Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016

Legacy polishing and regret in Laos as Obama discusses US bombing

Recently, we discussed the legacy-polishing period that comes in the months and weeks before politicians leave office. We explained that President Obama is squarely in that period now, and happily, appears to be trying to redeem himself for the things he failed to accomplish, and the various tragedies he helped create, like Libya and more recently, Yemen. (I'm here assuming he probably recognizes them for what they are, even if he won't acknowledge them as such publicly, for obvious reasons.)

When we last visited the subject, he was making considerable headway towards closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and his administration had just taken a symbolic but important stand against private prisons. This week, it appears this generally positive trend will continue, as he became the first active US president to visit the country of Laos, which the US secretly and massively bombed during the Vietnam War.

The bombing of Laos checks all the requisite boxes we would later come to expect of a US foreign policy initiative: illegal, brutal, and utterly useless (if not outright counterproductive). The ostensible purpose for bombing Laos was to destroy supply lines used by the North Vietnamese, but this ultimately proved ineffective. However, this wasn't for lack of trying. As Obama noted during his remarks in Laos, the US reportedly dropped more bombs on Laos during the war than it did on Germany and Japan in WWII, combined.

While this would be bad enough by itself, the ongoing tragedy of Laos is that many of the bombs and cluster munitions that were dropped did not actually explode. While this might initially appear to be a good thing, the result is that the country remains littered with de facto landmines that can explode without warning if disturbed. Many Laotians still die each year when they encounter this unexploded ordinance (UXO). Aid organizations have been working for years to help clear Laotian land of UXO, but it is, by its very nature, a very slow and resource-intensive process.

Which brings us to the practical outcome of President Obama's remarks. He committed to giving $90 million to Laos over the next three years to dramatically expand the bomb clean-up effort. Of course, this is still a pittance, when one considers that the US spends roughly $600 billion on Defense spending each year and gives the first-world nation of Israel roughly $3 billion a year in foreign aid that it clearly does not need (and that amount is about to go up). But still, according to ABC, this will be a significant expansion of US aid for this remediation effort.

Given US culpability for the problem and the fact that US discretionary spending tends to be actively destructive, Obama's gesture and financial commitment is a welcome sigh of relief. Taxation may still be theft as we libertarians like to say, but it is tough to imagine a more deserving cause than repairing the damage caused by a past US war. Now, if only we thought about taking this approach to other parts of Asia as well...

Clinton's coughing attack and conspiracy theories

In stark contrast with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has kept a conspicuously low profile during the election season. Yesterday, we got a reminder why that strategy was probably wise.

While speaking at a rally in Ohio, which was being broadcast live on MSNBC, Clinton suffered intermittent coughing fits that prevented her from saying much of anything. They were so pronounced that the MSNBC anchor had to comment on it, and they eventually had to cut away from the rally altogether.

Naturally, this has fueled speculation that Clinton, who is about to be 69, may not be as healthy as she claims. If you're a Clinton supporter, this is automatically dismissed as a conspiracy theory that's probably sexist. While if you're a Trump supporter, it's a real concern and a useful line of attack.

Our own take is that it's clearly legitimate to question a candidate's health, and Clinton clearly, despite being younger than Trump, seems to be the less spry of the two. That said, whatever her health condition happens to be in reality, it's probably the least important reason to be concerned about a Clinton presidency. (Her hawkish foreign policy is far more troubling.)

Indeed, I'm actually of the opinion that everyone is looking at this the wrong way. If Clinton really is ill, to the point that it interferes with her job as the FBI investigation report implied, this is really a feature, not a bug. Assuming Hillary's health does limit her capacity to make decisions as president, one of two things seems likely to happen. Perhaps her Vice President Tim Kaine would take a more prominent role--this would be a good thing because Kaine cannot possibly be as bad as she is on foreign policy. Alternatively, she might just be an incompetent leader who can't effectively implement many of her policies. Given that virtually all of her proposed policies are likely to be deleterious, as we've previously discussed, this too is a win.

After all, I'd take an incompetently destructive government over an efficiently destructive government any day. Wouldn't you?

In any case, you can check out the Zero Hedge's full take on the 'Clinton coughing' story and the hypocritical media reaction to it.

ITT Technical Institute shuts down

The for-profit parent company of the ITT Technical Institute colleges has announced it is shutting down all its schools and firing most of its employees. The move comes after the Department of Education announced that prospective students of the colleges could not use federal student aid, and its accreditation was in serious jeopardy.

Certainly, this development calls for sympathy for the nearly 40,000 active ITT students who are now stuck in limbo as a result--with a partially completed education that will most likely have to be scrapped altogether. However, sympathy for the school itself is a bit harder to muster.

At first glance, this could seem to be a case of government regulations and enforcement cracking down on corporation providing a valuable service to willing consumers. Were that the case, ITT's bankruptcy might be a cause for grief.

However, the specific catalyst for the crackdown shows why this reaction is inappropriate. The cessation of federal student aid spelled doom for their business. This essentially means that, but for the government subsidizing its consumers (students), the business model did not work. In turn, ITT's demise is not a case of the free market being stamped out by big government. Rather, it appears to be a case where a company lived off of the government and died by the government's hand.

So progressives can celebrate the death of another hated for-profit college, and libertarians can take solace in the demise of another corporate welfare recipient (if indirectly). Additionally, perhaps the void left by ITT will let more students discover truly free market education alternatives to a traditional university--alternatives like this awesome apprenticing program, for example.

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