Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is Mexico a National Security Threat

Several posters in Free for All Friday want to tee up the issue of our friends to the South, and whether Mexico comprises a national security threat.

I thought about doing a entry just before the Inauguration in which I speculated as to the national security matters that the incoming administration was probably paying insufficient attention to...and Mexico would have been number 1. I see this for a couple of reasons:

1. Geography. They share a border. This by itself, makes a country worth watching. This includes Canada...but as we'll see, Canada doesn't trip any of the other wires.

2. Illegal immigration. A function of #1. If poor, desperate Mexicans can easily cross our border, so can well-financed, well armed jihadis.

3. Economic disparity. A primary driver of #2. Mexico is a country of incredible economic disparity and a middle class insufficiently sized to act as a stabilizing inluence.

4. Political instability. Driven by #3. With much of Central and South America beginning to show a backlash against capitalism (see Venezuela, Nicaragua, Peru), leftist, socialist candidates are sure to gain in popularity in Mexico.

5. Drug and Crime. Both are not only increasing facets of everyday life in Mexico, but also large and growing parts of the economy. A nation whose economic health is propped up by the profits of crime cannot long be a helpful ally.

Yes, Mexico causes me concern. You know what causes me even more concern? President Obama's desire to "review" NAFTA. NAFTA is one of the few bright spots in our relationship with Mexico, and it has helped with the economic incentives to illegally immigrate (when you have a job in Mexico, less reason to swim the Rio Grande). Start to walk away from NAFTA and we'll see the process of deteriorization in Mexico accelerate.

President Obama's Team

Ok. Let's take a look at "the dream team" thus far:

Attorney General--Eric Holder. Gave the green light for Democratic Party hack Marc Rich's pardon in the waning days of the Clinton Administration, as well as the pardons of the FALN Puerto Rican terrorists who killed an NYC policeman.

Secretary of Commerce--Gov Bill Richardson. Pulled his name from contention after reports he was under Grand Jury investigation for campaign finance irregularities.

Secretary of the Treasury--Tim Geithner. Failed to pay $40,000 in income taxes while acting as a consultant to the IMF. The Treasury Secretary oversees the IRS, incidentally.

Secretary of Health and Human Services--Tom Daschle. Failed to pay over $100,000 in income taxes.

Add to this, Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn, who has done nothing wrong except act as Raytheon' Corporation's top paid lobbyist for several years...for whom Obama made an "exception" to his showy policy of "no lobbyists need apply".

Off to a bit of a rough spot, but no dots to connect here. Nope. Move along. There isn't any issue with the Obama vetting process. Nope. Couldn't be.

Hard Choices on Weapons Systems

White Asks During Free for All Friday:

"Gates Says ‘Hard Choices’ Needed on Weapons Spending (Update1)

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Obama administration must make “hard choices” on weapons spending that could include targeting specific programs, according to a draft of his testimony tomorrow to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Any changes” Congress makes to the 2010 budget “should avoid across-the-board adjustments, which inefficiently extend all programs,” pushing out schedules and increasing costs, Gates said in his prepared comments on weapons acquisition.

“Five programs account for half of total cost growth in weapons spending,” Gates said. These programs are Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; Boeing Co.’s Future Combat Systems; Virginia Class attack submarines built by General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.; the Pentagon’s primary satellite-launch program, a joint effort of Lockheed and Boeing; and a program to destroy the U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons which includes a number of defense contractors.

I would be nervous if my livelihood depended on any of the first four of five programs mentioned. The fifth has no chance of failing under this Congress.


Just saw yesterday that the OMB targets sent to DoD for FY10 defense budget deviate in a big way from POM10. To those who don't speak Pentagon, this means that the new President's budget shop has told the Pentagon to go back to the drawing board and find billions of dollars in savings to bring down defense spending.

Lots of waste in the defense budget, no doubt. And any article like this one is sure to stir up Mudge's hornets nest...but let's go on anyway.

We're getting ready to spend $819B on a stimulus package that stimulates very little, at the same time we're looking to cut billions from the defense budget. From where will those cuts come? Not operations and maintenance for our troops in the any large extent. No, the cuts will come from acquisition. Big programs will be canceled and planned new starts won't start. What does this mean? It means a loss of capability that at some point was validated by uniformed leadership to be essential to our fighting forces, and it means the loss of jobs. That's right..every weapons system that gets axed represents thousands of people on production lines, engineers, designers, etc.

Now Mudge, I'm not saying there isn't waste, and I'm not saying that the defense industry cannot get leaner and do better. But I am saying that the money spent on systems like those mentioned in the article above are all about ECONOMIC stimulation, and by that I mean good, high paying, American jobs. Spend $819B on stimulus and then cancel LCS? Well, there goes thousands of jobs, added unemployment benefits, loss of tax revenue, etc.

Defense spending is a big fat target. But what made cutting defense easy in the 90's was that the rest of the economy was HUMMING. Now, defense is an anchor and one of the few places in the larger economy where significant contraction hasn't happened.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Birth of Octuplets

Tom de Plume asks some very tough questions in FREE FOR ALL FRIDAY about the mother of the octuplets born recently in California. I have reserved comment on this case because of a lack of information, but I must say, it smelled fishy to me from the beginning.

First, I was nearly certain that it would turn out to have been a woman who had put off having children until later in life, such that IVF (and the planting of multiple embryos) would have been her best path to having a child. Upon hearing that the mother was 33, I was a bit surprised.

But the news that this woman already had six children hit me like a ton of bricks. Six kids already, and her mother says, "she just wanted one more". So she gets IVF and has enough embryos implanted to result in eight babies.

We know little of this woman...yet we know even less of the father. Who is the father to these eight children? The same as the father of the other six? She lives with her parents and the other six kids....but where does the father live.

What does she do for a living? Does she have any means of support? Who payed for the IVF? None of my business? Bunk.

You see, forty-six doctors and nurses were called upon to help in the delivery of these babies. One must wonder how much the medical bill for this delivery and the follow-on therapy for eight children will be. She won't pay it (presumably) will. And the costs will be spread around to everyone else in the plan. So the costs are borne by thousands who have no right to ask where their money went? Again...bunk.

Now...should the babies have been selectively terminated, as Tom de Plume says? No. I don't think so. She should never have had the IVF. Six kids was enough, and now eight will likely be supported by government hand-outs or almost as bad, by the handouts from an American public all too ready to accept this as normal behavior. It isn't.


Okay everyone, what's on your mind? Anything we should cover more closely here on the blog? Any more input on the video? Go ahead, make my day.

E.J. Dionne on the Non-Stimulus

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, reliable lefty and cheerleader for the Obama Administration (not that there is anything wrong with that....Dionne is a columnist, not a reporter) has some thoughts on the non-stimulus bill, and his analytical abilities seem to have failed him here.

First, let's talk about how the bill has "united Democrats to a degree not seen in decades because most of the programs on which they want to spend are also those deemed by economists to be most likely to jump-start the economy". This is hardly true. For one thing, Democrats are united behind this because virtually every Democratic social goal is advanced through this bill--not that there is actually a coherent Democratic social plan mind you--it is just that the sum total here is equal to the addition of all the constituent pet projects. Next, the statement that economists believe these programs will jump-start the economy is bunk....leading economists are coming out strongly in favor or real stimulus spending through targeted infrastructure investment and real tax relief tied to marginal tax rates and investment. Dionne dismisses these economists as "ideological", but this statement is unfounded (unless the Nobel Prize committee, famously leftist in its ideology, royally screwed up by awarding five of these economists the Nobel Prize).

Dionne goes on further to describe a debate within the "progressives" in the Democratic Party--"Underlying the debate is another progressive worry: that as large as the stimulus proposal is, it may not be big enough to pull the economy out of a steep decline." Could it be that this $819B behemoth of a bill is not big enough to pull the economy out of decline exactly BECAUSE so little of it goes to economic stimulus? No, of course not.

President Irate about Wall Street Bonuses

News yesterday of President Obama's ire with Wall Street CEO bonuses--many of which were earned by CEO's of companies being bailed out by the US Taxpayer--amounting to $20B.

Good for the President. The bully pulpit is one of the most powerful aspects of the Presidency, and the arrogance of Wall Street on this account is astounding. I know that there are going to be full-throated capitalistic explanations for this, but capitalism does not mean "absence of common sense". When you seek the aid of the American people for your failing business, you should not profit unduly from it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cocktail Hour at the White House

Now here's change I believe in...President Obama had House and Senate Leadership over to his house last night (you know, the White one), for drinks and laughs. Call it the "Madmen"ization of politics, but a few stiff ones with our Hepcat-in-Chief (thanks to Christopher Hitchens for that jewel of a sobriquet) could be just what the doctor ordered to move toward civility in politics. Note here that I say civility...not docility. Republicans need to stay on the up and up, even as they oppose every measure they see as wasteful and counter to their views. But in the meantime, Splice the Mainbrace!

The World Economic Forum at Davos

Every year, the world's luminaries in policy, entertainment, business and media gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. This weeklong party in the picturesque mountains of Switzerland is an A-list, see and be seen kind of thing to do; oh, and there are lots and lots of panels and discussions too.

For the past seven years, National Review's Jay Nordlinger has attended (and even been a panelist!), sending back daily dispatches from the front. The first for this year is here. I urge you to return to National Review daily for about the next week in order to read subsequent additions. Nordlinger has a great eye for inconsistency and incoherence, and it is on full display as the world's gasbags gather to shower each other with their banality.

Postal Service Wants to Cut a Day

News that the Postmaster General is considering petitioning Congress to eliminate one day of service per week as a money saving measure. Although at some level of abstraction I find this unsatisfactory, the more I think of it, the more sense it makes. Let's face it; if you're reading this blog, it is unlikely that you get very much in the regular US mail that is important to your life anyway. Wired folks get their bills on line, and besides, when's the last time you wrote a real live letter to anyone? Eliminating Saturday delivery seems to make the most sense to me. Old timers will tell you that they used to receive mail several times a day!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google Comes Through to the Tune of $106.15!

There it was ladies and little line item in my online bank statement telling me that Google...the megalopoly of all megalopolies....had deposited $106.15 to account for the wonderful actions of my readers in the past six months in clicking the ads contained in my blog. What a country!

I'm Proud to Be a Republican

A couple of months ago, I stated in this blog that it was the first day that I could remember not being proud to be a Republican. The occasion for those words was the defeat that day of the President's bank bailout plan, something I considered to be TRULY emergency legislation designed to add some stability to the financial system (which I believe it has).

Well, the House Republicans redeemed themselves today. Not a single one voted for this travesty of a bill masquerading as a stimulus package, and they were joined by a dozen Dems.

Hopefully, the Senate and a conference committee will bring this thing around a bit. It will never be something Republicans will like, but it might wind up being less bad.

UPDATE: My newly elected Dem Congressman Frank Kratovil, recipient of both an email and a phone call from me, was one of the honorable Dems voting against this bill. Good for you Frank. Bottom line though...once it's gone through conference, he'll get leaned on by the party leadership and vote for the next bill.

New President Unable to Walk Through Glass; Millions Worldwide Devastated

George Bush picks the wrong door, he's an idiot. Barack Obama...not so much.

The Senate and the Loss of Federalism

Tucked into this story about GOP desires to take on recently appointed Democratic Senators is word of an initiative by Senator Russ "Campaign Finance" Feingold to create a Constitutional Amendment requiring states to have special elections to fill vacant Senate seats. Claiming that the citizens of states where Governors select Senators to fill vacant seats have no voice in their selection, Feingold went on to say that this power was a "relic" of the time when state legislatures elected Senators.

Are you aware that the for the first 124 years of this Republic, the Senate was populated by men selected by the state legislatures? Article I, Section 3: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote." The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 in a national fit of "reform", amended this provision and gave us directly elected Senators.

Many very smart Americans did not know this...they simply assumed that Senators were elected every six years, and House members every two. But our founders had a different idea, and they were prescient. The way they created the Congress was better than it is now.

The union they conceived was a union of states. The grand bargain of union required that these states relinquish a great deal of sovereign power to the federal government, in order that the benefits of union might flow to them. Federalism--a kind of government in which authority is split between a central government and other political units (in our case, states), was one of the major tenets of this new constitution. The large, populous states were not interested in a legislature in which the small, mouthy states could outvote them. The small states weren't interested in a legislature in which they would be railroaded by the large states. The grand bargain struck was the bicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives--directly answerable to the people every two years and comprised of members in proportion to state populations--and a Senate, in which each state would be equally represented.

The thoughts of our founders were that the Senate--with a third of its members up for re-election (in the state legislatures) every two years and terms of six years--would be a body of contemplative thought, above the passions of the day that would be on display in the more raucous House. Most importantly though...they saw the Senate as the place in our federal government in which the States--as political entities unto themselves---had a voice. The 17th Amendment killed that, and with it, one of the major underpinnings of our Republic (federalism) was dangerously weakened.

Now Senator Feingold wants to weaken it further. You see, how Senate seats are filled in the event of vacancy is up to the individual states. Most have governors appoint people to fill either the remainder of the term or the until the next Congress convenes...and some have special elections. Feingold wants there to be a constitutional amendment REQUIRING states to have elections. Most telling however, was his statement of the power to appoint as being a "relic" of the past. I'm here to tell Senator Feingold...the prince of campaign finance...that his fascination with the pernicious impact of money in politics is only FUELED by direct election of Senators, something he considers to be a quaint relic of the past.

Now, every six years a senate seat is up for grabs. Whereas before, the already seated legislature would select someone to fill the seat as part of its normal proceedings...we now have gigantic, expensive, money-fueled elections that are simply magnified mirrors of the ghoul-show that is elections for the House. Whereas before, Senators were beholden to the state legislature and ITS interests in the federal government, we now have preening show-horses who truly believe themselves to be national figures and whose re-election campaigns are fueled by money flowing in from outside of their states.

I rise in opposition to Senator Feingold's proposed Constitutional Amendment, and propose its substitution with one overturning the 17th Amendment. The Republic could use a brake upon the continuing accumulation of power in the federal government, and a renewed and powerful Senate is the place to do it.

The Death of a Rabbit

John Updike is dead at 76. The man had quite a career--one wag wondered aloud whether he had any "unpublished thoughts".

I have read a great many books but am not well-read. Of Updike's entire corpus I have read two Rabbit books and a few New Yorker essays. Rabbit Angstrom was a great guy, and Updike always seemed to want to write for guys (with the exception presumably of "The Witches of Eastwick").

Any favorite Updike works from our there in cyberland?

The Non-Stimulus is Out of the Closet

Interesting story here from the Washington Post. I've listened to the President talk about his bill, I've heard him pushing Congress hard to pass it as soon as possible because of the "emergency" that we're in--but as things go on, what looked to be the case--that Dems were trying to use this bill to do much more than just prime the economic pump--is actually the case.

What Dems are copping to in this story is that not only are they trying to transform the economy with this bill--but that the presence of $275B of tax cuts gets in the way of doing so!

I am heartened by the words of Alice Rivlin, Bill Clinton's budget director who testified in Congress yesterday that they should split this into two with the stimulative stuff, and a separate one with the other stuff. Will Dems do this? Of course not! Because then they would be exposed as the frauds they are, using the economic emergency as high cover to enable their spending instincts.

I am also heartened by the attitude of some legislators that questions the amount of money going to actual works projects. If you're going to piss away money--and they are--there ought to be something left behind from it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Non-stimulus Package

News last week from the Congressional Budget Office's preliminary scoring that President Obama's stimulus package was not nearly as immediately stimulative as some would hope. In fact, word then was less than 50% of the public works and infrastructure expenditures would occur by the end of fiscal year 2010. Republicans jumped all over these numbers (correctly) on the weekend talk shows.

Now the final scoring is out...and lets see how the Washington Post covers it, shall we? Ah yes, "CBO Sees 65% spent by end of Fiscal 2010". What's happened in the interim? Two things--1) CBO the "non-partisan" organization that it is, came under withering fire from the Dems for telling the truth and 2) the media realized that the initial scoring was bad for the success of the package.

So let's dig a little deeper into this 65%, shall we? CBO says $526B of the $816B in stimulus will get spent before FY 2010....what isn't so clear is that $300B of the $526B (57%) comes from the tax cuts/credits included in the plan (which make up 36% of the total package). This is the least popular portion of the package with Dems, and is seen as the bone thrown to Republicans to make this a bi-partisan bill. So let's take out the $300B and look at the what is left--presumably for immediate, stimulative infrastructure spending.

CBO reports that only 40% of the $356B apportioned for those projects will be spent by the end of FY10.

We would be better off if the difference were simply returned to taxpayers in the form of a check, rather than allocating hundreds of billions of dollars to pet democratic policies.

But now let's take a look at the tax cut/credit portion of the bill....and here too, the devil is in the details. Much of the tax "relief" goes guessed it...that wonderful group of Americans who already pay no income tax! And it comes in the form of a check...which they are presumed to spend, but which more than likely will go to retire debt.

The kind of tax relief needed falls into two categories....1) real tax relief that lowers tax brackets and actually causes people to re-evaluate their financial condition, leaving them in a position to spend more. 2) capital gains tax relief for the investing class, in order that additional capital might flow into the financial system enabling business to get off the dime.

So there we have it....Nearly 65% of the $816B of this package being spent on ill-timed and ill-conceived tax cuts and spending that has no real stimulative impact. Republicans should vote no on this bill.

Obama and Fuel Standards

The President ordered the EPA to review a Bush determination that California could not implement fuel economy standards separate from those of the federal government. Additionally, the Administration is seen as moving toward raising fuel standards fairly quickly. Both moves are ill-timed, especially in light of the continuing question of providing aid to the auto industry.

Let's review the economics of the situation, shall we? Gas was cheap, Americans wanted big cars and SUV's. The federal government, wanting to raise fuel standards and lessen our reliance on foreign fuel, created CAFE standards which dictated to US automakers an average miles per gallon for their fleet of offerings in the US (only cars made in the US were counted, something I'll comment on later).

So in order to get their fleets in line with the ordered average, automakers made small, fuel efficient cars THAT NO ONE WAS BUYING. In order to move the inventory, they sold them at a loss in order that they could continue to build and sell highly profitable trucks and SUV's (also keep in mind that every vehicle they were making, irrespective of size) was $2000 more expensive than ones made in the South by non-union labor).

So then the fuel crisis of last summer hits....and they are stuck with a bunch of big trucks and SUV's...which they sell off at fire sale prices as their collective financial fortunes wane. They don't have the time or resources to re-tool their plants to build more of the small fuel-efficient cars that were suddenly in demand again.

But wait...fuel prices then crashed again....sales of hybrids are in the TANK right now....aren't we glad they didn't re-tool?

Here's the problem...US automakers make plenty of fuel efficient cars...they just don't make them here. They make and sell them in Europe and Asia. But they are not allowed to count those cars in their fleet fuel efficiency averages. Raising the fuel averages nationwide (or even worse, applying a patchwork of fuel efficiency requirements with each state making its own rule--a la California's and 14 other states recent actions), makes the problem even worse. Just at the time that the federal government is thinking about injecting capital into the auto industry to "save it" (and its unionized jobs), it is administering a death cocktail of higher fuel standard requirements. Put another way, the feds have put a hole in the bottom of the bucket they are about to fill.

Conservatives should oppose any aid to the ailing auto industry...but they should get especially fired up about aid that that is sent WITHOUT a concomitant decrease/suspension of fuel efficiency requirements. Without this, we'd be throwing good money after bad.

Blago Hits the PR Circuit

Stung by a 7% approval rating in his home state of Illinois (not to mention a 117-1 vote to impeach in the Illinois House of Representatives), embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich has taken to the talk show/news show circuit to plead his case. Wrapping himself in the mantle of Ghandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King, his victim narrative in this case is a real doozie.

On a serious note, Blagojevich complains of a lack of a "presumption of innocence" in this case. We must keep in mind that impeachment is a political act, not a judicial one. There is no such thing as a presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion, which is the venue for impeachment trials--be they held in the Illinois Senate or the US Senate. If Blago is removed from office, he is removed from office. His life, liberty and property remain unmolested. It is for a future criminal trial to determine the status of those things.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The First Conservative Wahoo Video

Well everyone, here it is, the first video essay. The subject is "Suggestions for Conservatives in the Age of Obama". Here are a few things I already know:

1. It is too long. Next one will be much shorter
2. I need to loosen up a little.
3. I play with my tie too much. I blink too much
4. The sound is uneven...clear, but uneven.

For a first effort...not a bad go. I hope you enjoy it.


One of the Web 2.0 technologies getting a lot of buzz these days is Twitter. For those of you who don't know, Twitter is (to the best of my knowledge) a mechanism for keeping in touch with your friends, virtually in real time.

I've got a Twitter page for the Conservative Wahoo, and the ID is ConsWahoo

Folks like Thairish, Jeff Wilson and Chili know more about this than I do, but it appears to be an increasingly effective way to mass communicate. I've updated the video progress there, and I think I'll begin to cue folks to new postings on the site with Twitter messages.

On very useful aspect of twitter is that it would have been an awesome site for the debate blogs we did. Faster, less clunky than the way we did it.

If any of you have experience with Twitter, please share it, especially ways we might use it more effectively.

Budget Squeeze and College Tuitions

News from VA and MD on plans to hike tuition in the face of budget cuts from state government. The rest of the economy is facing turmoil, but with respect to price, what we see is DEFLATION rather than inflation. So how is it that our colleges and universities with their fat endowments can justifiably seek higher tuition from the public? Well, lets look at the "stimulus" package now wending its way through Congress. Over $6B for colleges and universities, not to mention over $12B for the Pell Grant program. Yes indeed, let's not forget...the more money the federal government puts into the pot for college educations, the more people will have to spend on college educations....and the more colleges will naturally charge.

State governments have largely walked away from their colleges as federal funding became more available. Colleges now seek to gain funding for their operations increasingly through tuition, as the state governments prove less pliant. As long as Uncle Sugar keeps pumping money into the tuition machine, demand will rise and so will price.

WaPost Editorial on the Stimulus

Here's a nicely done editorial by the WaPost on the emerging stimulus package. There isn't much in it for Conservatives to like, but it is clear the Obama folks are trying to throw us a bone with the tax cuts, credits, and business tax/depreciation provisions. Remember--they really don't need to...with their margins, they can pretty much ram what they want down our throats.

I think the Post does a good job of raising the BS flag on some particularly egregious examples of spending in this bill. Putting more money in the pockets of taxpayers immediately and projects that could begin within 90 days should be about as far as this thing should go. I fear however that such appetite suppressants are unavailable on the left side of the aisle.

First Video Update

Well, the video has been shot and is now with my "Creative Guru" Chili for editing. The little video camera (Webbie) is quite nice, but will probably be relegated to my girls if I wind up doing more of this.

It is a little too long, which is something I'll solve in subsequent go-rounds. But it's not half bad for a first effort.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Preparations for the First Video

Well, the video camera showed up out at the farm (I'm in Arlington today), so it looks like I'll be able to do a little fooling around this weekend with an initial foray into video essays.

I haven't completely decided upon the format for these little video visits, but if there are any topics you feel you'd particularly like me to comment upon, just let me know.

Chili (a good buddy from the service/computer whiz) has volunteered to edit my work, so hopefully he'll bring a level of professionalism to the project.

Tiny Cracks in the Obama/Mainstream Media Monolith

I'm sorry. I'm being a little childish this afternoon (in spite of our new President's admonition to "put childish things behind" us). You see, this story-- relaying frayed nerves in the White House Press Room--caused me a great deal of pleasure. "How can you do this to us", they cry. "We put you here!".

The Press has a bias toward liberals, and that bias was on display for all to see during this election. But it has an even stronger bias, one that any politician ignores at his or her own peril--it is a bias toward self-aggrandizement. The Press truly believes it has a Constitutional Duty, confusing its own "freedom" with a sense that the founders endowed them an actual policy role.

That the Obama Administration might seek to actually impose some control on this bunch is both heartening (from the side of me that loves order) and delicious (from the side of me who will relish every little kerfuffle that arises between the two).

Bush's War on Terror Comes to an End.....Or Does It?

Dana Priest breathlessly catalogs the largely symbolic moves by the Obama Administration to set themselves apart from the Bush Administration in how they prosecute the war on terror. Closing GTMO (well, by the end of the year, at least), forbidding the CIA to run their own prisons overseas, and ending the trials at GTMO all are held out as evidence that there's a new sheriff in town.

Oh but Dana--facts can be so inconvenient, can't they? News this afternoon of 20 Pakistanis sent to their eternal reward by ordnance unleashed from a Predator Drone flown by some Air Force chap sitting in a shed in Nevada....yes that's right, the same thing George Bush was doing while HE was President. And let's not forget what that is killing the citizens of a country with whom we are ostensibly an ally WITHIN THAT COUNTRY'S TERRITORY! This is an end to Bush's War on Terror? Hardly.

President Obama is performing a game of strategic jujitsu here. Publicly distancing himself from unpopular elements of the Bush approach, even as he reserves for himself the right to use them if necessary. The press fawns, the world applauds, and George Bush is proven right.

Glass Ceiling Nonsense

Anne Kornbult's piece in the Washington Post this morning is senseless drivel. Caroline Kennedy's odd bid to be appointed Senator is held up as evidence of some kind of glass ceiling for women in politics. Never mind that the seat she would have filled was held by a woman....or that the Governor of NY has today appointed yet another woman to the seat....none of this makes any sense in the victim narrative.

Kornlut goes on to hold up three other instances in which men were appointed to Senate seats in the previous few months as having had "...far less drama." Far less drama? Roland Burris being nominated by Governor Perp-walk-ovich threatened by Harry Reid with not being seated until Barack Obama showed Harry who the boss was? Come on, Anne. Get your facts straight.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Limbaugh Wants Obama To Fail

As I've said before, I'm not a rush Limbaugh fan. Although there are many areas of political thinking where we agree, I generally have a hard time with people who do not consider the possibility that they may be wrong. In this audio clip (followed by CNN kvetching), Limbaugh comes right out and says that he hopes Obama fails. I am a little conflicted by this statement, so I figure I ought to share that conflict with you.

From an ideological perspective, and from the perspective of not wanting to have one's deepest political inclinations overturned by in the face of overwhelming evidence of their wrong-headedness, I too want Obama to fail. I want his vision of activist, high-tax, we are our brother's keepers, government in the drivers' seat America to fail. I want his proclamations of healing our world reputation to be churned up in the grinding reality of anti-Americanism. I want his incredibly smug sense of destiny and self-confidence to meet up headlong with the plain truth that governing this country is hard, hard work where mistakes are part of the atmosphere.

But what is the COST of savoring that failure? It is depression. Not "I'm feeling blue" depression, but the breadlines and 25% unemployment kind of depression. It is more of the same ridiculous name-calling and stupidity that passes for political debate in Washington. It is our continuing appearance of fecklessness while China, India, and France seem to be growing in power and influence.

So to conclude (as Mr. Limbaugh has) that he would like to see President Obama fail strikes me as simply wrong. At the end of the day, I'd rather see my deepest held political ideals seriously questioned and the country on its feet and re-establishing its rightful position as the leader of the free world, than be proven right as we argue among the ruins of our once great nation.

So I wish President Obama luck. I will oppose him on each and every policy where his proposal runs up into opposition with my political beliefs. But I do not wish to remain immune to the continuing examination of my presumptions. If what he does works, and I am convinced of it by experience and data, then I need to re-examine my beliefs. It does not sound like Mr. Limbaugh is open to this.

The Mystery of the Airline Industry

So, when fuel prices were sky-high, the airlines complained about pressure on price and profit, they got rid of meals and made us pay for blankets and pillows, and they added fuel surcharges. They were not profitable.

So now fuel is less than half of what it was, prices have been much slower to fall, and...yet again...they are not profitable. So what does this tell you?

We have too many airlines. There is too much supply in this market and someone has to go. They keep merging with each other, but I don't think that helps the supply issue, as they rarely merge with another airline in which they heavily compete on routes.

I don't own any airline stock, and I don't recommend you do either. Well, maybe Southwest....

Geithner Grilling

Treasury nominee Tim Geithner had a bit of a rough go with the Senate committee charged with providing its "advice and consent" with respect to his nomination. It seems that Geithner engaged in that greatest of American evasion...while serving as an independent contractor to the IMF earlier this decade. In the process of gussying up his record for the Senate confirmation, he "discovered" his errors and paid the US treasury $43,000.

That a man with his training and his mind made a "mistake" in filing his taxes strains credulity, but that is part of the theater that we call "Washington". Republicans are right to call him on the carpet...and I wish more Democrats would too. I don't think that this evasion is sufficient grounds to vote against him, but there should be more "outrage" (there...I said it, but I mean it to apply to Dems) from Democrats who seek to raise taxes on those at the upper end of the income scale.

This story reminds me of my flight out here to California. I was on a 767 with 2-3-2 seating, and I was on the right aisle of the three seat section. No one was in the middle seat, and in the left seat was a fellow with whom I wound up having a pleasant conversation. He was a recent PhD in Economics from the University of Maryland, and he was on his way out to Cal Berkeley for an interview. He had grown up in Michigan, and had attended the socialist education camps at Ann Arbor, otherwise known as the University of Michigan as an undergrad. After taking in his bio over the course of the conversation, I hazarded the suggestion that it must be hard leaving DC during the weak of the Obama Inaugural. He laughed out loud, then said that he scheduled this interview so that he would not be in DC. It was at this point that he actually revealed his political leanings...and he was a true blue conservative. Our discussions of the present financial crisis were then animated with much head nodding, harumphing, and bully-for-youing as two peas in a pod spent the rest of the flight pleasantly exchanging ideas on how to make things right again.

Howard Dean out at DNC

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Howard Dean, lately head of the Democratic National Committee, now the latest casualty of the "Chicago Way". Howard Dean's strategic thinking--along with criminal bumbling on the part of the Republican Party--is what led to the sweeping Democratic victories in 2006, 2008. Now in power, the Obama folks return the favor by sweeping Dean off the scene and replacing him with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who just happens to already have a day job.

Apparently Dean and Rahmbo don't get along. We see where that gets you these days.

Inaugural Inconvenience

It seems some members of Obamanation were a bit upset about being turned away at the gates on their big day, only to then suffer the indignity of missing planes at National Airport due to long lines.

Look--you chose to come to DC in the middle of the winter. You knew 2-5 million of your closest friends were joining you. You knew that DC officials were publicly predicting all manner of inconvenience and schedule crashing. Please, just be quiet and go home, content that you were "there" for the big day.

Is it me, or do Dems/Libs use the word "outrage" more than Repubs/Cons? I'm not sure I ever use the word outrage, unless I'm parodying a Lib.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Multi-media Update

Well, the Facebook Group is off to a roaring start, and I've ordered a little video camera to get that part of the project started.

Just for you Mudge, the video camera I ordered is called a "Webbie"

Jon Stewart Rises to the Occasion

Well, well, well...lookee here. Jon Stewart analyzes the President's inaugural address and finds.....the words of George Bush. Classic.

The Problem of Economic Stimulus

The Congressional Budget Office is raining on President Obama's stimulus parade. Less than half of the $355B requested for infrastructure and other discretionary spending will actually be spent by October 1, 2010, thereby undercutting the whole notion of an immediate, stimulative impact. This is exactly what a number of Republicans in the Congress have been saying.

I'm not against some fast spreading around of money on important and quickly begun capital projects. But when over half of the money allocated won't be spent until well after most economists see this economy as on the way up again, it seems like a plain waste of money.

I'd rather see the money NOT able to be spent as quickly applied to that tried and tested way of pumping more money into the economy....letting people keep more of it! Not some kind of temporary rebate that folks use to pay down debt, but a real tax cut that actually changes behavior (as in, causes people to spend money).

The Chrysler-Fiat Deal

By giving up 35% of itself to Fiat, Chrysler has given itself access to successful small car tooling and technology in the hopes of proving to doubtful US political forces that they have a plan on how to move forward as a going concern. One wonders exactly what it was that gained Chrysler access to $4B in loan guarantees a month ago (before this deal was settled), but I suppose that isn't important now.

The question of whether the American taxpayer should be subsidizing the profits of an Italian automaker has arisen as a result of this deal, and it should be taken head on. The bottom line here---if the government decides that it is going to save the US auto industry, it cannot and should not be too choosy as to how that gets done (save of course, sparingly using dollars from our own treasury). If saving US jobs is what this whole debate is about, then Fiat's money is as good as anyone else's. This truly is a global economy, and hanging onto some quaint notion of American ownership of global businesses doesn't make sense anymore (whoops--I guess it didn't when Daimler Benz owned Chrysler!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fantastic Bit of Hollywood Fascism

Check out this video. Love how Hollywood is all of a sudden patriotic and American again, how all of a sudden helping their fellow man is important. There is something a little goofy and a little weird about this kind of hero worship.

The Ceremony

Aretha was awesome; I was sitting in what had a few minutes earlier been a meeting of bigwigs in my business (which took a break to watch The Day) and everyone stopped and listened silently. At the end, I cracked "I guess this wasn't a sing-along". Place broke up...

The John Williams classical piece--what a way to waste Perlman and Yo-yo Ma. It was a cacophonous mess, though it did improve toward the end. I don't see this one going down in the annals of John Williams' greatest hits.

Multi-media Update

Ok---we've got a group now on Facebook (Fans of the Conservative Wahoo), and I'm up on Twitter (ConsWahoo user name). If you're on those sites, please link up with me there.

Any recommendations for a moderately priced, high quality video camera (with remote control) would be appreciated.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Super Bowl

Arizona? Arizona? Are you kidding me? We're going to have a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in it?

Here's my take on pro football. I pull for teams that existed in the League when I was a kid. The first two teams to be automatically out of contention were the Seahawks and the Buccaneers. Moving to a new city is a borderline reason for dismissal (Cardinals, Colts).

Bottom line is I gotta pull for the Steelers.

Anti-FOX Bias

I realize the media hates FOX, but this is interesting. A local news anchor in Florida is arrested after a fight. If he were an anchor for an NBC affiliate, would the headline say "NBC News Anchor Arrested in Florida"? No. Because then you'd be confused, because you'd think Brian Williams was in trouble. But FOX? Any chance to take a shot.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Incredible article here on a county in California with a high rate of foreclosures. We talk quite a bit about the "sub-prime" market, folks who shouldn't be getting mortgages in the first place, greedy lenders, greedy Wall Street, and unrealistic policy makers.

What we don't talk enough about is the rampant greed and "keeping up with the Joneses" within upper middle class America that added fuel to this now raging fire.

Read this story...the people for whom we are expected to have such sympathy weren't struggling folks looking to get in their first house; they were upper middle class people who simply could not take the fact that people around them seemed to be moving up into more spacious and wonderful McMansions. One couple profiled here believed they were putting $236,000 into their $1M plus home....but it turned our they couldn't sell the first place in time, so they were stuck with two places. Just how meager a house is it that you would be looking to take $236,000 out of?

What this article documents is plain old upper middle class American entitlement mentality. One person here EXPECTS her mortgage broker to re-do the deal based on what the house is worth NOW. Or she'll just walk away. I do hope the credit rating companies aren't forced at the point of congressional fiat from holding decisions like that against people.

It is my fervent hope that this crisis resets our national sense of what home ownership is all about. It is about shelter, it is about stability, it is about a predictable long range investment that potentially builds wealth for a family. But I am not hopeful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Obama's Election Allows Americans Overseas to Come Out of the Closet

No longer having to pretend that they are Canadians, American expats are loud and proud now that Euros are so happy and loving once again.

I look forward to the day when our European friends wake up from their dream-like state to realize that America has it comes.....AN AMERICAN, as their President.

Anti-americanism is deeply engrained. It is only a matter of time until Europe returns to form.

Bush Wins in Court....Again

News here of a rather significant victory for the Bush Administration in its prosecution of the war on terror. The obscure and super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review upheld the government's contention of the right to warrantless wiretapping under certain circumstances.

What's useful to remember about this ruling isn't the ruling is the indisputable fact that over the course of the past few years, while there have been a few notable setbacks to the Administration in US courts, the record of performance of Bush's Justice Department in the US court system has been superb. The President's team took the view that the nation was at war, and as Commander-in-Chief, the President has powers to prosecute that war that transcend the everyday, the mundane. This contention has largely stood the test of time in numerous cases. It is good and proper that it has.

USAIR Begins New "Air Ferry"

Oooh...sorry about that one. Fantastic job by the flight crew on this jet. Couple of interesting points here....the Pilot (Captain) was the last person to be rescued....other reports talk of the traditional "women and children first" scheme used to prioritize the ferry trips from the planes wings....glad to see some of the golden rules of life did not get dispensed with.

PEBO Sits Down with the Washington Post

PEBO stopped by the Post's Editorial Board yesterday and chatted them up a bit. I kinda believed him on healing the sick and reversing global warming, but entitlement reform? C'mon now Barry, are you serious?

The thing I love? He says he would consider it a failure if GTMO were not closed by the end of his first term....AND NO ONE CALLS HIM ON IT! He joins the chorus of European toadies who tut tut about GTMO, postures about making its closure a priority of his administration, then buys himself four years to do it! And not a peep from the press thus far on his aggressive timetable.....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Folks--things are pretty busy in CW-land (well, not really in CW land, but in the land that makes up a good portion of the time CW is not blogging), and today could be tough to get to the news. Why don't you use this thread to raise subjects you want to talk about, provided links to those cool things you send me in email, or ask a question or two of me or other readers.

Here's one for you: I'm thinking about starting to post short videos on Youtube, 90 second commentaries or such. What do you think?

What a Dinner Party!

PEBO apparently dined at George Will's house last night with Will, David Brooks, Bill Kristol and some are saying Charles Krauthammer. I would love to have been there. Smart move on Obama's part...

Monday, January 12, 2009

President Bush's Final News Conference

Where was this man for the past few years? He was feisty, combative, not willing to lay down and take unfair charges....he was on! I really enjoyed watching this today, and in the end, I'll miss him. A little.

I'll put together a retrospective on his presidency this weekend. It is unfair to judge a presidency in real time....history must intervene for a fair appraisal. But there are some things worth saying, and I'll say them.

Samuelson on Health Care Costs

The always insightful Robert Samuelson has a column today on health care costs in the United States. A recent study by the folks at the McKinsey Global Institute Samuelson cites bursts the bubble on some common misconceptions about where the runaway costs for US heath care come from. Is it the high administrative costs associated with our system? Nope. Well then it must be the high cost of emergency room care, especially that associated with the uninsured for whom the emergency room is the venue of choice? Nope. Not that either.

Where do the costs come from? Americans receive more costly medical services than do other peoples, and they pay more for them. Adjusting for population differences, the number of CT Scans in the US was 72% higher than in Germany. In 2005, one study reported that the number of knee and hip replacements in the US had increased 70% in five years.

The key graph: "We have a health-care system that reflects our national values. It's highly individualistic, entrepreneurial and suspicious of centralized supervision. In practice, Medicare and private insurers impose few effective controls on doctors' and patients' choices. That's the way most Americans want it. Patients understandably desire the most advanced surgeries, diagnostic tests and drugs. Doctors want the freedom to prescribe."

But don't expect this to change any time soon. Writes Samuelson, "There is no major constituency for controlling spending. Because most patients don't pay medical bills directly, they have little interest in using less care or shopping for lower-priced services. Providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies) have no interest in limiting care. What others call "health costs" are their incomes -- wages, salaries, profits." Which means, that until Americans are forced to pay more out of their own pockets for their health care (out of pocket spending for health care in 1960 was about half--in 2005, 13%), there will be no effective mechanism for controlling cost.

You get what you pay for. We here in the US (at least the 85% of us with health insurance) get a fantastic system, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hokies 78 UVA 75

This one hurts. Our basketball program is "rebuilding" (though it seems as if it has been rebuilding ever since we sent Alumni/Coach Jeff Jones packing), but losing to Tech in basketball is inexcusable.

What a Life He Lived

This is the obituary of James M. Potts, former director of CIA clandestine operations in Africa. WWII Navy, Yale, Episcopal church member, station chief in Paris and Athens, head of all spook ops Africa...what a LIFE this man must have had! Life in the CIA in Africa in the 50's, 60's and 70's must have been an amazing thing....I have this "Our Man in Havana" sense of what it must have been like, nudging up next to the Soviets in Mombasa, Mozambique, and Kampala.

I am also struck by the obituaries I read in the Post citing CIA experience--there is a statistically significant representation of the Ivy League in their backgrounds. Would that today's Ivy League students had that much patriotism in their bones....

The Dems and Obama

Lots of talk in DC these days about how Congressional Dems won't be bowing to "Rex et Imperator" PEBO. It is going to be a fun run here, watching the newly muscular Dems have at each other. The Democratic Party is basically an American version of the kinds of ruling coalitions that hold sway in parliamentary democracies in Europe. Marriages of convenience among factions with widely disparate views, these coalitions invariably fray as differences begin to outweigh whatever it was that held them together.

Rep. Clyburn (third ranking House Dem, and member of that most independent of coalitions, the Congressional Black Caucus) put it this way: "The Democrats are going to be Democrats," Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the party's third-ranking House leader, said Friday as he left the Summers meeting, by numerous accounts a session that involved spirited give and take. "We're creative thinkers," Clyburn said. "We don't believe in groupthink." No, Representative Clyburn--it isn't that you don't believe in groupthink, it is that you don't hold any ideas in common. There are no unifying principles in the Democratic Party, as the liberal impulse causes adherents to naturally doubt dogma and established order (the purview of conservatives), preferring instead the "politics of meaning" and whatever it is the liberal "feels" is most important at that time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Supremes to Hear Voting Rights Case

The Supreme Court took up a case challenging the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and it is good that it did. At stake is a "...a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that seeks to protect minority voting rights by requiring a broad set of states and jurisdictions where discrimination was once routine to receive federal approval before altering any of their voting procedures." The case was brought by a tiny utilities district in Austin Texas, which because of the Voting Rights Act (and though there has never been even a single charge of discrimination in the proceedings of this district), must seek Justice Department approval of virtually every move it makes.

This provision of the VRA was supposed to grandfather out after 5 years; it has been renewed every five years since. There is hope that the present make-up of the court will put an end to this insanity, and recognize that it isn't 1965 anymore.

Bush/Obama Cooperation on Economy?

Very, very interesting article here about some inside moves in the battle to shore up our economy. The way the TARP program relief was structured, the President needs to "inform" Congress that he wishes to spend the rest of the money. If Congress does nothing, he gets to spend it after 15 days. If congress votes the request down, the President can veto their move and the money gets spent anyway! This is a situation worth thinking about, and here's why. PEBO's Secretary of the Treasury was the Chairman of the NY Fed--he was part of the TARP planning every step of the way! He knows how critical it is to keep Congress from messing with this (from an Executive Branch view), and so, they (PEBO's team) want Bush to push this through before he leaves, so that HE is ultimately the one to issue the veto--rather than PEBO. PEBO doesn't want a giant turd in the punchbowl with Congress as his first legislative event out of the chute.

What is required to make this all work? Bush has to cooperate. Will PEBO be even the least bit publicly appreciative? No. Not even a bit. He'll probably even pile on as the shrill cries of the Dems in the Congress rise to a fever pitch. All the while, he, Reid and Pelosi will be sitting back recognizing what a bullet they just dodged because Bush took it for them.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Marine's Final Mission

I just read about this over at Postcards. Grab the Kleenex folks, this one goes straight through.

Navy Stuff

A couple of interesting stories about the Navy in the news. As many of you know, I don't consider myself a very capable Navy blogger, but 21 years in uniform leave me with some enduring interest therein.

Firstly, the Secretary of the Navy has decided to name the next VIRGINIA Class Submarine after retired VA Senator John Warner. This is a travesty on several levels. I can't for the life of me figure out the naming convention we're using for ships anymore. Ships used to be classed together with names deriving from a common theme, but now it seems that ships get named after whatever political back needs scratching. Additionally, I'm just not a John Warner fan. Warner is a pompous show-horse, a shell of a man with a limited intellect and a seemingly endless supply of bloviation. His back stab of Ollie North when North ran for the Senate was unforgivable, and his failure to vote for the perjury charge against Bill Clinton in the Senate trial simply defied understanding.

Next, a blue-ribbon panel convened by SECDEF after the Air Force foibles with nuclear weapons has largely bestowed upon the Navy a big, fat, wet kiss. The key graph: “The attitude of the Air Force was: ‘We know that the president and the secretary of defense don’t give a damn about what we do,’ ” the authors wrote. “The attitude of the Navy was: ‘We know that the president and the secretary of defense don’t care — but we do.’ "

The report does go on to say that the Navy Surface and Air communities have lost the skills and practices associated with nuclear weapons safety, and they recommend at least some of those programs be reconstituted to some level. I don't agree. When Bush I signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement that removed such weapons from ships (and aircraft), an incredible burden was removed from those ships. As a young Ensign and Lieutenant JG, I was the Nuclear Weapons Safety Officer on a ship, and the requirements were grinding. The weapons ships carried at the time were deemed easy enough to deal away in a treaty, so the programs that supported them were almost instantly terminated. Unless there is some plan I do not know of, returning nukes to ships isn't likely to happen any time soon. If we did decide to do so, the submarine community could easily be tapped to reconstitute the capability in ships.

The Most Popular Man in Iraq

Clearly, General Ray Odierno wins that title. The American Viceroy in Baghdad, Odierno recently issued a memo waiving the alcohol ban in place so that our servicemembers might enjoy "two, twelve-ounce" cans of what we at UVA called "the usual beverage" while watching the Super Bowl. Good for him, and good for us.

On a related point, has there ever been an occupying Army (yes, that's what we are) who has so assiduously conformed to the local mores of the occupied? Has ever an occupying army been so gracious and sensitive? You know the answer to this one, don't you.

Obama's Thumb on the Scale

Participating in a regular ritual of administration turnovers, PEBO gave a speech yesterday in which he looked at our economy and pronounced it on life support, leading to the logical conclusion that HIS economic policies and proposals should be immediately acted upon. As this article correctly points out, this is the stuff of ritual; Bush II did it, Clinton did it, Bush I, Reagan, etc. Paint a worse picture of things than actually exists, lower expectations, but most of all, take advantage of a sense of crisis (Rahm Emmanuel's contribution to the strategy) to pass legislation important to the administration.

While our economy is certainly in trouble, is this the right time to spend money on "computerizing medical records"?

I take issue with the view of where our economy is. I believe we've about found the bottom. The ridiculous swings on Wall Street have largely ended, mortgage applications are up, and the TARP candy seems to have stabilized the financial system. At this point, continuing to perform CPR on an economy with a normal (albeit lower) heart-rate seems overkill. I'm not saying that the Obama team should come in and do NOTHING (well, I guess deep down, that is what I'm saying), but a lot of wasteful spending doesn't seem to make sense. Immediate stimulative impact should be the catch phrase....lower corporate taxes, easing depreciation limits, investment (spending) on necessary transportation infrastructure....these things are ok with me. Just not thrilled about a big Christmas tree of spending larded with shiny, expensive ornaments.

UPDATE: Yes, Yes. I see that unemployment has risen. Not a surprise. There are leading economic indicators and lagging economic indicators. Unemployment is a lagging indicator.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why John Derbyshire Doesn't Care About the Palestinians

An "oldie but goody" from John Derbyshire on why he isn't more sympathetic to the Palestinians. His overview of the stench rising from the Arab world (circa 2002) is only reinforced by the passing of six years. The Palestinian "refugee camps" are now cities, with infrastructure, schools, and governments. The Arab World likes the Palestinians right where they are, as none of them want this problem to be might cause their people to look even more critically at their own rotten governments. The Palestinian people have become so thoroughly immersed in their own victimology that they can't seem to get out of it. Ultimately, a Palestinian State is part of the answer (actually, it was part of the 1947 answer, but the Arabs didn't want to hear that), but we should all be sure about what we would get--another feckless Arab kleptocracy unable to perform even the most basic of governing functions.

The Dark Knight

The Kitten and I do not like many of the same kinds of movies. She likes light romantic comedies and anything derivative of a Jane Austen novel, and my tastes sort of roam all over the map. Suffice it to say that the latest movie in the Batman series was not on her list of movies to see. One of the benefits of my little urban cubby hole in Arlington is that for one or two nights a week, I get to prowl Comcast On-Demand to find movies that I like to watch, and this week it was "The Dark Knight". I did not see it at the movies, partially due to my sense of distaste for all the kvetching that followed the untimely death of Heath Ledger, and the concomitant hagiography that followed in the media.

Enough time has passed where I felt it was time to take on what many movie reviewers were calling a great movie, and to finally see the performance that earned Heath Leger all that buzz. You know what? They were right. Heath Ledger played the most convincing psychopath I've seen in the movies since Jack Nicholson in The Shining ("all work and no play.....", and the movie is clearly the best in a series that just seems to keep getting better. Aaron Eckhart plays a great role as Harvey Dent, the star District Attorney who Ledger's Joker turns to the dark side.

Not a light-hearted romp, this movie is pretty dark--but definitely not without a redeeming social message. I doubt the Kitten will ever see this one, but most of the rest of you should.

Organizing an Administration

Every time we get a new President, the Press rediscovers for us the inevitable tension between the White House Staff, the Cabinet Secretaries, and the leviathan bureaucracies they oversee. How to organize an Administration is a tough question. The models aren't many--you put the stars and studs in the White House Staff and run things from there. Or you put the stars and studs out in the Departments and the White House Staff monitors, reports and advises.

The problem with the strong White House Staff model is that it tends to insulate the President from a broad range of views, and it engenders tension within the often very independent cabinet departments. The White House can dream up all it wants, but it has to execute through the departments--and as anyone who has served in a bureaucracy knows, they will protect their own interests and stonewall policies they don't wish to see implemented. The problem with the strong cabinet officer, execute through the cabinet model is that it never lasts very long. Presidents who try to govern this way seem invariably over time to undercut the power and independence of the cabinet officials they choose, resulting in accumulation of power in ---the White House.

PEBO seems to be starting out with the strong White House model. While his Cabinet choices are not in any way to be considered wilting violets, a few White House choices tip his hand to a desire to run things from 1600 Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates are tough, independent power centers--but the choice of a former four star Marine (Jim Jones) as National Security Adviser indicates a willingness on PEBO's part to be directive if necessary. Larry Summers (a former Treasury Secretary) will effectively run fiscal and monetary policy from the White House (without having to suffer through a confirmation hearing that would raise his comments about women in academia again). Tom Daschle's "super secretary" role (Secretary of HHS AND White House health care czar) will be an interesting one to watch.

All in all, I favor the strong White House model. For good or bad, the people elected the President--not the cabinet secretaries. His agenda is the one that is to be carried out, and a bunch of free agents at the cabinet table don't accomplish that goal. It'll be great fun to watch PEBO's folks have at it with each other, as power is a zero sum in DC and folks tend to guard it jealously.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Unfortunate, but C'mon, Maybe a Little Funny Too?

...and they say I have no sense of humor!

Skipping the Big Obama Party

It appears I'll not be the only DC area resident skipping town during the coronation of the Holy-Hawaiian Emperor (alas, work sends me to the opposite coast once again). This story in the Post speaks of ski-resorts and others offering discounts to DC residents to lure them away. Good luck with that....virtually all the residents of DC voted for The One, and they are hoping for the salubrious effects of his driving by them in a motorcade, sort of like taking one's cures at Lourdes....

You know what is missing from this article? The story of the Republicans who are splitting because they simply don't want to be in town for the Inauguration, Republicans who don't wish to consort with the starry-eyed zombies who believe PEBO will bring them bread and know why you're not reading those articles? Because even the enterprising newshounds at the WaPost can't seem to scare up Republicans who actually think like that. Republicans are going to wake up and go to work. They'll watch the proceedings respectfully on TV, and they'll wish their Democratic friends well in their delirium. But they won't threaten to move to France and the won't petulantly pack up and leave for a week, unless of course it makes good sense for the powder in Vail or the sun in the BVI. Don't know if I could say the same of the other guys....

Obama and Cuba

One of the biggest travesties in US politics is the extent to which our policy toward Cuba is driven by domestic politics--on both sides of the aisle. A loud and well-financed Cuban minority in Florida has held foreign policy hostage for five decades while they yearn for days long gone by, all the while Cuba's Marxist government thumbs its nose at us and provides a nearly constant source of enmity. It is high time this relationship changed, and it will be the US side that ultimately has to initiate it.

According to this story, there is hope among some Cubans that the incoming Obama administration means that a new era is coming. I consider it one of the Bush Administration's clearest policy blunders not to work toward normalization of relations with Cuba for the same reasons the Clinton Administration did not do so...electoral politics. Besides, the numbers just don't stack up anymore. The majority of Cuban Americans in Florida now support normalization (the older you are, the less likely to support), and Cuban Americans represent a shrinking proportion of the Latino population in Florida anyway.

We fought a ten year war and lost 58,000 people in the Vietnam War, yet we have normalized relations with the regime there. Fifty years of isolation has done nothing to improve the situation, yet we cling to policies the rest of the world ignores while Europeans enjoy the tourism and trade we deny ourselves. It is time to normalize relations with Cuba, to allow free travel there, to unlock a future market for American goods and let the warmth of the American people and the lubricating impact of their dollars send the Marxist leaders of Cuba forever to the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Give War a Chance

The brilliant Anne Applebaum's analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian issue has me thinking of an interesting article I read nearly ten years ago that contained a thesis that rather shocked the diplomatic and foreign policy community. In the pages of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Edward Luttwak actually had the temerity to write that while bloody and horrible and really, really, bad for those involved, war had the redeeming quality of actually settling things--and that peace keeping, peace making, peace imposing operations all had the downside of actually extending the life of political issues that once were solved at the point of a gun. Luttwak pointed to the seemingly endless employment of UN Peacekeepers around the world, to the rise of city states in Palestine erroneously referred to as "refugee camps" as evidence of the fecklessness of many measures short of war in actually solving problems.

All of us have seen the bumper stickers...."War is Not the Answer". Pardon me, but if the question is "slavery, communism, totalitarianism, fascism or terrorism", war seems a very logical conclusion to me.

Panetta to CIA

News yesterday of Leon Panetta's selection to be the Director of the CIA (and also, the expected appointment of ADM Denny Blair as the Director of National Intelligence). Lots of DC-based chatter about the Panetta choice, with some focusing on his Panetta's utter lack of intelligence community experience, some focusing on his legislative experience (8 terms in the House), and some talking about his time in the Clinton White House (Budget Director and Chief of Staff).

On the whole, I think Panetta is a good choice. He's an old DC hand, he knows how to get things done, he understands the appropriations process, he knows Congress, and he understands the White House. Good judgment and steady leadership is what CIA needs at the top, the spooks can have the #2 job and keep themselves happy.

What I don't understand here is why Panetta would take the job? Well, not true really. What interests me is the hypnotic lure of public service. Leon Panetta is 70 years old and firmly planted in his California think-tank. Most importantly, he used to be the White House Chief of Staff--you know, the guy who hauls the Director of Central Intelligence in and reads him the riot act when the President isn't happy. Except that under the new rubric, The Rahminator will be calling in ADM Blair for the horeswhipping....DCI is too far down the totem pole. What I'm getting at is that this is really a step down for Panetta, but it goes to show you the how strong the lure of public service is, especially when your party has been in the wilderness for a while.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Obama Eyeing a $300B Tax Cut?

At least that's what the Wall Street Journal thinks. I sure hope it is true.

The Reagan Legacy

There are a lot of Ronald Reagan fans who read the CW, and I am also clearly in that category. Recently, in a response posted in another threat, one of our frequent readers (JPH) put forward a different view of the Reagan Legacy. I'll repeat a large portion of it below, then spend some time thinking about what was said:

"Let’s talk about the long term effects of the great communicator, who by the way i voted for. He vowed to put America's economic house in order. He said "You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but only for a limited period of time. Why then should we think collectively, as a nation, we're not bound by that same limitation?" Reagan reiterated an oft-made promise "to check and reverse the growth of government." And as Bacevich tells us "he would do none of these things. In each case, he did just the reverse. During the Carter years, the federal deficit averaged $54.5 billion annually. During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of his two terms in office. Overall Fed spending nearly doubled from $590B to 1.14T. The Fed government did not shrink. It grew the bureaucracy swelling nearly 5% while Reagan occupied the WH." Additionally, Bacevich does a good job of mitigating the often cited conservative argument of the positive effects of the positive GDP growth during this period. We’ve mortgaged our future, now I hope we can pay for it...i am strongly starting to believe our current economic condition, which i liken to a house of cards started with Reagan's explosion of federal deficits and thus his fiscal irresponsibility."

While JPH goes on to say that he admired Reagan personally, it is clear that he lays a good bit of our current economic woe squarely at the feet of modern conservatism's patron saint, and his charges must be responded to or accepted. First though, a little background on JPH so that we all might be on a similar page. He leans Democrat, and he serves in the military. He's got a soft spot for unions, and for the little guy. He's NOT a bleeding heart liberal...he's a tough critic of profligate spending. He believes that we receive MUCH more in government than we pay for, which is of course, why we have a yearly budget deficit and an astounding national debt. He is a debt hawk, and he cannot abide by the federal government's living above its means. My sense is that he's a bit agnostic about how to reconcile that difference....I honestly don't think he cares whether taxes are raised or budgets are cut or both, so long as the checkbook balances. He is not an adventurist when it comes to the use of US military power, and he believes we have to have SERIOUS national interests at stake when we do use our power. So now, let's move away from background and onto the questions at stake.

JPH points to what deep down inside has bothered many devoted conservatives for a long, long time. The Presidency of Ronald Reagan was one of incredible inconsistencies and downright failures. He was a small government conservative who grew the government. He preached living within our means and then spent like a drunken sailor. As Governor of California he talked tough on illegal immigration and then (as President) signed into law a HUGE amnesty program. By and large--and such as they are--our poster's numbers are true, and they are not in dispute. But as Mark Twain said (or maybe it was Will Rogers--most American quotes come from one or the other), there are "...lies, damnable lies, and statistics". JPH is clearly a fiscal hawk, and by that measure, the Reagan Presidency was not a success. What his view lacks though is context, and that is what I seek to provide. Finally, I'll deal with the question of whether our current financial woes can be laid at the feet of the Gipper.

1. The economy that Ronald Reagan inherited was a mess, and it got worse in his first year before getting better. Does anyone remember double digit inflation, interest rates, and unemployment ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Does anyone remember Jimmy Carter talking about national "malaise"? The top marginal tax rate when Reagan took office was 70%, and when he left office, it was 38.5%. Yes, the Reagan tax cuts reduced government revenue--there is no question about it. But they unleashed capital to be used by productive Americans in growing the economy out of a grinding recession. Saint Franklin of Roosevelt, when facing his economic crisis? Started office with top marginal rates at 25%, and died in office with a top marginal rate of 94%--while he too managed to bring deficit spending to a high art. "But", you may say, "FDR had to fight WWII--deficit spending was appropriate." Which brings me to point #2.

2. Ronald Reagan was a war-time President; he considered the Cold War a war to be won, not a war to be tolerated. He recognized our main battery in the dispute with the Soviets was not our hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe--but the productivity of our economy at home. The Reagan Tax cuts (as claimed above) unleashed capital to grow the economy. Additionally, dramatically increased defense spending helped hasten the victory in the Cold War by reinforcing for our Soviet friends that their demand economy could NEVER provide military power they wanted AND the dynamic economy necessary to support it. Ronald Reagan was the first President to find the concept of "containing" Communism anathema. He wanted to defeat it. The "Peace Dividend" enjoyed by Geo Bush I and Bill Clinton was purchased with the deficit spending that supported defense investments in the 1980's.

So let us now turn to the question of whether Reagan's Presidency set us up for what we now face. My up front answer is this: to link Reagan's Presidency with today's financial problems makes about as much logical sense as blaming today's problems on FDR, and it bespeaks a level of historical, financial, economic and analytic misinterpretation that borders on character assassination.

Today's financial crisis is not the result of an "explosion of federal deficits". It is the result of the melt-down in world credit markets driven primarily by the crash of the US housing market and the risky derivatives that underpinned it. We are in the midst of working our way through an almost perfect storm of greed, good intentions, bad policy, and non-existent oversight. While I would agree that federal deficits are generally not good things, there are times when they should be run. I believe what Ronald Reagan faced in the early 80's was just such a time. Though left unstated, it sounds to me as if JPH longs for the fiscal responsibility of the Clinton Administration (I'm serious here--this is one of Bill Clinton's major accomplishments). I would suggest that the structural changes made during the Reagan Administration--doubling down when the economy was in the crapper--set the stage for the "explosion" in federal revenue experienced during the Clinton Administration. Bill Clinton balanced the federal budget--this is no mean feat. But he did it on using the tax money collected on an economy that had been changed to reward capital. That change occurred during the Reagan Administration. Interestingly enough, Clinton further recognized this by LOWERING the Capital Gains rate. JPH's complete and thorough blindness to the historical record of the Clinton Administration is at the heart of my criticism of his charge. It is almost as if he would have us believe that eight years of Reagan were followed by eight years of Bush. Just didn't happen that way.

So the charge that where we are today is a legacy of Reagan simply doesn't hold water for two reasons: 1) Reagan style deficit financing did not cause our current problems and 2) Reagan style deficit financing STOPPED in the 90's as Reagan style capital investment began to grow the economy (the much pooh poohed by our author "gains in GDP")to the point where revenue exceeded expenditures. My suspicions are that JPH would have preferred that the Clinton model of revenue exceeding expenditure continue until the entire NATIONAL DEBT were paid off, and that is an honorable position. As it would turn out, the American people disagreed with him twice and elected a man to office who ran promising to redress the imbalance in revenue and expenditure with tax cuts--which was also an honorable position given the recession we were in following the tech bubble--a recession he inherited.

I find JPH's views on the deficit, the debt and fiscal responsibility gratifying. I wish more people felt as he does, especially within the Democratic Party. I wish more of them (within the Democratic Party) truly understood the relationship between taxation and productivity. I wish more Republicans were horrified at the growth of spending in the past eight years. I look forward to seeing where PEBO takes us in this struggle, and my sense is that it won't go in a direction loved by our deficit hawk poster.

Ronald Reagan's Presidency deserves thoughtful criticism, and the fawning adulation most Republicans shower upon him springs from a very shallow understanding of his presidency. But laying today's financial crisis at his doorstep just doesn't stack up.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What is Conservatism?

In the Corner on National Review, Iain Murray writes of his correspondence with a leading Brit Conservative, who has posted a short list of what he believes modern Conservatism is. I have reprinted it below, with some comments following.

1. No insignificant person has ever been born.
2. Economic liberalism needs social conservatism (and, 5pm addition, Iain Murray emails me to say and vice versa)
3. The presumption should always be in favour of life
4. Government should be as small as possible but as large as necessary
5. Multilateral organisations transfer power from people to politicians
6. Private choices have public consequences/ Policymakers have an interest in 'private choices', at least so long as they have consequences for taxpayers
7. Conservatism is a creative coalition between security, economic and cultural conservatives
8. A welfare state that feeds-and-forgets isn't compassionate
9. Politics is less important than ideas, culture and religion
10. Free enterprise and big business are not the same
11. Taxation has dynamic effects
12. Pre-emption is the best response to many of today's security threats
13. There is such thing as society, it's just not the state
14. Man is a fallen creature
15. Decision-making powers should be as close as possible to those affected by those decisions
16. Private ownership is nearly always preferable to common ownership
17. A strong society is built upon the vigorous virtues of courage, ambition, creativity, self-sufficiency and enterprise.
18. Love of country is fundamental to all conservatism.
19. Social liberalism can be destructive of social justice.
20. Conservative reform is usually preferable to radical revolution. Conservatism must deal with its own enemies within.

I'll take them in order, where I have something to say:

7. Right on. This means that over time, one or more element of the coalition will be ascendant. For a while, it was cultural conservatives. I hope that day is now over.
10. Absolutely! Unholy alliances between state and business are fascism, and when they are wrapped in the mantle of "free enterprise", they are particularly pernicious.
17. Perfect. This doesn't mean there is no room for "compassion, justice"--you just don't build a strong society on them.

The Death of New Years Day Football

Michael Wilbon gets it right in this strong criticism of the BCS and College Football. I remember the days where New Years consisted of agonizing through the Mummers Parade until the early game started, then having four or five games the rest of the day. It was sublime. Now, there is virtually nothing, each bowl in the BCS gets its own time slot to feature a meaningless game, as NOTHING matters as much as the game to be played.....ON JAN 8!

What a wonderful Jan 1 it would be if there were FOUR playoff games, leading to a semi-final the next week and a final after that! Jan 1 would be an amazing orgy of college I would like to return to.

Continuing Evidence of the Decline of the British Empire

Apparently the Brits (who have only one justice system, a national one--as opposed to our patchwork of national and state) have begun having their petty criminals sentenced to community service don blaze orange vests with the words "Community Payback" across the back. Well, this of course, has raised concern for the rights of criminals. What an outrage, what a horror, to have to wear such a vest while picking up roadside garbage.

One quote from the article said it all: "One 25-year-old offender said he felt singled out... "They might as well put a sign around your neck telling everyone what you've done," he told the Daily Mirror on a recent day, as he snipped hedges as part of his punishment. "I don't want to go through this again."

Duh. Isn't that the point?

Bush on the Mark on Gaza

President Bush's radio address directly accuses Hamas of amping up the civilian death toll in Gaza by deliberately conducting military operations in civilian areas. Good for him. While the Euro/Arab world condemns Israel for protecting itself, Bush calls a spade a spade. We keep hearing of the dire plight of the Palestinian people, of their need for basic services and a functioning economy, yada, yada, yada....but Hamas always seems to have the money to purchase Katuscha rockets on the open market.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Whoo-hoo! Google Owes me $100!

Well gang, thanks for clicking my sponsors' adverts on the blog. I finally have gotten myself up over the $100 in revenue limit, so Google's gonna have to send me that fat check!

Due to operator error, I had been misinterpreting the readership stats from Google Analytics, vastly underestimating the size of the readership. Here's what I found once I got it right:

Total Visitors (2008)--17528

Total Unique Visitors (2008)--5429

Visited by readers in 88 countries and all 50 states.

Thanks, everyone! Keep patronizing those sponsors!

Another View of the Burst Bubble

Read this story. It is another great explanation of the housing collapse, this time from the perspective of people who made money on it (they saw the house of cards and shorted some of the riskiest transactions).

I hope the next time we ramp up, and things look really good, smart people like this do exactly what they were doing...examining the underlying assumptions while those who made profits simply made profits. Most importantly though, I hope someone listens to these guys.

Hat tip to Thairish for putting me onto this article.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Krauthammer's Zero Sum Gas Tax

Over at Postcards a few days ago, he blogged a bit about Charles Krauthammer's idea in the latest Weekly Standard called a "Net Zero" gas tax.

This is an interesting idea. Essentially, the tax would be an immediate $1 per gallon surcharge on the existing federal gas tax. This would (in theory) drive down demand (for a given supply, a rise in price will create a decrease in demand). Lots of important goals involved in driving down our demand for oil, and raising the tax has been brought up before. Where Krauthammer comes through with a practical and conservative idea is that each dollar collected through the gas tax would be offset by a concomitant decrease in the payroll tax (the tax that ALL working people pay, as opposed to the income tax, which is escaped by nearly 40% of all American workers). The idea goes like this...since the average American uses 14 gallons of fuel a week, the payroll tax would be decreased by $14 per week for EVERY American worker. In theory then, the extra $14 paid at the pump is a wash.

A couple of things. This sounds good, and the revenue neutral nature of it is wonderful. I think the shock of a dollar a gallon increase WOULD drive down demand, and I think all of the wonderful things Krauthammer claims will happen (actually, a dollar may not be enough, but Krauthammer thinks it is about all that could be politically palatable. The hit in the payroll tax would be immediately made up for (revenue wise) by the added gas tax. Everything sounds really, really good about this. But there are a few warts in it.

The first is the obvious hit that folks in the travel and tourism industry would take if people drove less (the impact of the higher gas tax). Krauthammer would argue that the extra dollars they have in their pockets COULD go to pay for fuel if they were motivated to travel. But it probably wouldn't.

The second thing not discussed here came up in a chat with the Kitten, who saw the issue a little differently. As Krauthammer discusses, this tax hike is designed to punish people who drive more....especially those who drive more than 14 gallons a week. Folks who live in cities or suburbs, where all the things you need are located quite close-by, where mass transit options exist, where many people do not even consider OWNING a car...really get a good deal here. Folks who live in rural America who drive 30 miles to the closest Wallmart and who really LIVE by their cars--they are going to suffer. Kitten sees this as a fairness issue. I agree, but as Krauthammer points out, we screw one group of people over others on tax policies aimed at encouraging behavior all the time (tuition tax credits favor folks who go to school over those who don't, don't even get me started on how single people get screwed in the tax code).

I see it less as a fairness issue and more as an a source of political friction that the oh so urban and urbane Krauthammer isn't thinking about. This sets up a classic "country-mouse/city mouse" set up, where rural America thinks they're getting screwed by the already pampered (transportation-wise) sector of the country living in and around cities.

I find myself thinking this is a pretty good plan, and I drive more than 14 gallons a week. I think it wouldn't be a very smooth path to passage in a Congress sometimes beholden to its rural interests (see the annual Farm Bill), but I think it is worth trying.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home