There are some things you simply don’t farm out — and national security is one of those things

I am cheap.  Very cheap.  That means that I’m a bargain hunter.  I like used books and cheap clothes.  I prefer to buy American but, if my pocketbook tells me that America isn’t a good deal, I’ll usually follow my pocketbook.  Usually, but not always.  If buying something from another country would put me in danger, I don’t do it.  That’s why I don’t buy canned goods or, indeed, anything that goes in my mouth, from China.  The t-shirts may be shoddy, fading and ripping quickly, but they won’t poison me.  The food just might.  (I’d like to avoid Chinese honey, too, which is chock full of antibiotics, fungicides, and industrial pollutants, but the fact is that most of the major manufacturers that use honey as an ingredient buy cheap Chinese honey.)

Not only will I avoid products that will harm me, I’m also unlikely to pay someone for service if I know that the person’s agenda is hostile to mine.  You don’t have the local thief install your burglar alarm.  I don’t even need active hostility to back off.  I also won’t buy service from someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in doing a good job for me.

None of the above is rocket science.  It’s good old-fashioned common sense — which, of course, is the one thing government lacks.  This current administration, especially, seems to go out of its way to abandon common sense.

I mention all this now because of a news story that the MSM is ignoring, but that should matter to everyone concerned both with American national security and with the American economy.  Here’s the deal:

There may be additional heartening employment news in the same sector [Boeing got an air tanker deal], following a request by the U.S. Air Force to identify suppliers for a new kind of airplane that can perform the light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) missions that are being requested by our military leaders.

The new aircraft’s purpose is to allow our U.S. pilots to more effectively execute the tactics, maneuvers and procedures that are needed for the type of counter insurgency warfare that we are currently seeing in Afghanistan and other conflict zones around the globe. In turn, these American pilots will train their partners and developing nation counterparts to fly these same planes and defend themselves, with a goal of reducing the need for U.S. military presence in the region.

Two companies are vying for the Air Force contract — Hawker Beechcraft, a Kansas-based company, and Embraer, a Brazilian owned and operated company.

The Red State article to which I linked explains that Hawker Beechcraft has a good history and a good product.  I’m sure that’s true.  I’ll even stipulate that Embraer also has a good history and a good product.  My question, though, is why in the world our government, which has never before been constrained by bargain shopping and common  sense, is willingly giving another country the blueprints for and access to one of our military products?

Here’s a perfect anecdote to illustrate my concerns:  Think back to 1976 and the Entebbe rescue mission.  The Israeli military’s raid on Entebbe to rescue hostages is one of the great stories of derring-do, intelligent planning, heroism, and creative thinking.  But it was also made possible by one significant fact:  More than a decade before the hostage-taking, an Israeli company had built the airport.  This meant that Israel had the plans.  As it happened, back in 1976, the fact that a non-Ugandan company had this type of information was the best thing that could have happened, helping the good guys win, and soundly defeating and humiliating the bad guys.

In this case, though, we’re the good guys.  I’d classify the Brazilians as the neutral guys for now, although their decision to follow in our footsteps and elect an anti-capitalist president is worrying.  While I believe and hope that Americans can and will shake off the Obama’s pernicious socialism, it’s not so clear that Brazil will.  If Venezuela is any guide, once socialism is firmly ensconced in a Latin American government, that government is no friend of ours.  Even without that specific scenario, though, the fact is taht one never knows what will happen in another country.  Right now, we’re witnessing events in the Middle East that caught the West entirely flatfooted.  Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy.

The whole friend/enemy thing is tolerable if you’re talking about buying t-shirts and canned foods or tables and cars from your frenemy, but it comes much more fraught when you’re talking about national security.  The optimal situation is one in which no country, Brazil included, knows too much about a “new kind of airplane that can perform the light attack and armed reconnaissance missions that” are part of modern American military tactics. Ten years from now, when the world has shifted, we may find ourselves bitterly regretting placing that information in another’s hands.

In addition to the security angle, there’ s also a matter of steering tax dollars, especially during a big recession.  It’s one thing for the marketplace to make decisions about where the money flows.  If I want to send my money to China, well, that’s my choice.  If enough people do that, than China gets rich or American companies figure out how to compete.  The government, though, is not the marketplace.  We’re not talking millions of customers making market-responsive decisions.  Instead, we’re talking about a huge, unwieldy, unresponsive bureaucracy taking millions and millions of dollars that taxpayers are forced to hand over to the government, and then sending it far, far away from the taxpayers.  This makes sense if the American market cannot supply the product — but we know that, in this case, the American market, made up of American taxpayers, is perfectly capable of providing the product.  There is therefore, no economic reason to ship our security over seas.

My congress people are Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Lynn Woolsey.  In other words, contacting them is about as useful as using tweezers to move mountains.  If you’re in a district that boasts slightly responsive congress people, though, let them know your concerns about this deal.  Sending military airplane manufacturing out of the country is bad for national security and bad for the economy.

Is it wrong to agree with Rand Paul? Not when he talks about government spending, it isn’t.

I find Ron Paul abhorrent, and I worry about Rand Paul, who seems like a slightly more polished version of Daddy.  Nevertheless, even creepy people can be right, as Rand Paul is about government spending.

His point, basically, is that Republicans and Democrats are battling over bandage quality, rather than actually treating the wound.  The only place in which Paul departs from reality is to complain that military spending has slightly more than doubled since 9/11.  He seems to forget that, since 9/11, the military has been fighting a very active, two-front war.  That’s going to require more money than a peace-time military.

Life in the nanny state

I was reading Rick Steves’ Italy 2011 (the 2010) version, when I was surprised to learn this little fact on page 21:

Because Europeans are generally careful with energy use, you’ll find government-enforced limits on air-conditioning and heating.  There’s a one-month period each spring and fall when neither is allowed.

For those of us in Marin who have been fussing about PG&E installing smart meters on their houses (something that happened to our house, will she nil she), that little paragraph is a stark harbinger of the future in the nanny state.

If you need any further reminder of what it’s like to have the government make all your decisions for you, Bruce Bawer chimes in with this one:

In Norway, all wine and spirits are sold in government-owned stores dedicated strictly to that purpose.  The stores — which collectively are known by the cozy name vinmonopolet, or “the wine monopoly” — are open from 10 to 6 on weekdays and 10 to 3 on Saturdays. They’re closed on Sundays and on all sorts of holidays. Around Christmas and Easter they’re closed for days at a stretch.

The number of stores is limited, determined not by market demand but, in good socialist fashion, by government fiat. In Oslo, a sprawling city with a population of over half a million, there are only 26 stores. And the prices — thanks to taxes designed to discourage potential customers and punish those who do buy — are the world’s highest. Norwegians go to Sweden to purchase cheaper intoxicants than they can get at home – and for the same reason Swedes go to Denmark, Danes to Germany, and Germans to Italy.

The Democrats are working on a similar situation, not with alcohol, but with food itself.  Michelle Obama’s obesity crusade isn’t about self-control, it’s about government control.  Mayor Bloomberg has already given New Yorker’s a taste for this kind of medicine:

Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle draws our attention to the fawning coverage Politico reporter Amy Parnes gives to Michelle Obama’s crusade against obesity. Parnes. Boyle argues, might as well be regarded as an unpaid press agent on the First Lady’s behalf. Parnes in particular wants to criticize conservatives who have taken aim at the First Lady’s self-chosen cause as another manifestation of the nanny state. But who can deny that the authoritarian left has our menus in its gunsights? From Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on transfats and war on salt in New York City to bans on sodas and other treats in public schools to the documentaries and pressure groups attacking McDonald’s, is the idea of extending government regulation to our food choices that far-fetched? Our nannies have already proposed taxing certain politically-incorrect foods at a higher rate. And if they come for our donuts, won’t our guns be next?

I’ll leave you to contemplate the irony of our gluttonous first lady, the one who dines in fatty style wherever she goes, attempting to control American eating habits.

Many years ago, one of my first slow steps across the Rubicon happened when, in 1979, I met a Russian woman who had managed to immigrate here because she fell in love with an American exchange student studying in Moscow.  The thing that struck her most was the choice in stores.  Russian stores had no choice.  You bought what the government made available.  In America, you bought what the market made available.  She would amuse herself by going into Safeway and just standing there, drinking it in.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Liberal makes lemonade from Obama’s lemon of a budget

It’s not often I get the pleasure of laughing out loud when I read a “serious” political piece, especially one from an Obama acolyte, but I have to admit that this one completely lifted my mood.  The author, David Kendall, at heart, seems to be an honest soul because he recognizes that there is nothing serious about the President’s proposed budget.  If he was less blinded by ideology, he might use that knowledge to understand that either (a) the President is an idiot or (b) the President has made the first move in a very dangerous game of chicken, with the United States standing in for the car that’s heading for the cliff.  Honesty, though, does not equal clarity and intelligence, so Kendall takes another tack altogether, and that’s what had me laughing.

What Kendall argues, with a perfectly straight face, boils down to this:  the budget is a great thing because its awfulness sparks a necessary dialog:

A president’s budget is only as good as the debate that it engenders. After all, Congress doesn’t even have to vote on it, and it rarely does.

Measured by this standard, President Obama’s budget is a resounding success. Republicans have tagged it as a job-killer. Deficit hawks say it doesn’t go far enough. Budget doves fear the impact of cuts to heating assistance and numerous other programs.

Even with the criticism, it nudges the debate forward. It brings Democrats to the table with tough but necessary cuts that move away from stimulus spending. It challenges Republicans with long-term investments to unclog highways, expand exports and produce clean energy. And it tees up a debate about entitlements and taxes by making it clear that incremental changes aren’t enough to bring the debt down to previous levels.

You can read the rest here, in which Kendall essentially gives his opinion what he would do if he controlled the budget.

All I could think as I read Kendall’s gushy lemonade was “Silly me, I thought that proposed budgets from the executive office were meant to be serious efforts to manage the nation’s finances. It never occurred to me that the President’s duty apparently began and ended with getting a good conversation going.”

Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome

In 1832, Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill granting a new charter to the Second National Bank.  In a statement justifying that veto, he wrote a stirring statement defending equality of opportunity, and acknowledging how ridiculous it is to pretend that government can force equality of outcome:

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.

Democrat, Corruptocrat!

Democrats are the friends of big business, Conservatives are the friends of small business. Democrat government inevitably ratchets its way to corruptocracy.

If you don’t agree with this, can we at least agree that Democrats favor highly regulated economies and societies and conservatives don’t?

Let me explain with two examples.

1) The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about how the EPA has decided that milk, because it contains 4% butterfat, should be regulated under the same environmental control standards as petroleum. Consequently, dairy farmers will have to file Federally approve emergency plans on how to deal with “oil spills” and such. Large dairies (some dairies in California milk 10,000 or more cows at a time) will probably be able to comply. Small dairies (goat and sheep milk farms, Vermont dairy producers etc. ) are just out of luck. I happen to know something about the dairy industry – it’s a highly politicized, highly subsidized industry that operates on very thin margins. I’m sure that they will come to an accommodation with the EPA and Federal Government…at a very steep price, politically and $-wise!

2) As it becomes increasingly clear the degree to which Obama Care really is a pig-in-a-poke, there is frantic activity to opt out of it. The numbers of entities that have received waivers from ObamaCare (other than Congress) magically rose from about 200 to 700+ immediately after the SOTU speech. Those entities are large companies and unions on the inside track. The way you get a waiver is to have a lobbyist obtain it on your behalf. Money exchanges hands. Large companies can afford this, small companies…out of luck! If ObamaCare is so great, why the rush by Congress, favored businesses and union to obtain waivers?

Increased regulation is inversely proportional to lobbying activity. The less regulation there is, the less the need to influence government. The more regulation, the more the need to petition the royal aristocracy at a heavy price. The need to petition our government for redress under regulations fostered by our government is a corrupting influence. If you lack influence and can’t make payment, you are out of the equation. Here in Chicagoland, we know all about this. Here is what happens:

Society sediments into three classes: a) an aristocratic Democrat nomenklatura that controls the regulatory and judiciary structures of society; b) a wealthy, economic class that can afford to exchange favors for regulatory exemptions and waivers…at a price; c) a lumpen proletariat, outside of the power structures, imprisoned into forced into regulatory straight-jackets (taxable prey…if you will) that they will never be able to escape unless willing to surrender at the price of their souls. It is this last class that pays the bills for the others. This isn’t new…despite its “progressive” tag, it’s a regression to 19th Century economic “shakedown” realities.

My entire career, I have been a champion of entrepreneurs and small companies. They are vital to our society and economy, as innovators, risk-takers and employers. I would hate to see this glorious period end as we slouch toward third-world corruptocracy.

I know that Democrats mouth have historically mouthed platitudes about looking after the “little guy”. I would like to think that only the truly moronic and armchair philosophers walled into their temples of abstract theory can fail to see how Orwellian and corrupting these platitudes are.

Have we as a nation arrived at a point where we can stop this from happening or is it inevitable? A Jewish relative once remarked that no Jew sleeps without two shoes under his bed stuffed with a roll of cash, in case of a quick getaway. I am starting to understand his point.

Comparing apples and oranges — federal projects old and new

Rumor has it that the President is going to use the State of the Union address to call for more government spending.  Much more government spending:

President Barack Obama will call for new government spending on infrastructure, education and research in his State of the Union address Tuesday, sharpening his response to Republicans in Congress who are demanding deep budget cuts, people familiar with the speech said.

Mr. Obama will argue that the U.S., even while trying to reduce its budget deficit, must make targeted investments to foster job growth and boost U.S. competitiveness in the world economy. The new spending could include initiatives aimed at building the renewable-energy sector—which received billions of dollars in stimulus funding—and rebuilding roads to improve transportation, people familiar with the matter said. Money to restructure the No Child Left Behind law’s testing mandates and institute more competitive grants also could be included.

When one questions the wisdom of a government spending binge during a recession, many Democrats and Progressives will point to the wonders of government spending during the 1930s and the 1950s.  Those spending binges got people off the streets, and left America with dams, post offices, a national highway system and other true infrastructure benefits.  They see Obama inaugurating the third American golden age of infrastructure building, something that will leave us with the solar plan equivalent of the Hoover Dam or an interstate highway.

Putting aside the fact that dams and roads were proven necessities that genuinely served the interests of citizens, as opposed to unproven technologies that mostly benefit select special interests (solar and wind farms, for example), there’s something very important that all the Lefties are forgetting:  government now doesn’t function as government did then.

Back in the good old Roosevelt and Eisenhower days, government actually was a surprisingly efficient engine of change.  Hoover Dam, for example, took only four and half years to build.  The government came, the government saw, and the government conquered.  The staggering bureaucratic nightmare that haunts any government project nowadays simply didn’t exist then.  Safety oversight was minimal.  (It was seen as unexceptional that 100 men died building the dam.)  Special interest groups were nonexistent.  Indeed, the Code of Federal Regulations that we all know and fear now didn’t even get it’s start until the Roosevelt administration.  It was in its infancy during Hoover Dam’s construction — too small yet to impair efficiency.

The 1950s infrastructure boom was also less hampered by the CFR.  It existed in pretty much the same state in the 1950s as it did in the 1930s.  It only got its second wind in the 1960s.  The 1950s projects were aided by the fact that America was one of the few viable economies in the world after WWII, and by the massive availability of post-War labor.

It would be foolish of me to deny that there are virtues to having some regulations.  The thought of 100 people dying to build a federal project nowadays is horrifying to modern sensibilities.  One also wants structures that meet certain standards.  Otherwise, God forbid there’s an earthquake under a federal project, it will flatten as quickly as buildings do in Iran or China or Mexico, or other countries in which cheap, safety-free building is normative.

There is a happy medium, though, and our government has traveled too far in the direction of over-regulation.  If you’ve ever had the exquisite pain of reading the CFR, you realize that federal regulations are so detailed and overwhelming, so stultifying and initiative killing, so inflexible and deadening, that they’ve gone far beyond protecting workers and providing some semblance of standardization for federal projects.  Instead, they are the quintessential example of the “perfect being the enemy of the good.”  With their relentless drive for perfection, they destroy cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and speed.  All federal projects are now federally mandated boondoggles, ensuring only that federal employees will have jobs in perpetuity.

And just so that you can appreciate that I’m not exaggerating about the paralyzing detail of the CFRs, here are the rules for safe wooden ladders on a job site.  (And you can be assured that any construction requires wooden ladders.)  I have no opposition, of course, to safe ladders — indeed, I encourage them — but this type of obsessive specificity is costly and gives federal inspectors a ridiculous amount of power over any job site, even as it turns the people on site into thoughtless automatons:

[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 29, Volume 5]
[Revised as of July 1, 2010]
From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
[CITE: 29CFR1910.25]

[Page 122-124]




Subpart D_Walking-Working Surfaces

Sec. 1910.25 Portable wood ladders.

(a) Application of requirements. This section is intended to prescribe rules and establish minimum requirements for the construction, care, and use of the common types of portable wood ladders, in order to insure safety under normal conditions of usage. Other types of special ladders, fruitpicker’s ladders, combination step and extension ladders, stockroom step ladders, aisle-way step ladders, shelf ladders, and library ladders are not specifically covered by this section.
(b) Materials–(1) Requirements applicable to all wood parts. (i) All wood parts shall be free from sharp edges and splinters; sound and free from accepted visual inspection from shake, wane, compression failures, decay, or other irregularities. Low density wood shall not be used.
(ii) [Reserved]
(2) [Reserved]
(c) Construction requirements. (1) [Reserved]
(2) Portable stepladders. Stepladders longer than 20 feet shall not be supplied. Stepladders as hereinafter specified shall be of three types:

Type I–Industrial stepladder, 3 to 20 feet for heavy duty, such as utilities, contractors, and industrial use.
Type II–Commercial stepladder, 3 to 12 feet for medium duty, such as painters, offices, and light industrial use.
Type III–Household stepladder, 3 to 6 feet for light duty, such as light household use.

(i) General requirements.
(a) [Reserved]
(b) A uniform step spacing shall be employed which shall be not more than 12 inches. Steps shall be parallel and level when the ladder is in position for use.
(c) The minimum width between side rails at the top, inside to inside, shall be not less than 111/2 inches. From top to bottom, the side rails shall spread at least 1 inch for each foot of length of stepladder.
(d)-(e) [Reserved]
(f) A metal spreader or locking device of sufficient size and strength to securely hold the front and back sections in open positions shall be a component of each stepladder. The spreader shall have all sharp points covered or removed to protect the user. For Type III ladder, the pail shelf and spreader may be combined in one unit (the so-called shelf-lock ladder).
(3) Portable rung ladders.
(i) [Reserved]
(ii) Single ladder. (a) Single ladders longer than 30 feet shall not be supplied.
(b) [Reserved]
(iii) Two-section ladder. (a) Two-section extension ladders longer than 60 feet shall not be supplied. All ladders of this type shall consist of two sections, one to fit within the side rails of the other, and arranged in such a manner that the upper section can be raised and lowered.
(b) [Reserved]
(iv) Sectional ladder. (a) Assembled combinations of sectional ladders longer than lengths specified in this subdivision shall not be used.
(b) [Reserved]
(v) Trestle and extension trestle ladder. (a) Trestle ladders, or extension sections or base sections of extension trestle ladders longer than 20 feet shall not be supplied.
(b) [Reserved]
(4) Special-purpose ladders.
(i) [Reserved]
(ii) Painter’s stepladder. (a) Painter’s stepladders longer than 12 feet shall not be supplied.
(b) [Reserved]
(iii) Mason’s ladder. A mason’s ladder is a special type of single ladder intended for use in heavy construction work.
(a) Mason’s ladders longer than 40 feet shall not be supplied.
(b) [Reserved]
(5) Trolley and side-rolling ladders–(i) Length. Trolley ladders and side-rolling ladders longer than 20 feet should not be supplied.
(ii) [Reserved]
(d) Care and use of ladders–(1) Care. To insure safety and serviceability the following precautions on the care of ladders shall be observed:
(i) Ladders shall be maintained in good condition at all times, the joint between the steps and side rails shall be tight, all hardware and fittings securely attached, and the movable parts shall operate freely without binding or undue play.
(ii) Metal bearings of locks, wheels, pulleys, etc., shall be frequently lubricated.
(iii) Frayed or badly worn rope shall be replaced.
(iv) Safety feet and other auxiliary equipment shall be kept in good condition to insure proper performance.
(v)-(ix) [Reserved]
(x) Ladders shall be inspected frequently and those which have developed defects shall be withdrawn from service for repair or destruction and tagged or marked as “Dangerous, Do Not Use.”
(xi) Rungs should be kept free of grease and oil.
(2) Use. The following safety precautions shall be observed in connection with the use of ladders:
(i) Portable rung and cleat ladders shall, where possible, be used at such a pitch that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is one-quarter of the working length of the ladder (the length along the ladder between the foot and the top support). The ladder shall be so placed as to prevent slipping, or it shall be lashed, or held in position. Ladders shall not be used in a horizontal position as platforms, runways, or scaffolds;
(ii) Ladders for which dimensions are specified should not be used by more than one man at a time nor with ladder jacks and scaffold planks where use by more than one man is anticipated. In such cases, specially designed ladders with larger dimensions of the parts should be procured;
(iii) Portable ladders shall be so placed that the side rails have a secure footing. The top rest for portable rung and cleat ladders shall be reasonably rigid and shall have ample strength to support the applied load;
(iv) Ladders shall not be placed in front of doors opening toward the ladder unless the door is blocked upon, locked, or guarded;
(v) Ladders shall not be placed on boxes, barrels, or other unstable bases to obtain additional height;
(vi)-(vii) [Reserved]
(viii) Ladders with broken or missing steps, rungs, or cleats, broken side rails, or other faulty equipment shall not be used; improvised repairs shall not be made;
(ix) Short ladders shall not be spliced together to provide long sections;
(x) Ladders made by fastening cleats across a single rail shall not be used;
(xi) Ladders shall not be used as guys, braces, or skids, or for other than their intended purposes;
(xii) Tops of the ordinary types of stepladders shall not be used as steps;
(xiii) On two-section extension ladders the minimum overlap for the two sections in use shall be as follows:

Size of ladder (feet) (feet)
Up to and including 36……………………………….. 3
Over 36 up to and including 48………………………… 4
Over 48 up to and including 60………………………… 5

(xiv) Portable rung ladders with reinforced rails (see paragraphs (c)(3) (ii)(c) and (iii)(d) this section) shall be used only with the metal reinforcement on the under side;
(xv) No ladder should be used to gain access to a roof unless the top of the ladder shall extend at least 3 feet above the point of support, at eave, gutter, or roofline;
(xvi) [Reserved]
(xvii) Middle and top sections of sectional or window cleaner’s ladders should not be used for bottom section unless the user equips them with safety shoes;
(xviii) [Reserved]
(xix) The user should equip all portable rung ladders with nonslip bases when there is a hazard of slipping. Nonslip bases are not intended as a substitute for care in safely placing, lashing, or holding a ladder that is being used upon oily, metal, concrete, or slippery surfaces;
(xx) The bracing on the back legs of step ladders is designed solely for increasing stability and not for climbing.

[39 FR 23502, June 27, 1974, as amended at 43 FR 49744, Oct. 24, 1978;
49 FR 5321, Feb. 10, 1984]

This is no way to run a business, and it’s even worse when you think about the fact that the above regulation covers only one type of ladder.  Multiply this level of regulation out to include the design process, the bidding process, the hiring process, and the myriad details of actual job construction, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it means that no new infrastructure that the feds pay for will be built with the speed of the Hoover Dam or our national transportation system.  The golden age of federally built infrastructure is dead and gone.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News