Monday, September 29, 2008
Today, is the first day in my political life where I can honestly say that I am embarrassed to be a Republican. Your actions today have the potential to: deal our economy a blow that will take decades from which to recover, hand the election to Barack Obama, destroy any hope of eventually privatizing any portion of social security, lock legalized abortion in as the law of the land, and relegate the Republican Party to a minority status for the rest of my expected lifespan. Nice going.
Now I know a third of you did the right thing and voted for the is bill. I am not now writing to you, but I would urge you to exert as much pressure on your colleagues as possible to work toward a bill that gets sufficient votes to pass.
No one likes what this bill represents. It is in fact, antithetical to much of what the Republican Party stands for, and if it were put forward under anything but emergency circumstances, your cries of creeping socialism and "the courage to fail" might be worth listening to. But now, they may simply be the words on the tombstone of a once-great party. We are in a genuine emergency, an emergency caused at its heart by human nature. Human nature drove people to seek more house than they could afford. Human nature drove the Democratic Party to resist regulating Fannie and Freddie. Human nature caused financial interests to mitigate risk by collateralizing these debts. Human nature drove investment banks to move heavily into these debts because of the once evident upside. Human nature...at every step of the way...compounded this problem.
In Federalist 51, James Madison told us that if men were angels, government would not be necessary. But we all know, that there have been no angels in this financial crisis. It falls upon government to be that institution charged with mediating among men (and women), that institution charged with ensuring that the runaway impact of human nature does not destroy the country.
This bill is not perfect, but it is necessary. So now it is time to do the right thing. Yes, if you vote against this bill, you will go home to your safe districts, where the folks there don't really understand how globally connected the world finance system is, and you can tell them you stood up to Wall Street. Tell them this as inflation rises, as unemployment rises, as the economy contracts, and their buying power decreases. Tell them this as their 401K's continue to lose value. Remind them that you stood up to Wall Street! As more and more banks fail and our GDP begins to look more like China's, tell them you stood up to the special interests! When Barack Obama appoints Hillary Clinton the the Supreme Court, and Roe v. Wade moves into the category of untouchable decisions, tell your district you acted against creeping socialism! Twenty years from now, when you've spent twenty years in the legislative desert, keep telling your constituents that you stood athwart history and yelled "Stop"...but history kept coming. And when your constituents come to you two decades from now, wondering if social security will be there for them when they need it, you can change the subject, because you stood up to the big, greedy investment banks.
When the ship is sinking, a good Captain does not worry about whether the ship's bell is shiny, as important as that might be. He takes action to save the ship. Take action, House Republicans, while you still have voices that will matter.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The groom is a fine fellow, well-educated and exceptionally bright. He is a naval officer, one of the poor souls who once had to toil under my yoke but who with astonishing good cheer, continue to be friendly with me nonetheless. He met his bride the new fashioned way, through Match.com I believe. They are well-matched. She is an accomplished actress (yes, I used that word, not actor) who gave up that profession in order to be with him. She has nearly completed a Masters Degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, and her free-spiritedness conforms nicely to his mischievous side, while his strength of character provides an obvious anchor for her.
I must admit to having had second thoughts about travel to California for the wedding--not connected in any way to the obvious strength this match represented. No, I was being a little selfish. I've got a pretty substantial work and personal travel schedule between now and mid October, and I already live half-time away from my kitten and her girls. Returning to them on weekends is a source of great constancy for me, and due to my own scheduling, I will be away from them four of five weekends. I felt a little tugged, though it was all of my own creation.
Then I watched as my friend and his love said their vows atop a vineyard hill, and I realized how selfish I had been. This was a great day, and these were great people. The crime would have been if I had not shown up. As I approached my friend to offer him congratulations on his wedding day, his voice choked a bit as he told me how much he appreciated my making the trip. I felt the great pride of a (not much) older brother, and the shame of actually considering missing this moment.
Given an approximate length of time of 90 minutes during each opportunity, this breaks down to a rate of $13.88 an hour...certainly worthwhile at that rate.
It really is nice here (SFO). Lots of leather, very clubby, big windows looking out upon the workings of a very busy airport. Snacks, soft drinks, coffee, service, smiles, and electrical outlets. I was a bit surprised to find actual manual handvalves to operate the running water in the loo, figuring if anywhere would have automatic fixtures, surely this outpost of comfort would. These days, I find myself more and more defaulting to simply holding my hands under the faucet in public facilities, awaiting the instant gratification of seemingly unbidden water. Occasionally, this does not work. Like today.
But all in all, this is a good move. Though people watching at the airport has come to be one of my favorite past-times, it pales in comparison to time spent on the blog. Blogging is definitely (for me) a pursuit best had in comfort.
Of interest to me are a couple of provisions, one that doles out the money in steps (as was advocated by Senator Chuch Shumer--and with which I agreed) and one that permits the President to propose a fee on the financial services industry if after 5 years, the government hasn't earned its money back (who do they think will really pay this fee?)
Executive compensation took a hit too; don't know too much about the restrictions, but it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
This got me thinking that there have been plenty of instances recently where I have not responded when folks have said things here that were uncivil or insulting, probably because the targets were generally folks whose views I do not hold.
That needs to stop. I will be much more careful about policing the rhetoric here, making liberal use of the trash button if the rhetoric deviates from discussions of policy/opinion. Insults, whether aimed at individuals or at groups of individuals, will not be tolerated, no matter the target.
For example, I consider charges that Barack Obama is somehow aligned with Osama bin Laden or any other Islamic terrorist, to be insulting and uncivil. I do not consider questions about his acknowledged relationship with an acknowledged terrorist (Bill Ayers) to be insulting or uncivil. I consider my raising the question of the impropriety of the use of the word "homophobic" to describe the distaste I feel for the ACTS that distinguish homosexuality legitimate. I consider broad insults designed to undercut the humanity of people who ARE homosexual to be insulting and uncivil. I consider MSNBC to be blatantly left of center; I do not think people who watch MSNBC are any less intelligent than those who watch Fox or CNN.
Ok, so let's try and all stay on the up and up here.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
This has been a problem in other parts of the world, most notably in the Strait of Malacca. There, nations in the vicinity (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) --with US help-- came together to police and patrol the waters, driving the piracy threat down considerably. Off of Somalia, the nearby nations can't field much a maritime effort, so there is a multi-national naval force operating to help deal with this threat.
We must however, keep a sense of perspective. While 61 ships were attacked in this area, some 21,900 were not. While we worked on the new US Maritime Strategy, it was a battle to resist those who would try to raise this threat to a level it did not deserve. This is a problem to be solved largely by attacking the shore-based profiteers from piracy AND through regional naval alliances that in most cases do NOT include US naval vessels. Putting too much emphasis on the interdiction of pirates leads some to the misplaced conclusion that we need to greatly step up the allocation of resources to combat this problem--often times with little or no thought to what the impact of such a shift in resources would mean to the world's most powerful power projection Navy.
Combating piracy must be placed in the context of providing what has come to be called "Maritime Security", which is an area in which our Navy must (and is) begin to devote additional resources. Good order at sea, the ability to police one's own waters, the provision of protection to key offshore industrial sites, reducing smuggling, interdicting narcotics, illegal weapons shipments and weapons of mass destruction....these ALL fall into under the heading of Maritime Security, an increasingly important mission in our closely interconnected world.
That said, he was yet another of a brand of celebrity who felt so uncomfortable with their fame that they had to "give something" back to the rest of us....and that is, their insipid political views. Shut up and dance, I tell them.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I'll take a look at how it went once I arrive at my hotel in California, at about 1:00 AM their time....
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
At times, I would read other guy's profiles to see what the competition was up to. It was always an exercise in literary ego stroking. Yes, yes, they had rippling muscles, they ice-climbed and bungee-cycled....but they couldn't write! Their prose was flat, they did not know how to romance a woman's mind. Whatever modest success I enjoyed on the dating scene was largely attributable to the foot in the door I was granted by internet dating.
It seems now that my decision to settle in with the Kitten was a good one. My competitive advantage is gone, gone forever. A new market of scribbler takes to the scene in order to help clueless, knuckledragging eco-trekkers rise to my level of internet poetry. DAMN THE UNFAIRNESS! I know there are schlubby 5'7" guys across the country who will have a little less spring in their step today, knowing that the internet will soon be just another crowded bar with inattentive women and bartenders who can't see them.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I realize that taxes are high here, and that it is after all, California. And I further recognize that I am staying the night in a hotel not far from an area of great tectonic instability. That said, this part of the country is ridiculously beautiful. Mountains in full view to the east, the ocean to the west, sunny skies virtually all the time, and an amazing climate.
Were I forced to, I could live very happily here.
1. The price tag of $700B seems preposterously high, but I think it represents the total debt the government is willing to assume. What it doesn't seem to assume is that when housing prices rise, the government SHOULD be able to sell some of these properties/mortgages and get some of this money back. I don't hear this addressed much. Am I off base?
2. This scares me to say, but I agree with Chuck Shumer on something. Rather than sign up for the whole enchilada ($700B), why not sign up for portions of it, say on a month to month basis?
3. I do think some of Sebastian Mallaby's thoughts are worthy of merit, especially some kind of restriction on firms' ability to declare dividends if they take the money...dividends represent shareholder return that is NOT reinvested/used to retire long term debt. No firm taking US government money to remove bad debt from its books should be able to declare a dividend for a year.
4. I believe that Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke are adults...and adults are what we need right now to get this ship into the center of the channel.
"Squadron Leaves Port, Bound for Venezuela
A Russian navy squadron set off for Venezuela on Monday, an official said, in a deployment of military power to the Western Hemisphere unseen since the Cold War.
The nuclear-powered Peter the Great cruiser, accompanied by three other ships, sailed from the Northern Fleet's base of Severomorsk, Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said. The ships will cover about 15,000 nautical miles to conduct joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy, he said."
Say what you will about the relevance of seapower, but it does my former strategists heart good to see that stories like this are of interest. The movement of fleets is a statement like no other a nation can make, short of armed invasion. That the world's oceans are free for the use of all makes them a highway upon which nations compete for influence. A nation seeking to signal/influence/persuade can do little with its land forces; yet it can create much interest with a deployment of its fleet.
Naval officers like to think that they are greater strategic thinkers than their compatriots in the other services (though I would wager that Army officers actually study strategy and talk about it much more). This is partially a reflection of the diplomatic nature of naval duty, representing the government and the American people wherever the flag is brought. More importantly though, I think it is because we routinely traverse the earth's surface in our operations, moving from geopolitical situation to geopolitical situation. We do not "hunker down" in places for long periods of time, though the repetitive deployments to the Persian Gulf from 1990-2003 seemed to resemble it.
If I know my Navy, this deployment of Russian ships has been well studied and planned for, and highly classified guidance has been created, vetted with the Geographic Commanders and distributed to our Naval commanders. The Russian fleet is likely to traverse the areas of responsibility of three separate numbered fleets...the 6th (Med/Eastlant), the 2nd (Westlant) and the 4th (Carib). A highly sophisticated series of information operations, surveillance operations, and influence operations---coordinated across the breadth of this Russian fleet's travels--will greet them as they sail.
The Russian Fleet is a shadow of its former self, and it may turn out that our most effective Naval response will be to pay it no heed at all. But I assure you, if that course of action is chosen, it will have been after a great deal of discussion.
Monday, September 22, 2008
"In the sudden rush to blame the crooks in DC and on Wall Street, we should first take a long look in the mirror. For two decades, we — as in we Americans — expected to buy homes, flip them, and walk away with thousands — without much thought about what might happen to the johnny-come-lately at the bottom of the pyramid when the game was finally up and housing prices cooled or crashed. Walking away from a mortgage on a house with negative equity was "smart;" putting someone in one who had no ability to come up with a down payment, monthly payments, taxes, and maintenance was "fair"; borrowing unduly against equity for cash expenditures was "understandable."
We deified the masters of hedge funds, derivatives, and subprime mortgages, forgetting that passé oil production, mining, farming, manufacturing, engineering and construction were the real sources of our material wealth.
We assumed mega-returns on our portfolios, without a thought what Wall Street did to get them, or the effect on others who needed to borrow at such high interest to run their businessess.
Ours became a culture that wanted larger cars but less drilling to fuel them, more stuff and more credit from — and more anger at — the Chinese; less taxes but even more government hand-outs; ever more electricity, but fewer icky coal and nuclear plants — and always more health-care, education-care, prescription drug-care, housing-care, and always less care how to pay for it.
So by all means let us prosecute the lawbreakers, finger-point at the enablers, lecture the stupid, but at least spare us the sanctimonious "they" did this to poor "us." If there were not a Senate Banking Chairman like Chris Dodd without shame cozing up to the creeps at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or a Richard Fuld playing casino roulette with someone else's money, we would have had to invent them.
We should argue over the course of Paulson's unpleasant chemotherapy to deal with these symptoms of a metastasizing disease, but let us at least consider what were the catalysts for that deeper cancer."
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In the sponsorship department, your clicks to my sponsors have resulted in a whopping $15.75 being banked at the Google Deathstar awaiting the $100 mark before my first check gets cut. Keep up the great work and enable my career change to full-time blogger!
I thought about the Democrats who have run for President since I became a thinking political being: Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry--and I wondered where he fit in terms of my confidence in his ability to lead the country.
The plain truth of the matter is that he stands behind only Bill Clinton in terms of my innate sense of confidence in him. One of the reasons he is doing as well as he is in this race is that he comes across as serious, responsible, and tough.
And I disagree with virtually everything he stands for politically.
I invite you to take the poll.
And I wonder if any such poll was run questioning Senator Obama's qualifications for President.
Because those scholars will almost certainly be left of center, I don't imagine President Bush's stock will rise to Lincolnesque proportions...but I do think they'll take a much more favorable view of his two terms (especially the second) than the Press does.
The one I like the best is requiring the investment banks not to issue dividends. Retaining that capital for their own use is generally considered a "sign of weakness" on Wall Street, but it hardly seems logical for shareholders in these banks to continue to profit while the risk gets spread around to all the taxpayers.
The distinction he makes here between the RTC in the 80's (which assumed already failed loans and institutions) from what the new government entity here would do (assume loans/debt that is crappy and weighing down balance sheets, but that have not yet failed) is an interesting one. He decries what can only wind up being a subjective selection process that will have to be instituted to govern which debt is assumed and which is not. I wonder however, whether this isn't exactly what Fannie and Freddie (and the VA for that matter) when they back high risk mortgages? The government seems already to be in the loan officer job.
This tragic accident does raise important questions: what in the world is a "celebrity DJ", and why is it that our society would grant fame to someone whose job it is to play the recordings of other people? Lindsey Lohan's gal-pal Samantha Ronson is also a "celebrity DJ". Where did this species come from?
Are there other potential "celebrity" based positions? How about "celebrity lawn care", or "celebrity bathroom attendant"?
I have been to plenty of clubs in my day, and I have often thought that the DJ did a great job of keeping the dance floor crowded by his choice of songs. But celebrity status? C'mon now.
This is such bunk. In my new job, I get to do a bit of work on Capitol Hill. I, along with a few other fellows, was driven over to a meeting the other day in one of our corporate cars. Our driver engaged us in a spirited discussion of the economy, which was of course, the big story. At one point, the driver....a man in his 50's....spoke of something someone said as being "good for the 401K".
I almost did a "praise the Lord" in the car....here was a guy, probably making $40-$45K, who understood that what was good for Wall Street was good for him. I think there are a lot of lower middle and middle class workers in this country who have no clue how much of an impact the stock market has on their lives. This guy wasn't one of them. All of those public employees with their TIAA CREF retirement plans? Invested in the market. All those Montgomery County, Maryland pensioners earning nearly 100% of their salary? Coming from the market.
The bottom line here, is that helping to bail out Wall Street IS AN ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE. It just isn't a check from Uncle Sugar.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Catholicism and I have a long history. I was raised a Catholic, but have attended primarily Presbyterian and Episcopal services since.
There are a lot of things about Catholicism that I don't like, enough that I don't attend Mass much anymore, unless I'm with my parents. That said, I have a reverence for and a love of Catholicism that starts with my great admiration for the office of the Pope.
There have been four Popes in my life; Paul VI, John Paul I and II, and now Benedict. Basically though, there really have only been two (the last two). I was too young to think clearly about Paul VI and JPI was on the scene for just a short while (always wondered if God simply vetoed the choice of the College of Cardinals).
John Paul II was a giant, a man with such moral authority that he is often put in the class of Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev in terms of his influence in the death of the Warsaw Pact. He played a dominant role in world politics for a long time, and his voice was one of strength and love for those yearning for freedom--political freedom and freedom from want.
Following him is a tough act, but I think Benedict is up to it. Read the article. Look at how he is talking to the world, especially the Islamic world. He understands (like many others), that Islam needs a reformation if it is to be a positive force in the modern world. His words urge are powerful, and some in the Islamic world are listening.
I like knowing that there is one guy in the world who spends all his waking moments thinking about every single one of the rest of us. At the moment, I'm glad it is Benedict XVI.
Of intersest in the article also is the discussion of the aging energy infrastructure in this country. Even if we radically increase the amount of energy produced through alternative and renewable means, we still need to get it where it needs to go, as storing energy remains the great holy grail of the power industry.
I know a guy who buys all his suits and sportcoats from Goodwill (well, I don't just know him, he's one of my brothers). The look of pure pride on his face as he struts about in a $20 suit is absolutely priceless. I of course, take great pride in busting his stones about it, but he just paid off his 30 year mortgage in 12 years and has already funded his the college educations of his two children.
Maybe I'll start shopping there...
I think most hard-line conservatives saw George Bush as more of a center-right figure (like me, like George the Elder). To win the Presidency, I think George the Younger tried to talk a good game to the meat eaters, but they never really embraced him. Yes, there were signs of solid conservatism (the tax cuts, the obviation of treaties that no longer served our interests), but all in all, George Bush is a pragmatist informed by ideology, not an ideologue.
I think most liberals heard only the conservative rhetoric on the stump, and they did not look at how he governed in Texas. Thus began the caricature of George Bush as ne0-conservative gorilla, which was never even close to the pragmatic approach to governing he took in Texas.
He came to power eschewing "nation building". Then the world changed, and his mission became focused on defense of the homeland. So now we are more engaged in nation building than any of us would really like, though the activity is clearly required. He's clearly a free-market man, but again, the nation's basic health was at risk....and he acted.
George Bush is a political pragmatist with a few central ideas. I honestly believe his religious views have motivated him to act with more humanity than many on the right would like (considerable increases in health funding for Africa, the prescription drug benefit), and I think he deeply believes in a culture of life (his August 2001 stem-cell decision remaining one of the most important and well thought out of his tenure).
Has he changed in office? Yes. But I think that change was more predictable than some would see it, and I think its extent is far less than some would see it.
Yes, this entire thing goes against my libertarian, free market impulses. That said, our markets are not completely free, nor are those of our competitors. Government intervention and regulation is sometimes necessary to ensure fairness and confidence. Watching our economy implode in contagion while spouting free market support is not an effective way to govern. President Bush's team is a group of fantastically talented public servants, and they are doing a superb job in trying to attack what was some thing that could (and can) hobble our economy for decades.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Here we have one of the excesses of the President Bush "ownership society" fueled by the Dems favorite charities (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), with match thrown on in the form of a talented con man.
Putting aside for a moment the janitors desire to own a home, why would this person be so convinced that owning a home is so important? What have we done in our society to so thoroughly legitimize what is--like ALL other investments--a risky proposition.
No, this person would have been a lot better off renting an apartment or a house.
There's plenty of money out there ladies and gentlemen, but it is sitting on the sidelines waiting to get back in the game. Confidence will breed confidence, and eventually, that money will flow back in.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
That it could have gone on for so long is amazing to me. There is a fantastic movie to be made here, one that reinforces just how greedy people can be.
We need leadership now though, to make sure that falling prices do not cause lethargy and complacency. We need to keep talking about the national security implications of importing so much oil from people who would like nothing more than to see us suffer. We need to talk proudly about how our cutting consumption this summer is helping to lower the price of oil, something that directly impacts the bottom line of these petro-thug countries. We need to remind people that we can't go backwards, that we need to continue to move forward on nuclear, solar, wind, clean coal and other alternative and renewable fuels. We need to tout the benefits to our country of investing in technology that will lessen our oil dependency. We need to try and resist the temptations of human nature, and just return to the same habits that put us in the position we found ourselves three months ago.
A quick sea-story. In the component of the Navy in which I grew up (Surface Warfare), a young officer--after approximately a year of watchstanding, practical examinations, and other professional tests, would have to sit for a "Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) Board". If he or she passed the board, they would be a qualified SWO and would be permitted to wear the gold breast insignia of the SWO world. It is a big day in the life of a young surface officer, and the commanding officer is the sole arbiter of their fitness.
Early on in my time as CO, I had to administer my first board. Present was the leadership structure of my ship (the XO and a few of the Department Heads), who would assist me by also asking questions of the candidate. I announced that I would save my questions for last, and then proceeded watch the Department Heads and then the XO examine the candidate in turn. This young man was stunningly well-prepared, and it was clear to all that he would pass his board.
When it came time for me to ask my questions, I first asked if he could remember any portion of the commissioning oath he took. This guy was sharp, and he got most of it right...most importantly though, he was aware of our requirement to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic..." This is where it got fun. I posited that if a man had sworn to give his life for a piece of paper, a set of ideas, then surely he knew a few things about that document. For instance, I asked, how many articles are there? Blank look. Is the number of Supreme Court Justices fixed in the Constitution? Blank again. How old must one be to serve in the House of Representatives? Nada. I asked a few more questions and he was equally clueless.
This once confident future surface warrior began quite obviously to become dejected and fearful. Sensing this, I brought the proceeding to a close and asked him to leave the room for our deliberation. The Department Heads were incredulous and laughing. They couldn't believe that I turned a SWO board into a symposium on the Constitution. I repeated to them that which I said in the board...that if you were swearing to give your life for something, you damn sure ought to know what that is.
Each of the others voted to pass the young man, and so I invited him back into the room. Not having voiced my opinion in the deliberations, I could tell that the Department Heads wondered if I were going to fail the guy because of his lack of Constitutional knowledge. Nope, couldn't do that...this kid was too good. I congratulated him and pinned his shiny gold SWO pin on that day.
But the word got out immediately. Not only did future SWO candidates learn their ship, their Navy, the other Services, the Joint World, OSD etc....they read about their Constitution, and they came ready to play. It was one of the best things I did as Captain.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Perhaps a softening in the employment outlook (and concomitant ridiculous bonus structure) for the financial industry will make working there a less sought after option for young, smart people. We need a HELL of a lot more engineers and scientists in this country, so maybe some will turn in that direction.
There has to be something good about this.....
I am a believer in the free market. I am also a realist who understands the imperfections of human beings. Free markets exist and thrive when there is confidence that everyone has an equal chance of winning and losing. This is where government regulation comes in. While I am the last person to want to be seen as an advocate of government regulation, it seems obvious to me that the financial markets are one place where a bit more oversight should be implemented. Quickly.
Monday, September 15, 2008
But then I think we're about at the bottom. Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros gone, Merrill Lynch now to be owned by Bank America.
It looks like the market is taking care of overcapacity in the investment banking sector. It is ugly, it is painful, and it is both exacerbated by and a prime cause of the housing crisis.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I initially tried to answer in that threat, but couldn't get this table in there. So here it is. You can plainly see that US businesses do not have to be that profitable to hit very high corporate tax rates.
Corporate Income Tax Rates--2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003
Taxable income over / Not over / Tax rate
$ 0/ $ 50,000/ 15%
50,000/ 75,000/ 25%
75,000/ 100,000/ 34%
100,000/ 335,000/ 39%
335,000/ 10,000,000/ 34%
10,000,000/ 15,000,000/ 35%
15,000,000/ 18,333,333/ 38%
18,333,333/ .......... / 35%
What I find interesting is that if you substitute "Cambodia" for "Pakistan" and "Vietnam" for "Afghanistan", there seems to be a rather sensible case for the bombing we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, which was so roundly criticized by liberals. Doing it then was right, doing it now is right.
On the surveillance front, I was happy to read of dedicated officials at Justice calling "BS" on the NSA program, forcing it to change in ways that made it consistent with the law. There are in fact, real issues at stake here, including the President's powers as Commander-in-Chief to prosecute a war. Ultimately, these sorts of things are either settled by the Supreme Court, or by the Senate (in an impeachment trial). But they (intrabranch constitutional issues) are always huge. That we could "spy" on international calls is a good thing; that we routinely do so when both ends of a call are international is also a good thing. What went awry here was that the Bush Administration improperly applied this standard to calls in which only one party was international...with the other being in the US (hence the cries of "domestic surveillance". This had civil libertarians up in arms, and folks like me a bit distressed. What is notable about this whole issue is that it was people in government who identified this and drove about the changes...this didn't change as a result of the New York Times scurrilously reporting about it; it changed because brave, honorable men who are as patriotic as anyone, decided to push to have the changes made.
In the second article on Fannie and Freddie, we see the perfect storm created by weak regulation these favorites of the Democratic Party under the Clinton Administration, followed by the loony "ownership society" pushed by President Clinton. Both organizations were there to help folks get mortgages, but the greed and lack of oversight turned both into engines of ridiculous mortgages peddled to people who had no right to enter into such a long term financial commitment.
Washington's an interesting place to live and work, and good reporting like this helps one understand the landscape a lot better.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
"Thirty years of Republican tax policy have now completely eliminated federal income taxes on the poor and lower middle-income Americans, and almost eliminated them on middle America.
The latest data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Internal Revenue Service show that the lowest 40 percent of income earners as a group actually receive net payments from the federal income tax system. (They get 3.8 percent of total federal income tax revenues instead of paying any income taxes.) The middle 20 percent of income earners pay 4.4 percent of federal income taxes. Thus the bottom 60 percent of income earners together, on net, pay less than 1 percent of all federal income taxes. (These workers earn 26 percent of national income.)
The data show that the top 1 percent of income earners now pay 40 percent of all federal income taxes, which is almost double their share of the national income. The top 10 percent pay 71 percent of federal income taxes, though they earn just 39 percent of the nation's pretax income.
This is a result of the across the board income tax rate cuts adopted by Ronald Reagan and the current President Bush, plus the Earned Income Tax Credit first proposed by Reagan in the 1970s, and the child tax credit enacted into law as part of the 1994 Contract With America.
Now these kinds of statistics ought to be familiar to CW readers. The plain truth of the matter is that lower class and poor Americans just don't pay income tax, and middle income folks pay very little. Therefore, tax credits that are targeted at these folks' participation in the Federal Income Tax scheme are not tax credits at all, but are simply new entitlements that do not reduce a known tax liability. Or as our Gingrich and Ferrara put it:
What Obama is calling tax cuts for the middle class is really a slew of refundable federal income tax credits that would primarily go to those who are paying little or no federal income taxes now. Such credits would primarily not reduce tax liability, but instead be checks from the federal government for child care, education, housing, retirement, health care, even outright giveaways. These are not tax cuts. They are new federal spending programs hidden in the tax code.
Gingrich and Ferrara do more than just criticize Senator Obama's plans, they offer what I consider to be very constructive plans of their own, centered largely on unleashing capital by lowering corporate tax rates (the US has the second highest in the industrialized world, not to mention the added liability of funding worker healthcare) and lowering capital gains rates.
Interesting article here that I recommend taking a close look at.
Here's a link to the first post of this blog in which I laid down the rules. They are pretty simple: 1)keep it civil 2) keep it clean 3) keep it relevant and 4) keep it coherent.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Many are looking at this as yet another sign of her foreign policy JV status. Nothing can be further from the truth.
As Charles Krauthammer reminds us, the Bush Doctrine has meant many things to many people through the years. Had I been asked that question this week, I would have spoken to the policy of encouraging democracy as the chief weapon against Islamic extremism.
Charlie Gibson's a good interviewer, but this "gotcha" was simply amateur hour.
I still believe in these notions, and I feel they have a place in the pantheon of conservative ideas. But the way Brooks talks about the housing crisis is very convincing. I have been a relentless critic of not only many of the people who have been caught up in the issue, but also the hysteria surrounding it. I remain convinced that individual choices poorly made are at the root of this problem. That said, my brand of conservatism doesn't equip me to deal with the issue in an effective manner...politically. Yes, I can stand up and shout about responsibility and greed, but there is nothing in my ideology to equip me to SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Nothing our government is doing to solve this problem (much of which I support) can be considered "conservative" by even the most tortured definitions.
I guess I've got some thinking to do.
But again, I don't believe Iraq had anything to do with 9-11. I don't believe Sarah Palin believes that either. But you'd never get that from the scurrilous headline in today's paper, "Palin Links Iraq to Sept. 11 in Talk to Troops in Alaska". Not really. What she said was her son and the others assembled would "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans." While I'm sure it plays nicely into the left's narrative that Palin is one of the looney-tunes who think Saddam carried out 9-11, what she actually said was that the soldiers would be fighting enemies who planned and carried out the attacks on 9-11. Is there anyone who questions the extent to which Al Zawahiri (AQ #2) has pulled the strings in Iraq? Is there anyone who questions the extent to which AQ has created supply lines to the Sunni insurgents to provide arms, men, and explosives? The US is INDEED fighting against the people who pulled off 911 in Iraq, but that's because AQ chose to meet us there. Palin didn't say that Saddam had anything to do with 911; her words were well chosen and reflect the situation on the ground.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Today is the anniversary of the worst day of my life, maybe the worst day of yours, the day that my country was attacked and 3000 people died. I woke to the news after a flight to
It is now seven years later and our nation is still fighting the war that this event precipitated. We will be fighting it for many years to come. It is our generation’s Cold War, and like the Cold War, we will eventually win.
That day will come, probably after more horrific days of death. The Bush Administration does not get enough credit for all it has done to avert further attacks here, but pulling something off is just too easy for it not to happen someday. We all hope that our first responders have taken the lessons they needed from 9-11, and that we will manage the consequences of the next attack better than the last. I think they will.
We are at war with radical Islam, just as we were at war with Marxist totalitarianism. During a foreign policy seminar I took a couple of years ago, I was challenged by an Islamic professor from
Radical Islam is not just a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of the bunch. Radical Islam exists because of the support, tacit and explicit, of a great many “moderate” Muslims who fund their activities and give a pass for their extremism with words like, “we don’t support what they have done, but we understand why they do it”. Radical Islam could not exist without this great heat sink of support, this financial and emotional support base from which its adherents largely emanate.
We are at war with radical Islam, and we are in conflict with Islam. Islam is anti-modern. Islam is inconsistent with Western civilization’s view of
We will win this war when we have killed and captured as many of the extremists as we can, and when we have won the conflict of ideas and values we have with the Islamic world.
Either Islam or Western Civilization will endure with its values intact. I prefer the latter.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
But the rebound exchange got to be outside the bounds of civil discourse, so I canned the comment. You get to do that kind of thing when it is your blog.
We see some of that at work in today's installment of the WaPost serialization of Woodward's next book. General Jack Keane was a former Army Vice Chief of Staff. Very well respected guy, and along with a fellow named Fred Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute, basically cooked up the surge strategy. Reading the article, it is clear that Keane shared freely with Woodward, just as it appears that General Casey (the Army Chief of Staff mentioned in the installment who had been General Petreaus' predecessor in Iraq) also freely shared. I can't imagine that Casey was the source for the meeting at Walter Reed (where Casey is said to have abruptly turned from Keane as if not recognizing him....doesn't exactly put Casey in a good light, does it?). And I can't can't imagine Mike Mullen (Chairman, JCS) was the source of the quotes from the meeting with Keane. In this kind of atmosphere, you get your story in, or you get painted by the others in the scenario in a way that makes you look bad. This is ultimately the secret to Woodward's reporting.
I've been a supporter of the War in Iraq from the beginning. I thought we were right to go in, I thought the President (and President Clinton) had been criticized after 9-11 for "not connecting the dots", and they weren't going to wait for the Iraq dot to connect with the Osama dot. Yes, I understand that there were all sorts of impediments to this liaison...but there were enough intelligence reports about contacts between AQ and Iraq to give a country recently scarred by terrorism all the justification it needed.
I also thought we went in dumb and undermanned. I was (like everyone else) awed by the land force's stunning victory...the tactics were superb, and our magnificent Army and Marine Corps could not have performed better. It was the planners who screwed up by not thinking about what comes next. General Shinseki (former Army Chief of Staff) had been pilloried for suggesting before Congress that some 300,000 troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq. Guess what...add our troop numbers and the Iraqi troops we've trained and what do we have today?
That said, once we went in, we had to win. I am so grateful to President Bush for the support he gave General Petreaus in this. I wish he had done so more publicly, but that was a political calculation that I understand. I'm sorry that Jack Keane had to put up with the kind of protests that he got from General Casey and Admiral Mullen, but like Keane said, this is Washington. Suck it up. Mullen and Casey had jobs to do and Keane was undercutting them. Don't get me wrong...I like what Keane was doing, I just think he knew what he was getting into when he went against the Joint Chiefs.
A bit about Admiral Mullen. I worked very closely with him in the Maritime Strategy effort. He called for its development, he provided the broad executive guidance, and he kept his nose in it all along the way. The man is a proven strategic thinker, a gentleman, and a fierce Washington player. It doesn't surprise me that he brought Keane in for a come-around. Keane was weakening the office of the Chairman and the other Chiefs (again...I agree with what Keane was doing). But I also agree with Mullen. There were other issues out there...North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Chavez in Venezuela...his job was to think about all of those and to make sure the military was prepared. But the decision to put it all on the line in Iraq was George Bush's decision, and he made it. Doesn't mean the Chiefs liked it, but they implemented it. Now, I don't think the President said to the Chiefs, "Boys, forget about the rest of the world and win Iraq". But he did promise Petreaus all he needed. So there was an inevitable tension between the mandate to win in Iraq and the mandate to stay watchful around the rest of the world. George Bush didn't need to openly confront the Chiefs...even the most powerful man in the world understands that they need to have their spheres of influence too...his private notes got the job done.
Another word about the American Enterprise Institute. I conducted a little "Maritime Strategy" road show in DC last Fall, hitting all the major think tanks in town. In every case but one, I had incredibly enlightening and intellectually stimulating discussions with folks who genuinely wanted to understand what we were advocating. When I went over to AEI, Fred Kagan (father of the surge) was in the room. He started out our session by proclaiming that he hadn't read the strategy, then he proceeded to rip it apart. Why? Because it wasn't completely devoted to winning the war in Iraq. He maintained that the Sea Services were in danger of becoming irrelevant because their strategy had not completely commited themselves to eradicating terrorism and winning the war in Iraq. When I asked about some of the other things Navies do (you know, providing stability in the Far East as a balance to a rising China, the force of choice for keeping Iran in the box, you know, little things like that) he had no time for it. Our exchange actually became heated...and at one point, he said, "Look, you're hear obviously looking for my support as you roll out this strategy, and you're not going to obtain it" to which I answered, "sir, I don't think your support was obtainable. You are so completely and personally invested in the success of the surge strategy in Iraq that you are unable to support anything that does not similarly devote itself to that effort." End of meeting.
Was he right? Hell no. But then again, he might have known that if he had read the strategy. (Side note: there was a DJ team here in DC called Don and Mike. They used to do "Movie reviews of movies we haven't seen yet. I accused Kagan of that, and got a laugh from the whole room). While we weren't in a mind to raise counterterrorism to the top of the heap (as in, we should build our Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard around counterterror and the war in Iraq), we thoroughly discussed how to change those services and how to capitalize on their strengths as methods of attacking root causes of terrorism. But Navies have a lot of other big jobs to do too.
Sorry bout this long winded post, but I thought I had something to offer.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Judging from the play by play, I'm glad I didn't go. The Hoos offense is offensive. No real running game yet. Very little passing. Now Richmond isn't a bunch of patsies, mind you. They just shouldn't be able to hang with a good program for as long as they did.
Helping to prove once again that UVA is not a good program. Yet.
A couple of things to think about.
One of the beauties of this republic is civilian control of the military, and this series is showing just how beautiful that concept is (just as LBJ's target selection meetings showed how faulty it can also be). George Bush has assiduously avoided meddling in "the situation on the ground". He relied on the advice and counsel of his senior DOD and military advisers, he gave them what they asked for, and they made a mess of it. We hired him to lead, and so he did. He sought other opinions, asked probing questions...but more than anything else, he refused to lose. Professor Eliot Cohen has a great book called "Supreme Command" in which he details the relationships between Commanders in Chief and their subordinate military leaders. He concludes (among other things) that war is too important to be left solely to the generals (and admirals). Clausewitz had it right...war is a continuation of policy (politics). It is an inherently political act.
So when the Joint Chiefs got their panties in an uproar about "surging" and "breaking the force", because it was going to use up the "strategic reserve", the President made a political decision: that the use of the strategic reserve was called for in a situation in which we were about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Chiefs just never got this...they never understood the political dimension of losing in Iraq. Why did it have to take the President pointing out the chaos in a capital undercuts ANY real sense of progress elsewhere?
I'm also glad that it this book (again, a first draft of history), shows that there WAS disagreement between the JCS and the President, and that that disagreement was aired. The Chiefs didn't just sit in their offices and grouse. They disagreed with the President, and they told him so. Any public view of these guys as sycophants should be undercut by these revelations. Their job is to make their reservations known, to as articulately and forcefully advocate for their positions as they can, and then salute the flag and carry out the mission they are given. That's how our system works. Yes, they disagreed with the President. But there was no coup d'etat. We are not now ruled by a military junta. They went back to the drawing board and figured out how to implement the POLITICAL direction they were given by the Commander-in-Chief.
I hope you are all proud of how this process works. Again, you might not like the political objective chosen by the President, but the process is a damn sight better than anything else in the world.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Woodward's previous books about the Bush Administration were remarkable for the access he had and the people he got to talk to him. His stature as the best investigative reporter in the country is well earned, and it helps him get the sources he wants.
Few of the revelations in his books have been favorable to George Bush. One consistent theme in the books I've read however (which are in fact, first drafts of history) is how smart and engaged the President REALLY is. Read this article. You might disagree vehemently with George Bush's policies, you might think our entry into the War in Iraq was misguided and poorly executed...but if you continue to believe George Bush is stupid, incurious, walled off, unengaged or not up to the job...you have simply decided to ignore the growing body of evidence to the contrary.
On another note, General Petreaus' predecessor as Viceroy of Iraq is a guy named General George Casey. Casey apparently sang like a canary for Woodward in this book. After strategically misinterpreting Iraq throughout his two year tour there, he has decided to ensure his version of events make their way into the record. Oh...in case you're wondering what happened to General Casey? He was promoted to Army Chief of Staff. President Bush, like they say...if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
This is an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions by creating less of a need for people to drive to the places they need to go. I look forward to seeing how this turns out, but on the face of it, it looks like enlightened policy using market forces (yes, the government is a player in the market) to combat sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions.
O'Reilly on the other hand is a different story. Again, I'm not surprised that his viewers are at least as knowledgeable as those who watch the Daily Show (aim high, huh?). I'm just can't stand O'Reilly. He should never be considered conservative. He's a classic populist, and I just don't like populists (grandstanders, least common denominator, you know the type).
I'm also heartened by the myth of young voters--they tend to be energetic, emotional, involved....and I think they give off a sense that there are more of them because of this.
What do I mean by this? Well, the basic thrust is this (flows from a lot of the work we did on the maritime strategy and a the work of a number of international relations theorists): the global economy and the global system works largely to the benefit of the nations who participate in it. The degree to which ones economy is integrated in that system is a sign of that nation's support for and investment in that economy.
There are plenty of nations out there who look at this global system as a cafeteria if you will, one in which they walk down the line of markets and fully participate in some, partially participate in others, and choose not to participate in still others. We are not one of these nations, nor is Europe, much of South and Central America, much of Asia and increasingly, China. The prosperous (and increasingly free) portions of the earth generally tend to be more fully vested in the global system.
There are nations out there who for whatever reason, haven't gotten fully in the game. In some cases, it is because they are simply economic basket cases, and they cannot muster the table stakes to meaningfully participate in the game. In others, domestic politics drive a sense of aloofness from (or more malignantly, superiority to) the system. As we sought to lay out a series of alternative futures into which our emerging Maritime Strategy would fit, we looked very closely at just such a dynamic, one in which a "coalition of denial" emerges. More specifically, nations without as much investment in a cooperative and interdependent global system would tend to form alliances and relationships designed largely to exercise power in spite of the larger system. Take to an extreme, these countries would cooperate in order to subvert the system.
Who are the likely participants in this growing club? Well, Russia and Venezuela for instance. And Iran. And Cuba (though I honestly think Fidel's death WILL bring them closer to the global system). And a host of Central and South American nations who have turned to elected socialism in reaction to globalization. And some nations in Africa who are resource rich but liberty poor.
What does this mean for the US? It means a continued important and dominant role of leadership in the globalized economy and the global political order. I know, I know, I sound a little like a "citizen of the world" type. That's not what I'm saying. We are a sovereign nation with our own interests. Our interests are however, very closely aligned with others for whom the global economy brings prosperity and freedom. Our relationship with these other nations is in our national interest--as is our continued leadership within that system.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
The problem though, is that these are NOT private operations. They are quasi-private, with the US Government still acting as an oversight authority.
What is needed is a temporary state in which the US government exercises increased control, prior to completely privatizing them. Both are huge Democratic Party hobby-horses, but the time has come for them to sink or swim in the market.
Rangel is a machine politician in every sense of the word. His sense of entitlement knows no bounds. It causes me a great deal of happiness to see him begin to get the scrutiny he deserves.
It appears we here on the Eastern Shore may be spared Hanna's greater impact, but I can't tell for sure. All I can say is right now, things look pretty good here. I've included a picture (from last Autumn) of the view from the window where I write. We're about 70 feet from the embankment, with the Miles River just on the other side. Catherine's been through storms like this her whole life out here, and it has been interesting to watch her work through her check-0ff list.
Unfortunately, the storm has caused my buddies and I to pass on today's UVA/Richmond game.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I'm getting sick of the new answer to Senator Obama's inexperience...that somehow the experience of running for President and winning a nomination is somehow indicative of the experience necessary to be President. This is not the case, and is clearly not the case in the Democratic Party, where voters tend to fall in love with candidates (while Republicans tend to nominate the guy whose turn it is....)
I had been a bit troubled by our government's distancing itself from Musharraf as he came to the ignominious end of his political tenure. I am troubled no more. I see evidence of a tacit deal here, one in which the Paks said that "...if you keep quiet about moving Musharraf aside, we'll work harder to crack down on the Islamists in Waziristan (which they have) and we'll keep quiet if you conduct operations here (which we have)".
If selling out Musharraf is the price of getting Bin Laden, then I'm ok with paying it.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
You know the type (perhaps you are the type. Heavens. Not one of my readers). These folks are the ones you hear clicking their seatbelts open long before the jet has come to a complete stop and the captain has extinguished the seatbelt sign. Irrespective of how many rows they are from the door, they leap up into the aisle to retrieve their belongings from the overhead bin and then camp out in the aisle, usually conducting banal cell phone conversation with someone lucky enough to have been contacted with the great news of our subject's arrival. There they stand, uncomfortably violating my personal space (I'm an aisle seat guy) while they stand there seemingly surprised that they cannot immediately exit the airplane. Sit down, Jack. And wait your turn to leave.
Another guy I don't like too much is the business traveler whose doffing of the standard issue sportcoat turns into a matador-like performance in which the (cape) jacket eventually winds up folded neatly into the overhead bin, whilst other passengers patiently await the end of the show so that they might proceed to their seats.
Just thought you'd like to know.
Fidelity has 1.4% of its 401K holders with loans....which means, 98.6 % of its customers DO NOT HAVE LOANS AGAINST THEIR 401K's!!!
This money belongs to the people who have saved it. While there are rules against its liquidity, there are provisions for withdrawals and loans specifically because these pools of money are effective hedges against short term debt. What would our reporter have these people do? Go further into debt? Ruin their credit ratings? Silly. They have the money, so they should use it to lighten their debt load.
Stories like this belong in The Onion with headlines like, "Local Man Withdraws Own Money", "Area Woman Makes On-time Mortgage Payment".
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Interesting how many of the guys in the terminal this morning seem to know each other...a little fraternity of road warriors? Bi-coastal lives? But still an overwhelmingly male traveling cohort this early in the morning. Wonder if all the ladies are just a bit smarter than we.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Now let's talk a bit about media coverage of hurricanes. Has there EVER been an event more tailor-made for the 24 hour news cycle? For days and days, hour after hour, our friends in the newsrooms can update the track of the storm, use footage from old hurricanes, drag out old saws about Katrina, and finally--when the storm hits--they can send their hapless correspondents out to report as the waves break over the seawall.
There honestly must be kind of a feeling of letdown in these newsrooms as storms are downgraded.
Seems old Gustav's only a Cat 2 and he's fading.
Also, we now have some international readers. We've been visited by folks from Australia, Russia, China, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Korea, India, Iran, Iraq, the UAE, Norway, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada and Brazil. Now of course, some of these hits may be from traveling Americans (or US Military), but most of the towns checking in are not big tourist spots.
So if we are indeed attracting international readers, you are most welcome here! I look forward to hearing from you.