Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days In

Before handing out awards to congratulate President Obama for being the first black president to host an Easter Egg Roll or the first black president to struggle with his teleprompter, let us look at his real accomplishments thus far, good (yes, some) and bad (plenty).

President Barack Obama has endured a mountain of criticism for his cabinet nominees and members. A number (Geithner, Daschle, Sebelius) have been rightly deemed tax cheats and have embarrassed the president and the ones in charge of vetting candidates. Americans generally have a low tolerance for politicians who get away with something that would land normal folks in heap big trouble. The president’s claim of a "new era of responsibility" gets questioned when an unusual number of his nominees have tax troubles, especially when many Americans themselves are struggling, as well as when the president promises “change” by digging up Clinton-era partisan hacks. However, a compliant media has done much to keep the new president rather unscathed.

Upon the assumption of his office, Barack Obama was faced with an economic crisis not of his doing, but of which he took complete ownership. His method of alleviation was ramming through an economic stimulus bill in the same manner and through the same rhetoric of his much-detested predecessor: this emergency is too catastrophic to wait any longer; if we wait any longer, we will be doomed. The bill is too important to read. Pass it or we will all die. Sound anything like the Patriot Act?

After campaigning against 8 years of Republican corruption and proliferate spending, the president embarked on the aforementioned stimulus bill and the pork-laden omnibus bill, bringing the Obama budget soaring somewhere around $4,000,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2010. While the spending done by the Republicans during George W. Bush’s reign was beyond reprehensible and also worth protesting, the monumental debt already created under President Obama sends the message that Bush-era spending was only the beginning.

In the whole financial debacle, the president insisted that spending would get us out of the recession. That assertion assumes that since a lot of spending and bailouts got us into this mess, lots more spending and bailouts will get us out. It is an assertion that many Republicans share when they are in power that no matter how much short-term success it might generate, the value of the dollar continues to plummet and making the another recession inevitable. It is the same old solution only wrapped in a much bigger box.

One of the most defining aspects of the Bush administration was its "Global War on Terrorism," designed to quash tyranny abroad so that liberty in American can be preserved. Actions such as the Patriot Act and the excesses permitted to agencies like the TSA and others have certainly undermined American liberty at home. An incident at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, MO has already been chronicled here before, but another incident in the Southwest suggests that unarmed and unsuspicious Americans are still harassed by their government, even under the supposed civil liberty-minded President Obama (begin video at 8:01, then here, and here).

On the foreign policy front, President Obama promised change but so far has not delivered much. He quickly announced that American troops would be leaving Iraq by August of next year, that is, excepting the 50,000 "residual" forces that are scheduled to remain until at least 2011. However, as news trickles in that Sunni insurgents don’t play nice when the bribe money starts to dry up and civil war resumes, there will be added pressure on the president to keep troops there to pacify the latest uprising and make John McCain’s suggestion that troops stay there for 100 years sound like it came out of Barack Obama’s mouth.

Farther east, as the president promised, Obama has already escalated matters in the increasingly lawless Afghanistan. With poor supply lines, a disintegrating Pakistan quickly succumbing to the Taliban and more Afghans looking to the Taliban for help, American troops will be either relegated to being person bodyguards for President Karzai in Kabul or left to wander in the desert until they get picked off.

Why? There is nothing to be won in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is nowhere to be found. The Taliban is taking over again and the Afghans, notoriously xenophobic, are not resisting local thugs in favor of foreign armies. So the question must be asked again, why does the president want to wander in this graveyard of empires?

The recent and much-publicized Latin American trip drew a lot of attention, particularly from the president's critics on his right. He was called weak for merely sitting and listening to Nicaraguan Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega delivery an anti-American screed. President Obama was denounced for shaking the hand of Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez at the same summit. Rather than turning tables over in disgust over the president’s inclination to grin and bear it, perhaps he was acting like a new head of state should act: quietly. None of these Latin American clowns, who have wrecked their countries almost without exception, pose any threat to the United States. Are we supposed to shoot down any foreign head of state that has the audacity to question the God-given right of the American government to do whatever it wants around the world? The American Conservative columnist Daniel Larison rightly points out that there is nothing to fear from these goons: they thrive (or even survive) based on anti-American rhetoric. The president was right to either let them do their schtick or outright ignore them. It was an episode of calm disposition, something sorely lacking under President Bush.

The president’s dealings with the Somali pirates and hostage situation were swift and effective. The situation was rather quickly defused as the abducted captain was rescued and all of his captors were killed or surrendered. He dealt with stateless warriors in the only way that was manageable and despite calls from all corners to confront the stateless Somalia, (bombing them) he has rightfully deflected all pleas thusfar to enter into another tribal fiasco.

It has only been 100 days, but it looks like things are remaining very much the same. The new regime has only repackaged the same old disasters and called it "change." Some things have been good, as those that have been covered here, but the future is not very bright. Debt soars higher than sky-high and the foreign wars look here to stay, even under a Democratic president. As the old saying goes, people get the government they deserve.


Steel Phoenix said...

I'm, giving Obamma points for the whole tax evading cabinet thing. I'm sure the last guy had plenty in his cabinet, but just never checked. It has served to highlight the corruption of public officials, which is the first step in defeating it. If we were to get a good look at the books, I think Congress would be left with only a few people sitting in it.

The stimulus bill was a lot like the Patriot Act. I hope to see him revisit a lot of those things now that there has been time to read them.

The dollar is still up quite a bit for the past year. I maintain that the overvaluation of the Dollar has been the cause of the crisis. Devaluation will be the solution, if we can manage it. The old thought that printing money devalues the Dollar isn't true any more in the old sense. We are in a global economy dedicated to keeping us consuming. Since we base the value of our currency on purchasing power parity rather than our tangible wealth, we have no hope of unilateral inflation without far more drastic action than we are taking. We don't set the value of the Dollar, China does, and they are holding far too many of them to set that price low.

Afghanistan has never been about terrorism. If you want to know why we are really there, just go look at a map.

Carl Wicklander said...

You're probably right about politicians evading their taxes. Despite the rancor they show for the microphones and cameras, they all take care of each other. But I'd be surprised if anybody gets to know what was really in the stimulus. Once politicians get what they want, they won't want to get back to it.

If printing money doesn't devalue the currency anymore in the "old sense," as you say, then how does a global economy change that? Everything you described makes me think that it only prolongs the inevitability of a currency collapse.

I like your point about looking at a map. The second essay I ever wrote on this blog said the same thing, only with regard to the Iranians <>

Steel Phoenix said...

"If printing money doesn't devalue the currency anymore in the "old sense," as you say, then how does a global economy change that?"

An interesting question. What we have happening seems to defy the laws of nature and logic. It is as if we have just jumped off of a thousand foot cliff only to have found that gravity has failed us.

To see what is happening, you have to step back from blame and catastrophe. Look at how everyone has been affected individually, what their motivations are, and what they will do. Methodological individualism.

China not only holds a massive amount of our debt, we are also their primary customer, and they have linked their currency to ours at a discount.

Even thought they know it isn't true, people still think of our Dollar as being on some sort of gold standard. It is how they think of printing money as reducing the value of the Dollar, and it still does in a way, but since our gold is imaginary, the value only changes if people believe in it, kind of like God, only really!

So lets do a quick tally: Who wants the dollar weaker?

Those nations who owe us lots of money or import more from us then they export. Any important ones come come to mind?

Who would like our Dollar to be stronger? Anyone who sells us lots of goods or holds a lot of our debt.

The more our economy suffers, the less they sell, and the more their economies suffer. In order to stay afloat, they put everything on sale, thus lowering the value of their goods, and increasing our purchasing power parity.

If I were in power at the moment, I would change our currency situation a bit, and at the center of it would be a policy of printing (not borrowing) a Dollar for every one we lose in trade deficit. Depending on the current situation, this either gets us free money as other nations fear losing a customer, or it devalues our currency, which naturally improves our trade deficit problem on all fronts. What we really need to avoid is these crazy swings we get from trying to pretend we are what we aren't.

As for your question about the inevitability of currency collapse, I have a counter question: What would happen if the value of every currency on the planet were suddenly cut in half?

TRUTH 101 said...

While it's popular to be outraged at politicians in government, remember that Harry Truman said it takes politicians to run government.

No debate about the tax dodging of Daschle and others. Like most criminals, they're sorry after they get caught.

On the stimulus, it is a lose lose situation. He does nothing and lets things take their natural course a few like yourself are happy Carl. But a bunch like me are outraged. You can't please everyone Brother. I happen to think Obama is doing the best he can foreign and domestically with what was handed to him.

Carl Wicklander said...

Steel Phoenix,

It seems to me that if all the currencies suddenly cut value in half it would merely make the problem incrementally smaller, not vanish. It would be the same problem, just at different values.

And just because more currencies are tied together, doesn't mean it will stop a collapse. In fact, it makes it sound like it will be worse.

Carl Wicklander said...


Not too much to quibble about. I was trying to make a balanced review of Obama's time so far. While I'm certainly not happy with all of his performance, Obama's few good accomplishments (in my view) deserve to be noted.

Tom the Redhunter said...

Interesting libertarian blog, Carl. I see you support Ron Paul.

Years ago I flirted with libertarianism, and am still sympathetic to it on domestic policy. My split was that 1) they went too far, and 2) on foreign policy.

Permit me a few comments on your post.

"Barack Obama was faced with an economic crisis not of his doing, but of which he took complete ownership."Even the Washington Post has a story knocking that down: "Obama's New Tack: Blaming Bush President Points to 'Inherited' Economy"

I agree with you that Bush and the congressional GOP spent like drunken sailors during their time in power. I criticized them many times on my blog for it.

"There is nothing to be won in Afghanistan."I should think that keeping al Qaeda from restablishing a base there from which to attack us has got to count for something. I really don't want to go through 9-11 again.

"perhaps he was acting like a new head of state should act: quietly. None of these Latin American clowns, who have wrecked their countries almost without exception, pose any threat to the United States."By sitting quitely the president 1) gave encouragement to dictators everywhere that they can attack the United States; physically and verbally, and 2) worse, he demoralized political prisoners across the world. Read Natan Sharansky's account of his time in the gulag, or Armando Valladares time in the Cuban prison system ("Against All Hope") and they'll tell you this exactly.

And actually those thugs do pose a danger. They will spread tyranny across Latin America, which will come to haunt us. Chavez has had several meetings with Ahmadinejad, and that nexus can come to no good.

"The president’s dealings with the Somali pirates and hostage situation were swift and effective."He allowed Navy Seals to shoot pirates who had their guns pointed at an American merchant captain. That's a pretty low standard for "swift and effective" action.

- Despite all this, I must say your post is written with a lot of intellectual honesty. You're clearly not a partisan of either side but have a pretty defined philosophy that guides your thinking. Too many bloggers on the right or left just rant at the other side.

Although we disagree on a lot, you are consistent in your philosophy which I think we can both agree is more than can be said about most politicians!

Carl Wicklander said...


I do have quite a few libertarian affinities but I still ostensibly consider myself conservative. I am a Republican but I voted for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party over McCain, so I'm not an "Obamacon" like the since-recanted Christopher Buckley.

On blaming Bush for the economy, by enacting everything he has thus far, Obama has effectively made responsibility for the economic crisis his own. There may still be instances here and there where he blames Bush, but reason says that he can only get away with that for so long. Then again, FDR made the depression made under Hoover worse, for which the latter is still blamed for to this day.

When I say there is nothing to be won in Afghanistan, it is because al Qaeda is not even there. I fully support going after the people responsible for 9/11. The Taliban was, and looks to be again, a terrible regime, but they were not involved in the terrorist attacks. If we think we need to go after every regime or every group that might have had something to do, or could maybe someday have something to do with terrorism, that is a plan for endless wars. We need to have narrow objectives. Nation-building is an enterprise that could have no end. Plus, the longer American armies occupy other nations, the more resentment the native people will have for us which can even lead to people joining an insurgency against us should a loved one die. It's tragic but inevitable that innocents die in nation-building adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us also not forget that Afghans have a penchant for repelling foreign armies. That's why I believe we should avoid big enterprises like these and have narrow foci such as only chasing al Qaeda.

Here's a little autobiographical note: I was once an Iraq war supporter but after some speculation, I changed my mind in late 2004, although it did not change my vote for Bush. I began reading columnist Pat Buchanan who was the first person I ever heard say that, according to the messages our enemies send us, the main reason they target us is because they perceive us as occupying holy land, protecting oppressive or heretical Muslim regimes (like Saudi Arabia), and supporting Israel unconditionally at the expense of the Palestinians. None of their reasons make terrorism a reasonable course of action, but they are the real reasons we face terrorism, not because we are free. No amount of pre-emptive wars will change that, but may in fact make the threat of terrorism worse. Again, that's why I believe we should have narrow objectives in this sort of engagement. And I'm afraid that our prolonged engagements in these countries will lead to "blowback" in the form of another 9/11.

As for Obama with the Latin American leaders, neither silence nor verbal outrage would have made any sort of difference. Do you think that if he had stood up and shouted "Shut the hell up!" would have changed anything? Could it be that ignoring the rantings of an old buffoon makes Ortega look weak or irrelevant?

I also believe it's reading into things to assume that since the American president didn't jump up and wave a dagger at these thugs over mere words makes us look weak when we have armies and military bases all over the world. The world can see what the American military can do. That's why nation-states don't threaten us. These thugs talk a mean game but they don't have the power or guts to lift a finger against us in physical aggression.

Thanks for checking in. I've read your blog a few times before and I hope you'll come back.

Steel Phoenix said...

"It seems to me that if all the currencies suddenly cut value in half it would merely make the problem incrementally smaller, not vanish. It would be the same problem, just at different values."

More or less the conclusion I come to as well, but it isn't quite that minor, since there are banks and lenders holding currency and lack thereof, while those with goods have seen the currency value of them double. Most people are going around acting as if it means half the value of the planet were destroyed. They are only currencies, they are merely convenient forms of liquidity so we don't have to trade goods directly, and so the government can more easily tax us. Whoever started collecting currencies as if they were long term wealth, loaning and borrowing them, they thought they had a great angle, but they are who stared this mess, and now they are the ones acting like if we don't bail them out, our wealth will disappear.

"And just because more currencies are tied together, doesn't mean it will stop a collapse. In fact, it makes it sound like it will be worse."See the above two answers, yours and mine. It is the currencies that are collapsing, not the wealth, although it is certainly affected by the lack of commerce. You speak of the collapse as if it is something in the future. It has already happened, and is still moving. It is like looking out the window of a car on the highway and thinking the other traffic looks like it is almost not moving because their speed matches yours. I don't know what the long term effects of this will be, since it hinges on the decisions of giants, but they aren't anything like what people seem to think when they see the graphs.

Steel Phoenix said...

I only loosely affiliate myself with the Libertarian party, as most do. The Democrat and Republican parties suffer from too much centralized power. It is far easier to disagree with parts of the Libertarian platform without alienating oneself. Ron Paul got more votes from Democrats than he did from Republicans. Unlike Carl, I don't identify myself as conservative. I'm for very small government, but I value progress through freedom above morality through tradition.

On 9-11, It was a bunch of fanatics with box-cutters. If they tried a similar plan again anywhere, they would have no luck. They relied on people to go quietly thinking they were to be held ransom rather than flown into an office building. Terrorism changed that day. It destroyed any hope of negotiation, and thus of such kinds of infiltration.

Carl, Pat Buchanan is awesome, and one of only a few Republicans I like (don't worry, you are on the list). I comment on his blog daily.