of cynical domestic political calculation.

Now, let’s go back one year to September 2009. What happened then? In front of the world’s leaders gathered during the UN session, Obama proclaimed that within two months there would be direct, intense, high-level, Camp David-style talks that would quickly produce a peace settlement.

Thus, what happened this year is hardly new, and can be extended to other issues. Don’t get me started on Iran, revolutionary Islamism, Syria, and a half-dozen other questions but you can provide the examples for yourselves, dear readers.

Back to Israel-Palestinian negotiations. For one thing, the Obama Administration is spoiled in the classical sense of that word. It knows the media won’t ridicule it and thus it can get away with big mistakes. And that feeling of safety, in turn, encourages the kind of carelessness that leads to big mistakes.

Another factor is ideology. The administration’s officials genuinely-and wrongly-seem to believe that this is the world’s most important issue. Thus, the magnify it, an action that puts more pressure on them to solve it. Needing to solve it, they next think they can do so.

Connected with this is another misconception about the conflict, though on some levels they must know better. For example, they really seem to believe that the Palestinians are eager for a deal and Israel is recalcitrant. Almost all of their experience shows the contrary, yet that has no effect on their thinking. After all, it was the Palestinian leadership that killed Obama’s September 2009 plan and stalled talks for a whole year.

The U.S. officials can think that if only Israel did more everything would be fine, but they must be aware that Arab states have refused to be helpful and that Abbas has tried to do everything possible to get out of talking. Their shortcoming, however, is that they have not made the leap to comprehending that their paradigm is wrong: the Palestinian leadership neither wants nor can deliver a compromise peace.

As long as they fail to reach that conclusion they keep banging their heads against the wall.

I am not aware of a single mass media outlet that has asked the basic questions about why the Obama Administration keeps looking so stupid on this issue and repeats its miscalculations. Blaming Netanyahu is always an easy way out of actually thinking about what’s going on, yet many don’t even do that so much nowadays. They just seem puzzled about things like: If the Palestinians are so miserable and oppressed, why aren’t they eager to negotiate .a compromise peace?

But let’s stick to U.S. policy for right now. There is no mystery here. A combination of Incompetence (not implementing a desire plan well), ignorance (not understanding the region), ideology (systematically misunderstanding issues and rejecting corrective experience, and arrogance (assuming one is always right, ignoring experience and criticism) is the answer.

Obama is not going a very good job on international affairs, as policymakers from countries all over the world know and say in private. Refusing to see that reality means finding it hopelessly impossible to understand what’s happening in the world and especially in the Middle East nowadays.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).


Obama’s Economic Failures Explained

September 23, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about a declaration by the National Bureau of Economic Research’s (NBER) that the recession ended in June 2009. The point of that post was that it was silly and indeed cruel for a few academic economists to broadcast their technical definition of recession at a time when so many Americans are suffering in what for them is a very real on-going and in many ways deepening recession.

Insensitive timing by a few academic economists in an obscure professional backwater is no big thing in itself, however. The real problem here is that a few other academic economists who viewed the same data in the same way as their peers at the NBER have been President Obama’s chief economic advisers since he’s been in office. And the advice they gave based on thinking the recession ended in June 2009 have had disastrous consequences for Mr. Obama and his party, and far, far worse consequences for the American public generally

Consider the policies we got because academic economists like Larry Summers (who is soon to return to Harvard) and Christina Romer (who recently left the administration to return to the University of California, Berkeley) thought the recession actually did end in June 2009 — and convinced Mr. Obama of that fact.

Shortly after coming into office in early 2009, the Obama administration pushed through a $ 700 billion stimulus package to help boost the economy. Was that package large enough to do the job? Sure it was — if the recession had ended in June 2009, because this $ 700 billion would then just act as an afterburner to a naturally recovering economy’s own bounce back. Except the real economy, as opposed to the economy of academic economists, didn’t end in June 2009.

Was unemployment a concern to the Obama Administration in June 2009? Of course. But since the main in-house economic advisers were reading their academic tea leaves in a way that indicated the recession had ended, that was no big worry. Employment is a lagging indicator. Every economist knows that. So with the recession ended in June 2009 it was just a matter of waiting patiently a few months until a lot more jobs were created by a recovering private sector. Something that would certainly happen by the 2010 mid-term election. Right?

And how should the president position himself after June 2009? If we were still in deep recession and likely to be there for some time, he might have done a Reagan and made it clear we had “to stay the course.” Or he could have done a Clinton and got into deep “feeling your pain mode.” But since Mr. Obama was assured by his best-and-brightest academic economic team that the recession ended in June 2009 and a recovery was underway, he could play the part of a cool, detached, cerebral chief executive — an approach which today has put his approval numbers in the mid-40s.

And how would the Obama Administration have behaved toward Wall Street if it weren’t mesmerized by an academic economists-generated notion that things had bottomed out and were starting to get better? Well obviously the president would have come down hard on Wall Street in word and deed, demand that The Street share the pain of Main Street. But why bother with the recession being over? Let the fun guys on Wall Street get huge bonuses because that was part of the economic turnaround of a recovering economy.

Why focus on this past? Why bother noting the disastrous results of listening to the wrong people when it came to economic policy setting? The reason is because a number of these wrong people (e.g. Summers and Romer) are leaving their posts and we must now hope that their replacements are more attuned to the real world.

Word that Mr. Obama is looking very hard for a woman to fill a key position is unsettling. This is absolutely not the time to include gender balance as a prime adviser qualification.

Word that someone from business (man or woman) might soon have the ear of the president is more promising. Though there’s a catch here, too.

The catch is that no one inside the Beltway seems to have any noticeable ties to small business. You know. The kind of businesses that generate most of the jobs in this country and whose health, or lack of health, is a true measure of economic well-being. The kind of small businesses that can’t get bank loans these days, and can’t raise money from Wall Street.

If Mr. Obama ends up picking “businesspeople” as his prime economic advisers rather than academics, maybe, just maybe, one or two of them should be tuned into small business angst as well as the happy dance giant corporations are now enjoying with Wall Street and an accommodating Fed.

Pretty please…

More from this writer at wallstreetpoet.com

The Moderate Voice

Australian Elections Explained

August 23, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

OTB Roving Correspondent Richard Gardner passes along this great Clarke and Dawe bit explaining the Australian elections:

Proof positive, by the way, that as trivial as American politics can and often is, we’re hardly alone.

Outside the Beltway

ACORN decision explained

August 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(David Kopel)

The Bill of Attainder clause was among the topics of my Advanced Constitutional Law class last semester, so while I am not an expert on the clause, I’ll try to provide some guidance.

First, there are few Supreme Court cases on the clause. Second, Bill of Attainder controversies in the United States never involve the classic bills of attainder that were well-known to the Founders–namely a parliamentary vote that someone be executed for treason or some other crime. Accordingly, for Bill of Attainder law in the United States, the ratio of settled law to gray zones is lower than for many other topics of constitutional law. In my view, the legal analysis from the District Court (ruling against ACORN) and from the Second Circuit (ruling against ACORN) are both plausibly based in precedent.  The Second Circuit examined matters of law de novo, so District Court’s legal analysis was entitled to no deference.

Here are the key points of the Second Circuit decision:

ACORN has standing to sue all the defendants. Even if ACORN has no interest in applying for Department of Defense grants, the fact that the DoD statute specifically forbids grants to ACORN causes a reputational injury to ACORN.

Whether something is a Bill of Attainder depends on a three-part test: (1) “specification of the affected persons,” (2) “punishment,” and (3) “lack of a judicial trial.”

The government conceded on items (1) and (3). Accordingly the question is whether the federal funding cut-off constitutes “punishment.” Here again there is a three-part test.

(1) whether the challenged statute falls within the historical meaning of legislative punishment (historical test of punishment);

(2) whether the statute, “viewed in terms of the type and severity of burdens imposed, reasonably can be said to further nonpunitive legislative purposes” (functional test of punishment); and

(3) whether the legislative record “evinces a [legislative] intent to punish” (motivational test of punishment).

According to the Second Circuit, withholding of federal grants, especially in regards to a corporation rather than an individual, is not a traditional form of punishment, so item (1) is not satisfied.

The government passed item (2) of the test, because there was an eminently plausible non-punitive purposes: namely to efficiently manage federal funds by not giving taxpayer dollars to an organization which by its own admissions had extensive problems with accurate accounting and proper financial management, and which has an admitted record of embezzlement and criminal convictions of employees. 

As for item (3), the Second Circuit agreed that there were some floor statements by Congresspersons indicating an intent to punish ACORN for alleged crimes; “however, here, the statements by a handful of legislators are insufficient to establish — by themselves — the clearest proof of punitive intent necessary for a bill of attainder.”

The three-part punishment test examines all three factors together. Accordingly, even if (3) were a close call, the government was so clearly the winner on (1) and (2), according the Second Circuit, that the government prevailed.

My editorial comment: Long before Andrew Breitbart broadcast the hooker tapes, the record of ACORN’s shady financial practices was so extensive, in my view, that Congress should have cut off all funding. In retrospect, some of the ACORN employees in the Breitbart tapes were unfairly maligned, because they contacted law enforcement shortly after the pretend pimp and prostitute departed. The Shirley Sherrod episode makes it very likely that any future videotape released by Breitbart will be viewed with cautious skepticism by much of the public, and there will not a be a rush to judgment.

While the Obama-Holder Department of Justice has been appropriately criticized for political favoritism in some cases (such as the New Black Panthers voter intimidation), in the ACORN case the DOJ played it straight, and followed its legal duty to vigorously defend the federal laws. The Obama-Holder DOJ deserves praise for its solid performance in the ACORN case.

The Volokh Conspiracy

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