Trading Bad

“What I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games.  Sometimes it seems like a bad trade.  But bad trades are part of baseball.  Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?”

        —Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham

 

I suppose these things happen.

In 1989 the Minnesota Vikings gave the Dallas Cowboys five players and six draft picks (including three #1 picks and three #2 picks) for an aging Herschel Walker and a couple of mid-late round draft picks that, other than receiver Jake Reed, didn’t turn into anyone you’ve ever heard of, and the Vikings haven’t even sniffed the Super Bowl since.  Dallas converted those picks into (among others) Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith, Pro Bowlers Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland, receiver Alvin Harper, and three Super Bowl wins in four years in the early-to-mid-1990s.

A lopsided deal, to be sure.  But as far as I know, nobody died in the process.

By now you’ve seen that the Obama Administration made a deal with the Taliban to exchange five jihadists from Guantanamo Bay for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held prisoner in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009.  On its face this doesn’t seem like a major issue, and one might even call it a victory any time we can secure the return of an American POW.  The U.S. government has on many occasions and under a number of administrations engaged in spy swaps and other forms of prisoner exchanges.

But this one struck me as different from the get-go, and as more facts emerge—and I confess we’re still pretty early in that process—the worse this thing looks.

To begin with—and maybe this is just my ignorance—I thought it a bit odd that the Taliban even had a U.S. prisoner to exchange.  I did not know they were in the business of keeping live American prisoners, and indeed it turns out that Sgt. Bergdahl was the only one they had.  Which in itself begs the question why they had him alive in the first place; what value was he to them?

Then there was the notion of the exchange rate.  I do not mean to imply that any human being is more or less valuable than any other, but in return for this single infantry sergeant the Obama administration gave up five reportedly senior Taliban officials and military leaders, including men with direct ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (don’t sweat that, because Obama got a pinky-promise from the government of Qatar that they’ll keep an eye on these guys for the next year, just to make sure they don’t revert to their more violent tendencies; you’ll forgive us, however, if we wonder if that’s as good as the one Obama gave Bart Stupak (D-MI)).  Not only is that effectively trading generals for foot soldiers, but it’s not even a 1:1 deal.  Of course, we’ve seen how Obama negotiates with anyone outside the GOP, so that isn’t particularly a surprise.

But I can excuse all of that.

What I can’t excuse are the details that are emerging about the apparent circumstances of Bergdahl’s “capture,” and the way the President went about making this deal.

All the facts are not in; the Pentagon says it will investigate the matter, and unlike the many other promises from this Administration that it will investigate this, that, or the other thing and hold those responsible accountable—see Benghazi, Fast & Furious, IRS, NSA, VA, etc.—this one I sort of believe.  But what appears to be coming clear is that Bergdahl was not an ordinary POW captured in combat.  Multiple reports from men in his unit—apparently until now suppressed by the Pentagon, undoubtedly at the direction of the White House—indicate that Bergdahl instead was a deserter who walked off his post and voluntarily into the hands of the Taliban (which might explain in part why he was in the unique position of being in Taliban hands alive).

That’s bad enough, and I understand that the military takes such a dim view of desertion that the penalties for such an action are, well, somewhat on the stiff side.  One could reasonably ask why you would give up anything in exchange for a deserter.  But what really should bother everyone about this is the fact that the U.S. military spent as much as 60 days trying to find and rescue Bergdahl, and as many as 14 U.S. soldiers died in the process.   Add to that the however many Americans killed in the process of capturing the five jihadists released from GITMO in order to get Bergdahl back.  By making this deal, the Obama administration has cheapened those sacrifices, if not nullified them entirely, all for what really amounts to a political smoke screen—since when does Obama give a crap about the military—aimed at distracting attention from the VA debacle (which was distracting attention from the Benghazi and IRS scandals, which were distracting attention from FUBARCare . . . ).

That ought to make you sick to your stomach.

Worse still, all of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in Afghanistan—every one of them a volunteer, by the way—presumably died defending this country and the American way of life; a way of life that was supposed to be grounded in the rule of law and separation of powers guaranteed under the Constitution.  Say what you will about whether that’s what we’re accomplishing in Afghanistan from a policy standpoint—and it’s a fair complaint after twelve mostly rudderless years, and three years after the last plausibly legitimate objective was achieved—for people who volunteer to go there and serve, that’s what they believe they’re doing, and it’s why they’re doing it.  Yet, the Bergdahl trade represents yet another act in this Administration’s continuing imperial erosion of that concept.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the White House was obligated to give Congress 30 days’ advance notice before releasing any GITMO detainees.  Obama ignored this, and told no one in Congress ahead of time, except apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who claims he was notified just before it happened.  Even liberal Harvard law professors and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) acknowledge that this was a violation of the law.  The Obama Administration claims—depending on when you ask them—it could not give notice because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating such that his life was in immediate danger and they could not risk a delay scuttling the deal, or that the Taliban was going to kill him; but video of Bergdahl’s release appears to show him in reasonably good health, and it’s unclear why he would have suddenly been in immediate danger after having been in captivity for five years.  At this point in this Administration, does anyone with a mind even bother listening to the explanation du jour?

Part of the problem here is that it turns out that an exchange of GITMO prisoners for Bergdahl had been under consideration as far back as 2011—in itself begging the question why the sudden urgency now—and Congress told the President no.  But the bigger issue is the underlying attitude of this Administration that if in its sole judgment circumstances warranted a more expedited approach, then the law passed by Congress and signed by him simply didn’t apply.  This President has such utter contempt for Congress, the Constitution, and the separation of powers, and views himself so above the law, that none of it matters.  This prisoner exchange, like so many actions by this lawless President, is totally at odds with the framework of freedom so many have died in that godforsaken hellhole to defend.   Left unchecked, it leaves us yet another step down the path of voiding the price those servicemen and servicewomen paid.

And that’s a bad trade, indeed.

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Your Liberty Is Being Decreed Away

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.  I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.  You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

      —John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything

 

Somebody has to put a stop to this.

On Thursday, the President purported to bail out Congressional Democrats drowning in a tsunami of outrage over millions of people losing their medical care insurance due to the minimum coverage requirements of FUBARCare.  Following up on a proposal discussed in the last post, Obama made an executive decree authorizing the continued sale of discontinued policies made illegal under the law.

The trouble is the Democrats, having created the problem in the first place, can’t fix it by reinstating the plans.  They don’t have the constitutional authority to do so, and their insistence on doing it anyway is frightening.

They can’t do it via legislation, as we discussed Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) pushing.  The one thing Chief Justice John Roberts got right in his majority opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius was that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power to compel economic activity.  Because of that, it could not be used as a constitutional basis for upholding the individual mandate.  Senator Landrieu’s proposal simply amounts to an insurance company mandate, and the same analysis would apply.

I suppose one could argue that an insurance company mandate could be supported like the individual mandate was by enforcing it via a tax—Roberts was still wrong on that, by the way—but as a practical matter I don’t see how you would make that work.  It’s one thing to require individuals each of whom has to file their own tax return to submit proof of insurance with the return or have to pay their individual penalty.  But how do you enforce a tax on an insurance company to compel the reinstatement of hundreds of thousands of canceled policies?  How would you even compute such a tax, particularly when some people may have made other arrangements and don’t renew?  And there remain the disastrous long-term economic effects of compelling reinstatement, which we touched on in the last post.

Nor can the President do it.  Like Congress, he doesn’t have the authority to compel economic activity; the Commerce Clause doesn’t even apply to the President.  But he avoided that by not going as far as requiring insurance companies to reinstate policies, only decreeing that they would be permitted to continue selling policies that do not meet the statutory minimum coverage requirements.  He calls it “enforcement discretion,” and it is a power that doesn’t exist under the Constitution.  Scour Article II—you will not find it. 

Once again, we see this President unilaterally amending legislation—legislation he signed into law—creating a line-item veto by executive fiat, a power he simply does not have.  The President is only empowered to execute—that’s what an “executive” is—the laws passed by Congress.  He is not empowered to edit them, nor is he empowered to pick and choose which laws he will execute and which he will not.  One wonders where all those Democrats who little more than a month ago were shrieking at Ted Cruz that “It’s the law of the land!” are now. Thursday’s announcement and whatever order or communication that will go out to implement it are absolutely and unequivocally unconstitutional.

Notice a couple of things about the President’s “fix.”  One, it doesn’t lift the minimum coverage requirements; it only says that the penalties won’t be enforced.  It will remain illegal to have such a policy, and it will remain illegal to sell such a policy.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how comfortable I’d be holding or selling an illegal policy based on this President’s (unconstitutional) assurance—revocable at any time at his whim—that I won’t be punished for it.

Two, this “amnesty” plan is only good through 2014, once again conveniently pushing the issue off just long enough to get them through yet another election cycle.  And it likely does little for the millions who have already had their policies terminated.  Like everything else with this President, it’s a substance-less veneer; a cynical mirror hastily erected to divert your attention from the bigger issue.

And that bigger issue resides in the underlying thought process reflected in FUBARCare and the most recent band-aid.  Under FUBARCare, Congress took upon itself the power to compel individual private citizens to purchase a product regardless of whether they wanted it or could afford to pay for it, under penalty of law.  Let’s stop there for a moment; where does that end?  If Congress can make you buy medical care insurance, can’t it through the identical mechanism make you buy any other product or service it chooses to favor with an artificial compulsory market?  Suppose the UAW goes to Congress and says “We need more people buying cars”—what’s to stop Congress from enacting an individual automobile purchase mandate requiring every person over the age of 26 to buy a new car every three years or face a $15,000 fine, er, tax (with, of course, the appropriate federal subsidies, etc.)?

Pressing on, we see that the proposed solutions to the policy cancellation issue simply flip the analytical equation that led to FUBARCare in the first place.  Having compelled people to buy the product, the Progressives’ instinctive fix for the cancellations was then to compel people to sell the product.  True enough, Obama’s illegal exercise of fiat has—for now—stopped just short of compelling private insurance companies to sell the old policies, but compulsory sales was in fact the concept behind Senator Landrieu’s legislative proposal.  She wanted to force insurance companies to continue to sell policies they would otherwise cancel, and do so even at a loss.

Just like compulsory buying, this compulsory sale idea is subject to logical extension, and the place it leads isn’t pretty.  If government—whether via legislation or executive order—can compel a private insurance company to sell a policy, then it can compel any other private enterprise to sell a product, again even at a loss.  And if it can compel a private corporation to sell a product, it can compel any organization to sell a service.  And if it can compel a private organization—a private group of people—to sell a service, then it can compel a private individual to sell a service—force him to work—and again, to do so even at a loss.

Rusty, that’s crazy.  No one would ever suggest the government force individuals to provide a service against their will.

Really?  Well there are Progressives already openly campaigning on the premise that government should force doctors to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients—force them to provide a service—even if those doctors can’t break even under those programs’ payment structures.  It’s not far from there to say that doctors have to accept all patients, regardless of who they are or whether they can pay at all.  And if they can do it to doctors, well guess what, Sport . . .

It’s called a “command economy,” and it’s a hallmark of totalitarian communism.  Once government controls both sides of the transactional equation, once it acquires the power to compel both the purchaser to buy and the seller to sell, then all freedom is lost.  There is no private property, because both your money and your goods are subject to being forcibly exchanged in compulsory transactions; they belong to the government, to be disposed of as it sees fit for the collective good.  There is no liberty, because your labor—your fundamental control over yourself—is subject to being forcibly devoted to the service of someone else, whether you receive adequate compensation in return, or even any compensation at all; it likewise belongs to the government, to be disposed of as it sees fit for the collective good.  We all become slaves, each chained to the other, with the whip hand belonging to the Progressive ruling elite.

The Constitution was meant to protect you from this.  And it’s being openly, contemptuously ignored, with hardly a word in protest.  Once this genie is out of the bottle, friends, there ain’t no going back.  Write and call your Representative and your Senators; tell them they have to speak out and take action in defense of the Constitution.

We have to stop this now.  If it’s not already too late.

The Empire Strikes Back

My uncle has a country place that no one knows about

He says it used to be a farm before the Motor Law

Now on Sundays I elude the Eyes, and hop the turbine freight

To far outside the wire where my white-haired uncle waits

            —Rush, Red Barchetta

 

I was walking from the parking garage to my office this morning, and I saw something I’d never seen before:  I was passed by a white SUV sporting a law enforcement blue/red emergency light rack, and labeled “Police” in big bold letters.  That in itself wasn’t unusual, except that it wasn’t a Houston Police vehicle.  Nor was it a Harris County Sheriff’s vehicle, nor that of our state highway patrol.  Hell, it wasn’t even a Texas Ranger.

No, if you read the finer print on the side, you learned that this “Police” was part of something called the “Federal Protective Service,” which apparently emanates from the Department of Homeland Security.

Federal cops.  Armed federal cops.  Patrolling our streets. In broad daylight.

Anyone else seem to recall the inherent dangers in the crown stationing armed patrols in and among the general populace with no specific external threat?

Recall Boston, March 1770, and Kent State University, May 1970.

Now, if there’s some kind of national security threat they’re after, that’s very interesting because no one has said boo about anything specific.  As noted above, we already have several local law enforcement agencies on patrol and protecting us from ordinary day-to-day crime.  Which begs the question: what the hell is this federal police force doing?

Then I open the news and it gets beyond disturbing.  Turns out this armed federal police force was rolled out yesterday to “monitor” Tea Party protests at IRS offices in places like St. Louis, Los Angeles, Fort Wayne, and Florida.  In LA, protesters were actually told they weren’t allowed on federal property.  I’m sorry, I thought the federal government worked for the People, and any property it has it acquired with money it confiscated from the People, which means federal property is the People’s property.

My mistake.

I can see why the government would be concerned.  After all, it’s well known that Tea Party groups are prone to violent riots, rapes, vandalism, crapping on police cars, and generally trashing whatever public venue they use to assemble . . . oh, wait, that was Occupy Wall Street, which the Administration not only didn’t send federal cops to “monitor,” (read: intimidate) but actually openly supported.  Never mind that the IRS already has its own armed agents, presumably those cities, like Houston, have their own state and local law enforcement agencies.

If you can’t see the pattern developing here, then you are being willfully blind.  As I’ve covered previously, DHS has been stockpiling literally billions of rounds of ammunition, along with what the administration and the Left insist are military-only weapons, assault vehicles, body armor, and pre-fab roadway checkpoints.  All with no legitimate explanation. 

This is not an organization equipping itself to detect and prevent or respond to terrorism, but for riot control.  And not only does the Tea Party movement have no history of violence, but the movement at its fundamental core is dedicated to trying to save this country from itself; yet in the irony of ironies, it is against them that DHS is called out.  Yesterday’s deployment makes clear that the government does not intend to use DHS to protect us from outside terror attack, but to protect itself from us.

It doesn’t stop there.

The Tea Party protests were, of course, backlash against the metastasizing scandal of the IRS selectively targeting Tea Party and other groups potentially hostile to the federal government and this administration in particular.  Groups with conservative-sounding names were delayed or denied certification for tax-exempt nonprofit status—effectively preventing these grass-roots organizations from coming into full existence, beginning at exactly the time they were showing signs of making a difference in the 2010 election cycle—while groups with progressive or liberal-sounding names sailed throughSay what you want about how high up the chain responsibility for this goes—although it’s more than interesting that IRS chief Lois Lerner has taken the Fifth and refused to testify to Congress, and the IRS is refusing to comply with Congressional requests for documents—somebody in this Administration elected to use the force of federal government to attempt to intimidate political opponents into silence.

And it doesn’t stop there, either.  Turns out even the sycophant press isn’t safe.

Under the guise of investigating a leak in the interest of national security, the Department of Justice secretly seized phone records at the Associated Press; this after AP held a story at the administration’s request based on security concerns, then ran it after being told the security concern had passed.  The Administration had asked that AP continue to hold the story so that Obama could announce it first, a request the AP declined.  Several reporters at FoxNews have been under DOJ surveillance, and DOJ has been hacking others’ computers.  In other words, the DOJ that didn’t have time to prosecute the New Black Panthers for voter intimidation even though the intimidating activity was caught on tape has been spying on journalists who are either hostile to, or who manage to offend, the Obama Administration.

Maybe these are unrelated, isolated incidents.  Maybe these are inconsequential, coincidental acts by low-level rogue employees.  Maybe I’m wearing a tinfoil hat and Santa Clause isn’t real.   But this chain of events is increasingly displaying a consistent pattern that suggests an extremely dangerous bigger picture: you cross or even question this Administration, and somehow, some way, you are going to feel the instruments of the federal bureaucracy wielded as weapons against you.

  • Start with a President who is ideologically predisposed to view the power and role of the federal government, and the executive branch in particular, as being unlimited.  This President has already repeatedly demonstrated a willingness, even a zeal, for acting by unilateral fiat and ignoring the Constitution.
  • This President comes from the world of Chicago politics, where corruption, intimidation, and even violence have long been a core part of the fabric.  This President won every election he had run prior to entering the White House by using surrogates to smear or intimidate out of the race all opposition.
  • This President ran for office on a campaign of “fundamentally changing America” (notice he was very careful never to say how it would be fundamentally changed).  At the same time, he advocated the creation of an armed security force apart from, but “just as powerful as,” the military.  Once he took office, his Department of Homeland Security began expanding and stockpiling vast amounts of military hardware and munitions; meanwhile he has been dismantling a military whose membership is overwhelmingly opposed to him politically, and pursuing avenues for limiting, if not eliminating, private citizens’ access to weapons.
  • Now the IRS—which now refuses to answer questions or produce documents on the subject—selectively investigates and stalls the creation of groups that politically oppose the President.  When those groups protest after the targeting becomes public, this heavily armed paramilitary branch of DHS is deployed against them.
  • And now the DOJ—which refuses to answer questions or permit an external investigation of itself—secretly engages in surveillance of journalists who are potential enemies of the Adminstration.

The story would seem perfectly natural if it were somewhere else and we changed the name from Obama to Abbas, or Chavez, or Castro.  But this is here, and now, and it’s affecting us.  And that’s scary, particularly from a President that warns young college graduates not to listen to “voices” that warn against the tyranny of our form of self-government.  

But the fear of those of us who shout these warnings isn’t of the tyranny of self-rule—self-rule is what we desperately cling to; it’s of the tyranny of Obama (or whoever) rule to which we object.  And that is the point that’s getting lost.