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Baghdad Boots

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Are we being misinformed about the war now being waged against ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

Or should I call it a “counter-terrorism operation”?

Oh, I know there is an election in a few weeks, so we don’t want to bother the pretty little heads of our national representatives in Congress. They’re far too busy running for re-election.

And, though the president isn’t on the ballot, as he points out, his unpopular policies certainly are. Mr. Obama’s concern for his own political legacy must of course come before the ordinary lives of our sons and daughters that he has placed in harm’s way.

Get realpolitik.

Don’t expect a congressional debate over the U.S. commitment now. And give the Prez a break; he’s ordering enough airstrikes to supposedly keep a lid on things until after the election.

Chill out. Our commander-in-chief has repeatedly assured us there are no boots on the ground. Certainly, the city-within-a-city U.S. Embassy in Baghdad isn’t going to be overrun or anything like that.

Except, well, we do have boots on the ground. Or just above it, flying attack helicopters on combat missions . . . because ISIS soldiers have gotten within 15 miles of the Baghdad airport.

“The tool that was immediately available was the Apache,” explains Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “You’re not going to wait until they’re climbing over the wall. Had [ISIS forces] overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the Baghdad airport.”

Boots guard that airport. But who’s guarding truth, justice and the American way?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

An Ebola Education

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) faces a tough re-election contest. Following his campaign, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt inquired: “Do you think the Obama Administration has done an appropriate job handling the Ebola crisis?”

The senator responded with the universal politician distress call: “Uuuhhhhmmmmmm.”

Then Pryor stumbled ahead: “I would say that . . . it’s hard to know, ah, because, um . . . I haven’t heard the latest briefing on that to know all . . . [inaudible] can somehow read the paper and all. My impression is that we have people over there both from CDC and other medical-type people and even some engineers to try to build . . . um, you know, medical facilities. That’s what they need over there; they need the medical infrastructure.”

When Hunt asked whether the Administration had been “aggressive enough,” the senator returned to: “Uuhhhmmmmm. Again, I’d have to see the latest numbers.”

“Oh my god,” uber-liberal host Mika Brzezinski reacted to Pryor’s stumbling. “She asked a gentle question . . . and the guy just collapsed.”

“What was that, Kasie?” laughed Joe Scarborough. “Why were those questions so hard for the senator to answer?”

“I was a little surprised . . .” Kasie chuckled, noting that Sen. Pryor had earlier run a ludicrous TV spot accusing his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, of voting “against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola.”

One might think the incumbent senator actually followed and cared about the effort to combat a horrible disease that could kill untold people. Instead, it appears he knows Ebola only as a brickbat with which to slug a political opponent in hopes of staying in power.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Buy Whoppers to Oppose Whoppers

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has proposed a boycott of Burger King. Try Wendy’s or White Castle instead, he urges.

Why? Are the Burger King burgers moldy now?

No, they’re still delectable. In fact, I’m stepping up my patronage of Burger King thanks to Brown’s attack. All who seek to productively improve their lives should follow suit.

For that’s the actual crime here. Honest self-improvement. Contrary to Brown, though, it deserves no chastisement.

Burger King has been caught pursuing an opportunity to improve its offerings and bottom line. It is buying Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee-and-donut chain. It will also be moving its headquarters to Canada.

Why?

Because our federal government taxes corporate earnings more heavily than many other countries do, the Burger King move north means a smaller tax bite. More money for the shareholders.

And, thus, less money for Uncle Sam.

Fine with me. I don’t begrudge an honestly earned dollar. And our government’s wastrel ways  won’t be cured by ever-higher taxes on us. But if politicians fear the exodus of U.S. firms for tax reasons, why not eliminate that motive by reducing corporate taxes?

Brown gestures in the direction of lower taxes but also demands a “global minimum tax rate” to thwart absconders. Nah. Chuck the stick. Just use the carrot. Slash what U.S.-based firms must pay and American firms will stay.

Slash them enough and maybe successful foreign firms will move HQs here, too.

Entice the economic titans who benefit us so much; don’t chase them away. Instead of badgering with boycotts, inspire with freedom.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Foreign Policy Evacuation?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Last week, the United States closed and shuttered the embassy in Tripoli, Libya, evacuating from the country its personnel — 158 diplomats and 60 Marines. Fighting between two rival militias reportedly got so close that the embassy was actually being hit by stray small arms fire.

I certainly don’t object to the decision to pull people out. Seems prudent, especially in light of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans, including our ambassador, dead.

But the protective move sends an unmistakable signal about Libya and US foreign policy. Obama’s 2011 military intervention into Libya via NATO — famously promoted as “leading from behind” — has clearly and obviously failed.

Libya is in chaos, unsafe for Americans . . . or Libyans.

President Obama is hardly the sole leader deserving blame. Military campaigns launched by President Bush, who led from in front, haven’t worked, either.

After years of “pacifying” Iraq, at the cost of thousands of American lives, and building up Iraq’s military forces, the Iraqi army disintegrated at the first sign of conflict. The Iraqi government remains thoroughly corrupt.

Sadly, the same fate awaits the end of our nation-building stint in Afghanistan. A recent Washington Post story quoted Sgt. Kenneth Ventrice, a veteran of three tours in Iraq and now serving his second in Afghanistan, saying, “It’s going to fall a lot faster than Iraq did.”

These foreign interventions are failures.

But the biggest failure? Not to learn from our mistakes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Book-Cooking with Extra Salsa

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Lately, governments have sought to seem more fiscally responsible by re-confabulating how they calculate a measure of economy-wide economic strength called Gross Domestic Product. (The principle involved is ancient. It’s been denominated “fudging.”)

One of the crassest number-jugglers is the Italian government.

Italy wants to comply with a European Union demand that it limit debt to 2.6% of GDP. If the country’s GDP is statistically fattened by using looser rules for calculating it, then debt as percentage of GDP becomes magically “lower” — as a statistical percentage. Italian politicians can lurch to waste more money while still fetching EU handouts.

A year ago, the American fedgov was guilty of similar fudging when it statistically padded our GDP by $500 billion.

Statistical aggregates like GDP entail much guesswork and many dubious assumptions to begin with. For one thing, why is government spending — including that huge portion that dampens or destroys economic production — included in a calculation supposedly measuring economic value?  (A better indicator of general economic strength, Gross Output, hasn’t quite caught on yet. And I don’t expect those highest up in government to push it.)

The purpose of the number-tweaking by Italy, the U.S. and other governments is hardly to improve or amend or salvage whatever is conceivably salvageable in the original number-crunching. The purpose is to disguise bad policies.

But jiggering with how the impact of awful policies is guesstimated in order to better to hide their consequences won’t erase the awfulness of those policies. And curtailing or ending awful policies can be done entirely without peering into statistic-stoked crystal balls.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Google Mugged By Reality?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Google says health care is unhealthy.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has conducted what he calls a “fireside chat” with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In one much-cited passage, Brin observes that although he is excited about making gadgets like glucose-measuring contact lenses, health care, because “so heavily regulated,” is “just a painful business to be in. It’s not necessarily how I want to spend my time. . . . [T]he regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.” Page echoes his colleague.

A blunt, and fair, observation. But it makes one wonder why these super-entrepreneurs have not been more critical (at least so far as their search engine can tell me) of Obamacare, which multiplies mandates and prohibitions in the medical industry by an order of magnitude.

Top Google executives are known to be liberal in their politics, and presumably have been sincere. It seems, though, that reality is not cooperating with any ideological tilt they may yet harbor in favor of government paternalism.

It’s in fields with which a businessman is best acquainted that he is most likely to recognize the value of freedom — at least his own, if not always that of competitors. So perhaps we should hope that Brin, Page and other Google principals try to achieve something great in every industry there is. That way, they can come around to consistent, principled support for freeing markets.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Lie by Numbers

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Folks in government regularly lie with statistics.

A ReasonTV interview by historian Thaddeus Russell of Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker, illustrates this well. Russell quoted a U.S. State Department website that claims there are presently “up to 27 million slaves in the world,” and asked Ms. McNeill where that number on “human trafficking” came from.

An expert at a UN conference concocted the startling figure from a complex formula based on government reporting, his own arbitrary compensation for likely under-reporting, and extra points thrown in for media coverage.

Not scientific. At all. “When you are using media reports in the middle of a panic,” McNeill argues, “your numbers are going to keep increasing.”

Further, she notes that there is no way to know the real number of sex workers, voluntary or enslaved — the very fact of prostitution’s illegality not unreasonably engenders distrust amongst sex workers in medical as well as police officials.

“Stand up and be counted” appears ominous when “counted” really means “jailed.”

Human trafficking numbers are also over-estimated because government officials tend to define all criminal sex work as involuntary, lumping call girls, escorts and streetwalkers in with actual sex slaves. The argument, of course, is that voluntary sex workers are “victims”; their decisions downgraded on a theoretical level — because of disapproval.

Sure, they are all “victims” in some sense. (A preacher could marshal the argument better than I.) But there remains a difference between a person who goes into an illegal trade seeking a comparative advantage, and somebody kidnapped, imprisoned, and threatened to do the work.

Recognizing such distinctions makes for better public policies than fuzzing them up.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.