Barack Obama's credibility hits rock bottom after oil spill and Sestak scandal
The combination of Obama's passivity over the Gulf oil spill catastrophe and his cynical political manoeuvrings could spell disaster for him, argues Toby Harnden
The first thing Barack Obama probably should have done was to order the livestreaming Oil Spill Cam to be turned off. As the President insisted to Americans that he was "singularly focused" on staunching the flow, there was that mesmerising image on their television screens of plumes of hydrocarbons gushing relentlessly into the Gulf of Mexico.
When any political leader feels they have to declare that they are "fully engaged" in an issue, it is clear that they are in trouble. Talking about it undermines the very point you are trying to make - not to mention that pesky Oil Spill Cam showing that, 38 days into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, not a whole lot had been achieved.
Even judging Obama by his words, he has fallen woefully short over what has now eclipsed the 1989 Exxon Valdez wreck as biggest oil spill catastrophe in American history. He may have described it as an "unprecedented disaster" in last Thursday's press conference but a week into the crisis he was blithely stating that "this incident is of national significance" and rest assured he was receiving "frequent briefings" about it.
George W Bush's unpopularity and perceived incompetence was encapsulated by the way he dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Candidate Obama branded it "unconscionable incompetence".
Central to Obama's appeal was his promise to be truly different. His failure to achieve that is now at the core of the deep disappointment Americans feel about him. At the press conference - the first full-scale affair he had deigned to give for 309 days - he appeared uncomfortable and petulant.
His approach to the issue was that of the law student suddenly fascinated by a science project. He displayed none of the visceral indignation Americans feel about pretty much everything these days - two-thirds now say they are "angry" about the way things are going - resorting instead to Spock-like technocratic language and legalese. "I'm not contradicting my prior point," he stated at one juncture. During those 63 minutes of soporific verbosity, about 800 barrels of oil poured into the Gulf.
Obama engaged in the obligatory populist bashing of Big Oil and, of course, demonstrated the Obama administration's version of Tourette's Syndrome, blaming the previous administration for the situation when, by my reckoning, it's a full 16 months since Bush left office.
By Friday, he was sticking his finger in the sand at Grand Isle, Louisiana as part of a photo op self-consciously designed to contrast with Bush's famous looking down on the Katrina devastation from Air Force One. It was Obama's second visit to Louisiana in the 39 days since disaster struck. According to NBC's Mark Knoller, in the same period Bush visited the post-Katrina region seven times.
But perhaps the most dangerous sign during the press conference for Democrats fearful of an unprecedented electoral disaster in November's mid-term elections was the evasion and opacity of the man who promised a new era of transparency and a different kind of politics.
When asked about the resignation of the director of the Minerals Management Service - an agency he had excoriated - he professed that "I don't know the circumstances in which this occurred". She had, of course, been fired.
Even worse was Obama's refusal to say anything about the growing furore over White House attempts to persuade Congressman Joe Sestak to pull out of the Democratic Senate primary contest in Pennsylvania. Obama's advisers had preferred the Republican turncoat Senator Arlen Specter - and Sestak inconveniently let slip that he'd been offered a government job to step aside.
That was potentially illegal and for weeks the White House stonewalled. When, even more inconveniently, Sestak beat Specter, the trust-us-nothing-untoward-happened approach would no longer wash. But still Obama declined to answer the question on Thursday, fobbing the reporter – and America – off with the promise that "there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue".
This did indeed come the following day – conveniently timed for that Friday afternoon news void before the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lo and behold, it turns out that none other than former President Bill Clinton was asked by Obama's chief of staff and Chicago enforcer Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak a place on a presidential board.
Whether or not the law was broken, the cynicism of this is breathtaking. Obama offered a break from the Clinton-Bush past and an end to the shoddy backroom deals of Washington. So what does he do? He tries to deny Pennsylvania voters a chance to decide for themselves by using his former foe Clinton to offer a grubby inducement.
It was perhaps a fitting end to one of the worst weeks of Obama presidency, in which a Rasmussen one poll pegged his popularity at a new low of 42 percent. In an environment in which Americans are disillusioned and cynical about Washington and all it stands for, the Clinton-Sestak manoeuvre could be a political calamity for Obama.
Perhaps he should be grateful after all that the Oil Spill Cam was still beaming up footage from the sea bed.
Poverty, Capital and Economic Freedom
When poor countries grow rich, it rarely has anything at all to do with how many mouths they have to feed or the abundance of natural resources. Instead, across the globe, poor countries of all sizes, climates, and endowments begin to grow rich as two key factors increase.
First, countries grow rich as their human capital improves. Human capital is the term economists use to describe the value that a country’s people possess through their accumulated experience and education. For example, there is little doubt that India’s recent growth explosion is due in large part to the education—including the knowledge of the English language—of its people.
Second, countries grow rich as they invest in and accumulate physical capital: the machines, tools, infrastructure, and other equipment that make the product of each hour of physical labor more valuable.
That which both human capital and physical capital share is that they both transform the result of an hour of a person’s hard work into something of even greater value. As the value of an hour of labor rises, employers gladly pay higher hourly rates, knowing that their bottom lines will be the better for it.
If we want to be effective agents in aiding the poor, we should focus our efforts in directions leading to the enhanced value of an hour of labor. That is, we should help poor countries wisely grow their stocks of human and physical capital, all the while bearing in mind that markets and their prices send the best available signals regarding where our efforts can have the greatest impact. The newfound success of innovative micro lending efforts such as Kiva can help show us ways to effectively invest in the accumulation of physical capital by the global poor. Compassion International is a marvelous organization that works to further the education—the human capital—of poor children worldwide, with a financial accountability record above reproach.
Further, markets work best when economic systems maintain the dignity of human beings. First, human beings grow and flourish—and accumulate human and physical capital—in systems that afford them considerable economic freedom. Economic freedom means that people are able to make personal choices, that their property is protected, and that they may voluntarily buy and sell in markets. Yet, economic freedom requires the protection of private property. When property rights are clearly defined and protected, people will work harder to create and to save. When they are confident that the fruits of their labors cannot be taken away arbitrarily or by force, people everywhere have greater assurance that their labors will lead to better lives for themselves and their families. Today’s rich collection of NGOs that work toward basic human rights play a critical role in this regard.
Finally, we should be outraged at the protectionist agricultural policies of already-rich nations such as the United States. When we allow the agricultural lobby to garner sweetheart deals from the U.S. House and Senate, the poor in other nations simply cannot compete with American growers of many crops because the trade rules are so utterly slanted against those in other nations.
For example, it is illegal for sugar buyers in the United States to purchase their sugar from sources outside the United States, even though the world price of sugar lies below the federally mandated price of sugar in the United States. This is wonderful, though, for U.S. sugar beet growers in the United States; it means they have a captive supply of buyers at a price that is being kept artificially high by federal decree. If the United States were to abandon such self-centered policies, sugar growers everywhere would have access to our markets, and the price of sugar would fall for all of us.
Moreover, confectioners and soft-drink makers in the United States would be able to produce their goods at lower costs, thereby adding to their job security. In one well publicized case in 2002, the Life-Savers candy factory in Holland, Michigan, was relocated to Canada, though the Michigan factory had been in operation for over thirty-five years and employed six hundred or so American workers. By moving to the northern side of the U.S.-Canada border, Life Savers slashed its input costs dramatically because, in Canada, Life-Savers was free to buy cane sugar at the world price: sugar grown by those who need the income most.
Sugar is not the only market we currently protect to keep out lower-priced commodities in an effort to help poor farmers in the United States. We have erected similar barriers that turn a blind eye to the plight of the global poor in markets for cotton, peanuts, and several other products that we can grow at home. In fact, by now you can probably see another reason why coffee prices are low. Because coffee cannot be grown in Ohio, or in France, rich northerners have not erected protectionist barriers to keep out the coffee that foreigners make.
If we really care about the global poor, we should work to make trade freer for everyone in our global community: a level playing field for all. That means tearing down all of the barriers we use to keep the global poor from working in the very jobs in which they are perfectly positioned to make the greatest lasting gains.
Obama official: Jihad Is Legitimate Tenet Of Islam
Some Muslims use "jihad" as a way to describe a personal religious struggle. Others use it to describe their desire to slaughter nonbelievers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which definition is most fitting for terrorists who want to murder United States citizens.
Why, then, would the United States counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan, go to great lengths to explain how jihad is a "holy" struggle? Here's Brennan's quote from Fox:
Nor do we describe our enemy as 'jihadists' or 'Islamists' because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one's community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.
It seems that Brennan is woefully unaware of the direct connection between Islam and violent acts of extremism. The fringe of any mainstream religion can certainly be capable of these kinds of acts, but the reality is that these acts are simply more prevalent among Muslim believers. Moreover, Brennan is involved in counterterrorism, not religious affairs. It's his place to deal with the realities of religious violence, not to serve as a public relations lapdog for our dangerously image-conscious Commander in Chief.
Democrats hope to entrench change that will outlast their time in office
Beginning last summer, Obama and the Democrats made sweeping health care legislation their top priority. This is when the tide in public opinion began to change. The more Obama talked about the need for health care "reform," the less people liked it and the more they voted against it every time they were given a chance -- culminating in the election earlier this year of Scott Brown, a little-known Republican, to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy. Brown turned his campaign into a crusade against Obamacare -- promising to use his vote as the 41st Republican senator to deny the Democrats the supermajority needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
Then something remarkable happened. Though public opinion had clearly moved to the right, Obama and the Democrats decided to move left-hard left-in rejigging congressional rules to jam their health care bill through Congress via a simple majority vote. Revved up by this "victory" in securing the passage of a manifestly unpopular piece of legislation, the Democratic leadership now aims to replicate this success in passing other bills that have the enthusiastic support of the party's liberal base and are roundly opposed by most other Americans. This includes cap and trade and legislation granting new powers and privileges to the unions.
Under this first-things-last approach, Obama and the Democrats -- cheered on by the intellectual class that is dominant in the universities and within the news media -- are persuaded that they should seize the moment, while they are still in control of both houses of Congress, to pass "enlightened" if unpopular legislation, and then sell the virtues of such legislation to the people once it is already law. They are equally persuaded that good intentions trump any need for good economics -- or careful and honest analysis of weighing the supposed benefits against the likely costs. As a friend of mine put it, "The economic consequences be damned when one's sense of moral superiority is all that matters."
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)