February 28, 2009
This Is Transparency and Accountability?
Mona Charen notes "Obama's strange habit of denying what he's doing":
Have you noticed his troubling habit of denying what he is doing? For example, in his speech to Congress he said he asked for the stimulus bill "not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't." And in recommending a bailout of mortgage holders, he denied that any relief would go to "speculators" or those who "bought more house than they could afford" but that is exactly what the package will do.
Obama's doublespeak is hardly limited to appeals for unity and denunciations of divisiveness and partisanship intended to camouflage backhanded attacks on Republicans. After all, only the rankest of politicos would expect a leader's actions to measure up to his rhetoric. Thus, we get earnest assurances of the need to reduce the deficit from a party that will deliver crushing deficits even under the best case scenario:
Obama's target would place the deficit at about 3 percent of gross domestic product. The GDP is a measure of a country's economic activity and many economists say deficits during a stable economy should amount to no more than 2 to 2.5 percent. At $1.5 trillion, the deficit would hit a whopping 10.6 percent of GDP this year.
And what of Obama's calls for fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency? Even Democrats are alarmed at a provision in the stimulus bill that would seriously compromise the government's ability to oversee dispersals of our tax dollars:
"These ideas were coming directly from the Obama people," said one Democratic congressional aide, who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The Obama administration declined to comment on its role in drafting the provision.
The inspector general community and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee raised concerns about the House bill. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the chief sponsor of a bill last year meant to enhance inspector general independence, said she was particularly alarmed about the sentence allowing the panel to order an inspector general to stop an investigation.
The group representing federal inspectors general recommended that the entire disputed provision be deleted from the legislation, according to David R. Gray, counsel to Phyllis K. Fong, chair of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.
Senate negotiators changed the board composition. While the president would appoint the head of the panel, the rest of the members would be inspectors general.
House and Senate negotiators also added a line proposed by McCaskill saying that the final decision on whether to proceed is up to the inspector general. "The language sends a very clear message that the IG is in the driver's seat," she said.
Supporters of the inspector general system say they find the episode troubling for an administration that has trumpeted aggressive oversight. "This is a dangerous provision that will hamper oversight, restrict transparency, and damage the independence of inspectors general," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) - the treaties detailing the ongoing drawdown in Iraq - have been disappeared from the White House web page. (Curously, President Obama's Iraq plan still says "Obama and Biden believe it is vital that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be reached so our troops have the legal protections and immunities they need. Any SOFA should be subject to Congressional review to ensure it has bipartisan support here at home.") The treaties are also not mentioned in current media coverage of President Obama's planned Iraq drawdown.
February 27, 2009
More Perverse Incentives: the Cost of Class Warfare
The Democrats may wish to take notes.
A Bit Late for Buyer's Remorse, Isn't It?
You've got to be kidding me:
...I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation ...
From this man, you expected humility?
I believe Grim said it best:
Obama and Perverse Incentives
Betsy Newmark has an excellent piece up on the role of incentives in shaping decision-making:
One of the most basic lessons in economics is that people respond to incentives. They will adapt their behavior according to the incentives. But apparently, the people putting together Obama's budget writers missed that day's class in Economics 101.
In keeping with Obama's campaign promises not to tax the middle class, he's hoping to gain the money he needs for all his spending goals by increasing taxes on the wealthy. And they're looking to whatever they can increase to get more money from those higher earners. Here is one example.About half of the money that Obama wants to raise for a healthcare overhaul would be generated through changes in the way that the wealthiest Americans itemize deductions for charitable donations, state taxes or interest payments on a home.
Under the president's proposal, joint filers making more than $250,000 a year would only recoup 28% of the value of qualified deductions, rather than higher percentages laid out under current law.
That could mean a couple in the 35% tax bracket who once could have recouped $3,500 of a $10,000 donation to a charity would now recoup only $2,800.
The White House estimates the change would generate about $318 billion over 10 years.
She points out that a 1990 tax on luxury items, lauded by its Democrat sponsors as a nifty way to increase tax revenues and force the Chinese-toy-loving-minions-of-the-richest-2% to pay their "fair share", didn't just fail to increase revenue.
It put lower-income taxpayers out of work:
... it wasn't long before even those die-hard class warriors noticed they'd badly missed their mark. The taxes took in $97 million less in their first year than had been projected — for the simple reason that people were buying a lot fewer of these goods. Boat building, a key industry in Messrs. Mitchell and Kennedy's home states of Maine and Massachusetts, was particularly hard hit. Yacht retailers reported a 77 percent drop in sales that year, while boat builders estimated layoffs at 25,000. With bipartisan support, all but the car tax was repealed in 1993, and in 1996 Congress voted to phase that out too.
As I pointed out several months ago, only two days after the election the mere prospect of a hike in marginal tax rates had baseball agents pondering ways to shelter their clients' income from an Obama tax increase:
Looking ahead to the possibility of an Obama administration, some baseball agents already are thinking about trying to beat a possible tax increase for their well-paid clients.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has proposed increasing the top federal income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, where it was under the Clinton administration. If signing bonuses are paid before Jan. 1, they likely would be taxed at the current rate and would not be subject to any tax increase.
As we noted before the election, rational actors (that's people to the folks at home) adjust their decisions in response to incentives.
With entirely foreseeable consequences.
These days we are hearing an awful lot about fairness, which seems to be a progressive code word for a rather startling assertion on the part of the Obama administration: namely, that government has the right to seize the private property of those judged to be "too wealthy" and hand it over to those judged to be "economically disadvantaged". But as I observed yesterday, simply looking at one side of the tax picture - marginal tax rates - doesn't give an accurate picture of the redistributive effects of tax policy because it looks at just one side of the equation: how much is paid into the tax "pot" by taxpayers in various income brackets.
What is conveniently ignored is the other side of the equation: what does government do with this money? How are tax proceeds disbursed to taxpayers in different tax brackets?
This chart, created with the help of the Tax Foundation, shows the dollar for dollar "return on investment" received by households in each income bracket.
As you can see, when you look at the net effects of government spending (leaving out public goods** which are enjoyed by all households), our current tax code accomplishes much more in the way of redistributing income than mere examination of what is paid into the system can possibly reveal:
Figure 9 compares household tax burdens to the amount of government spending received by Americans. It answers the following question: “For every dollar of taxes paid, how much government spending is targeted at households in return?” As is clear from the figure, when government spending is considered along with tax burdens, the overall picture of the fairness of government policy is dramatically different from the usual picture of tax burdens alone. Some households clearly benefit much more from current tax and spending policy on a dollar-for-dollar basis than others. Overall, households in the bottom three quintiles are net beneficiaries from tax and spending policies.
They received more than one dollar of government spending for every dollar of taxes they paid in 2004. In contrast, households in the top two quintiles are net fiscal payers, receiving less than one dollar of government spending for every tax dollar paid to governments.
When all government spending is included, households in the lowest quintile received about $8.21 in spending for every dollar of taxes paid. Households in the middle quintile received $1.30, and households in the top quintile received $0.41.
Question for the ages: is this "fair"?
February 26, 2009
Yep. Sounds Like a Federal Case To Us....
Gates Blows Off Military Families on Coffin Ban
The Pentagon lifted its ban Thursday on media coverage of coffins of war victims as they arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, according to a senior U.S. defense official with direct knowledge of the decision.
The coverage must be approved by families.
Some families have said they want the return of their family members' remains to be private, Pentagon officials say.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is to announce the policy change at a news conference at 2 p.m. ET, the senior official said.
Gates ordered a review of the policy after President Obama asked for more information on the Pentagon's longstanding policy of barring media from viewing the coffins as they come into the base.
According to an informal survey of its members by the group Families United, which says it represents 60,000 military families, a majority opposed changing the policy.
John Ellsworth, the group's vice president whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004, argued that if Obama chooses to reverse the ban, he should have the military take photographs and release them to the families, who could then decide whether they want to share them with the media, or see them at all.
Shorter Gates: so what?
What a jerk. This is the kind of person we're going to trust to be sensitive to the family's feelings?
Update: via CNN
"Military Families United is disappointed in the president's decision to overturn the ban that has been in place for over 18 years," the group said in a release.
"Just last week, Families United released the results of a survey conducted among military families, which found that more than 64 percent ... believe that this ban should not be overturned. It is evident that military families were not consulted nor their wishes honored when the decision was made.
"This is a complete disregard for the will of America's military families and their need for privacy during this solemn moment," the release said.
I know that's how I feel.
I wrote the SecDef and expressed, in no uncertain terms, what a disaster changing the policy would be. I got an autoresponse. I can't tell you how many other military wives wrote the SecDef.
Here's the Military.com poll - it's back up to 70%:
Listen to his video announcement. He didn't even bother to speak with any military families personally. I guess that was too much trouble, and after all he'd already made up his mind.
Confirmation Bias in Action
Must be those rigorous layers of editorial fact checking and control.
The Obamas Need Your Help...
The only thing left to pick is the name, and Mrs. Obama said she is not a fan of her daughters’ choices.
“There are names floating around and they're bad," Mrs. Obama said in the interview. "You listen and you go – like, I think, Frank was one of them. Frank! Moose was another one of them. Moose. I said, well, what if the dog isn't a moose? Moose. I'm like, no, come on, let's work with the names a little bit."
Since Obama announced on Election Night that his daughters had “earned” a dog, there has been a lot of speculation and input from dog-lovers around the country. The president has said for months that he was looking for a shelter dog that was hypoallergenic.
Mrs. Obama said she took some advice from Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who owns two Portuguese water dogs and had lobbied the first family to choose the breed. But overall, she said found the level of excitement about the family’s dog “surprising.”
They could always go with something nostalgic, as Ted Kennedy did when he named his Porty, "Splash". A stuffed marmoset will go out by parcel post to the cleverest entry.
Holder Was Right
Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. is "a nation of cowards" when it comes to race relations. In one sense, he is absolutely right.
Many whites, from university administrators and professors, to schoolteachers, to employers and public officials, accept behavior from black people that they wouldn't begin to accept from whites.
For example, some of the nation's most elite universities, such as Vanderbilt, Stanford and the University of California, have yielded to black student demands for separate graduation ceremonies and separate "celebratory events."
Universities such as Stanford, Cornell, MIT and Cal Berkeley have, or have had, segregated dorms.
If white students demanded whites-only graduation ceremonies or whites-only dorms, administrators would have labeled their demands as intolerable racism. When black students demand the same thing, these administrators cowardly capitulate.
Calling these university administrators cowards is the most flattering characterization of their behavior. They might actually be stupid enough to believe nonsense taught by some of their sociology and psychology professors that blacks can't be racists because they don't have power. What about Holder's statement that America is "voluntarily segregated"? I say so what.
According to the census, in 2007 4.6% of married blacks had a white spouse; less than 1% of married whites were married to a black.
While blacks are 13% of the population, they are 80% of professional basketball players and 65% of pro football players. Mere casual observance of audiences at ice hockey games or opera performances would reveal gross voluntary segregation.
What would Holder propose the U.S. Justice Department do about these and other instances of voluntary segregation?
... Black illegitimacy stands at 70%, nearly 50% of black students drop out of high school and only 30% of black youngsters reside in two-parent families.
Even though they're just 13% of the population, blacks in 2005 committed over 52% of the nation's homicides and were 46% of the homicide victims. Ninety-four percent of black homicide victims had a black person as their murderer.
Much of that pathology is precipitated by family breakdown and is entirely new among blacks. In 1940, black illegitimacy was 19%; in 1950, only 18% of black households were female-headed compared with today's 70%. Both during slavery and as late as 1920, a teenage girl raising a child without a man present was rare among blacks.
So far, the federal government's wars on poverty and racial discrimination don't seem to have benefitted the intended recipients. But then any public policy that ignores the role of incentives in human behavior is unlikely to be successful. This administration seems hell bent on institutionalizing moral hazard.
History, however, takes a dim view of grandiose attempts to artificially mandate equal outcomes (otherwise known as "social justice").
Colonel, darling, you're a lovely man. I see a vast difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You're an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel... There is no "divine spark". There's many a man alive of no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you've seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I'm fighting for is to prove I'm a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this "divine spark" in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on Earth are equal or have an equal chance. Bit a leaf, not a tree. There's many a man worse than me, and some better... But I don't think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel... Is justice.
Not social justice. Just plain justice. Unfortunately the current administration seems adamantly opposed to letting people face the consequences of their own fecklessness.
The Audacity of Trope
Tax the rich, feed the poor
Till there are no rich no more
Id love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So Ill leave it up to you
- Ten Years After
In the wee hours of the morning, the blog princess sprang from betwixt the Marital Sheets filled with audacious hope and a steely eyed determination to win the war on cynicism. What a relief! After nearly eight years of fear-mongering, we can be comforted by the knowledge that our true enemy isn't Islamic extremists who have sworn to convert us to a medieval religion at the point of a sword, but those who dare to question the wisdom of our new President. Sadly, however, the Princesses' admirable optimism was far from universal:
Team Obama was winging it when it declared the stimulus would "save or create" 2.5 million, then three million, then 3.7 million, and then four million new jobs. These were arbitrary and erratic numbers, and they knew there's no way to count "saved" jobs. Americans, being commonsensical, will focus on Mr. Obama's promise to "create" jobs. It's highly unlikely that more than 180,000 jobs will be created each month by the end of next year. The precise, state-by-state job numbers the administration used to sell the stimulus are likely to come back to haunt them as well.
How much sharper than a serpent's tooth is the bone chilling cynicism of rank partisans! Who (but a bitter, gun-clinging racist) would dare to subject Obama's soaring rhetoric to the soul crushing scrutiny of logic? Don't these people understand the President's eerily confident audacity of trope? Even an idiot ought to be able to see that Mr. Obama uses numbers in the figurative sense. They aren't supposed to actually make sense:
President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end "tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans," and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increased by "one single dime." This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can't possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's new spending ambitions.
...A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.
Fast forward to this year (and 2010) when the Wall Street meltdown and recession are going to mean far few taxpayers earning more than $500,000.... Raising taxes now will thus yield far less revenue than it would have in 2006.
When even the New York Times starts drinking the corporate water, it's not a good sign:
“To the extent that Mr. Obama has talked about raising taxes, he has focused on households that make at least $250,000 a year. . .But the problem can’t be solved just by taxing the rich. That top 1 percent pays only about one-quarter of federal taxes. Once the recession ends, taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise, too.”
What cynics like the Times fail to understand is that the President is trying as hard as he can! Doesn't effort count for anything anymore?
...a senior administration official acknowledged yesterday that the budget does not contain $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. Instead, the figure represents Obama's total efforts at deficit reduction, including tax hikes on families making over $250,000 a year. It also includes hundreds of billions of dollars "saved" by not continuing to spend $170 billion a year in Iraq.
...several budget analysts criticized the speech as misleading.
"It's a hollow number," said Sen. Judd Gregg ... "You're not getting savings if you're assuming spending that isn't actually going to occur."
The important thing is not to get caught up in unproductive attempts to make sense of the President's budget numbers. We need to keep our eyes on the ball, the real goal: preventing the criminal transfer of wealth to the already wealthy that occurred under the previous administration:
... households in the lowest quintile of income received roughly $8.21 in federal, state and local government spending for every dollar of taxes paid in 2004, while households in the middle quintile received $1.30, and households in the top quintile received $0.41. Overall, tax payments exceeded government spending received for the top two quintiles of income, resulting in a net fiscal transfer of between $1.031 trillion and $1.527 trillion between quintiles. ...these effects have grown since 1991.
I must say, I'm truly inspired to see this president putting aside the stale, divisive rhetoric of the past and replacing it with a unifying dose of class resentment. If I didn't know how to add, I'd feel better already.
February 25, 2009
Racial Slurs Are OK When The Reality Based Community Disagrees With the Victim
In a February 18 editorial cartoon in the New York Post, drawn by Sean Delonas, two policemen have shot a chimpanzee. One cop says to the other: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Al Sharpton calls the cartoon proof of the paper's "racism" and has led two protests at the Post's headquarters. He is now asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a waiver awarded to Rupert Murdoch - who as also owns the Fox News Channel - to own more than one newspaper and television station in a city.
A petition circulated by the NAACP claims: "Your publication sadly reminded me of the reality that even in 2009, when an African-American man holds the highest post in the nation, racism is alive and well in the United States." The NAACP petition also implies that the cartoon itself could encourage an attempt on Obama's life.
Murdoch offered an apology to those who were offended, but noted that "[t]he only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation."
The cartoon specifically recalls a recent chimpanzee attack in Stamford, Connecticut. The depiction of the chimpanzee bears no physical resemblance to Obama. Furthermore, Obama is not the author of the economic "stimulus" legislation referred to in the cartoon. In his address to Congress on February 24, Obama noted: "I asked Congress to send me a recovery plan... I am grateful that this Congress delivered."
Project 21's Massie noted: "If these critics had tried to tie the cartoon to black congressmen such as James Clyburn or Charlie Rangel, they might have had a leg to stand on. They aimed bigger, and this misfire exposes them. Sharpton is now asking the FCC to investigate the validity of Murdoch's media holdings. It's just another step along the path to their true goal of silencing conservative speech. This is just a battle in a larger war to reinstate the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine' so liberals can impose their political agenda on a free-market-driven talk radio."
"The criticism of cartoonists and parodies is also selective," added Massie. "Why aren't Sharpton and the NAACP complaining about much more blatant Bushorchimp.com? Where was the outrage when syndicated cartoonist Ted Rall called Condoleezza Rice 'Aunt Jemima' and depicted her calling herself a 'house nigga'? How about when Jeff Danziger portrayed Rice as Prissy from 'Gone With the Wind'? Their failure to condemn those blatantly racist acts exposes the petty political motivations of their current attack on Murdoch and the Post."
It's Official: We've Elected a Feel-good President
Several hours after attempting to sit through the President's speech last night, I find myself not only stunned but wondering whether anyone is actually listening (let alone thinking critically) about what this man is telling us?
Obama didn't merely gloss over a few realities. His entire speech was an all-expense paid trip into an alternative reality where the bill never comes due and America can have all the ponies and ice cream it desires without having to deal with pesky things like consequences. Perhaps I've been drinking too much of the corporate water, but what reasonable person could possibly believe any of the nonsense he spouted last night?
Simply increasing the number of college graduates won't make America more competitive in the global economy. The problem is not an insufficiency of college graduates.
The problem is that American students have been raised in a culture of entitlement in which effort is more important than achievement. They honestly believe it's unfair for them to have to put in the hard work it takes to master difficult subjects. They think it's unfair for anyone to be smarter, more capable, or simply more disciplined and industrious than they are. Their heads have been filled with a frankly ludicrous vision of America as Lake Wobegon where (in complete defiance of the laws of nature and statistics) everyone is above average and social justice ensures equal outcomes for all:
Today’s New York Times has an article quoting several college professors talking about the problem of “academic entitlement” — where students think that by merely showing up in class they’re “above average” (meaning they think the default grade for their academic performance is “B” or even “A”). Most college professors know these students all too well. They come to you with big, pitiably wet eyes, uttering the dreaded words, “I tried.”
...On the one hand, we’re paid the big bucks to tell the truth about performance. On the other hand, the rise of “student-centered learning,” combined with the pressures of the outcomes-assessment movement, require professors to demonstrate that, at the end of the day, “Students will be able to [fill in the blank].” We’re not given the option to choose parsed conclusions (unless we want to be fired), where we would say, “The best students will be able to do this or that, even if a bunch of them can’t do anything.”
In an insidious, roundabout sort of way, student-centered learning and outcomes assessment both reinforce academic entitlement. By shifting the responsibility for learning from students to teachers, we’ve developed a model of students as passive “vessels” into which we pour “learning.” And if the vessels are leaky, well, get rid of the professors.
Never mind that American workers expect pay and benefits which are grossly out of line with what the rest of the world gets for performing the exact same jobs. Markets be damned! We don't need to compete - we're entitled to our standard of living! Never mind that companies who provide these benefits (or are forced to provide them by misguided laws passed by economically illiterate legislators) can't possibly price their products to compete in the global economy! Obama has the answer: he'll punish firms who try to remain competitive by reducing labor costs! And if that doesn't work, he'll tax those greedy corporate profits (because as we are constantly reminded, it's not only selfish but greedy for entrepreneurs, investors, and shareholders to expect a return on their investments). Profit, we're reminded, is not just bad, but wrong/bad.
In Obama's alternative universe, businessmen work hard all day in order to earn enough money to make life easier for Americans who are less industrious or less productive and it's unfair for the millions of Americans whose retirement fund balances are tied to corporate stocks to expect these companies to pay them dividends for the privilege of using their money.
I don't know a single person who works hard or takes risks in order to effect a massive wealth transfer to the less fortunate. People work to give their families security and a better standard of living. Telling America that letting taxpayers keep what they have earned represents a "transfer of wealth to the already wealthy" is not only flagrantly dishonest, but morally reprehensible to boot:
[W]e have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.
For most people in the top 2% of the tax bracket, "wealth" consisted of money they earned, and then re-invested in American corporations. The idea that confiscating this "wealth"; redirecting it from investments in American businesses to equalizing the take-home pay of people who are not only less efficient at making and holding onto money but lack the ability to provide jobs to their fellow Americans is just stunning. The idea that taking money away from American businesses will create jobs or repair the damage to our retirement and pension funds defines rational belief.
But we're in ObamaLand now: a magical place where human beings ignore rational incentives and stunning non-sequiturs are greeted with swooning and thunderous applause:
A friend of mine was gleefully keeping count of all the times Obama said “inherited.” ... AP and WPost both note that Obama was a little coy about who is actually bequeathed this mess. I’d say he has repeatedly lied outright by blaming the Bush administration while omitting mention of overt Democratic acts of commission. Politico helpfully translates from the original Obamish.
Given the popular reception, much like that of his other wretched speeches, I guess you have to say the American electorate once again has gotten what the American electorate deserves. A smooth-talking bullshit artist. At least with Clinton you could tell he didn’t actually believe anything he was saying. I’m not sure that’s true with this guy. I’m not convinced he entirely understands what he is saying.
This is the kind of dishonest and dangerous mindset the Obamas have cultivated: they conjure up a world where it is your husband's boss's responsibility to find you child care; where it's unreasonable to expect borrowers to repay loans financed with the savings of their fellow Americans; where you have a "right" to own a home you can't afford and it's never your fault for failing to make sure you actually have enough money to pay for things before you buy them:
...this sort of acts like borrowers shouldn't have any obligation to repay money on an asset that has fallen in value--as if there were some sort of moral right to take highly leveraged bets on housing and pass off any losses to someone else. The borrowers ought to have known that they couldn't be repaid, because of course the natural and right thing to do, in the event that an item you have purchased on credit falls in value, is to default on your loan.
On the other hand if we assume as a matter of public policy that people who have signed a loan contract are actually obligated to pay back the money they borrowed even if their house is not rapidly appreciating, then the primary risk is not a fall in house prices; it is that borrowers will not be able to repay the loan.
Who knows more about your future income prospects: you, or a bank? Who knows more about your budgeting skills: you, or a bank? Who knows more about your health, personal habits, and home maintenance skills? Who knows better whether you're likely to move two years after buying for a boyfriend or an employer? Are bankers somehow more aware than ordinary Americans that recessions happen, companies fold, people lose their jobs?
Of course, falling house prices make things harder because you can't sell or refinance your way to stability. But unless you just suddenly lost your job--in which case, you probably can't be helped by a workout, because you don't have any income--then it's not reasonable to say that all the information was on the banking side. People knew a lot. They just chose not to think about it.
Damn straight. In 2001, my husband and I chose to buy a home well below what we qualify for precisely because we wanted to ensure that no matter what happened with the economy we could repay our loan.
Even without my income.
Even if he was unable to find ANY EMPLOYMENT AT ALL after retiring from the Marine Corps. So don't ask me to bail out people who borrowed money that wasn't theirs to pay for an asset they can't afford and are only NOW stopping to think about what might go wrong. The money in banks comes from other Americans. You have no "right" to anything in life that you can't pay for. There's a word for people who take what doesn't belong to them.
Stuart Varney: You are not telling the truth…
Bertha Lewis: Here’s the thing…
Stuart Varney: Your telling me these homeowners have paid their bills and they have not…
Bertha Lewis: We cannot force anybody to do anything….here’s the thing, you know who are the thugs? The thugs are the banks, the thugs are the mortgage brokers who bilk people so they are delinquent and they deserve to be helped just like big banks and institutions are we intend to stay.
Stuart Varney: And they have not paid their mortgage bills and they have no right to those houses…that is my last word. Bertha Lewis….
Bertha Lewis: Housing is a right.
Stuart Varney: It is not a right.
Bertha Lewis: Yes it is
Stuart Varney: I’ve read the Bill of Rights, I’ve read the Constitution, no where does it say that housing is a right.
Bertha Lewis: Yes it is.
Stuart Varney: Can you show me? Which page? Which line?
Bertha Lewis: Well we have the right to the pursuit of happiness.
Stuart Varney: You have a right to a house? Where does it say that?
Bertha Lewis: If your a hard working American and you pay your taxes and you do the right thing you do have a right to protect your home.
Stuart Varney: I tell you what Bertha, we have a Constitutional lawyer in a few minutes, I’ll ask him if there is a line in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that spells out a right to a house which you claim.
Bertha Lewis: That’s good….good.
Stuart Varney: But Bertha, we’ve run way over our allotted time..
Bertha Lewis: Have we, well you have to have me back and we will show you how many homes we have defended.
Stuart Varney: Defended? Invaded and stolen but that’s another story entirely.
What America needs right now is not a President who blithely glosses over the real world consequences of irresponsible actions and policies. Offering us dishonest pablum calculated to make us feel good about ourselves isn't going to put Americans back to work or fix the housing market, and smooth talking can't obscure the fact that the remedies he's proposing don't address the problems we face.
But for an ADD nation, perhaps it's enough that our leaders give the appearance of doing something - anything - so long as it stirs up class resentments in a hopeful and non-partisan manner. After all, if Mr. Obama's proposed remedies don't work, he can always blame the Bush administration.
February 24, 2009
You Just Might Be A DimWit: Community Organizer Edition
Sacre bleu! When even the Gawker mercilessly mocks your effete douchebaggery, it's fairly safe to conclude your attempts at effecting social justice via 'democratic consensus' have been somewhat less than effective:
"You may not come in here. This is student's free space," says the cameraman, as a security guard pulls apart the flimsy barricade that the administration had chosen to leave in place for the past two days. As soon as the guard sets foot in the food court: "Excuse me, brutality here. You are on camera...Do not use brutality. You may not detain us, you are on camera!" This, as two security guards were moving away from him. "We deserve to be explained what is going on," he says to several bored-looking cops. Here's what's going on dude: you're not actually allowed to take over buildings. Believe it or not.
(Also: "We need to look at the situation, the hierarchy, the power relationship here." Okay: you're surrounded by cops.)
Watch and weep:
But... but... as long as we try really, really hard you can't deny us what we want!!!! Academy Award for unintentional irony:
"We're using the democratic process here... I don't know if you understand that"
We're using consensus here, and the way that works is that they come back here and report to us on what the disciplinary procedures are and we collectively decide ... we collectively decide... listen! we need to collectively decide how to proceed and we need our people here in order to do that...
[administration moves silly barrier aside and enters room]
"We want our negotiators back."
"They're not coming back."
"We have the right not to cooperate with you until you explain what you're pursuing here. What are you pursuing here?"
"...We want to negotiate in good faith with you."
"This is not a negotiation. We're explaining the disciplinary proceedures that are going to be applied in this case..."
"That will only happen if you agree to negotiate with us at this point... in this room."
"No it won't."
"Okay... well we're here in this room and we're welcoming discussion and dialogue...We will not cooperate with you and we need to use a consensus process to move forward... You need to give us some time...this is directly democratic, OK? And you're making everyone very upset..."
"...There is no negotiation. You need to just leave."
"You need to use earmuffs..."
"We have lawyers!!!!!"
MEIN GOTT IM HIMMEL....WHY DO YOU PEOPLE HATE DEMOCRACY???
Update I: Priceless:
“I just wanted to occupy a building. I'm not the posterboy for any of this.”
Update II: Tragic clue bus accident: another of Obama's "community organizers" has a disturbing encounter with folks unsympathetic to the whiny culture of entitlement the Obamas seem so fond of encouraging:
Here is what the MSM won’t be telling you about the so-called “victim” in that case, ACORN worker Donna Hanks — all based on public records and court documents.
According to real property data search information, Hanks bought the two-story home in the summer of 2001 for $87,000. At some point in the next five years, she re-financed the original home loan for $270,000.
Question: Where did all that money go?
The house initially went into foreclosure proceedings in the spring of 2006. In July 2006, Hanks filed for bankruptcy and agreed to a Chapter 13 plan which was served to the following creditors: Americas Servicing Co, Bank Of America, Chase, Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore, and Discover. She agreed to repay $10,500 in arrears, which resulted in a halt to the 2006 foreclosure.
But we collectively agreed via direct democracy that I have the right to stay in my house!!!
February 23, 2009
Harry Reid Predicts the Future with Uncanny Accuracy
Good old Harry Reid - still keepin' it real...
April 2007: Before the Surge troops were even in place, Reid had already pronounced the war over and the Surge a dismal failure:
"The war is lost.... the Surge is not accomplishing anything."
Reid, a whopping 10 days ago: with the economy worsening every day, doing nothing is not an option!
As more Americans lose their jobs every day and carry the heavy burden of providing for their families in our distressed economy, President Obama and Senate Democrats understand that sitting idly by is not an option. That is why we have acted urgently and responsibly to turn our economy around, put people back to work and ensure middle-class families can get ahead.
Reid, this week: Long before a single dollar of Stimulus hits the economy, we're already on the road to recovery!
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Monday that the banking industry is “very close” to being stabilized and the nation's economy is starting to rebound.
“We tend to talk about the negative. ... Things are beginning to turn and I think the American people are going to feel that very soon,” Reid said during an appearance on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” show.
Reid’s comments contrast with recent remarks of President Obama, who has repeatedly said the economy will get worse before it gets better.
I hate to admit it, but Democrats really are better for the economy! Just ask them.
They'll be happy to explain it to you.
Update: Every day, in every way, we're just getting better and better...
...stocks slumped and never looked back as investors fretted that companies that don't get such aid could remain in jeopardy, while those that do are likely to see the government take preference over other shareholders for dividend and debt payments.
Twenty-seven of the Dow's 30 stocks ended in the red. The exceptions were Citi, which rose 9.7% to $2.14 a share, and Bank of America, another target of frequent nationalization speculation that managed a 3.2% gain to end at $3.91. General Motors shares ended flat.
...The S&P 500 dropped 26.72 points, or 3.5%, to 743.33, its lowest close since April 11, 1997. All of its sectors swooned, paced by a 6.1% decline in its basic-materials sector. The energy sector fell 4.7% and the technology sector dropped 4.6%. The financials, which were the best-performing market through much of the session, ended trading down 3.5%.
The market's recent break through long-term troughs has many Wall Street forecasters revising their full-year forecasts for the index. S&P's own chief technical analyst last week lowered his forecast for a matket bottom this year from around 750 to between 625 and 675.
Keith Bliss, senior vice president, Cuttone & Co., said that there is talk of an even worse scenario. Some investors say that the S&P could fall somewhere between 500 and 600 based on recent trends in earnings and the market's performance in past recessions.
"That is not inconceivable, particularly when you see it sell off 3% every day," said Mr. Bliss. "We're just not in an environment where people feel good about stepping in just to lose money again."
Yikes! The Editorial Staff is not sure how much more good news we can take...
Sorry, But My Husband Is Not A "Tool of the Nation-State"
And the fact that his salary is paid by your tax dollars (and mine too) does not reduce him to the status of a publicly owned commodity. Of all the morally bankrupt arguments for a morally bankrupt policy, this surely must be the worst: "Sorry, but our 'need' trumps your grief."
Simply put: public need trumps common decency.
It trumps compassion.
Their need to know easily discoverable facts no one has been being blocked from discovering is more important than the prospect of causing additional pain to families who have already made the ultimate sacrifice because you see, it's really all about you.
Your feeling that this war would feel so much more "immediate"; that you'd "understand" if you're allowed to trample on the sensibilities of those who defend your freedoms. It's not difficult to track the growing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every major news outlet features its own roll call of the dead complete with pictures. Many mention the cumulative death toll during each and every broadcast.
Since the beginning of the war the military has bent over backwards to allow the press to embed with combat units, though the press seem strangely uninterested in availing themselves of the freedom they demanded so vociferously:
When the U.S. invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, there were anywhere between 570 and 750 embedded journalists, depending on the source. (The lower figure comes from Sig Christenson. a senior military writer for the San Antonio-Express News and president of Military Reporters & Editors. The higher estimate is from the Pentagon).
Those numbers began to fall precipitously once Saddam Hussein’s government was overcome by coalition forces in April 2003. By late fall of that year, the total number had dropped to roughly 100, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told PEJ.
And the downward trend has only accelerated since. In 2005, there were 48 embedded reporters in Iraq. The latest tally from the Pentagon is that just 26 embeds remain on the ground and Christenson told PEJ he believes the current number could be as low as nine.
The press, too, are already perfectly free to write anything they wish to about each fallen soldier or Marine. What better way to put a human face on the war than to remind us that each son and daughter, each husband or wife we lose was once a person, just like us? Yet oddly, the press don't seem interested in telling us about how fallen soldiers and Marines lived. They don't spend much time reminding us of the human cost of war.
They could. But they aren't interested. They weren't interested in writing about PFC Chance Phelps, though the story offered great insight into what the press eagerly term a "secretive" process that "hides" the cost of war. If they've been prevented from knowing these "secrets", why didn't the media jump at the opportunity to show the public what they supposedly have a right to know? Google his name and you'll find almost no major newspapers or media outlets covering this moving story even now that it has been made into a movie. How many major newspapers cover Silver Star or Medal of Honor recipients? If they are so interested in "honoring the dead", what possible excuse can they have for failing to bring us the inspiring stories of her fallen heroes?
The truth is that the media are only interested in military casualties when covering them furthers their anti-war agenda or appeals to sensationalistic interests. The press don't view the military as real people with real families and they have no desire to "honor" us, much less help America feel sympathy or compassion for our grief. If they did the media would treat us the same way they treat their own, with the same consideration and kindness they afforded to Jill Carroll and her family when she was kidnapped. When one of their own was put at risk doing a job she volunteered for, the press thought it absolutely vital to shield Ms. Carroll and her family from untoward media scrutiny and publicity. When it's a military person in the media spotlight though, suddenly these lofty concerns no longer apply.
The press, like much of America, seem to feel they "own" the military. There is no limit to their "right" to intrude upon our most private moments, our most agonizing grief. For these people, the existence of previous abuses excuses future outrages and the end always justifies the means:
What a shame that Zoriah is not able to put himself in the shoes of this dead Marine's family; that in his quest to persuade the world that war is wrong/bad, a dead United States Marine and his grieving family stopped being human beings and became useful tools; the too-convenient means that justify an end. What he and so many other journalists will never understand is that this is why they are not allowed to photograph the coffins of dead U.S. service men and women, nor to make spectacles of their private family funerals.
We do not exist to allow them to persuade America to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. We are human beings. Leave us some dignity, and the space and privacy to mourn our dead.
Have some elemental human respect for our opinions, even if you do not share them. Your "right" to oppose the war does not outweigh our right to support it, nor the other fundamental rights other Americans take for granted every single day. An American citizen should not forfeit his dignity, nor your respect, simply because he wears the uniform of his country. And more fundamentally no human being: be he or she Iraqi, Afghani, American, insurgent or coalition member in this war should have to worry about having a surviving family member stumble upon graphic images of his corpse upon the Internet simply because some adherent of the pro- or anti-war movement lacks the words to make a compelling, coherent and rational argument in support of their position. If you have an argument to make, do so in words, and under your own name. Back it up with logic and facts rather than relying upon fear and shock to override the cerebral cortexes of your carefully chosen victims. Don't draft the dead and their grieving families as unwilling conscripts in your obscene little information war.
My husband is not a "tool". The very suggestion is obscene and dehumanizing and the media's willingness to dispense with his humanity only underscores the need to protect military families from vultures who have no respect for their dignity or their grief, even when they voluntarily cooperate with the press:
The Tenth Circuit has affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment on the following claims: "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count 1); Invasion of Privacy (Count II)...Violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 839.1 (Count III); Fraudulent /False Misrepresentation (Count IV); Constructive Fraud, Fraud and Deceit (Count V); Unjust Enrichment (Count VI); and Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision (Count VII)"against defendants Harper's Magazine Foundation and photographer Peter Turnley for publication of a deceased soldier in his casket.
The family had allowed media to attend the funeral but "did not want anyone taking pictures of Sgt. Brinlee's open casket, and they did not want to be interviewed." Nevertheless Mr. Turnley, a renowned photographer, attended the service, took photographs, and later published one along with similar ones as part of a photo-essay entitled "The Bereaved, Mourning the Dead, in America and Iraq" in Harper's Magazine in August 2004.
When literally thousands of Americans have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan, photographing the casket of any individual soldier (or even groups of soldiers) conveys no information that could not just as easily be conveyed by other means. The Supreme Court upheld this shameful decision, though of course when the press wanted to publish images of another public servant - a civilian - who was paid with our tax dollars, they were outraged at the affront to common decency:
Vince Foster, deputy counsel to President Clinton, was found shot to death on a parkway just east of the capital. It appeared to be suicide. Half a dozen investigators agreed that it was suicide. Doubt nevertheless persisted. Demands continued for new disclosures. Finally a Freedom of Information petition led to Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion for a unanimous court, upholding the family's residual right to privacy.
That right, said Kennedy, "extends to the memory of the deceased held by those tied closely to him by blood or love." Photos of Foster's bloody corpse could be suppressed if they "could be reasonably expected to contribute to an unwanted invasion of privacy." Members of Foster's family were entitled to refuge "from a sensation-seeking culture."
Kennedy added: "We have little difficulty in finding in our own case law and traditions the right of family members to direct and control disposition of the body of the deceased and to limit attempts to exploit pictures of the deceased's family member's remains for public purposes."
Moreover, "Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead and objecting to unwanted public exploitation that, by intruding upon their own grief, tends to degrade the rites and respect they seek to accord to the deceased person who was once their own."
When a civilian was the subject of the media's obscene quest for sensationalistic images, a unanimous Court upheld the age-old principle that some things - such as the grief of bereaved families - still deserve our respect. Arguing that past failures to observe this principle somehow justify future abuses glosses over the moral implications. Two wrongs, these people argue, make them right.
After all, your tax dollars give you the right to use our grief and images of our dead family members as you wish.
Would you meekly submit to this treatment? Of course not. But then you're human, aren't you? Different standard. If anything must be reckoned as a tragic cost of war, surely it is the cynical willingness to inflict pain on those who have already given so much: a willingness transparently justified by some twisted notion of public need. "Just give us more of yourselves", you promise, "and then we'll really begin to care."
"Just let the media into your most private and painful moments. You can trust them to be respectful."
Excuse me if I don't believe that. The only honest thing being said in support of the quest to end the media ban is that the press want to use images of our military dead to make an argument.
This is not "news" - it's political advocacy, and dead soldiers and Marines are not tools, they are real people with real families. There was a time when most people understood that certain things were off limits. The willingness of so many to cynically argue that expediency ought to trump humanity even when many other means exist to accomplish the same end must be reckoned the saddest human cost of war.
Infuriating Proposition of the Day: "Let's Raise Taxes!"
So says this gentleman:
The first of several stimulus packages has just passed but it is just the beginning of our efforts to address our immediate and long-term economic problems.
After 2010, the federal operating budget will face trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. They have to be addressed for the long-term prosperity of our country and our future credit-worthiness in the world.
Eventually every American has to dig in and pay more taxes to help our country and our fellow citizens. We must put in place the laws and mechanisms to steadily increase taxes after 2010. We have to owe up to our massive public and private financial messes. Cutting federal earmarks and waste will not eliminate even half the annual deficits. The federal budget gap will require increasing taxes by over $500 billion by 2011. Fiscally irresponsible and spoiled children hate to hear this news but it’s our only choice for our collective long-term prosperity.
Actually, there's an argument to be made for raising taxes.
We've just finished levying an obscene amount of debt upon our children and grandchildren. They didn't vote for this - we did (we being our elected representatives, who wouldn't be where they are if more Americans hadn't voted for them than the number who voted for the other party).
How long can we keep increasing the deficit without addressing the fact that our national house has taken on more and more debt every year? If a family increases their debt, they don't have the option to reduce the amount they're paying on their loans: as the principal goes up, so do their payments.
The argument to be made here is that our continuing refusal to pay as we go only encourages more bad decisions and incites Congress to new heights of fiscal irresponsibility. Some wag once remarked that pain is an excellent motivator. Perhaps what our Congressional overlords really need is an object lesson in cause and effect.
And perhaps if the tax burden becomes uncomfortable enough, fiscal conservatism will find more (and more ardent) supporters among the voting populace.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
February 22, 2009
I apologize in advance for currently dominating conversations here at VC. I truly don't walk around in black clothing, wringing my hands and weeping about things. I am more of a happy person than you might surmise from what I've posted lately.
Still, this is clearly important to me. And it is to others. A military.com poll showed that 70% of those participating opposed lifting the ban on media at Dover. A Families United Poll showed that 64% opposed lifting the ban. Both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars opposed it as well.
This unnamed Soldier beckons me to do what he can not. "Remember Me and Not My Fate" It's his epitaph and my rallying cry.
Some folks have opined that we do not do enough to remember the fallen. I wave the bullcrap flag on that. The milblogs have done so much to document the fallen that it takes merely a google search to find a tribute.
For those, like Mr. Pitts, who are too lazy or might have another agenda, I submit the following so that they can understand the cost of war.
The widow who is too young to rent a car but has to live with things that older folks would curl up in a ball over.
The mother who does not let her own personal tragedy stop her from doing positive, supportive things for others.
The father who so passionately does not tire from his crusade to make sure that his son and his mission are not forgotten.
The blogger who watches so intently over this community and celebrates the heroes.
The cost of war is everywhere. It is noted and blogged about on a daily basis. The mainstream media's request to be allowed access to Dover in order to do the same rings hollow. Disingenuous.
I am going to honor that young soldier's request to remember him.
February 20, 2009
"Granted, the military doesn't see it that way. It says the ban is designed to protect the privacy of military families. This has always seemed a rather flimsy excuse"
I had a punch-the-wall kind of day yesterday. Early in the morning, I had read a column by Leonard Pitts (Thanks, Greyhawk)
and those three lines stuck with me all day. And all night.
Flimsy? Mr. Pitts, are you serious? You think that the military is just paying lip service to supporting their families in order to keep you out of Dover?
You sound like the pimply faced nerd from high school whining about not getting an invitation to the big party on Saturday night. You are definitely not invited but let me assure you, it's not a party.
Far, far from it.
Sacrifice is a cornerstone of being in a military family. I do not want to count how many birthdays, anniversaries, school plays and recitals my husband has missed in order to serve his country. We chose this life and it was understood that sacrifices like these were going to be made. Please don't misunderstand. I am not complaining about my life.
My son also chose this life as a reservist. Instead of going directly to college (he had been accepted, by the way), he had me go to the recruiter's office the day before he graduated from high school, while his father was in Iraq, and days before a memorial service for two Marines from my husband's unit, to sign the paperwork for him to join the Marine Corps. I signed those papers with a shaky hand. It was an admirable choice but one, for a parent, that mixes with worry. In his junior year, his unit was activated and he deployed to Iraq.
Saying goodbye to him that February day was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'd said goodbye to my husband many times before and I had always thought that THAT was the hardest thing. I was wrong.
In both cases however, I accepted the possibility that the next time we met might be on that tarmac at Dover.
Most military spouses and parents go through a process called "anticipatory grief". Click on the link and read about it. In our heads, many of us have "been" on that tarmac. Many of us have planned our loved one's funeral.
Many of us have had our hearts race when the doorbell rings a little too early in the morning or when we see something ominous on tv/internet. Many of us look down our street to see if there's an official vehicle waiting for us to return home.
And some of us have seen that vehicle waiting at our house. There is a process in place for those of us who have. It involves a CACO or CAO depending on service branch. It involves a chaplain. It involves telling parents. And children.
What happens next is similiar to what happens in the civilian world. Your neighbors and friends, your co-workers, your pastor, people that you know and know you circle the wagons and insulate and attempt to comfort you as much as possible while you attempt to deal with a most devastating blow. That ultimate sacrifice made by a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a father or a mother.
It is clear that the intent behind those who advocate lifting the ban do not take into account the families' grief, do not want to have their wishes considered or even honored. What goes on at Dover is solemn. It fulfills a commitment by the military to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of this country. It fulfills a commitment the military also made to treat the family with the utmost respect and care.
Respect. Care. Words that do not match in any way, shape or form with the behavior of the media towards the military with very few exceptions.
You know what's really flimsy here, Mr. Pitts? The half assed justifications you all in the media are using to get Secretary Gates to lift the ban.
Oh..and your souls.
February 18, 2009
Nonsense on Rollerskates
This is precisely why it is so stupid to criminalize policy disagreements:
The United States' presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan is only furthering the spread of terrorism and President Obama could be charged with war crimes, former Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) wrote Wednesday.
"Why are we killing GIs to spread terrorism?" Hollings, a longtime (though now-retired) lawmaker asked in a blog post for the Huffington Post. "The best way to stabilize is to get out. It became a matter of conscience for me years ago."
Hollings argued that Obama's continuation of some of former President Bush's tactical strategies in the war on terror could make Obama liable for war crimes charges.
"Yesterday I read an article that it won't be long before charging President George W. Bush with war crimes for killing civilians in Pakistan with drones," he argued. "Now the same charge could be made against President Obama."
If ever there were a case to be made against ill considered deference to "international law", this is it.
One for the Guys
Your result for What is the Measure of a Man? The Gentleman's Test...
Learning is your passion!
Marvelous! You epitomize the gentlemanly tradition of ongoing education and self-improvement! Your sparkling tongue is the stuff of legend, and the wide breadth of your knowledge has saved others countless hours of pained research!
Women hang on your every word!
And one for everyone:
Your result for The Elemental Test...
He's our sun, our moon... our... oh nevermind. And you thought it was scary teaching your teenager to drive.
The Navy in Pictures
It's not just a job - it's an adventure.
What A Difference An Election Makes...
December, 2008: Media Matters deplores guilt by association tactics.
Update: Sullivan, hilariously finds la Malkin guilty until proven innocent:
Why is it ok now but not then? Was she aware of the sign? Or did she miss it? The fact that Malkin has not answered these questions seems the only apposite thing to note.
Yikes. Sometimes, to see what's under one's nose requires a constant struggle... Case in point: for General Betrayus, a single interview wipes out a lifetime of determined non-partisanship:
….such a decision to cater to one party’s propaganda outlet [the Hewitt interview] renders Petraeus’ military independence moot,” Sullivan declared. “I’ll wait for the transcript,” he continued, before not waiting for the transcript. “But Petraeus is either willing to be used by the Republican propaganda machine or he is part of the Republican propaganda machine. I’m beginning to suspect the latter. The only thing worse than a deeply politicized and partisan war is a deeply politicized and partisan commander. But we now know whose side Petraeus seems to be on: Cheney’s. Expect spin, not truth, in September.”(emphasis added.)
But for Obama, a two decades-long relationship can only be viewed in terms of The One's "total record".
Sometimes, the comedy just writes itself.
Obama To Restore Confidence with Failed Policeh, No End Game"
"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there, .... In fact, I think it will do the reverse."
We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don't know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.
"Here's what we know. The surge has not worked."
“We saw a spike in the violence, the surge reduced that violence, and we now are, two years later, back where we started two years ago.”
After putting an additional 30,000 troops in, far longer & more troops than the president had initially said, we have gone from a horrendous situation of violence in Iraq to the same intolerable levels of violence that we had back in June of 2006."
I had no doubt, and I said when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.
Despite not having an end game, President Barack Obama is taking swift action to restore confidence in American leadership by boldly embracing the failed strategies of his predecessor:
Within days of his inauguration, Mr. Obama thrilled civil liberties groups when he issued executive orders promising less secrecy, restricting C.I.A. interrogators to Army Field Manual techniques, shuttering the agency’s secret prisons, ordering the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year and halting military commission trials.
But in more recent weeks, things have become murkier.
During her confirmation hearing last week, Elena Kagan, the nominee for solicitor general, said that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law — indefinite detention without a trial — even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than in a physical battle zone.
Ms. Kagan’s support for an elastic interpretation of the “battlefield” amplified remarks that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made at his own confirmation hearing. And it dovetailed with a core Bush position. Civil liberties groups argue that people captured away from combat zones should go to prison only after trials.
Moreover, the nominee for C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, opened a loophole in Mr. Obama’s interrogation restrictions. At his hearing, Mr. Panetta said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for “additional authority.”
To be sure, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the president could not bypass antitorture statutes, as Bush lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding — a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and that the Bush administration said was lawful — is torture.
But Mr. Panetta also said the C.I.A. might continue its “extraordinary rendition” program, under which agents seize terrorism suspects and take them to other countries without extradition proceedings, in a more sweeping form than anticipated.
Before the Bush administration, the program primarily involved taking indicted suspects to their native countries for legal proceedings. While some detainees in the 1990s were allegedly abused after transfer, under Mr. Bush the program expanded and included transfers to third countries — some of which allegedly used torture — for interrogation, not trials.
Mr. Panetta said the agency is likely to continue to transfer detainees to third countries and would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment — the same safeguard the Bush administration used, and that critics say is ineffective.
A key component of the Obama administration's fresh, new approach to the war on cynicism will be a so-called "Surge" of troops. Though he repeatedly opposed such tactics in the past (claiming additional troops in Iraq not only failed to reduce violence, but actually made things worse) "experts" reassure us the President's war strategy is constantly revised to reflect changing conditions on Capitol Hill.
Though our 44th President's views on the efficacy of "military solutions" may appear to be a moving target, we should all be grateful for one thing. Finally the American people have replaced the fear mongering rhetoric and failed policies of the past 8 years with
more of the same judgment we can trust. If the past few weeks have shown anything, they've conclusively refuted the tired old canard that Democrats are not serious about national security.
And you can take that to the bank.
February 17, 2009
It's no secret..no secret indeed that the Blog Princess and I are not happy at all with the possibility of the media ban at Dover being lifted. While it seems bizarre that President Obama might, in fact, do just that, I am worst case scenario girl and I do like to leave little to chance.
The NY Times Sunday edition encouraged President Obama to lift the ban. And then they reviewed "Taking Chance". Mrs. G. wades through the crap found there so you don't have to.
A little reminder from last year of what media will do with graphic pictures. Imagine what they'll do if they can even get close to families meeting planes at Dover. Imagine what they could do if the family can't come. Imagine the misery they can cause just because they want to sell a newspaper or push their agenda. I don't want to.
It makes me sick to think about it.
In the extended entry, you'll find contact information for the Service Chiefs, Secretary Gates, and others who could be or are in the decision making process. If you are in any way connected with the military or just give a damn, call one of these folks and tell them what you think. As always, the official VC policy is "be civil" but I don't need to remind you guys of that.
As always, many thanks to Mrs. G for Dawn Patrol and Mudville Gazette.
SCTY Defense Robert Gates:
Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
9999 Joint Staff Pentagon
Washington, DC 20318-9999
General James E. Cartwright:
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
9999 Joint Staff Pentagon
Washington, DC 20318-9999
General George W. Casey, Jr.:
Army Chief of Staff
200 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0200
Admiral Gary Roughead:
Chief of Naval Operations
2000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-2000
General Norton A. Schwartz:
Air Force Chief of Staff
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670
General James T. Conway:
Commandant of the Marine Corps
2 Navy Annex (CMC)
Washington, DC 20380-1775
Senator John Kerry:
218 Russell Bldg.
Washington D.C. 20510
202-224-2742 - Phone
202-224-8525 - Fax
One Bowdoin Square
Boston, MA 02114
617-565-8519 - Phone
617-248-3870 - Fax
Springfield Federal Building
1550 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01101
413-785-4610 - Phone
413-736-1049 - Fax
222 Milliken Place
Fall River, Ma 02721
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February 16, 2009
Elevating Style over Substance
"Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental 'reset button,' wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration."
- Jonathan Haidt
It's hard not to be dazzled by Barack Obama. At the 2004 Democratic convention, he visited with Newsweek reporters and editors, including me. I came away deeply impressed by his intelligence, his forceful language and his apparent willingness to take positions that seemed to rise above narrow partisanship. Obama has become the Democratic presidential front-runner precisely because countless millions have formed a similar opinion. It is, I now think, mistaken.
- Robert J. Samuelson
I enjoy Robert J. Samuelson's columns: I find him an unusually well grounded and perceptive analyst. One year ago, Samuelson wrote an eerily prophetic column about our future President:
As a journalist, I harbor serious doubt about each of the most likely nominees. But with Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I feel that I'm dealing with known quantities. They've been in the public arena for years; their views, values and temperaments have received enormous scrutiny. By contrast, newcomer Obama is largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views.
The subtext of Obama's campaign is that his own life narrative -- to become the first African American president, a huge milestone in the nation's journey from slavery -- can serve as a metaphor for other political stalemates. Great impasses can be broken with sufficient goodwill, intelligence and energy. "It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white," he says. Along with millions of others, I find this a powerful appeal.
But on inspection, the metaphor is a mirage. Repudiating racism is not a magic cure-all for the nation's ills. The task requires independent ideas, and Obama has few. If you examine his agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.
Flash forward to 2009. Barack Obama has just been handed what many are calling a huge victory in the passage of the stimulus bill. His arguments for urgent action ranged from the disarmingly non-partisan ("I won, therefore your opinion is irrelevant") to the bracingly inspirational "Every day we delay increases the chances of an economic catastrophe we may not be able to reverse". Aided by a Democrat-dominated Congress, Mr. Obama has just passed a stimulus bill his own Congressional Budget Office admits is not only unlikely to stimulate the economy but may well make things worse:
President Obama's economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.
CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.
CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net. [The House bill] would have similar long-run effects, CBO said in a letter to Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, who was tapped by Mr. Obama on Tuesday to be Commerce Secretary.
Unfortunately, the stimulus bill isn't the first gap between Obama and his elevating rhetoric. Mere weeks after taking office, the President was already ignoring his pledge to make government more transparent:
Obama’s 5 p.m. signing came barely three hours after the House approved the bill, breaching Obama’s promise to have a five-day period of “sunlight before signing,” as he detailed on the campaign trail and on his website.
“Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them,” the Obama-Biden campaign website states. “As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”
Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act only two days after it received final passage last week, and it wasn’t posted on the White House website until after it became law.
So much for promises.
Samuelson, in a op-ed in the Washington Post, points out the blatant dishonesty behind Obama's 'lost decade' argument:
What happened to Japan in the 1990s?
It did not, as some commentators say, suffer a "depression." Not even a "great recession," as others put it. Japan experienced a listless, boring prosperity. Its economy expanded in all but two years (1998 and 1999), although the average annual growth rate was a meager 1.5 percent. Unemployment rose to 5 percent in 2001 from 2.1 percent in 1990. Not good, but hardly a calamity. Japan remained a hugely wealthy society.
Its situation compelled attention mainly because it confounded conventional wisdom. From 1956 to 1973, Japan had grown 9 percent a year; in the 1980s, it was still growing at 4 percent. Japan was widely expected to overtake the United States as the richest, most advanced economy. It didn't. Worse, its semi-stagnation defied the notion that modern economics enabled government to ensure adequate growth.
Where Samuelson stikes pay dirt is with this observation on the causes of Japan's lost decade:
The standard analysis reassures, because it suggests that with better decisions Japan might have avoided its prolonged slowdown. The reality seems to be that Japan's economic reverses reflect deeply held social and political values. The same might be true of us.
As Samuelson explains, the driving engine behind Japanese economic growth was exports: cars, steel and electronics. Its internal industries face far less competition and as a result are weak and inefficient. The driving engine behind the U.S. economy has been vigorous consumer spending fueled by an ever increasing amount of consumer debt. As I argued back in December, increasing individual deficit spending is an unsustainable engine for economic growth - the trend can't continue indefinitely. As we found out last fall, sooner or later the bubble always bursts and an economy with no deep roots is like a hothouse flower: unable to feed itself because the luxuriant foliage is unsupported by an equally well developed root system.
The problem doesn't get better when our leaders lie to us about the solution to our present predicament:
Since the bubble's collapse, there have been 13 stimulus plans, reckons economist Randall Jones of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Even now, the economy is dependent on trade; in December, exports dropped 35 percent from a year earlier, pushing Japan into a deep recession.
What happened in Japan does not doom Obama's stimulus as futile. Sometimes, government should intervene to break the fall of a declining economy. Japan's packages probably temporarily bolstered a faltering economy. In this sense, the president is correct. Unfortunately, his stimulus is weaker than advertised, because much of the effect occurs after 2009.
Still, the operative word is "temporarily." Hannity is correct in that serial stimulus plans become self-defeating. The required debt is unsustainable. At some point, the economy must generate strong growth on its own. Japan's hasn't. Will ours?
Since the early 1980s, American economic growth has depended on a steady rise in consumer spending supported by more debt and increasing asset prices (stocks, homes). Just as the mid-1980s signaled the end of Japan's export-led growth, the present U.S. slump signals the end of upbeat, consumption-led growth. But its legacy is an overbuilt and overemployed consumption sector, from car dealers to malls. The question is whether our system is adaptive enough to create new sources of growth to fill the void left by retreating shoppers.
These days, the remedy being touted near and far is not only oxymoronic but calculated (if it works) to put us right back on the track that caused the financial crisis in the first place. Chastened by the prospect of long term recession, American families are finally increasing their savings and cutting spending they can't - and couldn't in the past - truly afford. They are beginning to live within their means.
By any standard, this should be a good thing. And yet, if the health of the American economy depends upon a rate of consumer spending that exceeds our earning power, the logical conclusion is that so long as this healthy behavior continues, consumer spending will continue to lag and our economy won't recover.
We need to treat the underlying disease rather than simply trying to alleviate the symptoms. The disturbing thought here, though, is neatly encapsulated by Samuelson's observation that the roots of our current crisis lay in our own deeply held values. So long as Americans continue to believe they are entitled to wages and benefits packages that render American industry non-competitive, the only available engine for economic growth is an unhealthy rate of spending that crowds out savings and critical investments in infrastructure. Simply put, lulled by unrealistic promises from pandering politics, I'm not at all sure Americans are still willing to work hard enough (let alone defer their desire for immediate gratification long enough) to be truly competitive in a global economy.
When we asked for a President with the empathy and communications skills needed to connect with the public and make convincing arguments for his policies, how many of us ever stopped to think that at the end of the day verbal dexterity is a double edged sword? It makes poorly thought out argments and policies that don't solve the problems they're meant to solve go down so much more smoothly. But what we need right now is not reassurance so much a fundamental shift in the way we view our economy. We need straight talk and hard decisions, not comforting pablum.
Barack Obama has elevated us all right. In electing him, we elevated glossy and immensely appealing style over the unpleasant and difficult substantive actions we need to rebuild a fundamentally unsustainable economic model. The truth is that we can't spend our way out of our current difficulties at the expense of savings and investment. That's what got us into this situation in the first place.
And without facing that reality, it seems increasingly unlikely Americans will sober up and get down to the hard work needed to fix our economy. What a shame.
February 15, 2009
Change We Can Believe In...
When even Thomas Ricks is warning (top video) that Iraq will change Barack Obama more than Obama will change Iraq, perhaps it might be in order to conclude that irrational exuberance is an even worse basis for foreign policy decisions than the so-called politics of fear.
The Fruits of Bipartisan Outreach: Bush vs. Obama
The Obama administration's attempts to gain bipartisan support for the stimulus bill are drawing lots of comparisons to Bush's attempts to foster bipartisan support for his national security agenda:
It's October 2001, and a new President has declared a crisis that demands immediate action. The old policies of the past have failed, he announces, and it is time for far-reaching action that will expand the government's power to combat the serious threats against the Nation. Time is of the essence, he declares: We must act now.
The opposing party tries to stop the President's plan. They complain that the President and his minions in Congress are acting too fast and going too far. Sure, some kind of change is needed. But the President and his allies are going too far, they complain, passing a "wish list" to capitalize on the public's fear of the crisis continuing.
Even worse, no one seems to know exactly what is in the massive bill. Senators and Representatives in the minority party complain that they never even had time read it! The bill is hundreds of pages long, and it was impossible for anyone to read all that legislation in time for the vote.
The President is dismissive about their complaints, however. The opponents are stuck in the old discredited way of thinking: Change is needed, and quickly. The bill quickly passes, and it becomes known as the USA Patriot Act.
Now fast forward. It's February 2009, and a new President has declared a crisis that demands immediate action. The old policies of the past have failed, he announces, and it is time for far-reaching action that will expand the government's power to combat the serious threats against the Nation. Time is of the essence, he declares: We must act now.
The opposing party tries to stop the President's plan. They complain that the President and his minions in Congress are acting too fast and going too far. Sure, some kind of change is needed. But the President and his allies are going too far, they complain, passing a "wish list" to capitalize on the public's fear of the crisis continuing.
Even worse, no one seems to know exactly what is in the massive bill. Senators and Representatives in the minority party complain that they never even had time to read it! The bill is hundreds of pages long, and it was impossible for anyone to read all that legislation in time for the vote.
So, how are we to evaluate these comparisons? I see definite parallels: for instance, for years American voters were bombarded by accusations that the Bush administration used shameless and unwarranted "fear mongering" to silence opposition to their agenda. If we are to accept the premise that "fear" makes a poor basis for public policy decisions, why have we heard so few alarms about Obama's shameless and unwarranted fear mongering in regard to the economic crisis?
As he tells it, today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression. Without his Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says, the economy will fall back into that abyss and may never recover.
This fearmongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics. It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930s. At worst, a comparison to the 1981-82 recession might be appropriate. Consider the job losses that Mr. Obama always cites. In the last year, the U.S. economy shed 3.4 million jobs. That's a grim statistic for sure, but represents just 2.2% of the labor force. From November 1981 to October 1982, 2.4 million jobs were lost -- fewer in number than today, but the labor force was smaller. So 1981-82 job losses totaled 2.2% of the labor force, the same as now.
Job losses in the Great Depression were of an entirely different magnitude. In 1930, the economy shed 4.8% of the labor force. In 1931, 6.5%. And then in 1932, another 7.1%. Jobs were being lost at double or triple the rate of 2008-09 or 1981-82.
This was reflected in unemployment rates. The latest survey pegs U.S. unemployment at 7.6%. That's more than three percentage points below the 1982 peak (10.8%) and not even a third of the peak in 1932 (25.2%). You simply can't equate 7.6% unemployment with the Great Depression.
The history of the Patriot Act is similarly unsupportive of comparisons to the stimulus bill. Unlike the stimulus bill, the Patriot Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (357-66 House, 98-1 Senate). Despite the Democrats' subsequent eagerness to distance themselves from a bill they supported, the bill was a product of bipartisan compromise. Many of its harshest critics not only voted for but were, in fact, co-authors of the bill:
...in 2001, Kerry in fact voted for the Patriot Act – parts of which he himself originally wrote. He said at the time that he was “pleased at the compromise we have reached on the anti-terrorism legislation as a whole.” “It reflects,” he said on the Senate floor, “an enormous amount of hard work by the members of the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. I congratulate them and thank them for that work.”
Contrast this with the "bipartisan" process used to draft and pass the stimulus bill:
Congress has a system of standing committees and subcommittees and a system for passing bills. I teach that system every year to my students and then, after they learn it, tell them that, of course, Congress can throw that whole system out whenever they want to or when they feel something is so important that they need to rush it through. But there is a reason that they have the normal procedures - supposedly to get input and have debate on what they're adopting. This mammoth spending bill has bypassed the normal procedures from the beginning. It was crafted by a few Democratic leaders in the House. Despite Obama's pretty pictures and nice gestures of consulting with Republicans, they actually had no input whatsoever. He managed to consult with them after the bill was mostly written. If he really cared about their opinions, he would have told the House Democrats to make sure to include Republicans before and while they wrote the bill. The result is that no House Republicans voted for the bill. And when it got to the Senate, with its different rules and the necessity of getting 60 votes to obtain cloture, they finally opened up to get the support of the three Compromiser Republicans. That got the bill to conference committee, where once again the Republicans, except for the Compromiser Three [presumably refused to support it].
Peter Feaver notes that there's an enormous difference between genuine bipartisanship and the appearance of bipartisanship. Walking through the history of the Bush administration's failed efforts to build bipartisan support for our Iraq strategy, Feaver makes a convincing case that despite the misleading sound-byte which came to define Bush's policy in the eyes of the public, Bush's actual policy was one of bipartisan outreach and compromise.
As for the Iraq Study Group, I think Philip has a different creation story than I have. Congressman Wolf proposed it in the fall of 2005 not as a vehicle for changing the strategy but a vehicle for explaining the strategy. He argued then that the Bush administration had no credibility post-Duelfer Report, post-Abu Ghraib, post-Cindy Sheehan, post-Katrina, so even though it was following the right strategy, it got no traction with the public on it. Send unimpeachable Americans over to see firsthand what Casey and Zal were doing, and they can report back what the White House cannot. Sure, they will have some changes at the margins, but they will largely validate what is being done.
And so they did. If you look at the core of the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations on Iraq (set aside their recommendations on Israel, Syria, and so on), they were essentially to speed up the next sequel of the NSVI strategy. By this point, of course, the Bush White House had met at least two of Philip's standards for real bipartisanship: the White House admitted the NSVI wasn't working and Rumsfeld was gone. Moreover, there was a serious engagement with critics in the form of serious consideration of a wide spectrum of alternative strategies, to include strategies like this one advocated by Fareed Zakaria and others inside. The president chose otherwise, and I think history so far has vindicated that choice.
But, and this was my deeper point, by this stage he did it without any cross-partisan support and with only very dodgy support within his own party. It was, I think, a near-run thing. What saved the surge was partly the president's doggedness, partly the adroit maneuvering in July-August 2007, and partly the progress General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were able to point to by September 2007.
Which brings me back to the stimulus package. I am not expert enough to choose between the various stimulus proposals circulating. Philip's seemed sensible to me and was especially praise-worthy because he was making concrete suggestions. Obama is in a much stronger position politically than Bush was by 2006-07, so he has more options. The go-it-with-one-party option may seem viable or even attractive to him. My bottom line point is that such a course is risky, and depends on showing demonstrable results within a politically relevant time-frame.
That Bush's efforts failed to garner the cross-party support he sought were less a result of "not listening" or a failure of outreach than of political opportunism. As Harry Reid famously remarked, "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war."
Given that human beings generally behave as they are incented to, it's hardly surprising that history proved him right. So much for bipartisanship for its own sake.
Time Enough for Love
Now that the violence has largely abated in Iraq, the Iraqis are finding the time for more pleasurable pursuits:
Romance is in the air in Baghdad as war-weary Iraqis celebrate Valentine's Day after a sharp drop in violence, allowing lovers to cautiously hold hands in parks and to buy gifts for their sweethearts.
Public courtship and more daring clothing for women are increasing after years of growing intolerance, perhaps signaling the Islamic dogma and conservatism that accompanied Iraq's slide into sectarian slaughter may be losing their grip.
"You cannot imagine how happy I am today," said Usama Abdul-Wahab Khatab, a recent university graduate nestled beside his girlfriend at a riverside Baghdad park.
A year earlier, the park shook to the sounds of artillery fire that rained on the U.S. diplomatic and military Green Zone complex across the river, launched by religious militias whose reign also kept unmarried men and women apart.
Although Iraq is predominantly Muslim, celebration of an originally Western day for lovers became popular after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
But many Iraqis also fled the violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion.
When Khatab went to Syria several years ago, he left behind not just his studies and friends, but Nada Issam, the soft-spoken woman who now sits beside him with manicured nails and a delicate sequined headscarf.
Khatab returned a year ago and the couple has been venturing out to places where they can spend time alone -- in green areas by the Tigris or along the shores of a nearby a lake.
Even there they must fend off or bribe police who hassle them for being too close or for holding hands.
Like other Iraqis, they are caught between a desire for greater freedom and romantic expression, and a conservative Islamic culture brought to the fore in six years of war.
When religious militias and insurgents controlled swathes of Baghdad, men found with women before marriage were whipped, and the woman taken to her parents, Abbas Jawad said.
"My son is spending Valentine's Day with his girlfriend. He's 16. I would never have allowed that before," he said.
Technology out of reach or not yet in existence under Saddam has enabled many Iraqis to discreetly widen their social circles or flirt. Bluetooth radio signals on most modern phones allow people to subtly send messages to strangers sitting nearby.
February 13, 2009
How Not to Get Laid On Valentine's Day
Nothing brings on that deer-in-the-headlights look faster than the approach of Valentine's Day (they don't call it "VDay" for nothing). One false step and the well-meaning lover can find himself in that circle of Hell most often heralded by the heaving of large, juicy sighs and the fateful words, "I'm just not in the mood."
In our ongoing attempts to be Helpful, the Editorial Staff have assembled this handy list of Things Not to Give Her for Valentine's Day. We may not be able to tell you how to please the woman in your life.
But we can certainly tell you how not to to please her. Ten things *not* likely to make her heart go pitter-patter....
1. Rub a dub dub...
I Rub My Fishie is a waterproof, personal massager that will turn your bath or shower into happy hour! This discreet massager can accompany you anywhere, from the office to the pool. Its quiet and discreet yet super-strong motor feeds the incredible vibrations in its big eyes and tail.
2. Remember when she told you she's really into sexy lingerie? This is not what she meant.
3. Finally! Her own remote control!
4. For the girl who has everything....
5. Nothing says "You're always on my mind" like a thoughtful and practical gift.. Such a time saver, too.
7. Way to go, Prince Charming.
8. Any gift with the word "fart" in the name. Trust me on this one.
9. Because after a few decades of marriage, nothing screams spontanaity like the words "a moisture-proof playscape for sex".
10. Honesty may not always be the best policy:
Truly, Bittersweets® are the perfect gift for you OR for someone you love, especially if that special someone is one who doesn't want to hurt your feelings but just doesn't feel that way about you but still wants to be friends so they can torment you with stories about their crushes on someone who doesn't appreciate them like you do, can't love them like you can, and actually takes pleasure in corralling a herd of fawning "just friends" behind themselves as they indulge in one self-destructive relationship after another, with no hope of ever finding true love, despite an army of souls eager to lavish it upon them.
A list for him coming up.
1. The words "madras" and "patchwork" should never appear in the same sentence.
2. Because men *so* enjoy talking about their feelings...
3. Control issues? What control issues???.
4. Nothing says "thoughtful" like personalized stationery:
Failure to Succeed Notecard Pack
EVERY SUCCESSFUL PERSON has experienced failures - but repeated failure is no guarantee of eventual success. That's why our Failure to Succeed™ collection has something for everyone. Whether you're a champion who's learned from past defeats, or a chump with little hope of success, these products will help make a better winner, or loser, out of you.
Four-Legged Love The typical Valentine's Day usually includes a romantic dinner, sentimental cards and sweet treats. However, this year many pet lovers are taking part in a new tradition that involves the four-legged loves of their lives.
So begins a press release that had me and my dog squirming in our seats. An our fears weren’t allayed by the “statistics” cited in the release: 43% of men prefer to spend Valentine’s Day with their pet, and 30% of the women who said the same say it’s because their pet is more in tune with their feelings than anyone else.
6. Confidence makes us all feel like winners...
His and Hers Fishing Gear
Why It's a Terrible Gift:
Look. I know it's hard to swallow, but he needs his hobbies so that he can get away from you once in a while. It may sound totally cute and romantic to give a gift that says, "I want to be a part of everything you do, even though I will hate every minute of it," but I guarantee you he's hearing, "I want to breathe down your neck every minute of every day, even when you're trying to relax. Also, I'll probably go fishing-- you know, that thing you do in a river-- and find a way to complain that the water is wet."
8. I'm sorry, but this is deeply disturbing.
Homemade "Coupon" Booklet
Why It's a Terrible Gift:
Okay, woman to woman, let's just be honest: You're not going to honor that coupon for a homemade dinner if he pulls it out of his pocket during an argument over the equitable division of household chores. And face it, that's exactly when he'll want to use it. In fact, I've never met a guy who actually got to use one of these coupons. When things are good, he'll just be able to ask for dinner, a massage, or some romance, so he'll only use a coupon when that's the last thing you're in the mood for-- and you're not going to accept it.
10. Don't. Just don't...
Of course, if all else fails nothing says "sensitive" like a well chosen greeting card:
February 12, 2009
He's Cheeky! He's Sexy!
...after watching the Fox segment, Simon said, "What can I say? That's not the Juan Williams who is on our show."
That may be the cause of the criticism. Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.
If this is any indication of the iron-fisted dictats of the we're-bravely-speaking-truth-to-power crowd, can you blame him?
His "Stokely Carmichael" comment got the attention of NPR's top managers. They are in a bind because Williams is no longer a staff employee but an independent contractor. As a contract news analyst, NPR doesn't exercise control over what Williams says outside of NPR.
"Juan Williams is a contributor to NPR programs as a news analyst," said Ron Elving, NPR's Washington editor. "What he says on NPR is the product of a journalistic process that includes editors. What he says when he is not on our air is not within our control. But we recognize that what he says elsewhere reflects on NPR, and we have discussed that fact with him specifically in regard to his remarks on Fox News regarding Michelle Obama."
If "progressives" didn't keep doing this kind of thing of their own free will, I'd have to make it up.
Fifty-six angry emails! That borders on a fullscale Volvo/espresso revolt.
More on the Soldiers' Coffins Issue
DaveM has a good piece up:
The death of a warrior many times becomes a media event, primarily because the warrior is well loved at home and many want to pay their respects to the fallen. They line the streets along the procession route to the final burial place and pack the churches, to pay their respects, but the arrival of a fallen warrior in Dover, or the local airport for the convenience of the family must always remain a private moment. The time to share in the mourning with the family is after they have had their time with their loved one, not before, and the farther we can keep the media and their uncontrollable adolescent hormones away the better.
My questions to the media executives who want this policy over turned is:
To what purpose do you need to view and photograph the fallen warriors even before the family is able to grasp the finality of the situation?
And in light of the fact that as an industry you are revered right there alongside the proverbial used car sales man: What are you going to do to ensure that you honor the wishes of the family?
When a family says no, are you honestly expecting us to believe that you are going to honor their wishes?
I decided this morning not even to go into the logistical issues involved with gaining consent from the families and why this is so wrong. Suffice it to say I don't trust a press that can't even look up irrelevant "details" like the difference between an officer and an enlisted man or between the Army and the Marine Corps to be diligent enough to ensure it was the authorized family member who consented and quite frankly I don't trust an already overburdened military bureaucracy either. Mistakes happen all the time but once an image is out there, there is no calling it back. There are no 'do-overs'.
When a family member takes the time to contact the media, there's little doubt of their intent and though they may later come to regret letting the media have access (and some have), it was clearly their decision. Burdening families still in shock from the death of a loved one with a potentially contentious request (how many stories have we seen where one parent welcomes press coverage and the other wants to avoid it?) doesn't strike me as particularly compassionate or caring. I've actually been there at the moment a wife was informed her husband was dead. I've had to sit with families and children as they heard that awful news, and for the weeks and months afterwards as they struggled with the painful, contradictory, and often overwhelming emotions bereavement brings.
Not everyone is thinking straight in the moments or days right after they learn their loved one isn't coming back. Emotions run high. Families can and often do argue, and let's not forget that many families are split these days so there's already tension in the air. And now we want to introduce yet another painful and difficult decision into an already bewildering process?
Why? Because these families haven't given enough already?
Again, if families want press coverage, nothing prevents them from requesting it. There are no restrictions on coverage outside of the actual transport and arrival of the bodies. But most are already grief stricken and conflicted about decisions like whether to travel to Dover to greet the body, when and where to have the funeral, and there are a million financial and practical decisions they need to make at a time when they're still reeling from the bad news. To add to that burden, if they choose to travel up to meet the body now we want cameras shoved in their faces because without photographic evidence that duplicates the hundreds of photos already out there, we can't fully appreciate the cost of war?
Go read a book, America. Watch a movie. Better yet, volunteer your time to help a wounded vet or a bereaved family. But don't burden grieving wives and parents because you're too lazy to pick up a newspaper and read about the boring war.
Deb Burlingame: Obama "uncertain, uninformed... just plain mistaken"
Why are we not surprised? (h/t kbob)
Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11, was present at last Friday's White House meeting of families of terrorism victims. Her impression was that President Obama was saying the right words in general, but when it came to specifics he was uncertain, uninformed, and sometimes just plain mistaken. Ms. Burlingame is an attorney who has followed closely the legal aspects of the terrorism cases, and her detailed, probing questions were met with stammers, stares, and statements that betrayed an understanding of the law that was, she said, "flat out wrong."
Case in point: the president's knowledge of the role of the Classified Information Procedures Act or CIPA. This law governs the way in which classified information is used in trials. The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to confront their accusers and the evidence against them, but the government has an important interest in cases such as these in keeping sources and methods secret. Under CIPA rules, in cases where classified information is used, the government has the option of sharing the information with the defendant, or not using it.
The Bush administration sought to avoid this potential national security threat by resorting to other procedures in which 6th Amendment issues did not arise. But President Obama believes that the model for terrorism cases is the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Of course a number of those plotters escaped justice (some were found later hiding in Saddam's Iraq, but that's another story). More important, because of the openness of that process, al Qaeda learned a great deal about how to do a much better job next time - and even the classified information from that trial was in Osama bin Laden's hands within weeks.
The terrorists have learned a great deal about conducting legal guerrilla war, using rules like CIPA to their advantage. Notice that more and more terrorists are dismissing their appointed lawyers and representing themselves. This gives them direct access to the classified documents that will be used in evidence against them. In this way they can learn about U.S. intelligence sources and methods - how they were targeted, what information was collected, and who may have been the traitors in their midst. Even if the names of sources are omitted, for example someone who was present at a key planning meeting, the terrorist defendant will know enough about the circumstances to be able to narrow it down. After all, the terrorist is familiar with every aspect of the events; he knows much more about them than the intelligence community.
The alternative to handing over the secrets is for the government to not use the evidence in question. That creates the incongruous situation in which the defense wants to maximize the amount of evidence that implicates them, and the prosecution wants to minimize it. (Our legal system was not designed to accommodate defendants who welcome being put to death.) According to Ms. Burlingame, Obama's answer to this conundrum was "there is no reason we have to give [the terrorists] everything." Evidently the former editor of the Harvard Law Review seems to think that one of his powers as president is personally to pick and choose which constitutional rights apply to terror defendants and which do not.
At last count, Obama issued no fewer than 10 Executive Orders in the two week period (1/21 - 2/06) immediately after assuming office. That's about a rate of about five orders a week.
No other president has issued so many orders so soon after his inauguration. It strains credulity to believe orders issued so hastily were well considered or thoroughly researched, and Ms. Burlingame's experience underscores exactly the type of critical considerations overlooked when an inexperienced leader decides to deliver "sweeping change" at "warp speed".
One might be forgiven for wondering whether such unseemly haste poses a clear and present danger to our national security, if not a startlingly arrogant exercise of executive power? Where, O where are all those brave patriots who raised the alarum against the vigorous exertion of presidential prerogatives only months ago?
Nowhere to be found, that's where.
Tug of War
Encouraged by the Obama administration's ill advised campaign to reverse as many of George Bush's policies as possible mere weeks after taking office, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is revisiting a policy he last tried to jettison only one year ago. Why the rush to re-examine a decision made so recently?
Little, aside from the direction of the political wind, has changed during the past twelve months to merit abrupt reversal of a nearly twenty year old policy. It seems odd, therefore, this haste to reverse a decision repeatedly examined and reaffirmed in peacetime and time of war.
The historical record shows little support for the notion that the last occupant of the White House created this policy to somehow "hide" the cost of war. Inconveniently for conspiracy theorists, the policy dates back to 1991 and a short-lived and successful war which enjoyed widespread popular support. In November of 2000, Bill Clinton (no doubt hoping to shield his Republican successor from opposition to a war still three years into the future) revisited the decision and issued an order reaffirming the ban. The decision was again reviewed and reaffirmed by the Bush administration after it became apparent the Clinton-era order had not been strictly enforced.
Advocates of lifting the ban make what appear to be compelling arguments for allowing photographers to capture and disseminate images of flag-draped caskets landing at Dover, but these arguments don't stand up well to informed inspection.
1. "The Bush administration only wants the ban so they can hide the true cost of war." Joe Biden advanced this theory during the 2004 presidential campaign:
...vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., spoke out against the policy when he was a senator representing Delaware, saying in 2004 that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be "snuck back into the country under the cover of night."
What is shameful is the ugly way in which self serving politicians seek to use the images of dead servicemen to bolster an anti-war agenda. What shameful secret was Bill Clinton trying to hide when he reaffirmed the ban in November of 2000? America was at peace then. There was no "tragic cost of war" to hide, and yet a Democrat came to the same conclusion as his Republican predecessor: that the rights of grieving families outweighed the media's morbid desire to exploit what should be an intimate and exquisitely private moment.
2. The media "need" these images released. The ban prevents them from conveying the tragic cost of war.
Really? What, pray tell, prevents the press from using the 361 images mistakenly released in 2004?
Or this photo, snapped by a civilian contractor in violation of DoD policy? It appeared on front pages all over the nation in 2004.
Or the many images of flag draped coffins which aired on TV news broadcasts in early 2003 before the Bush administration reinstated enforcement of the long standing ban?
Or this Pulitzer Prize winning series, which includes interviews, photographs and videos?
Literally hundreds of these images are being hidden from the public ... right in plain sight! Yet how often do any of us see them? If these are so integral a part of conveying the cost of war (and if conveying the cost of war is so important to the media) why aren't these images being used?
How many thousands of images do the media need to convey a message they claim can only be brought home by graphic photos? If the hundreds of images out there aren't sufficient, what would be considered sufficient? Does anyone really believe the push to convey the hidden cost of war will end if this ban is lifted?
3. The media should not be prevented from "honoring" fallen soldiers and Marines and families should have the option of allowing media access to their loved one's final journey.
Sec. Gates is one of many who have advanced this argument:
"If the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better,"
What proponents of lifting the ban don't tell us is that it covers only the transport of the casket back to the United States for burial. Once the remains are released to a funeral home or to the family, bereaved military families can and do contact the media; submit their own photos; request that a photographer cover the transport of the body from Dover back to their home. No one prevents them from doing any of these things, and in fact some military families have chosen to take advantage of their right to request media coverage of their loved ones' final journey.
In fact, in 2006 one such request garned no less an honor than the Pulitzer Prize. For an entire year, a reporter from the Rocky Mountain News was granted full access to a Marine CACO (casualty assistance officer) as he went about the sad duty of assisting bereaved families:
Rocky Mountain News reporter Jim Sheeler and photographer Todd Heisler spent a year with the Marines stationed at Aurora's Buckley Air Force Base who have found themselves called upon to notify families of the deaths of their sons in Iraq. In each case in this story, the families agreed to let Sheeler and Heisler chronicle their loss and grief. They wanted people to know their sons, the men and women who brought them home, and the bond of traditions more than 200 years old that unite them.
These gentlemen covered the story with compassion and sensitivity and it offers an enduring testament both to the military's commitment to bereaved families and the cost of war. This military wife of nearly 30 years only found out about the story because she reads milblogs online.
So much for the media's fervent desire to convey the true cost of war or "honor" our dead. How many newspapers covered the final journey of PFC Chance Phelps? Google it sometime and be prepared to wade through hundreds of mainstream media accounts of this inspiring story...
Oops. What was I thinking? You won't find them. What you will find are pages and pages of military forums and milblogs who covered the story. The NY Times? The Washington Post? Not interested.
So much for their desire to honor our fallen heroes, Mr. Gates.
The sad truth is that what they're hoping for is not the chance to honor our military. They can easily do that by writing about these men and women, by showing photographs of them while they were alive, by talking to their family members about their grief and loss, by telling us why they fought or why they joined the military; what they hoped to accomplish.
But then that's the real problem, isn't it? That's where we get to the real crux of this issue. The press could so easily be reminding the American public each and every day of the cost of this war.
We in the military live with that cost. We grieve and we bleed along with the families every time we lose another one of our own. We memorialize and honor our dead, and we strive to keep the memories of their lives alive even if they are no longer with us.
But the mainstream media, with rare exceptions, have chosen to look the other way. There are thousands of stories to be told: stories of bravery, of honor, of integrity and selfless sacrifice. The war has a thousand faces - nearly 5000 to date - each of them dear to us and each of them unique in his or her own way. Each of their lives has its own story to tell of the true cost of war and if the press were willing to bring those stories to their reading and viewing public, all America would mourn along with us.
But a flag draped coffin, like a dutiful soldier, cannot speak for itself. It is faceless, voiceless, conveniently and antiseptically severed from the life within. Like a blank slate it can only silently endure the self serving narratives spun by those who purport to lift the veil that hides the true cost of war.
Michela Wrong says she is ‘sickened and disgusted by the outrageous lack of graphic violence on our screens today’. She thinks we need to see more ‘blood and guts’ from Iraq because it could help to make us anti-war. ‘We are literal-minded creatures. To believe something, we need to see it’, she writes.
This looks like the journalism of attachment taken to a new low, where the journalist’s role becomes one of seeking out grisly scenes of dead children and dismembered body parts in an attempt to wake the viewing and reading public from their ignorance. But taking photos or film footage of the dead, whether in neat coffins in Delaware or on the bloody streets of Fallujah, is not the same as making an argument against war - and it is a sorry substitute for journalistic investigation and interrogation of the facts. Horrible photos from war zones should not be banned, but nor should they be seen as an end in themselves, a way of convincing us of an argument.
...In the past, classic, dramatic war photos derived their power by encapsulating a general public mood about war. Today, some journalists and anti-war activists seem to think that images are all you need to create a mood. They want the media to show the most gruesome pictures they can find, in the hope that such pictures will expose Bush and his supporters and make everyone else anti-war. That’s the easy, and cynical, way out - surely what we really need about the war in Iraq are some hard political arguments.
February 11, 2009
Dear President Obama,
Sunday, as my husband and I were returning from massively stimulating the economy, we passed a car that had the following on it's bumper:
"Honor the Warrior, Not the War."
I've always been of the opinion that you can't do one without the other. That's just me, I guess.
Yesterday, I saw that you are going to consider lifting the ban on media at Dover and I started thinking about that bumper sticker again.
I didn't vote for you but I know many people who either have that bumper sticker on their car or burned on their brain did. I am now willing to join with them on, at least, the first premise. Let's join together in the spirit of bipartisanship and honor the warriors.
Our first step together should be keeping the ban on press at Dover in place. It is the least we can do for the warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice wearing the uniform of this country. The warriors who pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution of this country over which you preside.
Personally, I have never had to deal with this kind of loss. I thank God for that. I do, however, know some folks who have. I had the honor of hearing this incredibly thoughtful southern gentleman speak at a conference a couple of years ago. He's also written you a letter. You see, Sir, he's been to Dover to bring his son home.
I don't expect that we're going to agree on many issues that will come up during your time in the White House. I do hope that we can at least agree to honor the warriors who honored this country with their service and their sacrifice.
God bless you. God bless this country.
A Marine wife and mom
February 10, 2009
The Editorial Staff meant to lob a few digital spitballs at this earlier, had we not been steadfastly determined to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics:
Ms. Pelosi has been rather busy of late conducting a lonely one-woman battle against the politics of fear and the divisive, fear-mongering fear mongers (God love 'em!) who practice that dark art. In furtherance of this effort, her office recently produced the following chart to help bolster consumer confidence and get those stuffy old banks to loosen the heck up:
As Jim Manzi notes, there are a few problems with Ms. Pelosi's use of statistics. As the old saying goes, (liberal mantras about the inefficacy of coercive interrogation notwithstanding) if you torture numbers long enough, eventually you can get them to confess to just about anything:
...there are a couple of odd things about this. First, it shows absolute job numbers, rather than unemployment rate (that is, job losses per capita). This matters, because the U.S. labor force is a lot bigger now than in prior recessions. Second, it ignores the recession of 1981—1982, which was by far the most serious of recent recessions.
How conveeeeeeeeeeeenient. Manzi produces a different chart comparing the rates of unemployment. It shows unemployment increasing at roughly the same rate for all of the postwar recessions....
...all of which helps to place Mr. Obama's cheery, not-fear-mongering pep talk of yester'een into better perspective:
They can't pay their bills. They've stopped spending money. And because they've stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. In fact, local TV stations have started running public service announcements to tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don't have enough to meet the demand.
As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across America. Last Monday, more than 1,000 men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami [Florida]. Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine.
[deep, cleansing breath]
Hmmm. No waygu steak for the folks in Elkheart, eh? But wait! There's more sunshine and not-fear where this came from!
...we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression..
...deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe...
...Question: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana, you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis without action that we would be unable to reverse.
Can you talk about what you know or what you're hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?
Dear God. I just fell in love with a female reporter from the Associated Press. Obama is right. The apocalypse is at hand.
Obama: No, no, no, no.
Phew! Spoke too soon - we're back to the world I recognize.
Manzi makes an interesting observation here:
What seems to matter in getting to really bad job losses is the duration of the recession. So, speed in passing a stimulus bill is probably a lot less important than getting our countermeasures right. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the natural conclusion one would reach in looking at the first chart.
I wasn't certain the chart he showed supported his logic. First of all, there's always a lag effect with economic stimulus measures, so the remark about time not being important has to be evaluated in light of what happens when we wait to act and in the mean time things continue to get worse and then continue to get worse while we wait for the inevitable lag between action and reaction? So, I went looking for more information and found another way of looking at the same data here:
we can see the current recession (orange) is very similar to the 1981 recession (light green) in terms of job losses as a percentage of peak employment. But we have had sharper downturns in percentage terms.
If you believe that this recession is not fundamentally different from other demand-driven post-war recessions, then a forecast of job losses continuing for another 6 to 9 months would not be out of line. Furthermore, looking at past cycles, one would expect it will be at least a year (possibly more if the recovery looks more like that after the 2001 recession) before employment reaches the previous peak. Personally, my expectation is that it will take 18 to 24 months (from now) to get back to the previous peak.
Interesting, no es verdad? Viewed this way, the data doesn't exactly support Mr. Obama's cheery 'worst crisis since the Great Depression' mantra now does it? On the other hand, it's not exactly a resounding confirmation of Manzi's take either. Perhaps, as is so often the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle?
I decided to take another look at his rate graph, overlaying the current rate of increase (aqua) over each of the other time series graphs to make visually comparison of their slopes a bit easier (I work with a lot of log-log graphs in my job, so I know graphs can be visually deceptive):
1. The rates of increase are not the same. It doesn't matter where the current trend is overlaid - the beginning points coincide but the end point for the current recession is always higher than the endpoint for the one it's being compared to.
2. Of the three recessions, the current rate of increase most closely resembles that experienced during the most severe (the 1982) recession.
This dovetails neatly with Polley's cumulative job loss view. I tend to have more confidence in an observation when I see the same thing regardless of how I look at the data (assuming of course that I'm not looking at meaningless or dimensionless numbers).
The other interesting observation? I'm always interested in patterns (remember the Presidential approval ratings?). I see two possible shapes here and I'd like to suggest a possible thesis.
The more common shape is a sharp increase in unemployment that bottoms out and then is followed by a sharp rise in employment. I couldn't help but think of homeopathy here (OK - try not to let your heads explode here - I'm not trying to score partisan points or prove anything. I'm just exploring ideas.) Maybe when things get bad enough in the economy, an equally strong response is stimulated that triggers recovery - sort of a 'no pain, no gain'? (shut up, Jimmy :p)
These "sharper" troughs don't last as long but they're painful in terms of magnitude. Then there a second type (2001, 1990) that is gentle and prolonged. Anyway, fascinating stuff if you're not one of the folks without a job.
House of Cards
All you folks who kept assuring me that what happened back in September had been exaggerated by the administration as part of some sort of silly mechanism to justify an unpopular bailout plan that made them even more unpopular may find this instructive: (h/t Tyler Durden)
Note that the irate caller, though I happen to agree with her about the proper mechanism for a second stage stimulus package, is still waiting for the Clue Bus to arrive and b**ch slap her into some rudimentary awareness of what almost happened last fall.
After. All. This. Time. Back then, I linked this Megan McArdle post that said essentially the same thing as Rep. Kanjorski:
Thus was touched off a general run on money market funds that held money for institutions--the kind that require buy ins of a couple million or more....
Investors were particularly worried about any exposure to financial paper. So, frankly, were the managers of money market funds. From Lehman, the worries spread to Wachovia, Washington Mutual, and beyond. Suddenly, said one source, no one could sell two-week Wachovia paper at 30% yield-to-maturity--which in layman's terms means they were offering a hell of a discount on a loan that was pretty likely to pay off. Some funds bragged they didn't have Wachovia, which only made the others seem ominously silent in comparison. The fund runs started to hit money markets that had no obvious problems (Putnam, BKNY/Mellon, American Beacon) causing them to shut down or redeem the shares in kind. Investors began worrying State Street's massive short-term investment fund complex was holding Lehman, which whipsawed its stock price 50% in one day.
Money market funds are generally designed to be the functional equivalent of a bank account: short-term vehicles where you park cash you aren't using at the moment. Investors are supposed to be able to pull their money out at any time. That meant that all the funds, sound or not, were vulnerable to a run. And virtually any fund that experienced a run would "break the buck" because while these funds are perfectly safe and liquid in normal circumstances, no one could dump a billion dollars worth of securities on the market without seeing the price of those securities plummet. Since funds definitionally try to hold their asset base near a dollar a share, and distribute the yield, there was no gigantic cushion to pad the sales.
The runs meant that all the money market funds were in the same boat: everyone wanted to sell and hoard cash in case of a run. No one wanted to buy. Once busted funds had gotten rid of their very short paper, they were stuck with the weeks/months maturities, which were virtually unsaleable. Unless the parent institutions make your investors whole the only thing you can do in that situation is distribute the assets in kind, to investors who can't sell them any more than you could.
Ultimately, despite last week's bailouts, no one wanted to hold financial company paper. Unfortunately, as I understand it that paper made up the bulk of the money markets, which is hardly surprising given the volume of trades they do (did) every day.
Banks have tens of billions of debt maturities to refinance in the coming months. The overwhelming majority of it will be good even under distressed circumstances--unless they can't roll any of it over. At that point, they experience the same problems you would if your credit card company pulled your credit line and demanded you pay back everything you owe them.
There are two related concepts here: in the absence of perfect information, value is more closely tied to perception than it is to reality. And because no one wants to lose their shirt, fear skews our perceptions of value in a sharply negative direction.
And yet somehow, the government "should" have done nothing to stop the bleeding? How is that sane? Even to the point of watching the whole applecart get overturned?
Required reading for this evening:
Clive Crook on the increasing politicization of economics:
Economics outside the academy has become the continuation of politics by other means. If you wish to know what Mr Krugman thinks on any policy question, do not read his scholarly writings; see which policies are advocated by the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Mr Krugman agrees with liberal Democrats about most things, and for the rest gives as much cover as the discipline of economics can provide – which, given its scientific limitations, is plenty. He does this even on matters where, if his scholarly work is any guide, the economics is firmly against his allies. Liberal Democrats are protectionists. Mr Krugman is not, but politics comes first.
The syndrome affects economists on the right as much as on the left. Just as there is a consensus among economists that protectionism should be opposed, most economists believe that a powerful fiscal stimulus is both possible and desirable in present circumstances, and that the best stimulus would include big increases in public spending. Yet recently, Robert Barro, a scholar with conservative sympathies, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that this view was an appeal to “magic”.
The problem is not that Mr Krugman questions the consensus on trade (if indeed he does), or that Mr Barro questions the consensus on fiscal policy (as he certainly does). It is that both set the consensus aside so carelessly. In doing so, these stars of the profession destroy the credibility of their own discipline. Mr Krugman gives liberals the economics they want. Mr Barro gives conservatives the same service. They narrow or deny the common ground. Why does this matter? Because the views of readers inclined to one side or the other are further polarised; and in the middle, those of no decided allegiance conclude that economics is bunk.
Steve Conover: Read the whole thing.
Too much common sense to excerpt. [Ed. note: changed my mind. Get over it: I'm a woman.]:
Speaking of money, I've been wondering if anyone besides a handful of people understand what almost happened five months ago, in mid September. Jim Cramer warned about it on his CNBC show: it was an electronic run on the money market, and he spotted it as it was happening. A "run on the bank" causes the bank to collapse; a "run on the money market" causes the entire financial system to collapse — and that's what nearly happened in mid September (one money market fund "broke the buck" -- a rare occurrence, and a very bad omen). We came within a few hours of financial collapse, which would have been followed quickly by the collapse of our political system. If more than just a handful of politicians understood that they were almost fired en masse five months ago, I bet today's conversation would not be about the Titanic's deck chairs. But that's just my educated guess; I have a history of overestimating politicians.
He gets it, though, which isn't surprising considering he's way smarter than most of us.
And finally, this eerily prescient piece (it was written in March of 2008) on the Japanese Lost Decade (you'll recall Obama mentioned that last night during his spectacularly dishonest diatrabe against the 'failed policehs of the past 8 years', advancing the somewhat novel theory (unless you're Joe Biden, that is) that the Bush tax cuts caused our current predicament. What a maroon:
The United States is experiencing an intensifying lack of credit availability that is causing a sharp economic slowdown--until recently unforeseen by most economists, including those at the Federal Reserve. This is understandable--though not comforting--because most economic models capture the link between financial markets and the real economy with movements in the level of interest rates. A credit crunch in which interest rates do not move much but credit becomes severely restricted is difficult, if not impossible, to model accurately. The result: weaker-than-expected growth during a period of rapid Fed easing. The federal funds rate was cut by 225 basis points--from 5.25 percent to 3 percent between August 17, 2007, and January 30, 2008. Fourth-quarter growth, at an annual rate of 0.6 percent, was sharply lower than the 4.9 percent third-quarter growth rate. First-quarter 2008 growth will probably be negative.
In a deflationary economy, it is important to watch nominal, not real, GDP growth.
Many sectors of U.S. credit markets are frozen because transactions at market-clearing prices and interest rates would imply asset prices substantially below levels being assumed in financial reports prepared by banks, investment banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions. A fear of solvency problems is constraining liquidity. Beyond that, accounting convention calls for valuation of real estate-related assets based on current real estate prices, not expected (lower) future prices. This convention amounted to a conservative assumption when prices were rising, but it is unrealistic when prices are falling. It results in expectations that upcoming financial reports will show further deterioration of balance sheets. The distribution among financial institutions of balance sheet deterioration is uncertain, and so investors require a higher risk premium on returns on mortgage-based and complex derivative securities, virtually all of which are exposed to falling prices of residential real estate. The problem may grow worse as commercial real estate prices come under pressure, in turn, from an intensifying credit crunch.
Despite a tightening credit squeeze that is resulting in a sharp slowing of U.S. growth to recession levels, there is no reason to suppose that the United States is headed for a lost decade like Japan's. Prompt, aggressive easing by the Fed, along with a clear recognition that deteriorating credit and economic conditions may require further easing, constitutes a vital first step toward avoiding a prolonged recession that brings with it the danger of deflation. It is deflation that was immensely damaging to Japan after 1998 and continues to be a threat there today. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke was clear in his February 14 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on the economy and financial markets that he recognizes the risks posed to the economy by deteriorating credit markets: "It is important to recognize that downside risks to growth remain, including the possibilities that the housing market or the labor market may deteriorate to an extent beyond that currently anticipated or that credit conditions may tighten substantially further."
Yeah, it's long. Read it anyway - you won't be sorry.
That's Why They Call It "War"
I've said it before, but it doesn't get any clearer than this:
It has never been possible, nor thought possible, to win a war in court. There are simply too many jihadists, with the vast majority operating outside the jurisdiction of our laws. When we are fortunate enough to nab one, that usually happens under fog-of-war conditions not conducive to Miranda warnings, police evidence-collection protocols, and the like. And it bears keeping in mind that the purpose of an American trial is to force the government to meet a very high burden of proof in a system developed for the benefit of American citizens enjoying the presumption of innocence. That is why we say we would prefer to see the government fail—i.e., prefer to see the guilty go free—than to see an innocent person wrongly convicted.
War is different. A war is fought—meaning that people are killed and prisoners taken—in order to achieve vital national objectives, particularly the protection of American lives. In that context, we cannot prefer to see the government fail. We need the government to prevail, or our lives and the rights we cherish are in jeopardy. That doesn’t mean the enemy doesn’t get due process, particularly if we decide to put some of them on trial for war crimes rather than simply detaining them for the duration of the conflict. There is, however, a reason it is called due process, rather than, say, trial process. We owe only the process that is due in the particular circumstances. War and peace are not the same circumstance. The process due Americans accused of crimes in civilian courts is not the same as the process due foreign combatants and terrorists captured during military operations.
In other words, what she said:
A federal trial in the United States would pose a security threat to the judge, prosecutors and witnesses, not to mention the jurors and the city in which the trial would be held. We do not have sufficient law enforcement personnel to provide these trial participants round-the-clock armed protection, the type of security still in place for the federal judge who tried Sheik Rahman in 1993.
A federal trial in the United States may preclude reliable evidence of guilt. When the evidence against a defendant is collected outside the United States (the usual situation for international terrorism investigations) serious problems arise for using it in a domestic trial. The American criminal justice system excludes evidence of guilt if law enforcement does not comply with certain procedures, a complicated system of rules not taught to the Rangers and Marines who could be locked in hand-to-hand combat with the putative defendants. For sure, the intricate procedures of the American criminal justice system are not taught to the anti-Taliban fighters who may capture prisoners. Nor to the foreign intelligence agencies and police forces who will also collect evidence.
At just what point is a soldier required to reach into his flak jacket and pull out a Miranda rights card? There are numerous evidentiary and procedural requirements of federal trials that demonstrate the folly of anyone thinking such trials should be used in wartime for belligerents. Below is a sampling of the legal questions facing the prosecutor:
" Does the Speedy Trial Act start running when the combatant is captured?
" Should the Miranda rights be given in Arabic? Which dialect?
" If the belligerent wants a lawyer and cannot afford one should she be sent at taxpayer expense to Kabul to confer with her client?
" Does the requirement that an arrested person must appear before a federal magistrate within several days to enter a plea apply?
" What happens when all the evidence showing guilt is not admitted because it was collected by a foreign police force using procedures not in compliance with United States Constitutional standards?
" What happens when all the evidence showing guilt is not turned over to the United States because a foreign intelligence agency does not want to reveal sources and methods?
" For evidence to be used against the defendant, how does the prosecution establish chain of custody, an impossible procedure on the battlefield?
In the aftermath of September 11, it is not necessarily true that an American jury would be the fairest deciders of guilt. If the judicial system thought Timothy McVeigh could not get a "fair" trial in Oklahoma, where in the United States is there an impartial jury for September 11?
For the past few months I've watched with amusement as various liberal bloggers who would never accept the implication that accused terrorists are guilty absent some proof, enthusiastically swallow the accusations of said detainees' defense attorneys whole and convict their captors in absentia: sans evidence, sans trial, sans due process. So much for the rule of law or the presumption of innocence.
These same folks then gleefully begin to crow, "You see??? They dropped the charges! 'Proof' that he was innocent!", as though the very real logistical problems associated with lawfare magically vanish in the presence of guilt. Guess what? Just as an acquittal doesn't prove innocence, neither does the decision to drop charges establish, much less prove, anything at all regarding the defendant's guilt.
You'd think some of these problems might have occurred to a President who (we're told) is both an attorney and an expert on the Constitution. Judging from the policy prescriptions we've been hearing to date, you'd be wrong.
A lesser person would turn this into a caption contest. Fortunately the Editorial Staff has principles.
Can You Hear Me Now?
What we do in life echoes in eternity.
A Question for the Villainry
I am expected to continue working 12 hour shifts, weekends as required, night shifts as required to maintain my chosen lifestyle, save for the future, pay off my mortgage, and live within my means. I am further expected to believe that an artist dependent on government giveaways for such abominations as "Piss Christ" is providing the same amount of effort in an endeavor I find obscene.
- Vet66, comment on Nailing It
It's easy to be angry when obvious abuses of taxpayer money are cited, and I don't quibble with Vet66's point about not having the fruit of his productive labor confiscated in order to support people who don't work as hard as he does. However, I think things like Piss Christ are bugs rather than features of the system.
Let's step through this systematically, because the issue raises some interesting philosophical questions for fiscal conservatives and libertarians. First of all, I think both fiscal conservatives and libertarians need to take a giant step back from specific incidents which may annoy them and ask, "What kind of society do we wish to live in?"
We need to separate broad public policy goals from the oft imperfect ends that result when flawed human beings seek to implement them. Do we automatically throw the policy out if it is not implemented well, or do we examine it to see whether there is some merit in the overarching goal? Do we, perhaps, look at whether we need to tolerate some imperfect or even highly objectionable results in order to gain other positive ends, of which we approve and enjoy?
To illustrate this, a small diversion may be in order. As a girl one of my more vivid memories is of spending long summer days in a big wicker chair in my bedroom avidly devouring book after book. Some of my favorite novels were Mary Renault's tales of ancient Greece. Renault was an incredibly gifted author. She had a way of painting scenes so vivid one felt spirited out of the here and now and back in time along with her. Often, in quiet moments when the light slants down in the late afternoon limning everything it touches with a golden halo, or the breeze blows softly with just a hint of salt tang from the ocean I'll find myself recalling a scene from one of her novels with a sense of deja vu.
I literally have been there before, if only in my mind. One passage I have never forgotten from her novels concerns the story of how the Athenian Parthenon came to be built. Though it was a finalist in the new 7 wonders of the world (I didn't even realize there was a contest!), the building of the Parthenon caused great dissention and controversy over the proper use of public funds at the time it was being constructed. The history is interesting given our present predicament and some of the proposed remedies:
Plutarch lists other projects in the Agora and the Academy and adds: ”It was he, likewise, who first embellished the Acropolis with those fine and ornamental places of exercise and resort, which they afterwards so much frequented and delighted in.” In this policy of providing employment to the poor through public works, Cimon may have started the construction of the Parthenon; Pericles completed it for exactly the same reasons. The archaeological data support what is suggested by the historical information, since the building of the south wall, or Cimonian Wall, is related to the erection of the substructure of the Parthenon. Hence, it is safe to conclude that Parthenon I began to be built in the period of Cimon’s political leadership, when it appeared that Athens was finally at peace and when the unemployment caused by the peace provided one further justification for starting to replace the temple destroyed by the Persians.
Pericles was not a foolish man. He viewed the construction of the Parthenon as not only the mean to a politically expedient end but as a legacy of beauty and public pride for the city of Athens. That it has endured these many centuries has both vindicated his judgment and eclipsed the controversy that so plagued its construction.
But I digress... albeit with a point in mind.
Years ago on a trip to Paris, I was left breathless at the beauty and grandeur of the churches, sculptures and public buildings on display. All over the world, men in every culture and clime have reached for grand, oft impractical visions and we are the richer for their madness. Though we have far more to work with, both in technology and riches, I doubt any of these masterpieces would be built today and I often wonder kind of legacy we will we leave to our children?
I know I have often taken pleasure in walking around my local city (or around DC) and taking in various public works projects that include art. When I go to the public library, often there will be a statue or sculpture in the lobby or outside in the garden. Someone had to pay for these things, and I also know I see them more often than I did when I was young. Much of this is because these institutions are no longer entirely dependent upon the generosity of individual private donors; government funds help to make art accessible to all of us.
So the question put out for you is this:
Is this a good thing? Or something we wish to discourage?
We are the world's richest nation. I don't think the goal, when Congress funds art projects, is to provide a paycheck for individual artistes.
The goal is to provide a commodity - art - for the public. To the extent that individual artists are enriched... well, I've never seen a commodity in a capitalist society that comes free of charge: in other words, a bug, not a feature. If the government decides to upgrade their tax software tomorrow, much of that money will wind up in the paychecks of private software firms, too. And some of them will do a lousy job and deliver buggy software projects that run over budget and are delivered late. Again, should we stop upgrading our software because we don't want to enrich those lousy developers?
To the extent that our public funds end up paying for obsence or offensive artworks, is this a matter of poor execution or oversight or flawed policy? Discuss amongst yourselves. I think the question of what kinds of things taxpayers want to pay for is entirely valid.
But I think that's a separate question from direct income transfers. And now, I leave you to consider the beauty of the Parthenon:
More history, for archeology and history geeks, here.
Time Waster for the Ladies
Your result for The Six Wives of Henry VIII Test...
Witty, Sophisticated, Passionate, Emotional, Stylish, Intelligent, Outspoken.
"The Most Happy"
Anne Boleyn is one of the most infamous women in history. She is also probably one of the most misunderstood. Many myths abound, including that she had a mole on her neck, and a sixth finger. This is highly unlikely, as such things were seen as signs of witchcraft, she probably would not even have been allowed in court, let alone be chosen by Henry as a mate- he desired a male heir above all else, and would never have risked a 'bewitched' son. (**In recent history, an exhumation and examination of Anne's body proved she had no deformities whatsoever.)
Anne was the second, possibly third, Boleyn woman to pass through Henry's chambers. Her mother was rumored to have been young Henry's mistress, and her sister Mary was without doubt. As their father, Thomas Boleyn, was a man with more ambition than honor, he engineered both daughters relationships with Henry, and probably did the same with his wife. But Mary Boleyn's relationship with Henry ended with an illegitimate son (probably Henry's), a sad marriage, and the nickname, "the Great Whore".
Anne was engaged to Henry Percy and had no ambitions to join in the family's power games. But as a lady in waiting to Katharine of Aragon, Anne caught Henry's eye, and Henry, had Henry Percy banished from court. Thomas Boleyn missed nothing, and set Anne to seducing Henry.
Anne was charming, witty, sophisticated, and talented in music and dance- all things Henry liked in a woman. She had no trouble bringing Henry to his knees- she knew what he wanted became all the sweeter to him when he couldn't have it. She demanded he seduce her with letters and poems, he sent her royal jewels, and she rebuffed him, refusing to give him her virginity outside of marriage.
Sometime during her father's scheming Anne fell in love with Henry. They resided together in the castle, held court with her in Katharine's throne. He granted her noble title. Finally, after being refused an anullment, Henry divorced Katharine. Henry was excommunicated from the Holy See- the beginning of Restoration.
Anne and Henry wed in 1533, and Anne gave birth so soon to the infant Elizabeth I, it's believed that the two had been secretly married in 1532 in order to consumate their union.
The marriage lasted three years. Anne failed to deliver the promised heir, which Henry saw as a sign from God that his marriage to Anne was impure. His eye was wandering, first to Anne's lady in waiting, Margaret (Madge) Shelton- also Anne Boleyn's cousin- but then particularly to Jane Seymour. Anne, ever so passionate, would not tolerate any straying from her bed. If she had taken the king from Katharine, who had been with him for decades, then her position was just as precarious. She had gotten Henry to declare Elizabeth the one heir by bastardizing Mary, daughter of Katharine, but no one outside of England recognized the child as sovereign heir, refusing Henry's offers of betrothal. That Anne requested the deaths of Mary and Katharine is rumored but not evidenced.
Following the death of Katharine, who had suffered in isolation, Henry became more convinced that Anne was a mistake. She miscarried a few days later, and it was over.
Henry accused Anne of witchcraft, questioned her virginity at the time of marriage, and high treason- adultery. The men of her court were questioned and tortured, the women of her court were largely disloyal- many of them having been in service to the beloved Katharine of Aragon before her- and gladly spoke against her. Anne was imprisoned, and there wrote letters to Henry begging for the freedom of her innocent friends and family (her brother was accused of having relations with her.) and begging for the future of her daughter. It was all for naught- her accused lovers were tortued into admission- even though some of them were quite homosexual- and murdered. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Anne saw the beheading of her brother George, her best friend, and probably also homosexual, through the bars of her tower window.
Anne Boleyn was executed May 19, 1536. Laying her head on the chopping block, she repeatedly commended her soul to God, and then, the scandal of christendom, the woman who caused the birth of a new religion, the second wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded.
Henry married Jane Seymour eleven days later.
Here's something for the gentlemen:
Your result for What Breed of Dog Are You?!...
America's most popular breed, the Lab is known for its friendly personality. You are probably a very friendly person, outgoing, and caring. Labs also have a lot of energy, and need to be strictly trained as puppies to harness that energy. Were you like that as a child? Maybe I should be asking your parents... lol Another breed very similar to the Lab is the Golden retriever.
February 09, 2009
Today is a special little girl's name day. Since I was busy working all day, all I can offer in celebration are a few things I love and a few lines, poorly written and no doubt not well enough thought out but no less heartfelt for all of that. May they gladden her senses and warm her heart:
Glenn Reynolds features a must-watch exchange on greed, government, and incentives. If you do nothing else on the Intertubes today, go and watch it.
Listening, the Editorial Staff were reminded of a passage from Barack Obama's inaugural speech that really stuck in our craw:
... it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.
Rarely have we read something more fundamentally dishonest than this. One has to wonder about the value of being a gifted public speaker if it allows a politician to get away with passing off arrant nonsense like this without being laughed off the television set.
It's fairly safe to say that when my great, great grandmother crossed this country in a Conestoga wagon, she wasn't doing it for me. Nor was she doing it for Barack Obama, or because it would one day help Michelle's children.
She did it because she was a spirited, independent woman who wanted a better life for herself. And when she got to California and found she didn't care for it, she came back.
It seems highly unlikely that she did that for us, either. We are reminded of a conversation with a liberal friend in NYC the day after the election. The Editorial Staff stated our conviction that the American people had no idea what practical outcome they had just voted for, to which our friend gently replied that "something" needed to be done (and soon!) to alleviate the economic distress ordinary Americans were suffering.
In response, we sent her
The real "change" being put to a vote for the American people in 2008 is not simply a break from the economic policies of "the past eight years" but with the American economic philosophy of the past 200 years. This election is about a long-term change in America's idea of itself.
...With this election, the U.S. is at a philosophical tipping point.
The goal of Sen. Obama and the modern, "progressive" Democratic Party is to move the U.S. in the direction of Western Europe, the so-called German model and its "social market economy." Under this notion, business is highly regulated... Business is allowed to create "wealth" so long as its utility is not primarily to create new jobs or economic growth but to support a deep welfare system.
...The political planets are aligned to make this achievable. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, prominent Democrats, European leaders in France and Germany and more U.S. newspaper articles than one can count have said that the crisis proves the need to permanently tame the American "free-market" model. P.O.W. Alan Greenspan is broadcasting confessions. The question is: Are the American people of a mind to throw in the towel on the system that got them here?
...Cowboy Capitalism built the country. More than any previous nation in history, the United States made its way forward on a 200-year wave of upwardly mobile, profit-seeking merchants, tradesmen, craftsmen and workers. They blew out of New England and New York, rolled across the wildernesses of the Central States, pushed across a tough Western frontier and banged into San Francisco and Los Angeles, leaving in their path city after city of vast wealth.
The U.S. emerged a superpower, and the tool of that ascent was simple -- the pursuit of economic growth. Now China, India and Brazil, embracing high-growth Cowboy Capitalism, are doing what we did, only their cities are bigger.
Now comes Barack Obama, standing at the head of a progressive Democratic Party, his right hand rising to say, "Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be for-profit cowboys. It's time to spread the wealth around."
What this implies, undeniably, is that the United States would move away from running with the high GDP, high-growth nations rising today as economic and political powers and move over to retire with the low-growth economies we displaced -- old Europe.
As noted in a 2006 World Bank report, spending in Europe on social-protection programs averages 19% of GDP (85% of it on social insurance programs), compared to 9% of GDP in the U.S.
The problem, as Alan Greenspan notes in the video Glenn highlighted, is that what liberals like to call "greed" always attaches to the other guy's self interest - never to our own. Few people exert themselves for long out of pure altruism. As I observed to my friend, economics is nothing more than the science of human decision making in the presence of scarce resources, and any economic policy built upon a faulty understanding of human behavior is doomed to fail. Had LBJ thought a bit more about the role of incentives, he might have had a better exit strategy for the War on Poverty and we might not be looking at a 70% illegitimacy rate in the black community that didn't exist before the federal government decided to lend black families a helping hand:
Barack Obama just finished telling us that it is not only morally acceptable, but good (!) to take what one man earns and give it to a man who did nothing to earn it.
I don't agree. I think it's not only counterproductive from an economic standpoint (it creates disincentives to production and rewards inefficient and irresponsible decisions) but profoundly immoral. I don't believe it's my responsibility as an American to go to work every day and then give him part of my earnings to buy a new car or computer for some other American (as Barack Obama said in several recent speeches). That is not free enterprise.
It is socialism - pure and simple - and McCain and Palin were not wrong to call him on it.
There is a profound difference between funding a safety net for society's weakest members and using taxation to transfer income from the rich to the middle class.
There is a profound difference between using progressive taxation to fund minimum government services from which everyone - rich or poor - benefits, and using progressive taxation to take money from the rich and give it to anyone who makes less than they do on the theory that it's inherently unfair or unjust for one person to make more than another.
You argue that we are "worse off" now. Worse off than whom? Europe? Right now, they are in worse shape than we are and yet that is precisely the direction in which Obama wants to take us.
Economics is no more and no less than the science of how humans behave in the presence of scarcity, and since human behavior hasn't changed in recent memory, none of this is exactly rocket science.
No rational human being - except for Barack Obama and everyone who just voted for him - believes confiscating more of a worker's income motivates him to be more productive, or even to stay at the same level of production.
No rational human being - except for Barack Obama and everyone who just voted for him - believes that increasing the cost of saving and investment (this is what happens when you increase the capital gains tax) or increasing the cost of running a business in America (this is what happens when you raise corporate taxes) will encourage Americans to do more of these things.
Economies grow and jobs are produced when people take risks and work hard in anticipation of receiving some tangible benefit - when they can reasonably expect to be better off as a result of their actions. They respond to incentives. People don't work for "fairness". They work for profit.
You show me an entrepreneur who works 80 hour weeks, risks losing his home, and asks only for a heaping helping of income equality in return and I'll show you someone who is certifiably insane. This is why immigrants leave their countries and come here - because in America, they were free. Free to compete. Free to succeed. Or fail. Not anymore.
Adam Smith is rolling over in his grave.
Ferrell's Freudian Slip
When we were just a rosy cheeked little Editorial Staff and ran crying to our mother over some childhood slight, she wisely counseled that the petty torments of those who revel in the pain or humiliation of their fellow humans reveal more about the character of the tormentor than they do about the supposed flaws of their victims.
Her words were the first thing which sprang to mind when we read this story:
Last night, I wrote about how BDS was alive and well in NYC and on prominent display in a show that has been running on Broadway since the inauguration that makes fun of our 43rd president using, among other things, a picture of a male part of the anatomy being commented on by an “actor” who resembles a male part of the anatomy.
Anyway, if you think that was bad, make sure you read the write-up the NY Post has on the show. It doesn’t just bash Bush; it bashes our troops, too (via Don Surber):Pointless? Pretty much, but near the end of the show things turn tasteless as well. Ferrell/Bush asks the audience for a moment of silence to honor our troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the performance I saw, most of the audience members went silent but a few tittered nervously. Who can blame them? This is a comedy show. They were expecting a gag, and they soon got one.
After a few seconds of silence a phone on the stage rings, and everyone laughs. The relief is palpable. Hurrah! That thing about honoring our war dead? It really was just the setup to a joke!
Ferrell/Bush is startled by the noise too, because he’s already told us that the phone is just a prop that isn’t connected to anything. He picks up the phone, listens for a second and says, “I didn’t know ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is playing! I love Tom Wopat too!” Then he tells the audience that he was afraid God was calling him on the phone. “Swear to God - I thought I was having a heart attack in my butt hole!”
The problem is, during what turned out to be merely a pause to set up the punchline, I actually was thinking about our war dead, and so were a lot of others. Left and right, we all believe, or supposedly do, in honoring the sacrifice of our servicemen and women.
Here, Hollywood is letting its mask slip. Ferrell and his director Adam McKay are so confident that everyone shares their contempt for Bush that they slosh over into contempt for all things associated with Bush: the show includes cracks about Texas, Christianity, and finally the military.
The military is the military. It isn’t going to whine. It isn’t going to organize a team of protesters to cause a ruckus in front of the Cort Theatre. It is just going to keep its head down and drive on.
A moment of truth here: we, too, have had our moments of discomfort with veneration of all things military. Though at first blush it's comforting to see the decline and fall of the John Forgainst Kerryesque narrative in which American soldiers are either helpless victims or deranged postal workers in training, it's hard to see unconditional support for the military as any more healthy for this country in the long run.
This is why we've been so critical, on occasion, of the creeping sense of entitlement sometimes encountered on military forums. That this mentality represents understandable pushback against over the top attacks from some on the anti-war left may make behavior that violates our values easier to sympathize with; but it does not and cannot excuse it. The last thing the military needs is to become a mob of next generation Jesse Jacksons constantly holding the civilian community hostage to some idealized alternative reality, in which every service member along with their spouses and children (heh... she said "member") is automagically anointed with the mantle of heroism simply because we served.... and they didn't.
Let's face it peoples: civilian or military, we all put on our Hanes ultrasheers one leg at a time and there are many ways to serve this country. The military does not hold a monopoly on civic virtue or patriotism.
That said, it speaks volumes when a man chooses to perform what has been pretty uniformly deemed a one man show that "really isn't about Bush. It's about us" in front of a giant penis.
Exactly what it says, I leave it to you to decide.
And They Call It Puppy Love
While on patrol, Staff Sgt. Daniel Barker [Ed. note: what are the odds?] and his fellow soldier, Adam Krause, found two puppies, malnourished and scared.
The soldiers took the dogs back to their base and named them Jack and Emma. The men played with, cared for and bonded with the puppies during the rough months of their deployment, relatives said.
"Jack has been Dan's rock over there. When he is out on missions and sees awful things, he comes back to his dog, Jack, and is able to have comfort," Dan Barker's mother-in-law, Janice Rosengren, said.
"The things these men have to see and deal with truly force them to build a wall around their emotions. Jack has been so therapeutic to my husband and helped him through some of the toughest times," Dan Barker's wife, Lisa, said.
The soldiers decided they didn't want to leave their new furry friends behind when their deployment ended in mid January. However, bringing a dog from Afghanistan to the United States would be an expensive and cumbersome process.
Enter a charity called Dogpile.com. And the rest, as they say, is history.
If you find this story heartwarming, you may wish to throw them a bone.
So to speak.
February 08, 2009
*Now* He's Asking Questions???
Back in the spring and summer of 2007. Barack Obama was all for charging into Afghanistan on a white horse because Iraq was NOT (we repeat, NOT) the central front in the war on terror.
Contrary to the divisive and mean-spirited rhetoric of his know-nothing opponent, Democrats like Mr. Obama were not soft on national security. Au contraire, mes cheres! "They couldn't wait to take the fight to al Qaeda! It was just a question of choosing their battles - fighting smarter, not harder:
"We cannot win a war against the terrorists if we're on the wrong battlefield." Pointing to al Qaeda's resurgence along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Obama called for troops to be redeployed from Iraq. He promised that when he becomes president, "Nobody will work harder to go after those terrorists who will do the American people harm. But that requires a commander in chief who understands our troops need to be on the right battlefield, not the wrong battlefield."
During the campaign, Obama was full of contradictory rhetoric. The troop Surge, he opined in an entry later purged from his website, was a failed strategy:
Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, the Daily News has learned.
The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a "problem" that had barely reduced violence.
"The surge is not working," Obama's old plan stated, citing a lack of Iraqi political cooperation but crediting Sunni sheiks - not U.S. military muscle - for quelling violence in Anbar Province.
The News reported Sunday that insurgent attacks have fallen to the fewest since March 2004.
Of course if you think more troops didn't do a thing to improve the situation in Iraq, what could make more sense than to suggest the same failed strategy in Afghanistan? This is called "thinking outside of the box".
After months of refusing to admit the Surge did make Iraq more secure, what better way to get badly needed troops for your newest "failed strategy" than to do an about face and claim the Surge (which you just spent months claiming had nothing to do with improved security) has paved the way for accelerated troop withdrawals? And if the commanders on the ground fear pulling troops out too fast may reverse hard-fought gains purchased at the cost of too many American and Iraqi lives, well, it's all a question of priorities:
Obama must weigh a number of risks in deciding how fast to pull out the 14 combat brigades that are now in Iraq, including the political risk associated with abandoning his campaign pledge to get out within 16 months.
The calculation is complex and tied to other concerns: relieving stress on war-weary troops and their families; tradeoffs in escalating the war in Afghanistan, and being ready for popup crises elsewhere.
The pace and sequencing of a troop pullout will have implications for preserving recent gains in reducing violence in Iraq. An erosion of security could in turn halt progress toward political reconciliation, raising once again the prospect of widespread sectarian warfare and a new crisis for Obama.
Also at issue is how to ensure proper protection for U.S. civilians, such as State Department members of military-civilian teams supporting Iraqi economic and political rebuilding, as the U.S. military presence shrinks. That civilian work, including the role of international non-governmental groups, will arguably grow in importance as the Iraqis focus less on fighting insurgents and more on building national unity.
Of course now that the rubber has met the road, it seems fighting al Qaeda on the "battlefield of choice" is suddenly looking less attractive:
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.
There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.
The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defence secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama.
The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer.
Larry Korb, a defence expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, said: “Obama is exactly right. Before he agrees to send 30,000 troops, he wants to know what the mission and the endgame is.”
Obama promised an extra 7,000-10,000 troops during the election campaign but the military has inflated its demands.
The "end game", sir, has always been to finish what we started.
I fully understand that it has now become politically inexpedient for you to do what you promised on the campaign trail, but perhaps you should have thought of that before you opened your big mouth. And perhaps the American people might find it interesting to know what you were up to while you were telling them that Iraq wasn't the central front in the war on terror (a judgment al Qaeda seems not to agree with, to judge from their public statements); while you were criticizing the Bush administration for not providing sufficient medical care and armor for our troops? They might be interested in what you were doing while you were telling America Afghanistan and Pakistan were the priorities, and not Iraq.
It turns out Mr. Obama was one of only 14 Senators (10 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 1 Independent) who were busy trying to cut off funding for the very things he said he'd do we if elected him.. Here are some of the key provisions Barack Obama didn't think deserved his support:
Authorizes the Secretary to use specified funds to support counter-drug activities of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Allows specified funds to be used to fund the Commander's Emergency Response Program (urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan). Requires quarterly reports from the Secretary to the congressional defense committees on the use of such funds.
Increases from 20 to 287 the number of heavy and light armored vehicles authorized to be purchased by DOD for force protection purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Provides for the transfer of appropriated funds from specified military accounts to the Economic Support Fund, for use in programs in Pakistan. (wasn't Pakistan supposed to be an urgent front in the war on terror?)
Prohibits the use of funds under this Act in contravention of specified laws enacted or regulations promulgated to implement the United Nations (UN) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. (aren't we against torture?)
Prohibits the use of any funds to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center until equivalent medical facilities at the Walter Reed National Medical Center at Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, and/or the Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Community Hospital have been constructed and equipped. Requires adequate funding of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, during any such transition, to maintain the maximum level of inpatient and outpatient services. (I thought Obama was all in favor of helping wounded vets... unlike Bush?)
$1.79 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $1.34 billion for medical related expenses (see previous comment)
It's a bit late to be asking questions about Afghanistan, Mr. Obama. It's beginning to seem that your policy positions undergo drastic revisions when it actually comes time for you to take responsibility, as opposed to standing on the sidelines and criticizing someone else.
Somehow, that doesn't surprise me one bit because the options never changed. Only the person in the crossfire.
February 07, 2009
One night, New York Times columnist Judith Warner had a dream about the president taking a shower in her house. Then a friend of hers confided that she'd had an Obama dream, too. So, Warner "launched an e-mail inquiry" to suss out whether the president was behind other women's fluttering eyelids, and she found that he is -- in a big way. Women across America are apparently dreaming about schtupping the president.
But wait! There's more of this inane drivel:
"Barack and Michelle Obama look like they have sex. They look like they like having sex. Often. With each other"
As opposed to having sex with... whom? Never ask a question unless you're prepared to hear the answer:
She writes: "In these dreams, the women replaced Michelle with greater or lesser guilt or, in the case of a 62-year-old woman in North Florida, whose dream was reported to me by her daughter, found a fully above-board solution: 'Michelle had divorced Barack because he had become 'too much of a star.' He then married my mother, who was oh so proud to be the first lady,' the daughter wrote me."
Not only are women mind-sexing Obama, reports Warner, they are also daydreaming about his actual sex life: "Barack and Michelle Obama look like they have sex. They look like they like having sex," a woman from Los Angeles writes to Warner. "Often. With each other." I get it. It's in the way they look at, touch and talk about each other. His words about his wife on election night -- "my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life" -- made me, 22 years his junior, swoon. After watching them dance at the inaugural balls, my Mom, 15 years his senior, enthused that "they make marriage look hot" and made a prediction: "People are going to start realizing that marriage can be sexy."
Who knew? I've heard rumors that married people have actual sex, but until The One ascended the Imperial Throne there was no actual evidence of this outlandish theory. Yet another thing for which we conservathugs can be profoundly thankful.
February 06, 2009
WayBack Machine Shows Bush's Attempts At Bipartisan Outreach Didn't Work Either
Sacre bleu! Could this be the horrid, divisive Shrub we've heard reviled by embittered Congressional Democrats for the past 8 years?
On Friday, Bush met with Senate Democrats who were meeting behind closed doors at the Library of Congress here. It was the first time in anyone’s memory that a president had attended such a gathering of the opposing party. And Bush apparently charmed many of his erstwhile foes just a day after they had slapped his hand by registering 42 no votes when John Ashcroft was confirmed as Bush’s attorney general.
Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the minority leader, said after the meeting that, like Bush, he and his Democratic colleagues are intent on improving relations–even as inevitable political fights occur. “We’re going to break out of the box we’ve been in and the polarization we’ve experienced,” Daschle said.
After meeting with Senate Democrats, the president helicoptered south to Williamsburg, Va., where he dropped in on a Republican congressional retreat. On Sunday, he is expected to travel to a retreat of House Democrats in Pennsylvania.
These gestures of supercharged presidential outreach have caught some Democrats off guard. And the efforts have elated Republicans, who have craved executive leadership since they took control of Congress six years ago.
By the end of the weekend, if there are any of the 534 members of Congress–there is one vacancy in the House–who have not seen the new president up close, it won’t be for lack of effort on his part.
“I love meeting with the members,” Bush told the gathering of congressional Republicans. “For those of you who have been to our office, thanks for coming. For those of you who have not been to our office yet, you’re coming. Just don’t take any silverware!”
Some Democrats seemed almost disarmed by the president’s personal touch.
“He’s establishing both an atmosphere and a set of personal relations that will pay him dividends,” said Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), an influential centrist. At a previous session with Bush, Graham spent an hour in the Cabinet room talking about the nuts and bolts of tax policy.
In his 30-minute encounter Friday with Senate Democrats, Bush was short on specifics and long on broad talk of working together.
White House aides quoted him as acknowledging that his aim to “rid the system of rancor” might be dismissed by some as naive, but Bush insisted “that’s my intent.”
Ashcroft Saga Is Old News
Senators said that Bush recalled his working relationship with Texas Democrats during his tenure as that state’s governor. He apologized for confusing Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan, both North Dakota Democrats, earlier in the week, which got a laugh. He then took a few questions.
Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) asked Bush whether he would support current efforts to provide schools with cut-rate Internet access. Bush was said to have answered in the affirmative.
The simple fact of Bush’s visit was impressive to some Senate veterans. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said it was the first time in his 28 years in the chamber that a Republican president had addressed a gathering of Democrats. But Biden warned: “Bipartisanship doesn’t just mean we like each other. We do like each other. But how does that translate? … We’ll see.”
Of course, Mr. Bush found out that all the outreach in the world won't overcome entrenched special interests:
During the 2000 campaign, President-elect George W. Bush repeatedly promised to soothe the partisan hostilities that have raged across Washington during Bill Clinton’s tumultuous two terms. But the sudden withdrawal Tuesday of Linda Chavez, his Labor secretary nominee, and the escalating conflict over two of his other Cabinet appointees show how difficult it will be to end the political warfare simply by changing the occupant of the Oval Office.
As Chavez’s fall demonstrated, Washington’s toxic climate is shaped by forces much deeper than the president’s personality–key among them a cycle of attack and counterattack between the major parties that has made indiscretions, which once might have seemed minor, loom as disqualifying offenses.
“It has less to do with [who is] the president than the character of the American political system,” said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg. “It is structural, in other words, not personal.”
The stumble out of the gate has become a rite of passage for new presidents in this era of increased tension over appointments. Bush’s father was bloodied when the Senate rejected his choice of John Tower as Defense secretary; Bill Clinton’s first two attorney general prospects were forced to withdraw over charges of employing an illegal immigrant, similar to the issue that felled Chavez.
While uneasy Republicans immediately asked why Bush’s team had not unearthed Chavez’s problems themselves, her departure is unlikely to have any measurable long-term effect on Bush’s policy agenda. Still, analysts said, it could embolden liberal groups taking aim at Bush’s two other most conservative Cabinet choices: attorney general nominee John Ashcroft and Interior secretary designee Gale A. Norton.
Indeed, one stark lesson of these sharpening nomination struggles is that neither the president nor the Congress can entirely enforce a cease-fire in Washington, even if they want to do so.
Interesting in light of this week's news, no?
And even more so in light of the dominant narrative regarding the "divisive" former occupant of the Oval Office. Facts are stubborn things.
February 05, 2009
Exploding Head Time
I can't help it. Every time I see this story, I keep thinking, "too big to fail?
Our skin is crawling. Though we imagine she could always find employment with Bob Parsons.
One Honest Man
Last night, I couldn't sleep.
I woke around 2 a.m. After pouring a glass of water I attempted to snuggle my way back into the waiting arms of Morpheus. But the moon was in my eyes, so I slipped out of bed and silently shut the door to the bedroom. The spousal unit was breathing so softly I could barely hear him but the rest of the house had that hushed silence snow brings to the woods in midwinter. It felt like a caught breath, or the charged drop in pressure just before a sudden storm: an emptiness so pronounced it takes on a shape and substance all its own.
Not a thing was stirring. Not even a Weiner Beast.
My dog is dying.
There has been something wrong with him for a long time - something the experts can't seem to pinpoint. We've spent thousands of dollars on surgery, tests, drugs. He's been by turns dramatically worse, better, up, down, fair-to-middling. He has his good days, weeks, months, and his bad ones. Lately he's taken to throwing up everything he's fed. He is, despite what one might expect, quite good natured about this.
I suspect throwing up is an activity dogs secretly enjoy, particularly when they manage to hornk all over an expensive oriental rug or you've just changed out the cover on their bed for the fourth time.
Hornk. "Surprise, Mom!" And you thought there was nothing left, didn't you? The tail begins helicoptering as he looks up at you conspiratorially, inviting you to enjoy the moment along with him. For a moment, there is a mental vision of 16 pounds of lean, mean Weiner Dog lifting off smoothly from the floor - butt-first - flitting about the room like some demented Remote Control Fruit Bat from Heck.
It's surprising how helpless and out of control you feel picking up an old friend at the end of the day. Carrying him down the steps to his little house. Feeling his bones through his skin; savoring the almost unbearable sweetness of a cold nose touching you softly on the cheek, behind the ear, delivering a benedictory snort or two into your hair for good measure.
But then I'm prone to helplessness and inappropriate mental visions these days. I can't, for instance, read about the travails of our 44th President without imagining a modern day Diogenes wandering the streets of Washington, looking for just one honest man. Boy, is he in the wrong place:
Call it All the President’s Men II: Tom Daschle! Timothy Geithner! Charles Rangel! If they were Republicans, imagine the hiding the Contessa Brewers of the world would be giving this trio of refugees from the IRS, how high the dudgeon, how spluttering the outrage over the free car and driver, the IMF monies, the undocumented nannies, the apartments in Harlem, and the unreported vacation-home rental income. Taxes? We don’t pay no stinkin’ taxes! Somewhere, the ghost of Leona Helmsley is smiling and stroking her pet Maltese, “Trouble.”
Luckily, there’s the tried-and-true Sandy Berger DefenseTM: It was an honest mistake! Good ol’ Sandypants, the pride of Millerton, N.Y., skating out of the National Archives with classified material and then, you know, destroying it. Why, no less an authority on felonious behavior than Billy Jeff Blythe III excused Berger by chalking it up to simple sloppiness. Yes, that’s just the quality we need in a national security adviser—sloppiness!
In the same way, the Tax Trio has basically said: oops! Daschle, in fact, has pronounced himself “disappointed” by his erroneous tax returns. “I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns,” said Tom Thumb in a contrite, heartfelt note of apology to his former Senate BFFs. “I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them.” There—all better now? Good thing he’s not a lobbyist or, you know, married to one, or his nomination would really be in trouble.
There are times when I honestly wonder whether America has lost its collective mind. Capitol Hill is burning while Andrea Mitchell plays the world's smallest violin:
...it was an emotional conversation. He was clearly- it sounded as though he were tearful, overwrought."
...this does read to the public as though the Republicans went after this man, someone that the President very much wanted, and brought him down."
Even usually steady conservatives seem to be awash in a sea of sentimentality. Common sense, like Elvis, seems to have left the building:
Washington is falling to the level of a Web-based video game. Everyone is expendable. Treasury secretaries and presidential advisers are a dime a dozen. Put differently: The job-protected and gerrymandered lifers are driving out the competition. More often than not, Washington's worst people are destroying its better people.
In his report, Mr. Conyers cites a catalogue of good-government laws that flowed out of Richard Nixon's impeachment: the Federal Campaign Finance Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Independent Counsel Act, the Ethics in Government Act, and the Presidential Records Act.
Whatever the original rationale for such laws, the rankest impulses in politics soon turned them into weapons to take down officials in a government one can't overthrow by other means. You could fill the whole House chamber with men and women who since Watergate have been driven out and bankrupted by them. Criminalizing policy differences has become the modern version of bills of attainder.
President Obama has to decide whether to pursue prosecutions of former Bush officials, especially the CIA's terror interrogators. He must realize that the exterminating angels, who come in two colors -- blue and red -- are ready to chase down him and his appointees.
Thus arrives the Geithner Exception. Getting to be Treasury secretary may be more than Mr. Geithner deserves. This is an opportunity, though, to admit that giving someone's government a chance to function, assuming that's any longer possible, is a greater public good than witch-burning. Amid an economic crisis, the new president said Mr. Geithner had his confidence. Now he has him. Let voters and the markets judge their performance, not the phony and ruinous moral outrage of the Beltway.
There is no doubt that sandbagging the opposition's nominees has turned into something of a national pastime. And yet in his dismay over the waste and wreckage occasioned by what has hardly been a rancorous process by Washington standards, Mr. Henninger overlooks a critical aspect of the Obama nomination debacle.
When the Democrats swept into power in November of 2006, Nancy Pelosi gloated:
"The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."
Promises lay thick on the ground like rice after a wedding party. A kindler, gentler sheriff was in town: the Democrats would restore civility and bipartisanship, raise ethical standards, restore the public's confidence, and get government working again. A year and a half later, Congressional approval ratings had dropped to their lowest levels ever. Despite serving alongside a chief executive who issued the fewest vetoes of any modern president (and had the highest percentage of his vetoes - 33% - overriden) the Democrat-led 110th Congress was a do-nothing disaster of epic proportions:
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal summed up Congress’s actions since inauguration day in January 2007: “In two decades of record keeping, no sitting Congress has passed fewer public laws at this point in the session — 294 so far — than this one.” Only weeks before, Time made a similar observation: “The 260 laws passed by the 110th Congress represent a 30-year low, and they include the naming of 74 post offices, not to mention the nonbinding resolutions designating July National Watermelon Month and recognizing dirt as an essential natural resource.”
...According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, only 18 percent of the electorate approves of the 110th Congress. And a recent Rasmussen poll discovered that only 9 percent of respondents “say Congress is doing a good or excellent job.”
Apparently impressed with the performance of their new Congressional overlords, the American people looked upon the Change they had wrought and decided it was Good. With the infinite wisdom only Americans seem capable of, they voted for even more change! (More of the most honest, most open and most ethical goverment ever!) One can perhaps understand even this: despite the lowest approval ratings in history, about 40% of American voters believe the Republicans are still in control of Congress. It's a fair bet these folks aren't registered Republicans.
But regardless of party, American voters have a right to expect certain things from their public servants. It's not too much to expect, for instance, that those who make and administer our laws should obey those laws. While zero tolerance policies benefit neither party, we have a right to expect persons in a position of public trust to pay their taxes.
And if mistakes are made, they should pay their back taxes. All of them (not just the ones they're forced to pay). It sends the wrong message when leaders choose lieutenants who openly flout the laws they are expected to administer on our behalf. At a time when public trust in government and public servants is at its lowest ebb, we cannot afford further erosion of our public institutions.
The sad thing is that Mr. Obama has brought much of this upon himself with unnecessarily strict rules that cannot survive the collision with real world conditions. Washington resembles nothing so much as a group of unruly children. Knowing this, the experienced parent makes a few clear cut rules that are enforced vigorously and with consistency. Mr. Obama seems committed to the opposite course, issuing numerous rules during his first month in office that critics claim are full of loopholes.
A bit of advice: you're going to be criticized no matter what you do, Mr. Obama. Pick a course you think is right and then stick to your guns. If your ideals - and your ideas - are worthy, they are worth fighting for and both the country and your party will be a lot better off with a leader who boldly charts a course and says, "Follow me". Don't let the naysayers drag you down with them. And don't try to game the system. I don't think it can be done.
Just do your best and put the rest in the hands of God, or fate, or whatever you call that ineffable force which controls our destiny. The job you're in is too big for you to do anything else. The benefit of this stance is that you might finally come to understand the man who just left the office you now occupy just a bit. Heaven knows you're going to need a bit of the steel that stiffened his spine in the days to come.
It's just a thought. I don't agree with you on most issues, but I can respect a man who is straightforward with me. I suspect the American people feel the same way I do, regardless of their political affiliation.
Perhaps that one honest man you're looking for is the one who looks back at you from your mirror every morning. I hope so.
It's right catchy:
Via TaxProf Blog
February 03, 2009
Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That's an easy thing to say, but if your hopes should pass away
That you can build them again.
Look around, the grass is high
The fields are ripe, it's the springtime of my life
Ahhh, seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time
Funny how my memory slips while looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme
Drinking my vodka and lime
But look around, leaves are brown now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter
Here’s a clue, Mr. Gibbs - unless you clear the bar it really doesn’t matter how high you set it. Setting the bar at 10′ but only being able to reach 6′ doesn’t really impress anyone.
Normally I'm not big on harsh judgments. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't see scores of news stories that I pass up because I wouldn't have appreciated the other side beating on George Bush for something he couldn't help.
But when a politician someone presumes to lecture others about a job he hasn't performed himself and then is full of excuses when reality bites him in the ass, I don't have a lot of patience.
There is something to be said for humility, and if you expect people to give you the benefit of the doubt, a bit more humility and a lot less bombast might just buy you the time to figure out the daunting job you've taken on:
To hear Mr. Obama speak now on matters like the national defense is to recognize that the leader now in the White House is in every respect the person he seemed on the campaign trail: a man of immense moral certitude, prone to an abstract idealism, and pronouncements that range between the rational and the otherworldly.
That's not counting the occasional touches of pure rubbish. Having, on the second day of his presidency, issued executive orders effectively undermining efforts to extract (from captured al Qaeda operatives) intelligence essential to the prevention of terror attacks -- and in addition seriously hampering the prosecution of terrorist detainees -- Mr. Obama argued that it was just by such steps that we strengthened our security. In his own words: "It is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world."
What can this mean? What moral high ground, exactly, would have enabled us to deter the designs of the religious fanatics in search of martyrdom and the slaughter of as many Americans as possible on September 11?
So much had happened in Washington that week -- so much speechifying and celebration -- it was easy to tune out that pronouncement, particularly since we'd heard its like so often during Mr. Obama's presidential run. It was of a piece with those assertions, emphasized the length of his campaign, that it was not our strength in arms but our principles that had made us a great nation.
During his grim inaugural address -- never has the promise of a nation's rebirth sounded so cheerless -- he was similarly emphatic as he touched on the issue of our defense, proclaiming that "we will not give up our ideals for expediency's sake." It was a line that evoked a loud upsurge of applause from his audience.
They had heard in it again, Mr. Obama's most dramatic and familiar campaign charge, delivered now in shorthand that needed no spelling out: The day of the Bush administration's machinations against our sacred ideals, against democracy itself, all in the name of our security, was now over. In this new day of our national salvation, then -- in a post 9/11 America that had seen 3,000 of its inhabitants murdered by terrorists -- it was now acceptable to characterize strenuous efforts to avert more such catastrophes as "expediency." It was not only acceptable, but proof of a higher moral intelligence.
The generation of Americans who had faced down fascism and communism understood, Mr. Obama further explained on Inauguration Day, that power alone could not protect us. They understood that our security came not just from missiles and tanks but from "sturdy alliances" and "enduring convictions" -- it emanated from "the tempering quality of humility and restraint."
It's impossible to know what kind of history Mr. Obama has been reading but this much at least is true -- the generation he describes knew the importance of sturdy alliances all right. There was that one, for instance, between the American leader, Franklin Roosevelt, and the British, Winston Churchill. Both of them, along with their countrymen, were driven by one enduring conviction -- that fascism should be eradicated from the face of the earth and a total war of destruction waged on Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany until their surrender. It would be hard to find, in their pursuit of that purpose, any hint of that tempering quality of humility and restraint. Not that it isn't entertaining to imagine Roosevelt extending the hand of friendship and conciliation to Hirohito, or Churchill proposing to raise a glass and talk things over with Hitler.
It's been tempting to ascribe Mr. Obama's orders on terrorist detentions, interrogations and Guantanamo to his campaign promises. Not to mention the pressure of that political constituency whose chief enterprise has been these many years to portray the war on terror as an illicit enterprise, conducted by agents of government bent on robbing innocent Americans of their constitutional rights and instilling baseless fears -- and that has succeeded, with the invaluable aid of a like-minded quarter of the media, in presenting a picture of Guantanamo as a hell on earth akin to Auschwitz.
Mr. Obama, who has always been much better than his vocal supporters on the far left, better than the cadres in MoveOn.Org, is no extremist. Still, there is no reason to think that his views on security issues and Guantanamo and interrogations, his tendency to minimize the central importance of armed might, are not deeply rooted. They are clearly core beliefs.
And that, along with those trumpeting declarations to the world that new leadership had now come to the United States, that we were now a nation worthy of the world's trust -- those speeches suggesting that after years of darkness America had now been rescued, just barely, from the abyss -- will be in the end this president's Achilles' heel. Those are not, Mr. Obama may discover, tones that wear well in the course of a presidency.
I Blame John Hawkins
I did not need to see the words "naked", "unicorn", and "Obama" in the same sentence. Certainly, the juxtaposition of "Art" with the preceding terms gives added cause for alarm. But since the Editorial Staff has detected a seismic shift in the Blatherosphere, we must investigate, even at the risk of our sanity.
Obama joins the Jehovah's Witnesses:
I do not even know what to say about this, except that C.S. Lewis has a lot to answer for. One can only hope that what happens in Narnia, stays in Narnia:
Somewhere, a romance novel is missing its hero.
Ooooooo-kay... (possibly NSFW)
Looking back, Brian realized his "intimacy issues" all sprang from that fatal first date with Tiffany:
Worrisome. Extremely worrisome.
The action figure:
They say pride goeth...
...before a fall:
Not as easy as it looks, is it, Joe? Even with notes.
On IPS, Patriotic Dissent, Listening to Generals
“Mr. President, please change course. Listen to your generals. Listen to former generals. Listen to the Iraq Study Group.”
Back in January of 2007 the Democrats were wildly promoting the statements of any general willing to undermine the sitting Commander in Chief. And if one of them inconveniently turned out to support the Surge, that didn't prevent patriots like Keith Olbermann from claiming he was agin' it (and durnitall it was dangerous if not downright unAmerican to disregard the military's advice)!
Now, of course, le worm politique ... she has turned and a different party is in power. So what do the Democrats think about 'listening to the generals' now that the shoe is on the other foot? Are these brave souls still Speaking Truth to Power? Or are they dangerous zealots who must be silenced and overridden for the good of all that's holy?
If the Reality Based Community can be said to have a policy on listening to Generals, it appears to work something like this:
Don't listen to generals who have actual experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their first hand knowledge of the "reality on the ground" dangerously blinds them to the far more pressing political realities we face here in the trenches on Capitol Hill.
Generals who should be listened to? Retirees several years removed from contaminating contact with actual conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their lack of knowledge allows them to form opinions untainted by irrelevant distractions that have tended to dangerously distort the advice of those who must deal with the practical consequences of abstract policy decisions. The notable exception to this policy occurs where they offer opinions inconsistent with the views of the present administration.
Such disloyal and unpatriotic dissent is a sure sign of dangerous mental instability and extreme partisanship. Oh, and though it was not only perfectly legitimate but downright desireable to have retired generals actively undermining the administration THEN, now that there's a Democrat in office, these men must be stopped. They are violating the UCMJ!
If not personally contemptuous, adverse criticism of one of the officials or legislatures named in the article in the course of a political discussion, even though emphatically expressed, may not be charged as a violation of the article.
Oddly, though at least one of the retired generals who opposed George Bush violated the terms of the UCMJ, no one in the Reality Based Community called for their prosecution under the UCMJ. They were expressing vibrant and beautiful patriotic dissent, you see.
Alert readers will remember IPS as that uber-respectable source which gleefully passed on unverified gossip as fact to gullible Lefty blogs a while back:
...according to the Inter Press News Service Agency (IPS), that's hardly the worst thing that Petraeus has been called since assuming command of U.S. forces in Iraq. IPS reported yesterday that Admiral Fallon had, earlier this year, called Petraeus "an ass-kissing little chicken-shit"--to his face. Dean Barnett digs into this one:What? You’ve never heard of this IPS and find yourself curious about who and what it is? IPS describes itself this way on its website: “IPS, civil society's leading news agency, is an independent voice from the South and for development, delving into globalisation for the stories underneath. Another communication is possible.” I don’t know what any of that means either, but I figure I’d share it with you and put it our there for deconstruction.
A couple of things about this IPS “scoop”. IPS reported the alleged exchange on September 12, or yesterday to you and me. The alleged exchange occurred back in March. You also might wonder how IPS got this juicy nugget. Did Admiral Fallon put a call into the news agency renowned for “delving into globalization”? Hardly. IPS got the story from “Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.” Mind you, IPS didn’t just use just anonymous Pentagon source who might have seen the exchange. IPS relied on sources who not only didn’t witness the exchange, but didn’t even talk to people who witnessed the exchange. They were just “familiar with reports of the meeting.” Allegedly.
Here’s the kicker. Both Think Progress and the Daily Kos report IPS’s “scoop” like it’s a fact. Think Progress qualifies its reportage of Fallon’s comment merely by saying, “Inter-Press Service suggests animosity between the two might be one reason for Fallon’s absence” and then hits its readers with the quote. Think Progress does not bother to note the flimsiness of IPS’s reporting, nor does it bother to say exactly who and what IPS is. Maybe IPS is a household name where “delving into globalisation” is de rigueur, but I doubt it.
Oh, the best part, Admiral Fallon apparently morphed into a 12-year-old after the alleged comment, adding "I hate people like that." Or at least that's what IPS's 'sources' say.
This time their "source" is just as sterling: "two [conveniently anonymous] sources who have talked with [other conveniently anonymous] participants in the meeting".
Impressive work, no es verdad? Nearly as impressive as the oh-so-prescient advice on the Surge emanating from those poor, neglected Generals a while back. With the benefit of hindsight, we now have a bit of insight into the accuracy of their dire prognostications of doom:
The final tallies for Saturday's provincial elections aren't in yet. But a few conclusions are warranted. This time, the election seems to have been mostly free of fraud; four years ago, it was beset by fraud. This time, there was almost no violence; four years ago, there were 299 terrorist attacks. This time, 40% of voters in the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar went to the polls; four years ago, turnout was 2%.
In 2005, Iraqis voted their sectarian preferences. Now sectarian parties are out of fashion. "Those candidates who campaigned under the banner of religion should be rejected," Abdul Kareem told Al Jazeera. "They corrupted the name of religion because they are notorious for being thieves. Religion is not politics." Mr. Kareem is a Shiite cleric.
Also out of fashion: Iran, previously thought to be the jolly inheritor of our Iraq misadventure. In 2005, Tehran's political minions in the Iranian-funded Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- itself the funder of the dreaded Badr brigade -- swept the field. Candidates loyal to anti-American fire-breather Moqtada al-Sadr also did well. This time, Sadr didn't even dare to field his own slate, and early reports are that the Supreme Council was trounced.
What's in fashion, electorally speaking, are secular parties, as well as the moderately religious Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This wasn't supposed to happen. The Palestinian parliamentary election of 2006 that put Hamas in power was taken in the West as proof that Arab democracy was destined to yield illiberal results. Saturday's election suggests otherwise, assuming there is a structure that guarantees that Islamists must stand for election more than once.
What about security? A month ago, Gen. Ray Odierno predicted that "al Qaeda will try to exploit the elections because they don't want them to happen. So I think they will attempt to create some violence and uncertainty in the population." But al Qaeda was a no-show on Saturday. Meanwhile, more U.S. soldiers died in accidents (12) than in combat (4) for the month of January. The war is over.
So what are you going to do about the one bright spot on your map -- an Arab country that is genuinely democratic, increasingly secular and secure, anti-Iranian and, all-in-all, on your side? So far, your only idea seems to bid to it good luck and bring most of the troops home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, 2010.
That is the question, isn't it Mr. Obama?
What will you do with this precious legacy of freedom, this fragile flower purchased at the cost of so much Iraqi and American blood and treasure? Will you jeopardize it all to keep an unwise campaign promise (violating part of that promise to do so - the part in which you promised to listen to the commanders on the ground?).
Your past actions don't augur well. After all, you've already lied to NBC and to the American people about this very issue:
...something seemed odd about Barack Obama’s account of his conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshay Zebari. Obama said that Zebari didn’t express any concern about Obama’s immediate withdrawal plans. Well, according to Zebari that is a lie.>...“my message” to Mr. Obama “was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.” He said he was reassured by the candidate’s response, which caused him to think that Mr. Obama might not differ all that much from Mr. McCain. Mr. Zebari said that in addition to promising a visit, Mr. Obama said that “if there would be a Democratic administration, it will not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security. Whatever decision he will reach will be made through close consultation with the Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders in the field.”
One might believe the Iraqi Foreign Minister "did not express any concern" to Barack Obama ... that is, if this does sort of thing doesn't sound like concern to you:
... “we are just turning the corner in Iraq.” A precipitous withdrawal, he said, “would create a huge vacuum and undo all the gains and achievements. And the others” — enemies of the United States — “would celebrate.”
The world is watching Mr. President. By all means, listen to your commanders, consult with the Iraqis and with members of your own Cabinet. And be assured that whatever you decide the military will carry out your policies as they have always done: faithfully; with professionalism and care.
So choose wisely, keeping in mind the tremendous sacrifices that have brought us to this day.
This, in light of our conversation about inappropriate TV ads during the Superbowl, is somewhat amusing:
Super Bowl fans in Tucson, Arizona, caught a different kind of show during Sunday's big game.
Just as Cardinals' superstar Larry Fitzgerald watched himself sprint into the end zone on the stadium's Jumbotron during Sunday's Super Bowl, 10 seconds of eye-popping pornographic imagery "flashed" across the screens of those watching at home.
"We are mortified by last evening's Super Bowl interruption, and deeply apologize to our customers for the inappropriate programming," Comcast Cable said in a written statement.
"Our initial investigation suggests this was an isolated malicious act," the statement added.
Comcast, and several local television stations that carried the signal, say they are currently investigating what caused the interruption.
February 02, 2009
And Dana Priest Was Mysteriously Unavailable For Comment, Part II
Despite ordering the closure of Guantanamo and an end to harsh interrogation techniques, the new president has failed to call an end to secret abductions and questioning.
In his first few days in office, Mr Obama was lauded for rejecting policies of the George W Bush era, but it has emerged the CIA still has the authority to carry out renditions in which suspects are picked up and often sent to a third country for questioning.
The practice caused outrage at the EU, after it was revealed the CIA had used secret prisons in Romania and Poland and airports such as Prestwick in Scotland to conduct up to 1,200 rendition flights. The European Parliament called renditions "an illegal instrument used by the United States".
According to a detailed reading of the executive orders signed by Mr Obama on Jan 22, renditions have not been outlawed, with the new administration deciding it needs to retain some devices in Mr Bush's anti-terror arsenal amid continued threats to US national security.
...Section 2 (g) of the order, appears to allow the US authorities to continue detaining and interrogating terror suspects as long as it does not hold them for long periods. It reads: "The terms "detention facilities" and "detention facility" in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis."
You have to admire the stalwart determination of Lefties to ignore renditions which occurred on Bill Clinton's watch:
"The Clinton policy in practice meant torture," Joanne Mariner, counterterrorism director for Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times. "We haven't been able to interview the people themselves, but we have evidence that they were tortured."
Muntassir al-Zayyat, an Egyptian lawyer who represented four of the suspects seized in Albania, told The Times that "all were subjected to torture."
Two of the suspects -- Ahmed Ibrahim al-Naggar and Ahmed Ismail Uthman -- were executed in 1999, while two others -- Shawky Salama Mostafa and Mohammed Hassan Mahoud -- remain in prison, Mr. al-Zayyat said.
The men were suspected of plotting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania, and coordinating actions with a cell in Egypt. Mr. al-Zayyat told Human Rights Watch that these suspects were taken to "ghost villas."
From the Human Rights Watch report:
The London-based Islamic Observation Center, an organization that tracks the treatment of suspected Islamist militants, reported that Shawqi Salama Mustafa was held for several weeks in a room filled with water up to his knees, and he was also subjected to electroshock during interrogation. His interrogators tied his legs together and suspended him from the ceiling several times, and also dragged him from room to room with his face to the floor. The security forces also threatened to rape him during interrogation. Mustafa received a twenty-five year sentence.
`Issam `Abd al-Tawab `Abd al-Alim was held incommunicado from July 13 to September 12, 1998. During his sixty-day detention, `Abd al-Alim was allegedly beaten by his interrogators during questioning. He received a fifteen-year sentence.
Muhammad Hassan Mahmud Tita spent just under two months in incommunicado detention, and finally appeared before the Prosecutor General in mid-September. He told both the prosecutor and his lawyer that he was subjected to electroshock on several parts of his body while being hung from the ceiling. Tita was sentenced to ten years in prison.
But that was then. This is now.
Human rights watch, (having previously called for a permanent end to the rendition program and a full accounting of all detainees rendered since 2001 - so much for those poor unfortunates rendered during the Clinton years!) is ready to let bygones be bygones. Kiss-kiss. All is forgiven:
Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."
Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed a public hearing in an official court. "Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance," Malinowski said (emphasis added).
Notably, not one word in the Washington Post this morning. Dana Priest's outrage seems to have cooled considerably.
I am shocked.... shocked. But then the Obama administration promises to ensure these detainees' "rights" are respected.... this is, you see, all a matter of applying the proper definitions; ones that allow us to pretend we're not really doing what we're doing:
Obama officials, of course, are a different story ...It's important, here, to note that extraordinary rendition is not the same as rendition proper. Rendition is just moving people from one jurisdiction (in the cases at hand, one country) to another; includes all sorts of perfectly normal things, like extradition, which are not problematic legally. Extraordinary rendition is rendition outside these established legal processes: e.g., kidnapping someone abroad so that s/he can be brought to the US to stand trial, or delivering someone to another country to be tortured.
The author of the Times article, however, defines "rendition" as "secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States." It's not clear whether he knows that rendition includes perfectly normal things like extradition. It's also not clear that he knows that extraordinary rendition includes not just cases in which we transfer a detainee to another country, but cases in which we capture someone abroad and take them to this country to be tried.
Reconcile that, if you can, with the Obama administration's load of rhetorical horse hockey.
Rendition is, as Al Gore rightly observed, an inherently extrajudicial procedure. We do it because we don't have enough evidence to pick these people up and process them via our own justice system: because, while there may be very good evidence against them, it isn't the kind that stands up well in an American court of law. So what all this talk of "official courts" really means is that we want to find courts that will afford detainees fewer rights than they would receive if we held and tried them.
Again, thank God they're not being sent through those 'kangaroo courts' at Gitmo because we need to give them all the rights due an American citizen:
If the LA Times is right to claim that the Obama administration has left open the possibility of extraordinary renditions, that would be a huge problem. However, I don't think it is. Here it helps to have spent some time reading the actual orders. The order called "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations" contains the following passage:
"Sec. 6. Construction with Other Laws. Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal "stalking" statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. Nothing in this order shall be construed to diminish any rights that any individual may have under these or other laws and treaties."
...not. If I understand this correctly, the Obama administration wants to keep a valuable tool against terrorism that specifies:
1. We can't hold people for very long.
2. We can use only the most non-coercive interrogation techniques (Question for the day: why would a terrorist dangerous enough to merit being kidnapped off the streets betray his colleagues when he knows he can't be held for long, can't be coerced, and can't be sent to countries that ill treat detainees?)
3. We can't even threaten to send them to countries that will treat them any worse than we will (if the executive order can be believed).
4. And though this technique was invented precisely to deal with those situations where there is insufficient evidence under our legal system to detain, interrogate, or obtain a conviction in an American court of law, statements like "renditions lie in that gray area between the rule of law and the nation's security" should not concern us one bit:
... renditions are a perfect metaphor for the dilemmas posed by the war against terrorism. For years, a debate has raged in policy circles about whether we are conducting a war or pursuing a crime. The Bush administration is now doing both, employing intelligence and law enforcement agencies. But each operates under entirely different rules, creating a sort of gray area between national security and the legal system. Intelligence officials might believe they have enough credible evidence to detain someone and possibly disrupt a terrorist plot in progress. Prosecutors might look at that same evidence and say it's not enough to go to trial.
Renditions allow the government to do something rather than nothing.
Despite that pesky due process thing. According to Obama's order their Constitutional rights will all be protected anyway! (So this must mean they'll be released, right?)
If that last didn't cause your head to explode, you're a better person than I am.
Somehow, I am not seeing the logic in this plan. Perhaps the comforting vagueness has something to do with that.
Look for the New York Times to leak a classified memo any day now with the full details. It's that whole accountability journalism thing, you know. That's what the Fourth Estate do.
Update: see no evil, hear no evil... this is priceless:
The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.
The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture.
Because electrical shock, rape and beatings aren't torture and death sentences pronounced in absentia are all the due process a detainee should require. Evidently this gentleman doesn't read Human Rights Watch reports, does he?
February 01, 2009
That Male-Female Thing Again
I get the feeling that on certain subjects, no matter how carefully I choose my words there is some sort of male-female subtext at work that overwhelms whatever I actually said. It's pretty disheartening.
This must be the male equivalent of when a women asks, "Does this dress make my fanny look big?" and the man knows well in advance of answering that no matter how much he praises her figure or says he likes the dress, she will hear, "Well I wouldn't exactly call your derriere svelte, my dear. But at least it's not quite as big as the national debt ... or a Mack truck.... or the planet Jupiter."
Grim and I have had this discussion often enough to establish that we agree to a large extent on this subject:
The topic is public v. private behavior, and the importance of maintaining a public space that is acceptable and comfortable to everyone. This is familiar ground for all of you who read her site and mine, as it is a point of commonality (more or less) in our philosophies.
But somehow, we keep going round and round on the "big butt" part, largely (I suspect) because men have it in their minds that women secretly think certain (unreasonable) things and no amount of jawboning will disabuse them of that notion:
In the comments, though, she says something that strikes me as worth a reply.I also don't want to have to stop and constantly explain to my kids or grandkids that certain things are not right just because fringe behavior is thrust in my face when I least expect it.
It's the phrase "fringe behavior" that I find interesting here.
Before Grim gets to the rest of his analysis - much of which I agree with - I'd like to make a few observations regarding this:
The danger is that the impulses are not fringe. They are not perversions of human nature. Rather, they are highly common and powerful desires with very bad practical consequences.
I think we need to take a giant step back here.
First of all, there is a huge difference between having an impulse and acting on that impulse (in other words, between desires and behavior).
We all - all of us - have certain desires or impulses. They are a natural part of the human condition. Not all of us act upon those impulses; especially in public and especially in mixed company or in the presence of small children. In fact, I was raised to believe that an integral part of the maturation process involved impulse control: restraining perfectly normal impulses, learning that there is a time and place for certain things.
This is one of the first things we teach small children. They aren't born, for instance, knowing that we can't simply peel all our clothes off in public any time we feel like it. They aren't born knowing which parts of our bodies it is considered acceptable to reveal to strangers or persons of the opposite sex and which are not; nor the circumstances under which rules like this are customarily relaxed somewhat (beaches, gyms, locker rooms, etc.)
Grim speaks of fringe impulses, but my comment dealt with fringe behavior, and that is a different matter entirely. The impulses are entirely normal. It is when they are given free exercise in defiance of social norms that I call them "fringe behavior". And notwithstanding his analysis, I don't believe I'm wrong to do so.
I will openly admit that I don't watch much television, but on those occasions when I have done so, I have not seen steamy scenes of women in naughty lingerie aping sex with vegetables during prime time on a network TV channel. NBC turned this ad down and rightly so. But I find it bizarre that PETA even put such an ad forward, whack jobs though they are. I found the premise behind the "shower" GoDaddy ad pretty creepy too: three teen-aged boys making a woman take a shower over and over again while they watch from their bedroom? And popping other women they consider hot into the shower at the same time? What message are we sending here? It's fun to watch real naked women online (not performers, mind you, but that woman who works down at the Dean's office) and even more fun if you can strip them naked and control their actions?
I have never thought of myself as particularly prudish, but when did this sort of thing get to be mainstream for network TV during prime time? Grim's idea of mainstream must be way different from mine. This is not something I'd enjoy explaining to my children, and as a mother it's not really the sort of thing I'd think I could let pass. Instead of being allowed to watch the game in peace, I have to stop and deliver mini morality lectures during commercial breaks?
I think I can safely say that when I was a small child, I was unaware that adult women even had sex with vegetables. Go figure. I was unaware of voyeurism and porn. When I was a child, if I had seen three teenaged boys leering at two naked women in the shower on TV, it's a safe bet there would have been policemen in the scene somewhere, too. Voyeurism of unwilling participants would not have been depicted as "cool", or a "neato leisure activity" for college kids.
Would anyone have thought these things were perverted? I'll let you all discuss that. My guess is probably not. These impulses all fall well within the range of normal human sexual behavior. Whether the behavior is morally right or wrong I leave to you to decide - telling other adults what is right is not my job.
On to the rest of Grim's post:
For some they are a morass, for others a precipice. Not everyone is equally imperiled -- most of us are simply not tempted by at least one if not several of the vices, though suceptible to others.
Some of us become highly skilled at navigation and rock-climbing, and during periods of strength can explore in relative safety. (Although saying that may mark the sin of pride, which is the worst sin of all.) Yet it is discipline that enables such exploration to occur without disaster, discipline gained only through time and experience (and not without a few scars).
That is another reason why places where children may be present ought to be kept clean of certain things. It isn't that the behavior is necessarily fringe. In fact, one of the best reasons to clean it up can be that it isn't a fringe desire at all. Children need time to learn and to develop the inner discipline that will let them navigate these perils. These pleasures and vices are called "adult" not as a euphamism, but because adults are the ones who may (sometimes!) have the proper strength to handle them.
This was the entire point of my post. I don't understand where the imputation that there is any perversion of human nature comes from. Not only did I not say that, but it is diametrically opposed to what I happen to believe: the reason we don't tear off our clothes in public is because people all share certain drives that covering up parts of ourselves helps us to keep under wraps until we're in the right time and place to give them free reign. The conference table at your office is probably not the right time and place to give free reign to your libido. That's why we generally frown on women wearing low cut tops and sky high skirts to work, nor would most people be comfortable with men showing up shirtless or in a**less chaps. It's out of place.
Of course, we have defined down what is meant by the term "adult" as well; so perhaps that too is no fit place to hang our sign. That, though, is another conversation.
Question for the day: if these commercials didn't have an "adult" theme, what is the family friendly explanation a parent can use to tell their 6 year old why 3 teen aged boys are looking at naked ladies online? Personally, I don't think anything has been defined down. It's hard for me to understand what else one would call this type of commercial, if not 'adult themed' (which is the exact term I used).
I also think standards have been so eroded that people no longer recognize what's right in front of their noses unless it is spelled out. When I constantly hear the argument that we are less free that we used to be (this, in a society where both TV and movies were heavily censored for decades), I wonder what kind of historical revisionism is going on? I grew up in a world where married couples could not be shown sleeping in the same bed for fear of violating decency standards.
During my lifetime, I've watched the popular notion of what is acceptable erode by leaps and bounds. I do and say things I never would have, twenty years ago.
Can anyone honestly tell me today's media climate is less open?
I don't think you can turn back the clock. What bothers me is the notion that societal standards are what we say they are. If we collectively shrug our shoulders and look the other way when things happen that we know in our hearts tear at the fabric or our society, we contribute to the problem. Every time an issue like this comes up, I hesitate to write about it. No one likes you for it. You sound like a scold, or a Mrs. Grundy.
But in a larger sense, I think it's a pretty sad state of affairs when we become so cowed by fear of disapproval that we fail to do what we think is right. So I suppose I'll continue bringing things like this up. I'm not trying to ride anyone out of town on a rail and I'm certainly not saying anyone's impulses are perverse.
It's because we all share certain impulses that society has always placed certain limits on human behavior in public, and it's the appropriateness of human behavior that I addressed. And not that anyone cares, but I find the Viagra and Massengill ads just as inappropriate. We have free will so we can make free choices.
Sometimes I just wish people would think a bit and make better ones.