Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Poverty of Soul

This is a pretty amazing essay on the effect of welfare on the English underclass, by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple.  It makes you rethink about whether liberalism is really helping or hurting people. Here's a sample:
Just as it is easier to recognize ill health in someone you haven't seen for some time rather than in someone you meet daily, so a visitor coming into a society from elsewhere often can see its character more clearly than those who live in it. Every few months, doctors from countries like the Philippines and India arrive fresh from the airport to work for a year's stint at my hospital. It is fascinating to observe their evolving response to British squalor.

At the start, they are uniformly enthusiastic about the care that we unsparingly and unhesitatingly give to everyone, regardless of economic status. They themselves come from cities—Manila, Bombay, Madras—where many of the cases we see in our hospital would simply be left to die, often without succor of any kind. And they are impressed that our care extends beyond the merely medical: that no one goes without food or clothing or shelter, or even entertainment. There seems to be a public agency to deal with every conceivable problem. For a couple of weeks, they think this all represents the acme of civilization, especially when they recall the horrors at home. Poverty—as they know it— has been abolished.

Before very long, though, they start to feel a vague unease. A Filipina doctor, for example, asked me why so few people seemed grateful for what was done for them. What prompted her question was an addict who, having collapsed from an accidental overdose of heroin, was brought to our hospital. He required intensive care to revive him, with doctors and nurses tending him all night. His first words to the doctor when he suddenly regained consciousness were, "Get me a fucking roll-up" (a hand-rolled cigarette). His imperious rudeness didn't arise from mere confusion: he continued to treat the staff as if they had kidnapped him and held him in the hospital against his will to perform experiments upon him. "Get me the fuck out of here!" There was no acknowledgment of what had been done for him, let alone gratitude for it. If he considered that he had received any benefit from his stay at all, well, it was simply his due.

My doctors from Bombay, Madras, or Manila observe this kind of conduct open- mouthed. At first they assume that the cases they see are a statistical quirk, a kind of sampling error, and that given time they will encounter a better, more representative cross section of the population. Gradually, however, it dawns upon them that what they have seen is representative. When every benefit received is a right, there is no place for good manners, let alone for gratitude.

Storm Warnings Are Up

I've been reading Bill Bonner and the Daily Reckoning now for at least 6 years, I suppose.  He is a contrarian economist, and it is largely due to his writing and others like it that I came to the conclusion several years before the '08 crash that there would be a crash.  Needless to say, I respect his thinking a lot.

Here's what he's saying now:
A colleague warns us: "It's time to save every possible penny. Next year is going to be worse than 2008 - a lot worse.

"Here's why:
1. The euro is going to fail. Ireland, Spain, and Italy's sovereign debt cannot be financed.

Shares of even the biggest and strongest of Europe's banks (Deutsche Bank) have begun to "roll-over."

2. More QE in Europe and America will make it much more difficult for businesses to invest across borders. That will result in massive trade problems and could easily cause a global famine. Most people don't realize how dependent the world has become on free trade for basics, like food. Here's what agriculture prices have done since July when QE II began. Vastly higher ag prices are not bullish for financial markets or world order.

3. Housing in the US is going to collapse, again. The various games that have been played to prop up the housing market in the US have failed. Tax credits, etc. haven't worked...and they never had a chance. I have good contacts in this industry and it is completely bleak. With foreclosed properties making up 25%-50% of the inventories, housing prices will continue to fall 10%-15% a year - or more. There will be no new net demand for homes for a long time. Several major homebuilders will go bankrupt, including the largest, Pulte.

4. Lots of major US corporations - see GE - have unsustainable debt loads. These companies will end up bankrupt and will fire at least 50% of their employees over the next three years.

5. Muni/State finance: You guys have seen all of the numbers. Probably half of the states and munis in the US are being run in a way that's completely unsustainable. As these cuts are made it will have a big impact on the economy. See what happened to Cisco last quarter, all because of cutbacks at the local government level.

"The problems of 2008 haven't gone away. We've just borrowed a lot more money to make people think everything would be okay. As the veneer wears off, there's going to be a real panic; and this time it will be worse, because there's zero trust and confidence left in the government or the bankers...

No More 'Frank Speech'

Anne Applebaum makes the strongest case I've seen against the recent Wikileaks dump of diplomatic cables:
What is truly novel is not the information, much of which has been reported before, but the language. Normally poker-faced diplomats are quoted making unflattering and occasionally amusing assessments of their interlocutors. Not all of them are Americans: The Saudi king thinks the Pakistani president is "rotten." France's top diplomat thinks Iran is a "fascist state." Britain's national bank chairman thinks his prime minister is "shallow" and so on.

This is certainly embarrassing for those who made the remarks. I am less sure whether their revelation gets us anywhere: On the contrary, it seems that, in the name of "free speech," another blow has been struck against frank speech. Yet more ammunition has been given to those who favor greater circumspection, greater political correctness and greater hypocrisy.

Don't expect better government from these revelations; expect deeper secrets. Will the U.S. ambassador to Country X give Washington a frank assessment of the president of X if he knows that it could appear in tomorrow's newspaper? Not very likely. Will a foreign leader tell any U.S. diplomat what he really thinks about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he knows that it might show up on WikiLeaks, too? I doubt it. Diplomatic cables will presumably now go the way of snail mail: Oral communication will replace writing, as even off-the-record chats now have to take place outdoors, in the presence of heavy traffic, just in case anyone is listening.

The Afghan War and It's Disappearing Date

This is a thoroughly depressing article by Tom Englehardt on our Afghan War.  And it's another black mark against Obama or, at least, his irrelevancy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Greater Threat to America

Roger Cohen, one of my favorite NYT columnists, writes a great column on the broader issue of the TSA security measures:
The full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs that are fast becoming the norm at U.S. airports — just in time for Thanksgiving! — do at least provide the answer to what should be done with Osama bin Laden if he’s ever captured: Rotate him in perpetuity through this security hell, “groin checks” and all.

He’ll crumple fast and wonder that 19 young guys in four planes could so warp the nervous system of the world’s most powerful nation that it has empowered zealous bureaucrats to trample on the liberties for which Americans give thanks this week.

Anyone who has watched T.S.A. agents spending 10 minutes patting down 80-year-old grandmothers, or seen dismayed youths being ordered back into the scanner booth by agents connected wirelessly to other invisible agents gazing at images of these people in a state of near-nakedness, has to ask: What form of group madness is it that forsakes judgment and discernment for process run amok?

I don’t doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A. represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen.

Common Sense in Economics, Not Gimmicks

Fareed Zakaria talks about common sense in our approach to the economic crisis:
The background noise in the wonk world these days is of furious debates over economic theory and policy. The foreground is the American economy, which appears strikingly unresponsive. The Federal Reserve's much-debated quantitative easing ("QEII") appears, so far, to have had the opposite of its intended effect: It was conceived as a way to push down long-term interest rates so that people would borrow more, but those rates have risen considerably since the Fed switched on its presses. To a non-economist, this is the latest example suggesting the limits of macroeconomic policy and the need for some common sense.

Everyone is haunted by the crisis of 2008. Consumers are paying down debts, preserving cash, hoping that they keep their jobs and that their houses stop sinking in value. Businesses, having come from a near-death experience, are being conservative in an atmosphere of uncertainty. With little fresh demand in sight in the United States, why would they hire workers or build factories? And if they do invest, they will do so in emerging markets, where consumer spending is growing by double digits and nearly 50 percent of the S&P 500's profits come from anyway.

Unfortunately, the government's efforts to resolve the crisis amount to giving the country the hair of the dog that bit it. Washington is asking consumers to stop saving and start spending, while the government issues more debt and the Fed lowers rates - all measures designed to increase debt. In other words, we are fighting a crisis caused by excessive debt by encouraging excessive debt. Is that really the best way to get growth?

The investment manager and guru Jeremy Grantham says no. In his latest quarterly letter, he points out that over the last generation, American government has created conditions that encouraged everyone to keep accumulating debt. But far from getting a bang, the country's growth rate actually slowed down over that period. In fact, the effect of all this government-subsidized debt has been deeply destructive. It created asset bubbles in stocks, bonds, commodities and more. One stunning chart in his letter underscores the extent to which the Fed created what he calls "the first housing bubble in history," meaning the first time that U.S. house prices rose dramatically across the board - and are now falling just as dramatically.

Debt-fueled growth "is, in an important sense, not the real world," Grantham writes. "In the real world, growth depends on real factors: the quality and quantity of education, work ethic, population profile, the quality and quantity of existing plant and equipment, business organization, the quality of public leadership (especially from the Fed in the U.S.), and the quality (not quantity) of existing regulations and the degree of enforcement."

This strikes me as the common-sense view of economics. We can push and pull fiscal and monetary policy all we want, but long-term growth depends on these broader and deeper factors.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Too Introverted, Too Isolated, Too Self-Assured

Elizabeth Drew gives her two cents in the NYReview on the first two years of Obama.  Bottom-line: he is simply too introverted and too isolated to be effective.
Numerous Democrats complained (off the record, for fear of alienating the White House) that he and his aides didn’t seem to grasp the hurt and anxiety that was troubling so much of the public. Obama is not given to Clintonian expressions of “I feel your pain.” Once they got to the White House, Obama and his campaign team (virtually all of his top assistants) seemed to live in a hermetically sealed box—cut off from and not interested in what was going on outside, or what experienced people who tried to help them had to say. No one could dispute the fact that Obama was a good family man who dined with his wife and children each night and then turned to his briefing papers. To the extent that the Obamas went out in Washington, it was on their “date night,” or, so far as is known, to the Georgetown apartment of their close friend Valerie Jarrett, who also works at the White House. True, the Beltway isn’t the country, but there are people here who could have helped the Obama team navigate its shark-filled waters.

Of course Obama should have gotten out of Washington more and listened to people, not just talked at them; and, as Walter Mondale said recently, he should have gotten rid of “those idiot boards”—the TelePrompters on which the great orator has been strangely dependent and which divide him from his audiences. Last year, a friend of mine was invited to a Hanukkah party that the Obamas gave for prominent Jews (a group with whom there had been tensions), and after the Obamas descended the grand stairway, they stood in the foyer briefly, the President made a few remarks and shook a few hands, and back up the stairs they went. No mingling

Barack Obama’s personality has been much mulled over in the past two years, but it seems inescapable that his high self-esteem often slides over the thin line to arrogance, which trickles down (with some exceptions) to much of his staff, some of whom are downright rude to all but a chosen few. Obama has seemed uninterested in anyone but his immediate group, and three of the four members of his immediate circle—Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod—had had no experience in governing. The fourth, Rahm Emmanuel, expressed himself with such flippancy, arrogance, and overuse of the F-word that he offended not just members of Congress but also would-be allies of the President.

...Obama’s biggest failure was not to be the leader that so many expected him to be. The jubilation that surrounded his swearing-in may have gone to his head, while the celebrants overlooked that there were plenty of people out there who were not overjoyed at the advent of a black president, or even a Democrat. Obama was, apparently in his own estimation, so smart and so adored that he seems to have felt no need to explain—and explain again—to the country what he was doing and to take the country along with him.

More than once, people in town hall meetings told him that they were behind him but were having great trouble trying to defend or explain his agenda. In a backyard gathering on October 21 he made the most awkward reply of those I heard: “Our attitude was that we just had to get the policies right and we didn’t always think about making sure we got the advertising properly about what was going on.” Advertising. (When I mentioned this to a Democratic senator who was generally supportive of Obama, this ordinarily polite man responded, “Bullocks! What policies?”)

The risk-averse Obama had left it to Congress to write the big bills such as on the economic stimulus and health care (with strong participation by White House aides). But he kept up this line of defense all the way through to his pathetic press conference on the day after the election. In these comments, Obama gave away the devastating fact that he didn’t really understand the role of the president as leader. A friend of the Obama administration said to me, “Their definition of governing is passing bills.”

Era of Contested Modernity

In a new book on China by the British writer Martin Jacques (which I've not read), reviewed in the New York Review of Books (unfortunately behind the wall), we find this insight into China, and how different it is from the US:
The British journalist Martin Jacques and the American political analyst Christopher Ford both seek to explain how China will behave on the world stage by exploring China’s intellectual traditions. Jacques argues that culture is the key. It is of utmost importance, he says, that we understand that China is not a “nation-state” in the usual Western understanding of the term, but rather a “civilization-state” founded on the Confucian legacy of “emphasis on moral virtue, on the supreme importance of government in human affairs, and on the overriding priority of stability and unity….” This is a worldview that emphasizes respect for hierarchical relationships; it privileges the collective over the individual, and regards opposition to the state not only as dangerous to the established social order but as downright immoral to boot.

Jacques believes that these fundamentally non-Western values, coupled with long-held Han Chinese beliefs in their own innate cultural and racial superiority, challenge Western assumptions about the primacy of individual rights and the principles of institutionalized conflict that lie at the heart of democratic systems. And this, in turn, means that we are now embarking on an era of “contested modernity,” one in which Western nations no longer impose their own values on the world at large.
The reviewer (Christian Caryl) isn't so sure, however, that the change going on in China will stay within the banks of the past traditions:
The dynamism and volatility of the society depicted by Hessler, one might conclude, do not have a great deal in common with the grand, “classical” ideological systems presented by more high-altitude observers like Jacques and Ford. China may not be on a road to Jeffersonian democracy, but the Party has a great deal of adapting ahead of it if it intends to maintain control. China is changing the world, but it is changing itself even more, and we should expect plenty of surprises along the way.
As for the US and its relationship to China, it has been suggested by some who think that Obama was (and is) fundamentally influenced by Zbig Brezinski and his view of foreign relations (from his days at Columbia University), that the reason we are still in Afghanistan has very little to do with either Al Quaeda or the Taliban.  Rather, our occupation there is more clearly an attempt to have a primary military presence near the borders of China in Central Asia. I think that that theory has some merit, especially when you consider that the US government is rarely candid about its reasons for doing much of anything (e.g., the invasion of Iraq).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is Obama Fundamentally a Reformer?

I've been trying for almost two years now to figure out why Obama has been so underwhelming as a President, so unable to accomplish what he said he was going to do during his inspiring 2008 campaign.  This video interview of Roger Hodge, former editor of Harper's magazine and author of a new book, The Mendacity of Hope, gives as good an answer as I've been able to find. 

And the answer?  That, as hard as it is for Obamaniancs (like me) to believe, Obama was basically never a reform politician at all.  The evidence clearly points in that direction.  One fairly insignificant but revealing example: Obama's selection/endorsement of Alex Ginnoulis as the Democratic nominee for his Illinois' Senate seat.  Why he would back this complete mediocrity shows exactly where he's coming from in his instincts and inner life.  A second (third and fourth) example: the selection of Rahm Emmanuel, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers for key positions in his administration. 

Watch this:

Update:  I just watched an interesting debate between Obamaphile Jonathan Alter and the above Roger Hodge.  Alter definitely has the upper hand, if only because of Hodge's inarticulateness in debate.  The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

The American System of Justice

The recent trial of a Guantanamo detainee in a civilian court turned out very strangely.  He was acquitted of most of the charges against one, while being convicted of just one (which will keep him locked up for a long time).  But most of the discussion in the press made it seem as if this was a failure of the justice system. 

My understanding is that the endproduct of a real, honest trial is unpredictable, such that even if a defendant is totally acquitted, it doesn't mean the trail was a bad one or a failure.  It should mean (and hopefully does mean) that it was a success in determining his true guilt or innocence.  But that was a perspective that I rarely heard, until reading it on Glenn Greenwald's website:
But the most important point here is that one either believes in the American system of justice or one does not. When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn't proof that the justice system is broken; it's proof that it works. A "justice system" which guarantees convictions -- or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture -- isn't a justice system at all, by definition. The New Yorker's Amy Davidson made this point quite well today:

Let’s be clear: if time in the extra-judicial limbo of black sites, and the torture that caused some evidence to be excluded, makes prosecutors’ jobs harder, the problem is with the black sites and the torture, and not with the civilian trials that might eventually not work out quite the way everyone likes. It’s a point that bears some repeating. Our legal system is not a machine for producing the maximum number of convictions, regardless of the law. Jurors are watching the government, too, as well they should. Ghailani today could be anyone tomorrow.

It's supposed to be extremely difficult for the Government to win the right to put someone in a cage for their entire lives, or to kill them. Having lived under a tyranny in which there were very few barriers impeding the leader's desire to imprison or otherwise punish someone -- and having waged a war to escape that oppression -- the Founders designed it this way on purpose. And they did so with the full knowledge that clearly guilty and even extremely evil people would sometimes receive something other than the punishment they deserve. Here's how Thomas Jefferson weighed those considerations, as expressed in a 1791 letter: "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it."

That courageous declaration -- and not the desperate, eager desire to sacrifice safeguards in single-minded, fearful pursuit of Security -- was the central calculus that drove the American Founding, shaped the U.S. Constitution, and formed the political identity which Americans claimed to embrace for the next two centuries. As usual, the people who are now screaming the loudest over the need to defend American Freedom are the ones who believe least in the values that were intended to define it and the principles that were intended to safeguard it.
What has it come to that such a totally conventional and reasonable view is so rare? It means that when it comes to terrorism, we as Americans are scared to death and have lost our sense of what freedom and justice mean. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Go On, Honey, It's Okay

What Causes Economic Depressions?

Do you understand what causes economic depressions/recessions?  If you're like me, it's all very hazy and mysterious.  But if you want a very readable libertarian perspective on that issue, read this fairly brief and lucid essay by Murray Rothbard, written in 1979. And I think you'll see the obvious parallels with our current Great Recession.  Here's a sample from the end of the piece:
Herbert Hoover
We are still pursuing the policies of the 1920s that led to eventual disaster. The Federal Reserve is still inflating the money supply and inflates it even further with the merest hint that a recession is in the offing. The Fed is still trying to fuel a perpetual boom while avoiding a correction on the one hand or a great deal of inflation on the other.

In a sense, things have gotten worse. For while the hard-money economists of the 1920s and 1930s wished to retain and tighten up the gold standard, the "hard-money" monetarists of today scorn gold, are happy to rely on paper currency, and feel that they are boldly courageous for proposing not to stop the inflation of money altogether, but to limit the expansion to a supposedly fixed amount.

Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it – except that now, with gold abandoned and each nation able to print currency ad lib, we are likely to wind up, not with a repeat of 1929, but with something far worse: the holocaust of runaway inflation that ravaged Germany in 1923 and many other countries during World War II. To avoid such a catastrophe we must have the resolve and the will to cease the inflationary expansion of credit, and to force the Federal Reserve System to stop purchasing assets, and thereby to stop its continued generation of chronic, accelerating inflation.

Here Comes the Judge

Adam Garfinkle writes in The American Interest about President Obama, trying to explain why he has largely failed in his foreign policy:
Read any serious history of American diplomacy and it becomes readily apparent how central the character of the president is to it. One of the great mysteries of understanding US foreign policy today in its essence is that, more than any other occupant of the Oval Office, Americans and foreigners alike simply do not have a good feel for who Barack Obama really is. Aside from being relatively young and recent upon the national political scene, he doesn’t fit into any category with which we are accustomed to understand intellectual and temperamental origins. More importantly, Obama’s ‘mentality’ is not only hard for outsiders to read, he is, thanks to the facts of his nativity and life circumstances, an unusually self-constructed personality. He is black in an obvious physical way but culturally not black in any significant way. He is a person who, finding himself naturally belonging nowhere, has striven to shape himself into a person who belongs everywhere. As his books suggest, he is a man who has put himself through more reconstructive psychological surgery than any American politician in memory. A few of the resultant characteristics are critically important for understanding how he serves as both president and commander-in-chief.

Obama has understood above all that he must keep his cool. His cultivated aloofness is absolutely necessary to his successful political personality, for he cannot allow himself to exude emotion lest he raise the politically fatal specter of ‘the emotional black man’. His analytical mien, however, has made it hard for him to bond with foreign heads of state and even with some members of his own staff. His relationship with General Jones, for example, lacked rapport to the point that it seems to be a major reason for Jones resigning his position.

But Obama’s ‘cool’ does not imply a stunted capacity for emotional intelligence. To the contrary: he knows unerringly where the emotional balance of a conversation needs to be, and it is for this reason that Obama’s self-confidence is so imperturbable. He knows he can read other people without letting them read him. And this is why, in parallel with the complex of his racial identity, he never defers to others psychologically or emotionally, not towards individuals and not, as with the US military, towards any group.

The combination of ‘cool’ and empathetic control helps explain Obama’s character as commander-in-chief. He is respected in the ranks for sacking General Stanley McChrystal after the latter’s inexcusable act of disrespect and insubordination. That was control at work. But US troops do not feel that Obama has their back. He thinks of them as victims, not warriors, and one does not defer to victims. His ‘cool’, as well as his having had no prior contact with the professional military ethos at work, enjoins a distance that diminishes his effectiveness as commander-in-chief.

Obama’s mastery at projecting himself as self-confident, empathetic and imperturbable has also compensated for his lack of original policy ideas. Whether in law school, on the streets of Chicago, in the US Senate or in the race for the White House, he has commanded respect by being the master orchestrator of the ideas, talents and ambitions of others. Many claim that his personality archetype is that of the ‘professor’, but this is not so; it is that of the judge. It is the judge who sits above others; they defer to him, not he to them. It is the judge who bids others speak while he holds his peace and shows no telling emotion. It is the judge who settles disputes and orders fair and just resolution. It is the judge whose presumed intelligence trumps all others.

Push the Start Button

It was interesting to see Hillary Clinton on two of the major Sunday talk shows.  Prior to this time, she's been in hiding, it seems.  At first I wondered what was going on, thinking perhaps that she was starting her bid for the Presidency in a challenge to Obama, then I realized that the discussion was pointed toward the new Start II Treaty.  Apparently, President Obama has deployed the Madame Secretary of State to get out there and push the Start Treaty button.

It would seem to be a good and important Treaty, crucial for the well-being of the nation and world.  This is the Nixonian Obama that people are talking about.

'Honest Friendship With All Nations, Entangling Alliances With None: The Road Which Alone Leads to Peace, Liberty, and Safety'

The nature and purpose of the American nation and government, according to Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address:
Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people—a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Full-Body Search, Prison-Style, Treating Everyone Like a Potential Criminal

Justin Raimondo, editor of Antiwar.com, gives his take on why its come to the new airport groping:
Since the end of the cold war, US foreign policy has been focused on maintaining our imagined position as the world’s sole superpower, and that means intervening in every "crisis," arbitrating every dispute, dispensing dollars and discipline to the elites of every nation. Hypnotized by the myth of our alleged invulnerability, which is just another aspect of our much-touted "American exceptionalism," the 9/11 terrorist attacks traumatized the national psyche. A good part of the rage that followed the attacks was rooted in this illusion-shattering effect, and there was only one way to repair the damage: the rampage that began with the invasion of Iraq, extended into Central Asia, and, today, shows no signs of ending.

The problem, however, is that this response has only succeeded in underscoring our vulnerabilities. The Shoe Bomber compelled us to give up our shoes to the TSA. The Underwear Bomber gave the government access to our genitalia. And soon enough the Suppository Bomber will give them free entry to the very crevasses of our personhood, and what is left of our dignity will perish along with the Constitution.

It was all predicted long ago by one Garet Garrett, a conservative editor of a very conservative and indubitably American publication, the Saturday Evening Post. Garrett’s last book, an account of the American experiment published in 1956, ended with the Voice of History speaking:

"How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
"Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
"To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?"

No, there is no security at the top of the world. Furthermore, at these dizzying heights, it is hard to see anything at all, beyond our own mythology of Manifest Destiny and other self-regarding hallucinations. Our vision obscured by conceit, and our other senses deadened by complacency and impending decadence, we are blind to the very real danger that comes at us with the persistence of Nemesis.

The TSA can conduct a full-body search, prison-style, on everyone who gets near an airport: we can lock down the country, and treat everyone like a potential criminal, conducting random searches on the streets like they’re already doing in New York City. We can turn the country into one big prison yard, and still the terrorists will get through, eventually.

They’ll get through because we’re creating new enemies every day, many thousands of them, as we extend our perpetual "war on terrorism" to new regions, and claim more blood sacrifices on the altar of our new god, Revenge. The conduct of our foreign policy for the past decade or so ensures that the supply of terrorists will be endless, as the relatives and loved ones of our victims come gunning for us. By hook or by crook they will get us – unless the cycle of revenge is stopped.

What the TSA’s reign of terror must teach us is the lesson we’ve been pushing here at Antiwar.com since our inception: that you can have an empire engaged in continuous warfare, or you can have your freedom – but you cannot have both.

Flying By Instinct in Alaska

There's an interesting article on Sarah Palin in the NYT Magazine.  Here's a tidbit:
But it is Rebecca Mansour who especially personifies the amorphous yet fervid network of Palin World. Mansour said to me with undisguised relish, “I majored in English and history and minored in philosophy, but I’ve never been a Beltway person, so that does confuse people.” A graduate of the American Film Institute, Mansour was writing screenplays in L.A. when, following the 2008 election, her disgust over “what I perceived as unfair treatment” of Palin inspired her to start the blog Conservatives4Palin. Mansour’s knowledge of Palin became so encyclopedic that in the summer of 2009, Meghan Stapleton asked her if she would come to Del Mar to help with Palin’s biography. The blogger had never met her subject before. She showed up with binders full of research, and when she was introduced to Palin, “the first thing she did was hug me — I was like, ‘O.K.,’ ” Mansour said with a laugh. “She is the most ordinary person. She’s shorter than I am.” At the same time, Mansour was impressed with Palin’s nimble mind. “I remember sitting with her while she was working on the book; she would be typing furiously, and I’d ask her, ‘Governor, when was the year you did such and such,’ and she’d say, ‘That was the year we did the budget.’ And then she’d be reading the chyron at the bottom of the TV screen while typing and talking to me. And then would read to me what she just wrote, and it was brilliant.”

For her volunteer work on “Going Rogue,” Mansour would soon be rewarded with both a salary and a weighty portfolio. Mansour is Palin’s primary speechwriter, researcher, online communications coordinator and all-purpose adviser. Because Palin often works 20-hour days, so does Mansour, because “the governor reads, checks and approves everything that’s under her name.” Mansour regularly spars with the media on her private Twitter account for perceived inaccuracies about Palin. At the same time, she acknowledged, “I love it when they underestimate her.”

In truth, few are underestimating Sarah Palin anymore. In that endearing manner of the Beltway echo chamber, the prevailing narrative of Palin in 2009 was that that she was an incompetent ditz. This year’s story line is that she is a social-media visionary who purposefully circumnavigated the power-alley gasbags and thereby constructed a new campaigning template for the ages. The reality is that Palin’s direction is determined almost entirely by her instincts — or, as Fred Malek puts it, “There is no ├╝ber-strategy.”

Saturday Night Live on TSA

Liberals and the TSA Screening/Patdowns

Liberals in Washington and in the press, as on "Meet the Press":  'If you're against the current TSA screening and draconian pat-downs, then you're not serious about National Security.'  'You have to be willing to pay a price for security.'

OMG.  Way to go, liberals.  You'd think liberals--who say they value 'privacy' and personal rights--would be concerned about the privacy of one's genitals from a government employee with a badge.  But then again, aren't most liberals more concerned about their 'security' than anything else?  That, plus they will defend Obama, plus defend those poor TSA government employees.  You begin to see where their head is at. 

This is why modern liberalism is politically going down the tubes.  They don't mind someone sticking their hand up your a**, because that's where their heads are.

Obama as the Foreign Policy Wonk

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

Besides, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize on layaway doesn’t want to be responsible for any loose Russian nukes ending up in the crazy ’Stans.

As Richard Wolffe notes in his new book, “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House,” the president drove Rahm Emanuel crazy by spending his first months in office toiling on the details of Start when the chief of staff was trying to get him to focus on the economy and his domestic agenda.

Nuclear arms control, Wolffe writes, was one of Obama’s first interests as a student at Columbia University. And his head is still in those wonky clouds.
--Maureen Dowd.

If that's the case, then his caving in on economic issues to the Republicans will simply allow him to indulge in his true passion, foreign policy.  Shades of Richard Nixon. 

Palin Paves the Way for Bloomberg.

Frank Rich takes Sarah Palin (and the possibility of a Michael Bloomberg third-party challenge) VERY seriously:
Republican leaders who want to stop her, and they are legion, are utterly baffled about how to do so. Democrats, who gloat that she’s the Republicans’ problem, may be humoring themselves. When Palin told Barbara Walters last week that she believed she could beat Barack Obama in 2012, it wasn’t an idle boast. Should Michael Bloomberg decide to spend billions on a quixotic run as a third-party spoiler, all bets on Obama are off.
President Sarah Palin.  Wow, that takes the breath away.

Actually, I think under those conditions, Bloomberg would win.  In the face of a weakening Obama, Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents would simply flock to the pragmatic, effective leadership of Michael Bloomberg.

Remember, I said it here first.  Bloomberg has the potential to take it all in 2012, which would mean the first Third Party President ever.  (There was recent speculation that Joe Scarborough would run as his VP.) 

Question: did he really make the decision to push the advertising against putting salt in food in NYC?  That's what I keep hearing.  If true, then the Republicans would have a great angle of attack on him.  "Michael Bloomberg: soft on Islam, tough on salt!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Kafkaesque Farce

The lovely Kathleen Parker, now a CNN celebrity, writes of, what else, TSA.  How many ways can this be said?
In the accelerating debate about airport pat-downs that feel like a clumsy third date and body scans that border on Peeping Tom shows, it's hard to find a sane place to land.

Is this really for our own good? Or are we trading what's left of our human dignity by participating in a Kafkaesque farce that more closely resembles a college fraternity psychology experiment devised around a keg:

"Okay, here's the plan. Americans are terrified of an airplane bomber, right? So let's see what we can get them to do if we promise them safety."

"Like what?"

"I dunno, like let us touch their genitals and use scanners that show them naked, stuff like that."

"No WAY!"

This isn't merely a matter of modesty, though that is a consideration. I don't like the idea of some stranger - regardless of whether he or she can see my face - examining my concessions to gravity without my permission. Surrendering to rule shouldn't be confused with granting permission. One is submission; the other an invitation to mutual consent.

As to the alternative, no thank you. The idea of a stranger, even one of the same sex, foraging around my private principalities is simply unacceptable. Forget the creepiness factor, which is sufficient; consider the principle - quickly! - before you get used to the notion that government has the right to do Whatever Is Necessary To Protect You.

From what, if not this?

But more alarming than the apparatuses is our willingness to go lowing into the night. Incrementally, we adapt to the stripping of civil liberties until, with the passage of time and the blinkering of generational memory, we no longer remember when things were otherwise.

You Gave Up a Lot of Rights

The venerable George Will on TSA and John Tyner:
Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley wrote a memorable complaint about the fact that Americans do not complain enough. His point, like most of the points he made during his well-lived life, is, unfortunately, more pertinent than ever. Were he still with us, he would favor awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received in 1991, to John Tyner, who, when attempting to board a plane in San Diego, was provoked by some Transportation Security Administration personnel.

When TSA personnel began looking for weapons of mass destruction in Tyner's underpants, he objected to having his groin patted. A TSA functionary, determined to do his duty pitilessly - his duty is to administer the latest (but surely not the last) wrinkle in the government's ever-intensifying protection of us - said: "If you're not comfortable with that, we can escort you back out, and you don't have to fly today."

Tyner: "I don't understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying."

TSA: "This is not considered a sexual assault."

Tyner: "It would be if you weren't the government. . . ."

TSA: "Upon buying your ticket, you gave up a lot of rights."

Oh? John Locke, call your office.

The theory - perhaps by now it seems like a quaint anachronism - on which the nation was founded is, or was: Government is instituted to protect preexisting natural rights essential to the pursuit of happiness. Today, that pursuit often requires flying, which sometimes involves the wanding of 3-year-olds and their equally suspect teddy bears.

What the TSA is doing is mostly security theater, a pageant to reassure passengers that flying is safe. Reassurance is necessary if commerce is going to flourish and if we are going to get to grandma's house on Thursday to give thanks for the Pilgrims and for freedom. If grandma is coming to our house, she may be wanded while barefoot at the airport because democracy - or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; anyway, something - requires the amiable nonsense of pretending that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like.

Bureaucracies try to maximize their missions. They can't help themselves. Adult supervision is required to stand athwart this tendency, yelling "Stop!"

Progressivism Is Not What Glenn Beck Says It Is

For an alternative (and much more accurate) understanding of the early 20th century Progressive movement than that given by Glenn Beck, read this brief essay by historian Paul Gottfried from the American Conservative website.  (For that matter, go back often to that website, for it offers a much truer view of what it means to be conservative in America than what you'll hear on Fox News, or anywhere else for that matter.)
Certainly there are features of Progressivism that anyone concerned about centralized power has every right to criticize. But there are problems with how Beck frames his critique. There were different types of Progressives who stressed diverse themes, not all of which can be subsumed under the rubric of “big government.” The connection between Progressivism and modern liberalism is weak. And in truth, Fox News personalities like Beck support many federal programs vastly more intrustive than any the Progressives dared contemplate.

There are many several sides to Progressivism that Beck fails to acknolwedge. Progressives like Robert La Follette were more interested in popular referenda than they were in centralized public administration. Others like Senator Borah came out of a rural populist tradition and never overcame their distrust of the national government. Although McAdoo designed the Federal Reserve System at Wilson’s behest, he was a zealous hard-money man and fought to maintain the gold standard until it was abolished under Franklin Roosevelt. McAdoo was at most an unwitting agent for bringing about inflated paper money.

In foreign policy there was an unbridgeable divide in the Progressive camp between liberal internationalists and isolationists. Most of the opposition that FDR encountered to Lend-Lease and other policies leading to America’s entry into World War II came from his fellow Progressives in both parties. Antiwar Republicans in 1917 and again in 1939-1941 included Progressives such as La Follette, Borah, and FDR’s neighbor in upstate New York, Hamilton Fish. Hiram Johnson not only opposed American entry into both European wars but had the distinction of being the only U.S. Senator to vote against America’s joining the League of Nations and the United Nations. Although a self-described “Lincoln-TR Republican,” Johnson protested entangling foreign alliances and carrying an overly big stick into the international arena.

Pro-war Progressives came to be known as liberal internationalists and are the ancestors of today’s neoconservatives, not a few of whom have taken to calling themsleves “Hard Wilsonians.” Some of the original internationalists broke ranks, however. Though a pro-war Progressive in 1917 and lifelong admirer of President Wilson, Herbert Hoover changed his foreign policy stance in the 1930s and became a critic of American military involvement in Europe. Nevertheless, even as president, Hoover considered himself to stand firmly in the Progressive tradition of strong public administration.

Contrary to the impression conveyed by Fox News, Progressivism had effects in more than one ideological direction. By today’s standards its cultural orientation might seem quite conservative and was certainly pro-family. Even left-wing Progressives like Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins would have emphatically opposed anti-discrimination legislation aimed at encouraging women to enter the workforce. Progressives in the interwar years favored government support for a single-family wage, one that would allow men to provide for their families “in dignity” while wives stayed home and tended to their children

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zero Risk

Richard Forno, security analyst, adds another perspective on the TSA scandel:
Ten years after 9/11, Americans who fly are facing a Faustian choice between subjecting themselves to a virtual (and potentially medically damaging) strip search conducted in questionable machines run by federal employees or a psychologically damaging pat-down of their bodies. Osama bin Ladin must be giggling himself silly this week.

But what should we expect in a society that requires adults to wear bicycle helmets while pedaling in the park, provides disclaimers of liability on TV advertisements, or prints warnings on fast-food coffee cups? The name of the game is zero risk. Not risk mitigation, or accepting responsibility for one's actions, but risk aversion. It's a failure to acknowledge that we can't protect against everything bad that can happen to us, so we must protect against everything we think might -- might -- be harmful at some point.

It's living in fear.

TSA has established itself as the lead federal agency charged with perpetuating this risk-averse culture at airports around the country. The proof is evident over the past ten years: Because of the Shoebomber, we have to remove our shoes. Thanks to the Christmas Crotchbomber, we are subjected to invasive scanning or government-mandated molestation. Because there's a potential for explosives in liquid or gel form, we've got the "Three Ounces in A Baggie" rule. Wearing a sweater or bulky fleece hoodie? Take it off (along with your shoes and belt) so it can be examined. Or frisking Granny, or asking toddlers to drink from their Sippy-cups to make sure it's really Mommy's milk inside. And let's not forget the thankfully defunct prohibitions on knitting needles, insulin syringes, matches, lighters, or standing during the last 30 minutes of flights to Washington, DC.

All in the name of protecting the homeland.

Given this latest round of homeland hysteria, I must ask again -- what happens after the next 'new' attempt to smuggle something onto a plane? Actually, we know the answer: another item will go on the Prohibited Items List and additional screenings of passengers will be conducted, followed by more patronising security-speak from our Department of Homeland Insecurity asking law abiding folks to give up more of their privacy and personal "space" in the interest of Homeland (er, "State") Security. Big Brother, meet Big Sister. With all her homeland security lobbyists along for the ride.

Where does it end?

Don't Touch My Junk

Charles Krauthammer delivers an entire column in the WaPo on the newest airport Hero:
Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare - get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google - Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport security goon - my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?

In "Up in the Air," that ironic take on the cramped freneticism of airport life, George Clooney explains why he always follows Asians in the security line:

"They pack light, travel efficiently, and they got a thing for slip-on shoes, God love 'em."

"That's racist!"

"I'm like my mother. I stereotype. It's faster."

That riff is a crowd-pleaser because everyone knows that the entire apparatus of the security line is a national homage to political correctness. Nowhere do more people meekly acquiesce to more useless inconvenience and needless indignity for less purpose. Wizened seniors strain to untie their shoes; beltless salesmen struggle comically to hold up their pants; 3-year-olds scream while being searched insanely for explosives - when everyone, everyone, knows that none of these people is a threat to anyone.

The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn't need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning "I rely on God," killing all on board.

But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

The junk man's revolt marks the point at which a docile public declares that it will tolerate only so much idiocy. Metal detector? Back-of-the-hand pat? Okay. We will swallow hard and pretend airline attackers are randomly distributed in the population.

But now you insist on a full-body scan, a fairly accurate representation of my naked image to be viewed by a total stranger? Or alternatively, the full-body pat-down, which, as the junk man correctly noted, would be sexual assault if performed by anyone else?

This time you have gone too far, Big Bro'. The sleeping giant awakes. Take my shoes, remove my belt, waste my time and try my patience. But don't touch my junk.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reopening the Climate Change Debate

Sullivan's take on the new movie 'Cool It' by the Skeptical Environmentalist, Danish Bjorn Lomborg:
I have seen the movie and highly recommend it. The only dodgy moment for me was the film's depiction of cap-and-trade as solely corruption. It is corrupt, as anyone in the EU will tell you; but the film made the point without explaining the more fundamental point that cap-and-trade - originally seen as a free market solution to CO2 - could work, but at way too high a price for very modest drops in temperature.

What's great about the movie is its focus on R&D and how innovating new energy is more important than taxing carbon. In a mostly negative review, Andrew O'Hehir whines from the left but makes no substantive critique of what Bjorn argues. Yes, some climate change denialists latch onto his work, but Lomborg is not now and never has been a climate change denialist. He's a climate change realist and wants to address the problem through new technology while focusing aid on more pressing human problems....
I haven't seen the movie, but I'm open to its arguments. I think the entire climate change issue needs redebating, with all sides opening their minds (and hearts) to new facts, arguments, and possibilities.


Andrew Sullivan thinks of 'W' the same way I do.  Referring to a British conservative's criticism of Bush's torture regime, Andrew says:
By those standards, George W. Bush is not now a conservative, merely a thug, twisting the law to engage in something utterly alien to Anglo-American ideals. And a smug thug at that. Watching his interview on Hannity - yes, I managed to get through most of it - I was reminded of this man's utter shallowness and moral unseriousness. Glib doesn't begin to describe his solipsistic denial of his own barbarism.

The Road Ahead to 2012

John Judis on what the White House apparently thinks it needs to do to win in 2012:
The White House thinks that Democrats got drubbed in the election because they lost the support of “independent” voters. Obama’s advisers, the Washington Post reported, “are deeply concerned about winning back political independents, who supported Obama two years ago by an eight-point margin but backed Republicans for the House this year by 19 points. To do so, they think he must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington.”

In the president’s interview with "60 Minutes," only part of which was broadcast, but which CBS later put on the Web in full, Obama blamed his party's loss on Republicans being “able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that's not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country.” He promised to adopt “Main Street, common sense values about the size of government,” to do something about “debts and deficits,” and to end the “partisan bickering” in Washington by getting Republicans and Democrats “to work together to change things in Washington.”

In other words, the White House blamed Democrats' 2010 defeat on the loss of independents, and to win them back, it will try to slow the growth of government, encourage a bipartisan spirit in Washington, and reform the government process by eliminating things like earmarks.
I don't think this is going to work for Obama, politically speaking. Republicans aren't really going to work with him. His Democratic base is going to be increasingly alienated from his policies, leading to lukewarm support at best and to a possible intra-party challenge from the left, and/or an independent third party challenge (Bloomberg).  Obviously, a lot hinges on how unified the Republicans are, and that is a big question mark, given the quarreling beginning between the Republican Establishment, the libertarian wing of the Tea Party, and the social conservatives.

All of this is going to make for a very messy but interesting two years until the election of 2012.

Security Or Liberty?

It is primarily libertarians who are raising the issue of the TSA body scanners and pat downs, from Lew Rockwell.com to Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox Business channel.  But one ironic fact that this all highlights is how 'unlibertarian' the bulk of both Republicans and Democrats are.

Bob Cesca of the Huffington Post makes the point:
But the opposition isn't making much of a dent in terms of rolling back this unconstitutional security measure: a new CBS poll released today shows that 81 percent of Americans favor the use of the scanners. Sad.

It's not a stretch to suggest that the post-9/11 fear-mongering and massively exaggerated anti-terrorism hysteria created this supermajority of acquiescence to flagrant government overreach and violations of privacy and personal dignity.

And who's to blame for the fear-mongering? People like Matt Drudge, of course, who aided in the effort to scare the crapola out of us about the so-called "terrorist threat."

Drudge, along with Rush Limbaugh, Fox News Channel and the highest ranking Republican officials in Congress, demanded that all of Washington buy into the notion that you can't have a Constitution if you're dead. How do we know this? Well, because they actually said it. Over and over. A few examples for the record:

"You have no civil liberties if you are dead." -- Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." -- Senator "Big John" Cornyn, R-TX
"Our civil liberties are worthless if we are dead! If you are dead and pushing up daisies, if you're sucking dirt inside a casket, do you know what your civil liberties are worth? Zilch, zero, nada." -- Rush Limbaugh

I should note here that all of this was said at a time when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, so big government and dangerously over-the-top violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties were a-okay with the far-right. Now, in 2010, these very same Republicans are insisting that "Big Sis" and the "little black man-child" are forcing us to "grab the ankles" and submit to Muslim fascist Nazi policies. Never mind that all of these policies were invented by Republicans and ballyhooed by Drudge in an atmosphere of manufactured fear during conservative control of, well, everything. In fact, Janet Napolitano's predecessor, Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael "Shirt Off" Chertoff runs a security consulting firm whose clients include the manufacturers of the naked body scanner machines.

Throughout the duration of the Bush years, any opposition voices to these policies were shouted down as being "terrorist sympathizers" who are undermining American security and endangering the troops, while evildoers were lurking under our beds like jittery suicide-toe-monsters ready to spring forth and crash airplanes into our feet. In those years, "patriotism" was defined by the speed and vigor by which we gave up our civil liberties in lieu of a lot of extra security (to paraphrase the famous and overused quotation).

Most Americans are still trapped in this nationwide panic room despite the reality of the so-called "terrorist threat." Again, 81 percent support for the body scanners, even though, contrary to the Bush Republican bed-wetting, there is no terrorist threat. It simply doesn't exist as a serious danger to you or your family.

Let's compare and contrast. Your odds of dying from cancer are about one in seven. Your odds of dying in an airborne terrorist attack, according to the very liberal Wall Street Journal, are one in 25 million (your odds of being hit by lightning are one in 500,000). Yet throughout the Bush years, the federal government spent twice as much on anti-terrorism measures as it spent on disease prevention. Hell, you're more likely to kill someone else, be convicted in a court of law, sentenced to death and legally executed than you are of dying in a terrorist attack (odds of death by legal execution: one in 58,618).

In a free society, there aren't any guarantees of absolute safety. If you insist on 100 percent foolproof protection from acts of terrorism, you should probably go ahead and lock yourself in an underground bunker and leave the rest of us alone.
This is all essentially correct, and it points to the fact that, for their own reasons, most conservatives and liberals (and therefore most Republicans and Democrats) value security, of one kind or another, over liberty.  Only a minority of 'liberty-minded', small-government, Jeffersonian libertarians find what the TSA really objectionable.

As for me, I find my 'inner Jefferson' is beginning to grow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Newt the Demagogue

This man, Newt Gingrich, truly makes me want to retch:
Newt Gingrich, one of a slew of Republican hopefuls who would like to take President Obama down in 2012, says he thinks he knows what ails the 44th president. Obama, he said, needs to get out of the cocoon of Washington's Beltway and take "a walk on the beach, or walk in the woods."

Bloomberg 2012, Ctd

From the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman:
There's no campaign yet, and there may never be, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MSNBC's morning talk-show host Joe Scarborough have begun trying to figure out whether they could be an independent presidential ticket in 2012 -- and who would be better to be on top if it happens.

They're the Odd Couple of Guys Outside the System.

The two are friends and, in both public and private, mutual admirers. They spent the day before the midterm elections complimenting each other at a Harvard symposium -- Vanity Fair was there to document it all for a spring issue -- bemoaning the same political rift they may try to exploit to win the White House.

Well-placed sources tell The Huffington Post that the mayor and the host have talked about running together, with Bloomberg in the top spot. In an interview, Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, issued a firm yet carefully-worded denial. "We haven't discussed it directly," he said, adding, "Have people discussed it in his sphere and in my sphere? I think so."

Bloomberg's chief political lieutenant, Kevin Sheekey, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A Third Bush Presidency

I found this Gallup information on Andrew Sullivan's blog:
The current results on Republicans' presidential nomination preferences suggest the 2012 contest could be more wide open than any since the winners began to be determined largely through state primaries and caucuses in 1972. Since that time, there has typically been a clear Republican front-runner before the nominating campaign got underway, including Richard Nixon in 1972, Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Rudy Giuliani in 2008. With the exception of Giuliani, the front-running candidate has prevailed.
Here's my prediction in that regard: Jeb Bush is being readied behind the scenes to come forth as a strong, consensus candidate (at least among the anti-Palin forces) for the Republican nomination, because there is no one else who is obvious to make the run.  George W. Bush's recent attempts to redeem his reputation vis-a-vis his book tour is a part of that effort. Making this even more likely is the fact that there have been surveys showing Bush doing well in a favorability poll against Obama. This again breaks down the resistance to another Bush Presidency, the one that George H. W. Bush wanted in the first place, Jeb being the more thoughtful and sophisticated son.

Imagine: another Bush President. It chills the blood.  Admittedly it's a long shot.  But the Bush family has 'chutzpah' like you wouldn't believe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cutting Military Spending

In an article dealing with Donald Rumsfeld's recent opposition to ANY defense cuts at all, it is pointed out that several Republican Senators are open to or even pushing for cuts in military spending.
Additionally, Rumsfeld is placing himself in opposition to a growing movement of both Tea Party-backed conservatives and progressives who are coming together to call for cuts in the defense budget. Numerous U.S. Senators, including several Tea Party-backed Republicans, have demanded that defense cuts be on the table:

– Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA): Isakson, who has been a featured speaker at Capitol Hill Tea Party rallies, told a local news station last month that deficit reduction “begins with the Department of Defense.”

– Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-PA): Toomey, who has in the past called the Tea Party a “very constructive movement for positive change,” criticized Congress for voting for “programs the Pentagon doesn’t even want” during a debate with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA).

– Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL): The week before Toomey’s statement, Kirk, who has received backing from the tea party movement, said that we need “across-the-board” reductions in defense spending during a debate with his Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias.

– Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): Corker has gone out of his way to accrue Tea Party support. “We embraced the tea party spirit when it was in its infancy last August,” said Todd Wom­ack, his chief of staff. Three weeks ago, Corker said on CNBC that defense cuts have to be “on the table” because there’s “a lot of waste there.”

– Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY): Tea Party “darling” told PBS’s Gwen Ifil during the campaign that that cutting defense spending “has to be on the table.” Paul reiterated his call for reducing the military budget this weekend while appearing on ABC’s This Week. He tweaked Republicans for “never” saying “they’ll cut anything out of military. … There’s still waste in the military budget. You have to make it smaller.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): Tea Party-backed ultra-conservative Coburn used the op-ed pages of The Washington Examiner last weeks to praise Paul’s “courage” in calling for a smaller military budget and said he looks forward to “working with him” toward that goal. “Republicans should resist pressure to take all defense spending off the table. … Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows,” he concluded.

– Progressive Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT): These four stalwart progressive senators joined with 55 members of Congress, including conservative Republican Reps. Ron Paul (TX) and Walter Jones (NC), to send a letter to the President’s Deficit Commission urging it to “subject military spending to the same rigorous scrutiny that non-military spending will receive. … We strongly believe that any deficit reduction package must contain significant cuts to the military budget.”
Now, I don't expect draconian cuts at all, but even so, I'm proud that two of the Republican Senators I supported this fall--Rand Paul and Mark Kirk--are in this group.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Era of the Big Lie

This recent post by blogger Andrew Sullivan, about the Right's 'reading' of Obama, has a lot of merit to it:
It seems to me that the last year or so in America's political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama's presidency in its crib. Emergency measures in a near-unprecedented economic collapse - the bank bailout, the auto-bailout, the stimulus - were described by the right as ideological moves of choice, when they were, in fact, pragmatic moves of necessity. The increasingly effective isolation of Iran's regime - and destruction of its legitimacy from within - was portrayed as a function of Obama's weakness, rather than his strength. The health insurance reform - almost identical to Romney's, to the right of the Clintons in 1993, costed to reduce the deficit, without a public option, and with millions more customers for the insurance and drug companies - was turned into a socialist government take-over.

Every one of these moves could be criticized in many ways. What cannot be done honestly, in my view, is to create a narrative from all of them to describe Obama as an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion. But since this seems to be the only shred of thinking left on the right (exacerbated by the justified flight of the educated classes from a party that is now openly contemptuous of learning), it became a familiar refrain - pummeled into our heads day and night by talk radio and Fox. If you think I'm exaggerating, try the following thought experiment.

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector's in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don't think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

This is the era of the Big Lie, in other words, and it translates into a lot of little lies - "death panels," "out-of-control" spending, "apologies for America" etc. - designed to concoct a false narrative so simple and so familiar it actually succeeded in getting into people's minds in the midst of a brutal recession. And integral to this process have been conservative "intellectuals" who should and do know better, but have long since sacrificed intellectual honesty for the cheap thrills of enabling power-grabs.

Don't Imitate Japan

The Washington Post's op-ed free-market economist, Robert Samuelson, has a concise and very interesting analysis today of the Japanese case of a 'lost economy'.  Bottom line is, the course we're on threatens to parallel what has happened to Japan.
Japan's lackluster performance has two main causes. One is the "dual economy": a highly efficient export sector (the Toyotas and Toshibas) offset by a less dynamic domestic sector. Until the 1980s, Japan depended on export-led growth that created jobs and investment. An undervalued yen helped. "You had 20 percent of the economy carrying the other 80 percent," says Richard Katz, editor of the Oriental Economist newsletter and the author of several books on the dual economy.

But the yen's appreciation in the mid-1980s - making Japan's exports more expensive - doomed this economic strategy. Ever since, Japan has searched in vain for a substitute. Cheap credit (which fueled the original "bubbles") and many "reforms" haven't sufficed. Japan's domestic sector remains arthritic, often protected by cartels or government regulations. Japan has one of the lowest rates of business creation among major industrial countries. One survey ranked Japan 44th in the world in the ease of starting a new firm, reports economist Randall Jones of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (The United States was fourth.) Indeed, Japan's best recent years of economic growth (2003-07) occurred when a weaker yen revived exports....

Economic success ultimately depends on private firms. The American economy is more resilient and flexible than Japan's. But that's a low standard. Neither the White House nor Congress seems to understand that growing regulatory burdens and policy uncertainties undermine business confidence and the willingness to expand. Unless that changes, our mediocre recovery may mimic Japan's.
This advice is similar to that given by George Schultz to Fareed Zakaria on GPS yesterday. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Obama has been getting a lot of grief for having failed to reach agreements during his Asian trip.  However, from what Fareed Zakaria and others are saying, many Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, Philippines, etc., increasingly fearing a rising China, are beginning to see America as a useful counter-power and friend.

So maybe it wasn't so bad afterall.  Nevertheless, Obama has his work cut out for him when he lands back at Andrews Air Force Base.  There are many unhappy people, who see him as weak and ineffective.  Somehow he's got to turn that around, or it's going to be a miserable two years ahead.

One of the wisest things I heard a pundit say over the last couple of days is that NOBODY really knows how to go about creating real jobs.  Nobody.

Senator Rand Paul appeared on Face the Nation today and had a great interview.  He's growing...and I think he's going to be increasingly a power broker in the Senate.

Some scientist said on a program that "the Milky Way is our galaxy, consisting of billions of start, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies the size of the Milky Way in the universe."  Excuse me?

Cultural Difference Between the Parties

I thought this was interesting.


You know my favorite shows:  Fareed Zakaria's GPS and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  I don't think these are on on either list.

No More 'Meet the Press'

I'm not going to bother with 'Meet the Press' anymore.  They presented us with a panel this morning with BOTH Alan Greenspan AND Newt Gingrich on it.  Greenspan, who more than any other person, is responsible for the runup in the housing bubble as Fed Chair, and Gingrich, who will simply say anything (Beware of Sharia Law!!  No Ground Zero Mosque until the Saudis allow churches!!!) outrageous in order to get media attention.   Lord, have mercy.

What right-thinking anchor or producer would force us to listen to BOTH of these jokers at the SAME TIME!!  No more, Meet the Press.  Go away.

The Continuing Misdeeds of Halliburton

Why is it that I keep running across Halliburton and their misdeeds?  This time it's 60 Minutes and their segment tonight on shale gas.  Of 9 gas companies requested to submit information to the EPA about the chemicals they use in their 'fracking' of the shale to get the natural out, Halliburton was the only one to refuse.  It turns out that Vice-President Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton, got Congress to pass a law in 2005 exempting the gas companies from submitted info to EPA on the topic.

Jerks.  Outlaws.  Greed personified.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Funny And Informative Lecture on the Great Recession

If you want to hear a quality, funny lecture by an historian on the causes of the recent Crash and Great Recession through which we are living, listen here to Dr. Tom Woods, author of Meltdown.

Preserving our National Supremacy

David Brooks of the NYT, old neo-con that he is, still loves the 'national-greatness conservatism' once championed some years ago by his old employer, Bill Kristol and The Weekly Standard.  It's hero was of course Theodore Roosevelt, that militaristic, imperialistic 'progressive', who preceded Wilson, FDR, and LBJ, in building what became 20th century, warfare/welfare liberalism.  See if you don't think this sounds like Teddy:
It will take a revived patriotism to motivate Americans to do what needs to be done. It will take a revived patriotism to lift people out of their partisan cliques. How can you love your country if you hate the other half of it?

It will take a revived patriotism to get people to look beyond their short-term financial interest to see the long-term national threat. Do you really love your tax deduction more than America’s future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?

Like the civil rights movement, this movement will ask Americans to live up to their best selves. But it will do other things besides.

It will have to restore the social norms that prevailed through much of American history: when narcissism and hyperpartisanship was mitigated by loyalties larger than tribe and self; when competition between the parties was limited and constructive, not total and fratricidal.

This movement will have to build institutions to support the leaders who make the hard bargains. As in the civil rights era, politicians won’t make big changes unless they are impelled and protected by a social upsurge.

Most important, this movement will have to develop a governing philosophy and a policy agenda. Right now, orthodox liberals and conservatives have their idea networks, and everybody else is intellectual roadkill. This coming movement will have to revive the American System: a governing philosophy that believes in targeted federal efforts to arouse growth, social mobility and responsibility.

Like the chairmen’s report, this movement could demand that Congress wipe out tax loopholes and begin anew. It could protect federal aid to the poor while reducing federal subsidies to the upper-middle class.

The coming movement may be a third party or it may support serious people in the existing two. Its goal will be unapologetic: preserving American pre-eminence. It will preserve America’s standing in the world on the grounds that this supremacy is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.
See, Brooks just loves the America of the 20th Century, the America that is now slowly dying, or at least being transmogrified before our very eyes as we move into the 21st Century.  What should be our goal?  "Preserving American pre-eminence", its "supremacy"?  Ouch.   Really?  It is our destiny to be supreme and globally pre-eminent forever? 

To be honest, I smell a whiff of old-fashioned fascism here, like a Mussolini dreaming of old Roman glory, or the Nazis dreaming of 'lebensraum'.   Really.

A Neo-Con Actually Says a Nice Word about Obama

It is such a rare thing to see a rabid neo-con such as Charles Krauthammer side with Obama on anything--you can tell the election is over--but here he is, approving Obama's trip to India.  (Having Krauthammer side with Obama makes me want to oppose it, but I'll try to stifle such a kneejerk reaction.)
This hegemony is the growing source of tension in Asia today. Modern China is the Germany of a century ago - a rising, expanding, have-not power seeking its place in the sun. The story of the first half of the 20th century was Europe's attempt to manage Germany's rise. We know how that turned out. The story of the next half-century will be how Asia accommodates and/or contains China's expansion.

Nor is this some far-off concern. China's aggressive territorial claims on resource-rich waters claimed by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan are already roiling the neighborhood. Traditionally, Japan has been the major regional counterbalance. But an aging, shrinking Japan can no longer sustain that role. Symbolic of the dramatic shift in power balance between once-poor China and once-dominant Japan was the resolution of their recent maritime crisis. Japan had detained a Chinese captain in a territorial-waters dispute. China imposed a rare-earth mineral embargo. Japan capitulated.

That makes the traditional U.S. role as offshore balancer all the more important. China's neighbors from South Korea all the way around to India are in need of U.S. support of their own efforts at resisting Chinese dominion.

And of all these countries, India, which has fought a border war with China, is the most natural anchor for such a U.S. partnership. It's not just our inherent affinities - being democratic, English-speaking, free-market and dedicated to the rule of law. It is also the coincidence of our strategic imperatives: We both face the common threat of radical Islam and the more long-term challenge of a rising China.

Which is why Obama's dramatic call for India to be elevated to permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council was so important. However useless and obsolete the United Nations, a Security Council seat carries totemic significance. It elevates India, while helping bind it to us as our most strategic and organic Third World ally.

China is no enemy, but it remains troublingly adversarial. Which is why India must be the center of our Asian diplomacy. And why Obama's trip - coconuts and all - was worth every penny.